= April 2012 =  
Northern Valentine
Mike Bruno
My Lady of Clouds
Book of Shadows
Matthew Shaw


(CD on Silber Records, P.O. Box 18062, Raleigh, NC 27619 USA

Brian John Mitchell has been running his Silber Media empire for over 15 years, during which he’s released over 100 albums from over 60 artists, including his own Remora project. Northern Valentine is the Philadelphia snorecore collective centred around husband and wife Robert & Amy Brown that we raved about here at Terrascope Towers back in 2008. Their latest combines rediscovered recordings dating back some 15 years with recent live and living-room recordings from the last two years. Opening track, ‘Rue d’Auseil’ establishes the glacial pace that dominates the ambient/drone recordings – fans of Windy & Carl, Tange, Liquid Mind, and labelmates, Aarktica will be right at home in the album’s warm, marshmallow embrace.

                  The live recordings (particularly the thousand-yard-stare-inducing, 14-minute title track) demonstrate the band’s ability to faithfully recreate their ruminative sound, with the open-space atmospherics feeding off the room ambience. In fact, the band members pride themselves on creating music that is largely improvised and often feeds off their reactions to their physical environment. The older recordings (‘Sink/Rise’ and ‘The White Mountains’) fit seamlessly into the new catalogue, illustrating that the group found their niche early on and have been perfecting their craft with each subsequent release.

                  If you’re a frequent listener to Calm Radio’s Sleep station, this is definitely an album you want to add to your bedtime discography. While the music may equally induce feelings of melancholy and thoughtful reflection, the fact that it is able to extract such emotional ties from the listener suggest it works equally well for contemplative self-exploration or soothing background music. (Jeff Penczak)



(LP from www.hautemagie.com)
(LP from www.myladyofclouds.com)

Originally released by the artist on CD in 2009, “The Sad Sisters” has now been made available on vinyl, the release allowing a whole new batch of listeners to get to know a delightful and beautiful collection of songs, the pieces featuring delicate moonlight guitar and the wonderful voice of Mike Bruno, a mix of Devendra Banhart and Tim Buckley, giving the songs a heady twist that is very pleasing to the ear.

Opening softly, “April Showers” seems to be a bitter sweet love song, sweet guitar notes floating downstream with the voice, hooking you in before “Rites of Spring” creeps into your head lke morning mist, shades of Nick Drake evident in the guitar playing, creating an all too brief piece of magic.

More wonderful playing can be found on “Lovebirds”, the sparse yet melodic style suited to soft, impressionistic lyrics. To end side one the dark brooding sound of “No Knight Errant”, is a lost acid-folk gem, re-discovered and loaded with atmosphere.

Over on the other side, the quality continues as both “Black Horses” and “The Gallows” continue to showcase beautiful songwriting, paving the way for the exceptional “The Wandering Fool”, a slightly weirder tune, with harmonies, effects and added instruments giving a psychedelic shimmer full with wonder. Following on, “Summer Song”, is a gorgeous tune, whilst “Fallen Kings” contains some electric guitar, understated but definitely enhancing the track. Finally, “Halloween Moon”, is sweet delight, although the lyrics hint of sadness, of time too soon passed, that nostalgia and longing hanging like perfume around the whole album, giving it its own identity, like an old friend returned.

A complex and layered album, this collection needs several plays before it comes into focus, its timeless beauty, guaranteeing its longevity.

Basically the work of Katie Stewart, “Your Name is Secret” is a collection of gentle and lovely songs, blending a sweet and delicate voice with some effective guitar playing, each in tune with the other, to create a wholly enjoyable set, that is sounding just perfect as the sun shines through my window. With a definite early seventies vibe, there is much to be discovered, with the lyrics both innocently playful and mature at the same time, whilst the guitar has a lightness of touch that levitates the song to another level.

Sounding like a mixture of The Beatles (lyrically) and Janis Ian (musically), “Wishing Well” is a fine opening track with a sugar-sweet centre, whilst the more complex, “I Love a Leg Man” features Viola and Guiro, the instruments filling out the tune, whilst retaining its beauty.

With some excellently understated electric guitar from Barry Reid, who also recorded and mixed the LP, “Painted Room” is another splash of sonic sunlight, a gentle cloud of sound that floats wonderfully around the room, the mood maintained and even heightened by the excellent “Firefly”, one of the albums highlights, everything coming together perfectly, the addition of a trombone and ukulele the finishing touch, giving the tune a old-time feel. To round off the side, Patience and Prudence” is a simple waltz time tune that is arranged with precision.

Using the same time signature, side two opens with “The First Day of Summer”, the jauntiness of the tune at odds with the sadness of the lyrics. Originally recorded by Jean Ritchie, “Now is the Cool of the Day” is a beautiful song that stopped me dead in my tracks when I heard it here, making go and seek out the original, which is also amazing, although I think I prefer the version on this LP, seemingly sadder and with enchanted guitar running through it.

With Electric guitar again adding depth, “Budgie” is the rockiest the album gets (not very), whilst “The Blush, The Freeze” is enlivened by some simple finger snaps, the closest the disc gets to percussion, the whole thing rounded of by “Rose, My Truth”, a song of hope, as filled with promise as the spring flowers in my garden. (simon Lewis).



(CD-R from Ikuisuus www.ikuisuus.net )

The umpteenth release by old Terrascope favourites Book of Shadows, Cayleper confirms the band’s gradual drift away from pure improvisation towards a more structured approach, courtesy of guitarist/pianist Aaron Bennark, who penned seven out of the eleven pieces here. The result is a more corporeal and melodic feel overall, with occasionally reflective strains of the Third Ear Band (“Earhorn To The Other Side”), and the more ambient side of You-era Gong/Fish Rising-era Hillage (“Tran-smitten”). There’s nothing at all wrong with any of it, just the opposite in fact, and the results are still delightfully mysterious and unpredictable. However it is on the improvised numbers where Book of Shadows are still most likely to thrill and chill. The best of these is “Space - Tide At The Trailer”, which at volume is positively terrifying, and over which you can easily imagine Robert Calvert incanting his “Sonic Attack”. Other improvisations deserving particular mention are the eerie and unsettling “The Listening Pilgrim” and “Coming At You Live Leper” – the title alone merits a name check here. Throughout Cayleper, vocalist Sharon Crutcher, coos, ululates and shrieks to her usual mesmerising effect (Yoko Ono and the rest of you, take note) and one suspects her heart’s content. It seems that Sharon is working on a solo album. I’ll be watching the post box! (Ian Fraser)



(CD-R from Apollolaan Recordings www.apollolaan.co.uk )

Matthew Shaw is head of Apollolaan Recordings whose strap line is “transcendentally tripped out”. Entirely fitting then that Shaw has himself delivered a 47 minute drone that is, evocatively, just that. Hardly surprising either, for someone whose own imprint is named after an area of Amsterdam, to find that Shaw appears to specialise in naming pieces (entire albums in other words) in honour of places that have inspired his compositions. After his earlier “Seatown” release (named after a village in his native Dorset) comes “Lanreath” recorded in the small Cornish village of that name. Shaw is credited with guitar and phonography and the results, mixing instrumentation with field recordings mostly of birds, is one long majestically glacial, sonorous meditation. The guitar is used to such effect that it is almost orchestral – the drones forming and filling spaces in a way that sums up the remoteness and rural flavour of his subject matter. There ain’t much more to say really except that this is completely exquisite and highly recommended for those of you seeking to finely tune some chakras or who simply like your chill out rooms with icicles hanging from the ceiling. Definitely a creation of depth and beauty. (Ian Fraser)


(CD from Apollolaan Recordings www.apollolaan.co.uk)

In similar fashion to Apollolaan label-boss Matthew Shaw’s “ Lanreath”, also reviewed this month, Hakobune, –aka Takahiro Yorifuji – employs heavily textured guitar and gossamer light touches to create subtly pleasing drone-scapes. The six tracks spanning 35 minutes are best appreciated as a single entity and work less well as individual pieces, making it difficult to pick out highlights as such. What is striking is the juxtaposition between the accessible and inviting, and the mysterious and other-worldly. It probably takes more finely tuned ears than mine to do proper justice to this but suffice to say it’s all a (slowly) moving and deeply rewarding experience best appreciated by those with a good attention span or who desire inner-calm. Block rockin’ beats it ain’t and it’s none the worse for that. Stick with it and you’ll find it’s well worth the calm and gentle ride. (Ian Fraser).