28 Feb 2015

The Myrrors "Arena Negra"


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Following their 2013 debut, "Burning Circles in the Sky", (recorded sometime in 2008), the Myrrors offer-up their second proper release, "Arena Negra", in late March from Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Even if you’re familiar with the Myrrors’ previous releases, "Arena Negra" will surprise you. It certainly surprised me. The Tucson, AZ band has delivered here an impressive talent for transcendence, both as a band in relation to their previous incarnations as well as sonically. "Arena Negra" is a four track, 40+ minute journey that explores an American Southwest brand of mystic rock, eerie while tapping, too, the otherworldly sight of disappearing desert horizons, especially early in the morning, or near dusk.

Apparent from the beginning, "Arena Negra" has more atmosphere than any of the band’s previous releases – and most other records for that matter. The diverse instrumentation is distinct across every track; each element is given space, building what, in the end, is an incredible sense of landscape. Listening to "Juanita Laguna Duerme Con Los Grillos", the mysterious, slow-building second track, one feels able to uncannily pinpoint the location of each sound in a room. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of sounds here, too. Like the other three tracks, there’s an apparent cultivation of this space and atmosphere that adds to the entire listening experience a sense of frenetic realism.

Like Australia’s Dirty Three, the Myrrors use stringed instruments like they’re meant to be destroyed, pushed to their absolute limit. The rough bowed drones that begin "Arena Negra" set the tone for the record. The Myrrors’ concern seems to be the attainment not of perfection but expression; each song, whether four or twenty minutes long, encapsulates a mood, an idea, or a place and sets fire to it – complete with everything you’d expect (improvised guitar, free form and eclectic rhythms, chants, chimes, horns, pulsing strings and organs) – to see what we can see within it.

The epic closer, "The Forward Path", is a master work, using the same sonic aesthetics of the other tracks but dovetailing them into an always-interesting and heavy composition that reveals an appreciation for arrangement. Though a bit longer than twenty minutes, "The Forward Path" feels somehow streamlined, too; it doesn’t meditate too long upon any section of the song without the addition or variation of sounds. In a recent interview on this same site, Nik Rayne suggested another record was in the works. Meanwhile, they’re playing Levitation (Austin Psych Fest) in May and planning a tour. Prep your music playing device of choice for this one – and, hopefully soon, more like it.

"Arena Negra" is available for pre-order here in almost any form imaginable and various colors.

27 Feb 2015

Francis Monkman & Paul Hart "Energism" & "Futurism"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Who knows whether it has anything to do with Luke Vibert's excellent "Nuggets Vol. 3" selection (available here ridiculously cheaply at the moment), or whether the powers that be have just decided that it's time, but the folks at Dutton Vocalion have turned their attentions to the contents of the excellent Bruton and Chappell music libraries with an exciting batch of reissues, all making their first appearances on CD.

Rather than focus solely on the funky side of these two catalogues, the first batch of releases in this series seems to be selected to highlight the wide range of styles and moods that were required, whether that be drama, jazz and romance, spy & crime suspense, or futuristic synthesizer opuses, which Monkman and Hart offer in the pick of the series so far. (I say "so far", hoping there will be more to come, but can't confirm that will be the case).

"Energism" & "Futurism" make a fine pairing, focusing as they do, on pairing forward-thinking synthesizer tones with a conventional drums / bass rhythm section. Names like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream are bandied about in the press release information. Fair enough too, but that doesn't take into account the distinct Englishness of these pieces, which tie in far more closely to Ghost Box's aesthetic, especially the public service announcement / nature films schtick of Jon Brooks' Advisory Circle, which is itself heavily influenced by this era.

And while Monkman and Hart may have similar approaches to arrangement on these albums, they have distinctly different compositional sensibilities, allowing for a greater range than one would expect to encounter from one composer alone. Originally recorded in 1979 and 1981, these releases share a fuzzy VHS view of the future which sounds very much of its time, but also prescient - perhaps not in terms of evoking a realistic vision of the future, but certainly as to how various strands of electronic music would evolve.

Of the two, Monkman's "Energism" has the biggest tunes, with tracks like "Accomplishments of Man" having an epic sweep which effortlessly conjures images of Stonehenge, Incan ruins and other mysterious, slightly otherworldly sites. If Arthur C. Clarke didn't use this piece in his TV series, he certainly should have.

Hart on the other hand provides more variety with some quite suspenseful pieces, as well as some gorgeous tracks with extensive fretless bass which makes this go down very smoothly indeed.

Excellent sleeve notes too on this release, with an overview of the Bruton label itself, as well as features on the two featured composers / bandleaders.

This is an essential purchase. Those who have already delved into Library music will be well aware of the quality of these two albums, but fans of Boards of Canada, Ghost Box Records, and synth based electronica in general are in for a real treat here.

"Energism" & "Futurism" (and the other titles in this series) are available here at a bargain price - particularly bearing in mind how much the original LPs of most of these titles go for!

Nine Questions with Keith Seatman

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Hampshire based Hauntology / synth wizard Keith Seatman, whose album "Around the Folly & Down Hill", we obsessed over recently.

What was the first record you bought? 
Sparks This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us. Saw them on Top of the Pops and thought it was the best thing ever, and went out the following Saturday to buy it. I still have it as well.

What was the last record you bought? 
The last music I bought was The Souless Party Archive Material 98-02 and a 2nd hand vinyl album, Birthday by The Peddlers.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
In 1979 I was in a band called the Marilyn Monroes who released 1 Cassette album. I found out years later that Brian from Reneldo and The Loaf had a copy. Brian told me that it had inspired Renaldo to do a cassette release themselves (more on that here).

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
I really can not answer this question that well. I am normally just grateful to work with anyone. If anyone will have me.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Everything......if possible at all times. I still get a mad rush when I hear something I really like. Recently I Love You All from the Film Frank sung by Michael Fassbender. It really is a wonderful song.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
Vinyl because I love the whole buying and rummaging through racks of records process, and then of course holding the cover in your hands and slowly getting the album out of its sleeve. I have lots of CDs but just do not get the same buzz flicking through shelves and rows of plastic boxes. MP3s are convenient and also very handy.

Tell us about your latest release. 
Around the Folly and Downhill was released in May 2014 and has been a slow but steady plodder. Have had some fantastic reviews/feedback for the album, and even got played on BBC Radio 3 (which was a real shock). The album has been described as psychedelic, pastoral, hauntological, creepy, odd, downright unnerving. I think a couple of those words cropped up in a School Report about me once.

What's next for you, musically? 
The new album should be out by Sept 2015 (track excerpts on soundcloud). The new album has 3 tracks with voice and vocals by singer/songwriter Douglas E Powell. I would describe it as being a bit clunky, disjointed, noisy, and quite distorted in places.

What's for dinner? 
A Curry, always. Followed by a Vodka and coke with ice of course.

https://soundcloud.com/keith-seatman 
http://keithseatman.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/KeithSeatman
http://www.mixcloud.com/keithseatman/
http://testtransmissionarchive.blogspot.co.uk/

26 Feb 2015

Six Organs Of Admittance "Hexadic"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Six Organs Of Admittance, the solo project of visionary guitarist Ben Chasny, have fearlessly journeyed the outer reaches of psych via early albums such as the John Fahey fingerpicking mysticism of ‘For Octavio Paz’ to the more recent smouldering full on guitar howl and explosive work on display on ‘Shelter From The Ash’ and ‘Sun Awakens’. A true maverick pursuing his own unique and exploratory furrow, Chasny’s work is never anything short of electrifying and utterly absorbing. Indeed, this writer remembers a hushed crowd one cold night at a Six Organ’s show in Glasgow literally swooning at every guitar flurry and angelic vocal swoop that emitted from the man himself. Latest opus ‘Hexadic’ turns things on their head once again, into freeform and furious guitar noise with less structure but no less intensity or direction. Indeed Chasny has used a very deliberate and personally devised form of improvisation, as the press release states; 'Over the last two years, Ben assembled a comprehensive system of musical composition. Designed to free sound and language from rational order and replace calculation with indeterminacy, the Hexadic System is a catalyst to extinguish patterns and generate new means of chord progressions and choices... this was the goal: to use the System to make heavy music with as few "heavy" signifiers as possible. The ones that are left: Volume. Distortion. Impact!'

'The Ram' begins by casting a sombre and reflective mood, its echoed, Duane Eddy style guitars recalling earlier Chasny forays such as 'The Desert Is a Circle’ (from ‘Sun Awakens’) as jazz drumbeats swagger and stagger behind the growing atmosphere of dread and tension. 'Wax Chance' follows, corrosive guitar hissing and spitting out monolithic slabs of pure white noise. More akin to Chasny’ s occasional link ups with psych monsters Comets On Fire, the ever present crackle and bleed from the amp is hugely thrilling. There is nothing polished here, this music is for real. Drums and bass follow low in the mix, a processionary and sullen beat occasionally exploding into frantic action. 'Maximum Hexadic' picks up where the previous track left off, manic riffing and solos bending and merging into growling noise and electric howls, Chasny’ s vocals hidden under layer upon layer of feedback and fuzz. The veritable calm after the storm, 'Hesitant Grand Light' presents an almost spaghetti western aura, Spanish acoustic guitar underlying a reverbed electric that wails like an oncoming steam train. The tension is palatable; freeform this might be but cleverly and carefully paced and articulated it certainly is. A widescreen mood is conjured; you can almost feel the heat of the sun.

'Hollow River' opens like Black Sabbath at their most malevolent, huge swathes of funereal paced darkness bursting forth and fizzling with pure energy. Reminiscent of Earth (though less tightly controlled) this is the sound of the world ending through one man’s guitar. 'Sphere Path Code C' continues the heaviness though throws in Chasny’ s broken up and hallucinatory vocals to disorientating effect, not unlike 'Hairway To Steven' era Butthole Surfers or the work of early Pain Teens. There is something visceral at work here, this is Chasny’ s muse stripped back to pure noise and expression rather than the precision and considered layering of earlier albums. This is his soul pouring forth in white hot expression, the unconscious becoming conscious in the form of unadulterated guitar freak-outs. The mood quietens with ‘Future Verbs', a doom filled and echo laden piece of black hearted psych which, sounding not unlike Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most barren, drips dread and despair across the scorched wasteland. 'Vestige' builds from this wreckage, the metallic hum and drone of the guitar like a choir from hell, a swarm of electric bees. To close, 'Guild's titanic guitar riffs scream across deceptively laid back and improvised drums, sounding not unlike a eulogy for the earth itself in some kind of death throes. This music is monumental, the sheer noise and scale emotionally overpowering and occasionally overwhelming. But go with it, let it catch you in its flow and go with it and you are in for a truly immersive and genuine experience. This is music with its heart bare, tapping into something collective and subconscious.

Six Organs are no-one's band but their own. They will follow their muse and this album takes them down one particular strand of expression. At other times they are melodic, gentle, spiritual or virtuoso. Here they are alive with the pure dread and joy of existence. You can be too, make sure you get hold of this album.

"Hexadic" is available here.

Nine Questions with Klaus Morlock

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Klaus Morlock.

What was the first record you bought?
Animals by Pink Floyd.

What was the last record you bought? 
The soundtrack to "The Duke of Burgundy" by Cat's Eyes.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I am fascinated by the word "umbrella" and by umbrellas themselves.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Steve Jansen. I've always loved his drumming and his general approach to rhythm.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Portishead.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
All three can sound good, but it's vinyl for me.

Tell us about your latest release.
I'm working on a concept album called "The Child Garden", which loosely tells, over the course of about 15 short pieces, the story of a group of adults falling under the malign influence of a shadowy mystic. It's a mixture of pastoral electronics and deep, menacing tape-saturated textures. I'm obsessed with the project.

What's next for you, musically?
The sequel to "The Child Garden" has already been planned. It'll consist of two synth-driven, echo-enveloped, eighteen-minute freak-outs.

What's for dinner?
Cold noodles.

https://klausmorlock.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Klaus-Morlock/1580246002203871

The Virgance "Hiko Shrine"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Formerly of Ripley and Loveless, Nathan Smith is steering his own boat now as the Virgance, a one man maelstrom capable of both extreme shoegaze squall, and moments of serene beauty.

Smith's compositional approach has an almost ambient quality, with layers of processed guitar ebbing and flowing over pounding, insistent drums. Instrumental shoegaze he calls it, and I certainly couldn't argue with that description, although the echo laden guitars on tracks like "Propulsion Lab Part I" also remind this listener favourably of unbeatable post-rock titans Jakob. These layering techniques give an initial impression of a wall of noise, but repeated plays reveal naggingly hooky melody lines lurking just below the surface, distorted by, and sometimes created by the echo effect. Smith also has an unerring ear for crescendo building, releasing into calmness at exactly the right moment for maximum impact, creating a sense of negative space which is sometimes as overwhelming as the preceding storm.

The consistency of mood and lack of vocals throughout "Hiko Shrine" may not offer enough variety for everyone, but then again you don't create instrumental shoegaze music to reach a mainstream audience. Listeners more attuned to Smith's mindset however, will discover that the initial, nagging sense of sameness evaporates after a few listens. Rather than separate "Hiko Shrine" into its constituent parts, it's best to approach it as one lengthy, transportative piece, full of subtle twists and turns which exert an addictive pull, while retaining an elusive quality that helps maintain an element of mystery.

Ideally suited for headphone listening, I'd recommend immersing yourself fully in this one, with no outside stimuli to distract from the beautiful, ferocious world that Smith has created.

"Hiko Shrine" is available as a name your price download here:

25 Feb 2015

Nine Questions with Heaters

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Heaters.

What was the first record you bought? 
Zeppelin II

What was the last record you bought? 
Haven't picked up much vinyl lately, but Andrew got some tapes for the van and "You Know What To Do" by the Shivas was in his last bundle. Been diggin that one!

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
Josh makes exquisite casseroles.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
There's a dude in Grand Rapids that plays in a couple of sweet surf bands and he runs an analog studio; Tommy Schichtel at GoonLagoon Studios. He shreds and is into the same tones and toots that we are!

Who should we be listening to right now? 
Spike and the Sweet Spots, Les Marinellis, Moonwalks, The Omecs.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
They've all kind of got their time and place, but vinyl is probably the most rewarding to produce and to own.

Tell us about your latest release. 
We have a 7" called "Mean Green" coming out on April 28 with Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records, and we're also in the process of recording an LP, which will also be out a little later this year. We're recording it with some buds in their basement and it's sounding pretty sweet.

What's next for you, musically? 
Tour!

What's for dinner? 
Tacos!

https://beyondbeyondisbeyondrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mean-green-7
https://www.facebook.com/heatersss
https://heaters.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/heatersband 
http://www.cmj.com/news/watch-heaters-levitate-thigh-video-plus-qa/

Heaters "Solstice"


Reviewed by Maggie Danna

"Solstice", Heaters’ first 10” after several EPs, is a fresh, enchanting surf twist on garage rock. Though the band members are residents of land-locked Grand Rapids, Michigan, this is pretty much as beach goth as a group can get. "Solstice" is a psych-surf album that screams early Growlers and reminds me especially of the Growlers’ album "Are You In Or Out?"

Heaters are self-described as “psychotropic/buttermilk” on their Facebook page, which is certainly intriguing, and this proves to be a very good thing. Of the trio; Joshua Korf, Andrew Tamlyn and Nolan Krebs, two (Tamlyn and Krebs) were high school friends who met the third (Korf) as he happened to be their neighbour.

The jangly, echoing guitar that is omnipresent throughout the album really creates the surf rock vibe, which is further enhanced by the liberal use of hi-hat and tight percussion. Each song gives off its own unique lo-fi sound and all are expertly constructed. One of my personal favourite tracks is “No Fuss”. With a spiraling guitar background, “No Fuss” is deliciously reverb-laden and has the strongest space rock essence of the album. There is a sorrowful moan to the vocals and each note is held onto, drawn out in an almost drone-like way until it is released to softly fade away. The melancholy is almost tangible. “On A Whim” is another standout track, with more energetic guitar riffs. A bit of twang is also apparent throughout the album, though it is definitely far from country. Despite its laid back and often sorrowful vibe, "Solstice" also has irresistible dance appeal thanks to some great hooks, and it’s easy to imagine this album being played at an angsty sock hop.

I especially recommend "Solstice" if you like The Growlers, The Black Angels, Allah-Las, Gringo Star, or The Wytches.

"Solstice" is available in digital and on vinyl here:

24 Feb 2015

Nine Questions With Al Lover

Photo - Keith Ainsworth
Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today....Al Lover!

What was the first record you bought?
Probably some crappy thrift store nonsense, but the first one that holds any weight that I can remember buying is Yusef Lateef "The Diverse" on Atlantic.

What was the last record you bought?
It was a batch including Syd Barrett 'Barrett', Roky Erickson 'and the Aliens', PIL '2nd Edition', Schoolly D 'Saturday Night - the Album' and a couple others (no reissues here, haha!)

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I love the Grateful Dead.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Probably Sonic Boom. I would say so much of my textural aesthetic is inspired by him and musically I know he's very well informed by the same stuff I am and more (mainly because of his influence on me, haha!) So, I think it would yield really cool results. And I'm sure I would learn so much from that experience, which is the most important aspect of any collaboration in my opinion.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Nest Egg from Asheville, NC. Their upcoming album is out May on Bathetic Records.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
Vinyl at home, Digital on the go.

Tell us about your latest release.
My last release, Cave Ritual is a project I did where all the main samples were taken from one soundtrack record from the late 60s. I wanted to make something with an extremely limited pallette. So it's those samples, a couple breaks, some loops from old rhythm boxes, 808s kicks and like two synth patches. It's probably the most minimal work I've intentionally tried to do thus far. I really like how it turned out.

What's next for you, musically?
I have a new record I just finished that will be coming out late summer / early fall titled 'Zodiak Versions'. It's a project I did inspired by the 2 most important genres to contemporary music, which in my opinion are Dub (proper Jamaican dub) and Krautrock (mainly the more synthy stuff). Really stoked on this project. It's pretty weird and doesn't sound like anything I've put out yet. Hopefully folks will dig it!

What's for dinner?
Roast fish, collie weed and cornbread!!!!

https://www.facebook.com/coolallover
https://allover.bandcamp.com/music
https://soundcloud.com/al-lover
http://stolenbodyrecords.co.uk/record-label/al-lover/

Orgasmo Sonore "Revisiting Obscure Library Music"



Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Frank Rideau's Orgasmo Sonore project has a new mission. After several collections interpreting classic European film music from the likes of Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone, Goblin, Fabio Frizzi and the likes, he's now turning his attention to the vast field of library recordings. For those uncertain of what exactly library music is, here's a handy introduction.

While Rideau's "Revisiting Obscure Film Music" series mostly focused on material I was already familiar with, the source material for "Revisiting Obscure Library Music" is all previously unknown to me, mainly for reasons of access. After all, this music was created for industrial use, and it's uncommon (but not unheard of) for it to appear in used record bins.

So, without familiarity of source material on my side, how exactly does "Revisiting Obscure Library Music" fare? Excellently. I can't pass comment on how true to the originals Rideau's interpretations are, but the track selection, sequencing and performances are uniformly excellent.

While library music is an extremely broad genre (as necessitated by the wide range of uses it was intended for), Rideau has been selective with what he's taken on board here, creating an album that flows smoothly through progressive rock, funk, crime jazz and spacey synths - all the sorts of things beloved of Active Listener readers.

"Erba di Prima" starts things off in a pastoral prog vein which will make collectors of late sixties / early seventies U.K proto-prog feel right at home. Things then get nicely jazzy without losing their prog edge with Alessandro Alessandroni's "White Sand" having a nice flutey Tonton Macoute vibe, before Piero Umiliani's "Viadotti" channels Zappa at his busiest, and most melodic. Bruno Nicolai's "Tempo Sospesso" utilises synth choirs, harpsichord and guitars on the verge of feedback, making this a good entry point for those more familiar with Rideau's Giallo style work.

Side two changes pace slightly with the spy jazz of "Confronto" making good use of the sort of signature harpsichord / hammered keys motifs that John Barry employed so memorably during the sixties. "A Mind Level" mixes funk with some spacey synth passages, pre-empting the marvelous space age pop of "Electric Maneges" and "Space Team", either of which would be a natural fit on an Advisory Circle record, or soundtracking a seventies science documentary, which the originals were likely intended for.

I'm suitably impressed. Rideau's obvious knowledge and affection for the source material shines here, providing an ideal place for the novice to dip their toe in the water or the seasoned library collector to nod approvingly at his selections. And the handy sleeve notes annotate the source of the originals obsessively, which will be fueling my google searches for the next few days.

"Revisiting Obscure Library Music" can be pre-ordered on LP/CD Set, LP only or CD Mint Pack by e-mailing the label directly at informazione@cineploit.com
Available from other online retailers in March.



23 Feb 2015

Nine Questions with the Transcendents

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today..... Chris Pole of The Transcendents.

What was the first record you bought? 
Oh man, I think it was probably a cassette of Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet which I went halves in with my older sister, and we would alternate between us, including the tapedeck it was played on. Pretty inglorious stuff considering my Mum had Beatles 45's on the shelf, but my sister gets half the blame for that! Then with totally my own money it might've been Paul Simon 'Graceland' or Bruce Springsteen 'Tunnel Of Love', but the first one I truly fell in love with was Janes Addiction 'Ritual de lo Habitual', and at 13 years old I was all about the first side - the fast songs - but over time the tripped out psychedelia on side two -Three Days! - started to sink in....

What was the last record you bought? 
A couple of EPs, Tom's Lunch by the Phoenix Foundation and one by Emily Edrosa (from Street Chant). They're both great!

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
Ummm, when I was in high school I was in a school play of Bugsy Malone. During auditions it was decided that I couldn't sing (so no change there then, ha!), so I was cast as Dandy Dan, the villian. It was actually pretty fun, I was a badass with henchmen, and we had these guns that fired shaving cream everywhere. It got pretty outrageous by the third night!

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Even though it would be a dream come true, I think I'd be too scared to record with my heroes! I'm all for collaboration, but I'm also acutely aware of my own shortcomings, so being in a room full of instruments with Jeff Tweedy or Adam Granduciel or somebody would be kind of terrifying and embarrassing! Maybe I'll go with Mark Linkous as it can't actually happen now, not that I imagine it ever could have anyway. RIP Sparklehorse.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
There's just tons of brilliant stuff out there, but you should definitely be listening to Jim Nothing right now - his first release 'Death Traps' is great, and he's just released a new EP 'Zig Zag Blues' that I've gotta check out myself. Much more well known but both worth it for the incredible productions are the latest albums from Warpaint and Interpol.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
I'm a digital fiend, it's just so convenient you know, to take your entire collection with you everywhere you go. That said, aside from the free download our debut album is also out on 12" record. As opposed to pressed vinyl, every copy is lathe-cut in 'real time' on clear polycarbonate, and it's just a really beautiful package put together by Peter King Records, and corresponds really well with the DIY ethic of The Transcendents.

Tell us about your latest release. 
Our debut album consists of 10 tracks, available for free download from www.thetranscendents.co.nz, and also as a 12" as mentioned. There are videos for five of the tracks, with one more to come (for the final track on the album, 'Weakness Was Always Your Strength", a personal favourite), but it's still in the early editing stages. The vids are all pretty lo-fi, much like the music, which I guess is a kind of spooky, noir-ish dark alt-folk thing, with strange beats and an unhealthy disregard for timing.

What's next for you, musically? 
Gonna finish up that video and then hopefully start work on a new EP. There's some bits and pieces already written, and a few lyrics taking shape, so hopefully some new stuff from The Transcendents later this year.

What's for dinner? 
I've already eaten, and I'm into the red wine now, a nice Central Otago Pinot Noir thanks.

The Transcendents on Bandcamp.
The Transcendents on Facebook.
YouTube.

22 Feb 2015

Palace of Swords "Reimagined"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Remix projects really are a load of old cobblers aren't they? I still vividly remember the disappointment that I used to feel when I'd stumble across a scarce CD single from a beloved band, only to find that the b-side was some terrible club remix instead of a proper b-side. Imagine my surprise then, when Palace of Swords' new project "Reimagined" arrived in the post and turns out to be really, really, proper good.

The clue is in the title of course. "Reimagined" implies a lot more commitment than your average remix, and those featured here have all excelled and gone well beyond the project's brief to create something unique, varied, and greater than the sum of its parts (they're some pretty good parts too).

Now, obviously it helps to have solid source material to work with, and Peter Lyons' Palace of Swords nom de plume provides plenty of that, but whether by accident or design, the five artists who have reimagined here have twisted and turned Lyons' original material in all sorts of unexpected directions, yet, the project flows and fits together absolutely perfectly, despite the variety on display.

Creation Records co-founder Joe Foster creates a palpable air of tension with his mix of "Echoes From a Distant Star", which sounds like it belongs in an early eighties slasher film, before the Hare & The Moon surprise with their kosmische pagan take on "Ringstone Round". These two tracks make up the content of the 7", pressed on white vinyl - Reverb Worship's first ever vinyl pressing! The CD-R version features an extra three tracks, and selecting the two for the 7" must have been an arduous task, as there is no discernible quality drop here. The Snide Rhythms remix of "Aesthete Cured" is particularly noteworthy, channeling a New Order vibe without losing its sense of mystery.

Highly recommended, and as is always the case with Reverb Worship releases, very limited. You can order the 7" or the CD-R right here.

I'd urge you to check out the YouTube videos of all clips here, then reach for your wallet.

Nine Questions with the Myrrors

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Nik Rayne from the Myrrors.

What was the first record you bought? 
Not sure if this counts, but I think it was the first Led Zeppelin album, without the record inside. This was before I even had a turntable, I just wanted the sleeve for my wall. Still waiting to find its missing half, though I'm pretty sure I dug that album a lot more back then than I do now...

What was the last record you bought? 
It's gonna have to be a three way tie: Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Reese and the Smooth Ones," Ravi Shankar's "Portrait of A Genius," and Cecil Taylor's "Great Concert of Cecil Taylor" (beautiful three-LP set featuring the mighty Sam Rivers), all from the Double Nickels Collective this last weekend when we went up to Phoenix to play a gig with Destruction Unit. Always score at that place.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
I guess "very few people" is relative, but maybe that my dad is from Kabul, Afghanistan. Him and his family moved over to the States during the Russian war. He can still speak a good amount of Farsi, though unfortunately I was never taught.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
That's a hard one. Assuming they would still have to be alive, maybe Tony Conrad - I could definitely get down with some heavy all-night violin drone action. Conrad's music was definitely a big influence on the new Myrrors record too, especially that first record he did with Faust, "Outside the Dream Syndicate."

Who should we be listening to right now? 
Sunn Trio from Phoenix, a radical young cosmic/space-jazz ensemble with hints of Bitches Brew-era Miles, classic era Ornette, and Can. Also Scattered Purgatory from Taiwan, who are making some of the most beautiful and creative drone-based music I've ever heard.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
Always vinyl, but let's not forget the cassette!

Tell us about your latest release. 
Well our second "proper" studio full-length is coming out this March on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records. It's called "Arena Negra" and we're really excited about it, because the last time we really released a record like this is was way back in 2008! A lot has changed since then, as you can probably imagine - things have gotten a little heavier, a little more widescreen, and way further out. We workshopped a lot of ideas between the reformation of the band in 2013 and the final recording of the album, and I think that really helped us zero in on where we wanted to take The Myrrors as a band.

What's next for you, musically?
The lineup of the band has undergone something of a shake-up these last few months, but we've been playing out a lot around Tucson and I think, as a unit, things are sounding better than ever. We're already starting to brainstorm the follow-up to "Arena Negra" - I'm thinking it'll probably start out based in that record's general aesthetic, but we're definitely looking to explore some more distant sonic territories. We've even thrown around the (maybe overly ambitious) idea of making it a double LP. Might not be able to get much work done on that though till mid-late Summer, as we've got Austin Psych Fest this May followed by some in-the-works tour plans.

What's for dinner? 
Leftover New Mexican food, green chili & pork hashbrown scramble - if you're ever in Tucson, Poco & Mom's diner is the place to be.

https://beyondbeyondisbeyondrecords.bandcamp.com/album/arena-negra
https://soundcloud.com/the-myrrors
https://www.facebook.com/themyrrors.az
https://themyrrors.bandcamp.com/

The Amazing "Picture You"


Reviewed by Kent Whirlow

Well, finally - the wait is over, and it was worth it. "Picture You" is the much anticipated follow up to 2011's wonderful "Gentle Stream" from Sweden's The Amazing. The aforementioned release was a tough act to follow, but it did not take much listening to affirm that there would be no disappointment whatsoever with its successor.

The album begins with a lovely, swirling introduction titled "Broken" and it really sets the stage for what will be a very enjoyable listening experience for just over the next hour. I cannot always quite identify everything that Christoffer Gunrup (vocals/guitar) sings and that does not hinder things one bit; in fact, it is an essential part of the band's sound - it really provides a pleasantly mysterious element, so much so that I was relieved that there was no lyric sheet inside. I don't really want to know all of the words; it would sort of be like buying a jigsaw puzzle already assembled. Now, where's the fun in that? He has a fantastic voice and it is very unique, and I would venture to say that his vocal delivery is not too unlike the better moments of early Red House Painters records, merely as a point of reference. And, yes, that is meant as a compliment.

Though Christoffer is squarely at the forefront, it is clear that this band is very much a group effort. Gunrup is joined by the well-known (for good reason) guitarist Reine Fiske and a third guitarist, Fredrik Swahn, who also handles keyboard duties. The interplay of the guitar work is truly nothing short of beautiful. One thing that is immediately noticeable (and recognizable from the previous record) is the jazz-inspired drumming by Moussa Fadera. I'm not a musician and cannot really speak to the technical bits, but his playing just sounds so precise - never, ever too much, but always enough. As delightful as the three guitars and the vocals are, it would be a mistake to say that that alone defines the band's sound. The drums are surely an important component as well, and Fadera's contribution is spot-on. Alexis Benson rounds out the rhythm section on bass, tying it all together. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that Fiske, Swahn, and Benson all contribute backing vocals. The musicianship in this band is impressive, to be sure, but what is perhaps the best thing about them is how they all seem to connect with each other. Though all are accomplished players and certainly capable of "showing off", no member ever does this; you get the sense that each member is playing his part to support the other musicians in the band, not to stand out or draw attention to himself. And the whole band is elevated to new levels because of that.

I feel safe in saying that they have crafted a sound that is unique to them. One who is already familiar with the band could walk into a record store, hear this record and surely recognize the band. But make no mistake, this is entirely different from a band whose songs all sound the same. Consider the analogy of Monet: his paintings are quite recognizable, but you surely cannot argue that they all look alike; each one has its own unique beauty and identity, as do these songs.

The title track, "Picture You", delivers that intricate interplay from all members; there is so much going on in this song that it is hard to dissect it, not that you need to in order to enjoy it. They've perfected a subtle complexity; despite there being so much going on here, at no point do things sound cluttered or "busy". In fact, if for some reason I were tasked with describing this band in just two words -- albeit a somewhat ludicrous proposition -- I would choose "subtle complexity". Some of the little guitar bits are just infectious enough that they will surely be running through your mind long after the record is over. There's an intensity that builds in an almost imperceptible manner. The listener is like the fly that is so busy watching the spider that by the end of the song, he is unaware that a complex web has just been spun all around him.

"Circles" is a relaxed, dreamy track and one that really showcases the fine production of this album; everything is balanced just right; nothing is buried in the mix, nothing sounds lost. Great care was obviously taken during the recording process and it shows. And it matters. The band really does a fine job blending both electric and acoustic guitars.

Despite the fact that the album is over an hour in length, at no time do things drag or feel as though they've been drawn out unnecessarily. "Safe Island" is no exception, and if I did not see that the song is eight and a half minutes long, I would never even think about it. Length does not really matter with these songs; they just work simply as they are. This song has a real driving force and beautifully morphs into an incredibly intense wall of feedback.

For lack of a better description, I just feel like I'm very gently floating down to earth in "To Keep It Going", coming out of some sort of dream state. There's a mellotron here that is put to great effect. There are layers upon layers of sound here weaving together a really lovely piece, with some terrific hushed vocals towards the end.

My personal favorite track on this album is "Fryshusfunk". The song builds and builds and builds and then really cuts loose as a Floydian jam with some absolutely searing lead guitar and lovely swirling organ that would surely make Gilmour, Waters, Wright and Mason proud. I only wish it were longer. If there's an extended outtake of this, I'd sure love to hear it!

It should be noted that the tracks on this album demonstrate a thoughtful flow; they were not just thrown together in random order, and that helps to define the album as a whole.

"Tell Them You Can't Leave" employs more backing vocals than most of the other tracks and that great twin electric guitar sound is topped with just a little acoustic guitar. Nice.

On the first few listens to this record, you just don't know what is coming next. I'm still trying to take it all in. As with many great works, I most definitely hear something new with each listen, and what a joy that is. "The Headless Boy" is one of the gentler compositions and it certainly has its place here.

There is a terrific guitar tone on "Captured Light" with some very cleverly layered harmony vocals. It's got a thick, lush presentation and keeps you guessing as to where it will take you next, culminating in a delicate ending.

"Winter Dress" closes out the record with a swirling introduction and arguably the finest vocals on the album. Gunrup has a real gift for delivering emotion with his vocals and this song truly is the perfect ending to an outstanding journey, one that will undoubtedly reward the listener for many years to come.

I do realize that it is only February and I don't wish to place the cart before the horse, but I feel absolutely comfortable in stating that "Picture You" easily belongs on a future "Best of 2015" list. It's already on mine.

Available here on CD, and here on vinyl.
 

21 Feb 2015

Nine Questions with Hi Fiction Science

Nine Questions is a new regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

First up is James McKeown from Bristol's art-rockers Hi Fiction Science.

What was the first record you bought? 
If I'm being honest it was 'Rockin' All Over The World' by Status Quo from Asda on cassette when I was about 10. I was from a piss poor single parent family in the '80s so we used to use the local library a lot. I found out that, if you asked for it, they had a box disdainfully labelled as 'pop' music which was kept behind the counter - the look from the librarian was equally disdainful for not reading books! - it was full of random cassettes (dire) Dire Straits live albums, various soundtracks to Lloyd Webber musicals and the obligatory copy of Paul Simon's Graceland etc. But there were also some more eclectic choices such as REM and 10,000 Maniacs and Cocteau Twins. I remember being obsessed with Motörhead's Overkill, Whitesnake (Christ! it's all coming out now) and Marillion and then I found Pink Floyd's 'Delicate Sound Of Thunder' and 'A Collection Of Great Dance Songs' and the fuse was lit. I got my first CD player in about 1993 and the first CD I bought was Syd Barrett's 'Barrett'.

What was the last record you bought? 
Last album I bought was Love Can Change Everything: Demos 1967-1972 by Michael Fennelly who was part of the late 60's Sunshine Pop/Psych outfit The Millennium. Last new release was How To Die In The North by BC Camplight on Bella Union. Looking forward to seeing them live in a few weeks.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
I have a fascination with Alister Crowley, but perhaps more prosaically: I was once published in Private Eye - I had photoshopped a picture of David Cameron's face onto Margaret Thatcher. Anthony Rushton called me up and asked if he could use it and paid me £100! I've since seen variations of the image used and copied for satire numerous times. Not saying I'm Chris Morris or Peter Cook, but it's a small personal accolade I'm quite chuffed about. I did meet Brian Eno once and gave him a really shit CD of some early Hi Fiction Science music. He was very polite and approachable and I really hope he binned it soon afterwards !

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Brian Eno. To do it properly this time! and obviously not because I'm a big fan of U2 and Coldplay!

Who should we be listening to right now?
I really like some of the music coming out of the North West England scene at the moment - The Brewis brothers seem to have a bit of magic going on up there. Slug are a band related to that scene that I really like. I'm also looking forward to hearing new Hot Chip and Django Django releases this year and the new Bjork album in full. I mentioned BC Camplight and on the more experimental end, Richard Dawson warrants further investigation. Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is getting a few spins as is Bill Callahan's Have Fun With God – Dream River Dub Remixes from last year. Gravenhurst will also reward your time invested in dividends. It's so unfortunate that often it takes someone's passing to make you sit up and listen. I'm really sorry to say that was the case here for me and it's a BIG regret but the music is emotive and beautiful, and I'm sure it will sustain the test of time.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
CD for me. Life has surface noise said Peel. Agreed, but we're not listening to the chatter on the bus stop, we are experiencing art are we not ? So from that angle, you should hear it as the artist intended. CD - if it's mastered well i.e. not stupidly loud - I guess along with Flac - is the only format for that. This debate can get a little boring and muso because it's all subjective in some respects. The Edison Phonograph was once the way to go, from wax to shellac and then to vinyl so it's all an imitation isn't it ? Perhaps a more philosophical angle is the fact that you'll never know the way that my voice sounds to me inside my head will you ? i.e. is there ever a correct way to hear things ?

Tell us about your latest release. 
Curious Yellow was our last Hi Fiction Science album released in May 2014, so that is our latest release. Our creative head's have moved on from that now, but it was our first for Esoteric/Cherry Red and I'm proud of it and I think it stands up well.

What's next for you, musically?
We begin recording Hi Fiction Science III next month. It's a really strong album - I think our best album to date. Much more rhythmically diverse and textural yet retaining our trademark sense of space and minimalism. I'm describing it as English Voodoo. I''m starting a solo project too called 'The Dead Astronaut' - It's an ambitious project that I have managed to get several interesting and eclectic musicians involved in. It's written and demoed in full and I will be going into the studio to start recording it properly in early April. I hope to also have that out this year, but it's early days. Likewise I'm having some early tentative discussions about a short film soundtrack based around the chalk headlands and shorelines of Southern England.

What's for dinner?
Hair Pie, Bake 1.

Curious Yellow is available now on Esoteric/Cherry Red Records.

http://hifictionscience.blogspot.co.uk/ 
http://thedeadastronaut.blogspot.co.uk/ 
http://negativedriverecords.bandcamp.com/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/0QCCocTBwgGpXQTE8JjfCE

The Grease Arrestor "Volume Two"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Sydney five piece The Grease Arrestor have come a long way in the twelve months since the release of their debut "What Was, Is". While the rudimentary album title may suggest that the band see "Volume Two" as a simple continuation of "What Was, Is", the truth is that this is a definite step up in quality on multiple levels.

Those who haven't heard the band may be surprised to discover that this isn't a side order of greasy rock 'n' roll, but a glorious hybrid of nineties shoegaze and sixties twelve string jangle. Clearly not intended for those purists who turn their noses up at shoegaze's recent infiltration of the psychedelic scene, "Volume Two" will be openly embraced by those who value creativity and don't need their music to fit neatly into boxes.

The sweet harmonies of the Byrds have always been a hallmark of the best shoegaze acts, providing a soothing human touch to draw the listener in. The Grease Arrestor, being the smart bunch that they are, accentuate this nicely with Elizabeth Tillman's vocals meshing wonderfully with those of the lads, creating a warm hum that I'm convinced has near medicinal qualities. And if those harmonies vocals are going to do the trick so nicely, why not go the full hog and further the Byrds worship with layers and layers of chiming guitars? Why not indeed. It's a winning combination, especially when supplemented with plenty of vintage organ, a positively Beatlesque rhythm section (listen to the bassline on "Are You In?"!) and just the right amount of what the band call 'groove-drone'. It certainly ticks all of the boxes I want ticked.

The band describes "Volume Two" as "a pastiche of different ideas and influences", but don't let that fool you into thinking this is just some sort of clever homage. While it certainly references many familiar touchstones, the combination of those elements is unique in and of itself, and the songs are just killer. "Hangover" in particular is great, with a gloriously anthemic chime that feels like it's been with me my whole life.

So now to the sales pitch - "Volume Two" is available as a free/name your price download below. All proceeds will go towards a vinyl pressing of the album, which I'd certainly like to see. So do everyone - the band, me and yourselves - a favour, and throw a few dollars their way for this top notch album, which I imagine is going to sound even more ravishing on vinyl.


20 Feb 2015

Joseph Curwen "Lurking Fear"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Newcastle upon Tyne artist Joseph Curwen's prolific and extensive back catalogue is a dark paean to the influences of HP Lovecraft, hauntology and radiophonic synth horror and utilises the most unsettling and spectral of drones and effects. The latest in his voyage into the deepest, wooded recesses of the subconscious, 'Lurking Fear' is a monolithic and hugely ambitious piece containing twenty-four 'Scenes', each exactly thirty minutes long. Not unlike fellow dronester Leyland Kirby's equally vast 'Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was' in terms of scope and experience this is music to immerse yourself in; this is categorically not background listening. The quote on the album's bandcamp page hints at the sense of twisted nature and ancient dread that the music radiates; ’There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear. Some said the thunder called the lurking fear out of its habitation, while others said the thunder was its voice."

The sound of birdsong begins 'Scene One' before a steady ritualistic beat shrouded in hum enters, joined by spectral and reverberating voices and tones that layer and build steadily creating a feeling of great unease and eerie tension. Each subsequent 'Scene' adds detail, adding to the folk horror air and adding sometimes a melancholy undertow ('Scene Two'), sometimes a greater urgency and abrasion ('Scene Three') or a symphonic edge ('Scene Five'). The same musical and sound components reappear altered and subtly changed in subsequent Scenes alongside the ever present woodland noises, making the piece a sum of its parts and a suite of sorts, albeit once hewn from the blackest of rural nightmares. Reminiscent of a more terrifying version of Nurse With Wound’s 'Soliloquy For Lilith' and similar in atmosphere to their disturbing 'Surveillance Lounge' this is not something you would want to have on your headphones whilst camping alone in the forest. Evocative of not only HP Lovecraft’s more rustic wyrd tales, ‘Lurking Fear’ is also suggestive of Algernon Blackwood's classic 'nature horror' story 'The Willows' or Arthur Machen's countryside chiller 'The Terror'. Stark, relentless and with a windtorn and woodland air this is the sound of nature turned on its head and malevolent. Dissociated voices (or what appear to be voices), hidden in the murk and digital crackle, glimpse through and utter in an unknown language. Choral strings and drones creep steadily nearer and pass by, a mass of haunted sound. The music shape shifts, becoming more orchestral, more metallic, though the heartbeat paced processionary drum remains still and steady. Whatever is approaching in the darkness it is patient, waiting. By 'Scene Twenty Three' strings and waves of synth flit between the speakers, adding yet more dread but along with a curious beauty and lushness. 'Scene Twenty Four', to finish, is the sound of the thunder (or is it a vast voice?) evoked in the aforementioned quote, a hollow deep ringing descending into pulsating waves of sound. At last, the crackle and birdsong ends, cultimating in an almost audible silence after the extensive and immersive journey that the listener has been on. It is truly breathtaking. Whilst the album’s sheer length might mean that listeners may choose to approach the album in segments or choose from the twenty four ‘Scenes’, each piece offers something substantially different to the one previous and each has its own haunted grace.

If you haven't come across Curwen’s muse before you are in for a treat. Many of his albums (each as carefully, cleverly constructed and composed as this one) are available as ‘name your price’ on bandcamp whilst others have enjoyed short run releases on cassette. A true pioneer of unsettling dronework, there are swathes of dark riches to be found, to be bewitched and terrified by. Wait until nightfall, turn the lights off and enter the haunted, drifting and wraithlike world of Joseph Curwen.

19 Feb 2015

Free Download Roundup - Opium Eyes of Nico, Tanizaki, Marble, The NoMen


Reviews by Nathan Ford

Opium Eyes of Nico "Dronecaine"
Russian duo Opium Eyes of Nico (a side project of Cosmic Letdown) have an absolutely astounding debut full length out this month. "Dronecaine" proves that with a little imagination you can build an entire album around drones without the listener ever growing bored. The variety on display here is astounding, with plenty of Indian instrumentation (used gorgeously), heavy guitar drones, keys, and hypnotic percussion that helps accentuate the album's trance inducing properties. Those of us who like backwards guitars are in for a bit of a treat too. Largely instrumental, there's also an absolutely killer version of "Tomorrow Never Knows", which as absolutely fitting as the father of contemporary drone music.
I can't recommend this highly enough, although the cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" mentioned on the album's Bandcamp page isn't streamable and doesn't appear to be part of the download package, which is a bit of a tease, but a very good sign that I'm left wanting a whole lot more.
Free download or stream here:



Tanizaki "Ouroboros"
Irish occult-electronica artist Tanizaki makes his debut with an extremely impressive E.P here. Tanizaki confesses that "Ouroboros" is the result of a Ghost Box binge session, but this is far from a carbon copy of any of the artists associated with the label, although it will certainly appeal to the label's fans. There's a warm wash of radiophonic keyboards which certainly evoke the same mid seventies nostalgia (particularly on highlight "Seed Pods Explode"), but this is a beatier affair than your average hauntology release. Like Moon Wiring Club, some of the beats here would work in a hip hop format. But where MWC's creations are generally quite clean, Tanizaki's beats sound, for want of a better descriptor, unwell. They're all a bit woozy and wobbly. Which coupled with some ever present background crackle (ala The Caretaker), makes "Ouroboros" sound like a dusty artifact from an arcane alternative past. Very highly recommended.
Free / name your price download available here:



Marble "Demo"
Noisy U.S dream pop duo Marble are a surprising package. I get sent a lot of demos, but this one is extremely professional, with the influences of Kevin Shields and Robin Guthrie very apparent. That late eighties/early nineties dream pop / shoe gaze sound is captured perfectly here, with Shield's guitar work in particular invoked in the often claustrophobic and discordant guitar work. Best of all though is the absolutely gorgeous "Lavender & Cherry", with a lovely, dreamy melody as sweet and soothing as its title would suggest - the perfect Cocteau Twins tribute. "Slimy" isn't far behind either, with angelic vocals and soaring guitars ala Sigur Ros.
Lovely stuff and available for free here:



The NoMen "Space 2015"
Our favourite mad Scots return with an album dedicated to man's exploration of space. As we've come to expect from the NoMen, it's all over the place stylistically and a whole lot of madcap fun. A lot of it sounds like you wish those old easy listening / moog space themed albums would sound like. Fairport's Judy Dyble makes a guest appearance on the opening track and from there we're all over the map from space rock to synth pop to krauty psychedelia. Best of all are the spacey surf tracks (check out "Space Surfin' Blues"), which sound like early Ventures dosed with LSD.
The free / name your price download of "Space 2015" is a five track tester for a full 16 track CD which can also be purchased for only five pounds via the same link below.

Amerikan Bear "Amerikan Bear"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

San Diego's Amerikan Bear are one of many bands found in my inbox on a daily basis, with little in the way of biographical information supplied, and as it turns out after a spot of Googling, a relatively small online footprint. This in itself, is not necessarily unusual. A number of the bands we feature are just starting out and making their first moves towards finding an audience. Occasionally though, one of these artists will grab me by the scruff of the neck and shake me around with such vigour that I truly can't believe they are not HUGE. Amerikan Bear, as you've probably gathered, are one of these groups. This self titled E.P is such an entertaining, confident affair that my mind boggled when I discovered that no one has reviewed this anywhere online yet. Really? There are a number of references to their live shows being scintillating affairs (which is easy to imagine while listening to this), but as for reviews of their studio works - nada (well, not that I could find anyway).

So let me just say that you are in for a treat with this. Amerikan Bear have a blistering vintage psychedelic rock sound, with a tough garage vibe, intricate, spidery guitar work with hints of vintage San Francisco psychedelia and a reverb heavy production sound that emits a scorching desert heat. Fans of bands like the Black Angels will find much to like here, but Amerikan Bear tone back the darkness by stripping the organs back into more of a supporting role, and focusing on tremolo-heavy guitar lines and an extremely commanding vocal performance which seems to reach back even further to the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Screamin' Jay Hawkins for its inspiration - check out "Summer Day" and "In My Dreams" - wow.

The rhythm section do a fabulous job too, keeping things rolling along nicely here, leaving the guitars and organ plenty of freedom to stretch out and investigate lysergic, hypnotic patterns without being hampered by the need to maintain momentum. The tribal toms in particular impress, giving a bottom end oomph which provides an excellent balancing point.

There's a real vintage feeling to these recordings - I'm assuming that they were captured in a fully analogue environment - but there's also a grittiness that was rarely captured on tape during the days that these songs emulate.

Pretty much essential, this can be had in a digital format directly from the band's Bandcamp page below, with a vinyl version to follow in a few months. I'm not 100% sure, but it appears that Amerikan Bear are currently not tied to a label. Whoever signs these guys is on to a very good thing indeed. Any takers?

18 Feb 2015

Blown Out "Jet Black Hallucinations"


Review by Joseph Murphy.

Available in March, "Jet Black Hallucinations" is Blown Out’s follow-up to 2014’s "Drifting Way Out Between Suns" and the inaugural (for all involved) release from Golden Mantra Records. The Newcastle, UK trio – Mike Vest, Jean-Michael Hedley, and Matt Baty – are seasoned mappers of massive sounds and veterans of heavy psychedelia. Their combined experience includes playing in BONG, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Drunk in Hell, Khunnt, Haikai No Ku, and 11 Paranoias (many of whom have released new music within the last year and are worth the hours of listening available there). For those familiar with these projects – which span a spectrum of sounds – this album is like coming home; it expands the sonic palette and pushes the musicians’ sound to a limit. "Jet Black Hallucinations" is comprised of three epic jams that feel both improvised and intensely choreographed. They’re heavy; they’re dense; they’re hypnotic. And the album tears in for about 40 minutes – though you could always play it on loop forever.

The first track, “Jet Black Hallucinations,” begins with what sounds like warming-up – both for you the listener and the musicians themselves – the low-end of the bass prevails, hinting at the riff to come; cymbals rush, just waiting; and that guitar wails to the brink of chaos. Immediately, you know what you’ve gotten yourself into. And, if you’re not ready, this is your fair warning. You know right then what kind of album follows: constant bass lines, expressive and freeform rhythms, and guitar freakouts. And it doesn’t disappoint.

“Ultrawave Communications,” the closing track, slows the tempo a bit with a doom-laden bass line that swallows the slippery guitar work and patient build of the drums. While under complete control, the track allows for moments of perfect havoc that rise and fall throughout, marking the passing of time and obliterating it entirely.

Blown Out’s "Jet Black Hallucinations" is a welcome addition to the blissed-out community of rockers. These three songs stand up against the best riffs out there – and far, far out there; they feel weathered and familiar like ruins but only now do we understand what they mean. For the doom- and psych-minded alike, this record will be in heavy rotation. It’s a quarter-of-an-hour worth of riff exploration and star-mapping.

"Jet Black Hallucinations" is available for pre-order through the Bandcamp widget below. Blown Out’s bandcamp page, as well, hosts a bit of live material worth a look.

Blind Mr Jones "Tatooine" 20th Anniversary Reissue


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Texan Shoegaze specialists Saint Marie Records have built up a fine catalogue of modern shoegaze and dream pop which few other labels can compete with, and continue to diversify with this excellent reissue of an unjustly obscure classic from the tail end of the original era of Shoegaze.

Marlow quintet Blind Mr Jones are one of a number of bands of the era that had the necessary talents, and were let down only by their timing. Now reissued for its 20th anniversary (including a first ever vinyl release), their second, and final album "Tatooine" has every quality necessary to ensure that it would have been a huge hit around 1991/92. Sadly, Blind Mr Jones were a few years off the pace, and by 1994, when "Tatooine" was released, the U.K music press had turned on the few remaining shoegaze bands, and grunge was king, leaving little room for any other forms of guitar based alternative music. And so, Blind Mr Jones called it a day.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, and comparing "Tatooine" to any of 1994's multi-million selling grunge albums will reveal an album that has aged far more gracefully than those by the Tads and L7s of this world. Featuring production from Chris Hufford (Slowdive, Radiohead, Chapterhouse), "Tatooine" is an incredibly easy album to listen to. With its soothing vocals, and beds of chiming guitars, this is very much at the more commercially viable end of the shoegaze spectrum, which makes its lack of success even more maddening. I Hear a lot of Ride's "Going Blank Again" here, an album that had been huge several years previously. Like that album, "Tatooine" dials back the squalling guitars in favour of a more lush, easy on the ear sound. And they do plenty to differentiate themselves too, notably through the flutework of Jon Tegner, which led the fickle music press to dub them "the Jethro Tull of shoegaze". Had these critics taken the time to listen without prejudice, they'd have realised that Tegner's flute passages were a real strength of the band, particularly on "Viva Fisher", which flirts with explorative psychedelia and space rock in a fashion which was unusual for the time and still sounds absolutely lovely now. And name me one other shoegaze band of the time who would even entertain the notion of a Beach Boys tribute ("Surfer Baby").

There's no shortage of big tunes either, with the likes of "You" and "Disney World" being simply impossible to evict from memory once heard.

Saint Marie have done a great job with this reissue too, with the elegant CD digipack ensuring that this feels very much like an upgrade, even with no bonus tracks, and there will be many who are tremendously excited about the opportunity to finally own this on vinyl - another of those titles that many assumed would never be reissued that we now have access to.

"Tatooine" is simply put, a lost classic that wasn't meant for its own time, but is ripe for rediscovery now, and your absolute, total devotion. Don't miss the boat this time.

Available here.

17 Feb 2015

Love, Hippies & Gangsters "Sun Over Babaluma"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

London's Love, Hippies & Gangsters return with their second E.P, hot on the heels of their debut. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to review that initial E.P (time doesn't always allow), but "Sun Over Babaluma" demands attention to such an extent that it would be criminal not to. So, here we are.

Love, Hippies & Gangsters is the solo project of London based musician Yiğit Bülbül, an esoteric songwriter who claims very audible influence from "60s psychedelia, 70s rock/electronic music (from Germany to Brazil) and 80s/90s guitar drones". Given that quote, you've probably already got a pretty good mental picture of what "Sun Over Babaluma" sounds like, and chances are, it's a pretty accurate one too. One thing that your tricky little brain won't be telling you though is just how good these infectious, Anton Newcombe style songs are, nor the uber coolness of their melting pot, shoegaze meets psychedelia meets Krautrock arrangements.

Opener, "This Is What We Want" is probably the most immediate of them, with an infectious Dandy Warhols / BJM vibe and an earwormy hook. "Through Your Mind" is a different beast altogether, a nostalgic Strokes / Kasabian style club mix with probably the E.P's strongest vocal hooks. The second half is stronger still, with a more exploratory mindset; "Qlusterfuck" is a Krauty rhythmic exercise with insistent, disorientating keyboards, and a beaty LCD Soundsystem arrangement, while "Got My Coat" gets its coat in a calming hypnotic fashion that ensures it will be invited back in the very near future.

Bülbül is certainly not short of ideas, and the E.P is a natural outlet for exploring them. It'd be interesting to see whether a full length release would focus his ideas onto a narrower path, or give his imagination free reign; either way it'd be a pretty exciting listen.

"Sun Over Babaluma" can be had for free right here:

16 Feb 2015

Beaulieu Porch "The Carmelite Divine (Original Soundtrack) "


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Beaulieu Porch – the work of UK musician Simon Berry – has been, over the last three years, prolific to say the least and familiar to readers of this blog. You can follow his releases’ many more than fond reviews throughout the years. The Carmelite Divine, released in early January by Tillsammans Records, continues Beaulieu Porch’s tilted journey through melting landscapes and shimmering colors, providing another healthy serving of simultaneously organic and ornate psychedelic pop songs.

For those unfamiliar with Berry’s work, “In Warm Water Over Iceland” is a bit of an introduction; it pulls from his eclectic background of influences. It’s awash in ambient sounds that lend a sort of echo alien echo chamber effect to the whole song. Then there’s the ascending, buried vocals – akin to most shoegaze acts – dreamy guitar solos, and the baroque flourishes which sound lifted both from acid folk and science fiction. The world into which you’re shoved from there is clear, at least, from the start.

While “Kim Six” is still packed with layers, it’s a testament to Berry’s simple songwriting. Yes, there are field recordings of children at play or singing (appearing throughout the album), a warbling organ, and any number of guitar washes, but, at the heart of this song, is Berry’s rhythm guitar and voice. It’d be just as good stripped to its minimum. Berry’s voice – here, in particular – finds a perfectly off-kilter melody that is immediately recognizable and unique. It’s a wonderfully eerie gem.

“Her Coloured Eyes” proves Berry’s good sense of timing. The album is perfectly plotted with enough hooks to keep those looking happy and enough peaks and crescendos to keep the cohesiveness of the album going. “Her Coloured Eyes” delves into the familiarly-strange psychedelic landscapes of narrative songwriting, where the guitar licks drip around the scene.

You can fight the urge to compare as much as you want because it’s a dangerous game, but it would feel remiss not pointing out Simon Berry’s Lennon-like songwriting; the voice, too, is uncanny. At times, you could almost be fooled into believing a sparser track was a buried one-off by Lennon himself. However, I will add that, while the songwriting and aesthetics feel, at first, “Beatlesesque,” there is a disjointed, purposefully twisted pop-sense that The Beatles only began to explore. Besides, this is so distinctly the brain child of one man alone. The Carmelite Divine is an essential work in an already impressive catalog. It’s yet another consistent and well plotted trip.

Beaulieu Porch’s The Carmelite Divine: Original Soundtrack is available digitally here:

15 Feb 2015

Forever Pavot "Rhapsode"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Emile Sornin's one man band Forever Pavot has released several singles over the last year which have been intriguing enough to build up some sort of anticipation that his debut full length will be something pretty special. And "Rhapsode", I am glad to say, doesn't disappoint now that it's here.

Building on the psych-pop-meets-vintage-euro-cinema vibes of those two singles (which you can find here), "Rhapsode" is split fairly evenly between the cinematic and the hooky pop side, with lovely attention to detail in its baroque pop arrangements that make the disparate strands intertwine effortlessly. Comparisons to Jean Claude Vanier aren't unwarranted, but Emile has a more pronounced sense of pop hooksmithery that puts him into the same sort of league as Tara King TH. and Halasan Bazaar; able to cast the most direct and engaging hooks within exotic and uber hip arrangements that swing with that effortless French cool, and the occasional Italian crime caper vibe.

And while fans of recent baroque pop revivalists like Jacco Gardner and Violet Swells will settle in very comfortably here, Sornin has a tougher edge - witness the frantic fuzz and farfisa on numbers like "La Rabla" and "Les Cigognes Nenuphars - to help offset the occasional fluffy moment, and give "Rhapsode" a little more depth than your average baroque pop album. The frequent instrumental interludes tie things together nicely too, creating a continuity that helps the album flow as a uniform piece, rather than feeling like a selection of bits and pieces tacked together. With the diversity on display here, that is an admirable feat.

The press release for "Rhapsode" includes the following statement from Sornin: "I feel a bit like Stereolab or Broadcast, artists who draw from the past to make something new (...) Ten years ago or so, I was doing hardcore punk, then I did chiptune, pop, compos garage / folk recorded on K7, and now things inspired from the 60's movie music ... the only guideline are my desires. Nobody will be able to get in my way if I want to make a reggae album in three years or an album of French songs. Because I'm the one who decides." I'm sure there will be plenty of people frustrated by the potential bandwagon-jumping sentiments of that statement. Particularly as there are bands everywhere who have spent years plugging away on albums that simply are not in the same league as "Rhapsode". But it seems that Sornin is one of those blessed with the keen observational skills and melodic sense to make whatever he puts his name to an unqualified success.

Here's hoping that "Rhapsode" earns the accolades that it deserves, and that the attention is enough to keep Sornin on this particular course for a little while longer at least. And if not, at least we've got a very fine album to revisit often here, before he turns his attention to that French language Peter Tosh covers album.

"Rhapsode" is available here on vinyl, and also through the link below on CD or digitally.