=  DECEMBER 2005 =

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Written by: Bright
  Explosions in the Sky
Simon Lewis (Editor) Lamp of the Universe
Jeff Penczak If Thousands

Phil McMullen

Mick Stevens

Tony Dale

Goblin Market


The Surf The Sundried


Marianne Nowottny
  John McBain

Kitchen Cynics


Galaxie 500




(CD on Strange attractors  www.strange-attractors.com )


    If I ever become rich and eccentric enough to buy a one-man submarine then I think that this majestic album would be my music of choice as I cruised the coastlines and oceans of the world lost in splendid isolation. Mixing the hypnotic rhythms of Can with the spatially aware guitars of Damon and Naomi, and the slightly sinister ambience of a mellower Spacemen Three, this album is a treasure trove of epic songs and flowing atmosphere that will leave the listener breathless.

     Opening track “Manifest Harmony” moves like an Atlantic swell racing towards land, seemingly on the point of breaking, the music creating a delicious sonic tension before it is overtaken by it’s bigger brother, the eleven minute “An Ear Out” which picks up the swell and surfs it into deep space before slowly dissolving back into the ocean. Track three “flood” is made from gentler textures, as delicate as sunlight on rock pools, although the lyrics seem to hint at a darker theme.

    Mainly the work of Mark Dwinell and Joe LaBrecque, with the help of some excellent musicians, the playing throughout is sympathetic and well arranged everyone getting the chance to contribute to the whole especially on the brilliant title track, which spans a huge sonic distance within it’s twelve minute, grandiose and intimate at the same time, a trick which becomes even more impressive when you realise that the music is all improvised and composed in the studio, using as few overdubs as possible; that the band make it seem so cohesive and effortless is high praise indeed.

    This is a beautiful album that never outstays it welcome and offers up different layers every time it is heard, so go grab a copy and if you can afford a submarine as well, give it a go, as long there is a spare seat for me. (Simon Lewis)




(CD on Temporary Residence Limited, P.O. Box 60097, Brooklyn, NY 11206 USA)


     Originally self-released in 2000 in a limited edition of 300 CD-Rs (with an additional 300 vinyl copies reissued by Sad Loud America), most of which were sold or given away at gigs, this Midland, Texas quartet’s debut album was recorded in two days when the band were merely seven months old. This remaster (from the original master tapes – kudos to John Golden’s (re)mastering job, which makes the material sound as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday) with all new artwork (including one of the only instances that I can think of where the liner notes are on the CD itself!) was officially sanctioned by the band after discovering that new fans and completists were paying  upwards of $500 on internet auction sites for those original copies.

     Opening with the delicate whisper of a guitar duet between Mark T. Smith and Munaf Rayani, ‘A Song For Our Fathers’ immediately sent my mind into the church of post-rock guitar instrumentals, rifling through my discography of Tarentel, Landing, and Tortoise to find the right pew. The church is also filled with the fragrant incense of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s and Mogwai’s loud/soft dichotomy. As the album progressed, however, I found myself ultimately settling down comfortably in the slower, more expansively cinematic Scandinavian post-rock section, with links to bands such as Denmark’s My Beloved and The Seven Mile Journey, Iceland’s Sigur Ros and Stafrænn Hákon, Norway’s Low Frequency In Stereo and White Birch, and Finland’s Preesens and Magyar Posse.

     ‘Snow and Lights’ suggests an appreciation and mastery of Crimsonesque restraint, as Smith and Rayani allow their notes time to breathe and the freedom to move ever so delicately around their bandmates’ nebulous space fillers. I was particularly impressed with drummer Chris Hrasky for refraining from overwrought, “Bonzo” Bonham histrionics and allowing the notes time to find their “happy place” in the studio, where he can serpentine around them, rather than overwhelming them and blowing them away. Suggesting that the band will allow no song to end before its time, the track coyly plays possum at about the 6½-minute mark before its 90-second, crescendoing coda rises, Phoenix-like, with another sonic nod in Godspeed’s direction.

     ‘Magic Hours’’ rudumentary, two-note guitar stroking compliments the second guitar’s meandering counterpoint (apologies to the band, but having never seen them live, I’m not sure who’s playing what and the liner notes are not forthcoming with any information in this regard) that suggests the boys have a few Felt and Chameleons albums in their collections. The 20/20 hindsight of the band’s subsequent releases confirms that it would not be premature to add Smith and Rayani to the pedestal occupied by two of the 80s’ greatest guitar duos in the former’s Maurice Deebank/Lawrence and the latter’s Reg Smithees/Dave Fielding.

     The fluttering tambourine on ‘Look Into the Air’ adds a nice backdrop to the dueling guitar workouts, with Hrasky’s sedate cymbal work once again demonstrating a welcome restraint that could have ruined the song in the hands of a more ambitious showman. And while there is nothing fundamentlly different on side two, that’s not to suggest that the ruminating guitar interplay is any less worthy of your attention, particularly on the explosively cinematic epic, ‘Time Stops.’ So, if, like me, you find multi-layered, post-rock guitar instrumentals among the most beautiful, relaxing, introspective musical subgenres of the 21th century, do yourself a favour and pick up this essential reissue, which demonstrates the groundwork of one of the genre’s finest practitioners. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on Barl Fire Recordings  http://homepages.tesco.net/~beautiful.day/Barl_Fire_Recordings.htm )


    Opening with the eastern drone of the sitar, this is a beautiful and mesmerising album filled with gentle and drifting music that relaxes and energises the listener simultaneously. Split into seven sections, that gently merge together, the album is an hour long trip into a state of bliss sounding like a long lost kraut rock dream sequence, or some of the finer moments from Quintessence.

    After the sublime opening drone, the music is filled out with softly pulsing tabla and bird-like synthesisers, which add a hypnotic tinge to the piece, something that is reinforced as more and more layers of sound are introduced until everything else becomes irrelevant, the drones shaping time itself.

   “Heru” is the work of Craig Williamson, and is the follow up to “Echo In Light” (2002) itself a fine album, on which you can hear the seeds of “Heru” being sown.

     As the album moves forward, the guitar takes over leading us through the landscape with some exquisite playing that complements the atmospheric backdrop perfectly, and is as relaxing as it is emotional, creating some truly psychedelic music that is essential headphone listening.

    Released on the small but perfectly formed Barl Fire Recordings, this release is limited to 200 copies and is housed in some simple but highly effective artwork.

    In these stress filled times , this album offers sanctuary, a place to hide when life is too much, and one of the finest releases of the year, which means I am going to have to re-write my “best of 2005” list yet again, not that I am complaining when the music is this good (Simon Lewis)




(Silber, PO Box 18062, Raleigh, NC 27619 USA)


     This Duluth, Minnesota duo’s fourth full length combines the amniotic fluid soundscapes of their ‘Lullabye’ effort with more aggressive experimental sonic booms for another excellent entry in the Drone subgenre of minimalist post rock. Continuing their modus operandi of playing instruments they’ve never been trained to play (including accordian, banjo and cello!), the awkward, hesitant elements – mistakes, if you will – add to the album’s cautious, tense atmosphere as evidenced by its bleak, existential title. An exploratory intro, ‘Push’ meanders around the room like a lazy smoke ring before Christian McShane’s forlorn piano takes over the proceedings on ‘Wisconsin Bombs.’ ‘Providence’ is a slow, droning feedback exercise for Aaron Molina’s guitar that bleeds into the SETI soundtrack ‘Marianas,’ a humming, burping, bleeping wave of harmonic distortion that suggests that maybe there IS something out there!

     ‘Cymbol’ is perfect for walking through the woods on a snowy evening, its calm, floating electronics disturbed ever so delicately by glistening bells and the flickering snowflakes of Molina’s guitar with throbbing, humming baslines bringing a hint of Windy & Carl to the proceedings, while the numbing, speaker hum of ‘Walking Otis’ is clearly influenced by Eno and Stars of the Lid.

     John Lennon once wrote “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” and the same can be said about listening to “I Have Nothing.’ As you go about your daily chores listening to this in the background, you’ll hardly notice its subliminal influence until days later when snippets of Paul Metzger’s banjo on ‘Stella and Me’ or GST&2i’s (fog)horn outbursts (on ’2i.GST’) drift into your consciousness. As ambient electronic albums go, there is an amazingly warm texture to these tracks

     This is definitely an album for the more discerning musical palette – there are no catchy hooks or memorable melodies…hell, there are barely any melodies at all (save the carnival-like atmosphere of the Metzger’s playful lute on the 81-second, childlike ‘Crispin Glover’). No, ‘I Have Nothing’ is just pure, unadulterated ambient drones, and is highly recommended to fans of Raymond Scott’s ‘Soothing Sounds for Baby’ series and the subliminal, speaker hum element of the snorecore brigade, such as Stars of the Lid, Azusa Plane and Windy & Carl. (Jeff Penczak)






     Shadoks completes their four album reissue series of Stevens’ complete discography with these two albums originally released on Spaceward Records in 1977 and 1979 respectively. (Our review of the first two albums, ‘See The Morning’ and ‘No Savage Word’ can be read here.) Since the combined production run for all four albums was less than 300 (30 of his debut, 50 of ‘No Savage Word’ and no more than 100 each of these), copies of the originals are rarer than hen’s teeth and fetch upwards of £250…each! So kudos to the folks at Shadoks for rescuing Mr. Stevens from obscurity, for these albums belong in the collection of everyone reading this review. (More specifically, a tip of the dome to former Spaceward Studio manager Mark Graham, who located the master tapes in studio co-founder, and ‘The Englishman’ producer, Gary Lucas’ loft on September 8– details here).

