26 Jul 2016

The Junipers - Red Bouquet Fair

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'm now absolutely certain that Sugarbush Records' Markus Holler has managed to somehow implant a chip in me that relays to him exactly which albums I want him to release. His latest batch of releases are absolute perfection. There are four of them in total, but I'm just going to focus on my favourite of them today (more on the others soon).

The Junipers, for those who haven't been paying attention, are one of this decade's most important, unheralded guitar pop bands. Their previous album "Paint the Ground" is one of my favourites of the last few years. I'd previously thought of it as one of those rare, perfect pop records, but it can't quite have been as this new album is even better. While "Paint the Ground" had a lovely pastoral tinge, "Red Bouquet Fair" is much more of a classic pop album, with songs that reach back to the sixties for inspiration without sounding tied to that decade or overly reverential. It's obvious that these guys have fantastic record collections, but in no way do these songs sound like an attempt to replicate the music from those collections.

There are strong hooks on every single one of these songs, and these lads sure do know their way around a harmony; check out the lush vocal layering on "Summer Queen". Absolutely stunning. Elsewhere, they use period embellishments sparingly for maximum effect. Particularly effective is the 12 string guitar solo on "Like a Merry Go Round", while the sitar led "Her Come The Winds" is a marvelous psych-pop gem. And don't get me started on the amazing kaleidoscopic psychedelia of "Burning Pages".

And while classic harmony and psych-pop are the most obvious touchstones here, other influences rear their heads; "When the Bird Has Flown" is a lovely, moody choral harmony piece ala Midlake or the Fleet Foxes, while "Dig Me Up" brings to mind some of the brit-pop sounds of the mid nineties which have aged more gracefully than others.

Apart from the extremely solid songcraft, and those luscious harmonies, the main secret to "Red Bouquet Fair"s success is in the arrangements and production. It's all beautifully layered, with imaginative touches that create a distinctive sound for the band, while preventing any of the songs sounding samey. Or to put it in a simpler fashion, it's obvious that these songs are all the work of the same band, but each is a fresh creation which distinguishes itself from its predecessors.

It's the sort of album which should make you a little bit angry at the injustices of the world. Paradoxically, I'd also imagine that it's pretty much impossible to remain angry while listening to "Red Bouquet Fair".  This should by all rights be a major label release with constant airplay and household name status for the band, and had the Junipers been around to release this 50, 40 or even 20 years ago, that may well have been the case, but we don't currently live in a world where what the Junipers have to offer is in vogue with the masses. For us lucky few though, it's a comforting, magical experience. Absolutely wonderful.

Full stream, download and CD are all available through the Bandcamp streaming link below, with the lovely, limited vinyl pressing available directly from the label here (vinyl prices from Sugarbush include free international shipping!).

25 Jul 2016

Mayflower Madame - Observed in a Dream

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Oslo, Norway’s Mayflower Madame recently put out their debut full-length, "Observed in a Dream", on their own label Night Cult Records and on Custom Made Music in the U.S. Equal parts post-punk, shoegaze, and dark psychedelia, Mayflower Madame has made a name for themselves through their frenetic live shows, which include the festivals Norwegian Wood and Oya Festival as well as support for Crystal Stilts, Night Beats, the Cosmonauts, Crocodiles, Disappears and Moon Duo. At first listen, the band recalls most obviously new wave/post-punk legends Echo & the Bunnymen or the Chameleons, both of whom – as does Mayflower Madame – borrowed a heap of menace and swagger from the Doors. As follow-up to their 2013 EP "Into the Haze", "Observed in a Dream" makes leaps forward for the band.

Turn to “Lovesick,” which assembles itself around a catchy, new wave-inspired progression; however, it’s everything that’s happening around that progression that sets Mayflower Madame apart. Beneath the clunky, propulsive chords, there’s a whole other thing altogether. I can’t help but wonder what the track would sound like without the rhythm guitar, which, don’t mistake, is perfect tonally, for there are layers of ambient leads, walking bass lines, and a snappy rhythm. Then there is guitarist & vocalist Trond Fagernes’ voice atop it all to masterfully lure one in.

Toward the close of the album," Observed in a Dream" plots similar terrain but shifts the focus to a more ambient instrumentation, letting notes trail and spiral while the bass holds down the riff. As a whole, this is a strong debut from a band with obvious mastery and inventive songwriting. This one has enough for those needy listeners after depth and invention while remaining more than friendly for all.

"Observed in a Dream" is available now through Mayflower Madame’s Bandcamp page digitally or on vinyl and CD as well as through Custom Made Music if you’re looking for a cassette.

24 Jul 2016

The Hanging Stars - Over The Silvery Lake

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've been following the progress of London's Hanging Stars with great interest via their first two 7"s (reviewed here and here), and am pleased to report that their first full length (also released by wonderful Indie label The Great Pop Supplement) more than lives up to the promise of those singles. And for those who missed those long out of print singles, their three best tracks are reprised here. This review is rather late in the game as "Over The Silvery Lake" has been out for a few months now, so apologies to both the band, and you dear reader, but if I may rely on a somewhat tired cliche, some things are worth waiting for, and "Over The Silvery Lake" is certainly getting better with age.

Partially recorded and mixed in Los Angeles by Byrds obssessive Rob Campanella (of The Quarter After), it sounds like the band soaked up a lot of sunshine while they were there. How else to explain such lush, sunny compostions from a London based band? Updating the Byrds / Burritos sound with a more contemporary flavour, "Over The Silvery Lake" nestles in nicely at a snug midway point between Active Listener favourites Kontiki Suite and the Laurel Canyon revivalism of Jonathan Wilson. Given those comparisons, it's clear that this is going to be an absolutely lovely sounding album, and it is, with a well layered sound that allows all of the instruments their own space to shine, with some lovely weeping steel guitar, and Richard Olson's vocals pushed to the forefront. The term cosmic American music fits perfectly here, with some lovely psych-folk tinges nicely glossing over the minor technicality that the year's best Americana LP isn't even by American artists.

There are trace elements of all sorts to be found here - the Byrds, Grateful Dead etc. - but "Over The Silvery Lake" is a very fresh sounding album too, timeless without implying any sort of retro approach. The songs are simply arranged in a way that best exemplifies their best qualities. And lovely songs they are too, with strong harmonies, big choruses and robust arrangements, perfectly sequenced  and paced to make the whole stronger than its constituent parts. That being the case, I'm not going to single out any particular tracks for praise, as the album works best when devoured as a whole. You can do so digitally through the band's Bandcamp page below, while the vinyl release from the Great Pop Supplement appears to already be sold out (as is normal for that label's releases). And there's a CD version avaialble here.

21 Jul 2016

Helen Tookey and Sharron Kraus - If You Put Out Your Hand

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A collaboration between Liverpool based poet Helen Tookey and psych folk queen Sharron Kraus, 'If You Put Out Your Hand' is a truly beautiful and unique chapbook/ CD released on the wonderful Wounded Wolf Press label. All three elements suggests that this coming together of the written word and song will be something to be treasured; Tookey's inaugural poetry collection 'Missel-Child' was shortlisted last year for the Seamus Heaney Centre for 'Poetry Prize for First Full Collection', Kraus has a multitude of essential wyrd folk albums and EPs that come very highly recommended indeed and publisher Wounded Wolf Press is known for its high quality and esoteric pressings, ranging from CD and book editions of work by Xenis Emputae Travelling Band's Phil Legard to The Hogweed And The Aderyn's recorded output (if you don't know them do seek them out).

Influenced by 'the natural world and our ways of responding to it' the spoken word contributions on this album take their backdrop from rivers, hillsides and valleys as well as the landscape of nostalgia, memories and dreams. 'Unadopted' begins the album with quiet intent, Tookey's voice perfectly framed by Kraus's reverberated acoustic guitar. This swiftly moves into 'Missel Child' and its 'Wicker Man' style recorder and woodwind soundtracking the evocative and emotive opening lines 'The lady of the moon is in travail, her white face waxen as the missel-fruit…' Each individual piece is short but hugely effective and varied, additionally there is a sense of these verses being a series of connected vignettes. Kraus's accompaniment is spare and quite perfect, each note resonates all the more powerfully and gracefully for its simplicity and it never overpowers the text but works with it to conjure further images of old gods and moonlit trees. Occasional vocal harmonies emerge over picked strings to create a real sense of something ancient, pagan and of the earth. Tookey's verse is also pitched just right; it is descriptive but also immediate and particular highlights include the gentle gothic romanticism and blood letting of 'In The Rose Garden' (lovingly framed by Kraus's bucolic and bewitching guitar), 'Katherine' ('Katherine has been dead a week…') with its spectral, wailing fluid strings and the magical and sacred 'Rheidol Valley (Within A Semicircle)', expertly set to ever increasing layers of bouzouki, finger cymbals and haunted harmonies. Aficionados of Paul Giovanni's 'The Wicker Man' soundtrack, Faun Fables, Stone Breath and the rustic witchery of acid folk acts such as Forest, Comus and Stone Angel will find much to adore here.

Often spoken word recordings can be successful dependant on the mood of the listener and the familiarity of the text. Not so with this release, which serves and works in form as both poetry and music; the pieces simply flow like a stream, engaging but also with an ease to listen to and absorb. It may be the atmosphere that the interplay and weave and weft of both music and word helps to create, but this is a captivating and entrancing album which can be listened to as just that; an album. You can almost feel the breeze on your skin, the glow of the summer sun descending and the distant wail of sea birds as you close your eyes and let what you hear blanket you in something that is of the natural world, not of the bluster and noise of city life. This is hypnotic, essential, occasionally (and pleasingly) disquieting and ultimately affirming work; these pieces are filled with breath and with life.

The accompanying book is also a thing of beauty, featuring Tookey's texts side by side with some lovely woodcuts and illustrations. As an overall package 'If You Put Out Your Hand' is one of those special and unusual finds that do not come along particularly often. Already selling out quickly, this is a must have. Seek it out now here.

Grapefruit - Yesterday's Sunshine The Complete 1967-1968 London Sessions

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

London band Grapefruit are mostly remembered these days as the first band to be signed to the Beatles Apple label, but they're deserving of much more than that footnote status as this new collection from RPM Records ably demonstrates.

Their debut album "Around" was originally released in late 1968/early 1969. "Yesterday's Sunshine" collects all of their studio recordings from 1967 and 1968, including tracks which were later remixed for the album, as well as a plethora of hard to find and unreleased extras.

"Around" has a great reputation among collectors, but to me, the original mixes contained here are even better. Hell, there's even a version of "Lullaby" produced by John Lennon AND Paul McCartney - the only co-production credit the two ever shared. Why this wasn't released originally is baffling, especially given the quality of this sped up version. With twenty tracks here, you'd expect a quality dip at some point, but apart from "Breaking Up a Dream", which is a backing track that never had the intended vocal recorded, there's nothing here that isn't, to my ears at least, absolutely essential.

The production on these tracks is fantastic, but it's George Alexander's wonderful songs that are truly the focus point here. There can be few songwriters of the era who can claim to have written so many memorable songs in such a short space of time. The singles have become well known over time, but album tracks like "Ain't it Good" are just as memorable, while rarities like "Somebody's Turning on the People" and particularly the moody, mellotron soaked King Crimson meets giallo-score style instrumental "Theme For a Lonely Queen (aka Twiggy)" are at least the match of anything that found its way onto the album. Admittedly, the shadow of the Beatles looms ever present here (check out the ooh-la-la-la's on "Round and Round"!), but when the songs are this good it really doesn't matter that influences are worn very much on sleeve.

Given the Beatles connection, as well as the quality of the singles, it's absolutely astonishing that this doesn't contain at least three number ones (although New Zealand band the Hi-Revving Tongues did have a local hit with their version of "Elevator"). Instead, "Around" became an underselling future collectable, leading to the band re-emerging with a substantially different lineup and sound for a second album shortly thereafter. Do yourself a favour: avoid that second album and get this right now. If you're a British psych-pop fan (even one who owns a copy of "Around"), this deserves a place in your collection right away.

Available here (UK), or here (US).

20 Jul 2016

Pale Lights - Seance for Something

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

I am always glad to hear a new Pale Lights release. These Brooklyn folks have dipped their toes in the best Australian and New Zealand indie rock for influences, but add a special sparkle and shine all their own.

The songs were recorded and mixed by Gary Olson (Ladybug Transistor head honcho) at his Marlborough Farms studio, in Brooklyn. Kyle Forester (Crystal Silts/Ladybug Transistor) is featured on keys and saxophone, and Suzanne Nienaber (Great Lakes) on harmonies.

Witness the lovely opening track, “Mother Cries”, which features Hamish Kilgour (The Clean) on tambourine. It reminds me of vintage Velvet Underground and Go Betweens. I love the lilting vocals and the soft washes of organ that wrap themselves gently around your ears, all while chugging along merrily in the best Kiwi pop tradition.

“Girl in the Park” is more of the same, only this time it’s like Pat Fish has joined in. The lyrics are memorable and the lovely melody floats about like a many-hued lotus blossom.

“Alone In This Room” has that slow, dreamy cadence so prevalent on recordings by The Bats. Phil Sutton plays rhythm guitar and sings all the lead vocals, and he has a pleasant voice that perfectly suits the material. I also really appreciate the fine lead guitar work here, it provides a nice counterpoint to the main melody.

“Sweetheart” is the closing track, and with its swirling organ and twining male/female vocals, it reminds me the most of classic Go Betweens (and makes me miss them all the more). Thankfully, we have groups like Pale Lights who are as much in love with these classic bands as we all are, and who have the skills to both wear their influences on their sleeves and come up with fresh takes with their own tunes.

Fans of all the bands mentioned here will love this EP, and we can look forward to a new album later in the year.

Brad Gallagher, Bill Lowman, Alasdair Roberts - Missed Flights and Fist Fights

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'm sure that the majority of you are familiar with Bonnie Prince Billy endorsed Scottish / German folkie Alasdair Roberts, but what many may not realise is that his high profile Drag City released albums don't constitute his entire output. Roberts also self-releases a number of limited edition albums and EPs for sale via his website and live shows. And unlike the majority of artists who use these types of releases as a testing ground for stylistic detours, remixes, instrumentals, jams and other for-the-fans-only fare, Roberts' more low-key releases are very much interchangeable with his more widely distributed releases, in terms of both style and quality.

