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!