31 Aug 2012

Allah-Las - Review

Innovative Leisure - CD / Vinyl LP

A few months back I heard an insistent little piece of vintage sounding r&b which sounded for all the world like a prime piece of early Andrew Loog Oldham produced Stones goodness.
The song was called "Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)" and the band was Allah-Las, a name that at the time meant nothing to me, but has since been popping up everywhere I've looked.
The band was formed when four lads working in the back room of Hollywood's Amoeba Records bonded over a shared love of vinyl.
It's always interesting to see what a band with such an awareness of pop / rock history will do when left to their own devices, and Allah-Las don't disappoint, weaving a rich tapestry that pulls on a number of eras and genres to create a sound which is distinctively their own.
While the rather lovely production work by Nick Waterhouse makes the album sound like it was recorded in 1965, which is certainly not something I have an aversion to, the varied songwriting shows that the band have learned a few things from the jangle kings of the eighties and nineties too.
They do an admirable job of combining influences that shouldn't necessarily work together into something fresh and exciting which is quite unlike anything else I've heard recently. "Ela Navega" marries the chord sequence from Pink Floyd's "Breathe" to an infectious bossa nova beat, while a number of other tracks suggest the rather unlikely prospect of an early Kinks who were raised on the Ventures rather than Chuck Berry. Elsewhere "Vis a Vis" finds an appealling middle ground between the Byrds and the Bats.
After only a few listens it's become clear that this is an album of hidden depth -  a tuneful, easy playing summer record, with a moody, dark undercurrent of windswept melancholy that begs for repeat plays.
And the good news is that the band have already been back in the studio, working with Jonathan Wilson - whatever comes of that will be fascinating I'm sure.

Preorder here on CD or here on Vinyl
Allah-Las - Catamaran by Nick Waterhouse

30 Aug 2012

The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey - Omega Teatime Review

Ricochet Sound CD

The power pop revival of the mid to late nineties may be well and truly over, but Gerry Alvarez obviously missed a meeting - and good thing too as the world would be a less tuneful place without his work.
Also a member of Canadian garage revivalists The Gruesomes, "Omega Tea Time" is Alvarez' second solo album.
Now to digress slightly. Beatlesque is a term that you've heard me use often on this blog, and this tells you two things.
Firstly - my descriptive powers are obviously reasonably limited.
Secondly, and most importantly - there are a huge number of artists out there indebted to the Beatles, and you'd be safe in assuming that these artists are generally very much my bag.
So, yes, Beatlesque is certainly a qualifier I'd use to describe Alvarez' songs - although not in the prime psychedelic manner of artists like Dog Age, The Sufis et al.
Alvarez instead taps into the melodic songcraft, rather than the soundcraft that these other artists seem more inspired by. In this regard he fits in nicely with classic power poppers like Cheap Trick, the Raspberries and Jellyfish, artists with whom he shares a contemporary sheen.
Opener "No Man's Island" lets rip with a vocal that would have fit nicely on one of McCartney's rockier  seventies efforts, while "Middle Way" is the sort of track that sneaks into your psyche so quickly that after my third listen I was convinced I'd known it forever.
For all you psych fans though, it's in the middle of the album that things really heat up.
"Repression" has some lovely chiming arpeggiated guitar work just like George would have done and complex multi part harmonies that sound totally psychedelic without resorting to any studio trickery.
"Cosmic Weaving" is the highlight though, showcasing lessons learned from many listens to "Revolver" - a bouncing McCartneyesque bassline, killer chorus and some lovely droning guitar work that sounds like a mixture between sitar and backwards guitars, and is quite possibly neither.

Listen To "Cosmic Weaving" Cosmic Weaving

29 Aug 2012

Alfa 9 - Gone To Ground Review

Blow Up CD / Vinyl

It's been six long years since Alfa 9's promising debut "Then We Begin" - I'd actually assumed the band had broken up so when I heard of "Gone to Ground"s impending release I was well pleased. Whatever the band have been up to in the interim has obviously been beneficial as this is a much stronger set of songs than their debut (which was no slouch either).
On "Then We Begin" Alfa 9 seemed to be having trouble deciding whether they were Pink Floyd or the Byrds - both very valid choices, but with the release of "Gone to Ground" they've settled firmly in the McGuinn camp, and in so doing have created an album that pays tribute to it's influences without falling into the imitation trap.
Opener "Morocco" certainly starts things off with a bang - it'd make a fantastic Coral single with it's great guitar work, stop / start tempos and killer chorus. What follows is a masterclass of jangle pop which takes in west coast psychedelia, the Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub and a whole lot of the Byrds circa the Gene Clark era.
Classic rock magazine describe their sound as "if the Stones Roses had lived in Haight-Asbury" - a description which works as well as any I could come up with.
One of the better U.K West Coast psychedelic albums then, up there with the first Fairport Convention LP - surely there can be no greater compliment.

Watch Bob Dylan's Duquesne Whistle Video

The video for the first single from Bob Dylan's upcoming album "Tempest" has hit the streets, and it's truly bizarre.
I'll let the video do the talking for itself, but readers of a delicate disposition may want to give this one a miss.
Preorder Tempest here now
Video courtesy of the Guardian.  

28 Aug 2012

Death Waltz To Release Halloween / Hammer / Fabio Frizzi Soundtracks on Vinyl

Death Waltz Recordings have a spate of amazing vinyl soundtrack reissues due out over the next six months.
Just announced for release on October 14th are reissues of the excellent John Carpenter and Allan Howarth scores for Halloween 2 and 3, both available for pre-order now at the Death Waltz Recordings website.
The covers for these two titles are below.
They've also confirmed that they're working on a reissue of the first Halloween soundtrack.

Death Waltz have also announced that they've signed a deal with Hammer films to release a number of their soundtracks - a number of which have never seen release before. First up will be the Devil Rides Out ( cover below ), followed by the Twins of Evil - no release dates as yet.

Death Waltz's full release schedule is below :

The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – Sept 1st
Prince Of Darkness – Sept 1st
Halloween II – October 1st
Halloween III – October 1st
They Live – December
The Devils Business – December
House By The Cemetery – January
City Of The Living Dead – January
Sette Note In Nero – Febuary
House Of The Devil – TBC
The Innkeepers – TBC

Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Psychedelic Pill

Neil Young and Crazy Horse have another new record due out in October.

Recorded just after the sessions that produced "Americana", the wonderfully titled "Psychedelic Pill" ( I like this already ) is the first album of all new material recorded by the full Crazy Horse lineup since "Broken Arrow".

It will be available on 2xCD, 3xLP, download, and Blu-ray formats, with videos coming to accompany each track.

Talking to Rolling Stone magazine Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro had this to say : "It's us jamming and having lots of fun. I think that [late Crazy Horse producer] David Briggs would be proud of it... Once he was gone, I felt like we lost our compass a bit. We had the sound and we had the big machine, and we could play anything and play pretty good, but we weren't putting any great records together. I mean, Broken Arrow was OK. It wasn't like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or Rust Never Sleeps or Ragged Glory."

Listen to Hopewell & Ride's Mark Gardener Cover Brian Eno's "Needle In The Camel's Eye"

New York's Hopewell have a new E.P due out on September 21 on Teepee records.
The first single from the "Another Music" E.P is a cover of Brian Eno's "Needle in the Camel's Eye", and features lead vocals by Active Listener favorite, Ride's Mark Gardener.
"We were so excited that Mark agreed to sing on our song we built a whole EP around it," says Jason Russo of Hopewell. "Another Music is designed to draw you in with a couple of catchy songs then lead you out past the buoys into deeper water." A music video for "Needle In The Camel's Eye" directed by Art Boonparn (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cold Cave) is on the way too.

You can preorder the CD here.

8X8 - The Anatomy Of An Apricot Review

Digital - Bandcamp

A total product of it's age this, 8X8 are Alexander Khodchenko from the Ukraine and New Yorker Lane Steinberg - two gentlemen who have never actually met, but have somehow managed to piece together this remarkably cohesive baroque psych pop gem by e-mailing files backwards and forwards over a period of two years.
The resulting album should by all rights be stilted and lacking in chemistry, with  a cold digital sheen, but manages to deftly defy these expectations, sounding very much like the work of a late sixties band recording live in studio - albeit one with the opportunity to overdub some much more ambitious accompaniment than albums of this era were often given.
This professionalism is less of a surprise once the artists credentials have been checked however. Khodchenko has been knocking out classy psychedelic pop since the late eighties, while Steinberg helmed the Wind, whose 1982 album "Where It's At With The Wind" is certainly the finest piece of Merseybeat to emerge from Miami, and has a number of other interesting projects under his belt.
There's a great deal of anglophilia present here, with an air of Zombies / Bee Gees infused baroque pop dominating proceedings, tempered nicely by Steinberg's strong American accent and high Beach Boys harmonies. It's not all sweetness and light either - opener "Cristal Illusion" is a good example of their dynamics ; a sweet pop tune with an impeccable, sighing chorus that builds to a powerful and heavy bridge with fine, lyrical guitar work and pounding drums, before sneaking out on a blanket of mellotron and fluttering guitars.
Other tracks recall early Procol Harum, "Village Green" era Kinks and the Beatles "Abbey Road" given a contemporary overhaul which doesn't tie it to any particular era.
Immaculate - I will be investigating these two further.

27 Aug 2012

All Kinds of Highs - A Mainstream Pop-Psych Compendium 1966-70 Review

What an unexpectedly delightful treat this is.
Mainstream Records were a small scale player in the jazz and soundtrack world in the mid sixties when label head Bob Shad decided to throw in with the burgeoning psychedelic scene. Apart from signing Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Amboy Dukes, little in the way of commercial or critical success came from this union however - but this certainly doesn't mean that the rest of the labels psych output was unworthy.
True, Shad appears to have been an opportunist in some regards who would sign a band on the strength of one tune and expect them to have an album's worth of material ready to record within a few weeks.
It's also true that he'd expect these bands to record their albums in one or two short studio sessions with little in the way of overdubs or retakes.
What people seem to have not noticed however is what a good ear Shad had for music which should have been totally alien to him.
While his rushed working approach and tight budgets meant that the label's psychedelic output is light on trippy effects it does give us a much better appreciation of what these types of bands were like live - something which is not always apparent beneath the layers of studio trickery often present on albums of this era.
The albums that Shad produced between 1966 and the early seventies are certainly a mixed bag, but this collection does a thorough job of unearthing more gems than the history books would have us believe are available from this modest catalogue.
Expect to find lots of anglophile psychedelic pop, some marvelous folk rock, a whole bunch of garage rock with attitude to spare, and in the Orient Express some of the best crossover raga rock / pop you're likely to find anywhere.
Hardcore collectors will mine the whole catalogue for sure, newbies will find this an invaluable resource as a label sampler and for a number of  listeners this is all you'll need to represent a surprisingly diverse and unheralded little corner of the psych world.

You can buy it here.
Want to hear more Mainstream stuff? Buy these first:

The Growing Concern - Impeccable psychedelic folk rock in the vein of early Jefferson Airplane with wonderful male / female dual vocals and very strong originals.

The Orient Express - One of the best raga rock albums you'll find. Split roughly 50/50 between instrumental workouts and eastern flavoured psych pop gems, both done exceptionally well.

Agree or disagree with my choices? I wanna hear about it. Let me know of any other great Mainstream albums in the comments section.

26 Aug 2012

Anima Morte - The Nightmare Becomes Reality Review

Horror Records - Vinyl / CD / Digital through Bandcamp

Digitally released last year, this piece of moody Swedish gold has just had a much deserved vinyl release which is nigh on essential IMHO.
While the cover art may lead you to expect some sort of diabolical extreme metal, what Anima Morte offer up is certainly informed by metal, but closer to progressive rock in it's execution.
Using the soundtrack work of Goblin and to a lesser extent, Fabio Frizzi as a springboard, they replace the synths with vintage hammond organs and mellotron, crank the gain up on the lead guitars and make fine use of a fluid rhythm section to recreate and slightly update this classic seventies / eighties sound.
Those who've heard previous releases will know exactly what to expect, as this is business as usual for Anima Morte, who are continuing to refine their sound impressively. For newcomers, imagine Opeth at their mellowest performing an instrumental score to a Dario Argento film and you should pretty much be there.
I adore the soundtracks that Anima Morte's work evokes, but one failing these soundtracks occasionally exhibit when used purely as a listening experience is a lack of content - one spectacularly memorable and creepy theme, coupled with a bunch of reprises and some moody, but seemingly improvised incidental music that sounds great at the time but doesn't linger in the subconscious. Of course, these scores are written primarily to accentuate what's happening onscreen, not as an isolated listening experience so approaching them with the right expectation is key to enjoying them.
Anima Morte are smart enough to realize that without a film to accompany them, they need to be a little more ambitious and work a little harder on the writing side of things, so every track here has it's own identity and any and every one of these tracks are well developed enough to imagine as the theme to an unknown Lucio Fulci zombie flick.
Indeed, it's truly difficult to listen to this album without visualizing hordes of walking dead roaming the European countryside.
Now, if only they still made zombie films good enough to warrant this as a soundtrack.....

Buy it on vinyl or CD here.  And have a listen below......

25 Aug 2012

Active Listener Radio

We've got another guest mix this week, with a fantastic mix put together by Micky Linick - lots of great new stuff and a few classic oldies too.

01 | The Moons – Fables Of History
02 | The Hypnotic Eye – Searching
03 | Alfa 9 – Into The Light
04 | Allah-Las – Don’t You Forget It
05 | Dead Coast – Kalamaro Dream
06 | The Undergrade – You Don’t
07 | Pepe Deluxe – Pussy Cat Rock
08 | Dr. John – Revolution
09 | Mashmakhan – As The Years Go By
10 | Christopher Wright – Emilia Rose
11 | The Love Exchange – Ballad Of A Sad Man
12 | The Spike Drivers – Got The Goods On You
13 | The Growing Concern – Mister You’re A Better Man Than I
14 | Strangers Family Band – Beware The Autumn People
15 | Ian Skelly – I See You
16 | Morcedai Smyth – Don’t Cross Colin
17 | Andy Pickering – This Time It's Forever
18 | The Skywalkers – Lord Can You Hear Us
19 | MiRi May – You Are My Angel
20 | The Merrylees – (Farewell) Dry Land
21 | The Mixups – Where You Belong
22 | The Like – Don’t Make A Sound
23 | Jacco Gardner – Summer’s Game
24 | The Mojo Men – What Kind Of Man

Dog Age - On The Garish Isles Review

With a career spanning twenty five years and between six and ten albums (depending who you believe), it's slightly perplexing that Norway's Dog Age aren't a little more well known and respected.
There seems to be criticism in some circles that they sound a little too much like the Beatles.
Well, in the absence of any new Beatles material and with Paul McCartney putting out obtuse classical material, I'm quite happy to accept Dog Age as an admittedly less ambitious, but entirely enjoyable substitute.
Sure, in terms of a cohesive statement album they've never put together a Sgt Pepper's or an Abbey Road, but they're very well versed at Magical Mystery Tour or at least the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.
So yes, they wear their influences on their sleeves quite prominently, but are certainly not the one trick ponies some seem to believe.
With five band members sharing songwriting credits, there's a huge variety of material on offer here, from concise moustachioed Beatles psych-pop, to eastern tinged devotional ragas ( "Lord" encapsulates everything I hoped Quintessence would sound like ), to emotive psychedelic guitar suites ( "Wondering" brings to mind a Pink Floyd where Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmour are somehow able to coexist ) - all of it excellent, as are the previous albums I've heard from this under rated outfit.
If you fancy a little something which draws from the U.K psych pop songbook extensively, with memorable hooks, excellent musicianship and immaculate production you could do a whole lot worse than checking these guys out. Fans of the Sufis and the Paperhead should check them out to see what the previous generation of U.K psych devotees can cook up.

 Available as a digital download here, with sound samples.

23 Aug 2012

Peter Howell & The BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Through a Glass Darkly

Active Listener readers may be familiar with Peter Howell from his early psych folk work with John Ferdinando in groups like Ithaca and Agincourt, as well as his musical version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.
Howell joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the mid seventies and is most well known there for his glossy 1980 reboot of the Doctor Who theme tune, as well as providing incidental music for a number of Doctor Who episodes.
With the hauntology movement in particular showing it's reverence for all things BBC Radiophonic, it's puzzling that so little has been made of this LP, originally released in 1978, and as far as I can gather, never reissued since.
As is often the case with these BBC Radiophonic releases it's a mixed bag, but when it hits the right marks it's pretty great.
The first side is taken up by the epic nineteen minute title piece which covers many moods with some avant garde piano, lots of moody synth work and around the thirteen minute mark, a memorable martial theme.
The second side is where things get alternatively interesting and frustrating, containing both the best and the worst material here. "Caches of Gold" and "Colour Rinse" are unlistenable, chirpy, upbeat numbers that I'd like to think have just dated badly, but can't really imagine enjoying in any era.
The other three tracks are fascinating though.
"Magenta Court" is a propulsive, prog synth number with great drumming, some unexpected, searing electric guitar work and weird treated vocals that must have been an influence on the creepy vocal choir featured on "Cantalus" from Belbury Poly's "Belbury Tales".
"Wind in the Wires" mixes folky, pagan guitar work with a haunting synth theme and a rhythm section that've obviously heard a bit of Pentangle in their time. If I'd been told that this was an outtake from the Advisory Circle's "As the Crow Flies", my only response would be, " Why didn't you put it on the album?"
Last up is the highlight for me, "The Astronauts", which sounds like the theme to some lost seventies BBC Arthur C. Clarke show.
I'm not usually one to advocate downloading, but this wee radiophonic gem of an album really should be heard by a wider audience, and can be downloaded at this blog, at least until someone reissues it.
And this is a prime candidate for a reissue - Trunk Records would do it proud I'm sure, having released David Cain's Seasons recently, and any fan of that will surely find much to love here. In the meantime checkout the download, or keep an eye on ebay - original vinyl copies turn up every now and then.
Have a listen to "The Astronauts" here:

22 Aug 2012

WJLP - Petomaniac Review

Aside from being one of Mel Brook's characters in "Blazing Saddles",  William J. Le Petomane ( real name unknown ) is yet another undeservedly obscure gentleman who now, through the magic of social media ( and soundcloud especially, where he's got quite a following ), is starting to get the exposure that music of his caliber deserves.
Petomaniac is a very smart instrumental album, and showcases an impressively diverse selection of originals that conjure up images of tv and movie themes of bygone days.
"Gorilla" has a whiff of the Munsters about it. "Greek Salad" has a lyrical hammered dulcimer theme like vintage Henry Mancini. "The Journey Home" and "Ocean View" are surf rock at it's finest. "Mord in Kino" sounds like early seventies John Barry with it's squelchy synths. "The Forsaken" is spaghetti western heaven. "Dr Dingleberry" taps into the same spooky fairground ska that the Specials used to dabble with so well with added spy guitars. "Operation Interstellar" is the highlight though - a grand instrumental Bond theme with walls of mellotron and acid guitar.
Cross pollination is the name of the game here, with WJLP mixing genres that shouldn't necessarily work together with such gleeful abandon that it's not too much of a stretch to picture him as the labcoated mad professor pictured on the sleeve.
You can buy "Petomaniac" digitally through bandcamp ( here ) as a name your price purchase.
One of my favorites of the year so far, and totally deserving of a few of your dollars.
Readers are also advised to check out "Head" on his Soundcloud page ( follow the link from his bandcamp page )- a psych/pop classic to be which shows he's a dab hand at throwing vocals into the mix too.

21 Aug 2012

Ummagma - Ummagma and Antigravity Review

Releasing two albums simultaneously as your debut release(s) may seem like madness to some but for this Ukrainan / Canadian  duo their ambition and diversity was too wide for the confines of one piece of plastic.
Indeed the diversity on display here is so vast that these are tough albums to review - their range makes them virtually uncategorisable, which as a listener is exciting stuff, but as a reviewer has me scratching my head for ways to describe their sound to you.
There's a major hint of nineties underground music here - plenty of shoegaze, a little trip hop and a lot of ambient electronica, but this barely scratches the surface of what's going on.
In many ways Ummagma's work recalls the adventurous and unified approach of much of the 4AD labels' late eighties / early nineties output.
"Ummagma" is the most upbeat of the two albums with a number of radio friendly tracks and a generally sunny disposition which is certainly more immediate, whereas "Antigravity" is a more sombre affair with a darker, more experimental hue which some may find more of a challenge, but appeals to the obtuse side of this reviewer.
Multi-instrumentalist Alexx Kretov skillfully, and with apparent ease, creates lush and evocative soundscapes for their songs to inhabit, with a confidence that one certainly doesn't expect from a debut set of recordings.
Kretov and partner Shauna McLarnon share vocal duties, with Kretov sounding at times like Thurston Moore, while McLarnon covers more ethereal ground.
Ultimately the music describes itself far more eloquently than I can - check out any track from those below and you will find something interesting or challenging or beautiful, and sometimes all three at once.

20 Aug 2012

(The Original) Iron Maiden - Maiden Voyage Review

That's right - before Bruce Dickinson, before even Paul Di'anno there was another Iron Maiden that most folks have never heard of.
Having failed to make an impression (and struggling to get bookings) a young English heavy rock outfit known rather unfortunately as Bum, had a brainwave and changed their name to Iron Maiden, releasing one excellent 45 then calling it quits.
The rather excellent Rise Against Relics label are doing us a major service by releasing these tracks - the two sides of the 45 plus a selection of demos to give us the fullest possible overview of a band who should be known as more than just "the other band who had that name".
"God of Darkness", one of the demos here can lay claim to being one of, if not the earliest example of doom metal with an occult lyric that predates the first Black Sabbath LP by a year.
Of course this isn't doom metal as we know it these days. These 1969 recordings have more in common with Led Zeppelin than they do with Cathedral, but collectors of early hard rock will find plenty to enjoy here.
The quality control on the demo tracks here is excellent too - there are plenty of officially released albums by other bands from this era with muddier sound and less committed performances than you'll find here, and even when stretching out on the twelve minute "Liar" they're concise and avoid the tendency to meander.
If occult, slightly theatrical heavy rock whets your whistle, then this will be very much your bag and bears favorable comparison to the likes of Black Widow, Warhorse and Saturnalia. And if you're an open minded fan of Steve Harris' troupe who picks this up accidentally or out of curiosity, it's entirely likely that you'll dig this.
There are even hints of jazz in "The Ballad of Martha Kent", certainly far more subtle than a band who once went under the moniker of Bum have any right to be.

