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του Phil McMullen

Terrascopic Rumbles No.5 (Mάιος 2012)

Tα "Terrascopic Rumbles" αναδημοσιεύονται από το To κείμενο που ακολουθεί έγραψε ο Steve Palmer και επιμελήθηκε ο Phil McMullen.

Miss Massive Snowflake - Like a BookMiss Massive Snowflake are purveyors of quirky, vaguely psychedelic songs, who on the album Like a Book serve up ten slices of angular, sometimes weird, sometimes luminously beautiful music. Based in Portland Oregon, songwriter and guitarist Shane De Leon is the main man, and a confident vocalist, but the other three members of the band pitch in too. "Candlestick Nails" opens the album, coming across like Talking Heads meeting XTC, before the stop-start instrumental "Goldsworthy". "Yupanqui" features some vintage analogue synths and more jangly-angular riffs before a dual vocal crashes into focus, then swoon some saxophones. The waltz-time "Uneasy Town" is indeed sinister in feel but it makes an album highlight, the drums and brass mixing and matching perfectly, while "Early Onset" comes across like a new wave blast from 1979. "Andreini" kicks off the notional side 2 of the album in slower, calmer style, with conversationally sung vocals and more brass/woodwind inserts. "The Doctor, The Thief and The Poet versus Confetti" and "The Forest" are blink-and-you'll-miss-them new wave mash-ups, before album closer "Oh, The Pageantry", which is more of a West Coast-styled rocker. Varied sounds, great brass, and songs which go in unexpected directions make this an involving listen. (North Pole Records)

Temple Music - Children of the SunOn Children of the Sun by Temple Music wall-of-sound atmospherics meet hi-reverb vocals, thunking drums and synthesizers, opening with the drone-esque "Mirrors", which sets up a pretty intense mood. The lyrics are greek / near east influenced, in synch with the magical mystical mode of the band. "Children of the Sun" brings in acoustic instruments for another krauty track, while "Ism" is much heavier, with intense drums and percussion. A mysterious breakdown in the middle of the track only adds to the ritual style of the music. At nineteen minutes "Death Went Fishing" is the highlight of the album, a massive, synth-decorated trip passing through elements of ambient, acoustica and weird vocals, before the cut goes all electro-heavy and tribal. Closing the album, "Momentum" is the shortest track but has the longest lyric, some slinky guitar playing and the most conventional structure. An intense listen - better at the end than at the beginning. (Anticlock Records)

The Plimsouls - Beach Town Confidential (Live 1983)The Plimsouls were an American early 80s power pop band whose 1983 live summit has been captured by Alive Naturalsound. "Shaky City" and "Making Time" set out the band's stall: high energy, riffs and choruses, a tight indie/punk sound, and all in front of an appreciative audience. "Zero Hour" is catchy, "Hobo" features spot-on guitar riffage, while "Fall On You" is a cover of the Moby Grape standard - and a good one too. "Oldest Story in the World" is a kind of indie "House Of The Rising Sun", "Magic Touch" is straight out of the UK circa 1978, "A Million Miles Away" is the band's most famous cut, while "Jump Jive and Harmonize" is a cover of one of Thee Midnighters' songs. This leads straight into a cover of The Flamin' Groovies' "Jumpin' in the Night", which is full of snotty energy. "Now" is a riff-tastic album highlight, while two more covers close the album, The Everly Brothers' "Price of Love" and evergreen "Can't Judge A Book", both with terrific vocals and great backing vocals. Sheer heaven for power pop fanatics, and superbly recorded too. No wonder the audience loved 'em.

Drowner - s/tThe self-titled album by Drowner continues the epic voyage through heavily reverberated dream-pop currently being released by Saint Marie Records, who have already made big waves with The Sunshine Factory and others. "Point Dume" opens with multi-tracked female vocals, screaming feedback-drenched guitar and a fantastic drum sound, making an epic opener; a great song and a great sound. "Never Go Away" is softer and slower, with the distinctive shoegaze sound that the bands on this label specialise in. "Chime" is also slow, but Anna Bouchard's vocals are a little clearer in the mix - same great drum sound though, and a really good chorus. "Wildflowers" begins like an ambient Cocteau Twins before distorted guitars and subtle synths pick up the flow - a lovely track. "Written" is heavier, faster and darker, with rock-styled drums nearer in the mix, and more terrific vocals - an album highlight. "Tiny Ship" brings in the strings mellotron for that keening, elegiac sound, but again the cut is marked by Bouchard's outstanding vocals, here multi-tracked and effected into dreampop bliss; another highlight. "Here" has a massive guitar dropped into the middle, and "This" most obviously evokes the Cocteaus of all the tracks on this album. Two excellent remixes conclude the work. I really enjoyed this album - terrific songs, terrific voice, terrific production. Very good indeed, and thus recommended.

Ian Holloway, Rhodri Thomas & Stephen Jones - Simple Ghosts & Lazy Old BonesQuiet World's path to global ambient domination continues with Simple Ghosts & Lazy Old Bones by Ian Holloway, Rhodri Thomas & Stephen Jones, who on their five track mini-album combine synth drones, percussion and ethnic instruments to good effect. "Long Live The New Flesh" is only three and a bit minutes but it sets up a lovely atmosphere, while "Halcyon" is an Ian Holloway solo piece on ukulele and field recordings - very quiet, rather lovely, with ‘shells’, presumably real shells, making a subtle ticking-clock background. "Licking Pennies Off A Wall" is a quiet collision between guitar and samples, while the fourteen minute central cut of the album, "I Am An Owl", is another Holloway solo, created from recorded sounds, kalimba (thumb piano) and rain stick. The album closes with "Stumble Slightly Lower", in which all three musicians combine to create a brief window into a strange world evoking short wave radio.

Heart of Palm - PsychopompHeart of Palm, though on the Quiet World label - normally purveyors of relaxing ambience - have stepped out of the label's comfort zone for their noisy, occasionally very noisy album Psychopomp, which over thirteen brief cuts (some hovering around the one minute mark) explores a kind of weird gothic electronica, all disturbing voices, clashing percussion, harsh textures and jerky rhythms. This is Faust-inspired improv music from an Ohio-based trio ("Improvise or Die") which unsettles and intrigues in equal measure. The use of distorted voices gives a human element to the music, though mostly it is avante-garde, and will be too strange for some tastes.

Psychological Strategy Board - Collision/Detection v1Collision/Detection v1 by Psychological Strategy Board is a twelve minute experimental remix project, in which a central core of audio material provided by label Front & Follow is distributed amongst various collaborators for sonic reworking. Further EPs will follow during 2012, digitally distributed. "The Synthetic Profile" forces electronics against samples, "Enharmonic Bow" is more of a spooky trip, "Internal Workings of a Noise Intoner" is a mash-up of noise and electronics, while "Channel Steamer" is a heavy synth workout. The brevity of these cuts does not help them, but it's interesting enough listening, though, inevitably, rather disposable.

Jack Jeffery - The Constant That RemainsJack Jeffery cites Alan Parsons, ELP, Peter Gabriel and the Floyd for his second album of alt-prog songs The Constant That Remains. "We Need It Back", the opening cut, is a medium paced, mournful dirge of a song, where the heavily delayed vocals are rather distracting through the entire song. "Rearranged" is much better however, an acoustic piece with nice guitar and a cello accompaniment. "A Plea to a Dreamer" has better vocals and an imaginative production, while "Gavotte for African Steel Guitar" is a delightful little instrumental. "Fade Away" returns the listener to progressive influences for another slow, melancholy cut where the Alan Parsons Project influence is clear - an album highlight - while "The Sinus Wall" is a Floydian, guitar-based instrumental, and pretty good too. "Everything Changes" has a nice production but is a bit of a non-song, "Valencian Cosmos", another instrumental, is much better, with a lovely mixture of oscillating synths and Spanish guitar - nice. "Ascendancy" is a synth-heavy instrumental with an 80s prog sound, while album closer "Carry On" matches eerie guitar, synth effects and vocals to good effect. The instrumentals are better than the songs on this interesting but slightly patchy album, production values are good, but a few good tunes wouldn't go amiss. Definitely one for prog-heads though.

Reanimation - Giants Hide Among UsGiants Hide Among Us by Reanimation is effectively a solo album by sonic explorer Michael Shanahan, exploring progressive, often instrumental, music over eight cuts, opening with the multi-stranded "The Wheel of Life", which throws guitars, bass and drums into a big prog melting pot to create a stormer of a track - bet this would be great live. "Mara the Tempter" has more of a psychedelic feel - echoes of 70s stompers - and is another strong track, while "The Beautiful Unknown" brings in vocals - not entirely successfully, it has to be said. The production on the track is good however, with more excellent guitar. "The Single Song Of All" opens with doomy synths and a tough drum sound, before bass and synths come in, making the best track on the album; better vocals here. A Spanish guitar strumming away introduces the listener to "Repentance", which also features the trademark distorted/extended guitar (played with slide and ebow) that ripples through this album; lovely synth solo too. "That Is All" alas is spoiled by the vocals, but the nine minute "A New Dawn" is better, and the thirteen minute album closer "Diffusing the Bomb" collects all the elements of repeated structures, drones and distorted guitars into a final cut that rampages, dances, then trips through various moods. Well worth investigating, though, as with Jack Jeffery, the vocals are a bit of an acquired taste.

Black Fortress of Opium - StratosphericalBlack Fortress of Opium on their second album Stratospherical combine heavy riffage with monster drums (courtesy Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls), massed electric guitars and spooky vocals. The core of the band remains the same as the debut, Tony Savarino on guitars and Adja on vocals and various instruments. Opener "Blood Diamond" is a great cut, all swagger and metal, but "Afyonkarahisar Battle Cry" evokes the Near Eastern regions that this band are grounded in. The track is atmospheric, with terrific vocals; excellent bass too. Adja's voice soars over the material like an astrally high Siouxsie, while a hint of mandolin adds that exotic element. Superb. "Blind" showcases Adja's voice on another excellent cut, this one slower, while "Fata Morgana" is even slower and lighter, focusing on the mandolin again. "Regret & Rue" matches rolling bass and tight drumming with keening vocals, while the more traditional "Right Around Here" sounds like an attempt at a single. "Unraveling" is another slow, atmospheric cut with soaring guitar and a mournful vocal, "Southern Hymnal" features a particularly good vocal and some lovely Americana-styled guitar, "Cherry Blossom'"is a stomping rocker with Zep influences, "Get the Timing" slows things down again and is the calm before the storm that is album closer "This Dark Cloud", which encapsulates everything that has gone before: big riffs, pounding drums, big vocals and lots of them. Great stuff. Fans of psych rockers like The Higher Craft and Earthling Society would like this band. The album is excellent, and comes recommended; evocative artwork completes a very attractive package.

Isidore - Life Somewhere ElseA melange of sound effects opens  by Isidore, which essentially is Steve Kilbey of The Church (sounding a little like Ian McCulloch of Echo & The Bunnymen on this one) and Jeffrey Cain of Remy Zero. Opener "The Privateer" is evocative and beautifully sung in that baritone voice so enjoyed by fans of The Church, while the title track is similarly evocative, with a lovely tune and gorgeous production - an album highlight. "Old Black Spirit" has a Hook-y bass and a conversational vocal, the minimal production contributing to the focus on the lyric. Already the tone of the work is set: beauty and melancholy combined, with high production values. "Recoil" is more electronic than other cuts elsewhere, but "Some Reverse Magic" has another nice bass, thrumming beneath the vocal and arpeggiated guitars, arranged in traditional song format. "Oh My Sky" lurches curiously, "Just Dust" is perhaps out of place (noisy and dirty), but "Belle in Mid Air" returns the listener to the full-forward propulsion of guitars, bass and drums, with vocals floated over the top. On "Readymade" the mix of electronic and acoustic is perfect, "Song for the Moon" is really lovely, with Kilbey again sounding a little like Echo & The Bunnymen's Mac. The album closes with two really catchy songs, of which "The Headlight Child" is the poppier and "You Will Remain" the more evocative. A work of poise, depth and beauty.

The Method - Art Gallery / The Gatekeeper and INoisy Welsh artniks The Method shout and stomp on their double A-side "Art Gallery"/"The Gatekeeper and I", which evokes harmonised Madchester vocals, a Hugh Cornwell-era Stranglers guitar sound, and a stop-start production. Track 1 - trashy and bright. Track 2 - bright and loose and slightly bonkers. Great stuff. (No Other Press & Publicity)

Regular readers of Rumbles will know I'm a huge fan of the two most recent 17 Pygmies releases, which managed to combine shimmering beauty, melody and San Francisco weirdness into a compelling whole. Now we venture into the third and alas final part of the Celestina story (the tracks here numbered 23 to 331/3, or more accurately XXIII to XXXIII.III), Even Celestina Gets the Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics). As before, the music is often in 3/4 time, with strong musical themes repeating beneath the synths, effects and vocals soaring above. 17 Pygmies - Even Celestina Gets the Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics)Track "23" opens proceedings, then the first song proper emerges, with another pair of themes that propel the listener space-wards. Lovely stuff. "25" again captures the magic of this music, with repeating themes and evocative vocals, while "26" is a kind of audio hymn. The lengthy "27" begins like a space synth-funeral, but then heads off into the kind of instrumental Hawkwind were doing in the early 90s, except here more weird and jump-cut. "28" mixes main man Jackson Del Rey and Meg Maryatt's vocals into a cut that epitomises the Celestina sound, while "29" brings in extra percussion, and "30" some lovely classical elements, making the album highlight; sublime vocals too, and a lovely tune. "31" features classical guitar, "32" returns us to repeating melodies sung in that oh so mournful voice, while the final pair of tracks conclude the album with grace. As a whole, CI, CII and now CIII comprise a marvellous showcase for a most intriguing band. Highly recommended, as an album and for the work as a whole, with the standard of the artwork particularly fabulous. But where will 17 Pygmies go next...? (Trakwerx Records)

England in 1819 - AlmaEngland In 1819 are brothers Andrew and Dan Callaway and their father Liam, who on Alma present songs of introspection and post-rock grandeur, and while comparisons with Elbow are a little wide of the mark, there is an epic quality to many of the songs here. "Air That We Once Breathed" sets the template for the songwriting style: quiet openings building to dramatic climaxes. Main songwriter Andrew Callaway spends a lot of time preparing the music, which is then worked on by the rest of the band, as evidenced by the second track "Blue Ribbon", an album highlight, which builds to an emotive climax with some great vocals. "Chaplin Speaks" features a fine choppy guitar, above which more emotive vocals rise and fall, aided variously by piano and then the whole band. "Littil Batur" is a brief instrumental that serves to separate parts of the album, with "Skyscraper" coming up next, a track of Coldplay-styled intensity. "Waterfall" is mostly quiet, which works well, but then it adds a slightly incongruous intense section at the end, as if ‘required.’ "Emily Jane" though works like "Littil Batur", breaking the middle and final parts of the work. "The Elephant" features a classic Coldplay descending bassline, "To Sea in a Sieve" is quietly beautiful, while the title track closes the album as it began: opening calm, ending anthemic. There is a lot to recommend here, with the similarity of the songs' compositions being balanced by the album's tripartite structure, and so, just about, saving it. And subsequent listens do prove the album's quality.

Crystal Bright & The Silver Hands - Muses & BonesA collection of world music-influenced carnival songs would be the best description of Muses & Bones by American chanteuse Crystal Bright & The Silver Hands - all accordion, circus whimsicality and darkly suggestive uncertainty. Openers "Especially Your Mother" and "Drowned Out" set the mood and tone, with Bright's vocals alternately hushed, eerie, manic and soaring. "The Misplaced Zygote" displays her extraordinary vocal range, set against Mercury Rev-style musical saw accompaniment, "Adungu" concludes with a terrific drum and percussion breakdown, while "Corpus Callosum" (another anatomy based song) is the strongest track on the album, alternately lilting and lurching, with another virtuoso vocal performance. "Today" is softer and more traditional, with Mariachi style accompaniment arriving near the end. "Toy Hammer" is circus entertainment to the maximum - atmospheric stuff that fans of Beat Circus would love - while "In December" completely changes the tone; eerie, slow, haunting, with comparatively minimal vocals set low in the mix. "Killing Table" brings a kind of fragile operatic virtuosity to the vocal, while "Spiral Sky" is similar in tone and feel. Concluding cut "Little Match Girl" is very slow and spooky, with a restrained, though emotive vocal. Overall, a varied, involving listen, where circus whimsy is balanced by sincerity and feeling. Unusual instrumentation adds to the originality, while the manic first half and more restrained second half works well overall.

Super Distortion - Utopia InternationalSuper Distortion is essentially Pete Bradley, who on Utopia International brings a wide range of influences to a psychedelic melting pot, opening with the clear early Neil Young influence of album opener "Beautiful Life", which through guitar mangling and phased, multi-tracked vocals creates an excellent opening cut. The much shorter "Think Only Good Things" attempts 'Barrettry', "Mr Spock" is heavy and full of riffola, while album highlight "The Golden Rule" begins with simple vocals that slowly are augmented by more, by backing vocals, and then by a retro organ. "Can You See The Patterns?" reminded me a little of early Porcupine Tree, not least in the vocal styling, while "Mind King" is very well produced and played. "Walking Down The Street" returns the listener to riffage and a 5/4 time signature, again with effected and multiplied backing vocals. "Living Thing" sounds like a mutant Stranglers out-take from 1978, but "Open" is much more serious, with really nice guitar and ethnic effects - another album highlight, this one with a clear 60s vibe. Album closer "Captain Impossible" is a bit mad. This album rocks, get sentimental on occasion, and always entertains. Really good stuff. (Pointy Bird Records)

Jacques, A Robin - StatuettesStatuettes by Jacques, A Robin is either a very short album or a long EP, focusing on the softly dark songs of Italian expatriate Davide Ariasso, whose soulful voice contains echoes of Antony and the Johnsons. Opening with "The Marble Boy", the luminous beauty of the arrangements is immediate - chamber orchestra instruments, acoustic guitar and pattering drums, over which Ariasso's voice oozes. "Butterfly on the Wall" opens with a keening violin, before a waltz-time tune emerges, this one with hints of folk, in tone and lyric; additional vocals beef up the chorus. There is another hint of folk in "Her Belly Scar", whose simple arrangement is very effective. "Josephine and the Lantern" brings in more backing vocals to augment the otherwise simple arrangement, while "The Witch's Son" is a very dark waltz-time trip beneath which a piano ripples. "Cathedrals in the Sun" reminded me of More Love and Death, the 2009 album by Johnny Parry, while album closer "My Spectral Summer" is a melancholy summer lament. Fans of Last Harbour would definitely like this one, as would those who enjoyed Parry's album. Definitely recommended.

Sara Radle - Same Sun ShinesTexan resident and former member of The Rentals, Sara Radle has a fifth solo album out entitled Same Sun Shines, a collection of ten idiosyncratic songs encompassing the pleasures and difficulties of life. This is more of a solo album than many, as Radle plays most of the instruments herself. "Last" is a kind of slow military groove, but "Little One" is more of a traditional pop song, with a catchy tune and subtle arrangement; only two minutes though! "The Pins" brings in thunking drums, bass and choppy electric guitar, while "Can't Go On" is another brief encapsulation of life's down side: "I've got a bone to pick with you". "Still Here" is a kind of sullen, stop-start song, leading to "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", a cover of the Ed & Patsy Bruce classic, here sung in partnership with singer and long-time friend of the Terrascope Mary Lou Lord, who Radle has admired for some time - a successful duet. An uptempo honky tonk piano opens "The Game", which offers more tart observations, but "My Beloved" seems more sincere, and is sung in a style more befitting the sentiment. "There's a Change" is an electro-stomper slightly out of kilter with the feel of the rest of the album (though not a bad song in itself - classic singalong chorus), while the album concludes with "Bye For Now", which is more positive about life, and which showcases Radle's fine melodic ear. High quality, well made and enjoyable.

Tessa Kautzman - Shredded Eagle, Sad TambourineCanadian chanteuse Tessa Kautzman occupies similar territory to Radle - a solo singer songwriter presenting a cluster of songs on Shredded Eagle, Sad Tambourine, with life as their subject. Kautzman plays most instruments here, but other musicians complete the full band, the format essentially drums, bass, guitar and keyboards. The arrangements are stripped back, but occasionally venture into something fuller, usually with drummer Jordan Perry underneath, occasionally with brass and violin additions; a terrific sax break enlivens "Optimistic" for instance. "Can't Remember the Last Time" is a quirky little observation of life's boredoms, but "I Will" is a more confident lyric about taking life into your own hands. "In My Mind" is the standout track of the album, musically and lyrically, with propulsive drumming and nice guitar licks. "Spell" rocks out, while "The Next Day's Fight", the longest cut on the album, opens with haunting dual vocals and is another highlight, although it seems to be about depression. A contemplative album sung with sincerity.

The Vévé Seashore - Seven Years Of GulliverThe Vévé Seashore specialise in outsider lo-fi weirdness, one man and his acoustic guitar augmented by strange electronica; on Seven Years Of Gulliver the music seems to come from places both nearby and very far away. "Bitter Advice" sounds like it was recorded in a massive bathroom, "Lamb With Claws" is less than a minute - vocals, guitar and tinkling percussion but no tune to speak of. "Marbles on the Stairs" also has bathroom acoustics. "Ein Umgestürtzer Hafen" changes the mood by taking the listener into drum-heavy, distorted gothic electronica; no vocals here. "A Cup of Coffe for Your Fears" is much more melodic than anything that has gone before, "Seven Years Carpet" is suitably trippy and again has a nice chorus, "Seven Inch Script" sounds like a psychedelic barn experiment, while the six minute "Seven Inch Script III" is a great Floydian journey, and is one of the album highlights. "Seven Inch Script IV" brings synthesizers into the equation and is especially trippy, with alien-style vocals, while "I'm A Full Cloud" plays with cut-up repeated fragments of song that eventually merge into plangent acoustica. "(hidden)" appears to be backwards, while album conclusion "Why Birds Ate My Finger" is further trippy nonsensical madness. A bit of a curate's egg this one - trippier-than-thou in places, sometimes willfully bonkers, but possessed of charm where the madness is stripped away. (Dying For Bad Music)