     In between the two sets of albums, Stevens formed Impy Grinners, who played the South East between September, 1975 and early 1977, highlighted by a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London (an advert for which appears in the lovingly detailed glossy booklet – a Shadoks’ trademark). In addition to Stevens’ originals, the band’s setlist included covers of Stephen Stills, Love, and Steely Dan, a major influence on the albums included here. Sadly, the group’s dedicated following never expanded enough to garner label interest and the lads disbanded following a farewell gig at the Chancellor Hall in Mick’s hometown of Chelmsford. Stevens encouraged his Impy partners, bassist Warne Livesey (future producer of Midnight Oil, Julian Cope, Mark Hollis, The Creatures, etc.) and keyboardist Stewart Booth to join him at Cambridge’s 16-track Spaceward Studios and recording of the album began in June, 1977 and was released later that year as SRS 20.

     Stevens’ high, nasaly voice is eerily similar to Keith Christmas and ‘The River’’s opener ‘No Survivor’s Now’ is a heavy prog/psych affair with several crisp, fuzz-guitar solos and pleasant harmonies that simultaneously recall Richard Treece’s work with Help Yourself sprinkled liberally with arresting elements of Yes and Strawbs. CSNY-quality harmonies and a gorgeous flute solo from Della Thompson infuse ‘The Girl Came To Our Town’ with a nostalgic sense of sadness and wonder over who the mysterious title subject might be (perhaps future wife Hillary Burn, who would contribute backing vocals on his next album?) ‘Book Eight’ is a perfect popper with an unusual Genesis-meets The Who middle eight that ultimately had me reaching for Hudson and Ford’s post-Strawbs’ classic ‘Free Spirit.’

     When I put British music and 1977 in the same sentence, I’m probably talking about the Sex Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks and assorted punk rockers. Not so for Mr. Stevens, whose ‘77’ is a romantic, jazzy ballad that’s perfect for late night cuddling in front of a wintry fireplace (no mean feat for a track recorded in the heat of the summer of punk!) Warne’s heavy basslines and (I believe his brother) Jim’s dreamy sax solo could easily have nestled this snugly inside a Traffic, Steeley Dan, or more recently Pat Orchard album.

     A burping synth and silly “La-la-la” chorus garners ‘Crazy For Your Love’ a “forgettable” label, although, strangely, I’d be curious to hear what Joe Jackson could do with it’s syncopated, funky/blues cadences. The album’s 18-minute three-part centrepiece ‘Suite (To A Seagull)’ marries a tightly strung opening guitar solo reminiscent of Steve Howe’s Yes adventures with a folky, acoustic olde English medieval counterpoint that will once again please fans of early Jethro Tull and Strawbs. By ’77, prog had closed the door on its golden age some three years earlier, so this magnificent suite was somewhat of an anacranism, which may help explain the album’s initial failure. (Of course, no one was buying songs longer than three minutes, let alone 15, so it may have been doomed form the start.) Nevertheless, to anyone still clinging to their Genesis, Gentle Giant or Renaissance albums – full of lengthy song-stories, this would have been a highly-prized treasure. On more than one occasion on this song (and throughout the album in general), I found my mind wandering back to the likes of It’s A Beautiful Day’s ‘White Bird,’ The Youngblood’s ‘Darkness, Darkness,’ and Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ (‘Andmoreagain’ was a staple of the Impy Grinners’ live performances) of the aforementioned Keith Christmas’ lengthier opuses which you can find on last year’s marvelous ‘Timeless and Strange’ compilation.

     After eighteen minutes of heavenly bliss, the title track is rather anti-climactic, but no less magnificent. A soft acoustic ballad in the style of Al Stewart, Gordon Lightfoot or one of Greg Lake’s spotlight weepers with ELP, such as ‘Still…You Turn Me On.’ A totally brilliant album for which the phrase “criminally overlooked” was invented.

     Stevens released his final album two years later and then disappeared. (He sadly succombed to cancer in 1987.) Opener ‘Out and Running’ is a little slick compared with the atmosphere of ‘The River,’ but within its punchy, driving rhythm and Stevens’ clipped delivery, I can hear the blueprint for Paul Weller’s entire solo career. (Memo to Mr. Weller: Do yourself a favour – pick up this album, learn ‘Out and Running’ and add it to your stage show…like yesterday! There’s even a nifty solo for you to impress the wet panties in the front row!!) I do, however, like the pretty acoustic reworking of ‘Little Miss Freedom’ (originally on ‘No Savage Word’), with its far-off echoey vocals that once again remind of Greg Lake (especially his acoustic ballad, “From The Beginning” or Stevie Winwood).

     Ric Sanders (ex-Soft Machine and Fairport Convention’s violinist for the past 20 years) weaves an exhilarating gypsy violin over Stevens’ nimble-fingered acoustic string plucking on the traditional ‘Ballad of Laszló Fehér,’ which will have everyone Googling the protagonist to uncover the backstory. (Apparently he was a Hungarian horse thief; Judy Collins’ cover of Lydia Wood’s ‘Anathea’ (on ‘Judy Collins No. 3,’ Elektra, 1964) contains the opening line, “Lazlo Feher Stole a Stallion,” which was also the title of one of the stories in Bela Bartok’s 1906 collection of ‘Hungarian Folk Songs.’) As for the song itself, imagine Fairport Convention tackling ‘John Barleycorn’ and adding it as a bonus track to ‘Liege and Lief.’

     The weak – or rather lightweight – tossaway-yet-single-worthy ‘Drunk By Myself’ is certainly not embarrassing, only disappointing in light of its more serious bedfellows – its cheesy synths would have Lawrence (of Felt) salivating and would probably work perfectly as a Go-Kart Mozart b-side! The spectre of that hypothetical Greg Lake solo album continues to hover over the beautiful acoustic title track, an inquisitive “view from abroad” from the ex-patriot title character that apparently features a final verse in his new adopted tongue, while Christine Thomas’ soaring flute solo is the perfect acoutrement to the gentle ballad, ‘The Eagle and Me.’

     In spite of the acoustic nature of most of the tracks, Stevens does occasionally whip out his trusty electric six-string and dash off a tasty solo, as on ‘Steppenwolf.’ Unfortunately, Roger Jackson’s cheesy, New Wave synth (remember, this was originally released in 1979, when even private pressings were saddled with these de rigueur nightmares) all but dooms the song’s inherent qualities. Stevens wrote the closer, ‘The Other Side of The River’ as a thematic response to the earlier album and the lyrics reflect his renewed confidence in approaching the girl who lives in the title location, the woman who John Theedom’s liner notes reveal to be the aforementioned Mrs. Stevens, Hillary Burn.

     Graham also uncovered the master tapes for three 1978 home recordings/album outtakes that are included here as welcome bonus tracks. In addition to an early solo acoustic version of the title track, there is a lengthy rendition of Davy Graham’s ‘Anji’ that Stevens’ had already included on ‘No Savage Word’ three years earlier, suggesting he was never satisifed with that rendition. This version is more cautious and reflective, with a nod towards the work of Steve Howe (think of his ‘Roundabout’ intro) and Nick Drake (particularly the instrumental tracks on ‘Bryter Layter’). The slightly less satisfying of the two albums, ‘The Englishman’ is weakened by a slicker, tinnier production from Lucas and an over-reliance on audience-baiting synthesizers that drown Stevens’ wonderful, heartfelt confessional poems. An informative archival interview on LBC London radio conducted in 1978 (between the two albums’ releases) reveals the idea behind ‘The River,’ which we discover was produced at a personal cost to Stevens of £1500, along with his eerie wish that he someday can give us his day job to focus on making music, which he hopes to do “until I’m 50….” (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on Camera Obscura, PO Box 5069 Burnley, VIC 3121 Australia)


     Goblin Market must be the world’s most literary music project. In fact, if Jeff Kelly hadn’t chosen a musical sideline, I can easily picture him as a college professor, teaching literature to nubile nymphets. Hell, he would have been my choice for the Robin Williams’ role in ‘Dead Poets Society,’ seeing as how his solo endeavors and work with The Green Pajamas and Goblin Market have previously paid musical tribute to the dark and foreboding writings of such gothic luminaries as Emily Brontë, Edgar Allen Poe, Christina Rossetti, J. S. Le Fanu, Emily Dickenson, Elizabeth Siddal, et. al. So it should come as no surprise that Kelly and fellow Pajamas guitarist Laura Weller have elected to adapt several novels and poems of American author Joyce Carol Oates into a loose concept album (perhaps tribute album would be more accurate), particularly in light of the gruesome, morally outrageous, depraved characters that populate these poems and stories, from the serial killer terrorizing the New Jersey Pine Barrens in ‘The Barrens’ (the source for Weller’s opening ‘Dark Days’), to the sexual psychopath and serial killer in ‘Zombie,’ to the hint of incest that pervades ‘First Love’ (a reprise of the track that originally appeared on the Pajamas’ ‘Northern Gothic’ release). Finally, there’s Oates’ collection of horror stories with deep, psycho-sexual undertones (subtitled ‘Tales of the Grotesque’) that provides the inspiration for both the title and longest track (‘The Model’). (Curiously, the duo have elected not to pay tribute to what one would think would be the most obvious books - those that Ms. Oates wrote under the nom de plume, Laura Kelly! Perhaps this was intentional in order to avoid any suspicion that the participants were husband and wife!? For the record, Jeff and Suzanne Kelly have been married forever – she provides the artwork on most of his releases, and Laura’s husband, Scott, is the Pajamas’ current drummer.)

