= October 2009 =
|Old Lost John
Simon Lewis (Editor)
|KK & the Steampunk Orchestra
|Electric Asylum comp
|Susanna & The Magical Orchestra
|La Fleur Fatale
(CD from www.oldlostjohn.com)
Having released a handful of CD-R’s, Tomas Thunberg now graces our ears with his first official CD album, the beautiful and delicate “Faceless”, a collection of songs that are filled with a sadness and acceptance, not depressing but awash with wistfulness and wisdom. Opening track “Broken” finds the spirits of Towne Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen, walking across a desolate coastline, a mournful trombone adding gravity to the picked guitar phrases. On “Fairies and Fools”, a bowed saw and delicate backing vocals from Frida Astrand, create the perfect sonic landscape for the inherent sadness, some fine guitar fills completing the songs beauty.
More upbeat, “come Saturday” has a sparkling guitar motif, simple and effective, the trombone again adding atmosphere, the lyrics not as cheerful as the bright tune would suggest. As with the rest of the tunes, the instrumentation on this song is pitched perfectly, allowing the listener to get lost within the small sketches and sad tales. After the graceful “In from the Cold”, complete with mandolin fills, things are slowed down for the droning “Tremble”, a pump organ and the sound of wine glasses used to devastating effect, an atmospheric delight that sounds better every time.
Consistent in its sound yet varied enough to hold the attention , this album maintains the quality throughout, with “Railway Car” reminding me of Iron and Wine with its hypnotic rhythm, whilst the bleakness of “Nothing Good” is an icy breath of surrender, lost love and memories, the line containing the word “Elephant” bringing a surreal smile to your lips!
To close the album, the wyrdness of “Dagger Dagger” will make you listen, as memorable a song as I have heard this year, the eerie atmosphere drawing a veil of mist around your ears, sounding like Kevin Ayers at his most atmospheric.
Low-key and personal, this is fast becoming one of this year’s favourites, try it and see for yourself. (Simon Lewis)
(Urchin URCD002 www.myspace.com/walkperson )
Pearse McGloughlin’s debut is an acoustic collection of personal and mostly introspective songs. The songs are soft, melodic and well-crafted, besides being lyrically intelligent. However all told, “Busy Whisper” sounds a bit pedestrian and a tad languid for these ears. Not that it is a poor effort by any means – there is plenty here, particularly on tracks such as “Consume” and ”Long Day”, to suggest that McGloughlin is a decent enough songwriter - but it did struggle to hold my attention throughout the full 40 minutes.
This is an album that one would do well to delve into selectively, although the reviews from certain quarters in his native Ireland would suggest that there is a fan-base, and therefore a potential market, for McGloughlin’s wistful and somewhat melancholic take on the classic bedsit album. Good on him. (Ian Fraser)
|(no image submitted)
KK & The Steampunk Orchestra - The
Last year, KK's album "Telescopes" was, in
this reviewer's book, eclipsed only by the mighty Mercury Rev in the
top-albums-of-the-year stakes. Now KK (aka Kevin Kerrigan) and his
steamy, punky orchestra return with "The Magic Lantern," a concept
album concerning the lady Aoide in some kind of alternate
Victoriana-land. Unlike the earlier work this is an intrumental
album, but the musical feel is similar, though the vibe is
THE DEADMANS DANCEBAND – S/T CD (www.myspace.com/deadmansdanceband)
SENDELICA – TRANSATLANTIC UNDERGROUND CD (www.tidylikerecords.com)
SIENNA ROOT – DIFFERENT REALITIES CD (www.transubstans.com)
The Deadmans danceband are a loose collection of musicians influenced by the west coast sound, specifically the music and attitude of The Grateful Dead. As they have progressed songs have naturally evolved out of their on-stage jams, the best of which have been collected here by bassist/writer Bob Croydon.
Filled with mellow, sparkling sounds, the songs within are relaxing and psychedelic in a laid-back and warm manner, the guitar rippling beautifully over some wonderful riffs and melodies, the whole album a delight, best heard by flickering firelight. First highlight is the wonderful “Starfield”, the fluid sound flowing into “Mr Night”, creating a brace of songs that sparkle like the evening sky. As the collection progresses, the band change gear effortlessly, whilst maintaining that mellow glow, the slowly changing nature of the music perfectly suited to the bands talents, creating a suite of songs rather than a collection of individual tunes. By the time you reach “Seventh Season” the music has soothed your troubles away, allowing you to float off into your own personal paradise.
Quietly unassuming on first hearing, this album slowly grows around you until, finally, the heady perfume and languid atmosphere makes you realise how delightful it really is, nothing new but perfectly realised.
