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: