Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Prana Crafter - MindStreamBlessing


Mindful and meditative music from the Washington woodlands.


I've written before about the American musician William Sol, who musical nom-de-plume is Prana Crafter. His previous LP Rupture of Planes (on US label Deep Water Acres) mixed UK acid-folk with textural soundscapes to great effect. MindStreamBlessing, Sol's latest LP, freshly released on Eiderdown Records doesn't give away its influences as much but that's no bad thing. The finger-picked guitar is still there as are the electric flights of fancy but this time round the inspiration comes from deep within his own range of emotions.

Using a simple palette of guitar, drums and organ the music has a timeless, elemental quality, inspired by nature and vistas and the feeling of being far from the madding crowd. Fans of the much-missed Windham Hill label will feel an affinity with the music here. This six song LP is the perfect soundtrack for insomniac nights and the stillness and of early mornings. Don't expect hooks, riffs or gimmicks, but do expect subtle, slow-burning pieces that given time will have a deeper, longer lasting satisfaction. A fine example of solitary yet subtly cosmic Americana.


Released on digital download or as a limited edition cassette (100 copies only).

Click here for Prana Crafter on Twitter.
Click here for Eiderdown Records.

Kris Gietkowski - songs from the first LP by Egg

Polish muti-instrumentalist releases a bizarre but lovely labour of love!


I have to admit I'm not that familiar with the first LP by Egg, being still in nappies when it was released. My earliest musical memories coming a few years later and limited to the glam pop and tartan-clad boy bands prevalent on AM radio at the time. Anyway thanks to the powers of the Internet I've learnt that Egg were a three-piece prog band who signed to Decca in 1969 and released and eponymous debut LP a year later.

Fast forward 47 years and in a bizarre labour of love, Polish multi-instrumentalist Kris Gietkowski has decided to record a full length LP featuring most of the songs from Egg's first LP. Notice that that's most and not all, as the press release explains - “it's only 'most of' as one of the tracks would have taken him months to learn and he didn't fancy the ten second intro track on the original album.”

Reading that I knew I'd just love this LP, regardless of how it sounded. But anyway it sounds pretty good. A fully instumental album full of jazz-prog organ fugues, proto math-rock and quasi-classical passages in what I'm led to believe is a fairly faithful replica of the original LP. And it comes as a colour-in-colour vinyl LP, yellow in white to look like a poached egg. How can any self-respecting vinyl freak not dig that right!?!


Released as a colour-in-colour vinyl LP on April 17th. (300 copies only)

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.



Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals - The Volga Sturgeon Face EP


Soft Hearted Scientists' frontman releases solo EP.

It's difficult to think of a contemporary band as prolifically good as Soft Hearted Scientists. After seven LPs (and nary a bad one among them) the band are taking a year out to re-charge their collective battery. That's not to say they won't be making music. Frontman Nathan Hall has already enlisted a bunch of pals to back him on his debut solo EP. Ladies and gentleman say hello to Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals.

Fans of SHS will not be disappointed, this new outfit ploughs a similar furrow. The same astute, subversive worldview that characterised the best work of the SHS is present throughout this four song Extended Play. Wide ranging references, with equal portions of absudities and insights have always been hallmarks of Hall's work and here is no exception. But there's always a point to be made, be it with lyrics intent of taking revenge on the perpetrators of genocide, lamenting the passing of time or anaylising existencial crises. Clever stuff. No slouch with the music and textures either. Gentle neo-psych one minute, baroque pop the next before bursting out some ideas-packed prog the next. Neat work.

Tracklisting
Everybody's Burning Effigies
Songs For The Flowers
Like A Setting Sun
Catacombs Of Camden Town

Click here for Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals on Facebook.
Click here for more on Soft Hearted Scientists.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Interview with Emm Smith (Stereo Moon)


(This feature first appeared in issue 62 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview with Emm Smith click over the jump at the bottom of this post. Photo by Mat Manser.)
 
Canadian sonic adventurers go back to the future and top up their studio tans with Duncan Fletcher.

Ultimately I want to trip out like when you're dreaming, which can be the most amazing journey. Jumping from one adventure to another, seeing things appear in multiple places or configurations. Using the recording studio as an instrument. A Jerry Garcia quote says it best - 'mixing it for the hallucinations'” So says Stereo Moon mainman Emm Smith talking about modular recording, the technique pioneered by Brian Wilson on 'Good Vibrations' and SMiLE, and also utilised on Stereo Moon's latest outing, The Shape Of Psych To Come EP. Over its four tracks the band pick up the psych baton that was dropped by mainstream musicians in the late '60s. “I think in a Brian Wilson interview from that time he mentions the future of music being psychedelic and it doesn't happen. That future is a lie to some.”

Aside from the tightly arranged psych-pop of lead track 'Requiem For The Non-Believers', the band get to stretch out with free-form jamming and studio experimentation on the EP's instrumental tracks. They've also been obsessively re-working a debut LP, Smoking Shake By The Riverside, which should be ready for mixing next year. “There's a lyric in one of the songs that says, 'I've been driving myself insane but I wouldn't have it any other fucking way'. There's everything from pedal steel to horns, strings, double bass, organ, piano, banjo. I was laid-off from work in 2015 so production has slowed down. It costs money to rent a vibraphone for example, the next thing to get excited about! All the exotic instrumentation can be hard to find, or even people who can play them!”

Live shows are a less disciplined affair. Says Emm, “Live I’m going for more of a noisy Velvet Underground sound with psychedelic organ. For me the VU and The Beach Boys are the two ends of the spectrum I want to explore.”


Click here for Stereo Moon on Twitter.



Muscle - Muscle


Debut LP of quirky garage rock from Toulouse-based quartet.


One of the more interesting bands to have come into my orbit recently is Muscle. Mixing garage rock with hi-octane post-punk, their sound is quirky, off-kilter and full of enough interesting little twists, turns and additions to raise a smile from even the most jaded garage-head. The band formed in 2015 in Toulouse, France and contains members of Gaz Gaz, Crank!, Dividers and Liminanas.

Their quirky punk sound topped off with sharp, acerbic lyrics is a real tonic in troubled times. The've recently toured France, Switzerland and Belgium. Hopefully they'll make it over the Channel sometime but if you can't wait why not head across to France yourself? Muscle play the Binic Folk Blues Festival in Northwest France in July. A festival on a beach is as good an excuse as any for a cross-channel trip. Even more so if Muscle are playing! Have a listen to their eponymous LP below.

Out now on limited edition vinyl LP, CD, cassette or digital download.

Click here for Muscle on Bandcamp.
Click here for Muscle on Facebook.
Click here for more on Binic Folk Blues Festival.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Bendith - Bendith


(This review first appeared in issue 61 of Shindig! magazine.)

 
Agati CD

Top session guitarist and Colorama mainman Carwyn Ellis teams up with family harmonists Plu for this short but charming suite of Welsh language folk. Bendith means blessing in Welsh, a fitting title for a band and album that pays homage to family and fond childhood memories of time spent in Carmarthenshire. This is most notable on lead single 'Dannybanc', named after the home of Ellis' grandparents.

This firmly-rooted sense of place permeates the album with the sparse, subtle arrangements and acoustic instrumentation allowing the Plu siblings' voices to take centre stage. Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys' three-part harmonies are haunting, beautiful and mysterious, helping make the album into the perfect Sunday morning soundtrack

Minimalist and easy on the ear, this delightful modern folk will be of particular interest to those resident in west Wales, but will resonate further afield with anyone with open ears willing to give it a chance.

EZTV - High In Place


(This review was written for issue 61 of Shindig! magazine. They didn't use it due to lack of space so it's appearing here.)

Captured Tracks CD / LP

City-dwelling anxiety and problems caused by gentrification are explored on the band's 2nd LP. The world-weary lyrics against a backdrop of breezy 12-string guitars provides a happy/sad dynamic akin to glimpsing the sun through an imposing skyscraper skyline. It's this feeling that binds and runs through the whole album.

With their harmony drenched guitar pop, EZTV may be the natural heirs to Teenage Fanclub, bringing melodic, slightly melancholic jangle to a new generation. But for all their inspiration from the janglers of yore - The Byrds, Big Star, The Feelies et al, the New York-based trio still manage to sound like a band for now, one for today's indie-kids to claim as their own.

Guest appearances from Jenny Lewis, Chris Cohen and members of Real Estate and Quilt give the album a contemporary indie shimmer, as does the crystal clear self-production and Ezra Tenenbaum's wistful vocals. Big city loneliness has rarely sounded so good.


Jim Lea - Therapy


(This review first appeared in issue 61 of Shindig! magazine.)


Wienerworld CD

As the musical half of one of the UK's most successful songwriting partnerships it's no surprise the former Slade bassist's 2007 “midlife” album displayed his prodigious talents, with Lea playing almost every instrument on the record. For an album composed and recorded while Lea undertook a psychology course, what could have been an indulgent album, full of introspective navel-gazing, is actually a blast. Despite the preoccupation with self-exploration the album is full of brash and ballsy songs, with hooks and killer choruses aplenty. It seems the man cannot help writing belting pop-rock tunes, and can also knock out a pretty decent piano ballad ('Smile Of Elvis').

Reissued here with extra tracks and a bonus disc of a rare 2002 gig performed with a hastily assembled rhythm section “for the existential buzz”. Tearing through an incendiary covers-heavy set, the self-confessed “miserable one” from Slade sounds like he's having fun. Revelatory and immensely enjoyable.

Psychedelic Confessions of a Primal Screamer: The Tambourine years 1984-87 (Martin St. John)


(This review first appeared in issue 61 of Shindig! magazine.)


MARTIN ST. JOHN
Psychedelic Confessions of a Primal Screamer: The Tambourine years 1984-87
Self Published

Martin St. John AKA Joogs was the tambourine player in earliest line-up of Primal Scream, shared front of stage with Bobby Gillespie and helped shape the band's early musical and sartorial aesthetic. The mid-'80s Primals were of course a different band to the dance 'n' dub informed outfit they would eventually become. With his obvious fondness for the era, and a keen recall of detail St. John takes us back to the heady garage punk and jangle years. Although not a musician as such, his taste became central to the band's early style when their primary influences were the Velvet Underground and a raft of '60s garage bands, informed in part by the emergence of reissue labels.

The occasional spelling mistake and typo is more than compensated for by St. John's enthusiastic fanzine-style writing and with cameos from The Jesus & Mary Chain, Alan McGee, Julian Cope and The Cramps, it's a real heady blast.

Things began to fragment almost before the ink was dry on the band's first major label deal, and with Machiavellian machinations St. John became sidelined and surplus to requirement, but not before having shared acid trips, van crashes, airport cavity seaches and recording sessions for an aborted version of Sonic Flower Groove.

The Primals would of course go on to bigger things but as everyone who's been in a band knows there's no substitute for those early character-forming years when the camaraderie is high, along with the sense of possibility. Let's hear it for the tamby man!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Interview with Tobia Poltronieri (C+C=Maxigross)

(This feature first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unedited interview click over the jump at the bottom of this post.)

Duncan Fletcher talks with Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of Italian psych-collective C+C=Maxigross, about their new album and self-curated festival.


Since we were kids we organised illegal parties in the hills, in basements and in the mountains… After many years we decided to do our real thing, Lessinia Psych Fest was born in 2014 in a garden of a friend's house in the mountains. Jennifer Gentle and Miles Cooper Seaton from Akron/Family were the headliners. We met Miles at that festival, he was touring Italy by himself at the time. Now he lives in Verona with us… Just to make you understand that the vibe here is REALLY GOOD!… Finally the festival is growing! Next year you’re invited, and your readers too!”

Anyone craving a unique boutique festival experience is advised to accept this invitation from Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of C+C=Maxigross, an ever mutating collective who organise their own festival each July in the mountains near Verona. The band (whose name is taken from a local cash and carry) have a sound that mixes the organic mushroomy goodness of the early '70s, with the playful wide-eyed wonder of contemporaries such as The Flaming Lips, Devendra Banhart and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Their willingness to experiment and improvise, coupled with state-of-the-art pop production marks them out as standard bearers for 21st century freak-folk.

Their recently released 2nd LP Fluttarn is titled in Cimbrian, an arcane local language found only in the Lessinia hills. Fluttarn translates as "to flutter, to fly about or fly away". “For us Lessinia is pure magic and mystery”, say Tobia, “and one of these strange sides is this ancient and almost dead language, “Cimbro”, from the German people who came here in the Middle Ages. Sadly almost nobody’s talking in this language today.”

The language may be in danger but the beauty of their homeland remains a more permanent inspiration - “Only people from Verona go there… sad cos it's definitely worth a look! These mountains are amazing, gentle pre-Alps, wonderful and magic! This place has been the shelter for our relaxation and creativity, where to go when we want to escape the city and its hustle and bustle. With our label, Vaggimal records, we started to record other bands in our studio in the mountains, we spent a lot of time there, creating and exploring music, letting the good vibes take over.”

Aside from the hills the band cite their prime influence as Os Mutantes, one that extends beyond music - “Their music is amazing! Crazy, free, colourful, unexpected, melodic and groovy. Our vibes! But also the context where they grew up: a nation under a dictator, far from the Anglo-American scene they loved (from Haight-Ashbury to Swingin’ London, you know better than me)... Starting from Brazil, they created their own world, so strong and unique that still now has lots to say. It’s the thing we like to do: mix cultures and inspirations to create something new. I mean, we’re a free form band from the north of Italy, singing in English, playing crazy psych vibes and always travelling Europe with different musicians and artists... At least we try to do our thing! Then we will see... Bat Macumba!”


Fluttarn is out now on Trovarobato/Vaggimal Records.

Mike Love - Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy


(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine)

Faber & Faber
More villain than hero. That's how the world views Mike Love in the pantomime story of The Beach Boys. This book attempts to set the record straight, with Love placing the biggest blame for the band's fractious nature on the Wilson brothers' father Murry, a control freak whose bad management decisions would haunt the band over the ensuing decades.

He's equally candid about his own shortcomings, with evidence of his contradictory personality throughout; the most business-minded Beach Boy, but one with an interest in meditation and astrology; a clean-living, drug-free vegetarian with anger issues; a serial womaniser who won't live with a woman outside of marriage. As self-appointed “road-dog” Love has worked harder than anyone in the band to keep their stock high, a role he claims he was forced to take after missing out on songwriting credits and losing rights to the back catalogue. (Murry Wilson again!).

Aside from the score settling, all the juicy stuff is here – making Pet Sounds and SMiLE, lawsuits, tour punch-ups, Maharishi, Eugene Landy and Charlie Manson. Love may never win a popularity contest when up against Team Brian, but he's good company and disarmingly gracious when it comes to his extended family of bandmates, complimenting all three Wilson brothers, and expressing palpable sadness over Brian's mental decline and the deaths of Dennis and Carl.

As rock's most dysfunctional family band, The Beach Boys' story is one we'll never tire of, and from this angle it's less black and white than some observers would have us believe.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sendelica/Superfjord - Zappa (Ltd. colour 7")


Welsh spacerockers and Finnish psychedelic jazzers take a side each on this 7” tribute to Frank!

Frank Zappa was a musician with a devoted following, one that shows no sign of weakening almost a quarter of a century after his death. With that in mind it's a brave move to cover an artist that many would think uncoverable. Purely from a technical point of view this is not for the faint hearted. And who would want to upset those fervent Zappaphiles?!

Welsh spacerockers Sendelica and Finland's Superfjord have stepped up to the proverbial plate, each taking a side each of this limited edition 7” to give their spin on a couple of Frank's most iconic compositions.

Superfjord's version of 'Peaches En Regalia' keeps the originals sense of fun, ups the acid-rock ante and adds an additional jammed out section. It's also has one hell of a funky bassline. Sendelica opt to tackle 'Don't Eat The Yellow Snow', beginning with a spaced out ethereal section that segues into a heavier riff-based part which has an almost glam-rock feel, making full use of two drummers.

As they say in football parlance this two-tracker is a game of two halves. Difficult to pick a winner as they're both enjoyable. And hey, music ain't no competition after all, it's a collaborative labour of love. Another winning combination from Fruits de Mer.

Tracklisting
Superfjord – 'Peaches En Regalia'
Sendelica – 'Don't Eat The yellow Snow'

Released as a limited edition colour vinyl 7” on April 17th.

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.
Click here for Sendelica.
Click here for Superfjord.


Judy Collins - In My Life / Wildflowers / Whales & Nightingales


(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine.)

BGO CD
This three album compilation, remastered and repackaged as a 2CD set, covers the years 1967-1971 and showcases Collins' transformation from collegiate folk-boom survivor into baroque-folk interpreter of the great contemporary songbook. Most of the tracks here are drawn from songwriting heavyweights; Dylan, Cohen, Baez, Seeger, Newman, Mitchell, The Beatles and Donovan all get a look in, along with Brel, Brecht and Behan. Collins' self-penned songs and her take on traditional tunes hold their own however, finely balanced between introspection and melodrama.

In My Life is artistically the most successful in part due to its reliance on big songs. Wildflowers is more idiosyncratic and beguiling, in many ways a braver statement. Whales & Nightingales is notable for the hit single 'Amazing Grace', a partial return to traditional folk material and the album's environmental themes as shown on whaling song 'Farewell To Tarwathie' which features the recording of a humpback whale as backing.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

Brinsley Schwarz - It's All Over Now


Over forty years on the pub-rockers' shelved US breakthrough album finally gets released!


Brinsley Schwarz started work on this LP at Rockfield Studios at the tail end of 1974, drafting in producer Steve Verroca to give their sound a more commercial sheen. The band had hoped it would be the record that helped them break through to a wider audience in America. It wasn't to be. The band's soulful rock and earnest, accomplished musicianship were about to be upstaged by punk's need for a clean slate. That aside they also felt they had run their course and were on the verge of breaking up. And break up they did, in search of fresh musical challenges. The tapes sat gathering proverbial dust until guitarist Ian Gomm needed some two-inch tape to test out a new studio he was helping build. Remembering the shelved album he was able to rescue the tape days before it would have ended up in a skip.

A few years ago Gomm made a few handmade CDRs available via his website but now the record is getting it's first full commercial release on Mega Dodo Records. So how does it sound over forty years after its intended release? Pretty good I have to say! There a some great songs on this record - 'Cruel To Be Kind' (later a solo hit for Nick Lowe), an ace version of 'Private Number' and a reggae version of 'It's All Over Now' (better than it sounds on paper/screen, trust me!)

There's still over a month till this album hits the shops but a quick look at the Mega Dodo Records' online shop tells me the vinyl has all gone on pre-order. One for Discogs then if you want a copy, or sign up to Mega Dodo's mailing list for news of any re-presses. Also available on CD and very limited cassette.

Click here for Mega Dodo Records.


The Higher State – Your Casting Doubt (Ltd. 7”)


Latest single from Kent garage-heads! 300 copies only!


The Higher State's LP from last year, the misleadingly titled Volume 27 was a winner for those of us who like their music with a distincly '60s hue. The three man line-up that made the album are back with a new 7”, limited to only 300 copies.

A-side 'Your Casting Doubt' has the same musical DNA as Volume 27 – plenty of fuzz guitar, authentic trebly production, and that Yanks-copying-Brits-copying-Yanks vibe that was all the rage back in '66. Wait a minute, these are Brits-copying-Yanks-copying-Brits-copying-Yanks! Get your hear round that folks!!

Anyway let's not get bogged down in the ethnology, suffice to say that it sounds great. Flipside 'X-Ray Day' tells a worrying tale of a hospital visit/nuclear dread delivered with charmingly lazy, nasal vocals. Neat!

If you want a copy, 100 come in a folded over sleeve (available via the band's own Bandcamppage), with the other 200 regular copies available from Market SquareRecords. Get ordering doods!


Click here for The Higher State.
Click here for Market Square Records.