= February 2016 =  
Martyn Bates
Tag Cloud
National Heroes
the Kontiki Suite
the Owl Service


(CD from Ambivalent Scale Records www.eyelessingaza.com )

Looking back to the year of twenty-fifteen, my audio intake was considerably pepped up by the appearance of the "Mythic Language"/"Egg Box Mask" triple c.d. set. So much so that this retrospective from British post punk/art pop duo Eyeless in Gaza was made number one with a bullet by yours truly on the Terrascope yearly poll.

    So now, only a matter of months later, the Becker/Bates family tree (pictured as an ancient yew in an English country churchyard of course...), has sprouted an extra limb with the emergence of "Fireworks..."; Martyn Bates' sixteenth (!) solo outing (on almost as many labels, I might add). To discover that was certainly a surprise (thank you Discogs!), as I simply had no idea he was that prolific!

    This beautifully artworked/six-panelled disc (his third in as many years...), finds Martyn joined by Alan Trench ('tronix/sundry percussives/field recordings/kitchen sink) and the mysteriously named banjo player and backing vocalist Elizabeth S. It's a baker's dozen of dream pop constructs in which a slight sense of unease might be detected which, according to the accompanying cribsheet, could be due to the fact that the recording took place on the Greek isle of Evia, during Greece's economic/political upheaval(s). Things mostly focus on Martyn's acoustic guitar work and vocalese and emphasise a concept of pure songcraft, where certain emotional states are laid bare for all to experience. Introspective soul transmissions, if you will, that come nuanced by a number of impressionistic backdops that thankfully, don't overpower the proceedings one jot. Whichever way you huffle the pack there's always seems to be something of genuine worth. Take for example an adaption of a Walter de la Mare poem "Embers, Starry Tapers"; a vision of otherworldliness, which largely comprises of solo vox humana and layered, lighter than air vocal atmospherics. Then there's the finger-cramping banjo exercises underpinning "Belong" and "The Fall", a personal favourite in which a rhythm bed of stately piano lines is deftly overturned by what appears to be a splurge of sustained feedback/sheet metal that has the signature of Master William Reid; late of the J.A.M.C. imprinted upon it.  Excellent.

   Copies are available through the Eyeless website (see above) and also through the auspices of Rough Trade, i-tunes (who they?) and Amazon. Order early to avoid disappointment... accept no imitations etc etc... (Steve Pescott)



(LP/DL from bandcamp )

Limited to only 300, most of which have been sold, this privately pressed album is an acid folk, psychedelic gem that resonates with an early seventies vibe and features a collection of tunes that are memorable, beautifully arranged and played with a passion and beauty that seeps deep within. The album also features contributions from members of 70's band O.W.L (Of Wondrous Legends) whose own album is also a thing of great beauty.

     After the gentle pastoral swirl of the introductory “Into the Land (that Time Forgot), the albums style and vision is pretty much summed up by “The Trip (parts 1 and 2) an eight minute homage to West – Coast Psych, phased harmony vocals, mellow guitar riff, flute, vibes and suitably lysergic lyrics combining to allow you to time travel back to that magical realm, hints of Jefferson Airplane, H P Lovecraft and Ultimate Spinach come whispering through as you lie back and enjoy the journey.
   With rippling sitar and percussion, “Egyptian Days” adds that classic Eastern touch, complete with drones and a drift of incense smoke no doubt.
  With a sound more reminiscent of artists such as In Gowan Ring or Espers, “Song of the Seven Willows” reminds us that this is a new album not a re-issue of a long lost classic, although the following “On Through The Ages” is a haunting folk rock tune that takes us back to 1972 complete with some excellent keyboard work and a sweet harpsichord running through it.
   Throughout the album, there is a vein of rich wonder, with the brace of tunes “Voyage of the Crystal Bird” and “Forest Path” being a particular highlight, the first a flute led wash of gentle psych that again reminds me of H P Lovecraft,  the latter keeping that vibe and slowing it down even further, chimes, flute and guitar dancing the cosmic dance together. To end it all the title track seems to concentrate the first three Incredible String Band albums into three minutes, a good trick if you can pull it off and they do leaving you with a big smile on your face and the feeling that all is right with the world. (Simon Lewis)



( CD/DL from http://bit.ly/1K8nLQU )

Chris Videll creates otherworldy music under the name Tag Cloud. Mixing drones and experimentation his music is often dense and always atmospheric, the music possessing a stillness at its core that can only be found by venturing deep into the tunes.

After the brief sound of an alien hijacking your phone , “Landline/Gunmetal Gray” morphs into a slow rolling drone that grinds and creaks like static that has been de-tuned and cut up. On “Curfew”the tones are taken higher, a mechanical pulse and shrillness creeping into your pores before “A Sort of Footnote” soothes it all away with tumbling Tangerine Dream influenced sounds that ease the tensions found in the earlier tracks.

With a drifting sequence at its heart, “A Rising Tide” reminds me of some of Fripps work, Maybe it is the tones more than the tunes, the piece seemingly having the same ambience as albums such as “Exposure” or “Network”, however it sounds the piece is a beautiful slice of music that is hypnotic and enthralling, demanding repeated plays for maximum pleasure.

At just over eight minutes, “The Nightly Forecast” has plenty of time to take us into the valley of dreams, another sweetly toned drone that hardly exists as it winds itself around you creating a vacuum in time that you are happy to enter, especially when an oscillating drone enter the fray for the last to minute providing energy and momentum.

To end, “Lifting the Veil” features the double bass of Daniel Barbiero, the slowly unfolding notes offering a delightfully sombre backdrop for the glistening electronics that weave above, the result like listening to the forest on a breezy day in may, distant chimes adding sporadic melodies inside your head. As the piece moves forward it becomes denser and more distorted as if you are drifting away from reality into another realm creating an intense listen that may leave you quite exhausted at its conclusion.

Each time I listen to this album I find more to discover, different tracks come into focus meaning it will be an album I am able to enjoy for many years to come. (Simon Lewis)



(CD on Theme Park)

I’ve often wondered, if I’d kept every single and LP that I ever reviewed for the Ptolemaic Terrascope between 1989 and 2005 whether I’d be sitting on a goldmine now or merely a truly eccentric heap of plastic. Sadly not only did I fail to keep the majority but I also suspect the latter is true as well, with one or two honourable exceptions - that first Guided by Voices LP, Flying Saucer Attack’s debut album to state a couple of obvious examples. Now and again though something rises up out of the murk of the past and genuinely catches me by surprise, and the recent re-issue of National Heroes’ one and only album from 1995 is an excellent case in point.

This is one of the few albums I've kept through thick and thin. Not as an investment, but simply because I genuinely like it. There’s an honesty and an integrity about it, sheer joy in three guys from Surrey expressing themselves through music; and above all, some fabulously crunchy guitar work throughout that’s very much in the Neil Young and Crazy Horse mould (and anyone who knows me will know all too well where I stand on the dividing line between loving and hating Neil Young’s electric guitar excursions…)

Besides all of which, the cover’s a great talking point. Just as Boris paid tribute to Nick Drake with their ‘Akuma no Uta’ LP, National Heroes paid a similar tribute to Neil Young’s ‘Zuma’ with their cover - just fifteen or so years beforehand. To my mind, it was a masterstroke, and I freely admit that this was one occasion on which I genuinely did judge the record by the cover, looking forward to spinning it before I’d even heard a note.

1995 was very much the year of lo-fi. Sebadoh, with whom National Heroes were occasionally compared, (to be fair, the National Heroes did support them a couple of times; and Jason Lowenstein even does a short spoken section on the album), were kings riding high and laying bare all before them and the aforementioned Guided by Voices had released ‘Alien Lanes’ and were busily working on what was for me their masterpiece, ‘Under the Bushes Under the Stars’ (although that too divided fans at the time, as it was their first in a “proper” recording studio). National Heroes though were so much more than mere reflections of the then current trend, as much influenced by the Byrds and Nick Drake as they were by Big Black and Husker Du.

Preceded by a couple of cassettes and followed by a CD-EP ('Once Around the Sun') and an EP featuring three songs not included here, the album’s noteworthy tracks to my mind are ‘Decadence’ (which sounds not unlike the Flaming Lips’ early favourite, ‘Five Stop Mother Superior Rain’), the brilliant ‘The Last Day of Summer’ (a title lifted from a short story by Ian McEwan), a near-instrumental with echoes of Galaxie 500 entitled ‘All My Circles are Ovals’ which grows from a trembling electric guitar passage into a roaring nine-headed hydra and then sinks back into the water again with nary a glance over its shoulder; 'Fire and Explosion Research Group’ (the sole representative from the LP from the aforementioned EP, which opens incidentally with an ace snatch of sitar noodling entitled ‘Beautiful Korma’); a hauntingly honest little number entitled ‘Emotional Cripple’, and a scaled down jam entitled ‘Water Covers a Lot of the Earth’s Surface’ which features enough bass to make a passing car flip over onto its roof and some military percussion that creates a thunderous backdrop to the feedback guitar coda.

So why wait until now to reissue it? Bill Dunmore: “We seemed to be getting regular enquiries about the LP which was long out of print. Some rather ambitiously called it a lost classic and apparently it can go for up to £70 as a collectors item. This seemed fairly outrageous so we agreed to have it re-released.

“Years pass and Internet music is invented and it all seems to be a very different environment. [We’re] not particularly concerned by this though as the music that we recorded then was really rooted in the very late 1960s and early 70s so we were kind of already outside of the modern era by the 1990s and not sure where we are now other than that things tend to go in the rather large circle.”

It’s a fair point and one I can’t really argue with. Perhaps this time round people will finally sit up and take notice of this rather fine little album. (Phil McMullen)




I have been looking forward to hearing for a while now. A follow up to their debut album of a few years ago and also a wonderful sitar infused 12" single 'Magic Carpet Ride'. First track 'Bring Our Empire Down' is like a cross between 'Last Train To Clarksville' and 'Jessica', all chiming guitars that remind me in places of the obscure group Beatglider; a fine introduction.

'My Own Little World' contains ringing guitar, lapsteel and harmonica , a fine country rock/psych number concerning a lack of money on a spinning planet, sung beautifully by Benjamin Singh, who handles all of the lead vocals apart from one track sung by his brother Johnny. Indeed all the songs bar one are also written by Benjamin with 'Free From Sound' sounding not unlike a track from the wonderful 'Younger Than Yesterday'  a fine country rock song, whilst, 'Here For You Know' with its needles and pins guitar motif is a gem of a track about trying to stand up straight but getting knocked down in the process, the three guitars interweaving seamlessly throughout. 'Under The Rug' is the first of the songs to be given an extended instrumental passage, perfectly placed at the end of side one, the place where all good wig-outs should appear, setting us up nicely for side two.

'Pages Of My Mind' sounds like a song that I've known forever, again the three guitarists weave in and out of each other, effortlessly bouncing, ringing and dinging throughout. 'Keep Up With My Old Self' is another familiar-sounding gem. 'All I Can Say' is another wonderful mix of slide and lead guitars blending together with a great country rock feel, reminding me in places of the short lived group Two Fingers Of Firewater, ending with a gorgeous lead guitar break.

'Burned' follows this and we have a great smouldering lead guitar riff bleeding into a very Byrds like tune, that has a great cosmic cowboy vibe to it, along with sultry mellotron accompaniment, lending it a nice spacey feel and leading into another extended ending. It's my personal favourite on the album. I have tried so hard not to mention Byrds too often until now, but their influence on the sound of this record cannot be ignored. The last track 'Years Roll On' concludes this fine record and is a sweet gentle song about putting down roots in the here and now, of being mired in the mud, again accompanied by drifting lapsteel, six string and mellotron. One of the finest English country rock albums I have ever encountered. (Andrew Young)




After a brief period under wraps The Owl Service return with a new record on Horn Records. What we have here is an album of mainly traditional folk songs given the post -rock treatment.

Wanting to do something different and fresh, Steven has applied the kind of production that Steve Albini gave to bands such as Fugazi and Shellac. Instrumentation wise things are pretty simple with guitar, drums, organ and bass with female vocals supplied by Diana Collier, Jo Lepine and Nancy Wallace with guest spots by Alison O'Donnell, Laura Hulse Davis and Michelle Bappoo.

First track is the old Wicker Man favourite 'The Widows Lament' which is written by Robert Burns, but on this version accompanied by only crisp drums, bass and arpeggio electric guitar. Next is 'The False Knight' one of the Child ballads as learned from Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's Steeleye Span version. This is a pretty well known song and works well in its new setting of a standard rock instrumentation. 'The Skater' written by Ken Saul and recorded by Midwinter in the early seventies is all shimmering electric guitar curlicues accompanied again by bass and drums with a touch of droning organ added, but is still unadorned and fairly simple. The words tell of a soldier whose true love lived across the water and waiting for a big freeze took to skates to meet her but coming a cropper on the melting ice and so drowning in the process.

A spectral 'Geordie' appears next, another Child ballad familiar to me by The Trees accompanied here by just a droning organ, it appears as if through a ghostly fog. 'Sea Song' written by Simon Jacquet is given a very dramatic reading and works very well the verses accompanied by a massive repeated circular guitar figure, its another watery tale of crossing the sea heading east this song was on the great Caedmon self titled album from the late seventies. 'Salisbury Plain' follows this and is familiar to me being recorded by Shirley and Dolly Collins, another Child ballad with the protagonist ending up in Newcastle Gaol waiting a death sentence after committing a bit of highway robbery presented here again in a fairly standard rock setting.

'Living By The water' written by Anne Briggs continues the watery imagery and is just simply gorgeous, spare electric guitar, drums and bass with a touch of organ help it along nicely all shifting sands on the western strands. The unmistakable tones of Alison O'Donnell herald the next of the Child ballads 'Hugh Of Lincoln' a tale of going next door to collect a ball that went over the fence only to be murdered and thrown down a Well. 'Willies Lady' concludes this quite brief record (37 minutes), another Child ballad, as learned from Martin Carthy. Again quite stark in it's presentation, with clattering drums and guitar echoing the verses throughout.

Whether this heralds further recordings from The Owl Service we will have to wait and see, but it's a welcome addition to their discography. (Andrew Young)