"Missed Flights and Fist Fights" is the most recent of these that I've been lucky enough to hear and it's a delight from start to finish - easily a match for any of his more celebrated releases. It's a collaborative release with Chicago-based multi-instrumentalists Brad Gallagher and Bill Lowman, who flesh out these arrangements with a diverse range of accompanying instruments that still leave the songs sounding spare and uncluttered, with the emphasis placed firmly on Roberts' compelling vocals.

As those who have ventured into Roberts' catalogue will no doubt have realised, he's not content to plough the same ground over and over, instead pushing folk forms in new and exciting directions, continuing the work of trailblazers from the previous generation (Nic Jones in particular comes to mind). While the impetus for this comes from Roberts himself, he accomplishes it by surrounding himself with an ever changing cast of sympathetic collaborators (check out "Hirta Songs" from a few years ago), and Gallagher and Lowman are certainly like-minded. Check out the arrangement on opener "Rocking The Cradle", with its skeletal electric guitar and bass nimbly courting atop an ever present jew's harp drone. Another old chestnut, "Lord Donegal" is given a fabulous overhaul too with a martial drumbeat and doomy fuzz guitars accentuating the pin-drop intimacy of the vocals. It's a spellbinding performance from all involved and goes straight into my top ten Roberts' recordings. "Sir Patrick Spens" and "When First I Came Unto This Country" are given similarly riveting readings.

And scattered amongst this often sombre fare are several songs that communicate to the listener a better sense of  the comradery and good spirits of the sessions. "The Riddle Song" (based on the Doc Watson version) is presented in a country-tinged arrangement which is charming, good humoured and relaxed, with a sprightly electric guitar accompaniment, while the closing duo of "Goin' Back" and "The Parting Glass" wrap things up in a bittersweet fashion.

If you're an Alasdair Roberts fan you need this, and if not already, this is a very fine place to start.

Vinyl available directly from Alasdair here.

19 Jul 2016

Causa Sui – Return to Sky

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Causa Sui continue their quest to become the complete instrumental prog-psych-rock band with this latest impressive instalment of jam sourced goodness, “Return to Sky”. The bands trajectory has largely arced upwards in a relatively linear fashion, and, being terrifically good at what they do, their objectives seem to gradually shift in focus rather than take any major diversions. Fans of their recent blockbusting double sets “Euporie Tide” and “Live at Freak Valley” will find much to love here. The overarching question raised in my mind by 'Return to Sky' is whether my perceptions of its (unspoken) finality are the correct ones...

In comparison to its immediate predecessors. ‘Return to Sky’ is perhaps a more cosmically pastoral piece of work when compared to its rockier predecessors. Opener ‘Dust Meridian’ hits the start button with familiarly muscular drumming and bass note bending before spacing out into a keyboard led piece of kosmiche that is so 1973 that it should come with its own bottle of patchouli and flared jeans. Those familiar with ‘Homage’ from their recent sets will not a strong continuation of the theme here as the track unfolds over its duration. As with all Causa Sui releases, the deftness of touch is present and correct. They may be jammers but they do it with style and panache. Vanilla Fudge having a discourse about Krautrock with Pink Floyd anyone?

“The Source” is a sludgefest jam with its roots firmly in the Lynryd Skynryd territory of Sweet Home Alabama which then branches out into an edgy arabesque before depositing itself in your memory with a final dense drone of washing cymbals and gently undulating guitar in a very zen-prog way. Tasty. “Mondo Buzzo” is another bass and drum led workout which takes a while to work up a head of steam gradually incorporating Fender Rhodes stabs before exploding into an acid folk rock bonanza that is reminiscent of a wordless Wolf People (or maybe Wolf People are a wordful Causa Sui?). Either ways an avalanche of supremely distorted and duelling guitars duke it out to the max before once more an extended fade out that incorporates more of that gently sunbeamed guitar and atmospheric synth washes that are the chosen method of exiting on most of the gathered tunes herein. “Dawn Passage” repeats this trick but in reverse order before we reach journey's end with the rather beautiful sun dappled title track.

“Return to Sky” may be construed as a farewell with its reflective tone and stately sonic architecture. It’s also my favourite on the record as it builds and swells in a really engaging way allowing the tune to unfurl fully over the 11 minutes of its duration ending with a gentle decay into nothing – or Nirvana, take your pick. It certainly left me wondering if ‘Return to Sky’ was a valedictory statement for the band as it ascends into the upper atmosphere on thermals of crashing cymbals and Hendrix inspired guitar phrases. Given that all members of the band pursue highly interesting solo projects one may think this is the last transmission from the collective. Could it be that the band who’s name tells you a lot about where their heads are at have finally reached their point of singularity? Has the circle now been closed and will it remain unbroken? If so, remember them kindly – when they shone they shone brightly.

