30 Nov 2015

The Besnard Lakes - The Golden Lion

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

The new three song EP "The Golden Lion" from The Besnard Lakes is upbeat, lush, and exquisitely rendered from start to finish. They’ve pulled out all the blissful stops that a dream pop fan could want, from the ear candy of “The Motorway” to the golden-throated vocals of Jace Lasek on the title track, “Golden Lion.”

One is often reminded of Brian Wilson, only elevated to another sonic level with many glistening layers of guitar and vocals. “The Forest” is more laid back and less 'in-your-face' with its musical arrangements, allowing the sound to expand around the listener’s headspace. Keyboards are employed smartly, never overwhelming Lasek’s angelic falsetto, and married to the orchestral arrangement, it works its charm on anyone who takes the time to queue up these three songs.

It bodes well for the new album "A Coliseum Complex Museum", out on January 22, and is quite the treat for longtime fans as well as new listeners who enjoy chamber pop with dreamy overtones.

Available here (UK), and here (US).

29 Nov 2015

The Telescopes - Splashdown The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

When Creation Records rescued the Telescopes from legal strife with their previous label, they were riding the crest of a wave that had seen My Bloody Valentine and Ride unexpectedly enter the top forty, little knowing that there was even bigger to come. The Telescopes had done all that they could with their earlier confrontational noiserock sound, and Creation were asking for hits. This exhaustive double CD collection charts the course that Telescopes mainman Stephen Lawrie sailed trying to provide that hit, concurrently chronicling the band's impressive evolution over the course of three years, four EPs and one very special album, all included here with rare bonus tracks.

Recent trends have seen shoegaze and psychedelia lumped together by the music press, but back in 1990 this wasn't so common a marriage. The music fashioned by the Telescopes over this period is among the most psychedelic created during the initial era of shoegaze, and sounds thrilling and forward-looking to contemporary ears, even if it only sold marginally at the time - truly a case of being too ahead of the times for their own audience. It's never too late to discover a good thing though, and "Splashdown" is a treasure trove ripe for rediscovery.

While their earlier noise-rock tendencies still rear their heads occasionally here, they're reined in and only one of the many textures which make up a much more expansive, ethereal psychedelia that acknowledges its influences by paying tribute to the Beach Boys (on the fabulous Dennis Wilson / Charles Manson penned "Never Learn Not To Love"), the Velvet Underground and the Who, while tracing its own startling trajectory.

The EPs found on disc one become progressively more adventurous and experimental, as the release dates tick over, with the material found on the two 1991 EPs "Celeste" and "Flying" containing some startling moments, particularly the lovely Eastern psychedelia of "Flying" and "Soul Full of Tears" while the hooky "The Sleepwalk", would have been a contender if released as a single a few years later. There's never a dull moment on these EPs and the balance between expansive buzzsaw guitars and swooning dreampop vocals never tips too far either way.

Disc two focuses on "#Untitled Second", the band's only full length album for Creation, and the culmination of everything that the EPs were building towards. It's a truly great album, and something of a lost classic, the sort of album which is routinely rediscovered and reappraised, but until now has escaped that treatment. The noise and rock tropes are toned down even further here, although they're still important elements which are expertly manipulated on tracks like "Ocean Drive" to create an expansive psychedelic wash. Elsewhere, acoustic instrumentation is prevalent - "You Set My Soul" even sees the rhythm section dabble with a Pentangleish folk/jazz hybrid. It's not an album that's easy to convey with words as Lawrie concedes in the sleevenotes: "It's really hard to explain where that album is coming from. It started out as an abstract obsession with warmth and got stranger from there." Lawrie also notes that he was "searching for the character of the instruments and their environment" as much as the songs themselves, and the band's obsessive attention to tonal detail has resulted in an album that doesn't sound like it has dated a day.

The original Telescopes lineup splintered soon after, perhaps sensibly so - where was there to go after this?

Exceptional stuff that requires and rewards obsessive listening.

Available here (UK) or here (US).

28 Nov 2015

Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Review and interview by Tom Sandford

The Byrds’ wingspan of influence stretched across three full decades and flew through the sounds made by some of the most important bands in the history of rock, including Big Star, the Jayhawks, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Hüsker Dü, Echo and the Bunnymen and countless others. For a time it was de rigueur – if not downright cliché – to see the Byrds name-checked in almost any band’s bio. They were part of the holy trinity of influential B-named bands: Beatles, Beach Boys, and Byrds.

But to everything there is a season, and an apparent decline in the band’s influence on popular music seemed to coincide with the deaths of two of its original members, Gene Clark (in 1991) and Michael Clarke (1993). Notwithstanding this decline, the Byrds have always flown high and commanded serious respect among certain pockets of fans and bands alike – folks in Northern England especially, for some reason. Since 1990, we’ve seen the likes of the La’s, the Stone Roses, the Coral and Shack flying the jangle-pop flag. Since 2007, Kontiki Suite, a talented sextet from England’s Lake District, has continued in this tradition, evidence of which can be readily found on their sophomore release, "The Greatest Show On Earth".

As with their debut release (2013’s "On Sunset Lake"), Kontiki Suite proudly flies its Byrds banner via some obvious stylistic hat-tips to 1968’s "The Notorious Byrd Brothers". This time out, the band boasts a batch of impressive new Rickenbacker-based janglers (mainly from the pen of guitarist Ben Singh) and a tougher sound from the rest of the band (Jonny Singh, lap steel guitar; Marcus Dodds, guitar; Mario Renucci, bass; Chris Brown and Craig Bright on drums and percussion respectively). The result is a cohesive, 50-minute flight high above exquisitely atmospheric psych/country-rock/chamber pop soundscapes.

The opening moments of guitar/rim shots in the rousing, Golden Smog-like opener “Bring Our Empire Down” recall David Crosby’s serene “Dolphin’s Smile,” after which some Neil Young-like crunch is thrown in as the song gathers steam. “My Own Little World” features the kind of textured ‘n’ trippy triple-guitar interplay (including lap steel and 12-string Rickenbacker) that characterizes the overall tone of the album – tone that is often upended by deliciously abrupt shifts in tempo: the lads in Kontiki Suite are more than happy to jolt you out of the hypnotized state in which they deftly placed you. Occasional, judiciously chosen blasts of harmonica tug on the same heartstrings as in Big Star’s “Life is White.”

“Free From Sound” and “Here for You Now” are tremendous pop songs, the kind of tracks that, back in the day, would’ve jumped out of an AM radio and grabbed you by the throat. The former features a keening pedal steel hook that’s hell-bent on becoming your next earworm. The latter blends a “Ticket To Ride” beat with power-poppy rhythm reminiscent of Gene Clark’s evergreen “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”

Elsewhere, the band flexes its muscle on two lengthy guitar workouts, “Burned” (with its nod to Younger Than Yesterday’s “Renaissance Fair”) and the slow-burning “Under the Rug,” while “All I Can Say” shows the effortlessness with which Singh’s vocals can reconcile an ostensibly bouncy rhythm with a melancholic melody. In places he sounds uncannily like Gary Louris. Fans of "Sound of Lies"-era Jayhawks would feel right at home with this release.

Ultimately, "The Greatest Show On Earth" reveals increased depth, both in Ben Singh’s writing and the band’s collective vision. Kontiki Suite has created much more than a simple paean to the legacy of the Byrds; they have taken vital steps in forging a legacy of their own.

Chatting up the Byrds with Kontiki Suite’s Craig Bright and Benjamin Singh

Tell me about the cover/title concept for the new record?

Craig Bright: During the time period in which we wrote and recorded The Greatest Show On Earth, three of the six band members have been fortunate enough to become parents. One of the lucky fathers, Jonny Singh, wrote the opening song on the album, Bring Our Empire Down, about the juxtaposition of the joy and virgin challenges of parenthood and, one line in particular in the song, refers to "the greatest show on earth"; Jonny's way of describing the wonder of witnessing the miracle of your own child being born. Moreover, when we identified the title of the album, it served to conjure a vision of an old school creepy freak-show in our minds.

So, looking at the front cover of the album, you will see a couple of key elements: One, a crowd observing the show; and two, the decidedly freaky dream sequence of a child at peace, asleep. Our brief was realised by the fantastic Luke Insect, a U.K. based designer.

Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.

C.B.: The Byrds, and their various related bands and solo projects, are very important to Kontiki Suite. As children of the nineties, we were able to discover and appreciate The Byrds vicariously through a love of the bands they themselves inspired and influenced, in which I would include The Stone Roses, Ride and Rain Parade, among many others.

It never fails to blow my mind when I consider the volume and diversity of the music The Byrds produced, particularly between 1965 and 1969. I guess we would cite The Notorious Byrd Brothers as the zenith of their output, as it is a beautifully perfect culmination of all of the best elements of their albums (folk, pop, psychedelia and country). Undeniably, [it is] the template for our sound.

Of course, the consistency of The Byrds' output weakened thereafter, but the void was more than filled by the solo albums of McGuinn, Crosby, Gram Parsons and most importantly to us, Gene Clark. For me to attempt to tell you how vital Gene's post-Byrds music is would be complete folly. Personally, my favourite Clark song is “The True One” (from 1974’s No Other). Pretty much musical perfection in its simplest form as far as I'm concerned.

So, yes, The Byrds are a significant, direct influence on us, musically, aesthetically and culturally.

Take me through the steps in which a Kontiki Suite song typically comes together.

Ben Singh: A Kontiki Suite song will almost always start life as an acoustic piece – a folk song, I guess. If it sounds good with just the vocal and an acoustic it gives the song a good chance of sounding good embellished. The song is usually complete in terms of structure and groove before being presented to the rest of the band and if it's a song I've wrote and I've a strong idea of how it should sound I will sometimes record a demo in my home studio.

Down at the rehearsal room I'd play a handful of tunes to the band, either the recorded demos or just with the acoustic and we'd just jam through them. It's always nice if we hit the groove instantly. If it feels good we'll run with it and then we'll start to work on the guitars in more detail.

With the song beginning as an acoustic song I'll play the rhythm guitar while singing the melody. Jonny Singh plays a lap steel adding a kind of 'movement' to the sound, swooning in and out. We usually add a quite a bit of reverb and delay to give it more texture. Marcus Dodds plays a Telecaster for the majority of this album, usually either a clean tone with a touch of reverb or a classic fuzz. He tends to play the fills in between the vocal lines and more often than not he takes the solos.

Guitar textures are an intrinsic part of your sound, especially in terms of the interplay between them. Is this something you spend a lot of time consciously working on? Or is it just a natural by-product of how the band writes?

B.S.: The interchange between the slide and the lead occur quite naturally and aren't overly worked on; I guess that has came with the experience of playing together for the length of time we have. All the guitar lines are based around the vocal lines and melody and we try not to have too much going on at the same time. On the recordings I'll put down an acoustic track, this adds a percussive dynamic and then a picking 12-string Rickenbacker. I tend play this through a compressor with reverb. On a lot of the songs this is the main guitar of the track and other guitars play off it. The sound is very deliberate and we do consciously work on it but it does come very naturally to us. I think the reason why the three electric guitar parts work together so well is due to contrasting styles we play.

Vinyl, CD and digital all available here:

27 Nov 2015

Brian Jonestown Massacre - Pish / Mini Album Thingy Wingy

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

It’s business as usual for psych veterans BJM on this new seven song EP which is chock full of droney goodness and sublime trippy pastiches.

Opening tune “Pish” is a collaboration with Tess Parks, and is almost orchestral, containing all the requisite majesty one could expect. Perhaps it is chamber psych, a new genre? Employed throughout the record are fuzzed out guitars, programmed strings and horns, flute, and a Slovakian pastoral bent (“Prsi Prsi”, sung and co-written by Vladimir Nosal) which suits the band well. There's a 13th Floor Elevators cover, “Dust”, which retains the 60s flavor of the original and also includes a guest spot from Alex Maas, frontman with Austin psych outfit The Black Angels, who contributes jug playing in tribute to the Elevators’ electric jug player, Tommy Hall. “Leave It Alone” is classic BJM toking with some shoegazey Verve smoke tossed into the blend. “Mandrake Handshake” is another prime slice of acoustic psych beauty, and one has to wonder if writing these songs is as natural as breathing to Anton Newcombe. “Here Comes the Waiting For The Sun” comes off as a great lost Velvets classic, complete with cool phased vocals.

Another worthwhile outing for this longtime California-by-way-of-Berlin psychedelic collective then.

Available here (US), and here (UK).


26 Nov 2015

Nous Sommes Paris

While we have no desire to introduce politics and religion into the mix here at the Active Listener, sometimes these things can't (and shouldn't) be ignored.

So calling in a few favours, and generally working ourselves into a bit of a tizzy, we've spent the last week furiously emailing around and compiling this massive, 35 track collection, which is yours for a steal at only $10 (or more if you can afford it). All proceeds will go to the French Red Cross in their efforts to aid the survivors as well as the families of the victims of those affected by the incidents in Paris on Friday the 13th of November.

Thanks first and foremost to the artists who have kindly contributed to this collection (as well as their labels, management and publishing companies). We'd have nothing to offer without their generous contributions, and they've been very patient with my erratic correspondence. They've provided some great music, much of which is previously unreleased or very hard to come by. We're humbled by their generosity.

And thanks also to Matt Talbot for his thoughtful and tasteful cover image.

Here's the impressive track listing:

1. Courtney Barnett - Ode To Odetta 02:46 2. The Sufis - Different Views 02:42 3. The Phoenix Foundation - I Want More 04:19 4. The Limiñanas - Wunderbar 02:31 5. WJLP - Sunrise 03:21 6. Violet Swells - Gravity Wins Again 03:08 7. Sudden Death of Stars - The Void 04:13 8. Kontiki Suite - I Wish 03:20 9. Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders - Misty Dreamer 02:32 10. The Green Pajamas - The Jailer's Song 03:59 11. Soft Hearted Scientists - Midnight Mutinies (Home Demo) 05:15 12. Brown Recluse - Silver Lake 03:51 13. Wilding - Evalina 03:14 14. Eerie Wanda - Volcano Lagoon 02:54 15. Bat Faced Girl - Straight In My Heart 01:54 16. The Magnetic Mind - Stay Away From The Door 03:01 17. Sky Picnic - Upon Further Reflection 03:23 18. Eric Lichter - Slicing Through My Thumb 04:22 19. Nick J. Morfitt - Embryo 04:13 20. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - The Wild Ride of Ichabod Crane (Dandelion Radio Version) 02:52 21. Cornershop - Let The Good Time Roll 02:26 22. The Luck of Eden Hall - Twelve 05:09 23. Kanoi - Mountains Of The Sun 06:45 24. Orgasmo Sonore - French Gainsbourg 03:27 25. Alasdair Roberts and Debbie Armour - Come, My Darling Polly (2015 Version) 04:07 26. Emily Jones - Light Appearing 01:45 27. The Diamond Family - A Raven 05:43 28. The Ilk - Jacques Bonsergent 02:50 29. Katje Janisch - The Yew Tree (Resurrection) 04:17 30. The Sound Of The Shires - Judy Fly 03:58 31. The Sigmaticle Tour Green - Star Gazer 02:57 32. Keith Seatman - It’s Now Time to Let Go 04:47 33. Polypores - Man With Antlers 06:08 34. Jim Griffin - After a Walk in The Country 03:53 35. The Hare And The Moon - Come Unto The Corn 04:26

Please give generously and share around as you can. Merci beaucoup.

25 Nov 2015

Gareth Davies - Dawnlight Reflections

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While there can be no doubt that the internet has caused a lot of damage to the music industry as a whole, it's also provided 'the little guy' with numerous opportunities that he wouldn't have had in the old-fashioned industry; an industry where it would be unthinkable for a New Zealand based writer to be covering a Welsh artist on an Austrian label, yet that's what we're looking at today.

To the artist on hand, Gareth Davies is an ex-metaller who now makes vintage sounding acoustic folk music very much in the mold of Nick Drake and John Martyn, although Davies material is all performed solo with just an acoustic guitar and his own double tracked vocal, which betrays a more contemporary edge that often reminds me of the vocals from Candidate's unimpeachable "Wicker Man" tribute "Nuada".

"Dawnlight Reflections" is very much a continuation of last year's excellent "The Spirit Garden", and while you'd expect two solo acoustic releases in such a short space of time to start sounding samey, a couple of listens will certainly show that this isn't the case. The songs themselves are strong, and lack obvious hooks, relying instead on Davies' dexterous guitar playing (the ghost of "Pink Moon" looms large over "Spectral Horizon"), with its lovely sustained notes, and carefully applied vibrato, not to mention his soothing, brittle voice.

While it'd certainly be interesting to hear Davies' songs augmented with some double bass, and drums - given the full Ryley Walker treatment - this particaular set of songs aren't found wanting for the absence of this treatment, with Davies' hushed vocals suiting the intimate setting perfectly.

Another extremely strong release from Davies. If you're a fan of the artists mentioned within, vintage progressive-folk, or even the quieter moments on Opeth's albums, you'll find much to enthral here.

The lovely CD version is available here (as is a bargain package including the also essential "The Spirit Garden"). You can also download the album on a 'name your price' basis here:

23 Nov 2015

This Week's Quick Links

After a five year break The Coral have a brand new album available to pre-order.

The Resonars previously unreleased second album is now available on Bandcamp.

Here's a bunch of great clips of the first Fairport Convention line-up performing live for TV. Time Will Show The Wiser. Morning Glory. Reno Nevada.

Emitt Rhodes is crowdfunding a new album.

Lush are set to release new music.

Here's the new David Bowie single.

Jarvis Cocker and members of Portishead and Goldfrapp are taking part in a live tribute to puppet master Gerry Anderson.

22 Nov 2015

Cumbias Chichadélicas - Peruvian Psychedelic Chicha

By Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Originating in the coastal region of Columbia, Cumbia music spread across the South American continent, and even up into Mexico, mutating and changing with each mile. It’s a music that was made for dancing… with a brisk 2/4 time signature all but forcing the listener to move. And, sometime in the late 60s in Peru, Cumbia mutated into Chicha: the psychedelic cousin of Cumbia that can be heard in this collection.

Although not overtly psychedelic, Peruvian Chica can change your headspace very quickly. It’s all rock instrumentation, with a strong emphasis on guitars, and the occasional waves of echo and wah-wah giving the music its psych flavor.

Sure, we do hear the occasional horn section like you might expect to hear in some Mexican mariachi bands, or some wood block percussion, or even some slithery tango rhythms. But, even when making its deepest ingresses into more-traditional South American sounds, the music stays psychedelic. Just listen to the heavily processed lead banjo on “Mi Morena Rebekde” by Eusebio y Su Banjo for a perfect example of a how the two traditions meld into one; it brings to the music a sound that is simultaneously of both traditions, and of neither.

If you are one who is turned off by foreign-language singing, there is a little bit of that here, for sure. And you should know that. However, the collection is primarily instrumental. And, with the recordings re-mastered from the original tapes, the instruments all sound great: guitars leap out, percussion pops, and the stereo separation makes for excellent headphone listening.

While, sadly, this reviewer was not able to get his hands on an actual physical copy of the deluxe vinyl reissue*, I do have access to PDF versions of the liner notes and packaging, and I can state with certainty that there is a wealth of information to read, and many gorgeous photographs and artwork to behold within the double LP gatefold package.

It’s a bounty of both great music, and of great history. Dig in!

Available here (UK) and here (US).

20 Nov 2015

Robert Forster - Songs to Play

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'd be hard pressed to pick an Australian band with a catalogue more essential than that of the Go-Betweens, although the Triffids and the Bad Seeds come close. And while the sweet pop hooks of Grant McLennan may be what initially grabbed my attention, it was the clever, wordy songs of Robert Forster that really made me stick around and really dig in.

Forster takes his time these days - this is only his second album since McLennan's passing in 2006 - but he's one of the few songwriters of his era who still actively contributes to his legacy with each release, rather than simply using that legacy to ensure a few sales to a dwindling fan base.

Beyond catchy as hell opener "Learn to Burn", "Songs to Play" isn't an immediate album, but fans know to expect this. Forster's songs develop, and wind their way into the listener's consciousness through a witty, Dylanesque turn of phrase here, a repetitive VU style riff there, with hooks that gradually insinuate themselves, until you discover that every note on the album serves a purpose and fits exactly where it should as part of Forster's masterplan. This being the case I was a little underwhelmed on first listen, but a week later I was convinced "Songs to Play" was one of the best thing's Forster's ever done - an opinion I seem to share (see Uncut's review for example).

Forster works best with others, and on these recordings he's joined by a band that includes members of Australian psychedelic rockers the John Steel Singers (who also co-produce), as well as members of his own immediate family, and he's never sounded more confident or at ease.

"Learn to Burn" is an early attention grabber, but there's plenty more to raise eyebrows, including "A Poet Walks" which sounds very much like a "Forever Changes" outtake with its propulsive acoustic guitars and simple, lyrical trumpet solo, and "Let Me Imagine You", a jangly nostalgia fest which wittily examines the mystique-destroying side effects of the social media age.

Forster's at the top of his game here, maturing gracefully, with even the more slight numbers boasting memorable guitar hooks, and the sort of sly, grin-inducing lyrical asides that you'd expect to find on a latter day Dylan album. I was hanging on every word.

For those yet to investigate Forster's work beyond the Go-Betweens, this is the place to start.

Vinyl and CD available here (UK) and here (US).

19 Nov 2015

Video Premiere - Lovebyrd "Shot From The Sun"

We first covered German psych-pop band LOVEBYRD back in February, when their debut was released on cassette and digitally on Ongakubaka Records.

They've attracted a lot of attention since then, and have just released their album on vinyl through new Netherlands based label Hairy Records.

Today we're happy to be premiering the video for their excellent single "Shot From The Sun" (which you can still download as part of the Active Listener Sampler 29). 

The video was directed & edited by artist Yoshi Sodeoka, who has previously directed videos for a wide range of artists including Tame Impala (Elephant!), Yeasayer and Psychic TV.

Check out the video here: