= JUNE 2007 =
|TEA 1 compilation
|Simon Lewis (Editor)
|Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom
|Youngs / Neilson
|Crows of the World comp
(CD on Humble Bee c/o Terrascope Online, 37 Sandridge Road, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 7BQ UK)
Housed in a mouthwateringly collectable, handcrafted felt envelope (hand made by compiler and Terrascope Online reviews editor, Simon Lewis’ wife, Cara), Terrascope Online’s newest release is a veritable smorgasbord of the current underground indie scene that also commemorates their first Terrastock Tea Party in Oxford (UK) earlier this year. The disk kicks off with ‘Bees Over Seas,’ a track from the latest album (‘Vineland’) from the Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, the musical voice of Brooklyn-based author, Jasmine Dreame Wagner. It’s an experimental mood piece with field recording type overtones that should appeal to the avant garde wing of the Wyrdfolk movement, particularly fans of Finnish artist, Jan Anderzén (Kemialliset Ystävät, Avarus, Tomutonttu, et. al.) Wagner, herself is no stranger to wyrdness, having previously performed with Wooden Wand and The Vanishing Voice. Our dear friend Alan Davidson, of the wonderful (and wonderfully prolific!) Kitchen Cynics drops in with the previously unreleased murder ballad that he does so well, ‘When Father Hanged The Children.’ Alan is one of the best at couching such gruesome lyrics within wonderfully melancholic, almost nostalgic melodies, and fans of this one are encouraged to investigate his ongoing “Tune A Day The Kitchen Cynics Way” project, which promises a new live or studio tune every day throughout 2007!
Monster Bastard Project’s ‘Ghost’ is a swelling, post rock guitar onslaught that frequently attains the dizzying heights of some of my favourite bands travelling in these stratospheric circles, like Tarentel, Explosions In The Sky, The Seven Mile Journey, as well as Terrastock vets, Paik and Kinski. I was slack jawed and mesmerised for this complete, ten-minute body wash. Another young band hailing from the same town as Thought Forms (see below), look out for the MBP at the next Terrastock festival, which Phil has already invited them to perform at. I "discovered" the Camberwell duo, Left Outsides (Alison Cottonand Mark Nicholas) through Alison’s previous work in Saloon, who topped my idol, John Peel,’s Festive 50 in 2002, and have been devouring everything they’ve deposited ever since (fans may also recognise the couple from their previous work with the glorious folk project, The Eighteenth Day of May). ‘Third Light’ is a minor key treasure, with Alison’s ominous Gypsy viola complimenting the mysteriously enigmatic lyrics. There’s a giddy, Silver Apples-like outer space vibe to the infectious shenanigans of Lewis’ solo project Phoenix Cube’s ‘Moondust Falling,’ although you may find yourself attracted to the snazzy little flute and guitar-based jazzy coda (from “Martin” and “Sky”) and leave Lewis’ more experimental sound effects back on Earth.
Plastic Crime Soundwave spit their way through a live rendition of ‘Punched In The Face’ (recorded at KFJC-FM in Los Altos Hills, CA), attempting to prove that hardcore punk is not dead, and while I’m a little too old for aggressive, sloppy messes like this, there’s nothing stopping Stooges fans armed with broken bottles and a jar of peanut butter from jumping in and having a party! Still, there’s something about a hardcore, DIY punk song topping five minutes that’s just not right to this Old Schooler’s ears.
It’s the second half of the disk (the B-side, if you will) that really gets me going. Breathy co-ed harmonies whisper their way through Arborea’s ‘Dance Sing Fight,’ a haunting, childlike lullaby whose syncopated lyrics seem derived from one of Brion Gyson’s surrealistic cut-up games. (Check out their album, ‘Wayfaring Summer’ for more treats.) And I must confess that I am one of many here at Terrascope Online that cherish everything that Sharron Kraus has uttered, and her traditional arrangement of ‘The Queen’s Garden” is a swaying little baroque number with [possible] vocal support from Meg Baird and Helena Espval (although not listed, Sharron’s recent album of traditional tunes that she recorded with the pair, ‘Leaves From Off The Tree’ has me drawing conclusions in this direction). Whysp’s joyously whimsical, ‘A Previous You’ may be the album’s most recent recording (March ’07!), and the strumming acoustic guitar and humming sitar add up to one of my favourite tracks, and a constant reminder of why I always loved The Petals and Incredible String Band!
Øyvind Holm (from Norway’s psychedelic popsters, Dipsomaniacs) offers us an outtake from his ‘Vanishing Point’ solo album on Camera Obscura, ‘Skeleton Key Pt. 1,’ and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable slice of his typically Lennonesque pop psych that reminds me that it’s been much too long since his (and their) last albums! Elsewhere, we’re treated to ‘Industry’ from Thought Forms’ debut EP, a band who were a surprising (but not entirely unexpected) hit at Terrastock VI in Providence, RI last April. The trio’s aggressively exuberant brand of Chameleonsesque guitar-based, predominantly instrumental rock and tender years suggest they should and hopefully will be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead.
So whether your tastes run towards the more experimental and avant garde or melancholic wyrdfolk or post rock guitar soundscapes, there will surely be something to please the most jaded listener, frustrated that “there’s nothing good or new and exciting happening in music these days.” I encourage you to pick this up and I guarantee it will prove you wrong and renew your faith in the current crop of the independent, “underground” music scene. (Jeff Penczak)
(CD from www.strange-attractors.com)
When not engaged in creating wondrous improvised music with Bright, Mark Dwinell can be found recording minimalist inspired sound excursions under the name of Nonloc, as those of you who witnessed Terrastock 6 will be only too aware. Using a selection of instruments more associated with folk or Americana, the songs on this album are driven by repetitive motifs that rely heavily on the rhythmic compositions of Glass, Reich or Riley. However, they are lifted from such precision by the addition of some wonderful improvised playing that counterpoints the inherent structures of the piece.
Opening track “Corpus Callosum” has some plaintive electric guitar within it’s groove, softening the machine like quality of the song, adding a more humanistic element, whilst “candide” has some sparse lyrical additions, sounding like Aarktica on the “Bleeding Light” album (This is no bad thing, that albums still remains a favourite of mine).
The soundtrack to “Koyaanisqatsi” is conjured up on the short but wonderful “Processional”, whilst “sentry At Elusius” sounds like Can pretending to be a wyrd-folk band, or maybe a wyrd-folk band pretending to be Can (I wonder if there is a difference?). One “Lost In The Desert, Near Death” a jaunty instrumental is distorted by the vocals and you begin to realise that the album has lost its reliance on rhythm and has slowly involved into something far more fluid and human, emotions taking over from repetition. How or when this happened it is hard to tell, but this subtle change adds depth and grace to the album, allowing the listener to venture deeper into the soundscapes. Just as you are relaxing however, the wall of strummed banjo (like Reich composing for Motorhead) of “Clearing” pounds it’s way into your head in a deliciously unsettling way, before “Two Dreams” puts it all into focus again, the structures finally lost to the song.
Finally the title track dissolves completely, a long drawn out ache of a drone, unlike anything else on the album but fitting in so well that it becomes the only music that would adequately do justice to its position.
So an album that sounds like no other yet reminds you of several styles of music whilst remaining cohesive and true to its vision. (Simon Lewis)
(CD from www.strange-attractors.com)
On this, their fourth album, Plants have created a strange organic swirl that curls from the speakers sending out fronds and shoots that shimmer beautifully in the afternoon sun. Opening with the tranquil drone of the title track, the band create a warmth that unfolds like a slow-motion nature film, captivating the imagination with ease. On the second track “Seedling” a gentle sparkle of notes is washed with vocals as cleansing as cool running water, the piece as drowsy as an afternoon siesta. Following on “seedling Two” is drenched in reverb that takes the song into the realms of the infinite, a drop of water under the microscopes gaze.
At the centre of the album “Roots” is a masterpiece of psychedelic drone, guitars and electronic effects merging into a potent whole creating a natural high, taking you deep inside the sacred forest, the music vibrating in harmony to reveal a joyous truth. A ripple of water and some temple bells herald the distant perfume of “Birdflowers” the music patterned with swooping electronics, before merging into “Seedling Three” a pagan folk song filled with tumbling percussion and strummed guitar, topped off with some great vocals, all of which offers a glade of light in the magical forest that this album induces.
Finally, “A Hidden World Exposed” casts a spell of awakening, not only from the albums dreamworld, but also to the realisation that this world is around us always allowing us to escape from the days hassles using music as a key.
At only 35 minutes this is one of those rare albums that you wish would go on longer, the tracks merging into a complete and satisfying whole that offers a myriad of possibilities every time you listen.
Housed in a great cover, this album is a walk through a forest without leaving the house although it sounds even better out in the open countryside. What your mp3 player has been waiting for. (Simon Lewis)
(Slowburn Slowburn Records, 532 East Blacklidge Drive Tucson, AZ 85705 USA )
Singing guitarist, John Axtell formed Bread and Circus with ex-Dharma Bum drummer, Sam Donaldson. Soon, Black Sun Ensemble guitarist, Eric Johnson and ex-Los Federales bassist, Joe Yearego were enlisted to add some flesh to Axtell’s musical skeleton and B&C were off to Axtell’s Signalhouse Recording Studio to complete their debut release. Right from the hee-hawing, toe-tapping, countrified Stonesy swagger of opener, ‘Miss Me,’ this is a loose, laidback collection of fun, sloppy rockers in the well-worn tradition of other super groups like Golden Smog and Danny & Dusty. In fact, fans of Wilco, Dream Syndicate, and fellow Arizona desert dwellers, Green On Red should certainly jump right in to this cool oasis of goodtime groovers. ‘My Devil’ honey drips out of your speakers like a caramel sundae melting in the blazing Arizona sun, with Johnson’s dirtyass, fuzzy solo adding a snarling, garagey vibe to the proceedings. ‘Letters’ adds a stroke of ‘Cortez The Killer’-styled minor key blues to the quartet’s bag of trips, with the extra added bonus of delicious backing vocals from the delectable hot babe trio of Monika Damron, Sara Gascho, and Kristan Islas. Toss in Johnson’s warbling wah-wah’s and a pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you ending, and you’ve got a night on the town you won’t soon forget!
