= July 2014 =  
Cult of Dom Keller
Octopus Syng
Bill Horist & Jakob Riis
Sounds of the New Soma
The Junipers
Cosmic RoughRiders
Nick Piunti
Marissa Nadler
Amon Duul
Lay Llamas
The Ash and the Oak
Mark and the Clouds


(LP from Cardinal Fuzz http://cardinalfuzz.bigcartel.com/ )

Their self-titled debut was one of the most anticipated releases of 2013. Second Bardo follows hot on its heels and mines similar cavernous subterranean oddness, if anything more moody and mysterious even than before. From the first reverb drenched bars of opener “Plague Of All” through to the dying embers of “Killed In My Sleep” this is a gloriously gloomy not to mention darkly atmospheric serving of “psych noir”. There are a myriad of reference points from 60s garage psych through to 80s Goth (I’m getting shadowy notes of Bauhaus), the drone monsters of Loop etc and beyond. There is the occasional anxious moment where you think it might be heading into the cheese and ham territory of the Horrors (a band of whom I like the idea but less so the execution) but mercifully this is avoided. Highpoints abound, but check out the queasy “Dead Seas”, the shapeshifting “Into The Sky Volcano” and the timeless narco-vibe of “Heavy and Dead” reproduced here in demo form. Hell, do yourself a massive favour and listen to the lot as there’s not a duffer on the album. Better still, if you have a few pennies to part with then head for the website. You’ll not regret it.  (Ian Fraser)



(LP/DL from http://bit.ly/TzuDx8 )

Created by Harry Sumnall, whose genius can also be found infusing music from Zukanican and the excellent Lazily Spun, this collection of hypnotic motorik beats and sequences takes everything that is good about Minimalist, Kraut, Space, Psych and blends it into a fresh and tasty brew that looks to the past whilst stepping into the future, or maybe the other way round, sometimes it is hard to tell.

    Anyway, the album contains nine fine examples of this sound with “2-TC-CT-7” taking off nicely with a revolving bassline that reminds me of classic Gong at their most dynamic, the drums keeping things tight whilst synths swirl and glide overhead, guiding aliens in to land. On “AOS3” repetition is definitely the key, pulsating drums levitating the room as the synths open up space all around, although melody is never lost within the track giving it a happy and bright feel.

    With a Hawkwind bass riff and a Can rhythm, “Ketchum” is one of my favourite moments, especially when bursts of  dancing sequences remind me it is time to dig out those seventies Steve Hillage albums or maybe The Future Sound of London. This is not to say the album is generic or a mere copyist, just that electronic music does have a tendency to work within smaller parameters especially when sequences and patterns are used.

    Having a strange and cinematic feel, “Sartoris” rounds of side one with class, the track bouncing out of the speakers like an excited robot with a secret to keep, a track that deserves plenty of volume making your whole body twitch in time to those repetitive beats and pulses.

    Clocking in at eight minutes “L'arum” begins with no beats at all, instead a rising drone pulls you in before loping bass and hushed percussion begin, the track reaching its sonic tentacles way out in space creating a weird alien landscape in your brain. Have way through, the mood mellows with thick layers of synths smoothing out the way forward, a metallic ticking counting the seconds of our lives.

   After this epic centrepiece the last three tracks return to the sound hypnosis through rhythm and repetition with “Ein Wenig E-Musik” being my personal favourite, a track that is filled with tension and a more rock based construction, altough final track “E-Manare” is the perfect ending, a lighter atmosphere allowing the listener to lie back and enjoy washes of Kosmiche sunshine.

    My only problem with this album is that it has taken me so long to review it that the vinyl has sold out from source although a quick search revealed that it is still to be found for sale here and there. If you can't find one then go and download it, a must have electronic record to these ears. (Simon Lewis)



(CD from http://bit.ly/1yQjTe8)

I have to confess to having been completely unaware of either this band or its founder, so for me this CD has been a bit of a revelation. Based in Finland, the band consists of the multi musician Jaire Pätäri - vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, sitar, organ, piano, percussion, bass, recorder, tape delay feedbacks and sound effects, along with Joni - electric guitar, Antti – bass and Jukka -  drums and percussion.

Available in both vinyl and CD form, this review is of the latter version in a slip case with tracklist on the back.

The music is full on psyche of the highest order, a real blast back to the more creative elements of the 60s clearly inspired by the likes of Syd Barrett, Traffic, Strawberry alarm clock, and early Jefferson airplane. Whilst there are huge similarities to these greats it would be wrong to view Octopus Syng as being a 60s style tribute, rather they have taken that genre as a starting point from which they have introduced their own approach and character. In fact I would go as far as to say have moved it forward beyond where the others left off.

So to the music: ‘Avant garden’ starts the CD with a deliciously reverb drenched intro and deeply atmospheric vocals, this is an excellent choice to start the album with; ‘It's Not A Coincidence’ has exceedingly clever lyrical timing that is very slightly disjointed giving a wonderfully trippy effect; ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’ is 2 ½ minutes worth of gentle dreamy melody; ‘Diamonds and emeralds’ is a perfect, joyful flowers and incense styled piece of ear candy; the track ‘Very strange trip’ is pretty much summed up by the title and is an excellent psychedelic track; ‘Cuckoo clock mystery’ is unsurprisingly based around the sounds of the aforementioned timepiece and is an outstandingly clever composition; side two starts with ‘You are every poem’ which is simplistically beautiful with lyrics to match; ‘Thought collector’ is a delightfully unashamed psych pop song with a mildly rocky pace; ‘Mirror of our memories’ is a deeply atmospheric track with a sound vaguely reminiscent of the Doors; ‘Reflections of time’ is lusciously deep, dark and overtly ominous it would work well as a film soundtrack; ‘Listen to the moths’ at just over 9 minutes is the longest track on the album, this track is gentle and melodic whilst having, at times, a slightly unsettling edge accentuated by the pronounced sliding of fingertips along the guitar strings during chord changes and in parts muted vocals.

The album rewards repeated playing as each listen exposes new layers of tantalisingly intricate elements. For me it is one of the most interesting albums that I have encountered so far this year and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys good psychedelic music with an unashamedly 60s feel to it. (Steve Judd)



(CD/Download from Lava Thief Records http://lavathief.blogspot.co.uk )

Don’t let the classic 78 rpm-style artwork fool you. Michigan’s Horist (Master Musicians of Bukake) and Danish sonic innovator Riis serve up a thoroughly avant-garde collection of pastoral guitar and fiendishly dark ambience sure to stimulate the senses and have you fingering your ear on occasions as if to unblock the static. Add a collection of song titles that hint heavily at Jungian spiritual imagery and what we have here (hear?) is something rather quite strange but also strangely appealing.

“Wind Tar to Baliene Flame” doesn’t really prepare you for what is to follow but is nevertheless a most welcome and restive opener, featuring Basho style, raga-light solo acoustic guitar. “The Hidden Terms of Cessation’s Elegy” has a slow, slow build up demanding patience, concentration and a good ear, before the power chords kick in during the final third, building and coalescing into a static rumble. This theme is taken to another level on “Fibrillate - Wishes of the Last Twitch”, a piece of weird electronica which alternates between drone and static fizz. At times it’s something of a fingernail down the blackboard experience and that includes the raucous guitar contribution in the last few stanzas.

We return to more serene waters on “Raking Gasp” as Horist’s acoustic guitar once more takes centre stage and Riis’ gizmos hum and crackle gently and respectively around the central motif. Dreamy. “Who Mourns the Talus Dead?” (who indeed) is a study in ethereal electronic exploration while “Engines of Exposures Unborn” takes the experimentation to new and more challenging levels. Merzbow eat your art out. All of which bring us to “A Certainty Drowned in the Channels of Memory”. This is the calm after the storm, a tentative shaft of sunlight and an exquisite piece with which to end a sometimes turbulent, frequently rewarding and never uninteresting journey. (Ian Fraser)




Beyond the rather startling cover to this outfit’s debut offering floats an exquisite collection of chakra tuning psychedelic soundscapes. Core members Alexander Djelassi and Dirk Raupach are augmented by Andrea Lessenich on saxophone which evokes a mystical air not dissimilar to some of Jan Garbareck’s work and which permeated much of ECM’s more tasteful euro-jazz output a couple of decades back whilst also bringing to mind the more lysergic moments from Gong’s canon (“Other Side of the Sky” perhaps) and the more cerebral reaches of the modern, experimental Germanic tradition. Of the four tracks – all of which are quite wonderful and thoroughly recommended – the absolute pick are the two “talkies” which hark back in style if not necessarily content to that old and to my mind timeless Sergius Galowin lunacy. “Im Rausch des Alkaloids” mixes echoing spoken word voice with heart beat rhythm and space drip synthesizers whilst “Nektar der Gotter” is probably the strangest but in some ways most melodic composition here and sounds as if Dr Who has been wrested from its peak time, mainstream format, shot into hyperspace and the soundtrack given over to a bunch of Teutonic space-trippers. On this evidence Sounds of New Soma are worthy carriers of the Kosmische Flame (Ambient Korp). Sublime.  (Ian Fraser)



(LPs from Sugarbush Records)

Specialising in limited edition re-issues of hard to find psych/pop albums, Sugarbush records are doing a fine job if theses three releases are anything to go by, beautifully pressed with delightful artwork and a touch of quality about them.

    Originally released as a download in 2014, “Paint the Ground” is a wonderful collection of jangly, gently flowing pop psych that is ideal for those hazy summer days. Opening sweetly with the rippling melodies of “Look Into My River”, the band hook you in immediately, a mellow 1971 West-Coast vibe pervading the air as they get into their groove. On “Dandelion Man”, there is a more up to date guitar jangle, a slightly heavier edge although this is softened by gorgeous harmonies and a a dancing flute, summer is definitely here. Easily an early highlight. “Everywhere Was You” is another gentle tune with an almost Eastern motif running through it, the song ending far too soon, although the delightful softness of  “In My Reverie” make up for this the song re-defining mellow with ease, reminding me of The Lilac Time jamming with CSNY in their laconic approach. To end side one “Phoebus Filled The Town” maintains the delicate air, notes shimmering in a musical heat haze, taking back to 1967 and the summer of love, or at least your rose-tinted memories and wishes of the era.

   After a flawless side of music, I am pleased to say that side 2 is just as good with opener “Antler Season” glowing like a evening sun, a radiance of sound that sets the tone for the rest of the side. Reminding me of Gorky's “Golden Fields in Golden Sun” sounds just as it should, the flute adding a delicate beauty to the tune, whilst “Song to Selkie” has an upbeat approach that will get you grooving around the garden whilst smiling like a loon.

   Certain of their quality, the last three songs turn out to be the best, proving this is a band of quality and substance, the listener easily immersed in the flowing contemplative mood of “Willow and the Water Mill”, blissed out by the pastoral wonder of “They Lived Up In The Valley” and then energised and amused by the sweet pulse of the Beatle-esque “Pearly Home”, the song leaving you with a smile on your face.

  Damn this album is good, those in need of a warm summer sparkle need look no further.

    Originally released in 2000, “Panorama”, the second album from Scottish band Cosmic Rough Riders, features chiming Rickenbacker, sweet harmonies and classic melodies that stick in the brain long after the album has finished. Indeed after a few plays you will find yourself humming these tunes as you go about your day.

    Opening with “Revolution (In the Summertime)”, the band's sense of melody is quickly revealed, strummed guitar offering a solid bed for the laid-back vocal and rhythm, the song a call for gentle, peaceful change. Sounding timeless, “Have You Heard the News Today ?” seems to blend Teenage Fanclub with The Mamas and Papas, the sublime mix of harmony and melody delicious to the ear creating a languid vibe that is easy to like. Changing tack slightly, the Eastern percussion and hypnotic, repeated vocal line of “Brothers Gather 'Round” has a psychedelic feel, this short piece serving as an intro for the brilliant Pop-Psych of “The Gun Isn't Loaded” a song with definite Beatle overtones, but with plenty of originality built in as well, a droning violin being the icing on a very tasty slice of cake. This same lysergic sheen is carried on through the shimmering “Value of Life”, the mood slowly brought back to earth by the delightful pop loveliness of “You've Got Me”, a delightful song of love. To end the side “Afterglow” is a mellow, sweet flowing tune that maintains the quality set by a near perfect selection.

    Harking back to the sixties pop of The Monkees, Hollies, Searchers, etc, “The Pain Inside” is a classic song with some excellent guitar playing at its centre, this trait for excellence continued with “The Charm” which reminds me of The Green Pyjamas, and “I Call Her Name” which completes a trilogy of just great tunes. To end the side and the album, the achingly beautiful “Back Home Again” is a love song that avoids becoming sickly or over sweetened.

     What can I say, another flawless collection for people who enjoy quality songwriting that is timeless, mellow and ripe for summertime.

     The sun is setting, the beer is flowing nicely and someone has lit a joint, time to crank up the volume just a bit with the power pop groove of Nick Piunti, whose “13 In My Head” album is a glorious mix of riff and melodic sweetness that has a perfect party vibe. Kicking off with the nostalgic title track the album soon settles into its stride sounding like a heady mix of Tom Petty and Supergrass that will get you dancing on the lawn. The pace maintained on both “On The Way Out” and “Good Thing Going”, the former having a classic “Nah Nah” chorus, whilst the latter has some great guitar work and an excellent vocal performance with Nick's voice sounding perfect for this and the rest of his tunes.

    Making sure the energy levels remain high “We'll Be Together” manages an Aerosmith swagger and a New Wave riff, the side ended by the more pop orientated “She's A Good Time” which brings back those Tom Petty comparisons in a good way.

    Starting side two with a bang, both “Every Light On” and “Sleeping On The Pavement” are album highlights, one being classic power-pop with a sing-a-long chorus, the other having a meaty guitar riff and a moodier ambience that may tempt you to dust of that air guitar (maybe not), or at least nod your head with purpose. Further into the side, the obligatory, and in this case warranted, slower song appears with “Quicksand” a lovely song with a catchy chorus that will take your attention for a minute unless you are talking to the most beautiful girl/boy in the room, of course. Finally, “Believe It” rocks us out another future classic from a collection of quality songs. Hats off to Sugarbush records for these releases, quality throughout. (Simon Lewis)



(CD from http://bit.ly/VXcT0h )

Sendelica probably need little introduction, but just in case; they are a Welsh psychedelic rock group currently comprising Pete Bingham (guitars & electronics), Colin Consterdine (electronics, keyboards & production), Glenda Pescado / Gavin Lloyd Wilson (bass guitar), Jack Jackson (drums), Lee Relfe (saxophones) and recently Lord Armstrong Sealand (Theremin and Keys).

Their music covers a wide range of styles from ambient, through Floydesque prog rock of the “Set the controls” era, to some of the sounds of the highlights of the Krautrock age, all infused with Pete Bingham’s signature blistering guitar work.

The album we are listening to here, like many of their releases, comes in a number of formats from white vinyl done specially for the Crabstock festival, blue vinyl, black vinyl, vinyl box set, CD in card sleeve and digital download. The coloured vinyl versions, as ever, sell out very fast and as I write this are all sold apart from eight available on white vinyl.

The version I am reviewing is the CD in a card sleeve, simple effective and comes with some tasty artwork by Davidew and Jack Jackson, this version is rather nice so if you are too late for the vinyl you can at least grab one of these.

The music starts off with a gentle choral introduction to be quickly replaced by powerful guitar and percussion in ‘Standing on the edge’ this is a fabulous instrumental piece which, in places, brings to mind early Black Sabbath; followed by ‘Manhole of the universe’ a soaring 12 minutes of sheer full on space rock delight, with Pete’s guitar piloting the controls to take us right out there to a point where weightlessness takes over, before freefalling back down to earth, this is a superb track to get totally lost in; ‘Zhyly byly’ starts with a smattering of eerie notes taking me back to watching Suspiria, this then builds with an underlying dub tempo, carried along delightfully by Glenda’s competent bass playing and Nick Danger’s superb percussion; some pieces of music are completely overwhelming, and to my ears the next track is one of those ‘Screaming and streaming into the starlit nite’ is a truly breathtaking piece with Lee Relfe’s sax playing building powerfully before fading away to allow the guitar to voice the same sentiment; next up we have ‘Carningli (hill of angels)’ coming in with ethereal choral voices and bird song plus a sprinkling of synth whispers and burbles, add to this the flute playing of Nik Turner and you have an ambient chilled track of the highest order; the album closes with ‘Spaceman bubblegum’ turning things up a notch or so to end on a full on acid strewn bluesy space rock jam. 

This collection of tracks from over the years is a perfect addition to any Sendelica collection and is a good introduction in the unlikely event that you have not yet heard any of their albums. (Steve Judd)



(CD from Gonzo Multimedia www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk)

There was a time back in the 1980s when I spent a great deal of my student leisure time in Record Fairs, not just looking for rare and deleted psychedelic and similar imprints but picking up loads of knock-out (and knock-off) live cassettes of often dubious quality and most doubtful lineage. Put it this way, the artistes were never likely to receive any money even if they knew the product existed. I tried to live with myself, really I did.

Anyway listening to this posthumous release of live Beefheart material from his last tour and recorded in Detroit, Michigan, US of A, I was reminded of those long ago times. The recording is akin to a decent enough audience bootleg, by which I mean that the sound is definitely low-fi and may only be distantly acquainted with the mixing board. The track listing is virtually identical to the Amsterdam ’80 release from 2006 (from a concert which took place a month before Harpo’s) and which is of far superior sound quality. As such “Harpo’s” will probably excite the completists more than the curious and is unlikely to prove a useful entry point to anyone wishing to become acquainted with the weird and wonderful world of Don Glen Van Vliet. This is a shame as this latter day incarnation of the Magic Band kick up a storm and the Cap’n growls and yelps as well as he ever did through a set list which includes “Abba Zabba”, “Best Batch Yet”, “Bat Chain Puller” and eyes-out versions of “Kandy Korn” and “Big Eyed Beans from Venus”. However it’s sometimes hard to make out Van Vliet’s between song banter/audience baiting – part of the entertainment – and whilst it’s good to hear the hearty rendition of “The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back” which segues into “Kandy Korn”, unless you are a hard-core Beefheart nut or can’t score a copy of the aforementioned Amsterdam ‘80 I’d be cautious about busting a gut or for that matter breaking the bank to get your hands on this. (Ian Fraser)



(CD/LP from Sacred Bones [US] http://bit.ly/1nHyG1C and Bella Union [ROW] http://bit.ly/1qQiIWK )

Terrastock VI alumna Marissa Nadler marks her first decade of making incredibly personal, emotionally intimate music with this perfect-timed album, recorded in Seattle last year and out now on her new labels. Her home(s) may be different, but you can rest assured that the music is still haunting and hallucinatory, her vocals as ethereal as ever. ‘Drive’ opens on the wings of a tortured butterfly, weak… tragic… broken. Nadler’s beckoning vocals envelop you in the warmth of a bonfire in a frosty forest and each line draws you closer until you just want to wrap your arms around her and protect her from all the bad stuff out there, and kill anyone who could even dream of hurting her or breaking her heart. [as a Terrastock veteran myself, I can vouch for the fact that Marissa’s live performances have exactly the same effect! – Phil] The song ends as Jay Kardong’s weeping pedal steel fades off into the night, carrying Nadler’s pleas to the empty darkness.

When she pleads with a departed lover, ‘Baby, come back to me” in ‘1923’ I just about lost it. Eyvind Kang’s mournful strings rip your heart out and perfectly capture Nadler’s desperation to rekindle a broken relationship. ‘Firecrackers’ “on the fourth of July” give the set its title, but marks an about face as Nadler recalls a relationship that ended because SHE changed, but Kardong’s tearful pedal steel suggests the pain is just as real.

Nadler provides her own backing vocals, which, like a choir of angels, question reality and memory’s tricks of perception on ’Was It A Dream’, one of the few tracks to break her tender acoustic accompaniments via Phil Wandscher’s structured electric guitar flourishes.

Some will certainly be inclined to compare Nadler’s waiflike vocals with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, and they do share a certain imploring naïveté in their delivery that makes you want to take them home and shelter them from life’s storms. But Nadler writes all her own material, which tends towards the folkier end of the musical spectrum, and is more introspective, revelatory, seemingly autobiographically inspired. When she sings, “Riding back to Massachusetts / Couldn't even see from snow / The road was studded with Christmas trees” (in ‘I’ve Got Your Name’), you almost feel like you’re sitting in the front seat with her. As such, newcomers may find closer signposts in the similarly cathartic confessionals of Anna-Lynne Williams (Trespasser William]’s alter ego Lotte Kestner, Daughter’s Elena Tonra, or Mariee Sioux.

Nadler’s currently touring the US and will be in Britain, Ireland, and Europe throughout September and October. Be sure to catch her when she comes to your neighbourhood. You’ll definitely want to experience one of the year’s finest albums in person. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD/LP from Purple Pyramid Records www.cleoptararecords.com)

Recorded in 2009 and, if I’m not too mistaken, previously available as a download only entitled “Bee As Such”, this is the first ADII album to be given a widespread release since 1995’s largely disowned “Nada Moonshine” (and before that, 81’s “Vortex”). Irrespective of whether you choose to split hairs over the album’s provenance/release date it’s been a long time coming.

As always when presented with new material after a lengthy gestation period there are two points of interest, firstly if it’s going to be a stinker or whether it’ll smell of roses and secondly who’s laid claim to name. Dealing with the second of these first we can, mercifully, dispense with the suspicion that there may be just one surviving original member trading on the name. Indeed, Chris Karrer, John Weinzeri and the astonishing Renate Knaup, founding fathers/mother all, together with long-haul bass man Lothar Meid, are all present.

The four semi-improvised compositions centre on (Knaup’s and un-credited male) guttural vocals, which conjure up an atonal Jefferson Airplane. Knaup in particular is on stunning form – no songbird, she, but her at times off key delivery, phonetic phrasings and rolling “r”s set to a prominent rhythm section, Karrer’s mournfully atmospheric violin and his twin guitar with Weinzeri both thrills and unsettles. The pieces, particularly “Du Kommst in Heim” and the meandering 26 minute “Back to the Rules/Walking in the Park” smack of the waywardly exploratory and there are glimpses of the free festival jamming in which the Here and Now Band excelled back in the day (when they too featured an expressive female vocalist). It’s never dull and can boast a few moments of inspiration although as is often the danger with the more exploratory, free form approach, some of it fails to stick to the wall. The track most likely to polarise fans and casual listeners alike is the avant-white funk of “Standing in the Shadow” where the vocals provide a particularly sour counterbalance to some sweet bass work by Meid and the band’s twin drummers.

It’s unlikely that “Duulirium” will be talked of in such hushed and reverential tones as “Yeti” or some of the other heyday material but forty five years into a roller-coaster of a career this release, though curate’s egg it may be, is something to cherish rather than be churlish about. There again scented roses tend to divide opinion too.

(Ian Fraser)



(LP/CD/DOWNLOAD from Rocket Recordings www.rocketrecordings.bandcamp.com)

Like many bands in the burgeoning neo-psychedelic scene, Italy’s Lay Llamas trade on repetition and comparatively few notes. However while many of their contemporaries take the Loop/Spacemen 3 route of two chord drone as their template, Lay Llamas draw on more myriad influences as befits a band who can boast stable mates of the quality and inventiveness of Goat, Gnod and Teeth and the Sea. These include obvious nods to World music in the shape of Goat-style Afro-beat as well as embracing a more math-rock dance vibe of the Suuns variety.

A constant factor from the opening tribal stomp of Ancient People of the Stars” is a thoroughly simple yet stunningly effective series of bass lines which underpin most of what is to follow. “We Are You” develops the shamanic ghost-dance-by-campfire aatmosphere as the rhythm section and techno-synthesis coalesce to offer up spaced out loops and grooves aplenty. Nowhere is the bass better executed than on “Desert of Lost Souls”, the rest of the instrumentation floating around it as if in a cavernous void while the vocals insinuate themselves from a box room in next door’s attic (assuming that the attic is in another dimension). “Archaic Revival”, wherein a creaky intro bubbles into a hypnotic and quite compelling beat is quite simply one of the best things here, while “Something Wrong” in which ambient drone gives way to lysergic Afro-funk and the delicious Afro-Asian cosmic dub of “In Search of Plants” also hit the spot.

In sticking a monster jet pack under often tired sounding space rock, Ostro succeeds in re-launching it deep into the outer galaxies while at the same time bringing the genre slap bang up to date for the second decade of the 21st century (hey, I’ve checked and that’s where I think we are). Together with the rest of the formidable Rocket roster and the aforementioned Suuns, Lay Llamas are due to play the Liverpool Festival of Psychedelia this September. On this evidence it is a proposition that is likely to prove mouth-wateringly difficult to resist. (Ian Fraser)




A first album of sensational Welsh-fuelled multi-harmony pop and a second album more varied but just as welcome made Simon Leighfield's The Ash & The Oak stand out as one of the more interesting musical delights of recent years. "Survival As A Kind Of Triumph" continues the vein of strong songs sung in a unique voice, backed with varied instruments and styles. The album opener 'Transmit' confirms that Leighfield hasn't lost his songwriting chops. The cut is complex - almost progressive in places - with retro keyboards providing much of the atmosphere. High-tech oscillating synths and a squidgy guitar open 'The Warning,' which again inhabits a pop terrain (most notably in the vocals) but which uses synths to excellent effect, creating a very nice track indeed, whose advanced production values don't conceal the tune. Motown drums and heavily phased guitars underpin 'You Can Be Somebody Else's Baby Now,' whose vocals spin around the stereo spectrum; stacked up three high at least. 'Jigsaw' has energy and attitude to spare, leaping out of the speakers as Leighfield sings a lament to one Mary, who seems to have strayed somewhat... an album highlight, this, where all the best elements of The Ash & The Oak come together. 'Millions' opens with much backwards guitar wizardry and plinking harps, before a beatific vocal hoves into view, then the song proper; this track I think harks back more than any on this album to the original sound created by Leighfield on his debut release. Very nice indeed. 'Sparx' is similarly gorgeous, underpinned with acoustic guitars and perhaps featuring the most engaging vocal on the album, not to mention one of the best tunes. '... And The Lights' opens with little more than voice and piano, as a tale of a peculiar boy growing up to become a peculiar man is related; terrific arrangement on this track, perfectly complimenting the mournful vocal - another album highlight. 'After The Rain' pits several sections against one another, some effected, some more natural, while 'Something/Nothing' is very chilled, floating by as if on a slow river of keyboards. 'Maybe' comes across like a lost late-period Byrds track - another delightful song, and so well put together. Album closer 'Fades' is another mournful lament, backed with a hint of flute 'tron. Lovely. This album is mellower than the one that preceded it, with Leighfield's unique voice given plenty of space to shine. It would appear that the dreaded "third album syndrome" has entirely passed Simon Leighfield by. Highly recommended.  (Steve Palmer)




Bright jangly pop! Well, who doesn't like bright jangly pop? Mark & The Clouds are a London-based group whose debut album "Blue Skies Opening" presses all the right buttons for fans of fine songwriting. Opening with multi-harmony hit-in-the-making 'In The Storm,' the sound is retro without being pastiche, beautifully sung and superbly orchestrated. The song is a terrific opener - you think of La Fleur Fatale, a hint of the Byrds, Big Star et al. 'You Call Me Brother' hints at the Kinks with its honky-tonk piano and early '70s glam references; another excellent cut. 'Music Disease' is filled with great harmonies and parping brass - catchy, infectious. The title track is much more laid back, warmer too, with slide guitar and either strings or a mellotron providing backing to a reverberated vocal. An album highlight, this, showcasing main man Marco Magnani's smooth vocal style. 'The Grudge' returns us to power-pop, this time Hammond style, with many fuzzed-up guitars arpeggiating away in the background; this one reminded me of Big Star, with a hint of bands like Teenage Fanclub and Cosmic Rough Riders. A strummed acoustic guitar opens the singer-songwriter track 'Darkened River,' but 'Goddess Of Desire' hints at the Jimi Hendrix Experience in style and attack, underpinned by a twelve bar blues chord sequence - another outstanding cut. 'Spirits In The Wind' has a slightly doomy folk feel to it, with a raga-style vocal and some nice mandolins in the distance; also thumping drums and Velvets style tambourines. Very atmospheric, with a nice riff floating through it. 'I Run Like Crazy' is perhaps the most obviously '60s sounding song on the album, thanks in part to the backing vocal harmonies, but it's a good song in its own right, and you could easily imagine it in the "hit parade" some time around 1968. 'For All Diamonds To Shine' skitters along similarly, with Ricky style guitars and a catchy tune; another album highlight, and highly evocative when the string section comes in. 'Faraway Laughter' is one of those quirky little tunes that English psych pop bands do so well; a hint of the Kinks, a groovy guitar solo, a bucketload of charm. 'London Fire' comes in fast and brash like the Jam sent back a few years in time, while album closer 'Are You Taking Time?' is awash with lovely guitar licks, backwards things and delightful vocal harmonies. None of these tracks outstay their welcome, and repeated listenings confirm depth and really good tunes. In six months time this will be viewed as one of the best releases of the year. (Steve Palmer)