Available here (US) or here (UK/EU).

18 Jul 2016

The Dandelion Set - A Thousand Strands

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Alan Gubby's Buried Treasure label have released a couple of pretty stellar releases of late in "The Delaware Road" and John Baker's previously unreleased Radiophonic Workshop recordings "The Vendetta Tapes", so it was with great interest that I approached this new debut release from the Dandelion Set (who have previously featured on one of our Active Listener Samplers with this non album track for completists).

A collaboration between Glyn 'Bigga' Bush (Lightning Head, Rockers Hi Fi) and PK Chown (James Beige, Mr Liquorice), the Dandelion Set list Broadcast, Madlib, and Wendy & Bonnie among the artists they like on their Facebook profile, so it's no surprise that this is a ridiculously schizophrenic (schizophonic?) offering. What is surprising is how well it all fits together, despite it's uncategorisable nature.

It's a strangely out of time recording which, despite its lavish, often beaty production, recalls the anything-goes experimentation of the late sixties and early seventies, with Joe Byrd's recording projects in particular coming to mind.

There really is a bit of everything here. Opener "Pristina Strawberry Girl" is creepy psychedelic pop, coming on like a Syd Barrett take on "Willow's Song", but just as you feel like you've developed an idea of what will likely follow, cult writer Alan Moore pops up to helm the nightmarish dystopian vision of "Judy Switched off the TV". And so It continues, switching from library sounds, to Canterbury jazz-prog, to futuristic urban film noir, to whispered chanson, to woozy, flutey psychedelia, and that's only taking in the contents of the first half, harpsichords, Moogs, dulcimers and all.

It's an exhaustive listen, almost as if Bush and Chown wanted to capture all of their ideas on tape in one flurry of activity in case it was the only chance they got to ever do so. This approach should by all rights result in a disorientating mess of a record, but somehow each surprising feint is delivered with such assuredness, that one can't help but be convinced that turning off the GPS and handing Bush and Chown the keys is absolutely the thing to do. It's quite a ride they'll take you on, folks.

There's a lot to take in here, and I've only just begun to peel the layers back, despite numerous listens. For those of an adventurous mindset, you've potentially found your most listened to album of 2016 right here. Investigate immediately or you're off my Christmas card list.

Digital, CD & Vinyl all available here:

13 Jul 2016

The Active Listener Sampler #42

This sampler has been a little longer coming than most as I've had all sorts of other things going on outside of the Active Listener keeping me busy, but the wait has been well worth it.

This time we have a really fascinating assortment of tracks from recently reviewed material, upcoming releases and a few wildcards by complete unknowns which have completely blown me away (check out that Todd Sinclair track!).

Joseph Sampson has provided us with the lovely sleeve art for this release - his first for us, but hopefully not his last! You can see more of his work here:

As always, donations are appreciated and help us cover our costs and keep us doing what we do for you. Free downloads are of course welcome as well.

Here's the full tracklist, with download and streaming link below. Enjoy!

1. Moonsicles - The Frozen Pond 03:25 2. Todd Sinclair - African Time 04:01 3. Junkboy - Fulfill 02:53 4. Drakkar Nowhere - Higher Now 05:29 5. Prana Crafter - Luminous Clouds 05:19 6. Will Z. - A New Mirrored You 04:13 7. The Love Explosion - Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful 04:07 8. Sir Robin & The Longbowmen - I Would Like 05:08 9. The Myrrors - Liberty Is In the Street 04:44 10. Michael Warren & Grey Malkin - Jugband Blues 04:02 11. The Tara Experiment - Twilight 02:07 12. Elkhorn - Seed 05:55 13. Frantic Chant - Spellbound 03:32 14. Gilligan Smiles - Hopeffully 03:39 15. Heaters - Centennial 04:11 16. James McKeown - Drawn Inward II 09:38

12 Jul 2016

Klaus Morlock - The Mirror And The Lamp

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Klaus Morlock's previous excursions from the shadows, the eerie electronica of début album 'The Bridmore Lodge Tapes', the Victorian ghosts of follow up 'The Child Garden' and the spectral ambiance of the recent 'Penumbra' have helped establish this mysterious and faceless composer as a major figure in underground electronic and experimental music. His involvement with the equally esoteric 'Goat Man' soundtrack (long thought lost but recently exhumed) only confirms this status. His most recent opus, 'The Mirror And The Lamp', is now available from the ever splendid Reverb Worship label as a cassette release only (at least at this point in time). Contained within are all the arcane elements that make Morlock so uniquely special and which will delight his ever growing following; the sense of desolate beauty, the otherworldly and sepia tinted resurrection of sounds and ghosts from long gone decades (especially the 70's) and melodies that will embed themselves within your psyche in order to return to you when you are lying awake at the very darkest points in the night.

