19 Oct 2017

Oliver Cherer – The Myth of Violet Meek


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Oliver Cherer is highly prolific, I sort of think of him as a more benevolent ‘Surgeon of Crowthorne’ (aka Dr. William C. Minor 1834 – 1920), despatching odes and sonic letters to the outside world from his half-lit lair by the gently lapping English Channel. In his guise as solo artist he has concocted a rather sinister tincture that when aurally ingested plants the listener firmly in the fly-agaric world woodlands of the South Downs. His new release, “The Myth of Violet Meek”, successfully combines the unsettling and the euphoric in a series of folk-laden lullabies that threaten to overwhelm but ultimately leave enough air-space to allow safe(ish) passage through its rural and occasionally savage path.

So what we have is a self-authored legend charting the life, habits and death of Violet and the impact of her being on those in her immediate surrounds and of the musical curator who feasts upon her existence. The mood is often heavy, with barely suppressed violence and sexual depravity colouring the air amid the scraping of strings and the forthright punctuation of the piano that often surfaces in some benediction of the events that are unfolding and serve as a shell for the listener to make safe travel through. It reminds this author of 70’s acid-folk misfits Comus (‘Who Killed the Bears’) filtered through a more incisive set of songwriting chops that say someone like Luke Haines would display (‘Violet Says’). You could even make an argument for the record in totality being a reworking of Lou Reed’s gothic masterpiece ‘Berlin’ translated to a field in Victorian England.

In any case, all of these comparisons however inaccurately applied tell you a lot about the songwriting chops of Oliver Cherer. He is a classicist composer with genetic mutation whose fusing of musical viewpoints and deployment of light and shade utilising a range of largely acoustic instruments is mightily impressive. Even in the presently overpopulated ‘nu-folk’, ‘alt-folk’, ‘acid folk’, ‘fuzzy felt folk’ genre, ‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ shows the qualities of a thoroughbred in a field of ponies. Listen to the beautiful ghost waltz of ‘Valentine’ as it skips across your mind and entrances you whilst expertly keeping you out of the dance before vanishing into the net curtains of your mind. Or the stately ballad ‘Unspoken’ delivered with all the authority of a walnut grandfather clock chiming out at three. In an empty house. The queasy hurdy gurdy string ensemble of ‘A Bear with Two Backs’, the hobo folk-blues figure of the almost unbearably self-disgustedly frank ‘Slag’.

As always, Oliver Cherer is not a perennial half empty communicator and he is programmed to find some warming resolution to any concept, however heavy it may be. The penultimate, ‘Trees’ is a brilliant anthemically drifting song which appears from behind the dark side of the moon to illuminate the twilight world we have previously dwelled in when hearing of the myth of Violet Meek. Our brains may be damaged but peace can be found in the trees. In the nature from which we sprang and from which we all must return. It’s a celebratory end to a remarkable journey. Almost. For as we draw our curtains and reach for bed the faint rustlings and psaltery of Violet and her sisters lurk just out of sight, beyond the hedgerow. Waiting.

‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ is available on several formats including a lovely white vinyl edition from your local independent stockists or direct from Wayside and Woodland Records.

17 Oct 2017

Tanizaki - Archaeology


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Where Tanizaki's first EP "Ouroboros"(which I raved about here) was all subdued synth menace and wobbly beats, the new EP "Archaeology" makes extensive use of acoustic guitar to capture the same atmosphere of disquiet. Granted, there have been several releases since "Ouroboros" that I haven't heard, so I'm missing a few evolutionary steps, nonetheless the change here is startlingly impressive.

It's not totally unheard of for acoustic guitars to be used in the hauntology genre - both The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly have dabbled and used them for colouring before - but it's unusual to hear them given such prominence. There's long been a relationship between pagan folk music and hauntology and it's addressed very nicely here. Tanizaki describes it best when he calls his music 'weird nature music', a description that could be taken a number of ways but conjures a very specific sound in my mind, almost a hauntological 'thin wild mercury sound'.

Tanizaki is really doing a service to the genre by pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as hauntology here. While it's often viewed as a branch of electronica, I've heard correlations in the more natural instrumentation of artists like Wyrdstone, Sproatly Smith and the Rowan Amber Mill that give me the same nostalgic rush as Ghost Box's more celebrated artists. The "Year in the Country" series can also be thanked for illustrating this relationship on their excellent compilations.

"Archaelogy" successfully strips back the keyboards, which now provide a subtle supporting role and focuses on lovely, pastoral acoustic guitar that evoke memories of Summerisle, with snatches of field recordings adding further textural colour.

The haunting arpeggios of "Dumnonia" make for an arresting opener, but best of all is "Crane Dance" where the guitars and vintage synths engage in a moody sensuous dance, effortlessly and inseperably entwined.

Lovely stuff, available as a name your price download here:

12 Oct 2017

The New & Improved Active Listener Sampler


Hi Team, we've revamped our sampler series now that we're back in action and here's the first of hopefully many.

We've got exclusive tracks and premieres from some of our favourites including Lake Ruth, Radiophonic Tuckshop, The Greek Theatre and the Citradels as well as a whole lot more.

18 tracks in all for a single shiny dollar (or more if you wish) - funds raised will help keep various Active Listener operations happening, so if you'd like to see more of these you can support us by downloading.

Full tracklisting:

1. Radiophonic Tuckshop - Kensington Garden Pie 04:07 2. Lake Ruth - The Great Selkie 04:33 3. Jonothon Heron - Heron Pool 03:45 4. The Greek Theatre - Just a Little Drop of Rain 03:07 5. The Village - Voodoo Skull 02:47 6. DulceMuse - Midnight Sunstone 04:00 7. Hanford Reach - Theatre of Shadows 03:17 8. Warrior Squares - Longshore Drift 08:01 9. The Late Pioneers - Rizzo's Booze 05:13 10. The Citradels - Milk and Honey 02:32 11. Headroom - How To Grow Evil Flowers 09:56 12. The Paperweight Array - Corporal Cameo 04:14 13. Briars Frome - Forever 04:50 14. Three Dimensional Tanx - Astral Plane Flight Attendent 05:59 15. Keith Seatman - Odd in a Nightcap and Cup 05:16 16. Diamond Incarnation - In A Loss Of Soul 04:56 17. Chris Oliver - Uen! 05:05 18. East & West Rendezvous - Colombo 15:25

Download or stream here:

10 Oct 2017

Pefkin - Murmurations / Annelies Monseré - Debris


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Two beautiful releases from the auspices of the excellent Morc Records label have reached The Active Listener of late; Annelies Monseré unsettling ‘Debris’ and Pefkin’s haunting ‘Murmurations’. Both share a rare quality in that they stand defiantly outside of the bustling, mainstream of life and exist in their own quiet, unique universes. Monseré follows up her sophomore effort with her third album that is a more skeletal and minimal affair than previous, yet with the same brooding presence and steady power that previous releases have wielded. Pefkin (the solo project of Electroscope’s Gayle Brogan who can also be found playing in Barrett’s Dottled Beauty (recently reviewed on these pages) enlists Electroscope’s Phil Cavanagh and Kitchen Cynic’s Alan Davidson to lead the listener through five extended gentle yet otherworldly excursions.

To start with Pefkin, ‘Murmurations’ finds Brogan referencing her ornithological interests and reflecting upon her observations amongst nature. Fittingly then, 'Redshanks' opens the album with the buzz of bowed strings and Brogan's beautiful, unearthly vocals, suggesting dusk upon a deserted landscape, wind curling around the barren horizon and the shapes of wheeling birds. Exploratory slide guitar takes this track into darker, shadowy territory not unlike ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ era Floyd in its vast, cavernous mood. Layered strings and vocals build the track into a buzz of pensive beauty, a truly remarkable opening to an album that continues to be a hugely immersive and affecting listen. 'Phalaropes' is equally gorgeous though distinctly more cosmiche; modular synths whir behind Brogan and drift into vast echoes in space, hints of Popol Vuh and Cluster orbiting around the glorious collage of sound. Next, 'Swallows' enters on waves of analogue synth, Brogan's vocals eerily swooping in and out of the electronics until distant percussion and drums punctuate the landscape. Quite unlike anything else you might hear, Pefkin has created her own soundtrack to the dying of the day, the music that invites the myriad of birds and creatures to awake into the twilight world. 'Jackdaws' reverberating organ intones Suicide-like, an ominous hymnal to the natural world that both captivates and unnerves whilst album closer 'Starlings' is a gorgeous lament framed by piano and violin. A remarkable album and clearly the product of a singular vision, 'Murmurations' needs to be heard. Listening now it can easily be imagined that hearing this album is something akin to what it must have been like hearing Nico's 'Marble Index' when it was released; alien yet curiously familiar, beautiful yet stark, hypnotic yet troubling. A triumph.

Annelies Monseré 'Debris' is a subtly different creature yet shares the same sense of desolate gentleness. Opener 'Wake III' has a solitary piano accompanying Monseré's vocals, a yearning and heart-rending work of quiet despair. 'Are You Going To Leave Me' stirs into view on the hum and throb of echoed guitar, Monseré intoning over the growing swell of shimmering strings. The song's apparent simplicity becomes at once a symphony of heartbreak and defiance, a mesmerizing mass that references Neu as much as My Bloody Valentine. 'Blind/Light' is an organ led slice of melancholic loveliness that builds to a sense of the sacred, Monseré's voice harmonizing with itself and multi layered to provide a chorus of impassioned beauty. The sound of picked strings and harmonium weaves slowly into the second segment of the song, the central motif returning now fully orchestrated and with a significant underlying power and poise. 'Traces' spectral vocals and lonesome waves of strings provide a haunted house of a song; there are ghosts here in very note, every word. Next, 'Sun' is a devastating piano work that shivers into being whilst 'Wake IV' is an album highlight, guitar spidering its way across wraith like keyboards that brings to mind Swan's apocalyptic opus 'Soundtracks For The Blind;' it contains this level of intensity and affect. The album closes with 'Strangers' a folk shanty of a song that lingers long after the final notes have rung out.

Both of these albums are labours of love, creations that undoubtedly come from the artist’s very being. They are then consequently emotive, individual and highly original yet also curiously accessible. There is a keen sense of melody and song craft at work amongst the experimentation on both these releases. Both of these albums cannot come highly recommended enough; haunting, beautiful and unique they demand your attention.

Available now as downloads and on beautifully packaged vinyl through these links:


8 Oct 2017

Marian Segal & Jade - Fly On Strangewings: The Anthology


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Ooh, this is a lovely box set from Cherry Tree. Marian Segal & Jade's sole 1970 album "Fly On Strangewings" is a bit of a folk-rock classic, but if you're reading this, you likely already know that.

This three disc box set aims to tell a more complete version of Segal's story, including an expanded version of "Fly On Strangewings", "Paper Flowers" (a collection of pre-Jade acoustic folk duets recorded with Dave Waite), and most intriguingly of all, "Kiss of the Buddha" a collection of archive material recorded after the Jade album spanning the years 1971 to 2013.

First of all "Fly On Strangewings". Often compared to Fairport Convention, with Segal's voice frequently likened to Sandy Denny, I'd suggest that it's Segal's songwriting and the album's arrangements that are more comparable to Denny's. Certainly there are a great deal more strings than Fairport ever employed, and Segal's songs are rooted in the contemporary with little of the trad imagery that Fairport employed. Fans of Sandy Denny's 1972 album "Sandy" will likely feel right at home here though.

Segal's songs are uniformly strong across "Fly On Strangewings". It's easy to see how it's acquired its stellar reputation, with the album's few detractors seeming to be those who've approached it expecting something with a psychedelic approach (understandably as dealers have been labelling this as acid-folk for years to drive up the prices). Try the delicate title track, or the fantastic opener "Amongst Anemones" (both embedded below) for an idea of whether this is your bag or not.

Moving on to "Paper Flowers", originally released in 2004, but recorded between 1967 and 1969, this is made up of acoustic based folk duets with Dave Waite (who was also in Jade). Soundwise it's quite similar to Sandy Denny's pre-Fairport recordings (solo, with Alex Campbell and with the Strawbs), although most of the material is Segal's own, bar a few Dylan covers (of which "Percy's Song" is particularly lovely). It's a very pleasant listen, with Segal's songwriting developing nicely but not quite up to the caliber of what she'd achieve on "Fly On Strangewings" as of yet.

"Kiss of the Buddha" kicks off with two lovely recordings from an aborted 1971 solo album which steps away from the UK folk sound and betrays a welcome Laurel Canyon influence. There's also a selection of demo recordings from the early to mid seventies which have a contemporary singer-songwriter vibe to them. Also of interest are a pair of recordings produced by Jeff Wayne in 1976 featuring the likes of Chris Spedding, Julie Covington, Tony Carr and Alan Hawksworth. Don't expect "War of the Worlds", but in a musical climate that saw Cat Stevens racking up hit after hit, it's easy to imagine these sides doing well had they been released at the time. The only mistep I'd mention is the non inclusion of anything from the 2007 album "The Gathering" which Marian (or Marianne by this point) recorded with Circulus, a necessary chapter in the story, especially for those interested in her psych-folk credentials. Omissions aside, what is here is very interesting indeed.

The box comes with each album packaged in attractive vinyl replica sleeves and an informative 22 page booklet which sheds further light on Marian's post-Jade activites.

Get it here.


7 Oct 2017

Balduin - Bohemian Garden


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

In a corner of the Alps there is a tear in the dimensions of time and space. Within its uniquely swirling vortex is a time lock that is always oscillating between 1967 and 1973. From that forbidden zone, the new Balduin record, “Bohemian Garden” has reached escape velocity, striking like a lightning bolt into the present. In achieving this feat, Balduin shares a musical creation that makes a bold and compelling case for being the baroque psych-pop-analogue synth event of the year.

For those not familiar with Balduin’s previous forays on Sunstone Records we are very much in the cosmic sandpit here surrounded by pretty ballerinas while wind chimes hang down from the stained glass windows of the gingerbread house and though its hard we try not to stare at them. This new record sees his sonic palate expanded with tunes that deploy taste ripples of primitive synth – pushing the sonic envelope further into new territories that his previous outing on Sunstone, the delightful ‘All In A Dream’ .

The opening duo of the title track and “Leave to Seek The Light” are perfect confections of kaleidoscopically arranged psych-pop. Absolutely nailing a mood of dreaming introspection and tripped out wonder – this is highly developed craft at work here. It’s a really strong opening and I am pleased to report that it sets a benchmark for the rest of the record that it is able to match for the remaining 25 minutes of this brief but perfectly formed collection.

“Cap Frehel” pushes the envelope further, taking the listener into a meadow of early 1970’s pastoral scenery complete with primitive synth and chiming vibes. Its a real groovy ‘Dralon trip’ and provides a lovely counterpoint to the more established ‘Balduin’ vibe which occupies most of the album. That Balduin vibe being very much a strain of euphoric psych-pop that tweaks the classic approach of its forebears to create its own unique medicine show. Balduin knows his history but is his own guy and has his own twist on the genre that makes listening to him a joy.

The intimate vibe created on ‘Your Own’ with its subtle acoustic guitar shifts and spectral backing is a joy and sets up the strange acid drenched and haunted collision of bossa-waltz ‘Libelle’ perfectly. A very smart musical one-two that spins a web around the listener that I have no desire whatsoever to try and escape from.

“Madrigal” dives into yesterday with its flowered up toytown pop delights and gentle groove before spinning off into the clouds and making way for the deeply lysergic ‘ Song for the Moon’. This peach of a song is all chiming ‘She Said, She Said’ guitar lines and floaty vocals that threaten to go into orbit but opt instead for an earthbound kaleidoscopic patchwork of sounds before evaporating in front of your very ears. The skewed music hall moves (for the benefit) of ‘Mr Bat’ is a queasy seaside postcard from another day and another lifetime with its sinister offer of ‘dance with me and you’ll be mine’. Matters are brought to a suitably bewildering conclusion by the brief and baffling ‘Rondo Vampyros’. Or perhaps they have been brought back to the beginning? I certainly found myself hitting repeat to spend another half-hour in Balduin’s bohemian company.

So there you have it. Balduin. A man who sees the world through kaleidoscope eyes, whose pop sensibility is sharper than sherbet. A man whose quest to make the perfect pop-psych record has delivered this many jewelled wonder. Come play with him in the garden and leave your mind at home.

Vinyl is available directly from the glorious Sunstone Records and select purveyors of sonic delights. Digital and full stream can be found here:

6 Oct 2017

Ashtoreth - Morana


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Belgium's mighty Ashtoreth have been releasing highly impressive and affectingly atmospheric albums over the last few years to an increasingly dedicated audience, culminating in the beautiful and expansive collaboration with TCH, 'Angels Will Guide The Way To Our Harbour', a post rock symphony of echoed guitar drones and vast shifting swathes of desolate sound. However they have arguably produced their finest work here with the recently released 'Morana', an ambitious and hugely accomplished recording that touches on key contemporaries such as Sunn O))), Blood Of The Black Owl and The Elemental Chrysalis whilst also traversing the dark psychedelic paths taken by luminaries such as Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream and 'Saucerful of Secrets' era Pink Floyd. Recorded (with the exception of one track) in a single sitting, this is an organic and improvisational work that breathes, twists and shifts like grey smoke, drifting with purpose exactly where it needs to go. Inspired by a Slavic goddess and seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature, this is an album that combines the sacred with something more deeply of the earth, something ancient and sleeping.

Opener 'Hyberna' gradually and glacially shifts into view, a melancholy drone with bursts of guitar that fold in on itself and repeat, building and endlessly layering. The piece grows, shifting in tension and power, a tolling guitar note chiming like a bell calling time at the end of the world as the song becomes ever more expansive. The crackle and burn of guitar feedback drifts steadily like stormclouds beneath, indeed there is something here akin to the feeling before an electrical storm, the hum and suspense in the air. 'Kāla Nāg' continues this haunted journey but with the addition of wordless female vocals, cosmiche strings and an echoed guitar motif that bleeds ominously over the distant chatter and washes of sound that ebb and flow throughout. That Ashtoreth is the work of one man Peter Verwimp, is something quite impressive indeed. It is equally mindblowing how he has essentially constructed this in a singular take; complex layers develop and overlap, meditative pauses allow for controlled feedback to tear at the heartstrings and there is a genuine sense of careful composition, yet this is essentially one man's intuition and vision. Next, the enormous 'Tymor', a staggering 26 minutes long, creeps stealthily into being on a melancholic and repeated guitar line, whilst behind deep, resonating drones and ebow construct a cobweb of haunted sounds as an unsettling bass rumble indicates something more sinister growing in form. Backwards effects bring a sudden and dramatic pause until tentative strings drifting like thick fog emerge and a more meditative and sacred mood returns; you can almost feel the cold tendrils of mist as the sound resounds, a chill and cold air pervading. By gently adding further cathedral-like textures Verwimp achieves a religious sanctity that is both affecting and emotive, a true symphony of sorrow. The album finale 'Wani Yetu' begins with a distorted vocal chant before being joined by a deeper, baritone voice to create something both ancient and eternal, a spectral choral master-work. Unsettling and chilling yet also deeply human, this is the sound of a thousand ghosts calling out to us, reminding us that we soon will be part of this eternal choir.

A remarkable achievement, 'Morana' begs to be heard widely; it is both post-rock/psychedelic as well as an experimental piece and yet is also arguably modern classical; a movement in four segments that is genuinely transportive for the listener. Many such instrumental works rely on certain common and recognisable motifs, clichés and dynamics to keep the listeners attention; not so this album which connects and enraptures in its own unique and individual manner. Seek out Morana, this is an important work and one which needs to be experienced; immerse yourself in the drone.

5 Oct 2017

One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz & Funky Folk 1968-1975


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Another of RPM's attractively packaged (and attractively priced) clamshell box sets, "One Way Glass" offers three packed discs of underground material from the tail-end of the sixties through the mid seventies, focusing on how black American music of the time was making its influence felt on the mostly white English progressive scene.

The sixties UK scene had always embraced Motown and American R&B and soul, so it should come as no surprise that as the scene evolved, the increasingly accomplished musicicans (particularly in the prog-rock scene) would become enamoured of the adventurous jazz and funk sounds emanating from across the Atlantic and attempt to integrate them into their own increasingly complex compositions.

A number of the tunes featured here are pretty much straight funk tunes, and while that will appeal to funk collectors, I'm more interested in the tracks here that retain their prog / psych / folk credentials while remaining dancefloor friendly. There's plenty of this to be found here, with fans of late sixties / early seventies proto-prog who like a bit of flute and saxophone being particularly well served with outstanding contributions from Audience, Demon Fuzz and Skin Alley (whose Skin Valley Serenade retains a distinctly tudor feel) among others.

The compiler's have cast the net wide for this, with plenty of material from the Dawn, Vertigo and Transatlantic catalogues as well as lesser know labels. Additionally, many of these tracks are sourced from hard to find E.Ps and singles, making it an attractive prospect for album collectors who will likely have a few gaps in their collection filled by tracks like Demon Fuzz's "Message to Mankind".

Other notables include Graham Bond and Pete Brown's excellent Dr. Johnish "Macumbe", Pentangle's lovely, loose "I Saw An Angel" and two versions of Manfred Mann Chapter Three's classic "One Way Glass", by Trifle and the John Schroeder Orchestra (featuring vocals by a certain Chris Thompson who would later join Manfred Mann's Earth Band). Interesting the Manfred Mann original doesn't feature here, but I'm sure the majority of parties interested in this release will already be well familiar with it.

With three discs of material there's plenty to dig into, and if you're anything like me it'll fuel further digging for albums by many of these artists that I'd not heard before. Recommended.

Available here (UK/World) or here (US).




29 Sep 2017

Moongazing Hare & Trappist Afterland Sing Songs For Nathan


As those who follow me on Facebook will know, I've been receiving treatment for cancer (which we're confident will sorted by this treatment).

Two of our favourite acts have been ridiculously generous with their time and put together an album to help raise funds for me and my family while I recover from the treatment.

Thank you so much to Moongazing Hare and Trappist Afterland who have put together Songs for Nathan, which includes covers of songs originally by Lal Waterson, Coil, Syd Barrett and the Mountain Goats, as well as tackling one of each other's tunes apiece and providing an original track each.

It's a lovely thing and I'm blown away by the kindness of those who have donated their efforts towards this project.

Here's a review from The Sunday Experience.

You can purchase the album here - any donations are very gratefully received. Thanks everyone.

30 Aug 2017

Gilroy Mere – The Green Line



Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

There is something almost sinister about how Clay Pipe Music schedule their records during the year to seasonally reflect their content. Thus the recent arrival of Gilroy Mere’s debut release, the transportationally themed “The Green Line” is perfectly timed to reach me in the balmy summer haze of a mid-August afternoon in London.

As with all conceptually strong works a quick contextual paragraph is in order. The Green Line was real. The Green Line was one of the main bus service routes in/out of London that served nearby home counties and would shuttle London residents off to summer oases across the south east coast throughout the 1950's until reaching its last stop in the mid-1980's. Sun seekers could pack their bag and head for such salubrious and bucolic coastal resorts as Margate, Reigate, Whitstable and all the way round the coast to Rye, Camber Sands and even Brighton or Eastbourne. Others would use the opportunity to nestle in the hills of the South Downs paying visits to chocolate box villages where time had stood still. These were some of the great day trip holiday destinations for the working class folk of the post war years and the Green Line buses would continue to plough a wonderful farrow through old England until the monstrous deregulation of bus services under the parasitic Thatcher Governments of the 1980’s. In this fine work, Gilroy Mere offers this beautiful and warm psycho-geographical homage to a time when society was more cohesive and you could buy lemonade in glass bottles. A gloriously metaphysical metaphor in resplendent sound, no less.

Gilroy Mere for those who don’t like a good mysterious nom-de-plume is south coast polymath and allround good guy, Oliver Cherer who in various guises has spent the past 20 years or so delivering output of great quality under his own name and also as Dollboy. Anyone who has knowledge of Cherer's back catalogue will know our man in St. Leonards is a sonic alchemist of rare ability. They will also bear testament to his fondness of the egalitarian beauty of public transport and its ability to liberate the mind and body.

So what does it sound like? Well, if conceptually it is hugely appealing to many of a certain disposition, it more than matches up sonically - a beautiful tapestry of sound that is as warm as an August sunset and sweet as a packet of Spangles. To this reviewer, the spectre of Brian Eno is definitely hovering over much of what constitutes the journey on the ‘The Green Line’. Opening track ‘Dunroamin’’ is a slowed down diesel fuelled reinterpretation of ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ (minus the Fripp-tronics) from ‘Another Green World’ refracted through the dreamier moments of Steve Reich and dowsed in that deep sense of contemplative musical humanism that permeates much of Oliver Cherer’s work.

