Next up comes the "Mump Grumpy" (c.d.) by POSSET; a curio of 2009 vintage from the Blythe-based Infinite Exchange label, the home of creeping doomsters Bong and the spiralling psyche dronescapes of Eyeballs. J.G. Murray is the man behind this project, being the sole (?) practitioner of the "Dictaphone Jazz" microgenre. His urban beachcombing forays have lead to amassing a collection of electronic castoffs/random noisemakers (Walkmans, Ring Modulators etc), that have probably seen better days. These are captured on mini-recorders (a major boon to any seventies secretary/p.a.), and, employing Burroughsian/found sound aesthetics, the hubbub of over magnified crowd scenes and the clang 'n' whirr of tiny machines collide with scratchy vinyl and the dull thwunk of elastic bands. A tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek approach does emerge however, in the fer-azzled clank and titling of pieces like "The Pete Best of Noise" and the comic cuts onomatopoeia of "Verunk Bluarghh". Almost Voice Cracky.
With the "God is busy...Save Yourself" (c.d. from 2009), the U.S. duo of Jim Gibson and Logan Butler a.k.a. WICKED KING WICKER have unleashed something SO steeped in stifling atmospheres and pitch-black nihilism, it's almost as if Corrupted and Merzbow had joined forces (!!). It's WKW's seventh album but only the first (via Cold Spring) to pollute these shores with its black-hearted uglitude. A vast, lumbering, bottom-feeding bass drone is supplemented by the sounds of a horde of insane/gibbering/teeth-gnashing subhumans. amid layer upon layer (upon layer) of bubbling fat-like noisetronix. Surprisingly, the expected (?) industrial jackhammer unit, redolent of Vulcan's smithy is an option neatly sidestepped. The only timekeeper in evidence being a distant steely reverberation, that, like everything else in this endtimes tableau is slowly and painfully dragged along on an all engulfing lava flow. So that's goodbye house, goodbye trees, goodbye you and certainly me......
Of the four no wave outfits found on the "No New York" meisterwerk, MARS were always the most enigmatic and certainly the most mind warping, all within an eighteen month (!) career. Well, thirty or so years after their passing, Feeding Tube Records (home to Edith Bunker's D.V.T. and outsider guru Gary Wilson), have miraculously unearthed two live sets recorded at New York's Artists Loft during May '78 as a limited vinyl elpee. Their bite-sized capsules of abstract/neurotic sound always seemed to have a never ending scream buried subliminally at their core, especially on "Puerto Rican Ghost" (included here in two glorious versions...). And, of course, all of this chaos 'n'complexity was more than ably driven along by the stylish and cruelly underrated drum work of Nancy Arlen. In terms of how high in regard they're held, Mars are an all time top 4 favourite of Keiji Haino, if that's any help..... After hours of deep thort, I make this THE reissue of 2011, nudging the self-titled c.d. by avant garde/proto punks Jack Ruby (on UgEXPLODE Records - www.ugEXPLODE.com) into second place.....
And...while I'm on the subject of last year's reissues, it'd be a heinous crime to let mention of French combo LE SYSTEME CRAPOUTCHIK fall by the wayside. Their trio of albums; "Aussi Loin que je me Souvienne..." (1969), the "Flop" double set of alternate takes/singles etc (1971) and the self-titled comeback l.p. (1974) were released on Flamophone; which was also home to the rather fine Ilous & Decuyper. With their name growing in stature in collectordom during the intervening years, it's fallen upon the broad shoulders of Spain's Wah Wah Records to give the group a serious, plush, glossy-sleeved/info-laden kinda reappraisal in vinyl format. Look, if you desire limpid, achingly melodic sike pop (the native tongue vocals are a minor hurdle...), this is definitely your next port of call. On the strength of say "Judy" and "Lettre au Japon" I'd say LSC are easily the equal of Andwella's Dream, Blossom Toes, Cressida and yes, even Pussy!
If like me, your only exposure to flamenco in an electric setting boils down to David and Angela Allen's Carmen whose releases on Regal Zonophone led to a brief Bowie crush back in the day, you might be surprised to know that there is a vinyl compilation that consists of obscuro singles/e.p.s by flamenco/rumba artists, who for a time in seventies Spain, were heavily influenced by home-grown moddy discotheque soul and funk/garage from the states. "ACID RUMBA (Spanish Gypsy Grooves 1969/76" on Hundergrum Records (no address given) is liberally peppered with high end fuzztone, spicy moog squiggles and a number of vein-bulgingly passionate vocal performances, which come to near emotional breaking point in the form of the a-mazing Dolores Vargas on "A la Pelota". Aside from a perfunctory cover of the Champs' hit "Tequila" by Junal y sus Caustos... and Trigal who are a little bit too airport arrival lounge for my tastes, this is still a fascinating guide to a time when experimentation/progressive moves could be found working their magic on the most unlikely of genres.
In what's getting to be a fairly regular occurrence, we take another dip into the rich and diverse back catalogue of Em Records; Japan's premiere outlet for the reactivation of those items that go way beyond mere obscurity. YOSHI WADA's "Earth Horns with Electronic Drone" (c.d.) is another welcome instalment (hopefully not the last), that documents his experiments in uberdrone. Where the lung-blurt from four "alpine drainpipe" players is filtered/processed by electronic means to produce ever-shifting combinations of room enveloping sound. This release, which has never seen the light of day in any form, is a live recording from the Everson Museum of Art, in Syracuse, New York, dating from February 24th 1974 and is one of only six major performances. You might be surprised to know that this predates the extrabloodyordinary "...Elephantine Crocodile" and "Off the Wall" albums by nigh on seven years! These ersatz tales from the fogbank are what I'd imagine MEV member Alvin Curran's "Maritime Rites" (of the US Eastern seaboard) might resemble. However, past the audience member with a bad cough and towards the midway mark of this seventy-seven minute blow out, the sea mists disperse and the methodical bowing of what seems to be a massive cello makes its appearance. But of course this is a phantasm, a mischievous trick played on the ear. The thing is, I couldn't really guarantee the very same thing happening during further plays....such is the nature of this particularly deceptive beast. One p.o.i. - one of the "pipers" (at the gates of drone?) here, is trombonist Garrett List; a former La Monte Young sideman and future Arthur Russell sessioneer. (www.emrecords.net)
"Clearance Sale" is a shared cdr album between DESERT ISLAND DICKS; a deliberately faceless plunderphonic combine and WHERE WOODWOSE WALK; a solo project from Brighton-based field 'n' drone recordist Arran Jones. They both share a common aim in sounding the last post on a number of British retailers, that have sadly bitten the dust during the past few years. Zavvi, Roseby's Olan Mills etc etc are all remembered/duly headstoned with sparky/intelligent use of mournful, impressionistic electronic washes and chillingly pertinent vocal samples harvested from the ether, including a T.S. Eliot, dry-as-dust reading of a section of "The Wasteland" that drifts through D.I.D.'s "Viyella". Other highpoints? The frayed guitar clangour of D.I.D.'s "MFI Group", W.W.W.'s "Warerford Wedgwood", which appears to point its nosecone towards the Tang's "Alpha Centauri" l.p. and "Land of Leather" wher Arran juggles elements of the English rural cosmic with "Sowiesoso"-era Cluster. And thankfully, there's not a John Nettles voiceover in sight! Copies can be secured (and secure them you should!) for £3.00 (plus p&p). Simply contact email@example.com
Now...Lyle Steece; the guy behind Vulcan's "Meet your Ghost" l.p., claims to have had some starry wisdom imparted to him by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix during a dream and Mahogany Rush's Frank Marino claims to have been..errm..possessed by the spirit of Jimi during a spell in hospital. However, if you prefer, gentle reader, something a little more anchored in reality, check out guitarist/vocalist VELVERT TURNER; who was actually tutored by the great man himself and, as an interesting sidebar, was also a teenage friend of Richard Lloyd; future second stringer with Television. Velvert's stand alone album "Velvert Turner Group", first released on Family Productions Records in '72, has been given a fascinating second twist by Flashback Records (no address given), inasmuch as this has now been expanded into a double cd set where the original album (now the "Rock Mix") has been bolstered up by a slightly differing "Soul Mix", (a matter of give 'n' take in the guitar overdubs dept. really....). As you'd much expect, there's a strong Hendrixoid tendency here, in fact you can find a rather fine cover of Jimi's "Freedom" at the close of play....but there are also hints and suggestions of hard rock-era Love and a possible smidgeon of The Buddy Miles Express circa "Expressway..." Oh and by the way V.T.G.'s keyboardist was Chris Robison, who some might remember as a (very) fringe member of The New York Dolls. And by pure chance, I've also just found out that Flashback's only other known slice of activity on the reissue front was a fairly recent vinyl repro of the German Oak l.p., where dank, atmospheric psyche-jamming abounds in veritable shedloads.....
You just couldn't make this kinda thing up! Back in late sixties France, Joel Sternheimer had a brief, yet eventful spell as a bug-eyed singer/songwriter who recorded under the pseudonym of EVARISTE, and, get this, has (in the seventies), worked on the musical stimulation of plants and is now a highly regarded chin-stroker in the field of theoretical physics!! Recently, No Smoke Records (again, no discernable addresses), have compiled his entire output (2 singles + one e.p.), onto a 45 revs mini album. His eccentric vocal repertoire of animalistic grunts/growls/falsettos and theatrical asides suggest that his self-penned script requires him to be everywhere at once. Which he is. Almost every available space in his swirling dayglo world is crowded out with his psychedelicized jabber. The straynge tayle of "Les Pommes de Lune" uses an "old bag" voice which is reminiscent of Python's Terry Jones of all people, though this predates "Mrs Scum" by at least a year or so! In "La Revolution", he even performs a male/female duet, while staging a magic lantern show and indulging in a spot of tap dancing. Naaah...I lied about the last two, but you get the picture. Because of his impulsive work ethic and his fetish for novelty, Evariste has been dubbed "The French Kim Fowley", but from where I stand, perhaps the gallic cousin of Big Boy Pete (Miller) might be more accurate...especially during Pete's adventures in multi-overdubbing circa "Nasty Nazi".
Formed by musicians Yair Yona, Yoni Kretzmer and Ido Bukelman and, with offices in Tel Aviv, Brooklyn and Jerusalem, OutNow Recordings is a label that's primariliy concerned with putting their own individual stamp on contempo avant jazzdom and beyond, with particular emphasis placed on solo guitar wrangling, scored works, freedom blather and electro-acoustics. Recently I've been fortunate enough to have been sent a goodly number of c.d.s from their burgeoning catalogue; all dressed in eye-snagging sleeve art with a mixture of geometrical whathaveyou, the occasional photomontage and jagged spurts of abstract expressionism.
With influences that range from Ornette C. to Jimi H., IDO BUKELMAN's "Cracked Song" is first off the blocks and is a collection of seven written compositions that shift from, say, lugubrious to an agitated rush in a matter of moments. The bog standard g/double b and d. is given a whiff of the conservatory with the addition of Yuval Mesner's excellently sonorous cello work, which is encircled by the unusual skittering drumfall of Udi Shlomo; who appears to be adding some kinda indigenous percussives into the mix. It doesn't take too long though, for the quintet to cut loose and head for planet x. On "Nechodi Bird" and the excellent "City Tail", Ido's fretwork would give any serious follower of Pauvros, Ulmer, Bjorkenheim and Lifetime-era Johnny McLaughlin a s-e-r-i-o-u-s hot flush of joy. Oh, and let's not forget the theremin-like trail that closes the latter cut; this being a particularly righteous example of pedal trickery for sure... There's really only one stick thrust through the spokes of this august release and that's their trawl through the lovable moptops' "Julia" which just seems a little bit out of place, all things considered...
Still with Ido Bukelman-related produce, "Eft" (the Electro-Free Trio), is the debut studio recording of full-on freejazzrocknoise from DANIEL DAVIDOVSKY, IDO BUKELMAN & OFER BYMEL. Any handful of tracks are representative of the whole, but I continue to come back to "Soul Cramp", "Step your Mind" and the outlandish "Crunch", in which Daniel Davidovsky's screaming circuitry is seemingly tested to near destruction by blowtorch and lumphammer., while Ofer's muscular drumwork is the perfect adversary to the squalling guitar barrage of Mr. B. So, witness if you will, three men united in a glorious cacophany. Vastly enjoyable. Five stars etc etc...
IDO BUKELMAN also has a finger or two, well, eight hyperactive fingers and two very flexible thumbs really, in his "Solo" c.d. All 'free', all erm, 'solo' and doggedly abstract. His Martin acoustic goes through several brands of wringer, including a noticeable tuning down of the strings, prominent finger squeaks, feedback layering and more unidentified sounds. Bill Orcutt (the ex-Harry Pussy-man), would be the nearest comparison I could grasp I guess, though the rather dry production is much more microscopic, picking up every last microdetail.
YONI KRETZMER's "Overlook" is next. The fourpiece hail from Tel Aviv and have been in existence for a coupla years. Their phrasebook of craggy abstractions, fuse with powerful melody lines that can occasionally bring forth images of Saxist Peter Brotzmann's most finely honed blasting capabilities. Add to this, the interweaving and unusual rasps of Nitai Levi's bass clarinet, which makes "Overlook" even more of an enticing prospect. Great things bass clarinets...why aren't they used more often eh?
Over now to Simon Lewis to bring us another brace of briefings.
First released in 2008, “Duck Egg Blue” is a beautiful and fragile album filled with the songs of Peter Delaney. Recorded straight to tape with minimal overdub, the songs are played on the ukulele, which proves to be the perfect instrument to accompany Peter's lilting and gentle voice. Containing just seven song, this is a soft cloud of sound that drift across the room, filled with quiet joy and a calm heart. With every song bathed in perfection it is hard to pick individual highlights, but the sweet sounds of “Only” is a magical moment, whilst the raindrop delicacy of “The Healing House” is irresistible. (www.deadslackstring.com)
Another collection of melodic happiness can be found on “I a Moon”, the latest offering from North Sea Radio Orchestra. Featuring string and woodwind and some wonderful vocals, the album has a pastoral English feel, the almost classical motifs augmented with folk guitar and percussion, the album occasionally drifting into more experimental realms such as on the instrumental “Berliner Luft”, the track having a repeated rhythm that suggests Can or Neu, although the pastoral feel remains. On the title track, hints of Mike Oldfield can be heard, whilst throughout the album shades of Kate Bush, Eno, 70's folk-rock and Danielle Dax can be heard. Through it all though, the band retain their own identity, creating a rich and beautifully arranged album that has depth and longevity amongst its grooves. (http://www.nsro.co.uk/#!home)
Filled with angular and well constructed songs “The Pope's Sister” is an intriguing collection from Irish band Music for Dead Birds. With the songs dominated by rhythm and heavy guitar lines, there is an uneasy backbeat to the tunes, something evident on the excellent “The Only Male Nun in Town”. , whilst on “The Doctor's Daughter” a dream like state is invoked, samples of speech adding to the fragility of the song. By the time you get to “Release the Dogs” you find you are fully immersed in the album, the twisted guitar lines hooking you in with relentless ease, only releasing as the last strains of “The Electricians Father” fade away, the song itself a slow burning affair with a hypnotic feel. (www.musicfordeadbirds.com)
Slow and stately, “Munc the Grover” is a rather fine introduction to Feorm, whose self-titled debut album is a collection of soaring and classy instrumentals, drifting drones morphing into powerful riffs and imaginative and beautiful interludes. After the opener, “Man is an Island” lifts the album higher, the intensity of Mono evident in this spacious and delicious slice of atmospheric music, although it ends far too soon without ever really exploding, whilst “The Long Drop” adds a cinematic quality to the songs, something that remains for the rest of the album. With stuttering echoed beats and sea swell chords, “Clatterhoof” is an highlight a burst of energy before the collectiond seems to disintegrate, the next few songs quieter and dream-laden, the drone coming to the fore, the whole collection flowing together in a happy haze. (http://fen-tiger.com/)
Heavier and more direct, the songs of Seluah never lose sight of the melodic, even when the guitars are crunching and the band rock out hard. With a seventies influence and an eye for arrangements, their album “Red Parole” is a fine collection with the powerful “Black Sand” having the most impact, although the whole album is well worth hearing, especially turned up loud and the windows wide open. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Seluah/103225963080742)
Now a few words from Steve Palmer, who wades through another lake of sounds to bring you the pick of the bunch.
Layers Of The Onion comprises Martin Powell on various instruments and Fredrik Ness Sevendal on various instruments - Western, ethnic, synth and effects for the pair - who on their new album "Hal-An-Tow" make a gorgeous floaty kind of music, drifting in fine style from acoustic dreams to drum-related psych folkery. The opening track, 'When Acorns Reach The Sea,' takes the listener straight to the Floyd of the very late 'sixties, as dreamy acoustic guitars and sea sounds, overlaid with subtle glockenspiel, create a haunting atmosphere. 'In The Land Of Sona-Nyl' brings in special guest Aaron Moore on drums, creating a fourteen minute mini-epic of slowly increasing tension - instruments brought in, strange effects added, cymbals tapped. As the piece wends its way through this avante-jazz landscape the drums become more complex, and a simple chord progression emerges. Great stuff. The third track is a real epic, twenty five minutes, and yet it's all ambient, rhythmless and formless, opening with doomy chords and sounds as if channelled from 1970, slowly changing into other, more mysterious sounds... I liked it a lot. This album has its own character, its own agenda and its own space.
"The Unbroken Surface Of Snow" by Andrew Cronshaw is a collection of five tracks matching various ethnic instruments with one another. Cronshaw is a well known figure in what might loosely be called world music, and his approach is global, though there is a strong Finnish element to this album owing to the presence of vocalist Sanna Kurki-Suonio. Opener 'Käärme' floats duduk (beautifully played by Tigran Aleksanyan), whistle and a reed-pipe over a low drone. The effect is spacious, crystalline and gorgeous. 'Fujaruk' is a brief track based around the fujara (a large overtone flute, also played by Dartmoor musician Nigel Shaw) and Aleksanyan's duduk. The thirty five minute title track occupies the centre of the album, and in a way is its raison d'etre, as zither, duduk and Kurki-Suonio's vocals interplay, alongside the soprano saxophone of Ian Blake. The overall effect, played in a silent room on a quiet winter's day, is quite ravishing, even when a slow rhythm and the vocals appear, knocking the mood into another zone. 'Mhairi Mhin Mheall-Shuileach' is a zither-based adaption of a traditional Scots air, magnificently played on Cronshaw's unique 74-string electric zither, while 'Im Hogutz' returns to the slow, icy sound world of reverberated duduk, drone and reed instruments, including the Chinese ba-wu. A stunning album, highly recommended.(www.andrewcronshaw.com)
I've been a fan of In The Labyrinth (aka Swedish multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl) for some years now, and was very happy to receive his new album "One Trail To Heaven," a compilation of cuts from 1993 to 2004, for review. Lindahl's music takes ethnic instruments and moods but blends them with modern synthesizers, usually to quiet, melodic effect... but not always. 'Lost In The Woods,' the opening track on this album, begins with a huge gothic introduction before wending its way into an acoustic guitar and piano based reverie. 'Escape From Canaan' brings in deraboukah and a mysterious voice-like synth sound, 'Moorish Rhapsody' roughens things up with electric guitar, 'The Garden Of Mysteries II' is a brief interlude of birdsong, saz and ethnic percussion, while 'Monsoon' matches a piano with light instrumentation. 'Karakoram Waltz' is a particularly lovely track where all the instruments meld perfectly, in a style not unlike that of Cornish musician Tim Wheater. 'Muscarin Madness' is a little bit of quirky glockenspiel/zither, 'Deep Saffron' adds strange ethnic voices to a spooky track, while 'Night Of The Baskerville Killer,' from the excellent album "Dryad," has a terrific vocal - Lindahl should do more of this. 'The Endless City' and 'Cloudburst' are both unreleased tracks, both excellent. The only fly in the ointment is a rather vapid version of Justin Hayward's 'Cities.' For those not yet aware of this highly talented musician, this album, covering so much of the man's work, is a superb introduction.(www.inthelabyrinth.com)
The Orbweavers hail from Melbourne in Australia, and their new album "Loom" is an eleven track collection of new songs, opening with the delightful 'Merri,' which takes a lovely tune and vocal to some subtle instrumentation. 'Double Thread' is a kind of low-key, almost sinister folk tune, while 'Horseshoe Lake' slows things down even more; all the lyrics for these songs come from local stories, none more so than this bitter "phosphate and DDT" lament. 'Confessions' has less reverb and thus more intimacy, while 'You Can Run (Fern's Theme)' celebrates walking the dog - in this case Marita Dyson and Stuart Flanagan's rescued greyhound. 'Japanese Mountains' was inspired by the band's 2010 tour, as was the flip side of the album's single, 'Spotswood,' whose heavily reverberated vocal is particularly lovely, Dyson's voice having an almost childlike quality. 'One By One' brings Flanagan's voice in once more, while the title track is a hushed, reverential piece evoking the subliminal scents of erotic attraction, and the moon... spookily lovely. The closing track, 'Rise Above,' matches both the lead vocals, and manages to summarise the album, adding soft percussion and subtle backing vocals to the mix. Terrific! This really is a beautiful album - highly recommended.
Rainbow Quartz Records do great work with retro music, and here's another nice concoction of harmony vocals and 'sixties vibes, "Dark Ocean Colours" by Dark Ocean Colours. Opening with pretty much the weakest song on the album, things pick up with the fab 'Crashing The Sky' and the groovy 'The Other Line,' both of which evoke all things 'sixties. 'Love You Much Better' is a quirky shuffler which descends into Cream-lite, but 'Own The Day' is a cracker of a song and undoubtedly an album highlight. 'Lazy Lighthouse Jupiter Band' evokes the summery nostalgia of youth in a kind of ELO-haunted manner, while 'Alone With Candy' has a Beatlesesque arrangement and almost a Beatlesesque tune. Not quite, though. 'Same Old Mistake' is similar (ironically), while the lazily drifting 'She's A Cornucopia' is nice, and album closer 'Dream Away' is a waltztime torch song accompanied by piano and acoustic guitar; Beach Boys harmonies elevate it to excellence. This isn't the best album Rainbow Quartz have released so far, but it is good, and definitely one for fans of Deleted Waveform Gatherings, Fan Modine, Pugwash et al.(www.rainbowquartz.com)
Spherulus is the nom de plume of Lincolnshire based sound designer Harry Towell, whose new album "Voyage" is an evocative journey through, well, sound design. This is a concept album, depicting the launch, voyage, sinking and decomposition of a ship, a theme researched for a while before the album (which is based on earlier demo material) was born. 'All For Sea' is a haunting piece of minimal drone ambience, taking the mood of the album then spinning it into subsequent tracks, augmented here and there by sounds, elsewhere by electronic effects. The whole is atmospheric, and makes for good evening listening. 'Losing Transmission' is a particularly nice track, with hints of flute mellotron in the mix, above and behind a ghostly, hissing sustained chord. The eighteen minute closing track, 'Afterlife Of A Ship,' adds a curious but very effective guitar, minimally played, to the soundworld. Evocative music for ambience-heads.
Three years is far too long to wait for a second album from Welsh wonders The Ash & The Oak, whose debut album I went completely bonkers for on the pages of this esteemed website, but at least they are back. And I am glad to announce that TAATO mainmain Simon Leighfield is in fine voice on his new album "Searching For The Soft Rays," which comprises eleven wonderful songs of uncategorisable psych-folk tuneage. Opener 'Fare Thee Well' goes through a number of moods as it wends its way through melody, analogue synths, phased guitars and crashing drums - a great opener! 'Dust' showcases Leighfield's astonishing voice, supple, mournful, here multi-tracked into a thing of great beauty; the track then drifts into a fuzzed-up stomper. 'War Wounds' is a quirky, synth-heavy cut, while 'The End Has No End' is a waltztime charmer, quiet/loud/quiet, with some lovely guitar in the mix, and more heavenly vocals (which remind me in places of Brighton band Delays). 'You Are Here' is a delightfully poppy little number - gotta be the next single, surely? - while 'Sweet Refrain' brings the layers of vocals and the performance of the main vocal to a new height, even for this singer. An album highlight. 'Pennies From Heaven' shrouds the vocals in a middly EQ evoking the 'seventies rather well, then 'The Stars And The Moon' opens in retro mode, all plinking harpsichord-like keyboards and spangly tambourine, before tougher instruments enter, creating a cut that Pugwash would think a lot of. 'There's Always A Feeling' floats into an arrangement that cries out "summer!" while 'Everyone Says' is another high quality waltztime tune. Album closer 'Quadrology,' B-side of the single released some time ago now, is a complex rock-out that manages to be not-TAATO and TAATO at the same time; furiously 'seventies. Okay Ray, you'll be wanting your promo quote now: "Fulfills the promise of the debut album while exploring great new avenues."(www.countrymile.com)
Outside The Museum is lo-fi solo artist and Sheffield resident Benjamin Catt, whose mournful songs tell very brief tales on the album (it's EP length really) "Souvenirs." 'Old Age' sets the tone of the work - stripped back arrangements, found sounds, much melancholy. 'The Royal Mail' has a bit of a Velvet Underground vibe, while on the highlight cut 'Bones' Catt's voice evokes Bernard Sumner of New Order. 'Teenagehood' follows - harsher sounds and fuller arrangement - while 'The Dying Light,' another highlight, matches a vocal that somehow evokes emotion through its restraint with a grunge-lite guitar and a wobbly synth. Great track, this. Album closer 'All My Days' is rather minimal. An acquired taste, I suspect, but with much to recommend it.
And now for something completely different: Romanian avante-weirdness with a multitude of instruments and no discernable melody or conventional structure. Welcome to the world of Nu & Apa Neagra, residents of Timisoara, purveyors of electroacoustic madness on their new album "Black Water Incantation," and, according to their one-sheet, bringer of "a vertical approach towards the sound" placed into "an occidental equation." Ye-e-e-es... I think that means standing up and trying to approach the West. Anyway, this is completely weird and bizarre, which is not normally my thing unless well done... and yet this has something. On the second track 'A Pilgrim' the intensely sinister sampled vocals and freaky sounds create an amazing atmosphere, while 'Another Pilgrim' is the same, but with different sounds. The nineteen minute final cut 'The Black Water' is in comparison music of wonder and beauty, as sampled instruments, synth chords and sound effects roil around and through the psychedelic heart of the album, as if experiencing some kind of demented black-and-white acid trip. This is an album for which the descriptors 'occasionally amazing' and 'occasionally unlistenable' equally apply. Fantastic artwork, incidentally.(www.lollipopshop.de)
Apperception is Joey Hoyda of Toronto, Canada, whose album "Apperception" is a formally minimal (ie like Steve Reich) work using rock instruments, though originally arranged differently. The music aims for math-rock but in fact misses completely because of an organic quality lent by the multi-tracked electric guitars. On the opening cut 'Daybreak' this is unremarkable, but the album comes to life on 'Zappa Memorial BBQ,' whose dense network of intertwining guitar lines creates something rather good. 'Mandala' is slow and melancholy, 'Eternal Recurrence Of The Same' is too short for such a lovely sound, while 'Phusis,' 'Clairvoyance' and 'Awakenings' all develop and vary the multi-tracked solo arpeggiated guitar vibe, with the latter cut adding a lovely shimmer underneath. 'Panta Rei' does likewise, but less successfully. Difficult to know who this music is aimed at, but it has much to recommend it.(www.apperceptionmusic.com)
"Seahorse" by Swiss blues/rock/psych combo Ginger is a trawl through various heavy tropes: rock, psych and blues, in that order. Opening with 'Yeager,' which sounds like Hawkwind meeting Cream, the rest of the album does essentially the same thing, adding nods to Hendrix, Nirvana and Zep, often successfully. '200 Horses' is a mighty fine cut, as is the anthemic 'I Don't Know,' but other cuts are a bit of a drudge. The playing however is uniformly excellent, with some mighty fine guitar playing and subtle, well-mixed Hammond organ. The heaviest cut on the album - the title track - is also the least interesting. You takes your pick... One for fans of classic early rock bands, and bands like The Soulbreaker Company.
"All These Tears" by The Perishers is an album for whom the adjectives 'jangly,' 'melodic' and '90s pop' must surely be the most apposite. I liked this album, and not just because of the Byrds, Stone Roses and Big Star references. Yes, the opening cut 'Spectre' is remarkably Stone Roses, but it's a great and original track. 'I'll Deny' is another stonker of a cut, albeit a tad less tuneful, while 'Mean Old Man' is heavy and bullish, though a bit too close to the Roses' 'Love Spreads' for comfort. 'This Car' evokes a softer Roses, while the title track is a little jangly gem. 'You'll Never Learn To Leave It Alone' is a terrific song with a thunking Motown beat, 'Two Parter' is an acoustic rocker with less vocal input, while 'White Skies' evokes Madchester well. 'Springfield' is a Charlatans-loving album highlight, all hormones and adrenalin, while the closing cut 'Cabbage' is a soft and cuddly conclusion. Much as I liked this album, it is a little too much in touch with the Roses for comfort in places. Good listening though.
18 Golden And Completely Obscure Hits? Well why not, if you are underground cult fixation Anton Barbeau, whose brand of influence includes Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock and XTC. On this eighteen cut career retrospective, uptempo songs like opener 'Losing You Makes Crucifixion Easy,' 'Fuzzchild,' his Youtube hit 'Automatic Door,' 'MTV Song' and album closer 'Mahjong Dijon' battle it out with softer material - 'Leave It With Me, I'll Always Be Gentle' (reflective + mad lyrics), 'Heather Song' (folky), 'Pilot Plane Passenger' and the Donovan-esque 'Boat Called Home.' This album too brings out something not always apparent on Barbeau's albums, which is that he has a really good voice, especially in the deeper registers. Hopefully this greatest hits collection will help the man on his march to further underground success.(www.antonbarbeau.com)
It's been a while now since I received anything from Mancunians Red Painted Red, whose 2009 EP "Preach" I greatly liked. The soundworld of that EP is similar to that of the band's new album, "I Am Nothing" - tribal percussion, synths, sounds and vocals melded into a kind of scary gothic stew. Handmade packaging, as before, complements the release. Yvonne Neve's spellbinding voice is as wonderful as ever, and the arrangements are great, although, it has to be said, the drum sounds are in places less than awesome. After evocative opener 'Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap,' the second cut, 'Days To Die From Paracetamol,' is an absolute stunner, marching to a strict electro-beat and sung hypnotically. 'Misunderstood' is similarly evocative, with fierce vocals from Neve - imagine a softer, yet even more intense Siouxsie. 'Safe In Sleep' is fluffy in compaison, yet there's still steel in that voice, which on occasion reminds me of Tori Amos. 'God Song' is overtly tribal - another terrific arrangement - while 'I Can't See' manages to sound tinkly and child-like, yet frightening, as the emotional content of the music is ramped up with sampled vocals. 'Blow' comes over like an even more freaky Kate Bush cut, while 'White Space' features a lovely cello part counterpointing the more melodic vocal line. Closing track 'Wondering How They Fly' wraps up the experience in great style. Why isn't this band absolutely massive?(www.redpaintedred.com)
The Lucid Dream specialise in classic psychedelia, delivered in retro fashion and drenched in reverb. On their new single 'Heartbreak Girl' the vocals are drawled, the vibe is Jesus & Mary Chain and the lyrics are probably intentionally ironic. Hmmm, two minutes... B-side 'I Feel So Lonesome,' twice as long, is at least twice as good; a swoony trip of a song. Fab - but make it the A-side guys.
From the opening of "Newfoundland" by The Nova Saints a kind of gutsy melodic pop-rock blasts out of the speakers, nurtured by the psych-loving Northern Star Recordings record label, with whom this band have been associated for some time. Opening cuts 'Sugar Coated' and 'High Roller' set out the band's stall, which is tuneful and rocked out - this band would definitely have been on Creation Records had they been around back in the day. 'Take It Or Leave It' offers a classic descending bassline with a bit of a Verve vibe, while the more acoustic 'Whirlpool' is artier, though less successful. 'Slow Down' brings in organ and shimmering guitars for another majestic cut (and album highlight), while 'The Draft' is a short stab in the ears by a whopping vocal and mental production. Fantastic. 'What Does It Feel Like' showcases the band's more sensitive side but lacks the tune to carry it, while 'Indian Summer' has another storming chorus. 'Lights' again matches a great chord sequence with anthemic vocals, while the blink-and-you'll-miss-it 'I Wouldn't' is shouty and vulgar. 'Ten Year Silence' channels punky energy before album closer 'The Last Song,' a seven minute acoustic/electric rocker that promises much and almost delivers. A great album by a great band, who, when they get it right, get it so right.(www.northernstarrecords.com)
"This Was Tomorrow" by Californian wall-of-sound dream merchants Sway (although they started out 13 years ago as garage-rockers) is the kind of massively reverberated, fey, half whispered half sung music that fans of The Cocteau Twins (of whom I'm one) might like. This isn't quite so haunting as Fraser & Guthrie, but it does the job, and in places reaches a plateau of its own. Opener 'Palos Verdes' is a huge soundscape, the vocals buried deep in the mix, occasional chord changes propelling the song forward, while 'What I Know' is the same but with clearer drums. On 'Running In Circles' the drums are replaced by a drum machine, and mainman Andrew Saks' vocals acquire a female friend, adding to the gentler vibe. There's a hint of autotune though, which is a little distracting. 'Nucifera' and 'Mary Blair Murals' both acquire a kind of epic quality through the use of reverb and huge walls of synthesizers - great stuff - but the track that separates them, 'Only Tuesday,' is a bit of a bleep-fest. The album closes with 'What I Didn't Get To Say,' which deviates little from the previously used formula. The hint of autotuned vocals (if they're not, I apologise) don't quite do it for me, but this is a good effort, if a little bland in places. The epic tracks though really are epic.(www.swaypop.com)
On the same label as Sway (Saint Marie Records) but rather different in approach are The Sunshine Factory, who on their new album "Sugar" reference big reverb and British sounds, but this time more shoegaze than Cocteaus. I suppose we Brits, who make the greatest music in the world, should be flattered at all these '90s-loving bands coming out of America. "Sugar" is pretty damn good - great sound, good songs, big production. 'Down' has great guitar lines, 'Smile' does the Madchester 4/4 shuffle-beat thing, while 'Domino' is lighter, yet rockier, thanks largely to the grittier production. 'Don't Fall Asleep' - such a tempting track title for a reviewer to get his teeth into - is actually rather lovely, while 'Twisted And Clover,' alas, did make my eyelids droop. 'My Bon Ami' comes over rather like that wonderful album "Death To God" by DeVries, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago, while 'My Sugar Cane' fires up the synths and gets a good bass line going - an album highlight, although listening I unavoidably thought of Liz Fraser singing it. It is very Twins, while closing cut 'Head Becomes The Tomb' is also a bit Twinsy. A very good album this, and if you like the Brit sound pioneered in the '80s and '90s you'll enjoy it.(www.thesunshinefactory.net)
Lazyflux are a London-based quintet whose brand of trip-rock is explored on their debut, self-titled release. Comparing themselves to Pink Floyd and Elbow is a bit misleading I feel, but links with the Beta Band - and, I'd say, with Beta-offshoot The Aliens - are a better fit. On 'Istigeit' the Aliens soundworld is particularly strong; a good cut, this. Other highlights are 'Trail Blazers Of A Failed Experiment' (a more in-yer-face sound), the manic 'Create Escape,' and 'Thick Skin,' which matches mesmeric lyrics with a slinky beat and bass. There's not enough variety in the overall sound though, and I suspect this is a self-produced release that could, perhaps, have done with an outside ear. Good music though when it works, which is more often than not.
Last year I greatly enjoyed the "Longest Year" EP by Hammock. On their new release "Asleep In The Downlight" the band join up with two members of The Church, Steve Kilbey and Tim Powles, adding vocals to the previously instrumental mix. Opening cut 'No Agenda' is a dreamy track with half spoken, half sung vocals courtesy of Kilbey, followed by 'Sinking Inside Yourself,' which launches floaty guitar over reverberated drums in classic instrumental Hammock style (although there are faint hints of chorused vocals deep in the mix). 'Verse For Forgiveness' brings in Tim Powles on vocals for the EP highlight, while 'Parkers Chapel' features vocals and a spectrally slow rhythm. Very enjoyable, with the guest vocals making the EP a bit special. (www.hammockmusic.com)
The beautifully recorded solo acoustic guitar pieces of Chuck Johnson on "A Struggle Not A Thought" seem at first to be something of an oddity for this musician steeped in electronica. Links with American bands such as Shark Quest, Idyll Swords and Spatula also fail to suggest the intimacy and starkness of these eleven guitar pieces. All of them are wonderfully performed and nicely recorded - mix and reverb suggesting one man in a room, as should be. Some tracks are slow and steeped in Americana ('A Slender Thread,' 'Swallow The Sun') while through others, notably 'Alight In The Nor'easter' where Johnson's amazing technique drags you through the dense music, a thread of darkness runs. 'Scene Shop Spectre' reminded me of Steve Hackett's classic 'Horizons' in form and in the chiming quality of the individual notes, while album closer 'The Stars Rose Behind Us' again melds an exceptional fingerpicking technique with a hint of wide-skied Americana. A more intense listen than you would think from "just" one man and his guitar. (www.strange-attractors.com)
If there is a band that I really like, and wish there was more of, it's Pugwash, purveyor of fine and gorgeous songs - check out the comp "Giddy" if you haven't already. Now Duncan Maitland, formerly half of that band, has his own solo album "Lullabies For The 21st Century," which is as superb a collection of songs as I've heard for a long time. Real tunes, fine arrangements... ooh, lovely. The collection opens with the swoonsome 'Your Century,' which evokes Pugwash but also classic pop bands like 10cc and The Beach Boys. Bliss! 'Terry The Toad' matches a great tune with a solid arrangement and playful lyrics, 'Crash Position' does the Beach Boys/High Llamas thing yet manages to stay original and sound lovely (Sean O'Hagan must be green with envy), while 'Handbirds' is slower and has a particularly beautiful arrangement - more bliss. 'Alien At Home' has more of a stomping arrangement, 'Horror Stories' brings in girlie backing vocals and strings for that big pop sound, while 'Up To You' opens like a torch song but then goes all Beatlesesque to make a jaunty number. 'Supermarket Dream' is soft and, again, swoonsome, while 'Lucky Dream' also slows down the mood and ramps up the melancholia - two great cuts, perfectly placed in the album as a whole. 'Cry Me To Sleep' is suitably evocative, while album closer 'Insect Under The Stone' is a curious little song with a pattering, jazzy beat and a unique vocal delivery. This album oozes quality, celebrates songwriting and sounds fabulous. Very highly recommended.(www.duncanmaitland.com)
pacificUV, on their third album "Weekend," offer a kind of extended space-pop that looks both to the past and the future. A brief, spacey instrumental opens the album before the synth-pop of 'Funny Girl' sets out the band's stall: quite eighties, quite robotic. 'Just4kix' increases the drum machine/synth quotient, while 'I'm Here (But It's Not Me),' an album highlight, melds funky bassline with a really good synth arrangement. This slower kind of track is where the band excel. 'High' is another album highlight; the vocals are better and the atmospheric production really works. Alas 'Be My Only Shallow Love' shows where the music doesn't work; then 'Going Home' shows where it does, as does concluding cut 'Unplug Me,' which is really lovely. An album of two halves; much to recommend it, but a few failures also.(www.pacificuv.com)
New York resident Gabriel Miller Phillips is a singer/songwriter in the Jeff Buckley/Elliot Smith mode, here with new album "One For The Crow." At once the quality of the man's voice is apparent - emotive, soft, yet full of steel, which perhaps is due to the personal obstacles this musician has had to overcome. 'I Saw You' is a terrific opening cut - epic and intimate at the same time, which is no mean feat. 'Katie Mae' beds itself on acoustic guitar and string instruments, has a lovely, hushed chorused and a quite beautiful arrangement. 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' has a dark, almost sinister arrangement and is one of the album's highlights, while '24 Karat Man' is light and perky in comparison - another highlight. 'Star Crossed' begins the second half of the album with an upbeat/downbeat tale of boy-girl love, where the girl turns up to sing - a contribution from band member Lea Thomas - while 'Matchstick Man,' which I think, lyrically at least, must be the fulcrum of the album, is a gloomy assessment of life and love. 'Two Time Fool' has perhaps the album's best vocal performance, then 'Last Dance' ends the album with strength and sadness. Music of quality and distinction, delivered in a heavenly voice. (www.gabrielmillerphillips.com)
Harvey Lord are nouveau-folkies on Scotland's Autumn Ferment record label, who on their album "Yoke" offer a handful of quirky instrumentals and a number of strange songs, interspersed with longer meditations on life and weirdness. On 'Legs Of Beetles' an echo of the Simpsons theme tune hoves into view (unintentionally I imagine), but the cut, like many others, shows the variety of unusual instruments this band can utilise - hangdrum, ocarina, saw, didge, melodica, banjo... Lyrically the album covers many fields - trout fishing, trout poaching, ghosts, alcohol. The instrumentals work better than the songs, not least because the songs, in an album of brief explorations, seem rather an afterthought. But 'High Street' is evocative, 'If You See Bears' is amusing, and 'The Fish One' is charming. Two strong songs however conclude the album, 'If Thou Art A Demon Then I Will Destroy Thee!' with its flutes and sparse arrangement and the title track, the longest cut on the album, and perhaps the best, telling tales of farmer's land and all the things that can happen on said land. A curate's egg, this one.
Laura J Martin on her debut album "The Hangman Tree" does fey perhaps a little too fey-ishly; this is an album for fans of Woodpecker Wooliams, Kelli Ali, Miwa Gemini et al. The opening clutch of tracks hop between fey moods, but then 'Salamander' hoves into view, with the contributions of Gorkys mainman Euros Childs and none other than Neil Innes on bass and guitar. 'Tom' is wonky folk (that works), and 'Spy' is even better - multi-tracked vocals, a melody and some groovy flute. The concluding tracks are much like the openers, though I did like 'Sleepwalker.' This is by no means a bad album, nor even a mediocre one, it is just rather unfocussed - could perhaps have done with concept to knit it all together, especially as it is a debut; or perhaps the shorter tracks could have been merged into longer pieces. (www.staticcaravan.org)
Now then, who is Dan Heywood, and who might his New Hawks be? Well, I'll tell you. On the single "John's Shoes/Superquarry" the voice is colloquial and unique (a vague hint of John Ottway?), the sound folky, the arrangement groovy. A great cut, as is the B-side. But the album - a double CD covering thirty two songs - is a different matter entirely. This is a collective of musicians attempting something really big. The story is this: over five years, main man Dan Heywood travelled around his beloved Highland Scotland watching birds and watching people, collecting inspiration as he did and writing the suite of thirty two songs here presented. The style is new-folk with various augmentations - beautiful strings on the opening cut 'A Rack,' for instance. Elsewhere, 'My Love Was Set On Xmas Eve' is a kind of ultra-slow folk ballad which twists and turns in various directions, 'String Eagle' is mightily evocative, while 'Old & Grim' is lyrically brilliant and also features a marvellous Floydesque instrumental section in the middle. Disk two opens with another folky number, 'Jackaroos,' which has a live feel. 'Smiley Patch' brings in a little cosmic Americana and is a strong cut too, as is the oh-so slow and gloomy 'Five Red Castrils' (terrific, if idiosyncratic vocals here). 'Eagles Of Black Sutherland' is an eleven minute cut that seems to cover some of Heywood's more personal concerns. 'Muscle Beach' follows the single B-side, contrasting nicely, and featuring a very stripped-back arrangement. The percussion arrangements and guitar trills make 'New Wool' an album highlight, while album closer 'Peatshack McKay' is more "together" than a couple of the earlier tracks, and, with the addition of pedal steel guitar, makes a fine conclusion. Quite an achievement, though, inevitably, a rather long trek.
A trio of releases from Quiet World now, beginning with the work of Susan Matthews, who has been featured in these e-pages before. Taking extracts from and interpreting the work of Erik Satie, the EP "A Kiss For The Umbrella Man" is typically understated piano-based music. Vocals emerge from deep in the mix on 'Du Coin De La Main' and on 'Suel, Pendant Un Instant,' where the voice is recorded, like a treasured memory.
Ian Holloway on "These Clockwork Tides" reflects on the South Wales landscape that, in this album of textures and drones (mostly acoustic, though you wouldn't guess from the skilled recordings), evokes shoreline environments. 'The Grey Wake' breaks through the drone textures with what sounds like inside-piano sounds, while the title track utilises a piano played with its keys. The heart of the album though is the twenty five minute concluding track 'Firelight' - spooky indeed.
"Eilat" by Sujo is also a work of drones and ambience, this time from one Ryan Huber, invited by Ian Holloway to join the Quiet World network, but the album bursts into crashing drum textures also, making the listening experience pretty intense in places. Four tracks covering just over half an hour make a kind of gothic swamp of drums and drones, where the textures are both harsh and transcendent. Something rather different from the quiet world!
I liked the debut album "Magicfolk" by Magicfolk (reviewed here in 2008), and now here comes the band's second album of pagan, mystical folk-rock, "Tales Of Power," centred as before around songwriters Ben and Michelle Glover. And as before this is one for fans of Circulus, Mellow Candle or Renaissance: folk and pagan influences strong, with some rock arrangements. Fans of Mostly Autumn might also like this band. Opener 'Call Time' does all the above genres, as does the progressive-sounding 'Nagual.' Mandolin and a narration about fairy rings and elves greet us in track three, 'The Faery Ring,' which then moves into a dual-vocalled song that again boasts progressive influences - a very good cut, this one. 'Lion Tamer' is soft and beautifully sung, the arrangement showcasing Michelle Glover's voice, and Lee Morant on electric guitar. 'Desert Song' is undoubtedly the album highlight - gorgeous drifting textures, a lovely arrangement of voices and flute; quite something. 'Into The Blue' attempts blues, unsuccessfully, but then 'Dragonspell' returns us to odd time signatures and hippy-dippy lyrics. 'Wiccan Dance' is a kind of modern take on Jethro Tull - it works very well - while 'Death & The Maiden' is rocked-out, though with vocals perhaps too tame to match it: more "oomph" required. 'Winged Bull' is another soft slow-burner, that this band does so well, while concluding cut 'Dweller' is deceptively folky. The promise of the debut album is more than matched by this excellent piece of work. Recommended.
The three track EP "Travelling" by Garth Adam is a trio of chunky pop cuts, opening with the excellent 'Staring At The Window,' though the man does sound just a little like Damon Albarn. Good song though. 'Hands Across The Border' is slower and more of a drift - still high quality - while 'Book For Girls' is back to uptempo and tuneful. There's definitely songwriting talent here. Nicely produced, too.(www.garthadam.com)
Avante-garde sonic trickery is the watchword of "Kali Yuga Sunrise" by The Scrapes, an antipodean duo comprising Brisbane's Adam Cadell on violin scraping and Ryan Potter on guitar mangling. The music veers wildly between curious, difficult, odd, interesting and annoying. So, for example, 'Golden Cloud' is heavenly, but the title track is horrible. Where the band aim for beauty they succeed; everywhere else they fail. Julian Cope likes them though.
To conclude, a trio of Tonefloat Records releases, beginning with "TF117" by Akhet, which is essentially a one-off, never-to-be-repeated jam between drone king Dirk Serries, guitarist Paul Van Den Berg and Marc Verhaegen, with the latter reknowned for The Klinik and for his Vidna Obmana collaborations. The resulting four track electronic excursion is a fairly coherent (given its improv origins) album of spooky electronic music, the sequences excellent, though the guitar becomes a little annoying after a while, as its tone and timbre never varies. One for EM fans familiar with the set-up here.
Bass Communion is the electronic project of ubiquitous prog-botherer Steven Wilson, who, on "Cenotaph," offers four lengthy tracks of drone-drift. Ignoring the ludicrously pretentious sleeve notes, the music is actually pretty good, with a suitably gothic selection of drones, washes and sounds, occasionally underpinned by almost-rhythms that seem to come from deep underground. All in all, much better than I thought it was going to be.
"The World's Not Worth It" by Sand Snowman is the best of this trio however, a seven track odyssey into classically-influenced songwriting, where the songs are complex, even labyrinthine, and where the mix of voices, acoustic instruments, subtle electric guitar and light drumming works a treat. The opening (unnamed) cut is a delight, sounding a bit like a King Crimson out-take from "Lizard." Other (also unnamed) cuts explore pastoral territory, piano idiosyncracy, choral arrangements, dark whimsy (the sixth track) and even a "normal" song. Very enjoyable listening, and therefore recommended.
Rumbles for Spring 2012 brought to you by Steve Pescott, Simon Lewis and Steve Palmer. Editing, layout and graphics: Phil McMullen - © Terrascope Online, 2012