30 Oct 2014

Album Review: The Green Pajamas "Happy Halloween"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Green Monkey Records' excavation of the Green Pajamas' back catalogue has been an impressive undertaking which I'm sad to see the end of, but they go out with a bang here!

The original "Happy Halloween"s eight tracks were recorded and released in October 1984, recorded directly onto cassette, only released on cassette, and distributed amongst friends, so this is its first public release, bolstered by 14 bonus tracks from around the same time, many of which are better than the original "Happy Halloween" tracks.

So, what to make of "Happy Halloween"? It's predictably lo-fi of course, as is only to be expected for music sourced from tapes, but considering its vintage it sounds pretty great, and remember, these are the guys who had just released "Summer of Lust" - they knew how to get a good sound quickly and cheaply. And "Summer of Lust" is a good touchstone for what to expect here, with classic pop songcraft still very much a priority, with winsome melodies, huge choruses, and engaging harmonies.

There's also an effort to widen the scope of their arrangements, with Jeff Kelly acquiring a cheap cello that makes it way onto many of the tracks here, played surprisingly adeptly as Jeff had never played a bowed instrument before. "Stephanie Barber" sounds like Macca and George Martin have been at it, and is a startling example of how quickly Jeff adapted and evolved, given any opportunity.
Elsewhere a new Casiotone keyboard makes its presence felt in a mostly successful fashion, with only a confusing early version of "Murder of Crows" failing to gel. Some nice baroque, Greensleevesy moments too.

And there are some corker songs here, a few of which were later revisited and given proper release, but most of which weren't. "I've Got a Crush On You" is one of the best, sounding effortlessly off the cuff, but insidiously memorable in its graceful melancholy. And "This Winter's Night" is a great, spontaneous "Hey Jude" of an anthem with an extremely Beatlesque repeated refrain of "Why can't this Christmas go on forever?" that goes on (almost) forever, but not quite long enough.

Green Pajamas fans need this right now, and for those who are yet to discover this long running, and consistently great institution, now's the time and while this may not be the best starting point (perhaps "The Complete Book Of Hours"?), it's certainly got the requisite hooks to snag a few newbies.

You can stream the whole album below, courtesy of Green Monkey Records.

"Happy Halloween" is available here.

Album Review: "Songs From The Black Meadow"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The breadth of artists who have opted to contribute to this new collection of songs inspired by Chris Lambert's book of short stories "Tales from the Black Meadow" is a testament to the universal appeal that Lambert's stories have managed to draw from what one might more reasonably expect to be a fairly niche product.

For those unfamiliar with the Black Meadow saga (as I was when I originally reviewed the Soulless Party's soundtrack to the radio play), the tales centre around a lost village on the North York Moors which periodically reappears from a bank of mist, when the demon whose curse keeps it hidden has an attention lapse. Or something along those lines.

So, as I was saying, the contributors to "Songs From The Black Meadow" are a varied bunch, ranging from choral (Mervyn Williams & the Theale Green School Senior Choir) to hip-hop (Eastgreen), but the vast majority fall under the eerie folk or hauntology banner, and the opportunity to hear both of these genres cross pollinating in such a natural fashion really does drive home the fact that a folk form is a folk form, whether it's filtered through guitar and vocal, or an old vintage synthesizer.

Several Active Listener favourites are present and acquit themselves admirably. The Hare & The Moon's "Black Meadow Song" is an ominous opener, with Alison O'Donnell's layers of vocals creating a spooky disquiet before the Witchfinder General presents himself during the bridge. Both Emily Jones and the Rowan Amber Mill (of Book of the Lost semi-fame) are present too, with both pushing the proverbial envelope; Jones blending murky trad-folk with something that appear to be a lost backing track from the Cure's "Pornography", while the Rowan Amber Mill see no good reason why Paddy Kingsland and Maddy Prior shouldn't be evoked on the same song. Marvelous.