     However, since I am unfamiliar with Oates’ work, I will review this from a musical standpoint, which may diminish the impact of this work on her legion of fans, but will best serve the majority of listeners who will not be as familiar with her oeuvre as Weller and Kelly. (For those who want a closer analysis of the connection between the songs and their source material, an excellent resource can be found at Oates’ website.)

     Weller’s descending, minor-key opener ‘Dark Days’ drags the listener down to a bleak state of despair, although Kelly’s flickering keyboard flourishes offer a faint glimmer of hope, as does the gentle, swaying, piano-driven “Beasts,” with its melting chorus lifted straight out of The New Riders of The Purple Sage’s ‘All I Ever Wanted.’ While Rickie Lee Jones-meets-Janis-Ian is not far off the mark when describing Weller’s ‘Zombie,’ the hesitant, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop tension of her narrative has already got me hankering to read the original novel.

     The title track is admittedly a perfect Halloween horrorshow, with ominous pipe organs wailing away like the Phantom of the Opera on steriods (actual instrumentation is up to the listener to supply/guess at, since, unlike their debut, Kelly & Weller do not list anything in the credits). The punchy, rocking pop of ‘Cruel White Rapids’ is a true Goblin Market effort (as opposed to some of the other tracks which sound like solo recordings) with Weller and Kelly dueting on the chorus, and since GM doesn’t tour, this would probably be the best track to incorporate into future Green Pajamas’ set lists.

     While Weller’s double-tracked vocals feel a little strained and forced on ‘Ugly Girls,’ the infectious melody, soft pop backing and strong Kelly solo rescue this tale of lonliness and remorse that once again thematically recalls the work of Janis Ian, particularly her classic ‘At Seventeen.’ The ominous, tense opening to Kelly’s epic nine-minute ‘The Models’ slowly reveals echoing, strummed guitars, lonely, tinkling pianos (that occasionally seem to drift into leitmotivs from Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’) and Kelly’s high-pitched sorrowful vocals hovering over mysteriously forlorn sounds of crashing waves and tearful string embellishments. It perfectly encapsulates the album’s overall morose, depressing, and sorrowful themes.

     I don’t know Ms. Oates personally, but after listening to this album and assuming Kelly & Weller have succesfully captured the themes of her work (I’d be curious to know if she heard the release and what she thought about it), I would suspect she is a very sad, lonely, grief-stricken individual who attempts to conquer her pain – emotional or physical – by externalizing it into the characters of her novels and poetry. Although I’ve never read any of the works represented here, based on this loving tribute, I’m gonna start frequenting used book stores to add them to my reading list. In the meantime, I suggest those who are fans of Ms. Oates might want to revisit some of her works, using ‘Haunted’ as your soundtrack.

     So while the technical execution of condensing an entire novel, short story, or poem into a three or four minute song, and the commendable effort of familiarizing oneself with Oates’ bibliography may be an extraordinary effort to go through to prepare for an album, the songs themselves make this a recommended purchase, even if you can barely spell Oates’ name, let alone know any of her work. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on Attack Nice Records, www.attacknine.com)


This one’s been hanging around for a while now and gently ingratiating itself into my life to the point where I couldn’t live without it now. Songs are languid, somnambulent and flow in an unhurried fashion like an underground river that has nothing left to prove. ‘The Fall’ has a suitably hazy, misty feel about it and with it’s harmony singing could easily have been lifted from a mid-70s UA album (think Cochise without the steel guitar), while the fabulous ‘October Suite’ builds to a crescendo of sound and then falls away again repeatedly before finally crashing to ground impressively like an entire forest of trees - the kind of thing Explosions in the Sky are doing so effortlessly these days. Others, such as ‘Ghost Tool’, have a jazzy, keyboard led feel which is akin to early Spirit (a recurring theme throughout, come to think of it). 'Strangers' is another favourite. I confess to not knowing a great deal about the band other than that they’re from the US (Malibu, I believe) and primarily consist of a couple of friends named Nick Huntington (ex Canyon Country) and Emmett Kelly. Songwriting seems to come easy to them though, gentle guitar led ballads pouring from them like the molten sunshine that their name tips a wink to. If like me you ever dug the Miracle Legion, you’ll really like this one. (Phil McMullen)




(CD-R on Barl Fire, http://homepages.tesco.net/~beautiful.day/Barl_Fire_Recordings.htm)


    Now this is the sort of release that CD-R micro-labels were born to do. Although Ms. Nowottny's unique vocal and song-writing skills are usually at the centre of her art, in this case we are treated to a release of solo keyboard instrumentals. A relief for those who find her voice "challenging", one supposes. Beauty and strangeness are encoded in Nowottny's DNA in equal measure, and they certainly are in evidence on the eight instrumentals for piano, Optigan and electronic keyboard presented here. From the outset, any disappointment at being denied the charms of Nowottny's voice and words are blown away by the antique Victorian elegance of the open piece (helpfully non-titled 'Untitled #1'). Seemingly played at midnight from some cobwebbed parlour by a spirit suspended between planes, this enchanted composition taps into a sepia-toned world that casts back modernity with cool gaze and infinitude of time. 'Untitled #2' and 'Untitled #3' have the detached elegance and simplicity of Satie, but are played with a off-kilter, halting hand that renders them truly alien. 'Untitled #4' is breathless and almost neurotically optimistic, notes showering down around like half-speed hail-stones before a switch-back into darkness and a psychedelic whirl of backwards tape manipulation. We've arrived in the 20th Century with shuddering suddenness as though travelling via an intermittently reliable time machine. We stay there for the broken carnival sounds of 'Untitled #5', which adds gramophone samples to the ass-backward sound world Nowottny is conjuring in stages via her Optigon. 'Divinity' (a title!) continues in carnival mode, with penny arcade tinkering and off-stage clatter from it's origins as a live recording. 'Untitled #6' is a brief stop at an asylum activity room and we're taken out via 'Untitled #7' - a very short but triumphal wedge of pure abstraction. 'Strange Weather…' is a fine departure from an artist who has released too little material of late, and one hopes that more is on its way. (There are only 100 copies to be had, so be quick.) (Tony Dale)




(Pre-release CD-R)


    This gem arrived at Terrascope headquarters as a home-made CD-R direct from the artist himself, perhaps indicating a frustration at lack of avenues for release. Or perhaps just a desire to share. It's a little difficult to know without supporting materials. A little web research indicates that 'In-Flight Feature' may be issued on Duna Records in early 2006, in which case, this entry will be updated (one beauty of reviewing on the web, I suppose). In any case it presents an opportunity to assess the music free of most of the usual promotional context.

    'In-Flight Feature' is a "soundtrack-without-portfolio" of sorts – predominantly instrumental journeys with most parts played by ex Monster Magnet and Wellwater Conspiracy guitarist McBain with fellow ex-Monster Magnet members Jon Kleiman and Tim Cronin contributing guitar and drums on several tracks. It's a real return to "head" music for McBain, as well as an exercise in pushing the limits of hard-drive recording – some tracks feature so many guitar layers that Glenn Branca would be proud. As for the results, Can's 'Soundtracks' is a reference point, as are various early Pink Floyd excursions and even Morricone.
    After the brief introductory shimmer of 'Vimanas Ovar Knob Hill', the crux of the record is approached very quickly via the devastating aerobatic display of 'In Santiago Airspace'. McBain is a true democrat, for the first thing that strikes one about the track is not the waves of guitar bliss, though they are certainly present in delightful profusion, but the astonishing engine provided for McBain by Jon Kleinman's drumming, which is sparingly but effectively used throughout the record. In any case, a minor masterpiece of a track that reveals new dimensions each time you play it. Some tracks have the feel of being cut down from much larger works, and 'Centaur of the Sun' (yep) is one of those. It's like an entire side of space-rock noodling with all the boring bits cut out, leaving a collapsed hyper-dense core of sound that bounces around inside your mind like a hyperkinetic pinball. 'The Underwater Pornographer's Assistant' is a widescreen aquatic landscape leading to a swirling sinkhole brimming with compacted riffs, ascending guitar chimes, choppy arpeggios on guitar and electronics, and random crashes into chaos before reaching a synth coda that Edgar Froese would be proud to call his own. As on the album as a whole, the issue is profusion and density. There are more ideas in five and a half minutes than on most albums. 'Hubblebubble' is a foray into Syd Barrett acid psychosis, which, while not a effective as what came before, neatly places a divider between the two distinct halves of the record. After the brief, speaker-cone shredding oscillator quake of 'Motherboard' (which also seems extracted from a much larger track which we'll hopefully hear one day), the record moves into complex progressive rock territory with fractally-wrought 'Farewell Iron Age' where McBain and Kleinman manage to sound like Yes jamming with Can at some lost festival circa 1973. Again, the tightness and muscularity of the rhythm section is not something we're used to hearing these days. 'VS 666' looser and free-jazz inflected, forming a bridge to 'Magnesium Traces', which is ecstatic with the pleasures of exploration and discovery of interior landscapes. All-in-all, 'In-Flight Feature' is wonderful progressive psychedelia and one hopes it finds a sympathetic home and an expeditious release.
(Tony Dale)




(CD-R on Barl Fire, http://homepages.tesco.net/~beautiful.day/Barl_Fire_Recordings.htm)


   Alan Davidson is – or should be – a British national treasure. One of God's songwriters, he has been firing off intriguing compositions like sparks from the Catherine Wheel of his mind for as long as I can remember, and probably longer than he can. He is possibly the only performer/songwriter who has continuously generated work through the entire history of the outsider/loner folk thread in underground music, and will doubtless see off several more waves of obsession with the style before finally pulling up stumps.  'Tunnels' captures the man live at Tunnels in Aberdeen over two nights in summer 2005, and gives the listener a 'keyhole satellite' view into his forbiddingly sprawling body of work. Specifically, you get five solo tracks and five trio recordings that include a rendition of a Robert Burns poem and a version of 'Gently Johnny', the track so beloved of all who worship at the shrine of the 'Wicker Man' film.

    Davidson's adorable Aberdeen accent introduces the session in mostly comprehensible fashion before launching into an intimate, assured version of 'Wizard of the North' from the recent 'Notes Over Hadrian's Wall' CD-R. Stripped of bedroom lo-fi wizardry, Alan's facility for story telling really comes across. He has always had a rare ability to sketch three-dimensional characters in song, and the next two tracks, 'Maria Midnight' (originally on the 'Hoodie Craw') and 'Rue Bonaparte' (from the 2004 classic 'Master of the Fuzzy Fadeout'), are shimmering examples of this; the psychedelic guitar effects on the latter being a real treat. He keeps the effects plugged in for the haunting 'Sparrow Scratchboard' (from the 'For Will' EP – can anyone hook me up?). 'Songs of Spring' - also from 'Master of the Fuzzy Fadeout' - is co-written with Tanakh's Jesse Poe and demonstrates the collaborative side of the Kitchen Cynics very well. The second half of 'Tunnels' has Alan joined by Duncan Hart and Mike Napier on various instruments and the results are a bit more scattered than the pure solo tracks, though no less affecting. 'Once and Future Love' ('Fuzzy Fadeout' again) has the halting charm that is emblematic of the Kitchen Cynics studio work. Elsewhere, 'The Turnstone' is magnificent, (and if you don't own 'Parallel Dog Days' on Secret Eye, shame one you and you know what you need to do); and 'Now Westlin' Winds' pays fitting tribute to Burns. All considered, it's a very satisfying set, and I'd like to think it is the kind of release that will encourage others to seek out more of Alan's fine work, though in reality it is probably too limited an edition for that.

     'Tunnels' is packaged in a neat in black digipak with an insert and modern landscape artist Eilidh Crumlish's "Aberdeen Pink" painting on the front cover (which – be careful – because the adhesive strip on the plastic sleeve will waywardly attach itself to the attached artwork and remove sections of it if you are all thumbs like I am), and is limited to 94 copies, so - as is often the case with this type of release – tarry not. (Tony Dale)






     The second release on Damon & Naomi’s new label collects eight tracks from the two John Peel sessions their previous band, Galaxie 500, recorded on September 24, 1989 and October 30, 1990 during their only UK tours. [Trainspotters should note that, for some unknown reason, the sessions are presented in reverse order and the track sequence of the later date is slightly askew. Fans wishing to relive the experience in chronological order – a key to understanding the band’s development that I will touch upon in a moment –  should program their CD players as follows: 5, 6, 7, 8, 4, 1, 3, 2. – JP] Back to the matter at hand, I must congratulate Alan Douches on the magnificent remastering job he did to restore these tracks to pristine condition. For example, ‘Blue Thunder” greatly improves upon the muddy sound of the original on their second album, ‘On Fire.’ Dean Wareham’s vocals actually border on the intelligible(!) and his guitar sparkles in this crystaline mix, but the real treat is bringing Naomi’s bass to the fore so we can really appreciate the walking melody line that’s all but lost on the original. While Wareham originally sounded lost and tentative, here he clearly exudes confidence and his vocals are much more powerful as a result. Even his wailing moan screams (literally) with tension and remorse that leaves the original version sounding like a half-hearted throwaway.

     ‘When Will You Come Home” (also originally on ‘On Fire’) always struck me as an excuse for Wareham to wheel out his Lou Reed impersonation on the admittedly blistering guitar solo. Unfortunately, most listeners probably didn’t stick around long enough to hear it, having been scared off by his strangled-chicken vocals – my five year old nephew carries a better tune. While his moaning plea is only slightly more in tune here, I can’t impress upon you enough the magnificent clarity of these recordings which adds an intimacy that was previously lost. Being able to hear the lyrics for the first time adds so much power to the songs and Wareham’s solo here sheds the restrictive cloak of Lou Reed and takes on his own unique personality that would become much more apparent on his future recordings with Luna, rather than the blatant Velvet Underground wannabe that diminished the impact of those original recordings back in the late 80s. In this setting, it’s so obvious he’s playing WITH the band and feeding off of his rhythm section rather than dropping in a pre-recorded solo, which is another thing that always bothered me about their records.

     The BBC studios allowed the band to add spooky, sci-fi effects to Buffy Sainte Marie’s ‘Moonshot,’ a track the band never performed outside of this setting, although Wareham and his Luna bassist Britta Phillips would return to it on their ‘L’Aventura’ collaboration in 2003. Nevertheless, it receives a rather flat reading here, so completists alone may appreciate this rarity.

     ‘Flowers’ was the first track I ever heard by Gal500 (it’s the leadoff track on their 1988 debut, ‘Today”) and has remained one of my favorites. It opens their first Peel session and finds Damon Krukowski much more comfortable in the drum seat and his attack is much more aggressive, with his fills quickening the pace of the original. Here he seems to propel the song forward rather than following behind Wareham’s guitar leads. Again, Wareham’s solo is much more relaxed, as if he’s no longer trying to sound like Reed anytime he wants to. While his vocals on those original albums bordered on groaningly unlistenable as they unsuccessfully searched for highs and tones beyond his range. Whether it’s the experience of live performances or a couple of albums under the belt, by the time they hit the studios to record these sessions, Wareham seems to have overcome his inadequacies and he earnestly and honestly seems to be focusing on delivering the song in a relatively acceptable tone of voice that doesn’t send listeners screaming from the room in pain. That’s not to suggest he’s gonna win any awards, but at least he won’t lose any fans.

     Elsewhere, a surprising, yet ultimately monotonic and suitably sloppy cover of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Submission’ opens the second session for no apparent reason. Perhaps the band were thinking, “When in London…?” The other problem with this choice is Wareham’s wimpy voice completely lacks Rotton/Lydon’s vitriolic spittle and comes across as caricature rather than homage. I would much rather they had chosen to perform their rendition of New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ that they had recently added to their live setlists and which fits both the band’s low-key modus operandi and Wareham’s emotionally listless vocal style. I am not familiar with Young Marble Giants or their original version of ‘Final Day’ (did it always sound like a ripoff of Neil Young’s ‘After The Gold Rush’?), but Naomi gives a game attempt at the track. However, her relative naïveté at this stage of her career seems to trickle into her crackling, hesitant delivery that may be more the result of nerves than any inherent inadequacies that she has more than overcome on subsequent releases, particularly on this year’s earlier Damon and Naomi release, ‘The Earth Is Blue’ that I reviewed earlier this year.

      Finally, the band’s cover of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste’ has always been their piece de resistance, with Wareham’s finger-bleeding solos dragging the punters away from the bars to witness this eye-popping spectacle and the blazing, balls-to-the-wall performance here shatters all expectations, rivalling Tom Verlaine’s epic performances of ‘Marquee Moon’ for sheer bravado and intensity. So while this is definitely required listening for Gal500, Luna and Damon & Naomi completists, even the casual listener will be intrigued by the much more powerful, clearer, and more authoritative version of some of their earlier favorites that, when re-sequenced into chronological order and played in conjunction with the original studio recordings, presents an interesting analysis of their development from a local bar band playing to friends and family to world famous entertainers with nearly two-dozen releases between them. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD-R on Musicyourmindwillloveyou, http://mymwly.blogspot.com)


    I'm thinking this is the fourth Terracid CD-R, after 'Speed Has Slowed to a Star', 'Transcendent Reign Inheritor', and 'The Evacuation of Earth', but such is the fecund proliferation of narcotic undergrowth being mapped out by the current crop of CD-R micro-labels that it is difficult to be certain of anything discographical. Let's say it’s the fourth, but there may be others. Michael Donnelly is generous with his time and talent, threading through many of the projects as musician, engineer, artist, and shaman. One feels that Terracid is where he retreats to resonate with higher powers, and hurl fistfuls of stars into the sky for the navigation of those attuned to his night-side frequencies.
'Abraxas' is the name given to a class of ancient stone articles, of small dimensions, inscribed with obscure figures and formulas of Gnostic worship (probably). For the most part they remain enigmatic, resist interpretation. It's tempting to view recordings like this as sonic equivalents. 'Her Shadow Ate the Ground' encapsulates everything I love about what MYMWLY does as a collective, and what Donnelly does personally. Transportation is immediate, with stately percussion weaving a path through an alien forest, where notes created by instruments yet-to-invented drip from leaves, pool and form lysergic portals that appear and disappear in the time is takes to imagine them. 'Ur' is formless and primal, existing before and outside of time. Its blue haze of instrumentation is decontextualised, each component only serving the whole. 'Ra' conjures the unimaginable force of solar fusion – chaotic percussion and wild eruptions of noise sing of the joy of being vaporised within a solar flare, and yet coming out the other side unharmed on gentle waves of acoustica. And it keep shape-shifting flowering out into petals of pure vocal and instrumental transcendence. The transition from free noise to free folk and back in this track is startling and unexpected. You are ash, then you are gamelan, then you are speaking in tongues. That's one hell of a party. The concept of Abraxas is starkly laid out here, Abraxas as both Gnostic god and a demon, represented in the form of this lengthy track. 'Sunrim' pulses in peace with everything, a singularly beautiful object at rest. The brief coda represented by 'Hoof' is like a window on an endless thralled improvisation, its duration here enough to leave one begging for more, but in reality Donnelly has give so much here, and there are probably already several more Terracid releases in the pipeline, so we can rest knowing that…and it's all we need. (Tony Dale)