s the sun shines weakly through my window, the pile of CDs glistens in such a way that it suggests the time is right to start work on a summer Rumbles, hopefully before half the discs are deleted or sold out. And what better way to start than with The Summer Suns, a Perth based band who were active around 1986-1996 and who released two LPs, a CD and a host of singles. Now main man Kim Williams has put together “Greatest”, a collection of their finest moments.
Featuring 22 songs in 58 minutes, the album is packed with shimmering pop nuggets, part West-Coast, and part Paisley Pop, the whole thing a delight from start to finish. Highlights include the power pop psych of “Ash and Cinders”, the jangly loveliness of “Brighter Than the Sun”, and the pure pop joy of “Girl in a Mexican Restaurant”.
Treading a darker almost gothic path, probably though a Victorian cemetery at dusk, Black Fortress of Opium, are moody and magnificent on their self-titled album. As well as the usual guitar, bass, drums, the band play Banjo, Mandolin, Sitar, Melodica and Theremin, giving the band a wide palette from which to work. Top this off with excellently dark vocals from Adja The Turkish Queen, and you have a beautiful sounding collection of brooding and melancholy songs that are varied enough to sustain interest throughout the album. (www.blackfortressofopium.com)
More introspectiveness can be found on the recent EP from Annelies Monsere and Jessica Bailiff, a four track collection that has a haunting and sparse sound. Opening track “Common Ground” is a cracked and broken drone, with a cello doing serious damage to your sunny mood, a bleak start that is tempered slightly by “Let Time Breathe”, two voices working in harmony, creating a sweet refrain that is underpinned by some overdriven guitar. Clocking in at six minutes, “Like Yesterday” is a ghostly folk ballad that is disquieting and gorgeous at the same time. Finally “Shadow” reminds me of a quieter Mellow Candle, or possibly an outtake from The Wicker Man. (www.morctapes.com)
Usually working as an electronic musician, Jon Sonnenberg, has created an album filled with acoustic interpretations of his work, an interesting idea that more than pays dividends on the collection “Acoustic Selections”. Having not heard the originals, it is hard for me to comment on the differences, suffice to say that this is a varied and complete collection, filled with warm and emotional songs such as “Moonlight”, as well as more off-kilter pieces like Freedom Is The Edging To The Garden On The Right” which sound as if it could be on a Robert Wyatt album.
On the same label “My Fellow Sophisticates” is a drunken stagger of a disc, mixing elements of New Orleans jazz, indie guitar, Tom Waits and classic songwriting from the pen of William f. Gibbs, the man responsible for this idiosyncratic and varied album. Opening track “Darling, You Were Beautiful Once” says it all a heady mix of styles that has a warm and melodic centre, something repeated on the string driven romanticism of “Come Back To Me (For My Love)”, on of those rare songs where the whistling actually works! Add to the mix, the rockabilly swing of “Here Comes Your Steamboat, Brother”, or the gospel feel and aching vocals of “Oh Pollyanna” and you have an album that will stand the test of time, revealing new textures with every listen.
Featuring highly textured guitar led instrumentals, fed through a boxful of effects, “Penny Black”, is a delightful and relaxing collection from Chequerboard, actually one man, artist John Lambert. Both vibrant and spacious, the music rolls effortlessly out of the speakers, filling the room with gentle energy. There are also more experimental moments, such as the glitchy electronica of “Konichiwa”, although this is softened by the rippling guitar playing that pervades the whole album, giving it a cohesive veneer. (www.chequerboard.com)
Those of you who feel that this edition of Rumbles is walking a too mainstream and melodic path can now pay complete attention as we discuss Zanzibar Snails, a band whose latest album “ Brown Dwarf” is a thoughtful mix of drone, experimental noise, and electronica. Containing five tracks, the music has a crackle of electricity running through it, mixing acoustic and electric instruments into a highly listenable, yet challenging, whole. As with abstract painting, it is up to individual interpretation and taste to determine if you will enjoy the sounds, I certainly do, loving the intensity that the band achieve especially on the third track. (www.myspace.com/zanzibarsnails)
Working with sound installations, motorised string/percussion instruments and percussive sculptures, American composer Edward Ruchalski can be heard on “Water Train”, a collection that gathers together various racks from earlier CD-R releases. As you may have guessed, there is a percussive slant to the music, the sounds rattling and rumbling like a busy goods yard, distant trains creating music of their own. Amongst the experimental soundscapes, however there is a strong sense of melody and restraint, giving the music a beautiful, if somewhat desolate feel. I am also reminded of Gong for some reason, probably the chiming percussion that pervades the music. Having managed to lose the press release (if not the plot), all I can tell you about Third Octave Band, apart from the fact is it is a way of labelling frequencies, is that they create wondrous, free floating drones that are timeless and vibrant, making “I Will Pass By here” one of the finest drone albums I have heard for quite a while. Over five long tracks, the musicians stretch and manipulate tones and frequencies, with the epic 25 minute title track being the pick of a decidedly tasty bunch. Both albums avaliable from (www.myspace.com/humbugofnorway)
Sounding like Kevin Ayers on a folk trip, Ian Humberstone, working under the name Tisso Lake, has created a warm and extremely likeable collection of songs on his debut album “Song Of The Black Dog”. Not only does Ian’s voice have the deep resonance of Mr Ayers, but his lyrical phrasing also bears a remarkable resemblance as well, something that is all good in my book. Highlights include the delightful ode to Cambridge (Track 2), the short and slightly silly track 6 and the more experimental ambience of track 11. Can I have a track list next time please? Anyway the whole thing is available on vinyl (not mine sadly) from Mathilde Records. (www.mathilderecs.com)
Fans of space-rock, early Floyd and Hawkwind in particular, should look out for Dom Keller, whose four track self-titled CD is a feast of crushing guitar riffs, effects and psychedelic madness. Their stated mission is “To document our hallucinations into sonic impressions”, something they achieve admirably on opening salvo “We Left Our World for a Home in the Sun”. (www.myspace.com/domkeller).
