24 Jun 2016
Text and photos by Chris Sherman (Sky Picnic)
Over the course of three nights, I was lucky enough to see arguably two of psychedelic rock’s biggest (and best) acts. For the Brooklyn shows at Prospect Park, just a few short blocks from my home, I still remember questioning the bill when it was first announced; how was it plausible that they were playing together, and would the universe somehow explode? Needless to say, those six months of waiting seemed to take forever. When Dungen added further headlining dates in the area, I knew I had to jump on them. As I had written previously about Dungen in my October 2015 show review, it had been five years at that point since I had seen them, and now, here I was looking at three shows over a 72 hour period and feeling absolutely spoiled, yet grateful, for the abundance of northeast U.S. shows. What follows is a synopsis of those shows.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn, June 14 and 15- On two perfect summer evenings, as the sun was making its decent down, peeking through the tops of the trees, and a cool breeze filled the air, Dungen took the stage at precisely 7:30. As openers for Tame Impala, they played the part of relative unknowns but definitely brought their best to win everyone over. The younger crowd was definitely appreciative but I fear only a select few were getting into it. Both sets began with the energetic and driving “Fredag”, before giving way to a string of material from 2015’s "Allas Sak". Of note on the second evening was a transcendent performance of “En dag på sjön” the jam-esque conclusion to “Åkt dit”, which has evolved considerably not only from the LP version, but from the last time I heard it live in October 2015. The rhythm section of Mattias and Johan bring the song to a crescendo (then to a pulse and back again) while Gustav and Reine weave melodic patterns over this, creating an epic monster.
The band joked that “the park smelled good tonight”, leading to “Franks Kaktus”, a crowd pleaser, with the flute creating an exotic other-worldly vibe. On night one, rare Ta det lugnt era b-side “Jämna plågor” made an appearance much to my delight (never thought I would hear that one live!). Even though they played a condensed set, a four song medley appeared, the bulk of which was material from the lesser appreciated "Tio Bitar" album. While last tour it seemed rushed and out of place, this time it was perfected and felt like a mini-prog rock epic in four movements. “Panda” was of course a highlight; on the first night, it concluded the set, while on the second, it gave way to an improvisational piece where Gustav pranced around the stage with tambourine while Reine absolutely slayed on a heavily distorted solo riff. Dungen played a tight 40 minute set both nights, thanking Tame Impala and their fans for listening before leaving the stage. (The feeling of course was mutual, as Kevin Parker mentioned on at least three occasions later how he was overjoyed to be playing with Dungen and that without them, Tame Impala might not be where they are today.)
Prior to this, I had last seen Tame Impala in 2012 right at the start of the "Lonerism" tour. The live sound had already begun to advance drastically since the halcyon days of their "Innerspeaker" dates; less organic, bigger, and with more sonic manipulation to align the songs more with their studio counterparts. While to some, live and studio are sometimes seen as separate domains, Tame Impala helps put that notion to rest. Their set was tight and shows a band continuing its musical development and ascension upward in the music scene. Having seen them in less than sold out 200 capacity venues in 2010 to adoring sold-out ones now, where Parker has the crowd singing along to every word was astonishing. It seems at this point psychedelic music isn’t just something you listen to in a dark room at night with headphones and intoxicant of choice while pondering the meaning of life. It isn’t some underground scene that you have to know someone who knows someone to turn you on to. It is something more mainstream, something culture can embrace and something that hypnotizes the senses while your body grooves along. (You can even argue this to be the case if you go all the way back to Pink Floyd’s “Money”, “Time” or “Dogs”, all of which are the “parents” to what is currently happening. The trends have a way of being cyclical).
As “Nangs” came over the speakers, a roar erupted from the sold-out crowd, the standing room area fully filled like sardines. The brief piece dovetailed into “Let It Happen” which immediately got the crowd moving, while the series of visuals behind the band had others entranced. Aided by samplers and loopers (and presumably the sound guy and various effects), they were able to replicate much of, if not all of, the sonics and layers involved with the "Currents" material, of which “The Moment” particularly stood out. Old favorites “Mind Mischief” and “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” were welcome songs early in the set, both featuring slight changes in arrangement. (Note: the same set was played both nights, hence this song synopsis applies to both). As the material is definitely synth based now, one could close their eyes and think it might be the mid-1980’s. This affords Kevin the opportunity to not have to (or need to) play guitar in every song and he can grab the mic and saunter around the stage while singing. I found this to be an interesting dichotomy, as one can tell he is not totally comfortable doing it (this is again, the guy who embraced being alone and isolating himself), but is the likely byproduct of him partly embracing the role of being the front man.
There was a slight mid-set lull during some of the newer ballads, (or was it simply that the crowd lost its collective energy at that point?) but songs like “Elephant” and “Alter Ego” brought everyone back to life. The main set closed with an extended “Apocalypse Dreams”, leading to the crowd begging for more. The band returned for sing-along “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and dark horse candidate for highlight on Currents, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” The crowd was still not ready to leave, but alas, the show had ended. Eager to leave the sweaty, stale-aired floor area, ears ringing, I made my way to the exit realizing that, absent some of the weirdness, Tame Impala might be following in the footsteps of psych rock legends The Flaming Lips. Would this be looked back on as their Yoshimi stage, or have they not even begun to hit their stride?
June 16-I made my way to Boston the following morning for Dungen’s headlining show at the Sinclair in Cambridge. Holding around 500 people at capacity, this was in stark contrast to the outdoor shows. The intimate setting helped foster an atmosphere for creativity and a crowd full of engaged fans allowed the band to feed off that energy. Kicking off with “Fredag” as had been the case, the tone was set when the song veered into the jammier coda. “Åkt dit” is quickly becoming a fan favorite, with some attempting to song along, despite the vast differences in native tongue. This of course led to “En dag på sjön”, and while I thought I had already seen what could be considered an ultimate version, this was elevated to a level beyond that; the tacit communication between the band, knowing each other’s moves instinctively, and playing to the dynamics of the piece were absolutely stunning. If Tame Impala is a well-oiled psychedelic machine, then Dungen is an organism growing and evolving with each performance, exploring as it goes, veering into unknown territories.
So how does a band top that? How about with the following trio of songs: the ode to Gustav’s neighbor (“Franks kaktus”), personal favorite “Blandband” (this version replacing the flute with an organ solo, all the while Johan moves around the kit in a Keith Moon-esque fury) and “Det tar tid” (a song rife with Reine riffs that make me just want to pick up a guitar and play for days). The Mellotron heavy medley followed and in the looser setting tonight, sounded even better. “Panda” led into the same heavy improvisational piece as the previous night (based on Jesse Harper’s song “Jug A Jug”), with Gustav again dancing around the stage with tambourine, this time jamming so hard, he accidentally knocked down a mic stand.
Standing in the front row, I was privy to seeing the set list, and following along as we went, could not wait for new song "Häxan", which will be on their upcoming LP based on the film The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Trust me, this is awesome stuff that has the feel of an extended jam but is nuanced and speaks like an eerie musical discussion as it ebbs and flows. It was pretty intense stuff, and to lighten the mood a tad, the band, who was in a particularly talkative and cheery mood, sought out thirst quenching beers from the crowd while telling an amusing tale about meeting Wayne Coyne the previous night in Brooklyn. The main set closed at this point with the classic “Ta det lugnt” and a chorus of fans chanting along.
They returned a few minutes later for an encore and thanked the crowd again for an amazing evening before diving into the dark closing song from "Allas sak", “Sova”. As the song wore down, I braced myself for the energetic closer “Gor de nu” per the set list in front of me. Instead, we were treated to a 10 minute organ-driven psychedelic freakout, not too dissimilar to “Interstellar Overdrive” or other early Floyd. I can only hope this is part of the aforementioned upcoming LP as well so it can be heard again. As it died down, a dark moody piece to cap it all off actually did seem like the perfect way for a set full of experimentation to end. I left the venue and walked into the cool evening air wondering if I had just witnessed one of the best shows I had seen. While I am still unsure of that answer, I do know that the next tour cannot come soon enough and I can only hope to again experience some evenings as magical as these.
Dungen- June 14 Fredag - Marken låg stilla - Åkt dit - En dag på sjön - En gång om året - Franks kaktus - Jämna plågor - Det tar tid - Bandhagen [part of a medley] - C visar vägen [part of a medley] - Så blev det bestämt [part of a medley] - Svart är himlen [part of a medley] - Panda
Dungen- June 15 Fredag - Åkt dit - En dag på sjön - En gång om året - Franks kaktus - Det tar tid - Bandhagen [part of a medley] - C visar vägen [part of a medley] - Så blev det bestämt [part of a medley] - Svart är himlen [part of a medley] - Panda - Improvisation - Sova
Tame Impala- June 14 & 15 Nangs - Let It Happen - Mind Mischief - Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind? - Why Won't They Talk to Me? - The Moment - Elephant - The Less I Know the Better - Daffodils [Mark Ronson/ Kevin Parker song] - Eventually - Yes I'm Changing - Alter Ego - Oscilly - It Is Not Meant to Be - Apocalypse Dreams - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards - New Person, Same Old Mistakes
Dungen- June 16 Fredag - Marken låg stilla - Åkt dit - En dag på sjön - En gång om året - Franks kaktus - Blandband - Det tar tid - Bandhagen [part of a medley] - C visar vägen [part of a medley] - Så blev det bestämt [part of a medley] - Svart är himlen [part of a medley] - Panda - Instrumental jam on "Jug A Jug Song" by Jesse Harper - Häxan - Ta det lugnt - Sova - Improvisation
22 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
The East London micro-label Clay Pipe music has, for several years now, been quietly releasing exquisitely recorded music that straddles the folk/hauntology/neo-classical divides. These releases have benefitted hugely from the care given in their presentation by label owner and fabulously gifted illustrator Frances Castle who ensures every foray is sumptuously packaged making every release a multi-media event.
‘Plaint of Lapwing’ is the latest release from the label and a worthy addition to an impressively singular and delightfully off-kilter canon. Composed in a ping-pong match of file sharing and song building between Alasdair Roberts and co-conspirator James Green which has created a wonderfully fuzzy felt folk incident that recalls the best of the Incredible String Band and C.O.B. in its celtic-infused, heather tinged plainsong. For those of you who wonder what a ‘plaint’ is, one would think of it as a lament and given the declining numbers of the Lapwing bird in the British Isles it is an apt title for the music herein, which whilst bright and warm on the surface hides hidden depths of longing and reflection.
The ten tracks that make the whole ebb and flow gently and are hugely evocative. This is completely down to the rather wonderful marriage of the classical folk intonation in the voice of Alasdair Roberts and the warm and sympathetic yet inventive musical accompaniment, often on the rarely utilised harmoniflute by co-conspirator James Green. Jigs, reels and waltzes all sail past after one another to create a magical tapestry of sound that transports you deep into the wilds of Scotland and back to the dirty old ports where a hundred lonely dreams are dreamt each day and the chance of escape to who knows where is never far away. As I said it’s a very evocative piece of work and each listener will find a different place in their heart and consciousness for it. The main thing is you let it work its magic on you and give yourself over to it for a half hour.
Picking out highlights here is a fairly nutty concept given that I feel it works best when listened together as a whole, but as you asked… opener “Ananke” is a lovely breezy welcome counterpointed by the beautiful and reflective “If There Is Any Light”. “Boy of Blazing Brow” with its pulsing double bass taps out a warning in a classic cautionary tale and the title track itself is a beautiful, slow trawl across the moorland of your mind. By the concluding “Hallowe’en”, a stark and simple piano-led ballad we have been fully immersed in the world created by these two estimable and fine musicians to such effect that I am thinking about moving out to some fishing village on the west coast of Scotland and am searching my kitchen for the bottle of single malt I got last Christmas. I now know why I didn’t finish it – I needed it to compliment my time spent in the plaint of lapwing. I suggest you do the same.
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter continues to sire her young this summer…seek this out and be prepared to bare your soul to a record that won’t be denied.
Available on limited vinyl direct from Clay Pipe Music or from a select number of very discerning independent retailers (such as Norman Records). This'll sell out before you know it.
21 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
The Move occupy a funny place in rock history. With a string of inventive and relentlessly tuneful singles to their credit (not to mention consistently entertaining albums) they're the sort of band that should be mentioned in the same breath as the Kinks and the Who, but ask your average punter under forty to name one of their songs and you're unlikely to get anywhere (you, dear readers, being a more discerning bunch I'm sure). Add to that the Jeff Lynne connection, and you've got an instant recipe for footnote status.
These two new reissues from Esoteric Recordings provide further proof (if any were needed) of just how unjust this situation is. What we have here are packed, deluxe editions of the band's first (and many would say best) two albums. In this reviewer's eyes both are essential. There have been plenty (perhaps too many) reissues of this material already, often haphazardly and carelessly assembled. Likely this is another reason for the Move's legacy being somewhat lesser than it should be, but these two releases are lovingly curated gems that treat the source material and the fans with the respect that they deserve. Each is available in a single disc 'vanilla' edition, containing the original albums with contemporary a & b sides as bonus tracks, or densely packed, nugget-laden deluxe editions which are a true collector's dreams.
The self titled debut and its surrounding singles ("Night of Fear" and "Flowers in the Rain" etc.) are concise psychedelic pop gems that marry Beatlesque melodies and arrangements with often unhinged source material ala Syd Barrett. Just the ticket for those who find the Beatles too straight and wish that Syd was a little more tuneful, although you're speaking to the wrong person if you're looking for an impartial critic of either of those acts here. Recorded over the space of 14 months it's no wonder that it feels almost like a hits collection. Three cover versions (of tunes originally by Eddie Cochran, James F. Hanley and Moby Grape) illustrate the band's diverse influences, but it's Roy Wood's own compositions that really take this to the next level. Hugely catchy, with clever, often baroque arrangements (which demonstrate just how important Wood's contribution to ELO would be in the future), these are classic examples of the two and a half minute pop song, peppered with just the right amount of psychedelia and English whimsy. And that thunderous bass really sets them apart from the pack.
There's also a brace of pre-psychedelic tracks from 1966 when the band were a straight beat act, which are fascinating listens in their own right, while also demonstrating just how much the band's distinctive sound developed over the following year.
"Shazam" is a totally different beast, but still obviously the work of the same band. And it's every bit as good as its predecessor too.
Moving on from the short-form pop songs found on the Move (excepting the lovely "Beautiful Daughter"), this is the Move as a heavy proto-prog band, a shoe that fits surprisingly well. All of the things that made the first album so appealing are still evident here - the distinctive harmonies, the huge bass (now played by Trevor Burton) - but there's less reliance on the studio, and more of a focus on band interplay, which is uniformly impressive. There are some pretty heavy moments here (the surprisingly bluesy "Don't Make My Baby Blue"), but it never gets clumsy or heavy-handed, and there are reprieves peppered throughout in the form of exquisitely harmonised choruses, not to mention the classical middle section of "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited". Wood only has one new original to offer, but the covers are so well assimilated you'd swear he'd written them too if the source material wasn't so familiar.
The bonus tracks on the single disc edition show that Wood still had some classic single-worthy material in him too, including their sole UK number one, the Beatlesque "Blackberry Way" and the appealingly jaunty "Curly". Also addended to the multi-disc version are a treasure trove of BBC recordings in very fine fidelity, which again demonstrate the Move's mastery of a multitude of styles, as well as their ability to tackle some pretty intimidating source material and not lose their own sense of identity. Great things abound here, but the highlights for this listener are surprising stabs at popular murder ballad "Long Black Veil" and the Nazz's "Open My Eyes", as well as a great take on Dusty Springfield's "Goin' Back", which flexes it's muscles and makes the Byrds version sound like a bit of a pipsqueak (albeit a lovely one).
It's refreshing to see two such accomplished albums expanded so comprehensively, yet still in a fashion that accentuates their excellence, rather than diluting it down with unnecessary mixes and material best left on the cutting room floor. If these aren't the best expanded editions released this year, I'll be very surprised. I can't wait to check out Esoteric's treatment of the rest of the band's catalogue now.
You can find the deluxe version of the debut here (UK/EU) or here (US) and Shazam here (UK/EU) or here (US).
20 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
East Lothian based composer Michael Begg has quietly but steadfastly released (in this listener's humble opinion) some of the finest and most affecting albums of the last decade, such as 2008's dark and yearning 'Black Hill: Midnight At The Blighted Star', 2011's melancholic masterpiece 'Fortress Longing' and 2014's career best 'World Fair'. Along the way many noted and esteemed collaborators have added their voice or presence to proceedings such as Julia Kent (Antony And The Johnsons), David Tibet (Current 93), Chris Connelly (Ministry) and Clodagh Simonds (Mellow Candle, Fovea Hex). Working in the realm of drones, electronica and modern experimental composition to create vast, atmospheric and hugely evocative pieces of sound and melody, Begg has little in the way of contemporaries although aficionados of the windswept work of Richard Skelton, 'On Land'-era Eno, the dark soundscapes of Andrew Lilies and the classic recordings of Reich, Glass and Popol Vuh will find much to fall in love with here. Referencing both, according to Begg, 'gallery, theatre and installation works, as well as my preoccupation with defining space, place and time with sound' this is an essential and crucial work that needs to be heard and experienced.
The album begins with 'Hopetoun Tower Before The Harvest', named after a forbidding and lonely construction that stands defiantly on a hill near Begg's Captain's Quarters recording studio. As befits its namesake, the track rumbles with exposure to some building and growing winds as snakelike electronics creep and wisp into view. A beautiful and tentative string section enters, trembling emotively as bowed strings and bowls resonate. It feels sacred, like a storm has suddenly and dramatically silenced leaving a hushed and perceptible sense of being in the universe. The title track follows, piano and droned strings echoing out into darkness, both tangibly lonely and filled with a gorgeous sadness. There is something deeply existential about this work, one feels small in the face of the space and sounds that evoke the surrounding skies and landscape. 'The Children Will Wet The Academy Floor' adds some truly lovely chamber strings that reverberate and haunt, a spectral symphony of lamentation and grief whilst 'Paris is Closing' is a field recording of chatter and metro sounds that are pleasingly though disturbingly disorientating. Next, 'Pendrachin Wood: Pollen And Frost' is a frozen and glacial layered piece of orchestral electronica, reminiscent of Bowie's Berlin experiments; this literally lifts the hairs of one's arms and neck as it swells and recedes with visions of snow covered pines in the darkening Scottish winter afternoons. Human Greed are no simple drone or electronic act; these are carefully wrought and constructed compositions that evoke and emote in an almost avant classical sense. They are almost unique in working in this field and are creating pieces of heartbreaking genius that this listener implores you to discover and fall in love with; it is criminal that Begg is not more revered outside of the underground as the pioneer and composer that he is.
'Francis Bacon; A Room' is as complex and unsettling as the British artist himself, a corrosive drone and buzz hovering over the mutter of voices whist a sister song 'Louise Bourgeois: A Cell' allows chimes and electronic hums to flutter and slither malevolently throughout. 'Leisure In F' glides majestically into being, epic and choral strings ebbing and flowing until ominous notes and birdsong float into focus; reminiscent of charcoal skies passing by overhead with the threat of snowfall as nature and animal life reacts accordingly this is an incredibly moving and transportive piece. 'Made And Unmade In Europe' rasps and buzzes as a bird's lonesome call cries out against the imperious landscape, an unforgiving wind suddenly giving way to a soprano song and weeping strings in a genuinely breathtaking moment. 'Cunny For Thine Mountain Penne' almost silently emerges on delicate notes and drone sounds, distant percussion and mournful brass reminding this listener of Gorecki's 'Sorrowful Songs'. Stately, graceful and melancholic this regal and funereal piece stays with the listener long after the album has finished playing. Next, 'Intermission For Blisters And Russian Weddings' is driven along on wary and eerie violin bursts, a solar echo resonating and unfurling slowly and perceptibly whilst gentle bass notes hold anchor. This is music to play when the sky is huge, dark and forbidding, to watch the stars blink on and off with cosmic indifference to us watching.
'Studies In Space And Density' is equally massive in scale and suggestion; a cold, sad throb through the universe that becomes increasingly distorted and growling before returning to an icy, repeating refrain of solar wind. A sudden warmth enters with 'Let The Cold Stove Sing Within Reason' as a bass throb and beautiful melody grows and layers over a distant electronic howl and circling strings. Hugely affecting, there is an integral human component at the heart of everything Human Greed or Begg does, this is music about the human condition, about what it is to be in this casually cruel and beautiful universe. 'Whiteadder Water After The Harvest' brings us full circle and close the album with the burble of streams and rivers, metallic and windswept notes sweeping overhead.
I cannot recommend this album highly enough. There is more detail, more arresting and heart-rending moments, more creativity on this album than there is in some other artist's entire oeuvres. One for those lonely, late night listens or for accompaniment of solitary walks and dérives, 'Let The Cold Stove Sing' is a heartbreakingly beautiful and important album, perhaps quite easily already my album of the year. The cold stove is singing, now one must listen.
Available now as a download at Human Greed's Bandcamp site and as a CD.
19 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
We've got two great new releases from vinyl specialists Sugarbush Records to look at today. Sugarbush head honcho Markus Holler has impeccable taste, releasing limited edition vinyl pressings of recent albums not previously released on vinyl as well as brand new releases, mostly in the psychedelic / jangle pop / power-pop fields, many of which we've favourably covered in the past.
First to see the stylus from this duo is Dublin's Duncan Maitland and his 2010 debut "Lullabies for the 21st Century". XTC's Colin Moulding plays bass on the first track, which should give you an idea what to expect here. It's a beautifully produced album that fans of XTC and Pugwash will love, full of lush, rainy day sunshine pop songs, with a progressive influence to the song structures; check out "Handbirds" - lovely melancholy stuff.
Elsewhere "Terry The Toad" demonstrates some power pop muscle, "Alien at Home" marries impeccable pop hooks with psychedelic studio electrickery, "Horror Stories" is a kaleidoscopic, Pepperesque anthem and "Insect Under the Stone" is playfully Nilsson -like. "Lucky You" even hints at Steven Wilson's more straightforward song-based material, with a lovely, lyrical slide guitar riff that you could be forgiven for mistaking for David Gilmour.
Great headphone album this too, with all sorts of things going on production-wise, and tunes to match.
Next up we have a real treat. I'm a huge fan of Rick Corcoran AKA Orgone Box. So much so that we somehow managed to talk Rick into letting us release the digital version of his excellent "Centaur" album, which Sugarbush handled on vinyl. He's one of those artists that is known by few, but loved by almost all who hear him. "The Lorne Park Tapes" is a collection of four track recordings from the early nineties, none of which have previously seen the light of day (at least in this form, several tracks were re-recorded for the second Orgone Box album).
The production may be rough around the edges, but the arrangements here are all fully realised and the songs are once again just fantastic. If anyone can lay claim to being the one-man Beatles, it's Rick. Combining McCartney's effortless melodicism with Lennon's restless ire brings out the best from both camps, and there are plenty of songs here that would have been highlights on either artists solo albums, although little that either recorded after the breakup is as Beatlesque as these gems. I'm dying to see what else is in Rick's archive.
Recommended unequivocally to all Beatles fans, and anyone with a penchant for classic pop tunes.
Both are available direct from the label here with all prices including free shipping worldwide.
16 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz
Austin’s Holy Wave straddles a stylistic line between West Coast folk rock and 80s psychedelia. You could say they’re retro and vintage, and I doubt they’d be offended, because they write, sing, and play so effortlessly that it’s like a pair of comfortable jeans that you want to keep forever. Yes, anyone who listens to The Byrds and even the great rush of music from Down Under will both recognize and enjoy the songs on this new record. And that’s a good thing, because let’s face it, so many bands fail to rework classic genres. Opening track “She Put a Seed In My Ear” is particularly striking, with warmly inflected vocals and gentle keyboard washes. It rather reminds me of the sonic territory inhabited by Beach House, or maybe even DIIV. “Wendy Go Round” resurrects vintage organ and its wayback feel is like a cool summer breeze. And ooh, “Western Playland” is like a cold drink of water on a scorching day; its refreshing, chill vibe is like a balm to these tired ears. “You Should Lie” is another great song, with amped up energy and dreamy, female vocals with cooing harmonies. The lazy, sinuous grooves of “California Took My Bobby Away” is pure dream pop without a care in the world.
“Air Wolf” mines the Byrsdian, West Coast vein that has worked well for so many bands, albeit with a modern sensibility, a motorik vibe, and better production values. “Our Pigs” sounds like a cross between The Beach Boys (vocally) and a slew of modern garage rock bands. “Sir Isaac Nukem” is a pretty tune with shiny production values, while “Magic Landing” is all about the tripped out garage psych vibe and swampy backbeat. The final tune is the luminous “Minstrel’s Gallop”, a finely honed, delicately structured song with swirling organ and the light touch of vocals. It is a great ending to one of the better psych releases of the year. Well worth checking out.
Physical copies available here (UK/EU), or here (US). Downloads and streaming available here:
14 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
And on its goes, another amazing and essential release rolls up at the Active Listener London Division HQ on a mission to beguile and spellbind the likes of me with some fabulous sonic architecture. 2016 really is turning into a great year.
Murals are from Louisville, Kentucky (home of old school favourites of mine Squirrel Bait - random fact) and some 10 years since first forming they have finally dropped their debut long player on an unsuspecting world - 'Violet City Lantern'. I cannot tell you how long the tunes on this record have been incubated for but I can guarantee you that contained within these grooves (vinyl and download only pop pickers) is some of the best and most challenging pop music I have heard in many moons. Fully realised, cinematically charged, ethereal and enigmatic tunesmithery is the order of the day with this baby and I am totally sold.
Trying to pitch the record to you as the masterpiece it so obviously is, is kinda tricky. It has a huge amount of layers, some that only become apparent after repeated listening and the band clearly draws on a massive range of influences that I guess range from the Velvets, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, 'Smile' era Wilson (and auteurs such as Michael Lloyd or Curt Boettcher) through to early 80s perimeter dwellers like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, maybe adding some early Spiritualized and Galaxie 500 as well as feeding on the same sunlight that more recently has founded the early work of , say, Grizzly Bear whose acme release 'Yellow House' is perhaps the last record that may draw some comparison. This is heady company to keep and the art in this alchemy is how the list of esteemed artists I have just laid on you are merely glimpsed as Murals pursue their own restless quest for something that is never really made clear in any semblance of narrative on the 15 tracks found here. The vocals are beautifully buried in the mix, slightly out of focus, ghostly baritones uttering sacred incantation. The melodies are woozy and often spellbinding, kaleidoscopic in their restless reassembling of themselves as Murals obsessively stretch and search their compositions for new forms of expression. Sonic collage segments litter the record providing ambitiously tasteful segues - wonderfully atmospheric and integrated perfectly into the wider whole. Its a remarkable distillation of sounds. Here are some highlights.
Opening collage/prelude 'Rain' sets the tone with its myriad gently cascading instrumentation cinematically signalling we are in for some real cool ride before fading into the title track. "Violet City Lantern" is an absolute stunner that rises softly and slowly out of the speaker gently couched in gently strummed vibrato guitar chords and hush toned baritone incantations before amazingly floaty peals of melody chime forth and lift something that started with huge promise into a tune of stratospheric loveliness.
"Smoke Follows Beauty" is a stunning piece of work, emerging out of a low rumbling 'Atmosphere'-like entrance before blooming beautifully into a technicolour mid section with sailing walls of chiming reverbed guitar before exiting into a Wilson-inspired 'Wind Chimes' style finale. An amazing trip and when the mix tapes of 2016 are compiled I expect to see this prominently featured in many places. "White Wheel" fades into view on a circular guitar and drum motif with wind chime accompaniment that ushers in some absolutely beautiful almost Gregorian vocals and reverbed zither spell-casting. Like much of the record it spins tightly on its own axis, nothing overstays its welcome on this record. Its akin to opening a musical box and watching the pretty ballerina turn around on the spot over and over...
"I Live Here" is deep and mysterious with more of those beautiful chiming guitars and oddly punctuating time shifts that seem deliberately implanted into the compositions to keep you spinning like a kid on a fairground ride. "The Swimmer" could be a musical interpretation of the strange Burt Lancaster art-house movie from the late 1960's with its gently swaying guitar and slightly submerged vocal and piano lines punctuated by disorientating pauses and swells. There again it could be about nothing at all - sometimes answer are superfluous. "The Lost Star" is cosmic campfire music as played by the 1969 Velvets line-up and "Warm Country Magic" is an interlude of stretched soundscapes that incorporates echoed piano runs and pedal steel indolence, replete with grasshoppers. "Adina" continues the mood, its gorgeous surges and gentle breakdowns recalling the days of charming men and high land, hard rain - all beamed through the dream-like prism of its creators.
"One Thousand Pictures" is almost nailed down by a mototrik beat as once more the music threatens to evaporate into the air before your very ears and closer "Violet City Showers" brings matters to a suitably blurry conclusion emerging as it does after what feels like a lifetime of rainy-evening field recording intro into a final dreamscape that manages to be even more ethereal than anything that has gone before it - levitating on reverbed harp sounds, modulated synth waves and ghostly distant voices. You are cleansed, you are cleansed, you will never hear distortion again...
With 'Violet City Lantern', Murals have most likely released one of the year's strongest sets of recorded music. The dream-like awe and wonder that erupts from these songs is staggeringly evocative and well, it's all too beautiful. So please, carry the lantern high.
Available digitally or on limited pink/purple vinyl here:
12 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & the Moon)
Jackie McDowell's music is a fascinating and very welcome discovery for this writer and comes courtesy of the ever splendid Wild Silence label (who are also responsible for recent essential psych folk releases by Pefkin ('Liminal Rites') and Empty Vessel Music ('There's Nobody Under The Gorse Bush'). McDowell utilises an inspired mixture of harmonium, mountain dulcimer and electronics to create an entirely unique take on the folk and psych idioms and 'New Blood Medicine' is an expertly distilled example of her vision and distinctive direction.
Opener 'In One Hand A Salt, In The Other A Seed' begins with McDowell's arresting vocals, confidently piercing the silence to be joined by the hypnotic drone and hum of her harmonium. It is at once otherworldly and hugely compelling, almost like discovering another musical language altogether. This brief introduction leads immediately into 'Thirteen Mothers Rise' which enters on a strident dulcimer melody, woodwind and layered and choral vocals which reverberate lysergically and eerily throughout the piece. Both ancient and yet also strikingly different and new, McDowell's folk music is one that is almost instinctive and intrinsic to herself and yet seems to be channelled from the earth itself; this is not the twee or gentle manufactured folk of Laura Marling and that ilk, this is the guttural, blood and spittle soaked real deal. Reference points might be the sombre and determined indifference to conformity of Nico, the earthy, powerful beauty of MacGillivray's music and the spectral landscapes of Fovea Hex. 'Hyperborea' is an intense and evocative harmonium and vocal piece that sounds like the aural equivalent of a thunderstorm; there is a dark and pleasing wildness and witchcraft in this music that is an antidote to the repetitive and often idea bereft folk mainstream. 'Tea Song' starts out almost Morricone-esque and is a defiant and stately string and organ led piece that McDowell alternately whispers and storms through, lending a dramatic tension to the song that builds and grows throughout to the point that this listener found himself holding his breath. Next, 'Stars In The Heaven' floats into being on the throb of waves of harmonium and an ocean of glistening chimes. Almost sacred in its solemnity, the choral voices count out a twisted, haunted nursery rhyme that echoes across vast and silvery skies. The album's penultimate track 'Scrape Dirt Marrow' follows, using strummed guitar and heavily reverbed vocals to create a desert song of some immense grace and power. Percussion and organ punctuate the widescreen and atmospheric vision that the piece conjures, leading to a dramatic and breathtaking close. The album itself finishes with an unnamed track that combines the ancient with the avant garde in a cornucopia of harmonium, chiming percussion and Incredible String Band style experimentation.
Further exploration tells us that McDowell has only recently become a solo artist after previously playing with both Inez Lightfoot and Sun Cycles, but has already released several albums under her own name. Having found this slice of aural treasure, this listener is going to now explore deeper into this unique artist's discography. I highly recommend you do the same.
As always with Wild Silence releases this comes as a beautifully packaged limited edition CD and also as a download.
8 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Welsh cosmonauts Sendelica are so bloody prolific that each time I get sent something of theirs to review, they've released something else by the time I've digested it enough to write about it. In the past that has prevented coverage in these pages, but I'm not gonna let it stop me this time, with two excellent new studio releases here to savour. You'd think that the fact that Sendelica can write, record and release albums quicker than I can listen to them would guarantee a certain lack of quality control but that is very much not the case here. Who knows where they find the time?
So first up today we'll look at Italian label VE Recordings release "I'll Walk With The Stars For You". The Sendelica chaps spend a lot of time investigating deep space instrumentally, but opener "Black Widow Man" bucks the trend a little, bringing in the legendary Twink on guest vocals on a propulsive, effects laden space rocker. If you tried to explain what Hawkwind sounds like to someone who has never heard them before, they'd probably imagine it sounding a lot like this, even though the description only matches on paper.
We're back in more familiar territory next with the lengthy space epic "Moscow Bunker Blues", one of the best examples of their space jams I've heard so far, with some stellar sax work.
Nik Turner turns up next to lend some flutey accompaniment to a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" that sees the titular seabird relocated from its earthy climes to somewhere with solar winds. This then segues into "I Once Fed Peter Green's Pet Albatross", a more earthbound meditation that recaptures the mood of the original, had it been recorded during Miles Davis'"In a Silent Way" sessions. Thoroughly splendid. (Vinyl, CD or download available here).
Let's move on to "The Cromlech Chronicles" now, released as a vinyl LP by Fruits de Mer Records, and named after the megalithic monument near the studio it was recorded in (in Wales).
The title piece is a side-length slowburner, starting off with ominous, eerie keyboard washes that suggest the very far reaches of space. This sense of not-quite-emptiness is soon shattered by the arrival of some lovely, lyrical guitar work and before long we're in full flight with guitar versus saxophone in a closely contested fight.
The flip side is also a side long treatise, but made up of multiple parts which perhaps demonstrate Sendelica's versatility a little better than the title track. The contents here range from an aggressive take on Flower Travellin' Band's "Satori Part One" which accentuates the Sabbath style doom of the original, and some complex King Crimsonisms, with original material which verges on the angelic. You can download from the link below or grab one of the last few LPs here.
And if that's not enough for you, they've also recently released another great live album (some would say the perfect way to experience the band), and an adventurous cover of "Ziggy Stardust" as a 7" for Fruits de Mer (already sold out it would seem). You've got your work cut out for you keeping up with this lot, I tell you. Worth every second though.
6 Jun 2016
Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)
Toward the end of 2015 Klaus Johann Grobe grabbed my attention with a 7” that they released on Trouble In Mind Records. It was a slick throwback to the Krautrock of the 70s and 80s that also smacked of more-recent sounds and influences. It was a lot of fun and whetted my appetite for a more-substantial release, a full length that I could sink my teeth into.
Half a year later, and here they come with that long player. I am all ears!
“Ein Guter Tag” opens the proceedings with an insistent bass line and stuttering drums that get the head nodding. Then, after not too long, the synths wash over you. But that same bass/drum part continues throughout the song—an insistent rhythm that is somehow simultaneously robotic and human.
“Wo Sind” follows, its rhythmic synthesizer riff, sounding like James Brown sat down at a Fairlight: hitting it hard on the one. “Pure Fantiosie” sounds almost like it was written for Latetia Sadier to sing. Short vocal phrases punctuate the rhythms and slide between the Farfisa organ and synth riffs, like they are all pieces of the same puzzle.
“Heut Abend nur” slows things down a bit… almost the ballad of the record. No drums at all, and the vocals come as close as they ever do to crooning here. Which isn’t too close, but it’s something!
Look, this is a Krautrock record, plain and simple, with lush synthscapes and droning German-language vocals. And, while I have heard enough of the genre to know that the obvious influences are all at play: Can, Kraftwerk, Stereolab, Neu!, etc, I am not a Krautrock expert, so it would be folly for me to get too far into dissecting all of those.
From my vantage, however, what I am pulling from it all is the strong funk influence, with danceable, human rhythms emerging from spacy soundscapes. It’s a sound that’s simultaneously engaging and relaxing— the ideal music for an opium den on Mars, or an underwater dance club.
There is a lot of soundscape here, which means that it takes a couple of listens for the songs to really emerge and infiltrate your consciousness; it’s a sneaky record, that way. But once you get a couple of hits, it’s like that opium den – you’re addicted. I am loving this record and looking forward to hearing what Klaus Johann Grobe have in store for their next act.
Available here (US), or here (UK/EU).