=  MAY 2006 =

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Written by: Agitated Radio Pilot
  United Bible Studies
Simon Lewis (Editor) Painting Petals
Steve Pescott The Bags
Tony Dale


Jeff Penczak


Phil McMullen 

Hilarity & Despair

Nigel Cross

  The Instruments
  Rob Sharples



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


(CD on Deserted Village/Deadslackstring, http://www.desertedvillage.com)


    Over the past few months, I've had the pleasure of a long-overdue catch-up with the work of Ireland's United Bible Student movement, and the output of their cathedral/label/spiritual home the Deserted Village organisation, and it's all had my third eye glowing like a firefly rising through the mist. These two releases are the Alpha and Omega of the movement so far, and, along with the output of The Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree (if you can find either of their releases), a great place to dive into the scene if you haven't already.
    'Stations/Transits' is a reissue of the debut UBS CD-R on Deserted Village originally released at the end of 2003 and an artefact that probably stayed in stock as long as morning dew on a summer's day. Barl Fire have done their usual pristine packaging job, replacing the stunning colour sun/moon art of the original with iconography from the Rosarium Philosophorum printed letterpress style on high-quality cardstock. In a delicious irony typical of the CD-R micro label scene, this new Barl Fire version is itself already sold out at the source. Seriously, a CD issue is needed at some point. Musically, 'Stations/Transits' finds the mysterious "students" dividing themselves into duo and trios and working mostly (final track excepted) on vignetted aspects of the UBS sound rather than the kind of free-jazz meets hippie-freakout improvisation that characterises their live recordings, as documented by the subsequent and mighty live 'Airs of Sun and Stone' release. Delicate, melancholy acoustic airs are the order of the day, as various permutations evoke landscapes seen from odd angles in strange light. Close your eyes during tracks like 'Backwards across the Burren' or 'Shanaglish Cemetery' and you are instantly transported to the places in question. The complexity of their influence pool - Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins and Vashti Bunyan on one hand, Current 93 and Sol Invictus on the other hand, with the Incredible String Band watching over all - results in tracks that vary from contemplative Faheyeqsue finger-picked guitar instrumentals with flute and harp to others that trade in AMM improvisational space weaving using horns and electronics to fully fledge freak-outs. The one exception to the prevailing exploratory vignette methodology is the 17 minute 'Everytime We Find a Dead Viking', which builds from a barely audible ghost world of sawing drones and plucked notes on banjo and harp through percussive forest folk glades akin to the spaces created by Avarus or Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood to an explosive finale made up of maniacal guitar, distressed cymbals and squonking horn mayhem that screams "we are here, covered in furs and daubed with arcane symbols". Find a copy somehow!

     2006 finds UBS returning to mainly composed works (with some improvisation) for 'The Shore that Fears the Sea', At their core these are songs – but they also draw together all aspects of what the band has done over it's existence including elements that predate 'Stations/Transits'. 'Shore' exists at the intersection of their minimalist Foxglove CD-R 'The Lunar Observatory' and the damaged folk contained on their Slow Loris CD-R 'Huntly Town' and it plays out like the keeping of a promise. It's difficult to pin down what makes this release a masterpiece, but the addition of Dave Colohan's vocals have helped anchor their sound and make it both richer and more accessible, and there is a clear intelligence and intent at work: they wanted to bring all the streams together into a complex studio outpouring of pagan-folk bliss with overtones of the vintage 70s progressive and the psychedelic forms and they largely succeeded. The UBS palette thus expanded now seems like a prism through which other Deserted Village projects like Murmansk and the Magical Folk are refracted.

    Waves and bells call up dead sailors in 'Rivers Rotting in the Earth' and they stalk the earth muttering hopeless prayers under their dank breath. Not for the last time on 'Shore', Coil and Current 93 are invoked, albeit obliquely. Unexpectedly, around half way through the track, the fog lifts and a sweet acoustic instrumental passage takes over. It could be one of the vignettes on 'Stations/Transits', but it is more confident somehow, having a surety of knowledge of its place in the UBS sound. 'Hellical Rising' seems to come directly from Irish folk roots, a simple banjo and voice piece that could drop easily onto a Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree CD. 'Columbia's Song' is an indication of how far they have progressed. Lyrically, a stunning musical setting of an Edwin Morgan poem, musically they sound like they are playing in a corner of the Green Man in some lost scene from 'The Wicker Man'. Improvisational and visionary elements elevate 'Watching the Rain Reshape Galway' to astral realms, though it too is song-based, trading passages of keening lament from Colohan with shimmering bowed drones and electronic oscillations. The effect is out past the border of what words can convey. 'Crofts of Copland' is a gorgeous short piece utilising church organ, tapes, and vocal samples. 'Tributaries of the River Styx Under Dublin' expands an early compilation track into a fully-formed extended meditation, which transitions effortlessly from a raga introduction to ISB-influenced folk to ambient electronic shimmer to contemplative acoustic guitar instrumental passage. Damn near a curriculum vitae, really. Bowed strings and tape work chime away behind Colohan's soulful vocals on 'The One True God Lies to Himself While the One True Goddess Sings' as lyrics are finally provided to help one decode 'Stations/Transits'. The track has the hypnotic thrall of Current 93's 'Earth Covers Earth' with the addition of being stabbed through with a particular Irish take on the Japanese concept of mono no aware, roughly translatable as a sensitivity to the sadness things. The title track is a stone classic, its dazed acoustic guitar, flute and downcast vocals evoking a bygone era when bands like Broselmaschine and Stone Angel would release a single bogglingly-great record and then mostly disappear without trace. I don't think UBS will be doing that, though, and we are going to be the richer for it. Don't wait for this record to appear on end-of-year top 10 lists, grab it now! There were only 500 copies pressed and I believe they are selling like hot corn dollies.  (Tony Dale)




(LP on Time-Lag, http://www.time-lagrecords.com)


    The resoundingly well-named Painting Petals on Planet Ghost is a My Cat is an Alien side-project featuring MCiaA brothers, Maurizio & Roberto Opalio, and their longtime collaboarator, Ramona Ponzini. However, this record is the obverse of what one might expect, traversing a spectral, isolationist landscape light years removed from the comsmological outings of MCiaA. For this project, Ponzini plays Edo-period shrine maiden to the Opalio's indentured court musicians. Except, instead of Maurizio and Roberto playing shamisen, koto or taiko, they construct a rice-paper thin-but-strong structure from toy piano, ghostly keyboard tones, antique accordion, percussion, tape effects, and the occasional treated acoustic guitar. The five pieces on the record are, at their most basic level, Japanese poems intoned in a child-like manner over a bed of toy and antique instruments. However, the effect is somewhat other than basic – the trio skilfully intoning Zen mantras for the easing of frayed nerves, played out in encapsulated space, and with many resonating voids for the receptive to fall helplessly into. As in traditional Japanese music, much is made of the power of the silence, the resonance of decaying tones, and the weight of the suspenseful interval. Listening to Ponzini, in my minds eye I see the heroine of the first chapter of the 1966 Japanese compendium horror film 'Kwaidan' – the supernatural "woman with the long black hair" as she extracts her revenge against the archetypal unreliable husband. This film, from which so many have subsequently drawn, has an exquisite visual and sonic aesthetic that is not easily matched, but this release is certainly not disgraced when placed alongside it. From the opening 'Sakura No Hana No Oto Ga Kikoeru' with its simple incantations over Roberto's "cosmic piano toy", to the closing 'Sakurabana', where accordion drones leave inedible tracks in the mind, not a note or instrumental choice seems anything other than deeply considered and transcendentally placed. The artefact matches the music for attention to detail. The LP comes pressed on 180 gram virgin vinyl, and packaged with a letterpress printed cover and insert printed with copper ink on thick handmade ivory art paper, each sheet cast one at a time and air dried, apparently. As far as I know, there are no plans for a CD version, so expect the numbered copies of 560 to go quickly, as seems to be the way of things now. (Tony Dale)




(CD on Oaf Records www.thebags.org)


