Collecting together the entire recorded output of Bird From The Abyss, “I-II-III” is a double cassette that reveals a sprawling and rather wonderful body of work, drone and wyrd-folk, mingling with melody and pieces of great beauty, the whole collection having a very pleasing flow. Elsewhere there is more darkness, electric sounds crackle and menace, fleeting glimpses of mythological figures are seen in the forest, a sense of abandonment can be felt, the primitive and the shaman colliding and collaborating to create ancient ritual and magic. Beautifully packaged as well and still available (http://www.birdfromtheabyss.com/releases.html)
Limited to 38 copies, “Alaska” by The Heartbeat features some gentle lo-fi songs, plus some guitar noise and feedback, reminding me of Galaxie 500 in their atmosphere and approach. With no times or obvious gaps it is sometimes hard to figure out which song is which, but “Fade Like a Ghost” seems to be my favourite track. See if you can find a copy at the ever wonderful and intriguing Albert's Basement. (http://www.albertsbasement.net/)
Sadly sold out, but worth hunting for, members of Thee Gnostics, this time cloaked in the name Zamut Nevagnu Eniarrol, get all weird and psychedelic on “Signals From Origin 5”, one long jam made by people who were not actually on the planet at the time. The fact that this sound interesting rather than tedious, is a sign that the players knew what they wanted, the music/sounds never dull, elements of free-jazz, kraut-rock to be heard amid the chaos and texture. (http://www.beniffereditions.com/zamut.html)
Featuring rhythmic and soaring composition, “Summer Days, Bummer Nights” is the work of Brooklyn artist Rdillz. Mixing soaring guitar with keyboards, synths and chattering electronic percussion, there are elements of Vangelis to be found amongst the nine tracks on offer, although the guitar is more prominent on some tracks. Good stuff indeed. Very possibly sold out, but there is plenty more interesting stuff on the blog site. (http://theelectrickgypsyservice.blogspot.co.uk/)
Next up “12”, a split cassette featuring Gown and Robrobrob. On side on Gown offer the long “Jake's Strut” recorded live in 2009, a lonesome guitar and plaintive voice joined in a sorrowful lament, a hymn to sadness and loss that has a fragile power and deep-rooted emotion, the guitar in particular singing its sorrow sweetly. Halfway through, the distortion is turned on, the guitar bursting out of its sorrow with anger and frustration taking the stage, a manic lo-fi assault that completely splits the track in two, good work. Over on side two, Robrobrob (Robert Gray) presents us with five guitar pieces that mingle rippling melody with harsh noise, the sounds floating in metallic clouds drifting over alien landscapes, the music constantly shifting and re-inventing itself. (http://arachnidiscs.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/gown-robrobrob-split/)
Originally released in '86, “Voluptuous Astral Freeze” is a 11-track tape that fuses U.S. punk/hardcore with sixties ideology, the song spitting energy and purpose. Named after a Mayan city Tulum went through several line-up changes before morphing into the excellent ST37. This release is a great way to see how they began, songs of quality that re-define genres and confront the listener. (http://www.mancatrecords.com/tulum.html)
Weird and electronic, with the emphasis on experimental and soundscape, “The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation” is a rather fine collection from Viktor Timofeev.
Fans of early German electronic music will find lots to enjoy over five long and rambling pieces that do not disappoint, allowing the listener plenty of room for inner flight and contemplation, the addition of some spacey guitar only adding to the tracks, giving them sudden cloaks of melody. (http://tevekfritoiov.bandcamp.com/track/tevek-fritoiov)
Playing some lovely psych tunes 5-Track will make you smile on “Oblations to a Digital Muse”, the opening track “Bees” getting the feet tapping with a sweet and delightful groove. This generally carries on for the rest of the release, making for a wonderful sunny listen with some great guitar work and a funky vibe. ( http://www.5-track.com/CSMuse.html)
Featuring some light-infused and drifting instrumentals, looped guitar work and a gentle ambience, “Word is Bond” is a beautifully produced collection from Matt Northrup. Imagine a more relaxed Frippertronics player jamming with Steve Hillage and you have some of the sonic textures on show here. Highly enjoyable and too short. (http://fullspectrumrecords.bandcamp.com/album/word-is-bond)
Complete with Zombie reaper in a graveyard type cover, “Bubblegum Graveyard” is a rather fine and suitably lo-fi collection of garage fuzz from Apache Dropout, opening with “Archies Army” and “Candy Bar” there is a poppy Ramones feel to the tune, although they are covered in fuzz and sixties strangeness with the latter slowly getting stranger as it progresses. From here on in it time to crack open a cold one and just enjoy the fuzzy pop happiness to be found within, the collection peppered with some genuine garage classics as well, the band turning everything up and getting heavier on the excellent “Carrying Fleas”. Also available on CD and LP, but for some reason this seems the perfect format for the music. (http://troubleinmindrecs.com/)
Sporting a lovely UK style psych-pop jacket, the elegant and suave sounds of Schnauser will have you grooving in your kitchen as you listen to their cassette single “Good Looking Boy”, an excellent romp along the Kings Road, complete with paisley jacket and, quite possibly, a large moustache. Featuring amongst others, Alan Strawbridge (Lucky Bishops) this is a quality tune with two excellent songs, in a similar vein, on the B-side adding to the pleasure. (http://www.schnauser.co.uk/)
So ends the tape portion of this Rumbles, now it is time to hand over to Steve Palmer for another selection for your delectation.
On "The Execution Of Frederick Baker" by Head South By Weaving & Alison O'Donnell, nine songs tell various tales of everyday and otherworldly life. Alison O'Donnell is perhaps best known as being a member of 'seventies cult folk rockers Mellow Candle, and her collaboration with Graeme Lockett, aka HSBW, is the duo's first full-length outing. The music here is what could loosely be called folk rock, as with Mellow Candle, opening with the dramatic, catchy and superbly produced opener 'Fail In Flight.' The title track is slower and more melancholy, with more of a trad folk feel, notably in the lyrics and their delivery. 'Act Of Contrition' is brief and hints at the guitar arpeggiation of early Genesis albums - a lovely cut - while 'Bird In A Cage' matches trad folk delivery and the best vocal performance of the album with a subtle and effective folk rock arrangement; the album highlight for me. 'The Stonemason's Daughter' underpins a harmonised vocal with a 2/4 beat and more beautifully arpeggiated guitars, 'Prying Eyes' brings a little drama to the proceedings with cello, while 'Hedge End Day' is a slow rocker, and perhaps the odd-one-out, musically at least. The album closes with a re-edit of the opening track. This is a terrific work, musically deft, lyrically interesting and a must for fans of classic folk rock, modern folk rock and all stations in between.
The BMX Bandits, helmed by Scottish songwriter Duglas T Stewart, have a long pedigree in the annals of UK pop, not least their recorded output - the band's new album "BMX Bandits In Space" is their sixteenth release. The music here is varied - very varied - but some signposts might be Prefab Sprout, Fan Modine and Simon Felton/Garfields Birthday. Lyrically, the album describes the trials and travails of a man lost in space trying to find his way home. Bittersweet material indeed... The opening trio of cuts are sweetly melodious, as with the aforementioned bands, but from 'Look At You, Look At Me' the album gets a little darker, though Rachel Allison's swoonsome vocals do bring a ray of sunshine to the affair (as with 'Like The Morning Sun'). 'Elegant Love' is a terrific electro-popper made with the assistance of Cineplexx, aka Sebastian Limanovich, 'Fireworks' has an American indie feel to it, complete with faux-Latin rhythms, 'All Around The World' is another little gem, while the penultimate cut 'The Unforgiven' wraps up the album's theme in, well, tragic style. Pop nous, simple but effective arrangements and well-matched male/female vocals make this a substantial, enjoyable release that fans of BMX Bandits will want to acquire. It's a limited edition of 2000 however, so don't hang around. (www.elefant.com)
"Spacey country" is the description of the music of Lilly Hiatt & The Dropped Ponies given by Ms Hiatt herself, and this, on new release "Let Down," is more or less accurate. Drifting pedal steel guitars, pattering drums, simple bass and layers of acoustic guitars underpin the sweet vocals of opening cut 'Championship Fighter,' but there is stronger stuff here too, not least the Neil Young-esque '3 Days' and 'Angry Momma.' Hiatt cites Young as an influence, along with Liz Phair and Townes Van Zant. 'Oh Mister' is classic Americana - melancholy, American cities namechecked, reverb-drenched lap steel guitars... very good though, because it all works together. Good tune, too. 'Master' recalls 'fifties guitar sounds and dishes the dirt on ordinary life - perhaps in the coffee shop where this artist has worked for six years. Album closer 'Big Bad Wolf' channels pop-rock by way of Young again in a stomping, ear-mangling uptempo rocker; great ending. This album is a cut above the norm through its songwriting and cohesiveness, but the vocals and band playing are high quality too. Pretty darn good.
"Left In Shadow" by The Killing Fields Of Ontario is a four minute single by these British almost folk rockers, taken from their second album "How The World Ends." Impassioned vocals, pattering drums, a superb mix and massed orchestral instruments make this a thrilling song. Live, it must be a crowd-pleaser. With continuing support from BBC 6Music and other stations this band could, on the strength of this single, go far. Fans of Arcade Fire take note.
The five track EP "Split Screens" by Split Screens, aka Jesse Cafiero, is a collection of downtempo cuts; aching and softly sung vocals, hallucinatory instrumentation, and languid tempos. Opener 'Born' sets out the stall perfectly - a gorgeous mix of mood, playing and singing, with a hint of '69-71 Floyd in the slide guitar playing. Cafiero lives in the Catskills area of New York State, whose most notable residents, Mercury Rev, may be an influence. 'When It Comes To You' repeats the trick of the first track and is at least as good, while 'Hovering' is even more languid, recalling the Floyd again via that slide guitar and a whirring Hammond part. 'Paying The Price' brings in complex drumming, while 'Deep Down' is the least melancholy and drifting track. The Floyd references are tasteful, the production is gorgeous, and overall it's a lovely listening experience.
The Wonder Revolution hail from Wichita in Kansas, and open their third album of 2012 "Firefly" with a brief acoustic guitar piece, before heading off into post-rock on the album's title track, which, in mesmeric mode, cuts melodic vocal fragments with a fairly progressive instrumental arrangement. Influenced by Miles and Beatles - in musical approach only - the album seeks to explore the concept of wonder via lyrical concerns such as mushrooms, sparkflowers and airborne bicycles. This all sounds rather hippy-dippy, but the sound, indeed the music as a whole, comes from somewhere else entirely. It's a kind of even-lighter-than-air euphoria; the sound of human-produced loops. 'Layers Of Miracles' opens with backwards loops before Alisha Hunt's cosmic voice enters the fray - imagine an acoustic Cocteau Twins. 'Leo' and 'Was That A Star' are less than two minutes each, but contribute much to the work as a whole, while the longest track on the album, and the most tuneful, 'Invisible Until,' is its summation, drifting softly sung vocals over a hypnotic tapestry of acoustic guitars, synths, bass and drums. It would be unfair to categorise this as shoegaze, though it takes much from that genre, because the overall feel is lighter. One for Stereolab fans, certainly. A terrific album, highly recommended.
It's extraordinary to think that a brand of music created by a bunch of stoned hippies in Ladbroke Grove has over the last forty years mutated into a multitude of sub-genres, one of which, stoner rock, is well represented by the double album "She Said" by psych heavies Colour Haze (yes, the band name says it all). Opening with a nineteen minute colossus of thrumming bass, pounding drums and multi-tracked, harmonised guitars, the band evoke retro as best they can - check out the vinyl-styled CD face artwork. 'This' is a brief Rhodes'n'stomp cut designed to make a break before the heaviosity of 'Transformation,' which, like all the tracks on this album, is heavy and guitar-drenched, although there is less of an improv vibe on this one, especially when the WTF brass section comes in at the end. Mental as anything! Disk two presents more improvised music the same mode, with the opening cut 'Breath' featuring some particularly tasty guitar work, though 'Rite' matches it with some lovely flamenco style playing and an abundance of harmony playing from the talented Stefan Kaglek. There are echoes on this disk of much missed American psychonauts Mountain, I think. One for fans of Sungrazer, Litmus, Stone Oak Cosmonaut and of course them Hawks.
Okay. So... you've toked and munched and now you want something psychedelic and uplifting. Why not try the debut release "Preparing The Feast Of Skeldon" by The Infrared Radiation Orchestra, which is psych and bright and a little bit fuzzy around the edges. The band is essentially a trio led by songwriter Kim Draheim, ably abetted by bassist Richard Terry and drummer Paul Nolan, and also by underground legend Dave Anderson - he of Foel Studios, Amon Düül and much more. Opener 'Love/Gas/Match' proffers a song of sorts followed by an extended soloing section, which works quite nicely. "Answers come from beneath my rug" opines the fast and bad 'Airborne,' while 'Demolition Derby' opens jangly and West Coast before heading off into a kind of bluesy Doors territory. The ten minute 'Your Witness, Dr Freud' is another languid psych opus, wherein some very nice guitar soloing is presented; in this track both mixing and mastering emphasise the bassier end of the bass, to good effect on this track, and much of the rest of the album. 'Lamb To The Slaughter' is a part-spoken riff on tribes and communities, while 'You Saw Me Coming' is a cover of a Nick Saloman track, and the album closer a medley of Jagger/Richards, Floyd, Hendrix and Byrds tracks. Good if you're psychedelic and like the garage sound.
If you are psychedelic but need rescuing from that noisy garage you could do a lot worse than have a listen to "Eclipsing" by Dream Boat, which is essentially the project of Page Campbell (ethereal vocals) and Dan Donahue (ethereal sounds). This is The Wonder Territory... er, territory, but also that of Beach House, Sway, The Sunshine Factory, Saint-Marie Records and many more (the genre is listed as 'psychedelic folk cosmic electronic'). The cuts here drift and float in clouds of delicate instrumentation and reverb; nicely done, it has to be said, though these days not quite so original. The first album highlight 'Wildfires' matches thumping kick drum, backwards percussion and shimmering synths to great effect, while 'Be Beautiful' brings a lovely tune to an equally lovely arrangement - the kind of cosmic folk hinted at earlier, and another album highlight. 'Brokes Open' is similar in feel, but the synths and effects are higher in the mix, leading to a rather eerie cut. 'No Trouble' comes across like Annie Lennox emerging from a nice fluffy dream, while album closer 'Let Go' is more of a production piece, where samples and synths meet another floating vocal - another highlight. Turns out psychedelic folk cosmic electronic was the correct genre for this work, which is pleasant in its own right but which perhaps sits a little too easily in the current crop of dream-pop.
Athens, Georgia. What is it about that place? Well, I've no idea, but probably Jacob Morris does know, as he presents his new album "Moths" to the world from that very city. Ten songs with hints of Americana, hints of pop, hints of country. Opener 'Sidewind' hints at a tune, but 'Flowers (Myrtle)' is better, and 'Spider' much better - the mix and arrangement are sparser, which I feel goes better with Morris' plaintive, though emotionally sincere vocals. The track has a memorable melody too. 'Lost Twilight' is waltztime and Americana with a nice string section beneath it, while 'Dusty' references not the much loved singer, rather a lost love; this track is perhaps the most 'country' of all on the album. 'Wet Cigarette' is an uptempo pop-rocker with gorgeous harmony vocals and a quirky arrangement, the overall effect not bad at all - maybe this is the album's single. 'Glass' is almost as tuneful as 'Spider' but the arrangement is more Americana, as is that of 'Click Of Your Watch,' which wraps everything up musically and lyrically.
What is it about women and bars? Well, I do know the answer to that one - women and alcohol. A funnier answer would be women and chocolate, and that answer would be more in keeping with the absurdist agenda of an album referencing John Prine and Kris Kristofferson, namely "Tennessee Sushi" by John Norwood. Bleak, melancholy, elsewhere bright and country-fied, musically this is Americana to the max. Norwood's voice however reminded me of the noted American comic Greg Proops, which is to say the least alarming to this reviewer, and it made the tenor and subject of the songs a little trickier to accept than they would otherwise have been... But with that caveat, let's go forward. 'Before Too Long' is breezy and poppy, 'Lonely Women' banjo-fied and risqué, 'The Hill' a charming mixture of Julian Cope's wit and Morris' music (could easily be an out-take from "Skellington"), while 'Female Version Of Me' concerns the evils of whiskey. The concluding trio of cuts take maudlin' themes and just about swipe them aside through fun arrangements. You have to ask however, whose album is it anyway?
The vogue for 'sixties/psychedelic releases on vinyl continues without abating (thank goodness) and high on the list will be albums by Suzi Chunk and The Galileo 7, three tracks from each appearing on a sampler from the artistes' record company State Productions. Suzi Chunk's three tracks are drenched in that magical era beginning in 1965 and ending in about 1968 when American multi-harmony vocal groups ruled the airwaves, to the pleasure of all. 'Probably Normal' even features a flute part, making it ultimately 'sixties! 'No Stone Unturned' and 'Girl From The Neck Down' are equally as good, but these aren't pastiche because the songs are excellent. Fab and groovy stuff. The Galileo 7 are more like The Byrds - a band, probably with Rickenbackers and a Hammond organ, men singing and no flutes. There are good songs here, not as strong as Suzi's however, but they are supported by an unashamedly retro group. Anton Barbeau will no doubt be working with them at some point. Sweet!
Mud Pie Sun are an American duo whose home-taped lo-fi songs have been around for a couple of decades, albeit with a big gap in the middle when the band went their separate ways. "Wooden Circle" consists of fourteen songs presented for the first time on CD - the band in their earlier incarnation sent their music out on cassette. This new album is very much in the mode of Low-Fye, Flake Brown, Donovan Quinn et al. 'Three More Days' is typical of the music here - one acoustic guitar, a little accompaniment here and there, and the semi-drawled vocals of Steven Pitcherella. The tracks were recorded between 2004 and 2011, with hints of material recorded as far back as 1993, so the music here is varied - and it's listenable, despite the over use of whimsy and that "who cares" lo-fi ethic. Good backing vocals on 'Eight O'Clock Walk' lift the cut, while a mad-as-you-like drum and ringing, punky guitars make 'The Other Side' quite funny, though perhaps this wasn't intentional. 'The Church Of Bitter Souls' is much more listenable, as is my favourite track on the album, 'House Of Light,' which succeeds, but in mysterious fashion. 'The Captain' sounds like a dictaphone recording from foreign shores, but the lengthy (seven minutes) is rather good, with drum machines, soft guitars and percussion. The album ends with 'Daily Drone' which to these ears is less lo-fi than the rest of the album, though it keeps the same vibe. Interesting listening of variable listenability.
A live recording by Nathan Bowles constitutes his new album "A Bottle, A Buckeye." The man is from Virginia, America, and the music represents the full range of sonic possibilities of the five string banjo - which is more than you might at first think. It was certainly more than I thought. But this is a musician of pedigree, who most notably has played alongside Jack Rose. (With the Black Twig Pickers Bowles explores Appalachian folk music.) On this album, the songs are variously trad and original compositions, played with dexterity on the man's hand-built banjo. The opening cuts are clawhammer style and ripple along nicely, especially the bright'n'breezy 'Cindy.' 'Lick Mountain Ramble' has a more gothic element, while 'Come Back Boys, Let's Feed The Horses' has banjo-slapping as an accompaniment. 'Beans' gloriously knocks the listener sideways with its bowed textures, while 'Ships In The Clouds' has the lightness of touch that made 'Cindy' such a good cut. 'Craig Street Hop' is irresistible, 'Uttararama' a bit of a trudge, while album closer 'Elk River Blues' is a delightful tune and track. Banjo afficionados will swoon upon hearing this unique work.
The Owl Service have an enviable reputation amongst neo-folk afficionados, notably through their album "Garland Of Songs," which has been expanded into "Garland Sessions" in order to fit better with main man Steven Collins' original conception of the work. This is a folk music that takes from traditional and original sources, much like the work of the Head South By Weaving & Alison O'Donnell album mentioned above. It's folk, and psychedelic folk, with a hint of folk-rock; and very nice it is too. The opening cut 'Folk Revival (A Garland Of Song)' marks out the work at once: a clear production of a beautiful song, as is 'The Rolling Of The Stones,' which brings in the folk/classical vocals of Jo Lepine. Quality always shows through. 'The Bear Ghost' is another very strong song, this time with vocals provided by Dom Cooper. 'Hoodening' is a psychedelic (sitars) instrumental break before the delicate and enchanting 'A Child's Calendar,' featuring Kate Denny. 'Katie Cruel' ramps up the psychedelic element a little more for an album highlight, while 'The Dorset Hanging Oak' is another sitar-infused psycher. 'Oxford City' returns us to Jo Lepine and 'The North Country Maid' to Nancy Wallace. On some multi-vocalist albums the vibe is one of the curate's egg, but not this album: it's a solid work. There are a couple of duffs, notably the distorted Robin Hood track, but, further along, songs such as 'A Lyke Wake Dirge' (featuring Rebsie Fairholm of "Seven Star Green" fame) and 'Turpin Hero' shine bright. Overall this is an outstanding work, and one that repeated listenings show to be full of intricacies, memorable tunes and other wonders. Alas the Owl Service is no more: this is their epitaph.
A band with a Sproatly Smith connection is always going to be interesting, and so it turns out. On "All Those Black Years" by Heed The Thunder two members of The Sproat (as I like to think of them), Alex Gordon and Kate Gathercole, make folk music of depth, gothic wonder and no small amount of mysticism. Recorded in two brief kitchen-based episodes, the album opens with a dark folk-blues 'Walking Blues' - top song, beautifully sung and recorded. 'The Sadness In Me' ramps up the melancholia (nice violin), 'Precious One' brings in brass and accordion, 'Crooked Mouth' does similarly, but 'Easter Tree' is a traditional song taught to Mr Gordon by Ledbury muso Mark Stevenson. Knowing Ledbury as I do, I'm not surprised - and this is a highlight of the album, for sure. 'Green Man' is a psych-folk instrumental of the kind epitomised by The Sproatlies, but 'Baby Got To Run' returns the listener to brass, violin and a stomping beat - and more dark themes. 'Donkey Blood' sound like a freaky musical number, 'Never See London' is sung with a keening feel, underpinned with a sweet double bass and enlivened with vocal harmonies - another album highlight, and probably the best self-penned cut here. The album closes with another melancholy drifter, 'Scottish,' which rounds off the proceedings in suitable style. Sproatly Smith fans wanting more of that bands enthusiastic psychedelia and modern instrumentation should look elsewhere - this is heartfelt music wrapped in stripped-back but perfectly judged instrumentation. Herefordshire has much talent.
"Object Of Reality" by The Lucid Dream is a retrospective collection of the work of the feted Gloucester band, here presented with demos and more. When in their prime The Lucid Dream were produced by no less a man than Will Sergeant, and had fans such as Pete Wylie. You can hear the band's Liverpudlian leanings in the shouty, Julian Cope-esque vocals of Dave Battersby, while the band's US garage roots emerge in the overall sound, especially the opening trio of tracks, which all come from their solitary vinyl release. Elsewhere the material is of variable quality. 'Live At The Wig Out Club' features some nice wah-guitars - in places very nice - while the 'My Favourite Martians' music channels punk/new wave energy by way of The Seeds or The Electric Prunes: 'Aural' is the best of this section. The retrospective concludes with the "Dippy EP," wherein terrific electric guitars and manic drums merge with tinny Casio-style keyboards provided by one Spadge. The vocals aren't great, however. As a window into a great period of British music though this is a comprehensive document.
DC Fontana will be known to all who love Brit psychedelia, and their EP "Pentagram Man" album is a classy, engaging and enjoyable run through what we mixed-up Celts and Anglo-Saxons do best: music. Produced by no less than Chief Assistant Head Donald Ross Skinner, and featuring the luxurious, multitracked vocals of new girl Louise Turner, the opener 'Pentagram Man' goes for the jugular: thrumming bass, psycher-than-thou guitars, organ skreeks and a singalong chorus. Very nice. 'DevilAngel' (sic) brings in acoustic guitars and smattering of ethnica, but again focuses on the song and the vocals, as does the psych folk 'What Would It Take?' 'Satisfied' is sung by Scott Riley and harks back to the brass-infused band of earlier incarnations. Concluding cut 'Sighed DC' is the strongest on the album, superbly produced, anthemic and rather wonderful. A version of the title track sung by ex-Sorrows guru Don Fardon completes this excellent work, which will appeal to many who enjoy a bit of psychedelia-laced songwriting and musicianship.
The complex, swirling, progressive stylings of Norwegian magicians Tusmørke on their album "Underjordisk Tusmørke" bring psychedelia, Scandinavian melancholia, mellotronalia and a few other -lias to a charming brew of pagan-inspired hocus pocusalia. Opening with the multi-themed 'Fimbul,' the stage is set: changes of pace, timbre, vibe and instrumentation all brought into a melting pot of psychedelic imagery and music. Alas the vocals are weak in places, but this is a minor point, and not always troubling - there are instrumental sections a-plenty. 'Watching The Moon Sail Out Of The East' channels the same eldritch spirit as the opening cut, but 'The Quintessence Of Elements' has much charm and no little musicality. It sounds a little like Jethro Tull on mushrooms, as do the following two tracks, which are part of the same triptych. 'Hostjevndøgn' is the final track on the album proper, coming across like a weird mixture of English folk, psych flute noodling and head-in-the-clouds prog. Great stuff, and enthralling, if rather baffling. Two bonus tracks complete the band's offering, with 'Salomonsens Hage' a bizarre concoction of Nordic pomp and prog, and 'Singers And Swallows' a 'sixties-lite song which somehow sounds like The Incredible String Band with a Norwegian Syd Barrett at the helm. A concluding seventeen minute track brings in the band's original incarnation, Les Fleurs De Mal, to pointless effect and for no obvious reason. Scandinavia sure has created some strange brews, but as with most strange brews this one certainly can be quaffed and enjoyed. Repeated listened bring more enjoyment.
The opening song of "Provincial Drama Club" by Mondo Jet Set is forty eight seconds long. There are quite a few really short songs on this album, which racks up twenty three in total. The mood however is tuneful and sophisticated - quite a tightrope to walk. A Dorset duo, this band specialise in tuneful vignettes with a decidedly English sensibility. The opening quartet of tracks are all like this, before the slower, smoother 'Pan American Flight Ad.' Then comes the first really stunning song, 'From The Loaded,' which has "massive single" written all over it - there's a hint of Julian Cope circa 1986 here in the feel, vocals and sound. Another artist this band reminded me of is Duncan Maitland, whose similarly melodious and dreamy songs emerged a year or two ago. 'Our Policemen Are Wonderful' has a darker feel to it, 'The Map's Too Big' is a tiny 'eighties vignette, 'Dave's Score' is punky and quirky, 'Caravan/The Slow Arcade' returns the listener to the Beach Boys style steady piano (as also over-used by Pugwash), 'The Frightening Grandad' is surreal, while 'D'Arbley Street Escapade' is another beautifully sung and produced track. 'Cadaver In Motion' has a couple of nice 'eighties guitar hooks, the new-wavey 'Dunstable Doug' is, well, odd, and the album closes with the title track, which returns to the nostalgic vibe and the Pugwash feel. A great amount of care, skill and musicality has been lavished on this outstanding CD, which all fans of tuneful, well-produced and varied pop would love. Recommended.
A haunting, wordless vocal, guitar and cello open "Leaf" by Dana Tupinambá, a native of Vienna, whose new album manages to be restful, mysterious and enlightening all at once. I was reminded of the slow and hypnotic work of the New Zealand singer-songwriter Caitlin - and Dana's voice does sound a little like hers. She is a guitarist of fluency too, with a lovely voice, and the songs here seem to drift through nature in a very attractive way. The opening cut 'Voz Da Terra' brings in a lyric (in Portugese - there is a strong connection with Brazil) to create a charming song, quite new-age, but in a good way. 'May You Feel' has more of a standard song structure, with more evocative guitar playing. The lengthy instrumental 'Tatry' (recorded live quite a few years ago) features flugelhorn and piano, while 'Song For Nick' is an affecting tribute to one of Dana's heroes, Nick Drake, augmented by a string trio. 'Festa Na Aldeia' opens with a Xingu Indian soundscape before another lyrical, rolling song emerges, again in Caitlin style. The title track is another instrumental, though with wordless vocals, a strong tune and the accompaniment of saxophone and harmonica: I was reminded of Pat Metheney, whose use of wordless vocals, Latin American rhythms and sounds is well documented. 'Caminho Das Arvores' recalls Metheney more strongly, with jazz vibes, upright double bass and lots of acoustic guitar - great track, with some terrific flute playing. 'Entre Dois Coracoes' is slower and more melancholy, 'Aguas Do Mar' is another restful cut with more cello, while 'Reencontro,' ending the work, is a solo guitar piece with a little additional oboe. Recorded with skill and commitment over two to three years, this album is a must for world music fans, those who veer towards the new age section but dislike the sickly sentimentality of most of that genre, or who just want something of depth and grace. Very good indeed.
Kyle Fosburgh is an American practitioner of the solo acoustic steel string guitar, who on his second album "The Travellers' Journey" offers twelve pieces, each bringing an impression of a place or mood. The Robbie Basho-inspired opening track is a light entré before the more muscular (though not undelicate) 'The Redwoods,' which compresses multiple moods into a mere five minutes. 'Journey Over Mountains' uses harmonics, guitar-striking and lots of reverb for its effect, before the brief clawhammer picking of 'Let's Go.' 'Peddler' brings in a slide part to great effect, 'Bouquet' merges two or maybe more guitar recordings into a quirky little piece, 'On The Range' completes the work begun by 'Journey Over Mountains' (this pair of tracks are the album highlights), while 'A Night In North America' turns Fosburgh's visual impressions of his home country into a rolling, lyrical theme. Beautifully played and recorded: for Basho, Fahey and Kottke fans, though all guitarists will find something to enjoy here.
Another solo guitarist influenced by the American Primitive guitarists mentioned above is dbh, aka Dan Bridgwood-Hill, whose album "Time Flies" also explores the possibilities of solo steel string guitars. 'Side Street Side' is a softly spoken piece, but 'Daytime Climber' brings in found sounds and seems to have been recorded live in the field, judging by its brevity and audio quality. 'Twelve' brings a strong melody to another gentle, reflective piece, and is multi-tracked, making for a fuller listening experience - an album highlight, this one. A full band, eerie synths and piano adorn the rather mysterious 'Climb And Descend,' which perhaps seems a little out of place on this album, though it is a strong piece. (Dan Bridgwood-Hill is the guitarist for various bands, which perhaps explains this inclusion.) 'Red On Yellow' returns the listener to solo guitar picking, as does 'Fix.' 'Ghost Dance' is spookily evocative on banjo, wailing violin and assorted percussion, while album closer 'Dark Heaven' concludes in reflective style. Very nice indeed.
"Walk Light EP" by Us And Them is a limited edition vinyl release of four songs penned by this duo, best known perhaps for their work on the Fruits De Mer record label. The mood of opener 'A Love Will Find A Way To Us' is mournful, augmented tastefully by synth and acoustic guitar. The title track has the strongest melody of the EP, and the same softly sung, mournful atmosphere. 'Weston-Super-Mare' is alas ruined by far too loud birdsong, but is otherwise pleasant, while 'Oblivion' is fragile, electric and very good. A curious and downbeat listen.
(Ritual Echo Records http://bit.ly/YZPZ3s )
New York's Onward Chariots present a big opus of rollicking songs on their new album "This Is My Confession," which covers all bases from rock to pop to synth-infused lyricism, as with the cosmic vignette 'Opening,' with its massed ranks of vocals and sundry instruments. 'This Is My Confession I' brings in the full, noisy band with some gusto and a great riff. The two main men here, whose houses were used to record the entire work, are guitarist and keyboards man Ben Morss and drummer/guitarist/ vocalist Dan Davine, with bassist Rus Wimbish present on bass, alongside a variety of other musos. 'Mel Gibson' appears to be a reluctant reflection on the film star, 'Sisters And Brothers' shows the band's talent for harmonised vocals in Alan Parsons Project style, though the cut itself is quite different; a bit of an APP feel though, perhaps because one of the vocalists recalls Eric Woolffson. And this band is not afraid of musically sophisticated, dare I say progressive arrangements. 'When You're Smiling' packs a tune and attitude, but 'Mama' brings a 'seventies oscillating synth sequence and more harmonised vocals to the mix - bizarre, but it just about works. 'Forever Never Ends' opens as if it's going to be a throwaway track, but a good vocal and an inspired chamber instruments arrangement make things work. 'You Don't Have To Be Unhappy' is actually a bit throwaway, but 'I Want To Be With You' features a sweet Fender Rhodes and 'How Could I?' is quirky enough to raise a smile (played live, I suspect, with mandolin accompaniment). 'Stay' is a strong ballad, and should have closed the album instead of 'Confession III.' There is little too much wilful experimentation on this album, notably the synth work, but the songs, attitude and vocals are easily good enough to carry the album as a whole.
So to a selection of five works all on the Tonefloat Records label, beginning with The Use Of Ashes, whose mash-up of audio fragments, synth, drones and found sounds is a kind of psychedelic collage, surreal in places, elsewhere light as a feather, whose effect overall is to hint at the variety of music we human beings can produce rather than to actually make it. Through the work song fragments are interposed with the noise and sounds, adding to the surreality, albeit anchoring it too. There is a hint of past times in some of the arrangements and the instrumentation, but overall this is a modern sounding album, especially where it rocks. Dirk Serries, aka VidnaObmana, collaborates with Jon Attwood as The Sleep Of Reason, and on the duo's self-titled album they make an ambient music created from guitar drones, chords, arpeggios and fragments, whose final effect is remarkable, and very listenable, especially last thing at night when you want to chill out and prepare for sleep. As a whole, the album could serve as background music or something to pay attention to, in the manner of Eno's original concept. The abstract quality of these compositions too lends much to their attractiveness, making this an album I enjoyed a lot. Maarten Van Der Vleuten has been described as a sonic enfant terrible, which usually means the music is unlistenable. In the case of Van Der Vleuten's new album "Are You Worthy?" the music is idiosyncratic, varied and often avant garde, but because it is founded in strong rhythms and a great sense of arrangement (notably of samples, which so often can jar if not well chosen) it works very well. Further on, the album becomes rather different: echoed vocals, real world sounds, and, towards the end, full on Berlin School sequencing. This work manages to be at once cohesive and varied, which is quite an achievement given the non-traditional feel. Polar Twins are a Dutch duo who have been described as infamous, which, again, usually means the music is unlistenable. In the case of the band's new album "We Small Hours At Swansneck" the music is a weird though not unpleasant combination of pop-rock rhythms, chanson singing, mellotrons, rock stylings, accordions, and even a stab at a pop single. In the case of this album however the too-varied styles work against it. The best of the quintet is "Rosarium" by Still Light, aka Kirill Nikolai, whose debut "Lything" was well received when released in 2009. The seven track album mixes soft, mournful folk with cosmic and eerie sounds and samples, creating a mesmeric, enchanting atmosphere. The tracks are all quite long, but none outstay their welcome - the opening cut for instance is over nine minutes, but its combination of cello, choirs, voice and song are wonderful. The album is exceptionally well recorded and produced, and is at its end a marvellous listen - a kind of ambient folk, in places reminiscent of the earlier Hammock albums, where the songs accentuate the ambience and the ambience improves the songs. Recommended, and great for relaxing to with the lights down.
"Bates Motel" by Paul Roland channels The Stranglers and The Ramones by way of mid-'90s Julian Cope on a five track, twenty minute EP, although it was originally meant to be a mash-up of songs written by Roland for the Velvet Underground. The opening track is a fast paced rocker, but the second is more VU-orientated, with a sinister drum/bass combo and some subtle violin insinuating itself into the mix. 'Bates Motel' matches half spoken, half sung lyrics with a Stranglers organ sound and some pounding tom-toms, while the fourth track is essentially the same with a bit of a Buzzcocks drawl thrown in. The concluding cut layers jagged guitars and snarly vocals over a thrumming beat. A strange mixture of moods and sounds for sure, but plenty of aural interest.
(www.facebook.com/Real Paul Roland)
Floorian are drone-psych rockers from the spacerock heartland of Columbus, Ohio, home of the mighty Jerry Kranitz and his Aural Innovations empire. On the fivepiece's new album "Cosmosaic" nine awesome cuts emerge from sonic spacery to delight the ears of the listener, opening with 'Sine Qua Non,' which begins with sitars, organs and mellotrons before bringing in the guitars and heavily reverberated vocals. It's a great wall of sound, well arranged and balanced for all its retroicity, but then the band have been going for fifteen years, and clearly know what they're doing. 'Daymare' ups the pace and makes the drums heavier, with hints of Sabbath emerging half way through the cut. Fans of Astra would definitely like this one. 'Trance Mission' increases the importance of the synths to make a cut part Hawkwind, part Quarkspace, while '1 Won't Do Take 2' returns the listener to distorted vocals and thrumming bass, with a melange of guitars and synths underneath. There's a verse and a chorus too! 'Take IV' runs through similar territory, but 'Daze' is a mixture of ambient textures and almost 'sixties retro vocals and song structure. 'Take X' is synth-heavy and rather good, while album closer 'Cryptid' is a curious mixture of slow and light with reverb-drenched and heavy sounds. Subsequent listens show evidence of subtle layers beneath the noise and fuzz. Great stuff. Spacerockers will lap up this very good album - one for fans of Astra and their ilk, but also Hawkwind, Litmus, and maybe the Quarkspace fans will approve.
"Love's Spring" by Two Wings is a curious affair - part indie jazz, part whimsy, part very weird vocals. Hanna Tuulikki, the aforementioned vocalist, will be known to Terrascope readers as a member of the excellent The Family Elan, but on this album's opening track 'Eikon' her vocals are rather an acquired taste - at least, above the parping brass, with its almost Van Morrison vibe. Male/female vocal harmonies are the order of the day for the much more restrained 'Feet,' which is a lovely track and much more palatable, Tuulikki's vocals further back in the mix and not so whiny. Alas the helium-voiced one returns for the title track (imagine a silly, drunk Kate Bush), but on 'Altars And Thrones' the vocals are good, and beautifully mixed into the rolling, crashing backing track - this is the album highlight. A similar feel, albeit in waltztime, enlivens 'It Hurt Me,' before the weird drawl of album closer 'Forbidden Sublime,' which again features Tuulikki's vocals. For some these vocals will be too bizarre to be taken seriously, while others may like them. The success or otherwise of this album will very much depend on that issue.
Ember Schrag was adopted by militant Christians as a child, and this terrifying upbringing informs much of her work, including the lyrics on her debut album "The Sewing Room." A series of portraits of life based on voice and acoustic guitar, each song is decorated by a small number of other instruments, such as piano, cello, Leslie'd guitar, etc. Most of the opening cuts are slow and gentle, but the mood turns country & western for 'La Maria' amd 'I Ain't A Prophet,' while 'In The Alley' merges jazz with Sheryl Crow vocals. The title track is a haunting meditation on solitude, while 'Your Words' covers the territories of sin. Closing cut 'April Night' is short and strange. For sheer chutzpah in the face of a vile and oppressive religion this solo artist's offering should be lauded, and there is more than a hint of melody in the music, not least on the penultimate cut 'Houston,' which may be the album's highlight.
From the Lleyn Peninsula in Wales come Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, who on their third album "Draw Dros y Myndd" perform a curious Welsh-language Americana, not least on opening cut 'Glaw,' pedal steel, whirring Hammond and all. The same vibe and instrumentation continues without noticeable change until the appearance of Branwen Williams on vocals for 'Deio Bach,' which makes for a welcome shift of mood. On 'Llanw Ucha' Erioed' the tempo is unexpectedly upped and the band go into rock mode, but the rest of the album returns to mid-tempo Americana-lite. Difficult to imagine what market this could be aimed at.
Jesus On Mars make ambient music of the slow change, analogue variety on their self-titled album, opening with a ten minute slab of drone, distant voices, analogue effects and sonic patternism entitled 'Jesus On Mars.' Yes, it's all been done before, but this is a good listen nonetheless, and worthy of attention. The nine minute 'Martian Deserts Of The Mind' follows, and this track is a much wilder trip, incorporating what appear to be distorted guitars into the mix; the sounds slowly build into a disturbing cut, like a missive from Martian hell. 'At The Dreaming Pole' brings in softly oscillating sequencers and other analogue effects into a brief cut, before the nine minute 'Galactic Pot Healer,' which also features sequencers, here higher in the mix, making for a more successful track. Almost half of this album however is taken up by the final track, 'Martian Time Slip,' which opens with spacey sounds and weird noises before various curiously distorted synth and vocal lines emerge, like oriental calls from distant orbit - a very effective combination, leading to a really good, if perhaps overlong, track. Fans of twenty first century electronica would like this cut, as would fans of Black Tempest. Enjoyable and strange in equal measure, and recommended for trippers!
The new Sky Burial album "There I Saw The Grey Wolf Gaping" merges electronics with vocals to create a striking palette of sounds; and having much enjoyed Michael Page's last album, I was intrigued to see the name Bridget Wishart on the guest list, Bridget of course being a talented vocalist. The album opens with 'Incantare,' a giant, sustained chord, piano sounds and a vocal cries, which over ten minutes change, mutate, then return to where they were at the beginning of the track - a wonderful opener. 'Shedding The Husk' is similar in arrangement, but uses a different set of sounds: deeper, tougher, more metallic. This track is also superb. 'Carne[val]' is composed by bandmate Danny Hyde, and consists of various sample loops (pianos, I think) oscillating in or out of unison to mesmeric effect. 'Silence Moves' is another ten minute drone track moving from mood to mood, before 'Beyond The Veldt' which features Bridget Wishart on vocals; only a short track, but a very good one. The final three tracks are all short: 'Fools Circel 9WYS' is another mix of samples and exotica from Danny Hyde, 'Bone To Beak' is drones and slabs of synth, while the title track is similar, but with more mystery, less drone and more pure sound effects, including, bizarrely, the bagpipes. As a whole this is a superb album, collecting the mystical with the electronic, and it comes recommended.
The Treat are old fashioned rockers with some really old fashioned lyrics: "You're a headcase baby on a suicide trip." Yes, they really do sing that... On the band's new album "Lepers And Deities" drums pound, bass thrums, and guitars take solos, while the music has the full range of styles and sounds, from classic all the way through to rock. The title track however features some nifty violin playing, and is a cut above the opening tracks, while 'Bougainvilleas In The Sand' has a lighter feel, with some nice flute playing and good guitars; an album highlight. 'Headcase Baby' is forgettable, but 'The Falcon & The Iron Rain' makes a fair stab at a 3/4 time song with an unusual arrangement. 'Strangers Passing Thru' is another album highlight, with nice keyboards, bass, and more flute (the flute really does improve some of these tracks). 'My Old School' is nothing to do with the Steely Dan classic, instead relating, in New Wave style, tales of an appalling school. It was an unattractive school it seems and, not least because of the language used, it inspires an unattractive song. Album closer 'Valerie' is uptempo, jolly and much more accessible. Overall, patchy, peculiar, but not without its merits.
"Deform From Within" by Chinese guqin master Wu Na is a set of six non-traditional pieces, recordings made of this zither-like instrument made by one of its great practitioners. The range of sounds that Wu Na gets from the instrument is amazing - rolls and trills, as you would expect from the harp-like form, but also crashes, splats, crunches and harmonic zings (you'll have to excuse me using such words to describe impossibly complex sounds...) Three long tracks are set amidst three shorter ones, the overall effect being soft, subtle and peaceful, creating a kind of Tao-like Oriental calm, as of late evening. A special listen, this one.
From Adrian Shenton & Banks Bailey (both luminaries of Quiet World, Phonospheric, and more) comes a new four track album 'Wrapped In Clover,' the intent of which is to evoke childhood places familiar to the artists. As ever the music utilises much found sound, field recordings, etc, underneath the softly shimmering synth tones, notes and drones. 'Rapt In Clover' is a nicely judged mix, but 'In Which The Goose Has Been Broken' is a much spookier affair, with difficult-to-source sounds floating over a minimal tapestry of music. The birds return for 'Dog Days,' also an attractive track, then the final track 'Evening Shadow,' which has a strange trebly synth drone working all the way through it, above car whooshes and found sounds. All in all, a slightly unsettling listen, but very well put together.
The Jigsaw Seen have made a lot of music in the last few years, but their new album "Gifted" is one they didn't mean to make, consisting, as it does, of tracks left over from their last album "Winterland" plus a selection of new compositions. As the band observe, this new one could be viewed as the soundtrack to the last album. Opening with the uptempo shaker 'Open Up The Box Pandora,' the bands signature sound - psych-tinged pop with rock elements - is apparent at once. 'Myth Of The Season' is piano based and quieter, 'Christmas Ain't For Christians Anymore' (ain't that the truth) is an attempt at ironic anti-consumerism, but 'Couples Skate' is a really nice little tune. 'Sell Me A Coat' returns to psych-pop territory, and is one of the more successful cuts on the album. 'The More You Change' is one of the highlights of the work, with a bit of a tune and a nice arrangement, while 'Rise Of The Snowflake Children' is a joyful, though rather short pastiche of 'seventies harmony songs. The title track is a silly stomper, though not without its charms, while album closer 'Pretend Its Christmas' returns the listener to the vibe of the opening cut. The quality control has perhaps been reduced a little compared with an album like, say, "Bananas Foster," but this is nevertheless a good piece of work.
"Transit Of Venus" by Texan dream-pop band Black Forest Fire pits chiming guitars with steady drums and that 4/4 style of bass playing favours by bands who like to build small openings into big climaxes. This is shoegaze music, certainly, but its particular mixture of heavy drums and light guitars is an interesting combination. The band reference similar acts such as Beachwood Sparks, but also newer acts like Rilo Kiley, who were a hit with the critics a couple of years ago. Opening cuts 'Live News Feed' and 'My Dreams' set the tone of the album, but there is some variation, notably on 'Opening Sun,' which is lighter and more delicate, and 'St Christopher' with its out-and-out rock vibe - no reverb here, or at least much less. 'Don't Need An Angel' is similar in sound, but 'New World Order Pilot' returns the listener to the world of slow, reverb-drenched shoegaze. With its Storm Thorgerson cover and its accomplished, if on occasional samey, soundworld, this is an interesting release.
Sone Institute are from a place of strange cut-ups and audio madness. Essentially the nom de plume of multi-instrumentalist Roman Bezdyk, the album "A Model Life" is composed of fourteen bizarre, sample-filled, ever mutating, looping, changing and challenging pieces, all of them instrumental. This is the love-child of William Burroughs and FSOL, put through Bezdyk's sonic blender and accompanied by guest musicians, not least flautist Katie English of Isnaj Dui. The tracks are all different, all smart, with highlights the jovial, lounge-tastic 'Back At Yesterday' and the shimmering, Eno-esque ambience of 'Brittlestar.' Some will find the listening experience a little too varied over the duration of fifty three minutes, but there is plenty of interest here, and the constant change is melodic enough to make the variety easy on the ear. A challenging, but thoughtful experience, which, when it works (more often than not) does work well, and interestingly.
The Leigh Folk Festival is Britain's largest free folk festival, and on "Wrecks, Rucks, Riots & Resurrection: Songs & Tunes From The Leigh Folk Festival 2012" the songs of twenty acts are collected, giving an impression of this year's festival. All the acts donated their music for free, which considering the disk features Martin Carthy (a great version of 'James Hatley'), Darren Hayman and Sharron Kraus is something of an achievement. Other highlights include the tuneful 'Romans 8' by Lucky Strikes, the gorgeously sung folk torch song 'To Bio/Come To Me Beloved' by Roshi (a more contemporary sound than some of the trad artists), and the rollicking, jazzy version of the classic 'John Barleycorn' by Burton Bradstock, which I liked for its sheer verve. Another highlight, recorded in my home town of Shrewsbury, is Katroina Gilmore & Jamie Robert's 'Fleetwood Fair.' The running order of the tracks is very well judged, and at five pounds this is a must-buy, not just for those who attended the event, but those who want to hear the cream of new British folk. Kudos to Paul Collier, the artistic director of the event.
"We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes" by The Dandelion War is a very interesting prospect: an album of ambience, of electronica and of post rock shoegaze, opening with the haunting chords of 'Strange Ghosts,' which sets a strong tone for the album as a whole. This is the band's second album, and they have built up a strong following on the west coast of America. A wry observation on the one sheet notes that the band put reverb on everything, and indeed they do, but in this context the ploy works. The vocals are an acquired taste at first - echoes of Mercury Rev - but sit well in the minimal, synth-dominated backing tracks. 'Drifters' opens quiet and, well, drifty, then beefs up as the register of the vocals deepens and the bass and drums come in. Some of the guitar parts reminded me of Stuart Adamson of The Skids. 'A Different Heav'n' opens with arpeggiated guitars and angelic vocals; and a little less reverb. 'A Mi Alrededor' is even quieter and gentler, with a whacking great reverb on the guitar, before the post-rock styled wig-out at the end comes in, with a nice descending chord sequence. 'De Humo' is a brief shoegaze before the almost nine minute 'Stone Castles,' which sits peaceful and echoing on a bed of piano and shimmering synths. This is a classy album with much to recommend it, and, with its dramatic sea monster-based artwork, it is a striking package.
Marianne Nowottny & Barry Schwabsky on their album "A Voice Hears You From Mysterious Places" offer a collection of Schwabsky's poems set to Nowottny's avante-garde music. The collaboration is uneasy at first, with the words not gelling with the music, but by the time of 'Deep Instructions' there is a little more coherence. All of the tracks are described as vignettes, and this perhaps works against them, and against the album as a whole. 'Power Of Speech' is also interesting, as is the album's last track, 'Immigrant,' where Schwabsky speaks over an intriguing collection of looped samples and found sounds. This project I feel is partly successful.
Working with Levon Helm is quite a distinction, and so the new album "Live In Peace" by Long Island resident Russ Seeger has quite a background before even a note is played. Opening with the slow-burn 'No Crime Like Hatred,' the mood changes into twelve bar blues for 'So Good Looking' - traditional structure and traditional lyrics, however. 'Sound Asleep' is more of a ballad, while the title track is a rough 'n' ready rocker. The vocals on the opening trio of tracks have a hint of Elvis Costello, but not on the title track, with its more husky vocals; there's a nice bass too, played by Seeger the multi-instrumentalist. 'Hang Me Out To Dry' matches fuzzed out guitar with a girly chorus and another rocking vocal. The band are in fine form on the subsequent pair of cuts, 'Trust In You' and 'Red Rose,' with the latter perhaps the strongest vocal on the album - a nice Hammond organ too. The album closes with 'A Requiem,' which is piano-based, slow and steady. For sheer energy, enthusiam and a great mix and arrangement this is a notable release.
Paul Oska is a singer-songwriter whose six track EP "Urban Hermit" was begun in a recording studio, but which for various musical reasons reverted to a home-recording set-up for its completion. However a typical listener wouldn't notice the join, I suspect, as solo guitar and solo voice are both nicely recorded. Opening with the melancholy 'Cliodhna,' the scene is set: one man, his voice and his guitar. All six songs have strong, if idiosyncratic melodies, and the work as a whole, at twenty two minutes, isn't too long for the comparatively limited format, nor too short for the skills of the musician not to show. 'Ten Thousand Hands' is a standout cut, as is 'Her Song,' which has an eerie muted fingerpick guitar sound. A listen both interesting and melancholy.
"We Become Ourselves" by Rebekka Karijord is something else entirely: big production, big ideas, big musical spaces evoked by the woman's smooth yet soulful voice (she's got a wide range, and sounds quite like Annie Lennox). The unusual production is imaginative, and greatly adds to the music. Handclaps, piano, and a strong vocal mark out the opening cut 'Prayer,' which really sets the mood - emotive, strange, exotic. The instrumental sound, which reminded me a lot of some of Malcolm McLaren's "tribal" work of the 'eighties, continues on 'Use My Body While It's Still Young.' I was also reminded of recent albums by Metal Mother, Rita Ro, and Diva. Rebekka Karijord is undoubtedly in this sub-genre - she however is from northern Norway, and this stark landscape does inform some of the arrangements, to the benefit of the album, though it was recorded much further south, in Sweden. A beautiful harp and deeply reverberated metal percussion add to the title track, with its lovely melody; an album highlight. 'Oh Brother' is comparatively gentle, and takes the album's original theme - Karijord's relationships with men - as its centre. 'Your Love' returns to the soundworld of the opening tracks, with a little Enya thrown in for good measure - another great track. 'Multicoloured Hummingbird' seems out of place - range-hopping vocals, stringed instruments, virtually no percussion, but it works as a piece. 'You Make Me Real' has multiply-harmonised vocals over a minimal backing, including (in Kate Bush style) deep male vocals. 'Ode To What Was Lost' is a kind of neo-ballad set to piano and little else until its high-register conclusion, while 'Bandages' is a light and angelic confection with a slight melody but lots of atmosphere. This is a very accomplished, fascinating and involving album - recommended.
I reviewed "Signs Of Life" by Beaten By Them in 2007, finding the album to be "a collision of rock and classical that twists genres and makes them irrelevant." The same could be said for the band's new album "Kinder Machines," which, as before, is mostly instrumental but with occasional vocal interpolations. The opening trio of cuts are quirky little instrumentals in quiet mode, but 'Maps Not Territories' flies headlong into Teutonic synth rock, with a nice interplay between keyboards and percussion - a highlight, this track. 'Salvador Divinorum' (I see what you did there guys) brings in drawled vocals, but the focus on 'Spring Bird' is a great cello part played by Boima Tucker, who made such an important contribution to "Signs Of Life." 'Spring Bird' is a delightful, piano-infused psychedelic instrumental, 'Point Reyes' is a brief foray into bucolica, while the title track has a bit of a Velvet Underground vibe going on - successfully - with more piano and cello; another album highlight. Closing cut 'City Of Joy' is a shuffle, again instrumental, and with a pleasant melody. All in all, another intruguing and enjoyable album from this band.
Vaults Of Zin make dramatic, guitar-and-synth based instrumental music, which on their EP "Vaults Of Zin" comes across as the soundtrack to a horror film - dark and doomy. It's a kind of rock noir from the heart of Denton, Texas. 'Cydonia' and 'Tharsis' are in the aforementioned dark mode, but 'Marhazu,' though similar, is more of a jazz-fest, enlivened by a superb synth solo from Stephen Lucas that sounds like a Jean-Luc Ponty nightmare from the 'eighties. EP closer 'Zongse-Rekluz' is again the same, but more guitar based, with a more traditioned time signature and structure. An entertaining listen, for sure, and recommended from progsters who have turned to the dark side. Quixod, meanwhile, are a side project of Vaults Of Zin, with Stephen Lucas this time on trumpet duties. The music on their EP "Static Shield" is lighter, with far more emphasis on acoustic instruments. 'Octopus Oil Spill' also features a shimmering Leslie'd guitar and simple but effective percussion. Band leader Greg Dixon sings on 'Put On A Clown Suit' and also on the idiosyncratic (clarinets and drum machines) 'Pink Fourteen,' which just about works through all the whimsy. 'Rent Tilapia' is the highlight of the EP, a gentle song well sung and arranged, with a tasteful slide guitar lurking in the background, while the EP concludes with the Gorkys-esque 'Realtime Prophets.' Another enjoyable listen from these Texan mavericks.
Heavier-than-thou heirs to the mantle of 'seventies Hawkwind Litmus do their thing on their new album "Slaughterbahn," on which they are stripped down to a trio, although one James adds some synth sounds. Recorded at Dave Anderson's Foel Studios (home of the Ozrics in the 'eighties, and so many more great bands) the sound is rocky, psychedelic and very noisy, with all band members contributing synth sounds as well as their own main instruments. 'Deeper' riffs and rocks and has a guitar solo, and well harmonised Hawk-style vocals. 'Spark' is fast and furious, 'Breakout' is even faster and just as furious, with some slightly out of place mellotron in the mix, while 'Static' is more of a stroll. 'Satellites' brings in Joie-style analogue arpeggios for a hint of the Ozrics, while retaining the Brocky vocals - an album highlight, this. 'Last Man Standing' is a chugging cut, 'Sleepless' similarly though full of manic energy, 'Kommissar' has a Zep-like riff and snarled vocals very much in "Space Ritual" style, while album closer 'Slaughterbahn' is eight minutes of riffing, harmonised vocals and much analogue synth. There is too much strings mellotron on this album, but fans of early Hawkwind or of the heavier side of spacerock will love it.
"I'd Rather Disappear Than Stay The Same" by Minnesota resident Dolfish is a rather odd mixture of quavery, wavery, high-pitched vocals, soft acoustic instrumentation and minimal arrangements. The vocals really are unusual, and will for some people be a barrier to enjoyment; it's rather like hearing somebody do a very stripped back 'opera sound' in a theatre - there is a spoken element to the singing, underpinned by the unusual delivery. I listened to this thinking the recording tape had been sped up after recording. Elsewhere, as on the title track and 'Don't Kick Me While I'm Down' more electric instruments come in to the mix, including a Hammond organ and some drums. 'Roanoke' returns to the "theatre" vibe (a sound helped along by the choice of reverb on the voice, I should add), while later tracks, notably 'Perspective Is A Funny Thing' have a hint of Americana, and 'I'm Proud Of You Joanna' a rock vibe. This album is a bit of a curate's egg, with some tracks sitting uneasily between song and whimsy.
Chickencage Experience appear to be an offshoot of Polytoxicomane Philharmonie, whose "Go Ape" I reviewed in 2010 - Freakout Krautjazz, they named their musical style. The vibe is similar on "An Eggsploitation Movie," which merges keyboards, snappy drums, thrumming bass and huge quantities of wah-wah guitar and psych vocals into a rather superb mix. The tracks are long and winding, with much to listen to on the way. Opener 'The Eternal Road' has dreamily echoed vocals whispering over the pattering drums and organ stabs - a great cut, with lots of verve. 'Lascivious Dungeon Tales' is much slower and has a distinct ethnic slant, with H.M. Fischli's vocals hinting at exotic lands. The seventeen minute 'Novelette Of Bitter And Sweet' has more than a hint of Gong or The Ullulators, but the music is original, and goes off on its own many tangents, some rocky, some keyboard-infused. A really good cut, this. 'The Owl, The Bell & The Club Of Veterans' is almost eighteen minutes and has more of an upfront rock vibe, with lashings of wah-wah guitar. Sounds like they had a great time making this track. 'Ride Ridden Shine' is a comparatively slight twelve minutes, and is delay-shrouded, light and airy, while 'Homesick Tours' is dubby and filled with analogue synths and occasional guitar licks. This is a really good album that all fans of spacerock will love - recommended.
The re-release of "The Garden Of Mysteries" by Scandinavian multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl, aka In The Labyrinth, is a welcome thing indeed. I've been singing the praises of this talented musician for some time, so it's good to see a new version of these tracks, initially released by Lindahl on cassette during the 'nineties, but now remastered for new fans. The music has elements of progressive and other sub-genres of rock, but the main influence here is ethnic - there are many wonderfully exotic instruments threaded through the music on this twenty-two track album, including quena, daf, deraboukah, tamboura, and some Arabian-styled vocals. The music is mostly instrumental however, and can best be described as rock-influenced world music. If you haven't discovered this man's music yet, do try him - he's very good indeed. Highly recommended.
Thanks for those Steve, much appreciated. Back now to myself, Simon Lewis, to see you through to the wee small hours:
With a lovely voice and songs to match, Kait Lawson, has a world-weary approach on her album “Until We Drown”, mature lyrics cloaked in a country/americana style, a ringing acoustic guitar the bedrock for some fine arrangements and memorable melodies. Favourites include the melancholy “Mad Ones”, a simple string arrangement bringing out the emotion, and the equally emotive title track that closes the album with grace and beauty. Elsewhere, the songs are fleshed out with drums, organ and electricity giving them a rockier vibe but it is the quieter/slower songs that work best for me. One for those late night evening in the kitchen with a bottle of the good stuff. (http://www.madjackrecords.com/the-artists/kait-lawson/)
Formerly a student of Robbie Basho, The Guitar playing of Rich Osborn, is tranquil and evocative on his album “Giving Voice”, the artist describing his style as “free raga style”, something that suits it perfectly and much better than the “new age” tag that the album gained when first released. Gentle and meditative from the start, the music flows beautifully, time is stilled as if watching the ripples of a summer pond, insects darting, a soft breeze offering sweet contact, the scent of flowers dancing in your mind, each experience mingled with the next. Dedicated to his wife Bev Brown 1943-2011, as is the whole collection, “The Glance” is wreathed in emotion, a delicate yet passionate piece that has love at its core. Always inventive and engaging this is a relaxed listen that searches for the light within. (http://www.richardosbornguitar.com/)
Mixing electronica, classical, pop and experimental influences, the music of violinist Judy Kang is perhaps, on first listen, not that Terrascopic but I feel it is worth mentioning for two reasons, firstly the level of her playing and composition is of the highest order ( She has played with Ryuichi Sakamoto, headlined Carnegie Hall, and toured as part of Lady Gaga's show) and secondly the track “Strawberry Dream” seems like a complete homage to “Maggot Brain” but this time played on the violin, leaking emotion from every pore, this is a tune worth searching for. Elsewhere, shades of Bjork and Laurie Anderson mean that there is always something to engage the listeners ear although fans of Japanese psych, Faust or wyrd-folk may find it all a bit pop orientated. Released March 5th (http://www.judykang.com/) Having written the above I played this album again while I did the washing-up, this time I was floored, there are moments of extreme beauty, gorgeous melodies and a depth that I failed to find the first few times I listened, a grower then.
Also using electronics as its base, the music of Jason Mullinax, working under the name Pilesar , adds heavy Space-Rock guitars, toys, and the proverbial kitchen sink into the mix, creating an album that is playful, intense and highly entertaining. Opening track, “Absolute Zero” is hawkwind for a new millenium, high-end technology used to create a full-on space boogie that gets you grooving around the room, whilst “Everywhere is Beauty” is junkyard reggae fired of into the cosmos to confuse the aliens. Part of a fertile musical scene, it is good to see the name of Chester Hawkins (Blue Sausage Infant) involved, both artist helping out on their respective projects, the musicians sharing similar sonic persuasions. Over 15 tracks this collection takes on a sonic journey that is highly recommended, the final track “Are We Happy Yet?” demanding the answer, “Yes we are”. (http://bit.ly/WieBba)
Best known for Smudge and working with Evan dando in The Lemonheads, Tom Morgan knows his way around a song, something that has helped produce a strong a thoughtful collection on his latest solo album “Orange Syringe”. With seemingly simple songs with traditional arrangements, it is the lyrics that draw you in first, the laconic voice delivering each word with weary belief, the simplicity of the tunes only adding to the stories, the subtle instrumental breaks allowing you time to digest those tales. Highlights include, “One True Love”, “I'll Provide the Wine” and the rockier “Jungle Boy”,but it is all good, go get one. (http://bit.ly/W9kX7R)
When I saw an album by Ragnarok fall on the mat, I was intrigued, could this be a new/long lost album by those New Zealand progsters finally unearthed after all this time. Well no, on closer inspection this is a UK punk band called The Destructors whose latest album is called “Ragnarok 12 12 12”, sadly they only put the title on the front of their CD, giving a little frisson of excitement. On the Plus side, if you like short bursts of three-chord noise with political lyrics and a healthy dose of attitude, then these boys do it with style. Over the course of 12 songs the noise is relentless with “The Final Bloodbath” being a particularly brutal example, the songs broken up with samples of politicians, preachers and newsreaders, all good clean fun. And only available as a CD on the date 12.12.12, although you can download it. (http://www.destructors666.com/)
Ok, next up a couple of releases from Twin Lakes Records. Possessing a sweet voice and a penchant for melody Dwight Smith puts both to good use on “lateral Drifts” a haunting and delightful collection that has harmony as its core ingredient. Opening with the delightful guitar/voice shimmer of “Invocation” the album settles quickly into a lazy Sunday afternoon treat, some delightful brass adding depth to “Sargasso Sea”, a tune that is graceful and remind me of King Creosote. Showing a lyrical maturity, creating art from the mundane “Wasp in the Water” is a small gem that could have come from the pen of Alan Davidson, whilst the title track highlights all that is good about the album, a gentle and autumnal atmosphere running through the collection.
Having recently reviewed their album (http://www.terrascope.co.uk/Reviews/Reviews_January_13.htm#SourceofYellow)
it is good to hear that Source of Yellow keep up the good work on “The Said”, a three track EP, that sees the band kicking up a storm on the lead track, guitar, bass and percussion dancing around an exotic, hypnotic groove, vocals swirling above, the song full of intense energy. Next up “1&9” is a gentler affair, a stripped down song with a chiming acoustic as its heartbeat. Of course, this being Source of Yellow, a distorted guitar takes the song in a moodier direction towards the end, as it should. Finally, “Maybe!” opens in a cloud of drone before bass and drums add a jazz rhythm over which a flute gyrates with glee, sparring with the vocals. Another excellent release from the band and a great accompaniment to the album. (http://www.twinlakesrecords.com/)
Working in a more traditional heavy/stoner style, with a layer of southern rock embedded in the middle, Five Horse Johnson, sound like Zeppelin might have if they came from the south. Sleazy guitars and southern-fried rhythms locking together to rock the house, the elven tracks on their “The Taking of Black Heart” album keeping your head nodding throughout. Stand-out tracks include the slide and harmonica interplay of “Keep on Diggin'”, the boogie of “Quick on the Trigger” and the ballsy rock of “Shoot My Way Out”. Good fun, play it loud. (http://www.smallstone.com/)
On the same label Mother of God turn everything up,add fuzz and rock out on their high energy album “Anthropos”. Definitely lost in some stoner desert, the sun frying their brains, the band just go for it, some fine riffing and loads of attitude seeing them through. As with all good rock bands, the rhythm section keeps it solid and simple allowing the guitars to soar, with “ the Forest” showing this approach to perfection. Elsewhere, “Aim For the sun” is slow, heavy and moody, whilst album closer “Lucy” is a deep-space slice of heavy psychedelia that hits the spot.
Opening with some droning keyboard work, it is a bit of surprise when some precise and angular guitar riffs take over letting me know that Godsticks had arrived. Sounding similar to Discipline era Crimson, although not quite as complex, the band interplay giving the songs a real energy and presence with “The Envisage Conundrum” being the first real highlight on the album of the same name. With a rolling piano motif, “In a Way That Ended Me”, shows the bands gentler side, as does the lovely guitar work on “Benchmark”, a song that is more tricky in its construction that first appears. Attempting to sound like something composed by Keith Emerson, “Disclosure” is short solo piano piece, a brief intro before the main event, the three part “Borderstomp”, with part one blasting in with a dirty riff and tricky time signature, something continued on part two, the production spot on, allowing for some interesting melodies to writhe in the background, under the main riff, adding atmosphere and tension. To end the trilogy, part three slows thing down, giving the musicians space in which to play, at least for a while before the heaviness returns with some excellent riffing, tight and dense, the music becoming claustrophobic as the track ends. Finally, “Raised Concerns” is almost a ballad, a gentle and relatively simple song and a good way to round of an collection of original, sometimes difficult, eminently listen-able tunes. Prog for now, drawing from the past, yet not lost in it and managing to be heavy without sounding like a metal band. (http://godsticks.co.uk/fr_home.cfm)
After all that rock it just might be time for something quiet and reflective, in this case, “Tiny Chairs” the first album by Wolverton. Featuring the songs, guitar and voice of Hills Snyder, with occasional help, although there is now a band built around the name, the songs are personal and humorous, having a gentle country lilt, barbed wit and sweet melodies, creating a collection of tunes that catch the ear, with “The Sissy's Lament” and “Chessmen” being personal favourites. (http://www.wolvertonmusic.com/)
With some great guitar tones, suitably gritty riffs and a perfect blues voice, there is plenty to love on “I Ain't Blue Anymore” , the latest album from Tom Dyer. On “(People Want to be ) Free”, the Howling Wolf riff is joined by some strange dissonance from the brass section, straying into Beefheart land, which seems reasonable as the next track is a cover of “Smithsonian Institute Blues (or the Big Dig)”, this version continuing the air of strangeness and unease that the Captain carried so easily. Equally entertaining is a cover of “The Witch” (Sonics), here slowed down and awash with menace. Throughout the collection there is a sense of tradition blending with a willingness to experiment, although at its heart it is a blues record, just a very interesting one with plenty to admire. (http://www.greenmonkeyrecords.com/)
Recorded live in the studio “Ho Avuto Paura Del Mare”, the latest album from Instant Drone Factory, is a slightly ramshackle affair, the musicians having a good ramble before getting to the meat of “Ain't Nobody”, the opening track, although this is a good thing to my ears, raising expectations before the track reveals itself to be a hypnotic stomp, with some fine percussion work. Continuing in the same vein, “Put Down the Guns” keeps the heaviness adding layers of spacey guitar to the mix, reminding me of the work of Evening Fires. Over five loose and definitely psychedelic tracks, the band seem very in tune with each other, working to build the mood and tension of tunes such as “Out Of the Chaos” or the long title track, the sounds ebbing and flowing magnificently. (http://www.instantdronefactory.org/)
With elements of experimentation, exotica and divine melody, the work of electroacoustic composer Thierry Vaudor, is playful and highly original. Working under the name Total Normal, his latest album “Tales of the Expected” is a cornucopia is found sounds, samples and treated noise, each track revealing a delightful range of tones and textures, with plenty of Rhythms in there too, as found on “Simba”, a latin inspired funk workout. Elsewhere “Froofie The Dog” is more experimental and weird, sounds drifting in and out the mix over stuttering beats, whilst “Soft Cage” has a spacier demeanour. Never less than captivating this whole album will keep you guessing , the pieces composed with a care and attention to detail that allows them to shine. (https://soundcloud.com/totalnormal)
Featuring pieces by Cage, Sakamoto, Bryars and and Brener, “Dawn” is a delicate and relaxing album from Harpist Julia Rovinsky. Whilst none of the pieces were originally composed for the the Harp, they lend themselves easily, with the very relaxing “Dream” (Cage) and the minimalist sounds of “Sketch for Sub Rosa” (Bryars) working particularly well, the whole disc maintaining a quiet and sedate pace throughout. (http://www.ent-t.com/)
Not at all delicate or relaxing is “Candy Tears” a rather excellent collection of guitar based songs from Pete Galub, a man whose life was changed by Terrastock II, apparently. The first thing that strikes you about “Reaquaintance”, th album opener, is the guitar tone, bright and heavy it is perfect for the voice, the song a classic post-punk tune, sounding a little like The Velvets covering Television, with plenty of room for some guitar trickery from Pete himself. Next up, the title track has another great riff and a good hook built around the chorus, the classic three-piece line up perfect for the songs dynamics. Next up “All I Am” reminds me of someone, athough somewhat frustratingly I cannot remember who, anyway this is another catchy song with a laid-back groove and a warm feel. Featuring some lovely sparklin guitar work,, “300 Days in July” is a wonderful slow song, that marks a change of pace in the middle of the album,everything balanced to perfection. Over the second half of the disc, all the good bits from the first are worked over and recycled to produce four more worthy pieces, the whole disc a collection that shines and grows on you, soon to be an old friend. (http://petegalub.bandcamp.com/)
Electronically treated and experimental rock music is a tricky beast, take it too far and it becomes noise, just dabble and it is too conventional the experimental just props for the music. It is a tightrope to walk and one that Lid Emba manage with a sense of balance and, quite possible, a casually held umbrella. Anyway on “Terminal Muse : Yellow”, the third part of a trilogy, Sean Miller manages to cloak his songs in huge foggy swathes of noise, the melodies disappearing then returning from under rocks of distortion, making for a very interesting listening experience. “Third Rail to Paradise” demonstrates this approach over seven opaque minutes, although time has no meaning when lost in the middle of the piece. On “Daniel's Wired Mercy” it is as if the band are playing at the bottom of the ocean, the water then slowly draining away to reveal a complex track that takes concentration to penetrate, whilst “Vow of Owls” is a slow, distorted drone that envelopes everything with a rising sense of menace. To end, “Hazel in my House” is almost convential, at least compared to what has gone before, a drum led piece that puts some warmth back in the room, the keyboards adding a prog feel to the album, rounding off a varied and enjoyable sonic ride. (http://www.stickfigurerecordings.com/)
Hailing from Wellington, The Garbage and the Flowers, were an integral part of the scene, gaining cult status since their demise. Now “Eyes Rind as if Beggars” has been re-released by Fire/Bo Weevil records, the double album also containing a number of unreleased bonus tracks. Whilst it is a sprawling and lo-fi collection, the first two tracks seemingly tell you everything you need to know about the band, with “”Love Comes Slowly Now” being a fractured and gentle song, whilst “Nothing going down” is a storm of guitar noise. For the rest of the album the band walks between these two opposites, the beautiful voice of Helen Johnstone adding fragile charm to the songs, whilst the songwriting talents of Yuri Frusin ensure nothing ever becomes staid or dull. As the collection moves on, shades of The Velvet Underground, Galaxie 500, are to be found, but mainly the band walk their own cracked and broken path, the songs overwhelming the noise in the end. Great stuff, but an album that needs to be listened to alone, a personal experience that you can lose yourself in with ease. (http://bit.ly/Y3JYDN)
Well, that's it for a reasonably epic Rumble, hope you found something to enjoy, thanks to everyone who sent stuff in and if you think you could help out with the writing do let me know, a new perspective is always welcome.
Terrascopic Rumbles for January was brought to you by Simon Lewis and Steve Palmer and Simon Lewis (in that order). As Simon says, it would be VERY much appreciated if we could feature the work of some other reviewers now and again, so if you fancy having a go please do drop us a line - reviews (at) terrascope.co.uk. We'll send you all the albums you could ever wish for and more besides! Meanwhile, artwork, layout & direction as ever by my own good self - Phil McMullen - © Terrascope Online, 2013