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

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

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.