=  APRIL 2005 =

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Hala Strana

  Harris Newman

Written by:

Damon & Naomi

Cul de Sac / Damo

  Simon Lewis (Editor) Saint Joan
  Jeff Penczak Rad Kjetil
  Mats Gustafsson Six Organs
  Tony Dale Hungry Ghosts

Phil McMullen

Sean Connaughty

Skye Klad

  Travelling Bell
  Paul Metzger
  Subarachnoid Space
  Phoenix Cube
  Jamie Barnes
  Long Live Death
  Tall Grass Captains
  Gray Field




(soft abuse records  www.softabuse.com )


    This, the third album by Steven R Smiths’ Hala Strana, continues the exploration of eastern European music, using it as a catalyst for drone laden improvisation, the melodies blended with the atmospheric instrumentation to create a timeless and compelling album. Opening track ‘wood scree’ is a slow and haunting introduction, taking us away from the well –trod path and into the forest ahead. As the strings are scrapped and plucked we find ourselves under a dark canopy the music pulling the listener deeper into the earth the sounds twisting and ensnaring us like the roots of the trees themselves. As the mid-point of the album ‘Fear Of The Land’ marks the point in the journey where we leave the path completely, travelling further into the heart of the land. From here on in the melodies are heard as whispers, lost to the elements, as the music slows and disintegrates until the final track ‘For G Mesmer’which introduces some dappled sunlight as we find ourselves on the edge of the ancient path, ready to re-join our fellow travellers.

    Throughout the album a host of instrumentation is used to enhance and complement the songs, the arrangements adding atmosphere and mystery to a deeply meditative collection which has a truly organic texture. (Simon Lewis)





(Strange Attractors Audio House, P.O. Box 13007, Portland, OR, 97213-0007 USA)


    Emotionally contemplative ruminations from this Montreal acoustic guitarist highlight this follow-up to the excellent ‘Non-Sequiturs.’ With the sparse opener, 'The Butcher’s Block' and nimble-fingered rolling hills of 'Cloud City' and 'Continental Drift', Newman paints a gorgeous landscape in the mind of the listener, whether physically enjoying a walk through nature or armchair travelling through frosty fields on a chilly country morn. 'A Thousand Stolen Blankets to Keep You Warm at Night' starts, stops and slides its way through some hesitation blues, while 'Lake Shore Drive' serpentines its way through your brain and bloodstream, perfectly en-capsule-ating why the Chicago locals refer to their famous boulevard as 'L.S.D.' Only the ambient, two-part, science-fictiony soundtrack, 'It’s A Trap' strays from the album’s overall romantic mood.

    'Accidents…' strikes a delicate balance between technique and a spiritually meditative vibe, and the jazzy, soft-shoe shuffle, 'Pink Panther'-groove, and live-in-the-studio ambience of 'Driving All Night with Only My Mind' is the perfect set-closer. Recommended to fans of old masters like Fahey and Basho and new kids on the block, Jack Rose, Steffen Basho-Junghans, and Shawn Persinger. (Jeff Penczak)





(CD on 20/20/20 from http://www.damonandnaomi.com)


    Following an amicable split with Sub Pop, home for their entire 5-disc catalogue, our friends Damon and Naomi have self-released their first studio album in five years on their brand new imprint, named after an old game, Careers, where players are given 60 points to spread across three goals in life: Fame, Fortune, and Happiness. A fruitful relationship with Ghost guitarist, Michio Kurihara finds him escalated to full-time member and his electric guitar solos are a highlight throughout. Opening with what might be the lightest, fluffiest concoction in their entire oeuvre, the horn-inflected “Beautiful Close Double” rides along on Kurihara’s gossamer guitar wings. Naomi’s vocals have never been clearer than on this release, with tracks like “A Second Life” revealing for the first time subtle nuances so tragically buried in the mixes of their previous outings.

    Damon’s “Malibran,” featuring the fine horn work of Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Bhob Rainey (soprano sax) adds a smooth, sexy jazz groove to the couple’s musical arsenal and is perfect for stretching out for a fireside chat with that significant other. “House of Glass” is a little too s(l)ickly sweet, (I guess it’s Naomi’s double-tracked vocals that do it), but Kurihara’s blistering guitar lines, Naomi’s groovy organ fills and Damon’s hyperkinetic drumming save the day. The duo’s harmonies have never sounded lovelier than on “Sometimes,” which, after the obvious Low, Windy & Carl and Mojave 3 comparisons have subsided, actually had me thinking of Simon & Garfunkle covering an old Galaxie 500 tune!

    The extended dream sequence closing the title track, once again featuring Rainey’s sexy sax is the perfect music to let your mind travel the astral plane and reflect back on the marvellous collection that you have just experienced. A milestone recording in the impressive careers of Damon & Naomi, this should be the release that elevates them to superstar status and rewards them with the accompanying honours and sales that it and they so richly deserve. It’s easily their best release to date. (Jeff Penczak)





(Strange Attractors Audio House, P.O. Box 13007, Portland, OR, 97213-0007 USA)


    Ex-Can vocalist Suzuki personally invited Boston’s leading psychedelic experimentalists to collaborate with him on 45 dates through eleven countries and across two continents in 2002 and 2003 (allegedly after listening to their sophomore effort, ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed’), and this 2½ hour, 2xCD set captures highlights from the 2003 performances (along with the one track from the opening night of the 2002 tour). Flying by the seat of their pants (Suzuki’s only requirement: no rehearsals), guitarist Glenn Jones and company keep things amazingly semi-coherent behind Suzuki’s ferocious rantings. Borrowing a concept from Cluster’s 2xCD commemoration of their 1996 reunion tour, these eleven untitled “instant compositions” are identified only by the location of their recording and position in the setlist. (Thus we get titles such as “Baltimore 5,” “Frankfurt 4,” Kopenhagen 3,” etc. This is probably the only possible means of identification, as it is highly unlikely any of the “songs” were played the same way twice – or, for that matter, any “songs” were even played twice!) While obvious reference points are Damo’s previously recordings with his Network, Cul De Sac’s decade-long experience playing together brings a tight, funky band behind Damo, as evidenced by the “Beograd 1” opener (from the March 29, 2003 Serbian gig at the Dom Omladine), featuring Jones’ hair-raising guitar scrapings and Jon Proudman’s hyperkinetic drumming (Jaki Liebezeit would be, pardon the pun, “proud”!) Damo’s scat-rapping harkens back to the olden days of Grandmaster Flash, with Cul De Sac sitting in as his “Furious Four.”

    Damo’s mind and mouth wander on “Halle 2” (recorded in Germany on April 1, 2003 at the Objekt 5) until they finally settle on a chorus straight out of Donovan’s “Barabajagal.”  The track slowly morphs into a pretty damn spot-on impersonation of Peter Murphy and Bauhaus, complete with Jones’ siren-wailing guitar pyrotechnics, although at over 20 minutes, the audience’s buzz begins to fade a little earlier than the musicians’. Damo’s maniacal ravings literally rip through the belly of the beast that is “Baltimore 5” (recorded on Valentine’s Day, 2003 at the Ottobar), a hulking, violent musical maelstrom that would leave even Iggy cowering in the corner drooling all over himself in awe!

    Bassist Jonathan LeMaster adds soaring violin to create a surreal “Band I Heard in Tijuana” groove to “Berlin 4” (March 31, 2003 at the Magnet), and disk two begins with the sixth track from the tribal, hallucinatory funky Beograd show with Damo’s broken English taking on a life of its own. Unfortunately, the song is frustratingly faded into oblivion well before its climax. “Cambridge 1” (from the aforementioned May 2, 2002 tour opener at the Middle East) features Jones’ crystalline, finger-picking technique on his homemade “contraption,” and invests the track with a strong Middle Eastern surf vibe. Damo goes completely around the bend on “Berlin 6,” and takes the band kicking, screaming and pummeling the living shit out of their instruments along with him for an amphetamine-fueled onslaught fitting of Kawabata and his Acid Mothers Temple.

    Minor quibbles include the lack of liner notes (the 16-page booklet is jammed full of tour photos, but I would have loved to read Suzuki, Jones, et. al. recount some of the highlights, a la Glenn’s recollections of the band’s collaboration with John Fahey on ‘The Epiphany of Glenn Jones’) and audience participation (they are only audible on one track), although I must strongly protest the decision to inexcusably fade several of the tracks prior to their climax. This is particularly infuriating on “Kopenhagen 4” (April 5, 2003 at The Church in Møllegade 7), one of the best songs in the set, with Jones’ crescendoing guitar again battling Robin Amos’ screeching synth and electronic autoharp for supremacy. Sadly, the song wanders off mid-verse, leaving Damo (and the listener) completely stranded. I would have preferred fewer complete songs than the choice to present you with more representative excerpts, although I must give it a hearty recommendation based on the immaculately preserved recordings and the excitement generated by this fateful collaboration that finds both artists at the peak of their powers. (Jeff Penczak)








Saint Joan's Ellen McGee



(Dakota Records; http://www.saintjoan.co.uk/)


    From the moment “Klaus Kinski”’s opening chime and ticking pocket watch slowly yield to Krisztina Hidasi’s mourning violin strolling through the room, this international quintet (named after George Bernard Shaw’s play and whose members hail from as far as Strasbourg, France and Mohacs, Hungary to the southern Nottinghamshire neighbourhood of West Bridgford) offer a haunting, stalking ballad which casts Werner Herzog’s favourite whipping post as Death in Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal.’ (If you’ve ever seen Nastassja’s dad as Nosferatu, you’ll recognize the perfect fit, but lyrics such as “I can see the shadows/Play around your eyes” and “Come and we’ll play/A game of chess/Whoever loses dies” should erase all doubt.)

    The suicidal imagery of “Tigermoth” (“I cannot see the sky/From the bottom of the sea…My heart will beat no more”) is delivered with Ellen Mary McGee’s impassioned wail that’ll have you tasting her salty tears in your own saliva as you swallow that lump in your throat and Krisztina’s dirgy violin accompaniment adds another layer of grieving warmth. I guarantee you haven’t heard the likes of the funereal death march that is “Electric Light, Shine On“ since Joy Division’s “Decades.” Guitarist Matthew Williams’ duet with Krisztina opens “The Ways That We Shall Go On,” which is a swaying, bittersweet serenade with a melody worthy of Leonard Cohen or Green Pajamas’ front man, Jeff Kelly’s solo homages to same that’ll send entwined lover’s either waltzing into the night or over the nearest cliff. “For Star City” wraps the all-too-short mini album up in McGee’s treacley sweet vocals for another twisted, romantic novella that’d sit comfortably on a Sharron Kraus, Fairport Convention or (Nottinghamshire neighbours) Tindersticks album. Exquisite…emotional…essential. (Jeff Penczak)





(Goddamn I’m A Countryman http://www.countrymanrecords.com/)


    While it may take a few minutes into “Now Cover Your Body with Black Light,” the opening track on this Swedish trio’s debut to finally dawn on you that you’ve been listening to the melody from “A Time for Us” (i.e., “Theme from ‘Romeo & Juliet’”), you’ll quickly regain your footing by the time the full accompaniment of sitars, guitars, etc. wrestle that melody into a heady, psychedelic maelstrom that gently falls to earth ten minutes later like a silent shroud of snow blanketing a mid-winter’s barren landscape. (The duo trading as the Loving Eye hail from one of Sweden’s northernmost provinces, Västerbotten, making them neighbors of our old friends, Spacious Mind, in whose studio this was recorded and on whose label it was released. They, therefore, know a thing or three about the affect cold, barren landscapes have upon one’s psyche!)

    The buzzing, electronic shock treatment that is “I Dauflom” – complete with rewinding tapes, Kjetil’s disembodied (Swedish) vocals, distorted sitars and crow-cawing synths – sounds like White Noise got lost inside the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. At once intriguing, baffling and frustrating, its closest relative may be Roger Waters gathered together in a cave with several species of small animals grooving with a pict or the deranged dementia from that baffling commune of fellow Scandinavian wyrdfolks in Kamielliset Ystevet and the Origami Republika.

    The unwieldy-titled “They Use To Be Like Children, Carefree…Always Happy And Laughing” finds us back on more traditional terra firma with a hulking leviathan of a mind melter, complete with flittering guitars, marching drumbeats, and tinkling synths emulating Pied Piper flutes morphing into ominous, distorted sound effects and xylophones which gently wrap us under a comforting blanket of music boxes playing night time lullabies. “Dal-Jani Välta” combines massive, teeth-rattling, shrieking guitar with stony, deep woods ramblings like Pink Floyd with a hot poker stuck up their ass.

    The remaining two tracks are not exactly “songs” in the traditional sense, but moods or musical visions for inner explorations and are best experienced lying prostrate on a plush carpet in a dark room with closed eyes. You are highly encouraged to follow the advice of one of these latter tracks, “Let’s Build A Small Vessle And Land Inside Her Heart” and embark on this spiritual, musical journey under the guidance of Råd Kjetil and her Loving (third) Eye of God, as new meanings will reveal themselves upon each subsequent listen. (Jeff Penczak)




Six Organs of Admittance - School of the Flower

(Drag City http://www.dragcity.com)


    I’ve been a fan of Six Organs of Admittance for so long now that I have forgotten how it all started, but I remember that I was immediately floored by Ben Chasny’s uncompromising attitude, musical curiosity and not the least his talent to beautifully blend delicious slices of psych folk with drone primitivism and experimentalism.

   His major label (I realize that I use that term loosely here) debut School of the Flower is not as painfully intimate as the predecessor Dark Noontide and maybe that’s for the better as that one, although I’ve praised it beyond belief, can be somewhat emotionally exhausting to listen through over and over again. With that in mind it’s difficult to think of a better introduction to Six Organs of Admittance’s sound world than School of the Flower, and with the music climate of today I can even see this one ending up on end of the year lists, and deservedly so because it’s an amazing listen. In Six Organs of Admittance’s parallel sound universe most tracks are built up around gently picked acoustic guitar and Chasny's mournful vocals but this time out the inclusion of Chris Corsano on drums and percussion adds some tasty and unexpected bits of free jazz grooves to the proceedings.

   The epic title track starts with beautiful string massage that sounds like the sonic equivalent to taking a walk through the majestic Redwoods in the middle of the night or like strolling along the river in a picturesque historic town with each wooden house telling its own story. The way it gradually moves away from this quiet, distinctly Six Organs-esque note and veers off into space with some utterly damaged guitar playing is just amazing and yet another proof of what sort of genius this man is. I have already bored everyone silly with rambling explanations of exactly how great Six Organs of Admittance is and I am afraid that’s not going to stop now.  This is music that will hang in the air and float in your dreams until you don’t know what’s in and out and I don’t think it will stop following you until you've listened to this album at least thirty times. (Mats Gustafsson)





(Mutant Music, P.O. Box 4549, Saint Paul, MN 55104 USA http://www.mutantmusic.com/hungryghosts.htm)


    Mutant guru (and Skye Klad/Salamander bassist/producer) Dave Onnen assembled this 2xCD collection with David Miller from Fadladder, whose glossy, electronic, Kraftwerkian “Incense” is one of several highlights on Disk 1, which opens with Onnen and his Skye Klad mates beckoning us to “AWAKE!” (emphasis in the original). A brain-rattling, ominous shitstorm of a “how do you do,” it highlights their gothic metal trappings and paves the way for the avant electronic soundscapes to follow. I’m reminded of Italian soundtrack progsters, Golem’s ‘Orion Awakes’ and this may be the sound of the mythological son of Poseidon showering, shitting and shaving after a night of hearty partying…and he is not in a good mood! Stephen Meixner’s metallic Faustian electronics form the background for half a dozen readings from Harry Stolt’s diary, which namechecks his fascination with krautrock, Trio’s “Da Da Da,” and Falco’s “Der Kommisar” in the weird and wonderful “ndw.” Sheet Metal music aficionados of the work of Faust, Einsturzende Neubauten and Lou Reed’s unlistenable ‘Metal Machine Music’ will enjoy the pants-shitting scares of The Breast Fed Yak’s “The Joey Rejection” (originally available on their Birdman recording, ‘Get Your Greasy Head off the Sham’) and Argentinean noisemonger and Reynols co-founder, Christian Dergarabedian (aka C.D.)’s “Musica para el universo frio,” but they’re not exactly material that others will want to revisit.

    Experimental sonic architecture is the order of the day for the remainder of Disk 1, with the electronic, tone-poem-cum-hearing-tests that are Jazzhorse’s “Caravan” (the results of a bit too much overexposure to “Wisconsin Brown” if you ask me!) and ex-:zoviet*france sound manipulator, Robin Storey (aka Rapoon)’s “Dysfunctional Ghosts of Jazz” leading the way. These may please fans of Mark DiGenero’s ‘Wire Music’ collaborations with Alastair Galbraith and those of you who fall to sleep each night with your ‘Ohm: Early Gurus of Electronic Music’ box tucked under your pillows. If you’ve ever found yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter, prolific Canadian artist Jim Dejong (aka The Infant Cycle)’s “Exhaling Your Tape Hiss” may just about capture that bone-chilling fear. Scott Puhl (aka Dm) contributes “Lesslist,” which consists of ominous, throbbing, sterile basslines that add a brilliant icy sheen to the ambient, speaker hum works of Eno, Stars of the Lid, Aix Em Klemm, and early Aarktica and Azusa Plane.

    Not to be outdone by Sonic Boom and his collection of noisemakers that

made up Experimental Audio Research’s ‘Data Rape’ release a few years back, Not Breathing offers “Crossover,” wherein Dave Wright combines circuit-bending toys, reverb and his cellphone scanner to closely approximate the toy aisle at your local K-Mart on Christmas Eve. Minneapolis’ own guitar heroes, (Rich) Barlow/(Jesse) Petersen/(Erik)Wivinus wrap up Disk 1 with “Flooded Forest,” a three-guitar onslaught that is a nebulous intersection of wind chimes and an approaching freight train howling in the distance. If Skye Klad is awakening the beast, these guys capture the pre-cognitive, procreative juices from which it sprang and whets the appetite for what awaits us over on Disk 2…

    …which is somewhat less effective, featuring mostly abstract sound collages with lots of recordings of air, electricity, downed wires, broken circuits, loopy electronics and assorted beeps, burps and blunders. Nevertheless, several tracks are worth repeat visits, including Brett Smith (aka Caul)’s illbient “Collapsing Bell,” an electronic horrorshow that rises from its “hum”-ble beginnings to razors-on-blackboards shards of white noise, with lots of whistling tones akin to rubbing fingers along wineglass rims along the way. The strangest track in the compilation, Jared Davidson’s “The Songs Hidden in the Long Grass” is composed entirely of field recordings of cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets. It may either lull you to sleep at night, or induce creepy-crawlies under your skin, but in either case, should be labeled with an acid-ingestion warning.

    A warning of a different sort is offered via the latest from Dan Burke’s 20-year old project, Illusion of Safety, whose “Too Much of a Good Thing Is Never Enough” sounds like someone tossed Inspector Gadget into the swimming pool and recorded him short-circuiting. Industrial punks and noiseniks may also enjoy “5x7 in White Styrene with Turques Droplets” from fellow Twin Cities label owner (Doctsect), Cordell Klier. While it sounds, to me, a little like a chemistry experiment gone awry, it certainly illustrates why he was voted “Best Avant Garde Artist” of 2003 by the local writers in City Pages.

    While most of these artists may not be familiar to anyone outside their small circle of friends, ‘Hungry Ghosts’ goes a long way toward rectifying that. Overall, it’s an eclectic mixed bag with more hits than misses (perhaps slightly overextended – a single disk would have been perfect) that is recommended to fans of ‘The Ohm Box’ and other avant garde, outré electronic, glitch music and circuit bending recordings.. In fact, Experimental Audio Research would have been the perfect title if Sonic Boom hadn’t already taken it! (Jeff Penczak)





(Mutant Music, P.O. Box 4549, Saint Paul, MN 55104 USA http://www.mutantmusic.com/ )


    There’s a living-room immediacy to the improvised campfire songs on this second solo effort from the Salamander and Vortex Navigation Company frontman that occasionally sounds like Bill (Smog) Callahan covering Tim Buckley’s back catalogue. A few “Glory, hallelujah”s and “Amen, brother”s short of a Bible-belt revival house shoutalong, 'Glory One' may, nevertheless find Robert Johnson doing somersaults in his grave and 'End of the Line' reminded me of Timothy Renner’s monotonic murder ballads from his Stone Breath, Snakeoil Jamboree and Timothy the Revelator personas, while 'Song of the Dead' is warmly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits on the losing end of a couple of rounds with a few (too many) bottles of Merlot.

    The terminally depressed and suicide-prone are well advised to skip over the title track, or at least hide the needles and spoons. I haven’t been this harrowingly depressed since Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night,’ as Connaughty’s naked tales of bottoming out wallow in places few junkies and alcoholics have ever visited. Ugly…frightening…heartbreaking, and extremely dark. For those with x-Anonymous Hot Lines on speed dial. (Jeff Penczak)





(Hand/Eye, P.O. Box 131, Glenville, PA 17329-0131 USA http://www.somedarkholler.com/)


    A musical aboutface for these heretofore Gothic metallurgists who reinvent themselves as acoustic wyrdfolkers. (A fitting juncture for the change, as their third release finds a home on the imprint run by the term’s coiner, Timothy Renner of Stone Breath, Snakeoil Jamboree, Timothy the Revelator, et. al. fame.) Following a couple of brief introductory passages, things really begin to roll on “Fleeting Faunus and the Prophecy of the Fields,” with a penny whistle arcade and Matt Zaun’s throbbing bass drum carrying the dual guitars of Erik Wivinus and Jason Kesselring on an ominous death march through the valley of hell, complete with disembodied vocals from desperately lost souls.

    Borrowing from literature (Kesselring’s bowel-clearing vocals are perfectly suited to the dark imagery of Poe’s “The Sleeper” and serve as the perfect dress rehearsal for his Satyrswitch solo project, which was simultaneously coming to fruition over on Camera Obscura via ‘The High Lonesome Sound of…’), religious iconography (“The Cross of Lorraine,” “Mary Magdalene,” “Rex Mundi”), and mythology (“The Windy Tree” and “Wildes Heer”), the band still retain some of their Gothic trappings on the haunting, Cure-ish instrumental “Mary Magdalene,” highlighted by bassist Dave Onnen’s heavy, melodic basslines that Si Gallup would be proud of and which could sit comfortably on any of their suicide trilogy (‘Faith’/’Seventeen Seconds’/’Pornography’). Elsewhere, the speaker-humming, ambient death rattle of “Beyond the Ice and Storm” and the hesitant, soul-searching meanderings of “When the Hounds of Spring are on Winters Traces” present improvisational acoustic jamming at its finest.

    Sonic depth charges (think Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”) propel “Rex Mundi” to its climactic, straight-out-of-the-Chambers Brothers’-“Time Has Come Today” echoed drum rattle and the happy, strumming singalong, “The Windy Tree” belies its morbid lyrics of death and destruction. Onnen’s sound mix is meticulously razor-sharp throughout in the great tradition of Martin (Joy Division) Hannett and Mike (Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees) Hedges, making this an amazing, bootstrap-lifting musical rethink on par with Japan’s rebirth from garagey, N. Y. Dolls wannabes to glammy art rockers or Marc Bolan’s transition from cross-legged hippie to the king of glam and glitter. It’s an essential addition to your collection and, with Kesselring following this up with his darkly acoustic Satyrswitch project, I’m eager to hear where these guys go next. (Jeff Penczak)




Traveling Bell - Scatter Ways

(Secret Eye Records www.secreteye.org )


    Chicago freak-folk combo Spires That in the Sunset Rise released one of the most fascinating and challenging albums of 2003, but their eclectic, Comus-inspired and oh so damaged free folk meanderings are nowhere to be found on Spires member Kathleen Baird’s debut solo album. This is a generally speaking a much more gentle and subtle folk album, but that doesn’t prevent it from providing a highly evocative and haunting atmosphere. The latter partly comes from Baird’s voice that is slow, seductive and deep in a Nico kind of way and if that’s not praise I am not sure what is.  

    Baird walks along a barely visible track through the outer regions of old folk music but the way she moves though the densely forested never-lands makes Scatter Ways sound utterly unique. Her songs somehow manage to be as much about foreboding as about beauty and that is probably the one aspect that makes this album so successful. There’s really no use in singling out favorite moments; it’s a remarkably consistent collection throughout, but I’d feel remiss not to mention ”Treasures and Grief,” a track bathed in timelessness and fragile acoustic beauty. Scatter Ways is a dark, rewarding and surprisingly structured listen that comes recommended both to fans of traditional folk music and followers of the so-called ”free folk” scene. (Mats Gustafsson)





(Mutant Music, P.O. Box 4549, Saint Paul, MN 55104 USA http://www.mutantmusic.com/ )


    The world of improvisational, acoustic guitar solo albums has given us some mysterious and exciting releases in recent years, stretching all the way back to The Azusa Plane’s Jason Di Emilio’s side project, The Spires of Oxford on through solo albums from Cul De Sac’s Glenn Jones, Keith Christmas’ wonderful ‘Acoustica’ on Woronzow and current favorites from the Strange Attractors Audio House stable from Harris Newman and Steffen Basho-Junghans. An unlikely entrant into these heady waters, Metzger is known to me via his high-octane stringbending with St. Paul, Minnesota’s TVBC. Over the last decade, he has been leading a double life as an improvisational banjo/acoustic guitarist who, according to the excellent liners by Salamander/Skye Klad guitarist Erik Wivinus, has adapted his chosen instruments “by adding sympathetic strings, removing frets, adding extra holes and adding extra bridges with independent/complimentary string setups” and the results from these “now nearly unrecognizable instruments” can be heard on these two sidelong, untitled improvisational pieces recorded on June 16, 2004.

    Side one is tentative and hesitant – as if Metzger was unsure where the next chord change would take him, but eager to face those challenges. The “song” ebbs and flows in fits and starts as he grabs an idea out of thin air, runs with it for a few bars and then gradually settles down and lets his mind and fingers wander across the fretboard. At times, an Eastern, raga-flavoured passage will reveal itself, with his reconstituted instruments occasionally taking on a sitar-like quality.

    Side two begins with a staccatoed series of finger pluckings, both irregular and atonal, like a ping pong ball bouncing inside a piano randomly creating discordant sounds that reminded me of classic Japanese koto performers. While the uninitiated may sit dumbfounded at what appears to be the initial attempts of a five year old who has just discovered his first guitar, fans of avant garde experimental outsider guitar music will feel the tension Metzger creates with his unmapped, nonlinear finger assaults. This is singular, edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting material, definitely not the Windham Hill soundtrack for your next New Age head shop run, and a candidate for the collections of fans of Shawn Persinger’s ‘Art of Modern Primitive Guitar” we reviewed last month. (Jeff Penczak)





(Camera Obscura, PO Box 5069, Burnley, Vic 3121 Australia http://www.cameraobscura.com.au)


    One of our favourites from the incredible Minneapolis space psych scene we’ve been touting for years now, this is Salamander’s sixth release (fifth from our friends Down Under at Camera Obscura) and it finds the band at a musical crossroads, reining in their usual onslaught of spacey improvisational psychedelia for a more inward glance at their mellow, acoustic folky side. This new kinder, gentler sound may have been foretold on recent releases from the band’s guitarists, Sean Connaughty (see solo review elsewhere) and Erik Wivinus, whose latest release with his Skye Klad project took a similarly right-angled change of musical direction.

    From the astonishing, operatic vocals from 11-year old guest prodigy Madeline Westby on opener “Galleon,” it’s clear we’re not in for a set of side-long, 20-minute nerve-shattering jams we’ve come to expect and love from these guys, but a collection of fireplace-cosy singalongs, such as Connaughty’s swaying “The River Song,” which floats through the breeze on Jane Anfinson’s teary-eyed violin. Elsewhere, his vocals on “Hail” are so eerily similar to Neil Young that my wife came running into the room wondering when his new album was released! The group-penned compositions, by contrast, particularly “The Clearing,” and the aptly-titled “Nocturne” and “The Somnambulist” are heavy-lidded, late night instrumental lullabies that bear the closest resemblance to past releases.

    I also liked the Doorsy, “Riders on the Storm” vibe at the heart of Wivinus’ gruff, moody “Call of the Hills,” featuring a memorable rolling bassline form bassist/producer Dave Onnen; and old friend and original drummer Bryce Kastning drops by for some guest martial snares on “No Harmless Target,” which he recorded with the band in his living room way back in the Summer of 2002, suggesting that they may have been contemplating this new direction for several years. Finally, the flickering harmonic brain buzz of closer “An Open Transom” literally leaves the door open for the band to explore endless musical possibilities, all of which will be eagerly anticipated. (Jeff Penczak)





(CD on Strange Attractors Audio House, http://www.strange-attractors.com/)


    It's disorienting to realise that this fine space/drone rock outfit has been around for nearly a decade, and that "The Red Veil" is their ninth full-length release. But so it is, albeit now after a seismic shift in personnel has seen Mason Jones and Stoo Odom depart, to be replaced by Chris Cones and Diego Gonzales on guitar and bass respectively. Despite this realignment, the Space don't even break step, building here on the tectonic magnificence that was the 2003 "Also Rising" CD and kicking their thing out of one hazardous sector of the galaxy into the middle of another one, this time much closer to the abyss. Six tracks navigate through abandoned defence grids, unmarked drifts of ruined metal, dysfunctional sentinels, arriving at a core of dark-matter that looks very much like the psychic imprint of a whole train of ambiguous psychedelic experiences.

    'Honorable Mention' instantly places the listener at the centre of robust space-rock vortex – its guitars as implacable and unforgiving as unguarded mining equipment.  It feels like a continuance of earlier work, a punctuation mark before a new phase, rather than an opener but it certainly clears the mind for what is to come. 'Ourobouros' alternates between choppy riff figures and guitar glissandi that shriek in upward spirals like exorcised demons.  The track trades back and forth between tight dynamic structures and glorious harmonic excursions in a way that is engaging rather than an exercise in dark metal stoicism.  The exhilarating title track espouses everything that is uncompromisingly great about bands like SubArachnoid Space, Bardo Pond, Salamander and Kinski.  It travels from hazy, fog-bound moors through a crack in the sky to some imagined floating city propelled by a huge rotating mass of thunderous percussion and electric six-string mayhem.  'Trainable' leaves the docking bay like a lost My Bloody Valentine instrumental, before kicking it up into speed metal territory. 'P.S.S.A' is caught frozen on the event horizon of a gravity well of its own making, and is testimony to the undying legacy of Tony Iommi's original effects chain. 'Duster' summarises all that has gone before with its wild oscillations between stasis and dynamism and its final race towards ascension.

    The members of SubArachnoid Space deserve plaudits for making an album that is both brutally uncompromising and winningly accessible. More power to their electronics racks. (Tony Dale)




The Phoenix Cube - Tyranny of Birds

(Marshead Records, http://www.marshead.com)


   Hands raised immediately in a gesture of attention. The Phoenix Cube AKA Simon Lewis is not only a friend of ours but also happens to be the Reviews Editor of Terrascope Online. But does that fact going to stop us from digging his impressive solo debut on Marshead Records? Hardly, and I doubt that it will stop you either, as it provides such a strong blend of forested folk music, atmospheric electronica and tasty krautrock moves. “Spring” kicks things off with dark, mist-clad drones and field recordings but as it evolves it finds its way into a spiral of waterlogged electronics that somehow leaves us on a much more optimistic note. The following “Walk on Water” and “Daydream 1” are two of my favourite tracks on the record which both provides timeless folk music tucked in under a distant blanket of subdued effects and collages. “Bugs” is worthy of a special note for its flood of multi-layered electronics and hypnotic rhythms, and the overall effect is not unlike driving through deserted flatlands at night. The relatively upbeat epic ”Drift into the Sun” walks the tightrope between repetitive electronica, folky pop and soaring guitar psychedelia successfully, and I can’t help but to be impressed by how many influences Simon manages to put into one song and still come out with it in one piece. The closing ”Sleepwalking” is a stunning drone affair that dips its toes in infrasonic sound waves that in one moment drones along nicely and in the next swells with delicate electronic pulses. The Phoenix Cube makes up an eerie sound world, which not only is instrumentally challenging and surprising, but also will hit you deep with its beautiful rainbow of emotions. (Mats Gustafsson)




(Committee to Keep Music Evil/Bomp Records, www.bomp.com)

    It both sobers and concentrates the mind to consider that Ohio space-rockers Floorian would have been one of Bomp founder Greg Shaw's last signings before he made an indecently early exit from this earth. The man who put out the earliest releases by the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Warlocks clearly saw the band as spiritual kin to these post-shoegazer psychedelic din-makers, and his opinion is not one to be discounted easily. 'What the Buzzing' was originally issued on the band's own Drigh Records in 2002. It's been remixed and supplemented with new material for the Bomp release, and now clocks in at an ambitious 70 minutes. What Shaw saw in the band's early work has largely been realised here. A veil has been lifted, and Floorian's recordings now sparkle at that perfect intersection of melody and noise sought by many and found by only a few. The exquisitely heavy-lidded 'Or So They Say' is the perfect opener, hang-gliding into the middle of a Moroccan market on currents of middle-eastern guitar bliss and along a central melodic thread nailed by John Godshalk's newly clarified vocals. Though clearly influenced by Swervedriver and the Catherine Wheel, the arabesque guitar work of Fisher and Park on this track disengages Floorian's work from it's influences.
    On other tracks, the band builds eastern-influenced space rock atmospheres that recall everyone from Pink Floyd circa 'Saucerful of Secrets' to Spaceman 3 and even Clark-Hutchinson on their epochal 'A-MH2'. Occasionally they skirt the abyss: the disembodied vocals, backwards guitar and e-bow drones of 'Overruled' descend into nothingness and return to being like a narcotics overdose being fought with a timely shot of Narcan. They back it up with 'Waiting For It' - a slab of space pop situated somewhere between Yo La Tengo and the Jesus and Mary Chain. 'Auravine', an experiment with abstract guitar drones and tape loops, cleverly leads into 'Symptoms Alone'; perhaps this release's central piece, and tonally a 10-minute companion piece to 'Or So They Say'. 'Symptoms Alone' is a timeless flood of brain chemistry overload, staking a claim for a place on for this track on any compilation of early 21st Century neo-psychedelia. And 20 minutes of the release still remain, with 'Heavium', 'Alt. 11' and 'Somic' taking the listener down a magic carpet glide slope to safe landing.
    If this new version of 'What the Buzzing' raises any concerns, they are to do with the role of guitarist Phillip Park, who contributes lead guitar to many of the stand-out tracks ('Or So They Say', 'Symptoms Alone', Heavium', 'Alt. 11' for example). Park is now no longer with the band, and replacing his key role in their early sound may prove to be Floorian's biggest challenge for the future, both in the studio and presumably live.
    Regardless of any weight of expectation raised by Greg Shaw's endorsement of Floorian, the band have crafted a work with substantial mass and momentum – one that is highly satisfy for both new listeners, and those who have followed the band from early demos and the first incarnation of this release until now. (Tony Dale)




Low – A Lifetime of Temporary Relief

 (Chairkickers, P.O. Box 600, Duluth, MN 55801 USA)

    It’s hard to believe one of the progenitors of snorecore are entering their second decade of making beautiful music, but their fans are in for a treat with this 3xCD retrospective of buried treasures, including B-sides, compilation tracks and previously unreleased, warts-and-all demos and outtakes, along with a DVD of videos and live performances. Several raw, homebrewed demos (complete with tape hiss and ambient background noise – at one point, you can practically hear guitarist Alan Sparhawk pressing the stop button on his Tascam!) open the set (which is assembled “roughly in chronological order” by recording date, allowing the listener to literally hear the band’s musical growth). Special attention is called to the revelatory, 10-minute “Lullabye,” which finds the husband/wife duo of Sparhawk and Mimi Powell accompanied by original bassist John Nichols breaking out of their shell and actually working up a sweat. “Cut” (also from their Kramer-produced debut, I Could Live In Hope) features an atypically hamfisted guitar solo from Sparhawk, Mimi’s infamous snare-and-cymbal drumkit makes one of its first prominent appearances on “Heartbeat” and what a pleasure it is to finally have a pristine recording of their arrangement of the Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke,” one of several unforgettable, iceberg-paced covers that have become their trademark and ultimately cemented their position as one of the world’s (s)low(est) rock and roll bands. While Joy Division’s “Transmission” (from either the EP of the same name or the Means To An End tribute album) is sadly missing, barely recognizeable, seemingly Quaalude-induced renditions of The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me,” Wire’s aforementioned “Heartbeat,” Pink Floyd’s “Fearless,” The Beach Boy’s “Surfer Girl” and other tribute album appearances like Spacemen 3’s “Lord Can You Hear Me,” Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind,” John Denver’s “Back Home Again,” and Jandek’s “Carnival Queen” may lead the listener to believe the band gets some vicarious thrill from listening to their record collections at the wrong speed!
    The demo version of “The Plan” is even more delicate than the finished product on The Curtain Hits the Cast, the sweetly romantic duet “Turning Over” is a winning duet despite its lengthy, occasionally overmodulated, instrumental coda, and the tender, piano ballad “Walk You Out” and the pindrop whisper of “Standby” wrap up Disk one with a smile and a tear, a dichotomy that one experiences frequently throughout this collection.
    Disk 2 begins with one of their poppiest, most accessible tracks, “Venus” (both the Sub Pop 7” version and a light and fluffy “Time Stereo Dub Mix” recorded with His Name Is Alive’s Warn Defevre are included), but the bouncy vibe immediately dissipates under the oppressive weight of the experimental “Boyfriends & Girlfriends,” but just as quickly returns via the aggressive, nightime surfing instrumental (the appropriately titled “Surf), which previously appeared on an Australian instro compilation. And while “No Need” is eminently disposable, the 8½-minute version of “Be There” is the first of many attempts at this classic – others appear on Songs For A Dead Pilot and the live One More Reason To Forget album – and this B-side from the British “Over the Ocean” single may be the best. Two versions of the rare 45, “Joan of Arc” would normally be cause for celebration, but the wacky sonic mistake entrapped within the “20 Below Mix” should have stayed buried in the snow. (Perhaps sensing this, Alan’s otherwise excellent liner notes don’t even mention this second version!)
    The rare venture into a skronking heavy-metal guitar solo on the “Lion/Lamb” demo shows a wild side to the band, demonstrating that, despite the somber tone of most of their catalog which reflects the Sparhawk’s Mormon background, they really do know how to kick out the jams. However, one key element shining through the compilation is still their exquisite harmonies, like passionate, post-coital whispers in the middle of the night.
    Disk 3 houses most of the band’s experimental recordings, such as the rare, country-inflected sudser, “When You Walked” and the aforementioned cover of John Denver’s “Back Home Again” that suggest the band might have a future in the Alt-Country field. While the live recording of “Surfer Girl” includes some pedestrian stage banter with unsuccessful attempts at humour (including one bit that suggests the Belgian audience had never heard of The Beach Boys), you WILL be rolling on the floor in laughter at the completely over-the-top, karaoke-styled insanity of Alan’s squeeky-voiced, game attempt at Journey’s “Open Arms.” Coupled with a version of Tom T. Hall’s “I Love…” which features the first ever (for a reason!) Zak Sally vocal appearance, these latter two tracks from a mix tape the band made for their friends in Ida reveal the band’s humorous side that belies their typically morose, downbeat ballads and dirges. Elsewhere, the Jandek tribute contribution “Carnival Queen” is for fans of the reclusive Texan enigma only, while even Low’s loyalest followers will be left scratching their heads at the unusual collection of electronic noises hiding behind the “Overhead” B-side.
    I only had a few other quibbles: most annoyingly, the “What the hell is this shit?” collection of lower-than-bootleg-quality live recordings of the band barrelling through three tracks in an unintelligible faux-hardcore performance that mysteriously appears at the end of Disk 2, but should have been left at the bottom of the Sparhawk’s closet buried under the dirty laundry. Also, the laudable desire to throw in everything, INCLUDING the kitchen sink, has resulted in a few groaners that would best be left under the rug, including the silly “Peanut Butter Toast and American Bandstand” and “Don’t Drop the Baby,” both the six-minute demo and the distorted, warbly final version of “The Prisoner,” which is little more than Alan repeating a few lyrics over a repetitive Zak Sally bassloop, and the rudimentary song fragments, “Bright” and the 30-second, “what was that?” “Try Try Try.” (Alan’s liner notes explain that “we tried to include everything we could find…we chose to throw it all out there…,” but the set inexplicably excludes selections from their “Transmission” EP, the“Bobscare” split EP with Springheel Jack and their In the Fishtank collaboration with The Dirty Three – the weak carrot tossed in from a split tour CD (“No Need”) notwithstanding.)
    But these are minor divergences on an otherwise stellar compilation that is a wet dream come true for hardcore fanatics. As for the casual listener, if you only have a few Low albums in your collection already, you’re encouraged to seek out these tasty desserts that will more than fill in the gaps. From shuffling pop to experimental metallica with frequent stops along the way to smell the coffee (Low are one of the few (only?) bands to record with legendary, ultrasonic knobtwiddlers Kramer AND Steve Albini and live to tell about it!), this collection documents one of the finest practitioners of post-rock snorecore, and is also recommended to fans of like-minded bands, such as American Analog Set, Red House Painters, Idaho, Codeine, Windy & Carl, Damon & Naomi, Ida, and countlesss others. (Jeff Penczak)

    The DVD inclusion is like cat-nip for a diehard fan-base, not essential for pure appreciation of Low's under-appreciated magnificence, but a reward after the long rummage through their attic that the CDs on this collection represent. It's a flipper, with one side containing an exquisite series of music videos that, lets face it, you're not going to see on the box too often, and the other a series of documentaries on the band. In particular, the videos for 'Words', 'Shame', 'Over the Ocean' and 'Looking Out for Hope', all produced by the Harder-Fuller team of Minneapolis, play out more like miniature independent films than convetional MTV fodder, only 'Over the Ocean' being remotely familiar in style. The impression left by these short films set to music is one of humans overwhelmed by their environment. More than one uses footage of the band futilely dragging a boat across a frozen lake, finally being defeated by blizzard like conditions. In a way, this is quite reassuring, as if the band recognises the futility of much of everyday life and feels the pain of it for us despite their culturally privileged position as modestly successful recording artists.
    The flipside of the DVD contains several documentaries that address the bands live work effectively, and also provides an opportunity to draw links between their spiritual beliefs and the notable but not overbearing Christian themes in their lyrics.
    As a technical aside, the transfers of the music videos/films to DVD are exemplary, beautiflly capturing the filmic texture of the source and are free of nasty compression, edge-enhancement or the myriad other nasties possible in the process of encoding a variety of different sources into a cohesive DVD. (Tony Dale)




Jamie Barnes - Honey from the Ribcage


Honey from the Ribcage is a showcase of the kind of subtle songs that won't beat you over the head and command attention, but rather linger with you, leaving a lasting impression. I find it quite difficult to say what it is that makes Jamie Barnes’ somewhat traditional folk pop so memorable and worthwhile but he wins me over already in the opening “Second Guess My Own,” which is an earnest and incredibly beautiful song about memory loss. “Red Prescription” ties a knot inside my gut with its sparse arrangements and powerful lyrics. Guitar and vocals remain the main musical ingredients throughout the album, but the inclusion of banjo, keyboards, glockenspiel, melodica, sitar, tabla and more makes this one go way beyond your regular singer-songwriter album.

    The album screens a downcast but kaleidoscopic sound, spanning desolate folky ballads, bittersweet slow pop and slightly up-beat numbers. The mood is confessional and far from optimistic, but under the surface of desolation there's a tone of hope and one can’t help but to be touched by the stories present here. Barnes proves to be a very talented musician but he’s foremost an incredible storyteller and if you ask me I rate him as one of the most unique contemporary voices out there today. In terms of aesthetics Barnes makes me think of Greg Weeks so if you want the winter to hang on for a few more weeks you know exactly what you need to do. (Mats Gustafsson)





(Secret Eye Records www.secreteye.org )


    Long Live Death play pagan folk music, lit by flickering candlelight, which creeps into your heart, telling secrets and spreading truth. Opening song ‘Awaken ‘ is a perfect statement of intent, calling us to acknowledge our existence and seize our lives back from the mundane. Featuring a strange compelling otherworldly atmosphere throughout, listening to this album is akin to eavesdropping on an occult ceremony, the lyrics weaving strange spells, whilst the music walks through our souls.

    Every track features magical arrangements, the percussion full of hypnotic power, as cello’s, guitars, and chanted lyrics blend together into a ritualistic whole, painting pictures of ancient glades and ruined towers. Indeed, the lyrics have been chosen with great care, or so it seems, each word as important as the last, no more so than on ‘Two Voices’ or ‘join us’ which draw us deeper into the ceremony.

    By the time we reach final track ‘Of One’ the everyday world will be far behind and you will be filled with a desire to throw of the yoke of reason, and live far inside the ancient forest, howling at the sky and running naked with old gods.

   Mesmerising and psychedelic throughout, this is an album for full-moon nights, which has immense power and a fragile beauty in equal measures and will transport you into the timeless realms of the imagination. (Simon Lewis)



(Toytown Recordings kinderpop@mixmail.com )


   Subtitled “obscure psychedelic, popsyke and soft-pop 45’s, 1968 1974” these two discs contain a whole host of bizarre, strange, surprising and occasionally just plain odd singles released in Europe on small independent labels. Featuring 44 tracks between them the emphasis is  definitely on the pop end of the genre, with lots of  lush orchestration trumpet solos and period lyrics, a style epitomised by Ginger Ale-Sugar Suzy (Holland) , Cyan- Toby’s Shop (Italy) or Electric Machine-samanta viene a casa (Argentina). Elsewhere the volume and freak factor get cranked up with some fine fuzz guitar from the likes of schizo (France) , j bastos (France), Ekseption (Holland) or Honest Men (Holland) who blast their way through a riff heavy version of The Beatles ‘Help’.

   Both albums are sequenced superbly so that they ebb and flow between the lighter pop and the heavier psychedelic workouts making for a very satisfying listening experience. Between these two extremes there is still time for some soft harmony folk courtesy of Jumbo (Holland), progressive psych from Sunshine (France), Funky pop from Kid Rock (Spain), and a completely over the top acid guitar freak out from Chubby Checker whose ‘my mind’ is a full on rock assault with suitably trippy lyrics and screaming vocals. You can only assume he used the wrong jar of sugar lumps that morning.

    I imagine that it would cost a small fortune to actually collect these singles individually so these albums offer the chance to hear some wonderful and hard to find gems, together with detailed sleeve notes and the sense that this was a real labour of love. (Simon Lewis)



(Ubique Records, 672 Bush St, DeKalb IL 60115 USA http://www.tgcogc.com )


On Sundays and at formal gatherings they’re called Tall Grass Captains of Greater Chicago, a name which is in itself is a bit of a giveaway to the origins of this band. Rub the surface gently with your fingernail though and the elegantly constructed and sometimes melancholy, occasionally baroque, often wistful and never less than charming songs reflect a far deeper meaning: a turbulent restlessness born of Mark Mattson’s parochial urban childhood in Chicago and an epic sweep redolent of his latterday rural Midwestern USA home, where by day he plays guitar for indie-band Grenadier.

   Ubique Records is a collective. A collective of musicians and musical inspirations, formed primarily of singer, songwriter and guitarist Mattson himself plus drummer Craig Swafford and numerous others on an ad-hoc basis, including at times fellow Grenadier Jeremy Heroldt. Like all good collectives – Elephant Six for example - they have a bespoke logo, and likewise as with other collectives they have an immediately identifiable sound, an approach to their song writing and production, a tunefulness which belies Mattson’s schooling and qualifications in the hard rock arena. “I was thinking of song-cycle type records like the Zombies’ ‘Odessey & Oracle’ with it’s majestic, melancholy pop,” Mattson’s been quoted as saying about ‘She Moved Through’. “I admire artists like Circulatory System, Neutral Milk Hotel and the Flaming Lips, who do such an ingenious job of taking that baroque approach to rock music while still creating work that’s timeless, hard-driving, valiant and moving.”

Top marks there for using the word “valiant” to describe it, because that’s exactly what this album is: heroic, uplifting and heartfelt. It’s also a lot of fun. Anyone who fondly remembers the Jeff Saltzman project ‘Attributed to… Cerebral Corps’ (Alias Records, 1992) will immediately be clued into what’s happening here, both in terms of song writing and vocal delivery. Wind forward a couple of years and others were taking the same psychedelic-pop sensibilities and escorting poor old Mabel Greer outside of her toy-shop altogether with some polished power-pop: listening to ‘Countless Days On’ (track 8 on the Tall Grass Captains album) I’m reminded of the Grays (and more specifically ‘Everybody’s World’ from their ’94 album ‘Ro Sham Bo’), while ‘Her Love Has Time Defied’ nicely echoes the Schramms circa ‘Little Apocalypse’, another 1994 album. This is a good thing, and this is a damn good album. I can’t wait to hear more! (Phil McMullen)



(Darla Records www.darla.com )


Mixing gentle drone, distant scratchy percussion, and a  raga –like atmosphere ‘Bleeding Light ‘ is a tour-de-force of emotional sound which has an almost sculptural quality throughout. Utilising a host of acoustic and electronic instruments each song has a glacial stillness at it’s core, as if the whole album was meant to be played far away from civilisation, it’s minimalist aura more suited to the wilderness than any urban landscape. Yet, there is a sense of longing, a need to communicate with others, to share the experience.

    Opening track ‘Depression Modern’ takes us immediately away from the bustle of the day, it’s slow minimalism creating a mood of sombre contemplation as the fragile distorted lyrics tell us half the story. Moving on ‘O J Gude’ reflects on the need for light in the city, to keep night at bay and to highlight our dreams. In fact, the tensions created by light and dark, civilisation and wilderness are at the heart of the album, each song diffused with a soft glow, which prevents their total collapse, sending shards of light ringing through the ether, promising the hope of a new morning. Halfway through ‘A Shadow Knife (draws the bleeding light)’ electronic percussion arises into the mix creating an edgy counterpoint to the understated and beautiful brass arrangements of the song before they too fade into nothing, allowing, the drifting ambience of ‘We’re Like Two Drops Separated By A Drowning’ to wash over us.

    The delicate atmosphere of this album is expertly maintained throughout with the use of sublime arrangements, some wonderful playing, and a sense of engagement which draws you in effortlessly and hold your interest completely, until the majestic title track which is full of droning eastern strings, and sympathetic percussion. As it slowly builds the lyrics are repeated until they turn into a mantra “every one of us is lost in our own way” , the piano creating sparkles of sunlight which counterpoint the dark visions of the song, until there is only silence and a sense that we could do more with our time. (Simon Lewis)


Aarktica interview



(AntiClock Records http://www.anticlock.net)


The Gray Field Recordings started in 2001 by one Rebecca Loftiss in Stillwater, Oklahoma and although some releases (albeit low-key) have seen the light of the day they’re still criminally unknown. This is a multi-faceted and complex project that lives in a parallel sound universe to folks like Magic Carpathians, Fursaxa and Jackie-O Motherfucker but seemingly without any connections to the outside world. That’s a shame because the elegantly crafted aural mystery, which is ‘Hypnagogia,’ is nothing short of spectacular. Winding corrosive string massage, bleak drones and loop trickery give way for, dark folk-inspired experimentation and plucked guitar passages that carefully moves over leaf covered forest floors.

    There’s so many amazing tracks here that I am not even sure which ones to mention, but ‘Ring Bells’ is definitely worthy a special note with its tribal folk eruptions and the sense of spiritual resonance that permeates the track moves gracefully into the next, ‘House of a Grape’. Here we get guitar notes that sound like some lost seagull that’s wandered too far from shore and probably never will make it back home again. Like quite a few tracks on ‘Hypnagogia’ there’s something foreboding about these dark, folky soundscapes. The whole experience is much like waiting for something frightening that probably never will happen but you just never know. ‘Passiflora’ starts with beautiful webs of carefully plucked guitar and soft fem vocals but it soon moves into an incredible passage of gritty drone transcendentalism. This sort of marriage between folk, experimentation and drones brings to mind Flying Saucer Attack but this release exhales subtle mania in a way FSA never did. ‘Forty White Horses’ seems to be born out of sadness and loneliness as it flows glacially out of the speakers with the aid of plucked violin, drones and Loftiss’ angelic vocals. ‘Nancy’s Song to Charlie’ displays more of the same kind of unhurried bleakness but I still can’t help but to play it over and over again. To tell you the truth it’s all as near sonic perfection as we can get and the fact that this all too limited CD comes wrapped in a beautifully adorned fiberboard case is just the icing of the cake.

    The Gray Field Recordings is yet to be well known, but if you're interested in exploring sonic mantras that ride right along the border to your most haunting dream-zone you’ve been advised. Or as a friend of mine just wrote: “This is music that will infect you. This is brilliant. ‘Hypnagogia’ is essential.” I totally agree… (Mats Gustafsson)