= August 2014 =  
Help Yourself
Jeff & Susanne Kelly
High Fiction Science
Earthling Society


(2CD set from Esoteric Recordings)

The first I knew of this was when someone wrote to say, “I see Cherry Red are releasing a Help Yourself retrospective – are you writing the sleeve notes?” Needless to say, I hadn’t been asked; though I did immediately pre-order a copy, and was pleased when it eventually turned up to see Nigel Cross’s name amongst the credits at the very least (a sure-fire sign of integrity if ever there was one!)

It’s a two CD set with a mixed-up sleeve, the lettering of the first album layered onto the cover picture from the third – and that coupled with the fact that the expected songs no longer follow in the order I know and love them is doing my head in right now, but that’s not to say I don’t welcome the album with open arms. Anything that turns on a new generation to the band’s quintessentially British take on country-tinged Americana (so much in vogue now, but at the time an albatross around their necks in terms of sales) can only be a good thing; and when, as this ably does, it also captures the band’s development across four albums through outrageous acid-drenched psychedelia (‘The All Electric Fur Trapper’ and ‘It Has to Be’) to Beatles-esque British quirkiness towards the end, with the often overlooked ‘Happy Days’ LP, originally given away free with copies of ‘Return of Ken Whaley’, represented here by two tracks – ‘Virginia’ and ‘I’ve Got Beautiful You’.

Almost inevitably, fans will argue for favourite songs which they feel should’ve made the final cut – I’d put a hell of a strong case forward for the inclusion of  the utterly spine-tingling ‘My Friend’ from the Happy Days album for instance, at the expense of, probably, the solitary live number included here, ‘Eddie Waring’ (lifted from the Christmas at the Patti compilation album, and featuring BJ Cole from Cochise, another overlooked band who dared to dabble in Americana at their own expense). At the end of the day though it’s all pretty subjective, and it’s good to see two rarities finally seeing the light of day, ‘Mommy Won’t Be Home for Christmas’ c/w ‘Johnny B. Goode’, two sides of a Christmas single released by United Artists (or possibly not released – I confess the only copies I’ve ever seen, including the one staring up at me from my desk right now, are marked as “promotional items”)

Here’s hoping someone up there is beavering away on an additional live album, compiling the two Help Yourself BBC sessions, the Zig Zag benefit tracks (admittedly released by Road Goes On Forever not so long ago, but they should be included for the sake of completeness), their sole(?) BBC TV appearance on Whispering Bob Harris’ ‘Disco 2’, the snippets released on various Ptolemaic Terrascope compilations down the years (the lengthy guitar workout ‘Halfbreed’ remains one of my favourite Helps tracks of all time, along with ‘Duneburgers’ from their postumous 5th album), their Glastonbury Fayre appearance… actually, come to think of it, another double CD would be rather groovy. Not that I’m greedy or anything.  

All in all, ‘Reaffirmation’ is an essential release whether you’re new to the band or already have a passing familiarity. (Phil McMullen)



(CD on Green Monkey)

Jeff and Susanne Kelly met approximately 28 years ago and Susanne provided backing vocals and inspiration for many of the tracks on Jeff’s second solo release, Coffee In Nepal, originally released on cassette by Green Monkey in 1987. The world has changed considerably in the intervening decades during which Jeff released over 30 albums. Last year was the most musically prolific period of his career (four albums of Green Pajamas and Goblin Market material) and Jeff begins the next chapter of his musical endeavours with a return to the intimate, romantic aura that permeated Coffee In Nepal those many moons ago. And Susanne is along for the ride, this time receiving her first official credit as a releasing artist.

I had mixed feelings over “Coffee…” when I first heard it. I loved its giddiness of young lovers discovering potential life mates during the early stages of a relationship. But I rued the weak second side that stuttered aimlessly around unfinished tunes, self-indulgent guitar noodlings, and the unnecessary fumbling with Emily Dickenson poetry. But I’m happy to report that the present collection showers the listener with pleasant surprises throughout. The Coffee In Nepal connection is tenuous at best (aside from the album being exclusively played by Jeff and Susanne, with some tastefully applied cello from Phil Hirschi on a few tracks, there’s really no thematic or musical connection) and most of the tracks seem to be Jeff solo tracks with only a few vocal embellishments from Susanne.

Opener “A Girls Game” [sic] returns to the Cohensque lilt that was a highlight of Coffee In Nepal’s ”Oh How I Love You”, “Cry, Cry, Maria Cry” is a dark look at the seedy underbelly of the Brazilian sex trade (and possibly an update on the current whereabouts of the “Maria” from “Coffee…”), and “The Witch of The Lake” returns to a favourite subject of Jeff’s (cf. “The Ravenna Witch”). Susanne’s backing vocals are particularly charming on this eerie but typically confusing tale featuring dreams, graves, and crows “cawing at a sky of tin.”

“Fly Girl”, one of three tracks co-written with Susanne and featuring a delicious cello backing from Hirschi is another highlight, with a vibrating guitar line, a quivering vocal from Jeff, and a relaxing melody that’s easy on the ears and tough to get out of your head. [Jeff describes its inspiration in our accompanying interview.] “Robin Song” finds Susanne’s soft vocals doubletracked rather elegantly (and quite sexy at that), a pleasant teaser for a promised forthcoming solo album.

There’s a late night, dreamy quality to “The Loneliest Soul”, which is full of vivid imagery that could be an autobiographical recollection of their early days together (as such, it’s one of the few songs that captures the original atmosphere of the autobiographical elements of “Coffee…”). The Kellys get down and dirty on “I’d Rather Be Filming In Vanda’s Room” a titular (and character) continuation to the earlier “In Vanda’s Room”. I’ve never heard such a bluesy side to Jeff’s material before (Susanne co-wrote the track and sings much of it) and Jeff’s grimy, snarly solo suggests a rather risqué subject matter for that camera in Vanda’s room.

“The album continues sliding down a slippery slope with the swaggering bravado of the stalking, bluesy “Coming To Find You”, which is also full of violent imagery: blood red skies, steel grey harbours, blackened rivers, madness…and a beheading! A wild ride on a slithering keyboard and a screaming guitar solo brings it all to a harrowing finale. But sanity and peacefulness return on the tender album closer, “Please Come Home”, featuring another of Jeff’s sweetest vocals, accompanied by piano and the empty atmosphere of a deserted room at night with a lonely fireplace crackling in the corner.

See also our interview with the couple, here

(Jeff Penczak)



(CD from Esoteric Antenna http://www.cherryred.co.uk )

The most striking aspect of this release from Bristol based 5-piece Hi-Fiction Science is the voice of Maria Charles. Not the operatic range or delivery of Lavinia Blackwall perhaps, but then the band she fronts has few of the left-field experimental leanings of Blackwall’s Trembling Bells either although they can definitely lay claim to a pew in that broad church of folk rock. It might also lack some of the individuality that enables identification of say a Denny or Prior with pretty much pinpoint accuracy within a couple of stanzas. It is, however, a voice capable of soothing and transporting the listener – dare I say one you could almost fall in love with.

Opener “Digitalis” typifies the band’s style and delivery, slightly dreamy with an eastern tinge when held up to the light but one which it soon becomes apparent, is content to occupy a comfortable if agreeable enough acre of ground. It is timeless in the sense that it could have been recorded at any point from around 1969 onwards. “Circles in Halfione” appeals to my more psychedelic leanings (I have them you know) and is a typically languid and sensual offering if not deviating too much from the “Digitalis” template. “Magpies (Against the Sun)” has perhaps the most commercial appeal, Charles coming across like Cathy Le Surf in her Albion Band pomp and as a radio friendly outrider for the album would do the band no harm at all. The more up temp Afro-rhythms of “Vapour” battle with some Wolf People style guitar work and the title track mark time in a perfectly pleasing fashion although “1000 years” sails perilously close to the sea of twee despite some atmospheric guitar work while “Fragmented Sons” is another play for the radio waves and sounds reminiscent of Cocteau Twins’ later, poppier efforts. Doesn’t really work for me I’m afraid. The ship is brought back on course with closing number “Squaretaker” which is blessed with a catchy hook, energetic playing and arresting vocal melody. Together with the opening triptych it is one of the strongest cuts on the album.

It probably sounds like I’m damning “Curious Yellow” with faint praise which may be the case but it is certainly not without merit (if we gave stars then it would be worth a solid three from five) and if you are looking for a band to entertain the afternoon crowds on the second stage of a medium sized festival of repute then you could do a lot, lot worse. (Ian Fraser)



(LP/DL http://bit.ly/1AvlZQI )

Over the past ten years I have watched the gradual evolution of the band that is Earthling society, the band at the current time consisting of Fred Laird - vocals and guitar, Jon Blacow - percussion, Kim Allen - Bass and Neil Whitehead - electronics. Their music has evolved and grown during this time and this trend is continued with this album, which is sadly, at the present time, planned to be their last.

The release will be on vinyl, of a tasty translucent green variety, or download; no CDs for this particular album. The cover artwork is deliciously dark and sombre.

The first of the four tracks on this album is 'Aiwass' running for a full eleven minutes starting out with gentle tanpura drones and percussion, to which is gradually added some superbly eloquent bass playing and electronic noodling. At about a quarter way through the percussion becomes heavier and some seriously fuzzed guitar eases into the mix, the track continues to build as the (very appropriately given the title) hushed and distorted vocals come into play merging into the instruments. The music culminates with some masterful screaming feedback saturated guitar. This is a truly epic track of acid drenched, psyched out, space rock magick; the next track 'Tortuga' eases the mood down a level, giving a perfect opportunity for Fred Lairds sublime vocals to come to the fore; the next track 'Journey Into Satchidananda' is of particular interest being a live cover of Alice Coltrane's jazz classic. The music on this track can feel raw and wild and yet throughout the quality of musicianship is impeccable, reigning it in and giving it a direction that works to perfection in so many ways; the final track, 'England have my bones' starts out feral and dangerous before suddenly plunging into a mellow contemplative sound that rounds off the album perfectly.

This is a truly excellent album with massive depth, that in parts can have a gentle easy going sound and in others be demanding, possibly for some listeners bordering on the impenetrable. Whilst I was immediately drawn in by the familiar Earthling society sound it took a number of listens before I could truly say I was getting the music, and still after many plays find new elements with each listen.

This is going to appeal to any lover of freaked out Kraut rock and psychedelic space rock who likes depth to their music and is prepared to give it the attention it so rightly deserves.  (Steve Judd)



(Thrill Jockey)

Fronted by Boredoms-percussionist Yoshimi (the eponymous inspiration for that Flaming Lips album about battling Pink Robots) OOIOO’s seventh full-length release has been four years in the making and takes inspiration from a Javanese style of traditional gamelan music that has formerly influenced the likes of Satie and Debussey. Oh and probably Gong, but that’s a different galaxy altogether.

Sounding like a mash-up between Frank Zappa, Martin Archer and a Japanese incarnation of the Bonzos all in the throes of a nervous breakdown, Gamel is complex and by turns infuriating and infectious. Its energetic “live” feel only serves to heighten an exhausting intensity wherein drone, brass, gamelan mallets and tectonic rub juxtaposition twixt guitar and occasionally astringent vocals combine to deliver up a heady and bewildering smorgasbord of free-jazz inventiveness. At times it seems there is almost too much activity for the average human brain (and mine is pretty average) to assimilate. However the likes of lavish opener “Don Ah”, the mesmerising “Atawata” and “Jesso Testa” and pretty much anything with Gamel in the title (all completely bonkers) confirms a peculiar sort of genius that will draw the more curious back for repeat - and ever more rewarding - listens much in the same way as they might be in thrall of a bizarre and faintly disturbing exhibit. Well curiosity usually gets the better of me so it’s once more into the weird and wonderful world of Yoshimi although I suspect my sympathies are in no small part with those Pink Robots. They stood no chance. (Ian Fraser)