‘Cuckoo Waltz’ follows with an almost pagan feel to its circular folky pattern and features the first of several highly tasteful string arrangements, adding a layer of deeply impressionistic and heart warming resonance to proceedings. ‘RLH48’ celebrates the iron horse of the country lanes, with some very tastefully deployed Gilmour-esque slide guitar flowing over a sparse motorik beat imaging the endless green-scenery of the rural autobahn. ‘Hop Pickers’ is watery and strange with its arpreggios falling and rising in gentle breaths of sound. ‘ A Lychgate’ features some lovely multi-tracked recorder and chambered guitar/piano interplay giving the impression that the listener has departed the bus and somehow stumbled upon the enactment of some ancient rural rite in a derelict churchyard.

"I Can See the Sea From Here" is an abstracted collision of synth generated ambient noise and brightly strummed banjo/mandolin. It threatens to overwhelm and anaesthetise the listener as it gradually builds an enveloping gauze of treated sound saving us only by virtue of its sheer sense of euphoria.

The title track is a peach. Its propulsive and arresting opening fuses some crashing, teutonic piano chords with delicately picked guitar and some almost ‘Low-era’ Bowie-esque spectral chanting. Then we shift gear to move into some spiralling keyboard runs that keep us very much in the realms of the pastoral - especially if your idea of pastoral has room for the likes of Pink Floyd's 1970 masterpiece 'Atom Heart Mother'.

“Moss and Yew” is a beautiful, wordless baroque folk-ballad that throws a well worn picnic blanket on a sandy dune of distant memory. Fiercely evocative, like the best of Cherer's work, its a wordless poem of quietly yearning, peculiarly English desperation and provides a penultimate sigh of the heart before its uplifting and unexpected closing section bring the bus back to pick us up and take us home. The closing and aptly titled “Just Turn for Home” surges on the back of some Robert Kirby style string arrangements and a lovely acoustic guitar motif.

As we reach journey's end and get off the bus there is a final flourish of engine noise and ethereal soundscape that places an invisible arm around our shoulder and leads us gently back to our homes and lives. Cherer doesn't do sad - the resolution of the record is calm and measured, warm and reassuring. Glowing. The trip on The Green Line has been a fabulous journey of self-discovery thanks to our designated driver. A wonderful, brilliantly conceived and executed record that speaks gently yet directly and irresistably to your heart.

Needless to say, this latest production is impeccably packaged by visionary artist and label owner, Frances Castle and the vinyl pressing of 500 (green, of course) is likely to be gone before you can say “Tickets please!”. So don’t be slow, get aboard and nab a top deck window seat for a journey through the past that will enrich your present in myriad ways. Record of the year? A must for the any shortlist.

Available direct from Clay Pipe Music - preorders are available from tomorrow (September 1), full release September 15.

29 Aug 2017

Cory Hanson - The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo



Reviewed by Nathan Ford

WAND frontman Cory Hanson's solo debut totally passed me by when it was released late last year as it appears to have only received a fraction of the attention which he enjoys with his WAND releases.

Which is a real pity, as, having found its way into my CD player today finally, it has me totally entranced. Why the lack of promo? Terrible title, granted, but this is every bit as important as any of the WAND albums.

It's certainly a much quieter affair than his normal releases, but there have always been lovely quiet, acoustic vignettes on the WAND albums - this just expands those ideas to album length.

It's a very delicate wee thing with some lovely baroque string arrangements which inevitably evoke "Forever Changes" and do so with some success.  There's also a hint of the acoustic side of Ty Segall's "Manipulator" in places too (there's always a hint of Ty with Cory isn't there?), but only Ty at his very gentlest.

Anyway, this wasn't really intended as a real review, more of a "wow, how'd I miss this, and I hope you haven't too". If you have you know what to do:

Available here (UK/World) or here (US).

3 Jul 2017

Spaced Out - The Story of Mushroom Records


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Vic Keary's short lived (15 months!) underground label Mushroom Records released some extremely collectible records, so it's surprising that this intriguing selection from Grapefruit Records represents the first attempt at a label overview.

Where major label offshoots like Vertigo, Deram and Harvest more or less focused on hairy prog and hard rock during this timeframe, Mushroom had no parent company to call the shots and as a result their output was startlingly diverse.

Vic Keary's background was in reggae, with numerous credits on the venerable Trojan label among others, but when he set up his own Chalk Farm Studios he was happy to dabble in recording a bit of everything and that's certainly evident here.

Heads and psychedelic collectors will be well acquainted with the likes of Second Hand, Simon Finn and Magic Carpet, who are all well represented (particularly Second Hand, who appear five times as well as in a latter incarnation as Chillum).

But there's plenty more to delve into too. Avant-jazz menace Lol Coxhill stretches the envelope, while there are also a couple of appealing Indian classical excursions from Ravi Shankar and Pandit Kanwar Sain Trikha as well as folk that ranges from contemporary (from Greek folksinger Andreas Thomopoulos) to as trad as they come (The Liverpool Fishermen)

All of which makes for a fascinatingly diverse listen - literally something for everyone. And that's just the first disc!

Disc Two moves beyond Mushroom's output and looks at productions Vic recorded in the sixties for other labels. Even more diverse than the first disc in this collection, this sidesteps his more well known reggae productions and gathers a plethora of sixties pop in its many varied forms.

There are countless highlights: Procol Harum influenced psych-pop band Felius Andromeda's sole single has been collected often and both sides are very welcome here, as they're two of the best slices of pop perfection to appear during the golden era of the Deram single. I wasn't aware that they'd cut a further single under the abbreviated moniker of Andromeda, but they did, and both sides are also here, a real treat for collectors.

There's also two sides from excellent freakbeat combo the Attraction, including a fabulous, gritty take on the Kinks "Party Line" and several cuts from highly rated London psychedelicists Tuesday's Children, including their classic "A Strange Light From the East".

Add some moody girl group melodrama, folk-pop, the odd crooner, a heap more freakbeat and beat gems and you've got quite the mixed bag / curate's egg / whatever tired cliche you fancy using.

"Spaced Out" is a little too diverse for its own good perhaps - it's unlikely that anyone will like everything here, and its title and cover art are a little tacky given the quality of its contents, but there's little else I can fault this on.

Available here for a pittance.


12 Jun 2017

Nirvana (UK) - Local Anaesthetic / Songs of Love & Praise


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

UK psych-pop duo Nirvana had a pretty good run on Island Records. The three albums they recorded for Island are now held in high regard (although they weren't hugely successful at the time), and tracks like "Rainbow Chaser" and "Tiny Goddess" are among the very best that UK psychedelia had to offer from the next tier bands.

With the arrival of the progressive era Alex Spyropoulos amicably left, leaving Patrick Campbell Lyons in sole charge of the name and his sole album for the Vertigo label "Local Anaesthetic" is an adventurous stab at the prog-rock aesthetic from an artist who's gift was for perfect three minute pop singles. This being the case, you'd expect this to be a somewhat uncomfortable metamorphosis, but where side long tracks were the order of the day, Campbell Lyons' approach was to continue to write those perfect, short pop gems, stick them together into side long suites, and surround himself with tried and true prog legends (Jade Warrior and King Crimson's Mel Collins) who could stretch the material into more ambitious directions. It's not always 100% successful but it's never dull. And the sleeve is one of iconic Vertigo photographer Keef's very best.

More successful, but less popular from a collector's viewpoint is the followup album "Songs of Love & Praise", released on the Philips label in 1972. It's a bit of a forgotten entry in the Nirvana catalogue. All traces of psychedelia have been stripped away and the lengthy prog expeditions of "Local Anaesthetic" have been left behind in favour of a simpler, contemporary pop approach, which reminds me a lot of the sort of material that Ray Davies and Donovan were producing around this time, although the inspiration here appears to be less sporadic than the scattershot approach these two were exhibiting by this point.

The re-recordings of "Pentecost Hotel" and "Rainbow Chaser" aren't a patch on the originals and give the impression that Campbell Lyons was perhaps struggling a little in the songwriting department at the time, an impression which is certainly not borne out by the new tracks which make up the rest of the album. Again leading a crack band, Campbell Lyons seems much more comfortable here and the arrangements are inventive, with some lovely instrumental interludes.

I admit I didn't expect much from "Songs of Love & Praise", but put aside expectations of trippiness and this is a pretty hard album to dislike. It's not hugely substantial, but it is thoroughly charming. Particularly fine is the closing "Stadium", which provides a rousing, climactic end to the original album.

Both releases are lovingly remastered as is Esoteric's way, with extensive sleeve notes and bonus tracks that don't detract from the main course and will prove essential to collectors.

Available here and here.

8 Jun 2017

Halasan Bazar - Burns


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ah! 'Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!' As Danny Kaye memorably sang (or was it Donald O'Connor? No matter). Here is a really great piece of work from Danish psychotropic innerspace explorers Halasan Bazar who aim to turn us into true believers with their new release; the chiming, oddly affecting and very strangely beautiful record entitled 'Burns'.

Mining a seam of baroque - freak - pop-psychedelia not unlike that pursued by the likes of Jacco Gardner and Kurt Heasley in recent years (no bad thing), "Burns" has strength in depth. Every song is an unhinged and hook laden narco-fairground ride waiting to take the active listener through a hall of musical mirrors that disturb and confound in equal measure. Thank God for mental illness.

After a brief rippling intro, 'Honest People' kicks things off proper with an ecstatic chiming guitar fest and equally delirious and declamatory lead vocal that reminds me a little of Dean Wareham, in a good way of course. "Get Sick and Die" (apart from being a great title for a song) has an elegantly wasted vibe to it that gets your toe tapping instantly and like the rest of this record hooks you like a hungry catfish on a pole. There is so much going on in these relatively simple but sonically highly crafted arrangements that elevate matters into something eerily sophisticated and engaging. In tone, in depth, in staying the right side of self-indulgence (nothing here is over 4 and a half minutes long), Halasan Bazar crank out killer tune after killer tune. "Fools" is a trip to the drive-in with your favourite girl in your dads car on a beautiful July evening where you lean back and look at the stars just as the acid you took before you picked her up kicks in. And then you realise you're gonna have to drive home.

'Freak' is a sick serenade that sets my teeth on edge with its see-sawing strings and its glib drugged out insanity. "Burns My Mind" is a lovely alt-country prairie lament that never quite feels settled with a macabre sensibility to the impressionistic and dream like lyric. The off-kilter melancholy of "Junky" has a certain sunny-side up quality as if being presented at some psychedelic holiday camp talent competition on the Baltic coast to a captive audience of drooling freaks. Halasan Bazar are definitely messing with your mind and they know exactly what buttons to press.

Enigmatic closer, "Lucky You" penetrates the walls of your head with its reprise of ecclesiastically skewed organ washes that seem to emit a sick warm polluting odour that threatens to submerge you until the clutch is released and a gently stomping valedictory love song rises out of the fog. As a way of bringing proceedings to a close it seems entirely appropriate as it is both happy and twisted.

With 'Burns', Halasan Bazar present an irresistable cavalcade of memorable classically framed pop psych delights shot through with an anxiety that is somewhat unique and sets them apart from their peers. They are The Brian Wilson Massacre, they are Galaxie 600, they are Arcade Fire blazing on high grade acid and stripped of phony pretention, they are a glittering North Sea surf reflecting the light of the summer sun in endless pinpricks of luminosity but most of all they are themselves - a hazy, sweet, sour, ragged dream freak scene that I wandered into one evening. You need this record to help soundtrack your life in 2017, to help you make sense of the insanity that has swamped the world and threatens to drag us under. Feel the burn.

Available from visionary record stores on vinyl/cd around the planet and the bands record label through the widget below (where you can also here the whole thing)

2 Jun 2017

Prana Crafter - MindStreamBlessing


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Over a year has passed since we at The Active Listener delighted in the psych wonder of 'Rupture of Planes' from Prana Crafter, the project of Washington Woods guitarist William Sol. It is fortuitous then that from his isolated forest home Sol has been quietly assembling his latest offering, 'MindStreamBlessing', which is now available courtesy of  Eiderdown records.

Opener 'At Agartha's Gate' delicately enters on a hush of chiming guitars and mellotron, a gently epic introduction that recalls both Zeppelin's 'Rain Song' and Ben Chasny's finest moments with Six Organs of Admittance. Yet these are just reference points; Prana Crafter are unique in their own individual vision and in the particular combination of both rustic and cosmiche that they conjure seemingly at will. If this track is the mist over the redwoods and the sense of soft rain on your skin, then follower 'As The Weather Commands' is the full blown thunderstorm. Cascades of corrosive psych fuzz guitar flow over strident bass in torrents, a truly captivating and thrilling downpour of controlled noise and melody. Feedback swells and calm interludes give way to a wash of symphonic keyboards, summoning a break in the deluge that is almost meditative; a breathing out after the force of nature that preceded. 'Prajna Pines' is equally transcendental, rough hewn and distorted picked guitar soaking into the sound of organ and American backwoods blues; you can nearly smell the pine tree needles and the damp of the forest surrounds. The album's title track ushers in a darkening mood, swirling guitar lines disappearing amidst a fog of echoing keyboards until an urgent and beautifully tense acoustic refrain emerges. Sol is a master of this, of creating and carefully constructing a mood both melancholic and triumphant, that captivates to the extent that this listener found himself literally holding his breath at times. Next, 'Luminous Clouds' places a pensive guitar line over a shimmering organ drone that builds and layers until there is a veritable guitar orchestra at play. Shuddering bursts of electricity crash through the looped percussive and circular backing in a manner suggestive of Neil Young accompanying Mike Oldfield circa Ommadawn. Unpredictable and deeply emotive, this album contains many such moments that leave you practically shivering with both excitement and release. Closer 'Bardo Nectar' is a case in point; what on the surface appears as a bluesy, Americana stroll then unleashes waves of guitar that, in their dark fury, wouldn't be out of place on an early Sabbath album. A fitting end to an album that confidently combines harmony and an unshackled joy in noise, contemplation and wild expression and a sense of both the rural and the universal.

Seek out this album and make it your soundtrack to this year; take it with you when you walk, drive or wander. But make sure and also investigate the other jewels in Prana Crafter's back catalogue, this is a treasure trove that is quietly and steadily growing in size with 'MindStreamBlessing' a crowning achievement.

Available now as a limited edition cassette as well as a download release in a beautifully illustrated cover from Eiderdown records.

25 May 2017

The Black Watch – The Gospel According to John


Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

For more than 30 years, The Black Watch have been flying under the radar of even the mainstream indie community, quietly releasing album after album of accomplished guitar-based indie rock. They’ve developed a dedicated cult following of people who seem to only share their music with the folks who they believe will love the band as much as they do.

But The Black Watch don’t want to be a secret, and The Black Watch shouldn’t be a secret; they should be a band that is just as well-known and just as beloved as any of their more-celebrated jangle pop cohorts. Their 15 th album, “The Gospel According to John” is another brilliant collection of impeccable indie rock that should, hopefully, gain them a wider audience.

While it’s not an offering that makes any radical changes to their well-established, jangling, vaguely psychedelic pop sound, there has been one noticeable tweak: the increased—and more-aggressive—presence of the guitars. There are simply more of them, and they are more immediately demanding of your attention.

Much of this change can be attributed to new guitar player Andy Creighton (The World Record), whose layers of effects-washed guitars carry echoes of Ira Kaplan’s (Yo La Tengo) affecting, slightly-off key moaning. It’s a sound that takes up a lot of space in the mix, but still provides a fine compliment to songwriter/bandleader John Frederick ‘s melodies and faux-British- accented vocals.

A perfect example is in album opener “Whence”, which kicks off with a wall of guitars so forceful that it pinned me to the wall before quickly dropping down to something a little more gentle. But, even after the dynamic shift, there remained layers: guitars chiming on the top of the mix, on equal footing with the vocals, leaving another layer of fuzz floating, menacingly, below the surface.

“Way Strange World” follows in much the same manner, with the guitars simultaneously playing off of both the vocal line and the rhythm section. The influence of the great NYC band Television is another obvious point of reference.

There is not much change in mood or sound throughout the album, but that’s okay. The band sets an immersive tone and carries the listener along on a wave of sound for 37 minutes of bliss, before dropping them off at the end of the line, with the chiming, propulsive “Satellite”.

It’s the same band, that you have (or should have) known since the 80s, but this time their terrific songs are colored with wider sonic palate and more adventurous harmonic constructions than ever before. Think not just of Yo La Tengo, but also of Eleventh Dream Day, and other post-rock- type outfits of the 1990s. It’s a lot to take in, but there is something new to hear every time you put the record on. So, my recommendation is to put this one on often.

And then go back and discover the 14 more great albums that The Black Watch has put out since the 1980s.

And now you’re in on the secret, too!

11 May 2017

King Black Acid - Twin Flames


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Daniel Riddle's King Black Acid are one of Portland's longest running psychedelic collectives. My knowledge of their output is limited and doesn't reach beyond their exploratory mid nineties output, so this new three track EP is a major surprise to me. Granted, twenty plus years have passed, but gone is the free-form space-rock of the likes of "The Wombstar Session" or the Frippian guitar textures of "Royal Subjects", replaced with carefully structured and intricate songcraft. This evolution will presumably come as less of a surprise to those who've been keeping tabs on a more regular basis than myself, but I trust they'll be just as impressed as I am by the contents of "Twin Lights".

This is a richly textured, lush production with meticulously crafted songs which suggest the direction My Morning Jacket might have taken had they embraced Pink Floyd in place of Prince. I doubt this is what Gram Parsons had in mind when he coined the term cosmic American music, but the cap certainly fits here.

Unusually in the current musical climate, nothing is in a rush here and these three lengthy tracks would be in danger of meandering in lesser hands, but here their unhurried pace is a virtue, creating a hypnotic tapestry that I found irresistable. The production deserves a mention too - it's almost as much of a star here as Riddle's songs. Check out the intro to "Headful of You" for a masterclass in slow-motion, free-falling lusciousness. And the chorus positively soars - great song.

The title track continues in this vein, adding a bit of a "Cold Roses" era Ryan Adams and the Cardinals vibe to it. This creates an intriguing dichotomy between the Earthbound and the ethereal which should collapse in on itself in the messiest of fashions, but maintains its balance perfectly.

Lovely stuff.

You can hear the title track below. CD and digital available here.

4 May 2017

Dulls - Moon Violet


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

On last year’s self-titled debut (reviewed here), Philadelphia’s Dulls took a lighter touch to both their shoegaze and alternative-era leanings; they preferred, it seemed, to let space between voicings develop the theme throughout. But on this year’s Moon Violet, the band puts guitar-centered hooks at the forefront, channeling their grittier predecessors of the DIY genres – even with standout-track, “New Dream,” which, in other hands, might be a slow-burner but builds, here, to a dense pay off in the chorus that’s deserving of an angry sing-along. Moon Violet is another promising step for Dulls, exploring similar terrain as their debut while taking a few risks along the way – perhaps, in part, thanks to recording and mixing by John Ceparano of The Stargazer Lilies, whose own albums value similar balances between lush passages and the very human slide of the fingers across guitar strings.

The opening track, “View,” feels familiar from the start: a single guitar, lightly reverbed though heavily strummed through the progression. The result – when the whole band comes in – refuses to crowd the song with pummel and force, rather Dulls extends the simplicity, whether through a few accent leads or a tight rhythm; further still, when the layers drop away for the verse, the space left behind still hums with strength of the intro. This serves as the model for Dulls: lean all the way in and pull back to give perfect contrast.

Both releases from Dulls have been short, but, in so few songs, the band has proven their careful consideration, curating each release to their format (in both cases, cassette) and their ideal listeners, ones looking for mature reflections of legendary acts that still resonate – and maybe more so now – and conversations with those long-standing musical heroes. Perhaps four songs is the perfect tactile experience for listening, creating a balance and natural split. This level of consideration is somehow imbued in both releases; both feel meticulously plotted while still embracing the nuances of each musician’s contributions.

“Moon Violet” is available digitally or on limited-edition cassette below. This one just gets better with every listen. So, let it play through again; any good tape deck will do.

Highly recommended.

3 May 2017

David Colohan - A Melbourne Nocturne

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

David Colohan continues his steady creative flow with ‘A Melbourne Nocturne’, a delicate yet quietly epic piece of work that contains echoes of his previous releases with Raising Holy Sparks, United Bible Studies and Look To The North whilst also staking out new ground and travelling into territory uniquely his own. Available originally as a limited cassette from PSI Lab (now sold out) this release can now be fortunately be found on Colohan’s Bandcamp site and a good thing too; to miss out on something this exploratory, immersive and affecting would be a genuine loss. Recorded between Melbourne, Ballymahon & Southampton, Colohan describes the birth and cultimation of the piece as ‘(coming) to light amongst the moongazing crowd that had gathered outside Labour In Vain on Melbourne's Brunswick Street during the lunar eclipse of July 16th, 2000, before finally manifesting itself on the Summer Solstice of June 20th, 2016’. Indeed there are several themes and motifs that run through the collected pieces on this album that speak of something lunar, celestial and perhaps also the tension between gazing at the sky whilst being tethered and earthbound.

'A Melbourne Dreaming' opens the album with a reverberated choir of voices, a stillness and a sense of the sacred that is both arresting and deeply beautiful. This slowly fades into 'Yarra Yarra, River of Mists', a spoken word piece recounting the (psycho)geography of the land framed with atmospheric bursts of Matt Leivers' soprano saxophone and Colohan's drifting, analogue synth. There are elements of Tangerine Dream's 'Phaedra' here, Popol Vuh's 'Aguirre' and Terry Riley's 'A Rainbow Curved In Air'; a cosmiche and intuitive landscape of sound conjured through echoed vocals and vintage electronics. The choral element returns for 'A Circle Of Chalk Surrounds The City', a hum and murmur of voices surrounding the yearning, keening vocal creating a sense of vastness and ancient leylines imbued in the dry earth. Next, 'Moonrise Over Mount Burnett' paints a vivid image of the heat and the haze in the antipodean dusk, swells of synth and drifting saxophone suggestive of the twilit colours and humid air. 'Moon Fades Over Fitzroy' is a polyphony of voices, a psalm to the living, breathing continent whilst 'Fiona Paints The Starlight Dark' is a gorgeous, night sky symphony of melancholy strings, a lament to a memory long gone. A bell signals 'The Last Tram Home' as both organ and modular synth pulse and rattle their way forward, narrating the night-time journey. Peals of saxophone add to the emerging cityscape as the circling electronics suggest motion and travel. 'Shell Middens, Scarred Trees, Fish Traps, Mounds And Quarries' follows, a communal mass of choral parts combining to create something at once both celestial and deeply human, a sense of stretching out for the stars. Exquisitely beautiful, there are hints of Lisa Gerrard to be found here as well as perhaps Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. 'A Circle Of Stars Surrounds St Kilda' swirls in to view on banks of quiet wind and waves of electronica, a gentle sadness pervading. Likewise 'The Fire, Where We Once Lived' breaths an air of solemnity, voices wordlessly calling out into the darkness, pained at times, rapturous at others. Colohan is an expert story teller through sound, this is effectively an instrumental album and yet it feels as if the listener knows exactly the images he is intending to illustrate and the precise mood of the tales he tells. 'Fionnuala Dreams The Desert Closer' buzzes into life, its modular harmonies, swells and rises pulled as much from deep within Colohan's memories and psyche as from his keyboards. Truly affecting, this is music for late at night; the liminal times. The album closes with 'Towards The Southern Aurora', a delicate and breathtaking vocal piece that both haunts and enraptures, speaking to the ghosts of the surrounding landscape. It is a fittingly atmospheric piece to conclude these travels (and there is a sense of having journeyed, this being a record of Colohan's impressions of Australia and the lasting memories impressed upon him by the land).Additionally, should an alternative soundtrack to the heat stricken, strange dreamscape of 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' ever be required, this is it.

‘A Melbourne Nocturne’ then is an album which dares to reach its hand out to the night sky and to feel the awe and dread that this act involves. It also recognises and contains the beauty, transcendence and despair that comes with acknowledging the vastness of the universe around us and translates this into some of the most affecting music you will hear. Seek this recording out; turn your eyes to the sky.

15 Apr 2017

Jon Brooks - Autres Directions


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ah, Spring 2017 is almost fully upon us and like the blooming daffodils, Clay Pipe Records has emerged from hibernation to herald the real new year with another beautifully evocative offering from Jon Brooks. As with Jon's previous outings on the label ('52' and 'Shapwick') there is a strong sense of conceptualisation and sonic impressionism (or audio cinema verite if you like) that informs 'Autres Directions'. In this instance the new offering is inspired by time spent by its creator in Brittany and Normandy in northern France. And perhaps this sleek, beautiful organic, wonderfully alive and textured work is a prescient love letter from post-Brexit Britain to its soon to be divorced European counterpart?

Musically there is much to place the record in the ongoing artistic development of its author. Part episodic series of ethereal soundscape canvasses, part field recording driven hauntological essay, part ambient/prog reinterpretation of the kind of approach the likes of Pink Floyd, Harmonia or Eno were aiming for in the 1970's - In totality it reflects all of this whilst retaining its own robust identity and makes for a deeply immersive sonic experience that reveals great depth with repeated listens. Read on active listener, read on...

'Se Reveille' calls us to rise with a cluster of brightly repeated notes, concluding with the perfect intonation of our French ferry announcer advising us that our journey across La Manche is about to conclude, our arrival on the north coast of France imminent. We make landfall by 'Le Chateau' where gentle analogue waves lap on the shore beneath the castle walls. This is probably my favourite piece on the record with its warm droning filigree of notes evoking nothing simpler or more beautiful than beads of sunlight dancing on the gently crashing surf. Seagull sirens of sound float in and out of view rising upwards on the thermals of sound that swirl upward into a sunbaked blue sky. Imagine 'Big City' by the Spacemen 3 removed from its urban environment, slowed, stretched and relocated to a beautiful place of coastal countryside. It is a stunningly beautiful moment of teleportation on a consistently beguiling and absorbing record.

"PN_17" glides into view following the sound of a train passing before unfurling itself on the other side of the tracks to reveal a hushed afternoon meadow of sound punctuated with some lovely gently swaying tones and bird calls. Sounds swell, feedback builds and fades, pictures sharpen then dissolve.

The use of field recordings that capture distant voices inside a revolving 5 note synth wash on the title track manages the very difficult trick of being both very simple whilst entrancing the listener into a kaleidoscopic reverie of flashbacks entirely sourced from one's own memory banks - hauntology par excellence.It's final cluster of hazy, unintelligible voices close out the first side of the record in a strong and strangely cinematic fashion.

Side two opens with "L'ancienne Grange", a tightly wound melody with counterpoint set in a botanical garden of mysterious and exotic sounds - it has an almost hypnotic quality. "Lanverec" is a slow burn descending drone piece replete with bird calls and a somewhat sinister vibe to it that gives rise to thoughts of cloudy hillsides, overamped electricity pylons and shaded country lanes. It leaves the listener uncertain of the intended destination and definitely strikes hard as the most unsettling point on the record. "Centre Vile" follows, bringing some momentary focus with its soberingly sharp church bell introduction ringing out a note of awakening. This call to prayer is followed by washes of synth, bowed cymbals (I think) and drones that once more envelop and surround the listener. It's a pretty mesmerising scene, heavy with blankets of ambient sound that breathe slowly and deeply through the speakers.

Le depart arrives all too quickly with the brief and appropriately titled 'Sortie', its combination of field recordings and light drones transporting the listener effectively to the point of departure. The ferry announcers call is heard and closes the circle but on this ocassion the voices are distant, mysterious and unclear giving way a denouement is almost indetectable. We arrive back at our present location, unsure of where we have been but our perceptions changed by the journey we have completed. Therein lies the power at the heart of 'Autres Directions'.

So once again Clay Pipe release a compelling work of imagination and guile, another wonderfully evocative piece of work from Jon Brooks that may be his best solo outing thus far. Needless to say as with all Clay Pipe releases this is beautifully packaged in what I am interepeting as a wonderful collision of vintage Blue Note and Highway Code graphic artwork courtesy of the endlessly talented label owner Frances Castle (on a lovely fog coloured vinyl too). Equally needless to say, this limited vinyl run of 500 will almost certainly sell out with days of (pre)release so look sharp and grab a copy while you can. Au revoir mes amis.

Vinyl pre-orders are available from the label, and digital will be available directly from Mr Brooks on the release date of May 5th. Put it in your diary!

29 Mar 2017

Lamagaia - Lamagaia


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

There are few bands around now that insist upon long-form songs; still, there are fewer that absolutely require just shy of twenty minutes to really express a contained, continuous and coherent idea. Gothenburg, Sweden’s Lamagaia make long songs feel necessary and effortless – even brief, in a way, by their continually vibrant, fresh take on Krautrock-inspired heavy psych; the two songs making up their proper debut, “Aurora” and “Panorama Vju”, are both one side of a 12”, but their urgency and pace have a way of shrinking their significant lengths to quick and potent doses.

With only a 7” and a self-released 12” to their name – both available from the band’s Bandcamp – Lamagaia is slowly but surely building their catalog; in so few tracks, the band has quickly and impressively built a brand, one of balanced fervor and outrageous composure. Their eponymous debut simply tills new tracts of the fertile ground. “Aurora” is a deft and dense track that, at first, feels so complete as it builds, the vocals – straightforward as they are, though masterfully effected – come as a surprise, almost unnecessary to the song’s fullness. It’s hard to find such welcome surprises in most listens.

“Panorama Vju,” undoes all the density and frenzy of its reverse side and spirals through a hazy and atmospheric exploration. The song really gets its legs five minutes in as it vaults a skyward, delay-heavy melody, only to let loose entirely through the remainder of the song with washes of guitar noise and manipulations. Co-released by Sunrise Ocean Bender and Cardinal Fuzz, get the vinyl or digital format of your choice on their respective Bandcamp pages.

Highly recommend this one.

27 Mar 2017

Barrett's Dottled Beauty - Owls In Her Eyes


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Here is something very special indeed. A collaboration between fellow ornithologists and Scottish sound technicians Gayle Brogan (of the wonderful Pefkin and Electroscope) and Alan Cynic (of the legendary and critically acclaimed Kitchen Cynics), 'Owls In Her Eyes'can be found 'nursing an obsession equally with Syd Barrett and lepidptera' within the grooves of this vinyl only release. Housed in a beautiful collage style sleeve designed by Alan himself, four lengthy but weightless and truly transcendent tracks take the listener from the coastal haar of Kitchen Cynic's native Aberdeen to the misty showers of Brogan's west coast. Indeed, there is much of a sense of nature and of a wild and weather stricken environment contained within the floating, drifting beauty of these hugely atmospheric, arcane and ambitious pieces.

'The Cynic, the Dipper and the Thrush' opens the album with harmonium drones and picked acoustic guitar, Barrett hued slide pulling the song into focus as Brogan's unearthly but startlingly beautiful vocals emerge from the morning haze. Cynic's deep Aberdonian brogue recites a delicate spoken word piece as shimmering cascades of guitar and analogue synth gently hover behind. An incantation to the land and to the seasons that is reminiscent of the ethereal yet earthy Fovea Hex, this is material to truly raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Midway, a descending guitar run and flanged vocal takes us deeper down the rabbit hole into a more cosmiche universe, something more madcap and lysergic before the song ends in a symphony of backwards tapes and voices. Next, 'Forvie' enters on a foundation of pulsating organ drones and subtle fuzz guitar that combined proves quietly effective. Brogan's vocals are again utterly striking and the track seems to have its own internal pulse and breath, wraith-like synth bleeps and vintage keyboard sounds pick out an unearthly and eerie melody from the glistening haze. Cynic's guitar builds to come to the fore along with a steady, insistent harmonium note before Brogan's layered vocals create a ghost filled, echoing choral resonance that seems to linger long after the track has finished. The album's title track comes next, repeated keyboard spirals and a deep humming herald a breathtaking duet between Cynic's emotive and haunting voice and Brogan's treated backing vocals. Droning psych guitar notes pierce through the washes of sound, slide guitar and strings weep and wander towards the stars; the result is akin to ancient Scots lament by way of the UFO Club in London's swinging 60s. Genuinely affecting and quite unique, this really has to be heard. Finally, 'The Rain Has Come In Misty Showers' starts with a melancholy, resonating keyboard pulse and Brogan's pensive and reverberating vocals, a deep sense of stormclouds overhead and the weathered landscape never far from mind. Indeed, a piece by visionary poet John Clare is recited, further emboldening a mood that seems rich and filled with the environment and its effects upon both the psyche and human condition. At once filled with beauty and dread, this is a heartbreaking piece that begs to be played somewhere wild, barren and windswept, preferably at dusk.

This album comes very highly recommended; fans of Pefkin and The Kitchen Cynics will both want to seek this out and for newcomers this serves as a different but equally fine entry point to both artists, providing you also seek out their rewarding back catalogues along the way. 'Owls In Her Eyes' is a veritable nestful of riches, do not let this pass you by but also do not delay; this release is limited to 80 copies complete with download code.

11 Mar 2017

The Avengers - Everyone's Gonna Wonder - Complete Singles....Plus


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While they're relatively unknown internationally - even to psych collectors - the Avengers were genuine stars here in New Zealand during the latter part of the sixties. Their versions of the Episode Six's "Love Hate Revenge" and David McWilliams "The Days of Pearly Spencer" still crop up regularly on classic hits radio and are regarded by many (myself included) as definitive.

This collection from New Zealand sixties reissue specialists Frenzy & RPM gathers up the the majority of the band's two pricey studio albums along with a few single sides and curios for the band's first international CD release.

Impressively, the band's legacy was all put to tape between 1967 and 1969, with the band's two studio albums and sole live album all released in one calendar year (1968).

Assembled by manager Ken Cooper as houseband for his club, "The Plaice", the Avengers were essentially a manufactured pop group, initially costumed in John Steed style suits and bowlers, with their extremely successful first single ("Everyone's Gonna Wonder") coming from an outside writer - Chris Malcolm. Fear not though, New Zealand Idol this is not; the band gelled quickly and soon proved themselves to be gifted performers, writers, and interpreters.

Not unusually for the time, their first album, "Electric Recording" threw a little bit of everything into the pot mixing pop, mod, beat and psychedelia in fairly equal measure, along similar lines to the first Aphrodite's Child album or early UK Bee Gees albums. As debuts go it's a very strong effort, but the best was yet to come.

"Medallion" may well be the best album to come out of the local sixties psychedelic scene, and is every bit as colourful and lurid as it's sleeve. New Zealand's studios at the time were pretty primitive so local attempts at psychedelia often fell a bit flat. That's certainly not the case here though; while the Avengers were definitely more on the pop-psych end of the spectrum rather than psych-pop, tracks like creepy stand-out "Midnight Visitation" stand up remarkably well production-wise against similar material recorded in more affluent UK based studios. Compare "Midnight Visitation" to the Yardbirds' "Turn to Earth" for a prime example of this.

There's not much missing from the two albums here and the extensive liner notes and top mastering make this a very fine substitute for those who don't have the $300 you'd have to lay down for nice original copies. Now let's do something about reissuing the live album "Dial Triple A, Alive! Avengers in Action", by all accounts a very exciting affair which sounds like it'd provide an intriguing counterpoint to these well tailored studio excursions.

Available here (UK/EU) or here (US).


9 Mar 2017

The Greek Theatre - Broken Circle


Reviewed by Kent Whirlow

The long-awaited second Greek Theatre LP has arrived! Lightning has indeed struck twice (thrice, if we're keeping count, as 2016's excellent The Sunniest Day EP, reviewed here, is surely not to be overlooked).

I am always hesitant to throw around terms like "instant classic", but this certainly fits the bill. The album kicks off with the wonderfully titled "Fat Apple (at About Noon)", which also happens to be the longest track on the LP, clocking in at over seven minutes and it really sets the stage for this beautiful record. For the initiated fan, within the first 30 seconds you will recognize that you are in familiar territory and in for a real treat (those unfamiliar with this brilliant Swedish outfit would do well to acquaint one's self with their first masterpiece here). Indeed, this is unmistakably The Greek Theatre that we know and love, a duo who have somehow managed to create a stunningly unique sound that I've not heard any contemporary band match. The guitar work is even better than ever, and that is saying something. As with all of their songs, there is a tremendous amount of depth and texture to the music. There is quite a bit going on, which is evident when you carefully listen to and study each track and start to understand how it somehow all blends together so seamlessly. This is psychedelic music at its very finest. There are some wonderful Folk, Country, and even Progressive Rock ingredients as well. However, dear listener, you may do yourself a favour and dispense with genres, labels, and any preconceived notions, as there is really no way to pigeon-hole the sound of this band. Just close your eyes and allow the music to take you to that special place that only music can do. The pacing of this opening track is brilliant; the introduction lures you in and it gradually starts to build, incorporating all sorts of instruments and arrangements and just takes off in a truly majestic flight. The trademark Greek Theatre vocals are firmly in place, buoyed by some outstanding interwoven guitar work.

"Paper Moon" will be instantly recognizable to those who have already had their ticket punched by way of their aforementioned "The Sunniest Day" EP, though a different version is present here with some new arrangements, resulting in a fuller sound this time around. Lovely swirling sounds in the background, beautiful harmony vocals which ring through clear as a bell, powerful drums, and some pretty mean bass playing are all components here. Again, some searing psychedelic guitar work takes center stage, along with some gentler acoustic guitar blended into the mix. "Still Lost Out At Sea" is the not-so-missing link to the classic first LP, both in terms of sound and, obviously, the title. A gentle, pastoral piece that is filled with reflection has a bit of a country feel to it, particularly in its slow shuffling, though subtle backbeat. It is uniquely punctuated by some sublime woodwinds. There is a terrific calming, contemplative mood woven into this track. The rhetorical question, "So, why am I lost out at sea?" cleverly recalls the lyric "Another year. lost out at sea" from the first album. However, make no mistake, this record is not merely "Lost Out at Sea, Part Two". The wonderful psychedelic journey continues, though what we have here is a brand new endeavor; this record clearly has its very own identity. The repeated lyric, "Love you even more..." somehow serves to reinforce the feeling of the record.

"Stray Dog Blues" marks the second appearance of a track first heard on "The Sunniest Day" EP, and as with "Paper Moon", it fits in perfectly with the album. A delicate masterpiece, we are treated to new mix of this track which differs from the EP version. Still present are the lovely female backing vocals in what appears to be a melancholic, though ultimately optimistic song offering up hope. In what I believe is the first instrumental piece from our beloved Greek Theatre, "1920" arguably serves as a short interlude that ties together the first and second parts of the record. Here we have some exquisite classical guitar work, with both a Spanish and Blues flavour sprinkled in. There is a careful dialog taking place between the various guitar parts here, a sort of unspoken story. It is, to me, unlike anything else in the Greek Theatre canon and one of the countless reasons to love this band so much - they are filled with so many surprises and cannot be nailed down in any singular way. The album's title track, "Broken Circle" fires up the aural cauldron for a delectable ambrosial psychedelic stew. There's a terrific driving organ that reminds this active listener just how important Rick Wright really was to Pink Floyd. I, for one, am waiting for the hour long out-take of this truly spellbinding jam, though I fear that particular dream may go unfulfilled. Things start to wind down into a calming, plaintive bridge with a lovely flute passage and the journey continues with a chorus of the song's title. A timeless, epic track, this is surely one of The Greek Theatre's finest moments. This piece is a testament to the power of music; there's an embarrassment of sonic riches somehow crammed into less than six minutes. The musicianship is truly stellar here, every little nuance is expertly crafted and fits together perfectly.

"Ruby-Khon" features some graceful layers of intertwined acoustic guitars and gentle, ethereal voices. Imagine yourself floating on a cloud and this is the perfect soundtrack to accompany you. And that may serve to exemplify what The Greek Theatre does so eloquently. They effortlessly take you to places where time and space cease to exist, they unlock that secret combination to one's imagination and allow you to be transported to a magical world. "Kings Of Old" begins with an almost unassuming introduction, but soon launches into a full-throttle psychedelic adventure, anchored by the record's most intense drumming. The album closes with "Now is the Time", which slowly winds things down and offers the lyric, "I saw you smile", which is outlined with cautious optimism and endless possibility. Soaring harmony vocals are joined by a splendid brass arrangement culminating in a grandiose farewell to a truly special record. If this is not the finest release from 2017, I'll gladly eat my hat.

Lastly, it must be noted that the production of this record is truly excellent, so if you're Bandcamping, don't short-change yourself with an mp3. Buy and download a lossless version and you'll be treated to a glorious 24-bit recording.

Vinyl available direct from the label here, digital through the Bandcamp link below: