26 Nov 2014

Album Review: The House of Love "Live at the Lexington 13:11:13"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Since reforming in 2003 with three quarters of the 'classic' line up (and crucially, the core creative duo of Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers), seminal U.K indie band The House of Love have done things at their own pace, without the external (i.e record company) pressures that led to Bickers leaving the band in 1989. Older, and wiser, the two studio albums released since this reformation have been low-key events with a subtlety and maturity that is admittedly less exciting than their first two self titled albums, but extremely rewarding in their own way. Parallels can certainly be drawn with the Go-Betweens reformation and subsequent albums.

Which brings us to "Live at the Lexington", recorded and filmed last year in an intimate London venue as a memento for the band. This sense of things being done because they want to do them (rather than being told to do them by their label) translates nicely into an enjoyably relaxed session, with a focus on material from the Chadwick / Bickers era.

There are plenty of fan favourites; "Shine On", "Christine" and "Destroy the Heart" are all revisited in a refreshing fashion, but more recent material nestles comfortably among the acknowledged peaks without seeming any the poorer for it. Chadwick's voice is still in pretty good shape, with Bickers' backing vocals providing support when necessary. And Bickers' guitar work is sensational throughout; varied, impressive and never flashier than it needs to be, it's never sounded better.

The DVD content (the full show as featured on the CD), is excellent too, with none of the flashy camera cuts often associated with concert films. The cameras seem to be there to document, rather than create the excitement, which with a performance as compelling as this is just fine.

Recommended.

CD and region-free DVD available here.

25 Nov 2014

The Active Listener Sampler 26 Available Now


This month's sampler with another piece of eye-catching artwork by Martin Ross Butler (www.martinrossbutler.com ) is available now. Free / name your price download below....

1. Paperhead - Eye For Eye 02:50
2. The Baudelaires - Where You Go 03:25
3. Jouis - All That Is And Is One 06:00
4. Shinkiro - The Formula For Eternal Life 03:59
5. Moonsicles - Crystal Spy 05:32
6. United Bible Studies - Clay In My Hand 04:01
7. The Carousels - My Beating Heart 04:11
8. Julie's Haircut - Karlsruhe 06:42
9. Concretism - Tesseract 03:57
10. Sam Cohen - Kepler 62 04:27
11. Sounds of Sputnik - Light Scheme (Mind Movies Remix) 05:16
12. Gareth Davies - Thistledown Lodging 04:10
13. The Unseen - Her Father's Voice 07:26
14. Human Greed - World Fair Theme 04:27
15. Ummagma - Live And Let Die 04:59
16. Mark Fry - Aeroplanes 05:03
17. The Familiars - Sons Of Clovis 08:25

24 Nov 2014

Album Reviews: Moonsicles "Creeper"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I get all sorts of things turning up in the post for review, but I think I can safely say that this is the first with a cover adorned with a hand painted, amputee unicorn. Needless to say my curiosity was piqued. And this was before I investigated further and discovered that Moonsicles had eschewed the standard-practice album release show in favour of a full play through of the album with accompanying yoga session.

The press release describes a band assembled from a long lineage of adventurous and experimental Austin outfits (the Weird Weeds, Dana Falconberry, Some Say Leland, McMercy Family Band, Pillow Queens, Woven Bones, Ichi Ni San Shi, Suspirians, No Mas Bodas ), brought together by a common, exploratory bond. That being the case, it's impressive just how melodic and accessible this rather lovely album is.

I've rarely heard a band choose a more appropriate moniker than Moonsicles. Shela Scoville's keyboards provide a chilly, kosmische wash which evokes lonesome lunar winds, with the rhythm section of Carolyn Cunningham and Lindsey Verrill settling into a glacially slow, processional pace which suggests an alien sense of gravity. Acting as the perfect foil is Aaron Russell, who's chiming guitar parts play a key role in establishing a sense of warmth for the listener to connect with - a human element in a mysterious, alien environment.

