16 Jan 2018
In 2016, Cherry Red issued a 3-CD clamshell box set with the curiously unwieldy, if ultimately accurate, title of Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds – The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967. In that collection, familiar touchstones from psychedelia’s year in the sun sat comfortably alongside a connoisseur’s selection of demos, alternate versions and bona fide rarities. This year’s sequel moves on to 1968 and follows a similar pattern, both in its cumbersome title and noble agenda.
Clocking in at nearly four hours, Looking At The Pictures In The Sky – The British Psychedelic Sounds Of 1968 is a lovingly picked collection that yields many rewards both for longtime fans and newcomers. While it’s true that a handful of the tracks are either overly familiar or frustratingly over-comped (e.g. Procol Harum’s ‘In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence’, The Factory’s ‘Path Through the Forest’, Fire’s ‘Father’s Name Was Dad’) there is also surfeit of truly inspired choices, oddball one-offs, and legitimate lost gems. Circle Plantagenet’s ‘I Will Not Be Moved’ is an example of a song with all three of these attributes. Featuring duduk-like keyboard, spidery guitar lines and a powerful chorus, it’s a welcome addition to any psych fan’s collection. I’m truly grateful for finding it here. Thankfully, there is a clutch of mini revelations like it scattered across the set.
One of the delights in a box that collects tracks from the same year comes in detecting the impact of contemporaneous sounds upon a wide assortment of bands. It’s the musical equivalent of watching seeds planted in spring bear fruit in the summer and fall. Of course, the Beatles always figure heavily in discussions like this, as one imagines groups scrambling to emulate everything from George Martin’s elaborate production touches to Ringo’s deceptively hard, always hypnotic drum fills. In a way, it’s almost comical to think how many bands seem to have heard McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and thought, “Right, let’s pen a thoughtful, quaint character study of a doomed English eccentric.” And so in Ms. Rigby’s wake, we are introduced to a cast of titular characters that includes Messrs. Pinnodmy, Lion, Dillbury and Partridge; Felicity Jane; Sycamore Sid (a song by Focal Point that shamelessly appropriates the piano riff from ‘Drive My Car’!); and a chap named Maxwell Ferguson. The Attack’s ‘Mr. Pinnodmy’s Dilemma,’ easily the best of these portraits, is perhaps too well-known for those who have been collecting psych for years, but it’s always a pleasure to hear John DuCann’s truly energizing, innovative guitar work. DuCann – who unfortunately passed away in 2011 without receiving due recognition for his contributions, having played pivotal roles in bands like the Attack, Andromeda, Atomic Rooster and Hard Stuff – holds the distinction of being at once the most ubiquitous and underappreciated guitar player in all British rock music (look for him on another standout track from the set, ‘Sunday Morning’ by Five Day Week Straw People and ‘Magic in the Air’ by the Attack, from the Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds collection).
It should be pointed out that this is not a collection aimed at chin-stroking audiophiles. Most of these tracks were not sonic marvels in the first place and were, in some cases, sourced from pop-and-crackle-addled acetates and treasured 45s. Quibbles about sound quality are rendered irrelevant, however, when discovering a track as darkly ethereal as ‘Yesterday Was Such a Lovely Day (Elsie)’ by Sadie’s Expression. Pops and sibilance abound, but it’s stop-you-in-your-tracks discoveries like this that make deep-dives into box sets worth your time and money. ‘She’ by Tuesday’s Children, ‘Nightmare’ by Gass Company and ‘Ice Man’ by Ice are all newfound favourites in this vein.
With sets celebrating 1967 and 1968, Cherry Red has created a formidable and affordable six-disc series. On top of delightful discoveries, the package is well annotated/illustrated, and provides a thorough overview of British psych that’s a must-buy, both for comp-hardened veterans and lysergically-curious neophytes.
Get it here.
7 Jan 2018
We're extremely lucky (blessed even) to be able to share the new album by Melbourne's hardest working psychedelicists The Citradels with you all today.
The Citradels have been on an impressive upwards trajectory over the last few years, with each new release besting its immediate predecessor. It's no surprise then to find that "God Bless" is their best yet by a considerable margin.
Their's has been an impressive and rapid evolution, from the densely packed shoegaze of their earliest recordings through to the sunny psych-pop symphonies of "God Bless".
But don't take my word for it; psychedelic bible Shindig Magazine had the following to say:
“....Brian Wilson-inspired psych/pop genius mastery....”
"...a tumbling delight of reverb drenched magnificence..."
They know what they're talking about.
"God Bless" is available today on Gatefold vinyl or as a 'name your price' download through the streaming link below which I strongly urge you to click right now.
21 Dec 2017
Not content to churn out the same album over and over again like some Italo worshippers, Germany's Sospetto have made another abrupt course change on their latest, Il Sonno Eterno.
2015's Quattro Specchi Opachi saw them expand their Goblinesque giallo palette to include sci-fi, eroticism and cop thrillers, albeit with a healthy dose of Giallo still. Il Sonno Eterno is a different kettle of fish entirely, soundtracking an existential drama in which Sospetto investigate the different levels of consciousness triggered by the insomnia of a young woman, portrayed by Christien Marks, whose haunting wordless vocals can't help but recall the work of Edda Dell'Orso.
Musically, this is a lush, often sensuous soundscape, betraying the influence of key works by Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani, without appearing overawed by the illustrious company it sets out to keep. Check out opener "Il Sonno Sano", a lovely, sighing exhalation of a thing with a flawlessly vintage sound that you'd swear was recorded at least 45 years ago, a running illusion that isn't shattered at any point throughout this album's playtime.
There are still moments of the unease and suspense that Sospetto have demonstrated their mastery of on previous releases. The mounting tension of "Disturbo Del Sonno" shows that they've lost none of their ability to keep us on the edge of our seats, but that's not their priority here. Generally this is a cosy, romantic, cinematic experience which sounds like big money and utter class. Witness the gorgeously swelling strings which usher in finale (and title track) "Il Sonno Eterno", recalling as it does the very best of Wally Stott's orchestrations on Scott Walker classics like "Montague Terrace in Blue".
Absolutely gorgeous and a must-hear record.
Vinyl with free CD available here , also available on CD here.
19 Dec 2017
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
‘Mass’ is the name of the new LP on Thread Recordings by multi-instrumentalist Dan Bridgwater-Hill and it’s a beautiful travelogue of small ensemble soundscapes and (acoustic) guitar workouts unfiltered by needless sound manipulation. This is pure alchemy, this is why Albert Ayler was so very right when said that music was the healing force of the Universe shortly before climbing the cosmic staircase to the infinite. In its wordless totality ‘Mass’ represents a celebration of the human spirit, of this Eden we call Earth, a divination of the human condition. It contains much beauty within its grooves as, for example, the quiet meditative drone and picking of the beguiling and explanatory track ‘Light Pools’ suggests. At its best moments ‘Mass’ it is an intensely soulful and cleansing experience.
The great thing for me about dbh the guitar player, multi-instrumentalist and composer is his approach to impressionistic song writing. ‘Mass’ is never flashy or overwrought as dbh is sure of his technique and ability to deploy musical colour with light and space concisely and to great effect. As Miles Davis once famously said, ‘its not the notes you play but the ones you don’t play’. dbh intrinsically understands this and so the purity of his musical vision is never diluted by extraneous diversion, whichever instrument is at hand.
Since his last record, 2015’s equally impressive “Mood” our man has been on his travels playing clubs and venues across Europe and further afield. This has undoubtedly infected his approach and widened his musical palate as evidenced by the joyous Latin undertow of ‘Med Sun’ with its dancing horses of guitar and violin. ‘Guitar Limb’ is a lovely rural saunter through country lanes and endless fields of green. ‘Ghost of Eyeless’ is a left hand turning - strange and opaque. It’s simple opening figure evolving into a frieze of bucolic strings, half heard piano lines and shady mental pathways of dried sticks and leaves that lead the listener past sleepy hollows and weeping willows. It’s ambition is impressive and its delivery hits the spot - never outstaying its welcome even though clocking in at just shy of 7 minutes.
