26 Sep 2013

8x8 "Azalea's Room" Review

8x8's debut album "Anatomy of an Apricot" was one of my favorite releases of 2011, a breezy Beach Boys / Beatles influenced, A.M radio love affair that sounded like the work of a band at the peak of it's powers - all the more impressive as it was the work of just two men, who lived at opposite ends of the planet and had never actually been in the same room together.
To say "Azalea's Room" has some pretty big shoes to fill then is a bit of an understatement. More like those enormous steel capped boots that feel weighted to the extent that you'd need hydraulics to lift them, but miraculously these two have managed to make the goose lay a second golden egg.
No more mixed metaphors now I promise.
Obviously "Anatomy of an Apricot" hit an early peak, and simply sticking to that formula wasn't going to be enough to give "Azalea's Room" the distinct identity of it's own that a sophomore release needs to survive in this cut-throat, Pitchfork worshipping world. Fortunately Lane Steinberg and Alexander Khodchenko (they're the two 8x8 blokes, don't you know?) have been around long enough to know that you can't stand still and expect to be taken seriously, and here show some serious growth in a number of areas without abandoning the distinctive baroque pop sensibilities that sugarcoated our earlugs first time around.
So while delicate pop miniatures like "Ice Wings", the Beatlesque ballad "Code Name Jacqueline" and vintage harpsichord pop fare like "Dr Winkler's Hands" could make a fine home for themselves on "Anatomy of an Apricot" there's also plenty of room for an emotive crack at Dylan and the Band's "Tears of Rage" (featuring home recording guru R. Stevie Moore, no less), the groovy eastern rock stylings of the title track and perhaps best of all, the moody bedsit melodrama of "Laws of Attraction".
I'm not naive enough to assume that stardom beckons of course, but there are certainly a few more attentive sets of ears that are going to be well pleased to make the acquaintance of this particularly fine album.

To be released in October.

8x8 on Facebook.


Earthling Society "Zodiak" Review

Now this review has been a long time coming due to a very simple (and slightly selfish) reason. Once I've reviewed something it tends to get filed away and not played anywhere near as often as it deserves (one of the cons of this particular job), and I've been reluctant to put "Zodiak" out to pasture.
If you've had any experience with Earthling Society in the past you know what to expect - mind altering space rock grooves at the heaviest end of the spectrum that you can reach without getting into that dubious stoner rock / space rock hybrid that tends to neglect the more psychedelic elements which are what I signed on for in the first place.
This is music tailor made for festivals (not necessarily in the now...), with the lengthier outings especially "Zodiak", suggesting that everyone at said festival ignored the warnings about the brown acid, and are now in thrall to some pagan power.  And nightmarishly hypnotic as it is at times, "Zodiak" knows when to ease back into trippy, spaciousness and give the listener a chance to catch their breath before having it taken away again. At 29 minutes, I often review albums that are shorter than this one track, yet there's not a wasted moment here, and the shorter tracks don't feel slight in comparison, with "I Don't Know Myself" mixing an early eighties Hawkwind influence with unexpected dub interludes.
Mind and taste expanding, "Zodiak" is thoroughly recommended to heads who aren't afraid to be taken on a journey that veers off the beaten track into unexplored and occasionally terrifying realms.

Available here on vinyl, here on CD, and digitally here.

25 Sep 2013

John Foxx & The Belbury Circle "Empty Avenues" E.P

Ghost Box are showing interesting signs of diversifying in the upcoming year, with an album on the way by the fantastic and distinctly un-Radiophonic Soundcarriers, but first up is this curious and rather successful E.P.
John Foxx should of course be familiar to all as a former member of Ultravox, and creator of the wonderful synth pop album "Metamatic" while The Belbury Circle is Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly and Jon Brooks of the Advisory Circle. Quite a combo!
Not as much as a departure from the label's sound as it at first appears (Brooks dabbled with pastoral pop rather successfully with "The Signalman" from "As The Crow Flies"), this is an excellent meeting ground between Foxx's leftfield synth-pop leanings and the Ghost Box duo's archaic Radiophonia, and should please lovers of each camp, irrespective of how they feel about the other.
Warm, autumnal, vintage synth tones colour everything in a lush, melancholy sepiatone that Foxx's vocals mesh perfectly with, with both camps able to maintain the characteristics of their own sound without having to compromise, unusual in this sort of collaborative release where one side would tend to dominate.
Truth be told, if you were to remove the vocals, this could easily pass for the next Advisory Circle E.P, while the vocals in isolation are pure John Foxx - not a combination I could visualize as being successful in the lead-up to it's release, but one that makes perfect sense upon listening.
We don't live in the sort of world where this would ever have been hit-parade material, but if you fancy a more mysterious, pastoral approach to pop then this could be just what the Doctor ordered.

Available here on vinyl, here on CD, and here digitally.

Orgasmo Sonore "Omaggio a Bruno Nicolai ed alle sue musiche per il cinema GIALLO" Review

François Riendeau deserves a medal for his efforts to introduce the music of euro-horror soundtrack pioneers to a wider audience, which he's already done an admirable job of with two volumes of music associated with giallo, polizei, and euro-horror.
Now for the first time he turns his attention solely to one artist, and Bruno Nicolai is the lucky and thoroughly deserving object of these attentions, and indeed affections.
"Tribute to Bruno Nicolai and his music for Giallo films" (which I believe the title translates to) cherrypicks the best moments from five of Nicolai's best Giallo scores, and runs them through the incomparable Orgasmo Sonore filter with undeniably impressive results.
Known primarily for his working relationship with Ennio Morricone (he often conducted Morricone's scores), his own prolific output is certainly underappreciated, and to my ears is more consistently eloquent than Morricone's work from this period which great as it undisputedly is, often sacrificed melody for atmosphere, resulting in effective film scores but less replay value.
Riendeau's selection and interpretation is impeccable here, ably demonstrating Nicolai's range which incorporates creepy, wordless nursery rhymes ala "Deep Red" or "Rosemary's Baby", sweeping strings, something that sounds an awful lot like a cimbalom (the hammered string instrument used to great effect in John Barry's "IPCRESS File" score), moody post-rock guitar arpeggios that wouldn't sound out of place on a Mogwai record, and even the odd excursion into guitar prog.
Nicolai was definitely ahead of his time - while Riendeau's interpretations accentuate the most effective elements of Nicolai's scores, the fact is that these diverse and forward thinking elements were all there in the original scores.
So a success on two fronts - firstly as a hugely enjoyable listening experience in it's own right, and secondly as a showcase of Nicolai's genius, which expertly balances exceptional melodic clout with an ever present whiff of the black leather glove.

Available October 14 from Cineploit Records.
 




24 Sep 2013

Magic "Magic Enclosed" Review

Back to the Guerssen / Out-sider reissues that we started looking at with Wakefield's "Lost Warthog Tapes" (back here), the next worthy release I'd like to direct you to is by Florida based rural rock outfit Magic.
Their first (and best) of two albums, "Magic Enclosed" was originally recorded in Michigan in 1969 and released on the tiny Armadillo Records label.
Long known to collectors, "Magic Enclosed" has a middling reputation which I'd blame on listener's preconceptions rather than the quality of the music contained within.
Truth be told that while every psychedelic rock bible worth the paper it's printed on classifies this as a psychedelic rock album, there's actually very little that I'd class as psychedelia present here. Which is not to say that it doesn't have exceptional period flavor (which it has in spades), but if you expect bucketloads of backwards guitars and the like, then you're likely to be disappointed. Magic instead rely on a gritty rural rock flavor, partway between Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat, and if you ask me that's a pretty good pedigree.
Opener "Keep On Movin' On" trades on a funky swamp rock backbeat that the Fogerty's would be proud of, and the high standard is maintained through six more short tracks that fine as they are, do nothing to prepare the listener for the closing behemoth "I'll Just Play" in which Magic do just that. Built on the scantest bones of a song, it's little more than a glorified jam really that somehow transcends it's loose origins and ascends into a "Down By The River" style dual guitar showcase that shows a delicacy of touch and a level of near telepathic cognisance between guitarists Duane King and Joey Murcia that is almost unheard of in guitarists not named Whitten or Young.
Marvelous stuff, and the rest of the album has plenty of choogle too.

Available on vinyl from Guerssen/ Out-sider here.

23 Sep 2013

Devonian Gardens "Solar Shifting" Review

Calgary's Deadhorse have found a new home on Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records and transmogrified into Devonian Gardens. I won't pretend that I ever heard Deadhorse, but these Devonian Garden people? Pretty great.
Psychedelic rock with enough emphasis on riffs and songcraft to satisfy the straight-forward rock crowd, and enough lysergic detail to make us more discerning psych-heads salivate uncontrollably - a winning formula that few get right, usually leaning too far one way or the other to please both parties.
There's a rough San Francisco vibe to a lot of these songs - probably a lot to do with the fact that all five members sing (often in harmony), and some really nice, chunky twelve string guitar parts that evoke the late sixties nicely, but apart from that, this is a much more contemporary take on psychedelia, with plenty of muscle supplied by a particularly robust rhythm section, and an expansive wall of sound that veteran heavy psych artists had no chance of capturing, no matter how much fuzz they applied.
There's also a healthy nod to a wider range of influences too, with opener "Swallow the Sun" bearing a favorable resemblance to Tripping Daisy, while the raucous boogie of the title track (despite some wild backwards guitars) suggests that Suzi Quatro may be just as important an influence as Jefferson Airplane. And check out the furious jangle (there is such a thing) on the outro to "Goldbond". Phwoar!
This is dynamic, propulsive, psychedelic rock that suggests a great live band, and on the evidence of "Solar Shifting", one that are extremely confident in the studio too.

Available digitally here from Beyond Beyond is Beyond from October 1.

Rosco "The Call of the Cosmos" Review

Rosco is the solo nom de plume of Sterling Roswell. You know? That chap out of Spacemen 3? Arguably the most important psychedelic outfit of the eighties? Not to mention the Darkside. Crikey.
So expectations were already well set in for "The Call of the Cosmos" when it came to give it a first listen, not only in terms of quality but also in a supposition that I could assume what the album would actually sound like.
Silly me. This is a confounding listen (in the best possible way). Where I'd expected Roswell to stick with the sound that Spacemen 3 helped instigate (which all the kids seem to be copying these days to certain degrees), he's taken things in a totally different direction here (although to be fair, I'm totally ignorant of anything that he's done musically after the Darkside, so this may not be as big a departure as it appears to me.)
So we've established what "The Call of the Cosmos" isn't, now to take on the more difficult task of establishing what it is exactly. Space-pop would be a fair call, but there's a whole lot more happening just under the surface that colours things in unexpected ways and keeps "The Call of the Cosmos" shifting like quicksilver. Naturally there's a whole lot of extremely spacey psychedelia happening here (the Seeds "Tripmaker" and Rosco's own "Island of Ether" which will have inexperienced listeners peeling their face off), but you can also add dub ("Interplanetary Spaceliner"), baroque pop ("Give Peace Another Chance"), and on "The Girl From Orbit in Dub" a triumphant pop epic that warrants comparison to two giants that you'd assume unlikely to be conjured here - Lee Hazlewood and Luke Haines.
Something of a triumph then.

Stream or download here. Also available on vinyl in a limited run of 300.

22 Sep 2013

The Young Sinclairs "You Know Where To Find Me" Review

Super prolific, label hopping vintage folkrock giants the Young Sinclairs are back with their fourth release of the year, this time for US indie label Planting Seeds Records.
I was mightily impressed earlier on in the year by their "Engineer Man" / "Problems" 7'' on Paul Messis' Market Square label, and their new 7" E.P "You Know Where To Find Me" continues to show their mastery of a sound that had largely disappeared before they were even born.
Vintage sixties style folk rock with an alarmingly authentic analogue sound that will have you checking the back of the sleeve for a 1967 recording date, the four tracks on offer here (all originals) show a band with an impressive ability to evoke the music of the masters without coming across as derivative.
"You Know Where To Find Me" has a distinctive whiff of "Tommy" era Who about it, all windmilling acoustic guitars and manic drumbreaks, with a chorus that could hold it's head up proudly on "Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy".
The other three tracks here wear their influences on sleeve just as brazenly, and are so well observed (and such well written songs in their own right) that you'd have to be a right miserable bastard to make a fuss.
"Too Young" is a dramatic mersey ballad which nurses an early Beatles and Hollies fetish, "Ear To The Ground" is "Gimme Shelter" sans the apocalyptic death of the sixties vibe and "Remember This Song" is a nuggetty Seeds style number draped in lovingly applied fuzz guitar. And they're all totally brilliant.
And if you choose to plump for the digital version instead of the vinyl, you get a bonus version of Roky Erickson’s “I Have Always Been Here Before”, which you just know you want to hear.
Recommeded.

Pre-order here.

21 Sep 2013

Wakefield "The Lost Warthog Tapes"

It was pretty hard deciding where to start with Guerssen and it's subsidiary label's September / October releases. Ten reissues, a number of which were entirely new to me. Old chestnuts like "embarrassment of riches" and "kid in a candy store" immediately come to mind. I eventually plumped for one of those unfamiliar titles, and one that wasn't released at the time.
Wakefield's "The Lost Warthog Tapes" represents recordings made between 1970 and 1972, which didn't see release until 2002 with a Gear Fab CD release, and this Outsider release is the first time these tracks have been committed to vinyl.
So, another early seventies psychedelic / progressive rock band that couldn't get a contract in their own time? "Big deal" you may think, but you'd be foolish to write this Colorado band off without a listen.
While the sound quality is at times slightly rudimentary, the songwriting and performances found here are anything but. It's a diverse mixture of sounds, bluesy guitar licks, more than a hint of U.K style proto-prog circa 1969, a little rural rock and even the odd latin influenced diversion, all tied together with exceptionally strong vocal harmonies. I'm not familiar enough with the band's history to tell you why this wasn't released at the time, but it certainly wasn't down to a lack of quality. The impassioned vocals, and gritty electric guitar workouts (think Stephen Stills) suggest that these tracks were never intended merely as demos, and the consistently memorable songs themselves prove that they could have been contenders.
Album stand out "Old Man" is a representative example - a lengthy piece which starts out as a particularly lovely, tight CSNY style harmony vocal showcase, before heading into more hard progressive territory, in a similar style to the mighty Banchee, and with arguably more convincing results than anything that group managed on their two official releases.
Very nice.

But it directly from Guerssen here.


20 Sep 2013

The Dandelion "Strange Case of the Dandelion" Review

Daniel Poulter will be familiar to a lot of you as lead singer / guitarist for neo-psychedelic / freakbeat outfit The Dolly Rocker Movement, who have been around since 2002 and released a bunch of gems (most recently "Your Side of Town" earlier on this year.)
After such a prolific and successful time of it with the Dolly Rocker Movement then, it may come as some surprise to see Poulter venturing out on his own which is exactly what he's doing here under the moniker of the Dandelion.
It doesn't take long to work out why Poulter's elected to go with the new name here as while this is noticeably the work of the same man, he's stretching some very different muscles in this new guise.
Where the Dolly Rocker Movement was inclined to show a little freakbeat muscle, the Dandelion indulges Poulter's love for the full flower power package, combining his effortlessly vintage songwriting chops with plenty of groovy patchouli-scented organwork, dexterous flute devilry, and on "I Turned On As You Turned Around", the sort of hooks that sound like they'd be equally at home on modern commercial radio, or seeping out of a tinny portable radio circa 1967.
Poulter's not afraid to wander off the beaten path either, with "Ships to Tarshish" incorporating exotic eastern elements into a far moodier concoction, while "Pleaidian Love Vibration" adds a diabolical twist on the sort of infectious Bolan boogie style guitar riff that Jack White would kill for, in the process providing one of the most satisfying moments on an impressive opening outing from an increasingly eclectic artist that can seemingly do no wrong.
Bravo, that man.

You can stream 6 of the album's 13 tracks through this Bandcamp link (but beware some of the best tracks aren't streamable), or hit the buy button to purchase the full 13 track CD for the ludicrously low price of $5au (plus postage).

19 Sep 2013

Astral Pattern "Light Poems" Review

Reviewed by Cheryl Thornton

The breakup of a band, although largely a sad occasion, can often yield exciting and intriguing results from members who begin work on their own projects. Such is the case for S.C.U.M., who announced in January this year that, following a hiatus, they would no longer be playing or writing together. This was particularly sad considering they released only one L.P. – 2011’s Again Into Eyes. However, the feeling that we hadn’t quite heard enough is eased by this debut offering from three of its ex members, Melissa Rigby, Huw Webb and Bradley Baker. Astral Pattern was formed after the trio attended a Kraftwerk gig in Dusseldorf, and such gigs should be a compulsory cure for any creative blocks if these are anything to go by. Of course, there is more to this outfit than previous band material and an influential gig; it only takes one listen of their E.P. to prove that.
Light Poems was released on July 1st via the independent London-based record label 37 Adventures. Using only synthesisers and drum machines, it’s clear Melissa, Huw and Bradley are working in a different direction now, but arguably one that suits them better. Their love of German electronic music circa the 1970’s/early 80’s can be detected on this record; the vintage synth sounds coalescing into a lush soundscape that sounds more Harmonia than Kraftwerk. But there’s something else going on here. There’s a swirl of psychedelic dream-pop, a hint of shoegaze, and slight leanings towards motorik that makes this a warm and inviting listen.
The E.P opens with a shining synth line and persistent, yet soft-edged, drum beat in ‘Properties of Colour’ before leading onto the band’s debut single, ‘Sitting in the Sun’. Here Melissa’s vocals really enhance the ethereal, dreamy atmosphere of the release; helping it ebb and flow like a gentle tide so you really do feel like you’re sitting in the sun on some faraway beach without a care in the world. Although reminiscent of the delicate female vocals of shoegaze acts such as Alison’s Halo and Slowdive, the optimism, the warmth of both the lyrics and Melissa’s tone align them with the contemporary indie dream-pop of, say, Still Corners. They evoke both a nostalgic past and a bright present, contributing to the airy, melodic feel of the E.P. rather than fading into the background. In other words, it’s all a perfect partnership of drum loops, synth melodies and honey-sweet vocals.
The names of the songs themselves seem to aptly reflect the mood of the record – ‘Sitting in the Sun’ is followed by the track given to the E.P.’s title, ‘Light Poems’. The twinkling, shimmering synths are driven forward by a simple drum line as they seem to dissolve then reappear in a bright mirage of sound that appropriately conjures light reflecting from waves or the movement of colours through a prism. (How do they do it?) Following this is probably my favourite track from the release, ‘When We’re Falling’, largely down to the comforting optimism evoked by Melissa softly cooing ‘I wanna put my arms around you.’ (This consequently makes me feel like doing exactly that. To anyone or anything, metaphorical or otherwise.)
The lyrics generally achieve the effect of evoking what the music does itself. Closing track ‘Faraway’ seems like a fitting end to the record as Melissa sings ‘I’m floating away’ above a driving analogue synth. Although light and airy, full of the breeziness of summer, the whole thing doesn’t so much wash over you as wash through you. This is an E.P. to be absorbed, and as it finishes I’m left with the feeling that I’ve been on a short holiday (never a bad thing).
Astral Pattern’s debut release has certainly heightened my anticipation for future material. The band are only in the flourishes of infancy, but Light Poems is a fresh, distinctive E.P. that will hopefully be followed up with further releases, live dates and perhaps a full length at some point. Anyone keeping these kinds of bright, vintage synth sounds alive are ones to watch in my book.

Light Poems can be downloaded or ordered on limited 12” vinyl from Astral Pattern’s Bandcamp page here.

The Citradels "Our Lord's Secret Service" Review

Melbourne's neo-psych / drone specialists are back with their second full length this year, and while this sort of workload would normally signpost a drop in quality, it sounds like the Citradels have learned a whole lot of studio tricks since January's "Psychotic Syndrone" (great name), and upped their songwriting game considerably too, resulting in probably the finest full length psychedelic rock album I've heard come out of Australia this year (and that includes Pond's "Hobo Rocket").
It all starts innocuously enough with "Technicolor Nightmare"s sonorous vocals and lightly drone soaked acoustic guitar strums, but by the end of the track the drone has conquered all, after battling it out with a menacing, massed chorus of disembodied voices - very much diabolus in musica.
Effortlessly combining the droning rock 'n' roll ethos of the Velvet Underground with a distinctly British shoegaze sensibility (I hear a whole lot of Ride here, which can only be a very, very good thing indeed), and just a dash of their own Antipodean heritage, "Our Lord's Secret Service" is a consistently adventurous, slowburn of an album that pays dividends for those willing to pay return visits, quickly graduating from "I quite like this", to "this is very good" to "hell , this is great" for this listener.
And to those who are finding that there's a little too much of this drone psych stuff coming out at the moment, rest assured this rests near the very top of the heap, and isn't scared to traverse other terrains too, with tracks like "Colours" entering the realm of slow motion pop-psych and showing a mastery of that form too.

Available as a Name Your Price download from their Bandcamp page here, with a vinyl release coming soon from Psyche Ward.


18 Sep 2013

Ty Segall "Sleeper" Review

There are obviously going to be very few of you who haven't encountered Ty Segall by now - over the last few years he's built up an impressive garage rock catalogue which pays knowing tribute to psychedelia, and shows an impressive mastery of pop hooks beneath the scuzzy veneer.
"Sleeper" is the album who's mainly acoustic setting drags those hooks kicking and screaming to the surface, and in doing show confirms an artist with the melodic dexterity of any of his influences.
Much has already been written about the impact that his step-father's death and resulting estrangement from his mother have had on this album, so I won't go into details here, save to mention that this is his most starkly confessional release to date, although details of his personal life are leaked in a mostly veiled manner.
Opener "Sleeper" is a tremendous mood setter for the album, a moody, murky acoustic ballad that sounds like a missing Lennon Kinfauns demo, and unusually for Segall (who's records are usually extremely schizophrenic), establishes a palette that isn't deviated from for the rest of the album.
Sparsely recorded acoustic guitar numbers that recall early Marc Bolan and Bowie, with string accompaniment that manages to entirely sidestep any hint of schmaltz or sentimentality, with sparing use of his devastating falsetto and some of the strongest songs of his career so far, "Sleeper" is the sort of album that one can imagine earning mainstream accolades - the fact that no concessions have had to be made on Segall's part to do so, is even more impressive.
And if you hear anything more lovely this year than the way Segall's falsetto mingles with the soaring strings of "She Don't Care"s chorus, then you have had an exceptionally lucky year, musically.
A stark, intimate album, and a serious contender for album of the year.