19 Aug 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Stephen Palmer

We've got another batch of Desert Island Discs for you here, this time selected by Stephen Palmer who records under his own name, as well as with Mooch and the Blue Lily Commission.
Stephen also writes for the highly respected Terrascope website, which I daresay you will enjoy greatly if you like the types of music I write about.

Richard Ashcroft, "Alone With Everybody"
Most people think The Verve's "Urban Hymns" was the height of Ashcroft's career, but to my ears his first solo album is even greater; certainly in terms of songwriting. Ten tracks of lush melody, genuine feeling, orchestration, swagger and style. And his voice in tip-top form. A marvel from start to finish.

The Beatles, "Revolver"
Which album to choose from the greatest pop band ever... this or Sergeant Pepper? Well in the end it had to be this one, for the non-stop brilliance of the songs, for the sense of freedom, of a band exploring uncharted territory, and of course for the groundbreaking 'Tomorrow Never Knows.'

The 5th Dimension, "The Magic Garden"
Jimmy Webb's masterpiece. Incredible to think that when it was released it was a commercial flop. That combination of the four magical voices of the two-man, two-woman 5th Dimension, plus Jimmy Webb's songs, remains for me almost unbeatable as a testament to all the 'sixties were able to offer.

Donald Fagen, "The Nightfly"
With Steely Dan a spent force and Becker out of the game it was left to Donald Fagen to put together this brilliant work. Eschewing the slightly sterile sound of "Gaucho," Fagen returned to what he knew best, namely, unique songs that nobody else could possibly have written. I've always found this to be perfect car-journey music...

Mike Oldfield, "Hergest Ridge"
My favourite of Oldfield's albums. Although written and recorded in difficult conditions (Oldfield fleeing Tubular Fame, struggling with mental issues and living in a freezing cold house in Herefordshire) the music has a slightly ramshackle magic that he never again repeated. Is it too "romantic"? Well, he did point out at the time that what the world was really short of was romance.

Ozric Tentacles, "Erpland"
The defining achievement of the 'eighties/'nineties British underground, made by a band high and potent in the wilds of Mid Wales (Foel, to be exact). Every track unique, every track immaculately played and filled with sounds the world had never heard before. This album to my ears can never be overtaken for sheer shroom-styled audacity.

Pink Floyd, "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn"
The legacy of Syd can't be overstated, but what magic was he channeling on the roof of his flat when he wrote these songs? We'll never know - which may be a good thing. Magic needs to retain an element of mystery. Syd also gave Britain its first sense of how a British psychedelic vocalist could sound when doing his own thing.

Renaissance, "Ashes Are Burning"
One of the great folk-prog albums by a band too often overlooked. Simply a gem - six songs evoking the wonder of the natural world, the tides of life, and much, much more... With songs by Michael Dunford and lyrics by Cornish poet Betty Thatcher, this for me remains the high point of the group.

The Stranglers, "Black & White"
Thirty five years on this still sounds futuristic - an achievement in itself. Having shrugged off the Doorsy brutality of the early sound, and having side-stepped the fallout of the demise of punk, the band created a gritty, melodic, lyrically mesmerising album that to this day remains a kind of tuneful apocalypse.

Tangerine Dream, "Rubycon"
Groundbreaking electronic pioneers, this album, recorded in 1975, brought everything the core trio had learned from their late 'sixties Berlin roots through to Richard Branson-fuelled creative luxury. Otherworldly synthesizer textures, rhythmic complexity, mellotron heaven. It's genuinely timeless.

Almost made-its:
Klaus Schulze, "X"
Marjorie Fayre, "Self Help Serenade"
Stephen Oliver's music for the BBC adaption of "Lord Of The Rings"

We'd love to hear about your Desert Island Discs too, so please send them in to nford150@gmail.com

18 Aug 2012

Happy Daze - Ghost Tales Review

There are so many earnest, home recorded albums doing the rounds at the moment on bandcamp, that it's all too easy for a little gem like Happy Daze ( a.k.a Alexander Milburn's ) "Ghost Tales" to go unnoticed.
I spend a bit of time trawling bandcamp every now and then, having a quick listen to anything with a psychedelic tag, and more often than not come away empty handed, but on one occasion I picked this up and have returned to it often.
It's an intriguing listen that on one hand feels very intimate, but on the other retains a sense of mystery that keeps me from getting fully immersed, but keeps drawing me back at the same time.
It's an appeallingly ramshackle home recording, based around folky singer-songwriter material ( more early Bob Dylan than David Gray - so don't worry, I haven't gone soft on you ) but overlaid with thick layers of hazy psychedelic treatments - the majority of which I'm assuming are processed or backwards guitars, but the lo-fi nature of the recording makes it hard to tell.
For the vocal tracks, imagine Elliott Smith's "Roman Candle" and you've got a good idea of what to expect, only with some boffined psychedelic guitar tech noodling along to it. Elsewhere there are plenty of trippy guitar moodpieces to link the vocal tracks. This, coupled with the hazy nature of the accompaniments make it a hard album to concentrate on, but a perfect substitute album for when you're in the mood for something along the lines of a classic Tangerine Dream album, and it's all the more effective when occasionally the murk ( I use this word in a positive sense ) parts to make way for an intricate acoustic guitar interlude, or a nice, direct couplet.
Certainly original. While the recordings are occasionally primitive - vocals often break up, especially on propulsive stand-out "Peace, Love & Harmoline", this actually suits the material nicely, and in the case of the lovely Coco Rosie-like nursery rhyme "Family Songs" the lo fidelity accompaniment is key to it's success.
Milburn's released another e.p and single in the short amount of time since this came out.
On the evidence of this I'd say keep an eye on him - certainly if you're a fan of the likes of the War on Drugs, or Kurt Vile you'll find much to appreciate here.
You can download his material freely or for a choose your own price donation here.

17 Aug 2012

Opossom - Electric Hawaii

Opossum is the new musical identity of ex Mint Chick Kody Nielson. The Mint Chicks were a very popular underground New Zealand act who coined the term troublegum to describe the music they made - experimental noise rock with elements of punk, pop and psychedelia used to varying degrees.
The Mint Chicks are no more alas, but in their place we have two acts that I like a whole lot more, and have a whole lot more to offer in my opinion.
Ruban Nielson was first off the mark with the first Unknown Mortal Orchestra album which was a splendidly lo-fi piece of noisy psych pop that sounded like it was recorded in his bedroom.
As good as that album was, Brother Kody's first Opossom album ups the ante considerably with a near flawless collection of sunny psych pop tunes that reimagine a more raucous and instrument focused take on Caribou's much adored "Andora" album.
Electric Hawaii incorporates all sorts of seemingly disparate influences - tropicalia, english psych, beach boys harmonies, a bit of krautrock into a diverse sonic melange that on paper sounds academic and just plain messy.  Neilson is a master of his craft though, so what would seem self indulgent and over-ambitious in the hands of lesser mortals is seamlessly mixed together here with such enthusiasm and self awareness that it's impossible to resist.
Check out opening track "Girl", which is essentially a sunshine pop version of "Femme Fatale" and fall in love.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra have a new single due out on Jagjaguwar soon - here's hoping the bar is raised again.

Available on CD Here.And on Vinyl Here.

16 Aug 2012

Fruits De Mer Records August Releases Review

Another batch of super limited edition 7"s have just been released by the excellent psychedelic boutique label Fruits De Mer. You'll need to get in quick if you want copies of any of these as Fruits De Mer titles have a habit of selling out very quickly, and are never reprinted so it's now or never for these - now would be my recommendation.
You can order these via e-mail from Fruits De Mer here if you're based in the U.K, or from the lovely folks at Norman Records here, who ship internationally and offer some of the best online service I've experienced.

The Pretty Things - S.F Sorrow Live In London 7"
First up is this future rarity, featuring three tracks from S.F Sorrow recorded recently live in London, which show the band to be lively and in fine voice. If only the Stones were still this focused live. Track number four is an archive live recording "Renaissance Faire " from 1969 which is in a much higher fidelity than I anticipated and features some heavy dual guitar work and a healthy dose of hammond organ. Much more of a rocker than the Byrds or Human Instinct versions of this track, and totally essential for any Pretty Things collector.

Jack Ellister - The Man With The Biochopper / Citadel 7"
Fruits De Mer's offshoot label Regal Crabomophone has the first 7" by one Jack Ellister to offer us next. The name was a  new one to me, but I suspect that we'll be hearing more of him. The a-side is an original which merges psychedelia, prog rock and a bit of post punk in a manner not heard since the glory days of Mansun in the mid nineties. Fans of their album "Six" will find much to like in the soaring guitars on offer here. The b-side is a serviceable version of the Stone's "Citadel" which has a more contemporary edge.

Beautify Junkyards - From The Morning / Fuga No. 2 7"
Last up we have this lovely Portuguese act who cover Nick Drake's "From The Morning" on the a-side, and Os Mutantes " Fuga No. 2 " on the reverse. "From the Morning" starts as expected, with a lovely pastoral acoustic guitar and vocal that wouldn't sound out of place on Candidate's "Nuada" album, before being hijacked by wonky synths. Quite mad. "Fuga No. 2 follows a similar template, which isn't quite so unexpected due to the source material but still rather lovely.

15 Aug 2012

Damien Youth - Sunfield Review

Damien Youth is a name that's been on the periphery of my awareness for some time, but the formidable size of his back catalogue has always prevented me from investigating further.
It finally dawned on me that the best chance of finding a good entry point would be to go straight to the source, so I asked Damien himself.
I ended up with "Sunfield", an album originally released in 1999, but re-released on vinyl recently ( in 2011 ).
It's a great album that wears it's influences on it's sleeve in a respectful and forward-looking fashion, and uses them as a springboard for his own fanciful and evocative creations.
Opening track, "Morning Cloak Sunfield Floating Stage Fright" is an ambitious mini suite that takes in a whimsical, and presumably purposefully Donovanesque lyric ( "Lady Juniper with glitter in her hair" ) and couples it with a more hard rocking chordal sequence that channels the more deranged acoustic output of Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World" album ( "After All" etc. ), something that Bowie himself seemed either unable or unwilling to do after releasing that album.
Elsewhere there's an excellent cross section of upbeat acoustic flower pop ( Sunfield is the perfect title for this album ), and more delicate and contemplative fingerstyle folk tunes, ala the Beatle's "Blackbird".
The only criticism I can muster is that a couple of tracks have synthesized horn parts that are perfectly adequate, but make you long for the real thing - otherwise this piece of sunny, sixties influenced folk-pop is pretty much tops in my book.
Readers of this blog will also undoubtedly enjoyed Mr Youth's "Retrospectoscope 1966-1970", recorded under the pleasingly daft moniker of Walter Ghoul's Lavender Brigade - a prime piece of 1967 style London psych-pop that, to this listener at least, beats the Dukes of Stratosphear at their own game.

You can buy it on vinyl or digitally by clicking the bandcamp link below.

14 Aug 2012

Norman Records

Without trying to sound like an infomercial, I've ordered records online from a lot of different sites but the service I got with my first order from Norman Records is probably the best I've had anywhere.
Based in the UK, they've got a massive selection of more esoteric titles which I couldn't find at other stores. I ordered four titles, three of which were out of stock ( the stock levels are visible while you browse though so I was aware of this already ). The three out of stock titles were acquired in less than a week and the order found it's way over to me in New Zealand less than two weeks after I placed the initial order.

I was very excited to open this parcel which included:

Fabio Frizzi's Zombie Flesh Eaters. A new reissue from Death Waltz Recordings who have also reissued John Carpenter's Escape From New York and Prince of Darkness as well as The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, Donnie Darko and Let The Right One In. A very exciting label - I'm hoping for reissues of the first two Halloween soundtracks personally.

Goblin's Profondo Rosso. Limited to 666 copies this is an exact repress of the original 1975 edition, which means only 7 tracks but a much better flow than the CD versions without all of the repetition and alternate takes.

Goblin's Suspiria. Another limited edition, this one a gorgeous picture disc. These Goblin Argento soundtracks are amazing.

Belbury Poly's Belbury Tales. For some reason I bought this on CD when it came out earlier in the year instead of vinyl. I've now rectified this.

Aside from weird soundtrack reissues and Ghost Box titles, Norman also stock Fruits De Mer and a bunch of other small label psychedelic / progressive rock titles.
Click here to check out their selection. If you've been having trouble tracking down a certain title, especially on a smaller label - maybe a title that all the other online stores either don't have listed or always have on backorder, this may just be the place to find it.

The Strypes "Young, Gifted and Blue" E.P Review

Ireland's got a healthy history of raunchy beat groups stretching back to the days when Van Morrison was an unpredictable and raucous hollerer - quite some time ago now then.
The Strypes are a very young, and highly impressive band that have stepped up as the most recent contenders, and judging by the muscle on show here - they've got what it takes to get noticed.
Their first E.P " Young, Gifted and Blue" is an impressive showcase for their vintage mid sixties mod / beat sounds - aided no doubt by the familiarity of the material, but also by the youthful abandon with which they attack these classics.
"I Wish You Would" channels the Yardbirds with added grit, while "You can't Judge a Book By Looking At The Cover" and "Got Love if You Want It" have attitude and verve to spare.
"Leaving Here" is the highlight for me - all windmilling guitar strums, with just the right hint of freakbeat and a pleasing amount of amp buzz at the fade out as if the producer was too stunned to remember the tape was still rolling.
The production and presence is great - I get the impression that a lot of the original mid sixties beat groups managed to fire like this live, but had trouble capturing the energy in studio which the Strypes have managed to do first up.
They're working on an album of original material now, and if this first E.P is anything to go by, we could have something very special on our hands.

13 Aug 2012

Record Store Finds - Marquee Moon Vinyl

With a name like Marquee Moon, it was kind of inevitable that I was going to find some interesting bits and pieces in this newish store in Florence, Italy.
The first album cover I spotted when I walked in the store was the Sunbeam reissue of the Ill Wind's "Flashes", so I knew that I'd found a treasure trove.
There's a great selection in this vinyl only store, and the bloke who runs the shop was friendly, helpful and spoke better English than I do. He even went to the trouble of packaging up and sending my records back to me in New Zealand so that I didn't have to haul them around the next ten locations on my backpacking holiday, or visit the Post Office and try and make myself understood in my excruciatingly poor Italian ( apologies, and also thanks to everyone who was kind of enough to show me some patience in my attempts at your beautiful language. )

I found a few wee gems here that I didn't expect to find, including :

The Embrooks - Yellow Glass Perceptions
An excellent piece of freakbeat, this is the Embrook's last album released on Munster Records in 2004, but sounding like prime London circa 1966-1967. Quality originals and a few choice covers from the original era of freakbeat. Highly recommended.

Baby Woodrose - Third Eye Surgery
Another pleasant surprise was this heavy gatefold copy of the latest Baby Woodrose LP. Lovely stuff, a little more geared towards psychedelia than their releases usually are, which is just fine by me.

Sun Dial - Other Way Out
This is a great album which I only discovered a year or so back, but which was originally released in 1990. Totally anachronistic at the time, this has heavily treated psychedelic vocals, flutes, long fluid guitar work and all manner of trippy trickery. Imagine an album full of lengthy exploratory versions of Factory's "A Path Through The Forest". Very nice to find a copy of this.

Trees - Live
This is a dodgy semi bootleg originally released in 1989 which I gather is mostly compiled from material from various BBC sessions made after the release of "The Garden of Jane Delawney", and has a bunch of material which was apparently written and arranged for album number three of the Trees, which sadly never eventuated. Primitive recordings alas, but spirited performances that deserve a release nonetheless.

Walter Schreifels - An Open Letter To The Scene
I was obsessed with Rival School's album "United by Fate" when it was released in the early 2000's and waited patiently along with everyone else for a followup that never happened. I was excited to notice however that frontman Schreifels released this follow up 2010, which I promptly ordered on vinyl from Amazon.co.uk who back ordered it for 6 months, before telling me it was out of print - after everyone else had sold out too. Finding a copy on the shelf at Marquee Moon was worth the visit even if I hadn't found anything else. It's a mostly acoustic album which shows a major Arthur Lee influence, and Lee is even name checked in the title to one of the songs.

