30 Jan 2015

John Carpenter "Lost Themes"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

John Carpenter's legion of followers may be growing at an alarming rate, most seemingly armed with their own synthesizers, but at 67, Carpenter shows that he's still pretty much untouchable with "Lost Themes".

Although the title may lead you to assume that this is a collection of leftovers from director/composer/general legend John Carpenter's impressive filmography, you'd be wrong to do so. "Lost Themes" is, thrillingly, a collection of newly composed pieces put together by Carpenter, his son Cody, and his godson Daniel Davies (son of Kink Dave Davies, and himself a film composer, responsible for the score for "I, Frankenstein").

Carpenter himself seems loathe to classify these pieces as compositions, with a working method which endearingly involves hours of video game play by him and the lads, followed by sessions of improvisational synth tinkering, the best parts of which are then whipped into shape. "It's just fun" admits Carpenter, who further admits that he'd rather be creating music than directing these days.

And the relaxed process by which "Lost Themes" was created obviously works for Carpenter, as it has led to an incredibly strong piece of work. For once, not limited by the need to score music which will fit snugly into a tightly edited sequence, Carpenter and co. here have the freedom to develop this material in ways which would not have been possible if they were working on a frame by frame basis. And not needing to create mood-setting incidental music has afforded the opportunity for Carpenter to create perhaps his most melodically developed collection of music, with nine distinctly different themes.

"Fallen" has moments that would fit right in on one of the first two "Halloween" soundtracks, but elsewhere there's plenty of advancement on the signature Carpenter sound; the opening ambience and piano notes on "Vortex" have a distinct Berlin Bowie tinge, while stand out rocker "Obsidian" updates the classic Goblin sound, thanks in no small part to Davies' distinctive guitar work. Elsewhere there's plenty of what you'd hope for from a project like this; sequencers, creepy synth bells, plenty of the trademark synthesizer arpeggios, and a general sense of menace.

It's a totally welcome surprise, and the best news is that such a good time was had putting this together that a follow up is not only on the cards, but nearing completion.

"Lost Themes" is available here on CD, and here on vinyl.

29 Jan 2015

Albino Father "II"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Albino Father’s first full-band recording, II, released earlier this month, is energetic from the very start. The record – in its sound, lyrics, pacing, and arrangement – feels simultaneously improvised and painstakingly structured; the guitars are fuzzy, the vocals slap back-and-forth, and, in the pauses, there’s reverb to spare. It’s the soundtrack of mid-west garages and dens. Not far from II’s noise is the live show, ingrained in every track; you can easily imagine them pounding through the same songs with their amps at full power, and you can’t help nodding along. Formerly the solo project of guitarist, Matt Hoenes, Albino Father can now take advantage of the way musicians play against one another.

In "Disappear", the guitar and vocals float in from all directions and crisscross over the verses, while the bass and drums keep consistent, tight time. The minimalist, chant-like vocals anchor the song and create a ritual of its structure. Bookended by "WTTV" and "Tooth Powder", "Disappear" is a quick foray into the sprawling, open side of Albino Father’s music, surrounded by the faster, psych-punk of the others. In the following tracks, the band finds a happy marriage for the elements that makes them a success – Krautrock meditations on rhythm, an appreciation for musical space, and punk/lo-fi sensibilities.

A standout track, "Heavy Fucking" evokes an early ‘70s psych vibe, pulsing through its full 8 minutes. In the final third of the song, the riff takes off, embracing layers of crunchy guitars and wailing blues solos reminiscent of a few decades past and wide-open spaces.

The hiss of a tape begins many of these tracks, reminding listeners that this music is made by real people; that particular sound, though tech-based, signifies a human touch, which, when it comes to new music, is always welcome. This record embraces the subtleties of every riff and instrument. II is garage rock at its best: catchy, gritty, and human, and, in the end, very fun. Salt Lake City’s Albino Father delivers a well-paced slow-burn of rock ‘n roll.

II is available on limited vinyl and cassette or digitally here:

28 Jan 2015

Zoltan "Sixty Minute Zoom"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Prolific London synth-botherers Zoltan (one of whom is also the fabulous Cremator) are back at it again with their second full length album for Cineploit Records.

It's been a few years since their debut, but they've kept extremely busy since then with various side-projects, and two shorter Zoltan releases based on horror films "Psychomania" and the "Blind Dead" series. These other projects gave the trio of Andy Thompson, Matt Thompson and Andrew Prestidge the opportunity to branch out and experiment with textures a little different to that of their core sound. "Sixty Minute Zoom" sees them return, fully focused to that core sound, and while their are definite similarities to their debut "First Stage Zoltan", "Sixty Minute Zoom" is a much more confident and expansive platter.

There are three names that you'll see mentioned in almost every Zoltan review - Goblin, Zombi and John Carpenter. Their influence is inescapable here, but Zoltan use these touchstones only as a starting point. The rhythmic complexities that Matt Thompson and Andrew Prestidge introduce add a whole new dimension here, providing a pleasingly cerebral edge which makes use of the more appealing aspects of progressive rock without allowing the opportunity for the tedious showboating that often makes prog such an acquired taste. There's a section in "Uzumaki" which is wholly reliant on Prestige's drums to enhance the drama of the main theme's first appearance. In the hands of most other bands this would fall flat, but it's one of many transcendent moments to be found on "Sixty Minute Zoom", culminating in the side long finale "The Integral", a carefully constructed mini soundtrack which is screaming out for an accompanying short film, if only Lucio Fulci were still with us.

A definite step up from their already excellent preceding works.

Available digitally below or physically here.

27 Jan 2015

The Bingers "Gonna Get You"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I like the name the Bingers a lot. Hell, I liked it when I thought it had something to do with the strip club from the Sopranos, but now that someone has pointed out to me that it's actually a play on the fact that these guys binge, it makes a lot more sense. And the impression that "Gonna Get You", their latest 7" E.P gives, is that the Bingers have certainly ingested more vintage garage rock n roll than their dietary consultant would recommend in one sitting.

It takes a lot for a garage rock band to distinguish themselves these days. The competition is plentiful. But the Bingers have one very important thing on their side. Sure, they may sound like a bunch of snotty punks, but they also realize that buzzsaw guitars and attitude will only get you so far. With that in mind, they've ensured that all four tracks here are laden with big, memorable hooks.

The real immediate big hitters are on the first side, but the flip displays unexpected depths, with "Hideous Heart"s heavily reverbed vocal bellows subverting a classic rock n roll vocal melody in a fashion that betrays keen observational skills. And while the surf guitar riffs come thick and fast on all of these tracks, special mention should be made of "Wired", which maintains the menacing strut of vintage Link Wray played at Dick Dale velocity.

Recorded live to six track, these four tracks have a raw gutsy charm that seems to confirm that the Bingers onstage are most likely a fearsome, face melting proposition. That they've managed to capture something that demonstrates this so well on tape is a rare treat.

The 7" E.P is available here.

Stream / digital download available through the Bandcamp widget below:

New Sampler!

Top sampler this month, if I do say so myself. And it's out now! Alan of the wonderful Kitchen Cynics provided the nifty sleeve collage (as well as a new track from an upcoming release). We are much obliged to him.

This month we feature the following tracks:

1. Howlin Rain - Big Red Moon 05:50
2. The See See - Ynys Las 02:38
3. The Bingers - Wired 03:18
4. Powder Blue - Sunfire Drug Haus 07:46
5. Space Yacob & the Giant Yeti - Korong 07:11
6. Houdan the Mystic - The Meeting 03:12
7. Al Lover - Brian Jonestown Masochist 03:16
8. Mondo Drag - Crystal Visions Open Eyes 04:36
9. Dodson & Fogg - And When The Light Ran Out 08:07
10. Kitchen Cynics - Wake-Up Dream 05:20
11. Adam Leonard - Elbow of Termites 04:15
12. Acorn Falling - The Navigator Who Doubted 04:31
13. The Moon Band - My Home 04:04
14. Kentin Jivek & The Hare & The Moon - GodHead 06:10
15. Virgen Sideral - Petalos De Flujo Solar 12:50

Be sure to visit the links at https://theactivelistener.bandcamp.com/album/the-active-listener-sampler-28 to find out more about these artists.

Stream and download available here, right now!

26 Jan 2015

Al Lover "Cave Ritual"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

San Francisco producer / remixer / DJ extraordinaire Al Lover continues to diversify with this new full length album - his first for excellent UK indie Stolen Body Records.

Following on from recent successes with "Sacred Drugs" and an acclaimed Goat remix E.P, "Cave Ritual" sees Al take a more experimental approach with interesting results. Interviewed by the Quietus in September, Al admitted that his approach for this album was much more stripped back, with all samples originating from one album (no idea what that album is before you ask, but it must be pretty bad ass), with some accompanying synths and drums. With this in mind, "Cave Ritual" is an impressively varied collection which displays none of the limitations that such an approach would seemingly encourage.

It's a game of two halves for sure, with the side long "Genisis Porridge" displaying Al's layering techniques over a slowly developing build, throbbing away in a particularly intense fashion. It's quite a departure from what we've heard from him before, with a grim dystopian sound that would make it seem totally at home sound tracking "Dune" or "Blade Runner", had it been recorded 20+ years earlier.  It's probably a little intense and brooding for the average listener's everyday listening, but is just the ticket as a portentous mood setter.

The flip is much more familiar territory for fans of Al's take of garage sourced instrumental psychedelic hop hop. Edan is still a great touchstone for what to expect from this stuff. Made up of shorter tracks which fit together to create a side long sequence should you prefer to experience it as such, this has a familiar, but always enjoyable ring to it. From the jangly, beaty garage of "Death Rattle" to the riffy electro raga of "Brian Jonestown Masochist", via the ridiculously catchy bass monster "Permanent Now", this side is full of ideas which coalesce effortlessly in often surprising ways.

Great stuff then, and an exciting taster from an artist who continues to push himself in sometimes challenging, but ultimately rewarding directions.

Available now from Stolen Body Records or via Norman Records.

Michael Tanner "Nine of Swords"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Michael Tanner has been hard at work in the background during the creation of a number of the finest albums of the last few years. As a member of experimental Irish acid folksters United Bible Studies, as a collaborator to the likes of Mark Fry, Sharron Kraus and Richard Moult, and with his recordings as Plinth, Tanner is one of today's most versatile and fearless musicians. Using a mixture of traditional instruments, field recordings and drones (and on occasion music boxes) he creates something utterly unique and hypnotic with his music. With recent release "Nine of Swords" this ably continues to be the case. An album devised by allocating nine tarot cards to nine percussive instruments (water bowls, singing bowls, temple bells and cymbals) and played in the order of the cards being drawn from the deck, this is a recording of shimmering, sombre beauty.

One divinatory meaning of the Nine of Swords is that of death, failure, delay, deception, disappointment and despair. An almost tangible flavour of those are present as the album opens, the glistening drone of the singing bowl echoing endlessly as if frozen in solitude. And yet another different divinatory interpretation is that of an ecclesiastic, a priest; certainly this feel of the sacred is also present. There is something religious, ancient and otherworldly about the drones that emit from Tanner's experiments. And yet no effects, no plug-ins or sonic tampering was used. These sounds are pure, organic and natural. Reminiscent of some of Nurse With Wound's more 'ambient' creations (using that word very loosely indeed as there is nothing 'relaxing' or 'chill out' about either Tanner or Stapleton's work) such as "Soliloquy For Lilith" or perhaps Michael Begg and Colin Potter's cathedral based opus "Fragile Pitches", there is much more going on between and beneath the drones than it at first appears. Sounds blend, emerge and disappear; they have direction and purpose. This is an album to focus on and to pay attention to, perhaps an album for late nights or early mornings; there is something contemplative at heart here, this music invites reflection. The glistening of the water bowls merges into the gentle waves of temple bells, at times creating a solid, reverberating mass whilst at others a more distant echo. There is great beauty in this recording, nothing is rushed and the sound is crystalline and pure. The world outside seems to grow quieter around the music, as if in step. This is not easy listening however, but a demanding and focused album which commands your complete attention. It deserves and repays this attention a hundred times over however with truly beautiful sounds, atmospheres and textures; consult the cards and sink into the shimmer of "Nine of Swords" - you will not be disappointed.

Available here from the prolific and excellent 'A Year In The Country' label as a limited 'Night Edition' box set containing the album on all black CDr, a 12 page string bound booklet and badge and sticker set; a limited 'Day Edition' containing a white/black CDr album in 10 page string bound booklet; a limited 'Dawn' edition containing a white/black CDr album in white textured recycled fold out sleeve with insert and badge and finally a 'Dusk' edition with a hand-finished all black CDr in a matt recycled sleeve with insert. These packages are as lovely and carefully constructed as one has come to expect from this fine label and befits the music contained within perfectly.

24 Jan 2015

Howlin' Rain "Mansion Songs"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Vanguard affiliated Easy Sound Recording Co. label has had a high impact first year. Becoming the home of choice for bands like The Donkeys and Papercuts (both of whom released career best albums this past year that can be at least partly attributed to the label's artist-centric approach) with future releases on the horizon from the likes of Isobel Campbell and Vetiver.

This spirit of artistic freedom must have been particularly appealing to Howlin' Rain's Ethan Miller, particularly following on from what by all accounts was a pretty miserable experience recording 2012's "The Russian Wilds" with Rick Rubin. "Mansion Songs" is Easy Sound's first release of 2015, and is the first in a trilogy that Miller has lined up which represents a new beginning of sorts for him. "When I began this record, I most certainly hadn't given up, but I was in a dark and trying place," explains Miller, "I wanted the album to reflect a dignified despair."And it certainly does that. And how. The blazing, psychedelic guitarwork that has been Miller's calling card since his Comets on Fire days is noticeably absent, throwing the spotlight squarely onto the songs, and putting his voice centrestage to an unprecedented degree. And these are almost certainly the best songs of his career so far.

The sparse nature of these recordings certainly seems to indicate that Miller did pick up a few things from his time with Rubin, but the ramshackle, ragged glory of the performances are something that it's hard to imagine Rubin having any tolerance for. So it's just as well Miller was left to his own devices here, or we wouldn't have "Mansion Songs", an album that stands up with the best of Little Feat's recorded output, and evokes "Tonight's The Night" and "Exile on Main Street", especially in the conviction of Miller's vocal delivery.

Howlin' Rain was originally started because Miller "wanted to sonically represent the history of California bands." By dropping the psychedelic element of his music, he's come closest to reaching that ideal here. And with two more albums lined up to accompany this, I'm very excited.

Album of the year so far for me.

"Mansion Songs" is available here.

Kentin Jivek & The Hare & The Moon "The Haunted Cabaret"

Reviewed by Robin Hamlyn.

On paper, a collaboration between The Hare and the Moon and Kentin Jivek is a beguiling prospect. While both artists have a long history of exploring what might loosely be termed “ambient and/or psychedelic folk”, their respective sound-worlds are radically different. The Hare and the Moon’s Blakean muse derives from the mystical fields of Old Albion — albeit filtered through an often Velvet Underground-tinted lens — whilst Jivek’s electronic, frequently synthesized soundscapes are more recognizably modern European. It’s also true to say that Jivek’s stark, disruptive vocal stylings are very far removed from The Hare and the Moon’s more traditional, although no less compelling, approach to the voice.
What emerges is a fascinating, disturbing, haunted fairground of an album, where the attractions range from the seemingly benign to the darkly subversive. “The Haunted Cabaret” opens the show with a jaunty pipe organ solo, accompanied by exclamations in German (uttered by the multi-lingual Jisek), evoking the back alleys of Berlin, and more specifically Bruno S.’s accordion-accompanied monologues in Herzog’s Stroszek. Our spirits buoyed, we then take a turn into one of the albums many corners of glamorous despair. “The Liquorist” opens with a spacious, menacing drone before peals of maniacal laughter announce the arrival of the song’s protagonist. The liquorist then reflects on the taste of alcohol, or “God’s fluid”, whilst succumbing to demonic paroxysms of what might be joy but sound more like the agonies of a highly aestheticized addict. Gloriously, the piece breaks into one of Grey Malkin’s divine ethereal riffs, creating a vortex of Cocteau Twins-like overtones into which the cackling, ranting liquorist disappears.
“Gevaudan” opens with a Ligeti-like cloud of moaning, unquiet voices, before Jisek’s rasping tones, this time in his native French, emerge from some unclean sepulcher. The musical texture now punctuated by tambourine hits (or is that the sound of the damned rattling their chains?), the voice, quite horrifyingly, becomes a bestial roar that is quickly enveloped by the rising tonal wash. As the song slouches towards silence, the sonority is reminiscent of Popol Vuh’s accompaniment to the opening credits of Herzog’s Nosferatu, and evokes a similar, and yet even more intense atmosphere of tenebrous gloom.
“Godhead” appears to elevate us immediately, and we emerge from the stygian depths on the wings of a sweet, even sentimental, string melody. After less than a minute, however, hissing whispers attack the stereo image, hard-panned and sibilant. And as the string orchestra is bruised by waves of dissonance, Jivek emerges once more, this time delivering, in English, a full-blooded croon on the nature of divinity. If you can imagine Nick Cave being stirred in with Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, with a little bit of Scott Walker on the side, you’ll be somewhere close, but there is a frankly demented quality to Jivek’s delivery that chills the blood. When mixed with Grey Malkin’s cathedral-like sonic textures, what emerges is once more imbued with a strange, ceremonial quality.
“Petite Mort” opens in a similarly serene fashion to that of “Godhead”, with a Faure-like string melody, delicately punctuated by silvery percussion. Jivek’s quietly febrile monologue finds a less extreme counterpoint in Grey Malkin’s exquisitely layered aural backcloth, ending the piece on a note of relative peace. “Das Narren Schiff”, is rendered in French, and Jivek’s performance here is comparatively restrained. Almost subliminally, though, voices alternately demonic and mellifluous trouble our brains, as Grey Malkin’s ingenious aural fabric — ranging from sitar-like drones to clouds of dense percussion — shrouds the landscape. Once more, the ghost of Popol Vuh haunts the speakers while the sound of a ticking clock creates an uncanny tension. The album’s final track, “Black Beard” consists of a relatively serene Jivek narrating the story of a pirate, accompanied, initially, by the album’s most minimal musical backdrop. As the piece reaches its climax, however, Grey Malkin’s ambient textures engulf the listener, leading her solemnly to a place of the most intense and corrupting beauty.
This is an album to get to know slowly, over a glass or two of blood-red wine. There’s just no point in trying to get to the bottom of it. It’s a masterpiece to which you simply have to yield.
Grab your copy from Reverb Worship while/when you can. The first print run has sold out, but there is another on the way.

22 Jan 2015

The See See "Once, Forever and Again"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Legendary U.S reissue label Sundazed paid the See See an enormous compliment when they issued the compilation "Days Nights & Late Morning Lights" a year or two back. Fabled for their classic psychedelic reissues, it was the first time in the label's lengthy history that it had consented to release an album by a contemporary act. This obviously speaks volumes about the quality of the See See's music, as well as suggesting what it's likely to sound like to newcomers. Those newcomers are likely to be a little surprised by what they hear here though. While the See See certainly have one foot placed firmly in the sixties, they also display a sturdy contemporary edge that casts them as much more than revivalists, very much in a neo-psychedelic vein rather than the strict replication that one might expect.

Their latest, "Once, Forever & Again" is another masterclass in classic pop styles with plenty of paisley tinges, but also, on the likes of "Over & Under" hints that the Smiths and the Chills may be as much of an influence as the Byrds.

Elsewhere, tracks like "Ynas Las" evoke expansive, open spaces in a fashion that will appeal to fans of more contemporary fare like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes.

And the muscular, but unforced guitar riff of "Mary Anne" is a knee to the groin of those who might be tempted to suggest that neo-psychedelia in general is a bit wussy.

Another diverse offering from this London five piece then, and one that continues to further their ambitions and broaden their horizons in an unforced and thoroughly enjoyable fashion.

"Once Forever And Again" is available here.