=  JULY 2008  =

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Written by:

Earthling Society
  Howlin Rain

Simon Lewis


Nigel Cross

Mellow Candle
Jeff Penczak Grouper



(CD from www.4zerorecords.co.uk)


    Over their previous three albums, Earthling Society demonstrated their mastery of space-rock, extended electronic jams and kraut-rock strangeness. On this release however, the emphasis has changed with the band adding a healthy dose of west-coast sunshine and melody into the mix, creating, for me at least, their finest album to date.


    Opening with a creepy electronic wash of sound, “Drowned World” is vintage Earthling Society, the song breaking into a driving riff with the guitar of Fred Laird high in the mix, the bubbling synths providing colour to the tune. After this familiar start “Candlemass” is a surprise to the ears, a gentle song with a country twang, sounding like The Stones in relaxed mood, the band showing admirable restraint, allowing the song to shine. This same relaxed mood can be found on “Tenement Song”, although the song is wrapped in a veil of lysergic strangeness, samples and echoes, The appearance of the Shakey Primary School Renegade Choir, only adding to the surreal vibe.


     On “Sundropped”, the band don their Sgt Pepper jackets for a classic slice of psych-pop, complete with phased vocals, swirling organ and chiming guitar. The whole tune held together by some solid bass playing, a delicious splash of paisley sunshine and a song you will want to hear again and again.


     After this trio of wonderful songs, “Untitled” changes the mood, the Far-Eastern feel and twisted synths giving way to some powerful drumming before everything goes backward in a disorientating way, the whole thing lasting just three and a half minutes.


    Proving himself a fine vocalist throughout the album Fred Laird really shines on “A Modest Flower”, another slice of shimmering psych that ebbs and flows, the music alive with possibilities. Sounding, bizarrely, like The Happy Mondays mixed by Phil Spector, “the Boy With The X-Ray Eyes” is undoubtedly the poppiest thing the band has ever recorded, a glorious melodic wall of sound that lodges in your brain and makes you smile.


    Slowing thing right down, “The Moonlit Road” is a beautiful cloud of sound, washes of mellotron creating a delicate landscape that is coloured by some wonderful flute playing courtesy of Mike Hale. Reminiscent of Quintessence the whole piece is relaxing and delicate in its construction.


    Whilst the previous album “Tears of Andromeda” was filled with long spacey compositions, it is not until the penultimate track “Valerie A Tyden Divu” that the band finally head for the stars, a glorious 12 minute journey that retains the albums melodic sensibilities. Sounding like Spirit jamming with Tangerine Dream, the resulting sound is understated and very effective, the band concentrating on the melody rather than the electronics.


    Finally, “A Playground Mystery” rounds the album off, a vibrant and sparkling song that breaks down into a writhing mass of floydian electronics, sound effects, and all manner of noises, ending the disc in a vaguely disturbing and unpredictable way.


    Fans of Earthling Society should not hesitate in buying this disc, and who knows, the tighter more melodic songs may well appeal to a host of new listeners as well, I sure hope so, as this band grow in stature with every release. (Simon Lewis)




(CD from www.birdmanrecords.com)


     Close your eyes and listen, suddenly it is 1970 again, the spirit of Terry Reid jams with Blind Faith, the Stones are re-inventing rock and roll for a wasted generation, and the smell of patchouli is slowly engulfed by hash smoke and warm beer. Hang on, let’s rewind a bit, it is in fact 2008 and this latest album from the Ethan Miller led Howlin Rain, is a slice of retro rock that sings with joy, rushing from the speakers in a river of nostalgic bliss, not necessarily stoned but beautiful.


    After the mournful trumpet intro of “Requiem”, the band get into the groove with the guitar fuelled “Dancers at the Edge of Time”, the song propelled by a swirling organ, whilst Miller paints intricate shapes on his guitar, the songs structure filled with enough variation to keep you guessing, although deep down you know how it will go.  Maybe it is this familiarity that makes the album sound so good, a warm glow of recognition whilst listening to something new.


    On the less frenetic “Calling Lightning Pt2”, there is a definite nod to The Black Crowes, a lazy summer vibe spreading through the track, with some magnificent keyboard work adding that extra sparkle. Those keyboard dominate again on the moody “Lord Have Mercy”, the whole band adding to the gloriously ragged feel of the song, including a rather fine vocal performance from Miller.


    After the gentle elegance of “Nomads”, the band crank it up again for “El Rey”, the song slowly building the tension with dynamic splendour, making for one of my favourites on the disc. Mind you that honour could also go to the funky swagger of “Goodbye Ruby”, The faces Meeting Funkadelic for a bit of a blow, which is something I would have liked to have seen!


    Finally “Riverboat” closes the album with some lovely harmony vocals and a relaxed feel although the band still play hard, leaving us in a cloud of feedback at the very end.


   At the end of the day there is nothing new in this album, but if you love Delaney and Bonnie, Frumpy, Chris Robinson, Terry Reid or a host of others who play that classic early seventies sound, then this album will sit proudly alongside them, especially I imagine, when the sun is shining and you have a cold beer in your hand. (Simon Lewis)




(2 DVD set, Stickman Records)


Not sure if you readers need another over-the-top paean to these Norwegian psychonauts from yours truly so soon after my rave review of their recent Little Lucid Moments album. However I hear their performance at last month’s Terrastock won them a slew of new admirers and having spent some 5 hours + absorbing this fascinating set, I feel obliged to put pen to paper yet again on their behalf!


If you’ve been confused by the band previously in their different permutations and guises or simply don’t know where to start, then this double DVD release may just be the key you’ve long sought after. Whilst for long-time fans it’s a veritable wet dream and you can stop reading now and get hold of a copy.  It’s been a labour of love by the both the group and their record label, years in the pipeline but has it been worth the wait! The feeding frenzy can begin!


Bent Saether and Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan started the band back in 1989 and have been its golden core ever since.  This exhaustive collection brings together just about every scrap of usable footage out there (except for The Tussler film) and for the first time on DVD includes the long unavailable This Is Motorpsycho doc from 1995 as well as the band’s dazzling series of promo videos that go back as far as material from Lobotomiser : you name them they’re here – Grinder, Watersound, Wearing Your Smell, The Nerve Tattool all the way through to Serpentine.  Indeed watching these it soon becomes apparent why they called it Haircuts!  Over the course of more than a decade, Saether and Ryan undergo a series of bewildering transformations in terms of coiffeur and facial hair whilst former drummer Hakon Gebhardt sports almost the same clean-shaven, short-haired look from the beginning to the end of his tenure with the band.


There’s the almost complete set from the Paradiso in Amsterdam in November 2002 which shows that even though the group at this point was exploring far more poppy avenues in the studio, they could still be relied on as hugely inventive and exciting live combo. In amongst some intense prog-style work-outs like Hogwash, there’s an absolutely delightful acoustic Little Ricky Massenburg sung by Gebhardt which is worth the price of admission alone but it’s all good grist to the mill.


For me though the biggest find is the documentary made in 2000, Noorse Helden – this reveals a lot of stuff I never knew about Motorpsycho such as their rehearsal studio being a former U-boot station during the Second World War. There’s more of a domestic focus too – Snah at home talking about juggling his commitments to wife and kids with his music, Gebhardt explaining how banjo is his first love and shots of him teaching his girlfriend the basics of the instrument.  And the music as ever is exemplary, from the opening grungy bounce of High Time to a terrific snippet of the Snah, Bent, Gebhardt trio doing an acoustic Big Surprise from Let Them Eat Cake with all those wonderful Beach Boys-style  harmonies present and correct on the radio.


In a sense this release conveniently bookends the ‘Gebhardt years’ of the band. The current incarnation with Ken Kapstad behind the traps has already found its own milieu if the two most recent albums are anything to by and should soon be the subject of its own documentary. Commenting on their Louisville, Kentucky appearance which included a righteous jam with Acid Mother Temple’s Kawabata Makoto, Phil McMullen noted they were ‘both charming and utterly brilliant’. On the strength of these DVDs, all I can do is second that emotion. (Nigel Cross)




(CD from Esoteric, Cherry Red Records, Unit 3a, 1-4 Warple Way, W3 0RG, London)


Arguably the rarest major label album in UK history (mint 1972 Deram originals – believed to have only been released in the band’s homeland in Ireland – have exchanged hands for anywhere from £500-1500!), Mellow Candle’s sole album, except for a collection of posthumously-released demos of most of the tracks entitled The Virgin Prophet (Kissing Spell, 1994), is revered for the angelic singing and remarkably mature songwriting from a pair of teenaged, ex-convent school classmates, Clodagh Simonds and Alison Williams (née Bools, now O’Donnell – see our interview with Alison here).


