= February 2007 =
Rumbles this month is compiled by Simon Lewis
Outside the rain lashes the windows and the wind threatens to rip trees from the land. Thank heavens then, for the pile of Rumble-worthy discs that has built up over the last couple of months, meaning I have an excuse to stay inside and bring to your attention some worthwhile musical projects that may otherwise slipped away unnoticed.
To start thing off, our good friend Nashville Dave will guide you through a small selection of musical gems.
It’s a fine day when fortune drops five new Digitalis/Foxglove releases into your lap. Stuff ‘em into the iPod, rock the ganj and go outside to stare at the sun for a few hours. With the aid of these gems, you can almost translate what ol’ sol is sayin’. All five are certainly very individual in their approach to music making, but I am certainly not too far from home if I make the observation that all share a common thread in embracing the drone. Be it an ominous distant hum or a mammoth wall of pulsating feedback, these drones can be your magic carpet off this rock. At the least, you will become very familiar with your navel… Pink Luminous Invocation certainly live up to their name on the self-titled disc recorded live in their home country of Denmark. These elecro-acoustic minimalists bring it for one extended 43 minute set with keyboards, wordless femme voice and violin to conjure up a river of drone many leagues deep and twice as wide. Give up trying to swim across this one and let the current envelope and transport you downstream. As a reward for your droney floatation, some righteous free jazz improv awaits with more violin, clarinet, zurna, and electrified kalimba along with assorted bells and flutes. They greet you very gently with bits of scratch and skronk, working up quite a lather in the end. Then it’s back into the drone for a trip home only to find yourself tangled up in your headphone cord. Fabio Orsi popped onto the radar of many ‘scopers with his collaboration with My Cat Is An Alien on ‘For Allan Lomax‘ and collective eyebrows were raised. His ‘South Of Me’ moves us in a more outward-bound trajectory. After a brief intro with some ol’ south styled gospel preaching we get to the heart of the journey – what sounds to me like ‘Thursday Afternoon’ inspired guitar loops with organ drones and the electronic chatter of a fax machine trying desperately to connect circling around the top. However, clocking in at just over 19 minutes, we only get one orbit of earth before returning to church just in time for the end of the sermon. Amen, brother. Robert Horton has been making music in the San Francisco Bay Area scene for almost 30 years, notably as a founding member of the Plateau Ensemble which assembled some heavy avant hitters. Once again, he joins Tom Carter to follow up on their brilliant ‘Lunar Eclipse’ with ‘Steeljaguar For Rocket’. Carter and Horton have also collaborated together within the context of Kyrgyz, and are obviously comfortable picking each others brain to come up with some damn fine improv guitar drone. The 30-minute title track spends its first half gently humming along before erupting into a wah driven lysergic boil, then chilled by eastern styled violin. Exhilarating stuff laid out by two musicians working at the top of their game. Horton has also been releasing solo works, which bring the experience of his mastery to fruition. The excellent ‘Dirt Speak’ shares the harvest with us all. Each piece here draws on just a few sources to create individual, distinct and uncluttered soundscapes that give us more than just sonic wallpaper. In Horton’s hands, the simplicity of a single, repeated acoustic guitar note with a very faint Riley-esque drone certainly caused me to lean forward and listen up. The solo acoustic title track might have made a nice closer, but it appears penultimately here, leaving this listener unprepared for the closing track- ‘Tuning Emperor Norton’s’ orchestral tuning looped for five and one half minutes, creating a minimalist mammoth. Last but certainly not least, is the unknown-to-me-until-now Zelienople with ‘Stone Academy’. I was immediately smitten with this Chicago outfit’s drone folk recorded in a cavern vibe. Melancholy folk songs with fingers sliding on the buzzy rattle of steel string acoustic guitar lay squarely alongside full-bodied drones giving the whole affair a nice, small hours atmosphere. Song titles like ‘Fuck Everything’ and ‘Pissing’ seem a bit too hipster and might cause some to look the other way, but this is a solid release from a band that I’ll be watching for. All Discs (www.digitalisindustries.com) (Dave Caperton)
