= August 2013 =  
White Hills
Kitchen Cynics
Kevin Ayers & Mushroom
Dave Mihaly
Iain Matthews & Egbert Derix

(CD/LP from Thrill Jockey www.thrilljockey.com)

2012’s “Frying on this Rock” was, according to guitarist/singer Dave W sonically better than any previous White Hills release. A Neo-Heavy Metal titan with enough psychedelic flim-flam to keep us old hippies on message, this was the band’s most direct statement to date. On the evidence of this, their seventh album in eight years and with Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans) again at the recording helm  the band’s creative and visceral approach to producing gold-standard acid rock shows no sign of abating although this time their incendiary attack is tempered by a modicum – just as tad, mind - more restraint. The result, though, is no less stunning or fulfilling.

White Hills, in the event that they need any introduction to readers of the Terrascope, are guitarist/vocalist Dave W and Ego Sensation on bass and vocals and who, on “So You Are...” share synthesizer duties. Their considerable and cosmically adroit sound is further propelled by Nick Name, the latest in a series of energetic drummers and whose presence on the last two albums has helped power the White Hills machine. What you get in essence is “classic era” Hawkwind bred with the sound of late 1960s White Detroit (yes I know the Hills are out of NYC via Frisco but cut the hack some slack here folks. Stooges/MC5 even early Alice Cooper influences are so conspicuous in the Hills sound) and brought bang up to date. The contemporary feel is down to the band’s obvious artistic control and determination to put a modern-day stamp on their sound – the Hills are no mere adjuncts of the space rock heritage industry – and to their judicious choice of recording partners (before Bisi’s involvement, White Hills were linked heavily to The Ocropolis, Oneida’s studio)

As regards the actual product then it goes a bit like this. From a scrambled Tannoy announcement (a bit of a recurring theme) “In Your Room” turbo-blasts forth “Frying...” style. It briefly settles into a more hypnotic groove – the band has ever used repetition and simple motifs to devastating effect - before returning with the force of a truck and giving vent to one of Dave’s searing-hot and howling banshee solos. “The Internal Monologue” washes around your head like an ambient swirl of cosmic dust before the band suck deep again and exhale with gusto the title track, similar in style, tempo and intent to “In Your Room”, Name’s drums beating a tattoo on your head before it tails off abruptly into the closest you feel that the Hills will ever get to the chill out room, a gorgeous and extended coda that is almost orchestral in execution.

Getting comfortable? Well forget it. Following one of those brief “Tannoy” distractions, “Forever in Space” gives us the full twitter (synths, not anti-social media) before  heading at high velocity into full-on four to the floor Hawkwind riffing. It’s the most dynamic and thrilling thing on the album and you’d be pretty hard pressed to find anything more immediate, primal and – to these ears – satisfying if you were to look between now and Christmas. “Rare Upon The Earth” lulls us with a quite spacey and introverted opening before Name’s firing-squad drumming takes good order and Dave’s guitar blazes like a comet “MIST (Winter)” draws proceedings to a close – an instrumental reminiscent of an out-take of “Condition of Nothing” from the mighty H-p1 album of 2011 and while it adds little, neither does it detract one bit from the overall experience (and what an experience it is ladies and gentlemen).

In these times of austerity, full marks go to Bettina Richards and Thrill Jockey for keeping faith with their extensive and top-notch roster of artists, the pinnacle of which is/are White Hills. There may well be better bands out both live and on record but I would need to be convinced of it.”Frying On This Rock” may have earned Dave’s approval as the ultimate WH album to date, but believe me, this one’s every bit as good. In fact I’d go the step further and give it the nod. Hell, don’t take my word for it. From 19th August you can check this out for yourself.

Ian Fraser



(CD from kitchencynics@googlemail.com)

Opening with a beautiful, chiming guitar, the latest offering from The Kitchen Cynics is also one of the finest collections Alan Davidson has recorded, each song a model of quiet perfection containing the usual mix of nostalgia, melancholy, humour and beauty.

    One listen to the magnificent “”where the Owls Were” will tell you that everything is in place, a delightful tale of unexpected depths, the discovery that you didn't know the person you love quite as well as you thought. After such a fine start, the delicate and gently swaying instrumental “Fern Dances” allows you to relax into the album whilst showcasing Alan's ever growing skill on the guitar, his ear for melody and sympathetic playing a joy to hear.

    With banjo, guitar and recorder, the instrumentation on “The Heroine, Jane Whyte” adds atmosphere and depth to the tale of rescue from drowning, a fate that seems likely to befall the hero of “Shipwrecked”, although he too is rescued by a dark haired girl and live happily ever after.

     Threaded with wisps of synths and tumbling notes, “A Perfect Replica” is a stranger beast, a shimmering cloud of home-grown psych folk that takes the collection into a different realm, this mood also to be found on “Billy Vites” the rumbling synths adding menace to the sad tale it underpins.

    As with all Kitchen Cynics albums the lyrics seem as important as the music, each tale seemingly crafted with an ear for detail, Alan's soft voice bringing the words to life, his choice of instruments and playing style always perfectly in tune with the message.

   Over the course of the album it is easy to get lost in the world of The Kitchen Cynics, Time seems to cease as you listen, the effect much the same as reading a book of fairy tales as a child your imagination taking over from the real world and maybe that is the real magic of this collection, an enchantment that is hard to ignore and easy to fall in love with.

    So, if you are already familiar with Alan's music this should definitely be added to the collection, if not then this is a good place to start, on of his finest from a highly impressive body of work. (Simon Lewis)



(Limited edition, self-released 3-CD set)

Fifteen years ago a relatively new sextet was burning up the boards around San Francisco when legendary curmudgeon, I-did-it-my-way, musical auteur Kevin Ayers paid his first visit to the Bay Area. Mushroom only had a few releases under their belt, and even they were mostly CD reissues from Holland and Germany of their debut self-released full-length EP, “The Reeperbahn.” Hell, drummer and genial co-founder Patrick O’Hearn was still getting confused for some New Age bassist who used to play in Zappa’s band in the early 70s. He changed it to Thomas a few years later since, lucky for him, there weren’t that many Pat Thomas’ in the world.

So anyway, somehow Ayers found out about the band, perhaps being clued in somewhere about their penchant for extended jamming with fantastic flights into avant jazz, kraut rock, and West Coast psych. Needless to say, this was probably the band’s biggest profile gig to date and they weren’t about to let this opportunity pass by undocumented. [In fact, completists got a taste of the event if they were one of about 450 lucky souls who scored the band’s Leni Riefenstahl LP – Aether, 2000 – because a photo of Kevin and the band from tonight’s performance graced the back cover!]

Mushroom took the stage first and for the next hour they set the twilight reeling with an eclectic set punctuated with blistering versions of selections from the aforementioned Reeperbahn and Leni Riefenstahl releases alongside jawdroppingly tight-as-a-monkey’s-bum instrumental jams, all leading up to a surprisingly ballsy take on Ayers’ ‘We Did It Again’ from his long forgotten Soft Machine days. Ayers was listening backstage and was either pleasantly touched and honoured… or shitting bricks at the effrontery.

So the night begins with Alec Palao’s bass laying down a simple groove over which flautist Erik Pearson whispers a tender fluttering flute line. It still reminds me of a Laurie Johnson cue from an old Avengers’ episode – sedate, ruminative, like a stroll through an English garden on a bright summer day. Michael Holt adds a mellotron waffle, and Graham Connah tiptoes in on his Nord Lead synth to add a little spacey, otherworldly drizzle. Yes, ‘Leni Riefenstahl’ is off and running, eventually yielding to the wet-towel-in-the-face smack of ‘The Reeperbahn’, as Dan Olmstead directs the stunned audience’s attention to his wah-wah-wayfaring guitar calisthenics. Thomas and his keyboardists trade some mighty fine Crimsonesque syncopation techniques and I hesitatingly wonder if we don’t actually have Zappa’s sideman in the house – this being strictly Frank’s avant skronk territory.

The bouncy ‘Martina, Queen of Hamburg’ dances across the floor next – perhaps the band’s simplest and catchiest tune – in the old days we called this “the hit single’, but the 15-minute pastoral daydream-cum-jam it morphs into put an end to all that foolhearty thinking. It actually presages pleasantly inoffensive ditties like Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life’ and I hope Mr. Thomas O’Hearn won’t go for me jugular for suggesting anything so, how shall I saw, commercial!

By now it’s clear why Mushroom were exactly the right band to gather behind Ayers. Their penchant for Soft Machinesque jazz/psych inventiveness, soft/loud dichotomy (just check out Olmstead’s guitar shredding and the Holt/Connah dual keyboard insanity on the improvisational ‘We’ll Take You There’ and I’ve a feeling the band practiced by staying up all night listening to Ratledge & Co. bootlegs – they’re that loosey goosey, playing real free & easy. And the encore sizzles with late night excitement and olde tyme San Francisco aromas of late nights spent comatose at Country Joe, Quicksilver, and Dead shows at the Fillmore, Avalon, et. al. Mmmm, tasty!

Mr. Ayers saunters onstage to the ending rat-a-tat of ‘We Did It Again,’ proclaiming ‘That’s the best lyric I ever wrote,” before his one line review of the opening act: “That was nice”. Without further ado, the band launch into the sleazy blues swagger of, as Ayers describes it, “a rock musician’s nightmare,” ‘Champagne and Valium’. Nest up, ‘Lady Rachel’ sneaks into the room, propelled by Ayers’ deliberate guitar vibrato and a gentle, floating interplay between keys and flute while Thomas holds court and the backbone of the piece in place. There’s plenty of room for improvisation without losing the plot and Ayers is in fine voice, allowing his “pick-up band” to shine without overwhelming their frontman for the evening. Ayers obviously approves, informing the audience of the “nice band, huh?” behind him. Apparently they’ve only rehearsed for five hours, which might be about 4½ more than the Softies ever got!

At this point I should note that the entire show is indexed as a single track on each of two disks, so you’ll have to listen to the concert as it unfolds – none of that skipping past the dry or boring bits – as if there are gonna be any! All the favourites are here: a playful ‘Everybody’s Sometime and Some People’s All The Time Blues’, a barrelhouse chugging ‘Interview’ with some fine call-and-response guitar soloing from Pearson and Ayers, a surprising return to his heartbreaking song for Nico, ‘Decadence’ which Ayers confesses he hasn’t played in 20 years – it’s just one of many treats in store for the audience tonight. Ayers tosses in a “We thought we’d give you a Lou Reed impression” to show how much he’s obviously enjoying himself.

Then it’s back to “Dr. Dream” “for a little filler”, ‘See You Later’ and the crowd are eating it up. “Something serious, now” follows, a dreamy [no pun intended] ‘Why Are We Sleeping,’ prefaced with a brief dedication and dissertation on “the person who woke me up”, G.I. Gurdjieff. The crowd shrugs and cheers anyway – he really has them in the palm of his hands – and Mushroom are up to the tricky time signatures and intricate arrangement. Midway through Ayers forgets his own lyrics, but the audience is quick to oblige and he’s off again, baffling, confusing and emoting full throttle, as if the answer to one of rock and roll’s eternal questions will solve all the world’s problems.

The recording is “you are there” quality. Despite the theft of the original 8-track tapes, the backup analogue stereo 2-track sounds perfect to these ears. Holt’s Mellotron stayed mercifully in tune, the monitors held up for the most part, there’s a refreshing lack of between-song noodling and tuning (amazing for the lack of preparation band and frontman had), and Ayers’ pronouncement to the audience that “the group are very good” is something they’re humbly refrained from posting all over their web site.

Pearson gets to add singing on a Kevin Ayers’ record to his c.v. with some enthusiastic backing on the punchy crowd-pleaser ‘Didn’t Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You’, another of Ayers’ trademark brilliant titles which goes down a storm and prompts another “I hope you’re suitably impressed” from our hero. Here’s a resounding “YES” from this reporter.

Another radiant “thank you“ to the audience and the band, and the evening wraps with a Kevin-and-the-kitchen sink-included ‘We Did It Again’ encore. Just a brilliant evening all around and thankfully captured for posterity.

NOTE: Copies of this essential 3-disk set are extremely limited and are available directly from the band for US$20 in the US; all others: US$32. Price include postage. Simply PayPal the money to normalsf@earthlink.net.

(Jeff Penczak)


(CD on Fledg’ling)

I’m sure Iain Matthew McDonald doesn’t need to be introduced to any regular Terrascope visitor: as the original lead singer with Fairport Convention through his chart-topping success with Matthews Southern Comfort and Plainsong collaboration with Andy Roberts through dozens of solo albums and further collaborations with Elliott Murphy, et.al., Matthews is a legend around Terrascope Towers. For the last dozen years he’s lived in Holland and about five years ago he realized a lifelong dream by recording a jazz album with the Searing Quartet (Joy Mining, Perfect Pitch, 2008). Here he met famed Dutch jazz pianist Egbert Derix, with whom he recorded the Afterwards album on Matrix in 2010. Fledg’ling now present the follow-up and it’s another rare treat from this legendary singer-songwriter in a new and exciting guise that adds to an already astounding discography.

            ‘Buddah Dials Your Number’ jumps out of the gate with a snappy toe-tapper that finds Matthews in fine lounge-legend mode, over an upbeat backing that’s highlighted by some tasty licks from guitarist Ton Engels. The romantic recollection of his relocation to Amsterdam, ‘Jewell of Illusion’ may be a little bit too much Billy Joel for some, but there’s no denying that Matthews has lost none of his skill at visually capturing the soul of a song with his lyrics. But no one will question the diary-dipping “I was there” trawl through swinging 60s London that results in “When The Floyd Were on The Prowl’. Partially inspired by Joe Boyd’s and Nick Mason’s autobiographies (White Bicycles and Inside Out respectively), I’m sure Matthews was in on some of those late night ramblings and speaks from the heart with this loving tribute: “The primal whine of Syd’s guitar/An ear splitting howl/A potpourri of sights and sounds/The Floyd are on the prowl.” The track is also the first time the band gets to stretch out, with dazzling solos from Derix and saxophonist Leo Janssen leading the way.

‘Pebbles In The Road’ reflects on his years in the middle of the L.A. music scene in the early 70’s, and sounds like one of those overwrought Eagles ballads as he sings “It’s autumn 1974/A full house at the Troubador…/I’m not a complicated man/I’ll simply do the best I can/To be another pebble in the road.” I also loved ‘Joy Mining’ (based on a sign he saw whilst driving across East Yorkshire), which reminded me of his tracks on his excellent collaboration with Elliott Murphy a dozen years ago (La Terre Commune, Blue Rose, 2001) and the life-affirming treatise, ‘Be Small,’ which again lets the band stretch out (Derix’ solo is particularly memorable) as our narrator opines philosophically about sticking to one’s station in life. Like many of the tracks here, it sprang from a life experience, in this case a conversation with his Dutch wife about parental advice, namely that children “born of a penny, should never try to become a quarter”. Imagine having to get through life with that defeatist sword of Damocles hanging over your head!

If you’ve been following any part of Matthews’ career over these past 45-plus years, you need this enticing diversion in your collection. It’ll settle in just perfectly alongside Joe Jackson’s similar outings like Night and Day or Billy Joel’s more tolerable piano-driven ballads. Derix’ accompaniment weaves tender circles around Matthews’ vocals, couching the arrangements in a cottony soft mushroom overcoat of emotions. He knows when to lay back and let Matthews’ vocals paint pictures, but he also isn’t afraid to step in and show off his chops – just listen to him tinmle the ivories during the improvisational break in ‘Monkisms’. Like a great film director, he’s deceptively brilliant – not intrusive, but commanding attention when he needs to drive home a beat or establish a subtle nuance.

So just put this on and light a fire, open a bottle of something warm and curl up with a loved one. It’s not quite Sinatra’s mid-50’s Capitol concept albums, but it’s pretty damn close.

Jeff Penczak




Another Mushroom-related release courtesy their longtime (as in at least ten album’s worth) percussionist Mihaly, whose lengthy credits include stints alongside Sonya Hunter, Jolie Holland, JC Hopkins, Victoria Williams, Sean Hayes, BARDO [not Pond] and many others. Dave mans the drumkit, plays an emotionally lean guitar and even steps up the mic on a few tunes on this, his second album fronting the SLE, who include trumpeter Ara Anderson (Tom Waits, Jonathan Richman, Hopkins, Holland, and Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks) and clarinet and sax blower David Boyce from Broun Fellinis). Opener ‘Mexican China’ saunters in off the set of a spaghetti Western, capturing the dust and sparseness of an isolated desert courtesy ominous sax and minimalist guitar lines. A jazzy, Roaring 20’s swagger shuffles through the breezy tribute to the sax inventor, ‘Oil Painting for Adolphe Sax & Coleman Hawkins’. The small ensemble manage an almost Big Band sound, with Boyce up to the task of honouring the two kingpins yet maintaining his own voice throughout. A special tip of the dome to Charith Premawardhana’s eerie viola.

Boyce’s sexy sax is also at the heart of the observational exercise in futility, ‘The Cat Tried to Catch a Hummingbird’. It’s as playful and lightweight as the title suggests. Lovers will also entwine each other in the warm glow of a Parisian sunset behind the Eiffel Tower on the romantic ‘A Bientôt’, a too-short reminiscence of long walks along the Seine or a romantic stroll through the Versailles gardens.

The title track finds all participants sidling through serpentining countrysides, rolling hills, and lonely valleys, observing life’s daily routines, both mundane and insignificant. Like a Zen master teaching patience to his student, one must simply allow life to happen – so sit back and enjoy the ride as the Ensemble turns John Lennon’s famous pronouncement that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” into a musical journey of inner exploration with outward elegance. Simply close your eyes and allow the various improvisational flourishes to wash over you.

Mihaly wrote ‘When You Leave It All Behind’ in New Jersey on a hitchhiking trip across America and, like most of the album, it is a touching visual representation of a place in time that we can all identify with, whether we were physically there or not. Dave’s guitar duet with Michael Cavaseno also recalls The Penguin Café’s ‘Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and It Doesn’t Matter’. Another fine nostalgic trip through a little black book of lost loves and yearning, broken hearts.

‘Mudang’ offers Eastern polyrhythms that evoke more dusty journeys, this time along The Silk Road leading camels or horses through vast landscapes, and ‘Willoughby and Red Mask’ features another fine improvisational turn by the full SLE, riffing on a melody that Mihaly wrestled out of a dream on an L.A. apartment floor. As tentative as corralling structured chaos out of a 5 a.m. nightmare, just splash some cold water on your face and go with the flow.

Finally, Dave gives us a little Mel Torme soft-shoe shuffle through ‘Some Season, Some Place’, another story song that suggests he’s either read a lot of Chandler or would make a wonderful short story writer on his days off. This is visual music of the first order performed with great aplomb by a tight ensemble who feed off each other’s inspirations and ever-so-slight cues to take us on a journey along the “Rivers” of the mind. A welcome and exciting addition to an already impressive discography.

The CD is available for US$16 directly from Dave. E-mail him for more information at davemihaly@gmail.com.

(Jeff Penczak)



(DL/CD-R from http://bit.ly/155BQmw )

As well as writing for the Terrascope, Stephen Palmer writes music under the name Mooch. Previous releases have covered, ambient, space-rock, Psych-Pop and synth based sounds (to name but a few) creating a collection od work that is wide-ranging and highly enjoyable, the albums bound together by a lyrical content that generally deals with spiritual/Pagan themes. On this latest release he turns his hand to folk music with a progressive leaning and a definite early/mid seventies feel, the tunes reminding me of both Renaissance and Ramases, the use of strings, blended voices and a generally relaxed feel pervading the whole album.

   Based around the pagan year, eight festival, two trees and an overview of the year, the songs have a lush orchestral sheen with opening track “The Yule Garden” setting the scene as piano, guitar and strings create a gentle backing for the sweet vocals of Beck Sian whose voice is perfectly suited to the project adding a great deal of quality to the collection. Not content with having one excellent vocalist, several songs feature the equally fine voice of Shelagh Teahan, the two different voices adding a new dimension to the gentle pastoral songs, especially when they are blended together, as on the magnificent “Looking Inward” a tune that glistens with melody, or  the album closer “Wheel of the Year” where the voices dance around each other gliding through a forest of rich instrumentation with great beauty and style.

    As with all Steve's work, great care has been taken with the production of the music allowing the instruments and voices to be heard clearly, breathing life into the songs and adding to a rich and satisfying listening experience. Best heard as a whole collection this album has some wonderful songs, strong melodies and a positive outlook, things to be admired, creating another fine Mooch album that deserves to be heard. (Simon Lewis)