=  May 2024 =  
 somesurprises
Ex-Easter Island Head
Anton Barbeau
Empty Full Space
Hungrytown
Phoenix Cube / Kitchen Cynics










 
 
 
 
 
 

somesurprises - PERSEIDS

(LP, CD, Digital on Doom Trip Records)

 

Seattle band somesurprises’ incredible album might initially come across as somewhere between shoegaze, dream pop, and psychedelic, but by album’s end you’ll be unsure of how to classify it as anything, so utterly in its own world and time it floats.  Its sense of psychedelia never subsides, sometimes in the background, others front and center, so I suppose it’s more that than anything else, but really somesurprises has invented something unique to call their own.

 

The first three tracks are where dream pop figures most, and they’re all killer.  On lead track “Be Reasonable,” songwriter and singer Natasha El-Sergany’s vocals are chilly and drifting, as in the rest of the album.  She gently urges “Be reasonable, be reasonable, it’s not inevitable, be reasonable” in a hypnotic refrain, until you realize the song could be an anthem to sing to everyone from world leaders to the grumpy guy in line at the store.  The shoegaze-adjacent sound conjures up everything from Lush, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star and Marissa Nadler.  Production-wise, there are walls of sound, and then there’s this, more of a Great Wall of China of Sound.  It’s massive.  Also, I’ve always loved bands who lark about after the main part of the song is over, just tinkering away, which somesurprises does here till the song slowly disintegrates into the formless colored blobs in a lava lamp.

 

On “Bodymind,” El-Sergany sings “Once I figure out this body there won’t be any mind left in me.  Once I figure out this mind there won’t be anybody left behind me.”  Again, the song is mesmerizing in both its repetition and its thunderous, swirling production.  It’s that effect of indifferent vocals in the middle of a maelstrom that’s so effective.  We’ve heard that trick a million times before, but somesurprises masterfully waves a magic wand with it.  On “Why I Stay,” she intones “The sun cannot outrun the moon.  The night cannot overtake the day.  Each moves in its own orbit and you can’t force it.”  El-Sergany’s melodies are all stunningly gorgeous, and the band’s colossal backing plants the songs deep in your cerebral cortex so you want to hear them again and again.

 

By this point, just when you’re thinking you’ve got Perseids’ style figured out, you’re in for a change.  Psychedelic instrumentals such as “Snakes and Ladders” and the later “Untitled” appear, and each cleanses the palate for the next course.  If the album was already in a state of slow motion, hanging suspended in the air, it manages to become even slower and gauzier in the middle section.  “Black Field” and “Ship Circles” add tasteful cello from guest Lori Goldston, just loud enough in the mix to be heard.  I know it may sound simple, but adding strings, even one cello, to psychy dreamgaze is bloody brilliant once you hear it.  On “Ship Circles” Josh Medina’s shimmering jangling guitar dances around Goldston’s cello while El-Sergany’s soft vocals take you away.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

 

Closer and title track “Perseids” is monumental in scope and sound.  This might be the most hypnotic track on an album richly steeped in hypnosis.  It opens with more jangly guitar from Josh Medina and another catchy, otherworldly melody line from El-Sergany.  But the song transitions to shock and awe, Medina’s guitar raining lightning bolts down amid drummer Nico Sophiea and bass player Laura Seniow pounding away.  This sets the scene for guest Jessika Kenney reading her version of a poem originally by Persian poet Hafez.  Her reading is animated, like a god casting a curse on the earthbound inhabitants.  Shrieks and cries are heard, while an offscreen calamity is taking place.  Order and calm are finally restored as the song and album come to a close.

 

Perseids is easily my favorite album so far of this rapidly moving year.  It’s full of mystery, dynamite melodies, and bursting at the seams with a superabundant production second to none.  Natasha El-Sergany’s songwriting and diaphanous vocals weave a spell like no other.  The music is timeless; it would’ve sounded unique and original fifty years ago and will still do so fifty years from now.

 

(Mark Feingold)



EX-EASTER ISLAND HEAD – NORTHER
(LP/DL on Rocket Recordings)

A norther means a cold wind that blows down from the North (which makes perfect sense when it is explained). Well, look what’s just blown in from the Northwest on this their first studio album since 2016 and which the enigmatic experimental combo has been hatching in its Liverpool lair this past year. Not that they’ve been idle in the eight years since the release of Twenty-Two Strings eight years ago, forging plenty of expansive external projects with contemporary and classical collaborators, many of which seemed to have filtered into this long-gestating offering.

Norther is mesmeric, at times jaw dropping, yet simultaneously measured. A norther it may be but despite the abundance of creativity and sometimes-icy chill of clinical precision and repetition the hatches remain resolutely battened down and secure. These guys are undoubtedly in control yet within their self-imposed discipline there exists a bewildering use of instrumentation, both conventional and improvised (Allen keys and knitting needles, anyone?) where even traditional tools of trade get bent out of shape so that they often sound unrecognisable.  A case in point is ‘Golden Bridges’, a reference to the brass rods they use to shift beneath the guitar strings to create their uniquely shapeshifting sound and lending the track a jarring and vaguely oriental air. It’s one of six pieces, all unique and evidently patiently and doubtless lovingly crafted.

Then there’s ‘Weather’, all tinkling like tiny, motorised wind-chimes a- dancing on top of pin heads. Just when you wonder where, if anywhere, it’s heading, a sonorous bass cuts in and the ensuing see-sawing effect resembles a more experimental but less soporific A Winged Victory for The Sullen. The title track quickly builds up a head of steam, its pulsating beats and dancefloor rhythms pulling us towards lusher, sunnier climes and hinting at what might have been had David Byrne co-opted the whole of Talking Heads in My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and got Georgio Moroder to produce it. Yes, I’m still processing that, too. ‘Easter’ packs Polynesian punch (there may just have been a clue in the name) to the extent they probably sang “gamelan” as they ran with the gang. It’s mesmeric hypnotic and utterly wonderful. ‘Magnetic Languages’ deploys smart phones and modified pickups to re-play their voices, resulting in fabulous Laurie Anderson-style staccato, avant-garde minimalism, which just leaves ‘Lodestone’, a plunking slow burner in which to set sail for infinite horizons.

Daring, playfully irreverent in their approach to instrumentation and startling innovative, while still managing to retain ‘the fun’, Liverpool’s Fab Four (what, you mean there was another one?) might just have scaled a career peak, once more highlighting Rocket’s knack of picking their fruit at its ripest.

(Ian Fraser)



ANTON BARBEAU - AN INTRODUCTION TO…

Available on Fruits De Mer

Barbeau is a longtime favourite here at Terrascope Towers, having released over three dozen albums and ANThologies including several with Three Minute Tease (collaborating with ex-Soft Boys/Egyptians Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor) and one backed by the Bevis Frond (Nick Saloman, Adrian Shaw, and Andy Ward). He is also a prolific contributor to the collectible Fruits De Mer imprint, famous for encouraging new and established artists to have a 21st century crack at cult, obscure, and well-loved 60s/70s psychedelic, progressive, and avant garde adventurers. This latest entry in Fruits De Mer’s Introduction series offers highlights from Ant’s numerous cover versions along with original headswirlers from his own fertile imagination.

     In fact, we’re off to a heady start with the compleat “Psychedelic Mynde Of Moses” EP, featuring the title track from his 2010 album supplemented with two covers of his frequently suggested inspirations, Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Cope. The lead track is an aggressive pop psych masterpiece in the vein of Bevis Frond (complete with fiery Salomanesque solo and Metcalfe’s throbbing bass), Hitchcock’s ‘Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl’ is a perfect slice of avant pop weirdness from the humourously like-minded Soft Boy, and Cope’s ‘Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed’ adds an even more shambolic trainwreck arrangement, complete with run-amok synths and a bit of a Bowiesque glitter groove.

     Speaking of Mr. Jones, Barbeau delivers a reverential acoustic take on ‘Ziggy Stardust’ from Fruits De Mer’s second Bowie tribute, released soon after his death. Perhaps a tad too delicate under the circumstances, but an interesting approach. ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ is, well, scarier than the Thin White Duke’s contribution to ‘80s sheen and New Wave disco. Another Terrascope compadre and long-time Ant collaborator Alan Strawbridge (from Terrastock performers Lucky Bishops) provides the suitably “scary bass” parts and Ant moans encouragingly. It’s from Ant’s “Heaven Is In Your Mind” EP, also presented here in its entirety. The title track (and Traffic cover) is a tad heavy on the drum kit, but otherwise nicely captures their “back to the country” stoned vibe, Big Star’s ‘September Gurls’ explores Ant’s love of power pop, but his out-of-breath vocal and more maddening drumming detract from the song’s lovely melody and sentimental lyric, while the lone original, ‘Secretion Of The Wafer’ may hearken back to Moses’ psychedelic mynde…or not? I sense it has something to do with Ten Commandments and speaking in tongues, and sports a far-out Alice Cooper-esque spoken word bit but otherwise my mynde hasn’t ingested the proper (amount of) psychedelics to absorb additional meaning. Best to go with the flow and let Ant be your guide.

     Fruits De Mer labelmates The Honey Pot help out on Rubbles favourite ‘Dr. Crippen’s Waiting Room’ from cult hero Wil Malone and his Orange Bicycle. It’s a perfect choice for their combined efforts to float through this trippy tale of the popular doctor’s, er, “patent medicines.” A nearly unrecogniseable ‘Sunshine Superman’ is heavy on the drums (again) and drapes Donovan’s fairy dust poetry and hallucinogenic imagery with gurgling synths and fuzz box pyrotechnics to “blow your little minds.” I do however enjoy what he (and the label’s in-house supergroup the Fishheads) did to the Monkees’ ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ sticking to the blueprint for some, um, pleasant pop psych, complete with that wild ending.

     Ant’s originals reflect secret knowledge absorbed from his favourite artists, from the proggy psych crunch of Electric Light Orchestra in the mysterious ‘When I Was 46 (In The Year 13)’ and I’m not sure what goes on in the ‘Heavy Psychedelic Toilet’, but Star Trek references, surreal, religious imagery, swirling musical accompaniment, and unexpected fade-out/fade-in keeps us off guard. And who amongst the Terrascope faithful doesn’t love that ‘70s’ German kosmische head music and Fruits De Mer’s Head In The Clouds compilation features Ant’s contribution in the form of the hypnotic synth swashes of the ‘Berlin School Of Doubt.’ Motorik pulsing electronics meander throughout astral space voyages in true Tangerine Dream-ish fashion - this would be a fabulous score to a surreal sci-fi film from the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky.

     ‘Beak’ is mysteriously centered around the mantra-like repetition of the title over an ascending synth pounder that grows ever more ominous as we settle into its hypnotic grasp and three bonus tracks including a live ‘Trouble Was Born’ that gives us a feel for the live Anton experience (a great raconteur in the Arlo Guthrie tradition) complete the “introduction” to this wonderfully enigmatic and eclectic talent.

(Jeff Penczak)



EMPTY FULL SPACE – FROM THE LIMBO

(LP, CD, Digital on Spinda Records)

 

Newcomers Empty Full Space are an underground band from Paris who blend space rock, psychedelia and krautrock into a melodic, enjoyable trip.  The band is Nicolas Le Rouelly (guitar, lead vocals), Maxime Morin (guitar), Antoine Bruneton (bass), Florent Walker (drums, backing vocals), and Edgar Payen (synths, percussion).  Most of the five tracks have lyrics, but really the songs are mostly instrumental with small vocal passages which are satisfying, and often with nice harmonies to boot.

 

Their writing is impressive in that for a debut album with a heavy emphasis on guitar space rock, it has plenty of variation in melody, style and tempo between and within the tracks.  It’s not a monolithic slab of trippy imitations of other bands’ work.  For instance, lead track “From the Limbo” might be exactly what you’re expecting, a slow-burn reverb heavy piece of cosmic sound, but follow-up “Morphogene” incorporates eastern or Anatolian vibes while still inside that insular space rock snow globe.  Extending further, next track “The Wheel” has a slight touch of Morricone and desert rock, with excellent lyrics, before switching gears in the middle to a slick rocker with a strong groove, before returning to the original style.  “Amnesia” starts out heavy, but Empty Full Space pulls an unexpected left turn with a brief passage that sounds almost like The B-52’s, then goes into guitar psych territory from there, before repeating the cycle.

 

With space and psych figuring so heavily, most of the songs are expectedly downtempo, but Empty Full Space wisely never lets them dwell too long in the lower gears, as just about all the songs speed up and slow down a couple of times in their running time.

 

Spain’s Spinda Records continues building and building an immensely admirable stable of talent across the psychedelic spectrum.  The bands Moura, Maragda, and The Silver Linings were all brilliant finds, and now add Empty Full Space to the deep roster.

 

From the Limbo is a sharp start out of the gate for Empty Full Space.  Their space, psych and krautrock blend works well, and the band instinctively knows how to mix things up to keep the listener’s interest.  It should be interesting to hear what these fellows brew up next.

 

(Mark Feingold)



HUNGRYTOWN – CIRCUS FOR SALE

Big Stir Records CD/DL

Circus For Sale is the delightful fourth album by Vermont’s Hungrytown, a duo consisting of Rebecca Hall And Ken Anderson who together have created a fine album of chamber folk music, Rebecca writes, sings and plays acoustic guitar and Ken also writes and plays nearly all of the instrumentation, which includes guitars, pianos, organs, drums, harpsichord, hammered dulcimer, mandolin, banjo, harmonica and accordion with three of the songs further embellished by the Aliento Chamber Players, adding cello, violins and viola.

This is their first album for Big Stir records and is due to be released in June. It is a lovely album which I have played often since it arrived a month ago. The album starts with the wistful rumination on the passing of another trip around the sun in Another Year, Ken bringing the song to life with a winsome organ melody. This is followed by the title track, a story which came about through a chat with a fellow traveller in the south west of England they met whilst touring here, he described seeing a complete circus for sale in some detail which stuck in Rebecca’s mind long enough to be the inspiration for this waltzing carousel of a tune, a song in which I can just picture the colourful sights and sounds.

Rebecca has a pure, untrammelled voice, no warbling or extending melissimatic trills, I’m reminded of the first time I heard the wonderful Rabbit Songs by Hem, that they follow this song with ‘Feel Like Falling’, a catchy chamber- folk song just reinforces that observation, this is the first of three songs to feature the strings of Aliento chamber players. An album highlight for me is the murder ballad ‘Man of Poor Fortune’, a family tragedy in which a son murders his incestuous father; one can’t help but think he should have just called the police!

With a title like ‘Green Grow the Laurels’ we are firmly in folk territory, it is a banjo-flecked, traditional song of unrequited love. Another highlight for me is the gorgeous ‘Trillium and Columbine’, the second of the three orchestrated songs, a short, pastoral lament written by Rebecca and Ken, just beautiful as is the following ‘Tuesday Sun’, a rainy day pop song, which had me checking the credits to see who wrote it as it sounds familiar, but it is an original by them and would serve as a perfect counter point to Nick Drake’s ‘Saturday Sun’.

They follow this with a fine cover of the Bert Jansch’s classic ‘Morning Brings Peace of Mind’. ‘Gravity’ is another song which takes the theme of the circus as its inspiration, a sad song of note which highlights Rebecca’s beautiful voice and Suzanne Mueller’s mournful cello, Ken also does a great job on the instrumentation, framing the words and leaving enough space around them. A jaunty ‘Little Bird’ is well placed on the album; it’s a song which was written in lockdown and a paean to freedom. ‘Late New England (Afternoon in June)’, is the last of the three orchestrated songs and another highlight for me, again nature is celebrated in the flora and fauna of a lazy summer afternoon in New England, just wonderful. The album ends with the shortest song on the record ‘Leaving’ in which piano, acoustic guitar and cello combine, joined by a portentous organ melody. This is a truly wonderful album, one I will be returning to often and comes highly recommended.

(Andrew Young)



THE KITCHEN CYNICS/THE PHOENIX CUBE -THE GREAT FILTER

Apple Tree Lament Limited Edition CDr (42 copies)

Here’s a great acid-folk album by two people well known to readers of Terrascope. Long time Terrascope scribe Simon Lewis (The Phoenix Cube) and the ever so prolific Alan Davidson (The Kitchen Cynics), the way this works is that they do a song each alternatively throughout the album, recorded separately in their home studios. It opens with a slowly unfurling instrumental song from Alan entitled ‘Inside Out’, which sets the scene nicely, all twisted electronica, this is followed by Simon’s Kaleidoscopic ‘Lazy evening Moon’, informed by banjo, electronics and percussion, it’s an infectious song, a delve into the unknown, with a chant of “we don’t know where we are going, though we have to take our chance”, indeed.

The Kitchen Cynics follow this with the gently disturbing ‘Plague of Frogs’, informed by what sounds like electronic sheep and distorted willow warblers over which Alan describes a very strange tale involving dancing frogs. The album is over an hour long so I won’t describe them all but suffice to say that these opening songs give an indication of the proceedings. I will though delve into a few of them. Phoenix Cube’s ‘Just Another Dream’, has some wonky beats and describes how to travel in your mind, armchair travelling is something I am good at and can fully relate, by the end of the song I appear to have arrived at some distant Polynesian island. ‘Something Is wrong In Our Houses’ is another unsettling song from Alan concerning gods, prophets and false idols, so far so good, I’m bloody loving this album. Simon delivers a superb ‘Summer Of Our Loving’, over a wonky mellotron and Alan follows this with the drowsy ‘Song Of Syrie’, whatever I have ingested has now taken full effect.

The title track split into three parts arrives in the form of ‘The Great Filter is in the Future’ ‘The Great Filter Overhead’ and ‘The Great Filter is In the Past’, plenty of found sounds, church bells, birds and celestial harps all combine together in some warped alternate dimension, there then follow a couple of instrumentals, in the form of ‘Bong’ and ‘Delusyn’, before ‘Bodenham Lakes, for Cara’ appears, it describes a brief visit to a local nature spot of note. Then Alan’s final song on the album ‘Every Step’, announces itself, informed by more slippery and unsettling electronica plus some advice on hill walking. The final song on the album is certainly one to contemplate ‘If the Universe Is Infinite’, an instrumental song and the equivalent of lying on some hillside, eyes closed listening to the birds and bells of a distant church. It wouldn’t be out of place on an album by Eden Ahbez. There aren’t many copies of this lovingly made artefact around so I suggest you get in quick, it comes in a cloth bag, accompanied by tea cards and a badge.

(Andrew Young)