After all that drone something lighter can be found with three excellent new releases on Fortunapop Records. First up, Airport Girl have that classic Velvets, Galaxie 500, jangly-drawl down to a tee, with their album “Slow Light”, brimming with slow melody and world weary regret. From the acoustic based “I’ve seen Mexico”, through to the more up-beat “The Weather Song” the album is enhanced by the use of a wide collection of instruments (banjo, Cello, Trumpet, Melodica) that add subtle textures to the basic sounds, giving the songs unmistakable quality. Mining a similar vein on their third album “Famous Problems”, The Butterflies of Love have a more rocky feel tinged with psych-pop flourishes, no more so than on “In A Blizzard In A Lighthouse” , which sound like The Church in their heyday. Elsewhere “No Moon, No Sun, No Stars” introduces some deliciously distorted guitar, whilst “Sunshine” is a gorgeous song that drifts like the memory of summer days, both songs highlighting the bands diverse cohesiveness. Having been played on national radio, including 4 Peel Sessions, Cardiff based The Loves should be a seasoned band and so it proves on their second album “Technicolour” which is a cornucopia of sixties pop inspired goodness. After the jangle-fest of album opener “Je T’Aime, Baby” (seven minutes long and a great guitar solo), the band hit their stride with the absolutely wonderful “I My She Love You”, a song with more hooks than a fisherman’s basket, farfisa organ and a garage-lite groove that fills the song with energy. Further in “The Rainbow Connection” is a gentle ballad with suitably whimsical lyrics, the mood changed again with the arrival of the beach boy styled “XS and OS”. A raunchier garage groove is generated on “Jazz My Bad (For JT)” complete with snotty lyrics and mean guitar. Finally “Goodbye” ends the album in a velvety swirl, a suitable way to finish a wonderful collection of pop brilliance. (www.fortunapop.com).
Lovers of folk-rock, more folk than rock it has to be said, should turn their attention to a recent re-release from BGO Records that features the first three albums (on two CDs) by 5 Hand Reel. Mixing Traditional material with, some atmospheric originals, excellent musicianship (that includes some very West Coast passages), and the talents of Dick Gaughin on guitar, this trio of albums showcases a band that could have made far more impact than they did. Perhaps the general public only had ears for one folk rock act and at the time of these releases Steeleye Span were riding high in the publics minds. Never mind, these are well worth acquiring and are guaranteed to get your feet tapping with joyous abandon. (www.bgo-records.com)
Also on BGO, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils play a mellow style of country-rock on “The Car Over The Lake Album/Men From Earth” (their 3rd and 4th respectively), both of which are full of strong songs and soaring harmonies. You can almost feel the breeze blowing across the prairie as the band evoke the places they grew up in, singing tales of love, hope and ordinary people. All of which begs the question, how the fuck did the Eagles get so popular?
After releasing four albums and completing numerous tours Michael Chapman quit the music business in 1971. By 1975 however, he returned with the self-produced “Millstone Grit”, an album that sparkles with guitar dexterity, especially on the outstanding “New York Ladies” a nine minute epic that shimmers with raga-esque guitar, flowing with a timeless beauty, which ends in a flurry of feedback. Following on “Champion” is a brief finger-picked gem, That makes you realise what a fine guitarist Chapman is. More proof of this, if needed, is found on the polka “Wellington The Skellington”, which, despite its unwieldy title, is an inspired piece of slide guitar playing. Yet another fine release from BGO. As is “Go For Broke” released as a pair with “Hit And Run” From ex-Fairport/Matthews Southern Comfort, Ian Matthews. Featuring a host of covers, including a splendidly mellow version of “Darkness Darkness”, the album has a warm charm that makes for a relaxed listening experience, although your feelings on the album may depend on your like (or dislike) of “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Groovin’”, “just One Look”, or “A Fool Like You”. The second album of the pairing continues warm feeling, with some beautifully understated guitar and some strong songwriting in evidence. Terrascope readers may find the whole thing too slick and commercial of course, but those who enjoy some 70’s west-coast vibes will find a lot to enjoy.
Ever since I can remember Last Visible Dog Records have consistently released quality music that challenges the ears. This trait continues with Jack Wright whose “Indeterminate Existence” CD, is a collection of solo Saxophone improvisation that demands close attention and will have most of your friend running out of the room. Opening with a 13 minutes abstract squall of free-form playing, the music on the album bounces around the walls, sometimes dancing, sometimes slithering, the notes cascading into the room. Strangely, there is a whole world of emotion built into the sounds, although it is hard to pin down which emotion. Jack Wright himself, has moved on from this music now, but this stands as a fine testament to some inspired improvised playing with touches of Be-Bop and Melody becoming apparent the deeper you delve. Also on LVD comes “Luggage” a collaboration between Bob Marsh (Various Instruments, Theresa Wong (Cello), and Bryan Eubanks (Saxophone, Electronics), performed live at the Luggage Store in San Francisco. Split into two tracks Marsh/Wong and Marsh/Eubanks, the music scrapes and rattles along beautifully, the musicians interacting with sympathy and precision, creating images of lonely marshlands, desolate yet captivating. Abstract voices add another layer to the compositions, wringing yet more emotion from the pieces. Finally on LVD “Transitional Phase” is an epic collection of psychedelic space-rock, created by member of Subarachnoid Space and others. Originally recorded eight years ago and then shelved, the musicians allow themselves to roam freely with the guitars of Melynda Jackson Mason Jones and Geoff Walker dancing with angels on a pinhead as they spray vast waves of cosmic noise across the recording. Allowing them to do so is the smooth-running rhythm of Chris Van Huffel (Drums) and Jason Stein (Bass), the duo ensuring that the heart of the machine keeps beating often driving the music into uncharted waters. Split into seven Pieces (Transitions 1-7), the music flows beautifully each piece drifting into the next, creating fifty minutes of sonic perfection that sounds even better in the dark, the band allowing the music to ebb and flow between Hawkwind style riffing and Ash-Ra like dream sequences. The final track is a collage of shorter snatches of improvisation, each lovingly stitched to the next so that you cannot see the join, and the whole album is highly recommended. (www.lastvisibledog.com)
Slightly too late for the Yuletide festivities, come “Yule” a gently drifting ambient soundscape by electronic composer Tor Lundvall, whose recent album “Empty City” was a favourite around these parts. consisting of Nine short pieces and one longer selection, the music is definitely glacial in it’s sound, bringing to mind sculptured snowdrifts and the delicate uniqueness of snowflakes, although electronic pulses give the music a warm heart, the distant promise of a roaring fire. Final track, the twenty minute “Falling Snow” was recorded in one night (we have to assume it was snowing) and is like being lost in a blizzard, muffled drones giving no hint as to your location as the music slowly engulf you with it’s frozen charm. (www.strangefortune.com)
The last thing I heard by Matthew Cooper was a collection of solo piano pieces called “an Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death” released in 2004. Having released a couple of albums since, all under the name Eluvium, Matthew returns to my notice with the quite beautiful “Copia”, a collection of relaxing instrumentals. This time the musical palette is much wider with strings and brass creating an emotional backdrop for the pianos voice, the ten tracks running into each other to offer one long vision full of hope and joy, all tinged with a melancholy longing that seeps into the room like a winters tide. Designed to be played in one listen, the reader is advised to find a quiet space and let the music wash over them, the outside world disappearing into a distant memory, such is the power of this music. (www.temporaryresidence.com)
For their 100th release Temporary Residence have issued “Thankful” a compilation featuring one unreleased track by every band they have signed since their similar compilation “Thank You” (TRR50). Opening with the twisted melodies of the previously mentioned Eluvium, the album also includes the gentle pop scratchiness of Caroline, whose voice is as sweet as sugar on the beautiful “Wonderlust”, and the strange folk wonkiness of “Thank Thee”, a mesmeric slice of acoustic balladery from lazarus. On a completely different track, Cex and Nice Nice railroad the listener into a siding with the incessant electronics of “Jacksonville”, whilst “Trapped In The Hobbit” is a lesson in hyperactive prog weirdness from The Ladies, the energy levels remaining high for the Pere Ubu meets Mars Volta rush of Sleeping People with the sublime “Growing Sand”. Yet more glorious noise is supplied by By The End Of The Night, before The Drift open up some sonic space with the echoed delights of “Secret Waters” the music rattling across the surface of the moon with rare abandon. Things slow to a delicate crawl as Mono offer the discerning listener the string driven emotion of “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (which is far too short) before The Anomoanon finish off the album with the lo-fi hoedown of “Let’s Rove” bringing to an end a fine and eclectic mix of musical delights.