Elsewhere, ‘Faith’ is dissonant and dense whilst ‘Blues II’ is dreamlike and distorted. The latter brilliantly evokes that feeling of synaesthesia and otherness – somewhat akin to listening to a musical box playing in an adjacent room whilst simultaneously finding yourself falling into unconsciousness in front of a fluttering fire. Its one of my favourite moments on a record littered with high points – a thing of rare beauty.
‘Hike’ sobers the active listener back up with its simply stated and resonant modal piano motif, a distant relative of Bill Evans perhaps. Its gently dissipating clusters of contemplative chords, are allowed to breathe out across the room to speak directly and clearly to your heart. Gorgeous. The closing ‘Mass Appeal’ heads for the turnstiles that enclose a foggy moorland, its brief interlude taking us past the deserted hillside village to the ruins of an abbey where the ghosts of the past congregation still gather in silent homage. It’s been a beautiful trip and I immediately think about playing it all over again.
So there you have it, 10 tracks of compelling and sonically literate music from dbh. He comes and stands at every door. You should find it within yourself to let him in. A joy.
18 Dec 2017
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
In anticipation of a brand new album from Sproatly Smith, Herefordshire’s finest acid folk exponents, comes a timely round up of some previously released material from compilations as well as some old classics and a couple of newbies. Many moons have passed since Sproatly’s last agricultural opus , 2014’s ‘Thomas Traherne’ although they have filled the intervening years with their essential Weirdshire compilation albums of local artists and their popular live festivals, featuring acts such In Gowan Ring and Trappist Afterland.
'The Highland Widow's Lament' (which may be familiar to you as the opening song in The Wicker Man) begins the album, a gentle drone and picked guitar framing a truly lovely vocal performance, xylophone chimes drifting overhead. Sproatly make this song their own and demonstrate their ability to inhabit traditional folk whilst also making it distinctly 'Sproatly'; indeed there is a pleasant, otherworldly edge that pervades. 'Lost Villages Of Holderness' (from the A Year In the Country compilation ‘The Quietened Village’) begins with sweeps of urgent harp and strings, birdsong and waves crashing underneath to conjure up a Powell and Pressburger style lament that could easily grace the soundtrack of their magical 'I Know Where I'm Going'. Cello, ripples of analogue keyboards and guitar frame Sarah Rarah and Kate Gathercole’s delicate harmonies as the song builds and layers to a heartbreakingly beautiful crescendo. 'Beetle' follows, a small slice of atmospheric wyrd folk that serves as a warm yet uncanny interlude before 'The Land of Green Ginger' enters with film samples and a circus organ, a twisted merry go round that both intoxicates and unnerves. Oscillating synths gather like flocks of birds as the song culminates, a mummers play in musical form.
Returning to The Wicker Man as source material, a spooked and haunted version of the alluring 'Willow's Song' adds a whistling theremin and the sound of creaking machinery to an already spectral interpretation. Sproatly do this with ease; on the surface things feel pleasant enough and yet...underneath there is a hint of rural menace and of something unsettling in the village. 'Tomo's Tale' finds echoed glockenspiel and vintage synths chiming and twisting around a truly gorgeous vocal line, a song that could perfectly have soundtracked the folk horror sci-fi of The Quatermass Conclusion. Next, electronic drums propel the stirring 'The Bonny Bunch of Roses', a vintage recording given the full Sproatly treatment, almost dub style. Theremin wisp’s around the aged and sampled vocal whilst bass and guitar add a hint of mischief and texture. 'Ribbons' follows and is a wyrd masterpiece, a slow build hum of electronics and acoustic guitar with voices reverberating within to create something almost sacred; a folk hymnal. 'Lonely Scapa Flow' is a rustic calypso, fiddle curling around the siren vocals to create an effective and unusual folk blend. 'Willoughby's Combination' is a pulsating synth piece of bucolic electronic that utilises vocal samples and an earworm melody to great effect whilst 'Wassail' is hearty and dark tinged plea for a bountiful harvest, cascading guitar and harmonies drifting over an organ drone; one can imagine this being performed on Summerisle in years past. Penultimate track 'The Mistletoe Bough' is a spoken word ritual, a ghost story set to a heartbeat drum and a shruti box before 'Lullaby' closes the album, the very melody that sees Edward Woodward anointed as he nears his doom in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, our third visit to this film. Sproatly once again make this track their own, indeed their blend of acid folk, electronica and experimentation feels like a direct continuation of soundtrack composer Paul Giovanni's questing spirit.
An interim album this may be but 11:59 is one which ably stands on its own as a masterful release in its own right. Full of nooks, crannies and genuine curios this is a haunted treasure trove of an album, a dusty and dark curiosities shop filled with hidden delights. It is close to midnight, why not lift the veil and see what lies beyond?
Available now as a download and CD from Sproatly Smith’s Bandcamp page.
6 Dec 2017
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Those who enjoyed "Chante" the other week will want to pay attention for the next few minutes.
Lake Ruth has a long relationship with the Active Listener. We like them an awful lot. They seem to like us too. Everyone wins. Especially you because we're not going to let them release anything without you knowing about it. Which brings us to their brand new release "Intervention, Displacement & Return" - not an album proper I guess, but every bit as good as one.
Available as a limited edition cassette from French label WeWant2Wecord, "Intervention, Displacement & Return" features eight tracks, a combination of new recordings and a few covers that have appeared elsewhere. Best of all are three tracks recorded in collaboration with Listening Center, a music blogger's dream combo, but not a dream that one would ever expect to come true. Lucky us then.
Debut "Actual Entity" should really be quite a hard act to follow, being one of last year's better albums. Lake Ruth has cheated just a little bit in that regard by bringing us this sort of stop-gap release now then, but truth be told, it's every bit as good as "Actual Entity". Or better. While it doesn't harbour the same ambition or the same unity of purpose as a full album, it shows a band growing more comfortable and confident with who they are and the musical lineage that they follow in.
Even the two covers here, Stereolab's "Monstre Sacre" and Le Superhomard's "Dry Salt In Our Hair", are tackled with such confidence that they instantly become Lake Ruth tracks - I challenge anyone who doesn't know the original versions of either of these tracks to pick them out in a line up as the imposters that they are.
Vocalist Allison Brice continues to be a commanding presence, unusual given the delicacy of her voice, but whether it be the moody ambience of "A Captive Reaches The Sea" or more driving fare like "Dry Salt In Our Hair" she's able to command attention with barely a whisper. Full marks to Hewson Chen and Matt Schulz too for providing the wonderfully diverse backdrop here, equally well versed in psychedelia, space-pop, library music - you name it. Whatever the musical equivalent of well read is, these boys are it.
At only eight tracks I was left wanting a whole lot more, but isn't that a sign of the best records? And the good news is, we don't have very long to wait for more with Feral Child lining up a vinyl release for Lake Ruth's second album shortly, but more to come on that soon.
"Intervention, Displacement & Return" can be purchased on cassette and streamed in full at the first link below, or bought digitally for the bargain price of just $6 via the second link.
4 Dec 2017
Reviewed by Grey Malkin
Originally published September 2015, reshared to draw attention to Sugarbush Records new vinyl pressing, following up Sunstone's long sold out first pressing.
Melbourne based psych folk artists Trappist Afterland have been quietly but consistently releasing some of the most outstanding and distinctive albums in underground circles over the last four years or so. Consisting effectively of the trio of Adam Cole, Phil Coyle and Nick Albanis along with various friends and musical accomplices their use of unusual instrumentation and unique sound (as well as their easy but persistent way with a melody that will get its hooks in and not let go) marks them out as one of the most important and visionary bands currently working in the psych scene. Their new opus 'Afterlander' not only builds on the successes and strengths of past albums but takes the Trappists into a whole new realm of their own, with a set of assured, powerful and majestic songs tinged with mystery, ritual and beauty.
