15 Apr 2018

Retep Folo - Galactic Sounds

Ah 2018 begins to really swing into action with a new release on the ever dependable Clay Pipe Music. 'Galactic Sounds' by Retep Folo (or Peter Olof Fransson to you and I) signals a departure from the rather more earthbound and hauntological releases we have come to expect from this most exquisite East London based label. This new offering is concerned with more celestial matters although, it must be said, the fit with Clay Pipe is as strong as any other output despite a rather more cosmic frame of reference. It is a match made in the heavens.

So, 'Galactic Sounds' - a series of 16 often joyful soundscapes and playful sonic riddles, mainly driven by vintage keys and synths evoking that wonder of the universe many of us begin to engage with in childhood and often retain throughout the rest of our lives. Part reminiscence, part homage to 70’s library music and part futuristic hymnal musical adventure. The pieces here are simply constructed, allowing the visitor to wander in and out of them and to luxuriate in the gently compelling thinking space they offer. This approach, tastefully deployed, contributes to 'Galactic Sounds' being a resounding success and very worthy of your time.

As with any mission to the stars, a smooth take off is absolutely essential and opener ‘Galactic Pulse’ performs this feat perfectly, gently lifting off from the launch pad and sending us up toward the heavens. A combination of sparkling synth and vintage electronic rhythmic accompaniment providing all the fuel and direction we need. This is a first class sonic cabin and the only way is upward – would you like a Martini?

Picking out particular pieces for praise can be a rather futile exercise on this particular mission as everything hangs together beautifully but perhaps the dazzling optimism of 'Galactic Spring' is a good place to start. Its shimmering drifts of sound gently orbiting the listener, decorating the mind with all manner of lovely pictures. ‘Galactic Friends’ flutters and drifts gently across your minds eye, its awe and musing hidden beneath gaseous clouds of musical neon. 'Galactic Dream' recalls Bacharach as imagined by Isaac Asimov with its insistent major chord refrain giving it an almost 'Walk On By' quality. 'Galactic Cruise' is as close to a romp as anything on this fine record with a strange dislocated groove - part swinging bossa-nova and part bluesy supernova.

Elsewhere, the mood is more contemplative such as the interstellar waltz of 'Galactic Children' which threatens to send us into a lunar orbit that places us permanently witnessing a corona rather than dazzling sunshine. Similarly, 'Galactic Flare' has an undertow that warns the passenger that not all in the Universe is benign and that respectful distance is sometimes the order of the day.

Our tour of the galaxy is brought to a suitably cosmic conclusion by the deeply impressionistic and infinitely monolithic 'Galactic End'. A backdrop of deeply ecclesiastical organ drones coupled with an icing of starry skied twinkling filigrees of sound. Its a sonic message in a bottle sailing gently away from the gravitational pull of our Sun and heading serenely toward other distant, perhaps more peaceful worlds.

Thanks to ‘Galactic Sounds’ you, the active listener, have found your spot in the firmament and Retep Folo waves you a fond farewell as he recedes into the infinite distance. This has been a very satisfying voyage and one that I will be seeking to make again soon. I suggest you buckle up and do the same, after all, we are all made of stars.

'Galactic Sounds' is available on vinyl (with download) directly from Clay Pipe and from independent retailers of taste and discernment. Don't snooze on this one if you want a physical copy, Clay Pipe vinyl releases invariably sell out shortly after release.

Shaun C. Rogan

4 Apr 2018

Trappist Afterland - Se(VII)en

Trappist Afterland, the vehicle for the sound and visions of Melbourne based Adam Geoffrey Cole and his fellow travellers, have subtly and gradually become one of the most crucial and critically acclaimed psych bands of modern times. Album such as 2015’s essential ‘Afterlander’ and their most recent masterwork ‘God’s Green Earth’ have spread the word, as have extensive European tour schedules and a carefully and beautifully presented repressing of their back catalogue by both Sunstone and Sugar Bush Records. Trappist Afterland’s richly detailed and esoteric instrumentation (bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, cittern), not to mention their spiritual and existential convictions and themes and their enduring melodies have placed them in the position of an Incredible String Band for our times. This new opus then comes at a time when their critical fortunes have never been as high and not only does it not disappoint it adds to their deserved reputation and takes the band into new and deeper territory.

Opener '1+1=3' begins with the hypnotic and circular mantra style guitar that Trappist have become known for, hand drums and tabla picking out a steady, processional pace as Cole's distinctive vocals intone and incantate, with flutes and strings weaving in and out of view. Heady but also tight, economical and without indulgence, there is a quiet, inherent brooding power to be found in Trappist’s singular and inspired vision. 'Burning Bushes' guitar is yet more insistent, building and layering amongst violin and finger cymbals, hinting at some of the early work of Six Organs of Admittance (such as Dark Noontide), a dark hued tension developing as the song grows and loops, lost in its own trance. Sounding more haunted than 'God's Good Earth' and sparser and more stripped back than its predecessor, the opulent and esoteric 'Afterlander', 'Se{VII)en' is Trappist Afterland distilled, refined and at their most pure. 'Elm And Bracken' is a case in point; with its haunting Jew’s harp and harmonium this is a ghost of a song, walking the earth in its percussive earthly chains, every footstep a funereal drumbeat. Here Trappist have much in common with their spiritual and musical brothers Stone Breath, the persistent and rhythmic strum and beat becoming its own heartbeat.

Next, 'Forest Mass' enters on a hushed bed of finger picked guitar, Cole's vocals yearning and desperate, moss covered and rooted in the heart of the woodland. Eerie backwards sounds drift through like mist between trees, a lament to the shadows, leaves and branches. 'Knot In Wood's mandolin march is hugely stirring and deeply emotive, the eastern tinged strings whipping the song into a dervish of pleading and devotion whilst 'Sundog', a paean to a lost companion, is bookended by a moving spoken word piece by Alan from Kitchen Cynics, the piece a funeral mass of quiet dignity and beauty. 'Stickboy' meanwhile is a delicate and wistful work that reminds this listener of Joseph Budenholzer's Backworld project, both pensive and wounded but filled with earthy beauty. 'The Blood in the Wood' begins as a chant or prayer, before the steady, hand drum calls time to a swirl of strings and percussion. As the song builds pace you can feel the hairs on your neck rise; Trappist Afterland are an immersive experience, they are not and will never be background music. 'This Clock, Tick Tock' broods and buries itself into the soul, vintage synth punctuating the guitars with a spectral melancholy until album closer 'Trace Your Root' offers a brightness, sitar and flute emerging into sunlight, reminiscent Mike Heron's 'Audrey' and a thing of genuine loveliness.

'Se(VII)en' then is a further triumph for Trappist Afterland, a new jewel amongst their already burgeoning treasures. Perfectly formed for newcomers and old hands alike there is a profound vision and cohesion to this work that suggests a timelessness, that in twenty or thirty years this album will be seen as a classic psych release of this (or indeed any other) era. Seek this out without hesitation; highly recommended.

Grey Malkin

Available through Bandcamp (below) and from the splendid Sunstone Records.

And UK folks have still got a couple of chances to catch him over the coming few days, performing with the illustrious Keith Christmas, Kitchen Cynics, David Colohan and more. Info here.