Available on CD or vinyl here.

Stream it here:

17 Sep 2013

The Kitchen Cynics "Ferndancers" Review

Technological advancement makes it easier on a day to day basis for musicians to self record and release their material online to an audience of anything from one to millions.
A number of these self released musicians remain obscure with good reason, but every now and then someone special comes along - you'd be pushing it a little to suggest that they should be a household name, but certainly deserving of the devoted following of a Roy Harper or a Tom Rapp.
One such gentleman is Alan Davidson, an Aberdeen art teacher who records as the Kitchen Cynics, and has quietly amassed a back catalogue of some 98 release on his own "Les Enfants Du Paradiddle" CD-R label - not a bad haul, and assuming that the random selection of seven titles that I've listened to recently are representative, remarkably consistent.
His latest, "Ferndancers" is a quiet wonder of hazy psychedelic folk, an unholy hybrid of Alasdair Roberts, Syd Barrett and Roy Harper cast through a spooky psychedelic filter.
Built upon a foundation of his intricate fingerstyle guitarwork, Davidson weaves clever tales of the everyday and the extraordinary, often making his original compositions sound like timeless traditionals, while his takes on traditional ballad take on a life of their own in a way few of his contemporaries can match.
Highlights are many on this particular album - "Where The Owls Were" is a pagan spookfest with a beguiling melody, while "Shipwrecked" could be one of the standout songs from the serious side of "H.M.S Donovan". There's not a track on here that couldn't be singled out for praise for numerous reasons, whether it be an inspired choice of accompaniment or a devastating couplet innocuously delivered in his gentle Scottish burr.
Better late than never then on the discovery front, this is wholeheartedly recommended and is that rarest of things - a psychedelic folk album that owes allegiance to both genres, without shortchanging either.

Order a CD-R now from Alan at kitchencynics@googlemail.com and you can thank me later.


Note : there appears to be more than one version of this album out as the tracklisting on discogs (here), is considerably different to the version I received which featured this tracklisting:

16 Sep 2013

White Hills "So You Are....So You'll Be" Review

Reviewed By Jason Simpson

Too often the problem with space rock is its starry-eyed fixation with the past - guitar geeks who've spaced out to too many early Floyd records, standing gangly and lanking, resplendent in denim, languidly tweaking their pedals.
This is not the case with San Francisco's White Hills. They are hellbent on moving forward, expanding the lexicon of cosmic grooves in the process. On "So You Are, So You'll Be", they blend furious, barnstorming guitars with vintage electronics in an alchemical marriage of retro-fetishism and Sci Fi futurism.
White Hills are a progressive band. Not progressive in a Camel kind of way, but as in interested in their own progression. White Hills are hurtling forward like a frozen meteorite; they've released at least one album a year since their inception in 2005, with some years seeing two or even three releases. They just can't be bothered to repeat themselves. This is reflected in the songwriting on "So You Are... So You'll Be", which is a real sonic journey, alternating between analog electronic soundscapes followed by monolithic guitar riffs and punky drumming. This flows more smoothly than you might imagine, and it gives the impression of dreaming of life on Earth, while floating in a cold dead void. This record is bound to be a favorite amongst 'heads', recommended for headphone consumption, and bound to soundtrack many a late-night vision quest.
"So You Are... So You'll Be" could be the record that introduces the rock purist to the weird and wonderful glowing world of knob-twiddling and oscillator-fracking retro electronics, as all the rock elements are sturdy and foolproof, guiding the listener through the weirdness. The guitars are simple and stupid effective (engineered by Martin Bisi, of Swans/Cop Shoot Cop fame, so heavier than you might expect), while the bass plods pleasingly. The real ace in the hole here is drummer Nick Name, who plays fluently in at least three styles here, giving the album a real cruising velocity. The 45 minutes are gone in an instant, vanishing like a dream, moments after waking. The force of the rockers are cut by the analog atmospherics, turning this from a straight up Space Western into a weird psychedelic psychodrama, like something Ti West would make.
White Hills are a very, very prolific band. They churn out tons of records (that all have their moments), and live on the road (I recommend the live experience, if you get the chance). This combination is like candy for the seasoned psychedelic warrior, with a rich and vast world of sound to drown in. But for the uninitiated, "So You Are... So You'll Be" is a solid and satisfying listen, without a dud song in the bunch. A fine addition to an impressive catalog.
Recommended For Fans Of: Hawkwind, Voivod, Can, Neu!, Kinski, Acid Mothers Temple.

Available on CD here, or vinyl here.

You can read more from Jason on his own Blog, Forestpunk here.

 

"The Dawn of Psychedelia" Review

El Records have been releasing some interesting compilations lately, with their early electronic compilation "Electronic Music For The Mind" scaring the pants off me, but it's close release date companion "The Dawn of Psychedelia" proved to be a much more illuminating listen.
Focusing on the artistic movement leading up to the birth of psychedelic rock as we know it, this is an excellent two disc set that spreads it's net wide, taking in Indian classical music (lengthy ragas from Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Ali Akbar Khan & Sharan Rani), a diverse mixture of groundbreaking jazz (Gabor Szabo, Yusef Lateef and Sun Ra among others), as well as finding room for pioneering electronic composer Edgard Varèse and Sanctus from the Missa Luba, famously used in Lindsay Anderson's film "If..."
Best of all though is Sounds Incorporated's 1962 take on  Les Baxter's exotica classic "Taboo" which must have freaked out pretty much everyone who heard it on it's original release date, with it's thunderous tribal toms and the sort of dexterous flutework that launched a thousand communal psychedelic bands later that decade.
Unfortunately almost every second track is spoken word and although they're short pieces that account for very little of the two discs actual playtime, they have a detrimental effect on the flow, and don't benefit from the repeat plays that the uniformly excellent music tracks here do. Having said that, the likes of Aldous Huxley, Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock do belong here as part of the wider picture, but it would have been nice to see these tracks tagged on the end of the second disc where we could discretely hit the stop button as required, rather than having to skip every second track.
So program your CD player, and what you've got here is a pretty peerless portrait of the psychedelic mindset leading up to the early sixties with plenty of eye openers, and some spectacularly inventive, exploratory music.
Highly recommended.

Available here as a 2 CD set at a bargain price.