Containing one long, 42 minute piece ( and limited to only 42 copies), the latest album from Sendelica is basically a jam that has been overdubbed with extra instruments, the whole thing a space rock tour-de-force, with Pete Bingham taking star billing, his guitar soaring clean over heaven’s gate and into infinity. Originally recorded with just, guitar, bass and drums, the addition of saxes, recorder, clarinet and the occasional vocal, adds variation without losing the original bite of the music, Hawkwind style riffing mixing with spacier, psychedelic moments, the whole thing sounding as if it would not be out of place on “Acid Jams” (Bevis Frond). With a solid rhythm section keeping everybody’s feet on terra firma, the guitar is given licence to soar, engaging the listener for the full length of the jam, the band breaking into down in to a very mellow middle section just after the 20 minute mark, echoed notes drifting around your brain like autumn leaves. As we approach the end the tension builds again, everyone joining in, the sonic wall finally crashing down in a spiral of sax flurries and relaxed vocals, the sudden silence bringing the listener back to earth far too quickly. Wonderful stuff that would, I imagine, sound even better live.
Finally for this trio of rock beauties, Burnt Sienna go down the seventies rock road, their latest album split into two equally good but contrasting halves. Part one “We” is a suite of 4 songs that lasts 25 minutes, each track containing a different mood with the whole becoming a magnificent epic rock track that ebbs and flows with guitar driven purpose. Opening with the slow moody “We Are Them”, the musicians slowly build the tension, some fine vocals and twinkling keyboards offering a foil to the noisy guitar that itself provides some excellent soloing. On “Over the Mountains”, the band pick up the pace, a driving rock riff proving the band can play, half prog, half heavy rock, totally excellent, turn this bit way up! Finally for part one “As We Return” sounds like Frumpy, classic riffing and inventive melodies ending the piece with a flourish that is wholly satisfying.
Named The Road to Agartha”, part two opens in a similar vein, although the music does start to take a more psychedelic turn with opening segment “Bairagi” containing some truly sublime guitar moments. From here on in however, the album takes a sudden turn ascending the Himalayas, turning east with percussion and sitar coming to the fore as the band embark on a spiritual quest, nirvana just around the corner. Over four relatively short pieces variations on this eastern theme can be enjoyed until the band finally settle down on the mountaintop, a magnificent sunset overhead as they launch into the albums finest moment, the ten minute “Jog”. Here the best moments of both parts are melted together, east meeting west in a psych-rock haze, everyone enjoying themselves, the vitality and happiness shining forth in the music. Guaranteed to blow away the psychic cobwebs, this is a damn fine way to end a rather fine album.
Those of you who love the spacier side of rock could do a lot worse than check out this trio of albums, old themes given new life, the music played for love not profit, and that can only be a good thing. (Simon Lewis)
Recorded in the desert, this album has a vast and ever shifting soundscape, Guitar based drones entwining with slowed down heavy blues, sounding like AMT at 16 rpm, the dense wall of sound heralding nightfall, the sun slowly sinking into the land leaving you wondering if you will ever see light again.
Opening track “seethrough” is a beautiful beginning, the drone laced with flickering melodies that dance around each other, changing the ambience of the room you are in and preparing you for what is to follow. Deeper and heavier, “Tip of the Pyramid” is simply stunning, a slowly undulating guitar creeping up your spine and curling up inside your skull, lie back and enjoy the trip, a blues soaked journey into the caves of your ancestors. Following on, “The Lost White Brother” is more slow-blues than epic drone, although it is still only crawling through the swamp, the ghosts of Spacemen three nodding in agreement as the musicians find their groove and stick with it, languid and deeply satisfying.
After the brief pulsating shimmer of “Eeeee”, the album closes with “The End” (naturally), a rising crescendo of guitar that sounds like Mono, the tension reaching fever point before the band blast off into the night sky in search of dawns rays, only to wake up shivering on the sand, a million stars watching over them.If I ever had a press sheet I have long since lost it, all I can say is buy this album, to be played when the moon is just a sliver and you soul cries for stillness. (Simon Lewis).
The perfect example of the phrase “the best things come in small packages”, this 3” CD features four tracks that clock in at less than twenty minutes. Featuring a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist, the music is complex, passionate and intense, a heady blend of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Crimson, Gentle Giant and Sonic Youth, all bound together with a noisy DIY punk ethic and attitude to spare. Displaying musical dexterity whilst not disappearing up their own arseholes, the musicians tear through the songs with ease, the difficult sounding easy, the prog giving away to more abstract moments especially on the final track “Zilla (Jungle Cats), which finds the band dipping into jazz mode, each instrument playing its part, creating something that needs to be played at skull crushing volume, or maybe that’s just me. Either way, an essential purchase, short, sharp and brilliant. (Simon Lewis)
(Just Music, www.justmusic.co.uk)
Dan Arborise is a name, alas, unfamiliar to many people. Born to a Polish family in the wilds of Borneo, he wandered various parts of the world before settling in Britain. In 2006 his excellent debut release "Around In Circles" (also on Just Music) announced a new talent in the modern folk mode, with just a hint of John Martyn lying beneath it. Arborise lives as he sings, living simply in an old house with his wife, growing his own food and trying to live in harmony with nature (though he does appear on the internet on at least one forum as 'Spicedan').
This new album is a collection of songs written mostly for solo voice and acoustic guitar, with occasional embellishments. Opener "Another Side Of The Sky" matches two beautifully recorded acoustic guitars with subtle wah-electric and Arborise's soft, slightly reedy voice on a song of trees and nature. "You'll All Get What's Coming To You" begins with fiery Pierre Bensusen style guitar playing before Arborise's intimately-recorded voice comes in, its lyrics bringing the listener a warning. "She Told Me How To Love Her" expounds lyrics of alienation and wondering: the 'her' may well be Mother Earth. The naturalistic words are underpinned with a more lyrical style of guitar playing (all acoustic) than that of the previous two tracks, and a memorable chorus too.
"I Live" again brings effected guitar, this time chiming and echoed, to a great tune, one of the highlights of the album - a track I would imagine is fantastic live. Arborise's voice is particularly good here. "Cries" is slow and mournful, beginning with a single wah-echoed guitar supporting Arborise's voice; the guitar here echoes some of the work of John Martyn, and is superbly done. A Bensusen-style acoustic guitar explosion enlivens this track, which, at almost ten minutes, and with backing vocals, acts as a centrepiece to the whole show. This track really shows what Arborise can do given time and space.
"My Dear" has a lullaby feel throughout, with a subtle organ-effect underneath. The acoustic guitar picking emphasises the song's lyrics when they turn to matters of life and death: 'Is this life even ours at all?' "My Child" radiates positivity in its lyrics, playing, and tune, which is one of the strongest on the album. Reviews of the debut album did on occasion complain of a slight limpness in the writing - there is no such problem here. Again, the uplifting feel of this song would doubtless make it great live, and subtle vocal harmonies make it another album highlight.
The lengthy "Under Your Spell" leads us into the final section of the album, as solo picking, an organ effect, and Martyn-esque delayed guitar introduce a tale of human growth and possibility. Arborise's voice is fantastic here - beautiful and emotional singing - while the guitars, reverbs and stereo effects perfectly complement this hypnotic and compelling song. "Days Even Years" sends us into possible human futures in thought-provoking style; this track again has a strong tune, accompanied by simple playing. Album closer "Feet In The Sea, Head In The Stars" matches echoed guitars (that, bizarrely, reminded me of mid 'seventies Ashra Tempel) with all sorts of guitar and studio effects, and some light percussion. The track seems intended as an uplifting finale to oppose the more serious penultimate track. The cosmic delays and effects bounce all over the stereo spectrum in wonderful style, before a simple and affecting vocal enters, telling us of the power of the sea: 'The tide it pulls for ever on, back to where we all belong.' A joyous and perfectly judged album closer.
"Of Tide & Trail" is a mature and compelling second album that showcases the many talents of this fine player and songwriter. Arborise has learned and moved on from what was a pretty good debut to create a really superb work. Fans of Martyn, Drake et al will definitely enjoy this album, but lovers of folk and acoustica in general should check this release out. (Start at www.myspace.com/arborise). Highly recommended. (Stephen Palmer)
(Past & Present)
Past & Present’s third volume of "Rare British Acid Freakrock" is as much of a misnomer as previous entries, as this one is essentially a collection of long forgotten glam and glitter rockers from the early ‘70s. Nevertheless, it’s chock full of good tunes and good times that’re worthy of resurrection and that’ll fit nicely alongside the Nick Saloman curated Blitzing The Ballroom compilation (Psychic Circle, 2008) and the cult favourite, Glitter from The Litter Bin (Castle, 2003). Primitive Man’s 1971 ‘Animal Love’ is a seminal, albeit unknown foray into the burgeoning glam rock movement, as is Puzzles’ ‘Houla,’ an infectious stomper with a wonderful percussive break to get you on your feet to boogie-oogie-oogie till dawn. Barracuda’s clapalong, singalong ‘I Feel So Down’ continues in the same vein, which suggests that a little truth in advertising would more accurately describe this as the glam collection that it (essentially) is. Grumbleweeds’ 1974 ‘(Hey Babe) Follow Me’ is a fuzz-driven cruncher that easily could’ve battled The Sweet and Gary Glitter for chart supremacy and, although it suffers from a horrible vocal, Dynasty’s ‘Tutankhamun’ is saved by a riveting, funky jungle groove not too far removed from John Kongos’ ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ that was released a year earlier (1971).
Shakane’s ‘Rhona’ and Wheels’ ‘She Don’t Mean It,’ the latter featuring Crispian St. Peters (of ‘Pied Piper’ fame) are straightforward, Top 40-styled pop that seem overly influenced by The Partridge Family and collectors of unusual cover versions will be intrigued by 1984’s glittery, bubblegummy romp through Syndicate of Sounds’ ‘Little Girl.’ Elsewhere, Roger Ruskin Spear’s ‘Drop Out’ from his rare ‘Rebel Trouser’ EP (credited to Spear and his "giant orchestral wardrobe"!) is an insane slice of lunacy that sounds like Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch stopped by to help out on lead vox. As anarchic as anything The Deviants or The Mothers ever released, but what would you expect form a former Bonzo Dog? And if The Banana Splits ever recorded a glam record it might sound like Zebedee’s ‘She Couldn’t Make Gravy’ and the collection ends on a raucous note for 10cc completists with their one-off side project Amazon Trust’s ‘Sheila Lee.’ Eric Stewart’s trademark sparkling guitar work is the star here and the resultant slice of freakbeat heaven wouldn’t be out of place on Todd Rundgren’s Something? Anything.
Lightweight? Perhaps. Glam and glittery? Definitely. But still highly recommended to fans of the genre. (Jeff Penczak)
(Past & Present)
It’s been nearly a quarter century since High Noon originally released these 16 "rare, wild, primitive, mid-sixties garage" rockers in 1985 and P&P have remastered the set (well, as much as possible – some of the tracks are still incredibly noisy and show signs of the crackly vinyl source) and added informative track annotations. If you can get your mind past that tongue-twisting title, you’ll swoon to the Night Crawlers’ ‘All Day & All of the Night’ rewrite, ‘Let’s Move,’ although the recording quality still hovers in bootleg territory and the band sounds like their engineer was a few blocks away. The Dirty Shames jump and jive through ‘Makin’ Love,’ and Oregon’s Jolly Green Giant almost manage to outsnarl Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on the ferocious ‘Caught You Redhanded.’
Michigan’s Shy Guys offer one of the better pop tracks with ‘Lay It On The Line,’ but then it’s back to garage sludge, whining organs and screeching vocals for The Nomads’ ‘Thoughts of A Madman.’ Indeed! Someone call the men with the straightjackets. Bobby Roberts & The Ravons’ ‘How Can I Make Her Mine’ is a pure adrenaline rush – think Beatles-meets-Ramones. Too bad it fades out just as the guitar solo kicks in! If psychedelic garage is your bag, man, then the original version of ‘How Is The Air Up There’ by The Changin’ Times is just your cup of tea. A little Monkees aroma, to be sure, but lots of fun and energy from the group comprised of songwriting partners Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld, the latter of whom helped organize Woodstock. You may be more familiar with the song from the Bangles’ cover version on their ’82 EP. Elsewhere, it doesn’t get any better than The Belles’ classic regendering of ‘Gloria’ into ‘Melvin’ and I also dug the chiming guitars and harmonies flowing all over The W.C. Dorns’ ‘I Need You’ and the Phil Spector on acid wall of sound of The Cult’s ‘Here I Stand’ – imagine locking the Righteous Bros. in a garage and not letting them out until they got the knack of this garage thing down pat! It all ends with the femme vox-backed ‘Let Yourself Go’ from Tennessee’s Carpetbaggers: poppy, fluffy, but with a cool guitar solo to remind you it’s a garage comp! In vinyl speak, Side 2 (i.e., the last eight tracks) is better, but I’ll be glad to go back and relisten to at least half of these forgotten slices of mid-‘60s garage rock, so I consider this one a winner – just don’t expect the greatest sound quality. (Jeff Penczak)
Following the success of 2006’s Melody Mountain covers album, Susanna Wallumrød and the Magical Orchestra (aka, Morten Qvenild) return from a three-year hiatus (during which Susanna released two highly acclaimed solo albums and Morten won the prestigious "Musician’s Award" at the Kongsberg Jazzfestival with his classical side project, In The Country) with a set of mostly originals, a la their 2004 debut, List of Lights and Buoys. There’s a tendency to label Susanna the "Norwegian Kate Bush" or, dare I say it, vintage Barbra Streisand (listen to ‘Come On’!), but her restrained, slo-mo arrangements will certainly appeal to fans of the iceberg slow snorecore by the likes of Low and Ida. There’s also a bluesy, soulful hint of Laura Nyro in the intimate ‘Game,’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if Susanna spent a lot of time listening to Dory Previn albums while composing these tracks – if anyone decided to remake Valley of The Dolls with a soundtrack emulating Dory and Andre’s original, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra are the band to handle it.
Qvenild’s theremin-like electronics souring throughout ‘Palpatine’s Dream’ create a perfect melancholic backing to Susanna’s tearful, spoken lyrics. As ususal, the vocals throughout are crystaline and the musical backing is impeccable, occasionally tossing in the odd scratching and bubbling synth flourish. If you enjoyed ex-Fanny guitarist, June Millington’s folkier, laidback solo magterial, you’ll have a great time here. And if you were overwhelmed by their covers album, you’ll love their snail-paced arrangement of Roy Harper’s ‘Another Day,’ that ranks up there with earlier, similar deconstructions of tracks by AC/DC, Bob Dylan, and Joy Division (homework assignment – compare and contrast Susanna’s and Low’s interpretations of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’). It’s so intricately interwoven into the set that if you didn’t recognise the song and I didn’t just tell you who it was, you’d swear it was another orignal, such is the degree to which they’ve made it their own. For those of you in the know, imagine Nico covering Roy Harper (hmmm, let’s think about that!) and you’ve got the idea. In the same vein (no pun intended), Rush’s ‘Subdivisions’ becomes a stark, gothic, Siouxsie and The Banshees horrorshow.
So, to recap: it’s reminiscent of Low and Ida, snuggles perfectly in between my Kate Bush, Nico, June Millington, and Siouxsie albums, and is one of the year’s best chill-out albums (even at full volume, you’ll be able to hear a feather float to the ground in the next room) – what’s not to like? (Jeff Penczak)
The sophomore effort from this Danish quintet is another collection of bubbly, sunshine power pop that continues to bear the salty ocean airs of Brian Wilson. That’s not to suggest that this is another boring retro Beach Boys rip-off – for starters, Wilson never incorporated ukeleles and (as far as I know, with the exception of ‘I Know There’s An Answer’) banjos into his songs the way The Elephants do on opener ‘The Organ Grinder’ and, coupled with the skewed harmonies that sound like the BBs on helium, we’re in for an intriguing 21st century take on that smooth West Coast vibe. There’s also an angular post-rock edge to some of the arrangements which, as on the title track, is very reminiscent of Luna.
Everything is not the Wilson wall of sound production, either. Intimate tracks like ‘Eva’ are well-suited to the coffee shop crowd and should appeal to Bright Eyes and Clem Snide fans. But the highlights for me are the gorgeous harmonies, lovely California breezes, video arcade synth bursts and memorable hooks of ‘Turtle Struggles’ and the flowing, Hawaiian island lilting melody of ‘Molehills’ that’ll have you packing your bags in no time and reminding me a bit of Brian Jonestown Massacre with a dreamy hangover.
While I could have used a few more memorable tunes that stayed with me after I put the disk away, Take It is good enough to recommend and also suggests that, while The Elephants are one of the better Danish indie bands these days, the variety of songs and excellent musicianship is a good omen for their masterpiece, which may just be an album or two away. (Jeff Penczak)
The prolific Sacramentan’s 13th album (and sixth in the last three years!) is another wild carnival ride of 60’s pop, 21st century laptop bleeps, and sentimental bedsit fare. Barbeau’s developed a nasally Bowie-meets Peter Murphy drawl over the years and this is the first thing that leaps out at you on ‘Bending Like A Spoon’ and the title track, but it’s his knack for crafting irresistibly catchy melodies that will stay with you as you proceed through these dozen tracks.
While Kimberley Rew stops by to provide the "cat yowl fadeout guitar" (on ‘Doctor Take Care’), it’s his Soft Boy partner Robyn Hitchcock that might spring to mind on that infectious title track. Even the melancholic heartfelt ballads (like ‘Dear Miss’) are tinged with a spirit-lifting, upbeat melody not unlike the brokenhearted ditties that Robert (The Cure) Smith dashes off with such aplomb.
Years of touring tea shops and stone circles throughout Britain have imbued his work with a very British sensibility, most evident on the quietly introspective bedsitter images created on tracks like the aforementioned ‘Dear Miss’ and ‘I Used To Say Your Name,’ featuring Barry "The Fish" Melton on guitar. Al Stewart, Nick Drake, and Bert Jansch may have been quite influential on this aspect of his songwriting, which has resulted in one of his quietest albums to date. The occasional downbeat mood is lifted considerably by Ant’s vaudevillian barrelhouse piano stomping on ‘Quorn Fingers,’ which sounds like the background music to one of those extended (silent) Benny Hill skits.
Not everything is successful: the goofy vocal improvisations and sound effects on ‘Quorn Fingers’ are unnecessary, while the childishly silly ‘Banana’ is immature and musically challenged and sounds like something John Lennon and Harry Nilsson tossed off in the midst of a three-day bender. But there’s enough carefully constructed arrangements and warm, self-reflective tunes to warrant repeated listens. Overall, it’s another well-crafted variety of tunes for fans of vintage Bowie, Drake, Stewart, Hitchcock and similar singer/songwriters. (Jeff Penczak)
Josh Wambeke calls his sophomore effort "a record about memories. Each song represents nostalgia about a person or place in time that had a deep impact on me." He and his cohorts couch these "memories" in a swathe of laidback, atmospheric melancholia. Despite its title, opener ‘Follow-up Anxiety’ is actually quite relaxed, culminating in a soft, cushiony electronic coda. ‘Dust on Countertops’ is a gentle, acoustic bedsitter rumination that explores the same thematic territory (ennui) as The Cure’s ’10:15 Saturday Night.’ Nevertheless, glistening, cascading guitars and synths save the track from deteriorating into a morose (self)pity party.
Influential nods abound - the soft psychedelia of ‘1997’ is awash with moody Neil Youngisms (particularly his ‘Country Girl’ suite on Déjà Vu), ‘Tilted’ and ‘Measured’ recall the softspoken, latenight confessionals of Red House Painters, the headswirling delirium of the otherworldly ‘Floor Song’ takes you to another planet inhabited by Sun Dial worshippers, while the beautiful, mindnumbing floater ‘As I Ran’ would sit high (pun intended) on any Warlocks’ fan’s hit list.
If you’re going through some rough times and subscribe to the old adage, "misery loves company," invite Josh into your life and let the soft, tinkling bells, smooth synth swashes, gently plucked guitars, and enveloping arrangements and production comfort you. One of the year’s quietest, most introspective, and memorable releases. (Jeff Penczak)
(Killer Cobra, www.killercobrarecords.com)
There must be something in the water in Sweden. Last year, retro-fabulists La Fleur Fatale released the outstanding "Night Generation" album, in which they presented thirteen superb pop-psych songs looking back to the 'sixties with such influences as The Who, The Byrds and The Beatles, while offering modern sounds too. The four band members emerged from the wreckage of one of Sweden's most promising acts, Planet Superfly, but new management saved them. Now comes the second album, "Silent Revolution," which essentially presents more of the same, but in such a joyous, uplifting and tuneful way it's impossible to resist.
Churchy organ chords and acoustic guitar set us off on the retro-journey - "Mellow My Mind" brings Alaxander La Fleur's Tim Burgess-like voice as main vocal and backing harmonies, and then it's in with the drums and Leslied guitars. This album has more of an obvious Who reference point than the debut, as shown by the opener; crazy drumming and thrashy chords. "Dare To Lick (Hunter's Red Sleeve)", opens with backwards guitars, handclaps and multiple electric guitars, before gorgeous Byrdsesque harmonised vocals enter. Fabulous. This track more than any on the album sounds like a 'sixties production, but it's no pastiche. Flute mellotron and arpeggiated guitars open "Release The Colours In Me," which is slower than the two openers, and makes the most of Alexander's glissando style of singing.
A thunderstorm opens "The Winding Stars To Dawn" before an overtly Who-esque acoustic guitar and drum crashes in. When the electric guitars come in it's almost like Pete is windmilling away... again though this is no pastiche, it's homage, and a great tune, with irresistible backing vocals. This a bloody brave band to echo The Who so clearly and yet get away with it! "Hung Up On A Dream" again slows the pace with tribal drums and funereal organ; superb Doors-like organ runs and complex backing vocals make this track a gem.
As with the debut album, the sixth track is an absolute stormer. Bonkers Moony drums and a great guitar riff start "Astral Girl" off before the vocals come in: another great tune and a whacking chorus that raises the hair on the back of your neck. I can tell you this one is fantastic in the car, with blue skies, autumn leaves and an open road. Outstanding!
Track seven, "Hotel Of Your Mind," I suppose would be the opening track of side two of the vinyl release, if this had actually come out in the 'sixties. A sitar and a piano lure us into the track, as stereo/backwards effected vocals and fuzzy organ roll along; a great feel to this track, with particularly good keyboards from David La Fleur ('organ, etc'!). "The Love Of Illusion" is another incredibly Who-like track, and yet again this band gets away with it, largely because of their sense of melody and their sheer chutzpah - this one is sung half in English, half in French.
"Unreal City" pairs tanpura drone and Townsend guitar chops (really good ones) with Moony drums and more fabulous multi-harmonied vocals. The energy of the band, sure-footed use of melody and evocative chord changes make this yet another irresistible track; it's also very well recorded and produced, making it one of the album highlights. "Pretty Vacancy" doesn't recall the Sex Pistols; it's a slow, lolloping track with melancholy vocals and thunking piano. "Sting Me" returns us to The Who for a third time, for a great verse and better chorus; and some groovy percussion, man. Album closer "La Fleur Fatale" matches acoustic and Dobro guitars with soulful vocals on a slow, thoughtful track.
My only complaint about this album would be a slight over-use of the word "cosmic." But ignoring that, this is irresistible retro-fayre that anybody into 'sixties influenced music would love. Check out the band on t'internet at www.myspace.com/lafleurfataletheband and let their energy and tunes cast their glamour over you.
(A-Wave Records, www.A-wave.com)
Since the early 'seventies, Gong's tale of Zero the Hero and all the characters of Planet Gong has fascinated, tickled and musically amazed the psychedelic listening public. Having slid and glid through the "Radio Gnome Trilogy" and "Zero To Infinity," space cadets such as myself (a fan of the mighty Gong for 30 of their 40 years) now find themselves at part five of... er, the trilogy.
Produced by Steve Hillage, on board the flying teapot for the first time since 1974, "2032" contains fourteen tracks and features most of the classic line up - Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Steve and Miquette, Didier Malherbe and Mike Howlett. The place of the sadly departed Pierre Moerlen is taken by Chris Taylor. 2032 is the year, Allen says, when the pot head pixies will arrive on Earth and reveal themselves - this then is an important part of the puzzle...
So, with this tremendously exciting line-up, and that extraordinary back-story, how does the album fare? It begins in less than auspicious style with an almost tune-free spoken/rapped Allen extravaganza, "City Of Self Fascination." Much has been made by other reviewers about Allen's poor rapping, and to be fair it is poor if you call it rapping, but actually Allen has been doing this kind of half spoken material for ages. In this context however it is a tad uninspiring, especially when you consider that this is the opening cut. Second track "Digital Girl" is similarly leaden, enlivened only by a Hillage guitar solo. Clever, Spike Milligan-esque lyrics almost save the track (I've long felt there is a connection between Planet Gong and The Goons). "How To Stay Alive" has a stop-start riff, lovely duduk playing, and some gliss guitar and space whisper, but again there is a strange lack of inspiration in the piece; too much wordplay perhaps and not enough musicality, though the end section is good.
For me, "2032" properly begins on "Escape Control Delete," a track many Gong afficionados have labelled the album highlight; since my early plays of the album I've begun on track 4 and let it run through to 14. This track has a heavenly tune, evoking without effort those wonderful days of yore. Riffage, tuneage, brilliant production, some great bass playing from Mike Howlett - when Allen sings this song you really feel he means it. I didn't feel he believed any of the first three tracks.
"Yoni Poem" brings the lyrical talents of Gilli Smyth to the fore on a poem of cyber witches and pagan freedom, made in collaboration with Miquette Giraudy. "Dance With The Pixies" is a classic Allen composition, again spoken/sung by Gilli Smyth, with some great sax tootling by Bloomdido Bad De Grass and a singalong chorus where everybody joins in; an evocative look back to the first trilogy, and an album highlight for sure.
"Wacky Baccy Banker" has more modern concerns, and clearly was written in the wake of the banking collapse and recession of 2008. Extremely silly - yet pertinent - lyrics send the track on its pothead way, while Allen's guitar sound is straight out of the early 'nineties, when he was recording "Shapeshifter," and "Who's Afraid?" with Kramer. A great track, not least because of an absolutely gorgeous bit of Gong audio wizardry at the end, when everything just comes together - space whisper, effects, gliss, sax, pounding bass... ah, wonderful!
"The Year 2032" is a slow track about Zero's journey, with a strong tune and an effective vocal; nice sax too from Bloomdido. Lyrical concerns - war, terrorism, sundered communities - are pitched against the 'planet of love.' "Robo-Warriors" is another Smyth/Giraudy composition, and is perhaps the strangest track on the album. Heavily effected vocals compete with hyper-flanged drumming and weird vocal effects... I'm still not sure what to make of this one. "Guitar Zero" is half chant, half instrumental, and very good too, with more strange sax from Theo Travis and stereo-bouncing space whispers.
"The Gris Gris Girl" brings Bloomdido in on flute for a more traditional Gong song. Written by Allen and Hillage, it rails against modern ills, especially corporate ones. "Wave And A Particle" is the third Smyth/Giraudy composition, this time with a quantum theme. "Pinkle Ponkle" brings Bloomdido back on duduk, alongside cosmic vocals and space whisper, all underpinned by tribal style drumming and insistent bass.
The closing track "Portal" is a Hillage solo composition, an instrumental with some great guitar soloing, a brief sax insert from Travis and some pounding drums. It's a fine ending to the album, evoking the classic days yet sounding modern too, with the addition of electric violin from Yuji Katsui, and a final word from the mother: 'The Portal is open.'
Overall the album is very good indeed, though I will be playing it from track 4. Fans of Gong through the decades need have no fear, this is an album worth listening to - a worthy addition to the archives of Planet Gong.
(Rise Above Records, www.riseaboverecords.com )
Astra are an American progressive/psychedelic band from San Francisco, whose debut "The Weirding" has won them many plaudits, and more than a few fans if the internet buzz is anything to go by. Checking out the CD, the first thing to notice is the Roger Dean style artwork, which at once evokes a particular era and style...
The album begins with "The Rising Of The Black Sun," in which guitar effects, cymbals and Krautrock style flute (think Tangerine Dream circa "Alpha Centauri") joust softly, until the drums increase in intensity and heavily fuzzed guitars come in. Then suddenly a rhythm emerges, as a guitar solo is pitted against more guitars and pounding drums. The sound has elements of Black Sabbath and of 'seventies era Hawkwind, but as the track closes one of the real treasures of this band, the keyboards, comes in - a King Crimson style string mellotron. A great opener, this.
The title track, at fifteen and a half minutes, is only the second longest track on the album - this is a band who like to do progressive rock as it is meant to be done. And as the vocals enter there is another connection with Black Sabbath, as the singer sounds remarkably like Ozzy Osbourne. Slowly the track enters mellotron-soaked progressive territory, as more Crimson-style 'trons underscore the chorus; wonderfully done. After the vocals have had their time, the instrumental side of the track is explored, guitar lines rising up and around the mellotrons as the track deconstructs into a softer and hazier, then heavier jam. It's brilliantly done, and a perfect example of how sure this band are of what they are doing.
"Silent Sleep" clocks in at almost eleven minutes. Its opening reminded me in tone of some of the heavier early Genesis tracks, again down to that mellotron, and perhaps the timbre of some of the multiple guitar lines. Harmonised vocals come in after a few minutes, and more superb flute, which, unusually, is played by drummer (most of the band are multi-instrumentalists). When the Arp synthesizers enter there is again a hint of Gabriel-era Genesis. This lighter, beautifully composed and arranged track shows that Astra aren't just members of the heavy jam brigade - alot of thought and effort has gone into this album.
"The River Under," a mere stripling at eight minutes, begins with hissing cymbals, undulating bass and string mellotrons, before guitars and Arp synthesizers paint a melodic picture in Crimson mode. The band's second singer is the main vocalist here; he sounds like a restrained Terry Reid. This is another track that takes the listener on a mysterious journey...
Seventeen and a half minutes of progressive psych wonderment arrive next, in the form of "Ouroboros." Opening with dramatic synth sequences and effects, the track boasts Sabbs-style riffs, complex prog rhythms and lunatic soloing - imagine Tonny Iommi on Tangerine Dream's "Phaedra." The track passes through several moods and tempos, some slower, some traditional prog, with the bass and Arp synthesizers echoing the guitar lines. And the choral mellotron is well to the fore. Fans of Swedish progsters Paatos would love this track, as would fans of early 'seventies Yes - the Moog synth is reminiscent of Rick Wakeman.
"Broken Glass," at not even four minutes, is miss-it-if-you-blink, but contains some lovely acoustic guitar playing and harmonised vocals that sounded distinctly 'sixties; they reminded me of The Hollies! A beautiful track, and a great contrast to the heaviness around it, with just a hint at the end of the Moody Blues. "The Dawning Of Ophiuchus" is another short track, a tone poem of oscillators, synths, piano and rippling guitars. Drums and a riff emerge later, and cosmic vocals at the end. Astra's drum sound has caused some comment, being quite "thunky" in texture and tone - no bright crisp snare sounds here. But I think this sound complements the music well.
The album concludes with "Beyond to Slight the Maze," returning the listener to the signature Astra sound: heavy and 'tron-laden. Harmonised vocals rise above keening mellotrons and epic guitars.
Anybody into the classic era of progressive psychedelic music would love this excellent album. Fans of Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Bachdenkl, Hawkwindet al should definitely check this unique release out. Its complexities make it an involving, rewarding listen. I loved it. Influences are there, but this band have their own sound, and long may it continue. (Stephen Palmer)