‘Love Come Around’ is a moody, tears-in-your-beers weeper, and Donaldson’s crisp drum patterns propels the fried-eyed ‘Salt’ into the wounds of broken-hearted lovers. Thankfully, the band aren’t averse to tossing in an acoustic ballad to mix up the heady brew, and the sleepy, whiskey-soaked ‘Radar’ fits the bill just fine, thank you. The band also lighten things up considerably with the hootin’-and-a-hollerin’, ‘Astor Place,’ an epic cowboy roundup with the Infernal Racket horns and Aldy Montufar’s trumpet stutter-stepping through the drunken carolers, whilst Dylan’s kid, Jakob and his flowers on the wall smile bleary-eyed from the sidelines. The song seems born from listening to ‘One Headlight’ on repeat for hours on end, but is a corny-yet-catchy fun time in the old town, nevertheless. This is definitely a major entry in the always fun ‘Saloon Rock’ style of good time rock and roll. (Jeff Penczak)
Levy should be familiar to our readers as the groovy, keyboard-playing chanteuse in Terrastock veterans, The Loud Family. This gal about town has also enjoyed a fascinating career alongside Jad Fair’s Chuck Marcus (as Sonoptic) and John Wesley Harding (The Minstrel In The Galleries), and has recorded several solo albums with members of Camper Van Beethoven. Levy contributed synth and vocals to Mushroom’s brilliant ‘Glazed Popems’ release that blew us away back in 2004, so an entire disk steering the band through an eclectic mix of live and studio recordings (produced by Mushroom drummer and new Ptolemaic Terrascope editor, Pat Thomas) is a welcome treat! Lazily (but accurately) branded “Mushroom with a chick singer,” the disk bears several earmarks of a typical Mushroom effort (and I use “typical” very lightly!): a musicologist’s sense of humour displayed in titles like ‘Josh Pollock’ (named after the guest guitarist), ‘Clay Alison’ (an intentional misspelling of Kendra Smith and David Roback’s pre-Opal project!), and the delicious ‘Kraut Mask Replica’ (if you don’t catch the reference, you’re visiting the wrong website!) [And astute trainspotters may also recognise that the album’s title was nicked from an old Led Zeppelin song!]
Following an introductory call to arms, wherein Levy rehearses her vocal chords for the proceedings to follow (‘Electric Muse’), the sultry, sinewy siren serpentines her way around Josh Pollock (the musician)’s avant guitar scrapings in the live, improvisational (and quite Floydian) jam, ‘Josh Pollock’ (the song). Special kudos to Emery Dora’s stalking, incessant organ grinding. Throughout ‘Clay Alison,’ Levy’s cooing vocals, Matt Cunitz’ tinkling Celeste, and Tim Plowman’s vibrating guitar unfortunately had to compete with the rather boisterous crowd at Pete’s 881 Club in San Rafael (CA) on the night of 30/11/02, but it’s to the band’s credit that they remained within the song’s mellow, soft-spoken arrangement instead of trying to compete with the noisy room. For the curious, the track does occasionally remind me of its namesake’s subsequent output on the ‘Fell From The Sun’ EP and ‘Happy Nightmare Baby’ LP.
‘Gas, Grass, or Ass – Nobody Rides For Free’ (released as a teaser EP in an even smaller run of 100 and downloadable from the label’s site) is a lovely, jazzy studio jam centered around Marc Capelle’s trumpet and Erik Pearson’s flute solos, with Levy’s snappy scat singing combining the best of Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. The album’s centrepiece is the unforgettable delirium of the 22½ -minute, ‘Kraut Mask Replica,’ recorded live at San Francisco’s 12 Galaxies on 12/2/04. From its humble, Ralph Carney sax opening, interrupted mid-spit by Pollock’s insane, macaw-like shrieking, the track gives avant skronk improvisation a good name, simultaneously sounding like a stroll through the bird house at your local zoo and a headnodding, stormtrooping marching band under the baton of the track’s Pied Piper inspiration, Captain Beefheart. So, kick off your sandals, pull on your dancing feet, raise your freak flag and lose your inhibitions to this pulsating throb monster that morphs into equal parts Spacious Mind and the communal hippie vibefests of Amon Düül, with an extended motorifik coda that invites Neu! and Hawkwind to the party. Your throbbing grey matter, sweaty palms and wobbly knees will never be the same again. And for readers tired of the old hippie comparisons, ringleader Pollock’s stint in Acid Mothers Gong should offer a more recent signpost of where this trip is headed!
This limited edition (1000 copies) of live and studio improvisational funky groove thangs is sure to evaporate quickly, so don’t hesitate on adding this to your collection. (Jeff Penczak)
MALACHI – HOLY MUSIC (Fallout)
“Malachi” was born John Morgan Newbern in Baltimore, MD USA in 1944. He had a life-altering visit to Kukulkan’s Pyramid in Yucatan, Mexico, which, despite the fact that he was only 10 years old, led him to devote his life to exploring Eastern and Native American spirituality. He recorded this album in San Francisco at the age of 21 on the evening of Wednesday, August 16, 1966. Verve released the album (in a gatefold sleeve, catalogue #V6-5024), but had no idea how to market it, and despite playing numerous gigs around San Francisco to support the release, Malachi was not invited back to record a follow up. The five lengthy pieces (with titles like ‘Wednesday – Second,’ ‘Wednesday – Sixth,’ Wednesday – Fifth,’ etc) feature unidentified percussives that sound like bowls, bells, chimes, et. al. around Newbern’s randomly strummed guitar, bass and the omnipresent Jew’s Harp twanging of future Red Krayola member, Steve Cunningham. By the time Malachi starts his Native American chant during finale, ‘Wednesday – Eighth,’ you may even find part of the blueprint for the future psychedelic rantings and ravings of Father Yod and his cult of cosmic disciples, Ya Ho Wa 13.
The album’s closest contemporary relatives may be Charles Ewing & Ernie Fischbach’s ‘A Cid Symphony’ (released the following year) or Seventh Sons’ (featuring a young Buzzy Linhart) ‘4 A.M. at Frank’s’ from 1968. The myriad tinklings, pluckings, strummings and thumpings appear and dissolve with the random disassociativeness of nature’s music: wind whispering through chimes, rain falling on leaves, rustling trees. What Malachi has captured here is the natural order of Earth’s music: imagine sitting cross-legged on the floor of the forest with the wind gently whistling through the trees, a soft rain tickling the leaves, or random scuffles of animals scurrying through the shrubbery. The music passes by almost unnoticed – another early precursor to Eno’s true “ambient music” – and the asymmetrical patterns allow the listener’s mind to float into perhaps a natural state of Transcendental Meditation, as Malachi doesn’t linearly grab you by the hand and take you in specific directions; rather, he lets the music fall over you, perhaps triggering a memory, a thought, or an emotion that the listener can explore as he and she sees fit. This is peaceful music, which some of today’s folkier Wyrdfolk artists like Timothy Renner, B’Eirth (In Gowan Ring), Prydwyn (Green Crown), and Philip Legard (Xenis Emputae Travelling Band) have been specializing in for years now. So let’s all take a deep breath…let it our slooowly… and let the tension flow out of your body as Malachi’s self-described ‘Holy Music’ flows into it.
Admittedly, this is not something you’ll whip out at your next backyard barbecue to compete with the likes of The Grateful Dead and other classic rockers, but for those quite mornings or evenings of “down time” or “quiet time” where you contemplate your place in the universe, or practice you TM or yoga breathing exercises, this is the perfect soundtrack. Newbern reverted to his Christian name and would continue to record music on his self-constructed Guitarra de Maya (Guitar of Great Illusion) based on various Gibsons (’62 B-25-12, ’67 B-25-12, ’46 LG-1), a Harmony and a ’65 Martin 00-21 New Yorker. (Gearheads can check his description of the guitars on his website.) Recent releases have been more in a “New Age” or “World Fusion” style, with Newbern’s beautiful guitar work prominent throughout. His latest release, last year’s palindromic ‘DrawninwarD’ finds him exploring his childhood memories of that long ago trip to the land of the Maya from which this release sprang. (Jeff Penczak)
Light a candle in a dusty cluttered attic, watch the shadows paint images in your mind. Close your eyes and think of sunshine, a bird glides overhead, one wingbeat and gone, the distant shimmer of water. Open your eyes and blow the candle out. This CD is very beautiful. This review is very short. (Simon Lewis)
(3x CD www.rroopp.com)
For the past 15 years Amp have been at the forefront of experimental sound, mixing drone, Kraut inspired improvisation, ambience and swirling pop brilliance into a heady and absorbing body of work that is touched with genius.
Featuring core duo of Richard Amp and Karine Charff, this triple CD gathers together unreleased songs, alternate versions, rare releases and other sonic goodies and is a treat for long term fans and new listeners alike.
Disc one opens with the previously unreleased “Sketch A Star”, a dense cloud of drone that rolls from the speakers and sucks you straight into Amps world. Originally released as a 7” single “Remember” is half noise, half beautiful pop song, a drifting slice of brilliance that shows the band were full of ideas right from the start.
At 10 minutes “Alightfarout” shows a distinct Coil influence with its slowly changing sonic palette and eerie vocals, whilst “There She Goes” is a short piece of melancholy psychedelia originally released in 1992 on a self-produced cassette. Featuring the welcome sound of acoustic guitar “A Small Light” is another unreleased gem Featuring the bands first collaboration with Marc Challans (Fraud).
On “ICU” some murky dub infested beats cut through the drone tendencies to offer a different perspective, although as with the rest of the album, it is definitely Amp that is making the noise. More rhythms can be heard on the deep space explorations of “Frise” which sound like an outtake from “7-Up” (Ashra Tempel/T.Leary), before disc one finally closes with the mellow strangeness of “Fine Day”, recorded in 2005 and one of my favourite pieces.
One of the things that I find appealing about this album is the fact that the tracks are not in chronological order, meaning that you have to wait until the second track on disc two before you hear “Get There” the flipside to “Remember”, well worth the wait it is too, another distorted psych-pop gem to savour.
Recorded in 1999 but only ever released on a compilation (Fuzzy Boombox V.2 2004) “Standing In The Darkest Corner Of The Room” is a brooding slice of ambience and spoken word that creeps up the spine with devilish intent, whilst “Ipso Factum” is a much warmer slice of ambience that gently soothes the soul.
Highlight of disc two is the long electronic squall of “Lutin2”, a psychedelic wave of down trodden sounds and distorted beats, that displays the influence of early electronic pioneers such as Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk. By contrast “Le Revenant”, featuring piano from John Cooper (who played with Richard in The Secret Garden) is a minimalist sound poem of haunting beauty, with the vocals of Karine adding the perfect touch of mystery.
With a passing nod to Aphex Twin and other electronic artists who managed to leave the dance scene in favour of something more cerebral, The insistent beats of “Miles’N” show another subtle change in the sound, the drones lost to the chattering noise that overlays it, creating an unsettling groove that refuses to leave you.
Opening disc three “Ombres” seems to be possibly the quintessential Amp track, with coil-esque vocals, electronic washes and insistent electronics beat all merging into a perfect whole, this has been a constant on my stereo for a while now. Featuring a Feedback Coda from Dave Pearce, “Moon Tree” is the oldest piece on the album, recorded in 1990-1991, and is a wonderfully dramatic drone that demands to be heard at high volume in a darkened room. In fact, that course of action is recommended for the whole of this album, allowing for complete concentration and enabling the listener to lose themselves completely in the ever-changing sonic textures.
The final disc contains, amongst its many delights, a trio of cover versions, starting with a fucked-up reading of “Scarborough Fair”, the vocals almost lost in the electronic mist. That same mist threatens to engulf the free-floating experience of “Seagreen Serenades” (Silver Apples), before the unholy trio is ended with a cover of “So Hot (Wash Away All Of My Tears)”, (Spacemen 3) with this version not straying too far from the original.
After an exhilarating ride across three disc, the album is closed with two unreleased tracks, the free form electronic drift of “Wild Wine Gaze” which was specifically mixed for this compilation, and the 10 minute cosmic drone of “When You Have Love” which sums up all that has gone before, slowly fading into nothing, the ringing in your ears the perfect thing to listen to after such a intense trip.
Given the amount of music on this disc, it is a testament to the playful inventiveness and exploratory spirit of Amp that it is easy to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, never a moment lost, never a song outstaying its welcome. An album you will still be playing in twenty years time.
( UK CD/LP)
It’s rewarding to see music which the Terrascope’s been quietly championing since the very inception of the magazine becoming bathed in the limelight of popularity, and yet infuriating that the whole underlying point of it seems to be so obviously missed by the current generation of fans and observers. Tagging Voice of the Seven Woods as a “nu-folk” artist misses the mark so wildly that it’s bordering on being embarrassing, not only for the writer but for the artist as well - and yet sadly it continues to happen, and no doubt will so with the release of this, this debut album.
There’s nothing “nu” about what Voice of the Seven Woods is doing. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a master of his craft and worth every accolade being bandied around and more besides, but the particular furrow that he’s ploughing can be traced right back to the early 1970s and beyond. Ever since the Terrascope was launched in the late 1980s we’ve been championing talented guitarists and songwriters whose musical approach encompasses primarily acoustic, mainly instrumental, music; the likes of two 1990s British acts, Mick Wills and Nigel Mazlyn Jones, spring to mind immediately for example, elements of both of whose work Voice of the Seven Woods bears more than a passing resemblance to. All are obviously well schooled in psychedelic and progressive rock of the early 1970s – the Sam Gopal album will be no stranger to their record decks, for instance, with alluring middle-eastern riffs woven into Krautrock musical tapestry. Other familiar names from our pages, from Barry Dransfield to Wizz Jones, from Davey Graham to Clive Palmer, from Mac MacLeod to Guru Guru (via Hurdy Gurdy), are all members of the same extended family, as are bands like the (American) Kaleidoscope who took Turkish instruments such as the Kaz and the Oud and set them against sun-fried extended guitar workouts.
Manchester’s Rick Tomlinson, who to all intents and purposes is Voice of the Seven Woods, belongs firmly amongst the same family of artists. His star has arisen as if from nowhere; Rick’s been recording for several years whilst simultaneously working on various projects with friends, but his releases have been limited to assorted CDRs and a series of now rare 7” EPs with gorgeously screenprinted covers, and it’s only really through word of mouth on the live circuit that people have become aware of just how supremely talented he really is. Seen live, improvisation is the key. He picks the musicians he works with, and the result is that his sound’s growing all the time, and that you never quite know what to expect of the next release. It could be acoustic guitar driven with echoes of European folk, or it could just as easily be Tropicalia. As with so many musicians, what you get is filtered through whatever the people who created it have been listening to. And the great thing is, Rick Tomlinson has a very extensive palette to choose from.
And yet, his work is constantly being pigeonholed as “folk” music, and on particularly bad days as “wyrd” folk, the US variation on the psychedelic folk theme. What concerns me slightly about that is that to do so is suggestive of twee overtones: and twee is most definitely an unsuitable word when applied to the music of Voice of the Seven Woods. ‘Second Transition’ for example will have the cones of your speakers cowering in awe at the wah-driven effects issuing forth, and ‘Underwater Journey’ sounds like a Comets on Fire outtake. This is no bad thing at all.
Unfortunately when Rick asked his record label to send us a review copy, they helpfully only sent us a promotional CD in a plain plastic cover – quite how we are supposed to recommend to our readership what to look out for when flicking through the racks in Rough Trade, or indeed how we are supposed to describe the package as a whole, defeats me. For all I know it may well come in an exceptionally gorgeous, hand screen-printed sleeve featuring sublime artwork. Alternatively it might come housed in a stale sock. Sadly however the Terrascope, despite our 20+ year history of successfully getting behind bands and artists who, like Voice of the Seven Woods, are richly deserving of support, remains a stain on the foot of the promotional pecking order as far as many record labels are concerned. They’ll send the full works, an LP as well as a CD probably, complete with photographs and helpful biographical notes, to the music columnist of the ‘Guardian’ newspaper or ‘Country Homes & Gardens’ magazine because they have a circulation in the tens of thousands, too dense to figure out that maybe 0.00002% out of their circulation are even vaguely interested in exploring new music and less still actually bother to actively search it out and buy it; whereas of the Terrascope’s 3000 or so regular readers every single one of them buys into the scene both literally and metaphorically. So it goes.
Luckily however, Rick himself passed me a copy at our Tea Party gig in Nottingham the other evening, so I'm at least able to bring you the track titles. You’ll have gleaned by now that Voice of the Seven Woods has completely blown us away here at Terrascope Towers, and that I can’t begin to recommend this album highly enough. ‘The Fire In My Head’ is a twisted middle-eastern tour de force which is an exact repro of Mick Hutchinson’s post-Clark Hutchinson guitar pieces, while ‘Silver Morning Branches’ lifts the opening riff from Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ and turns it into something Greg Weeks might’ve done on his solo work outside of Espers (interestingly ‘Dusk Cloud’ starts out the same way too – it’s obviously embedded deep within Rick’s psyche somewhere). ‘Second Transition’, sounds like a Mick Softley outtake (this is a good thing in my book) whilst ‘Valley Of The Rocks’ is something that could easily have given Davey Graham a run for his money whilst still in his pomp. ‘Return From Byzantium’ is an instrumental in the Pentangle mould and remains a personal favourite.
So, Voice of the Seven Woods. Check him out live somewhere up and down the country if you get a chance – I promise you you’ll leave a changed person. This guy really is that inspirational. (Phil McMullen)
( CD/DOUBLE VINYL www.nasoni-records.com)
First thing that you notice about this album is the gorgeous cover, a glorious spacescape that radiates with colour, drawing you into the void. Once you slide the first disc from its sleeve you discover that the vinyl radiates with the same beautiful cover. As you place the needle on the disc you pray that the music will live up to the artwork. Well, fear not, this is the bands most assured and cohesive work, the music oozing confidence and the songs stretched to their limit allowing for plenty of deep space exploration. Featuring just seven song on four sides of vinyl, the band have undergone a subtle change of emphasis, leaving the Hawkwind riffery behind to concentrate on a spacier more eloquent sound, the guitars singing their praise to the stars. Not that the riffs have left completely as track one “Wromg!” will tell you, it’s just that they are less pronounced, buried under layers of synths,
guitar, and other effects. More in keeping with the new improved sound “Black Country Sorcerer” is a moody atmospheric epic, with some excellent understated drumming keeping thing flowing as washes of electronic string drift across the room. Final track on side one (that’s three tracks already) is the livelier space rock of “Miss Liberty’s Morning Dew”, the guitars of Fred Laird taking the song out into the solar system, with some inventive six string trickery.
Side two contains just on track, the sublime “Lucifer Starlight”. At “first, gentle acoustic guitars trace patterns across you eyes, the mist of tumbling electronics only adding to the lysergic affect, the treated vocals almost lost in the background. Slowly, however, the song starts to open out, other instrument join the swarm, glistening keyboard lines dart through the mix, until, half-way through the track we are left with just a whisper, the universe drawing its breath. Then, from the far reaches of the galaxy, a storm blows in, the drums (courtesy of Jon Blacow) driving the song forward as the other instruments writhe together with abandon, sounding like a long lost Kraut Rock band in full flight.
The first two sides over, you wonder what the band have left in their locker as the third side also contains one track “A Song For John Donne”, and you hope they are no going to simply repeat themselves. Such worries are instantly dismissed as soon as the needle hits the groove, the song opening with a psychedelic sound collage with an eastern flavour and quality to spare, rattling percussion and whirling flute creating a completely new texture to any we have heard previously. Finally a restful guitar line picks up some floating vocals and a song appears from the flowing waves of sound. This side is definitely ripe for turning off your mind and floating downstream, a chilled and delightful piece of space ambience.
Finally we arrive at side four and the title track “TEARS OF ANDROMEDA-Black Sails Against The Sky”. Opening with rolling percussion and huge chords of synth, the song dives headlong into some almost prog-like sequences, guitars weaving between the chords until a nice meaty space rock riff, destroys everything in its path taking control, the band rocking out as if their life depended on it. Split into three parts, part two “Stars In Nova” sees thing mellow out, sounding like a relaxed Ozrics, with some wonderful bass/drums interplay giving the music a warm and joyous feeling, with guitars echoing everywhere, pure magic. Actually, this mood is continued to the end of the track so maybe it was part three “Easter”.
Closing the album in gentle fashion “(Almost) Transparent Blue” is a soft focus synth lullaby, which acts as the perfect touchdown after such a wonderful voyage, leaving you blissed out and grinning with happiness. Highly recommended and quite possibly in my best of 2007 list and not budging. (Simon Lewis)
Dark, haunting, strange and decidedly wyrd-folk, this album is a fairy tale omnibus of 20 short songs that are enticing and captivating, to be listened to by flickering candlelight.
After “Dear Companion” the whispered, gothic opener, “Take Your Rest” retains the sombre mood, some beautiful picked guitar perfectly complementing the lyrics, sounding to these ears like the ghost of Nick Drake, the overdubbed vocals being particularly effective in conjuring up lost souls.
Third track in “Sleep In My Melody” does nothing to change the mood, the droning organ the perfect foil for the downbeat vocals, the music as stark as a graveyard tree in winter, full of lost beauty. Even the more cheerful musical tracks such as “Holy Nightmare” have a lyrical bent that resides in the shadows, reminiscent of Don Mcleans early work (his first album is well worth checking out).
Elsewhere, the acepella (Apart from a brief drone) folk of “Dear Old Crow” is exquisitely chilling, “Ember Week” is weird and compelling, “Bootless” is like an ancient prayer and the title track opens with some unexpected sax skronking, sounding like beat poetry gone mad.
Featuring 20 songs in 50 minutes, these mini nightmare rattle (their Chains) past you so quickly that they dissolve into a bizarre and unsettling dream sequence, the images staring you in the face before being driven out by other thoughts. Next time Halloween comes around open the windows and play this very loud, give the trick and treaters something to think about!! (Simon Lewis)
(CD / LP from VHF Records, PO Box 7365, Fairfax Station VA 22039 USA www.vhfrecords.com )
The numerous gloom spores scattered upon the wind by the berobed figure of Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley continue to thrive and mutate. ‘Deep in the Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light’ CD is the debut of Aethenor, his collaborative project with Daniel O’Sullivan of British ‘zeuhlists’ Guapo and Vincent de Roguin of the Geneva-based Shora, who I believe have recording links with Merzbow. Split into four distinct instrumental segments, the trio’s skill in the editing and mastering departments have resulted in a strangely shifting cinematic collage, at times mysterious, at others threatening in the extreme. The multiple keys, nocturnal electronics and ‘playing the room’ (the latter credit mirroring that found on the ‘Sights’ CD by Russell / Wehowsky on Corpus Hermeticum) make even the harshest of elements bend to their will. A message that’s perfectly encapsulated in ‘Part One’s combination of breakers captured rushing to the shoreline and clanking shipyard ambience which can surely see Aethenor justly installed as Poseidon’s sole representatives on terra firma. The album's also available in limited vinyl format. (Steve Pescott) (Phil adds: I recently bought a copy of the Aethenor album on vinyl, and I have to say Steve is if anything understating the sheer power and elegance of this record. The sounds pull you into their undercurrents and leave you feeling either elated or unsettled, depending on the state of your mind at the outset. The sleeve photo doesn't do the letterpress justice either. Top marks!)
Following on from the magnificent “Invisible Pyramid” compilation (2005), this set is the first in an on-going series chronicling the sonic adventures of the Last Visible Dog label. Featuring 11 acts including the previously unheard Oaxacan, the whole thing is a statement about the current state of drone/improv/free-noise, which seems to be very healthy if the tracks within are anything to go by.
It is up to The Free Players to welcome us in with the creeping mist drone of “All Time Sunrise”, a subtle blend of delicate noise that lasts forever, but is over too quickly. Opening with some ritual drumming, The North Sea (Brad Rose), delight the senses with “Albino Deer Transmissions” a track dominated by stringed improvisations that slowly dissolve over eleven minutes, distorting into a wailing drone of primitive joy, the plucked string maintaining a sense of melody throughout. On “The Burlap Tundra” all sense of melody is lost in a dense wall of drone, rattling and creaking sounds only heightening the sense of loss and disorientation that Western Automatic create. The fact that it is all produced by Matt Christensen on modified guitar and home-made spring percussion box only adds to the wonder.
Featuring just two organs played by Ilya Monosov/Preston Swirnoff Duo, “The Sea Within” is pure drone, the beauty revealed in the sound between the sounds, a meditational deepness embedded in the work that demands concentration from the listener. In complete contrast Andrea Belfi uses a wide variety of sounds and textures, both electronic and acoustic, to paint the vivid soundscape of “RIB”, hints of melodies hidden under stuttering percussion and rising drones. Sounds like the Clangers enjoying some magic mushrooms on a full-moon night, and is all the better for it.
Finally on disc one Paper Wings, featuring Anthony Guerra and Anthony Milton (the most prolific man in drone), leave us reeling with 24 minutes of improvised electric guitar, whispering and wailing. Here the music is intense and emotional, building into a typhoon of noise and chaos, before the storm slowly recedes ending with some brittle feedback. A masterclass in free improv that is even better at ear-splitting volume.
So, halfway though and not a bad track in sight, lets hope side two continues to maintain the exceptional high standard.
Again featuring two guitars, this time manipulated by Geoff Mullens and Kris Lapke under the name Northern Cross, the opening track on side two “Corvus Dei” is a rumbling piece of improvisation that sound like a slow train across a winters night, hypnotic and dreamlike. Continuing with this dream state “Snack Bars Near The Beach” has a surreal quality about it, the opening sounds and voices as random as a overheard conversation that is soon lost in a slow motion, melting drone, you can almost feel the tarmac sticking to your shoes. Played by Brasil and the gallowbrothers band, this is one of the most distinctive pieces on the compilation.
Recorded live in 2005 “Twin Beaks”-Sunken is yet another long improvisation featuring Anthony Milton, this time partnered by Stefan Neville. Utilising reed organ, microphones, loops, effects and vocals, this is my favourite track on the album, the droning organ given a shimmering coat of sound, creating a magnificent swarm of notes and harmonies, which swirl and dart across the room like migrating starlings at eventide. As the piece progresses, vocal are added, recorded, played back, added again adding yet another layer of sound, the whole thing ending in a blissful drone of perfect beauty. With the traditional line-up of Guitar/vocals, bass and drums, Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate are an unexpected delight as they play some west coast tinged psychedelia on “From the Dream” with the dancing guitar held together by some excellent drum and bass interplay.
Finally we come to the previously unreleased Oaxacan featuring Amy (vocals, electronics) Mike (Drums, percussion, melodica) and Derek (Guitar). On “Tulum” everything is slow and ethereal in the beginning, the piece slowly rising in intensity with the drums creating a thunderstorm of sound punctuated by vocal wails and distorted guitar. Recorded live, this an excellent track that has the beauty of a storm and ends this sublime compilation in a fitting way. Much kudos to Chris Moon for compiling the album and for being the driving force behind such an inventive and high quality label. (Simon Lewis)
(LP + Lotus Edition CD from
VHF Records, PO
Box 7365, Fairfax Station VA 22039 USA
One of my favourite moments when preparing any new issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine used to be ripping open an envelope from Bill Kellum of VHF Records containing his advertisment artwork. Hand-drawn and simply yet effectively eye-catching, it was fun trying to guess whether it would depict a bird or a fish or a helicopter. Often it still wasn't too clear even after I'd seen it.
Bill has now roped his children into doing sleeve designs for him, and I'm pleased to see the proud tradition continues. The cover of the latest Alexander Neilson and Richard Youngs collection 'Electric Lotus' features, I think, robots and aliens on the front, and possibly a recreation of a Devendra Banhart album cover on the reverse, although I could be mistaken. It's quite brilliant though, as indeed is the music within.
'Electric Lotus' is Youngs and Neilson's self-proclaimed “rock” album, and contains a mind-frying assemblage of guitar, bass and drum demolition spread across an LP of all-out electric rock mayhem plus an additional CD of what's described as "subtle drum/shakuhachi [Japanese flute] duos". Subtle, my arse. A couple of the tracks feature the kind of long notes, bowed cymbals, and other drones previously heard on the VHF album 'Partick Rain Dance,' but recorded in a stripped-down live setting which adds both atmosphere and kick. Elsewhere Bill claims the duo sound like an amphetamine-fuelled Guru Guru, and he's not far from the truth either. On the side-long 'Electric Lotus' Neilson’s staggering free-form drumming hits a new peak, unrecognisable (to these ears at least) from his work with Jandek and Bonny Prince Billy (both these guys actually played with Jandek during his series of UK shows). Youngs meanwhile both underpins and highlights it with some truly incendiary guitar and bass guitar exploration, veering satisfyingly towards the psychedelic in places and, on 'Kickin’ The Glass,' indulging in some seriously damaging riffage which will no doubt have the denizens of the avant-garde, where Youngs and Neilson are rightly revered as minor deities, scratching their beards, adjusting their spectacles and muttering "sell out" in Dylanesque whispers. Awesome stuff - don't miss out in this one, whatever you do. (Phil McMullen)
This, the fourth album by Italian band Deadburger, is a whirlwind ride through psych-punk, heavy electronica, experimental noise, psychedelia and all manner of strange sounds that give the album a dark and ever shifting sound. Sent to me by Keyboardist Vittorio Nistri (who last surfaced on my radar when I collaborated with him in “On Yonder Garden”, the album is a bewildering listen as it jumps between styles, with the listener having no clue as to what is about happen. This, of course, is one of the reasons it is so good, suprising at every turn, with the songs to back it up.
After the brief electronic static of “Permafrost”, the band get stuck in with “Come Ho Fatto A Finire In Questo Deserto” (translations are available on the website), an early 70’s bassline being swamped by a Nine Inch Nail sounding electronic/guitar heaviness, the song alternating between the two opposites with ease. Third track “Personal Titanic” is a garage-psych noise fest, with added Mexican trumpet in the middle, somehow it all works perfectly, and everything knitted together with sonic ease. The ghost of Kevin Ayers stalks the atmospheric “Utile Idiota”, whilst “Magnesio” is almost a lilting slice of psych-pop, the distorted vocals and unexpected feedback, dragging away from being nice, the tune suddenly distorting into a wave of free jazz skronking. So here we are 5 songs in and already we have covered half the style of modern music, the band displaying an imaginative streak as wide as a very wide thing indeed. Further in, the music takes on the hue of a Tarantino soundtrack, some swirling eastern mysticism, and Can-like grooviness, all played with consummate ease.
Throughout the album it is the little effects, the care taken over sounds, and the attention to detail that really hit home. Whilst there is a lot going on, nothing seem over the top or gratuitous, everything there for a reason. Lasting just under an hour, this is an adventurous and rewarding listen, could be one of the best 60 minutes you will spend this year. (Simon Lewis)
Having worked with Steve Stapleton, travelled with the convoy, and played three hour sets of gruelling irish punk, it is no wonder that this album from Peat Bog is a wigged-out hyper energetic mix of Daevid Allen, Butthole Surfers, Nurse with wound and Julian Copes more kraut tendencies. Indeed I can do no better than quote from the Press release “Honey…looks like the monkeys been at the mushrooms again”, sums it all up really.
Featuring three discs of weird psychedelic party music with titles such as “Hydraulic Bugger”, “Spinal Unwinda”, E-Freeme Buzzbomb”, “The Breeder Belt Tar Hogs” and “Hilarious Craterworm Mascot”, the musicianship throughout is tight but loose in a deliriously funky way, meaning fun is to be had by all. Loosen up and let this crawl up your spine; I love it, love it love it. (Simon Lewis)