15 Sep 2013

Cian Ciaran "Sewn Up" E.P Review

In which a melodic baroque pop balladeer once more becomes a Super Furious Animal.
Following up on last year's "Outside In" which was a surprising and very welcome Beach Boys influenced baroque pop gem with a lush romantic core, Super Furry Animal Cian Ciaran is back with an E.P that is the polar opposite of that album, and offers a return to a soundscape that will be more familiar to long time Furry's fans.
"Sewn Up" is a six track digital only E.P from Ample Play Records that precedes Ciaran's second album "They Are Nothing Without Us", and is full of melodic protest - a rousing call to arms against a whole bunch of stuff that we should be against, primarily the corruption and greed that makes the rich richer, and the poor poorer.
“It’s about shouting up, exercising your voice, being pissed off and urging people not to take any more shit. We live in a world where there’s a widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. The elite continue to exploit, politicians continue to misrepresent whilst the media continue to manipulate and bankers, well we all know what rhymes with bankers! It's time we face the consequences of our actions, we are all responsible.” says Ciaran, and for those concerned that this is going to be a shouty, you're all a bunch of bastards mess, fear not - Ciaran knows how to sugar coat a heavy blow with a sweetness that helps the medicine go down.
Album previews "Sewn Up" and "Sleepless Nights" represent vitriol and bittersweet resignation eloquently, while E.P exclusives "Free" and "Onkalo" have a melodic clout that suggests both that they were never intended as album offcuts, and that "They Are Nothing without Us" is going to be a pretty great record.

"Sewn Up" is available here now.

"They Are Nothing Without Us" will be released September 20. Pre-order here.

"Forever Changing" First Listen & News Update

You've all heard about "Forever Changing" - the tribute to Love's "Forever Changes" that I'm putting together for the second birthday of the Active Listener on November the 4th.
To reward your patience, here's the first track to be released - Earthling Society's spooked take on "And More Again".
Other artists that I can now confirm will be featuring on "Forever Changing" include:

Doug Tuttle (from MMOSS!)
The Smoking Trees
The Red Plastic Buddha
Crushed Purple
39th & The Nortons
James McKeown
The Kitchen Cynics
The Chemistry Set
The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies

This is only the tip of the iceberg with a whole lot more to come that I'm gonna keep under my hat for now. Some pretty amazing stuff here for starters, I'm sure you'll agree.

For now, enjoy Earthling Society's "And More Again" below, and I'll have more news and maybe another sample for you soon....

12 Sep 2013

The Active Listener Sampler 12 Available Now!


This month's sampler is ready!
Thanks to Matt Talbot of Matt Robot (www.mattrobot.com) for another eye catching piece of cover art.
This month's sampler features the following tracks:

1. Schnauser (U.K) - Dinner Party 04:03
2. Dark Ocean Colors (U.S) - When Both Our Worlds Collide 02:55
3. Soft Healer (U.S) - Desert Work 02:58
4. Electric Citizen (U.S) - Hawk Nightingale 05:58
5. Beautify Junkyards (Portugal) - Parallelograms 06:12
6. Devonian Gardens (Canada) - Swallow The Sun 03:19
7. Barry Brusseau (U.S) - Empty Head 03:39
8. The Kitchen Cynics (Scotland) - Where The Owls Were 05:05
9. James McKeown (U.K) - Silbury 04:32
10. Void Watcher (New Zealand) - Closed Eyes 05:26
11. The Flying Cape Experience (Finland) - Cry Baby 04:39
12. Prevrat (U.S) - With Our Eyes Closed 04:07
13. Joseph Bridge (Canada) - Opel 04:24
14. Beyond From Within (U.S)  - Forever Road / Lonely Penny 04:36
15. Montibus Communitas (Peru) - Hanan Pacha 07:38
16. Lil Daggers (U.S) - Ulcer On My Skull 04:54

Download here, and don't forget to follow the links on the Bandcamp page to hear more music from these fabulous artists!

Shadow Folk "Seagull Visions" Review

Now this was a very pleasant surprise indeed, which I stumbled across while having a quick browse through Bandcamp albums tagged "psychedelic pop".
Proof that the old adage "you don't get something for nothing" is not entirely true, I downloaded this particular something for exactly nothing, and something it surely is, something else even.
Hailing from Nova Scotia, this four-piece see themselves as a rock n roll band (at least that's how they label themselves on Facebook), and far be it from me to suggest that they have a distorted self image, but what I hear is prime psychedelic pop with a distinctly English tinge, specifically that of the era where bands were abandoning their beat and r&b roots in favour of full blown flower-power pop with unpredictable and often spectacularly exciting results.  This just happens to be one of my favorite eras, so this was a very welcome surprise to me.
Welcome surprise number two was that aside from the period trappings which they have down pat, these lads write incredibly tuneful songs with choruses that ensure that at least the first three tunes here are single-worthy endeavours and the sort of thing that would stand out impressively on a "Rubble" compilation.
"Kensington Hill" combines a propulsive "Revolver" riff with a hazy psychedelic chorus, while "In The End" distills the psych pop elements of Kaleidoscope or if you fancy a more contemporary comparison, Sky Picnic into an achingly winsome pop nugget. Add an effective Indian raga detour, and a rather lovely pastoral folk tune, and it becomes clear that not only are these guys pining for another time, but that they'd also have done rather well for themselves in that time.
Highly recommended if you hadn't worked it our for yourselves.
Available on cassette via the bandcamp link below, or as a "name your price" digital download. Perhaps you could alleviate some of my free-loading guilt by making a wee donation when you download? Thanks very much.

11 Sep 2013

Montibus Communitas "Hacia Aquellos Bosques de Inmensidad" Review

"Ah, they don't make them like this anymore." That was my initial thought when I first heard Montibus Communitas (rough translation - Mountain Community / Communities, from what I gather).
Fortunately in Peru they do still make them like this, and quite regularly too, this being one of many albums this spiritual collective have released recently - now available to a wider audience courtesy of this vinyl release from Chicago's esteemed tastemakers at Trouble In Mind Records.
The disclaimer "all songs were written while they were interpreted" is often a euphemism for "we all sound like we're playing different songs" or "I'm not sure what tuning he's in, so I'd better play louder than him", but to their credit, Montibus Comunitas have a sensitive, airy and subtle approach to improv that suggests if not exactly a communal mind, at least a shared devotional vision.
The results remind this listener of the more gentle communal psychedelia of early Amon Duul, although there's very little chance of anyone mistaking this music for a European export, with the predominantly acoustic instrumentation, particularly the violin and flute evoking vivid images of the surrounding habitat of their native valley outside Lima.
This isn't music that a written review can suitably communicate the purpose or effect of. Nor is it music that you can sit back and evaluate academically. Rather, it's meditative, visceral music that aims to communicate something of the natural wonder of it's surroundings by connecting directly on a spiritual level to the listener, and on that level it does exactly what it sets out to do.

Available on LP from Trouble in Mind Records here.

Available as a digital download via Bandcamp here.


10 Sep 2013

"Criminale : Vol 1 : Paura / Vol. 2 : Ossessione" Review

Whether you're merely a library music dabbler like myself, or a fully fledged acolyte, these two new collections from Penny Records make for essential listening. Culled from the vaults of Flipper Records, one of Italy's most prominent library music labels, and originally recorded as stock cues for suspenseful seventies TV shows, it's a credit to the inventive spirit of the composers (and the times), as well as the competitive nature of the industry of the time that this stuff stands up so well under the increasingly intense scrutiny of genre collectors.
And this isn't just music for anoraks either, featuring many of the biggest names in Italian library music (among them Daniela Casa, Fabio Frizzi, Amedeo Tommasi), these are impressively varied collections that tap into the post-psychedelic excess of the era in an often traumatic fashion that those who appreciate giallo scores of the same era will instantly fall in love with.
And while it's tempting to view TV as Cinema's unsophisticated cousin, the scope of the material featured here is much wider than even the best giallo scores of the era could offer, embracing musique concrete, psychedelia with plenty of fuzzy and/or twangy guitars, orchestral themes that could have graced Hammer's output, as well as plenty of prog rock influenced material (check out "Topazio", which sounds like Pompeii era Floyd taking on "Tubular Bells" or "Suspiria"s understudy).And it's all toe-curlingly sinister.
This is only the tip of the iceberg too - here's hoping Penny make enough from these handsomely packaged vinyl + CD packages to encourage a return visit to the vaults before too long.

Vol 1 : Paura available here (140 Gram LP + Bonus CD).

Vol 2 : Ossessione available here (140 Gram LP + Bonus CD).

Youtube stream of Volume 1 below, but please support Penny Records by buying a copy once you've heard how great it is!

9 Sep 2013

Haunted Leather "In Her Golden Room" Review

Following up on last year's excellent "Red Road" LP was always going to be hard, and Haunted Leather's new E.P "In Her Golden Room" doesn't stray too far from the path of what made that album so successful, instead consolidating those strengths into an even more concentrated dose of widescreen psychedelia.
I use the term widescreen in a literal sense here, as these five tracks are sprawling cinematic vistas that could soundtrack one of those gritty westerns that the Coen Brothers excel at. I'm picturing the sun beating down relentlessly on our hero, dehydrated to the point of near death and face down, clawing his way towards an oasis that may or may not be a feverish hallucination, vultures circling overhead ominously. And I don't have much of an imagination - I dread to think what this will do to the rest of you.
And if that doesn't appeal then know this; "Sophie's Song" has the hugest, most reverb laden guitar sounds that I've ever heard. Truly enormous.
So review-wise this is short and sweet, but your time would be much better spent laying in the sun, closing your eyes and turning this up really, really loud anyway - which I suggest you do now.

The 10" vinyl is limited to only 250 copies on clear yellow vinyl - order here. 

Or, if you're that way inclined, this can be had digitally here.

8 Sep 2013

One Man Bannister "Evolver" Review

A one-man labour of love from New Zealand musician Matthew Bannister (formerly of much loved Flying Nun outfits Sneaky Feelings, the Dribbling Darts of Love and more), in which he tackles his favorite Beatles album, this is admittedly not a new idea (Mojo Magazine's cover mounts have worked their way through most Fabs albums now), but where these cover mounts have more often than not failed, Bannister's homespun effort proves largely successful.
Bannister's reverence for the material is the key to this success, in most cases retaining the original melody but completely redefining the context that it's heard in. It's like meeting an old friend with a snazzy new haircut.
In this spirit Harrison's "Taxman" rides an acoustic pentatonic riff that sounds like an outtake from "Help" while "Eleanor Rigby" is given a jangly band treatment that retains the pathos of the original, while still finding room for a spiralling multi-tracked guitar solo. Lovely.
Occasionally the arrangements are more faithful with folky interpretations of "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Here, There & Everywhere" subtly enhancing elements that the originals hinted at, but the approach is most often one of reinvention.
Where this consistently beats it's more well known Mojo-endorsed brethren, is in Bannister's ability to think like a Beatle. The majority of tracks on here sound like alternative arrangements that have been pulled out of the Fabs archives - it's easy to imagine this arrangement of "Good Day Sunshine" being an early "Sgt Pepper" run-through, while "I Want To Tell You" could easily be an unearthed acoustic George demo (were it not for Bannister's distinctly antipodean accent).
The only real misfire is a bland white reggae take on "Yellow Submarine" which in all fairness is a pretty much uncoverable song, but this small misstep is soon forgotten and by the time the funky wah wah laden "Tomorrow Never Knows" fades you'll be reaching for the play button again.
As is often the case with covers albums, this may take a couple of spins to warm to, but after several spins I'm impressed with how at home I feel with a number of these arrangements already. That initial sense of "that's not how this is supposed to sound!" has now largely disappeared - a reflection on the quality of these songs for sure, but also on Bannister's intuitive skills as rearranger.
Naturally enough this will never replace "Revolver", but it makes a very interesting alternative for a fresh twist on an old favorite. And 13 out of 14 is a pretty great hit rate.

Stringent copyright laws on the Beatles back catalogue mean that this isn't available as a download, but you can buy a hard copy on CD here.

And check out Eleanor Rigby below - magic!

7 Sep 2013

Dreamies "Auralgraphic Entertainment" Review

McKay's "A New Light Shines" (reviewed back here)  isn't the only gem Guerssen have in store for us this month.
Originally released in 1974, "Auralgraphic Entertainment" is certainly an odd album, but doesn't sacrifice melody for the sake of weirdness.
The legend goes that state employee Bill Holt hung up his suit in the early seventies and taking inspiration from the Beatles (specifically Lennon's experimentation on "The White Album"), bought himself an acoustic guitar, a four track and a Moog synthesizer and disappeared into his basement for 18 months, during which time he learned how to play the instruments and wrote and recorded the two side-long pieces that make up his only album.
"Program Ten" and "Program Eleven" (as they're called, presumably in reference to Lennon's "Revolution #9) are notably un-Beatlesque (not surprising - you don't just teach yourself to write tunes of that quality overnight), but do a better job of combining the experimental and the accessible than John ever managed (assuming that the studio trickery of "Tomorrow Never Knows" was the work of McCartney and the Abbey Road studio engineers as is widely believed).
"Program Ten" covers a lot of ground in it's twenty six minutes, but behind the tape splicing (featuring JFK,  Muhammad Ali and more), sound effects and burbling moog synth, lies a very simple, melodic folk song, built upon descending acoustic chords that cumulatively gather an irresistible hypnotic appeal.
"Program Eleven" tweaks the pop smarts even harder with moments of pure pop delerium bursting out unexpectedly between the psychedelic weirdness.
Intentionally esoteric, it's hard to know who will benefit most from this album - on the one hand, it's much too melodic for the experimental market, but on the other hand, more straightforward listeners will probably struggle with an album that's built on two twenty-six minute songs.
However, listeners like myself, who inhabit that grey area between these two extremes can rest assured that "Auralgraphic Entertainment" will make your mind boggle in the most pleasurable and melodic ways imaginable (and often unimaginable.)
Bill Holt, where are you now?

Coming soon on vinyl from Guerssen.

Get a taste of the wackiness here :

6 Sep 2013

The Striped Bananas "Lady Sunshine" Review

The Striped Bananas set the controls for the heart of 1967 and don't waste anytime getting there on their sophomore release "Lady Sunshine", an affectionate homage to the Summer of Love with just the right hint of impending darkness to balance out the unmistakable whiff of patchouli scented hippiness.
This Baltimore based three-piece make no bones about the fact that they were born in the wrong era. With a beautiful stained glass / art nouveau sleeve art that screams San Francisco, and a tracklisting that sounds like a bunch of Donovan outtakes, it's no surprise that period flavor is adhered to stringently, but what is surprising is that the songs and musicianship more often than not tick the right boxes too - style AND substance.
While the sleeve may leave you expecting some sort of San Francisco jam band explosion, the reality is more along the lines of the less instrumentally intricate and more song-orientated sixties West Coast outfits like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, with a touch of "Butterfly" era Hollies creeping in on the more psych-pop inclined tracks, as well as the odd moment of garage fuzz that may not reach Seeds levels (few do), but are certainly reminiscent of early Electric Prunes.
You've already had a taste of "Dark Peace" on the Active Listener Sampler 11 - a melancholy acid folk ballad laced with sitar and unhinged backing vocals that give it a distinctly unsettling vibe, but there's plenty more to discover here, from the upbeat U.K psych-pop of "In the Garden" with it's unexpectedly moody minor key chorus, to the organ fuelled title track which rather unusually decides why settle for one chorus when you can have two? Or at least has a pre-chorus strong enough to qualify as a chorus in most people's books.
Not startlingly original, but that was never the intention of course. The Striped Bananas instead offer an affectionate tribute to their favorite era, and hit all of the right spots to leave this listener with a warm nostalgic glow.

Available as a free download from their Bandcamp page here:

5 Sep 2013

Bloody Knives "DEATH" Review

Reviewed By Dan Joy

You haven’t heard any music that sounds very much like that of Austin, Texas trio Bloody Knives. At least, I haven’t heard anything—with the exception to some extent of earlier material by the band—that sounds much like the six short tracks on the band’s vinyl-only EP Death, recently released on Saint Marie Records. How often do we honestly get to say that a band or recording is truly that distinctive?
This is intense, pummeling, unsettling music, sometimes featuring sharp, startling turns and contrasts. A formidable surge of synthetic industrial sound is underpinned and propelled by classic, riveting punk drumming, with smooth, clear, almost crystalline vocals hovering above. These are components that “shouldn’t” work together and one might almost say couldn’t possibly work together as well as they do here.
Find also in this admixture touches of spacerock, a shoegaze appreciation for complexity of texture (the sound is super-fuzzy), dazzling runs of what sound like vintage prog keyboard leads, washes of noise, and a few interludes of abstract ambient beauty. An Austin outlet described the band’s sound as “rock/stoner metal/psychedelic”[1] and the metal connection has come up elsewhere as well, remarkably so given that the band works without guitars. How ever one might identify the various elements, they come together into a unique, eerie, compelling whole that can’t adequately be communicated by summing up its parts.
Lyrics and thematic content are as darkly intense as the sonic experience and are consistent with the mercilessness of the band name and the stark album title. Every track is a vignette in which a few brief phrases are repeated in an incantatory manner to evoke the viewpoint of a different, historically actual serial killer. Song names include “Waiting For You to Die,” “Kill You All,” and “Bullet in Your Head.”
One could easily expect music with such thrash, drive, and horrific themes to be topped off with vocals that are shouted, screamed, or growled. Instead we get gently legato phrases sung with cool liquid clarity. Echoing the completely unempathetic nature of the truly sociopathic mind, the detached quality of the vocal delivers a coldness even more suitable to the themes and more frightening than predictably theatric expressions of murderous rage or psychotic agony ever could have been.
The drum sound underpinning the music is just as unexpected in context as the vocal that glides atop it. Highly separated, individually processed, often sampled percussion would be a much more typical choice for a sound so synthetic and industrial. Instead we have full-on punk directness recorded with an at least largely live approach. A fairly minimal set (I don’t hear any toms but I could be mistaken) comes across with an old-school, natural, acoustic quality, in which the balanced sound of the kit as a whole takes precedence over any magnification or treatment of its individual components. Again, it works. Drummer Jake McCown, who has been with Bloody Knives since its inception, deploys startling chops with relentless ferocity, lending the music a gripping percussive dimension.
I probably would have put money down that there’s no electric bass on this EP, that all the considerable action in the lower registers is synth bass for sure. A little investigation fully shattered that inference when I found out that a tremendous portion of the sonic palette employed somehow emerges at least to begin with from vocalist and founding member Preston Maddox’s bass.
So Death offers up a sound that is not only unexpected in itself but has also been arrived at and put together in unexpected ways. Those familiar with last year’s Saint Marie full-length Blood will hear that album’s sound stripped back a bit here, with some of the shoegaze and dreampop textural layers peeled away in a distillation that somehow scales up rather than decreases the overall “bang.”
Performance photos of the band’s present incarnation show McCown with a modest kit; Maddox with bass and a minimal-looking effects array; and noise specialist and visually compelling pixie-con-cojones Kimberly Calderon attending intently to a laptop and a few boxes. The question of how any equivalent of Death’s sound is pulled off on stage by such a lean-looking ensemble is almost staggering, but judging by buzz the band’s live impact is proportionate.[2]
Death is a short EP that yields a big experience. It packs its massive wallop in under twelve minutes. Three of the tracks are less than two minutes and the longest is 2:36. Neither the shortness of the individual tracks nor the brevity of the release as a whole registered with me for the first several listens. Before I actually had a look at the running times, it would have been hard to convince me that I’d listened to less than at least sixteen intense minutes of music.
My overall sense of this effort is one of uncompromised music resulting from musicians doing exactly what they want to do, how they want to do it, following their own drives and inclinations too intently to be bound by conventions, audience-pleasing, or even their own previous habits. A refreshing authenticity pervades the music and seems to characterize the musicians and their process and methods.
As much as I like this release, I honestly felt a little battered and agitated after listening to it several times in one particular afternoon. Such is the nature of this beast. Clearly Death will not be to everyone’s taste, sonically or thematically. It’s nonetheless executed with passion and commitment and often daunting skill, and it’s genuinely unusual. For those reasons alone it deserves your ears for at least the one listen that a quick visit to Bandcamp will afford you.

Links:


References:

2. http://www.noiseroom.com/2013/07/30/making-noise-bloody-knives/

The Boxing Lesson "Big Hits" Review

Austin band the Boxing Lesson named themselves well, as they've certainly learned a thing or two about how to take a body blow in the five years between their first album and the eventual release of it's follow up "Big Hits".
An unfortunate tale of woe which includes drummer arrests, car accidents, disappearing replacement drummers (and managers), financial backers going AWOL after the fact, and finally studio engineers making off with the tapes, which prompted this effective e-mail from mild-mannered Boxing Lesson frontman Paul Waclawsky: "Good morning asshole. This has gone too far. You trashed $1,000s of my property. There will be repercussions. Somehow, someway, I will have sweet revenge. I'm fucking crazy. You don't even know the extent." (Read the full story here.)
The "Big Hits" tapes swiftly made their way back into Waclawsky's hands, and one listen makes it pretty clear why the band fought so hard to get this out there, while lesser bands would have admitted defeat.
Alternating between short, sharp rockers and longer tunes that show a distinct cosmic leaning this lot show a mastery of both forms, with a distinctive, modern alternative rock sound that acknowledges the influence of psychedelia and kosmische without sounding remotely like a throwback.
Opener "Endless Possibilities" is an effective, and unusual choice of opener - the album's slowest and longest song (at almost nine minutes) with attention grabbing Berlin Bowie style sax augmentation, it's an enjoyable prelude to an album that fully takes off with the riffy, upbeat "Eastside Possibilities" and doesn't rest for a minute from there on in, with Waclawsky's barely restrained guitar wrangling impressing almost as much as the solid tunesmithery, particularly on songs like "Health is the New Drug".
An impressive triumph against adversity, and a fine piece of alternative space rock in it's own right.

Order the CD or the download here.

