31 Oct 2014

E.P Review: The Ilk "All Hallows Eve"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From out of the wooded darkness this Halloween comes the new download EP by The Ilk, 'All Hallows' Eve', a follow up of sorts to their magnum opus 'The New Dark Age' (reviewed elsewhere on these pages and nothing short of a masterpiece of pastoral, psych prog electronica). Once again this most mysterious of acts (who knows who or how many are behind their sinister whimsy) have conjured something utterly unique and truly, darkly spellbinding for this, the most haunted time of the year.

The EP opens in an eclectic and pleasingly eccentric vein similar to 'The New Dark Age' with 'At The Forest Break', a shuffling beat exploding into a call and response between a John Barry-esque woodwind and piano section and some searing fuzz psyche guitar. Swathes of mellotron add an orchestral melancholy dread; this music is bathed in a particularly English sense of the gothic, the ghosts of Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers and Gabriel's Genesis combining to create a spectral, lost vision of Albion. Entirely instrumental, the EP never once loses momentum or the listener's interest; instead it switches stylistically within the same song, often throwing some serious sidesteps and thrillingly unpredicted twists and turns. This is especially so in 'Variation On A Theme by Vernon Elliott' where chiming glass drones merge into a stately, baroque harpsichord; this then reverberates into some dreamily psychedelic Rick Wright organ until the song finally ends on some freakout wah-wah guitar. (Vernon Elliot, of course, is the man responsible for the classic soundtracks for Oliver Postgate's Ivor The Engine, The Clangers and The Pogles). Final track 'Is The Nightmare Black Or Are The Windows Painted?' sees its mellotron choir merge into an incredible lead guitar break and a cacophony of percussion in a breathtaking sequence of musical movements before muted, echoed voices hover ghost like over the squelch and whirr of vintage synths. Next, a female choir sing in a constant loop over a truly sinister keyboard hum and church organ, the sound of wood creaking and clocks ticking overhead. It is a shiver down the spine moment and would not be out of place soundtracking the gothic Victoriana of movies such as Morgiana or Valerie And Her Week of Wonders. Brutal waves of distorted guitar then emerge from the cathedral of sound to bring the track to an appropriately dramatic close. It must be noted however that, whilst these tracks progress through various styles and cadences, they remain absolutely melodic and often deeply emotive. This is the genius of The Ilk.

Indeed, The Ilk are fast establishing themselves as one of the UK's foremost yet most hidden purveyors of modern dark, progressive English folk. They have a hauntological bent but are additionally very much in the lineage of English prog acts such as Camel, Caravan and Mike Oldfield as well as outsider artists like Coil, The Legendary Pink Dots and some of Julian Cope's wilder escapades. Most of all though, they are The Ilk and at the moment there is no-one else like them. Light a lantern, lock the door and stay out of the shadows. Spend All Hallows' Eve with The Ilk.

Album Review: The Unseen "Mary" OST

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The shadowy, enigmatic and elusive (nay, almost invisible) duo The Unseen are best known as the creators of the notorious soundtrack for "The GoatMan", a legendary lost piece of obscure film music from an equally little seen but much remembered horror movie. Now, at this most sinister and haunted time of the year (co-incidence?), they have had another body of work exhumed for the delectation and dissection of a modern audience. The two composers Simon Magus and Harold Legg, having seen their sinister yet splendid electronic scores met with only cult audiences during their heyday, are having something of a resurgence, a reanimation of their muse with the soundtrack to "Mary". The film in question is by all accounts an (in) famous celluloid shocker in which the protagonist, a terrifyingly murderous child, rampages through friends and the general public alike. You may remember seeing this perhaps late at night during the rare few showings in the early hours on television during the 80s. For some, the key images from the film live on in their nightmares. And now the soundtrack to those night terrors is available to purchase on, appropriately enough, Halloween.

The album opens with the Villa 9 Studios logo theme, Villa 9 being part of the production company that is sourcing and reissuing these lost, fabled soundtracks (do visit their Facebook or Soundcloud page for other dark and demented wonders). Then, a vintage ambulance wails, leading into the sounds of swinging London; cue some faded jazz and lone footsteps...and a little girl's wordless lullaby. Except this is the creepiest, most unsettling lullaby you will ever hear. And, judging by the screams that follow, it was the last that some low key character in the film herself heard. "Mary's Opening Title Theme" is a masterful carnival waltz of twisted electronica, cascading John Carpenter piano (think "The Fog") and minor key synth washes that layer tension upon tension. It is at once both beautiful and deeply eerie; a haunted theme tune deeply reminiscent of a darker, seedier London, the sixties dream turned 70s horror show. "London 5am" is equally lovely and strange, synthetic chimes and music box notes creating a chilling calm before the inevitable storm. "Look Up" by turn is a hallucinatory, flanged nightmare; the tape runs slow before electronic percussion and wild, screaming analogue howls and bleeps pierce the darkness. Likewise th dark jazz of "Bad Soho" seems to slow and reverberate before the deranged and echoing laughter of some future victim hangs motionless in the air; a very bad trip indeed. "Detective Foster's Midnight Drive" is a classic piece of vintage keyboard harmony, deeply emotive and stirring in its building of pace and pressure, arpeggios whirling around the symphony of fear.

It is worth noting just how accomplished The Unseen were. The films might have been B-Movies and the budget miniscule but somehow this pair managed to create sounds the likes of today’s Ghost Box luminaries such as Belbury Poly would give their left oscillator for. The melodies are massive; the delicate touches (hints of harpsichord, carefully positioned single piano notes) are perfectly pitched and chosen. An ominous creaking leads into that lullaby again (voiced by the mysterious and marvelously named Frida Helsing), this time accompanied by church organ and a deranged tango of chimes and bells. This is music from the darkest of visions, the very pits of 70s styled hell (draped perhaps in shades of browns and orange and even, terrifyingly…mustard yellow). And yet once again the music is curiously beautiful in its cold, haunting grace. I really don't want to know what is served at "Mary’s Tea Party" but the accompaniment is truly spellbinding, whilst "Shadows in the Fog" shimmers with the suggestions of figures; a hazy analogue nocturne. Next, the seemingly innocent "A Childhood Melody" enters, a gentle, music box melody with just the right hint of dread. "Her Father's Voice", with its spoken 'I'm so glad you wore that dress Mary… it's my favourite dress Mary' is shiver inducing, the pastoral electronics behind the vocals creating a deceptively domestic scene. This gentle family portrait cannot last however and thundering electronics and spectral wind heralds a veritable synth orchestra and syncopated choir; the cacophony summoning a deeply disturbing image of, of all things, a deranged, dribbling homicidal Jean Michael Jarre. Predating such revered electronic wizards as John Foxx (there is something very reminiscent here of his opus "Metamatic" which leaves this listener wondering if Foxx had plundered the works and sounds of The Unseen for his own dystopian visions) and the more recent hauntological works of Broadcast and The Advisory Circle, this little heard music is truly ground breaking. "Mary's Splintered Mind" is a fractured harmony of disembodied voices, backwards tapes and lunatic muttering before some Coil style xylophone adds its ghostly melody on top. Coil's "Hellraiser Themes" is another reference point; sombre, glacial keyboards leading to dynamic, flourishes and twisted anthemic orchestral moments. The psychedelic synth sweeps and creeping piano notes of "Dead Alley" create more tension than is almost bearable - listen to this with the lights off or alone at your own risk - before "Slaughter On Ladbroke Grove"s stabbing mellotrons scream piercingly, psychopathically into the night air. These then fade to melancholy piano before the keyboard stabs return (causing this listener to jolt and look behind them...no-one there...at least I think there is no-one..). "Daddy's Home' is a disturbed spoken tape recording alluding to some crazed family goings on that begs the question 'who is Mary’, or perhaps even 'what is Mary?' "The Empty Tube Station" is something John Carpenter himself would have retired happy had he written, descending glistening notes and echoing electronic shudders that raise every hair on your arms. "Mary Finally Revealed" begins with the sound of water dripping, backwards creaks and drones leading into a reprise of her title theme once more but this time more insanely driven, notes spilling over, crazed percussion leading us into the final peaks of horror until this too fades. To end, as the credits roll, "Mary’s Song" replays the ghostly lullaby but this time on stately harpsichord. It is as breathtaking moment, there is a terrifying grandeur to this soundtrack that speaks of the ambition and sheer creativity of The Unseen. The films may be low budget shockers and the most cult of cult classics, but The Unseen were visionaries way beyond their means. It is not known what else the duo recorded; Magus is uncontactable and Legg himself (an Alan Moore lookalike) disappeared in 1976 never to be seen again although he is widely rumoured to still be an active member of the infamous Penumbra Cult. And so "Mary" ends. We’re left spooked, moved, doubting what we have just heard - how can music this powerful and emotive have lain cobwebbed and dusty in some godforsaken vault for nigh on 30 years before being dragged out into the light of day to chill and thrill once more? Are there other similar classic works by The Unseen lying, well...unseen? We can only hope that before long someone will venture down into the darkness of those musical vaults once more, brave the decades of dust and spiders webs caressing their cheeks (is that was that was? It's hard to see in this darkness…) and emerge, panting and with unexplained scratches and marks on their body, with yet another lost soundtrack of this calibre.

"Mary" is available now as a strictly limited edition on the ever splendid Reverb Worship label, each with a handmade blood red sleeve featuring the protagonist herself. Shut the curtains, ignore the sound of breathing behind you and light a solitary candle. Then say hello to Mary.

30 Oct 2014

Album Review: The Green Pajamas "Happy Halloween"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Green Monkey Records' excavation of the Green Pajamas' back catalogue has been an impressive undertaking which I'm sad to see the end of, but they go out with a bang here!

The original "Happy Halloween"s eight tracks were recorded and released in October 1984, recorded directly onto cassette, only released on cassette, and distributed amongst friends, so this is its first public release, bolstered by 14 bonus tracks from around the same time, many of which are better than the original "Happy Halloween" tracks.

So, what to make of "Happy Halloween"? It's predictably lo-fi of course, as is only to be expected for music sourced from tapes, but considering its vintage it sounds pretty great, and remember, these are the guys who had just released "Summer of Lust" - they knew how to get a good sound quickly and cheaply. And "Summer of Lust" is a good touchstone for what to expect here, with classic pop songcraft still very much a priority, with winsome melodies, huge choruses, and engaging harmonies.

There's also an effort to widen the scope of their arrangements, with Jeff Kelly acquiring a cheap cello that makes it way onto many of the tracks here, played surprisingly adeptly as Jeff had never played a bowed instrument before. "Stephanie Barber" sounds like Macca and George Martin have been at it, and is a startling example of how quickly Jeff adapted and evolved, given any opportunity.
Elsewhere a new Casiotone keyboard makes its presence felt in a mostly successful fashion, with only a confusing early version of "Murder of Crows" failing to gel. Some nice baroque, Greensleevesy moments too.

And there are some corker songs here, a few of which were later revisited and given proper release, but most of which weren't. "I've Got a Crush On You" is one of the best, sounding effortlessly off the cuff, but insidiously memorable in its graceful melancholy. And "This Winter's Night" is a great, spontaneous "Hey Jude" of an anthem with an extremely Beatlesque repeated refrain of "Why can't this Christmas go on forever?" that goes on (almost) forever, but not quite long enough.

Green Pajamas fans need this right now, and for those who are yet to discover this long running, and consistently great institution, now's the time and while this may not be the best starting point (perhaps "The Complete Book Of Hours"?), it's certainly got the requisite hooks to snag a few newbies.

You can stream the whole album below, courtesy of Green Monkey Records.

"Happy Halloween" is available here.

Album Review: "Songs From The Black Meadow"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The breadth of artists who have opted to contribute to this new collection of songs inspired by Chris Lambert's book of short stories "Tales from the Black Meadow" is a testament to the universal appeal that Lambert's stories have managed to draw from what one might more reasonably expect to be a fairly niche product.

For those unfamiliar with the Black Meadow saga (as I was when I originally reviewed the Soulless Party's soundtrack to the radio play), the tales centre around a lost village on the North York Moors which periodically reappears from a bank of mist, when the demon whose curse keeps it hidden has an attention lapse. Or something along those lines.

So, as I was saying, the contributors to "Songs From The Black Meadow" are a varied bunch, ranging from choral (Mervyn Williams & the Theale Green School Senior Choir) to hip-hop (Eastgreen), but the vast majority fall under the eerie folk or hauntology banner, and the opportunity to hear both of these genres cross pollinating in such a natural fashion really does drive home the fact that a folk form is a folk form, whether it's filtered through guitar and vocal, or an old vintage synthesizer.

Several Active Listener favourites are present and acquit themselves admirably. The Hare & The Moon's "Black Meadow Song" is an ominous opener, with Alison O'Donnell's layers of vocals creating a spooky disquiet before the Witchfinder General presents himself during the bridge. Both Emily Jones and the Rowan Amber Mill (of Book of the Lost semi-fame) are present too, with both pushing the proverbial envelope; Jones blending murky trad-folk with something that appear to be a lost backing track from the Cure's "Pornography", while the Rowan Amber Mill see no good reason why Paddy Kingsland and Maddy Prior shouldn't be evoked on the same song. Marvelous.

Scattered amongst the folky offerings there's also a selection of ambient, electronic / field recordings by the likes of the Implicit Order and Septimus Keen, which help no end in ensuring that the atmosphere remains tense. Perhaps the best of the electronic material comes from Keith Seatman, who's "Playing Hop The Scotch" seems to have been dragged from the darkest depths of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, striking an immaculate balance between the electronic and the organic.

But ultimately it's the way in which these strands coexist to create an album quite unlike anything else in it's entirety, that impresses. Lambert's source material it seems, is so strong that even filtered through the music of these mostly unconnected artists it retains his voice.

Find out more about "Tales From The Black Meadow" here.

The "Songs From The Black Meadow" CD is available here.

29 Oct 2014

7" Reviews: You Are The Cosmos Releases - Batch #1

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

In a supremely confident move, new Spanish label "You Are The Cosmos" have introduced themselves to the world by releasing eight 7" E.Ps without testing the water, and from the four which arrived in the post the other day, that confidence is very much justified.

Technically "You Are The Cosmos" is a reissue label, but they're releasing this material in a very different form than it was ever originally released. They're lovely, individually numbered pressings, with textured foldout sleeves full of photos, lyrics and band info. In short, they're wonderful artifacts that play magnificently too.

And the gentleman behind this label has absolutely impeccable taste. As their website says "We love GREAT SONGS of psychedelic, pop, folk, powerpop, baroque-pop music. We pay special attention on the quality of our releases, from the artwork to the music. We choose our favourite songs, and we don't mind that most of them (not all) are taken from their albums. If you are looking rarities/outtakes... this is not the best place...but if you want great songs, then this is your place!"

Baroque World #1
We certainly can't argue with this four track E.P selection of the best new psychedelic / baroque pop artists, especially as it contains our very own Violet Swells, who are naturally quite fabulous. Add to that our favourite track from New Electric Ride's most recent release (the extremely Beatlesque "A Submarine Song"), the title track from the Galileo 7's most recent release (again, our favourite track from that album), and Balduin's ridiculously fun "Mirror, Mirror" and you've got a pretty much flawless release with extremely big shoes to fill when Baroque World #2 is put together.

Blue Ash "She's So Nice" "Halloween Girl" "With You On My Mind" "Silver Horses"
Next up is a four track E.P of rare Blue Ash material recorded in 1972/1973. While the YATC website does say not to expect too much in the way of rarities on their releases, these tracks are not from the Ohio power-poppers most well known album - their 1973 debut, and have previously only seen release on a hard to find 2004 rarities CD release. An excellent job has been done of cherrypicking the best moments from this comp to put this together, with "She's So Nice" and "Halloween Girl" in particular being great examples of the Blue Ash sound. The epic, string laden "Silver Horses" may trump them both though, and shows a depth not necessarily expected from the band. Excellent.

Bart Davenport "The Saviours" "Beg, Steal, Borrow"
I'll admit that Bart was unknown to me before this arrived, but he's had a long career stretching back to nineties stints in the Kinetics and the Loved Ones, and what appears to be a very critically successful solo career since. These two tracks come from his earliest solo works, and both suggest diversity and excellence. "The Saviours" has a great "Forever Changes" meets Belle & Sebastian vibe thanks to its combination of propulsive acoustic guitars and trumpet, while "Beg, Steal, Borrow" has some particularly ear-grabbing, quirky guitar wrangling which is extremely appealing.

The Parson Red Heads "Another Chance" "Crying Days Are Over" "Banking On The Sun"
This was the real surprise of this first batch - I'd seen their name around before, but never really paid much attention until now. This Portland based band have a sound halfway between Big Star and the Jayhawks (but much more successful than the Jayhawks when they try to be Big Star), with frontman Evan Way writing some particularly effecting, emotive power-pop ballads, with a rural tinge. They're uniformly strong, but "Banking On The Sun" is particularly unbeatable, sounding like Gene Clark walked in on Big Star's "#1 Record" sessions. Absolutely magnificent, and a contender for song of the year for me, even if it isn't technically new. You absolutely need this.

And that's it for the first four releases. The next four took an extra couple of weeks to get out of the pressing plant, but I'm told they're on their way so you'll hear about them soon.

In the meantime these can be ordered here, and you can check out tracks from all of these releases on You Are The Cosmos' Youtube channel here.

28 Oct 2014

Album Review: Plastic Crimewave Syndicate "The Golden Cage"

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

If you pair the words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘Chicago’ to most serious psychedelic music fans, it won’t be Secret Colours or The Luck of Eden Hall that they think of. It will be Plastic Crimewave Sound. Formed in 1995, Steven Krakow’s dark sonic vision was a lo-fi maelstrom of distortion, thundering grooves and unintelligible vocals, alternately howling and menacing along in a reverb and delay-soaked freak out. Although not the kind of band that finds easy acceptance with the keepers of airplay, their distinctive space punk sound spawned a host of imitators and a legion of fans.

Over the years, the original incarnation morphed, shifted and finally disbanded in 2012. Fortunately Krakow (who goes by the name Plastic Crimewave) has kept the mission alive and moving forward, now as the newly christened and re-energized Plastic Crimewave Syndicate.

PCS features Krakow on guitar and vocals and boasts one of Chicago’s best rhythm sections, Anjru Kettering on bass and Karissa Talanian on drums and includes the lovely Dawn Aquarius on keyboards. On their debut release "The Golden Cage" (recorded by Ray Donato and YT Robinson of Chicago’s excellent Dark Fog), the band is joined by guests Bobbie and Jon Seagroatt (Comus) on vocal and sax, Kathleen Baird on flute and Whitney Johnson (Verma) on viola.

"The Golden Cage" hits the clouds running with "Reign Drive", a thumping little tribal piece that serves as a nice calling card for the new rhythm section. I’ve seen PCS open performances with this one and it always gets things moving. Fans of Wooden Shjips or Moon Duo will appreciate the pulsing groove established here.

"Floating Tomb" puts me in mind of a darker Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, but Crimewave isn’t afraid to stretch a song out to its logical conclusion – six plus minutes later. The cosmic dirge of "Nagshead" follows with a dark air that carries the listener through landscapes of illusion and madness.

"Unblinking Orb" continues the trip, riding maybe the records most infectious groove. At some point, I became aware of some really nice panning guitar, seemingly mixed to match my head that was involuntarily nodding up and down. It was at this point in the record that I realized this was music was inside my head.

Perfect timing for the closer and title track "Golden Cage" to float into the room, like the true message that comes late in the experience. A steady droning guitar creates a home for the siren song female voices. The drums roll like distant thunder and viola opens the sky for a brief moment. The vocals are delivered as a spoken word piece and the fragments that break through the music offer a condemnation of the glittery cage in which modern man resides. This could be what the Velvets were aiming for with "European Sun", but this is a better-realized piece. In my opinion, "Golden Cage" is one of the best things the band (in any of its incarnations) has ever done. Eleven plus minutes feels hardly long enough.

Fans of Hawkwind, Can or any of the groups name-dropped above will find this latest Plastic Crimewave a welcome addition to their stoner rock collection. You can pick up "The Golden Cage" on cassette only for now (Priority Male) but expect to see this fine debut on vinyl (Prophase) in early 2015.

You can also stream several tracks below, which can also be purchased digitally.

27 Oct 2014

The Active Listener Sampler #25 - Out Now!

This month's sampler has just been published and is available below!

Welcome back to sleeve artist Martin Butler (http://www.martinrossbutler.com/) who we haven't seen in a while, and who has surpassed all his previous work with this month's lovely sleeve.

As always, this month's sampler is a free / name your price download. Donations are welcome (and helpful), but by no means expected. 

This month we feature the following:

1. Halasan Bazar - Tin Foiled 03:21
2. Des Roses - Nothing Goes Ahead 05:01
3. The Foreign Films - Teardrop Town 03:53
4. The Dowling Poole - Getting a Licence 03:44
5. Prince Ruperts Drops - Dangerous Death Ray 04:06
6. The Greek Theatre - Even You Will Find A Home My Son 03:24
7. The Young Sinclairs - That's All Right 03:37
8. Soft Hearted Scientists - Away 02:45
9. Lutine - Synnove 02:58
10. Listening Center - Spring's Echo 03:21
11. Maston - Engrams 03:03
12. Delia Haunt - Hitomi 02:35
13. The Chemistry Set - Come Kiss Me Vibrate And Smile 03:04
14. Sky Children - Sunny Creature 04:31

Download or stream right here:

Album Review: Mark Fry "South Wind, Clear Sky"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Mark Fry will forever be known as the genius troubadour who created the 1972 classic "Dreaming With Alice" at the tender age of 19, an album which caused few ripples at the time of release but was destined to become the holy grail for collectors and aficionados of that most curious, cryptic and colourful of genres; psychedelic or acid folk. "Dreaming With Alice" has since been reissued for a new generation to lose themselves in its dreamy, oft creepy and downright beautiful collection of wonders. It has lost none of its resonance over the years and neither, it transpires, has Mark himself. A second album "Shooting the Moon" emerged in 2008 and was followed by a third, "I Lived in Trees", recorded with backing from The A Lords (otherwise known as United Bible Studies member Michael Tanner and Nick Palmer of Directorsound). And now emerges "South Wind, Clear Sky", an album of such depth and easy beauty that those who take a trip down this particular rabbit hole will possibly not want to return. This is easily one of the most quietly brilliant albums this listener has heard in a long time; it would be a musical crime for it to not receive the rich appreciation it deserves. Quite simply, Mark has created another classic.

Opener "Aeroplanes" is a gentle but insistent cello driven eulogy to the act of escaping. Mark's vocals are like running water over the chamber folk of cello, strings and acoustic guitar. For lovers of the work of Duncan Browne, Keith Christmas and contemporary acts such as The Driftwood Manor and Mark Eitzel this is essential listening. I'm tempted to add Nick Drake to this description, not because Mark sounds like Nick Drake; he doesn’t. Yet there is the same late Sunday afternoon, autumnal feel to his music; the same sense of gentle, pastoral melancholy. "Along The Way" is a hushed, psych masterpiece, trumpet accentuating the more barbed twists in Mark's lyrics. British Sea Power would be proud to write a song of this quality, indeed it recalls their "From the Sea to The Land Beyond" opus in its nostalgic, delicate sadness. "Leave Me Where I Am" is by turn a twinkling, shimmering nocturne, picked guitar draping Mark's plaintive vocals over the stars in the night sky. Brass and cello support the quiet swell of the song as it builds both in musical and emotional power. "Little Flashing Light" is a slide guitar driven space flight, albeit one which gazes in silent wonder at the earth below; this music is gentle, its power is in its ability to affect and transport the listener. There does seem to be a general theme of escape, flight and leaving on this album that filters through the songs. The music was apparently inspired by the work of author and aviator Saint-Exupéry; it certainly adds a melancholy, almost wistful air. Again, whilst Mark doesn't sound like Nick Drake, the atmosphere and smoky, darkening afternoon vibe on this particular song recalls his classic "A Northern Sky". A chiming, echoing piano enters to bring the song to a warm and moving close. "River Kings" is the closest stylistically of all the tracks here to the Mark Fry of "Dreaming of Alice", it is a bewitching, acoustic reverie at once both timeless and strange. Otherworldly and unique, it sounds like it could have been written at any time over the last thirty years. There then follows "Fall like Stone", which, with its Gilmour-esque guitars and widescreen reverbed atmospherics, is truly beautiful. This is starlit night sky music for dreaming in. Indeed, lovers of The American Music Club’s similar twilight musical paean to travel and escape "Everclear' will find much to appreciate here. "Dials for Home" is by contrast more electric guitar led, an urgent request to find a way home. With a country tinge abetted by backing vocals and swathes of cello the track is almost cinematic in its building intensity and sense of quiet desperation. "Long Way Down" , the album closer, returns to the gentle sepia feel as cascading piano notes, yearning trumpet and echoed guitar creating a melancholic framework for Mark's voice. It is a perfect closing song, a wave of choral vocals fading out into the night sky.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. It is a mature work by an artist who is quite simply a hidden national treasure. It is a graceful, beautiful piece, full of wonder and sadness and perfect for those long, darkening late winter afternoons. Take to the evening skies on the south wind; you will not regret it.

Available now on the fine Second Language label. South Wind, Clear Sky’ comes in 2 formats: a CD in an 8 panel concertina digipak and a 180gm vinyl with a free download code of the whole album, both are available here.

Album Review: The Wicked Whispers "Maps of the Mystic"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

These moptopped Liverpool janglers prove that Merseybeat is alive and well on their debut full length "Maps of the Mystic". Along with bands like the Merrymakers, the Wicked Whispers are at the forefront of a new wave of Merseybeat that follows in the footsteps of the Coral and the Zutons, and stretches back a whole lot further to you-know-who.

Their early E.P and singles have been uniformly excellent, so expectations were high for "Maps of the Mystic", and Michael Murphy and his band of merry men don't disappoint, using the more expansive spaces available on a full length to broaden their sound into areas previously only hinted at.

Opener "Chronological Astronaut" arrives on a tidal wave of "Artificial Energy" style horns which immediately signals their intentions to branch out, which they do consistently here. Sure, there are a few parallels with the Coral - "Medusa" in particular, but where the Skelly gang looked to Love for their U.S inspiration, Murphy and co. tap into a more openly lysergic pop vein that brings to mind the Strawberry Alarm Clock, particularly on the floaty, flutey "House of Peppermint".

It's an excellently paced album too with the second half tending to be a little denser and less hooky but still leaving room for anthemic rockers like the impressively Syd Barretesque "You Wouldn't Believe" to offer instant hits of adrenaline amid the more layered growers.

Very nice stuff!

Available on vinyl, CD and digital formats direct from Electone Records.

25 Oct 2014

Album Review: Slasher Dave "Tomb of Horror"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Musician and artist Slasher Dave makes it pretty clear with his name where his allegiances lie, and one listen to his excellent John Carpenter homage debut "Spookhouse" backed this up even further.

And while his sleeve art for for the brand new album "Tomb of Horror" may seem to indicate some sort of mid eighties slasher / thrash metal hybrid, Dave has here turned his attentions towards late seventies / early eighties Italian zombie films, with the music of Fabio Frizzi (whom this is dedicated too) proving particularly influential.

The Frizzi worship shines through most obviously, with excellent use of slow programmed drums and that creepy ass choral synth sound that Frizzi used so well, but there are also moments that recall the delicacy of Goblin's "Suspiria", utilising light and shade extremely effectively.

Slasher Dave doesn't belong to this new school of Italian disco / horror synth spearheaded by the likes of Umberto. He's the real, vintage deal, with not one incongruous note on "Tomb of Horror". If someone was to drop this in your lap and tell you that it had been recorded in 1981, there's nothing out of place that would clue you in to its much more recent vintage. And while this dogged approach to retroism does draw criticism in some (but certainly not these) quarters, it's worth noting that the original soundtracks of this era were often quickly thrown together, with several themes revisited often to make up incidental music cues. Compare this to "Tomb of Horror"s 13 succinctly different tracks - each melodically approached as if it was a separate theme - and it's like you've not only discovered a new Frizzi or Simonetti, but you've also got a ready made highlights package of the most memorable themes from ten years worth of their soundtracks. Whether it's original or not is entirely missing the point, especially when it's done this well.

"Tomb of Horror" can be pre-ordered on CD here for a discounted price for the next few days, and is available now on vinyl here.

Digital is available through the streaming link below.

23 Oct 2014

Matt Talbot's Monster Project

To get the ball rolling with this year's Halloween coverage (after yesterday's free Espectrostatic download), we'd like to draw your attention to a project put together by one of our own artists.
Matt Talbot (also known as MattRobot) has been kind enough in the past to contribute artwork for a number of our sampler covers, as well as designing the Active Listener logo that greets you every time you visit this page.

For the month of October, he's set himself the unenviable task of creating a piece of artwork every day based around one of his favourite movie monsters. It's now October 23, and the results so far have been stunning.

Here's Matt's take on things:

"I started the monster project because I spend so much time making art for other people that I just wanted to do something for me--something that no one else was directing me to do. October in New England is such a great time of year. The days getting shorter and colder just makes the scary movies a little scarier. I'm such a fan of monsters and horror films that I thought drawing a daily monster would be really fun.

I'm also a huge fan of deadlines. If I don't have a deadline, I just let things sit. So I figured that if I put it out there publicly that I was going to do something every day, it would really keep me motivated. And it has! I've drawn more this month than probably the other nine months so far this year. The deadline has also forced me to be decisive and let things go a little bit. I work all day, so I really only have 2-3 hours at night to work on these. They just have to be fast.

When the month is over, I have to catch up on a bunch of work. I have several album covers to do and a bunch of other projects swirling around. I'm also slowly making progress on a graphic novel. Maybe I need to give myself a deadline to make sure it really happens!"

There's still a week or so to go, so visit Matt's tumbler page (http://mattrobot.tumblr.com/) each day for a new monster.

Matt's impressive portfolio can be viewed at http://www.mattrobot.com/

Free Download Roundup: Espectrostatic / Joel Jerome / Delia Haunt

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

OK cheapskates, here's another batch of great new free releases for you, supported by the artists who created them, directly from their hearts to you.

Espectrostatic "The Daemonum EP"
Alex Cuervo seems to be permanently busy with his Espectrostatic alter-ego, which is always great news for those of us who appreciate horror movie sounds of a particular vintage. Alex has a new album proper "Escape From Witchtropolis" coming soon from Trouble in Mind Records, but in the meantime this fab little collection of bits and pieces has just popped up to keep us going.
Quite varied in sound, but unified in mood, it's a lovely grab-all of vintage stalk and slash sounds, with "Postcard from a Dead Colleague" boasting a suitably sinister, Lovecraftian throb, while the sequencers, and squelchy synths of "The 447" are relentlessly creepy.
Best of all is "The End of Lexie", which is particularly Autumnal and stalkerish, with a melancholy piano based melody which vividly captures the subtle, mounting paranoia of the very best films of the late seventies slasher golden age.
Available here:

Joel Jerome "Strawberry Fields Forever & Penny Lane"
Excellent psychedelic pop geezer Joel Jerome has just set up his own label, Psychedelic Thriftstore Recordings as an outlet for his considerable output. Following an album of his own songs which we'll tell you about in more detail shortly, the label's second release is planned as a "Sgt. Pepper" tribute album (due on the 28th of this month we're told), and preceding its release we have this double a-sided single (as the original single preceded the album I believe?).
Beatles covers are a dime a dozen, and frankly, usually a bit rubbish. The majority can't decide whether they want to stick to the originals exactly, or reinvent the originals by removing almost everything that created the original appeal in the first place. Jerome manages to tread the very narrow path between these two possibilities, with "Strawberry Fields" working particularly well, a swirling kaleidoscope of colourful "I am the Walrus" psychedelia that I'm sure John would have approved of (if he'd been asked in 1967 anyway).
Definitely looking forward to hearing more of this - grab this one quick, who knows what will happen to it when the full album comes out?

Delia Haunt "Marseille Trance // Hitomi"
Also offered as a taster from an upcoming album ("100 Years of Solipsism") is this two track debut from Texas based five-piece Delia Haunt. That's pretty much everything I know about these guys, but these first two tracks are extremely appealing pieces of lo-fi psychedelia that mix jangly psychedelia with quirky indie-pop structures. "Hitomi", on the other hand offers some great vintage synth-pop tones in support of its infectious falsetto vocal hooks, mixing genres and decades in the manner of Ariel Pink. Very good indeed.

And lastly, a bit of self promotion. I'm sure that many of you are aware of our monthly free samplers on Bandcamp? We also have our own label run through the same Bandcamp page which has a few freebies on it, then most recent of which is the debut full length from space / surf-rockers The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies. You can also grab the NoMen's entry in the Active Listener Introduces series, and a label sampler for free.

21 Oct 2014

Album Reviews: Halasan Bazar & Tara King th. "8" / Halasan Bazar "How To Be Ever Happy"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A few months back I hepped you to Tara King th.'s "Mostla Tara", a free download compilation of some of their best material with an intriguing new track recorded with Halasan Bazar acting as a tempting little taster for their collaborative album "8", which after a period of mounting anticipation has just been released by Moon Glyph.

Part of what makes "8" such a thrilling prospect is the sense that it shouldn't necessarily work. Denmark's Halasan Bazar certainly make music informed by the same era as that which inspires Tara King th, but that's where the sonic similarities end. However, rather than sticking to their guns, each band has yielded just enough to find a magical meeting point halfway between Halasan Bazar's scratchy psychedelic pop and Tara King th.'s widescreen cinematic vistas that allows the strengths of each band to shine harmoniously, and create a whole greater than its parts (and its parts are pretty great too).

This success can be largely credited to the decision to convene in studio in the little village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in the Auvergne, for a truly face to face collaboration, rather than sending files backwards and forwards over the internet, as is more common (and no doubt convenient) these days. There's a sense of comradery and unified purpose on these recordings that simply can't be captured any other way.

Particularly thrilling is the way that the voices of Fredrick Rollum Eckoff and Béatrice Morel-Journel work off of each other in a time honoured beauty & the beast fashion, with Morel-Journel's dulcet Hope Sandoval tones handling the differing demands of this more lively material admirably. Similarly the Halasan Bazar instrumentalists are obviously relishing the opportunity to stretch beyond their comfort zone and increase their textural and atmospheric awareness.

Extremely successful then, and not only that, but Halasan Bazar's excellent 2012 album "How To Be Ever Happy" - originally a cassette and digital only release - is now available on vinyl from Moon Glyph too, and it's also a must-have. Fans of the Sufis and the Paperhead will appreciate the way they update the trimmings of classic psychedelia to sound thrillingly fresh without losing an ounce of vintage authenticity. And the songs have all the quirky charm of Syd or the Incredible String Band at their best, without particularly sounding like either.

So what are you waiting for?

Both albums are available on vinyl or digitally here:

20 Oct 2014

Album Review: Dowling Poole "Bleak Strategies"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Sugarbush Records have really kicked into second gear of late with a steady stream of vinyl issues of classics both new and old, some of which have already sold out and become collector's items. Chief bush-dweller Markus Holler has an ear for a classic pop tune that is unmatched, and you can pick up anything on the label assured of something deserving cult status.

Dowling Poole are a duo consisting of Willie Dowling and Jon Poole, who have a long history behind them in various bands, and pool everything they've learned into their wonderfully eclectic debut "Bleak Strategies". The first thing that becomes apparent is that these gents obviously know their way around the various knobs and faders in the studio. "Bleak Strategies" sounds amazing, and importantly, they have tunes to match too.

Their songs are hard to pigeon-hole and are blessed with enormous power-pop hooks, but also startling progressive sensibilities, with the pull between the two bringing to mind an updated take on 10CC or dare I say it, E.L.O, without actually sounding like either band.

XTC is obviously a looming influence, with tracks like "Twilight Subplot" sounding so much like them that you'd expect them to be outtakes from their vaults, were it not for the fact that they are so damn good that no one in their right mind would leave them off of any record. "Clean" on the other hand is pure Steven Wilson melancholy - I'm curious whether they're fans, or whether the similarity comes from synthesizing similar influences. Either way, I'd wager this is better than anything Wilson has conjured lately (and that coming from a fan). Best of all is the wonderfully Beatlesque "Getting a Licence" with it's pounding "Tomorrow Never Knows" drums and bouncy Macca bassline, it couold quite easily find a home on Epic's peerless lost classic "Sunshine State" (how about a reissue of that Markus?)

In many ways "Bleak Strategies" sounds like a knowingly reverential update of the Turtles "Battle of the Bands", with the duo updating their influences so lovingly and expertly that they give some of their influences a run for their money. Certainly those who have enjoyed recent genre hopping efforts from the likes of Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab and Schnauser will find plenty to obsess over here, with the creepy sleeve art holding few clues to the melodic gems contained within.

Vinyl available here.

19 Oct 2014

Album Review: Paul Parrish "The Forest of My Mind"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Detroit may seem like an unlikely point of origin for such a heavily orchestrated piece of psychedelia, but that's exactly where Paul Parrish's debut was put together in 1968, where it would have seemed very out of place amongst all of the Motown and proto-Detroit Rock City releases of the time.

"The Forest of My Mind" is cherished among collectors, and not having heard anything from it before this arrived in the post, I semi-suspected its reputation to have been elevated by its scarcity, rather than its quality, but this is one lost classic that very nearly lives up to the tag.

Produced by Clay McMurray, featuring a fine selection of Motown's Funk Brothers affiliated musicians, and arranged by Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore (who refined a lot of what they do here when they produced Rodriguez's "Cold Fact" in 1970), "The Forest of My Mind" is a unique meeting of baroque, psychedelic pop, English chamber arrangements (courtesy of Coffey who was studying classics at the time), and light soul.

And while it might be pushing things to suggest that this is a bit of a "Cold Fact", it's at the very least a "Coming From Reality" in terms of quality. Donovan comparisons seem to be a common theme amongst those who discuss this album, and while Parrish himself sounds very little like the Don, the arrangements here certainly find a comfortable middle ground between the lush psychedelia of the "Sunshine Superman" album and its swinging "Mellow Yellow" followup, and it's not too much of a push to suggest that those who enjoy that period of Donovan will find a lot to enjoy here.

McMurray insisted on a couple of covers which see the quality dip a little. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" (which Parrish admits he was reluctant to record, in the excellent sleevenotes) is a lifeless arrangement with an uncommitted performance from Parrish. The Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "I Can't Help Myself" fares better, but largely due to a superior arrangement, rather than the appropriateness of the material for Parrish.

Parrish's originals on the other hand are uniformly excellent, and a great match for the arrangements, which could easily outshine lesser material. The title track has the most vocal support among collectors, and it's certainly the most overtly psychedelic track on offer here - both lyrically and musically - but the real lost classic to me is "The Painter", underpinned by an inventive and propulsive string arrangement.

One can't help but feel that if it weren't for the overtly psychedelic nature of the music here, that it would have been a serious contender for release by Light in the Attic. So, much more consistent than a number of debuts of the era, and not far from a classic, with plenty of high points.

Now Sound's excellent CD reissue (their fiftieth release, and probably their best so far) also includes several excellent, punchy mono mixes which offer a substantially different listening experience to the more expansive stereo mixes found on the album.

Available here on CD.

You can stream the full album here if you require further arm twisting:

17 Oct 2014

Album Review: The Young Sinclairs "This Is The Young Sinclairs"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've heard and reviewed singles and E.Ps by this Roanoke, Virginia based group of folk-rockers before and always loved what I heard, but this new full length vinyl / digital collection from Ample Play is nonetheless, a bit of a revelation. Previous releases of theirs that I've heard were the work of an obviously accomplished band with a classic folk-rock mindset that mixed the jangle of the Byrds with anglophiliac harmonies ala The Who. That sound is still often present here, but freed from the confines of a shorter medium, the Young Sinclairs are really given free rein here to shine and show their versatility.

Part of the Magic Twig Community of like-minded musicians (who have their own recording studio, deep in the woods where they have produced and engineered all their recordings), there's an unhurried, rural charm to these recordings, which really benefit from the opportunity to gestate at their own pace and in their own environment. The relaxed nature of some of these tracks reminds this listener of  the "among friends", early communal recordings made by solo CSNY members around 1970, as well as some of the Band's earlier "Big Pink" output. And speaking of The Band, just check out "That's All Right", and "Dead End Street" for two of the best Band deadringer's you'll hear this side of Brinsley Schwarz. Exceptional.

Elsewhere, there's plenty of clean, garagey jangle charmers with massive, yet subtle choruses (and harmonies to die for), a gorgeous, melancholy Big Star style tune ("Turned Around"), and on "Never Uneasy", an unhurried Crazy Horse lurch with lashings of simple, lyrical lead guitar worthy of Neil himself.

"This Is The Young Sinclairs" is like all of your Desert Island Discs rolled into one and assimilated with a confident mastery which oozes affection for the sources that inspired it, without ever sounding limited by them.

Available on vinyl and digital formats here.

16 Oct 2014

Guest Mix: Sky Picnic "Her Dawn Wardrobe" Influences & Inspirations

We've got a guest mix today from Brooklyn's Sky Picnic, who have just released their third album "Her Dawn Wardrobe" (reviewed glowingly here).

The mix, compiled by Sky Picnic's Chris Sherman features a selection of cuts on heavy rotation during "Her Dawn Wardrobe"s gestation period.

Set the stream running here and read on with Chris's commentary below:

"One of the first things I have heard about our new LP from people is that it seems we’ve grown as a band and have picked up some different influences as evidenced by some new sounds. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to work on a creating a mix of what Sky Picnic was heavily into for the writing process (and sometimes the recording and mixing too) of Her Dawn Wardrobe.

The Byrds and the Who open up the set; “Change Is Now” has amazing harmonies, which is something Leah and I really strove to incorporate on HDW, along with a super-fuzzed out McGuinn solo, which was a sound I was really after during recording. “Our Love Was, Is” showed exactly how much you can fit into three minutes, and the lyrics fit alongside nicely with where I was mentally on this album.

I suppose every musician goes through a phase where they cannot listen to anything in their respective genre for a while, and for me, that road led to jazz, specifically Coltrane. I really could have picked anything from A Love Supreme for this selection, but this piece captures the feel that Pete brought to some of our songs. “Some Time Alone Alone” by Melody’s Echo Chamber and “Waterfall” by the Stone Roses both have a bounce to them; the groove is contagious, and having that sort of vibe is something that had eluded us to this point, yet came to the forefront this time around for us (seriously, I cannot begin to explain the abundance of Stone Roses we binged on).

The Police are another favorite of ours; Sting’s lyrics have this foreboding and dark vibe, which I have always gravitated toward and Andy Summers turned into a huge influence for myself over the last year, particularly as I learned more about leaving space in the material and playing with a more minimalist vibe. Of course, the same can be said for Robert Fripp. I honestly could (and should) have just added the entire Red LP to this mix, and called it a day, but, we were big into capturing dynamics in our new songs, so “Fracture” is the obvious choice to demonstrate that influence.

Then you have the folkier side of things, represented here by the Amazing and Donovan. These are songs that made me want to write touching acoustic pieces that would complement, yet also be the perfect dichotomy to the rest of the material. Dungen’s “Blandband” probably wins the award for “song I have listened to the most over the last two years”. It’s a sweeping motion sort of song that will forever now be associated with the imagery of driving through the hills and trees of the northeast on the way to a gig last year. Coincidentally enough, it seems to move at the exact speed of a vehicle on the highway. And yes, Reine’s guitar tone will forever continue to awe. “Hung Up On A Dream” by the Zombies still gives me chills to this day (particularly the volume swell chord after the bridge). Another of my fondest memories of traveling is the band sing-alongs of the Odyssey and Oracle album.

I closed this mix out with the first single from the new album, “June Sunshine”, which is really just a taste of what the rest of the LP holds. I hope you not only dug this, but it will perhaps lead you to check out the new album, released this week on Mega Dodo Records (UK)."

You can buy "Her Dawn Wardrobe" on CD or vinyl, or stream it in full here.

Album Review: Listening Center "Cycles​/​Other Phenomena"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Following swiftly on the heels of his appearance on the second release in Ghost Box's "Other Voices" 7" series, comes Listening Center's "Cycles​/​Other Phenomena" - a self released full length album, which illustrates very clearly just why the shadowy council behind the Ghost Box label decided to welcome him into their fold.

Those enamoured with Ghost Box's chief exports Belbury Poly and the Advisory Circle will find much to dampen their trousers here. Unusually for music of such a unmistakeably English nature, this was put to tape in New York, although there would be few who would argue that the spiritual home of the Listening Center's David Mason is deep in the recesses of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Like his U.K brethren, Mason's focus relies on lovely warm textures created by an array of vintage analogue synthesizers, creating naggingly familiar melodies that bring to mind seventies nature documentaries and after school science programs. Where Mason's approach differs, is in his use of percussion (natural as Mason is a drummer also), which gives much of "Cycles​/​Other Phenomena" a greater sense of momentum gathering than you'll hear on most other releases bundled under the 'hauntology' umbrella.

The winsome  "Looking Ahead" on the otherhand demonstrates that this isn't the only trick up his sleeve. With both subtlety and grace, Mason here conjures something delicate, and quite lovely.

It's a lovely album, and I find it kind of surprising that Ghost Box didn't opt to release the whole thing (although there's likely to be some further story to this that we don't need to know), as it fits in seamlessly with the niche that they've so carefully carved, and is in many ways the most quintessentially "Ghost Box" sounding album that I've heard released this year - certainly more so than anything the label itself has released recently (although I've certainly enjoyed those releases also).