There's a definite post-rock flavor permeating things, but with a refreshing lack of the formulaic, crescendo-building, loud / quiet / loud schtick. Instead, I'm reminded more of the desolate, deliberate desert-scapes of Earth's "The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull", albeit with Scoville's vintage synths making this sound considerably less Earth-bound.

Essential.

Limited edition of 100 CDs in handpainted sleeves available here.

E.P Review: Soft Peaks "Altocumular"


Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

This Baltimore power pop group mines a musical vein you've all heard before, with influences like the Flamin’ Groovies and Big Star worn plainly on their sleeves. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because when this sort of melodic, hard-edged music is played and sung as well as it is here, then it’s a welcome addition to the power pop pantheon. The songs have simple structures and “Everybody Wants Her” is an amusing song about other guys wanting the singer’s girl, with funny lyrics I won’t quote here. Suffice it to say that this is an enjoyable and short release with well-crafted songs from a talented group. Rather than play spot the influence, I invite you to check out the band’s music here:

22 Nov 2014

Album Review: The Carousels "Love Changes Like The Seasons"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Markus from Sugarbush Records has been busily at it again, sorting the wheat from the chaff so that we don't have to, to find us another jangly treasure.

The Carousels are a Scottish troupe, but don't let that fool you into thinking that "Love Changes Like The Seasons" isn't the most gorgeous example of sunshiny Californian jangle this side of The Junipers. Noticing a theme here? Yep, Markus sure can pick them, and for anyone who has enjoyed previous Sugarbush releases, "Love Changes Like The Seasons" will be an extremely welcome addition to your household.

There seem to be a growing number of U.K based bands who are excelling at channeling the vibrant Cosmic American music of the Byrds and Gene Clark through a prism of U.K jangle ala The La's recently, and the Carousels roughly elbow their way to near the front of the queue with their first vinyl release. Made up of seven new tracks, and a selection of the best cuts from their earlier self released back catalogue, "Love Changes Like The Seasons" fits together in a remarkably snug fashion considering its 'bitsy' genesis.

Bypassing the purposefully retro approach of many of their peers, in favour of the knowingly informed approach of the likes of the See See, the material here is refreshingly timeless, with a sound that would be welcomed arms open in 1968, 1990 or right now without sounding incongruous.

It's at its best when its infused with melancholia; "My Beating Heart", and "Sound of My Own" being particularly fine examples, but works equally as well with a more muscular (albeit still jangly) approach as on "Marianne".

One for Santa's list, although I'd order before then as Sugarbush's limited press LPs have a habit of selling out at an alarming rate.

"Love Changes Like The Seasons" is available directly from the label here.

21 Nov 2014

E.P Review: French Boutik "Mieux Comme Ca"


Reviewed by Dedric Moore (Monta At Odds)

"Mieux Comme Ca" kicks off with a Krautrock groove with bouncing piano and organ that quickly gets accented by soaring female background vocals as the male lead delivers a straight-forward melody in French. Do I know what they are singing about? No. Does it matter? No. It’s catchy and infectious and shame on me for having poor French linguistics, right?

"End of the Line" is a mid-tempo indie-rock song that has hints of British Invasion but keeps its sonic qualities modern. Lots of strumming guitar and a great bass line on the breakdowns of the verses keep the song moving along gracefully. This leads to a very satisfying end to the song which rides the groove that keeps things simmering without wearing it out.

"La Vie En Couleurs" fits perfectly into my guilty pleasure of loving French Beat music. Hints of Stereolab are strongest here. But French Boutik skirt the synths and random chord pattern shifts that appear in a lot of Stereolab’s work. Guitars and vibes are front and center adding to the strong vocal melody that lends a lounge vibe to the mix.

"Tiptoes" is another French Beat groove that proves to be one of French Boutik’s strong points. The piano, organ and guitar lock into the groove with just enough groove to allow the bass and drums to swing heavily. "Tiptoes" builds nicely as the vocals climb above the mix and then ease back to let the horn stabs at the end finish off a great EP.

Pre-order here for a discounted price.

20 Nov 2014

Album Review: Junkboy "Sovereign Sky"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Brothers Rich & Mik Hanscomb have been recording together as Junkboy since 1999, with their latest "Sovereign Sky" being a particular treat of lovely, pastoral folkadelica. Stretching back through a lineage that includes the likes of Nick Drake, Tunng, and Candidate, the brothers Hanscomb create a relaxed atmosphere of bucolic charm, with a deep, melancholy undercurrent that gives "Sovereign Sky" added depth.

Here, the brothers are joined by several of their friends on strings, who increase the scope of the Hanscomb's songs exponentially, without losing the sense of intimacy that is key to their songs. I've seen Robert Kirby's arrangements for Nick Drake's songs used as a reference point for the resulting sound, but to my ears these strings have a much more dramatic effect.

And the songs themselves? Well, they're based in the contemporary U.K folk / singer/songwriter tradition, but the Hanscombs are open to stretching in whatever direction the song requires, whether that be the Beta Band meets "American Beauty" era Grateful Dead of "Salt Water", or the sunny, quirky Bossa Nova of "Belo Horizonte". This sense of adventure reminds me a lot of the approach of Field Music, although Junkboy's music has an unhurried grace about it that makes it sound like the perfect accompaniment to a Summer afternoon's nap in a gentle breeze in a field somewhere. Focus on the songs though, and you'll notice all sorts of intricate embellishments, and clever arrangement touches which promise that "Sovereign Sky" will continue to surprise and delight. Quite lovely.

Available December 1 from Enraptured Records.

19 Nov 2014

Album Review: The Paperhead "Africa Avenue"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'm generally a pretty patient person, but the wait since this Nashville group's previous release - 2012's "Pictures of her Demise" 7" (also on Trouble in Mind) has seemed interminable. The consistent bouts of excellence they'd previously unleashed upon us made it all too easy to forget that this very accomplished band are of an age where they've had other, equally pressing concerns - namely school.

Now that they've found their way into their twenties, they're back on the streets with "Africa Avenue", and the wait has been worth every second. Often compared to their peers the Sufis, the Paperhead are very much the Syd Barrett to the Sufis' Lennon/McCartney. And while a Barrett influence is not necessarily novel in and of itself, these lads are of the much harder to grasp early Floyd Barrett school, rather than the more often evoked, acid-addled, tortured genius of later years. Which means that if you love the quirky psych-pop of "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne", you're in for one hell of a ride here.

The Paperhead (are they still the Paperhead, or just Paperhead now?) are far from derivative though. They've spread their wings here to exponentially assimilate more influences than ever before, ranging from Krautrock rhythms to infectious, vintage pop-punk. Heck, "Mother May" even delves into an impeccable piece of Laurel Canyon country-pop with a weeping steel guitar of positively Garcia-esque proportions.

Most importantly though, the songs are impeccable examples of immediately memorable, hooky pop genius, which don't need to sacrifice their inherent quirkiness to achieve universal appeal. Tracks like "Eye For Eye" demonstrate a consistent grasp of the sort of lysergic pop craft that bands of the original freakbeat era could only sporadically capture on tracks like "My Friend Jack", which are now seen as classics of not only the genre, but the era itself. So naturally, given the opportunity, you're going to want to get in on a whole album of that.

"Africa Avenue" is certainly the Paperhead's hookiest, most direct release to date, channeling the sonic adventurousness that occasionally manifested in a slightly more challenging fashion on previous releases into immediately engaging and appealing psych-pop songs that are both comfortingly familiar and thrillingly unpredictable.

Quite probably the most fun and delightful release of the year.

"Africa Avenue" is available here, or directly from Trouble in Mind Records.

18 Nov 2014

Album Review: Gareth Davies "Spirit Garden"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Welsh guitarist / singer-songwriter Gareth Davies may come from a background of heavy metal, but apart from the occasional flourish or guitar trill, there's little to indicate that this background has had any effect on his debut solo album "The Spirit Garden".

Mystical, wyrd-folk with that slightly out of sync quality peculiar to Welsh psychedelic dabblers, "The Spirit Garden" is a quietly confident debut that relies entirely on the strength of Davies' songwriting, vocals, and acoustic guitar playing to carry it. A big burden, but one that the intriguing nature of Davies' compositions can easily handle.

Davies' double tracked vocals reach out to the listener just enough to retain one's rapt attention throughout, without divulging too many of the mysteries inherent in his poetic lyrics. Similarly, Davies' guitar tone is warm and inviting throughout, with intricate embellishments and syncopations which skirt around obvious outcomes to draw the listener in.

An unbroken mood is quickly established, with Davies conjuring an impressively mind-expanding atmosphere with a simple set of tools which proves the old adage of 'less is more', journeying into the mystical without the assistance of studio trickery.

Lovely stuff. Fans of our old faves James McKeown and the Kitchen Cynics will be right into this I would imagine.

Austrian readers can catch Gareth on tour between 17-22 November. Dates and info here.

CD, digital and full stream available here:

17 Nov 2014

Album Review: Heaven’s Gateway Drugs "Apropos"


Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

As a practitioner and a fan of psychedelic music I am simply blown away by the reach and variety of our current psychedelic cosmos. What for most of my lifetime was a dormant seed of a musical genre, is now a vast and wondrous garden of psychotropic sonic delights. In this current golden age, one might rightly expect such historical bastions as San Francisco and Austin, Texas to be represented. But when you see a small Midwest city such as Ft. Wayne, Indiana throwing down in decided style – you know those seeds planted long ago were sown far and wide.

If you’re not aware of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, consider yourself late to an awesome party. The band has just released their second record, "Apropos", and it’s a wonderful follow up to 2013’s "You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs".

On "Apropos", the band has a wonderful knack for blending both their influences and dark and light elements into a wonderful sonic trip that is at once strange and familiar. The best psychedelic music is timeless, not beholden to any stylistic rule, and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs completely understand this. The songs are at turns creepy, swinging, insanely melodic, well-crafted, innocent and perhaps even a little dangerous.

On the opening track "Read Between the Lines", Derek Mauger sounds a bit like a carnival barker welcoming us to his paisley circus. I’m a huge fan of vocal melody and I love the singsong quality of this opener. "Gone to Ground" follows up with a sinister vibe and one can’t help but be impressed with the production as the "Kashmir"-like guitar starts its ascent on the outro section. Title track "Apropos" is a great single and an excellent calling card for the group. Blending catchy with a certain subtle creepy, this level of psych pop tunefulness reminds me of what would happen if Syd Barrett took on the riff from "Ballroom Blitz". "Love/ Hate" follows with a bit of a down tempo feel that ends in a melotron swell and repeated verse. Tempo shifts again for the ever-catchy "Underwater." You’ll swear you’re at a Los Angeles party some summer night in 1968, having drinks while the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band jams in the other room. The excellent "Six Steps" is next and that singsong vocal melody is back, riding the strutting rhythm section and a strumming guitar that sounds like an alarm clock warning you of something gone wrong. ‘When I walk away, I’ll take six steps back from you’. "Secrets" is maybe my favorite song on the record, reminding me very much of Arthur Lee and Love at their most together. 12-string guitars and reverbed drums create a beautiful mood piece. "What it’s Like to Die" is the penultimate song and it bops along with a near surf party feel. The record closes strong with "Fall Back Down Again", a triumphant crescendo of psych pop perfection that forms a perfect closer for this terrific record.

Heaven’s Gateway Drugs are the kind of band that every writer likes to take on, as they are still a bit obscure. But their music is so strong, so good that one simply cannot wait to share them with their friends. I’ve done my part – now you do yours.

Ladies and gentlemen – Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. ‘It’s so apropos.’

CD, download and full stream here: