elcome one and all to a new Ptolemaic Rumbles. This time it’s a true collaborative effort, brought to you by the Terrascope’s finest. First up, Stefan Eck will guide us through the sonic maze. Thanks, Stefan!
It’s not too often that I hear vivid, inventive and experimental Hammond organ free-form expressions these days. In my hand now though, and playing on my hi-fi, I have ‘Volume 1: Spirit’, a wonderful release by the British trio Decoy. Alexander Hawkins treats the distorted Hammond in such a way that I am constantly reminded of what a beautiful and mighty instrument it is to play jazz and free-form music on. You can’t avoid mentioning Larry Young and you can’t avoid thinking of Alice Coltrane, but mostly I think of the cult Swedish duo Hansson & Carlsson (who’s ‘Tax Free’ tune Jimi Hendrix regularly featured in his live set), their themes and improvisations entering landmarks somewhere between jazz, improvisations and something free-flowing of its own art. But Alexander Hawkins isn’t alone; he’s in the company of some of the best players of the British free improvised music scene, Steve Noble on drums and John Edwards on bass. God, what a band! ‘Volume 1: Spirit’ offers six tracks and lasts for about 50 minutes. No matter if the music takes us to quieter moments or intense pulsating storms, it never loses its focus. I would even dare to call it magnificent.
A companion release to this one is ‘Volume 2: The Deep’, a strictly limited edition vinyl release with about 40 minutes of completely different tunes. Even though a lot of expressions are similar to the ones on Volume 1 this one brings us a little bit more of John Nobel’s virtuoso percussion playing, especially his use of cymbals, toms and laidback playing. Of course, it’s magnificent as well. Both these releases are on Bo’Weavil. www.boweavilrecordings.com
On their new album ‘Sea Shells Listening’ the Brighton combo Viv enters the room softly and reflectively with the beautifully titled track ‘Sharon I Love You Love From Ron’, a piece that meditates on guitar, bass, glockenspiel and trumpet. This is followed by another piece, ‘Peace’, a ten minute long improvisation where analogue instruments meets electronic sounds, first roaring, like intense arguments, then as the conversation becomes a bit more civilized and calms down the second part of the track enters in the same mood as the first one – reflective and beautiful, with a slow cello in front. And this continues in a most appealing way, track by track, mostly reflective, not too noisy, and my mind starts to spin and find some connections and makes it sound like an upgraded, free version of the old favourite Penguin Café Orchestra. It might be the cello or maybe the trumpet or the approach to the mostly acoustic instruments, but actually I don’t care, I really like the variety of their expressions. www.radioviv.com
Regarding Amen Dunes and their album ‘Dia’ – sorry to say this was found in the back of the Terrascope Rumbles closet with the promotional info sheet lost (blame Mr. McMullen, he has broad shoulders). It was first listened to as a completely unknown album by artists unknown, to me at least. I decided to listen before start hunting for info. The tunes are great pieces of well-known psychedelic heritage, with some flavour of the 60’s garage scene. Why did I begin thinking of Syd Barrett? At first I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the fine song-writing and the short attractive melodies. Then I realized I was being a bit unfair. Just because of my own limited experience I shouldn’t start labelling artists after the first one I think of! This deserves something better. I really do appreciate the album not being overproduced. Basically it’s a slightly amplified electric guitar and vocals, often with that “60’s psychedelic echo” which makes it all sound so melancholy. Sometime an acoustic guitar added, and/or a bass, even at few moments a simple drum kit. Less is more.
Then I went info-hunting and unearthed the whole guy alone-in-a-cabin-story, which in this case means a certain Damon McMahon who went to the Catskill Mountain and recorded this DIY album in 2006. What takes a person from one place to another isn’t always easy to know, but rumour has it that Damon nowadays spends his time in an apartment in Central Beijing. God knows if that’s true, but from listening to the Dia tunes I can hear he’s open to other music approaches, as with the mantra-like ‘In Caroline’. I’m really interested in what the future will bring with this guy and am looking forward to hearing it with open arms. CD or LP through www.locustmusic.com
Mike Tamburo is one of these multi-talented hard working underground artists who over the years has released more than 30 albums using monikers as Meisha, Arco Flute Foundation as well as his own name, a lot of them on his New American Folk Hero label and a lot of them reviewed in earlier Rumbles sections. He has also performed an uncountable amount of shows, and became an unheralded foundation stone of the most recent Terrastock festival. He’s a brilliantly talented multi-instrumentalist, but mainly used to playing an amplified acoustic guitar using a lot of effects. He has a very personal music language partly inspired by American folk and minimalist music as well as Indian classic music, drone and noise. Even though Mike Tamburo belongs to a much younger generation I find similarities to Peter Walker and his developing of finger-picking guitar playing using inspiration from Indian classic music and flamenco, especially nowadays when Peter has re-entered the stage after a very long intermission. There are a lot of paths to walk and a lot of them are very interesting. Anyway, one day Mike felt great need of reinventing himself and set fire to his acoustic guitar and soon also got rid of the effects. Instead his focus was pointing at the hammer dulcimer. ‘In The District of Noise’ covers a solo performance from august 2008. Even though it’s set to a single track it’s actually two pieces, an amplified intro of 7 minutes giving the feeling of an electrified tambura followed by 38 minutes of acoustic hammer dulcimer music. Like in ragas (even though not following the strict raga order) there are intense moments as well as slow and soft. There’s a huge variety in Mike’s playing and his expressions that follows. For me his approach to the instrument and improvisation is pure beauty.
I had some problems with the given New American Folk Hero web link, but managed to find my way through www.miketamburo.com
Is this shamanistic music for the second decade of the new Millenium? Why not? Sikhara describes their music as ritualistic and listening to their new release ‘Live in the United States 2007-2008’ you definitely want to agree. This hard-working ever-touring combo presents rhythm tracks you could refer to as Liars or maybe Flowers of Romance era PiL, but the sounds that surround the percussion is much more loose and free and conjurs up a really appealing mood. 15 tracks lasting between 1 – 6 minutes, recorded in American radio stations WFMU and KFJC. The band is lead by Scott Nydegger and co-founded by drummer Sam Lohman and synth/electronics sound-maker Paul Beauchamp. Some tracks feature the saxophone of ex-Stooges collaborator and former Terrascope interviewee Steve Mackay. The primitive beats go right into your stomach, the occasional shouting voice follows, decorated with various sounds and effects. The energy in the music references what we used to hear during the heyday of the Industrial bands. It’s exciting. What is it good for? Use your imagination and dance to it! www.anticlock.net
Acoustic Prog Metal? Sure, why not? I’m not sure weather the band would like that description, but the music heard on Concentric’s first release ‘Immeasurable’ gives me that vibe. It could be the cover art and design. Guitar-cello-bass-man James Becker and guitar-hammer-dulcimer-accordion-man Jerry Hauppa have their background in heavy metal scene. But with a need of balancing this up they also went acoustic, for therapeutic reasons it’s said. Adding drums-timpani-man Brad O’Malley made them a trio and they developed music as far from clichés as you ever can get. Progressive approaches with metal heads, all instrumental and acoustic with the exception of the title track which actually is the only one I don’t really care for. For me it mostly sounds like the twin guitar devil just had to come out for a few minutes. On the other hand, if this was the price for the great audio experience from all the other tracks it surely is worth the price. Generously almost 70 minutes of music of which I really like about 60. How often does that happen? Good sound, good production on this self-release. Where to get it? Try
Music For Voyeurs, a.k.a. Rick Senley, is about a guy, morphine, a nasty accident and being unable to walk. Leaving the hospital he taught himself to play the piano, also found his old guitar and in the middle of the night started to write some music, mostly of the melancholy kind. On this self-titled debut album we hear 15 varied tracks played and overdubbed by himself. On some of them he’s helped with the vocals. Most of the songs are slow, often experimental and reflective, sometimes like Durutti Column auditioning for Godspeed You Black Emperor. Could be love songs searching for passion of life. It’s beautiful and sensitive but never sentimental. There’s so much within the music. It’s rich. For your own copy drop him an email
The beautiful combination of tamboura and electronic drones creates the floor in the musical buildings of the Leicester/Krakow band Theme and their third release, ‘Valentine (Lost) Forever’. The music is hypnotic and the influences and background in the industrial-experimental music is heard throughout. The trio Stuart Carter, Jeanne Boyer and Richard Johnson share computers, guitar, sitar, voices, percussion, samples, keyboards, tamboura, violin, singing bowl and other objects. It’s all mixed in a pot and out comes a great brew of dark and appealing music, the layers of drones (actually lighter than we’re mostly used to heard when it comes to drones) steady and voices speaking or darkly singing dramatically, almost mantra-like, as in the fourth track, ‘Time Always Wins’, an low profile intense centrepiece of the album. Magnificent! Seven tracks lasting for 40 minutes. The album ends with a Steven Severin remix.
Entering ‘The Red and The White’, the first track on Scottish musician Brian Lavelle’s new release ‘Avalonian’ summons the force of early Tangerine Dream even though Brian’s music is much more filled with spacey details. Anyone familiar with Brian knows that he for about 20 years has released a huge amount of albums, solo or in collaboration (as with Richard Young) a lot of it constructed by layers of drones and processed field recordings. Over the layers of drones on the first track we hear vocals performed by…. processed bird song (I guess, but you’ll never know with Brian’s treatments) - and it’s brilliant. The drones are dark and beautiful and the bird singing is perfect. Following the 20 minute opener is the 26 minute closer, ‘Star Temple of Avalon’, the second epic of the album. Yet another spacey drone, flavoured with keyboards which is bringing it into psychedelic ambient spheres. After a couple of minutes a distorted guitar follows and soon also a repetitive bass pattern. Then the piece converts into dark free floating textures which brings to mind Fripp & Eno’s ‘Swastika Girls’, minus Bob. Brian Lavelle’s ‘Avalonian’ is very close to a masterpiece and I’m not at all surprised it’s released on the always über-instersting Apollolaan Recordings, strictly limited to 60 copies with a beautiful hand-printed cover. www.apollolaan.co.uk www.brianlavelle.org
If one word can be used regarding Zero Map’s music it would be ‘de-constructed’. It brings the music more justice than the word ‘recycle’, as recycle means ‘use again’ and ‘deconstructed’ means, to me at least, use old stuff to create something new. This is what we hear on Zero Maps 30 plus minute long album ‘Found on The Streets’. Stuff from nowhere and everywhere gathered together and out comes five interesting pieces of collage music. Instruments, sound effects, voices - all from the source of the duo Chloe Wallace and Karl Waugh, the experimental nuclei of Zero Map. The centre piece of the album, the second track ‘Bee’s Queen’ occupies half of the album’s length. If the shorter pieces are more strict and concentrated around some sounds or ideas, this one is a complete melting pot showing how insanity and sanity are two sides of the same thing with sounds surrounding every inch of the atmosphere of the room, It’s noise and musique concrete, it’s a lovely nightmare soundtrack that not even Tim Burton would dare to use. The cover is individually hand painted and numbered copies, with front cover collage artwork by The Zero Map made up of items found in the Streets. Label? www.apollolaan.co.uk of course.
The third Apollolaan release to hand is Still Light’s ‘Lything’, an album showing a very different face to the two albums above. This trio of talented multi-instrumentalists and singers, Lucy Hague, Sand Snowman and Kirill Nikolai, bring us progressive, mainly acoustic melodic music with beautiful themes, majestic arrangements and a sound picture seldom heard in home-recordings. The opening track ‘Through the Grain’ immediately directs me into the mellotron power-tracks of King Crimson’s schizoid debut - which might give you a clue to the astonishing quality of Still Light’s release. I’ve been loving the sound of the Mellotron for more than 40 years, so I’m stuck. The music is gentle, maybe more of McDonald & Giles only release then Crimson’s, and even though it maybe isn’t filled with surprises – this kind of music seldom is – it never stops capturing my attention. I’m delighted. www.apollolaan.co.uk
Next one is two joint release albums by The Lickets, ‘Her Name Came On Arrows’ and ‘They Turned Our Desert Into Fire’. The band is based in San Francisco, basically as a duo of Mitch Greer (cello, guitar, vocals, electronics, visuals, etc.) and Rachel Smith (harmonium, flute, guitar, electronics, vocals, etc.) with additions from Lena Buell (double bass, guitar, vocals) and sometimes Jeff Arkenberg (flute) and Elizabeth Lucas (oboe). They perform acoustic music, improvised and with approaches to folk and psychedelic as well as ambient. There is some kind of fairy tale shimmer within the music and partly it reminds me of some Gong Family acoustic moments. The moods are light but here and there with some dark traces. It’s sensitive, friendly and attractive. The long tunes bring you into some kind of hypnotic sensations and you really feel comfortable within the music. Every thing with this band is hugely aesthetic, both covers of the albums, their web site, label site, whatever, all within the conceptual frames of the band. www.internationalcorporation.net
Thanks, Stefan. Next up, a big hello to Todd martin, who has pitched in to give us a hand – thanks, Todd!
Milkwood is a 3 piece musical collection producing tones and melodies that are easy on the ear. I would think of the word "folkie" if I heard them unannounced, but don't allow that to be a limiting description for the band- there’s more lurking below the surface.
Most of the sonic landscape is prepared by acoustic instruments, giving the music an open airy quality. The vocals are attention grabbing, a pure voice quality with just the right amount ofstrain and push at critical moments in the composition. Other instruments such as overdriven bass guitar, bells and tremolo effect are occasionally interjected effectively, never causing one to grow weary of the novelty. I am impressed by the clarity and sense of space captured in this recording, and I hope to hear more from Milkwood.
Next in line is Satan’s Pilgrims ‘Psychosploitation’ CD/LP. This band has been around for quite a long time, and has had plenty of time to refine their distinct sound. This recording is an collection of instrumental songs, occasionally some backing voices are thrown in for effect… but you won’t find a lot singing to “get in the way” of the music. Recording techniques, instruments and amps and mixes all contribute to create music reminiscent of late 50’s/ 60’s instrumental rock. In a word, I would sum up the sound of the band as “Surf”. Elemental Jams that are not permitted to become cluttered. Economical and direct musicianship that is always working to support a central theme. The press release describes that the band has been working towards more of a psychedelic sound - I can agree with this somewhat, but this is still the pre-Hendrix type of psychedelic jams on the rock n roll timeline.
13 original compositions contained within. There are times that one feels the music is somehow familiar, I do not believe this is because the arrangements are terribly similar to others that we have heard… but SP’s have definitely nailed the process of writing music to evoke a feeling.
Right away you will be hit with a face full of retro goodness. The Pilgrims efficiently follow through with a period faithful sound, approach and execution throughout the work. There are a lot of bands that adopt a thin veneer of retro varnish to make their music more palatable with the counter culture crowd…but inevitably slip back into the conventions of modern rock. SP’s are not guilty of this, through and through this is genuine stuff. Yes, it is a modern recording…not vintage- but these guys really do understand how to create the illusion of aural time travel.
This is fun stuff. Music to listen to with the top down, at a party, at the beach?…these are the activities this music automatically brings to mind. Order CD and find more info about the band at: www.satanspilgrims.com
The Movements and their ‘The World, The Flesh and The Devil’ is next. A high energy trip through classic rock n roll land, The Movements have managed to summon the spirit of a 60’s/70 power rock outfit. Thick but not terribly overdriven guitars, solid swampy bass, punchy drums and some very tasty organ/key work. Lead Vocalist David Henriksson delivers the goods; Soul, power, emotion…some of the adjectives that come to mind. 11 tunes that do a good job of keeping the listeners attention focused. The Movements are crafty practitioners of assembling a functional little tune that has heft. Riffy guitar parts, instrumental jaunts into dreamy regions, well thought out backing vocal
Finally, Ian Fraser shares his thought on some more recent releases. Over to you to see us through to the end, Ian!
‘Backatcha, Pod People!!’ is a plug-in-and-go album by Seattle psychedelic blues artist 5-Track, and it’s a gas. Once the repetitive, percussive, finger exercise that is the opening track is out of the way our man really gets going on track 2, when the killer ’(He’s Not Dead, He’s Just in) Texas’ sets the bar at a pretty impressive standard which, by and large he is able to match throughout much of the album. There’s such a fine roster of songs on offer such as ’Floating Around’, (a sort of bumpkin cousin to Hendrix’s ’Wind Cries Mary’ and ’If 6 Was 9’), the country-blues of ’Blues For Horselover Fat’ and ’Morning Train’ and the Neil Young-infused ’Hot Potato Pie’. Indeed, 5-Track wears his influences well and supplements these with his own strong twist of originality and a distinctive delivery (he can whine and he can holler). Leaving aside a slight tailing off over the last two or three tracks this really is the gear and is strongly recommended to anyone wondering what Jack White ought to sound like should he ever get himself a decent side-project. Good stuff! www.5-track.com
Laminated Cat features Tanner Smith, AJ Griffin, and two more Smiths (Tanner’s identical twin brothers, no less), and hail from the music-rich seam of Athens GA. However the catchy not to mention classy brand of psychedelia on ‘Umbrella Weather’ (Garden Gate GGR002) owes as much to the more gentleel influences of the UK summer of love than those of their homeland. Beatles influences are especially evident here as are latter day Anglophiles the Decemberists. The average age of the band members (they were all under 21 when this was recorded) belies a musical maturity which sees them take on dreamy psych/pop (’Sweet Sixteen’, ’Say Goodbye to my Ghost’), catchy and radio friendly hooks (the Driving Song, FYBS), heavier wig-outs (Kosmoknot) and country balladry (’Follow Me Around’) with some well-placed orchestral filler for added effect. All these cuts hold up well enough, however the stand out tracks are the driving ’Take Me in and Lock the Door’. the upbeat, sparkling pop of ’Aquamarine’ (oddly reminiscent of Ringo’s ’It Don’t Come Easy’ for some reason) and the penultimate track and sway-along ’Celery Eyes’. By the time the album-closer ’Tea tor Tigers’ plays out, you realise you have a smile on your face and a pronounced feeling of well-being. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
As an aside and a possible further point of interest for readers of a certain persuasion, the album artwork comes courtesy of our old friend Will Cullen Hart, who also does the honours for Olivia Tremor Control.
When you come across a name like First Band from Outer Space it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll know what you going to get. ‘The Guitar Is Mightier Than The Gun’ (Trans054) (get the picture?) is the Swedish psych/prog outfit’s third outing and features four tracks spread over an hour duration. It melds some classy playing and arrangement with a range of influences from Pink Floyd, through Hawkwind and, somewhat more dubiously, planet prog. ’Demons and Haze’ sets the pattern, launching with a crash of drums before hitting a brief Silver Machine-type groove and then into the trademark prog-infused space rock template. The album highlight is the sublime second track ’Turn Left to the Mexican Barbecue’ which is both vocally and musically assured and showcases the band’s more melodic side, (strongly reminiscent in places of Jefferson Airplane) in addition to the trademark onslaught. Here the music twists and turns, pulling the listener this way and that, leaving you quite exhilarated. The marathon title track and similarly strung out closer ’Smokin’’ are intriguing astral voyages with plenty to offer fans of the freak-out. One minor quibble and that is as someone who was never really comfortable with progressive rock the forays into this territory together with the odd bit of lyrical ropeyness means that any endorsement here comes with a slight health warning. However just when you think they are about to lose their way we enter another portal and in kick the oscillators, the band hits a more righteous groove, and all seems well again with the cosmos. www.transubstans.com
Us and Them are another Swedish act, a duo named Anders and Brit and who have released this self-titled 14 minute EP of three tracks on the Fruits de Mer label. The tracks in question are covers of Tudor Lodge’s ’Home to Stay’, ’Dialogue’ by the fabulous Jackson C Frank and ’All the Pretty Little Horses/Julia Dream’, the Pink Floyd track from their ’Relics’ album and the traditional lullaby on which it was based. Lullaby in fact is the operative word here, because for all that this is a pleasant enough excursion you wonder whether Anders and Britt bothered leaving their bed(s) to record it. The result is a languid, hazy summer sound which works well enough as an EP but would pale over a longer format simply because it is all so one paced, though I expect it would be good for getting the kids to sleep. www.myspace.com/fdmer
Dutchman Rutger Zuydervelt is Machinefabriek who recorded the source material for the mercifully brief ‘Slovensko’ during a trip to Slovakia. What is captured here is a variety of sounds, samples and field recordings edited and mixed into abstract pieces. As a statement of abstract art it is probably valid enough but music it ain’t. Unless you subscribe to Wire magazine, where it is probably already lined up for the album of the year accolade then you would be advised to stay upwind and approach with caution. File under experimental, and then some… www.eatsleeprepeat.com
’Home/Hidden’ (LaAF LCD79) the debut album (at 31 minutes almost a mini-album) from Charlie Alex March takes the more downbeat, melodic bits of Groove Armada and mixes it with the ambient side of Aphex Twin and luxuriant Robert Kirby (Nick Drake) style string arrangements courtesy of High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan, to produce an album of accessible not to mention perfectly acceptable electronica. Add a twist of BBC radiophonic workshop and a heavy dollop of vibes, courtesy of O’Hagan’s erstwhile band mate Dominic Murcott and the results are pastoral chillout music that is likely to appeal to fans of modern light classical music as well as those of, say, Luke Vibert or Add N (to X). The half hour or so makes for consistently good listening over twelve cuts, but special mention needs to be made of ’Snow Feet’ and the Satie sounding ’Telephone Song’, both of which buck the all-too-frequent trend for mid-album tracks to be little more than fillers, ’Kyoko’s Broken Piano’ and the impressive bookends of breezy ’Plan 9’ and meditative ’Son of a Joe’. Music to unwind with once you’ve done with dancing, shredding, yoga or whatever takes your fancy. www.lorecordings.com www.myspace.com.charliealexmarch
Cuneiform Records have been kind enough to submit a number of CDs for review this month, and the best of the bunch is ’Boy from Black Mountain’ (Rune 294) by Beat Circus. Believe me when I tell you that this is a bit special. The Massachusetts octet, led by Brian Carpenter, come across like an Appalachian version of the Albion Band (make that a backwoods Bad Seeds), armed with a cornucopia of traditional string and brass instruments, bags of energy and great lyrics. Truth to tell, the first track is a bit ordinary and gives little hint of what is to come. So you’re not really prepared for, ’The Life You Save May Be Your Own’, a theme for an imaginary western if ever there was one, and on which vocal duties are shared by guests, the excellently named Larkin Grimm (straight out of an Abercrombie novel, that one), herself a veteran of Terrastock 6 for those with long memories, and Ellen Santaniello. It not only nails the band’s colours squarely to the mast but fairly took the wind out of my sails. From here on in you are treated to a collection of tight, occasionally intricate but always superbly played songs with Carpenter as the roustabout – playing out a Nick Cave as Southern Baptist preacher role, as the band as the music weaves an energetic and eccentric web of Americana, old time music, bluegrass, zydeco, circus songs, show tunes, and gospel. Aside from the aforementioned ’The Life You Save…’, the title track; the narrative-rich ’The Quick and the Dead’, the edgy soundtrack of ’The Sound and the Fury’ and the ghostly funereal tome ’Judgement Day’ all stand out from a strong pack. This is eclectic, dramatic, pulsating, and just downright corny in places, and I liked it a lot. I hope you will too. www.cuneiformrecords.com www.beatcircus.net
’Constellations’ (Western Vinyl WEST 079) is the fourth outing from Austin, Texas instrumental ensemble Blamorhea. This is a patient, meditative work on which a central, gentle piano sound is augmented by string arrangements. The overall feel is unhurried, restrained and often quite beautiful, transporting the listener to a place you’d be quite reluctant to leave after nine gorgeously bucolic compositions. What makes this work is that, just like a good drummer, the band makes excellent use of space and silence to enhance the effect of the lush arrangements. This is a consistently strong offering so while it may seems a bit pointless singling out individual tracks, I would in fact make honourable mention of ’Steerage and the Lamp’ (probably the most “commercial” composition) and the brooding, portentous sounding ’On the Weight of Night’ on which drums and electric bass are introduced and is reminiscent in terms of pace and presence of the band Earth. Anyone with a passing interest in the works of Claude Debussy or the minimalist romanticism of Arvo Part should certainly find ’Constellations’ to their liking. www.balmoreahmusic.com
And so to these other offerings from the nice people at Cuneiform Records.
Miriodor are a French-Canadian outfit who have been strutting their stuff for 30 years now. ’Avanti’ (Rune 288) is their seventh release and if one had to give it a label it would be jazz rock. Thankfully though, Miriodor avoid most of the pitfalls of said genre which, at its worst, seems to indulge not so much in one-upmanship as one-up-one’s-self. However what we have here are seven tracks which, whilst intricate and undoubtedly proficient, are played with liveliness and a humour and is anything but po-faced. Reminiscent of some of the better post-Ayers Soft Machine work or even post-pixie Gong and Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart’s jazzier excursions, this clips along nicely and will have you tapping the steering wheel or the coffee table in no time. The third and fourth tracks – ’La Roche (meeting point)’ and ’Ecart-Type (standard deviation)’ are probably the best cases in point, but you can take your reference point from any of the seven on offer over the course of an enjoyable hour’s listening. www.miriodor.com
Ergo’s music is also rooted in jazz, however the New York trio’s latest ’Multitude, Solitude’ (Rune 289) is a more experimental affair, fused with electronica and a distinct avant-garde feel. The music is based around Brett Stroka’s trombone and is augmented by drums, Rhodes electric piano and a fair bit of synthesized electronic effects. The results are intriguing and pleasurable enough, quite beautiful and moving in places, a bit like Sigur Ros meeting Sun Ra uptown. It’s also the sort of sound you might hear coming from Manfred Eicher’s ECM stable which is no mean recommendation. It is a tribute to Cuneiform that they continue to nurture bands as interesting and diverse as Ergo, Miriodor and Beat Circus and long may they continue to do so. www.ergoisaband.com
Last, and unfortunately least, comes ’Radian Futura’ (Rune 284), the sixth album courtesy of San Diego’s Upsilon Acrux. For all I know Radian Futura stands for “this prog thing ain’t quite dead, quick pass me the silver bullets”. I’m afraid I didn’t really get this one any more than I understood the “post-punk” tag given to it. This is turbo charged prog rock, essentially ELP meets clever-clogs Mahavishnu Orchestra of the type I’ve always had difficulty listening to for any length of time. I have no doubt whatsoever that it is very accomplished and intricate stuff, competently played by excellent musicians, which many will find exhilarating, and I wish them well. Unfortunately it gave me a headache on both times I tried listening to it. www.myspace.com/upsilonacrux
Another outfit who regularly furnish Terrascope with interesting releases to review are Team Clermont, and this month they’ve come up with an absolute 24 carat gem. Seth Augustus has been paying his dues in the San Francisco area for the last 20 years but is only now releasing his debut album, entitled ’To the Pouring Rain’ (PFR005) on the Porto Franco Records label. On the evidence of a couple of rapt listens my question is a simple one – Seth, what took you so long, man?
This is urban swamp music for which dark alleys and basement speakeasies were surely invented, pure and simple. It is at once strikingly original whilst also hugely evocative of some of the great characters of American rhythm and blues and leftfield blues rock music – a distillation of Howlin’ Wolf, Don Van Vliet, Tom Waits and Mac Rebennack laced with hallucinatory snake venom.
However, Augustus is clearly his own man and channels his influences smartly into something distinctively his. The music swaggers and writhes, over nine killer numbers written and mostly performed by the man himself. The opening title track is a Bossa Nova blues which immediately justifies the favourable comparisons with the Captain and the Doctor. ‘Trickeries of the Emptiness’ is a lazy slow burner which is followed by the sleazy toe tapping and hand clapping ‘Cherry Rose’ (a distant relative of ‘Matty Groves’ by the Fairports! just listen and see). ‘Big Cocoon’ takes us back into a Latin groove, before the first of two album highlights. This one’s ‘Slim Sam’ which is what Marc Bolan might have sounded like had he been transported from 1972 or thereabouts and dumped in the pre-war delta or 1950s Chicago. The cleverly titled ‘Air to the Thrown’ and ‘Convolution Blues’ both keep the pot boiling nicely before the other album highlight, ‘Buffalo Eight’, a remarkable feat of inventiveness and vocal phrasing, before ‘Tiny Little Head’ rounds off proceedings in fine style.
What Augustus has created is something uniquely old and new and is this month’s contender for ‘the best thing I’ve heard all year (so far)’. If whoever books acts for Jools Holland’s show or any number of festivals is reading this then book this guy now and do what you did for Seasick Steve. Only this one’s the real deal. www.portofrancorecords.com www.sethaugustus.com www.myspace.com/sethaugustus
The great thing about reviewing music for Terrascope is that you never know what’ll turn up next, so it’s really no surprise when up pops an album of mostly mid-Atlantic acoustic “neo-folk” music by a couple of characters from the Ruhr-Valley garage and psychedelic scene. Ship of Ara is essentially a duo comprising of Groucho Kangaroo (I’m not capable of making this up) and Stefan Schlensag, supplemented by various guest musicians. Their self-titled album (on Lollipoppe Shoppe LSCD09) is mostly original material (the exception is a version of Fred Neil’s ’Other Side of this Life’) sung in English and German and is acoustic music in the fine narrative tradition. The evocative opener ’Dead Sailor’s Dream’ is a fair take on the Scottish/Irish emigration song, all bound for Ellis Island and primordial sea storms, delivered in a sub-shanty style. ’Ice Age Blues’ is as it says, all about seeing off the dinosaurs, getting clubbed on the head and 100,000 years of misery. So not entirely accurate from a (pre) historical perspective but that’s no way to judge a piece of music now is it? The song has a wonderfully languid, opiate feel to it, similar to Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance (although without Mr P’s splendidly sonorous vocals). ’The Grass Is Green’ is catchy, almost radio-friendly and is somewhat reminiscent of the Blue Aeroplanes (I think it is the vocal delivery). ’Yonder’ is banjo fuelled and is the first of two German language songs, and is reminiscent of 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand. It has a plaintive feel to it but the lyrics may suggest otherwise (German readers or language students can put me right on that one). ’Promised Land’ indicates that we have now reached Ellis Island and has a darker more menacing edge as if to suggest a shattered dream. The remaining three tracks, including the Neil song are all fair enough efforts, particularly ’Das Blaue Vom Himmel’, which possesses has an appealingly dreamy “soft psych” quality. In all, then, this is a decent showing and one that could reward investigation. www.lollipopshop.de www.shipofara.com
Back in 1999 Cathal Ó Cíobháin convinced the management of Raidió na Gaeltachta that his idea for an underground music show was worth backing, and 10 years later he is still at the helm of ’An Taobh Tuathail’ meaning ‘the other side’ and which broadcasts for an hour either side of midnight on Mondays to Friday. This 3rd compilation from Psycho Navigation suggests that Cian is never likely to be handed the breakfast slot. The dominant mood here is by turn charming, eerie, and edgily atmospheric, drawing on electronica, dream-pop and soundtrack/dreamscape music. Early on we are treated to gorgeous offerings from Roshi featuring Pars Radio (‘Night Swimming’) and Essie Jain (‘Haze’) and the haunted electronica of ‘Look After Everyone’ by the Factory Kids, who’d better be careful unless the Glimmer Twins should twig that it’s terribly similar in parts to ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. Dublin’s Rollers/Sparkers offer up the somewhat disturbing ‘Evening Station’ with its percussive heartbeat and muted backing which gives you the impression you are being followed. Cue what is probably, alongside the Roshi track, the album highlight ‘Shinkansen’ by Berlin’s Miwon, which although in keeping with the emerging theme, adds substance and a more musical presence to what is developing into a laptop and loop fest. The spectral electro-ambience continues with the likes of Circlesquare, Polish artist Jacaszek, Mount Kimbie and some bunch of also-rans called Animal Collective, before procedures come to a pleasant conclusion with Australia’s Peter and the Wolf (‘The Highway’).
This is quite a challenging listen and not short on rewards. However despite the international flavour of the acts featured here, at over an hour’s duration this rather strange journey hints at monotony and might have benefited from both a different running order and a slightly greater variation of style and pace, given that O Ciobhain also showcases jazz, acid-folk and post-rock on his show. However the overall feel is in keeping with the hour in which it is being reviewed and I’m tempted to turn the dial to 92-94FM/102.6FM, or switch Sky to Channel 0166 and watch the blue screen. Over and out…
Rumbles was brought to you by, in reverse order, Ian Fraser, Todd Martin and Stefan Eck. Direction and introductions by Simon Lewis. Editing / butchery and artistic direction, such as it is, by Phil McMullen ©Terrascope Online April 2010