12 Jun 2017
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
UK psych-pop duo Nirvana had a pretty good run on Island Records. The three albums they recorded for Island are now held in high regard (although they weren't hugely successful at the time), and tracks like "Rainbow Chaser" and "Tiny Goddess" are among the very best that UK psychedelia had to offer from the next tier bands.
With the arrival of the progressive era Alex Spyropoulos amicably left, leaving Patrick Campbell Lyons in sole charge of the name and his sole album for the Vertigo label "Local Anaesthetic" is an adventurous stab at the prog-rock aesthetic from an artist who's gift was for perfect three minute pop singles. This being the case, you'd expect this to be a somewhat uncomfortable metamorphosis, but where side long tracks were the order of the day, Campbell Lyons' approach was to continue to write those perfect, short pop gems, stick them together into side long suites, and surround himself with tried and true prog legends (Jade Warrior and King Crimson's Mel Collins) who could stretch the material into more ambitious directions. It's not always 100% successful but it's never dull. And the sleeve is one of iconic Vertigo photographer Keef's very best.
The re-recordings of "Pentecost Hotel" and "Rainbow Chaser" aren't a patch on the originals and give the impression that Campbell Lyons was perhaps struggling a little in the songwriting department at the time, an impression which is certainly not borne out by the new tracks which make up the rest of the album. Again leading a crack band, Campbell Lyons seems much more comfortable here and the arrangements are inventive, with some lovely instrumental interludes.
I admit I didn't expect much from "Songs of Love & Praise", but put aside expectations of trippiness and this is a pretty hard album to dislike. It's not hugely substantial, but it is thoroughly charming. Particularly fine is the closing "Stadium", which provides a rousing, climactic end to the original album.
Both releases are lovingly remastered as is Esoteric's way, with extensive sleeve notes and bonus tracks that don't detract from the main course and will prove essential to collectors.
Available here and here.
8 Jun 2017
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
Ah! 'Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!' As Danny Kaye memorably sang (or was it Donald O'Connor? No matter). Here is a really great piece of work from Danish psychotropic innerspace explorers Halasan Bazar who aim to turn us into true believers with their new release; the chiming, oddly affecting and very strangely beautiful record entitled 'Burns'.
Mining a seam of baroque - freak - pop-psychedelia not unlike that pursued by the likes of Jacco Gardner and Kurt Heasley in recent years (no bad thing), "Burns" has strength in depth. Every song is an unhinged and hook laden narco-fairground ride waiting to take the active listener through a hall of musical mirrors that disturb and confound in equal measure. Thank God for mental illness.
After a brief rippling intro, 'Honest People' kicks things off proper with an ecstatic chiming guitar fest and equally delirious and declamatory lead vocal that reminds me a little of Dean Wareham, in a good way of course. "Get Sick and Die" (apart from being a great title for a song) has an elegantly wasted vibe to it that gets your toe tapping instantly and like the rest of this record hooks you like a hungry catfish on a pole. There is so much going on in these relatively simple but sonically highly crafted arrangements that elevate matters into something eerily sophisticated and engaging. In tone, in depth, in staying the right side of self-indulgence (nothing here is over 4 and a half minutes long), Halasan Bazar crank out killer tune after killer tune. "Fools" is a trip to the drive-in with your favourite girl in your dads car on a beautiful July evening where you lean back and look at the stars just as the acid you took before you picked her up kicks in. And then you realise you're gonna have to drive home.
'Freak' is a sick serenade that sets my teeth on edge with its see-sawing strings and its glib drugged out insanity. "Burns My Mind" is a lovely alt-country prairie lament that never quite feels settled with a macabre sensibility to the impressionistic and dream like lyric. The off-kilter melancholy of "Junky" has a certain sunny-side up quality as if being presented at some psychedelic holiday camp talent competition on the Baltic coast to a captive audience of drooling freaks. Halasan Bazar are definitely messing with your mind and they know exactly what buttons to press.
Enigmatic closer, "Lucky You" penetrates the walls of your head with its reprise of ecclesiastically skewed organ washes that seem to emit a sick warm polluting odour that threatens to submerge you until the clutch is released and a gently stomping valedictory love song rises out of the fog. As a way of bringing proceedings to a close it seems entirely appropriate as it is both happy and twisted.
With 'Burns', Halasan Bazar present an irresistable cavalcade of memorable classically framed pop psych delights shot through with an anxiety that is somewhat unique and sets them apart from their peers. They are The Brian Wilson Massacre, they are Galaxie 600, they are Arcade Fire blazing on high grade acid and stripped of phony pretention, they are a glittering North Sea surf reflecting the light of the summer sun in endless pinpricks of luminosity but most of all they are themselves - a hazy, sweet, sour, ragged dream freak scene that I wandered into one evening. You need this record to help soundtrack your life in 2017, to help you make sense of the insanity that has swamped the world and threatens to drag us under. Feel the burn.
Available from visionary record stores on vinyl/cd around the planet and the bands record label through the widget below (where you can also here the whole thing)
2 Jun 2017
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Over a year has passed since we at The Active Listener delighted in the psych wonder of 'Rupture of Planes' from Prana Crafter, the project of Washington Woods guitarist William Sol. It is fortuitous then that from his isolated forest home Sol has been quietly assembling his latest offering, 'MindStreamBlessing', which is now available courtesy of Eiderdown records.
Opener 'At Agartha's Gate' delicately enters on a hush of chiming guitars and mellotron, a gently epic introduction that recalls both Zeppelin's 'Rain Song' and Ben Chasny's finest moments with Six Organs of Admittance. Yet these are just reference points; Prana Crafter are unique in their own individual vision and in the particular combination of both rustic and cosmiche that they conjure seemingly at will. If this track is the mist over the redwoods and the sense of soft rain on your skin, then follower 'As The Weather Commands' is the full blown thunderstorm. Cascades of corrosive psych fuzz guitar flow over strident bass in torrents, a truly captivating and thrilling downpour of controlled noise and melody. Feedback swells and calm interludes give way to a wash of symphonic keyboards, summoning a break in the deluge that is almost meditative; a breathing out after the force of nature that preceded. 'Prajna Pines' is equally transcendental, rough hewn and distorted picked guitar soaking into the sound of organ and American backwoods blues; you can nearly smell the pine tree needles and the damp of the forest surrounds. The album's title track ushers in a darkening mood, swirling guitar lines disappearing amidst a fog of echoing keyboards until an urgent and beautifully tense acoustic refrain emerges. Sol is a master of this, of creating and carefully constructing a mood both melancholic and triumphant, that captivates to the extent that this listener found himself literally holding his breath at times. Next, 'Luminous Clouds' places a pensive guitar line over a shimmering organ drone that builds and layers until there is a veritable guitar orchestra at play. Shuddering bursts of electricity crash through the looped percussive and circular backing in a manner suggestive of Neil Young accompanying Mike Oldfield circa Ommadawn. Unpredictable and deeply emotive, this album contains many such moments that leave you practically shivering with both excitement and release. Closer 'Bardo Nectar' is a case in point; what on the surface appears as a bluesy, Americana stroll then unleashes waves of guitar that, in their dark fury, wouldn't be out of place on an early Sabbath album. A fitting end to an album that confidently combines harmony and an unshackled joy in noise, contemplation and wild expression and a sense of both the rural and the universal.
Seek out this album and make it your soundtrack to this year; take it with you when you walk, drive or wander. But make sure and also investigate the other jewels in Prana Crafter's back catalogue, this is a treasure trove that is quietly and steadily growing in size with 'MindStreamBlessing' a crowning achievement.
Available now as a limited edition cassette as well as a download release in a beautifully illustrated cover from Eiderdown records.