= July 2021 =  
 Alex Rex
 Kitchen Cynics
 Moongazing Hare
 Mia Doi Todd
 Belong to the Wind comp
(All formats from Neolithic Recordings) 

Alex Neilson and his regular first lieutenant, Rory Haye, return with Rex’s fourth long-form outing, this time abetted by Marco Rea and, rejoice, Neilson’s former fellow Trembling Bell(e) Lavinia Blackwall. Mercifully, any fears that yer man’s impish musical mojo may have been laid low by seemingly interminable languorous lockdowns are dispelled from word go. From the opening bars of the skipping lounge jazz and country gospel of ‘Low Life’, it’s clear that Neilson’s adoptive Glaswegian gargle, so at odds with his fresh-faced Yorkshire countenance, is on sparkling form. And despite statements such as “I don’t think I was born evil” and “I can’t stand what I’ve become” portending yet more confessional soul bearing, Paradise actually sounds more confident, relaxed and playful than its predecessors, as if the long dark night of the soul actually could be a bit of fun on the town after all.

‘The Dark Inside The Shadow’ is hymnal in the evangelical sense of belting it out there and seeing where it lands. It has a familiar ring to it. It could be that Rex may already have been touting this back in 2019 when last heard sniffing around the impolite company of live audiences. Or perhaps it’s because it has a trail of breadcrumbs back to 2020’s wonderful Andromeda, with which much of Paradise rents common ground, musically if not always emotionally. Folksy yet gritty, the Neilson/Blackwell voiced ‘Scandalise The Birds’ is, aptly enough, the closest we get to the Trembling Bells template of yore, neatly riveted with some searing guitar work (Haye is on top form throughout). It’s something of an early pace setter, while the cod-western themed ‘Dancing Flame’ is hugely pleasurable too. Picture The Sadies playing Morricone, arranged by Trad.Arr and your compass won’t be too far adrift.

Rascally outsider ‘What’s Shouted In The Dark (The Dark Shouts Back)’ fills the boots of ‘Postcards From A Dream’ off the first album - atypically up-tempo, verging on the pop-tastic, bursting with ideas, brimful with infectious hooks and incisor-sharp lyrics, and which really ought to have “Play List A” stamped all over it. However you cut, dice and snort it, this is primo grade gear, in a way that channels the essence of Nick Cave’s rock n’ roll preacher-ah, all drenched in dark matter, and with a cheeky lyrical nod to one Nick Lowe. I mean who doesn’t love the sound of breaking dreams?

The rest is more typical though no less quality assured Rex-fare, the bleakly gorgeous ‘Funeral Bouquet’ and the riff tinged ‘Ida’ worthy of particular mention in despatches, as is ‘Black Peonies’, another of those mischievous country-folk send-ups, and on which Neilson duets with the guesting Kacy Lee Anderson. It’s irreverent and, yes, a bit deviant with the opening  lines "I wear the knickers you gave me/when I play football with the boys", from which there’s  no coming back (speaking of which, the naughty pay-off is to be found in the subsequent couplet, missus). It’s delightfully subversive and jolly good fun to boot, eventually melting into Haye’s psych-raga guitar.  The faintly sinister crooning on ‘Man Is a Villain’ hands off to a TV evangelist-style epilogue in the coda as Alex introduces the boys and girl in his congregation choir, while fitting finale ‘Every Wall Is A Wailing Wall’ proves that no Rex is complete without a bit of unaccompanied digging around in the ear canal..

So there we have it, this year’s contender for “the best Rex album yet”, one that inhabits the narrow and precarious strip of no-man’s land separating the twin towns of Bonkers and Genius, It’s already firmly camped near top of the personal go-to list for 2021, setting one dauntingly high bar for everyone else to clear. There’s a tour planned for October. Let’s sincerely hope it goes ahead and that we don’t all end up in Lockdown III (or will it be IV?), reduced to watching The Masked Flower Arranger or some such on Prime Time TV instead.

Ian Fraser


Limited edition lathe cut 10” (Sonido Polifonico | sonidopolifonico )

DL (Music | Kitchen Cynics (bandcamp.com) )

     Like most of us I have lost count of how many albums Alan Davidson has released under the guise of The Kitchen Cynics. What is not in any doubt however, is that every release I am privileged to hear cements the fact that the man is a national treasure who should be revered for his storytelling, soft melodies and wondrous tunes that always stir the imagination.

Long-time fans of Alan will know what to expect from this collection, tales of dead Cockerels, apple trees, graves and family surprises. Within its beautiful grooves is the sound of waves crashing on pebbled shore, the smell of pine forests after rain, a fluttering insect, a candle lit at a window calling a loved one home, each tune a melancholic delight, a flute running through the music its delicate tone recalling the sweet beauty of “Comin' Back to You”, the oft overlooked gem from Jefferson Airplane.

Call it Psychedelic Folk, singer songwriter, or whatever you want, this is timeless and wonderful music that feeds the soul, allowing you to drift into your fairy tale mind, each tune painting pictures, you can almost smell the soil, feel the grass beneath your feet.

Featuring seven tracks this exquisite lathe cut album is perfection from start to finish the disc housed in a box containing photos, dried bracken, badges, images pressed in clay and other ephemera, a thing of beauty and one that sold out incredibly quickly as do most of the labels output. Thankfully the music is still available and you should definitely go and investigate.

(Simon Lewis)


(CD/DL Moongazing Hare (bandcamp.com) )

     I first came across David F. Emmanuelli Drost, AKA Moongazing Hare, at the rather excellent Weirdshire festival, held a few years ago in Hereford. Also on the bill were David Colohan, Kitchen Cynics, and Trappist Overland, and you can hear shades of all these artists in the music on this album, drifting folk ambience, psychedelia and a love of melody and drone in equal measure. Live I was spellbound, hanging onto every note and happily getting lost in the music and this album comes close to capturing that magic, a collection of 11 songs that will take you on a journey, held together by a soft, wistful voice and beautiful guitar playing.

Opening with a soft rolling beat and waves of guitar, “After Vementry” is a sweet tune that floats through the air, delicate and delightful. These same qualities can be found on”King Neutral's Dream” another soft tune with a haunting chorus and synth work that adds emotion and texture.

Moving on, “After the Brush Fire” is more experimental in nature as it scrapes and squirms across the room before escaping out the back door, whilst “The Highland Widow's Lament” has lyrics adapted from a poem by Robert Burns, the music shimmering and twinkling, demonstrating a lightness of touch that can only be admired, the addition of David Colohan's vocals only adding to the melancholic sweetness.

Just a beautiful song, “We Could Live Here” forces you to listen to both melody and lyrics, the arrangement drawing the best from the track with ease, a magical moment.

As the album continues, there is a sense of purpose, a realisation of the moment, each track the natural successor to the last, the mood never broken. This is demonstrated with an unexpected cover of “Maize Stalk Drinking Blood”, written by John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), a ripple of almost commercial sunlight that briefly changes the dynamics, in a good way, before the experimental drone of “Before The Smoke Clears” twists our ears around again.

Ending in style, the eight minute “Between The Calm Remains” reminds me of Red House Painters, its languid nature slowly leading us back to the everyday, a smile on our face, knowing that we are loved.

(Simon Lewis)


(LP, CD, Digital on City Zen Records)


Singer-songwriter (she hates that term, but begrudgingly accepts it) Mia Doi Todd offers a world of multi-cultural tales on this exceptional album.  It’s her twelfth since her recording debut in 1997, but her first of original songs in ten years.  In that interval she concentrated on a movie soundtrack and a pair of covers albums.  She returns with a fully fleshed-out record spanning many subjects and styles.  Many of the songs on Music Life were written at different times along those those ten years, it wasn’t a sudden burst.  The record encompasses a lot of living in that time.


First of all, I loved the sound of this album.  My stereo loved it, too.  Incorporating the whole of her experience, both in her travels, in the studio, and as a wife and mother, Todd reminds me in ways of such artists as Maria Muldaur, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Astrud Gilberto and Miriam Makeba; or, among contemporary artists, Bedouine comes to mind.  Each song is arranged, orchestrated and recorded beautifully.  In a year+ with a lot of albums - caused by the seeming parting of the earth’s tectonic plates, swallowing a core of humanity - graced with musical minimalism and singular laptoppery, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear this album (recorded before the pandemic) with these arrangements and production positively bursting with REAL INSTRUMENTS.  You can practically feel the breath in the reeds of the clarinets or the native flutes, and sway with the full band in a welter of rhythmic styles.  This is down to, of course, Mia Doi Todd, but also her producer, guitarist, and husband Jesse Peterson, bass player Brandon Owens, drummer Will Logan, and percussionist Andres Renteria.  Todd also brought along some very special guests, including guitarist Jeff Parker, organ player Money Mark, plus guitarists Fabiano do Nascimento and Sam Gendel, and Laraaji.  Mia’s tales are simple and straightforward, many revealing an underlying moral; her melodies are rich and accessible, her voice is pretty and her clear enunciation perfect.  Refreshingly, you will not wonder for one moment “wait, what did she say there?”


The record is a ‘round the world journey, starting at home with the jazzy title track.  Composed after she came home from a memorial service for a musical friend, it’s a tribute to both the spiritual triumph and fulfillment, and potential crash-and-burn of a life dedicated to music.  She sings, “Chances are you’ve got a few friends/always swimming on the deep end/chasing dragons and sunsets/shooting whiskey and hallucinogens” and later “Chances are you’ve got a few friends/who burned the candle at both ends/And every day was a weekend/until the dark night came for them/in a hotel or hospital room.”  The song morphs into an extended Steely Dan-type jam, with the great Jeff Parker soloing while Todd sings “I love you, I love you” over and over to her lost friend.  Very cathartic indeed.


“Take Me to the Mountain” has an air of folky mystery.  Punctuated by bass clarinets and flutes, the mountain ascent is depicted as almost a native ceremony somewhere beyond the roads and byways of normal civilization.  When Todd intoned “Michael, take me to the mountain/we’ll leave behind these city streets/I can no longer be around them/let’s go someplace where we can breathe/where we can breathe,” some took it as a nod to the past year’s anguish over civil rights and police violence against people of color.  Todd admitted that wasn’t the original intent of the lyrics, but appreciates and welcomes the interpretation.


“My Fisherman” is told from the point of view of a mermaid, who gently helps the fisherman she loves reap the sea’s bounty to bring home to his family, but also knows the uncompromising waves will one day take him, where he will rest with her in the deep.  The song is replete with sounds of the ocean, sweeping percussion, a mournful cello, and a gently strummed guitar of the islands.


“Little Bird” is a lovely Brazilian samba.  Assisted by the hypnotic acoustic guitar playing of Fabio do Nascimento and multi-instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, the bouncy song tells of a girl who’s never ventured far from home, encouraged to fly, to see the world.  The surprise ending has a dark undercurrent that belies the lively, upbeat song, telling of a long-concealed sexual abuse as a child, which grounded this little bird.


“Mohinder and the Maharani” tells of a camel trek across the desert in Rajashthan, India.  The music is exuberant and boasts of wide-open sandy spaces and bustling bazaars.  “Wainiha Valley” trades previous Caribbean scenery for Polynesian, with Todd’s story, reflective of bringing up her daughter, told from the perspective of a happily growing little girl in an idyllic setting, all to the gentle zither playing of Laraaji.


Finale “Daughter of Hope” is just that, a message of hope to her daughter.  At nearly ten minutes long, the verses pour and pour out of Todd, both a lament and prayer, of tension and release, from a baby to a young woman.  It tells of the reality of an “ocean of tears” and a blessing for “a world without sorrow, a world without pain/a better world tomorrow and the best day today.”  Isn’t that all any of us could ask for?


Music Life is a fully realized work, and it sticks every landing perfectly.  Lovely melodies; straightforward, thoughtful lyrics, tremendous instrumentation, and magnificent production.  Even the cover art, by Mia Doi Todd as well, in a Greek vase theme, is handsome and lovingly detailed.  This is one to savor.


(Mark Feingold)


(CD/DL from Music | Rusted Rail (bandcamp.com) )

    Comprising ten new songs and the previously released, as a download,  “Frozen Waterfalls” album, this collection of tunes highlights all that is good about Cubs, melody, atmosphere and imagination combining to create a highly listenable album that will become an old favourite.

     As I have already reviewed “Frozen Waterfalls” (Terrascope Reviews for July 2020 ) this review will concentrate on the first ten songs, collectively known as “River of Amber”, with “Solstice song” setting the scene perfectly, a shimmering doorway into a musical landscape, the promise of adventure enticing you to step through, the music soft and lysergic like your dreams. With a gently picked guitar and the sweet voice of Cecillia Dannel, “Forest Gate” is a folk lullaby, a tune to relax with a Cello adding texture and warmth to the track.

    Featuring the distinctive voice of Aaron Hurley, “Faster in the Dark” is another tune where simplicity is its strength, the arrangement allowing the song to shine out before the psychedelic meditation of , “We'll See How the Cat Jumps”  gets all Eastern and trippy reminding me of Kaleidoscope (U.S. Version) and spinning my head around.

    After a brief fog of electronics and backward vocals, “Crystal World” is revealed as a slow, shoegaze tune that floats majestically above  strummed guitar and droning background sound, whilst “Falling Petals” mixes folk and soundscape to fine effect,music from another realm that is delicate and wondrous.

     Utilising a whole host of instruments both electronic and acoustic, each song on the collection has a unique sound palette yet works perfectly with those around it, the album flowing beautifully allowing tunes such as the Mandolin led strangeness of “Hot Honey Glaze” to blend perfectly into the droning, experimental sweetness of “Tape Owl” without interrupting the rhythm or flow.

     Only halfway through but ending “River of Amber” and this review, “Windflower” sways delightfully, filled with rattling percussion and yet more softness. The track also features the talents of David Colohan, but you knew he would be there somewhere, whilst the contributions of  James Rider and Keith Wallace should also be mentioned the album definitely a team effort and one hat is well worth hearing. (Simon Lewis).


(LP, Digital on Forager Records)


In its mission statement, the new imprint, L.A.-based Forager Records, is dedicated to “unearthing and breathing new life into rare and under-appreciated sounds from the past.”  This is their first release, and they’re off to a good start.  Belong to the Wind is a collection of songs from the early 70s by such non-household names such as Autumn Dust, Snuffy, and My Partner in Crime, that went unnoticed at the time.  What they have in common is a certain brand of US melancholia in a radio friendly style of the time.  So instead of a Fading Yellow vibe, the sound is more like that of, say, Don McLean, Lobo, Brewer & Shipley, Scottish band Marmalade, Seals & Crofts, or Dan Hill - OK, not Dan Hill - with the occasional production sheen of a CSNY or America.


These longing, yearning, keening songs of heartbreak, misery and bummertude are, like many comps, a mixed bag, but plenty deserved better than obscurity, and right on to Forager for unearthing them.  They haven’t revealed much about the secrets of their foraging, but for one example, the excellent “Anticipation of the Sun” by Jeff Laign, Forager discovered it allegedly upon hearing it on the radio in Estonia (Jeff Laign is alive and well, by the way, and living, presumably not in Estonia).


Winner of the most unique track on the album has to be St. Elmo’s Fire with “The Lady Has No Heart.”  Imagine a 1975 Olivia Newton John singing a semi-graphic account of a prostitute whilst curled up on a couch and you’re almost there.


Elsewhere, Denny Fast’s “Tuesday Morning Monday’s Feeling Gone” takes the CSN vibe in a different, Stephen Stillsian direction.  The closer and title track, by Shane, is the most different feel, more like a mid-60s R&B track, with a Hammondtastic solo Brian Auger would’ve been proud of.  But with lyrics like “why was I born, I cried/was I born to die?/please give me a reason to live” the sentiment fits in oh so perfectly with the others.


It's an interesting, enjoyable collection (if you don’t mind wallowing in the collective misery) of laid back coulda shoulda woulda songs you won’t be sorry you checked out.  Well done, Forager.  And they’re just getting started.  While it appears Belong to the Wind is a one-off and won’t be the start of a series like the aforementioned Fading Yellow, Brown Acid or Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs’ outstanding compendiums, Forager already has a couple more intriguing looking releases in the pipeline this summer, so stay tuned.  They also have some rather nice collections on Mixcloud under Forager if you’re so inclined.


(Mark Feingold)


(DL from Tee Pee Annex | Tee Pee Records Webstore)

A West of England band beloved of Terrascope, Alchemysts appeared at each of the first five Terrastocks, placing them neck and neck at the time with Bardo Pond and Bevis Frond as prime candidates for the exclusive Life Membership club, and which for a while included a clutch of other acts, such as Windy and Carl and Damon and Naomi, all of whom rightly revered by The Faithful (that’s you, by the way). Unlike those names, Alchemysts never quite passed into the realm of legend, such is the fine line between hit and myth. Fast forward more than a decade and a half and their first two albums receive a welcome (though digital-only) re-release, courtesy of Tee Pee Records, providing us with the chance to reappraise the power trio of Paul Simmons, Jon Guard and Mat Love.

One Eyed Again (Behemoth Records) gathers early material from 1991-93 and is a stylistic smorgasbord of disparate and occasionally very good ideas, well executed. Given when this material was put down, it’s remarkable how they were able to swerve not just grunge but shoegaze, indie and anything too overtly psychedelic, whereas there’s no concessions whatsoever towards what would soon become Brit Pop. That must count as quite an achievement. Mostly it’s unashamedly old school in its melodic take on monster riffs - hard rock with an infusion of pub, punk and the merest hint of country rock, so rooted in a different era that a (doubtlessly souped up) cover of Chris Farlowe’s ‘Out Of Time’ might have worked as a mildly ironic theme song. On ‘Lost’ and ‘Swarm’ they sound  reminiscent of Sun Dial in the sense of being blessed with enough strong hooks to grace a chapel hat rack while being either ahead of or behind the zeitgeist, depending on your viewpoint. ‘Blind Side’ and ‘Bloody Mary’ both pack commendable punch, while the moody ‘Cuff Link’ menacingly stalks those Mendip mean streets. If ‘Dust Devil’ is an entertainingly Dick Dale style take on Neal Hefti’s Batman theme, the live sounding ‘Phantom Gun’ is delightfully dirty B-movie garage rock and a welcome nod to the Deviants and Kings Of Oblivion-era Pink Fairies. The album even boasts its own extended, main course signature dish, the 11-minute ’Stoned In Jerusalem’, a more-than decent sparring partner for Bevis’ ‘Superseded’ but with added Jagger/swagger vocal.

Released on Australian label Camera Obscure in 1998 (two years after their debut), Over and Out feels more cohesive than its predecessor. Without downplaying what is undoubtedly a capable enough rhythm section, it is again hot-shot guitarist/singer Paul Simmons who stands out, displaying more licks than a starving cat let loose on a bowl of cream. A sitar drone ushers in the compelling ‘Forget About It’ and promptly disappears into a dense narcotic fug. The edgy, driving ‘Big Black Beetles’ is also outstanding, possessed of a dumb but effective call of ” yeah, yeah, yeah” punctuating each line of verse and a killer chorus making it pretty much essential, and boy doesn’t it feel good to (re)discover such a hidden gem. It may be tempting to write off the rest as pale in comparison, but don’t. That would constitute a disservice to the organ and guitar feedback on the crunching instrumental, ‘Numinous’ and the cloying, spy movie/Cold War paranoia that is the hallmark of ‘Laugh’, with its gunshot reverb and machine gun precision drumming.  ‘Dead Time’ is an altogether route-one rocker, which goes down all guns blazing, while the most bizarre thing here is the bouncy ‘(Bracket’), which is the sound of a toe being dipped in the chlorinated waters of Blur and co. Well this was the late 90s after all, even for Alchemysts.

The rest is an enjoyably mixed bag of intriguing incongruity and incredibly near misses. Despite its title, the scuzzed-up  ‘Alpha Centauri’ isn’t at all cosmic, while ‘25th of July’ begins in an alluringly desolate acoustic manner, eventually kicking into life with a squall of feedback, where-after it sounds more urgent but less interesting. ‘A Surreal Meal’, meanwhile, desperately wants to be Be Your Dog but, in its rush to sound Fast and Furious, overeggs it just a fraction. A pity, as a little less could have been a whole lot more.

It wouldn’t quite be “over and out” for Alchemysts. Their third album, a glorious orgy of pilfered riffs from the Stooges/Damned vaults called Zero Zen, came out on Nick Saloman’s Woronzow label, as did a hook-up with Silver Apple, Simeon Coxe (whom they met at Terrastock), before calling time. And speaking of Mr Saloman, as many of you will know, Paul Simmons is on course for a long service medal as Nick’s current guitar foil in the Bevis Frond. That-there Terrascope/stock link just keeps-a-rolling. As for the Alchemysts, well there’s a story to be told about how it began, how it all ended and how it played out in between. It’s one we’d like to help tell. It would be no less than they deserve. For thrills, spills, and just the right amount of frills, check them out.

Ian Fraser