Opening with the unsettling, rasping sound of birdsong, 'After the Rain' has a swirling electronic backing and haunting, melancholic harpsichord melody which feels like the fresh, still, cool air after a sudden downpour. Mellotron choirs gradually and subtly enter, creating an almost post-apocalyptic beauty, harmonies descending and weaving in and out of each other in a cobweb of glistening vintage electronica. The music however is deceptively gentle, beneath the loveliness lurks a brooding and ghostly sense of displacement and loneliness. 'Bleeding' is next, its relentless drumbeat thundering the track ever onwards as dread filled bass notes and synth chords create a dystopian air that pervades long after the track is finished. This would have been a suitable soundtrack to the 1970's TV version of Terry Nation's 'Survivors'. Its bleak, virus ravaged landscape and sense of peril is ably reflected in Morlock's twisted, synthesised harmonies. 'Ephemera' reminds this listener of Morlock's equally splendid 'Penumbra' EP with its spectral melody and 70's flute recalling equal parts 'Lets Scare Jessica to Death' Lubos Fiser's 'Valerie And Her Week of Wonders' and Mr Brook's theme to TV's 'The Family'. Acoustic guitar arpeggios frame a creeping, foreboding sense of loss and horror. 'Torch' follows this same, spooked atmosphere with glistening glockenspiel and dark, sci-fi waves of analogue synth; the perfect soundtrack that never was to 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. 'The Burning of Molly Kingston' hazes into view amidst dislocated voices, pensive piano and the crackling hum of choirs of massed vintage keyboards, an aural representation of the very best and most terrifying of John Wyndham's futuristic nightmares whilst 'Magic Circle' reels and dances ritualistically, a chiming merry go round of spellcraft and witchery. Next, Smokefront' descends with echoing percussion and disorientating, decaying guitar samples, a truly haunted keyboard motif stalking the electric wastelands.

Over on side two (how nice to be able to say that!) 'Marble' is a plaintive and melancholic harpsichord and piano piece that sits perfectly on the edge of disquiet; Morlock is a veritable wizard at this, there are no hammer horror shock theatrics here, just creeping, subtle disturbance that is hugely effective. 'Forest Demon' is a case in point; the sound of birdsong, the creaking of the woods and a growing, pulsating drone is all that is needed to create a sense of distinct unease in the listener. 'Forest King' follows, an analogue pagan hymn that seems both ancient and of the future; organic and synthetic. 'Vision at Crail' is a thing of beauty, orchestrated keyboard lines and strings criss crossing each other to create a mini symphony that would happily grace Eno's 'Music For Films' or 'Ambient 4: On Land'; an album highlight in amongst some other serious gems. Finally, 'The Lamp' closes the album with slowly caressed chimes, angelic choirs and a sound that feels like it's coming from the cosmos itself. It is breathtakingly good and immediately asks the question as to why Morlock is not scoring the soundtrack to the next Ben Wheatley or Jonathan Glazer films.

This is an album that is more than the equal of any of Morlock's previous electronic treasures. Intricately and carefully composed and constructed, these songs are mini symphonies, requiems and black masses in themselves. It is truly exciting to think and anticipate what Morlock may do next, indeed it does feel as though we are living in somewhat of a golden and revitalised era for electronic music what with Concretism, Belbury Poly, The Equestrian Vortex, The Heartwood Institute, Joseph Curwen, Polypores et al. Klaus Morlock plays a leading and major role in this analogue revival and 'The Mirror And The Lamp' is an essential component of the genre. Seek this out now.

Cassette available from Reverb Worship.

There is no digital version of this album so once these cassettes are gone, that's it. Check out a track from Klaus Morlock's previous album here for a sample of what's in store:

11 Jul 2016

The Children - Rebirth

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Here's an excellent Texan psychedelic artifact from 1968, freshly reissued on vinyl by Spain's Guerssen Records.

Evolving from garage outfit the Stoics into The Mind's Eye (who released the excellent 45 "Help, I'm Lost"), the band headed to LA in 1967, playing popular Sunset Boulevard venues with the help of Monkee Davy Jones. The Mind's Eye soon became the Children, but financial issues and increased acid usage convinced the band to head back to Texas, where "Rebirth" was recorded.

Produced by Lelan Rogers, who also recorded the 13th Floor Elevators and the Golden Dawn among others, "Rebirth" is a surprisingly lush album, full of intricate psychedelia quite unlike that of Lelan Rogers other charges. String sections, vibraphone solos and other baroque-pop touches rub shoulders with acid drenched psychedelic rock, with the powerful female vocal presence of Cassell Webb tying these disparate strands together nicely.

There's no doubt that there's a lot of layers to "Rebirth" that reward repeated listens and show a depth not found in a lot of second tier psychedelic albums of the era. "Maypole" is a great example of this, nicely juxtaposing a playful, childlike innocence with a subversive, sinister undercurrent. There are real hooks and memorable songs here too, and an admirable diversity, from the heart stopping ballad "I'll Be Your Sunshine" to more forceful fare like "Dreaming Slave" with its elaborate baroque trimmings, and the minor key gem "Beautiful", with its spidery Mandrake Memorial-like keys.

It's a carefully paced album too, with most tracks kept to a shortish length, the song always coming first. Don't let that fool you into thinking that there aren't a number of wild instrumental excursions though, it's just that they build upon, rather than wander from the melodic core of these songs.

And then, finally, there's the album's epic closing track "Pictorial", a surprisingly heavy, seven minute monster that sounds like the work of an entirely different band, albeit another very good one. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a UK power trio - I'm reminded of Cream and the May Blitz, as well as the huge fuzz bass of Manfred Mann Chapter Three's "One Way Glass". Fabulous stuff, and the deft acoustic touches during the chorus reveal a band with a gift for unusual dynamics.

A great album then, originally released on the Cinema label in 1968, before being picked up for wider distribution by Atco. Guerssen's ornate reissue faithfully recreates the original Gatefold sleeve of the Cinema original for a fraction of the price of a scarce original.

Available here (US) or here (UK/EU).

10 Jul 2016

Sir Robin & the Longbowmen - S/T

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

The self-titled debut from Dresden, Germany’s Sir Robin & the Longbowmen begins with a dense and atmospheric drone that sets the tone for the entire record. This is one of those records that oozes with experimentation and follows its own internal logic while looking outside of itself – and this case often far, far outside of itself.

As “Sissi’s Harp” continues, led by a sitar’s melody, its loose rhythm and organ-heavy sprawl builds into a trance-like tumult that saunters at a quick pace rather than runs. But it’s not until second track, “Sick Bang,” that the band really reveals itself – like pulling away a bejeweled curtain; they sound like a garage band whose practice room is in a drifting space capsule.

Sir Robin & Longbowmen seem to operate at high speed and operate in complete unity and sync. There’s a lot of action in each song, so whether you focus upon Konrad Reichel’s voice, Stefan Hühn’s mesmerizing sitar, or the dual rhythm force of David Humphrey and Robin Heller – along with some guests – who push everything forward there’s complexity and fervor that inevitably intuits you to whole work, a kind of clockwork that bends in on itself; one element might be followed a bit before another comes to the forefront, different every time and signaling a truly interesting recording.

“I Would Like” is a standout among the many fine tracks offered. At the forefront here is the staccato organ work and dynamic rhythm. Fluctuating between two tones for its intro’s base, the band provides layers upon layers in varied time signatures recalling the hey-day of that sound with a nod, while pressing forward with nuanced production and arrangement. Over the course of its five minutes, “I Would Like” takes you to some unexpected places. For this listener, this particular track acted as a key to understanding and better appreciating all that Sir Rob & the Longbowmen are up to on their debut.

While the band is certainly influenced by bands of decades past, their pastiche of those trends lends them a more worldly quality than many of their peers. Especially in moodier and slow burning acoustic ballad “Familiar Misery,” the natural, raw abilities shine through, revealing a capable and promising band that joins the ranks of the best psych revivalists.

Get this excellent album digitally or on 12” or cassette from the band’s Bandcamp page linked below.

9 Jul 2016

Moonsicles - Bay of Seething

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

We were rather enamoured with this Austin based trio's debut, 2014's "Creeper" as you may recall, so the arrival of a followup is very welcome indeed. While "Creeper" was a lovely hand-hewn gem, self-released on CD-R, its successor "Bay of Seething" is a step up in terms of scale, with a vinyl release on Feeding Tube Records providing the perfect medium to absorb their splendid cinematic vibes (although this review is based on a digital promo, it certainly sounds made for vinyl).

As with "Creeper" this is an unhurried record which evokes vast empty vistas of varying types, with a distinctive sci-fi atmosphere. If Quentin Tarantino was to ever make a Western located on the Moon, this would be his ideal soundtrack right here - no need for any Morricone appropriation.

"Pacifica" is a huge, monolithic opener which seems to run at about 3 bpm. Aaron Russell's guitars build an intensely heavy riff one layer at a time without resorting to cliches or in any way suggesting a 'stoner' or 'metal' approach. There's a great sense of dynamics, Sheila Scoville's synths making their presence felt at exactly the right moments to heighten the sense of something alien. This slow rolling groove is eventually replaced with the echo-laden drones of "Glitter Matrix", an appropriately hallucinatory experience given its title, before the ominous "Hell Box" ramps up the tension. There's some masterful mood-setting going on in these pieces.

Side two opens with the album's shortest and most lovely track. "The Frozen Pond" positively crackles with a sense of wonder and mystery. The astronauts have just taken their first step onto an uncharted world - this is the soundtrack to that experience. Ray Bradbury couldn't paint a better picture with words. And that in a nutshell is what this quartet excels at - building a three dimensional world and stimulating all of the senses - an admirable talent when you consider that they only have direct access to one of the listener's senses. This is transportative music, requiring little from the listener except a willingness to yield control. Once Moonsicles are behind the wheel you'll be taken to the most amazing places.

Available here from Feeding Tube Records.

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4 Jul 2016

The British Space Group - The Phantasmagoria (The Collected Phantasm EPs)

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Previously reviewed here at The Active Listener, The British Space Group's début album 'Eyes Turned Skyward' remains a particular favourite of this writer, its evocative and descriptive vintage electronica evoking a very human sense of melancholy, icy beauty and dystopian unease. Essentially the work of one man, musician and writer Ian Holloway (whose solo releases encompassing post-industrial found sounds, field recordings, drone work are equally as essential and recommended), here The British Space Group make a welcome return with 'The Phantasmagoria', a collected set of the Group's 'Phantasm' EPs. A comprehensive combination of those release's 42 electronic 'radiophonic miniatures', each individual segment lasts around one to two minutes thus creating a veritable and pleasing labyrinth of moods and soundscapes, each piece taking the listener on another deliciously disorientating twist or turn in direction. Yet these short symphonies also coalesce into a coherent and substantive whole; The British Space Group's signature sound is more than strong enough, plus their easy way with creating a melody that will not leave your head for days ensures that this is an album that can very comfortably be enjoyed in one sitting.

Not unlike some of the BBC Radiophonic releases which conjure imagery and tales in one's mind by way of brief, atmospheric snippets of sound, effect and harmony, 'The Phantasmagoria' is a musical haunted house filled with emotive and otherworldly analogue electronics. From the introductory bleeps, hum and deceptively simple melody of 'Open' to the shimmering electric ghosts of 'Lights From Below', the Radioactivity-era Kraftwerk 'tomorrow's world' of 'Lost' and the unnerving, hunted and dread-filled bass notes of the serpentine 'A Strange New Friend', this is an album of numerous treasures. Holloway can effectively build a scene, story or mood in the listener's mind with comparative ease, though this perhaps belies just how carefully wrought and constructed these pieces are. Layered and perfectly paced, just as one segment fills the speakers with the promise of a shiny, automated and silvery world the next piece builds a disturbing, John Carpenter-esque scene of being stalked or followed through some futuristic city of glass and concrete ('Who' and 'Close' are especially tense and effective in this respect). Fans of the Ghost Box label, Concretism, the Ballardian epics of John Foxx and the work of such BBC luminaries as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Ken Freeman ('The Tripods') and John W Hyde (Chocky') will find much to adore here.

The vintage electronic sounds utilised by Holloway are crystal clear, expansive and at times majestically symphonic in parts. One can envision this recording soundtracking an (on the surface) gleaming, seemingly utopian 'High Rise' vision of the future, whilst the music's darker minor key undercurrent suggests something much more dystopian and bleaker. An example is 'There's A Clue Here Somewhere' which propels along on a motorik, strident beat while all the while a sinister sprinkling of discordant notes informs us there is something more disturbing and dangerous at play. 'Waiting In The Blue Room's wraith-like drone and sudden heartbeats keep the listener in rapt attention (this is not background music in any sense) while 'The Message' is not unlike a deranged, nursery rhyme styled radio signal sent from an apocalyptic future. Moving on, 'One Last Unexpected Guest's electric chatter is utterly bewitching, floating as it does above cascades of electronic strings. 'On Unsolid Ground', with its echoing, shuddering advances and uneasy synthesized waltz is music to listen to on headphones, with the lights off to ensure you pick up every careful detail, nuance and sense of dread. Finally, the penultimate 'A Bittersweet Parting', its tolling bell like notes and orchestrated masses of strings rolling in like dark waves, should be first on the list for the soundtrack to the proposed new Quatermass adaptation whilst closer 'Home Again, Home Again' is a warm, melancholic jewel that seems to reverberate long after the album has finished.

With 'The Phantasmagoria' The British Space Group have created something that feels inexplicably familiar yet also unique and compellingly unusual. The fact that these pieces come from different EPs is lost as the album continues, they expertly morph and merge into an effective and engaging whole that is wholly transportive; such is the quiet power of this music that these pieces take the listener somewhere else entirely, to another world or time zone. Perhaps this is all in the mind; they are, after all, phantasms...but I strongly recommend you come along for the journey. You will not regret it.