Cut-up, re-assembled, fucked up and decidedly weird, the music of Thanaton, walks the line between noise and music in a repetitive ritual haze, threatening to drive you crazy at any moment. Whether the story on the press release (Magickal Ritual, band break ups, deceit and betrayal) is a creative publicity angle or the truth, doesn’t really matter, the music has undeniable power and speaks for itself, play loud and forget everything. Oh yes, it’s called “The Dislocating Flesh Repents”
Those of you, who like to bathe themselves in the sonic waters of The Stooges, Mudhoney, etc, should definitely get hold of “Black Yolk”, the debut album from Hotel Wrecking City Traders. Hailing from Australia, the band have that fuzzed up sound perfected, the song deranged slices of noise heaven that pummel you into a grinning pool of pulped flesh. The other thing that finally strikes you about the album is that it is an instrumental, something that takes a while to sink in; the riffs so powerful and fluid that you don’t even notice the lack of words within the songs.
Just as loud, and with a vocalist “Blood of a Dove” is the debut single from Kong, one of whom was in Jane’s Addiction, apparently. Sounding like a classic Sub Pop tune, there is anger and energy aplenty, something that is equally true of “A Hint of Rennit Innit”, a fine b-side, although it has the same opening riff as “Clockwork Creep”, an obscure 10cc tune, I doubt either band will thank me for that. (www.brewrecords.net)
Taking off from the sea of noise, we find ourselves floating amongst the clouds in the company of Jeremy Kelly, whose self titled debut album is a dazzling collection of smoke-curled psychedelia. Featuring home made electronics, acoustic instruments and exquisite arrangements, the music is soothing, engaging and mystical, transporting the listeners deep inside. Highlights include the gossamer drone of “Polar Bodies”, a song that slows down time, or the wonderful guitar playing that fills “Blood of the Cauldron Makers” with atmospheric splendour. Final track “White Light from the Black Sun”, is the icing on the cake, an extended electric guitar workout that rattles around the edges of the solar system, dancing between the stars, before landing on a faraway planet to contemplate the infinite, truly beautiful. (www.digitalisindustries.com)
A more song based take on psychedelia can be found on the self titled release from Caterpillar Smoke, a delightful collection of tunes, the music and lyrics curling around each other in sonic bliss. Featuring soft percussion, beautifully measured effects, and some fine guitar all the songs are tiny gems, sparkling together to create a bracelet of happiness, with the finest moments being “Caterpillar Smoke”, a smokers delight, “Three Days Of Mayhem”, sure to bring back memories to anyone who has had a good time at the Glastonbury Festival, or the drifting cloud of incense that is “Love in the Sixties”, another slice of wistful nostalgia. Score a copy here
Featuring three songs, the new EP from Last harbour, is a welcome addition to their canon and the perfect follow up to their album “Dead Fires and the Lonely Spark”. Finding the band in slightly rockier mood, the title track “My Knowen Foe”, sets of at rattling pace, the rockiness tempered by the downbeat lyrics, the whole thing reminiscent of Nick Cave at his best. A more familiar ambience is found on “The wanting Seed”, another brooding treatise on desire, an uneasy musical backing adding to the tension of the song. Finally “Sinner” continues the dissection of the human condition in elegant style, marrying music and lyrics in wistful harmony.
With a more upbeat heart and a definite Kevin Ayers feel, Karl Blau has got it right on “Nature’s Got Away”, a 12 song collection that is playful and inventive, with fine production and arrangements that let the songs speak for themselves. Ideal for that sunny pop moment, (www.krecs.com)
Soaked in the same minor chord melancholy as later albums by Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, “Procurement”, the latest album by Anna kashfi ( a band, not a solo performer) is a lilting collection of emotional flashbacks, sung with passion by Sian Webley, whose voice lifts the songs into another realm. Favouring a delicate touch over electric bombast, the instrumentation includes Violins, Pedal Steel and Mellotron all adding to the dream-like feel of the music. One listen to the haunting “Compass” will confirm just how good they are the song dripping with class and elegance. (www.littleredrabbit.co.uk)
On his latest 5 song EP “Pray for Me by Name”, Daniel Ahearn (Ill Lit) has created a gentle collection of Americana, the songs perfect for that late night road trip across the desert, the pale moon low on the horizon. Another album where the Violin plays a major role adding to the lyrics, songs of searching and introspection, with the midnight whisper of “Jesus Saves” being my pick of the bunch. (www.myspace.com/danielahearn)
Hailing from Walthamstow rather than Kentucky, Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee is a Bluegrass band with a modern twist whose songs deal with tube-trains, shoes, shandy and high blood pressure, serious and humorous at the same time. Recorded live over two days, their self-titled album is warm and relaxing, the familiar twang of the banjo countered by lyrical twists and turns. (www.fortunapop.com)
With the title “Kill Twee Pop”, it would be difficult not to at least mention the latest album from Sarandon, the fact that it overflows with short sharp song reminiscent of Wire on amphetamine is an even better reason to include them. Never losing sight of the melodic hook, the songs are angry bursts of guitar fuelled pop, not twee in the slightest; instead well worth searching out and turning up. (www.slumberlandrecords.com)
Recorded in a cramped octagon shaped shed, “We’ve Walked in Hell and There is Life after Death”, the debut album from The Mountain Movers” is a devil infested collection of songs about death, desire and the frailty of man. With chiming guitars and swirling organ, the songs are beautifully crafted reminding me of The Band although I’m not sure why! Anyway, there is warmth to this recording, the addition of some well arranged brass offering some diversity to the songs, the whole collection a treat for the ears, fresh and easy to digest. (www.fortunapop.com)
Not quite as easy on the ear, but excellent in their own way the tracks on “MegaCity Chillout”, the latest offering from Finnish band Musti Laiton, are a collection of electronic rumblings, twisted sounds and ambient interludes. Drones without being drones, psychedelic without being psychedelic, the pieces seem to inhabit their own space in the world (or possibly another one), transporting the listener deep into the underground a portal into different dimensions. Light a candle and listen intently, maybe all will be revealed. (www.mustilaiton.net)
Undeniably psychedelic, the universe inhabited by Everything Now, is a strange and slightly disturbing place, judging by their album “Bible Universe”. Beautifully loose and shambolic, the music is dense and drifting, the stories concerning death and re-birth, mystic visions and probably the kitchen sink as well. With titles such as “The Myth of the Wizard Bird” which has a messed up Todd Rundgren feel, “Take a Gawk at the Weird Side” Guitar boogie for acid casualties everywhere and “The Birth of Ugly Magic” The Beach Boys down the rabbit hole, it is obvious the band are deep into their own myths, and so they should be. One of those albums that suddenly comes into focus, a grower even. (www.everythingnowmusic.com)
Taking title of the month with ease “Inside the Head of a Butterfly Dreaming of Being a Giant Moth Destroying Tokyo” is an elegant gossamer drone from Language of light. Featuring one long piece, the music is a vapour cloud of epic proportions, a slightly sinister undercurrent becoming more prominent s the piece progresses. Swelling in size until it engulfs the universe, the sound then recedes leaving only a flickering light at the centre. (www.anticlock.net)
One thing I have noticed about this edition of Rumbles is how it jumps between musical styles without a care, (it’s how they come out the box folks) with the next leap being no exception as we enjoy the ramshackle pop of Nana Grizol, who bear a passing resemblance to Bright Eyes, although with a charm all their own. Opening track “Circles ‘Round the Moon” is a joyous sing-a-long that sets the tone, the songs revealing more layers every time you listen, whilst songs such as “Tiny Rainbows” sparkle like forgotten jewels in the river. (www.myspace.com/nanagrizol)
A heady mixture of eastern strings and heavy bass sounds, Queen Elephantine, take a trip into the mystic on their album “Surya”, chanted vocals mixed low making you listen closely, the music spiralling around you. Surely music for deep meditation, the slow and languorous feel is maintained, even when the band crank it up such as on the hypnotic and lengthy “Ramesses II”. Final track “Bison” is a Hapshash meeting The Serpents, a 27 minute tumble through space and time, the primitive feel of the piece adding to the mystery. (www.queenelephantine.clfrecords.com)
Jagged and irregular, the music of Diacon-Panthers has urgency to it, the band pushing hard on opening track “Days of Wonder”, whilst “Actress” slows things down, the voice of Natan displaying a raw emotion. Further in, a shimmering organ chord heralds the start of “American Creatures”, a slow-burning epic reminding me of Television in its construction. Final track “Black Flag” is an angry Galaxie 500, the vocals carrying the song with style, the band baring their souls to the world. Resolutely a home-made album, Terrascope readers should go out of their way to support such artists, making music as art not commerce.
Like the creation of the universe itself, Capillary Action, produce something wondrous from chaos on their album “So Embarrassing”, a collection of songs where melody and confusion fight it out, the complex musical structures handled with panache by the players. Like some bastard offspring of Oho and Zappa, the songs are angry, playful, bewildering and at times overwhelming. The plethora of changes on “Pocket Protection is Essential” sums it all up, music to confound your neighbours, go on, open the window. (www.myspace.com/naturalselectionrecords)
Housed in a gorgeous, if slightly difficult to handle sleeve, “Fire Flood and Acid Mud” the debut album from No Anchor, is seemingly split into two halves. Part one consists of five short songs, the guitar set to kill, the duo doing their best to destroy the room with noise. Part two, one the other hand, consists of two long pieces, the noise levels still in the red, the music turned into long drones; structure replaced by waves of distortion, with “Drone Me Out” including the sound of a saw, a very effective addition to the arsenal. Final track “The Seam” completes the transformation, out and out drone everything submitting to the drone. (www.noanchorband.com)
With the ambience of a fading twilight “The Sun is so Bright”, the opening track on “Down To Sleep” the new album from Shalloboi, is a beautiful introduction to the disc, welcoming the listener in with majesty. Having settled you in however, the music takes on a darker hue, the fractured tones of “To the Sky”, creating a paranoiac ripple that eats into the music. In the middle of the album, the heavenly sounds of “Angels Floating on the Head of a Pin” soothes away the uncertainty, before the flickering lights of “So Goodbye…” finally shows us the way home, a gentle drone with rippling bells and a warm heart. (www.shalloboi.com)
Created by David Lee Price and Nevada Hill, both members of the wonderful Zanzibar Snails, D &N play a similar brand of experimental noise on their self-titled 3” CD. With eight songs in twenty minutes, the resulting sounds are always going to be fractured, and this is the case as we are treated to drones and scrapings, siren led synths and rambling percussion, all of which add up to a bloody good time. (www.mayyrh.com)
Definitely living in the same forest are Skeletons Out, whose album “In Remebrance Of Me” is a walk through the graveyard at midnight as one long track fills the room with ghostly echoes, footsteps behind and the howling of the dead. Within this framework however, there is a sinister beauty, the sounds constantly flowing and changing, manipulated with precision by Howard Stelzer and Jay Haynes, the musicians involved in the project. (www.studentsofdecay.com) Released on the same label, “Long Shadow of a Dream” is a startling collection of improves from Anthony Milton working under the name The Nether Dawn. Seemingly drawn from the earth itself, the music is dark and musty as if found deep underground, a remnant from another age. After five tracks of slowly disintegrating sounds, the final piece is a live recording that hits the twenty minute mark allowing plenty of room for exploration, with James Kirk adding Tremolo Flute/Hum and Feedback Tray to the soundscape. Excellent throughout, as is everything Mr Milton is involved in.
Like listening to sounds from inside a shell or the wind in the trees, “Transitions” The latest album from Psychic Space Invasions is an epic 40 minute drone, that becomes part of the space it inhabits, the faraway bells and distant vocals merely shadows and spectres. Deeply introspective and filled with melancholy beauty, this album is easy to get lost in, everything ceasing as the final chords drift away. (www.tartaruspress.com/persepolis.htm)
Raw as hell, the garage blues, country twang of Bob Uhr and the Bare Bones are primitive and visceral, sounding far better when turned up really fucking loud. On his latest album “Swamp O Delic”, bob roars through 15 distorted stompers and howling laments including the cramps-like “Zombie-fied” and a heart of darkness cover of “Rambling Man”. One for those almost empty bottle moments, a glorious reminder of the spirit of rock and roll. (www.ultraproductions.org)
Walking a tricky line between pop/singer songwriter and folk songstress, it is the amazing voice of Liz Durrett, which lifts her above the clouds on her album “Outside Our Gates”. Opening track “Wake to Believe” is drop dead gorgeous, a gentle guitar riff, lush strings and soaring vocals hooking you in from the start. Next up “Wild as Them” is the other side of the coin, a melodic pop song with chattering brass and an upbeat feel, although the lyrics are not the usual pop fair! Every song on the album has been created with a great eye for detail, unusual sounds and delicate flourishes abound, making for a delightful journey, with “The Sea, A Dream” ending the album with a warm harmonic smile. (www.lizdurrett.com)
Quite possibly sold out by now Summerlands is a calm and drifting mix of guitar and field recordings created by Banks Bailey, Darren Tate and Ian Holloway. Like watching the clouds drift past this is for fans of Pink Floyd circa “UmmaGumma”, a highly inventive and playful collection the sounds of bees, birds and water taking the listener out into the hills. (http://quietworld.homestead.com/news.html)
Created using a microphone and an Akai Headrush Digital Delay, “Mystic Mixtape” is a remarkable piece of drone/chanting, recorded in one take. With just the voice as a sound source Wounded Knee has managed to sustain interest over 39 minutes, the sounds writhing and slowly evolving into an organic flow that sounds better through headphones, a late night treat, taking the listener to other realms. (www.shazzblat.com)
With a gentle summery feel “A Fire to Make Preparations” is a collection of jangly pop-psych from The Boy Bathing. In David Hurwitz, the band possess someone with a unique voice, which, when coupled to the delightful voice of Jeannie Scofield adds a delicious twist to the sound. This interplay is displayed on “The Questions Simple”, the song also displaying a lyrical charm amongst its rippling chords, sounding not unlike a west coast Dinosaur Jr. An album of quality songwriting, easy on the ear and worth exploring. (www.theboybathing.com)
Also comprising of excellent songwriting “Stay With Me” the latest album from Stoney Clove Lane, is an intoxicating mixture of 60’s sounds and Americana with a funky/soulful feel. Created by Jeremy Bernstein and Adam Widoff, the songs are rich in instrumentation and have a big fat sound that means they burst out of the speakers. Turned up loud, you find your feet beginning to move and a smile covering your face as the music washes away your troubles. Sometimes the simpler things are best, and this relaxed platter could be just what you need. (www.woodstockmusicworks.com)
Opening with a sad piano lament “Wings of a Storm” is one of a pair of albums from Mountainhood to be released simultaneously on red vinyl on Time-Lag Records. This sad atmosphere is buried deep within the music, giving the album the feel of work by Galaxie 500, a sense that winter is just around the corner. Throughout the disc the plaintive voice of Michael Hilde holds the album together, his intimate songs embellished with acoustic guitar and piano, moments of experimentation only adding to the personal feel of the music. On “Thunderpaint the Stone Horse electric”, the mood is seemingly lighter, with the gentle folk opener a flash of sunlight warming the soul. This pastoral elegance remains intact as home made percussion joins the music, giving the songs a kinda Banhart, homegrown hoedown vibe. Possibly my favourite of the pair, both are well worth hearing, another maverick musician treading his own path, amen to that. (www.time-lagrecords.com)
I am pleased to say that since the last Rumbles more lovely vinyl has safely reached my door, so without further ado let’s delve in. Released on Laboratory Standard Recordings, and housed in a wonderful cover is a split 7” from Mountains of Moss/New Madrid. Side one is a glorious and dreamy acoustic piece entitled “The Page of Shame”, guitar, vocals and fiddle interlocking to perfection, a delicate breeze on a summer morning. On the other side “All That Trust” is torch song psychedelia, a creepy folk vibe, which is covered in moss and about to rattle your window. (www.laboratorystandard.com)
Bewitching and lovely is the “Whisperers, wavers, Hunters and Sailors”, the A-Side of another 7” release, this time from Lisa O Piu. With an acoustic base, the song is carried by the gossamer vocals of Lisa, reminiscent of Linda Perhacs in its phrasing. On the B-Side the magic continues with the equally engaging “Equatorial Change” as delicate as a candle flame. (www.autumnfermentrecords.com)
Offering political comment with a psychedelic country twang Orange Sunshine Superman, are vitriolic in their lyrical content whilst retaining a good time feel on their 7” “Lame Duck”, a nice 6/8 time giving a 60’s protest vibe to the tune. Turn over and “I Spy” continues the vitriol, this time with some minor key backing and a creeping riff that suits the song adding to the message. (www.fourwayrecords.com)
Next up two LP’s from London based label The Remains of My Estate. First up the slow, rainy day songs of Small Town Boredom, whose album “Autumn Might have Hope”, mixes the songs of loneliness with touches of experimentation, ripples of percussion and sparse instrumentation. Aching in its intent the band sound like a Scottish version of Low or The red House painters, maintaining their quality throughout the album, one to play whilst watching the rain drip off the garden leaves.
Creating the same melancholy loneliness, yet sounding completely different Duane Pitre/Pilotram Ensemble, offer two wonderful drones on their album “Organised Pitches Occurring In Time”. Side one contains a drone in E flat (with a minor 7th) anchored with the sound of a Pump Organ, the piece rich in textures and deeply moving, the slowly changing sounds creating ghostly harmonies as the piece progresses, the sounds swelling with the timeless power of a glacier. Side 2 continues the momentum, this time in C (with a Major 7) and using a guitar as its base. Lighter in feel, the music is the sound of the sun breaking over the mountains, slowly warming your cold bones. (www.tromerecords.com)
On their self-titled Debut LP, Starry Crowns display a deft ye delicate approach to songwriting, some soaring guitar tempered by a soft vocal style, the two elements creating a glorious tension on opening song “Forty Dollar Retablo”. Elsewhere electronic percussion pulses and warms the room, whilst a violin flies overhead. On The Easter Song” reals drums join the fray, the track having a heavier feel, the guitar and vocals becoming more assertive in their approach. Opening Side 2, “The Empress” is an exquisitely layered instrumental, a hypnotic bass line, leaving plenty of space for drifting steel guitar and chiming vibes, giving the tune a lovely warm coating. (Concertina Records firstname.lastname@example.org)
Finally from me, one of the most Terrascopic items I have received, a self released compilation LP documenting a collection of underground musician working out of Melbourne. Recorded in one Night at a gig in a Bedroom, the whole thing was captured live on one microphone into a computer. Featuring twelve bands, the music ranges from melodic instrumentals through lo-fi songs in unique styles, and carries on into heavier territory and fuzzed up mayhem. The remarkable thing about this endeavour however is that it is so damn listenable, the recording is excellent considering the circumstances and every piece of music has a spark of something that hold your attention. It seems churlish to pick out individuals so I wont, just to say, this must have been a magical night and the atmosphere has been perfectly captured on this record so go and buy one. Oh yes, even the cover is a home made treat fitting the mood with perfection.
Ok, that me done but before I go I will hand you over to Stephen Palmer (Mooch) who will lead you home, through this edition of Rumbles. Thanks for helping, Steve!
Ilyas Ahmed was born in Pakistan but has spent most of his life in America, ending up in Portland, Oregon. "Between Two Skies" and "Towards The Night" is a double CD collection of remastered tracks from his earliest recording days, when he lived on an old farm in Minnesota. The first disk features acoustic guitar, occasional bells and booms, and Ahmed's wordless, haunting voice singing what is best described as vocal instrumentation. These tracks, with all their hiss and occasional distortions left on, begin in solo desolation but acquire a kind of muted euphoria as they meander... spooky and unsettling; music to haunt yourself with. The second disk is a collection of four stunning acoustic guitar improvisations, each of them played with dexterity and great intensity. An outstanding disk, this latter one.
Texas-based My Education come across like a sleeker, more elegant Explosions In The Sky, as their rather fabulous "Bad Vibrations" album testifies. Beginning with the reverberant ambience of "This Old House", the band go on to create slow-burn viola-decorated instrumentals featuring skull-hammering outbursts of rock intensity amidst the looping melodic material. "Britches Blanket" grips the listener particularly close... then the album follows other paths, ending up with the gorgeous title track, which is a particularly fine conclusion. Highly recommended to fans of Explosions In The Sky and their ilk.
(Contact: www.strange-attractors.com )
Listening to Lid Emba & Bobcrane's "We Substitute Radiance" is like spending forty minutes inside an especially creepy toy shop. This is the project of former drummer Sean Moore and partner in crime Ryan Huber, both of whom have many other musical weapons in their arsenal of projects. Industrial drum machine beats, sampled metal guitars, sounds and noise mix into a big gothic stew, and, as in all the best horror-styled toy shops, you never quite know what is going to happen next. In the case of this album it is unexpectedly delicate sounds, unsettling ambience, then a great slab of music/noise at the end. Well produced and immaculately arranged, whilst not always an easy listen this one never fails to be an interesting one.
(Contact: www.stickfigurerecords.com )
Sometimes you just happen to listen to the right album at the right time of day at the right time of year; such was the case with Jon Fletcher's debut "A Month In The Summer" - sunshine and showers during a summer holiday morning. This fine collection of mostly self-penned songs in the English folk style (with occasional diversions into jazz and unclassifiable) are sung in Fletcher's soulful voice. The songs begin light and folky, but then on "Ghost Of A Town" a divine strings arrangement comes along and the album takes a leap from good to really good. The arrangements on all the songs are terrific; the aforementioned strings, double bass and drums, and flute and harmonica making occasional appearances, but all the while you are listening to that voice, and those hazy English lyrics. An assured debut, and one for repeated summer listens.
(Contact: www.swallowstail.co.uk )
It's not often you get to listen to an album you just don't want to end... well, this is the case with KK's new album "Telescopes," which is as cosmic and lyrical album as I've heard in a long time. KK has worked with the likes of Eno and Bjork, so he brings us his music from high up. Pianos flicker, synthesizers rustle, percussion tinkles, strings swell, and over all this KK himself speaks and sings, sounding remarkably like Green of Scritti Politti. Many of these songs drift and sigh like The Beloved in interstellar space. The story is of the vast number of planets, stars and galaxies in our universe, a tale told with a real sense of melody and emotive underlying chords. Wonderful stuff. Some songs (for example "Pale Blue Dot" and the swoonsome "Dust") feature female vocals also. Mixed into one too-short album, this work deserves real success. So, I didn't want this one to end. So I played it once again...
(Contact: www.21stcenturygenius.com )
Pickled Egg Records release the latest curio from dreamy psychedelic explorers Oddfellows Casino, the EP "The Absence Of Birds," and this time it comes with a short film; the music the work of odd fellow David Bramwell, the film by Toby Amies. The music is reminiscent of very early Porcupine Tree with a hint of Robert Wyatt - it flows like a meandering English river, decorated with trumpet, brass, piano, and touches of electronica. Guests include Stereolab's Simon Johns and Bevis Frond's Paul Simmons. Bramwell's wistful voice is well suited to this kind of subtle, melodious songwriting, and the EP as a whole is rather lovely. The film - 20 minutes of sepia tinted faux-Victorian melancholia starring former Salvador Dali model Drako Oho Zarhazar - relates the sad life of Ambrose Oddfellow, following the accidental killing of his beloved wife. Bramwell's plaintive music accompanies this vision of nostalgia perfectly, and the whole is a memorable work of art.
(Contact: www.pickled-egg.co.uk )
Amorphous Androgynous, aka The Future Sound Of London, continue their exploration of 'sixties and 'seventies sounds through sampledelica on their third release "The Peppermint Tree And The Seeds Of Superconsciousness." Following on from the startling "The Isness" and the semi-insane "Alice In Ultraland", this third release of trippy sitar-drenched electronic music sees the duo of Cobain and Dougan explore massive drum sounds, heavily compressed sample workouts, and delicate acoustic guitar and flute interludes. This album is more like a series of cut-ups than the previous two albums, but it nonetheless makes for compelling listening; it's one massive trip, disjointed but unified when you look at the album as a whole. And it's good to see you can buy the album in HMV...
(Contact: www.fsoldigital.com )
Matthew And The Arrogant Sea are a band of family and friends releasing their "Family Family Family Meets The Magic Christian" album. Matthew Gray is the man behind it all, helped by three family members and two friends. The feel is folk psychedelia underpinned by electronic and rock styles; the lyrics have the feel of British whimsicality about them, sung confidently in a manner that occasionally echoes the Beach Boys. Tunes such as "Pretty Purple Top Hat" vie with even odder songs like "Mountain Kansas" to create a tapestry of experimental melody. Occasionally the music sounds like a quiet Mercury Rev, but more often it goes off on its own tangents. There's no obvious theme to the disk however, so the end result is a bit of a patchwork, albeit a pretty one.
(Contact: www.novapostavinyl.com )
Godfather of ambient music Harold Budd met Clive Wright in the Joshua Tree area of southern California, whereupon Budd teamed up with Wright (a well respected producer and guitarist) to record minimal ambient music. The release "A Song For Lost Blossoms" collects their best work from 2004-6, opening with the half hour sonic bliss of "Pensive Aphrodite", a work of soft synths and echoed Fripp-esque guitar. The album continues with a spoken poem - the title track - delivered in hushed, reverberant tones, then goes on to offer more serene magic. Two thirds of the way through the album applause marks the end of a track, and the listener realises that some of these pieces were performed live. Every track is beautifully recorded and mixed however, and you would never guess otherwise. This album transcends the tropes of the ambient/New Age genre to become something special.
(Contact: www.darla.com )
In "Forever Waiting" by Anduin the mood is dark, mesmeric and distinctly spacious. Anduin is the recording project of Jonathan Lee, but there are several guest artists contributing either instrument performances or samples. As the music drifts by the mind's eye conjures up images of vast space freighters, futuristic Earth environments and mysterious robots. The feel is something like Klaus Schulze's very early work, a little like ['ramp] without the sequencing, a bit like a slowed-down Rapoon. What makes this work a little different to similar artists however is the use of field recordings, which adds an interesting dimension to the soundscapes, allowing the listener to summon clearer images as the pieces progress. And because there is no specific 'darkness' to these soundscapes they are ideal for last-thing-at-night listening. The highlight for me was "For Francis Bacon (Part 2)," which uses sustained chords, radio sounds and John Twells voice to fine effect.
(Contact: www.smtgltd.com )
Beaten By Them have a new release "Signs Of Life", a collision of rock and classical that twists genres and makes them irrelevant. The music is mostly instrumental, though lyrics and vocals do appear on the slightly countryfied "Verge." Elsewhere the cello of Boima Tucker is crucial to the sound, and there are brass sounds and picked guitars. But this is a rock album at heart, and the band fly away when the pace picks up, the drums come in, and the intensity builds as it does on the title track, and on "Yangtze", the opening and conclusion of which reminded me of early Fleetwood Mac. The end piece "Pioneer 10" is a spacey stomper of a track. It's the combination of sounds, musical ambition and great playing that makes this album satisfying; kudos too to whoever designed the sumptuous packaging.
(Contact: www.beatenbythem.com )
Dead Heart Bloom hail from New York City, where they made the "Fall In EP", five tracks in twenty minutes piloted by founding member Boris Skalsky. The band make dramatic rock music in the vein of Arcade Fire without the eclectic instrumentation, though there are luscious strings on a couple of tracks. Then half way through the EP comes "Nothing Will Break Me Now," a fantastic ballad. There is more than a hint of glam-era Bowie in the arrangements and style, and on the evidence of this brief recording the band have great potential. There will be more EPs this year, so watch out.
(Contact: www.deadheartbloom.com )
Another EP, this time shorter still, is the "Flashlights EP" from Texas based Loxsly, who have been around almost a decade but have not released many albums. The feel here is quirky, beaty and eccentric, a sound reminiscent of the much missed Grandaddy. Difficult to get much of a direction in seventeen minutes, but the songwriting skills are there, and the quirky music and lyrics will appeal to many. Imagine an American Supergrass and you're half way there.
(Contact: www.loxsly.com )
The spirit of the B52s and Devo is conjured up by Ho-Ag on their latest album "Doctor Cowboy," except this band is even weirder, and judging by their sound could easily have come from Britain at the height of New Wave in the late 'seventies. Actually they have been together for six years and hail from Boston, Massachussetts. After a few manic electro-punk missives the mood changes and the album takes on a new guise, that of horror film soundtrack, before returning to more wilfully quirky songs. It could have been wearisome and oh so wacky, but actually the songs are done with such energy they sound great. "Genitron" is an especially loony tune, while with "The Strange Career Of Doctor Cowboy" we are back with horror soundtrack material. If you remember the Buzzcocks and the Rezillos with fond nostalgia (as I do), then this is for you.
(Contact: www.hellosirrecords.com )
And now for a single: seven and a half minutes in all. "Painted Skeletons" and "Last Great Civilisation" by Lapels comes hot off the press from new Wakefield outfit Philophobia Music (fear of love? love of fear?). The first track is indie sounding, drum-bashing, all skanky guitars and sneered lyrics. The second track is harder and faster. Promising, if lacking a tune.
(Contact: www.myspace.com/lapels06 )
Another brief recording, and another debut, is "From The New Path" by Jeff Eden; music for solo komuz and solo clawhammer banjo. The komuz, wikipedia tells me, is a Kyrgyz three-stringed fretless lute. The first track "Khojojash" develops on this instrument through various hypnotic playing styles and tempos, to mesmeric effect. "In The Wilds" does the same for the clawhammer banjo. "The Life And Death Of A City Pigeon" is slower paced komuz, while "The Meadow In Spring" is slower banjo. The last track, "Describing The Waters Of The North Branch For Master Aman" is more hypnotic komuz playing. As a keen collector of ethnic stringed instruments I was much interested by this release, which is like nothing else I've heard. Kudos to Jeff Eden for making these recordings, and - a minor detail this - using the perfect authentic reverberation for his instruments.
(Contact: email@example.com )
Svartbag are a Danish group of instrumental pioneers who use electric guitars, synths, drones and drums to create their music. "Svartbag" is their first release, though all the musicians here have worked on other projects. The opening track "Black Capricorn" soon develops into the signature Svartbag sound, which is of dense, repetitive, and sometimes menacing instrumentals underpinned by drones and subtle electronica. The band says the music comes from the instruments themselves, with them just the interpreters; however they do it, it's compelling and great played loud. "Cairo" is a monolithic slab of intense sample loops, while "Loop#9" is lighter, almost cosmic in tone. Album closer "Billy Name" eerily evokes the Velvet Underground, intentionally it seems, as the track is an homage of sorts to Andy Warhol. The judicious use of synths and sample loops, superb guitars and mesmeric drones on all five tracks make this an outstanding release.
(Contact: www.rump.nu )
Graham MacRae's self-titled release contains eleven songs, many of them personal in nature. The recording style is naive, which is not to say it is bad, rather that it is direct, imperfect and unforced. The lyrics are good, as on the charming "Forty Winks". Most of the songs are MacRae singing to the sound of his fingerpicked guitar, but there are additions from drums, synth, and glockenspiel. Fans of unashamed singer-songwriters who want something a little different will be interested in this one.
(Contact: www.grahammacrae.com )
The Balustrade Ensemble are a trio of San Francisco based sonic historians, whose latest album "Capsules" is a kind of Victorian curiosity shop that never happened timeshifted forwards into the twenty first century. The music is intrumental, delicate, ethereal, played on acoustic guitars, cello, mellotron, celeste, etc. It evokes curious musical machines, doddery old men from Jules Verne books... the kind of music you might hear if synthesizers were powered by clockwork. The first couple of tracks are ghostly guitar pieces accompanied by hints of other instruments and sounds. Later tracks are crepuscular loops, tinkling audio phantasms, the sort of music you wouldn't be surprised to hear if you were ambling around a museum. (At the end of the penultimate track you get to hear what might be one of the musical machines.) It is beautifully done and most effective; in fact, it's a shame this is a comparatively short album.
(Contact: www.dynamophone.com/capsules )
"Sing The Burning Alphabet" by The Broken Letters is a restrained epic of an album, quite short, the songs of slow tempo, with Leslied guitars (rarely fuzz distorted), occasional keyboards, and over all this the soaring voice of David Hickox. He is accompanied on this album by drummer Brad Davies: the instrumentation is sparse but the feel is of impending doom as Hickox sings his way through various apocalyptic scenarios. It is an intoxicating brew, even when, at the end of the album, you have hardly gone faster than walking pace or heard a fuzzed-out guitar. The one oddity is a cover of "She Brings The Rain" by Can. The recordings all have a live feel, as they are first/early takes, with minimal overdubs, but this live combination of restraint and epic feel is the hallmark of the album, making good listening.
(Contact: www.burningalphabet.com )
Another single now, split between new bands The Velvet Orchestra and Solus Locus, both of them on the recently formed Salt The Wound Records. The former contribute "The Creator" and "These Children Are The Future" while the latter contribute "We Can Go Home." The Velvet Orchestra do manically fast indie rock with high pitched melodramatic vocals, while the Solus Locus track is grandiose synth rock sounding like something out of Liverpool from the early eighties; pretty good, actually. The Velvet Orchestra tracks would be ideal for pogoing adrenaline junkies.
(Contact: www.myspace.com/saltthewoundrecords )
All India Radio were formed by multi-instrumentalist Martin Kennedy in Australia; on his new album "Fall" he works with singer Leona Prue and a number of other musicians. The album consists of ten cuts that owe more than a little to Portishead, and, on "Endless Night," more than more than a little to Massive Attack. Leona Prue's exquisite voice is the saving grace however as each mathematically precise song passes; imagine a vocal talent half way between Dido and Beth Gibbons. The production is sparse, almost clinical, with sampled and treated beats underpinning the songs. Emily Williams' cello adds human warmth to a number of tracks, as does Graham Lee's pedal steel guitar. A must for fans of Portishead.
(Contact: www.mintyfresh.com )
Solo albums by drummers... but what if the drummer turned to his acoustic guitar? This is the scenario offered by Gregg Porter on his "Final Final EP", which delivers six short pieces of intimate acoustic songwriting. The feel is laidback, yet, as on the delicate "Ember," almost mournful. As the EP progresses songs gain orchestration, adding bassoon, xylophone, and more. Porter's voice is reminiscent of James Taylor in places, elsewhere of Roger Waters. It's a charming, idiosyncratic, lovely recording, housed in a hand printed card cover that compliments it perfectly. I loved it.
(Contact: www.brokensparrow.com )
K. Leimer's "Lesser Epitomes" consists of 21 pieces of ambient neo-classical music that 'is process music for active or passive listening... [deriving] from the aleatoric reordering of discreet, compatible musical components in relationships that emulate typical theme and variation.' The album notes urge the listener to 'random shuffle during replay.' Phew! Well, after this feisty declaration of intent, what is the actual music like? I resisted the urge to randomly shuffle the individual tracks of the three suites here, to discover something akin to Arvo Pärt, and to Gorecki. The mood is calm, stately, elegiac, wintry. Some pieces sound like faintly oscillating synthesizers, but generally it is impossible to discern exactly what is making the sounds. The central sections, featuring cellos and woodwind, are particularly compelling. Another good disk for last-thing-at-night listening.
(Contact: www.palaceoflights.com )
Paper Wings is the nom de plume of two avante garde guitarists, Anthony Guerra and Antony Milton, who on their album "Ash Field" use electric guitars to create a tapestry of sound, mostly lacking melody or rhythm. It's amazing what a variety of sounds they can achieve: screams of feedback, drones, clangs, reverberant rocket noise, sounds almost like orchestra strings... then the haze clears and all you can hear is delicate picked tones and mournful solos over bowed drones. It's very effective. The final track combines feedback with quiet strumming that slowly increases in intensity; also effective. Overall the album is a good listen for those interested in ambience or soundscapes that don't use synthesizers.
(Contact: www.blackpetal.com )
In releasing their album "Under Humid Light," Talugung present the listener with eleven ethnic soundscapes, each track focusing on a different instrument or set of instruments: chimes, gongs (I think), bells and bowls, stringed and bowed instruments, gamelan, marimbas, thumb pianos. One track, "Lumber Moan," seems to be sampled voices. The album is strikingly reminiscent of the work of Stephan Micus. Each track is beautifully recorded and superbly arranged; it is impossible to say whether any of the music here is a genuine folk piece or whether it was all composed by the musicians, but that probably isn't the point of the album. My only complaint would be that some of the pieces are far too short! Sonic concepts this good should perhaps be allowed to last and linger in the memory... but this is an intriguing and mysterious release, well worth investigating.
(Contact: http://harha-askel.blogspot.com )
"You Get So Alone" is a second release from the Harha-askel label (home of Talugung) - fifteen solo instrumentals of instrumental music. The disk contains gems such as the kitchen-sink metal percussion of Amigo Result's "Selipates", Sparkle In Grey's "Bass Quartet", Robert Horton's wonky slide guitar "Blues For A Grey Day", Talugung's "Ant Nest" (slowed down thumb pianos?), Michael Futreal's folk strum "Wire Mountain In Winter, Wire Mountain In Spring", and the gorgeous Indian-styled album closer "Drawing Spirits Into Crystals" by Throuroof. For those who like a bit of variety, this is an excellent listen.
(Contact: http://harha-askel.blogspot.com )
The Instruments is the band front for singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Heather McIntosh, here releasing her album "Dark Smaland." The mood is psych-folk arranged with lots of orchestral and traditional instruments, with McIntosh singing over and around the ensembles. A few songs are in 3/4 time, accentuating the folky spirit. McIntosh's voice is Nico-esque, but bears a resemblance too to Beth Orton, and some of the tracks recall Orton's "Daybreaker" and similar albums. But this album is its own work, and McIntosh has an identifiable sound: wistful, peaceful, slow. Some songs hypnotise through repetition, for example the wonderful "Northern Skies," while others are pastel sketches laced with violins and sumptuous vocal harmonies. "Mountain Song" is a particularly lovely creation, as McIntosh sigh-sings about marrying the local boy... great stuff.
(Contact: Orange Twin Records )
The Twin Tigers' "Curious Faces/Violet Future EP" is a brief foray into high intensity rock, using the quiet/loud/quiet methodology of certain earlier acts. Vocals distort, drums clatters, guitars rock out; and there's plenty of six-string histrionics, for example on the EP highlight "Fantastic Plastic". The band could do well.
(Contact: www.thetwintigers.com )
Wondrous Horse's "Cavallo Meraviglioso" album is a rich tapestry of instruments, voice and mad percussion, created in the main by Salvatore Borrelli. The feel is otherworldly, the mood bizarre, but it is Vanessa Rossetto's natural/treated voice that makes this music freakily addictive. Weird cellos duck and dive, deraboukahs and tablas rustle and tap, and over some of this Rossetto's seductive voice floats and swirls (Borrelli sings too, less successfully). The track titles are all in Italian, but each is a variation on the main theme. The range of instruments is vast: the sleeve notes list fifty one, some of them multiples. This, then, is an eclectic mix, but it's impossible not to get sucked into the weird and mischievous sound-world, not least because all the songs have a Heath Robinson-esque 'stuck together with tape and glue' charm. Unexpectedly good, this one, dog, cat and duck samples and all...
(Contact: www.museumfire.com )
"Ashen Skies EP" by The Phoenix Cube is a limited edition of twenty copies by these mash-up sonic explorers. It's like Davendra Banhart meeting early 'seventies Tangerine Dream. Weird, yes, but it works. Apart from one, the songs are short, each a unique miniature, featuring vocals, mellow guitar, piano, noise and sound recordings. The audio space occupied by the band makes this a distinctly English listening experience, and you imagine misty mornings, autumn harvests... Highlight of the EP is "Birdsong Sweetness," with its marvellously eerie closing section.
(Contact: www.myspace.com/phoenixcube )
Rumbles written by Simon Lewis and Steve Palmer
Artwork and layout: Phil McMullen