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.

Nathan Ford

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.