Scattered amongst the folky offerings there's also a selection of ambient, electronic / field recordings by the likes of the Implicit Order and Septimus Keen, which help no end in ensuring that the atmosphere remains tense. Perhaps the best of the electronic material comes from Keith Seatman, who's "Playing Hop The Scotch" seems to have been dragged from the darkest depths of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, striking an immaculate balance between the electronic and the organic.

But ultimately it's the way in which these strands coexist to create an album quite unlike anything else in it's entirety, that impresses. Lambert's source material it seems, is so strong that even filtered through the music of these mostly unconnected artists it retains his voice.

Find out more about "Tales From The Black Meadow" here.

The "Songs From The Black Meadow" CD is available here.

29 Oct 2014

7" Reviews: You Are The Cosmos Releases - Batch #1

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

In a supremely confident move, new Spanish label "You Are The Cosmos" have introduced themselves to the world by releasing eight 7" E.Ps without testing the water, and from the four which arrived in the post the other day, that confidence is very much justified.

Technically "You Are The Cosmos" is a reissue label, but they're releasing this material in a very different form than it was ever originally released. They're lovely, individually numbered pressings, with textured foldout sleeves full of photos, lyrics and band info. In short, they're wonderful artifacts that play magnificently too.

And the gentleman behind this label has absolutely impeccable taste. As their website says "We love GREAT SONGS of psychedelic, pop, folk, powerpop, baroque-pop music. We pay special attention on the quality of our releases, from the artwork to the music. We choose our favourite songs, and we don't mind that most of them (not all) are taken from their albums. If you are looking rarities/outtakes... this is not the best place...but if you want great songs, then this is your place!"

Baroque World #1
We certainly can't argue with this four track E.P selection of the best new psychedelic / baroque pop artists, especially as it contains our very own Violet Swells, who are naturally quite fabulous. Add to that our favourite track from New Electric Ride's most recent release (the extremely Beatlesque "A Submarine Song"), the title track from the Galileo 7's most recent release (again, our favourite track from that album), and Balduin's ridiculously fun "Mirror, Mirror" and you've got a pretty much flawless release with extremely big shoes to fill when Baroque World #2 is put together.

Blue Ash "She's So Nice" "Halloween Girl" "With You On My Mind" "Silver Horses"
Next up is a four track E.P of rare Blue Ash material recorded in 1972/1973. While the YATC website does say not to expect too much in the way of rarities on their releases, these tracks are not from the Ohio power-poppers most well known album - their 1973 debut, and have previously only seen release on a hard to find 2004 rarities CD release. An excellent job has been done of cherrypicking the best moments from this comp to put this together, with "She's So Nice" and "Halloween Girl" in particular being great examples of the Blue Ash sound. The epic, string laden "Silver Horses" may trump them both though, and shows a depth not necessarily expected from the band. Excellent.

Bart Davenport "The Saviours" "Beg, Steal, Borrow"
I'll admit that Bart was unknown to me before this arrived, but he's had a long career stretching back to nineties stints in the Kinetics and the Loved Ones, and what appears to be a very critically successful solo career since. These two tracks come from his earliest solo works, and both suggest diversity and excellence. "The Saviours" has a great "Forever Changes" meets Belle & Sebastian vibe thanks to its combination of propulsive acoustic guitars and trumpet, while "Beg, Steal, Borrow" has some particularly ear-grabbing, quirky guitar wrangling which is extremely appealing.

The Parson Red Heads "Another Chance" "Crying Days Are Over" "Banking On The Sun"
This was the real surprise of this first batch - I'd seen their name around before, but never really paid much attention until now. This Portland based band have a sound halfway between Big Star and the Jayhawks (but much more successful than the Jayhawks when they try to be Big Star), with frontman Evan Way writing some particularly effecting, emotive power-pop ballads, with a rural tinge. They're uniformly strong, but "Banking On The Sun" is particularly unbeatable, sounding like Gene Clark walked in on Big Star's "#1 Record" sessions. Absolutely magnificent, and a contender for song of the year for me, even if it isn't technically new. You absolutely need this.

And that's it for the first four releases. The next four took an extra couple of weeks to get out of the pressing plant, but I'm told they're on their way so you'll hear about them soon.

