26 Feb 2017

Dhidalah - NO WATER

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Up next from the inimitable Guruguru Brain is Dhidalah’s NO WATER. At the head of the latest wave of heavy, experimental space rock is Japan’s Dhidalah, whose members masterfully balance the intense beauty of the genre with the free-form harshness. Guitarist Ikuma Nawabe – who did a stint with Church of Misery – takes lead against a tumultuous rhythm section (bassist Gotoh and drummer Konstantine) as they propel themselves through a dense, alien atmosphere.

Unlike many of their counterparts, Dhidalah – for this listener – focuses more on the sculpted atmospheres as a continuation of the funereal, pounding doom rather than a calm between heavy waves. As rewarding as each of the grinding passages can be, equally moving are the atmospheric repetitions that build organically toward heavy, sonic release. Even at their most atmospheric, with their lightest touch, the trio still manages to raze structures and wrinkle landmass, destroy and build at will.

Composed of two long tracks, NO WATER fits squarely in the established realm, yet something about its focus sounds different. Opener, “GRB” gives a soft start to a heady album, but it’s not long before it rips into a reverb-drenched heave, complete with a gritty pick slide and double bass kicks, which tirelessly presses onward until its close.

NO WATER’s eponymous track is where the band truly shows their diverse skills though. At its halfway mark, “NO WATER” percolates, wobbling around a resonating calm before returning in dense, pounding doom. The shift is natural and necessary – and when it all falls away again, that, too, is a needed reprieve before the next wave of noise. Dhidalah knows these boundaries and savors them throughout.

Despite having formed a decade ago, this is Dhidalah’s proper debut; you’ll find a demo out there and their significant contribution – a nearly 20-minute song – on Guruguru Brain’s 2014 compilation (a “Name Your Price” download).

NO WATER is available below; look for the limited edition 10” vinyl or digital formats.

22 Feb 2017

Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Rubber Nun

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson

The first wave of psychedelia that came to flower back in 1967 – the Summer of Love – was amazing. An explosion of something hopeful, idealistic, experimental yet dangerous, and ultimately short lived. It came on like a hand grenade and like the politics of its time, collapsed under the weight of its own excesses. But like a flower, it was merely a beautiful device for its own replication and continuation. The seeds were cast to the winds of time.

Flash forward 50 years, and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the third generation of psychedelia. The seeds scattered by the wind those many years ago are still blooming, with new and unique flowers exploding in unexpected places. Picture yourself in a boat on a river, well maybe not a river, but instead the small Midwestern city of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This is the hometown of the exceptional, sometimes sinister, but consistently entertaining Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.

On their third full length record, "Rubber Nun" (Dizzybird Records) Heaven's Gateway Drugs blend Syd Barrett’s dollhouse darkness with equal measures of clever lyricism, catchy melody and just enough weirdness to evoke that morning-after- a-trip feeling of ‘did that really just happen’?

"Thee Heathen Twist" kicks off this new collection, pulsing its eerie little heart out and setting the pace. "Copper Hill" follows with a nearly pinched Warlocks riff, but quickly establishes itself and what the Drugs do best – sing-song melodies swirling around a smoky room, drums bashing about and pulling you forward. “It’s all Fun & Games, until you get hurt”, indeed. And there’s always that thought in the back of your mind. You’re at a party where you don’t really know anyone, you’re not sure how long you’ve been here, or even how you arrived. It’s that exact mood that Heaven’s Gateway Drugs have an amazing knack for creating. It’s at once alienating and inviting, a series of doors, constantly opening themselves to the listener, but perhaps masking something secret. Is it sinister purpose or just a madcap lark – having a bit of fun with a stranger? There’s only one way to find out.

Title track "Rubber Nun" continues it’s double entendre game – "fake plastic gun/ melt in the sun/ I still got mine/ my Rubber Nun/ life on the run/ isn’t it fun?" These dudes are definitely fucking with me. "Dear Charolotte" feels like something Barrett might have written if he didn’t go quite so far off track. "The Horrible Tale of Edwin Crisp" and "Only Child" only solidify the lyricism. "Knowing" marches and stomps then dissolves into a dreamy coda, setting up the rocker "Utah Spirit Baby". By the time we reach the closer "War With June", the sky is starting to lighten and the shadows of the night before have transformed back into familiar figures. Dark figurines return to non-menacing shapes and the fun house doors open to bid you farewell.

Some drugs can cure, some can drive you mad. What you bring to the party is up to you. With "Rubber Nun", Heaven’s Gateway Drugs offer a darkly disorienting experience, but one I would definitely prescribe.

6 Feb 2017

The Driftwood Manor - For The Moon

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Following the single ‘Fraction of a Wolf’ (reviewed here at The Active Listener alongside an interview with Driftwood main man Eddie Keenan) comes The Driftwood Manor’s fourth album proper ‘For The Moon’, an intense yet nuanced collection of dark folktales and eclectic and rich instrumentation that adds yet another solid jewel to the treasure vault that is this band’s (highly recommended) back catalogue. The Driftwood Manor have never been afraid of creating a coherent yet eclectic approach to their song craft and, pulling on various musical strands that include psychedelia, Americana as well as traditional folk, ‘For The Moon’ proves to be a layered and lasting piece of work with a wealth of jewels and diamonds to discovered therein.

The album opens with the beautiful, pensive ’Fraction of a Wolf', Keenan's voice heartfelt and soaring over the most melancholy of fiddles; this already feels like an old friend and a classic Manor song. 'Spring' follows, opening acapella style and reminiscent of the most heartrending and affecting of Bonnie Prince Billy songs, before banjo and bass pick out a creeping, processionary melody that raises the hairs on your arms as much it also aches the soul. This is The Driftwood Manor’s gift and subtle magic; they can create something that chills and affects in equal manner, something hugely melodic that still has an uncompromising edge and tension. The growing collection of chanted voices becomes almost hymnal or devotional as the track layers, ever ascending. Next 'When Wisdom Was Lowered from Heaven' finds a more reflective space to share its gentle sing-song melody and delicate fingerpicking, cello flanking Keenan as he recounts so intimately that it feels like he is in the room with you. It’s a heart stopping moment of sheer beauty, one of many on this album. 'Fire And Brimstone’ follows, a country tinged, widescreen treasure, violin weaving in and out of the backdrop of slide guitar and Keenan's plaintive voice. 'For The Moon' keeps hold of the hint of country music for a dark barn dance of a song with a black hearted refrain of 'time took away everything…'

'The Secret People' utilises what sounds not unlike throat singing and banjo to create something that feels both sacred and ancient, sounding as though it is coming out of the earth itself. It is testament to Keenan's mastery of his craft that he can sit such varied approaches together and yet they follow seamlessly, each unmistakingly a Driftwood Manor track. 'The Fox and the Bear' follows, a ghost story of a song, ably and hypnotically recounted by Keenan with a beautifully wrought violin and guitar backing that leaves the listener breathless. The album comes to a close with two of Keenan's finest ballads to date, the affecting, sepia tinted and timeless 'The River Changing' and the apocalyptic 'I Have Become The Waves' in which Keenan sounds truly wracked and weary, a genuinely spellbinding performance and fitting finale to this highly recommended album. A strong contender for one of the albums of the year and another gem in the embarrassment of riches that is the Driftwood Manor's back catalogue

Available now on CD and as a download at Folkwit Record’s Bandcamp and website. However, once you have investigated this release, do delve further into The Driftwood Manor’s other albums, you will not be disappointed.

Bandcamp Daily Feature / Interview

Ned Raggett was kind enough to interview us for a feature on Bandcamp daily.

The full feature can be read here.

Keep your eyes peeled for a few new reviews shortly too, we've got a few surprises up our sleeves still.