Rella The Woodcutter - The Golden UndertowThe Golden Undertow by Rella The Woodcutter is also lo-fi and trippy. "Dear Star" is not well recorded, but the recording levels seem to have been set correctly on the Velvety "Bonobo", which channels sinister retro vibes, like a gothic Doors. "A Forest Journey" is stark, "Black Universe" is stark but not so listenable, while "My Ship" is needlessly minimal. "Leave Your Home" has a lovely flute, but again has been poorly recorded. "Inside Gratitude" floats along, "Five" has a nice accompanying guitar, "The Golden Undertow" is a bit of a dirge, but the eight minute "Drugtime Family" is Velvets-inspired entertainment, and is by far the best track on the album. If your brain is fried, you might like this album. (Boring Machines)

P.A.U.L. - We Have Always Lived in the CastleOn We Have Always Lived in the Castle by P.A.U.L. a kind of eerie, half acoustic, half processed music creeps out of the speakers, opening with piano but swiftly lurching into dark, bassy electronica reminiscent in places of the very early Klaus Schulze albums. Spoken word intrusions litter the music, elsewhere the piano returns, synths wheeze, and there's even a song. The mixture of electronica, poetry, sound effects and music is like a glimpse into somebody's thoughts, here delivered through audio trickery. Very strange. "There Was A Crack in His Head and A Little Bit of the Dark World Came Through and Pressed Him to Death" is possibly even weirder, though the general soundworld is the same. The mood is very dark, almost despairing: the electronic sounds support this, and develop the bleak mood, although in places, and very occasionally, the sun does come out. Very, very strange.

Clepsydra - Marmalade SkyClepsydra are Italian psychedelic explorers from the realm of retro-mania, a land where bands congregated in garages and sang harmony-laden tunes, many of them of the ‘three minute pop song’ variety. On the band's third studio album Marmalade Sky the themes are indeed tuneful, the playing tough and spiky, the harmonies floaty. "Love" is classic garage single material, but "Coffee, Slip and Popcorn" is harder edged, while "Jimi Plays My Guitar" evokes Hendrix in sound and tone - nice cut this, though, inevitably, the guitar mangling is a bit tame. "Sunset in LA" is a two minute acoustic-based track, "Asa Phelps" is punky pop, but "Peyote" is softer, with intriguing lyrics and an almost Doorsy guitar sound - an album highlight, this. "Nautilus" is very fluffy, with a great guitar sound, "Caravan for the Third Sun" is trippy (narrations, sound effects and all), while album closer "There's Still Time Anyway" is another acoustic track, that reminded me of Anton Barbeau's recent output, which is a good thing. This album is very well made, engaging, enjoyable and a great listen. One for psych explorers.

Anduin - Forever WaitingSome years ago I reviewed Forever Waiting, the last album by Anduin, which explored spooky electronic avenues in an original way. Jonathan Lee's new release, Stolen Years, is a collection of pieces reassembled into an album after a series of unfortunate events involving a burglary at his house. The music, I am glad to say, is as good as before. Opening with the very eerie "Behind the Voyeur's Wall of Glass", a mood is immediately set: ghostly voices, melancholy reed instruments and electronica, all merging into a spooky whole. "I Come from Mockingbird States" brings in natural sounds and doomy synths, "Invisible Materials at Work" again uses half-heard sound samples and reeds (saxophones mostly) to create a strange and wonderful atmosphere, while "The Transformation of Substance", my favourite track on the album, melds an oscillating synth sound to watery sound effects and distant keyboards. Terrific. The second half of the album opens with another 'eerie soundscape' cut, "Dyadic Twenty Seven", then "All the Blue Jays You Want" brings in modern synth sounds over a gloomy chordscape - another highlight. "A Great Canopy of Smoke" floats improvised saxophone over groaning synth chords, before album closer "Irene" goes all majestic and major key. Add luxurious artwork where each track has its own card and you have a superb object and forty minutes of outstanding electronica. Highly recommended.

Geese - All Property is Theft, All Flesh is GrassAll Property is Theft, All Flesh is Grass by Geese is a collection of nine sample-o-delic songs of the experimental variety. The lyrics cover power and love, loss and madness, the feel is kinda psychedelic, kinda poppy, kinda somewhere between the two. Arrangements are bright, sometimes brassy, always unusual. A Northern voice evoking John Cooper Clarke (a little) opens "Location, Location, Apocalypse" with its keening strings mellotron, before the bonkers "Twisterella". "Pink Guitar" is quirky and very trippy, and the trippy substrate of the band hoves into view again on album ‘madder than thou’ cut "Mr Breughel, Hieronymous is Here" - a mediaeval painter confection. "Can't Find the Way" calms everything down and goes all melodious, "Acid Mondays" is distorted and then sing-a-long, while "Trenchcoat" is a sort of acoustic ballad. Album closer "Damned for All Time" is the longest cut on the album but the least successful. All in all, a trippy listen, an interesting one, and mostly successful. (Vanity Case Records)

Bill Demain - Extented Stay EPThe EP Extended Stay by Bill DeMain is a six-cut collection of confessional singer-songwriter material, opening with the rolling and lyrical "Looking for a Place to Live", which sets out the stall very nicely: a great tune beautifully sung. "St Joe's '75" does 70s glam backing vocals and chord sequences nicely, with a touch of Hammond thrown in, "In Your Letter" has DeMain crooning over a piano and orchestral instruments, "Honeylove" is a very short cut with female backing vocals and a subtle arrangement - a pity it's so short, as it's good - while "Common Love Song" is also short but a bit of a rocker, with multiple backing vocals and analogue synth. The EP closes with the reflective "Raggedy Man". DeMain's so-smooth voice and conversational style makes these tracks easy to listen to, but not so easy they become sickly sweet. A good piece of work.

Cheers Elephant - Like Wind Blows FireCheers Elephant hail from Philadelphia and do Dr Dog influenced Americana style pop-rock. And they do it pretty well. Opener "Peoples" presents an upbeat tune and sound, confident and engaging vocals, and lots of backing vocals. A striking opening. "Doin' It, Right" is faster and chunkier with a great bass and solid drums, and more of those catchy vocals. "Falling Out" keeps up the melodious standard, but "Leaves" is a bit of an aberration in tone and sound. "Party On Darwin" and "Get YA!" are rather forgettable, but "Thought and Commensense" returns the band to the stylish pop-rock which is their stock-in-trade. The album ends with the lengthy "Balloon in the City", which slows everything down, but has a strong tune and more swoon-some backing vocals. There is much promise in this album, though further work, I feel, does need to be done. (Team Clermont Promotion)

Heroin in Tahiti - Death SurfIf a collision of Morricone spaghetti western and lo-fi analogue weirdness is your thing, then Death Surf by Heroin In Tahiti could very well be for you. A duo hailing from the run-down east end of Rome, where everything apparently is dirty and decayed, the band proffer tremelo-heavy, synth-suffused soundscapes on this rather brilliant album. There are no vocals and the sound varies only a little from cut to cut, keeping that melange of guitar, synths and sounds, but the overall effect is easy on the ear, engaging, and very well done. There's some great guitar playing, some unusual sonic landscapes, and through it all a shot of weirdness that keeps the whole edifice from falling down. Very good, though avante-garde lovers will find it too sweet, and electronica fans may consider it too mannered. I like it a lot. I still like it a lot after a few plays. Buongiorno! (Boring Machines)

Silo Halo - Night and the CityThe album Night and the City by Silo Halo is a collection of rather doomy, reverb-heavy cuts exploring themes of loss. Dual vocals - male and female, and alas not mixed very well into the music on the opening "Out of Your Fugue" - carry these themes in a style not quite shoegaze, not quite retro, not quite pop or rock. "Wonderful Gift" is perhaps more uplifting, but "You Don't Dream" again suffers from a middley DIY sound and vocals too low in the mix to comprehend. "I'm Still Slamming My Head Against A Brick Wall" has lots of energy and is better, the title track is slow and melancholy, while album closer "Stones Against Her Chest", the longest cut on the album by far, is full of energy and features some great guitar playing. A bit of a curate's egg this one, and I do think that the sound, especially the positioning of the vocals, acts against the music and the band, even for a group going for a DIY shoegaze sound. (Etxe Records)

Hisato Higuchi - Bara Bara Na BamenHisato Higuchi is a Japanese musician who on Bara Bara Na Bamen (which roughly translates in english: 'Scattered Scenes') presents an album of minimal (almost non-existent in some places) tracks, all of which marry quiet, reflective guitar playing with vocals that in many places sound more like a cello, or some other stringed instrument with bassy tones. Though split into thirteen cuts, the album varies not at all in timbre through its thirty two minute duration, but this shortness, allied to the brevity of the tracks, does make it listenable. It's a curious experience though, as that peculiar vocal style drifts over a peculiar guitar style. If nothing else, the album is unique. (Apollolaan Recordings)

Dumb  Angel - Eight Moments of SpringEight Moments of Spring by Canadian band Dumb Angel was recorded wih Jace Kasek of the mighty Besnard Lakes (great band). This is a work of folky acoustica with occasional pop and rock elements - and a hint of spacey psychedelia, not least in the heavily reverberated, half-whispered vocals. "Then and Now" is mournful in the extreme, but beautifully recorded, and, with gorgeous backing vocals, easy to listen to. Though Dumb Angel is essentially a vehicle for main man Shaun Mason, the album has a band feel, not least on the highlight track "Victoria", which is a lovely cut. "Elevator" explores further the soundscape of slow and melancholy, as does "Silence", "Work of Art" and the glacially slow "Without You Without Me". "Reflection" and the almost anthemic "Rosary" end the album in similar style. Although this is a good listen, beautifully done and engaging, over the course of fifty three minutes perhaps a little more variety in tempo and timbre could have been considered. A really good album however, with much to explore and much to recommend.

Otowala - s/tOtowala are a trio of musicians, Michiro Negishi, John O'Reilly and Stephen Zieminski, who make progressive-sounding instrumental music on their debut album Otowala. There is a bit of Chris Squire bass, complex drumming, bouncing keyboards and LOTS of unusual time signatures. Very many complex time signatures. Opener "Sock" has all the aforementioned elements, creating a kind of modern-sounding chamber King Crimson. On "Crocodile Smile" the band's raison d'être - to search for the unfamiliar through the individual writing styles of the band members - is clearly illustrated, as the track presents mallet instruments, piano and bass to the unwary listener. "Autumn '91" is perhaps the most successful track on the album, with its punchy drums, simple keyboards and thrumming bass. It sounds like an half forgotten nightmare from a random member of Yes circa 1971. Overall the album is clever, and certainly listenable... but perhaps it is a little too clever for its own good. Prog-heads will love it.

Cat Frequency by Cat Frequency is in fact one-man-band Mark Forster, who hails from Norwich in Norfolk. The feel of this EP is psychedelic, the instrumentation mellotron-heavy, the guitars drenched in effects, and often backwards. A lo-fi aura suffuses the work, which in this case does act in the music's favour. Opener "Golden Sun" is a great evocation of all things hippy dippy 60s, while "Burning Wheels" rocks out majorly. "Lemon Jelly" rolls along nicely, with some effective backing keyboards and a nice distorto-guitar break. "Captain Al Hubbard" hails from an alternative 1968 I suspect, and is my favourite track, while closer "And in the End" is a synth-heavy oddity which makes for a satisfying conclusion to the trip. Just one problem - the EP is mastered hot, which is very tiring on the human ear and makes for audible ‘pumping’ in a couple of places. Needs more dynamics. An interesting work for fans of psychedelia, though.

Edgar Breau - Patches of BlueEdgar Breau is the man behind Simply Saucer, long-time Canadian darlings of the punky rocky hinterland and twice veterans of Terrastock 7 (their first set was rained off, so they kindly played again later on), who on his new solo album Patches of Blue continues the singer-songwriter path that he has followed since the late 80s. Opener "Patches of Blue" is an upbeat dirge, but the outstanding "Open Road" is a marvel of girly backing vocals, a tune and a great arrangement. A single for sure: "You're so Yesterday!" 'Pennsylvania' opens with clawhammer acoustic guitar (echoes of John Fahey) and skreeky violin, before another impassioned vocal begins. "One Kind of Love" features a faux-Stevie Wonder wah-key, and more great girly backing vocals: another top cut. "Maria, The Sea and the Sun" is a tale of accidental meeting and subsequent love, which again merges beautifully Breau's leading vocal and perfectly judged backing vocals. Niiiiiice. The too-short "Girl On A Carousel" bounces along, "Dreams of Kerouac" is almost country-style, while "She Love Me Like a Train" is incomprehensible but evocative. Album closer "Dandelion Kingdom" has a curious, almost naïve vocal and a confessional feel. A really good album with much to explore.

GRich Osborn - Giving Voice: Guitar Explorationsiving Voice: Guitar Explorations by Rich Osborn is an extraordinary album of acoustic guitar instrumentals played in a ‘raga’ style, which essentially means taking the improvisatory modes of Indian music (for example of sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, who influenced Osborn's playing) and catapulting them into a Western style. Though having studied with noted guitarist Robbie Basho in the 60s, a traumatic hand injury left Osborn unable to play for twenty years, all of which makes the beauty, peace and wonder for the eight instrumentals here all the greater. Their serenity is marvellous, underpinned as they are by a kind of calm emotion that is ideal for nocturnal ‘winding down’ moments. The tracks range from the lengthy "The View from San Damiano, with Rain", referencing Leo Brouwer, to the brief concluding track "Hard Time", which is wonderfully calm. A revelatory album - marvellous.

The Primitives - Echoes and RhymesHere now is another band in power-pop Plimsouls mode, reformed and rediscovered for a modern audience - The Primitives, who on their album Echoes and Rhymes present a manic fourteen-track skip and run through a catalogue of cuts all of which come from little known female-fronted 60s bands. Openers "Panic" and "Turn Off the Moon" are very catchy two-minutes songs, sung in off-the-peg style by Tracy Tracy, while bandmates Paul, Tig and Paul provide solid support. "Move It On Over" is irresistible, "Sunshine In My Rainy Day Mind" groovy, "Til You Say You'll Be Mine" a UK post-punk leftover, "The Witch" scary, "I Surrender" Motowny, "Amoureux d'une Affiche" sung in French for that crossover market, while "Where Will You Be" is almost a ballad. "Who are You Trying to Fool" merges fuzzed-up guitars with a classic 60s melody, "Time Slips Away" grooves, while concluding cut "Wild Flower" opens with male vocals before Tracy Tracy re-emerges. This album is simply irresistible - superbly done, never less than catchy, sunny and joyful. Highly recommended. (Elefant Records)

Love Camp VII - s/tGreat idea for an album: write a collection of songs all of which have the same titles as American release Beatles albums. The result? Love Camp VII by Love Camp 7. Opener "Meet The Beatles" is uptempo bouncy catchy pop-lite, "The Beatles' Second Album" is bouncy pop-lite, which like the opener has a stripped-back band arrangement. "A Hard Day's Night" rocks things up a little and sounds like a Rezillos cast-off, "Beatles '65" is a bit of a damp squib (no pun intended), while "Help!" brings in synths and a distorted vocal, unsuccessfully. "Beatles VI" is calmer and more pleasant, "Rubber Soul" has a nice Indo-style guitar though no perceptible tune, "Revolver" blands out, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" - the track I was dreading having to listen to - is actually pretty good, while "Magical Mystery Tour" is painful. "The Beatles" grooves and distorts nicely, "Let It Be" is just plain silly, while "Abbey Road" is the highlight of the whole experience - a great little song. There is no middle ground on this album; some tracks work, some fail. If you are a Love Camp 7 fan, recommended: if you are a Beatles fan, avoid.

Rich Batsford - Valentine CourtValentine Court by Rich Batsford is an intriguing album of piano based instrumentals by this Buddhist, comedy booking-agent who also sings in a Four Seasons tribute band. Referencing Satie, Philip Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Harold Budd, each track is essentially a miniature, like a tiny painted exposition. Some roll and reflect ("So Steve") while others are calmer, quieter, more melancholy. As a whole the album is rather a delight: perfect for a solitary Sunday morning.

Three Fields - Cambridge BlueThree Fields is, I suspect (the album notes and one-sheet are deliberately vague), a solo artist, here on the album Cambridge Blue creating lush, warm and listenable electronica from a maze of samplers, keyboards, synths and effects units. "Aurora" merges distant synth-washes and piano motifs, while "Chorus Synth", as its name suggests, is full of synths with the chorus effect on full - a lovely track, with all the valve/tape warmth that the composer wanted. "Isolator" is similar in tone, though a little more ambient, while "Low Grey Sky" matches sequences with softly drifting keyboard washes. "Interland" could easily have come from the studios of Edgar Froese just as the 1980s were getting going, while "Above" floats Banco-style synths over a lovely repeating motif. The title track is a brief synth-sketch, while "With Piano" returns the listener to the sound world of the first track. This is a really good album of warm, well composed and attractive electronica. Recommended.

Sun Zoom Spark - Saturn ReturnFrom Tucson Arizona come psych-rockers Sun Zoom Spark, who on their album Saturn Return present something ‘between the garage, the studio and the stars,’ as Aural Innovations founder Jerry Kranitz noted in 2005, when the album was first released. I do believe we reviewed it at the time, as well. Now the subject of a documentary made by bandleader Eric Johnson (which I've not seen), these are thirteen tracks of garagey psych songs by a stripped-back four-piece who just enjoy the experience of playing music in a band. Neither melodious nor innovatory, the cuts are certainly energetic and well played. Without seeing the film however, the relationship between this 2005 album and the documentary remains unknown. (SlowBurn Records)

Singer-songwriter Tom Conway, native of Edinburgh but now resident of Cambridge, comes over like Richard Thompson meeting Loudon Wainwright on his new album As Others See Us, as his one-sheet archly notes. On "Grain of Truth" the guitar playing ripples nicely, while Conway's baritone voice, with its air of telling the listener in person a particular story, floats above. Very nice indeed. And these are not the songs of a tormented soul, they are vignettes of ordinary life, Conway declares: meeting friends ("Lonely Old Guitar"), paintings ("We All Have Days Like That"), or people who are a bit of a nuisance ("That's How I Get By"). These are the sort of songs you would hope to hear from a well-liked performer in a well-liked pub. Album closer "I Don't Do Much" deals with the Greek gods in the witty and quite dry way illustrated by the rest of the album, keeping up the quality without difficulty. Good songs on a good album; and some nice fingerpicking.

Benjamin Folke Thomas - s/t EPThe self-titled EP offering by Benjamin Folke Thomas is a collection of six songs that for some reason reminded me of Van Morrison - perhaps the style of the singing, though Thomas' voice is not much like Van The Man's. "Rhythm & Blues" is a great little song, with a tune, a great arrangement and much zest; presented in the 70s it would have been a big hit. "Can't Live That Way" is slower and more confessional, while "Nothing Next To You" is an impassioned call, with nice mandolin strumming in the background, giving it a hint of REM perhaps. "Hole in My Heart Blues" brings in the lap steel guitar and is melancholy, while EP closer "Paradise Lost (Heaven Found)" is essentially the man and his guitar. An enjoyable listen, this EP, with depth, great songs and top performances.

Trent Miller & The Skeleton Jive - Welcome to Inferno ValleyLabel mates Trent Miller & The Skeleton Jive bring Thomas in on a couple of tracks for their album Welcome to Inferno Valley, wherein Trent Miller sings in world-weary, gritty tones - one of those voices ruined by decades of smoking and bad luck, although judging by the CD front cover the man himself is young. Opener "Inferno Valley" tells a tale of despair and no redemption, the backing band essentially acoustic guitars, violin and a few patters of percussion. "Last Chance Motel" is uptempo and Americana, with a strong tune carried by that distinctive voice. "Nowhere Road" is a ‘lonesome trail’ song, "Whispers of a Fool", covers the fairer sex, "Fear of Flying" is in similar territory (‘one too many drinks’) but adds backing vocals for a fuller effect, while "Come Down to Murder Love" is a terrific vocal performance of dark material. The brief "Witch Trials" is deceptively jaunty, while "Hunters in the Twilight" is a slow, mournful track where Miller's voice is as whiskey-ravaged and throaty as it is possible to be. Lovers of tale-telling Americana will enjoy this one.

Woodbine & Ivy Band / Sproatly Smith - Gently JohnnyOn Static Caravan Records, the single "Gently Johnny" is performed for us by two bands, favourites of Phil, the Woodbine & Ivy Band and the mighty Sproatly Smith. The former version is very slow and eerie, telling this classic tale of love and lust, while the Sproatlies' comes from their debut album The Yew And The Hare. Both great versions, it has to be said.

Sea Dweller - Signs of a Perfect DisasterSea Dweller on their album Signs of a Perfect Disaster present a short album of cuts that are almost too shoegaze and reverb-drenched for comfortable listening. The sound is deep and heavy, the valve amps are turned up to 11 - possibly 12 - and the vocals are incomprehensible in a sea of effects. It's just, inevitably, so Cocteaus - which is not a bad thing, but... Well, opener "Jump Line" is disguised by effects, but "Flashes" is better, with a great shimmering guitar standing beside the vocals. "I See the Sea from Here" replicates the Guthrie guitar sound, albeit with a twist, while "Marion" is the best track on the album, despite the stodgy mix. "Salt" and "Orange Tram" follow the same path, while "Free Fall" closes the listening experience by bringing in an 80s drum machine and adding a thrumming bass. An album both pleasant and unfulfilling.  (Upside Down Recordings)

Nastro - 300mq300mq by Nastro is an unsettling experience of electronic sounds mashed together into an industrial, sample-based melange. The overall effect over half an hour, is one of dislocation, almost shock, with eerie voices thrown at the listener from some haunted musical cyberspace. Two cuts of sixteen minutes each are indistinguishable in tone. One for those who enjoy the sound of techno-industry gone mad.  (Upside Down Recordings)


Tags: Miss Massive Snowflake, Temple Music, The Plimsouls, Drowner, Ian Holloway, Rhodri Thomas, Stephen Jones, Heart of Palm, Psychological Strategy Board, Jack Jeffery, Reanimation, Black Fortress of Opium, Isidore, The Method, 17 Pygmies, England In 1819, Crystal Bright & The Silver Hands, Super Distortion, Jacques A Robin, Sarah Radle, Tessa Kautzmann, Vévé Seashore, Rella The Woodcutter, P.A.U.L., Clepsydra, Anduin, Geese, Bill DeMain, Cheers Elephant, Heroin In Tahiti, Silo Halo, Hisato Higuchi, Dumb Angel, Otowala, Cat Frequency, Edgar Breau, Rich Osborn, The Primitives, Love Camp 7, Rich Batsford, Three Fields, Sun Zoom Spark, Tom Conway, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Trent Miller, The Skeleton Jive, Woodbine & Ivy Band, Sproatly Smith, Sea Dweller, Nastro

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