In the meantime these can be ordered here, and you can check out tracks from all of these releases on You Are The Cosmos' Youtube channel here.

28 Oct 2014

Album Review: Plastic Crimewave Syndicate "The Golden Cage"

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

If you pair the words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘Chicago’ to most serious psychedelic music fans, it won’t be Secret Colours or The Luck of Eden Hall that they think of. It will be Plastic Crimewave Sound. Formed in 1995, Steven Krakow’s dark sonic vision was a lo-fi maelstrom of distortion, thundering grooves and unintelligible vocals, alternately howling and menacing along in a reverb and delay-soaked freak out. Although not the kind of band that finds easy acceptance with the keepers of airplay, their distinctive space punk sound spawned a host of imitators and a legion of fans.

Over the years, the original incarnation morphed, shifted and finally disbanded in 2012. Fortunately Krakow (who goes by the name Plastic Crimewave) has kept the mission alive and moving forward, now as the newly christened and re-energized Plastic Crimewave Syndicate.

PCS features Krakow on guitar and vocals and boasts one of Chicago’s best rhythm sections, Anjru Kettering on bass and Karissa Talanian on drums and includes the lovely Dawn Aquarius on keyboards. On their debut release "The Golden Cage" (recorded by Ray Donato and YT Robinson of Chicago’s excellent Dark Fog), the band is joined by guests Bobbie and Jon Seagroatt (Comus) on vocal and sax, Kathleen Baird on flute and Whitney Johnson (Verma) on viola.

"The Golden Cage" hits the clouds running with "Reign Drive", a thumping little tribal piece that serves as a nice calling card for the new rhythm section. I’ve seen PCS open performances with this one and it always gets things moving. Fans of Wooden Shjips or Moon Duo will appreciate the pulsing groove established here.

"Floating Tomb" puts me in mind of a darker Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, but Crimewave isn’t afraid to stretch a song out to its logical conclusion – six plus minutes later. The cosmic dirge of "Nagshead" follows with a dark air that carries the listener through landscapes of illusion and madness.

"Unblinking Orb" continues the trip, riding maybe the records most infectious groove. At some point, I became aware of some really nice panning guitar, seemingly mixed to match my head that was involuntarily nodding up and down. It was at this point in the record that I realized this was music was inside my head.

Perfect timing for the closer and title track "Golden Cage" to float into the room, like the true message that comes late in the experience. A steady droning guitar creates a home for the siren song female voices. The drums roll like distant thunder and viola opens the sky for a brief moment. The vocals are delivered as a spoken word piece and the fragments that break through the music offer a condemnation of the glittery cage in which modern man resides. This could be what the Velvets were aiming for with "European Sun", but this is a better-realized piece. In my opinion, "Golden Cage" is one of the best things the band (in any of its incarnations) has ever done. Eleven plus minutes feels hardly long enough.

Fans of Hawkwind, Can or any of the groups name-dropped above will find this latest Plastic Crimewave a welcome addition to their stoner rock collection. You can pick up "The Golden Cage" on cassette only for now (Priority Male) but expect to see this fine debut on vinyl (Prophase) in early 2015.

You can also stream several tracks below, which can also be purchased digitally.

27 Oct 2014

The Active Listener Sampler #25 - Out Now!

This month's sampler has just been published and is available below!

Welcome back to sleeve artist Martin Butler (http://www.martinrossbutler.com/) who we haven't seen in a while, and who has surpassed all his previous work with this month's lovely sleeve.

As always, this month's sampler is a free / name your price download. Donations are welcome (and helpful), but by no means expected. 

This month we feature the following:

1. Halasan Bazar - Tin Foiled 03:21
2. Des Roses - Nothing Goes Ahead 05:01
3. The Foreign Films - Teardrop Town 03:53
4. The Dowling Poole - Getting a Licence 03:44
5. Prince Ruperts Drops - Dangerous Death Ray 04:06
6. The Greek Theatre - Even You Will Find A Home My Son 03:24
7. The Young Sinclairs - That's All Right 03:37
8. Soft Hearted Scientists - Away 02:45
9. Lutine - Synnove 02:58
10. Listening Center - Spring's Echo 03:21
11. Maston - Engrams 03:03
12. Delia Haunt - Hitomi 02:35
13. The Chemistry Set - Come Kiss Me Vibrate And Smile 03:04
14. Sky Children - Sunny Creature 04:31

Download or stream right here:

Album Review: Mark Fry "South Wind, Clear Sky"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Mark Fry will forever be known as the genius troubadour who created the 1972 classic "Dreaming With Alice" at the tender age of 19, an album which caused few ripples at the time of release but was destined to become the holy grail for collectors and aficionados of that most curious, cryptic and colourful of genres; psychedelic or acid folk. "Dreaming With Alice" has since been reissued for a new generation to lose themselves in its dreamy, oft creepy and downright beautiful collection of wonders. It has lost none of its resonance over the years and neither, it transpires, has Mark himself. A second album "Shooting the Moon" emerged in 2008 and was followed by a third, "I Lived in Trees", recorded with backing from The A Lords (otherwise known as United Bible Studies member Michael Tanner and Nick Palmer of Directorsound). And now emerges "South Wind, Clear Sky", an album of such depth and easy beauty that those who take a trip down this particular rabbit hole will possibly not want to return. This is easily one of the most quietly brilliant albums this listener has heard in a long time; it would be a musical crime for it to not receive the rich appreciation it deserves. Quite simply, Mark has created another classic.

Opener "Aeroplanes" is a gentle but insistent cello driven eulogy to the act of escaping. Mark's vocals are like running water over the chamber folk of cello, strings and acoustic guitar. For lovers of the work of Duncan Browne, Keith Christmas and contemporary acts such as The Driftwood Manor and Mark Eitzel this is essential listening. I'm tempted to add Nick Drake to this description, not because Mark sounds like Nick Drake; he doesn’t. Yet there is the same late Sunday afternoon, autumnal feel to his music; the same sense of gentle, pastoral melancholy. "Along The Way" is a hushed, psych masterpiece, trumpet accentuating the more barbed twists in Mark's lyrics. British Sea Power would be proud to write a song of this quality, indeed it recalls their "From the Sea to The Land Beyond" opus in its nostalgic, delicate sadness. "Leave Me Where I Am" is by turn a twinkling, shimmering nocturne, picked guitar draping Mark's plaintive vocals over the stars in the night sky. Brass and cello support the quiet swell of the song as it builds both in musical and emotional power. "Little Flashing Light" is a slide guitar driven space flight, albeit one which gazes in silent wonder at the earth below; this music is gentle, its power is in its ability to affect and transport the listener. There does seem to be a general theme of escape, flight and leaving on this album that filters through the songs. The music was apparently inspired by the work of author and aviator Saint-Exupéry; it certainly adds a melancholy, almost wistful air. Again, whilst Mark doesn't sound like Nick Drake, the atmosphere and smoky, darkening afternoon vibe on this particular song recalls his classic "A Northern Sky". A chiming, echoing piano enters to bring the song to a warm and moving close. "River Kings" is the closest stylistically of all the tracks here to the Mark Fry of "Dreaming of Alice", it is a bewitching, acoustic reverie at once both timeless and strange. Otherworldly and unique, it sounds like it could have been written at any time over the last thirty years. There then follows "Fall like Stone", which, with its Gilmour-esque guitars and widescreen reverbed atmospherics, is truly beautiful. This is starlit night sky music for dreaming in. Indeed, lovers of The American Music Club’s similar twilight musical paean to travel and escape "Everclear' will find much to appreciate here. "Dials for Home" is by contrast more electric guitar led, an urgent request to find a way home. With a country tinge abetted by backing vocals and swathes of cello the track is almost cinematic in its building intensity and sense of quiet desperation. "Long Way Down" , the album closer, returns to the gentle sepia feel as cascading piano notes, yearning trumpet and echoed guitar creating a melancholic framework for Mark's voice. It is a perfect closing song, a wave of choral vocals fading out into the night sky.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. It is a mature work by an artist who is quite simply a hidden national treasure. It is a graceful, beautiful piece, full of wonder and sadness and perfect for those long, darkening late winter afternoons. Take to the evening skies on the south wind; you will not regret it.

Available now on the fine Second Language label. South Wind, Clear Sky’ comes in 2 formats: a CD in an 8 panel concertina digipak and a 180gm vinyl with a free download code of the whole album, both are available here.

Album Review: The Wicked Whispers "Maps of the Mystic"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

These moptopped Liverpool janglers prove that Merseybeat is alive and well on their debut full length "Maps of the Mystic". Along with bands like the Merrymakers, the Wicked Whispers are at the forefront of a new wave of Merseybeat that follows in the footsteps of the Coral and the Zutons, and stretches back a whole lot further to you-know-who.

Their early E.P and singles have been uniformly excellent, so expectations were high for "Maps of the Mystic", and Michael Murphy and his band of merry men don't disappoint, using the more expansive spaces available on a full length to broaden their sound into areas previously only hinted at.

Opener "Chronological Astronaut" arrives on a tidal wave of "Artificial Energy" style horns which immediately signals their intentions to branch out, which they do consistently here. Sure, there are a few parallels with the Coral - "Medusa" in particular, but where the Skelly gang looked to Love for their U.S inspiration, Murphy and co. tap into a more openly lysergic pop vein that brings to mind the Strawberry Alarm Clock, particularly on the floaty, flutey "House of Peppermint".

It's an excellently paced album too with the second half tending to be a little denser and less hooky but still leaving room for anthemic rockers like the impressively Syd Barretesque "You Wouldn't Believe" to offer instant hits of adrenaline amid the more layered growers.

Very nice stuff!

Available on vinyl, CD and digital formats direct from Electone Records.

25 Oct 2014

Album Review: Slasher Dave "Tomb of Horror"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Musician and artist Slasher Dave makes it pretty clear with his name where his allegiances lie, and one listen to his excellent John Carpenter homage debut "Spookhouse" backed this up even further.

And while his sleeve art for for the brand new album "Tomb of Horror" may seem to indicate some sort of mid eighties slasher / thrash metal hybrid, Dave has here turned his attentions towards late seventies / early eighties Italian zombie films, with the music of Fabio Frizzi (whom this is dedicated too) proving particularly influential.

The Frizzi worship shines through most obviously, with excellent use of slow programmed drums and that creepy ass choral synth sound that Frizzi used so well, but there are also moments that recall the delicacy of Goblin's "Suspiria", utilising light and shade extremely effectively.

Slasher Dave doesn't belong to this new school of Italian disco / horror synth spearheaded by the likes of Umberto. He's the real, vintage deal, with not one incongruous note on "Tomb of Horror". If someone was to drop this in your lap and tell you that it had been recorded in 1981, there's nothing out of place that would clue you in to its much more recent vintage. And while this dogged approach to retroism does draw criticism in some (but certainly not these) quarters, it's worth noting that the original soundtracks of this era were often quickly thrown together, with several themes revisited often to make up incidental music cues. Compare this to "Tomb of Horror"s 13 succinctly different tracks - each melodically approached as if it was a separate theme - and it's like you've not only discovered a new Frizzi or Simonetti, but you've also got a ready made highlights package of the most memorable themes from ten years worth of their soundtracks. Whether it's original or not is entirely missing the point, especially when it's done this well.

"Tomb of Horror" can be pre-ordered on CD here for a discounted price for the next few days, and is available now on vinyl here.

Digital is available through the streaming link below.

23 Oct 2014

Matt Talbot's Monster Project

To get the ball rolling with this year's Halloween coverage (after yesterday's free Espectrostatic download), we'd like to draw your attention to a project put together by one of our own artists.
Matt Talbot (also known as MattRobot) has been kind enough in the past to contribute artwork for a number of our sampler covers, as well as designing the Active Listener logo that greets you every time you visit this page.

For the month of October, he's set himself the unenviable task of creating a piece of artwork every day based around one of his favourite movie monsters. It's now October 23, and the results so far have been stunning.

Here's Matt's take on things:

"I started the monster project because I spend so much time making art for other people that I just wanted to do something for me--something that no one else was directing me to do. October in New England is such a great time of year. The days getting shorter and colder just makes the scary movies a little scarier. I'm such a fan of monsters and horror films that I thought drawing a daily monster would be really fun.

I'm also a huge fan of deadlines. If I don't have a deadline, I just let things sit. So I figured that if I put it out there publicly that I was going to do something every day, it would really keep me motivated. And it has! I've drawn more this month than probably the other nine months so far this year. The deadline has also forced me to be decisive and let things go a little bit. I work all day, so I really only have 2-3 hours at night to work on these. They just have to be fast.

When the month is over, I have to catch up on a bunch of work. I have several album covers to do and a bunch of other projects swirling around. I'm also slowly making progress on a graphic novel. Maybe I need to give myself a deadline to make sure it really happens!"

There's still a week or so to go, so visit Matt's tumbler page (http://mattrobot.tumblr.com/) each day for a new monster.

Matt's impressive portfolio can be viewed at http://www.mattrobot.com/

Free Download Roundup: Espectrostatic / Joel Jerome / Delia Haunt

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

OK cheapskates, here's another batch of great new free releases for you, supported by the artists who created them, directly from their hearts to you.

Espectrostatic "The Daemonum EP"
Alex Cuervo seems to be permanently busy with his Espectrostatic alter-ego, which is always great news for those of us who appreciate horror movie sounds of a particular vintage. Alex has a new album proper "Escape From Witchtropolis" coming soon from Trouble in Mind Records, but in the meantime this fab little collection of bits and pieces has just popped up to keep us going.
Quite varied in sound, but unified in mood, it's a lovely grab-all of vintage stalk and slash sounds, with "Postcard from a Dead Colleague" boasting a suitably sinister, Lovecraftian throb, while the sequencers, and squelchy synths of "The 447" are relentlessly creepy.
Best of all is "The End of Lexie", which is particularly Autumnal and stalkerish, with a melancholy piano based melody which vividly captures the subtle, mounting paranoia of the very best films of the late seventies slasher golden age.
Available here:

Joel Jerome "Strawberry Fields Forever & Penny Lane"
Excellent psychedelic pop geezer Joel Jerome has just set up his own label, Psychedelic Thriftstore Recordings as an outlet for his considerable output. Following an album of his own songs which we'll tell you about in more detail shortly, the label's second release is planned as a "Sgt. Pepper" tribute album (due on the 28th of this month we're told), and preceding its release we have this double a-sided single (as the original single preceded the album I believe?).
Beatles covers are a dime a dozen, and frankly, usually a bit rubbish. The majority can't decide whether they want to stick to the originals exactly, or reinvent the originals by removing almost everything that created the original appeal in the first place. Jerome manages to tread the very narrow path between these two possibilities, with "Strawberry Fields" working particularly well, a swirling kaleidoscope of colourful "I am the Walrus" psychedelia that I'm sure John would have approved of (if he'd been asked in 1967 anyway).
Definitely looking forward to hearing more of this - grab this one quick, who knows what will happen to it when the full album comes out?

Delia Haunt "Marseille Trance // Hitomi"
Also offered as a taster from an upcoming album ("100 Years of Solipsism") is this two track debut from Texas based five-piece Delia Haunt. That's pretty much everything I know about these guys, but these first two tracks are extremely appealing pieces of lo-fi psychedelia that mix jangly psychedelia with quirky indie-pop structures. "Hitomi", on the other hand offers some great vintage synth-pop tones in support of its infectious falsetto vocal hooks, mixing genres and decades in the manner of Ariel Pink. Very good indeed.

And lastly, a bit of self promotion. I'm sure that many of you are aware of our monthly free samplers on Bandcamp? We also have our own label run through the same Bandcamp page which has a few freebies on it, then most recent of which is the debut full length from space / surf-rockers The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies. You can also grab the NoMen's entry in the Active Listener Introduces series, and a label sampler for free.