Album opener 'Lucifer Mosquito' begins with the simple sound of chimes before complex layers of dulciters, ouds, a hand drum and Adam Cole's distinctive and emotive vocals enter in a psyche haze of immense grace and beauty which then continues to layer, grow and build into a stunning and transcendent climax. It left this listener absolutely transfixed, let me be clear at the outset; this is mindblowingly good. At once otherworldly and yet also immediate and persuasively melodic, Trappist Afterland ably suggest a dark mysticism and esoteric sound whilst also maintaining a tight, rhythmic and controlled mastery of their song craft, similar perhaps to contemporaries such as Stone Breath, Six Organs Of Admittance or James Blackshaw. 'Saint Peter And The Rainbow's eastern drone leads into tense and intricate, inventive string work (instruments present on this album include bell citern, hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery and lute), eerie backing vocals and strident tabla, propelling the song ever forwards. Fans of the afore mentioned bands, acid folk acts such as the Incredible String Band and COB and also of Michael Gira's work with Angels Of Light will find much to adore here.
'Where The Willows Weep' enters with a pleasingly disorientating backwards loop before a processionary beat begins, an air of unease and incense pervading amongst the dulcimer and oud's raga melodies. 'Jessie's Root (Isaiah 11:1-10)' rides on a moving carpet of bells, sitar drones and chanted backing vocals, sounding both haunted and haunting in its vast and lysergic soundscapes; this is music for when the sun goes down and candles can be lit. Next, 'A Jar On Mystics' is a more reflective, hushed piece of wyrd folk with Naomi Henderson's spooked flute weaving Will O' The Wisp style throughout, a truly unique slice of bucolic beauty. Trappist Afterland are clearly masters of both dynamics and atmosphere and have crafted a perfectly paced and formed album which ebbs and flows with gentle force throughout, sometimes surging with a thrilling intensity and sometimes floating delicately but addictively with measured restraint. 'Black Dog Coast' is a case in point; starting with gentle washes of acoustic sound and fragile vocals this then breaks into an increasingly insistent sounding drum-led symphony, delivering shivers down the spine and huge emotional power. The following 'Feathers' tabla rhythms, eastern air and melancholic edge is absolutely hypnotic whilst the brilliantly named 'The Psalms Remain The Same (Psalm 31)' is a plaintive, gorgeous spectre of a song, resplendent with ghostly backing vocals and a sense of hazy doom. Album closer 'Hillsong Leeches' layers tanpura drone upon drone, string upon string, and vocal upon vocal to create a blissed out wyrd and wonderful reverie that is genuinely moving and close to anthemic. A suitable and fitting finale to what is a hugely impressive and highly evocative piece of work and an album which I guess will not just be one of the best I'll hear this year but one that I will hear for many a year to come. Really.
Trappist Afterland have many extremely fine releases already under their relatively young belts and a back catalogue that amply rewards investigation, however with 'Afterlander' they must (if there is justice) become much more of a name to be reckoned with in psych circles and underground music in general. A seriously superb album that needs to find a home in your record collection without delay.
Available now as a digital download from the Trappist Afterland Bandcamp page (below). A limited number of copies of the Sugarbush vinyl reissue are available directly from Adam via the Bandcamp link below (if you're nearer to Australia), or the vinyl can be bought directly from Sugarbush Records here with free postage worldwide.
29 Nov 2017
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
A change of tack for me dear readers. It was 31 years ago today that 'C86' taught the world to fey. Well almost. Anyway, new Melbourne band The Stroppies are here to get you olds to fish your anoraks out from the bottom of the cupboard, grow your fringe back and tell your now super-annuated mum that she still doesn't understand you, your friends and especially, the music you like.
Yes, I am really pleased to announce that The Stroppies gem studded seven track mini LP is packed with infectious, yet ever so effete lo-fi riffs and fabulous 'barely out of bed' vocals. You really can't go wrong with this approach in my view and if this is spearheading a renaissance for concise, jangly, intelligent guitar pop then count me in.
'Gravity Is Stern' is a joyfully half-arsed opener that shuffles along like my 15 year old self once did, punctuated by one of the most glorious peals of ringing guitar heard this side of the last millennium. An absolute and instant classic worth the price of admission on its own.
"Go Ahead" is a sulky teenager's riposte to their older siblings constant playing of Stereolab records in the bedroom next door. A two chord stomper replete with some tasty keys and submerged vocals. Touch of glam, touch of Velvets, touch of class.
"No Joke" is half a Television riff away from a Pavement song and chugs along like a good 'un before unleashing a short and very sweet guitar break close to its denouement.
"Under Your Sweater" gloriously nails that 1980's 'Sarah Records'/thrift store indie vibe to perfection - its delivery all lemonade and sherbet fountains.
"Courtesy Calls" is resplendent in its feel good, motorik driven reverie before unfurling its chorus/bridge that descends as beautifully and politely as a maple leaf gently floating to the ground.
"Celebration Day" is darker and carries a sense of cautionary story telling.
Matters are brought to a suitably charming conclusion with the chipper "All The Lines" which again features some of that chiming guitar that runs through this thoughtfully brief outing like a stick of (indie) rock.
So there you have it. The Stroppies. A band your teenage self would have been devoted to, and one your adult self is genuinely pleased to welcome into your record collection.
Now, can I really get away with trying to brush my hair forward from this far back on my head?
Available on limited vinyl here.
And unlimited download here:
20 Nov 2017
Claude Lombard's reasonably obscure 1969 debut "Chante" has recently been reissued on vinyl and CD by Guerrsen's offshoot Sommor label. While the sheer number of titles that Guerssen releases makes it impossible for all but the most dedicated listener to keep up with them, the occasional release like this and Cozmic Corridors which we've focused on here at the Active Listener must make it clear that the label are providing a considerable service for the discerning listener by bringing to light some of the most fascinating and worthwhile obscurities that I've had the pleasure to hear in recent times.
Belgian chanteuse Claude Lombard had represented Belgium in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest and would go on to record tunes for kid's cartoon television shows, so the content of "Chante" is something of a surprise.
Lombard effectively invents Broadcast, and to a lesser extent Stereolab on "Chante", and a lot of the credit for this must go to producer Roland Kluger (Chakachas, Free Pop Electronic Concept...), and arranger Willy Albymoor who have created an envelope pushing masterpiece here that embraces chanson, psychedelia, avant-garde and pure space-age pop in a way that confused listeners in 1969 but sounds like a delightfully nostalgic view of the future now.
The theremin-like sounds of the ondes Martenots features predominantly here as do chimes, David Axelrod style bass guitar leads and adventurous orchestral flourishes. And the end result sounds very much like Broadcast's "Work and Non Work" which would appear 28 years later.
Highlights are plentiful, but the delightfully breezy, almost tropicalia "La Coupe" must be very near the top of the list with its spacey keys and swooping ondes Martenots. "Sleep Well" (below) meanwhile is a gorgeous, lysergic dream sequence of a song delivered by Lombard with the perfect balance of melancholy and detachment.
It's not all delivered on dreamy, wistful pillows of sound though; "L'usine" is significantly busier with a much more progressive approach, perfectly complimented by Lombard's increasingly avant garde shrieks.
A groundbreaking classic that deserves to be heard by a much wider audience, and the significantly long shadow of Broadcast's influence on current bands shows that there is a huge audience just waiting to discover "Chante".
8 Nov 2017
Hi Team. We're back with the second in our revived and revitalised sampler series. This month we've got exclusives and premieres from Active Listener favourites Balduin, Psychic Lemon and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, as well as some new faces.
Here's the full tracklisting.
1. Garden Gate - Saturn (version) 03:15 2. Balduin - Norman Stanley James St. Clair 02:40 3. Pansies - Feels Like Yesterday 06:49 4. The 1910 Chainsaw Company - Good Friend 03:56 5. Zombie Girlfriend - Echo Echo 01:38 6. The Striped Bananas - Swirling Colors (In My Mind) 03:12 7. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - By The Light Of The Moon 02:59 8. Psychic Lemon - Interstellar Fuzz Star 09:53 9. Hermitess - Black Lake 03:21 10. Flange Circus - Kwak 03:07 11. Void Watcher - Succour 07:05 12. Peyote Coyote - Mirrors 04:43 13. The Soap Opera - Eggs To Hatch and Cats To Kill 01:28 14. Blue Hole - Strong Current 04:16 15. Sleepyard Feat. Judy Dyble - Rainy Day Vibration (Woodland Version) 03:08 16. Kosmo-0 - Black Lodge 13:49
Its a $1 or donation download with all funds raised helping to cover our running costs.
Get it here: