=  OCTOBER 2006 =

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  Stuff Dreams are Made Of compilation
Simon Lewis (Editor) Greg Irons retrospective

Nigel Cross


 Steve Pescott

Heavy Winged

Tony Dale

Keijo & The Free Players

Jeff Penczak


Phil McMullen

Anton Barbeau

Alan Davidson

Spires that in the Sunset Rise
  Lucky Bishops
  Acid Mothers Temple
  Flying Cannon
  Skygreen Leopards
  Black Happy Day
  Larkin Grimm
  Virgin Passages
  The Green Ray
  The Owl Service
  Jim Fassett
  Noah Creshevsky
  In Yonder Garden



(Double CD on Yazoo Records, through Shanachie Records, 37 East Clinton Street, Newton NJ 07860 USA)


Books… rekkids… films…. If you start off with an evocative title, the rest should really take care of itself. ‘The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of’ is a good choice, I think you’ll agree, and has its origins in the classic Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor vehicle ‘The Maltese Falcon’. What better source is there for a double CD comp of pre-WWII blooze and good-timey Americana? And, what better title for this selection of ultra-rarities than to suggest that objects which dog the obsessive can also be made of humble shellac?


This elegantly designed, book-shaped package has an ace Robert Crumb illustration that nails the behaviour of the mad collector-fiend perfectly. Seen clutching an anonymous-looking disc with eyes on full bulge and perspiration forming on prominent brow, clearly the man’s in seventh heaven’ “Nice clean copy too – look at the lustre of those grooves… after 40 years… at last IT’S MINE!!!” – you just hafta insert the maniacal laughter yourself. Now I’m sure anyone reading this has experienced this feeling to some extent; I know I have – so help me…


The curator of this meisterwerk is Richard Nevins, who produced / mastered the material and also wrote the splendid sleevenotes. His idea, fairly daunting from where I stand, was to pool the cream of eleven other mega-collections belonging to, amongst others, Joe Bussard, Pete Whelan and Richard Spottswood. Quite who owns the previously unreleased sides from Son House, the “father of folk blues”, is unclear, though the anonymity is justified as ‘Clarkesdale Moan’ and ‘Mississippi County Farm Blues’ deserve an armed guard, just for extra peace of mind of course. They really are major finds, and already catch the young Mr House in the grip of something you’d certainly cross the road to avoid (whilst simultaneously crossing yourself). The early days of other blues legends are also included with Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoy and also Yank Rachel with Sleepy John Estes and Jab Jones. Guitarist Geeshie Wiley though is my personal jaw-dropper du jour. Her ambling ‘Skinny Leg Blues’ starts off innocuously enough with a coy “I’m a little bitty woman, baby I ain’t build for speed” but in the course of three minutes her mask melts away to reveal a stone-faced murderess. Check this… “When you see me coming, pull down your window blinds (x3) so your next door neighbour won’t hear you cryin’. I’m gonna slit your throat baby and look down in your face (x3), I’m gonna let that lonesome graveyard be your last restin’ place.” The Son House tracks are pretty loaded, but over yonder the spectre of Geeshie brandishing a shiv convinces me to make her cut (sorry) the event of the collection. Ulp.


To clear the air a little, let’s move to more pleasant pastures (more ‘yee-hah’ than ‘aaaaargh!’) The rural good-timey ‘Ginseng Blues’ by the Kentucky Ramblers has a spirited display of yodelling, infectious enough to induce a Stetson throwing incident should the listener be so inclined. The banjo/harmonica propelled ‘Tale of Davey Crockett’ by Chubby Parker is another good ‘un and bears no relationship to the “Davey, Davey Crockett… King of the Wild Frontier” theme toon beloved of 1960s schoolboys. In this case Davey is “half man, half horse and half sky rocket” which is a pretty zonked-out image (blame the rotgut whisky) employing an even more zonked out grasp of maths. Bill Shepherd’s proto bluegrass ‘Bound Steel Blues’, the West Virginia Ramblers’ ‘John Hardy Blues’, Martin & Hobbs ‘Wild Cat Rag’ and ‘Lonesome Road Blues’ by Smith & Irvine were all from the ultra-rare Champion 1600 series and could only ever be found by knocking on doors in the rural south of the USA. Maybe it’s the time and location that lends fortune to the rare disc foot soldier. Look at it from my side of the fence – a trudge around the south of England in 2006 would only result in netting a few hundred volumes of ‘Singalongamax’ and a couple of Party Albums from Mrs Mills. I ask you – is that fair?


The smallest of small caveats as there are a few duplications with other recordings. Long Cleave Reed’s ‘Original Stack ‘o’ Lee Blues’ and ‘Ain’t That Trouble in Mind’ by the Grayson County Railsplitters can also be found on Joe Bussard’s ‘Down In The Basement’ CD compilation (on Old Hat Records) while the potent fumes from ‘Old Rub Alcohol Blues’ by the mighty Dock Boggs can also be experienced on the ‘Country Blues’ retrospective on Revenant Records. (Steve Pescott)




(Fanatagraphics paperback, 1 56097 754 x)


When Greg Irons was struck down and killed by a bus in Thailand in 1984, underground culture was robbed of one its most original contributors.


Though never directly affiliated with the infamous Zap! Comix mob (Shelton, Crumb, Moscoso, Griffin, Williams, Spain and S Clay Wilson), Greg Irons produced a body of work that was the equal to that of any of his more celebrated contemporaries.


An anthology of his work has therefore been long overdue so hats off to Fantagraphics, who following in the footsteps of similar retrospectives on Williams and S Clay, have finally produced an overview of the man’s distinguished career, which examines all the main areas he worked in: as a psychedelic poster artist, underground cartoonist, book illustrator and body tattoo pioneer.


There’s a heartfelt forward by Greg’s younger brother Mark and Patrick Rosenkranz has shaped a vibrant history of the man researching many little known facts. It follows his emergence from solitary kid always filling sketchbooks and getting in trouble with his parents to playing bass in Philadelphian band the Cats Cradle. After a psychiatrist helped him beat the Vietnam draft in 1967 Greg set out for the American Mecca of underground culture, San Francisco where his drawing talents were soon in demand designing posters for the psychedelic ballrooms and there’s a good array of this work represented here including his stunning Moby Grape Fillmore poster.


Greg spent the immediate post-Summer of Love era in London where amongst various projects he painted a mural on drummer Mitch Mitchell’s flat wall, designed a fabulous poster for the Fairport Convention (sadly not reproduced here), and worked on the Beatles’ animated movie Yellow Submarine. He also did an acrylic painting inspired by ‘I Am the Walrus’, which was intended as a gift for John Lennon except Greg never got to meet him – it’s reprinted here and is a fine example of his early acid-inspired work.


The underground comic boom was in full swing by the time Irons returned to an America brutally divided by the Vietnam War, and he set about drawing some classic horror comics such as Slow Death, Skull and the now legendary Legion of Charlies, the first in a long series that would occupy him on and off for the rest of his short life – like many of his contemporaries Greg saw no barriers and pushed the envelope on all fronts – never holding back when grappling with taboos like sex, psychedelic drugs and violence, and vividly depicting the ugliness of a society teetering on the brink. Greg always grasped the nettle!


In the early 70s one of his more high profile jobs was as the in-house designer for the Jefferson Airplane’s Grunt label – Greg took on a similar role to that Rick Griffin and /or Kelly/Mouse did with the Dead creating not just a series of memorable sleeves but also some equally arresting promo materials – the celebrated ‘grunt man’ that graced the inside sleeve of 30 Seconds over Winterland also doubled as a mobile and was featured in the two Grunt comics he produced for the company. There was a full-colour advert he did for the Airplane’s final studio LP Long John Silver (you know the one that doubled as a stash box), which would’ve added so much to the original package. And those apocalyptical leanings always surfacing elsewhere in his oeuvre found perfect embodiment in the machine gun-toting malevolent marsupial that dominated the poster used to promote Peter Kaukonen’s Black Kangaroo album!  It’s far more eye catching than the picture of Peter that graced the actual album sleeve!


Between then and his switch to pioneering tattoo artistry, Greg placed much of his focus on environmental problems – look out the Moby Dick-inspired cartoon, The Honor & Glory of Whaling reproduced here. Always hugely political (check out the amazing graphics that accompanied the 1970 album by alternative commentator Wes ‘Scoop’ Nisker whose catchphrase was ‘if you don’t like the news go out and create some of your own’) – his illustrations, despite their relentless visions of hell (and in this respect he always was more Breughel than Crumb) always seemed to carry a tinge of optimism. He also had his only stab at creating a character that had fate played a different card might have established itself in the popular consciousness as firmly as Mr Natural or the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros, Gregor the purple-ass baboon-like figure (actually a mandrill), whose name was taken from Gregor Samsa the hero of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and which was in essence Irons’ alter ego.


Though his cartoons and rock’n’roll poster work strike an especial chord, his prowess as a book illustrator must not be overlooked either – one book still in print which is boosted immeasurably by his pictures, is Pirates whilst his magnificent interpretation of Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (issued as a limited edition set by Schanes & Schanes in 1981) gives an already disturbing cautionary tale, a further hellish dimension.


Original has become a far too overworked expression but I swear that they broke the mould when Irons went to the great tattoo parlor in the sky and it’s safe to say we won’t see his like again. He never abandoned the counter culture and some 20 years after his death, Irons’ work remains as inspiring and as relevant as it did the day the ink rolled off his pen. I can only urge you to get hold of this book as soon as you can! (Nigel Cross)




(CD on Four Four Records, www.fourfourrecords.com, www.st37.com )


Now here’s a real cause for celebration – at long last comes a withdrawal from the memory banks of one of the most prominent members of the psychedelic space brethren (other notables being F/i and Vocokesh). It dips into a cache of rare singles, compilation tracks and a few chunks of unreleased debris from a nineteen (!) year career, with Scott Telles (bass) and guitarist Joel Crutcher being the ST37 ever-presents. Carlton, Joel’s brother, who played on a hefty fraction of this material left the band to form Book of Shadows a couple of years back.

    The earliest cuts onboard are ‘Egg People’ and ‘Sucking on the Family Tit’, both from 1988. The former, initially released on the ‘The Polyp Explodes’ compilation, is a slice of android boogie par excellence while the latter with its Debris-like vocals adds cold wave moogery to art-damaged guitar flare-ups, all fashioned from a fish-eye lensed perspective. ‘Look At Your Chair’, an ‘Over & Out’ single from 1991, employs metal-jointed repetition that takes on the trappings of the Softs’ ‘We Did It Again’ if it was re-written by P.K. Dick during a pink light experience. Their choice of covers is interesting as both ‘Orgasmatron’ and ‘Speed of Life’ are hardly ‘Louie Louies’ when it comes to reinterpretations. An icy-lipped vocal from the strangely named FemIron stabilizes Lemmy’s noisesome peaks ‘n’ troughs and comes verrrry close to Bliss Blood’s cool stance while fronting the Pain Teens. The ‘Thin White Dave’ track has had a steel girder inserted as a backbone. Originally a desperate, vampiric exploitation of the Neu-style motorik, this is now a much improved thing, with even a bit of colour leaking through, instead of the grey blancmange that seeped through the original. Other worthies include the deep space lurch of ‘Should I get My Own Friends’ with its beyond stoned ululations and the heaveee acid rock tumult of ‘Eating Dirt’ – amazingly both previously unreleased.


Which makes me wonder what other gems are gathering dust in the band archives, waiting to be rediscovered. In fact there is certainly enough rare (issued!) material to fill a volume two and three. The possibilities of encountering ‘Snootle Y Choobs’, ‘Umma Godda Davida’ and the fabulously titled ‘Merlin Olsen’s Crippled Mystical Benefactor’ are pretty damn tantalising. (Steve Pescott)




(CD-R on Deep Water Records)


    Those expecting a phase-shift to minimalist quietude from this release based on its title are in for a shock I think. Though this fourth release from the Brooklyn avant-noise power-trio does shoot for a more organic drone-based groove, there aren't too many moments where silence holds court. If their earlier work conjured images of giant irradiated creatures doing battle in the ruins of cities, perhaps this is more like the dreams of those creatures, victorious, returned to their lairs. The three tracks on 'Echoes' of Silence' were recorded live to four-track in late 2005 and early 2006, and benefit from a splendid fidelity that especially has the guitars of Ryan Herbert crackling with electrical discontent. The opening track 'A Supple Erosion' echoes everything from Sonic Youth to the Dead C with its fractal harmonics and collapsing facades. It's actually quite melodic after all that, and the rolling patterns set up by bassist Brady Sansone and Jed Bindeman provide plenty of narrative drive. 'Tijuana Mama' doesn't particularly evoke any south-of-the-border imagery (not that Mariachi horns were really to be expected), but it does create a zonked-out improvisational psych-scree not to far off what was achieved by Agitation Free or Marble Sheep at their most cantankerous. Taking up half the record in much the same way as a person of substantial girth takes up an cattle class airline seat, 'The Pulse of the Frozen Sea' grinds the listener into paste between giant ice floes of sound. It's 23 minutes of inwardly-focussed sonic destruction like an entire derailed goods train of catharsis laid out for your aural ingestion.
    This is another fine, uncompromising release on the Deep Water label, and it certainly sits comfortably alongside the work of label mainstay The Clear Spots. There is a rumour about that Heavy Winged is no more; drummer Jed Bindeman having moved to the opposite coast to the rest of the lads. If so, this is a fine way to go out, though no doubt, given the nature of the band, there is plenty of archival material in the vault ready to go. (Tony Dale)




(CDs on Digitalis Records)


    As senior statesman of the Finnish free music scene, and veteran of many releases, it's surprising that 'After at Once' is Keijo Virtanen's first non CD-R, at least in the company of The Free Players, who regularly include leading lights of the Finnish avant-garde, and especially in this instance members of free jazz outfit Vapaa. As signalled by the antique imagery of Indian musicians on the cover, the six tracks on 'After at Once' are immersed in Middle-Eastern and sub-continental Indian mysticism. 'A Short Cry' resonates with organic ambience, subtle percussion, and evocative work by Keijo on the oud. It's somewhat reminiscent of the mood generated by 'Outer Dark'; Bill Laswell's landmark foray into Eastern ambience for the Fax label in 1994 (difficult to get your hands on now but worth the effort). 'Touches' starts out as a loosely improvised nocturne with prominent use of double-bass, and introduces the alarming Tiitus Petäjäniemi and his shamanic yelping and incantations. Its transition in and out of a stumbling 2/4 time signature is equally unsettling, highlighting that the one thing this disc never does is allow you to comfortably drop your guard and float downstream. As the track unfolds, with infinite reluctance a groove eventually emerges from its hiding place and it welcomed to the circle around the campfire, but is eventually scared off by more Petäjäniemi vocalisations. The curious 'Between Blue & Yellow' sets up some ritualistic hippie communal strum and rattle, and what sounds like a shenai wails over the top of it like a series of stern warnings. No urgency ensues however. These are happy campers. The title track moves like the hours leading up to dawn, filled not only with nightmare creatures but the creatures that are feared by them and so on. It pulses slowly and implacably like machinery left by a vanished race to do God knows what. 'Awake There' returns to the organic mind-spaces of earlier tracks, sparse percussion and oud to the fore. Listening to these tribal sounds, one wonders at the possible influence of Keijo of the work of the MYMWLY collective and Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood in particular. The airy 'Sword Abandoned' takes the release out in more traditional Finnish folk style, with a relatively conventional pattern on oud, and sublime vocals. It's easily the strongest thing on here, and full-length release of similar material would be no bad thing.  

   The Finnish free music scene can be forbidding for the uninitiated, with many bands and permutations of bands bearing exotic and convoluted monikers. While bands like Avarus, Anaksimandros, Uton, Kuupuu, Paivansade, Lau Nau, Islaja, Kiila, Maniac's Dream, Es and Kemiallisett Ystavat get plenty of attention, they probably all owe some kind of debt to Keijo Virtanen, and his work not a bad place to start a discovery of the scene. (Tony Dale)




UTON – MYSTERY REVOLUTION (CD on Digitalis Records)



Like Avarus and Kemialliset Ystävät, Uton, or to put a name to the noise - Jani Hirvonen – hails from the improvisational wellspring of Tampere, Finland. But unlike the extroverted communal strum and clatter of those outfits, the Uton trades in dark ambience and virtual formlessness. Uton makes music that sounds like decaying echoes: sounds left behind when others have switched off their electronics and packed up their acoustics and called it quits for the night. As the sleeve for 'Mystery Revolution' puts it: "inside the dreams, behind and beyond". 'Mystery Revolution' contains nine relatively short pieces that track like alien shortwave. Together they form the kind of work that somewhat lazily gets classified as "forest music". I'd say not, personally. Tracks are formed of icy drones, unidentifiable sounds from an occluded palette of acoustic instrumentation, and informed by a refusal to coalesce into rhythmic structures. This music, with its pervading sense of urban alienation, seems to connect more to the industrial and isolationist. Its beauty is in assembly and flow, and tracks seamlessly transition from one to the next, like the scene transitions that make perfect sense in dreams but are seen to be, on awakening, surreal. Good to see Digitalis continuing their mission to bring the wilfully obscure from the CD-R underground to more generally available production CDs. 'Highway Nation' finds Uton on the more typical CD-R format, with five tracks that present some of the project's most minimalist work (which is saying something). Compared to 'Mystery Revolution' tracks are longer, with more drones and less in the way of bells, flutes and stringed instruments. These are compositions to upload into the computers of deep space probes to use as beacon transmissions. Tracks are untitled, furthering their claim to anonymity. Nothing much other than steady-state drone is on the menu here, with slight shifts in frequency differentiating tracks. There are common points of reference with some of the minimalist work in the mid-period of Coil's catalogue, but this is more dreamlike, meditative and obscure. Like most works of true minimalism, 'Highway Nation' is best heard at high volume levels in a reverberant space, allowing the sounds to bounce of everything, reinforcing or cancelling themselves at intersection points, and creating entirely new works depending on the variables of playback equipment, environment and mind-set. (Tony Dale)




(4-WAY, 58 West Portal Ave. #314 San Francisco, CA 94127 USA)


     Sacramento singer/songwriter returns with his tenth(!) album (which he began back in 2003 following the recording of his collaboration with The Bevis Frond, ‘King of Missouri’), and although his previous efforts have dabbled liberally in psychedelia, this is the first time he admittedly set out to make a “psychedelic” record. I don’t think I exactly caught why they call him Guru 7, but the expansive sound and catchy chorus to the opener finds Barbeau sounding like an intriguing cross between Bowie and Bauhaus front man, Peter Murphy. I’m not suggesting a new three-headed hybrid (Goth/Glam/Psych?) is gonna be a sudden craze, but it’s an interesting concept and I am always open for something new to come down the pike. The 30-second ‘Coffee Pot’ sounds more like a bong hit than a percolating coffee maker (Oh, now I get it!), but ‘The Eye On My Hand’ quickly overcomes the distraction with the first of many examples of Barbeau’s surrealistic lyrics – this one evoke images of an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode or a scene from one of Stephen King’s short stories (in fact, I’m pretty sure an old edition of his first anthology ‘Night Shift’ used this image on the cover).


     Our wonderful Terrastock veteran, Sharron Krauss contributes a capella vocals to ‘Mushroom Box, 1975’ and the Beatlesque jangly pop of ‘On a Bicycle Built for Bicycle 9’ (what’s with these mysterious numerical suffixes?) will prick up the ears of all you Green Pajamas and Dipsomaniacs fans. I’m not sure if there’s a boot manufacturer named Murray, but if there is, ‘Murray Boots Are Conquering The World’ should be their adopted slogan. The track also fondly recalls those phony adverts The Who sprinkled throughout their attempt at psychedelia, 1967’s ‘Sell Out.’ Jamie Smith’s violin and Barbeau’s Korg MS-10 synth add a progy aroma to the three-part suite ‘The Bane of Your Existence Is My Name,’ which features another Terrastock alumna (the album is chock full of them), Scott Miller from The Loud Family, who drops by for some Pythonesque, beer hall backing vocals. ‘Seeds of Space’ is another multi-key, multi-part suite, which ultimately sounds like an operatic convergence of “the killer B’s” – Bowie, Bauhaus, and the Bonzos, and the weird folk (as opposed to wyrdfolk) music and surrealistic images of ‘Creep In The Garden’ recalls latter day Bolan, ca. ‘Zoot Alloy.’


     A few ideas are half-baked: the aforementioned ‘Coffee Pot’ along with the blink and you missed them ’48 Strings’ and ‘Eric has Gone Wrong,’ but they can be forgiven as palette-cleansers in much the same way that the goofy adverts in ‘Sell Out’ retain little beyond their novelty value. I’m still trying to uncover the mystery hidden within the time-warped ‘When I Was 46 In The Year 13,’ which might make sense if Barbeau was born in 1967 (do the math), but I’ve been unable to confirm this. Krauss returns with pennywhistle in tow for the title track, a tribute to my home town’s sister city, Oxford, England, and another successful melting pot of late-period Beatles psychedelia, with a mind-numbing backwards guitar solo from Lucky Bishops (another Terrastock fave) guitarist Alan Strawbridge. Finally, the nonsensical ‘My Hair Is Oily’ boasts the album’s catchiest melody and could, within the album’s twisted logic (and in keeping with the little adverts running throughout) be the backing track for a shampoo commercial.


     Steeped in the knowledge of British psychedelia and with signposts clearly pointing to the heady pop psych of Julian Cope, XTC, and Robyn Hitchcock (all of whose ideas Barbeau readily admits he pilfers), ‘In The Village Of The Apple Sun’ is highly recommended to fans of same, as well as Asteroid #4’s brilliant take on Brit psych, ‘King Richard’s Collectables,’ The High Dials’ ‘War of The Wakening Phantoms’ and anyone who still frequents the ‘Children of Nuggets’ box set of 80’s and 90’s psychedelia. (Jeff Penczak)





( Secret Eye )


     Fresh from their “Holy Mother of God, what the hell was that” jaw-dropping performance at Terrastock VI in Providence in April, the four laughing ladies of Chicago (sisters Taralie and Tracy Peterson, Kathleen Baird and Georgia Vallas) return with their third album on Providence’s own Secret Eye, run by Terrastock co-organiser and performer (Black Forest/Black Sea), Jeffrey Alexander. Once again, sparse arrangements and minimal percussive instrumentation (drums, bells, wooden blocks) join various stringed instruments (banjos, slide guitar, spike fiddles and Baird’s mbira) to supplement haunting monotonic chanting, mostly from lead warbler Baird, who is responsible for some of the most frightening sounds to pass these ears since Marianne Nowottny and Tara (Fürsaxa) Burke. Harps of the auto and lap variety mingle with Baird’s minimalist guitar lines on ‘Clouds,’ where, like most of the album, melody is not the issue (hell, it’s not even present). Rather, the girls use their instruments (vocal and electric) to create tense atmospheres and ghostly, haunted house revelries that seem grounded in the more avant garde pop stylings of Laurie Anderson – although, admittedly, the word “pop” rarely finds its way into a Spires’ review.


     If the nightmarish ‘Sleeplike’ is any indication of these girls’ dream patterns, I’d suggest their visions would make Stephen King or Clive Barker lose control of their bodily functions. The shrieking, wake-up call of ‘Morning Song’ is better than any alarm I’ve ever heard for getting you out of bed in the morning and there are vocal segments that sound like a throat-wrestling, tag-team screaming match between Nina Hagen and Diamanda Galas in the midst of a psychotic break. All of this is woven around Taralie’s spike fiddle scrapings doing things to catgut that are probably illegal in the “red states.” And wait until you get a load of the dueling slide guitars that Baird and lead slidee Valas whip into an ear-bleeding frenzy, coupled with Taralie’s cello whittlings on ‘Sea Shanty.’ The only sea dwellers I can imagine relating this shanty were either lost on the Titanic or sucked into a whirlpool in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.


     Mixing equal parts stark-staring madness and bowel-clearing terror, our cuddly coven (who look like mild-mannered college professors of some exotic discipline like Ancient Burial Rights of the Egyptian Pharaohs at some bastion of liberal academia in New England) manage to deliver one of the year’s more frightening listening experiences that is the perfect soundtrack for some ritualistic apple bobbing and pumpkin carving at your next Halloween frightfest. So put the kiddies to bed early, draw the shades so as not to frighten the neighbors, pour the rounds of spiced rum and turn up this folkadelic horrorshow that’ll have you simultaneously scratching your head and shitting your trousers with the nervous, can’t-turn-away giddiness of watching a traffic accident. Baird’s harmonium and Taralie’s ‘Twilight Zone’ theme riffing on the banjo on closer ‘Desert Mind’ is the clincher that’ll transport you to another place and time – like Salem, Massachusetts, ca. 1692. (Jeff Penczak)




( Camera Obscura, PO Box 5069 BURNLEY VIC 3121 Australia )


     The Bishops emerged from a haunted, rat-infested cottage on the English Channel in Weymouth, Dorsetshire at the turn of the century, armed with a pair of well-received albums on Woronzow, following on from a couple of self-released cassettes. After a couple of visits to Terrastock, SXSW, and famed punk club-cum-toilet CBGB’s in NYC, the band retreated to a self-imposed exile back in Dorset and were ne’er heard from again to the point where fans, including yours truly, thought they had gone off in search of that great lost chord in the sky. Their website, run by guitarist Rich Murphy’s big sis, Sue, remained dormant for three years, until the band re-emerged into the daylight with Marco Rossi in tow as part of his excellent pop/psych combo, Cheese, whose inappropriately-titled album on Pink Hedgehog was one of last year’s undiscovered gems. Word also snuck out that the band and Rossi could also be seen and heard masquerading behind the intriguingly-named Gothic Chicken, often performing psychedelic cover versions of songs from the collective catalogues of The Kinks, Association, Zombies and Four Seasons!


     So it was with much surprise and eager anticipation that I opened up my mailbox last week to find their third album (first in four years) tucked inside, bearing a multi-paneled booklet that enables the listener to create one of four different album covers featuring a little voodoo dolly (each representing a different band member), an idea possibly borrowed from The Church’s similar cover artwork on their covers album, ‘Box of Birds.’ Their experience with Rossi served the band well, as ‘Unexpect the Expected’ is brimming with more of a pop sheen than their decidedly proggy earlier efforts. Another element they seem to have picked up from Rossi is the influence of Todd Rundgren on their songwriting and arranging. For example, I hear Runt’s skittish and giddy pop sensibilities all over opener ‘Out of the Hole’ and the infectious ‘I Must Destroy My Brain,’ which, as a suggested cure for insomnia, I encourage listeners not to try at home! However, they have retained their trademark impeccable harmonies and continue to surprise with frenetic left turns like the country hoedown, “The Pilot’s Gone,” the creepy-crawly, brooding Halloween song, “Witches,” or the pure pop confection of the bunny-hoppin’ tango, “Cake and the Crumbs” – nice name for band, that!


     Keyboardist Tom Hughes grabs caution by the bollocks and tosses it to the four winds with the vaudevillian pop of his Spanish-language ‘Guia de Conversacion,’ which stumbles through non-sequitor phrases such as “Could they send the package to me at the hotel?,” “I like this ashtray in embossed leather,” and “I am the victim of a swindle” that he recently confessed he found in “possibly the worst phrasebook I've ever owned: It was actually a Spanish to English phrasebook which I bought a few years ago….I took [it] to Spain last time I went and lots of Spanish people found it as funny as me….”


     But the predominant feeling I had while listening to the album was one of déjà vu, as if I was listening to a long-lost Olivia Tremor Control album, possibly the concluding chapter in their trilogy begun with ‘Dusk At Cubist Castle’ and continued on ‘Black Foliage’ before they abruptly disbanded. There’s the same skewed Beatles-meets-Beach Boys melodies and harmonies, with liberal doses of ecstacy (XTC) and Robyn Hitchcock tossed in for good measure. In fact, the sedate-yet-magisterial mini pop opera ‘London Lounge’ bests anything I’ve heard from the venerable Mr. Wilson in the three-and-a-half decades since he delivered ‘Surf’s Up.’


     And while you may be able to take the boys’ arrangements out of prog, you can’t really take prog out of the boys, as evidenced by the swelling, multi-part suite ‘K2,’ which is full of harmonies that rival Queen, expansive chord structures that would make Keith Emerson drool, Luke Adams’ headpounding drumming rivaling Moonie’s and antaganastic melody lines that suggest Yes somersaulting with Gong. And, saving the best for last, the Simon & Garfunkle-ish folk rock of closer ‘No Worries’ may just be the band’s single most exceptional creation in their entire catalogue. So while this kitchen sink approach may turn off the conservative listener who prefers their music to be laid out in a more linear fashion, the Bishops’ varied approach, which sees all four members contributing songs and lead vocals, will reward the more adventurous listener. (Jeff Penczak)




( CD www.acefu.com )


One of the qualities that I most admire about Japanese space cadets Acid Mothers Temple is their ability to move from extreme noise to much gentler folk/ acoustic music, often within one song, and always within their albums, something that ensures the music never becomes either repetitive or overwhelming. On this album the band seem to have got the blend exactly right creating one of their finest moments and a good place to start for anyone thinking of dipping their toes into the sonic ocean of sound that is Acid Mothers Temple. Opener “Attack From Planet Hattifatteners” start with the sound of an echoed laundrette (possibly) before exploding into an expansive wall of glorious noise, the flute fighting to be heard, like a flock of birds caught in a hurricane. Halfway through the band all stop allowing time for some cosmic silliness, rattling bells, synths and bizarre vocalisations, that lead us to the end of the song in fine style. Second track “Buy The Moon Of Jupiter” is a cloud of space dust with a traditional-sounding Japanese folk song at it’s core, the strong vocal performance managing to be heard through the storm of electronic insects the surround the song. At 15 minutes “Asimo’s Naked Breakfast : Rise and Shine” has plenty of time to evolve and expand proving to be a swirling psychedelic tour-de-force, with some fine flute excursions and breathless erotic vocalisations courtesy of Ryoko Ono and Nao respectively. In complete contrast “I Wanna Be Your Bicycle Saddle” is one minute thirty-seven seconds of destruction, everything louder than everything else, and the guitars set to disembowel anything that gets in the way. After this display of raw power “Interplanetary Love” returns us to the spacier side of the band with the guitars being played rather than sacrificed, and the synths being given a chance to create an babbling atmosphere of their own. Final track on the album is the wonderfully named “The Tails Of Solar Sails-Dark Stars In The Dazzling Sky” a full thirty minute cosmic extravaganza that opens with the sound of Gods own Flute dancing over a sun-lit drone, lifting the music high into other realms before other instruments start to add their own voice to the piece, the music rising slowly upwards until the guitar takes over carrying the song further into space rock madness with a hypnotic riff that launches the band even further into the dark and inviting sky. For the next ten minutes the piece expands into a no-holds barred electronic frenzy, threatening to engulf everything with the sonic intensity, until (just before it becomes unlistenable noise) the band surf out of the storm on a wave of feedback, giving themselves (and us) a quick glimpse of sunshine, before plunging back into the sea of noise , which carries them to the final explosion leaving only fragments of dust in the solar breeze. (Simon Lewis)




( CD www.softabuse.com )


( CD/LP www.cosmosrecordings.com )


The relentless sun beats down on your parched skin, the crows mournful cry echoes through your mind, driving you onwards towards the shelter of the distant rocks, whilst faraway, blown by desert breeze, the sounds of Soft Canyon etch themselves into the Timeless landscape. Filled with the restless acoustic songs of Cayce Lindner, this is a beautiful album that recalls the music of Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, or David Crosby, the introspective nature of the music lending itself perfectly to the lyrical content of the songs, which seem to drift like clouds across a clear blue sky. Opening track “In The Reflection” is as slow as the Red House Painters and displays the same atmospheres as that band, although Cayces’ Songs have a faded weatherboard charm all their own. Second track “Down To Summer” reminds me of “Comin’ back To Me”- Jefferson Airplane, especially when a lonely flute joins the guitar, creating an aching melancholy sound that is pure emotion. One of the reasons that this album works so well is the understated and simple backing created by Shayde Sartin (Kelley Stoltz, Skygreen Leopards) and Glen Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Thuja, Jewelled Antler), whose sympathetic and, at times, exquisite playing, gives the songs a breathe of life that perfectly suits the atmospheres of the album, bringing the best out of tunes, highlighting every subtle nuance and meaning. For most of this album the songs move so slowly that it seems that time actually stands still, forcing the listener to relax into the music, especially on “At Night When The World Goes Quiet” a devastatingly beautiful song that deserves the complete attention of the listener as it weaves it’s shaman visions around you. Featuring both Donaldson and Sartin, as well as treading a similar desert trail is “Disciples Of California” the latest album from The Skygreen Leopards which is possibly their most friendly and song based release, containing 11 wistful and countryish songs, that are almost pop in their simple pleasures. As with Flying Canyon, the spectre of Neil Young is never far away, the simple arrangements sounding like outtakes from “Harvest”, a good thing in my opinion, and something which allows the songs to shine without the need for excessive ornamentation. With the songs all displaying a similar style and feel it is difficult to pick out individual tracks for praise, each one being part of the whole album, flowing together to create a perfect 35 minutes of modern American acoustic music, that unfolds and evolves slowly to wash the listener in a gentle warmth, the melodies as familiar and comforting as a freshly-picked apple. Both these albums are highly recommended, and perfectly complement each other, demonstrating that the art of songwriting is far from dead, the song carrying on tradition whilst avoiding sounding dated or stale. (Simon Lewis)




(CD www.silbermedia.com )


Black Happy Day is collaboration between Timothy Renner (Stonebreath) and Tara Vanflower (Lycia), and sounds exactly as you think it should if you are familiar with the artists previous work. Using simple stringed instrumentation, the songs are augmented and enhanced with the use of feedback, electronic treatments and vocal overdubs, to build up the layers of sound giving the traditional (and traditional sounding) songs a wyrd-folk coating. Opening song, the traditional “The Leaves Of Life” is awash with echoed vocals that give the song the air of mystery that the lyrics demand, turning it into an accapella ghost song. With a simple banjo refrain, the title track is a haunting song that allows the rich voice of Timothy to intertwine with Tara’ sweetness in a delightful way. That sweetness is soon dissipated by the lost in the fog drones of “Whore”, the sombre mood of the music matched by the lyrical content with the use of reverb/echo giving the song an unsettling sheen. The murder ballad “Edward” is the next song to be given the appearance of a ghost story, the electronic backing crying with sorrow behind the story, creating the perfect atmosphere for the tale. On the short “How They Moan And Weep” a frantic banjo and chanted chorus gives the track the air of a funeral ritual, before the traditional “A Lyke Wake Dirge” (recently covered by Alasdair Roberts on the excellent “No Earthly Man”), drops the distorted backing in favour of a more measured performance that suits the song wonderfully. Lasting almost ten minutes “How Many Hours ‘til The spider’s Work Is Done” is allowed the time to build in dramatic fashion, with Taras voice creating an ethereal drone amongst plaintive strings before timothy’s voice adds a harmonic melody to the piece which drifts gently forward like ripples on a still pond. Possibly the strangest track on the album is the pagan-minded “Wolf and hare”, which has the sound of running water mixed with droning instruments, whilst the lyrics are intoned above. Halfway through the vocals fade, leaving a creeping guitarline that is slowly embraced by whispering effects, the voices re-emerging to take the song to its slow motion conclusion. A fantastic piece of music and one that reminds me of Aphrodite’s Child and their marvellous “666”. In fact I feel that lovers of that album would find much to admire here, although it is not an obvious comparison. After the strangeness of the previous track “hand In Hand” is a more relaxed ballad with an almost happy lyrical theme although uncertainty is never far away. Finally “Be Thou My Vision” is performed beautifully, the reverb vocals giving the song depth and character, the rich simplicity of the song proving to be the perfect way to end this imaginative and rewarding album. (Simon Lewis)




(CD www.secreteye.org )


Like a walk through ancient forest, the songs on this album are earthy, mysterious, primitive and dappled in sunlight, creating a haunting and beguiling whole that will become one of your favourite journeys. Opening with the sublime title track, the album takes on the aura of an early seventies “Acid-folk “ album, with some dextrous mandolin playing from John Grimm, the lyrics setting the scene for the rest of the album. “Into The Grey Forest, Breathing Love” takes the album into stranger pastures, Larkin using her wonderful voice to create a dense atmosphere, complemented by a free-form instrumental backing that twist and turns like a serpent. Flowing onwards “I Killed Someone Today” brings everything back into focus, featuring a delicious vocal/guitar performance that gets better and better every time I hear it. Possessing an almost fairy-tale quality in the lyrics “There Is A Giant Panther” is a short and disturbing chant driven by hypnotic drums, before we move onto the longest piece on the album, the almost traditional sounding “Little Weeper”. Featuring just guitar and vocals (and clocking in at just over ten minutes) the voice on this track is as clear and sweet as spring water, highlighting its uniqueness and producing a song that sends shivers up your soul with its timeless beauty. For “The Most Excruciating Vibe” Larkin is joined by Lara Polango, the instrumentation credits including voice, bells, ghosts, chair, slaps and orgasm (along with the usual stringed instruments) to create a disturbing and intimate song, the vocals writhing together amongst the music with joyous abandon. With perfect timing “No Moonlight” offers a gentle and pastoral atmosphere, a chance to look around and enjoy the scenery, although even here you need to keep you ears open for manic whistlers lurking in the shadows! Moving on again, “Strange creature” is an electronic creep through the undergrowth, a short cut gone horribly wrong, everyone lost in their own way, filled with their own dread, as Mother Nature provides a rainstorm at precisely the wrong time. Featuring the vocal talents of Sadie Underhill, (age 7) “The Sun Comes Up” has a very strange vibe with Sadie singing in the same style as Larkin, adding an oddness to the simple song that works brilliantly. With three songs to go there is a sense of return with both “Link In Your Chain” and “Rocky Top” having a traditional homely feel, with the former reminding me of Joni Mitchell, whilst the latter sees Larkin team up with Lara Polango once more for a leisurely Tennessee stomp. Finally “The Waterfall” revisits the lyrical themes on “Little Weeper”, the delicate vocals, disrupted by a squall of pennywhistles and drones, before fading into memory. This album is so much more than a collection of songs, and is enhanced by some wonderful artwork, created by Antonia Dixon that seems to capture the ambience of the music within. Yet another contender for album of the year. (Simon Lewis)



Virgin Passages – Mandalay

( Fire The Old Vicarage, Windmill Lane, Nottingham NG2 4QB UK)


     Fire label chief James Nichols has chosen this collection of live and previously released recordings from various CDs, compilations, and tapes from his folk trio, Virgin Passages (Nichols, Sarah Naylor and David Geoghegan) to celebrate his wonderful label’s century release (Catalogue # FIRECD 100). It’s definitely a homegrown, lo-fi affair, with the live recordings laid down in various rooms at Fire HQ up at the Old Vicarage, but it’s this claustrophobic intimacy that adds to the album’s charms. From the hesitant strains of the exploratory opener ‘Hate Hate Hate’ to the campfire singalong ‘Oh Commodore’ and the meandering guitar atmospherics of the title track, Virgin Passages use a myriad of unidentified stringed instruments to throw some comfy cushions around the floor inside your head, where your synapses can lie around with goofy grins and thousand yard stares on their faces.


     There’s an unsettling, rudimentary air about the percussive ‘Memories Are For Kids’ that reminds me of the Norwegian wyrdfolk collective Origami Republika, and fans of Foxy Digitalis’ 3xCD international collection of underground, folk artists ‘Gold Leaf Branches’ will be perfectly at home, particularly if your record collection includes albums from the more avant garde Finnish and Australian representatives like Kuupuu, Brothers of The Occult Sisterhood, 6majik9, Lamppukello, Lau Nau, Terracid, Hertta Lussu Ässä, et. al. Listeners should be aware, however, that these are not songs, per se, but musical emotions and mood pieces that occasionally sound more like band rehearsals than finished products. (To be fair, James states quite clearly that this is not the debut VP album, but “a pre-debut compilation of odds-and-ends and bits-and-bobs – basic 4 track recordings, live takes, recordings previously released on E.P.s and demos.” Essentially, a stop gap until the real thing comes along next year.)


     Some tracks, like the distant chanting of ‘FOA,’ with its various percussive instruments battling rudimentary guitar strumming, sound like excerpts from rehearsal tapes of In Gowan Ring or Timothy Renner, while others like ‘Home Is Where You’re Happy’ have an earthy, stoned, hippy quality, possibly gleaned from hours of sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to old Yahowa 13 albums or Ernie Fischbach and Charles Ewing’s ‘A Cid Symphony.’ And somewhere between the off-key singing and xylophone clanging of ‘These Concrete Tracks, I Call Them Mine‘ there’s an old Dream Academy song trying to get out.


     Weirdly wonderful, yet wonderfully weird, ‘Mandalay’ walks a fine line between thought-provoking and migraine-inducing, depending on what side of the wyrdfolk fence you fall off of. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD www.thegreenrayband.co.uk )


I have a much-loved, well-thumbed 45 from circa 1977 in my collection by a gentleman named Bob Flurie. He was a young west-coast guitar-slinger who, by dint of his comparative age, was destined always to play second-fiddle to his heroes from Quicksilver, Country Joe and the Fish and Moby Grape (all bands he subsequently guested with); but was none the less extraordinary for all that. He also had something of a Roy Buchanan fixation, which is no bad thing in my book. Flurie’s ‘Harlem Nocturne’ remains one of my favourite ever guitar instrumental ballads next to Buchanan’s ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’ (only half of which was instrumental, following a spoken intro, but you get my point). The reason I mention all this is that Richard Treece has just knocked ‘Harlen Nocture’ clean off the perch it’s been balanced on for nigh on 30 years with a song entitled ‘Moody Greens’ from the Green Ray’s self-released new album. By any measure it’s an outstanding number, but in the context of Treece’s own enviable track record, it’s nothing short of extraordinary.


   The Green Ray are one of those bands who transcend the sum of their parts. Guitar-guru Richard Treece and the bass-player’s bassist Ken Whaley’s background in the 1970s equivalent of Elf Power, Help Yourself (revered to the brink of love by the few who knew them; tragically ignored by the world at large until it was too late), hardly needs repeating to the educated Terrascope reader. Together with drummer Simon Whaley and second guitarist and vocalist Simon Haspeck they’ve carved a niche out for themselves in the Nineties and Naughties as a pub-rock band capable on their night of leaving any other act on the bill standing like a minor-league full-back stunned into mouth-open immobility by a champion’s-league centre forward. Their recordings have been few and far between, but invariably worth the wait – and ‘Back From The Edge’ is no different, even if I have struggled to get past track 5 (the aforementioned ‘Moody Greens’) when playing it ever since it arrived.


   Of what follows, ‘Breaking Down’ is definitely worth checking out: a bluesy rocker which you sense is going to become a staple of their live set, if indeed it hasn’t already (it’s been a while since I last saw the Green Ray; Thought Forms did a support slot for them in London on 6th July 2005, a date never to be forgotten since just a few hours later the tube station we’d said goodybe at was blown to smithereens by terrorists. More recently however they've been seen meeting up with old friends Deke Leonard's Iceberg and supporting Barry Melton, where they were joined by Robyn Hitchcock for a number). ‘Silver Ring’ is a reworking of an old favourite with added horns, ‘Before the Fall’ is a gentle closer which’ll rock your dreams - and ‘Ghosts’ is particularly notable for another guitar solo from Richard Treece, the kind of thing you sense most other bands would save as their encore grand finale, but which the Green Ray seem to flick off the cuff effortlessly. It’s the mark of a truly great band, I suspect, and they deserve credit for that alone. Don’t leave it another 30 years to check them out and risk missing out on what may well become a firm favourite of yours too. (Phil McMullen)




 (CD EP midwich-cuckoos.co.uk )


The lucky few amongst you will know that spine-tingling shudder of amazed, happy disbelief you get when you realise that someone you care very deeply about actually feels the same way about you, despite what might seem like incredible odds stacked against it happening. It’s a jolt of mutual recognition that hits you clear out of the blue with all the gentle persuasion of a small nuclear warhead in a summer park paddling-pool, spinning you around and throwing you flat on your back in a dream of soaring freeflight and high ecstasy.


Admiring a band from afar and then discovering they love you too might seem like a challenging analogy to draw full-circle, but bear with me. Essex-based The Owl Service certainly look good, to begin with: their credentials are impeccable, claiming inspiration from as far and wide apart as Ben Chasny, Shirley & Dolly Collins, Comus, Espers, Animal Collective, Barry Dransfield, The Instruments, Pearls Before Swine, Pentangle, Popul Vuh, Sunn O))), David Tibet, Vetiver and beyond. You only have to pick up a back issue of the Terrascope to know there’d be a place in my heart for them on that basis alone. You can tell too that the band exist for all the right reasons, having formed “through a mutual love of British films and television of the 1960s and 70s, the great outdoors and the sound of the English folk revival. No retro obsessive, The Owl Service simply believe that music production peaked around 1969 and they merely seek to perfectly encapsulate the influence of the greatest albums and artists of that time. Beautiful music, simply arranged, exquisitely executed and captured on tape with authentic warmth”


Having heard a couple of demos and assured myself that they weren’t merely teasing me with promises and had the potential to really deliver, you can imagine then my breathless anticipation for ‘Wake the Vaulted Echo’, the Owl Service’s debut EP. Anyone can claim a list of influences and inspirations calculated to impress: delivering is another matter altogether – and serving it up with real style and heart aching panache is a rare gift indeed. The Owl Service have cracked it though. The moment I played ‘Wake The Vaulted Echo’ I experienced that aforementioned shock of mutual recognition: they care, every bit as much as I do, and have quite probably delivered what’ll prove to be my favourite album of the year. Except it’s only an EP. Never mind, the best things always do come in small packages.


And quite a package it is, too: a limited run of 100 copies hand-printed on gorgeous, semi- translucent striped green craft paper, with the disc itself tucked inside the corner of an envelope. The music itself consists of four songs and two shorts “interludes”, all of which were written and recorded during June and July 2006. “We worked mainly in the evenings to avoid the heat, but that made us susceptible to frequent interruptions due to the World Cup,” says Steven Paul Collins, who to all incense and porpoises is The Owl Service. “Keen-eared listeners may well find the odd goal celebration bleeding through on a percussion track...”


The title track ‘Wake the Vaulted Echo’ is not only the opening song of this EP but was also the very first Owl Service recording. Kicking the instrumental off with a simple piano coda, an echoed electric guitar solo is the first indication that this is a long way from traditional, scratchy-knitwear and bearded folk: fans of the Flyte Reaction will cream themselves over this (I’m reminded too of the short-lived Crazy Alien who graced the cover CD of a Ptolemaic Terrascope – issue 29, I think). ‘The Two Magicians’ and ‘Fine Horseman’ are both covers of English folk-songs, the first jaunty and the second dauntingly haunting, as befits a number sung so memorably by Anne Briggs, with guest vocalists Dom Cooper (of the Straw Bear Band) and Rebsie Fairholm (formerly one half of folk-noir duo Revolving Doris) not so much helping out as starring on each. The latter is book-ended by two short numbers, cunningly entitled ‘Interlude 1’ and ‘Interlude 2’ which – in another tip of the hat to Woronzow Records recording artists of yore – both remind me rather of Mick Wills, all crashing waves, tumbling shorelines and enviable guitar playing. The real stand-out on here though is ‘By The Setting Of The Sun’ which is a ten-minute amalgam of (by Steven’s own admission) as many of the band’s influences as can decently be squeezed into a single song. They’re all mentioned up there so I won’t spoil it for you: nothing I said would prepare you for this magnificent, ace-in-the-hole closing segment in any case.


This is one elusive butterfly of a record: a CD you’ll want to play all the way through again and again, ond pause only to wish it were longer. Drop the Owl Service a line at steven@midwich-cuckoos.co.uk for details - the EP costs 3.99 GBP (including shipping to “anywhere you like”, allegedly – even outer space is obviously no obstacle to this band...) (Phil McMullen)




(CD from EM Records, 5-11-37-503 Yamasaka, Higashisumiyoshi-ku, Osaka 546-0033 Japan www.emrecords.net )

On the subject of "tape-doctored" animal sounds, I'd guess that the first time they nuzzled their way into the British consciousness was with Pye Records' 'Singing Dogs' EP way back in 1957. A couple of minutes of rigorously modulated Rover and Spot attempting 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window' belied the fact that this was the culmination of numerous hours spent in a small backroom, supplied only with a reel-to-reel, rolls of splicing tape and a selection of razor blades. Within contemporary composition circles however, these disciplines were already well established with Europeans Boerman, Koenig and Henry, and Americans Dockstader, Tenney et al intent on opening up a completely new vocabulary of texture and timbre.

   However, with his tape manipulation of indigenous birdsong, the American sound technician Jim Fassett (b. 1904, d. 1986) seemed to be in a group of one, a good country mile away from both uneasy listening and the novelty angle. A one-time music critic and assistant musical director for the CBS network, his 'Symphony of the Birds' debut LP received a Columbia release in 1960, coming after a smaller initial pressing on Ficker Records. The raw material was collected "in the field" by Jerry and Norma Stillwell and then processed with the assistance of CBS radio technician Mortimer Goldberg into three separate movements. 'Adante e Lyrico' (with eight different birds including Wilson's Thrush) enters a dreamy slow motion netherworld that uncannily replicates orchestral glissandi. The 'Buffo Section' showcases a raucously dry-throated jam session where the Fish Crow takes centre stage. The 'Misterioso' section closes with a four-strong thrush choir tweaked to become bass, trombone, spiralling Moog and even certain frequencies from Tangerine Dream's 'Zeit'! The second half (side two of the old vinyl copy) 'A Revelation in Birdsong Patterns' presents a series of bird soloists that are, in time, consumed by flocks of their own kin, where duration is doubled/halved and the pitch is halved/quartered. These pieces are partitioned by an EXTRAORDINARY repeated passage, akin to entering a dense, overgrown wooded area with the overpowering feeling of being watched by something outside of our philosophy (try researching the origins of the word 'panic' sometime...)

   In the intervening years, Jim's four LPs have been accorded a mere sprinkling of attention, though 'Birds' did receive a brief rave in Volume One of 'Incredibly Strange Music' (Research Publications). He's also been given a 'Space Age Bachelor Pad' status, presumably because lounge exotica specialist Martin Denny used birdcall. That idea is well wide of the mark and I hope this review redresses the balance somewhat. Last, but not least, the accompanying 48 page booklet is a rare joy, containing explanatory comments / colour pics of the birds involved, and also a VERY extensive guide to the world of puckering and blowing. The full colour record sleeves shown beggar description... whistling albums (of the homo sapiens variety - including Toots Thielmans and Ronnie Ronalde), birdcall, experimental field recordings and canary training discs! All avian (and avian related) life is here. (Steve Pescott)




(CD from EM Records, 5-11-37-503 Yamasaka, Higashisumiyoshi-ku, Osaka 546-0033 Japan www.emrecords.net )


Since studying with Boulanger in Paris and with Berio at Juilliard, New York avant-garde-ist Noah Creshevsky has been director of the Center for Computer Music, professor of music at Brooklyn College and taught at Juilliard, Hunter College and Princeton University. A thirty year career in electronics / tape manipulation has, in the main, centred on two working concepts: 'Hyperrealism' in which oft-ignored minutiae is magnified to unimagined levels, and the electronic simulation of acoustic instruments are 'performed' way beyond human capabilities, like piano roll absurdist Conlon Nancarrow with knobs on. He received warm applause from 'Village Voice', 'Gramophone', 'Fanfare' and 'American Record Guide', but there were distinctly less ripples reaching European shores. This could've been due to releases on 'Opus One' (Noah's label) being a mite difficult to obtain over the pond. In fact, I recently noticed a letter posted on the internet desperately asking for information on how to score some Creshevsky vinyl. Well, if the seeker doesn't have a total aversion to the little silver disc, his quest could well be over. EM Records of Japan have collated eight of Noah's compositions that first appeared on shared albums with the likes of Anne LeBaron, David Mott and Max Shubel. The exception being 'Cantigna' which, as far as I can gather, is unreleased - until now.


   'Circuit' from 1971 is the earliest and perhaps the most strait-laced of the compositions here. Its foundation of harpsichord recordings begin politely enough at separate tables, but eventually further mass crowding results in personal space issues, elbow room is compromised and chaos ensues with fragments of wood and wire flying about all over the shop. 'In Other Words' (Portrait of John Cage) followed on five years later and is the odd piece out as the quick chop and change, cut'n'paste elements are set aside in favour of a series of cavernous drone-scapes that encircle John Cage (with a voice not unlike x-film icon Vincent Price!) and his musings on certain aspects of creativity. 'Great Performances' (from 1978) uses a plummy-voiced commentary and prissy chamber music excerpts to take the rise out of the preciousness of certain classical performances. Eventually a quiz show host is heard and, through the miracle of overdubbing, is dumped in a jungle. He won't last long as I hear lions. This is gloriously nuts and takes on some of the trappings of fellow gonzoid splicers Negativeland. 'Highway' is equally screwy. In between orchestral blobs, a worried voice asks "Am I having a nervous breakdown?" and "Am I masturbating too often?" These snippets, presumably sourced from public health broadcasts eventually move aside for a glimpse into a deep south religious picnic with "potato pies" and "coconut custard" for dessert. After all that initial self doubt, it's nice to have a happy ending. 'Sonata' captures numerous segments of verbal waffle and hesitant burblings which are flecked with electronic door creaks and ear-mashing snare rolls. This percussive heaviness continues with 'Drummer' (1983) and is pictorial as much of the previous material. This certainly can't fail to flood your mind with images of mambo-crazy conga drummers in amongst a bustling N.Y. cityscape. We're now in '86 with the ten minute plus  'Strategic Defense Initiative' - an even heavier drum barrage (which seems to have become Noah's trademark) matches blows with the grunts and screams of battling Bruce Lee clones. 'Cantiga' closes the collection with a rapid flicker of cello, choirs and harpsichords, which becomes almost stroboscopic in its delivery; an aural equivalent to observing a low slung sun during a speeding car ride past an evenly spaced treeline.


    There have been quite a few more N.H. releases since '92 through Centaur Records and Mutable Music, but we're not talking about those; this is EM's moment and it's good to know that through their good works, we can experience a vital set of irreverent, off the wall and just plain weird compositions that have been neglected for far too long. (Steve Pescott)




(www.wovenwheatwhispers.co.uk )


This is a very fruitful collaboration between Nihil project's Antonello Cresti, Phoenix Cube's Simon Lewis and Deadburger's Vittorio Nistri who have pooled their talents, and those of a few friends, to produce a response to nature which is redolent both of the innocence of a summer breeze and the earthiness of an autumn storm. The instrumentation deftly blends the organic (banjo, violin, flute etc) and the synthetic, to produce music that celebrates the English landscape, viewed through both native and foreign eyes. It's dreamily psychedelic too, at times redolent of mid-period Gong. The first two pieces are parts A and B of 'Fragment of the Ritual'. Part A starts off in Impressionistic fashion, with a slightly ominous undercurrent, before a voice joins in with some throat singing.... fluidic and druidic at the same time. Part B has sprightly synth loops joined by lush strings counterpointing to beautiful effect. It ends very peacefully with the simplicity of birdsong, which heralds in 'Descend', where a banjo and violin seem to hover at play, whilst the bass takes steady downward steps to ensure the tune doesn't float away into blissful oblivion. In 'Broken Sleep', voices chant 'Find your way out of the dark, try to find the golden spark, hold on tight to silver thread, lest you release the fear and dread', like something from a slightly scary children's nursery rhyme book. There's always a fear that the silver thread might be released and that something nightmarish might appear, but fortunately all ends well! The last track, 'Blessing' is an eleven minute wonder, full of keyboards cascading like the mountain streams mentioned in the lyrics, breathy cello runs and romantic violins building to a gentle dance in woodland glades, ending this excellent album in celebratory fashion. (Alan Davidson)