That in itself should send plenty of you scurrying to his webstore, and those of you who do are in for a lovely, warm, fuzzy treat. Highly recommended.

Cassette and digital download available here:

15 Oct 2014

Album Review : Amanda Votta & The Spectral Light "Secrets To The Sea"

Reviewed by Robin F. Hamlyn

Anyone familiar with the work of The Floating World, The Hare and the Moon, and The Great Attractor will be well aware of how formidable the talents showcased by this new recording are. And yet, on "Secrets to the Sea", Amanda Votta (vox, lyrics, slide baritone guitar), Grey Malkin (guitar, atmospherics), and Neddal Ayed (songwriting, guitars), strike out in entirely new directions, delivering an utterly compelling album, beneath the opulent beauty of whose surface lies a penumbral, elegiac complexity. From the opening, crepuscular drone of "Black Doom", to "Feathers and Goodbones" valedictory cymbal stroke, the listener is held in a strange, liminal, volatile aural space, where ghostly swirls of feedback drift and mingle with clouds of strange atmospherics.

"Black Doom" launches into a coruscating guitar drone, reminiscent of Neil Young’s "Arc Weld", and recalling the lush pastures of distortion that characterized The Jesus and Mary Chain. This track however, has a quite singular identity, as Votta’s voice emerges, like a cold pearl in the fog, and vanishes beneath an exquisite sea of echoing guitars. "This is How They’ll Find You" is ghostly and intimate, featuring an old-timey parlour guitar being strummed against a backdrop of gauzy atmospherics. Votta’s breathy, child-like voice finds its counterpoint in a male whisper that transforms into a menacing baritone. "The Shepherdess and the Witch" is built upon an intermittent, arrhythmic bass drum around which stacks of harmony topple and gloriously spill. Votta’s voice surfaces, evincing shades of Liz Frazer and Kate Bush, and is carried along by the song’s strange, halting pulse. "Dream at Daybreak", for me the highlight of the album, is a master-class in slide guitar, with Ayed’s echo-soaked tones transporting this listener to a place somewhere in the orbit of Pink Floyd’s "The Narrow Way", "Garlands"-era Cocteau Twins, and mid eighties Nick Cave. Again, though, these musicians fuse their individual voices so seamlessly and organically that what emerges seems newly minted. "Moonflowers" inhabits darker sonic territory, with deep, phased guitar tones roiling and revolving like a black mist. The vocals here are composed of long, evanescent susurrations, with an insistent little feedback pattern eerily recalling John Cale’s viola on "The Black Angel’s Death Song". "I Am the Moon" is underpinned by a simple drum machine dialed into a rigid march tempo  over which Votta delivers a spooky, off-kilter vocal, doubling with herself in a quietly obsessive colloquy. "Feathers and Goodbones" leads us to the album’s densest, darkest textures, its final clangs, strums, and eruptions once more recalling the psychedelic wilderness of early Velvets.

It’s fair to say that, compared to Votta and Grey, this album is somewhat closer in spirit to Ayed’s previous work, although, as with all successful collaborations, the fresh chemistry brings out new elements of his voice. Grey’s seminal work with The Hare and the Moon is quite removed from this album’s sound-world, and yet somehow his emotional sensibility is imprinted on the record. As for Votta, the album’s producer ---- and described by Grey as the “gatekeeper” of the project ---- her ability to balance delicacy, aggression, and subtle evocation, is a thing of wonder.

Don’t miss out on this album. It’s a haunted, beautiful record. Let’s hope these brilliant musicians get together again.

Amanda Votta & The Spectral Light on Facebook.

Last few copies of the CD available from Reverb Worship here - get in quick!

13 Oct 2014

Album Review: The Coral "The Curse of Love"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

In mid 2005, Bill Ryder Jones announced that he would be leaving the Coral. Coming off the artistic growth shown on "The Invisible Invasion", this was a bit of a shock for the band and fans alike, but the Coral soldiered on, and "The Curse of Love" came into being. Ryder Jones was then enticed back into the fold, and it was decided that rather than continue on with a set of songs that he had no involvement with, that the recordings would be shelved - until now that is.

I had high hopes for "The Curse of Love". It was recorded between my two favourite Coral albums ("The Invisible Invasion" and "Roots & Echoes"), and a bit of emotional turmoil is always good to get the artistic muse fired up, so how could it possibly disappoint? On the other hand, there was always the possibility that maybe the band realized that these songs weren't up to snuff, and took the opportunity to start afresh with a breath of relief? So which is it?

Any lingering doubts over that latter scenario are quickly dispelled on first listen here. "The Curse of Love" may lack the immediate hooks that characterized their albums up to this point, but there's a noticeable maturity on show here, which makes the quantum leap in songwriting depth between "The Invisible Invasion" and "Roots & Echoes" make a whole lot more sense.

Ryder Jones' absence also seems to have encouraged the remaining members to branch out a little more too (something that they've never been adverse to anyway). The gorgeous "Wrapped in Blue" for instance, manages to effortlessly merge an acoustic skiffle shuffle with pulsing krautrock (quite prescient, considering how in vogue this currently is), with fluttering backwards guitars.

And while the choruses may showcase a subtlety that rewards those who listen actively more than ever, the exotic, eastern tinged arrangements on tracks like "The Curse of Love (Part 1)" are to die for, and entice the listener to invest the time needed to reap the full benefits of this extremely rewarding set.

Pre-order the CD here, and if you're quick, you can snag the limited edition vinyl LP here.
NME have an exclusive stream of the full album here now!

Album Review: EDJ "EDJ"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

When the Fruit Bats closed up shop last year, frontman Eric D. Johnson was quick to clarify that he wasn't abandoning music itself, and "EDJ" is the album which that statement was foreshadowing.

Arriving on new Indie label Easy Sound (which will also be seeing new releases from Marianne Faithful, Vetiver and Isobel Campbell in the near future), "EDJ" isn't a huge stretch from the Fruit Bats sound in all honesty, but it's a much more intimate and personal affair, allowing the listener to get much closer to Johnson than they ever have in the past. This common trait of solo albums is often hamstrung by the feeling that the participant is holding their best material back for the band - a problem which Johnson does not have to contend with, with EDJ being his full time project now.

"EDJ" is a lovely sounding record. It's sparse and direct when it needs to be, but also has the capacity for explosions of mysterious sound to allow it a few peaks. Fans of Jim James' evocative solo work will find much to enjoy here, with it sharing a similar sense of reverence for West Coast classics of yesteryear, as well as a desire to assimilate and much that has come since then, giving it a very contemporary sound.
Johnson's vocals resonate throughout, and guest appearances from members of Vetiver and Califone enhance rather than distract.

Those not quite on the right wavelength may accuse "EDJ" of being a little samey, but once you're fully entrenched in its world, this uniformity makes a whole lot more sense. It doesn't sound like an album that's intended to have tracks lifted from it and isolated - it's an album that's intended to be played from beginning to end, with highlights like "A West County Girl" sounding even stronger when propped up in their natural environment.

Special mention too must be given to moody "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" evoking closer "The Mountains on Fire (In The Rearview)". It's gently peaking crescendoes certainly don't feel like a postscript of what has just preceded it, so perhaps it's a taster of what's to come?

Available on vinyl, and CD here.

12 Oct 2014

Album Reviews: United Bible Studies "Doineann" "The Box Social"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

United Bible Studies, the celtic wyrd folk collective, are nothing if not hard working. A shifting membership and startling degree of creativity certainly helps but it is impressive nonetheless to have two incredible albums emerge (almost) into the daylight at once. If you are a new student to United Bible Studies then do delve into their teachings; any starting point is a worthy one but special mention should go to the epic "The Jonah" and the chamber folk of "Spoicke". Extensively prolific, but yet with a finely tuned quality control, there is a library of riches waiting for you in their back pages.

The first of the new releases, "Doineann", features such well known and respected names in the current folk music field as Michael Tanner (Plinth), David Colohan (Agitated Radio Pilot, Raising Holy Sparks), Richard Moult, Áine O'Dwyer and Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Firefay and The Owl Service) and was recorded variously in England, Germany, Ireland and Scotland. Opener "Helix" enters on a waterfall of cascading piano, the combination of Richard Moult's buzzing electronics and field recordings alongside Colohan's organetta providing a clearing for the notes to shimmer and repeat. It is utterly beautiful but also icy; there is a sense of winter in this music. "Clay in my Hand"  is a spectral lament, O'Dwyer's harp providing a skeletal framework for Paul Condon's vintage synth sounds and folk rock blasts of psych guitar. Completely timeless and otherworldly, there are moments of Mike Oldfield's "Ommadawn" recalled here, particularly in the building tension, layered orchestration and the fluid yet restrained guitar work. "Doineann" itself is a weather beaten landscape, a lonely wind whistling through chiming percussion, plucked autoharp and mournful jazz inflected saxophone. A solitary drum beat counts time and adds a sense of momentum and storm; an approaching thunder amongst the wide open sounds of birds and squelching synths. This is music that is organic, natural, utterly alive with the sense of its roots and origins; it is from and is of the landscape. "Across The Blackened Fields" by contrast is a hushed and intimate lullabye, Alison O'Donnell's distinctive vocals adding shade and colour to the tense and quietly dramatic, pulsating backdrop. O'Donnell truly adds a sense of magic here, a sprinkling of snowy grace upon the icy musical backing. Deeply affecting and utterly unique, this is a song for late in the year, to be heard when there is a chill in the air during the long winter months. "Seachránaí" begins with David Colohan's harpsichord invoking a regal and sorrowful procession before his plaintive vocals emerge freeform, lamenting into the void. Richard Moult's synths then emerge to create surely one of the most crystalline and heartbreaking moments you will ever hear in modern music, before all is silent save for the howl of the arctic wind. "Halo", a thirteen minute epic of a song, begins with Moult's strident and evocative vocals before autoharp and shimmering guitar feedback encases all in a reverberating chill. It beggars belief that this, some of the most beautiful and emotive music presently being made, does not have a wider audience. Or perhaps that is part of the spell; this is music that touches on a level that only certain listeners may wish to hear. Perhaps UBS are a best kept and much loved secret. As the song draws to a close a choral wave of voices underline the sacred and ancient nature inherent in the United Bible Studies craft and its sheer timelessness. This is true folk music.

"Doineann" is available as two separate limited editions from A Year In The Country. The first is a very limited white/black CDr album in 8 page string bound booklet packaging. A second boxset edition contains the album on all black CDr, a 10 page string bound booklet, a 45mm pocket mirror and a 45mm keyring both in their own packaging.

The second recent release from United Bible Studies, "The Box Social", is a live document recorded in 2009 at the venue of the album's title in Dublin. The collective really come into their own in live performance where their innate sense of psychedelic experimentalism and innovation can create vast and unique slabs of wyrd and often terrifyingly transcendent noise. Previous live releases such as "Live At The Warehouse" and "Harry Potter Gone Evil" can comfortably serve as evidence of this. The show begins quietly with a few muttered words before an almighty "Saucerful of Secrets" style drumbeat and bassline ricochets around the speakers, vocal screams accentuating the dark psych landscape. Discordant guitar bursts (again reminiscent of Syd Barret's live astral jams) merge with improvised vocals and a deranged Kosmiche groove breaks loose, with the UBS coming on like a Celtic Amon Düül. It's a thrilling rush - to have witnessed this show would have been something truly memorable, however this recording ably recalls the sheer excitement and sense of unpredictability. Flanged guitar enters over the motorik beat as vocalist Alison O'Donnell's unearthly incantations reach crescendo point.

It is worth noting that this is a different United Bible Studies incarnation than that on "Dioneann", with O'Donnell the only constant. Here she is joined by regular UBS member Gavin Prior (also of Tarracóir) and a completely different clan of players. This is one of the fascinating things about the Bible Studies; they morph, adapt and undoubtedly take on the form of whoever is passing through their ranks. It is arguably one of the crucial factors that makes their output constantly exciting, alive and in a highly creative endless loop of development. Where "Doineann" is spectral, icy and song based 'The Box Social' is frantic, soaring and improvised. Both are equally representative of UBS and demonstrate the different strengths and sides of the project as well as the lack of limitations that they place on their sonic exploration.

"The Box Social" continues with some serious freak out involving an unidentified brass instrument before settling into another space rock bass run, shards of fuzz guitar shimmering over its surface. Fans of Thought Forms and classic Hawkwind will find much to enjoy here as will aficionados of classic 70s Kosmische such as Sand and Cluster. A massive tidal wave of feedback soaked guitar builds the tension further, O'Donnell's vocals punctuating the noise in a ritualistic and almost shamanistic manner. Suddenly, there is a hush save for guitar chimes. A muted rhythm begins and is joined by the hum of a heathen choir before the build up to the song's conclusion begins in earnest. Loud crashes of percussion echo around what now sounds increasingly like a woodland grove; if there is ever a (decent!) remake of "The Wicker Man" produced then this would be an ideal fit for the finale. Indeed, the music's creeping dread and sense of ancient rites are the perfect soundtrack to something deeply pagan and terrifying. As the song ends it is clear that, without let up, the United Bible Studies have expertly conjured and woven this hour long track in and out of the shadows, raising the tension to peaks of psychedelic noise and tremor. It is also a significantly affecting piece and one which pulls the listener along on both a head and gut level with its ritualistic and hypnotic dance.

'The Box Social' is available via the ever splendid Reverb Worship label with individually hand made and numbered sleeves.

So, two different United Bible Studies albums in both form, line up and style. Yet completely alike in their quest for creating something that is genuine, beautiful and vital. This is real modern folk music, respectful of its past but in no thrall to have to fit within any conventions. You could find no better school to study at. Open your books and begin the lesson.

"Doineann" can be streamed here:

10 Oct 2014

E.P Review: Des Roses "Des Roses"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I began this post with the intention of writing a "Free Download Roundup", but the more I hear of this "Des Roses" E.P, the clearer it becomes that it is much too good to share space with a bunch of other releases where it may get inadvertently buried. There's been a lot of talk lately about hyperbole on the internet, and I'm sure that our policy of only writing about material that we really like makes it appear that we suffer from it more than most, but fuck it; I think I've discovered the greatest unsigned band in the world right now, and hyperbole can be damned.

"Des Roses" are a young three piece dream-pop band from Nantes, and their self titled, debut E.P has totally knocked my socks off. These three tracks of melancholy splendour are simply wonderful, and quite easily a match for the big names in this field, past (the Cocteau Twins), and present (Beach House) and there's a very good chance that if you like either of those bands, that you're totally going to lose your shit when you hear this.

There's no one thing that makes it stand out from the crowd - it's a total package thing. The songwriting is deep, hooky and appealingly melancholy. The production sounds like a million dollars. The arrangements sound like the work of seasoned professionals, not fresh faced debutantes. And the way the lovely female voices wind their way around Louis Lemoine's deep and slightly hesitant vocal is absolutely sublime. 

In a fair and just world "The Bond" would be one of the biggest songs of the year - it resonates perfectly, and is achingly lovely - but every second on here is great, so much so that when closer "Nothing Goes Ahead" lurches to a sudden, unexpected halt, I begin to remember what it felt like as a child when your balloon popped.

Make no mistake - this is a fabulous E.P, and I'm more than a little obsessed with it at the moment. It's available as a free download from their Bandcamp page, but is crying out for a physical release, so hopefully someone from a label with impeccable taste sees this and pricks up their ears - everyone else, get it free while you can!