The Resonars "The Greatest Songs of The Resonars" Review

In some ways it's a little distressing that we live in a world where this sort of collection is necessary. In an ideal world an "introduction" to the Resonars would be as redundant as a hits collections by the Beatles or the Byrds - a fantastic distillation of awesomeness certainly, but not nearly enough of a good thing that deserves to be sampled in a much larger context (i.e the entire, filler-free back catalogue).
We don't live in that world yet though, so this collection, chronicling all of the very best bits of the Resonars back catalogue (barring their most recent release "Crummy Desert Sound", reviewed here) has it's role to play and it's hard to imagine anyone hearing this and not wanting to investigate further.
If the Resonars are new to you, you have great things to discover, and this collection contains more than it's fair share of them.
For the last sixteen years or so, the Resonars have been the outlet for Matt Rendon's songs, which distill the glory-days of mid to late sixties rock n roll into concise melodic nuggets which the terms psychedelic, garage, pop and punk all apply equally to. If you want a ballpark, think the Who circa 1967, backing 1966 Hollies, often at breakneck speed - even more impressive when you realize that the comradely, live-in-studio sounding band interplay you're listening to is actually all the work of Rendon playing everything himself. Tricky bugger.
In some ways this collection also represents the end of chapter one for the Resonars, with a live version of the band naturally falling together earlier this year for a bunch of shows which have been quite exceptional by all accounts. It'll be exciting to hear what happens when they're crammed in a studio together, but in the meantime let's appreciate the legacy Matt has built up by himself - glorious, ornate harmonies, flawless choruses, chiming, vintage guitar sounds with feet equally in the folk-rock and vintage garage camps - there's little to fault here, and anyone who owns a copy of "A Quick One" or "Nuggets" owes it to themselves to investigate this immediately. You will not be disappointed.

Vinyl released soon by Trouble in Mind - check here to order.

4 Sep 2013

The Flying Cape Experience "Let's Sing More About The Eyes" Review

Finnish husband and wife duo Jo and Akira make glacially beautiful neo-psychedelia (psychedelic therapy in their words) as The Flying Cape Experience, which is a suitably evocative moniker for the music they make.
Shoegaze, as you've probably gathered by now, is having something of a revival, but where most revivalists tend to be focusing on the noisy, reverb-laden guitar end of the spectrum which lends itself so well to garagey psychedelia, these two have a thing for the more ethereal practitioners of the genre with a dash of dream-pop - think the Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, This Mortal Coil and even Sigur Ros and you'll have an idea of the types of epic soundscapes that we're talking about here.
"Unfold" is an ambitious opener, to all intents and purposes throwing the listener in the deep end to see if they can swim, with an eleven minute opus that starts in near ambient territory before dreamy vocals start to wind their way around the arrangement. Psychedelic therapy indeed - quite lovely, but a bit of a momentum killer to start with.
Things take flight from here though with "Cry Baby" boasting a moody proto-Portishead ambience with a stunning vocal from Jo, while "I Love You" builds up to the sort of crashing crescendos that we're more used to hearing emanate from a certain Icelandic musical export.
Peaks and troughs of this sort continue to chart an album that feels like a journey, showing remarkable emotional depth as well as an  impressively versatile musical palette that also embraces crunchy guitars and synthesized beats.

Available as a free download from The Flying Cape Experience's Bandcamp page here:

Thomas McConnell "Worried About Thomas McConnell" Review

Young Liverpool muso Thomas McConnell became a bit of an internet sensation when he uploaded his spot-on solo piano recording of Paul McCartney's new tune "New" within 24 hours of Macca's version becoming public.
What the ensuing news stories have largely glossed over is that as good an interpreter as he undoubtedly is, he's an equally gifted songwriter in his own right. Admittedly he wears his influences on his sleeve and this may rile those who demand complete originality (which there's little left of these days anyway) but I for one am far more interested in quality than originality, and McConnell's tunes are invariably blessed with more than their fair share of sparkle, wit and more than anything else, charm.
His recent E.P "Worried About Thomas McConnell" is a fine example of this.
Opening with the raucous Ringo style rockabilly of "Blame it on Rebecca", and the more subdued piano/keyboard ballad "John" showcases his sense of fun and reverence in equal measure, but it's on the E.P's final two tracks that he really hits the ball out of the park.
"Penelope, Definitely" is a sparkling power-pop number, with a killer chorus and arrangement, Wings with just a dash of Big Star for good measure, while "Just a Little Bit, Jill" is somehow even better, taking full ownership of it's "Abbey Road" (or at least "Band on the Run") aspirations with a marvelous McCartneyesque piano bounce, immaculate harmony vocals, and a chorus with more hooks in it than most would deem decent.

Links:

"Worried About Thomas McConnell" CD E.P available here.

Listen to Thomas's version of Paul McCartney's "New" here.

I reviewed Thomas's earlier E.P "Songs To Make Your Boots Sizzle" here last year.

And interviewed him here.


3 Sep 2013

New Jacco Gardner / The People's Temple / Morgan Delt 7" Reviews


Three excellent single releases from Trouble in Mind this month:

Jacco Gardner "The End of August" / "Notus"
Baroque psychedelic pop poster boy seems to have been permanently on tour since releasing his debut full length in January, but somehow he's managed to find time to sneak into the studio and record these two sides.
"The End of August" is a pastoral baroque pop gem with mellotron and general loveliness everywhere, the musical equivalent of lying in a sunny wheatfield with a gentle summer breeze on your face, only without the allergies.
B-side "Notus" on the otherhand is an elaborate instrumental number which initially sounds like a throwaway but weasels it's way into your psyche after a couple of listens.

The People's Temple "Brand New Thing" / "Twice Burned"
Now this was a bit of a surprise - I've enjoyed the People's Temple's two albums, but they've left behind their garagey freakbeat inclinations for these two sides and the results are almost unrecognisable.
"Brand New Thing" has a big, classic Flying Nun jangle to it, dreamy backing vocals and an anthemic chorus that sounds like you've spent your whole life with it after the first listen.
"Twice Burned" maintains the garagey eighties vibe, albeit in a moody, minor key style backed by a more familiar trebly jangle that consolidates what came before with what they're doing now.
A very successful experiment.

Morgan Delt "Barbarian Kings" / "Black Tuna Gang"
Californian native Morgan Delt has come a long way in the short few months since I reviewed his debut E.P back here, with "Barbarian Kings" being lauded as psychedelic tune of the year by a number of people who talk of such things. Trouble in Mind have snapped him up for an LP release due early next year, and this 7" release to keep us going in the meantime.
We've established that "Barbarian Kings" is a marvel - achingly melodic with layers of weirdness, but freshly minted b-side "Black Tuna Gang" doesn't drag it's heels either, upping the tempo considerably and boding extremely well for that new L.P.

2 Sep 2013

The Spyrals "Out of Sight" Review

The Spyrals' self titled debut earned a great deal of spins here at Active Listener HQ, so it was with great anticipation that I awaited the follow up.
While the debut, recorded over a reasonably long period of time fostered an atmosphere that encouraged spacious, lengthy arrangements, "Out of Sight" is a different kettle of fish with a much tighter approach, and a heightened degree of pop sensibility. It still rocks fortunately, it's just more economical in how it goes about it.
After the debut was released I read an interview or two where frontman Jeff Lewis expressed his surprise at how readily they'd been accepted as psychedelic rockers when they viewed themselves as more of a garage / rock n roll band. "Out of Sight" seems to be an extension of that thinking to a certain extent, with the psychedelic touches that cropped up in the more exploratory moments of those longer tracks largely excised here, although the feedback laden passages in numbers like "Lying" still have distinctly mind altering properties.
"Out of Sight" does a brave thing by trimming these trendy psych elements back rather than riding a bandwagon that it seems they weren't 100% comfortable with being placed on in the first place.
Playing instead to the band's strengths, "Out of Sight" succeeds with it's concise songs full of memorable choruses and it's furious vintage garage jangle, blanketed in cavernous reverb that suggests cathedrals or at the very least grain silos.
"Out of Sight" shows considerable growth, and even the name seems to imply a desire on the band's part to reach beyond any perceived limitations and open themselves up to new opportunities.
Keep an eye on this lot.

Available on vinyl or as a download here :