    While the album has been hailed in critical and collector’s circles as a masterpiece of early acid folk, the breadth and depth of (mostly) Simonds’ material spans folk, pop, rock and even delves into the burgeoning progressive scene. Williams’ opener, ‘Heaven Heath’ is an elegantly charming example of baroque folk, courtesy Simonds’ newly-mastered harpsichord playing. ‘Sheep Season’ wades gently into progressive waters, with Simonds’ piano swirling smoke rings around Alison’s husband, David’s crystalline guitar lines as a far-off flute lifts the whole experience heavenward. (Unfortunately, the track’s muddy mix on this remastered edition – the album’s fifth! – buries most of Clodagh’s vocals, so the much clearer demo version on The Virgin Prophet (also available on the hard-to-find History of UK Underground Folk Rock Vol. 1 (British Acid-Folk 1968 – 1978) on Kissing Spell’s little sister imprint, Erewhon, 1998) is recommended; in fact, if you close your eyes, it’s not too difficult to imagine that you’re listening to the nascent work of the retooled Renaissance, whose Annie Haslam-led debut, Prologue, was released the same year on Sovereign.)


     ‘The Poet & The Witch’ adds a gothic, rock element to the band’s musical repetoir and Alison’s lilting soprano soars amongst the clouds on her ‘Messenger Birds.’ Deram chose to release ‘Dan The Wing’ as a single, perhaps to focus on the band’s rockinger side, but the syncopated arrangement and lack of a consistent hook is too aloof to attract the casual listener and, like the album, it sank without a trace. Side two opens with Simonds’ ‘Reverend Sisters,’ which is essentially a classical piano recital with haunting dual vocals. David Williams shares the songwriting chores with the punny prog rocker, ‘Buy Or Beware’ and (along with late drummer Willie Murray) the album’s most psychedelic adventure, ‘Vile Excesses,’ which highlights the band’s wonderful improvisational skills during the lengthy instrumental break. Finally, the girls’ vocal dexterity is the highlight of closer, ‘Boulders On My Grave,’ which magnificently demonstrates Alison’s “claim to fame – the astounding ability to sing three-part harmonies simultaneously!” It’s a fascinating “round” that hints at the direction Renaissance would popularise in the ensuing years. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD from Type)


            Combining the lo-fi aesthetics of Azalia Snail with the ethereal snorecore atmospherics of Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, Portland, Oregon-based Liz Harris (aka Grouper) tucks away her effects-laden fuzz boxes on this, her third album. Mojave 3 influences also abound, as well as the smooth, chanteusy aura of Julee Cruise’s classic collaborations with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. Opener ‘Disengaged’ is a haunting trip through a sea of molasses that sounds like Lynch recording Julee at the bottom of a swimming pool. ‘Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping’ is an ethereal, gentle, acoustic number enveloped in a cloud of echo. Harris floats heavenward on gossamer wings and angelic, cooing vocals in the finest Liz Fraser and Rutkowski sister tradition on ‘Stuck,’ a sure-fire candidate for a This Mortal Coil reunion album.


            Water and dreaming are recurring themes throughout, with titles like ‘Heavy Water,’ ‘Travelling Through A Sea,’ the sublime instrumental ‘Wind and Snow,’ ‘We’ve All Time To Sleep,’ and ‘A Tidal Wave,’ and the album effectively recreates a dreamlike state and a sense of disembodied floating in a sensory deprivation tank. Harris’  deadpan, monotone vocals on tracks like ‘Fishing Bird (Empty Jutted in The Evening Breeze)’ suggest the work of someone locked in the embrace of a catatonic thousand yard stare, while the Sisyphean imagery of the title track and the little girl lost vocals of ‘Invisible’ offer the frustrated pleas of someone clamoring to be noticed in a world which praises anonymity… a world where minding one’s own business and not getting involved are strongly encouraged. A deeply disturbing, emotionally draining recording – file it alongside your Cocteau Twins, Julee Cruise, This Mortal Coil and Mojave 3 records to pull out and float away on a dreary rainy day. (Jeff Penczak)