21 Dec 2017
Sospetto - Il Sonno Eterno
Not content to churn out the same album over and over again like some Italo worshippers, Germany's Sospetto have made another abrupt course change on their latest, Il Sonno Eterno.
2015's Quattro Specchi Opachi saw them expand their Goblinesque giallo palette to include sci-fi, eroticism and cop thrillers, albeit with a healthy dose of Giallo still. Il Sonno Eterno is a different kettle of fish entirely, soundtracking an existential drama in which Sospetto investigate the different levels of consciousness triggered by the insomnia of a young woman, portrayed by Christien Marks, whose haunting wordless vocals can't help but recall the work of Edda Dell'Orso.
Musically, this is a lush, often sensuous soundscape, betraying the influence of key works by Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani, without appearing overawed by the illustrious company it sets out to keep. Check out opener "Il Sonno Sano", a lovely, sighing exhalation of a thing with a flawlessly vintage sound that you'd swear was recorded at least 45 years ago, a running illusion that isn't shattered at any point throughout this album's playtime.
There are still moments of the unease and suspense that Sospetto have demonstrated their mastery of on previous releases. The mounting tension of "Disturbo Del Sonno" shows that they've lost none of their ability to keep us on the edge of our seats, but that's not their priority here. Generally this is a cosy, romantic, cinematic experience which sounds like big money and utter class. Witness the gorgeously swelling strings which usher in finale (and title track) "Il Sonno Eterno", recalling as it does the very best of Wally Stott's orchestrations on Scott Walker classics like "Montague Terrace in Blue".
Absolutely gorgeous and a must-hear record.
Vinyl with free CD available here , also available on CD here.
19 Dec 2017
dbh – Mass
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
‘Mass’ is the name of the new LP on Thread Recordings by multi-instrumentalist Dan Bridgwater-Hill and it’s a beautiful travelogue of small ensemble soundscapes and (acoustic) guitar workouts unfiltered by needless sound manipulation. This is pure alchemy, this is why Albert Ayler was so very right when said that music was the healing force of the Universe shortly before climbing the cosmic staircase to the infinite. In its wordless totality ‘Mass’ represents a celebration of the human spirit, of this Eden we call Earth, a divination of the human condition. It contains much beauty within its grooves as, for example, the quiet meditative drone and picking of the beguiling and explanatory track ‘Light Pools’ suggests. At its best moments ‘Mass’ it is an intensely soulful and cleansing experience.
The great thing for me about dbh the guitar player, multi-instrumentalist and composer is his approach to impressionistic song writing. ‘Mass’ is never flashy or overwrought as dbh is sure of his technique and ability to deploy musical colour with light and space concisely and to great effect. As Miles Davis once famously said, ‘its not the notes you play but the ones you don’t play’. dbh intrinsically understands this and so the purity of his musical vision is never diluted by extraneous diversion, whichever instrument is at hand.
Since his last record, 2015’s equally impressive “Mood” our man has been on his travels playing clubs and venues across Europe and further afield. This has undoubtedly infected his approach and widened his musical palate as evidenced by the joyous Latin undertow of ‘Med Sun’ with its dancing horses of guitar and violin. ‘Guitar Limb’ is a lovely rural saunter through country lanes and endless fields of green. ‘Ghost of Eyeless’ is a left hand turning - strange and opaque. It’s simple opening figure evolving into a frieze of bucolic strings, half heard piano lines and shady mental pathways of dried sticks and leaves that lead the listener past sleepy hollows and weeping willows. It’s ambition is impressive and its delivery hits the spot - never outstaying its welcome even though clocking in at just shy of 7 minutes.
Elsewhere, ‘Faith’ is dissonant and dense whilst ‘Blues II’ is dreamlike and distorted. The latter brilliantly evokes that feeling of synaesthesia and otherness – somewhat akin to listening to a musical box playing in an adjacent room whilst simultaneously finding yourself falling into unconsciousness in front of a fluttering fire. Its one of my favourite moments on a record littered with high points – a thing of rare beauty.
‘Hike’ sobers the active listener back up with its simply stated and resonant modal piano motif, a distant relative of Bill Evans perhaps. Its gently dissipating clusters of contemplative chords, are allowed to breathe out across the room to speak directly and clearly to your heart. Gorgeous. The closing ‘Mass Appeal’ heads for the turnstiles that enclose a foggy moorland, its brief interlude taking us past the deserted hillside village to the ruins of an abbey where the ghosts of the past congregation still gather in silent homage. It’s been a beautiful trip and I immediately think about playing it all over again.
So there you have it, 10 tracks of compelling and sonically literate music from dbh. He comes and stands at every door. You should find it within yourself to let him in. A joy.
18 Dec 2017
Sproatly Smith - 11:59
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
In anticipation of a brand new album from Sproatly Smith, Herefordshire’s finest acid folk exponents, comes a timely round up of some previously released material from compilations as well as some old classics and a couple of newbies. Many moons have passed since Sproatly’s last agricultural opus , 2014’s ‘Thomas Traherne’ although they have filled the intervening years with their essential Weirdshire compilation albums of local artists and their popular live festivals, featuring acts such In Gowan Ring and Trappist Afterland.
'The Highland Widow's Lament' (which may be familiar to you as the opening song in The Wicker Man) begins the album, a gentle drone and picked guitar framing a truly lovely vocal performance, xylophone chimes drifting overhead. Sproatly make this song their own and demonstrate their ability to inhabit traditional folk whilst also making it distinctly 'Sproatly'; indeed there is a pleasant, otherworldly edge that pervades. 'Lost Villages Of Holderness' (from the A Year In the Country compilation ‘The Quietened Village’) begins with sweeps of urgent harp and strings, birdsong and waves crashing underneath to conjure up a Powell and Pressburger style lament that could easily grace the soundtrack of their magical 'I Know Where I'm Going'. Cello, ripples of analogue keyboards and guitar frame Sarah Rarah and Kate Gathercole’s delicate harmonies as the song builds and layers to a heartbreakingly beautiful crescendo. 'Beetle' follows, a small slice of atmospheric wyrd folk that serves as a warm yet uncanny interlude before 'The Land of Green Ginger' enters with film samples and a circus organ, a twisted merry go round that both intoxicates and unnerves. Oscillating synths gather like flocks of birds as the song culminates, a mummers play in musical form.
Returning to The Wicker Man as source material, a spooked and haunted version of the alluring 'Willow's Song' adds a whistling theremin and the sound of creaking machinery to an already spectral interpretation. Sproatly do this with ease; on the surface things feel pleasant enough and yet...underneath there is a hint of rural menace and of something unsettling in the village. 'Tomo's Tale' finds echoed glockenspiel and vintage synths chiming and twisting around a truly gorgeous vocal line, a song that could perfectly have soundtracked the folk horror sci-fi of The Quatermass Conclusion. Next, electronic drums propel the stirring 'The Bonny Bunch of Roses', a vintage recording given the full Sproatly treatment, almost dub style. Theremin wisp’s around the aged and sampled vocal whilst bass and guitar add a hint of mischief and texture. 'Ribbons' follows and is a wyrd masterpiece, a slow build hum of electronics and acoustic guitar with voices reverberating within to create something almost sacred; a folk hymnal. 'Lonely Scapa Flow' is a rustic calypso, fiddle curling around the siren vocals to create an effective and unusual folk blend. 'Willoughby's Combination' is a pulsating synth piece of bucolic electronic that utilises vocal samples and an earworm melody to great effect whilst 'Wassail' is hearty and dark tinged plea for a bountiful harvest, cascading guitar and harmonies drifting over an organ drone; one can imagine this being performed on Summerisle in years past. Penultimate track 'The Mistletoe Bough' is a spoken word ritual, a ghost story set to a heartbeat drum and a shruti box before 'Lullaby' closes the album, the very melody that sees Edward Woodward anointed as he nears his doom in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, our third visit to this film. Sproatly once again make this track their own, indeed their blend of acid folk, electronica and experimentation feels like a direct continuation of soundtrack composer Paul Giovanni's questing spirit.
An interim album this may be but 11:59 is one which ably stands on its own as a masterful release in its own right. Full of nooks, crannies and genuine curios this is a haunted treasure trove of an album, a dusty and dark curiosities shop filled with hidden delights. It is close to midnight, why not lift the veil and see what lies beyond?
Available now as a download and CD from Sproatly Smith’s Bandcamp page.
6 Dec 2017
Lake Ruth - Intervention, Displacement & Return
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Those who enjoyed "Chante" the other week will want to pay attention for the next few minutes.
Lake Ruth has a long relationship with the Active Listener. We like them an awful lot. They seem to like us too. Everyone wins. Especially you because we're not going to let them release anything without you knowing about it. Which brings us to their brand new release "Intervention, Displacement & Return" - not an album proper I guess, but every bit as good as one.
Available as a limited edition cassette from French label WeWant2Wecord, "Intervention, Displacement & Return" features eight tracks, a combination of new recordings and a few covers that have appeared elsewhere. Best of all are three tracks recorded in collaboration with Listening Center, a music blogger's dream combo, but not a dream that one would ever expect to come true. Lucky us then.
Debut "Actual Entity" should really be quite a hard act to follow, being one of last year's better albums. Lake Ruth has cheated just a little bit in that regard by bringing us this sort of stop-gap release now then, but truth be told, it's every bit as good as "Actual Entity". Or better. While it doesn't harbour the same ambition or the same unity of purpose as a full album, it shows a band growing more comfortable and confident with who they are and the musical lineage that they follow in.
Even the two covers here, Stereolab's "Monstre Sacre" and Le Superhomard's "Dry Salt In Our Hair", are tackled with such confidence that they instantly become Lake Ruth tracks - I challenge anyone who doesn't know the original versions of either of these tracks to pick them out in a line up as the imposters that they are.
Vocalist Allison Brice continues to be a commanding presence, unusual given the delicacy of her voice, but whether it be the moody ambience of "A Captive Reaches The Sea" or more driving fare like "Dry Salt In Our Hair" she's able to command attention with barely a whisper. Full marks to Hewson Chen and Matt Schulz too for providing the wonderfully diverse backdrop here, equally well versed in psychedelia, space-pop, library music - you name it. Whatever the musical equivalent of well read is, these boys are it.
At only eight tracks I was left wanting a whole lot more, but isn't that a sign of the best records? And the good news is, we don't have very long to wait for more with Feral Child lining up a vinyl release for Lake Ruth's second album shortly, but more to come on that soon.
"Intervention, Displacement & Return" can be purchased on cassette and streamed in full at the first link below, or bought digitally for the bargain price of just $6 via the second link.
4 Dec 2017
Trappist Afterland - Afterlander
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
Originally published September 2015, reshared to draw attention to Sugarbush Records new vinyl pressing, following up Sunstone's long sold out first pressing.
Melbourne based psych folk artists Trappist Afterland have been quietly but consistently releasing some of the most outstanding and distinctive albums in underground circles over the last four years or so. Consisting effectively of the trio of Adam Cole, Phil Coyle and Nick Albanis along with various friends and musical accomplices their use of unusual instrumentation and unique sound (as well as their easy but persistent way with a melody that will get its hooks in and not let go) marks them out as one of the most important and visionary bands currently working in the psych scene. Their new opus 'Afterlander' not only builds on the successes and strengths of past albums but takes the Trappists into a whole new realm of their own, with a set of assured, powerful and majestic songs tinged with mystery, ritual and beauty.
Album opener 'Lucifer Mosquito' begins with the simple sound of chimes before complex layers of dulciters, ouds, a hand drum and Adam Cole's distinctive and emotive vocals enter in a psyche haze of immense grace and beauty which then continues to layer, grow and build into a stunning and transcendent climax. It left this listener absolutely transfixed, let me be clear at the outset; this is mindblowingly good. At once otherworldly and yet also immediate and persuasively melodic, Trappist Afterland ably suggest a dark mysticism and esoteric sound whilst also maintaining a tight, rhythmic and controlled mastery of their song craft, similar perhaps to contemporaries such as Stone Breath, Six Organs Of Admittance or James Blackshaw. 'Saint Peter And The Rainbow's eastern drone leads into tense and intricate, inventive string work (instruments present on this album include bell citern, hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery and lute), eerie backing vocals and strident tabla, propelling the song ever forwards. Fans of the afore mentioned bands, acid folk acts such as the Incredible String Band and COB and also of Michael Gira's work with Angels Of Light will find much to adore here.
'Where The Willows Weep' enters with a pleasingly disorientating backwards loop before a processionary beat begins, an air of unease and incense pervading amongst the dulcimer and oud's raga melodies. 'Jessie's Root (Isaiah 11:1-10)' rides on a moving carpet of bells, sitar drones and chanted backing vocals, sounding both haunted and haunting in its vast and lysergic soundscapes; this is music for when the sun goes down and candles can be lit. Next, 'A Jar On Mystics' is a more reflective, hushed piece of wyrd folk with Naomi Henderson's spooked flute weaving Will O' The Wisp style throughout, a truly unique slice of bucolic beauty. Trappist Afterland are clearly masters of both dynamics and atmosphere and have crafted a perfectly paced and formed album which ebbs and flows with gentle force throughout, sometimes surging with a thrilling intensity and sometimes floating delicately but addictively with measured restraint. 'Black Dog Coast' is a case in point; starting with gentle washes of acoustic sound and fragile vocals this then breaks into an increasingly insistent sounding drum-led symphony, delivering shivers down the spine and huge emotional power. The following 'Feathers' tabla rhythms, eastern air and melancholic edge is absolutely hypnotic whilst the brilliantly named 'The Psalms Remain The Same (Psalm 31)' is a plaintive, gorgeous spectre of a song, resplendent with ghostly backing vocals and a sense of hazy doom. Album closer 'Hillsong Leeches' layers tanpura drone upon drone, string upon string, and vocal upon vocal to create a blissed out wyrd and wonderful reverie that is genuinely moving and close to anthemic. A suitable and fitting finale to what is a hugely impressive and highly evocative piece of work and an album which I guess will not just be one of the best I'll hear this year but one that I will hear for many a year to come. Really.
Trappist Afterland have many extremely fine releases already under their relatively young belts and a back catalogue that amply rewards investigation, however with 'Afterlander' they must (if there is justice) become much more of a name to be reckoned with in psych circles and underground music in general. A seriously superb album that needs to find a home in your record collection without delay.
Available now as a digital download from the Trappist Afterland Bandcamp page (below). A limited number of copies of the Sugarbush vinyl reissue are available directly from Adam via the Bandcamp link below (if you're nearer to Australia), or the vinyl can be bought directly from Sugarbush Records here with free postage worldwide.
29 Nov 2017
The Stroppies -S/T
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
A change of tack for me dear readers. It was 31 years ago today that 'C86' taught the world to fey. Well almost. Anyway, new Melbourne band The Stroppies are here to get you olds to fish your anoraks out from the bottom of the cupboard, grow your fringe back and tell your now super-annuated mum that she still doesn't understand you, your friends and especially, the music you like.
Yes, I am really pleased to announce that The Stroppies gem studded seven track mini LP is packed with infectious, yet ever so effete lo-fi riffs and fabulous 'barely out of bed' vocals. You really can't go wrong with this approach in my view and if this is spearheading a renaissance for concise, jangly, intelligent guitar pop then count me in.
'Gravity Is Stern' is a joyfully half-arsed opener that shuffles along like my 15 year old self once did, punctuated by one of the most glorious peals of ringing guitar heard this side of the last millennium. An absolute and instant classic worth the price of admission on its own.
"Go Ahead" is a sulky teenager's riposte to their older siblings constant playing of Stereolab records in the bedroom next door. A two chord stomper replete with some tasty keys and submerged vocals. Touch of glam, touch of Velvets, touch of class.
"No Joke" is half a Television riff away from a Pavement song and chugs along like a good 'un before unleashing a short and very sweet guitar break close to its denouement.
"Under Your Sweater" gloriously nails that 1980's 'Sarah Records'/thrift store indie vibe to perfection - its delivery all lemonade and sherbet fountains.
"Courtesy Calls" is resplendent in its feel good, motorik driven reverie before unfurling its chorus/bridge that descends as beautifully and politely as a maple leaf gently floating to the ground.
"Celebration Day" is darker and carries a sense of cautionary story telling.
Matters are brought to a suitably charming conclusion with the chipper "All The Lines" which again features some of that chiming guitar that runs through this thoughtfully brief outing like a stick of (indie) rock.
So there you have it. The Stroppies. A band your teenage self would have been devoted to, and one your adult self is genuinely pleased to welcome into your record collection.
Now, can I really get away with trying to brush my hair forward from this far back on my head?
Available on limited vinyl here.
And unlimited download here:
20 Nov 2017
Claude Lombard - Chante
Claude Lombard's reasonably obscure 1969 debut "Chante" has recently been reissued on vinyl and CD by Guerrsen's offshoot Sommor label. While the sheer number of titles that Guerssen releases makes it impossible for all but the most dedicated listener to keep up with them, the occasional release like this and Cozmic Corridors which we've focused on here at the Active Listener must make it clear that the label are providing a considerable service for the discerning listener by bringing to light some of the most fascinating and worthwhile obscurities that I've had the pleasure to hear in recent times.
Belgian chanteuse Claude Lombard had represented Belgium in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest and would go on to record tunes for kid's cartoon television shows, so the content of "Chante" is something of a surprise.
Lombard effectively invents Broadcast, and to a lesser extent Stereolab on "Chante", and a lot of the credit for this must go to producer Roland Kluger (Chakachas, Free Pop Electronic Concept...), and arranger Willy Albymoor who have created an envelope pushing masterpiece here that embraces chanson, psychedelia, avant-garde and pure space-age pop in a way that confused listeners in 1969 but sounds like a delightfully nostalgic view of the future now.
The theremin-like sounds of the ondes Martenots features predominantly here as do chimes, David Axelrod style bass guitar leads and adventurous orchestral flourishes. And the end result sounds very much like Broadcast's "Work and Non Work" which would appear 28 years later.
Highlights are plentiful, but the delightfully breezy, almost tropicalia "La Coupe" must be very near the top of the list with its spacey keys and swooping ondes Martenots. "Sleep Well" (below) meanwhile is a gorgeous, lysergic dream sequence of a song delivered by Lombard with the perfect balance of melancholy and detachment.
It's not all delivered on dreamy, wistful pillows of sound though; "L'usine" is significantly busier with a much more progressive approach, perfectly complimented by Lombard's increasingly avant garde shrieks.
A groundbreaking classic that deserves to be heard by a much wider audience, and the significantly long shadow of Broadcast's influence on current bands shows that there is a huge audience just waiting to discover "Chante".
8 Nov 2017
This Month's Active Listener Sampler
Hi Team. We're back with the second in our revived and revitalised sampler series. This month we've got exclusives and premieres from Active Listener favourites Balduin, Psychic Lemon and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, as well as some new faces.
Here's the full tracklisting.
1. Garden Gate - Saturn (version) 03:15 2. Balduin - Norman Stanley James St. Clair 02:40 3. Pansies - Feels Like Yesterday 06:49 4. The 1910 Chainsaw Company - Good Friend 03:56 5. Zombie Girlfriend - Echo Echo 01:38 6. The Striped Bananas - Swirling Colors (In My Mind) 03:12 7. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - By The Light Of The Moon 02:59 8. Psychic Lemon - Interstellar Fuzz Star 09:53 9. Hermitess - Black Lake 03:21 10. Flange Circus - Kwak 03:07 11. Void Watcher - Succour 07:05 12. Peyote Coyote - Mirrors 04:43 13. The Soap Opera - Eggs To Hatch and Cats To Kill 01:28 14. Blue Hole - Strong Current 04:16 15. Sleepyard Feat. Judy Dyble - Rainy Day Vibration (Woodland Version) 03:08 16. Kosmo-0 - Black Lodge 13:49
Its a $1 or donation download with all funds raised helping to cover our running costs.
Get it here:
7 Nov 2017
In Gowan Ring - B’ee’s Pent Pouch
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
In Gowan Ring’s main man and wandering troubadour B'ee, whose artistic vision has borne countless masterful psych folk releases over the last two decades, returns with the curious and intriguing new release ‘Bee’s Pent Pouch’. Describing In Gowan Ring’s music as ‘symbolist folk; music within a magico-poetic-folk tradition utilizing acoustic instruments, voice, and poetry to convey transcendent experience and to engage the listener in mythic realities’, B’ee ably delivers here on both this promise and description. There is also a curious history to this release, recorded back in 2012 in a specially constructed five sided tent/ dwelling behind a 16th century French chateau. It was within this structure that B’ee determined to record a five sided sound project. The album, initially given to those who helped fund the project, now sees the light of day in a variety of five sided packaging options, from vinyl to a pouch or box encased CD.
'Dream' opens the album with a drifting sitar drone, a steady hand drum and an unsettling, otherworldly chant that layers and builds as if a choir of ghosts, ever increasing in number. It is both tranquil and eerie, the sound of darkness falling and of dusk; magical yet ominous. A fitting beginning, it is followed by an able cover of Donovan's 'Wandering Aengus', solitary voices and acoustic guitar proving a powerfully bare setting for Yeats’s lyrical and evocative words. Nick Drake's little known outtake 'Blossom Friend' is another acoustic treasure, a delicate and yearning slice of fragile, bucolic beauty. B'ee is past master of interpretation with such songs as these and he doesn't disappoint here; indeed he never over-elaborates but rather inhabits the song in its stark and simple sadness.
Next, ‘The Open Door Of The Grand Invitation' uses B'ee's warm and emotive vocals to significant effect both as a lead and also as a multi-layered choral backing, recollecting such seminal acid folk artists as Perry Leopold (especially his ‘Christian Lucifer’ period) or Simon Finn. 'The Half Lumined Path' starts with the sound of leaves underfoot and distant crow song before percussion and subtle drones enter, creating both a nature ritual and an effective field recording. A re-reading of the stunning 'Leaf Patches On Sidewalks’ (from B'ees 2005 'Beirth' album) is most welcome and absorbs a new potency and poignancy in its stripped back form. 'The Moon Is Shining On My Guitar' offers a lament from B'ees tormented troubadour soul, a melancholy sliver of wyrd folk magic where such is the intimacy that it almost feels that B'ee is in the room with you, the sound of him taking off his guitar at the end only adding to this sense of connection. The album closes with a reprise of the opening ‘Dream’, the drone darker, stronger and more urgent as the circling chants float in and out of consciousness.
A true gemstone of an album, this is B'ee at his most minimal and nakedly genuine; recorded with mostly just his voice and guitar it only emphasises his mastery of his muse and musick. One then for sunsets on hilltops, dusk by rivers or sunrises over woodland; this is music that connects with something innate in both the heart and with nature.
6 Nov 2017
Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968 - 1976
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
While it's primarily thought of these days as a folk label, an argument can be made that Transatlantic Records was one of the first and most influential underground rock labels too. Anyone wanting to present this argument would do well to have a copy of this new three CD box set on hand to silence any naysayers.
Nat Joseph originally started Transatlantic to license American jazz records on the Prestige and Riverside labels for UK release (hence the name Transatlantic I guess?). They then moved into sex education records before Joseph signed Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and started releasing ther records that they're remembered for today. Joseph continued to pursue other music that interested him however, releasing the Purple Gang's popular jug band psych hit "Granny Takes a Trip" in 1967, and within a few years he had an impressive range of underground acts on his roster.
"Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968-1976" focuses on these acts, with some crossover to some of his folk acts' more experimental material. There's some busy proto-prog from the ass-end of the sixties from Jody Grind and Circus as well as the Deviants representing the Ladbrook Grove scene, but things get really interesting amidst the offerings from the start of the next decade. The menacing prog-folk of Jan Dukes De Grey is represented by the title track from their second opus "Mice & Rats In The Loft" while highly rated prog rockers Marsupilami demonstrate their versatility on "Prelude to the Arena" from their excellent "Arena" LP. And while we're focusing on the progressive side of things, there are two excellent cuts each from CMU and Skin Alley. Elsewhere, there are very interesting experimental folk tracks from Mr Fox, whose "Mendle" is deeply sinister, as well as former Mr Fox vocalist Carolanne Pegg whose Transatlantic album "A Witch's Guide to the Underground" is a must hear.
There was more to Transatlantic's underground roll call than prog and folk though; there's McCartneyish pop from a pre-Stealer's Wheel Gerry Rafferty, hard rock from Stray, even a touch of glam from Metro, whose "Criminal World" (featured here) made enough of an impression on David Bowie for him to cover it on his zillion selling "Let's Dance" album.
Just a folk label eh?
It's a bargain and can be had here.
3 Nov 2017
Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
Review and interview by Tom Sandford
Originally published November 2015, reshared to draw attention to Sugarbush's brand new vinyl reissue, replacing Sunstone's out of print first issue.
The Byrds’ wingspan of influence stretched across three full decades and flew through the sounds made by some of the most important bands in the history of rock, including Big Star, the Jayhawks, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Hüsker Dü, Echo and the Bunnymen and countless others. For a time it was de rigueur – if not downright cliché – to see the Byrds name-checked in almost any band’s bio. They were part of the holy trinity of influential B-named bands: Beatles, Beach Boys, and Byrds.
But to everything there is a season, and an apparent decline in the band’s influence on popular music seemed to coincide with the deaths of two of its original members, Gene Clark (in 1991) and Michael Clarke (1993). Notwithstanding this decline, the Byrds have always flown high and commanded serious respect among certain pockets of fans and bands alike – folks in Northern England especially, for some reason. Since 1990, we’ve seen the likes of the La’s, the Stone Roses, the Coral and Shack flying the jangle-pop flag. Since 2007, Kontiki Suite, a talented sextet from England’s Lake District, has continued in this tradition, evidence of which can be readily found on their sophomore release, "The Greatest Show On Earth".
As with their debut release (2013’s "On Sunset Lake"), Kontiki Suite proudly flies its Byrds banner via some obvious stylistic hat-tips to 1968’s "The Notorious Byrd Brothers". This time out, the band boasts a batch of impressive new Rickenbacker-based janglers (mainly from the pen of guitarist Ben Singh) and a tougher sound from the rest of the band (Jonny Singh, lap steel guitar; Marcus Dodds, guitar; Mario Renucci, bass; Chris Brown and Craig Bright on drums and percussion respectively). The result is a cohesive, 50-minute flight high above exquisitely atmospheric psych/country-rock/chamber pop soundscapes.
The opening moments of guitar/rim shots in the rousing, Golden Smog-like opener “Bring Our Empire Down” recall David Crosby’s serene “Dolphin’s Smile,” after which some Neil Young-like crunch is thrown in as the song gathers steam. “My Own Little World” features the kind of textured ‘n’ trippy triple-guitar interplay (including lap steel and 12-string Rickenbacker) that characterizes the overall tone of the album – tone that is often upended by deliciously abrupt shifts in tempo: the lads in Kontiki Suite are more than happy to jolt you out of the hypnotized state in which they deftly placed you. Occasional, judiciously chosen blasts of harmonica tug on the same heartstrings as in Big Star’s “Life is White.”
“Free From Sound” and “Here for You Now” are tremendous pop songs, the kind of tracks that, back in the day, would’ve jumped out of an AM radio and grabbed you by the throat. The former features a keening pedal steel hook that’s hell-bent on becoming your next earworm. The latter blends a “Ticket To Ride” beat with power-poppy rhythm reminiscent of Gene Clark’s evergreen “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”
Elsewhere, the band flexes its muscle on two lengthy guitar workouts, “Burned” (with its nod to Younger Than Yesterday’s “Renaissance Fair”) and the slow-burning “Under the Rug,” while “All I Can Say” shows the effortlessness with which Singh’s vocals can reconcile an ostensibly bouncy rhythm with a melancholic melody. In places he sounds uncannily like Gary Louris. Fans of "Sound of Lies"-era Jayhawks would feel right at home with this release.
Ultimately, "The Greatest Show On Earth" reveals increased depth, both in Ben Singh’s writing and the band’s collective vision. Kontiki Suite has created much more than a simple paean to the legacy of the Byrds; they have taken vital steps in forging a legacy of their own.
Chatting up the Byrds with Kontiki Suite’s Craig Bright and Benjamin Singh
Tell me about the cover/title concept for the new record?
Craig Bright: During the time period in which we wrote and recorded The Greatest Show On Earth, three of the six band members have been fortunate enough to become parents. One of the lucky fathers, Jonny Singh, wrote the opening song on the album, Bring Our Empire Down, about the juxtaposition of the joy and virgin challenges of parenthood and, one line in particular in the song, refers to "the greatest show on earth"; Jonny's way of describing the wonder of witnessing the miracle of your own child being born. Moreover, when we identified the title of the album, it served to conjure a vision of an old school creepy freak-show in our minds.
So, looking at the front cover of the album, you will see a couple of key elements: One, a crowd observing the show; and two, the decidedly freaky dream sequence of a child at peace, asleep. Our brief was realised by the fantastic Luke Insect, a U.K. based designer.
Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.
C.B.: The Byrds, and their various related bands and solo projects, are very important to Kontiki Suite. As children of the nineties, we were able to discover and appreciate The Byrds vicariously through a love of the bands they themselves inspired and influenced, in which I would include The Stone Roses, Ride and Rain Parade, among many others.
It never fails to blow my mind when I consider the volume and diversity of the music The Byrds produced, particularly between 1965 and 1969. I guess we would cite The Notorious Byrd Brothers as the zenith of their output, as it is a beautifully perfect culmination of all of the best elements of their albums (folk, pop, psychedelia and country). Undeniably, [it is] the template for our sound.
Of course, the consistency of The Byrds' output weakened thereafter, but the void was more than filled by the solo albums of McGuinn, Crosby, Gram Parsons and most importantly to us, Gene Clark. For me to attempt to tell you how vital Gene's post-Byrds music is would be complete folly. Personally, my favourite Clark song is “The True One” (from 1974’s No Other). Pretty much musical perfection in its simplest form as far as I'm concerned.
So, yes, The Byrds are a significant, direct influence on us, musically, aesthetically and culturally.
Take me through the steps in which a Kontiki Suite song typically comes together.
Ben Singh: A Kontiki Suite song will almost always start life as an acoustic piece – a folk song, I guess. If it sounds good with just the vocal and an acoustic it gives the song a good chance of sounding good embellished. The song is usually complete in terms of structure and groove before being presented to the rest of the band and if it's a song I've wrote and I've a strong idea of how it should sound I will sometimes record a demo in my home studio.
Down at the rehearsal room I'd play a handful of tunes to the band, either the recorded demos or just with the acoustic and we'd just jam through them. It's always nice if we hit the groove instantly. If it feels good we'll run with it and then we'll start to work on the guitars in more detail.
With the song beginning as an acoustic song I'll play the rhythm guitar while singing the melody. Jonny Singh plays a lap steel adding a kind of 'movement' to the sound, swooning in and out. We usually add a quite a bit of reverb and delay to give it more texture. Marcus Dodds plays a Telecaster for the majority of this album, usually either a clean tone with a touch of reverb or a classic fuzz. He tends to play the fills in between the vocal lines and more often than not he takes the solos.
Guitar textures are an intrinsic part of your sound, especially in terms of the interplay between them. Is this something you spend a lot of time consciously working on? Or is it just a natural by-product of how the band writes?
B.S.: The interchange between the slide and the lead occur quite naturally and aren't overly worked on; I guess that has came with the experience of playing together for the length of time we have. All the guitar lines are based around the vocal lines and melody and we try not to have too much going on at the same time. On the recordings I'll put down an acoustic track, this adds a percussive dynamic and then a picking 12-string Rickenbacker. I tend play this through a compressor with reverb. On a lot of the songs this is the main guitar of the track and other guitars play off it. The sound is very deliberate and we do consciously work on it but it does come very naturally to us. I think the reason why the three electric guitar parts work together so well is due to contrasting styles we play.
CD and digital available here. New vinyl issue from Sugarbush Records available here. Includes free postage worldwide.
31 Oct 2017
The Active Listener Presents More English Weather
Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs' "English Weather" is quite probably my favourite album of the last year or so. Stanley and Wiggs have done a fantastic job of selecting and sequencing these tracks to provide a seamless and unspoiled listening experience that is quintessentially English and wonderfully pastoral. Not to mention one that introduced me to a number of artists that I wasn't really familiar with.
In tribute, I've put together a follow up volume of tunes from the UK from the same era that evoke a similar mood for me. I'd like to think that Stanley and Wiggs had some of these shortlisted for their comp. Sound quality may vary as tracks come from a number of sources.
I hope you enjoy it - you can download it in 320 kb mp3 format here, and please investigate the full albums of these artists as many of the albums that these tracks originate from are classics in their own right.
And you can get Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present: English Weather here.
Tracklisting for More English Weather:
Tomorrow Morning Brings 2:39 Pacific Drift (from Feelin' Free)
Night Clouded Moon 5:41 Diabolus (from Diabolus)
Flying South in Winter 6:28 Tonton Macoute ( from Tonton Macoute)
October Witches 8:05 Still Life (from Still Life)
House on the Hill 4:05 Audience (from The First Audience Album)
Tell You I'm Gone 4:10 Woody Kern (from The Awful Disclosures Of Maria Monk)
We Can Make It If We Try 4:35 Aquila (from Aquila)
Dance In The Smoke 6:18 Argent (from Argent)
Skin Valley Serenade 3:45 Skin Alley (from Two Quid Deal)
The Garden of Jane Delawney 4:06 Trees (from The Garden Of Jane Delawney)
It Wasn't For You 5:33 Titus Groan (from Titus Groan)
Green Eyed God (7" Version) 3:50 Steel Mill (from Jewels Of The Forest (Green Eyed God Plus))
The House 3:28 Ginhouse (from Ginhouse)
Sun God a) Awakening b) Realisation c) Worship 11:14 Raw Material (from Time Is...)
Magical Love 4:37 Saturnalia (from Magical Love)
30 Oct 2017
Bons - Gras H'utsi
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
Spillage Fete is a singular label that occasionally puts out highly conceptualised and wonderfully enigmatic records from a slowly rotating cast of players. I imagine it being run by someone who is completely bonkers but in a really nice way. The sort of person who would engage you warmly on the merits of making your own wooden furniture or birdwatching and doesn't watch much telly. Someone distractedly engaged with an outside world that they don't fully subscribe to.
Bons is the latest musical venture to spring forth from the Spillage Fete label, noted for its interest in the less trodden of musical paths. "Gras H'utsi" does not disappoint on this measure or on many others as it's series of seemingly unrelated and tribal musical interruptions criss-cross your mind and pull you into a world that is simultaneously intricate and straightforward, instructive and confusing. The records title seems to indicate ruminations on European and African culture but are filtered and abstracted in such a way as to not offer anything as musically straightforward or instructive.
These are field recordings of half remembered dreams that the listener is asked to complete. It is a deeply personal listening experience that involves you in a way rarely found in these days of mass media manipulation.
So, how to describe in words this series of 16 short sonic interludes? Well here we go...
It is a supremely home-made record and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. The production values and instrumentation of choice mean that the record lives and breathes in your sitting room. It is optimally an indoors record that you allow to take a seat in your home - a conjuror's suitcase of 16 sounds with a human edge that all seek intimacy with the listener and gently coerce you into giving them your undivided attention. It's a great trick to pull off and Bons succeed perfectly in this objective.
Song titles as far as I can tell are not instructive and neither are the exquisite prints of paintings that adorn the accompanying booklet. This of course adds to the fun.
The exceptions to this analysis are the oddly affecting 'Double Latin' which to my warped mind is the most clearly conceptualised piece on the record. It successfully conveys the impression of slowly walking past the closed door of a school classroom during lesson time. And just as I congratulate myself for this amazing piece of realisation it quickly dissipates into a cloud of wow and flutter.
The other is 'Winnowing' which as you all know is the ancient Asian art of separating wheat from chaff by throwing it up into the air and allowing the lighter particles to blow away leaving the seeds to make the bread. A lovely metaphor for this beautifully sparse and deeply rural snapshot of warmth. It's a beautiful piece of music and my personal highlight of the record.
Elsewhere, we find the double bass and backwards tape treatment of 'Radical Shush' and the sweetly revolving 'Landschaft'. The mechanical looping of 'Syntax' floats overhead before taking a dreamy vocal turning - a bit like Grizzly Bear if they abandoned any sense of structure. "Dot Hub" is a weird collage that bewilders before dropping you off at a random bus stop miles from anywhere, though at least it's a stop with a shelter. Proceedings are brought to a suitably abrupt close with 'Low Hangs the Fruit' which announces itself before almost immediately making for the exit.
Colin Newman's (of Wire) "A to Z" is a fairly hopeful if sonically more dissonant reference point. You can also hear the work of Eno, Basinski and the hauntological essays of Belbury Poly, but really I'm grasping at the air - Bons are far too singular to stable comfortably with others.
What is for certain is that Bons have arrived to bring clarity to your overly cluttered life. Stop for a moment, make yourself a cup of tea and luxuriate in the endless possibilities of this delightfully strange musical experience. They are abstract expressionists of sound and masters at their chosen craft. You should find the time to join in with them for a while and remove yourself from the daily punishment of orthodoxy and routine.
Available on vinyl from selected independent retailers and directly here:
29 Oct 2017
Keith Seatman - All Hold Hands And Off We Go
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
Hampshire artist Keith Seatman beckons us to return to his spooked, analogue world with his fifth album 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go', the follow up to 2015's masterful folk flecked slice of electronic pastoralism 'A Rest Before A Walk'. With a back catalogue of haunted gems as well as being the architect behind the highly recommended Test Transmission mixes, Seatman is quietly cementing a reputation as one of the foremost and most influential of electronic explorers in the realm inhabited by fellow travellers Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and Concretism. 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' more than cements this; this is possibly Seatman's finest yet and an album which seems to unveil more depth, detail and riches upon each successive encounter.
The brief ominous hum and distant chatter of voice that opens 'A Lighthouse Might Look Long' provides a startling and pleasingly disorientating beginning to proceedings before the driven and urgent synth stomp of 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' accelerates the listener into a metallic and neon filled dream. Electronic drumbeats propel the whirling strings and twisted carnivalesque keys and chimes; both exhilarating and disconcerting this ably sets out Seatman's stall and leaves some other 'hauntology' or electronica acts seem tame and plodding in comparison. 'Skipping Rope' goes even further down the rabbit hole, a descending synth motif merges with a children’s' song, music boxes and clattering percussion to create a truly spectral and ghost filled vision that begs repeat listening; nightmares have rarely sounded quiet so delicious. Next, 'Mr Metronome' eases the pace to a stately, dystopian glacial grandeur, strings framing vocalist Douglas E Powell's breathtaking performance; fans of John Foxx, should immediately seek this out. Should an alternative soundtrack to Ben Wheatley's 'High Rise' be needed then he need look no further; this is both chilling and addictive. 'Left behind, Lost Or Dropped' screams into view, propelled by insistent keys and increasingly frantic drumbeats, it's melody (as Seatman's seem to) getting under the listener’s skin and into the imagination; this music conjures visuals like almost no other. Next, 'Four Steps At A Time' shrouds its glistening melodies in a cosmic wind, echoes from a past within the present ricocheting and returning around the steady electric beat. Haunting and curiously uplifting, this track exemplifies the layers and careful construction involve din Seatman's mini symphonies, there is so much going on here that repeated listens are ably rewarded. 'Odd In A Nightcap and Cup' posits backwards effects amidst synthetic voices and analogue bleeps and whirrs before an organ harmony plucked straight from some decaying old Hollywood film hovers into view; this music is filled with ghosts. 'Tap Tap' is a foreboding slice of future sock; rasping keyboards and a colossal sounding drums give an indication perhaps of what Black Sabbath might have sounded like in alternate universe had they formed with a battery of Korg synths rather than conventional instruments. 'Boxes With Rhythms In' returns Douglas E Powell to the helm for an album highlight, a shimmering jewel of a song, banks of strings and keys creating a processional march of no small power. The album concludes with 'Of salt And candy', a children’s' nursery rhyme resonating against electronic howls and gusts; an ending befitting the otherworldly nature of what has come before.
This is a masterclass in atmosphere and mood but also in melody and song craft; Seatman has composed an album that lingers long after it has finished, it leaves its own ghosts behind and delightfully so. This is essential listening but don't stop here; seek out Seatman's earlier albums for more treasures.
CD and digital available here:
23 Oct 2017
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Interesting one this. In the mid nineties the Psi-Fi label released a stash of Krautrock albums on CD which were purported to originally have been released by the Pyramid label, with Cozmic Corridors' self titled 1972 album being among them. There was a lot of talk at the time as to whether these were genuine seventies albums or whether they'd been put together as fakes at the time of their mid nineties release. The fact that no-one seems to have been able to trace any of the original seventies Pyramid pressings of any of these albums seems to provide the most telling evidence in this case. Although "Cozmic Corridors" does also claim to feature Mythos drummer Hans-Jürgen Pütz on percussion, so maybe someone should ask him.
Either way, Guerssen's Mental Experience offshoot label has seen fit to rerelease "Cozmic Corridors" on vinyl (or release it for the first time on vinyl depending what side of the fence you're on), so that we can re-evaluate it and judge it on its musical merits exclusively, which is what I intend to do here.
If this is a fake (which admittedly seems likely), it's an exceptionally good one. Musically there's nothing going on here that would have been incongruous in 1972, in terms of influences or instrumentation. And more importantly, it's a really great album. Krautrock isn't the most user friendly genre, but "Cozmic Corridors" is a really inviting, easy to digest album, which is a little unusual as it's also a very moody piece of progressive electronic / kosmische music.
There's plenty going on in these five mostly lengthy pieces. Built on a bedrock of keyboards / synths (Moog and Rhodes feature prominently) there are some compelling forays into cinematic, gialloesque horror score sounds ("Dark Path", "Daruber"), organ drones reminiscent of Terry Riley, and ritualistic chants which give this a dark, meditative, occult atmosphere that I found irresistable.
Certainly fans of Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Emtidi are encouraged to investigate this immediately, as are fans of the Ghost Box label who will find the textures here evoke the same sense of comfortable but uneasy nostalgia that artists like Belbury Poly specialise in.
Vinyl, CD and digital (as well as full stream) are all available here:
19 Oct 2017
Oliver Cherer – The Myth of Violet Meek
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
Oliver Cherer is highly prolific, I sort of think of him as a more benevolent ‘Surgeon of Crowthorne’ (aka Dr. William C. Minor 1834 – 1920), despatching odes and sonic letters to the outside world from his half-lit lair by the gently lapping English Channel. In his guise as solo artist he has concocted a rather sinister tincture that when aurally ingested plants the listener firmly in the fly-agaric world woodlands of the South Downs. His new release, “The Myth of Violet Meek”, successfully combines the unsettling and the euphoric in a series of folk-laden lullabies that threaten to overwhelm but ultimately leave enough air-space to allow safe(ish) passage through its rural and occasionally savage path.
So what we have is a self-authored legend charting the life, habits and death of Violet and the impact of her being on those in her immediate surrounds and of the musical curator who feasts upon her existence. The mood is often heavy, with barely suppressed violence and sexual depravity colouring the air amid the scraping of strings and the forthright punctuation of the piano that often surfaces in some benediction of the events that are unfolding and serve as a shell for the listener to make safe travel through. It reminds this author of 70’s acid-folk misfits Comus (‘Who Killed the Bears’) filtered through a more incisive set of songwriting chops that say someone like Luke Haines would display (‘Violet Says’). You could even make an argument for the record in totality being a reworking of Lou Reed’s gothic masterpiece ‘Berlin’ translated to a field in Victorian England.
In any case, all of these comparisons however inaccurately applied tell you a lot about the songwriting chops of Oliver Cherer. He is a classicist composer with genetic mutation whose fusing of musical viewpoints and deployment of light and shade utilising a range of largely acoustic instruments is mightily impressive. Even in the presently overpopulated ‘nu-folk’, ‘alt-folk’, ‘acid folk’, ‘fuzzy felt folk’ genre, ‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ shows the qualities of a thoroughbred in a field of ponies. Listen to the beautiful ghost waltz of ‘Valentine’ as it skips across your mind and entrances you whilst expertly keeping you out of the dance before vanishing into the net curtains of your mind. Or the stately ballad ‘Unspoken’ delivered with all the authority of a walnut grandfather clock chiming out at three. In an empty house. The queasy hurdy gurdy string ensemble of ‘A Bear with Two Backs’, the hobo folk-blues figure of the almost unbearably self-disgustedly frank ‘Slag’.
As always, Oliver Cherer is not a perennial half empty communicator and he is programmed to find some warming resolution to any concept, however heavy it may be. The penultimate, ‘Trees’ is a brilliant anthemically drifting song which appears from behind the dark side of the moon to illuminate the twilight world we have previously dwelled in when hearing of the myth of Violet Meek. Our brains may be damaged but peace can be found in the trees. In the nature from which we sprang and from which we all must return. It’s a celebratory end to a remarkable journey. Almost. For as we draw our curtains and reach for bed the faint rustlings and psaltery of Violet and her sisters lurk just out of sight, beyond the hedgerow. Waiting.
‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ is available on several formats including a lovely white vinyl edition from your local independent stockists or direct from Wayside and Woodland Records.
17 Oct 2017
Tanizaki - Archaeology
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Where Tanizaki's first EP "Ouroboros"(which I raved about here) was all subdued synth menace and wobbly beats, the new EP "Archaeology" makes extensive use of acoustic guitar to capture the same atmosphere of disquiet. Granted, there have been several releases since "Ouroboros" that I haven't heard, so I'm missing a few evolutionary steps, nonetheless the change here is startlingly impressive.
It's not totally unheard of for acoustic guitars to be used in the hauntology genre - both The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly have dabbled and used them for colouring before - but it's unusual to hear them given such prominence. There's long been a relationship between pagan folk music and hauntology and it's addressed very nicely here. Tanizaki describes it best when he calls his music 'weird nature music', a description that could be taken a number of ways but conjures a very specific sound in my mind, almost a hauntological 'thin wild mercury sound'.
Tanizaki is really doing a service to the genre by pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as hauntology here. While it's often viewed as a branch of electronica, I've heard correlations in the more natural instrumentation of artists like Wyrdstone, Sproatly Smith and the Rowan Amber Mill that give me the same nostalgic rush as Ghost Box's more celebrated artists. The "Year in the Country" series can also be thanked for illustrating this relationship on their excellent compilations.
"Archaelogy" successfully strips back the keyboards, which now provide a subtle supporting role and focuses on lovely, pastoral acoustic guitar that evoke memories of Summerisle, with snatches of field recordings adding further textural colour.
The haunting arpeggios of "Dumnonia" make for an arresting opener, but best of all is "Crane Dance" where the guitars and vintage synths engage in a moody sensuous dance, effortlessly and inseperably entwined.
Lovely stuff, available as a name your price download here:
12 Oct 2017
The New & Improved Active Listener Sampler
Hi Team, we've revamped our sampler series now that we're back in action and here's the first of hopefully many.
We've got exclusive tracks and premieres from some of our favourites including Lake Ruth, Radiophonic Tuckshop, The Greek Theatre and the Citradels as well as a whole lot more.
18 tracks in all for a single shiny dollar (or more if you wish) - funds raised will help keep various Active Listener operations happening, so if you'd like to see more of these you can support us by downloading.
1. Radiophonic Tuckshop - Kensington Garden Pie 04:07 2. Lake Ruth - The Great Selkie 04:33 3. Jonothon Heron - Heron Pool 03:45 4. The Greek Theatre - Just a Little Drop of Rain 03:07 5. The Village - Voodoo Skull 02:47 6. DulceMuse - Midnight Sunstone 04:00 7. Hanford Reach - Theatre of Shadows 03:17 8. Warrior Squares - Longshore Drift 08:01 9. The Late Pioneers - Rizzo's Booze 05:13 10. The Citradels - Milk and Honey 02:32 11. Headroom - How To Grow Evil Flowers 09:56 12. The Paperweight Array - Corporal Cameo 04:14 13. Briars Frome - Forever 04:50 14. Three Dimensional Tanx - Astral Plane Flight Attendent 05:59 15. Keith Seatman - Odd in a Nightcap and Cup 05:16 16. Diamond Incarnation - In A Loss Of Soul 04:56 17. Chris Oliver - Uen! 05:05 18. East & West Rendezvous - Colombo 15:25
Download or stream here:
10 Oct 2017
Pefkin - Murmurations / Annelies Monseré - Debris
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
Two beautiful releases from the auspices of the excellent Morc Records label have reached The Active Listener of late; Annelies Monseré unsettling ‘Debris’ and Pefkin’s haunting ‘Murmurations’. Both share a rare quality in that they stand defiantly outside of the bustling, mainstream of life and exist in their own quiet, unique universes. Monseré follows up her sophomore effort with her third album that is a more skeletal and minimal affair than previous, yet with the same brooding presence and steady power that previous releases have wielded. Pefkin (the solo project of Electroscope’s Gayle Brogan who can also be found playing in Barrett’s Dottled Beauty (recently reviewed on these pages) enlists Electroscope’s Phil Cavanagh and Kitchen Cynic’s Alan Davidson to lead the listener through five extended gentle yet otherworldly excursions.
To start with Pefkin, ‘Murmurations’ finds Brogan referencing her ornithological interests and reflecting upon her observations amongst nature. Fittingly then, 'Redshanks' opens the album with the buzz of bowed strings and Brogan's beautiful, unearthly vocals, suggesting dusk upon a deserted landscape, wind curling around the barren horizon and the shapes of wheeling birds. Exploratory slide guitar takes this track into darker, shadowy territory not unlike ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ era Floyd in its vast, cavernous mood. Layered strings and vocals build the track into a buzz of pensive beauty, a truly remarkable opening to an album that continues to be a hugely immersive and affecting listen. 'Phalaropes' is equally gorgeous though distinctly more cosmiche; modular synths whir behind Brogan and drift into vast echoes in space, hints of Popol Vuh and Cluster orbiting around the glorious collage of sound. Next, 'Swallows' enters on waves of analogue synth, Brogan's vocals eerily swooping in and out of the electronics until distant percussion and drums punctuate the landscape. Quite unlike anything else you might hear, Pefkin has created her own soundtrack to the dying of the day, the music that invites the myriad of birds and creatures to awake into the twilight world. 'Jackdaws' reverberating organ intones Suicide-like, an ominous hymnal to the natural world that both captivates and unnerves whilst album closer 'Starlings' is a gorgeous lament framed by piano and violin. A remarkable album and clearly the product of a singular vision, 'Murmurations' needs to be heard. Listening now it can easily be imagined that hearing this album is something akin to what it must have been like hearing Nico's 'Marble Index' when it was released; alien yet curiously familiar, beautiful yet stark, hypnotic yet troubling. A triumph.
Annelies Monseré 'Debris' is a subtly different creature yet shares the same sense of desolate gentleness. Opener 'Wake III' has a solitary piano accompanying Monseré's vocals, a yearning and heart-rending work of quiet despair. 'Are You Going To Leave Me' stirs into view on the hum and throb of echoed guitar, Monseré intoning over the growing swell of shimmering strings. The song's apparent simplicity becomes at once a symphony of heartbreak and defiance, a mesmerizing mass that references Neu as much as My Bloody Valentine. 'Blind/Light' is an organ led slice of melancholic loveliness that builds to a sense of the sacred, Monseré's voice harmonizing with itself and multi layered to provide a chorus of impassioned beauty. The sound of picked strings and harmonium weaves slowly into the second segment of the song, the central motif returning now fully orchestrated and with a significant underlying power and poise. 'Traces' spectral vocals and lonesome waves of strings provide a haunted house of a song; there are ghosts here in very note, every word. Next, 'Sun' is a devastating piano work that shivers into being whilst 'Wake IV' is an album highlight, guitar spidering its way across wraith like keyboards that brings to mind Swan's apocalyptic opus 'Soundtracks For The Blind;' it contains this level of intensity and affect. The album closes with 'Strangers' a folk shanty of a song that lingers long after the final notes have rung out.
Both of these albums are labours of love, creations that undoubtedly come from the artist’s very being. They are then consequently emotive, individual and highly original yet also curiously accessible. There is a keen sense of melody and song craft at work amongst the experimentation on both these releases. Both of these albums cannot come highly recommended enough; haunting, beautiful and unique they demand your attention.
Available now as downloads and on beautifully packaged vinyl through these links:
8 Oct 2017
Marian Segal & Jade - Fly On Strangewings: The Anthology
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Ooh, this is a lovely box set from Cherry Tree. Marian Segal & Jade's sole 1970 album "Fly On Strangewings" is a bit of a folk-rock classic, but if you're reading this, you likely already know that.
This three disc box set aims to tell a more complete version of Segal's story, including an expanded version of "Fly On Strangewings", "Paper Flowers" (a collection of pre-Jade acoustic folk duets recorded with Dave Waite), and most intriguingly of all, "Kiss of the Buddha" a collection of archive material recorded after the Jade album spanning the years 1971 to 2013.
First of all "Fly On Strangewings". Often compared to Fairport Convention, with Segal's voice frequently likened to Sandy Denny, I'd suggest that it's Segal's songwriting and the album's arrangements that are more comparable to Denny's. Certainly there are a great deal more strings than Fairport ever employed, and Segal's songs are rooted in the contemporary with little of the trad imagery that Fairport employed. Fans of Sandy Denny's 1972 album "Sandy" will likely feel right at home here though.
Segal's songs are uniformly strong across "Fly On Strangewings". It's easy to see how it's acquired its stellar reputation, with the album's few detractors seeming to be those who've approached it expecting something with a psychedelic approach (understandably as dealers have been labelling this as acid-folk for years to drive up the prices). Try the delicate title track, or the fantastic opener "Amongst Anemones" (both embedded below) for an idea of whether this is your bag or not.
Moving on to "Paper Flowers", originally released in 2004, but recorded between 1967 and 1969, this is made up of acoustic based folk duets with Dave Waite (who was also in Jade). Soundwise it's quite similar to Sandy Denny's pre-Fairport recordings (solo, with Alex Campbell and with the Strawbs), although most of the material is Segal's own, bar a few Dylan covers (of which "Percy's Song" is particularly lovely). It's a very pleasant listen, with Segal's songwriting developing nicely but not quite up to the caliber of what she'd achieve on "Fly On Strangewings" as of yet.
"The Gathering" which Marian (or Marianne by this point) recorded with Circulus, a necessary chapter in the story, especially for those interested in her psych-folk credentials. Omissions aside, what is here is very interesting indeed.
The box comes with each album packaged in attractive vinyl replica sleeves and an informative 22 page booklet which sheds further light on Marian's post-Jade activites.
Get it here.
7 Oct 2017
Balduin - Bohemian Garden
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
In a corner of the Alps there is a tear in the dimensions of time and space. Within its uniquely swirling vortex is a time lock that is always oscillating between 1967 and 1973. From that forbidden zone, the new Balduin record, “Bohemian Garden” has reached escape velocity, striking like a lightning bolt into the present. In achieving this feat, Balduin shares a musical creation that makes a bold and compelling case for being the baroque psych-pop-analogue synth event of the year.
For those not familiar with Balduin’s previous forays on Sunstone Records we are very much in the cosmic sandpit here surrounded by pretty ballerinas while wind chimes hang down from the stained glass windows of the gingerbread house and though its hard we try not to stare at them. This new record sees his sonic palate expanded with tunes that deploy taste ripples of primitive synth – pushing the sonic envelope further into new territories that his previous outing on Sunstone, the delightful ‘All In A Dream’ .
The opening duo of the title track and “Leave to Seek The Light” are perfect confections of kaleidoscopically arranged psych-pop. Absolutely nailing a mood of dreaming introspection and tripped out wonder – this is highly developed craft at work here. It’s a really strong opening and I am pleased to report that it sets a benchmark for the rest of the record that it is able to match for the remaining 25 minutes of this brief but perfectly formed collection.
“Cap Frehel” pushes the envelope further, taking the listener into a meadow of early 1970’s pastoral scenery complete with primitive synth and chiming vibes. Its a real groovy ‘Dralon trip’ and provides a lovely counterpoint to the more established ‘Balduin’ vibe which occupies most of the album. That Balduin vibe being very much a strain of euphoric psych-pop that tweaks the classic approach of its forebears to create its own unique medicine show. Balduin knows his history but is his own guy and has his own twist on the genre that makes listening to him a joy.
The intimate vibe created on ‘Your Own’ with its subtle acoustic guitar shifts and spectral backing is a joy and sets up the strange acid drenched and haunted collision of bossa-waltz ‘Libelle’ perfectly. A very smart musical one-two that spins a web around the listener that I have no desire whatsoever to try and escape from.
“Madrigal” dives into yesterday with its flowered up toytown pop delights and gentle groove before spinning off into the clouds and making way for the deeply lysergic ‘ Song for the Moon’. This peach of a song is all chiming ‘She Said, She Said’ guitar lines and floaty vocals that threaten to go into orbit but opt instead for an earthbound kaleidoscopic patchwork of sounds before evaporating in front of your very ears. The skewed music hall moves (for the benefit) of ‘Mr Bat’ is a queasy seaside postcard from another day and another lifetime with its sinister offer of ‘dance with me and you’ll be mine’. Matters are brought to a suitably bewildering conclusion by the brief and baffling ‘Rondo Vampyros’. Or perhaps they have been brought back to the beginning? I certainly found myself hitting repeat to spend another half-hour in Balduin’s bohemian company.
So there you have it. Balduin. A man who sees the world through kaleidoscope eyes, whose pop sensibility is sharper than sherbet. A man whose quest to make the perfect pop-psych record has delivered this many jewelled wonder. Come play with him in the garden and leave your mind at home.
Vinyl is available directly from the glorious Sunstone Records and select purveyors of sonic delights. Digital and full stream can be found here:
6 Oct 2017
Ashtoreth - Morana
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
Belgium's mighty Ashtoreth have been releasing highly impressive and affectingly atmospheric albums over the last few years to an increasingly dedicated audience, culminating in the beautiful and expansive collaboration with TCH, 'Angels Will Guide The Way To Our Harbour', a post rock symphony of echoed guitar drones and vast shifting swathes of desolate sound. However they have arguably produced their finest work here with the recently released 'Morana', an ambitious and hugely accomplished recording that touches on key contemporaries such as Sunn O))), Blood Of The Black Owl and The Elemental Chrysalis whilst also traversing the dark psychedelic paths taken by luminaries such as Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream and 'Saucerful of Secrets' era Pink Floyd. Recorded (with the exception of one track) in a single sitting, this is an organic and improvisational work that breathes, twists and shifts like grey smoke, drifting with purpose exactly where it needs to go. Inspired by a Slavic goddess and seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature, this is an album that combines the sacred with something more deeply of the earth, something ancient and sleeping.
Opener 'Hyberna' gradually and glacially shifts into view, a melancholy drone with bursts of guitar that fold in on itself and repeat, building and endlessly layering. The piece grows, shifting in tension and power, a tolling guitar note chiming like a bell calling time at the end of the world as the song becomes ever more expansive. The crackle and burn of guitar feedback drifts steadily like stormclouds beneath, indeed there is something here akin to the feeling before an electrical storm, the hum and suspense in the air. 'Kāla Nāg' continues this haunted journey but with the addition of wordless female vocals, cosmiche strings and an echoed guitar motif that bleeds ominously over the distant chatter and washes of sound that ebb and flow throughout. That Ashtoreth is the work of one man Peter Verwimp, is something quite impressive indeed. It is equally mindblowing how he has essentially constructed this in a singular take; complex layers develop and overlap, meditative pauses allow for controlled feedback to tear at the heartstrings and there is a genuine sense of careful composition, yet this is essentially one man's intuition and vision. Next, the enormous 'Tymor', a staggering 26 minutes long, creeps stealthily into being on a melancholic and repeated guitar line, whilst behind deep, resonating drones and ebow construct a cobweb of haunted sounds as an unsettling bass rumble indicates something more sinister growing in form. Backwards effects bring a sudden and dramatic pause until tentative strings drifting like thick fog emerge and a more meditative and sacred mood returns; you can almost feel the cold tendrils of mist as the sound resounds, a chill and cold air pervading. By gently adding further cathedral-like textures Verwimp achieves a religious sanctity that is both affecting and emotive, a true symphony of sorrow. The album finale 'Wani Yetu' begins with a distorted vocal chant before being joined by a deeper, baritone voice to create something both ancient and eternal, a spectral choral master-work. Unsettling and chilling yet also deeply human, this is the sound of a thousand ghosts calling out to us, reminding us that we soon will be part of this eternal choir.
A remarkable achievement, 'Morana' begs to be heard widely; it is both post-rock/psychedelic as well as an experimental piece and yet is also arguably modern classical; a movement in four segments that is genuinely transportive for the listener. Many such instrumental works rely on certain common and recognisable motifs, clichés and dynamics to keep the listeners attention; not so this album which connects and enraptures in its own unique and individual manner. Seek out Morana, this is an important work and one which needs to be experienced; immerse yourself in the drone.
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