A much welcomed reissue from these Bostonians, also known as Swamp Oaf and sometimes Ebenezer and the Foul Balls, whose take on the plaid-shirted power-trio thang showed that they had a perfect right to dance on the hats of most of their contemporaries over in Seattle - Mudhoney being an honourable exception. This collection, originally with a working title of 'Rockwell', comprised of two 'concepts' running in tandem: a compacted 23 minutes Rock Opera called 'Waiting for Maloney' which dealt with an imaginary friend/band muse's prowess on a mysterious instrument called "the grand mythooza" (huh?), and the twelve burn-ups in a third album era Dictators sphere that constitutes 'Corn People'. When the tapes were presented to Stanton Park Records boss Aram Heller, the idea was for their to be a vinyl and a CD release, but the purse strings couldn't quite stretch to both formats. Consequently the Stanton Park CD emerged in 1991, while the vinyl was farmed out to Italy's Helter Skelter Records label in 1992.

    Fourteen years on the album still retains its energy levels and invention. Phil McMullen's Ptolemaic Terrascope review from an April 1991 issue still holds true to this very day [ good to know that, cheers Steve - P. ] - his frothing [ frothing?! ] over guitarist Crispin Wood's piece of resistance 'Movin' To The Country' is heartily endorsed and rubber-stamped by yours truly further on down the time coast in April 2006.

    As CD space isn't infinite, the fourth side of the vinyl edition is missing in action, but is apparently destined for a future rarities compilation. However, to bolster up the timings, both sides of their seven-incher have been included: the hip 'Dr Lb', lyrically a cross between the Other Half's 'Mr Pharmacist' and Little Feat's 'Rock 'n' Roll Doctor', while 'Frilly Underwear' seems to mobilize Tom Jones' Vegas audience into taking to the streets.... "wave it high, up in the sky, frilly frilly underwear!"

   So there we have it - three men coming over the brow, armed with a battered valise bulging with comely riffs. Adopt a Bag today. (Steve Pescott)




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


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


    The Norwegian duo of Sindre Bjerga and Jan Iversen has the kind of exploding nebula of a discography that makes one a little suspicious – you have to wonder if the pipes aren't being clogged with the busywork of a 100 fragmented CD-R labels with more enthusiasm than good judgement. Luckily, this talented experimental duo constantly mutates their thing, as demonstrated on their justly lauded 'Lighthouse Tapes' series, and releases like this pair.  

    'Smoke-Filled Mirrors' forms part of the duo prolific 2005 work, being recorded and mixed in June least year as part of the 'Hovden Tapes' sessions. One could almost consider it an EP, since it is comprised of a single track eponymous of around 27 minute's duration. It starts will a cloud of electronics, oscillating drones, nether-shortwave voices and associated detritus conjure a dysfunctional machine-shop ambience. Odd, whirs, clanks, rattles and the sounds of broken machines inhabit the sound stage like the ghosts of impending failure that flow through the wires and fluid lines of a badly maintained third-world passenger airliner as the clock of its existence winds down. Warning lights go on and off, caution tones bleep but there is no one around to hear them but us, and we don't care. Signal waves roll onto tape in the black box of this grim industrial symphony, and eventually all the components begin to scream in unison and they figure out their number is up. There is power here, and a certain industrial revolution beauty, but no peace, and all of the possible resolutions obey the third law of thermodynamics. The machine dies, and its ghost moves on.

    'Earth Pit' comprises three tracks, the first two recorded at the same sessions as 'Smoke-Filled Mirrors', and the third, an earlier piece, from 2004. 'Shining Light, Shining Bright' is radically different from 'Smoke-Filled Mirrors', though it still contextualises as industrial. Odd snatches of melody cut through a fog-shrouded harbour of sound, high drones and horn sounds creating the nautical mood which regularly pops up as a theme in their work. This engine room is a ship's one, and concepts of entrapment and paranoia are evoked as static drowns out communications and isolation from the rest of the systems involved in one's survival begins to take its psychic toll. Frayed and harrowing at its conclusion, it is a track that makes for unquiet listening. 'The Long Hour of Darkness' retreats into uneasy ambience and asylum behavioural repetitions as the watches of the night pass with agonising slowness. Steady state oscillator patterns and glacial drones sing the chirpy praises of life in the adjacent post code to the Arctic Circle, and that prospective visit to Scandinavia you've been planning gets put on the backburner for reconsideration. 'Rifle Bar' builds from a restrained introduction to a cavernous piece where demons are chained to the walls of a hellish pit full of lava runs and steam vents and the skeletons of unlucky creatures who took the wrong turn somewhere on their journey. Water runs down the walls and howls spiral up and outward, as the eternally trapped struggle to get free of their pit of exile and collect souls on the surface. If they make it, they're coming for your eardrums first.  (Tony Dale)




(7” single on Lancashire & Somerset Records, PO Box 1052, Liverpool L69 3ZS www.mugstar.com)


    I realise that I’ve got the technique hopelessly wrong, but I’ve always been a sucker for saxophones in rock ‘n’ roll, as previous scribblings will attest. The advantages are fairly obvious – a booting sax offers up a different range of tonal possibilities that can really power a band along and, God I’m shallow, they’re cool looking things – especially the brass glinting under the stage lights. I wonder though how its inventor, Adolphe Sax (1814-94), would feel discovering that the object in question is far more of a fixture in rock, jazz and soul than with the formally attired orchestral crowd?

    Here’s a few favourites I’ve cobbled together that’ve taken the good Monsieur’s brainchild and made it an integral part of their sound: the Undertakers, V.D.G.G., Funhouse-era Stooges, Roxy Music, X-Ray Spex, Suburban Studs (why the hell not!), the Cravats, Rocket from the Tombs, Soledad Brothers and Mugstar. Unfamiliar with the last name?  Well, read on….

   Mugstar first came to my attention during the time of Ptolemaic Terrascope issue 30 (yes, THAT long ago), when I was sent a rather fine Fabiola / Flamingo 50 split single whose blurb sheet namedropped Mugstar along with other Liverpudlian newcomers such as Kling Klang, Ladytron and Inch High. The slight inference here of a third Mersey goldrush sadly never materialised and it “seems” that only Mugstar and the poker-faced Ladytron came out at the other end with any regular press coverage / gig dates / releases.

    They (Mugstar) have toured Britain fairly regularly, tagging along with the likes of Oneida, Part Chimp and Melt Banana, amongst others; recorded one of the last ever sessions for John Peel in 2004 and enjoy continued airplay on American college radio and various other stations throughout the global village.

    ‘Baby Skull’ is their fourth single, comes wrapped in a neatly origamied sleeve on a thick slab of what looks like Czech vinyl. After a ’tec jazz styled muted opening, an ever growing blot of transplanted Dusseldorfian motorik emerges with the weight of Jason Stoll’s tenor sax storming its way past the relentless chordage and onto the centre spot. The sombre toned ‘b’ side ‘Diksik’ eats up the road at a faster clip, all blacked-out windows and armour plating. Pete Smythe and Neil Murphy’s scrubbed and tweaked guitar shapes suggesting a group of Dick Dale automata rewriting volume one of the Bailter Space cookbook. Makes for a mouth-watering taster for their soon to come album. (Steve Pescott)




(CDR – contact http://www.myspace.com/robsharples )


    I first encountered Rob Sharples in a bar in Devizes at a gig by one of my favourite local bands, the Monster Bastard Project, earlier this year. Rob, a friend of theirs and another stalwart of the local scene, was playing an acoustic set later that evening in the pub next door, so after having our ears pummelled by the Bastards’ aggressive progressive post-rock we wandered out of one door and into a door to another world – one of beer, upholstery, curtains and nodding heads. A folk club.


    Rob was just setting up, and the very moment he started tuning his guitar I knew we were onto something. You know how some people can make simply tuning a guitar into an experience in itself? The set that night was primarily one of originals, with a Nick Drake cover thrown in for good measure towards the end – but that song if anything was over-egging what was already a very rich pudding. ‘Sleepless’ in particular bears all the hallmarks of singer-songwriterly godliness, while ‘Bats in the Belfry’ shows off Sharple’s distinctively English finger-picking style to good measure – patently more John Martyn than John Fahey; more Wizz Jones than Glenn Jones. And yes, this guy is in that same league, believe me.


    Born in Bristol and now in his early 20s, Rob Sharples started out playing a dilapidated piano at aged 9 – one of those lovely old things with gothic etching and candle holders – and first picked up a guitar a year later. He’s subsequently followed in the footsteps of Nick Drake by living in Spain, then studied art at university in Bath - and is shortly moving just down to road from us here to Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire where, fittingly, John and Beverley Martyn once lived and played.


   The centrepiece of this early collection is undoubtedly ‘No Grand Gestures’, a hauntingly beautiful song accompanied by cello from Beth Porter – again, it owes a debt to the music of Nick Drake, but already it’s distinctively Sharples as well. One of Rob’s newer songs is in a similar vein (if that’s not too apt a turn of phrase for something so poignant), ‘So the Story Goes’, which is already a staple of the live set. Check it out sometime – you won’t be disappointed.


    With his shock of curly hair and winsome good looks Sharples has not only the look, not only the talent, but also that indefinable essence of greatness about him. He’s been invited into Woodworm Studios in Oxfordshire later this year to record some songs with Robert Kirby taking care of arrangements – yes, that Robert Kirby – so I’d suggest that this year’s probably going to be the last chance you’ll have of seeing Rob Sharples in village halls and the back rooms of pubs. Much, much bigger stages are predicted, by me at least. For whatever that’s worth.... (Phil McMullen)




(LP on Sebastianspeaks.com PO Box 121799 nashville TN 37212 USA)


    As should be quite evident from its sub-title, this album is an example of the novelty vinyl genre and consists of answering machine chatter gathered from various thrift stores throughout the U.S. To my mind there’s more hopeless desperation in evidence than mirth - as ‘Daniel’ will confirm, since this segment joins the dots between a messy divorce and a restraining order on an unpredictable ex-spouse. ‘I’m in Jail!!’ is naturally equal parts hysterical/tearful and is as fraught as it is brief. In the same vein is ‘Adequate Detention’ which details the 9 to 5 rigours of a sad-voiced warder in a young offenders institution. Then there’s ‘Randall’, under sniper fire from a pissed-off girlfriend whose bile rises incrementally call by call. Her slight return comes in a series of whispered pleading sobs, which induces a brief moment of shame (it’ll pass) where we realise we’re rubbernecking on some poor unfortunate’s misery.

    Much needed light relief comes with a soppy-sounding ickly gurly teen unsuccessfully trying (I wonder why?) to contact he boyfriend, who she calls “Snook” (eurgh!). ‘More Higher Than a Kite’ logs the doobied drawl of a weekend hedonist with, who’d have guessed, the Doobie Brothers on a nearby record deck. You’re TOO hip, baby… TOO hip. ‘Susan Dey, My Co-star’ features an uber-smarmy TV extra who alerts a girlfriend to his 15 seconds of fame on Channel Blah. This compilation however reaches an apex of sorts with ‘Terry’, a mini-drama of shopping channel styled banality with enough repetition to give Steve Reich (during his ‘Come Out’ / ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ phase) flashing lights before the eyes. Ma and Pa (Kettle?) bombard their son with endless calls enquiring as to where the electric bill is located. For some unknown reason, his parents push this simple question to a thing of vein-popping urgency within the blink of an eye. Even I’m eventually reduced to pleading with the dork to PICK UP!!!! (dammit!)

    Affecting stuff indeed for those who desire a warts ‘n’ all expose of the middle-American human condition. It also beats putting a glass to the wall in the hope of hearing rowing neighbours, AND it’s cheaper than state of the art surveillance equipment. PICK UP!!! (Steve Pescott)




(2x 3" CD-R on Rusted Rail Records, http://www.rustedrail.com)


    ARP is a project driven by Village lynchpin Dave Colohan (United Bible Studies, Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree, Holt) with collaborators relevant to each piece. The debut ARP release on Deserted Village, 'A Drifting Population' was semi-improvised electric guitar and piano instrumentals inspired by experiencing the Australian outback, and is well worth tracking down if you can, and there are more out there on micro-labels for the curious – this new one is more "Irish" in its privileging of misty airs and haunted balladry. 'Emmet St. 1' set the atmosphere nicely with some nice interplay between Colohan's bleak piano and United Bible Student Sean Og on clarinet. This resonant introduction gives way to one of Colohan's finest and most personal songs 'Hold Back the Sea', which recalls some of the fractured observations to be found on the superb Holt CD '80 Mile Beach'. Equally majestic is 'Get Well Soon', which has Colohan on voice, acoustic guitar and e-bow, and is apparently named after a Vincent Gallo/Courteney Cox film. And sonically, Townes Van Zandt does indeed cast a long shadow. 'Becky Came By' sounds like a piece designated for an imaginary second Holt album, speaking as it does to Colohan's obviously rich backpacking experiences in Australia. 'Fireplace Road' is another fine ballad, the lyrics compiled from psychic remnants of a time Colohan spent living on Long Island near where some of his favourite painters (De Kooning and Pollock) used to live. The title track is a keen slice of melancholia – fractured relationship music with a hummed guide track for brass that reminded the artists involved of Roy Harper's 'When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease' so they left it in to great effect. 'Last Ride' is a psychedelic folk treasure, emanating from a dream of walking garden gnomes, talking cats and the mental hospital in Mullingar (a recurring theme for Colohan). Without obvious gothic moves, it manages to be deeply odd and not a little creepy, a little like Current 93. Disc 1 of the set is neatly bracketed by 'Emmet St. 2', Sean Og on flute this time.

    Disc 2 contains two lengthy pieces that demonstrate the progressive and improvisation aspects of not only ARP, but the United Bible Student movement as a whole. At its heart it is a psychodrama of a ballad, but it is augmented by some wonderfully heartbroken trumpet and wildly disorienting and distorted percussion that pays tribute to the NZ racket-mongers Pumice. It comes off as a species lounge music viewed through a broken mirror of contaminated pharmaceuticals. 'The Barren Ground Assembly' is a full class of students zoning out through an improvised space not dissimilar to that on the United Bible Student live release 'Airs of Sun and Stone', though it has less of that work's morning raga feel, being more of a night creature. Successfully recalling vast moonlit prairie spaces, as it well might, with a title referring to a name given to herds of Caribou

    Although a core element of the Deserted Village stable of projects, ARP have chosen to release their latest work on the new Irish label Rusted Rail. It's a nice package though, quite why the release needed to be a double 3" set rather than a single standard set is moot. I get the idea that the short songs on disc 1 are quite different to the extended tracks on disc 2, but I think most folks could mentally compartmentalise were they to be on a single 5" disc, which is what I'm going to do to the tracks right now – they'll be nice to have in the car for company. (Tony Dale)


Original cover above - here's the "politically correct" revised version:



TELLS – HOPE YOUR WOUNDS HEAL (Fire, The Old Vicarage, Windmill Lane, Nottingham, NG24QB)


    Building on the sexy, chanteusy, torch-singer persona that vocalist Caroline Ross unveiled last year on her collaboration with Mark (Rothko) Beazley (‘A Place Between,’ Lo Recordings), ‘Hope Your Wounds Heal’ is a laid-back, jazzy, cocktail hour of smooth grooves from Ross and husband, Jim Version, formerly with Terrastock alumna, delicate AWOL. Their new project features intricately interwoven vocals around smoky, late-night interiors, immediately evident on opening tracks, ‘What Do Your Angels Do’ and ‘Grey Stones.’ Augmented by “friends, people passing through the house, and local musicians with whom we swap studio time for sessions,” Ross takes up permanent residence in the upper registers, thus inviting favourable comparisons with Portishead, and the solo efforts of Sarah Cracknell and Poly Styrene, whose ‘Translucence’ (United Artists, 1980) was frequently at the end of my mind’s wandering.


    AWOL fans should note that Tells picks up where their final album, ‘Heart Drops from The Great Space’ (Fire, 2003) left off, moving into a decidedly jazzier, non-rock direction, but that should not scare you away. The free-flowing, improvisational ‘Cicadas,’ including a blistering Version guitar solo, put me in a mindset I haven’t frequented since the first couple of Soft Machine albums and the nebulous perambulations of ‘Falling’ did little to discourage my nostalgic revelry. Ross’ flute intro on ‘Manalitos Disguise’ creates a lilting, romantic air over which she lays another sexy, double-tracked vocal that is turning inhabitants of the local aviary several shades of green with envy.

In sum, this is a devilishly delicious collection of heartwarming ballads that will form one of my favourite soundtracks to the Summer of '06. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on Orange Twin records, 475 Forest Road, Athens GA 30605 USA www.orangetwin.com )


I have a more than sneaking regard for The Instruments. Their originality, craftsmanship and complexity appeal to the artist in me, and their disarming sense of fun and wilful disregard for convention appeal to the individualist. The band revolves principally around Heather McIntosh, a classically trained cellist with a degree in music from the University of Georgia who is a member of Circulatory System and Elf Power, and occasionally appears with Of Montreal and The Gerbils – no surprise therefore that The Instruments line-up reads like a who’s who of the Athens rock pantheon, with Peter Erchick, John Fernandes, Eric Harris, Will Cullen-Hart and Scott Spillane all present and correct, and even our old friend Jeff Mangum adding some vocal harmonies.

    ‘Cast A Half Shadow’ is the long-awaited second album by The Instruments – their first, ‘Billions of Phonographs’, dates as far back as 2002. Their sound is once again richly complex and atmospheric, craftily orchestrated folk melodies that flicker across the mind’s eye like the Northern Lights – fleeting colours set against a dark background. Even the children’s paintings on the cover have a frightening edge to them when viewed closely enough – all scary trees and crazy faces. The album’s highlights for me are ‘For Travelers’ which sounds oddly like a tea party in a Turkish bath, ‘Branches for Many Birds’ which evolves from a haunting, cello-led introduction into a sinister instrumental redolent of a funereal marching-band, ‘Response’ which in some ways could almost be the title track – nightmarish soundscapes set against the rhythm of time slowly ticking away – and ‘Our Lovely Ladder’ which for some godforsaken reason puts me in mind of the album ‘One’ (by One), the 1972 band featuring Reality D. Blipcrotch and former Pearl Before Swine Roger Crissinger. This is by no means a bad thing.... (Phil McMullen)




 (Stickman double CD/ double vinyl LP)


When Hakon Gebhardt quit Motorpsycho early last year, it wasn’t just a case of the band’s drummer leaving – Hakon had held down the drum stool for the past 15 years, playing on all the group’s major albums and many of their side projects such as their entertaining country rock Tussler adventure – Geb was never just a drummer, his banjo playing alone added a whole new dimension to the Motorpsycho sound – he also played guitar, lap steel and contributed his own often quirky material to the band’s repertoire.


It was a body blow that most long-standing groups simply wouldn’t have survived but dedicated veterans that they are, bassist Bent Saether and guitarist Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan decided to carry on and holed up in the Void studio in Eindhoven, Holland set to work on a new record in conditions so aptly refereed to by its eventual title.


Some people are at their best with their backs to the wall – Bent and Snah are no exception – playing almost everything on the record themselves even the drumming, they’ve come up with one of their best works since their mid-90s heyday. If like me you felt that they entered the new millennium struggling to find direction and inspiration then Black Hole Blank Canvas sees them enjoying a wonderful re-birth – they found themselves musically again – back in touch with their dark proggie/grungey/psychedelic roots –


This double set finds the band back in tune with its inner self and grooving on a new wave of vitality and electricity – they’ve discovered a second wind, and are bursting with an energy, most of their contemporaries would find hard to match. They’ve re-connected with the drive that seemed to go out of the window after Trust Us – their attempts at hard rock (Barracuda) and 60s pop (Let Them Eat Cake) seemed to fizzle out as pastiche – and whilst there was always at least two or three great songs on most recent albums (2002’s It’s A Love Cult was a step back in the right direction), this is a very even, powerful collection of new material – not a turkey in sight! All the old Sturm & Drang is back – the studio polish of recent records is replaced by a rougher sound – lots of edge here – they even have Kim Hiorthoy back doing the sleeve design.


Former 35007 stick man Jacco van Rooy has recently joined the group as its ‘touring drummer’ – I hope he hangs around a while because it’s only the drumming here that lets the side down. In the wake of the maestro leaving it sometimes sounds a mite too

pedestrian, a mite too rudimentary – they need Hakon – and that’s the rub, because without his departure they’d never have sounded so exciting, so real and so motivated – they’ve rediscovered their mission.


From the jaws of defeat Motorpsycho have roared back – and on this evidence they’re better than ever. (Nigel Cross)