It often seems that since becoming an on-line magazine The Terrascope receives more multiple CD packages from small labels than it does single discs from individuals. Often, however, these labels seem to be run by individuals and consist of releases by friends and family, or at least musicians from the same geographic location. Of course, in the end it is the music that matters and if you like jagged lo-fi pop then Summersteps Records Handmade may be to your taste, especially on “Belongs To The Dead” the latest release from Tigers Jaw a melody driven collection of simple (yet effective) songs that stick in your ear and make the world a better place, the whole thing lasting only 25 minutes which seems to be the perfect length. On the same label the Green Chair swap jangle for experimentation and attitude on “Occupied Estate” an album that reminds me of early Ween or Devo. Finest tracks include the caffeine rush of “Frontier Cage”, the spiky cover of Fleetwood Mac song “The Ledge”, and the psychedelic hypnotism of “2000% soul”, creating a release that is full of surprises.
Exploring spacier electronic soundscapes Psychatrone Rhonedakk (a member of the Terrascope forum) has collected together some archived material on the rather excellent “Cellar Dweller Recordings”, an album filled with wobbly synths lines, cut and paste drum patterns, free form electronic jams and electric guitar overloads. For me the longer tracks work the best with “Bells” providing the first highlight with it’s intense guitar and synth layers, whilst covers of Arthur Lee and Jandek, feature an idiosyncratic vocal style that suits the music to a tee. Strangest track “Several Species Of Electronic Beings Grooving In Space (Without Cotton Casino)” sounds just like you think it does, before a truly individual reading of “Mountains Of The Moon” closes the album in delicate fashion. Also on Summerstep is a DVD from Kid Icarus, but as I lack a working player at the moment that may well have to wait until next time.
Those of you who enjoy walls of fucked up guitar mutilations should enjoy the latest offering from Howling Magic, which continues on the path of his earlier work whilst displaying a definite progression, the sounds being tighter and more focused, increasing the tension by softening the density slightly. Including 11 songs in 33 minutes means that each piece blends into a sonic whole, every one a variation on a theme, with electronics adding subtle touches to the aural assault, as on “Dream Sequence” where the quietness of the piece is in sharp contrast with those that surround it. I know Phil's a big fan of his stuff, and as Terrascope readers you’ve gotta love musicians who follow their own path with such passion and commitment, so hats off to J. Rakuisin; an intrepid explorer of sound. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Released on the small label, Sauce Records, We Are Vikings have some flashes of genius on their self-titled album, full of guitar hooks and psych-pop vocals, all recorded with a bright and vibrant sound that really adds to the quality of the songs. On the same label, Her Majesty’s Orchestra have created a surreal soundscape that concerns itself with the joys of Christmas, complete with bells, swelling chords, some great guitar work and cheesy (but perfectly suited) lyrics, managing to cram 26 songs into 38 minutes, meaning the album has the feel of a row of cards arranged across the mantlepiece. Get one now, and be prepared for next Christmas. Finally on Sauce Records, comes a compilation that features 16 bands ranging from gentle ballads to off-centre guitar pieces with plenty of surreal strangeness and lo-fi psychedelia to boot. The best thing about these releases is that they are all available for free download, allowing you to listen to some new music without any risk to yourself, who knows, you may discover your new favourite band. (www.saucerecords.com)
Working out of Chicago, Unlucky Atlas play Gothic-Folk music on their self-titled album which is filled with grandiose moments, some beautifully arranged songs, that feature a whole array of stringed instruments, and some dark and intense lyrics, creating an album full of passion. Featuring four longer pieces interspersed with three short instrumentals, the album flows in dramatic fashion with some stirring and emotional melody lines adding depth to the songs, the instruments blending perfectly with the wonderful voice of Erica Burgner. Saving the best until last, the album ends with the brooding intensity of “Forward Presence”, a song so powerful it could ring a tear from the devils eye. (www.unluckyatlas.com)
Displaying a different kind of power, long time Fence Collective member James Yorkston manages to maintain a simple elegance on his third album “The Year Of The Leopard” , a mesmerising collection of acoustic songs, with gentle arrangements that bring to mind the atmosphere of a Nick Drake album. Highlights include the wonderful opener “Summer Song”, the sparse delicacy of the title track, the soft poignancy of “Us Late Travellers” which rounds off the album as gently as a passing cloud. (www.dominorecordco.com)
Sounding like a mixture of The Flaming Lips and The Olivia Tremor Control, and sounding bloody good as well, Paper Airplanes manage to rise above the Indie-Rock herd on their varied and outstanding album “Boyhood”, an album crammed with epic songs, that maintain a consistently high standard from start to finish. Every time I play this album a different song becomes my favourite, as new layers of sound reveal themselves, meaning the album sounds better and better each time. A completely absorbing listening experience I highly recommend.
Next up, two very different releases by William.R.Drake, the first “Yews Paw” is a collection of solo piano pieces that blend together in fine style and sound like the lost soundtrack to an early motion picture. I guess a love of the piano is essential to fully appreciate this album in it’s entirety, but each track works just fine, being well played, interesting and containing enough variety to sustain attention. (www.onophonic.com) Personally speaking I find the second album “Briny Hooves” to be of far more interest containing, as it does, some charming psychedelic tunes with well written lyrics, varied instrumentation, and an eye for detail that gives them sparkle. As to be expected the piano looms large throughout the disc, offering some wonderful melodic moments, such as “Dark Ecstasies” which contains some very canterburyesque chord changes. Elsewhere, “Ugly Fortress” is lifted by some excellent trumpet, “The Fountain Smoke” sound like Dutch band Earth And Fire, “Seahorse” has some finely balanced strings haunting the arrangement, and “Requiem For A Snail” is just strange. For those amongst us who like strangely normal songs that are surreal and filled with oddities, think Paul Roland or Richard Sinclair. (www.shebearrecords.com) A similar feel is apparent on “Look Up To The Sky”, the latest album by, not sure if it a good name or not, Mittens On Strings. Regardless of the name, the album does contain some strange and beautiful pop, no more so than on “The Most Complete Skeleton Ever Found”, a rather fine piece of writing that deserves to be heard. More of the same can be heard on the vitriolic “Prez’s Folly”, which reminds me of Lou Reed, whilst “Confrontation” has a lilting country feel that is shattered by the high-energy stomp of “Badges Folly”. For some reason track eight is not listed on the cover (it jumps from 7 to 9), a shame as it is a brief but glorious mess of electronics, voice samples and noise that bleeds into the far more gentle “Last Shot”, closing the album on a melancholy high. (www.emperorjones.com)
Recorded live in Amsterdam in 2006, “In Broken Dreams The World Still Keeps Turning” is a long improvised piece of industrial drone courtesy of Bjerga/Iversen, that uses the word harsh as its template, yet contains enough tonal variation to keep thing interesting, utilising a whole range of distorted, scratched and looped sounds within its framework. A more glacial take on electronic drone can be found on “Bring That Voice To The State-Another Enough Chairs, which is full of groaning underground distortion that slowly collapses into an avalanches of feedback, white noise and echoed madness, and that’s only track one. Track Two is the whirr of mechanical insects poised to attack the planet, a sinister drumbeat and wyrd folk guitar adding a sinister undercurrent to the proceedings. Track three continues where the others left off and then descends into hell, pitting harsh industry against each other, to create an unearthly whole that slowly fades into deep drone splendour. Adding their own voice to the improvised noise party Textured Bird Transmission offer a slow moving arctic drone on “Purple Weighted Pellets Of Despairs”, the piece slowly changing as it moves to its inevitable conclusion, the sounds howling around the room, lowering the temperatures until lethargy and numbness creep in. All this lovely noise can be found by contacting Dead Sea Liner (www.myspace.com/deadsealiner)
Recently released on ecr Records, “Sound On An Empty Road” is an earthy, ghost filled drone that slowly evolves over 38 minutes creating a fragile archaic ritual that fills the room and pulls the listener in. Working under the name Itto, Ian Holloway and Neil Rowling have succeeded in producing a beautifully complete work that has a rich vibrant quality allowing the music room to breathe. (http://ecr.homestead.com)
On the Same label as The Owl Service, the folk inspired wonder of The Straw Bear Band is fully realised on “From The Sea To The Stars”, a wonderful collection of delicate acoustic songs, that are lifted by warm vocals and an attention to detail such as the electronic ripples that grace the superb opener “The Engine/The Heart”. Having impressed with the opening track, the band go for the emotional jugular with “Clustered Lights Above”, one of those songs that will linger in you memory forever, delicate as a moonlit cloud. “Everything Hums” has a more modern feel, with nods toward Tuung or King Creosote, a feeling continued on “Migraine Season” with its sinister and scratchy electronic heart perfectly in keeping with the headache inspired lyrics. Throughout the album this mix of modern technology and acoustic songs is realised with certainty and belief, creating a wonderfully textured free-flowing collection of songs that is damn near impossible to prize off the stereo.
Displaying similar songwriting excellence, although working in a more country rock tinged field, The Summer Wardrobe have put together a collection of warm summery tunes with touches of psych-pop and folk adding to a most satisfying whole. Produced with style by Mark Addison, the sonic warmth is the perfect vehicle for such songs as the Byrds-like “Sparkle And Fade”, or the rawer garage groove of “Underground”. With four songs clocking in over the seven minute mark, the band have plenty of room for some slow-burning improvisation, including some exquisite steel guitar work from John Leon, the sound harmonising beautifully with the rest of the band. (www.rainbowquartz.com)
Stoner-Prog with touches of folk and a ribbon of kraut inspired psychedelia may seem far too long a musical label, but Hypno 69 manage to cover all these bases on their fourth album “The Eclectic Mix” whilst still retaining a cohesive feel that allows the album to flow through a myriad of moods within its 48 minutes. With the ghost of “Echoes”-era Floyd ever present, the band show some great dynamics on the rockier tracks such as “The Eclectic Mix” or “The Point Of No Return”, but it is the slower, moodier tracks that show of the bands skill to the greatest effect, especially album closer “Deus Ex Machina”, a song that drifts past in a haze of smoke with some wonderfully understated guitar lifting it to heaven.According to the press release Hypno 69 are now defunct, if so, this stands as a great testament to a talented band. (www.elektrohasch.de) From the same label and mining a similar musical path Saturnia have produced a classic slice of space-rock on their album “Muzak”, which is filled with Floydian organ, sundial Guitar, and some mesmerising psychedelic atmospheres that needs the headphones for full appreciation. Opening track “Mindrama” has it all including the odd musical ending that blends into the Hawkwind inspired “Organza” that does indeed include Nik Turner on sax. Further in the hypnotic grooves of “infinite Chord” are laced together by swirling analogue synth, whilst final track eastern-tinged “Syrian” even features Daevid Allen of Gong fame, a band who have had a definite influence on this album. In fact, without a bad track on it, this album is a rare treat for all lovers of cosmic music. Also on Elektrohasch, the Sabbath inspired guitar riffery of Phased could do your neck some serious damage as they blast their way across the universe on their 3rd album “Medications”. Apparently about the taking of various mind-altering substances, the band take no prisoners, with opening track “Worship The Sun” destined to become a stoner-rock classic with a guitar riff to die for. On “Nihil Slayride” the band adopt the fuzzed up minimalism of early Mudhoney, whilst other tracks do a good impression of Hawkwind had they grown up in the Midwest and been signed to Sub Pop. Mixing Spacemen 3 guitar riffs and Hawkwind style synths (circa Levitation) to excellent effect, My Sleeping Karma are a finally tuned machine that drives forward effortlessly on their self-titled album, the band mixing mellower moments into the sonic stew giving the songs a great sense of dynamics, something ably demonstrated on the excellent “Glow”, or the how many riffs can we get into a song majesty of “Eightfold Path”. Yet another quality release from Elektrohasch, a label that seems unable to release a bad record at the moment.
Another label that seems to release to a consistently high standard, although not all of it can be called Terrascopic, is blues label Ruf Records. However, some of their releases may well appeal to readers of Rumbles, including the slide-guitar filled magnificence of Erja Lyytinen, whose debut album “Dreamland Blues” has some masterful guitar shenanigans, some quality songwriting, country tinged ballads, and class written all over it. Opening track “Skinny Lady” sounds like Canned Heat as it boogies out of the speakers, something you don’t expect from a female guitar player from Finland. Recorded at the Electric Catfish Studios, Mississippi, the album has blues passion inbuilt and some sparkling production work from Ian Parker that lets the songs breathe sweet and easy. As well as producing Ian Parker is a bluesman in his own right and his latest album “Where I Belong” is a soulful tour-de-force built around some effortless guitar playing and one of the finest voices you will hear. Just listen to “Love So Cold” and you will be hooked on the sound, the guitar talks the lyrics as the voice harmonises in between to send shivers down your spine, magical stuff. For those of you who only need to dip your toes into the blues Ruf Records have just released a compilation to celebrate 12 years in business. Featuring an audio CD and a DVD, the blues in all it’s forms is represented with standout tracks from Walter Trout/Jeff Healey, Robin Trower, Aynsley Lister, Bernard Allison, Ian Parker and the wonderful Texas blues of Omar and the Howlers whose 2004 album “Boogie Man” is still a regular visitor to the CD player. None of this will change your mind if the blues is not your bag, but for those who are interested then Ruf is the perfect place to aim your radar. (www.rufrecords.de) . Mind you, it is not the only place, as well worth investigating is the down and dirty blues of The Samuel.C. Lees Band, who make a wonderful racket on “Bigg Man” full of scorching guitar work and gritty vocals, combining a touch of ZZ Top, with a pinch of George Thoroughgood, and a whole bag of goodtime energy. (www.bluesmatters.com)
Opening with the 15 minute guitar rage of “i” (Guess what the other four tracks are called) Manatees display a penchant for Crimson style guitar slabs mixed with stop/ start dynamics, the bass and drums offering a solid foundation for the destruction all around them. The track rolls along at high speed, taking no prisoners and has a tribal feel in its construction. Second song starts with some chanted vocals and ambient guitar and bass before suddenly breaking into a violent burst of sound, the pound of the drums slowly giving way to a fragmented wash of guitar terrorism, the demonic vocals only adding to the unease. The rest of the album continues the disintegrating noise/ambience versus total chaos feel, the effects and overall production handled with great attention to every detail. Special mention goes to “iiii” which introduces a bizarre strange-folk vibe into the album, offering a sudden change in direction that works to focus the rest of the album, as well as offering a welcome detour for the ears. To be fair, the final track practically dispenses with the quieter end of the spectrum seeking strength through relentless bombardment of the senses, and succeeds in its aim, go get one and annoy the hell out of your neighbours. (www.motivesounds.com)
Offering a more melodic guitar sound, The Asteroid#4, have the sound of jangly guitar rock perfectly worked out as they cruise through 10 lovingly crafted song on their album “An Amazing Dream”. With a sound reminiscent of The House Of Love or The Church (whose song “To Be In Your Eyes” is covered here), the album is a treat for the ears, with songs like “The Shepherd” or “Go Ahead” sounding fresh and vital, despite their reference points. There is also a hidden track that features gentle acoustic guitar, and a strange monologue that offers a pastoral yet surreal end to the album. (www.rainbowquartz.com)
Of all the useless categorisations in music "Post-Rock" is possibly the most meaningless to me as it does not seem to offer any clues as to what it should sound like. Hailing from Peterborough and calling themselves ambient post rock, did not then give me high hopes for Roncatto Braathen, especially as the name is also shrouded in obscurity. Maybe it is this very lack of expectation however that allows me to enjoy their latest CD “Victory Advancement” , a haunting and ethereal mix of electronics, samples and guitar effects that is filled with emotion and a huge palette of sounds. Including rumbling drones, delicate strings, and some scratchy discordant moments, the whole album is a soundtrack to a lonely walk through the mountains, the cities lights visible far away on the plains below, and sound seriously good when played through the headphones. If this is post rock, I like it, I just hope others can match the standards set by this superb album.
Using prepared piano and a fine ear for melody, composer/pianist Volker Bertelmann has crafted a wonderfully delicate album under the name Hauschka. Entitled “Room to Expand”, the album has touches of Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Gamelan Music, as well as modern electronic groups such as To Rococco Rot. Using simple rhythmic or melodic patterns as their starting point, the songs slowly expand and unfold offering a myriad of possibilities on their journey, keeping the listener enthralled until the end. Languid rather than dynamic, the albums strength is its rolling, ever changing ambience as soft as summer clouds, the gentle ripples of raindrops on water, offering tranquillity in the midst of life’s hurry. (www.fat-cat.co.uk)
The first couple of songs on “Long Divisionary” by Sevenly Virtues are sparse guitar led tunes embellished with some appealing steel guitar playing. From then on in, however, things begin to get weirder, with banjo and percussion joining in the party, the songs taking on a more wyrd-folk flavour, with “the Day” sounding like a hillbilly version of Zappa, whilst “Free” has a touch of Neil Young about its vocal delivery. In fact the vocals are worth mentioning as they are very distinctive with a “love them or hate them quality” that may well determine how you react to the records. For me, they suit the songs and give them an individual edge, especially on the organ led strangeness of “Evil Doers”, which features some fine guitar playing. (www.sevenlyvirtues.com)
Those of you who like Robyn Hitchcock or Paul Roland should check out the gentle psych songs of Rhubarb (AKA Richard Haswell), their soft melodies and pithy, world weary lyrics contrasting brilliantly on such songs as “Static Record Collection”, a song about growing old in the comfort zone. With some well constructed guitar solos and thoughtful arrangements, the song sparkle with electricity, with song like “Red Sky” and Ill-Maintained Fairground Equipment” being given plenty of room to soar. Throughout, the lyrics are well worth paying attention to, being humorous, sarcastic, optimistic, and nostalgic, often at the same time. With at least fourteen album to choose from “An Introduction To…” is recommended as the perfect doorway into a weird and wonderful universe you may recognise as your own. (www.worldofrhubarb.com)
Hailing from New York and having been performing for 23 years Static Cling have a free-flowing psych style with outstanding vocal from Cathi Lee Otis giving the band a distinctive edge. Add to this, a fine ear for melody, some devastating guitar playing and a rock solid rhythm section and here you have a band that do west-coast sweetness with a style all of their own, meaning “A Regular Amount Of Forever” is an album well worth checking out. Not really retro, the album does have a Paisley Pop ambience and a bright electric sound, especially on the sprightly groove of “This Heart” which also makes fine use of a theremin. (www.staticclingband.com)
Right that’s it from me, and looking out the window now, the rain and wind has ceased to be replaced by a blanket of snow which is far more picturesque but equally cold. (Simon Lewis)
Written and edited by: Simon Lewis with grateful thanks to Dave Caperton. Produced and directed by Phil McMullen.