30 Apr 2014

Fruits de Mer "Crabstock 2014" Gig Review

Review and photo by Sean Gibbins and also posted on his blog here.

Cellar Bar, Cardigan, April 26

Having missed the previous Fruits De Mer UK all-dayer in London (Aug 10th 2013), I was determined to get along to Cardigan for this second one, despite the relatively long haul up from the South Coast.

So my ticket bought and accommodation booked well in advance, I drove to North Dorset and then traveled on to Wales with fellow Bevis Frond Yahoo! mailing list buddy Michael Buckley, who expertly negotiated the torturous and seemingly random road selected for us by the satnav (thankfully bypassed for better ones on the return journey) to get us to Crabstock.

Having conquered the maze of one-way streets and located some free parking and our hotel, we finally made our way to the venue in time for us to grab our much hyped goodie bags and see Jack Ellister doing his sound check. Fortunately the Cellar Bar was located reasonably close to our hotel, so goodies stashed we made our way back down the cellar steps a short while later, and suitably lubricated with Mantle Brewery’s lovely Crabstock Limited Edition Cwrw Teifi ale we settled in for Jack’s performance and were charmed by his arresting voice and the gentle anecdotes that brought his relatively simple ballads to life.

Later on I grabbed 5 minutes of Jack’s time between sets to chat about the pleasures of touring and the benefits of being associated with the Fruits De Mer label. He was incredibly enthusiastic about both and a fine fellow to boot, obviously enjoying the other artists’ performances as much as we all had enjoyed his earlier.

Taking a break for a bite to eat we discovered that the schedule was fairly tight when Crystal Jacqueline were seen to take to the stage on the TV monitor in the cafe upstairs. Having finished our food and then chatted to the wonderful FdM main man Keith Jones we dashed back down the steps to take our place on the stone floor and listen to the last few numbers, which included powerful versions of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and Somebody To Love.

Hi-Fiction Science‘s James McKeown was next onstage for the final acoustic set of the night, which mixed classic rare psych tunes for those in the know with his own material, gathering in pace and intensity and setting up the two electric sets perfectly.

Earthling Society started off slowly and almost cautiously, but once underway with their blistering set compelled me to generally get my freak on, hoot and holler. I’ve seen them twice now and both times I have been surprised by the long, intense, heavy psych numbers that differ so radically from their generally more concise FdM contributions, so hopefully I’ll be better prepared next time at this year’s Kozfest!

Sendelica promptly picked up the enthusiastic crowd from the now highly elevated state that Earthling Society had left them in, swiftly taking them higher with their rich, visceral, earthy sound, confirming that good psychedelic music needs no assistance from psychotropic substances to transport the listener to an altered state. The combination of crystal clear sound channeling guitar, percussion, woodwind and keyboards/theremin was nothing short of sublime, as was confirmed when my feet began to leave the ground repeatedly and my arms took on a life of their own, a rare occurrence from this somewhat shy and reluctant dancer.

Other aspects of the event worthy of note were the locally brewed beer, so popular that emergency supplies were carted in part way through the evening, the many fine people – musicians and fans alike – I chatted with throughout the evening, plus the abundant vinyl and CDs available for purchase. For me the only downside was the relatively remote location, but even that faded to insignificance once the music started, making Crabstock a truly great night in every way.

Spartacus R "The View"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Wellington based proggy psych dudes Spartacus R originally released "The View" back in 2011, but I'm bringing it to your attention now because I know there are a few vinyl hounds in the house, and this very worthwhile effort is now available on an extremely limited run of nice, solid wax that puts the original digital version to shame (not being a snob, that's just the way it is.)

Opener "Rapata" is a great scene-setter and does a pretty sterling job of answering the much pondered question of what "Dark Side of the Moon" era Pink Floyd would sound like if they were more fun to hang out with at parties. It's got that warm, comforting vintage rhodes sound in spades, but Tim Prebble's supple bass really injects some pep into proceedings - he's credited with melodic bass on the back of the sleeve, and I'm not gonna argue with that.

The rest of "The View" rattles by in a similar fashion. As a six piece they've got plenty of room to stretch out and improvise, as well as more flexibility to get all texturally psychedelic on it, and neither opportunity is bypassed, although structurally the bare bones of the songs seem very thoughtfully assembled with plenty of prog-funk riffery pulling things back into focus when other bands would potentially wander off and get a bit waffly.

Sadly, a number of members of Spartacus R are now based overseas so opportunities to catch them live are few and far between, but I've heard rumours that earlier this year everyone happened to be in the same place at the same time long enough to get some recording done, so we may have a follow up to look forward to soon?

In the meantime, there are extremely limited quantities of vinyl of this available from Death Ray Records in Wellington - message them here to see if they'll send you a copy.

Streaming / digital download version available here:

27 Apr 2014

Unit Black Flight "Tracks From The Trailer"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Granted, I initially checked this out simply for the fact that it shares a cover artist with our most recent sampler, but the music did all the talking from there on in.

"Tracks From The Trailer" is Bryan Lane's love letter to the era of VHS horror and sci-fi, and is as impeccably observed as it is infectious. You're probably thinking that I cover an awful lot of this stuff, and you'd be right, and as someone with more than a passing acquaintance with both the originators of this genre and its followers,  I feel like I'm pretty well placed to say that of its type this is pretty much tops.

Lengthy opener "Shadow Scope" is economical and sparse, setting the mood perfectly with "One Hour Before Dawn" picking up the melodic slack nicely and adding plenty of beat to Lane's vintage synthery. Best of all is "Shortwave Radio Antenna Down", with its spooky melody line creeping and crawling its way around over a devastating minimalist analog electronic backing.

Hugely influenced by John Carpenter (the picture disc has Snake Plissken plastered over one side), it's interesting to note that the majority of these recordings were originally recorded between 2005-2008 (and available on this), well before this sort of thing was being done with any sort of regularity, which makes Lane something of a trailblazer.

For this particular release Lane has handpicked the best four tracks from those original recordings and given them a tasty remastering job, the results of which Giallo Disco Records have been good enough to press onto a rather attractive picture disc for us (with a couple of bonus remixes on the digital version). In a world where Death Waltz Recording Company is (rightly) deified, it's not unreasonable to expect that there is a little bit of love left over for something as expertly crafted as this.

My money's on the vinyl version of this selling out pretty quickly, so I wouldn't sleep on it if I were you.

Available direct from Giallo Disco on 12" or as a download with two bonus tracks. Check out both through the Bandcamp stream below:

26 Apr 2014

Terror of the Deep "Death of the Gideon"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Wellington's Terror of the Deep have been on my sizable list of bands to check out for quite some time now but several recent events have pressed me into being a bit more proactive about doing so. Firstly, I just happen to have acquired tickets to see the Bats with support from these guys later on in the month, and secondly I've just discovered that their newest E.P has recently benefited from a vinyl release on awesome New York label Selection Records (who also have a reissue of Anonymous' great "Inside the Shadow" on their books to attest to their good taste).

Back to Terror of the Deep now, what we have here is an extremely melodic set of jangly, Flying Nun inspired tunes with subtle but insistent hooks that sink in deeper and deeper with each listen.

With the able production assistance of Tom Watson (a bit of a New Zealand legend who seems to be an honorary member of pretty much every guitar based band in Wellington, and whose onstage antics often attract equal billing to whichever band he's playing with at the time) they've put together an extremely lush sounding record with plenty of jangle, washes of psychedelia, glorious harmonies aplenty and melodies that bypass the obvious in favour of something more insidious - direct but elusive.

Expertly sequenced too with the first side hitting with a quick 1-2-3 of shorter, sharper shocks ("Fallen Down Tree" sounds like Real Estate with a bee in their bonnet), while the second side gets a little more involved and complex. "Model Train Village" starts with an eerie wash of psychedelia that builds effortlessly to a regal instrumental refrain that serves in place of a chorus, and which I suspect I may never tire of. Closer "Get It Together" miraculously doesn't feel anticlimactic after this high watermark, despite its less lofty ambitions, aided in part by one of the E.P's most wistful melodies, not to mention some endearingly wonky thrift shop synthesizer.

Immediately appealing, but repeated plays reveal this to be something extra special.

Non New Zealand readers can purchase the 12" version from Selection Records in New York here. New Zealand readers should be able to find a copy in Wellington's Slowboat Records or Christchurch's Galaxy Records.

Also available digitally here:

25 Apr 2014

"The Very Best of The Marshmallow Overcoat"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

To mark the conclusion of a mammoth nine album reissue program (all available here), Tucson, Arizona's Marshmallow Overcoat have hit us with this extremely generous 28 track best of, available on both vinyl and digital formats (but more on that later).

Between 1986 and 2011 Timothy Gassen and friends amassed an impressive catalogue of fuzzy garage psych, which this collection does a pretty great job of drawing the highlights from. Gassen is a scholar of the eighties garage psych revival (not to mention the original sixties stuff), with several books to his name on the subject. Bomp Records legend Greg Shaw even dubbed him "The Guru of Garage", and this from a man who knows a thing or two himself.

Bearing this in mind, you'd assume that the work of the Overcoat would perhaps be a little too reverential to its sources of inspiration, but Gassen and co never take a scholarly approach to their material. There's certainly never any doubt that sixties garage psych tugs at their collective heart, but it's also apparent exactly when these tracks were recorded.

Presented chronologically, "Groovy Little Trip" and "Psilocybin Explosion" show a young band at the punkiest end of the garage-psych spectrum, but it's directly after this that things get really interesting; "Suddenly Sunday"displays more of a subtle touch and is the first indication that Gassen had the songwriting chops to match his enthusiasm. This and the majority of tracks that follow from the late eighties and early nineties integrate more of a contemporary jangle element that reminds this listener favorably of the Chills and the Go Betweens, but with lashings of fuzz guitar and psych organ applied liberally.

Other highlights include "The Mummy" which is a creepy little number that evokes The Birthday Party with a Universal monsters fixation, while "The Spell I'm Under" shows that they're just as strong when they tone things back and builds the sort of atmosphere that the Doors used to tap into on some of their quieter, more introspective pieces. And while we're talking variety special mention should also go the tastefully applied harpsichord and string arrangements on "Our Love (Will Survive)", and the closing mellotron swansong of "The Beyond" which provides a fitting finale.

Vinyl with free digital download or digital only version both available here:

24 Apr 2014

Free Download Roundup

Here's a bunch of free stuff from various places online (supplied by the artists themselves, nothing pirated) that I won't have a chance to review but all of which are well worth looking into.

First up, one of our favourite U.K acid folkies Sproatly Smith has curated a Greatest Hits of his work up to now, none of which are actually hits of course, but all of which are worthy. You can download it for free (or a name your own price basis) from his Bandcamp page here, where you can also buy digital versions of his other albums - The Minstrel's Grave is particularly good.
You can also pick up limited edition runs of most of his CDs through Reverb Worship.

Next up is the latest album by Schizo Fun Addict, "The Sun Yard". We featured a track from this on our 18th sampler, but you need to hear the whole shebang and they're giving it away for free on their Soundcloud page here (you'll need to download track by track). If you need further prompting, they're the folks responsible for that amazing "Suspiria" cover on Fruits de Mer that I reviewed a month or so back. Top Stuff.

You want more? OK how about this odds and sods collection from the U.K's premiere spacerock kings The Earthling Society. "Brotherhood Of The Cod - 13 tales from a Fylde Coast Fish Cult" rounds up a whole bunch of hard to find and out of print rarities, including lots of tracks from their various Fruits de Mer appearances, which means you get their fabulous version of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)". Again, a name your price download from Bandcamp with the option of downloading for free.

You all know by now that I love the Death Waltz Recording Company label I assume? Their soundcloud page is full of lots of lovely streamables (including some of their RSD releases for those of us who missed them.) Hidden among these gems are two exclusive downloadable tracks by Umberto in which he pays open tribute to John Carpenter by covering his "Chariots of Pumpkins" & "Christine". Click on the song titles to be transported to the download links.

And lastly for a bit of self promotion, I'd like to remind you that the latest Active Listener Sampler was released a few days ago. As usual, it's a name your price / free Bandcamp download, featuring the best tracks from albums and e.ps we've reviewed over the last month as well as premieres from a few other artists in a psych / prog vein that we hope you'll enjoy. Download or stream through the link below:

No Bodies

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

Yet another excellent newish Canadian act on the prolific Poncho Records label (Shadow Folk, Walrus etc.), the duo of Craig Hamlin and James O'Toole do a great job here of creating the illusion of a band - this sounds like a bunch of guys in a room playing together, not a series of multitracking sessions.

That famous cover suits the music surprisingly well too, and the appropriation doesn't end there with opener "Tell Me Who You Love" neatly combining an "Eight Miles High" inspired verse with the sort of "Who do you love" derived chorus that graced the stage of the Fillmore West on numerous occasions during the hippie era. And while that may not sound strikingly original, the skillful blending of the two, not to mention the production flourishes they're cloaked in help this cross the line from derivative to inspired.

There's plenty more garagey psych greatness to be found here too, all laced through with a fuzzy pop heart, and layers of wistful harmonies that offset the ragged squalls of lead guitar nicely.And as for energy, the rhythm guitars on "Tonight" build to such a feverish pitch that it's hard not to mentally picture the responsible party steaming slightly by the end (which may account for a hasty fadeout, just before the wheels fall off).

Best of all though is epic closer "Fence Post", a fabulous, tribal psych anthem which pulls the listener doen into a hypnotic undercurrent of weirdness with some great organ and guitar duelling and a surprise acoustic guitar coda at the end which features guitar tone to kill for, and eastern influenced playing to match - outstanding!

This was originally released digitally in June last year, but Poncho Records have recently released a cassette version, both are available here:

23 Apr 2014

New Giallo Vinyl From Finders Keepers

Amazing vinyl archaeologists Finders Keepers have three lovely looking Bruno Nicolai Giallo reissues just about to hit the shelves.

First up is a full soundtrack reissue of one of Nicolai's best works, "All The Colours Of The Dark" ("Tutti i colori del buio"). This is pretty essential in my book and knowing Finders Keepers track record for such things, will be sold out before you can blink.
Tracklisting: 1. Sabba 2. Magico Incontro 3. Propiziazione 4. Evocazione 5. Magico Incontro 6. Bambole 7. Insidia 8. Oppressione 9. Insidia 10. Espiazione 11. Medium 12. Sabba
Order here.
Also due is a 7" 4 track e.p of  "Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key" with a creepy new sleeve (pictured) and at a bargain price. Again, expect the sold out sign to appear very quickly.
Order here.

Last up in this Nicolai fest, and a little more elusive at this point is a 10" reissue of "The Case Of The Bloody Iris". Not currently pre-orderable, the Finders Keepers website lists it as 'available soon'. Keep an eye on it here.

New Krzysztof Komeda Vinyl Reissues

A mysterious outfit (by mysterious I mean no website and no information that I could dig up on them) called Active Distribution Ltd (no relation) have three very interesting looking Krzysztof Komeda reissues due out on the 28th of April.

Sure, these soundtracks have seen their fair share of reissues over the years, but what makes these interesting is that they're all 7" e.ps featuring 6 tracks rather than the full soundtracks (except for Cul De Sac which has only ever been released with 6 tracks). Nice looking picture sleeves too, and a pretty good price. I reckon these will be worth grabbing quickly before they disappear.

You can pre-order them here: Rosemary's Baby, Cul De Sac, Dance of the Vampires.

Sleeping Orchard "II"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This second E.P in less than six months from Canadian trio Sleeping Orchard is a nice little piece of rootsy psychedelia that combines vintage San Francisco-style guitar work (including plenty of tasteful instrumental breaks) with a hippyish, organic vibe that's quite different to the production-heavy psychedelia that dominates the current scene.

Best of an intriguing bunch is "I Hope I'm Going Somewhere" (which the band were perceptive enough to recommend if I only had the chance to listen to one track), which features some fabulous, sinuous lead guitar work that sounds like someone force-fed Tinariwen a bunch of weed, as well as a great, insistent keyboard refrain which has a distinctly Doorsy vibe. And there's some very tasty fuzz guitar buried low in the mix there that reaches out lovingly without ever getting too heavy and dominating.

Closer "Map of the World" deserves special mention too - a lovely, mellow, round the campfire singalong with dexterous Garcia-esque guitar leads flowing easily between the vocal lines, until its candle is snuffed well before time by an early and rapid fadeout.

Promising stuff, and I get the impression that lessons have probably been learned making this E.P that will ensure that the next one is even better.

Available as a name your price download here:

The Vickers "Ghosts"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Italian quartet The Vickers have been on my radar for a little while now (their single "She's Lost" featured back on Active Listener Sampler #9). Since then they've released another even better single (the moody "I Don't Know What It Is"), and now the follow up album "Ghosts" does a great job of consolidating the strengths of those two singles, as well as stretching out into new areas.

Frontloaded by those two singles, the rest of the album takes a little bit longer to reveal its true character, but after multiple listens shows itself to be an album of unexpected depth.

"Ghosts" is full of great songs, but it's the production that really grabs attention and brings these songs to life. I was very surprised to see that it was a self production job - good job those men! The Vickers have a panoramic approach to production that makes even the most intimate songs sound massive. Take the lovely, melancholy ballad "Senseless Life", an acoustic based song that would function perfectly adequately in a solo format, but is made substantially more than the sum of its parts by splashes of flanged/phased guitar chords and a hypnotic mantra-like psychedelic outro, a trick which they repeat several times over the album's playing length, helping to establish a sense of grandiosity and a uniformity that makes this feel like more than just a bunch of songs stuck together.

And that's part of the appeal of "Ghosts". There's a rightness about the way everything fits together so snugly, and a cohesiveness that makes this a statement that feels complete as an album experience in the grand tradition of all of those classic albums of the late sixties, but with a nice, new contemporary sheen to it that won't scare off the kids.

Available on CD or digitally through Bandcamp below:

22 Apr 2014

Active Listener Sampler #19 Out Now

This month's sampler features premieres of new tracks from Juke, The White Kites, and the Vaporettos, a sneak preview of the 2014 remaster of the Future Kings of England debut, as well as tracks from the best titles we've reviewed over the past month.

Thanks to Eric Adrian Lee for supplying the fabulous giallo/library inspired sleeve art for this month's sampler. Eric runs Wil-Ru Records, and we've featured a few of his releases on this sampler - check out the tracks from Ozarks, Panda Beach and Blind Slime.

1. Ozarks - Diamonds, Objects of Desire 03:19
2. Neils Children - Theme 2 (Variation 1) 01:03
3. Jeffertitti's Nile - No One 03:36
4. Barry Uhl - Admiral Orofino, Or, 'The Deliv'ryman Of Much Secrets And Death' 04:15
5. Sudden Death of Stars - Magical Mirror 03:47
6. Francois Sky Feat. Jeff Levitz on Sitar - As We've Been As One 09:52
7. Panda Beach - Boom (Featuring Chariots of Night) 01:33
8. Sproatly Smith - The Vision 02:34
9. Ursula - Into the Morning Sun 02:58
10. Blind Slime - Withy Well 03:35
11. Black Springs - Silver Ship 04:49
12. Bed Rugs - Be A Little Strange 04:18
13. The White Kites - The Christening 02:12
14. The Future Kings of England - 1066 (2014 Remaster) 07:55
15. Juke - On The Edge 07:59
16. The Dandelion Set - Bottom Rung (Psych Version) 04:11
17. E Gone - You Will Sing 04:52
18. The Vaporettos - Fortress of Ultimate Darkness 04:16

Stream or download here:

The Spacelords "Synapse"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I don't care what the old adage says, sometimes you can tell a book by its cover, and the new album from German trio The Spacelords sounds exactly like you would both hope, and expect from its cover.

Album number four for the trio (and their first to appear on vinyl - thanks Sulatron Records!), "Synapse" is good, old fashioned spacerock of the highest order possible, the sort of album that is required to justify lofty claims of space lordship.

As such, it's regal, majestic and grand enough to inspire the respect and devotion of its subjects, but also self aware enough to know that the best spacerock isn't all about bludgeoning riffery, but also about the spaces between the notes, and that's where The Spacelords really shine. Over four long tracks that build to generally thunderous crescendos, it's the melodic bedrock that these three set for themselves via Klaus's warm, vintage synths and the expertly manipulated array of invariably melodic themes that Hazi coaxes from his guitars that add the human element that makes these tracks so easy to engage with.

I found the heavily treated guitar work during the introductory phase of "Sitarguitar" to be particularly effective with its gently ebbing and flowing theme striking a melancholy chord that evoked something enormous and cosmic, without having to even resort to distortion, let alone the big, dumb riffs that most bands of the genre rely on.

And while there are certainly some pretty big riffs to be heard here, they're used sparingly and always in service to the song, providing emotional peaks and resolution, rather than being the be all and end all.

So, old fashioned in the best possible way, "Synapse" is an extremely well crafted album that paces itself effectively and displays subtlety and restraint at all the right moments. There are plenty of young spacerock bands out there that could, and should use this as their bible.

Available on CD and blue vinyl directly from Sulatron Records here.

21 Apr 2014

Klaus Johann Grobe "Im Sinne der Ziet"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The folks at Trouble In Mind Records have one key skill that the major labels haven't had for years: they know good music when they hear it. How else to explain the run of recent acts they've picked up who've been championed by the blogosphere (not to mention some of the more adventurous proponents of the popular music press). Jacco Gardner, Morgan Delt, The Liminanas, Doug Tuttle, the list goes on, and boils down to one thing: good taste.

Now you can add Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe to that list. Fresh from a sellout single on Sunstone Records (which Trouble In Mind repressed for the U.S market) comes what promises to be their breakout album "Im Sinne der Zeit" which is, and I won't make too fine a point of it, a rollicking good time.

Combining the rhythmic and experimental tendencies of krautrock with the most irresistible of pop smarts seems like a pretty obvious idea, but few have actually achieved results worth mentioning in this field until now and as such "Im Sinne der Zeit" is in the rather unique position of being the ideal entry point for the more pop-focused dabbler into what can be quite a baffling and intimidating genre to find your feet in (that would be krautrock, just in case I'd lost you). The fact that Klaus Johann Grobe are not actually German is a minor detail.

There's little that I can tell you about the music that your feet won't immediately tell you on first listen; imagine a German Stereolab, or a slightly less English sounding Soundcarriers and you've pretty much got there by yourself. Good isn't it? Except the real thing is way better than what is happening in your head right now.

Form an orderly queue.

Available April 29th from Trouble in Mind Records.

Free download of "Between The Buttons" from "Im Sinne der Zeit" here:

Triptides / Frankie & The Witch Fingers / The See See / The Young Sinclairs Four Way Split 7"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Stroll On Records have pulled together a pretty stellar lineup of up and coming psychedelic stars for this four way split 7" with all four groups bringing a new song to the table.

First up is "Shaman", a new song from Stroll On's very own Triptides, a band whom according to the accompanying press release have received much attention for last year's second album "Predictions". Somehow I missed all of that but now that I know what I'm looking for, backtracking and googling is indeed leading to a number of reviews, all glowing. No wonder either, "Shaman" is a treat, and the definite highlight here with a big jangly riff, creepy underwater vocals, huge harmonies and a great bridge section which gets super trippy. This is kind of what I was hoping the Temples album would sound like. I'll definitely be checking out "Predictions" ASAP.

Also on offer here is "Revival" by Frankie & The Witch Fingers which is a pretty accomplished piece of reverbed, jangle-heavy garage / psych with a great vintage guitar/organ combo sound from a band who's debut album can be download free from their Bandcamp page.

On the flipside The See See continue their run of extremely consistent singles / e.ps / albums with "Evil Clutch of Dawn" displaying their trademark melodic gifts and a nice, timeless production sound that reminds me a little of The Las which can only be a very good thing.

Last up is our old friends The Young Sinclairs whom I've waxed lyrical about several times in the past, particularly about their ability to flawlessly recreate an authentic mid sixties Kinks/Who/ Beatles hybrid with songwriting chops to match. Curiously, here they seem to have abandoned those particular ambitions in favour of recreating the sound of 1985 New Order on "In This Room". Very unexpected, and it'll be interesting to see whether it's a detour or a reinvention come next album.

Limited run of 250, and pretty top stuff. Better get in quick.

Available straight from the label here.

19 Apr 2014

Octopus Syng "Reverberating Garden Number 7"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Despite their having been around in one form or another since 1999, "Reverberating Garden Number 7" is my first real dalliance with Octopus Syng (aside from the occasional Fruits de Mer tidbit), and it makes me wonder why I've taken this long to get on board their long, weird trip.

This Finnish band, based around the talents of Jaire Pätäri, have been working on this particular long player since 2007, and the amount of time taken hasn't in any way smothered the spontaneity of this addictive long player.

On the evidence of "Reverberating Garden Number 7" I'd have to say that Octopus Syng are one of only a very few bands that have really learned the lessons that Syd Barrett had to teach. Certainly there are more bands out there than you can shake a joss stick at that show open worship for Syd (and quite rightly so), but Pätäri and co. show here that they have a firm understanding of the extremely fine balance between the experimental and the memorable pop moments that plenty of Syd disciples have managed to evoke separately, but very rarely together.

"Reverberating Garden Number 7" walks that fine tightrope between sanity and the beyond in a way few bands have managed since "Piper at the Gates of Dawn", and their can be no higher compliment.
I should point out very quickly too, that while "Piper" is really the only precedent that I can point to here, Octopus Syng are much, much more than an impressive imitator.

Filtering their love of vintage English psychedelia through a weird, occasionally sinister haze that seems very alien to those of us more accustomed to taking their U.K style psych pop in lysergic cup of tea form, Octopus Syng are at first quite a disorientating proposition - all cavernous, underwater explorations with unpredictable bursts of spidery guitar breaks. Several listens in however, the unfailingly melodic songs that offer a home to these bouts of spookiness begin to dominate, and before too long the tightrope is pulled taut and it becomes hard to imagine one functioning without the other.

It's very much an album that works best as a whole, but that doesn't mean that there aren't individual highlights. "You Are Every Poem" is a gorgeous psychedelic ballad, "Thought Collector" and "It's Not a Coincidence" are twisted, propulsive psych-rockers and I still have to keep checking which vintage horror soundtrack is playing whenever "Reflections of Time" pops up on random on my iPod.

Beautiful, alien, reverential, irreverent, contradictory on so many levels, but brilliantly so.

I shall be ordering a copy of this on vinyl as soon as possible and wearing a groove in it almost as quickly I imagine.

Full album stream and pre-orders available through the Bandcamp link below. CD pre-orders ship around 5 May, Vinyl pre-orders ship around 30 June.

17 Apr 2014

Rob Clarke & The Wooltones "The World Of The Wooltones"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Liverpudlian Rob Clarke and his Wooltones caught my ear a few months back when they sent me through "Peas" to feature on the sampler.

Whereas most of the current Liverpool based artists that I've been connecting with have a very solid connection to their Beatles / Las / The Coral heritage (good thing too), Clarke and co. inject a whole bunch of mod inflections and Bo Diddley into proceedings as well.

Although they're obviously scholars of U.K sixties mod/psych and influences are worn openly on sleeve, they never fall into the trap of slavish impersonation that a number of their peers fall into - "Peas" is obviously a storming Who meets Diddley stomper, but there's plenty of Clarke's own invention on hand, not least of all a surprising instrumental, almost prog style bridge.

Soundwise as well this avoids obvious pitfalls that others less wise would succumb to. Although reaching back to the sixties for inspiration there's never any indication of the Wooltones trying to capture a vintage sound strictly for the sake of authenticity. Neither is there that overclean studio sheen that mars too many independent releases with similar influences.

There's plenty of fun to be had - "Mystic Room" is a rhytmic powerhouse while "Monkey Man" can happily join the pantheon of classic goodtime animal songs ("Apeman" etc.), but Clarke and friends are at their best when things take a jangly, minor key turn; "End of the End" is classic, subtle jangle, like a pastoral, unmistakeably English Gene Clark with sighing backing vocals and impeccable twelve string, while "Colours of the Sun" has the steady building anthemic nature of Paul Weller's mid nineties masterworks.

Bet these guys are great live too.

Available late April from http://www.robclarkeandthewooltones.co.uk/

16 Apr 2014

Dodson & Fogg "After The Fall"

Reviewed By Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Incredibly this is already Dodson And Fogg’s fifth album proper. Mainstay and Dodson kingpin Chris Wade is a one man song generator make no mistake; however it is the sheer quality of his output (The cream of which can be sampled on The Active Listener Introduces Dodson & Fogg), that truly impresses. In just under three years Dodson And Fogg have amassed a back catalogue of jewels and diamonds that most bands would spend a career trying to build and scrape together. "After The Fall" more than ably adds to this treasure chest.

Whilst the title of "After The Fall" might conjure up images of Dante and apocalyptic landscapes, the album itself feels and sounds more akin to a late summer evening, both in its hazy warmth and in its nostalgic glow. Accordingly, the album begins in bucolic fashion with "You’re An Island", Scarlet Rivera (best known for her work on Dylan’s "Desire") allowing her violin to gently weave a spell around Wade’s insistent acoustic guitar and slightly sinister vocals, tabla allowing the song to drift on a Barrett-esque haze of smoke and sitar. "Sweet Lily Rose" evokes the Kinks at their most Village Green, its Sunday afternoon atmospherics providing comfort in swathes of deeply English nostalgia. "In Your Own Fine Way" is a gentle yet persistent piece of pop perfection, both melodic and melancholy. Mellow Candle legend Alison O'Donnell’s timeless vocals add a dreamlike and wistful edge to affairs whilst special mention must go to Wade’s guitar playing on both this and the album as a whole. Spare, stark and powerful (and at times evocative of the playing of both Luke Haines and T Rex), there are no pointless or overcooked solos here. Rather, Wade’s guitar lines elevate the songs and add yet more melody onto tracks that are already brimful of hooks and harmony. "Lord Above" is a case in point; a slow glam guitar stomp speeds up at the close of the song to an invigorating Black Sabbath-esque jig, transforming the whole mood of the piece. Keeping with the late summer feel "Here in the Night"s minor key acoustic reflection adds a psychedelic ‘end of summer’ sadness to affairs.

"Life’s Life" is more urgent; handclaps and an almost Spanish guitar propelling the song along in "Forever Changes" fashion. Indeed there is an Arthur Lee tinge to arrangements here, which is most welcome; however the sound itself is pure Dodson And Fogg, whose extensive back catalogue has built up a solid identity of their own. That said, for new listeners, key reference points could be said to include The Auteurs, Julian Cope (in vision at least), Paul Roland's more baroque and acoustic forays and classic Ray Davies. However most of all, this is the sound of Chris Wade, whose vision and intensely prolific song writing must surely mark him out as one of the UK’s most creative and crucial artists.

"Careless Man" is a blues hued Doors style number; a hint of Americana in the green and pleasant Englishness of the rest of the album with Celia Humphris (from 70s acid folk giants Trees) adding whispered and edgy vocals. When the guitar break comes it sounds like it has arrived straight from the waking dreams of Neil Young, with echoes of "Bad Reputation" era Thin Lizzy. "Must Be Going Crazy":, with its tales of solo games of chess in the dark, is a skewed and off kilter paean to a more fried and frazzled state of mind. It’s at once sad, sinister and surreally humorous, much like a lot of Dodson’s music. "Hiding From The Light" is pure psychedelia, floating on chanted vocals and threatening fuzz guitar. The stone cold classic on this album (in this writer’s humble opinion), it shifts from laconically laidback to full on attack in its distorted guitar screams and rising sense of panic. In contrast "Just Wondering"s delicate descending piano notes and Alison O'Donnell's backing vocals are more acid folk than acid freakout, although there is a suitably (again) Thin Lizzy styled coda which is genuinely thrilling. Finally, "After The Fall" is a widescreen epic of a song, thundering tabla propelling the eerie lead guitar and the ominous chorus through the looking glass into a world or wonderland of Dodson’s own devising.

Who else is making music this original, timeless and adventurous? Certainly not your Q magazine cover merchants; arguably the Mojo front pagers but they are mostly retired and gone. Dodson And Fogg are a one man psychedelic renaissance, a creative coup d'état who criminally is not yet receiving the attention that music of this calibre and care deserves. You can remedy this; you know what you need to do: spread the word.

15 Apr 2014

Espectrostatic "Phantominom VGS"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Based on the urban legend of a video game console no one had ever seen or heard of, purchased at a mysterious garage sale. The peculiar electrical and television hookups were not compatible with any existing or historical connections, leading some to speculate that this console was not of our world, but from a nearby parallel universe......

Alex Cuervo's synth horror alter-ego Espectrostatic has been increasingly dominant of late, first with his excellent solo full length platter on Trouble in Mind Records last year, and now with this six track E.P put together as a fundraiser for Hex Dispensers bandmate Rebecca Whitley, who had a 23 pound (!) ovarian cyst removed last year, only to find that her medical insurers considered it a pre-existing condition.

Taking as its central conceit the idea that the six tracks offered up here form the soundtrack to a late eighties video game cartridge, you'd have to be pretty stubborn to insist that this isn't a novelty idea, but it's done with such close attention to detail and such an emphasis on being a helluva lot of fun that only the most sticklery of sticklers could possibly protest.

Cuervo obviously grew up playing a lot of games of the era (as did I), as he's captured the sense of impending danger perfectly, evoking images of heavily pixelated Lovecraftian terrors lurking around every corner.

Several tracks from last year's self titled T.I.M release are also revisited in this format using 4 monophonic FM synthesizer channels and 3 PCM audio percussion channels and fare particularly well, but it's the opening one-two of "Witchtropolis" and "Carpe Nacht" that best capture the luminescent purple flavour of the era.

Great stuff, and all for an excellent cause. It's only $4.99, but please pay more if you can to help a hard working musician get back on her feet:

Delaney Davidson "Swim Down Low"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Presumably introductions are necessary for the majority of readers, and this evocative description from the Outside/Inside Records website captures Delaney's essence nicely:

"Part man part wheel, Delaney Davidson is part wandering minstrel, part travelling salesman. One hand holds a small brown suitcase; his trade, his ghost orchestra, the other holds his guitar. During a ten year Solo Tour Davidson has turned homelessness into a success of its own..."

In our home country New Zealand, Davidson is a fairly well known character through his solo albums and tours as well as his successful string of old-timey country outings with fellow rambling troubadour Marlon Williams, but it's Europe that has embraced his vagabond lifestyle and it's here that his fifth solo album "Swim Down Low" was recorded for Italian label Outside/Inside.

Put to tape over a week with Matt Bordin and Davide Zolli from Mojomatics, "Swim Down Low" displays plenty of Davidson's self deprecating humour and augments his gothic folk-noir with more of a cinematic widescreen vista than we've heard before on his records, with some notable trumpet work that finds a cosy middle ground between Calexico and vintage Italian cinema.

But as always Davidson is unable to be dominated by his collaborators, with his sardonic delivery and expressive Cash/Cave/Waits vocal delivery taking centre stage with an effective cover of Nick Lowe's seminal "The Beast In Me" nestling nicely among a selection of Davidson's own gems, which all have a swampy, off the cuff charm that revels in spontaneity without displaying a lack of polish.

Fans of the aforementioned artists as well as the likes of Sixteen Horsepower should become acquainted with Mr Davidson at the first possible opportunity, and if you don't have the chance to catch him live (where he really shines), then "Swim Down Low" is an eminently suitable alternative.

"Swim Down Low" is available here on CD, or digitally here.

14 Apr 2014

Neils Children "Serial Music #1"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The press release that accompanies this extremely limited edition cassette release is quick to establish that this is not intended as a follow up to last year's excellent "Dimly Lit", but rather an accompanying work that intends to both build upon the cinematic interludes that helped make "Dimly Lit" such an interesting beast, and to showcase the band's love for library music and soundtrack music in general.

While this preliminary statement does probably need to be in place to prepare those expecting a full vocal/songs sort of album to adjust their expectations, it also does a bit of a disservice to the music found here, which is not the slight, inconsequential output that one might expect from such a project, but a fully rounded product that effortlessly taps into the same vein of vintage psychedelia and space pop as "Dimly Lit" did so effectively. And while their was a noticeable step up in terms of songwriting quality  on "Dimly Lit", I'd argue that the band's recent leaps and bounds improvements in the field of vintage sonic detailing has been just as important in their progressing from just another good post-punk band in a field littered with similar entities, to the compelling, uncategorisable creature they've become. In short if you loved the sound of "Dimly Lit", you can safely buy this now, unheard.

So, while on the surface this may appear to be a bit of a stopgap type of release, it's actually a very interesting piece of work that allows the band to play to some of its key strengths. I'd liken it's place in their catalogue to works like "Obscured By Clouds", "The Virgin Suicides" or "Berberian Sound Studio", and it's no accident that they're all soundtracks.

There's plenty of jazzy vibes, fuzzy guitars and funky breaks here, but it's the moodiest pieces that are particularly well observed; "Theme 2 (Variation 1)" is a lovely giallosque fragment with a fabulous shuffle while "Theme 2 (Variation 2)" features a discordantly squealing guitar adrift among a sea of gorgeously pulsing backwards tapes - and for those glancing at the tracklisting who are concerned that variations of the same two themes may get tired pretty quickly, I can assure you that names aside, no two tracks sound even remotely alike.

Limited edition cassette can be pre-ordered until April 28 when it will go promptly out of print. Digital album available now, both from the Bandcamp link below:

Ralph Jones "Slumber Party Massacre"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Death Waltz Recording Company are back with another gem from just after the golden era of slasher cinema, 1982's "Slumber Party Massacre".

Roundly dismissed on release, the film is now seen as a uniquely feminist take on the slasher genre, and Ralph Jones' alternately menacing and playful synthesizer score does a fabulous job of building atmosphere and elevating the film from a good slasher, to a pretty great one.

The influence of John Carpenter's "Halloween" score is evident often (one key recurring theme is particularly "Shape" like), but given the low budget nature of the film and the exploitative nature of the genre itself, it seems likely that Jones' brief requested a score that would evoke its more famous forefather. And in all honesty, "Slumber Party Massacre" has dated far better than the majority of the "Halloween" scores that were being churned out when John Carpenter handed the reins over to Alan Howarth.

Jones injects plenty of melody into these set pieces to ensure that they not only effortlessly create a sense of dread and unease whilst accompanying the film, but also that they have plenty going on to keep the listener engaged when played purely as a soundtrack.

There's plenty of synthesizer textures to keep eighties horror hounds happy, but Jones also shows a fondness for grandiloquent organ flourishes that alternate between funereal church organ and full on mad scientist Bach toccata-isms. Add plenty of disturbing sounding Sci-Fi synthesizer pulses, and you've got an unsung gem of a soundtrack that arguably functions better without onscreen accompaniment, where it can evoke its own story.

Available late April from the Death Waltz Recording Company in a suitably garish neon pink and green vinyl pressing, pre-order here.

The Slumber Party Massacre Collection Box Set Is Available on DVD here.
Sample track for stream or download here:

12 Apr 2014

Ursula "A Silhouette In The Hourglass"

The latest release on the Active Listener Records label is the superb debut release from L.A based psychedelic pop duo Ursula.

"A Silhouette In The Hourglass" represents the duo's efforts to "make something that was honest, holds nothing back and isn't safe."

We were extremely impressed when we first heard it, and continued exposure has only enhanced our already high opinion of it, with plenty of subtle nuances finding their way through on repeat listens.

There are moments that evoke the murky weirdness of early Floyd, plenty of Beatlesque hooks in the choruses and most impressively of all, the raw, direct appeal of Neutral Milk Hotel's generally unreachable "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea".

Chances are good that this is the first you've heard of August Larson & Trey Findley, but with talent like theirs, you'll hear a whole lot more. Get in here on the ground floor and see where "A Silhouette In The Hourglass" takes you.

Full stream and download here - only $6 for full album download:

Three Dimensional Tanx

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

Hailing from Lancaster, UK, the fabulous Three Dimensional Tanx are back with their first proper release since 2011’s "Archive". Long revered for their incendiary live performances, Three Dimentional Tanx have a sound that is the essence of garage psychedelia, a heady mixture of freak out and manic energy delivered via a kick ass rhythm section, lysergic wah wah guitars, krautrock synths/ 60s organ and a lead singer who may very well have lost his mind. If you need comparisons, try early Who or Sonics dropping cheap speedy acid with the Television Personalities. No, on second thought, that doesn’t even come close. These guys are great.

Boasting a new five-piece lineup, the Tanx waste no time leaving the launch pad as opening number "I Am Go" explodes in a vintage Philacorda keyboard fury. The Tanx drop back a pace for "Caterpillar", a confident vintage groove piece. The cleverly titled "Loose Id Syd" follows, and you start to get a feel for one of the strengths of this band. They completely get the concept of pacing.

"Here Come the Flies" is a menacing, pacing rocker that John Lydon wishes he wrote. "Canned Beat" would have fit well on the Feelies "Crazy Rhythms", and "King of the Country" starts building the energy for which the Tanx are famous. "Backwards Telescope" has the listener yo-yoing through a sonic black hole, and "Clark’s Momentum" is a synth and drum-machine fun house that slowly builds in intensity, but never once loses its groove.

The final song, "Canned Beat (Reprise)" is vintage Three Dimensional Tanx. Beginning with front man Spacey Tanx performing a Zombie-like hymn, then unleashing the full band in blitzkrieg mode to finish the song and put an exclamation point on one hell of a record.

From the beginning, Three Dimensional Tanx were born and bred to play live, and to absolutely knock the bottom out of any stage they take. There are a lot of bands that record absolutely amazing records but are as boring as piss live. There are still others who are brilliant live but who can’t quite capture their live intensity on record. Three Dimensional Tanx are a band that has mastered the most difficult form of musical cross-training – being able to light your hair on fire by performing live or via your home stereo speakers.

These guys have a great reputation all over the UK, and I’m hoping that this new record gets them the international attention (hello Austin Psych Fest ) that they truly deserve.

Available here on CD or digitally.

Editor's note: We'd also like to make it known that Sunstone Records have a limited edition 7" of "I Am Go" and "Loose Id Syd" for those of you who prefer the vinyl side of things.
You can order that directly from Sunstone Records.

10 Apr 2014

The Junipers "Paint The Ground"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Originally released in early 2012, this is being reviewed now because a.) I've only just discovered it recently, and b.) because Sugarbush Records (who also released the vinyl version of Orgone Box's "Centaur") have just given it a much deserved first vinyl release.

This new limited pressing of only 300 copies has given what was already a pretty lovely sounding album (in digital form) a new lease of life with a fantastic, warm mix for vinyl that enhances its already sunny disposition.

Stepping back slightly; "Paint The Ground" doesn't exist in a vacuum. The Junipers formed in Leicester back in 2000 so they've had plenty of time to hone their sound, and "Paint The Ground" is very polished indeed. Not polished as in overproduced, but exceptionally well crafted, self aware and just right in every sense of the word. Much care has been taken here.

Which is all well and good you say, but what does it actually sound like?

"Paint The Ground" simply put, evokes giants. "In My Reverie" and "Phoebus Filled The Town" occupy the same bittersweet melancholic realm as Midlake's "Trials of Van Occupanther". "They Lived Up In The Valley" perfects the close harmony acoustic magic that Pink Floyd were occasionally dabbling in between "Zabriskie Point" and "Meddle". "Willow & The Water Mill" has the quietly swelling glory of mature Teenage Fanclub at their most pastoral. Elsewhere there are echoes of everyone from early Stone Roses to "Nuada" era Candidate.

There are many that would perhaps regard these comparisons as doing a disservice to "Paint The Ground", The Junipers after all do have an identity of their own. The point that I'm trying to make is that while others evoking such noble forebears would lurk in the corner, unsure of themselves and shuffling their feet uncomfortably, the songs on "Paint The Ground" can stand proudly and confidently amongst them and cast fairly lengthy shadows of their own.

Is it the most groundbreaking and original album you'll hear this year? Certainly not, but chances are pretty good that song for song, harmony for harmony it'll be the best, and I'd wager that there's not an album that better captures the hazy, bucolic, watch-stopping nature of Summer.

And while I'm waxing lyrical about the Junipers I should also mention this rather fun E.P of tracks too "pop" to fit in on their more ambitious album releases. Well worth a listen.

"Paint The Ground" is available on vinyl directly from Sugarbush Records eBay page here.

Digital version (and full stream) available here:

9 Apr 2014

The Movements "Like Elephants 2"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Last year's "Like Elephants 1" caught me off guard with its not unexpected (but unexpectedly convincing) embrace of psychedelia, so I was prepared for this follow up to be a massive psychedelic juggernaut (especially bearing in mind that it was recorded during the same sessions as "Like Elephants 1").

Interestingly enough "Like Elephants 2" is an entirely different creature which, while retaining the necessary explorative and adventurous spirit of it's predecessor, otherwise shrugs off the genre trappings to showcase an album that isn't easily identified as psychedelia - or anything else for that matter.

It's an album that transcends genres in the ways that the best classic rock albums do - tracks like the tremendously effecting "Six Feet Under" have the same transcendental qualities that the last few Screaming Trees albums were up until this point, almost uniquely in possession of.

There are still plenty of trimmings for those who want certain psychedelic boxes to be ticked - check out the twelve string jangle and San Fran guitar leads on "Winter's Calling", but more often than not, this is a more wide-reaching affair that employs arrangements that best serve the song, whether that be the aforementioned jangly folk-rocker or the moody, almost Bad Seeds like "Icecold", the Laurel Canyonesque "Yesterday, Now or Forever" or the creepy, wicker-folk chant of the title track.

It's not as immediate a thrill as "Like Elephants 1", but given a few extra listens to acclimatise, it quickly becomes apparent that "Like Elephants 2" is a massive step forward within a genre that, with it's current mainstream dalliance, is showing signs of becoming formulaic.

The way forward for psychedelia perhaps?

Available here on CD, and digitally here.

Vinyl coming soon as a double LP paired with "Like Elephants 1" on Sunrise Ocean Bender Records.

8 Apr 2014

Malachai "Beyond Ugly"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

An introduction for those unfamiliar with Bristol duo Malachai: DJ Scott Hendy and vocalist Gee Ealey made one of the best psychedelic albums of 2009 by using traditional hip-hop sampling methods applied to old psychedelic rock albums to make something that sounded both nostalgically vintage and dazzlingly fresh at the same time.

2011's "Return To The Ugly Side" took me a little bit longer to get my head around. Gone was the cut and paste garage psychedelia of 2009's "Ugly Side of Love", abandoned in favour of an album that seemed to be constructed almost entirely from John Barry samples.

So Malachai have already established that they don't make the same album twice, and with album number three in what has turned into a loosely themed "ugly" trilogy, they're once again using the same techniques to make a very, very different album.

Coming about almost by accident after an unintentional meeting in their hometown, "Beyond Ugly" is a big, angry, riffy beast that allows Ealey a sturdy launchpad for his sermonising.

First single "I Deserve To No" is a fabulous slice of protest stomp with exquisite Indian string samples tempering Ealey's righteous fury, while opener "Sweet Flower" is anything but sweet and flowery.

It's not all full throttle though; "Dragon's Ball" (featuring a guest appearance from superfan Geoff Barrow) is a swirling cloud of rhythmic psychedelia while "Dark Before The Dawn" effectively revisits the moody cinematic territory of "Return To The Ugly Side". Perhaps best of all though is the release of the gently lysergic and deeply subversive lullaby "Hear It Comes".

"Beyond Ugly" is certainly Malachai's most diverse offering to date, and a fine alternative to the "We Shall Overcome" earnestness of the original protest movement.

Available on Vinyl, CD, or digitally.

Dead Meadow "Warble Womb"

Reviewed by Amanda Votta

To be sure, this is not the old Dead Meadow. Though original drummer Mark Laughlin has returned to the fold, it isn’t a signal that there’s been a return to their original sound for the band. The songs aren’t quite as heavy, as spacey, as intoxicated sounding as past albums. There’s something almost country about it, a twang in place of some of the heaviness—but it’s a great rolling desert of country. The vast expanse of space that stretches out under the sky, rolling out towards California and the Pacific Ocean.

The sound here also owes more to the 60’s as well than perhaps could be heard previously. None of these are negative points, however. Every band grows and changes throughout their careers. Some for the better, some for the worse. Some, like Dead Meadow, seem to drift along their way. The way Dead Meadow sounds here isn’t exactly something you couldn’t foresee if you’ve listened to their older material and it seems more a natural evolution than a deliberate attempt to appeal to a broader audience. Not that this is the definition of mainstream, though it does stray more towards accessible than pervious material generally did. Take album opener “Six to Let the Light Shine Thru,” for instance. It has that vast desert country rolling by sound, punctuated by some excellent drumming from Laughlin, along with a bit of a dirtier 60’s groove, topped off with a healthy dose of fuzz—all while maintaining a decidedly melodic tone. It shimmers and shines, but it also knows where it’s headed.

The handful of songs that follow—the coolly mellow “1000 Dreams,” “Yesterday’s Blowin’ Back” and “One More Toll Taker” with acoustic making a notable appearance among them—make up the relatively tamer first half of the album. Tamer, yet still suffused with that glowing, almost pulsating sound they’ve always had.

Then, somewhere around mid-album, something else happens. It starts with “Rains in the Desert” and the song’s resonant bass line, the way the effects on the vocals makes them seem to flash in and out, the fuzzier, heavier guitar sound that remind you that Dead Meadow do still know how to write songs that wander somewhere else, songs that can take you there with them. This becomes even clearer with the second to last song, “This Song Is Over.” Here, on what is my favorite from this album, they take a step away and to the side of the more accessible sound heard on the earlier portion of the album. The quieter vocals, driving, distorted guitars and Laughlin’s again excellent drumming guide over nine minutes of shimmering, haziness to its slowly unfolding conclusion.

This is what Dead Meadow are best at, these songs that are suspended somewhere between soaring through clouds and crawling through earth. If you go back and listen to the first half of the album after hearing these later songs, you can hear just how the one leads to the other and understand how and why their sound has evolved into what it is. Listening to it “in reverse,” you can also pick out better the more subtle ways their evolution has affected the songs they’re making. The sound of the space in which the music was created is here—it’s connected to the physical despite any psychedelic ephemerality, in a good way—and hasn’t been lost to an overly clean production. The life hasn’t been engineered out, either by the more harmonious songwriting or by any recording choices the band have made. Going to the end and then back through the beginning also makes me excited to hear where they go next, which strange road they’ll follow through the huge, open desert and where that will take them.

Available on vinyl, CD, or digital.

7 Apr 2014

Strange Turn "Pink Litmus Paper Shirt"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

There's very little factual information that I can furnish you with for this release as the members of Strange Turn (if indeed there are more than one of them) have up until now retained an air of mystery, so this review for their debut 7" is liable to take a more impressionistic turn.

An extremely limited edition of only 100 copies from the steadily expanding Mega Dodo label, "Pink Litmus Paper Shirt" sounds very much like the sort of thing one would expect to find in the next batch of Fruits de Mer label releases (not surprising, as Mega Dodo and Fruits de Mer do share artists around), with an extensive U.K psych influence (which the band admit, with the "Rubble" collections mentioned in their teeny press release).

The self composed a-side is a big, shiny pop-psych anthem which evolves from a concise, whimsical piece of pop-psych into a massive "I am The Walrus" style kaleidoscopic slow fade, with some particularly nice lyrical lead guitar work with a crisp, heavily chorused tone that David Gilmour would approve of.

The flipside accentuates the Beatles influence even more by featuring a cover of Gene Clark's most Beatlesque solo track "Elevator Operator" (the original of which has a middling reputation, but is much loved by this writer).

It'll be interesting to see what's up next for Strange Turn - for all I know this could be a one off side project from a more established band, but on the evidence of these two sides further output is to be encouraged.

You can still buy this instant collector's item right here. Streaming of both tracks is also enabled:

Mick Harvey "Four (Acts of Love)"

Reviewed by Amanda Votta

Mick Harvey has had a long and illustrious career. Spending time in The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds in his earlier days, he’s also made solo albums and film scores, handled production for artists like PJ Harvey and Rowland S. Howard, along with numerous Bad Seeds-related albums. Yet, while he has certainly kept busy throughout his career, his own solo albums seem to be somewhat overlooked in favor of his collaborations. That is criminal though, as his solo work is the equal to anything he ever did in collaboration, or any of his film scores. On his most recent studio album, Four (Acts of Love), he again ably and amply demonstrates his genius, crafting gorgeous, deceptively simple songs that are perfectly constructed. The album itself is a song cycle, divided into three parts, each part dealing with a different aspect of romantic love: loss, reawakening and our struggles with it.

This is, of course, done in the way Mick Harvey does things. It’s an ephemeral, contradictory, and what some might term dark exploration of what love is, what love means and keeps its distance from contemplations on love often found in popular culture. Love, here, won’t necessarily save you or make everything alright, won’t always bring you calm and peace. It will mystify you, lead you down a winding path to a conclusion that isn’t really a conclusion, but another part of the journey. This search for meaning and lack of true conclusion or reassurance is a thread that runs brightly through all of Harvey’s work. Here, the path begins with the beautiful “Praise the Earth (Wheels of Amber and Gold)”—a song structured around a simple, delicate, repeating musical motif that becomes sublime when coupled with Mick Harvey’s voice. The sound of his voice and the way it blends in with yet rises above the instrumentation in a kind of perfect accord thoroughly compliments the music, allowing his words to ring out clearly. He sings of the sun, the moon, the sea and the earth in what sounds to be poignant joy at their beauty. But then, the sun and moon themselves speak through Harvey, reminding us that one day even their light will die. At the end of the song, the question is posed that is contemplated throughout the album: “Our dreams and all that we’ve done, where have they gone?” Based on a hymn originally composed by Reginald Heber, Harvey’s reinterpretation maintains the aura of a sacred song—but a sacred song not without skepticism directed at the divine which it was intended to praise. The PJ Harvey-penned “Glorious” follows, a song that both mourns and celebrates an overwhelming, ruinous love. Though the song is distinctly PJ Harvey’s, having that certain bluesy tone to the music and flair to the lyrics she does so well, and she does duet with him on it, Mick makes it his own entirely. “Where There’s Smoke (Before)” adds a bit of dissonance into the mix and closes out Act 1. The companion to this track, “Where There’s Smoke (After),” opens Act 3 and is infused instead with something almost darkly jazzy. “I Wish That I Were Stone” perhaps best exemplifies Harvey’s ability to masterfully craft a song.

The music itself is fuller yet still delicate and rises and falls in subtle counterpoint to Harvey’s voice. Throughout the three acts are sprinkled a handful of eclectic covers: Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do,” The Saint’s “The Story of Love,” Exuma’s “Summertime in New York”—wherein something of Harvey’s past in bands like The Birthday Party can be discerned—and Roy Orbison’s classic “Wild Hearts,” which is stunningly interpreted here. The songs are joined together at times by instrumental interludes; short, atmospheric songs in which Harvey’s skill as a film composer can be heard. “Midnight on the Ramparts” is an excellent illustration of this, in which an echoing whistle rises above the instruments, intimating a quiet longing. At the end of this cyclical journey, we arrive back at the beginning with a second version of “Praise the Earth.” The words “Into the unknown” ring out the end of the cycle, leaving us no wiser than at the start. But when dealing with the subject of love, of the joy and sorrow it can bring, there can be no definitive answer. The rambling, winding journey is all there is.

Available on vinyl, CD, and digital.