= July 2022 =  
Loner Deluxe
John Moreland
Dodson & Fogg
Alex Rex
the Utopia Strong
Dhidalah
Ambassador
Kamikaze Palm Tree








 
 
 
 
 
 


LONER DELUXE - HINTERLAND

(CD/DL from Rusted Rail  )

Engaging and rather fabulous, the latest album from Keith Wallace a.k.a Loner Deluxe is a collection of 14 tunes that shimmer, rattle, creak and then softly infect your brain in a charming and enlightening manner. Laced with intriguing samples and filtered through a cloud of ancient space dust, the music is part folk, part electronic and generally otherworldly, the sounds and words wrapping around you like a well worn and much loved coat protecting you from life's worries and telling tales to keep you amused. 

    After the folky Banjo infused opener, “How the West Wind Blows” things get slightly stranger as “Dun Briste” gets wrapped in electronics, using repeated vocal lines as a way to hypnotise the listener, a trick employed throughout the album to great effect. Amongst my favourite moments on the collection is the pairing of “I Saw Nick Drake's Sister In Space” with “Search and Rescue”, the former a shimmering Psych-Pop gem, whilst the latter is a reverb drenched hymn with an ancient heart, the music droning and almost lost in the distorted noise, the lyrics seemingly telling you something very important that you once knew.

   Moving through the album, “We Used To Dance In The Sky” is driven upwards by a repetitive beat and swirling electronics, a heady blend that is easy to immerse yourself in, whilst “Stolen by the Faeries” takes folk music into wyrd territory , the spoken samples telling a traditional tale over a modern musical setting to great effect. 

    It is often hard to get a focus whilst listening to this album, sounds rise and fall, beats moving your feet whilst distortion and echo confuse the head, the lyrics adding yet another element to the tunes, yet this is a good thing, the experience like eating a large bowl of soup, the ingredients foraged from the countryside around you, flavours both familiar and new, the whole both comforting and tinged with the feeling that something strange could happen at any moment, the meal washed down with a large glass of ale or in this case, the seven minute kosmiche romp of “Hollow Mountain”, the perfect end to the collection, leaving you very contented. 

     With not a moment wasted this is a perfect collection of songs to treasure for a very long time. (Simon Lewis)



JOHN MORELAND – LIVE AT THE BASEMENT EAST – NASHVILLE, TN – 2/17/22

(Bandcamp)

 

“I guess I’ve got a taste for poison.  I’ve given up on ever being well” singer-songwriter John Moreland begins on his pre-encore closer “Cherokee” from this intimate live set.  That statement is sadly apparent, listening to this stark collection from stem to stern.

 

The husky-voiced troubadour takes us on a personal tour of his fragile psyche, his beautiful way with words frequently laced with anguish and pain.  His upcoming album Birds in the Ceiling will feature full studio instrumentation, but the accompaniment on this live performance is simply himself and John Calvin Abney on electric guitars, with Abney’s often sounding like pedal steel as well.  The simple instrumentation clearly works to Moreland’s advantage, with the audience, both in the club and the headphones, sitting in rapt attention to his messages.

 

While other artists may have licked their wounds through their songs before, few do it as compellingly as John Moreland.  With song titles like “I Always Let You Burn Me to the Ground,” “When My Fever Breaks,” “Old Wounds,” and “Break My Heart Sweetly,” you know you’re in for some rampant sadness, and those are just the titles.

 

Moreland’s world is the world of the broken, where relationships almost always end in crushing heartbreak, an almost inevitable outcome he can fatalistically predict.  He often sings to a lover of this repeated condition, either breaking down after the fact, or begging her not to do it to him again, or at least do it gently.  Take these words from “Break My Heart Sweetly”:  “There’s a scar on my soul, so let me down easy.  Break my heart sweetly, like you always do.  I guess I can’t let go till you wreck me completely.  Break my heart sweetly, drape me in blue.”

 

Those two electric guitars of Moreland and John Calvin Abney are a perfect backdrop.  Clean in tone, with occasional light tremolo, they blend beautifully, and often while Moreland isn’t singing, they take on a spooky, drifting ethereal quality all their own.

 

Occasionally, some of the songs are more uplifting, about wanting to take life by the horns or declarations of love (albeit, caveated as love in a dark and painful world).  And with folk singers, where so much emphasis is on their lyrics, I also want to give props to John Moreland the tunesmith.  The melodies are brilliant in both their simplicity and being perfect for their subjects.

 

In this emotional set, John Moreland shows he’s at heart a hopeless romantic, with both words weighted equally.  The lachrymose songs, steeped in melancholia, never fail to find their home in the beating hearts of his listeners.  His deep voice, strained to the breaking point with pathos, draws you in, and you want to give him unconditional love.

 

(Mark Feingold)



DODSON AND FOGG - KEEP UP

(Available on Wisdom Twins)

While not quite troubling Acid Mothers Temple as the most prolific artist we’ve championed here at Terrascope Towers, Chris Wade (aka Dodson and Fogg) has released nearly three dozen albums, EPs, and soundtracks since our review of his eponymous debut and interviewa decade ago! The title song of his latest EP (the instrumental ‘Trying To Keep Up’) opens with a rather snappy little tom tom riff under an acoustic melody that seems straight out of the DeWolfe library and destined for a TV theme song! The dreamy, wandering minstrel vibe continues on ‘Give In To The Night’, perfect for a wee lie down under the glistening stars on a warm summer’s night.

     The heat and tempo is cranked up for the bluesy stomp of ‘In The Afternoon’, which features some of Wade’s tastiest licks and dexterous finger work. Political commentary is at the heart of ‘What Will Become Of Freedom?’, suggesting a “use it or lose it” consequence of standing idly by while rights and privileges slowly wither away.

     ‘Through The Clouds’ offers another thousand yard stare into the expansive universe while cumulous clouds float effortlessly across the sky. Gently acoustic, romantically evocative, it offers both comfort and solace in a hard world which seems endlessly confusing with each passing day. Wade even adds a swirling organ backing to help the material sink in to the grey matter before launching into a searing electric solo that melts into a forlorn piano coda.

     Another exceptional offering from one of our finest and most prolific artists, whose quality control quotient never fades. Once again, quantity hasn’t affected quality!

(Jeff Penczak)



ALEX REX - MOUTHFUL OF EARTH
(LP/DL from Neolithic Recordings 
Artists | Neolithic Recordings (bandcamp.com))

Come on now, admit it. This was not what you were expecting was it? Well me neither, as Alex Neilson trades in his rascally off-kilter folk balladry and belters in in order to channel his inner Byron, and he sure ain’t Larkin about.

Mouthful of Earth’s origins are pre-pandemic, back when Neilson decided to weave some of his poetry into the experimentally slanted soundtrack of his, Alastair Galbraith and Richard Youngs’ Belsayer Times album from 2006. It’s an artistic deviation whereby Alex swaps vocal melodies for some seriously sinister stanzas. As you might expect from his more often than not baleful if sometimes darkly playful song lyrics, these pieces cover a range of emotions, few of which might charitably be described as pleasant. Against the backdrop of drones and occasional free jazz the menace and passion are palpable, breathing new life and giving fresh meaning to the aforementioned Belsayer Times. Gratifyingly, he is joined by ex-Trembling Bells colleague Lavinia Blackwall (an always winning combination) on one track and whose golden voice provides partial relief from the lyrically gruelling ‘Charity Shop Prophet’. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“It’s 4 am”, Alex intones as his opening utterance (on ‘Sorrow Makes Hope Soar Higher’) and indeed the overall feel here and henceforth is of some unhealthy pre-dawn fixation when the chimp brain is in full-throttle, dwelling on wretchedness and violence and yet somehow infused with a strange beauty. ‘It Must Be Love’ has less to do with Labi Siffre, more ‘a foul-mouthed Jiminy Cricket to a stupefied Pinocchio/Silently consenting to the shopping list of horror’. A bit too tame, perhaps? Then try ‘Andromeda Chained To A Rock’ which truly is genuinely scary stuff, as ‘the sea monster sings to oblivion’ and oblivion sings back to a hellish cacophony. It’s all deeply personal and soul-baring confessional, anxious, angry, resentful and regretful. Meanwhile, ‘Alcoholic’s Parabola’ is darkly trippy - imagine that the Kool-Aid’s been swapped for Buckfast Tonic. All the devils are here, tattooed with profanities (so yes, Larkin). This is poetry and music to dismantle yesterday’s daisy chains to, and trampling them to bits.  

Mouthful of Earth continues in Neilson’s rich vein of collaboration and demonstrates an enviable if tortured versatility as he dares to deviate from the folk(ish) output with which he is most often associated. Oh, and the album (released by Neolithic Recordings, who were responsible for the cassette release of Rex’s Woolf II set from 2019 earlier this year) is accompanied by a book of illustrations by musician/artist Benjamin Prosser. Verily, the gift of sound and vision: part poetry, part music and all good. Alex Neilson - you’re Bard. 

Ian Fraser



THE UTOPIA STRONG - INTERNATIONAL TREASURE
(LP/CD/DL from Rocket Recordings 
Music | Rocket Recordings (bandcamp.com))

When The Utopia Strong released their self-titled debut album in 2019 it attracted attention partly because of the involvement of snooker legend Steve Davis on modular electronics. Known outside of Crucible circles to be a Magma and Gong buff, Davis’ musical pedigree (leaving aside his contribution to novelty hit ‘Snooker Loopy’ in 1986) was based on his growing reputation as a DJ. Now he was a muso, truly a poster boy for us (late) middle aged types, still harbouring dreams of an eleventh-hour career change.

And so from national to International Treasure. Aside from Davis, The Utopia Strong comprises Michael York (Coil) on myriad pipes and wind instruments (and percussion) that lend ethereal and organic textures to Davis’ circuit wizardry. Resembling a clear-eyed version of Syd Barrett around his Madcap’ period, the trio is completed by string-driven psychedelic polymath Kavus Torabi, whose extensive resume includes Knifeworld, Cardiacs and Guapo, and who leads the current incarnation of Gong. This, their second long-form outing, develops quite exquisitely the themes moulded by their debut and which, incidentally, was (and remains) an unmitigated triumph, one that is regularly summoned for turntable duties here in the servant’s garret at Terrascope Towers. The sound is, if anything, more floating and fully formed this time, and a little less reliant on the kosmishe tropes of Cluster and Harmonia hitherto employed so effectively. In fact at times, International Treasurehints more at a psychedelically orchestrated icy undertow of Scandinavian chill-out jazz, elevating York’s reeds and Torabi’s tasteful glissandos and underpinned by Davis’ oscillations. 

Outstanding in its left-field is the shimmering beauty of ‘Shepherdess’ on which Torabi plays guzheng and features a tantalisingly wraithlike wordless vocal. So, too, a brief but bucolic ‘Disaster 2’ (which like ‘Brain Surgeon 3’ on the first album, makes you yearn to hear earlier and subsequent takes) and the grittier ‘Revelations’. Best in breed, however, is the title track which, for a blissfully transcendent eight minutes, takes you to a place where you might wish to spend an eternity, before we snap back into the here and now with the rhythmic reach-for-the-sun single ‘Castalia’. In point of fact one could pick out pretty much everything here and eulogise about it until the proverbial steers reappear.

Taking pride of place alongside its predecessor and perhaps surpassing even its flood-level watermark, International Treasureproves that The Utopia Strong have quickly outgrown curiosity value. This is a serious endeavour and a seriously good one at that. So good that it’s hard to see how anyone, anywhere is going to better it any time soon. Go treat your ears and your synapses; they’ll thank you for it.

Ian Fraser



DHIDALAH - SENSORIA

(LP/Digital on Gurugurubrain Records)

 

With the mighty Kikagaku Moyo sadly making their final rounds after releasing their swan song Kumoyo Island on Gurugurubrain, the masterful label they founded, leaving psych lovers the world over in grief, somebody has to step up and take hold of the ‘brain.  Here is Tokyo’s Dhidalah with their second album, making their persuasive case.

 

After their promising debut album Threshold in 2019, I eagerly awaited Dhidalah’s follow-up.  They put out a steady stream of teasing video clips full of excellent live psych jams on social media for years, but when no album followed, I wondered what was up. Turns out the band holds a weekly jam session in Tokyo from which those clips came, and sure enough, they carefully developed some of those ideas into songs that would find their way onto Sensoria.

 

Threshold was often very heavy, a bludgeoning force.  On Sensoria, I wouldn’t say the band has lightened their sound – hardly - but they have learned to temper it with other influences like krautrock plus some light and shade, and they are better for the growth.  They also take some breaks on the long tracks between Ikuma Kawabe’s spacy guitar onslaughts, with chant-like vocals and “Noise FX” by band leader and bassist Kazuhira Gotoh.  Forget trying to understand what he’s singing, or even what language it is, just go with it.

 

That Noise FX can either add to the atmosphere or be a distraction depending on the listener’s preferences, but Dhidalah certainly fills in any and all spaces with sound.

 

Side One has three tracks.  Opener “Soma” begins somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy methinks, before settling into a krautrock groove by way of Tokyo by way of the Oort Cloud.  The middle one, “Invader Summer” has a driving, pummeling beat, and some outrageous guitar work by Ikuma Kawabe that just doesn’t quit for the duration of its six minutes.  Third track “Dead” isn’t, and in its all-too-brief run time swaps the freaky electric guitars and drums for acoustic guitars, hand percussion, and strong effects, continuing the narcotic haze.

 

Side Two is all the twenty-minute “Black Shrine.”  Here’s what you came for, folks.  The long, slow burner leaves the launch pad and climbs, climbs, climbs, accumulating more and more sound while showcasing Ikuma Kawabe’s brilliant guitar playing.  It throttles back at around the eight-minute point for a quieter bluesy interlude to a metronomic rhythm, the guys coolly biding their time.  But you knew that wouldn’t be it, didn’t you?  Almost imperceptibly Kawabe ratchets up the guitar badassery until about the 14-minute point, when Gotoh comes in with just a MONSTER bass line that could swallow up everything in its path like a black hole.  Then at around the sixteen-minute point, the boys switch to a faster tempo, then do it once more even faster for good measure, and the game is really on. All three (Kawabe, Gotoh, and superb drummer Masahito Goda) reach for something extra and blow the roof sky high for the final four minutes of drubbing your brain.

 

On Sensoria, Dhidalah builds and delivers a better mousetrap than their promising debut, and it was well worth the wait.  Japanese psych fans rejoice!

 

(Mark Feingold)



AMBASSADOR - INSATISFACCIÓN

(Interstellar Smoke Records)

 

Argentinian power trio Ambassador plays bluesy, boogified hard rock with lots of style and pizzaz.  The band’s been together since 2014 and this is their third LP proper, to go with a couple of EPs and a live album.  They do everything in the genre supremely well, with a hermetically sealed airtight rhythm section of Emiliano Arrettino on bass and Lucas Calabrese on drums and percussion.

 

Maximiliano Alvarez on guitars and synths is bursting with talent, but it’s his low, grizzled, growling Spanish language vocals that, combined with his instrumental chops, make him somewhat of an Argentinian Lemmy.  The dude is absolutely magnetic.  Imagine a long-haired, tattooed ZZ Top circa ’72 fronted by tough guy Danny Trejo from the brilliantly campy Machete movies, and you’re part-way there.

 

The highlight reel includes “Malas Decisiones,” because face it, we’ve all made plenty of malas decisiones.  The Hendrixian heavy riffage is hard to resist, but hell, those vocals put it over the top (or maybe it’s under the bottom in this case).

 

Ambassador tackles swampy delta blues on “El Arrastrado,” with slide guitar dripping with muggy steaminess.  Another highlight is title track “Insatisfacción,” because face it, we’ve all got plenty of Insatisfacción these days.  With some outstanding guitar solos by Alvarez and a little help on slide guitar by Fabiano Sanges, the track sizzles.

 

They even include an environmental protest song, “Microplastico,” albeit in their own jagged, craggy style.  You don’t need to understand Spanish to pick up what Alvarez is laying down as he growls the lyrics with disdain.

 

On closer “El Ser Vercero,” guest Leopoldo Limeres adds some Hammond organ to Alvarez’s down and dirty guitar solos, adding more spice to the proceedings.

 

Ambassador dials up the musical diplomacy on Insatisfacción.  This is a very likeable band, and once you hit Play, it’s hard to stop till the record’s over.  You want to root for these guys.  There were rumors of a vinyl edition coming via Interstellar Smoke, but it hasn’t surfaced yet.  Fingers crossed.

 

(Mark Feingold)



KAMIKAZE PALM TREE - MINT CHIP
(LP/Cass/DL from
www.dragcity.com)

Channelling the rhythmic dyspraxia of Beefheart and the mischievous decompositions of early Residents, California’s duo Kamikaze Palm Tree’s blend of skew-whiff art rock is, to put it mildly, an eccentric proposition. However it’s Cate Le Bon or, perhaps more accurately, her Drinks collaboration with Tim Presley, that best typifies this often bizarre yet fascinating concoction of kookiness. Such is the uncanny resemblance to the Cate ‘n Tim pairing at times that I found myself scanning cheekbones and facemasks in the press snaps and on internet images for evidence of alter-ego. But, no, the Kamikaze’s core duo of Dylan Hadley and Cole Berliner are very much themselves, supplemented on this outing by members of Wand and Presley’s White Fence, while the man himself performs production duties, leaving plenty of himself in the mix.

Sound-wise what we have is an adventurous and indeed rewarding collection of short and razor sharp anti-tunes, some little more than vignettes.  ‘My Flamingo’ sets the template of endearing clunkiness, quirky key changes, infectious little runs. The endearing ‘aah-a-aah’ fillers, a la Le Bon, serve a similar purpose, one supposes, to Julian Cope’s ‘ba-ba-ba’. A continuation in style and structure, there’s a disturbing faux innocence to ‘In The Sand’, whereas plunking piano and woozy woodwind of ‘Club Banger’ hints of Henry Cow/Slapp Happy on downers. Well that does it, reader. Whisper it, but it might be my favourite thing here. But there again...‘Predicament’ redacts Stereolab quite wonderfully and ‘Y so K’ evokes coolest mid-70s Eno before the ambience got him. The title track is, appropriately enough, a defining slither of weirdness, but just when you think it can’t get more bizarre you are forced to revise your opinion as ‘Come In Alone’ and then ‘Chariot On Top’ rev the od(d)ometer even further. The B52s inflected garage psych of ‘The Hit’ is pretty damned groove-some too. As for those brief musical asides, ‘Bongo’s Lament’ could well be a titular homage to Van Vliet and Moondog, and succeeds in providing a pocket summation of both in 50 seconds (see what I mean about Residents?). Additionally, the marginally longer avant-jazz of ‘West Side Syncopation’ and playful staccato brassiness of ‘Cole Milk’ are so artfully (not to mention strangely) executed as to be practically as rewarding as those more fulsome in length (be aware though that, with 14 tracks spanning just 31 minutes, there’s no ‘Dark Star’ on the horizon).

With so many reference points it might be a temptation to consider Kamikaze Palm Tree to be a tad derivative. Banish that thought. What at first could be mistaken for borrowed slapstick shtick belies a keen humour, intelligence and considerable innovation. As a result, Mint Chip has to be one of the most surreally intriguing offerings of 2022 so far.

Ian Fraser