= November 2020 =  
 the Left Outsides
 The Pilgrim


(LP from Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube Records  )

It’s been quite a year of releases for Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas, known collectively as The Left Outsides. Aside from that sumptuous Eighteenth Day Of May reissue back in May (the 18th no less) we’ve been blessed with two full length Alison solo releases (four if you count the initial cassette releases) and now a second long form release for The Left Outsides, following the recent vinyl debut pressing of last year’s A Place To Hide.

To describe their latest offering in cricketing terms, each delivery is slow to medium paced and make liberal use of the outfield in terms of natural found sounds, with oars cutting through water here, church bells, crunching leaves and closing doors elsewhere. Vocal duties are more or less equally shared between the protagonists which also makes for a balanced juxtaposition of tone and texture. There is less reliance on harmonium this time around with Mark’s guitar noticeably to the fore, often resulting in a stimulating effect on the neck hairs. And while The Left Outsides have travelled far since their days as part of Eighteenth Day of May they have left a trail of breadcrumbs leading back home. Whereas the base sauce can still be identified as part of the folkish diaspora, though, from there they concoct different musical landscapes encompassing the drone, a soupcon of slowed-down Latino rhythms, almost disconcertingly perky pop sensibilities and a curiously overcast soundtrack of Laurel Canyon.

Assiduous Mark and Alison watchers will note that not all of Are You Sure I Was There? has the pure scent of new born baby about it. ‘My Reflection Once Was Me’ featured on A Place To Hide (indeed they did us the honour of leading with it at last year’s Terrascope Woolf extravaganza) and is here in all its hymnal majesty, underpinned by Mark’s single note dirge riffing and featuring a sonorously kneecapping viola that leaves me with the overwhelming urge to oak panel the office veal crate and never leave. The single ‘Things Can Never Be The Same Again’ is a steely half sibling with bitter notes companion to the peerless title track of their previous studio album All That Remains, driven by some muscular and jarring guitar while the fittingly entrancing ‘Séance’ recently featured on Help The Witch a compilation album based on Tom Cox’s book of ghostly short stories of the same name and which believe me is well worth investigation.

The rest of the album is similarly cast in exquisitely crafted and often gut-wrenchingly beautiful melodies. ‘The Wind No Longer Stirs The Trees’ possesses a timeless quality that seems instantly comforting and familiar, a quite upbeat folk-pop melody with Alison’s vocal lines falling away as if shedding leaves. It also possesses a typically winning swoon section possessed of wordless vocal, viola and singe chord guitar cascades. It sets an immediately demanding benchmark and they hardly falter thereafter. ‘Only Time Will Tell has the air of big production value that harks back to some of those cusp of prog classic singles circa 1968, while The Stone Barn’ is built on the foundations of ‘Helpless’ and similarly hewn country rock ballads. You can also easily imagine Mr Young intoning and puffing away on ‘Between The Lines’ (the track which contains the line which gives the album its title). It’s all typical of how The Left Outsides take an unassuming but tasty template and hammer out their own sound, working it into intricate and fascinating shapes. There are even hints of Forever Changes-style orchestral sweeps in the bridge section of ‘A Face In The Crowd’ (joined by an affirmative spoken-word call-to-arms in the outro). By contrast ‘November On My Mind’ is jaunty in a way that evokes The Easybeats’ ‘Friday On My Mind’ and a certain ‘California Dreaming’ but how reassuringly typical that they should dedicate such a sweet tune to the dreariest of months.

A rich feast of autumnal indulgence, Are You Sure I Was There? is one for those who groove on the gloom and who appreciate the beauty and depth in this kind of deliciously refined melancholia. Quite how The Left Outsides aren’t much more widely-known remains something of a mystery and one can but hope that they will reach a broader and more appreciative audience with what is their most accessible and radio friendly release since The Shape Of Things To Come. With the Cardinal’s left foot and the some well-earned US distribution firmly behind them one can only hope their time has come at last.

(Ian Fraser)



(Cassette/DL from https://pefkin.bandcamp.com/)

It has taken me longer than anticipated to get around to reviewing this album, so long in fact that the cassette has now sold out, although you can still stream/download the music on Pefkin's Bandcamp page and you should.

    Containing three long droning tracks, fans of Gayle Brogan will not be disappointed as “Eddying” floats in on a ripple of drone and field recordings, Gayle's voice at its sweetest as she paints pictures to accompany the sound. As the track moves forward the sounds writhe and entwine, creating a serenely textured soundscape with a hint of the discordant, the music changing as it flows, the drone ever rising becoming more dissonant as time passes.

   Continuing in the same vein, “Deep Sea Deep Time” is like floating in the middle of a vast ocean, absorbing everything around, living in the moment, safe yet completely alive. Again the voice adds a delightful sweetness to the piece, flashes of sunshine sparkling off the waves, rippling bass notes creating movement allowing the sounds to ebb and flow.

   Finally, “Swan Wing Burial” takes into a magical realm, voice and instruments blending into plainsong atmospherics, the listener led through mystical cloisters adorned with roses and a glowing ambience. Truly contemplative, the piece demands that you listen intently, preferably with low lighting, a solitary pleasure that is blissful and very inviting.

   Sold out as a physical release this album is crying out to be released on vinyl, the perfect format for this enchanting collection, so if anyone fancies starting a record label your first release is ready to go. (Simon Lewis)



(LP/CD/Digital on Heavy Psych Sounds Records)


Italy’s The Pilgrim has released their second excellent album in as many years, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back, and don’t forget that leading “…”  The story of The Pilgrim has similarities to that of Custard Flux.  It’s an album of psychedelic rock made with mostly acoustic instruments as a side project from guys normally affiliated with a heavier band.  And also similar to The Talented Mr. Curvey, one chap does the lion’s share of it.  And finally, as with Custard Flux, the results are quite splendid.  (But they don’t really sound that similar).


Gabriele Fiori is the main man for both Heavy Psych Sounds Records and headbangers Black Rainbows, and The Pilgrim is his other baby.  They released their debut in 2019, Walking Into the Forest, another fine LP.  For this follow-up, he’s ably assisted on drums again by fellow Rainbow Filippo Ragazzoni, and Ryan Lee on pedal steel for a couple of tracks.  But Fiori handles everything else, and it’s a lot.  He’s a magnificently talented musician.  When most people hear “acoustic” and “rock,” they think psych folk or some such.  As for The Pilgrim, er, no.  This is Rock.  Superb Rock.  And terribly sorry, just one more Custard Flux parallel, there are passages that go by where you don’t even notice it’s acoustic, not electric instruments making such a filled-out sound.


The Pilgrim comes out strongly right out of the gate, with lead single “Mexico ‘84.”   On this and every song, Fiori holds onto and stretches the bejesus out of nearly every syllable at the end of a phrase, “you can be so satisfi-i-i-i-ed.”  It’s a very cool sound.  He adds a blistering fried electric guitar solo (shhh, he doesn’t do it often on this acoustic album but I wish he did).


Fiori is reaching for a Western desert vibe imagery, replete with visual undulating waves of heat and uncoiling rattlesnakes in the dust.  And just check out that fantastic cover art by Marteen Donders.  Nowhere is this imagery more lyrically grounded than the ode to a spaghetti western, the suite “Obsessed By The West Part I, II, III, IV.”


Whether it’s the acoustic guitar speed-freak mastery on “Lion” and “Riding the Horse,” the false endings of “Fool Around” and others, or the fantastic flamenco flourishes of “Cuba,” Fiori brandishes sensational songwriting and musicianship.


The second half of the album touches on more introspective subject matter, often dialing in our personal insecurities, late-night self-doubts and love’s regrets.  Still, the playing remains superior across the board, witness the mind-blowing “Solitude.”


Heavy Psych Sounds is possibly the best when it comes to giving you your money’s worth with deluxe artwork, packaging, merchandise and other goodies, and this LP is no exception, so check them out.


I give a rousing recommendation for The Pilgrim and this LP.  It’s full of great lyrical imagery, ace songwriting, and spirited high-energy acoustic performances.


(Mark Feingold)