4 Mar 2015

Wand "Golem"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's been less than a year since this LA based bunch unleashed their spectacular debut on the world via Ty Segal's God? imprint (on Drag City), and the follow up, "Golem", is even more of a treat.

Less reliant on synths, studio trickery, and psychedelia in general, "Golem" is, I imagine, an excellent indicator that their live show is a hair raising affair. The press release acknowledges Electric Wizard as a primary influence on "Golem", which caused some raised eyebrows here - eyebrows which remained raised as "Unexplored Map" exploded into life. Wow. This is one ferocious beast of a garage psych record. One with raw, terrifying guitars that are equally at home with bludgeoning riffery, or spiralling -out-of-control guitar leads. One with blunt force trauma drumming. And also fortunately, one that knows when to tone things back with unexpected subtlety - which isn't done often, but always exactly when needed.

Even when the music has you pinned down with your arm uncomfortably twisted behind your back, vocalist Cory Hanson is there adding a layer of sweetness. Sounding uncannily like Ty Segal at times, his is a game changing presence, with the sort of gifted melodicism that helped the likes of Kurt Cobain reach a level of universal connection that Mark Arm could never quite attain (for example). What I'm trying to say is that these are some seriously engaging vocal performances, especially when Hanson hits his falsetto.

I realise that I've painted a picture of a really noisy record here, and a lot of the time that is the case. These boys do heavy, heavy garage psych as well as anyone out there at the moment ("Floating Head" is a particularly great example), but the album's best moments fall between these heavier spaces. The best of these, and probably the most eye opening signpost for future promise comes with "Melted Rope". It's a massive glam epic; a "Width of a Circle" for the now, complete with huge mellotron blasts and some lovely, lyrical guitar work which will have Mick Ronson smiling quietly to himself, wherever he is.

This year's totally essential rock album.
"Golem" can be pre-ordered here.

Nine Questions with Frantic Chant

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Col McGregor from Frantic Chant.

What was the first record you bought?
I had lots of music around me growing up and had sneaked a lot of my Mum and Dad’s records and tapes into my collection before I bought my first record. Stuff like Johnny Cash, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Elvis found their way into my room in the 70’s before Punk came along and blew them all away for me.
Edinburgh is a city that’s made up from lots of villages joining together, so every area had a kind of High Street and there was a record shop on every one. It meant I could get along to my local record shop from an early age to spend my pocket money on a 7” while my friends were still spending their money on sweets.
The first record I remember buying, I can recall every step of the process. I met my friend, Skoges, and we paid the 5p fare on the number 42 bus to Abbeyhill, and then headed straight to Words & Music in Easter Road. We took turns each to listen on the one set of headphones to the new single by The Damned which was called The History of the World (pt1). We were both completely mesmerised by the song and left the shop with a copy each. The record stayed on my turntable until I saved up to buy the next instalment of my record collection.

What was the last record you bought?
The last record I bought was by a band I am completely obsessed by and have been since hearing them on the NME C86 album, Half Man Half Biscuit. I supported them with my previous band and was a bit star struck but I did get to play their drums. To a fanboy like me, that still brings a big smile to my face. "Urge For Offal" is their latest album and is definitely up there with their best and I don’t say that lightly. “Mcintyre, Treadmore & Davitt” and “This Leaden Pall” are, for me, the finest HMHB albums but the new one really gives them a run for their money. Nigel Blackwell is a lyricist who nails everything in British popular culture with a wit that is never snobbish or elitist. “Adam Boyle Has Cast Lad Rock Aside” is a song having a dig at fashion victims/hipsters and sums them up perfectly. “His folk antennae is fully switched on The Union Jack on his Epiphone’s gone He’s flirting with tweed Come and see how Adam Boyle cast lad rock aside”

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
I’m quite an open book, so there’s not (m)any skeletons in my closet. Don’t tell my kids but I had a terrible attendance record at school. I spent most of my time in a pool hall called The Courage Club. I managed to “acquire” a list from the truant officers office that had the ten worst truancy offenders in the Leith area. I was number 3, which is quite an achievement if you know Leith.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Other than Half Man Half Biscuit, there are not really any bands I’d want to record with but I’d love to record a Frantic Chant album with Brian Wilson in the producer’s chair.

Who should we be listening to right now?
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of the songs that will be included on the forthcoming album by fellow Edinburgers, The Valkarys. It’s their best work so far and I keep checking my Dropbox to see if they’ve sent me any more. The album is out in April and is called Just Like Flying With God. Doing a radio show means I get to hear a lot of new music and I’ve had some stunning songs sent to me over the last few years from bands like Helicon, The Green Tambourine Band, Delta Mainline, The Jackals, My Electric Love Affair, The Red Plastic Buddha, Will Hanson, Mummy Short Arms, The Luck of Eden Hall, The Mushroom Club and loads more I’m going to be annoyed about forgetting here.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
I like all the formats for different reasons but vinyl will always have the edge. I was like a kid in a sweet shop when I first got connected to the internet, downloading everything I could get my virtual hands on. It kind of ruined the magic of hearing a new album for me though. Another record I remember the whole buying and first listen process was Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. I stared at the candle on the cover for the duration of the 4 sides and by the end I swear it was moving and flickering. Downloading an MP3 just doesn’t have the same effect.

Tell us about your latest release. 
We released an album last year called Ride It Like a Shark and Tim Ferguson wrote a review for The Active Listener that describes it better than I ever could. It was so refreshing to read an album review that completely got what we were trying to do.

What's next for you, musically? 
We have been recording some demos for the next album and have been very quiet, gig wise. Recording proper begins next month with our long time producer Elle Durnan. Early signs are hinting that the songs will be more like our full on live sound rather than the tripped out stuff on Shark. We did say that the last time too but we get carried away in the studio discovering more and more layers we can add. We’re lucky we have Elle, who knows our sound so well and is almost like our 5th member. We’re not restricted by time in the studio and are able to spend as much time that’s needed on each song. So to answer the question, the next album will be somewhere between a 3 minute Motown inspired song and an 18 minute prog rock opus about mushrooms and fairies. Maybe.

What's for dinner? 
I’d love to say it was my speciality chicken cooked in tomatoes, honey, lemon and orange but it will probably be beans on toast as I’m skint and the cupboards are bare.


3 Mar 2015

Moth Effect "Crocodilians"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

This March, Sunstone Records will release Moth Effect’s latest, "Crocodilians". For those unfamiliar, Moth Effect is a Sussex, UK-based instrumental solo-project that spans any number of genres, blurring the lines and producing something riveting and new; most notably, you can pull out influences from Krautrock, 60’s/70’s garage and psychedelic, as well as post-punk, shoegaze and 90’s-era electronica, but it all coalesces seamlessly. While much of this record is a slow-build – as you can probably guess from the influences tagged: awash in layers of ambience and reverb – I’d be remiss to not point out that every track still wants you to move; even at its most exploratory moments, "Crocodilians" is highly dance-able, a value that is sometimes dismissed – or worse, overlooked.

Opener, "Look Nicely", makes use of a repeating bass line and constant bass drum throb that in other hands might be misunderstood as a very familiar and predictable riff, but, here, it’s used as a necessary anchor to an otherwise otherworldly build. Its groove is well-paced and hypnotic, naturally incorporating new and interesting sounds across its full five minutes: a SONAR-like whirr seems to continually search the space. Yet there’s that constant beat that pushes the song forward.

"Ninety-Nine Seems Fine" builds upon a clip of warbling synths which recall Kraftwerk’s "Tour de France Soundtracks" or Cluster’s "Zuckerzeit", but the eventual goal is one of the album’s most organic tracks as it turns towards the dissonant post-rock from earlier this millennium as a touchstone, proving that a diversified sound can still feel cohesive. Similarly "Sleepless & Beatless", "Crocodilians"’ closing track, is a slow – slower than the others – send-off. It’s a quiet exit that both reiterates the album’s strengths and atmospheric feats while tapping into a new branch of Moth Effect’s expansive palette, channeling 70’s-era soundtracks and Stars of the Lid brand post-rock.

Musicians inhabiting the same world as Moth Effect sometimes seem to get lost in the instrument or instruments at their disposal (or just a few processing/recording tricks), but Moth Effect shows immense control and expertise, leaving space when there needs to be space and piling on the sound when there ought to be mountains of eeriness. Since 2009, Moth Effect has been visiting Earth now and then, long enough to deliver more sound artifacts from the deep reaches of space.

More information about Moth Effect and Crocodilians can be found here.

You can order / pre-order here - out March 30!

Nine Questions with Death & Vanilla

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today..... Anders from Death & Vanilla.

What was the first record you bought? 
Probably AC/DC's Flick Of The Switch. I bought it on a school trip and my parents had given me some pocket money. I spent all the money on the record the first day so I couldn’t participate in any of the activities for the rest of the trip.

What was the last record you bought? 
I’m buying records all the time, I can’t really stop. There’s just too much good music and I want to hear it all. Some of the latest records I bought are Bobby Hutcherson - Patterns, Alessandro Alessandroni - Industriale, Don Cherry - Mordern Art, Gary Burton - The Groovy Sound Of Music, Tomaga - Futura Grotesk, Testbild! - Belka & Strelka etc

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
That we’re all satanists!

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
I don’t really have any ”dream” collaborators, but imagine doing a soundtrack together with Krzysztof Komeda in the late 60’s. That would have been cool.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
Shabazz Palaces - they’re are easily the best band on the planet. It feels like they’re on different level than everybody else, like they’re super-humans or something.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
I like vinyl the most but I use all formats. Cassettes as well. They are all good. But if I buy records it’s usually on vinyl. I haven’t bought a CD in years.

Tell us about your latest release. 
Our new album are coming out in early May on Fire Records and we’re very excited about that. It’s been finished for awhile now so I can’t wait for it to come out. Also I think I feel that once it’s out I can move on and start working on new things.

What's next for you, musically? 
It could go in any direction really, whatever we feel like. We just did a score for Roman Polanski's ”The Tenant” which we performed live to the film at a festival in Spain. It was very hard work, but we’d like to do more soundtrack stuff in the future. We’ll see what happens.

What's for dinner? 
We’ll be cooking minestrone, to the sounds of Gabor Szabo.


2 Mar 2015

Swervedriver "I Wasn’t Born to Lose You"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Any longtime Swervedriver fan is bound to compare this brand new record with the English band’s back catalogue. Witness “Sci-Fi Flyer” or “Son of Mustang Ford” and compare that to the smoothed out tunes on this new release, “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You.” But make no mistake, this is still a very important band in the shoegaze/psych realm. Adam Franklin’s angular guitar playing and pleasant voice are much as they’ve always been. The tones are warm and mellifluous, and the production is tight. And the band’s great love for Television has never been more obvious. They not only covered “Days” on the B-side to “Setting Sun”, but the A-side is an obvious tribute to Television where the influence is clear! Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge trade licks much as Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine did in Television, one swooping in and another dropping back so seamlessly that it’s hard to discern who is playing what. That is the result of all the years of touring together, and makes the 18 years between albums (the last was 1998’s "99th Dream") seem like only a few years.

Opener “Autodidact” slays me with its killer melody and beautiful guitar work. Riffs thunder down on listener’s heads, only to end in shimmering notes shot through by the sun. “Last Rites” has some muscular runs tempered by its swooning melody. “For a Day Like Tomorrow” starts off somewhat flat but its instrumental interludes save the song from tedium. Particularly toward the end, Franklin pulls off some tasty licks. “Everso” launches out of the gate quietly brooding, but once again, the guitar work this band is known for adds a sonic filigree to this tune. “English Subtitles” is classic Swervedriver, and yet has a gentle heart beating at its core. “Red Queen Arms Race” is all about psychedelia, with wah-wah pedal and reverb drenched vocals. Album closer “I Wonder?” is a fitting end to what should be a satisfying listen for most Swervedriver fans.

I personally never grow tired of glorious guitar work coupled with pretty melodies and harmonies, effortlessly played by a band that are in total sync with one another. To this fan, it’s like coming home.

Available here on vinyl, and CD.

Nine Questions with Bat Faced Girl

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today..... Jim Crick from Bat Faced Girl.

What was the first record you bought? 
It was Appetite for Destruction by Guns and Roses when it was first released on tape. I used to have it playing in my old Morris Marina while I was cruising the countryside. It's hard to remember how massive that record was at the time. It's still damn brilliant.

What was the last record you bought? 
Albino Father - II. I got into Albino Father when they released AGE. I think I discovered it through Bill at THE SODA SHOP. They are pretty big on Doom but Albino Father straddle over into Garage and do some fine tunes.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I'm an award winning horror actor. :) A few years back I did a short film called BELLY OF THE WOLF and it's won several awards, including the British Horror Award in 2013. I got to go to the Empire at Leicester Square in London and see it screened. I landed the part from being in a band at a friend's wedding. I was very drunk, dressed as Keith Richards. The director was there and he said at that point that he knew I'd be up for the film, but his wife made him wait till the next day before he asked me.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Bobby Hecksher from the Warlocks. There's been some cross pollination already. I've met him a couple of times and he adapted one of my tunes and stuck it on one of his albums. That's all I'm saying about that... I'm pretty chuffed and anyone that knows my old work should have worked that out already. He's a nice guy and I love his new album Skull Lover. It was great to see him back in London last year on his birthday. It's been difficult for him over the last few years, a bit like me.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
My friends THE BARON FOUR. They made a great album last year. 

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
CD... I love packaging but I don't like scratchy vinyl. MP3's serve a purpose but I can hear the frequency cut offs. You're better off with FLAC but not too many gadgets support playing FLAC. It's a bummer.

Tell us about your latest release.
I released WAY OUT this year. It's an 11 track album of Psych, Garage and Blues. There's a lot of fuzz on it. I've been hand building fuzzes, so they all got on the record. That, and my tendon problems have eased a bit so there's more guitar on it than ATROPHE. The big blues tune "WHEN THE DEVIL COMES" is just a guitar / keyboard / bass solo war.  I grew up playing blues bass so a blues revival is not a big surprise, it's always been there like rock and roll, it just sneaks out every now and then. I really like the garage on the record, stupid little riffs played loud hahaha.... Chris taught me that.

What's next for you, musically? 
I'm starting a garage funk band... I'm not saying anymore at the minute but it's sounding really good.

What's for dinner?
Curry... I may put the ghost chilli's in. I'm feeling brave.


Jysus "Love, Nature & Disasters"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Factually I can't tell you much about Spanish band Jysus. Their LP "Love, Nature & Disasters" arrived in the post out of the blue with a brief press release linking band members to Wild Honey, Hollywood Sinners and Gamonides - none of which I've heard of over on the other side of the world here in New Zealand. So not much to go on then, but on an album like this, the music is more than capable of speaking for itself.

Jysus prove once again, that the best Cosmic American music of the last twenty years or so is being made outside of the U.S.A. An innovative, dynamic rearrangement of Paul Simon's "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall" is likely to be the drawcard for many listeners here, but those that stick around will find eight originals that maintain a very high standard indeed.

Like others with a similar mindset (Beachwood Sparks and Kontiki spring to mind), Jysus use lessons learnt from the Byrds as a launching pad rather than a template. "The Darkest Wine" is a good example of this; starting with moody, minor key jangle which sounds like it's been lifted straight from the first side of "Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde", it's soon elevated by peals of fluent, echo-laden guitar with a distinctly contemporary edge. There's plenty of twang too, with the Tex Mex flavoured "El Perro" being a right irresistible knees-up. But jangly folk-rock is the dominant sound, and these lads do it well, whether they're focusing on the moody minor-key stuff or upbeat shuffles.

Available digitally, or on vinyl here:

1 Mar 2015

Nine Questions with Matt Rendon (The Resonars / The Butterscotch Cathedral)

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today....Matt Rendon from the Resonars & the Butterscotch Cathedral .

What was the first record you bought? 
The first I can remember is Wild Thing by the Troggs.

What was the last record you bought? 
The Abigails - Tundra.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
Pretty bad temper in the studio, but only with my own stuff.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Keith Moon. Can you imagine having that guy drumming on one of your songs?!

Who should we be listening to right now? 
The Electric Magpie, Tele Novella, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, the Wrong Words.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 

Tell us about your latest release.
The Butterscotch Cathedral is an experiment in which I had my friend Chris Ayers write lyrics and then I built songs around them. It opened up some avenues for different sounds - lots of Moog, organ, and special effects. Both sides are one continuous suite (with the exception of the side 2 opener, Loud Heavy Sun). I suppose it's psychedelic, but it covers a lot of ground.

What's next for you, musically? 
Recording the next LP. It'll be either the Resonars, or under my given name. Thinking about putting the whole Resonars thing to bed actually.

What's for dinner?
Salad from spinach grown in my backyard!


28 Feb 2015

The Myrrors "Arena Negra"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Following their 2013 debut, "Burning Circles in the Sky", (recorded sometime in 2008), the Myrrors offer-up their second proper release, "Arena Negra", in late March from Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Even if you’re familiar with the Myrrors’ previous releases, "Arena Negra" will surprise you. It certainly surprised me. The Tucson, AZ band has delivered here an impressive talent for transcendence, both as a band in relation to their previous incarnations as well as sonically. "Arena Negra" is a four track, 40+ minute journey that explores an American Southwest brand of mystic rock, eerie while tapping, too, the otherworldly sight of disappearing desert horizons, especially early in the morning, or near dusk.

Apparent from the beginning, "Arena Negra" has more atmosphere than any of the band’s previous releases – and most other records for that matter. The diverse instrumentation is distinct across every track; each element is given space, building what, in the end, is an incredible sense of landscape. Listening to "Juanita Laguna Duerme Con Los Grillos", the mysterious, slow-building second track, one feels able to uncannily pinpoint the location of each sound in a room. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of sounds here, too. Like the other three tracks, there’s an apparent cultivation of this space and atmosphere that adds to the entire listening experience a sense of frenetic realism.

Like Australia’s Dirty Three, the Myrrors use stringed instruments like they’re meant to be destroyed, pushed to their absolute limit. The rough bowed drones that begin "Arena Negra" set the tone for the record. The Myrrors’ concern seems to be the attainment not of perfection but expression; each song, whether four or twenty minutes long, encapsulates a mood, an idea, or a place and sets fire to it – complete with everything you’d expect (improvised guitar, free form and eclectic rhythms, chants, chimes, horns, pulsing strings and organs) – to see what we can see within it.

The epic closer, "The Forward Path", is a master work, using the same sonic aesthetics of the other tracks but dovetailing them into an always-interesting and heavy composition that reveals an appreciation for arrangement. Though a bit longer than twenty minutes, "The Forward Path" feels somehow streamlined, too; it doesn’t meditate too long upon any section of the song without the addition or variation of sounds. In a recent interview on this same site, Nik Rayne suggested another record was in the works. Meanwhile, they’re playing Levitation (Austin Psych Fest) in May and planning a tour. Prep your music playing device of choice for this one – and, hopefully soon, more like it.

"Arena Negra" is available for pre-order here in almost any form imaginable and various colors.

27 Feb 2015

Francis Monkman & Paul Hart "Energism" & "Futurism"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Who knows whether it has anything to do with Luke Vibert's excellent "Nuggets Vol. 3" selection (available here ridiculously cheaply at the moment), or whether the powers that be have just decided that it's time, but the folks at Dutton Vocalion have turned their attentions to the contents of the excellent Bruton and Chappell music libraries with an exciting batch of reissues, all making their first appearances on CD.

Rather than focus solely on the funky side of these two catalogues, the first batch of releases in this series seems to be selected to highlight the wide range of styles and moods that were required, whether that be drama, jazz and romance, spy & crime suspense, or futuristic synthesizer opuses, which Monkman and Hart offer in the pick of the series so far. (I say "so far", hoping there will be more to come, but can't confirm that will be the case).

"Energism" & "Futurism" make a fine pairing, focusing as they do, on pairing forward-thinking synthesizer tones with a conventional drums / bass rhythm section. Names like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream are bandied about in the press release information. Fair enough too, but that doesn't take into account the distinct Englishness of these pieces, which tie in far more closely to Ghost Box's aesthetic, especially the public service announcement / nature films schtick of Jon Brooks' Advisory Circle, which is itself heavily influenced by this era.

And while Monkman and Hart may have similar approaches to arrangement on these albums, they have distinctly different compositional sensibilities, allowing for a greater range than one would expect to encounter from one composer alone. Originally recorded in 1979 and 1981, these releases share a fuzzy VHS view of the future which sounds very much of its time, but also prescient - perhaps not in terms of evoking a realistic vision of the future, but certainly as to how various strands of electronic music would evolve.

Of the two, Monkman's "Energism" has the biggest tunes, with tracks like "Accomplishments of Man" having an epic sweep which effortlessly conjures images of Stonehenge, Incan ruins and other mysterious, slightly otherworldly sites. If Arthur C. Clarke didn't use this piece in his TV series, he certainly should have.

Hart on the other hand provides more variety with some quite suspenseful pieces, as well as some gorgeous tracks with extensive fretless bass which makes this go down very smoothly indeed.

Excellent sleeve notes too on this release, with an overview of the Bruton label itself, as well as features on the two featured composers / bandleaders.

This is an essential purchase. Those who have already delved into Library music will be well aware of the quality of these two albums, but fans of Boards of Canada, Ghost Box Records, and synth based electronica in general are in for a real treat here.

"Energism" & "Futurism" (and the other titles in this series) are available here at a bargain price - particularly bearing in mind how much the original LPs of most of these titles go for!