=  JANUARY 2007 =

Quick Links
Written by: Arborea
  Bird By Snow
Simon Lewis (Editor) Dragon or Emporer

Phil McMullen

Green Milk from Planet Orange

Jeff Penczak

Ghost Stories

Tony Dale

Lamp of the Universe
  Pothole Skinny
  Fern Knight
  Children of the Stones
  L. Pierre
  Acid Archives book



(CD from Summer Street Records )


Take a handful of politically sharp lyrics, hone them on a pedal-driven sharpening block in the lea of the old tumbledown barn until the point shines through, set them to melodies so intimate they sound like firelight whispers and moody, atmospheric instrumentation that soothes like a bubblebath and the result is Arborea. This ethereal duo of Buck Curran (who majors on guitars, bowed strings and vocals) and Shanti Curran (vocals, banjo and percussion) hail from Maine, USA and musically hail from a similar gene-pool to Marissa Nadler, especially, and the Appalachian folk musings of the Spectral Light & Moonshine Snakeoil Jamboree (or indeed any one of the several outfits the godfather of psych-holler folk, Timothy Renner, cares to adorn). There’s also a touch of classic British folksong bubbling through like blobs of methane emerging from a witchy well: ‘Beirut’ for example is pure Vashti Bunyan, at once heartbreaking and visceral. The title song ‘Wayfaring Summer’ is an instrumental tour de force of beautifully paced acoustic guitar with a banjo hovering around and through the melody like a moth drawn to a light. ‘River and Rapids’ could easily be a Charalambides outtake, psychedelic acid-folk peddling shadows, shades of meaning and feeling others could never express in words let alone a web of stateley electric music, while ‘Alligator’ finds Shanti murmuring seductively, implying and evading with a coiling, smoky vagueness, and ‘Dance, Sing, Fight’ finds the couple evoking sublime hallucinations in both vocal and instrumental splashes of lightness and shade.


   Two-thirty am and I feel like going for a walk amongst the trees. So that’s why they’re called Arborea. Magic you can visit, again and again. (Phil McMullen)




( LP from www.gnomeliferecords.com)


    Sending your latest release onto the Terrascope in vinyl format is guaranteed to get you noticed around here, when that vinyl is sky-blue, the cover embossed gold and black, and containing a hand-drawn booklet, then serious notice is taken in these digital days. Of course, as beautiful and eye-catching as the packaging is, it has to be matched by the music within and in this case it most certainly is, the band (mainly Fletcher Tucker, with help from Spencer Owen) producing a gentle folk-psych sound, with flourishes of found-sound, drone and dub influenced rhythms.


    Opening with a mellow drone, “White Sky” soon settles into a soothing groove, the acoustic instruments forming a warm harmonious whole that allows the wonderful vocals to shine through with a drifting resonance. Following on “Black Elk In The Morning” has a scratchier, wyrd-folk element created, perhaps, by the use of dulcimer, ukulele, banjo and nylon guitar, as well as electric guitar and some perfectly realised percussion, all of which make it one of my favourite tracks on the album. A more fragile ambience is created on “Plato’s Cave” the vocals almost swallowed by a background hiss that could be running water, or possibly not, either way the song flows in beautiful fashion, ending in an almost latin flavoured outro.


    A recording of a walk in the forest is used as a backdrop for “(        )”, a sad ukulele tune providing fitting accompaniment to the sound of birds and the roar of the surf that ends the song. The excellently titled “The Sound And The River Within The Sound” ends side one with a cohesiveness of identity that really adds to the charm of the album, the band managing to be diverse whilst capturing the essence of their sound within the songs.


     Having had the pleasure of turning the album over, “Sasquatch Says: The Old World Whispers” continues to weave the magic of side one, the sound nodding in the direction of Joni Mitchell (around the time of “Hejira”), as well as the folk/electronic musings of Tuung, although this is far more song based than their latest album. On “Green I’s” an almost spiritual feel is conjured up with the use of a drifting organ and some introspective lyrics that drag the listener into the mood. After a brief return to “(    )”,just the field recording this time, “I Am Not The Moon Neither Is The Moon” is a haunting song with some off-centre melodica playing that is made stranger by the fuzzed guitar that adds some dark atmosphere to the tune. Finally “Animals Calling” brings us home, a nostalgic piano motif creating an ache in the heart, proving once again the emotional quality of this album, brimming with gently persuasive songs that will remain with you long after the needle has lifted.


    Also available is the seven inch “Industrial Collapse”, featuring two songs, the fuzz-folk of “No Beard No”, a primitive stomp with some fine guitar and a sense of dynamics that deserves the play loud epitaph written on the label. On the other side “Chew Your Fucking Legs Off (If You Have To)”, is a depressed garage Neil Young ballad, with some plaintive vocals and a melancholic heart that suits itself perfectly to the play quiet epitaph written on the label. Once again the artwork is of a high standard creating a wonderful package that is a credit to both artist and label. (Simon Lewis)




(LP from www.pickled-egg.co.uk)


    Featuring the talents of Aaron Moore (Volcano The Bear, Songs of Norway) and Stewart Brackley (Black Carrot, Songs of Norway), this album is a deluge of drum and bass chaos coming on like the bastard son of Pere Ubu, Lightning Bolt and (for some reason) Family. Opening with the adrenaline rush of “Part Of Me Says”, the band turn everything up to eleven, fire up the distortion pedal and get down to some serious sonic destruction, the electricity literally crackling in the air. “The People” maintains this frenetic feedback driven pace before “Fast Apache” takes on a weirder hue, the precise tribal drumming overlaid with minimalist bass and an almost singalong chorus. This surreal catchiness is repeated on “Bossa” sounding like Glam rock played by the Butthole Surfers and sung by Roger Chapman, every one of them pissed off and drunk as hell.


    After a brief piece of repetition, “”Piano” explodes into a distorted riff that tears chunks out of the furniture before it implodes into a squall of noise that is topped with fucked up trumpet from hell, a glorious three-minutes. After this “Your Success” starts with a simple four count before pummelling your head into the concrete, short and lovingly brutal.


    At almost eight minutes “Slow Toms” allows the duo to slow the pace without losing the intensity, producing a classic piece of slow-burning paranoia, heavy and psychedelic, sounding like the Banshees covering an early Can epic. Normal service is resumed with sugar rush of “No Pay”, one for the body not the brain, before “Never Know What To Say” rounds off the album with a glorious bass riff and some vocal posturing that Lux Interior would be proud of, the drums punctuating every word perfectly. (Simon Lewis)




( CD from Beta-Lactam Ring www.blrrecords.com)


    Originally recorded in 2004, the two tracks on this short (30 minutes) album were both improvised in one take, with no overdubs or studio trickery.


    Track one “Killmekillmekillme” is a fine slab of avant-garde playfulness featuring chattering percussion, slow bass marauding, and some wonderful vocal skronking, all of which brings to mind La STPO, Sun Ra, or some of the more experimental moments from early Gong. Over six minutes the musicians slowly raise the intensity with vocalist Dead K feeling every nuance, the band seemingly telepathic in the way they move together towards the sudden stop.


    Track two sees Dead K strap on his Gibson SG for some serious guitar mangling as the band explore inner visions over 24 minutes of prime-cut psychedelia. As the piece begins the musicians take up the influences of early Floyd or Tangerine Dream, the music slow and spacey, sounding as though it was recorded in a sacred cave deep below the ground. At five minutes in the music almost stops, some whispered chanting keeping the faith as shaman paint pictures on the walls of the cave, the whole universe seemingly holding it’s breath, before a lone guitar chord and a rumble of bass signals a sudden change in the ritual. From here on in the band settle into a Can-like lazy groove, the bass and drums (of T and A, respectively), offering a solid, yet warm, foundation for some mesmerising guitar work that slowly peters out into a brief flurry of improvisation, before the band pick up the beat and fly into outer space on the wings of a wah-driven solo that really hits the spot.


    For those amongst you who like guitar driven psychedelia mixed with improvised madness this is a rare treat and should be heard as soon as possible, as should the band's 2005 full-length album “City Calls Revolution” which is another excellent slice of space psych, and one that somehow slipped through the Terrascopic net when it was released. (Simon Lewis).




(CD  from www.sonicboomrecordings.com )


    For those of us who love vinyl, forty minutes seems to be the perfect length for an album, especially an album chock-a-block with wistful psych-pop brilliance such as this wonderful collection.


    Opening with a gentle strum and some fine vocals “Catacombs” soon reveals itself to be a gloriously melodic song that benefits from the warmth of the production and an imaginative arrangement that brings the song to life. Shades of The Smell Of Incense can be heard on “The Upper Ten/The Lower Five”, whilst “You Wear It Like a Stained Glass Window” revels in it’s pop sensibilities, full of joyous playing and a beat group harmonies. Those harmonies reappear on “The Motions”, before “Secret Life Of The Union Part 2” gives the album a whimsical acid-folk charm, sounding like a lost sixties classic, complete with birdsong ambience.


    Some of the songs on this album date back seven years, but it is only in the last two that Ron Lewis (Fruit Bats, The Joggers) has managed to record them successfully, and boy am I glad he did, as this is going to be one of my favourites next time the sun comes out.


   Despite having the same drum beat as Rolf Harris’ version of “Stairway To Heaven” (pffft! - Phil), “The Black Hand” is a lovely lilting pop song, with a melting refrain, that reminds me of the Green Pyjamas, as does “ The Nettles In Your Mouth” a psych classic, that will, no doubt, be appearing on retrospective compilations in ten years time. Sounding like a neo-psych version of the Jam or maybe The Aardvarks, “Isn’t it appropriate That Way” has a delightful middle eight and some excellent vocals, with an unexpected chord at the end, which made me smile. With the marvellously named “The Pink Princess Eskimonia”, the album is at it’s gentlest, a beautiful slice of folky reverie, full of dreamy sounds, Sounds that are shattered by the crunchy arrival of “Even A Vampire Wouldn’t Drink My Blood” although the song soon regains its pop groove.


    Although there are a lot of recognisable sounds on this album, it is a fine piece of work in its own right, the similarities arising from the quality of the songwriting rather than deliberate imitation, allowing for repeated listens without the risk of boredom setting in, go get one. (Simon Lewis)




( CD from www.geocities.com/lampoftheuniverse )


    Featuring four long instrumentals, stretched over 53 minutes, this album is the perfect follow-up to previous album “Heru”, an album that was soaked in a lysergic eastern vibe making for some excellent late-night meditations. On this release the raga-esque feel is replaced by deep inner space drones, tempered by the swirl of analogue synths, echoed percussion and chanted voices (possibly produced electronically) that add warmth to the sound. All this is very evident on “Sun Ritual” a track that lives up to the promise of it’s title, full of mystical wonder and grace.


    Track two “Gateway To The Path Of Nirvana” opens with a cloud of synths before what sounds like a piped instrument breaks through the clouds, a beguiling bass riff adding an earthiness to the music as a truly psychedelic guitar begins to weave it snake-charmer magic across your synapses. Once the drums begin, there is no turning back, the only option is to lie back and enjoy the trip, a mesmerising journey that will delight the senses and fill your mind with fantastic images and strange longings.


    On “Vortex Of Light”, a pulsing drum ensures that the listener does not get lost in the abstract swirl of drones, the music seeming to create a vortex of sound that moves ever upwards, rising in intensity, the sound of a sapling searching for the sun.


    Final track “Anandamaya” Transcends and summarises what has gone before, the guitar shimmering in a haze of white light, the final layer peeled away to reveal your true divine self.


    On this album Craig Williamson may have created his masterpiece, the album exploring the ancient search for hidden meaning, trying to find our rightful place in the universe. This is cosmic music of the highest order and needs concentrated listening before all it’s secrets are revealed. (Simon Lewis)




( CD  from www.genuine-articles.com)


    Sometimes it is the small things that give the most pleasure, and so it is with this intimate and personal collection of songs, each one a finely crafted pleasure.


    Solely created by Jen Strickland, these songs are brimming with honesty, the guitars offering a weird intensity that perfectly suits her voice, whilst covers of “He’s A Keeper Of The Fire (Buffy Sainte-Marie) and “If You Needed Me” (Townes Van Zandt) reveal a wider palette and excellent taste.


    Right from the opening track “A Reason” there is a sense of identity to the record, a consistency of sound that draws you in, with echoes of Vashti Bunyan and Joni Mitchell evident in the vocals although the guitar playing gives the songs a more distorted outlook on life.


    On “Keep Cool But Care” a nagging insistent riff dissects the lyrics with outstanding precision, producing one of the albums highlights, whilst “”Wait?” is a far more free-form experience the guitar chopping through a squall of cluttered noise to emerge battered and bruised on the other side.


   There is an element of lo-fi Polly Harvey about “Unbelievable 2”, the sweet despair of the vocals rubbed raw by the ragged chaos of the instruments, something also apparent on “Heart Of A Doll”, although the harrowing lyrics add an intense layer of emotion to the song.


    A wave of psychedelic unease is set loose as “let it Slide Really” slithers into the room, a slow all-engulfing instrumental that is far from easy-listening, the sound of your nightmares knocking at the window, with rumbling guitars, electronic arguments and a host of creaking and groaning.


   Finally “Yes I Was Drunk But I Meant It” is another version of Buffy Sainte-Marie that eschews the weird-psych of the previous version in favour of all out guitar riffery, burning bright and quickly, sounding like an early grunge band b-side.


    At only 22 minutes this is more an EP than a full album, yet it has a quiet intensity that will impress, sounding like a complete work regardless of its length. Special mention also goes to the gorgeous foldout artwork, something that only adds to the completeness of the package. (Simon Lewis)






     The lone album from this Hereford (UK)-based duo, Jon Harflett and John Perkins was originally released (in a limited pressing of 500) on the tiny Amron imprint in 1976, although the couple originally began playing together nearly a decade earlier. The enigmatic opener, ‘Don’t Look Now, Karen’s Gone To The Moon’ establishes a warm, comfortable folky vibe that is maintained throughout. Will Thomas contributes mandolin to ‘Concrete Circles,’ giving the track an uplifting Kingston Trio groove. ‘Man of Stars’ tries yet another approach, that of a delicate whisp of a romantic love song. The short ‘The Derelict’ is another gorgeous Simon & Garfunkle-styled harmony duet, and the pair even borrow a page out of the ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ approach by singing different verses in tandem. Their version of John Prine’s ‘Sam Stone’ is a little faster than the original, giving a bit of a strolling minstral vibe to this classic, anti-war tune. And their own anti-war slogan, ‘Dogs Of War’ is, sadly, as poignant and applicable as when they wrote it over 35 years ago.


     They also turn in a lovely, moody arrangement of Tom Paxton’s ‘Who’s Passing Dreams Around?’ and another wonderful cover, this time of Pat Garvey’s ‘Loving Of The Game’ establishes the pair as premier folk interpreters. Dawnwind prove that sometimes, the simplest, old fashioned ways are the most enjoyable and Sunbeam once again resurrects a true lost gem from oblivion in their consistently excellent reissue series and ‘Looking Back On The Future’ belongs in the collections of any lover of folk music. Obligatory bonus tracks include live renditions of ‘Street Singer’ and ‘Dogs Of War’ from 1975. The quality is sensational, sounding as fresh as if they were recorded last night. The latter includes some funny pre-song banter that establishes the fact that the pair new they were being recorded, so perhaps the full live recording will soon be in our hands as well. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and pick this up. Amron disappeared right after the album was released and Harflett and Perkins never saw any royalties. Here’s your chance to help rectify that. They also tell us in their liner notes that they’ve completed a new album and occasionally get together for reunion concerts, so keep an eye out on the local venues. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD from Perhaps Transparent )


     The third album from this Jersey City (New Jersey) folk rock quartet opens with the haunting stalker, ‘Bow Down,’ an ominously creepy crawl across the frozen tundras of your mind that’s eerily reminiscent of our favourite Minneapolis psychedelic wyrdfolkers, Salamander and Skye Klad. Tablas, sitar-like acoustic guitars and buzzing drones trickle through the appropriately spine tingling “The Séance of Old Bergen,” as the band, like all great folk artists, once again incorporates local legends into their work, “Old Bergen” being the original name for Jersey City when it was first settled over 375 years ago – indeed, the 325-year old, Old Bergen Church is the longest continuous congregation in New Jersey. [Anyone interested in further research should consult Daniel Van Winkle’s incredibly thorough ‘Old Bergen: History and Reminiscences,’ published over a century ago and available online. – JP] Culminating in a whirling maelstrom of ghostly sonics and…bagpipes(!?), the song is simultaneously relaxing and unsettling, as a good séance should be!


     ‘A Rose for Agnes’ soft-shoe shuffles into the room, pirouettes to cascading and Hawaiian-styled guitars and abruptly and gracefully makes way for the smooth instrumental, ‘Atlantic Winds’ to float dreamily across the horizon, with a weeping slide guitar adding to its misty-eyed aura. Fellow Jersey artist, Marianne Nowottny, poster child for all things wyrd and wylde, fits right into that Old Bergen séance by channeling ghostly apparitions and contributing spoken-word moans throughout the epic frightfest, ‘Gentle Ghosts on the Limbs,’ which will confound the more straight-laced folkies like myself, but will probably make the short list of “must-hear” avant, free-folk performance pieces cherished by fans of lovable Finnish loony, Jan Anderzén, master of ceremonies of Avarus, Kemialliset Ystävät, et. al. However, 11+ minutes of this is a bit more than my head can bear, but I can certainly see fans of Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Fursaxa, and the more experimental outings of Charalambides digging the hell out of this.


     ‘Roivas’ suggests more than a few Neil Young & Crazy Horse albums have visited the Skinny boys’ stereos, and the banjo adds a nice, backwoods, loner/stoner vibe to the proceedings. Elsewhere, Tasha Rifkin’s flute solos on ‘Awaken Tribes Will Rise’ is at once soothing, nostalgic and heartbreaking, a fitting elegy to the titular band of outsiders. I only wish the band hadn’t elected to recite the lyrics out of the ass end of a rubber hose, thus defeating any sympathy one might have for the sleeping tribesmen, but white-hot guitar solos and tribal percussive pounding are almost enough to forgive their vocal indiscretion. The band acknowledge the century anniversary of ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ with a wind chime and slide guitar rendition that features a faint air of ‘Amazing Grace’ peeking in and wraps this wonderful album up on a cheerful vibe of love and togetherness. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on VHF Records)


     I first discovered the work of Fern Knight while chasing a thread of artists down a convoluted MySpace rabbit-hole: the kind of trip where you look up an artist you know, check out their favourites, and follow up on the unknown and the intriguing. Somehow I ended up at Fern Knight central, listen to a mesmerising voice interpreting what appeared to be an interesting mixture of cover versions and self-penned material. I quickly figured out that the tracks were from a self-released CD-R EP called 'Blithewold', and that I had to have it, along with its predecessor, 'Seven Years of Severed Limbs' issued on Normal Records in 2003. I also quickly figured out that the headmistress of this sound was Margie Wienk, who was based in Providence but had collaborative tendrils both within the Providence art music scene (including the peripatetic Alec K. Redfearn) and across to that other epicentre of psychedelic folk goodness, Philadelphia, PA. Margie was kind enough to hook me up with those discs, and they rapidly became play-list favourites though it was obvious that she had already moved beyond the electrified night-side obliqueness of 'Seven Years of Severed Limbs' to a more organic, collaborative and acoustic sound, especially on the CD-R she sent me of 'Music for Witches and Alchemists', at that time unreleased. On listening, it was clear that the axis had shifted towards the sound of Philadelphia artists like Espers, through the contribution of Greg Weeks, Jesse Sparhawk, Otto Hauser and Meg Baird, though Providence musicians like Redfearn and Orion Rigel Domisse were still an important part of the proceedings. A relocation to Philadelphia followed, and now 'Music for Witches and Alchemists' has been released by VHF the world can share in its wonders.


    Like so much contemporary US psychedelic folk, Fern Knight takes its cues from the dark underground UK folk of the late 60s and early 70s. Opening track 'Song for Ireland' could be from a lost Stone Angel recording or an outtake from Loudest Whisper's touchstone LP 'Children of Lir'. Dark magic is here, the kind that is celebrated by ritual gatherings in hidden glades. 'Awake, Angel Snake' is given an Espers-like sheen courtesy of Week's screaming acid lead guitar, but the results somehow recall doomed Transatlantic folk rock outfit Mr. Fox than anything from this millennium, which is laudable, because how often does one get to compare something to that benighted but magnificent project? Margie's multi-layered cello infuses 'W. Memphis' with the insistent minimalist drive of Michael Nyman's soundtrack work, but what sticks here and everywhere is the focused and melodic song-craft. Dark humour is also present, as on the Brecht/Wiell-influenced 'Lintworme, Pt 1', where a particular relationship is likened to the progress of a tapeworm through the system. Literary references are important to Wienk too; the eerie 'Marble Gray' was influenced by a reading of the short story "The White People" by Arthur Machen, one of the grand masters of supernatural literature (H. P. Lovecraft called "The White People" the second greatest work in weird fiction after Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows").  On 'Shingle River' and one can really detect a spiritual kinship between Margie's song-writing and that of Sharron Kraus. I wouldn't be surprised if they collaborated at some point. More dark folk and Brechtian perspectives round out the CD, with 'Summer of Throg' being notably hilarious. If in fact it is a tribute to the satirical sword-and-sorcery film 'Throg' that is such a deeply odd thing to find on this record you really have to dig the chutzpah. Margie leaves us with the closing 'Lullaby', a meditation on youth passing as seen through a babysitter's eyes that has the mythological resonance of the ancient British Isles folk ballad 'The Trees They Do Grow High'. Not a bad note to end on. (Tony Dale).





(CD-Rs on Deserted Village)


    Children of the Stones is one of those mysterious Deserted Village projects where a group of villagers hack a new path through the surrounding foliage, taking a journey that they haven't necessarily planned out all the details of beforehand or indeed even taken all of the necessary supplies for, but somehow ending up with a valuable experience arising from the process. The band name comes from the 1977 British TV series about a scientist and his son who investigate the psychic forces controlling a small English village which is surrounded by a circle of giant Neolithic stones (The story was suggested by the real-life village of Avebury in Wiltshire where the series was filmed). Sonically they pay tribute to all sorts of influenzas that don't necessarily fit into the United Bible Studies mould directly: eerie sci-fi soundscapes of the 60s BBC Radiophonic Workshop variety, perverse obsessions with synth-pop duos, and various species of lo-fi electronica. But somehow it seems to connect back to projects like Agitated Radio Pilot, Townparks Foundry anyway, so the continuum continues, um...I think. Personnel are not listed, but some digging reveals that Dave Colohan collaborates mainly with Shane and Scott Village for these recordings. 'Here Lives the Moon' creates a shimmering landscape of lunar light from deep wells of bass, antique electrical oscillations and floating vocals. It's one of those ideal openers that totally induct you into the world of the record. 'The Pale Star Alone (Over a Quiet Earth)' sounds like vintage British post-ISB progressive folk with it's odd time signature and dancing piano – Forest and Spirogyra come to mind. After the electronic interlude of 'Sparks of Frost', a chilling cover of Nick Drake's 'Day is Done' settles like a snowfall; it's a little like latter-day Talk Talk played back through black boxes for which the instruction manuals have long since turned to dust. The skeletal piano dance returns for 'Where amongst the Ruins' which winds multi-tracked vocals around a truly arresting melody. 'Poor Scott' stays in chilly step - a gaunt, exhausted exploration of Scott's Antarctic expedition. Two desolate ambient pieces follow - 'Fog on the Womb Road' and 'The Interior Left Empty' - which trade in disembodied choral voices, layered drones and abstracted machine noise. In describing this CD-R it comes across as more inaccessible than it really is. Despite the chill across much of it, great beauty is to be found within its varied audio-scapes.   

   Anahita is the first release from the duo of Tara Burke (Fursaxa) and Cellist Helena Espvall (Espers) and its sound will be familiar to those who know Tara Burke's work in particular, being a variation on the kind of extended workout to be found on Fursaxa 'Amulet' CD. Church organ and transcendental plainsong take the listener back 600 years or so on the 10 minute opening track 'Maiden of Saxony' (I think – the insert is quite hard to read and I must confess I first read the title as 'Maidens of Sodomy', which didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.) On the monumental (really – 35 minutes long) 'Koldovstvo', unaccompanied twin vocals form an introduction to a piece that shift intriguingly through variegated instrumental colours – subtle electric guitar shadings both forward and backward, chord organ drones,  subtle percussive flourishes, and forest freak vocals of the Finnish persuasion. Final track 'Annapurna' weaves lugubrious accordion and cello into a fitting conclusion to a celestial collaboration. (Tony Dale)



(CD from Melodic )


     Now that Scottish mopesters Arab Strap have apparently split for good, fans will have to console themselves with Aidan Moffat’s new project, L. Pierre (aka Lucky Pierre), who’ve just released their third album for the wonderful Manchester-based indie, Melodic. This time out, Moffat has delivered a loose concept album whose theme, he says, “is nature and the great outdoors, and particularly the sea, hence ‘Dip.’” The album opens with ‘Gullsong,’ which features his field recordings of waves licking the shore, seagulls fluttering in the distance, Moffat’s harmonium bed and Allan Wylie’s trumpet accompanying a wordless female chorus, whose angelic vocals soar as wide and far as the endless horizon. Alan Barr’s cello waltzes nonchalantly across the floor on the nostalgic, aimless dreamaway, ‘Weir’s Way,’ perhaps a tribute to the surreal images that haunt many of Australian director Peter Weir’s films. Wylie’s sobbing trumpet adds to the track’s somber mood, but Moffat ultimately raises the song out of its doldrums with his somewhat upbeat drum loop. I found myself so immersed in my travels along ‘Weir’s Way’ that I didn’t find the track’s 11:39 length one second too long…or short.


     Don’t adjust your CD player while listening to the painfully sorrowful ‘Ache,’ for Moffat has opted to record his lonely piano and Barr’s weeping cello over a bed of sound effects simulating scratchy vinyl, which effectively serves to enhance its nostalgic, tearful ambiance. Yes, comparisons with Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Moffat’s Scottish brethren, Mogwai may trickle off your tongue, but ‘Ache’ (and, ultimately, ‘Dip’ itself) is more organic and down to earth than anything I’ve heard from those collectives is many a moon.


     And just so his fans don’t start raiding the medicine cabinet for razor blades and cough syrup, Moffat takes us on a delightful ‘Hike’ with a snappy banjo accompanying Barr’s whirling cello jig. Overall, a somber, yet not depressing ambient experience that grabs the inside track as the year’s finest instrumental album and kicks the new year off in a warm, relaxing style that’s perfect for recovering from your end-of-year overindulgences. (Jeff Penczak)


THE ACID ARCHIVES – PATRICK LUNDBORG, with AARON MILENSKI & RON MOORE, et. al. (Book from Subliminal Sounds)


The proliferation of reissues of obscure, privately pressed albums of outsider folk/psych/rock, etc. has left the casual music fan in a quandary over where to spend their hard-earned cash. How do you cut through the marketing malarkey and hype-erbole to make an educated decision about what albums are worth their weight in gold and which should be left squandering in rubbish bins. Until now, collector geeks from around the world were left to pore through the various volumes of archival research gathered together under Vernon Joynson’s empire at Borderline Books, such as “Dreams, Fantasies and Nightmares,” “Fuzz, Acid and Flowers” and “Tapestry of Delights.” While these massive doorstops (amounting to nearly 2,000 pages of reviews) have deservedly been crowned the bibles of collectordom, Joynson and his fellow authors have understandably chosen to pass on those nooks and crannies of North American local and small label releases that, more often than not, have produced some of the most unlistenable rubbish ever inflicted upon human ears. However, mixed in with all the vanity pressings of local glee clubs, private school music departments, and every Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks he’s the next Elvis, there are a surprising number of quality bands and solo acts privately releasing thoroughly enjoyable, eminently listenable and just down-right amazing examples of psychedelic, garage, hard rock, folk, prog, Christian rock and other sub genres that don’t have names yet. And that’s where Lundborg (a.k.a., “the Lama”), Mile ski and Moore (and about half a dozen of their friends and fellow dumpster divers) come in to fill your head with yet more unbelievable releases that you just can’t afford to be without.


     The book is essentially the print version of The Acid Archives of Underground Sounds 1965-1982 website that began over a decade ago when Lundborg merged his “Acid Archives” project with information included in co-author, Ron Moiré’s ‘Underground Sounds’ book that from 1997-99, although this version contains over a hundred entries you won’t find on the website. The site went live in April, 2005 and since then has grown to become “the #1 Internet resource for information and reviews of rare, obscure and unknown LPs from the USA and Canada 1965-82” [their description] with over 15,000 visitors a month. While Joynson & Co. present just about every act from roughly 1963-1976 that fit their criteria (the books mentioned above cover Canada, the US and Britain respectively), “the Lama” and his co-writers rarely cover albums released on major labels. As Lundborg explains, “For a title on a professional record label to be featured, it must be: 1) reasonably enjoyable; 2) an obscurity at the time of release; 3) somewhat difficult to find.” He goes on to note in his lengthy, explanatory introduction, “the vast majority of our entries could be categorized as ‘private’ or ‘local’ releases; meaning self-financed projects with very limited distribution.” While admitting that there were probably well in excess of 100,000 albums that meet this criteria, “what is featured here are items that time has proven to be of interest, for one reason or another.”


     Now, granted, there are few among you who will be as anal retentive as I am when it comes to this stuff and read every entry on every page (that’s roughly 4,000 entries on 300 pages), although the size is much more manageable than Joynson’s tomes, making such an endeavor possible in your lifetime! No, this is really a pick-it-up-and-browse kind of book, although I must warn you that once you’ve sampled a few entries, you’ll be tempted to go back to the beginning and take your time with it. Admittedly, there will be a lot of entries from  acts you’ve never heard of, but “The Lama” and his cohorts have done the research and listening for you and their colloquial, down-to-earth demeanour provides an entertaining and always informative read.


     Of course, the smart asses amongst you will want to compare and contrast the author’s opinions with Joynson’s “accepted knowledge” reviews in his books, but that is what makes this book even more essential. There is nothing wrong with challenging the so-called status quo – heck, I’m glad someone had the time and energy to attempt such an undertaking. These types of releases are open to vast differences of opinion and, until now, most collectors and dealers had to take Joynson’s word for what was a cash cow and what was trash. Another improvement on Joynson’s entries is the editors’ decision to include several (often conflicting) reviews of the same album. This not only illustrates my point about the subjectivity of the reviews, but gives you a more varied reference point from which to make your final purchasing decisions.


     Other welcome features are a small, but helpful glossary of terms, a detailed explanation of the criteria used when deciding what to include in the book entitled “Why Isn’t My Favourite LP Included?” (obviously someone’s favourite release will be overlooked – I was disappointed, for example, that The United States of America was omitted) [surely a bit mainstream for a book of this nature, though? Ed.], about two dozen fun (and funny) Top 10 lists, “ranging from the useful to the idiosyncratic,” a helpful “Best Buy” guide to about 60 recommended albums “for collectors who don’t have deep pockets” that didn’t make the cut for the book, “but have great musical value and are highly recommended to music-lovers,” and, finally, a list of the authors’ Top 10 favourites from the book and Top 10 less obscure favourites from the same time period. There’s even a nice ‘Forward’ from ‘Ugly Things’ editor and renowned collector, Mike Stax, that helpfully puts the private pressing phenomenon into an historical perspective.


     On the negative side, minor page reference inaccuracies for these latter sections in the Index suggest the appendix may have been assembled after the Index page was created. And I would have preferred they put the “How To Use This Book” section before the entries instead of at the end. No use telling someone how to use a book they’ve just finished reading, huh? But these are inconsequential nitpicks that won’t detract from your enjoyment of the book.


     The book is easily organized into alphabetical entries, with city/country of origin, original label and year of release, and a reasonable price guide to the original’s current value. For those of you without pockets deep enough to obtain an original, reissues are included, with helpful notes on the differences between various reissues and CD vs. vinyl versions. Since the reissue market has grown considerably in recent years, the authors are careful to note disreputable “needle drops,” usually based on the particular author’s “ear,” as well as noting whether the reissue is taken from master tapes. Most importantly, the authors do not appear to have an agenda aimed at debunking albums universally hailed as “killers.” Their reviews are well thought out with examples to support their ultimate opinions, yay or nay, and they don’t talk down to the reader, as if to suggest their opinion on such and such an album is the only one worth having and disagreeing with said opinion is the reader/listener’s fault, not theirs.


     [A small example to illustrate my point about the authors’ objectivity: in Lundborg’s review of the 1976 album by Indianapolis’ Anonymous (‘Inside the Shadow’), which he claims is “firmly placed on my personal 1970s top 10 list,” he is careful to point out that “the Aether/OR CD reissue accidentally used an unfinished master complete with vinyl pops and surface noise.” Now, this is extremely helpful information for record buyers to be aware of, but what may not be so readily apparent is that Stan Denski, the gentleman behind the Aether/OR label, also happens to be one of the present book’s authors! If you’re going to admit that one of your cohorts has released a less-than-desirable reissue, you’re certainly not going to pull any punches when it comes to the integrity of your other reviews!]


     Of course, by no means am I suggesting you auction off your dog-eared copies of Joynson’s tomes. There are many records that you will only read about over there. Also, ‘Acid Archives’ does not include any band member information, which, frankly, is one of Joynson’s books’ strong points. However, many of the reviews refer to band members in a matter-of-fact way that suggest the authors assume the reader is aware of (if not an owner of) the more detailed Joynson volumes. The bottom line is that they are not trying to compete with or replace those other books, and that makes this “companion” piece all the more relevant. There are certainly enough deserving musicians out there who have been unfairly consigned to rubbish and/or bargain bins and Lundborg & Co. have vast a wider net to give the best of those releases their just rewards/recognition. In fact, their exhaustive, three-page analysis of the psychotic work of sainted weirdo, Father Yod and Ya Ho Wa 13 may be the most comprehensive analysis that doesn’t have Byron Coley’s byline on it and is well worth the price of admission alone!


     So if you enjoy obscure music from the US and Canada that was originally released in limited quantities but is now bulging inside your favourite reissue catalogue, you owe it to yourself (and your pocketbook) to pick up this little “killer” of a book and take it with you next time you attend your local record show. (Jeff Penczak)