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

Cozmic Corridors

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.

Full tracklisting:

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.

"Kiss of the Buddha" kicks off with two lovely recordings from an aborted 1971 solo album which steps away from the UK folk sound and betrays a welcome Laurel Canyon influence. There's also a selection of demo recordings from the early to mid seventies which have a contemporary singer-songwriter vibe to them. Also of interest are a pair of recordings produced by Jeff Wayne in 1976 featuring the likes of Chris Spedding, Julie Covington, Tony Carr and Alan Hawksworth. Don't expect "War of the Worlds", but in a musical climate that saw Cat Stevens racking up hit after hit, it's easy to imagine these sides doing well had they been released at the time. The only mistep I'd mention is the non inclusion of anything from the 2007 album "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.

5 Oct 2017

One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz & Funky Folk 1968-1975

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Another of RPM's attractively packaged (and attractively priced) clamshell box sets, "One Way Glass" offers three packed discs of underground material from the tail-end of the sixties through the mid seventies, focusing on how black American music of the time was making its influence felt on the mostly white English progressive scene.

The sixties UK scene had always embraced Motown and American R&B and soul, so it should come as no surprise that as the scene evolved, the increasingly accomplished musicicans (particularly in the prog-rock scene) would become enamoured of the adventurous jazz and funk sounds emanating from across the Atlantic and attempt to integrate them into their own increasingly complex compositions.

A number of the tunes featured here are pretty much straight funk tunes, and while that will appeal to funk collectors, I'm more interested in the tracks here that retain their prog / psych / folk credentials while remaining dancefloor friendly. There's plenty of this to be found here, with fans of late sixties / early seventies proto-prog who like a bit of flute and saxophone being particularly well served with outstanding contributions from Audience, Demon Fuzz and Skin Alley (whose Skin Valley Serenade retains a distinctly tudor feel) among others.

The compiler's have cast the net wide for this, with plenty of material from the Dawn, Vertigo and Transatlantic catalogues as well as lesser know labels. Additionally, many of these tracks are sourced from hard to find E.Ps and singles, making it an attractive prospect for album collectors who will likely have a few gaps in their collection filled by tracks like Demon Fuzz's "Message to Mankind".

Other notables include Graham Bond and Pete Brown's excellent Dr. Johnish "Macumbe", Pentangle's lovely, loose "I Saw An Angel" and two versions of Manfred Mann Chapter Three's classic "One Way Glass", by Trifle and the John Schroeder Orchestra (featuring vocals by a certain Chris Thompson who would later join Manfred Mann's Earth Band). Interesting the Manfred Mann original doesn't feature here, but I'm sure the majority of parties interested in this release will already be well familiar with it.

With three discs of material there's plenty to dig into, and if you're anything like me it'll fuel further digging for albums by many of these artists that I'd not heard before. Recommended.

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