Os Mutantes - First Album
My girlfriend Lotus had the good sense / taste to pick this up for us while she was waiting patiently for me to finish scouring the racks. You all know it. I should have had a vinyl copy already. I didn't but now do. Oversight corrected.

And that is the end of my holiday shopping - back to reality now, which means heaps of reviews on the way for you lot.

Check out the Marquee Moon website here.

12 Aug 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Sproatly Smith

Ian Sproatly Smith has joined us with his Desert Island Discs selections today.
Sproatly Smith are of course responsible for one of the Active Listener's favourite albums of the year so far "The Minstrel's Grave". Check out the review here.

Says Ian "Every Sunday morning I wonder again what songs I would choose when Roy Plomley eventually gets round to asking me on his show. It’s a hard task, but I have some idea. Thanks to the Active Listener I can seriously think about it in detail. It’s made me listen through my collection again, and realise what great music is out there. Choosing albums would be a little easier, I thought! The first few came quite easily, but then it became much harder. Apologies to the endless LPs I could have chosen.
This is a mixture of my favourite albums, and what I would want to listen to on my island.
Here goes: "

1. The Madcap Laughs /Barret- Syd Barret
A little bit of cheating here, already. But I did buy the two Syd Barret albums in one gatefold edition. My copy is over-played, and knackered now, and I remember spilling a large glass of red on the vinyl years back, so I would need a replacement. But I couldn't live without this album. His voice, his guitar, his lyrics, his melody, his genius. Enough said. One of the biggest influences in my life, not just musically.
 “Inside me I feel, alone and unreal…”

2. The Wicker Man – Paul Giovanni
Fairly easy too. The Wicker Man soundtrack on Trunk records. A massive influence on the Sproatly sound, and the folklore that goes with it. This started my dabbling venture into psych folk and folklore in general. Listening to this rekindled my folk roots, and led me to discover the beautiful twisted folk music of the late 60s and early 70s, and to play guitar again, and to record.
“I think I could turn and live with animals……”

3. No Rest For The Wicked- New Model Army
We used go to see this band a lot in the early 80s. Full of rock energy, and political angst. I used to come away from the gigs with bruised shins beaten by clogs! I still put this record on really loud and sing along when I’m feeling up against the wall. The lyrics are great, and Slade the Leveller wrote some beautiful ballads too. He conjured up life in a small town in Thatcher’s Britain. Anarcho pagan folk punk ? Maybe.
“I believe in getting the bastards….”

4. Hereford United(We All Love You)- Danny Lee
A song, not an album unfortunately. Written to commerate FA cup glory in 1972 and league status, this anthem is played and sung on the terraces at every game of my beloved, rubbish football club. Written by local celebrity Danny, who once walked round the ground with a pint of beer balanced on his head for charity. I have 2 prized versions of this on 7”. Watch out for a Sproatly cover!
 “Hereford United, We All Love You, We’ll Always Support You And We’ll Follow You Through…..”

5. Moyshe Mcstiff and The Tartan Dancers Of The Sacred Heart – COB
I need some Clive Palmer on the island, my favourite songs of his are not on this album: A Leaf Must Fall, and O For Summer, but this is all round loveliness. Slightly weird folk voices, and more than slightly odd instrumentation. Clive writes such beautiful songs, wish I could take them all. Even his solo banjo albums are great (not my favourite instrument)
“When the brightness of your eyes come smiling o’er the fields…”

6. Different Class – Pulp
Everyone’s a winner on this album. I spent a couple of years in Sheffield in the 80s, going to the same haunts as Jarvis, never met the feller though, yet. We keep missing each other. Real lyrics, real feelings, plenty of lip gloss.
“ I wrote this song to us before we met….”

7. Live At The Jazz Café – KPM Allstars
Choosing which library album to take is a problem. I’ve collected lots of 70s funky lounge/ easy listening records. Could I live without the Grandstand theme, Alan Hawkshaw’s wonderful hammond, Keith Mansfield’s arrangements, Duncan Lamont’s sax. I’ve seen the KPM Allstars play live twice, it’s heaven. I would take the live album, but there is none. Have been torn between the two sound gallery albums, and KPM 194 and 238. After a bit of net surfing, I’ve just seen an album ‘KPM Allstars Live At The Jazz Café’ . Result. Mp3 only.

8 . Dedicated To The Bird I Love - Oriental Sunshine
From here on it gets trickier. There would be plenty of 60s psych folk I would love to take. This album from Norway is full of sitar, tabla, great voices and lovely lyrics.
“You turn the candles low …..”

9. In The Court of The Crimson King – King Crimson
Need to have this. One of the first albums that I bought. Love the vocals, and the music is sublime. Jazz, folk, prog, classical. I do prefer the Judy Dyble version of I Talk to the Wind “said the straight man to the late man…….”

10. The Great British Experience (50 original light music classics)
If I were on the radio show Desert Island Discs I would choose the theme tune from the show: Sleepy Lagoon. Perfect music for an island (although I would love to take some Martin Denny/ Exotica) This album has that and Sailing By, the music before the shipping forecast which I generally fall asleep to. It also has The Archers theme and the theme to Johnny Morris’s Animal Magic, and Top Of The Form. The rest of the album is full of varied mood music that would keep me entertained for hours: skipping, galloping like a horse, chugging like a train!

Stroll On – Steve Ashley
Which Way You Goin’ Billy? – The Poppy Family
Any album by Pentangle

We'd love to hear about your Desert island Discs too, so feel free to send them in to nford150@gmail.com