Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Bordellos - Underground Tape Vol. 7

 
So it appears that The Stone Roses have split again. Or maybe they haven't. Who knows? Or who cares? Well a horde of middle-aged “lads” do, I suppose. Anyway my point is as reformations go it was pretty lame. OK so they sold out Wembley etc. etc. But in terms of coming up with the musical goods it was a non-starter. Two (not all that good) tracks in five years was not exactly reclaiming the crown of Britain's best band.

I mention the Stone Roses because they have roots and connections in Warrington, a stone's throw away from St. Helens, where another band of less reknown but higher output resides. The Bordellos are a band that will probably never sell out The Dog And Duck in Wembley let alone its auspicious stadium, but they do at least make music and put it out for consumption. They don't beg to “be adored” either. In fact I get the impression they'd rather get up the noses of middle-aged “lads” than have them fawn over them.

Their latest release, Underground Tapes Vol. 7 is picked from a mass of unreleased home recordings. Funny, confrontational, self-aware, and always with a point to make. It's a beautiful thing! It won't make any charts or get featured in Clash or NME but I don't suppose they'll be bothered. I think they'd like it if you took a listen though, and I recommend that you do. Among its homespun alt-folk and lo-fi charms is 'Tesco Chainsaw Massacre' and my personal personal favourite 'Jolly Old England',a song that namechecks Cannon and Ball, Irene Handl, free Weetabix and the death of football. All this and not a John Squire guitar solo in sight! Get in!

Click here for The Bordellos on Twitter.
Click here for The Bordellos on Facebook.

 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

In Gowan Ring - B'ee's Pent Pouch


Fragile mystic folk surfaces on a variety of limited releases!


An artist new to me but very welcome is In Gowan Ring, the artistic vehicle for the mysteriously named B'ee who's been making low-key but intoxicating folk-based music for the last 20 years. In 2012 B'ee spent several months constructing a five-sided tent as a recording/living space in a forest behind a chateau in a sparsely occupied area of the Massif Central in France. (I know, right!)
The recordings he made in that time, known as the Pent Pouch album were released as a limited edition of 55 copies given away to people who helped finance the project. Five years later these recordings are getting a public release digitally as well as in a variety of limited physical formats. There are five copies on both pentagonal vinyl (yes really!) and CD released in a five sided box format but 150 copies on both pentagonal vinyl and CDin a five-sided corduroy pouch. Nice! So top marks for the packaging but how about the music?

B'ee describes his music as symbolist folk, and that's pretty accurate. Infused with a sense of something bigger – a spirituality maybe, or affinity with nature, the seasons, and eternal truths. It's music for the dusk of late evenings or the mist of early mornings. Echoes of Nick Drake, the Incredible String Band, early and rennaissance music all fuse into something unique

If you miss out on the limited versions head over to the In Gown Ring Bandcamp page for a a digital copy along with a plethora of other releases of a similar high quality available via the Moonlit Missives subscription service.

Links
Click here for In Gowan Ring's website.
Click here for Moonlit Missives.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Brent Cash - A New High

 (This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)
 
Marina CD / LP

There was a wave of song-crafters from the mid '60s, influenced by Brill Building classicism, who further pushed the possibilities of what a pop song could be. Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb being just three examples of writers that added sophistication, sly subversion and progressive optimism into pop. Georgia's Brent Cash is the latest name in this lineage, back after a five year hiatus with his third and strongest LP to date. Bar the strings Cash plays every instrument on the record.

It's oddly fitting that the album's title track references Richard Nixon, whose political demise roughly coincided with the end of sunshine pop's time in the sun. Here earworm melodies sit atop obliquely shifting piano chords and inventive arrangements. Beneath the light and breezy soft-pop feel lies some serious alchemy. Cash has created a sound that both pays tribute to his forerunners and adds new depth. Dig the new breed.

The Hardy Tree - Through Passages Of Time


(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Clay Pipe Music LP

As London town continues to morph ever more rapidly into structures of steel and glass, the ghosts and echoes of its past are still there for those prepared to listen. That's the thinking behind this album from Clay Pipe Music's founder Frances Castle. With a palette of Mellotron, vibes, sequenced Moogs and viola courtesy of The Left Outsides' Alison Cotton, The Hardy Tree paint a musical elegy to the Smoke's lost landmarks, both big and small.

Interspersed with recordings of market street hawkers, running water, church bells, creaking doors and the sound of building work, this collection of instrumental pieces is uniquely affecting and owes a lot to music made for music for schools and colleges TV programmes in the 1970s. Imagine Nick Drake trying his hand at strange, spooky electronica. Hauntological library music that will have you falling in love with the city and its history all over again. 


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Super Dooper Love: Mainstream Hits & Rarities 1973-76


(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ace CD

New York in the '70s may have been a city on the verge of financial meltdown but judging by this 24-track compilation its soul scene was in rude health. Mainstream Records started out as a jazz label but by the mid '70s focused almost exclusively on soul, with a roster that included big name signings (The Dramatics, Little Richard), established R&B names from the '60s (Doris Duke, Lenny Welch, Freddie Scott) alongside less well-known singers and groups.

Highlights include the slinky and seductive 'The Lonely One' by Special Delivery Feat. Terry Huff, pentatonic bass riffs on '(I'm Your) Friendly Neighbourhood Freak Pt 1' by Calvin Arnold, and the strings 'n' funk mix on Doris Duke's 'Business Deal'. You'll also find vocal harmony groups, proto-disco, Afrobeat and woman-to-woman style talked vocals. Not everything here is killer but you'll be hard pushed to find a collection that better encapsulates the time, place and spirit.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Nick Piunti - Beyond The Static


(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Sugarbush LP

Not strictly a new release, but this 2015 album by Detroit's Nick Piunti gets its debut on limited blue vinyl. For those uninitiated the former Respectables front man is one of the leading exponents of guitar-driven, uptempo, melodic pop. Put simply this is top notch power pop. Twelve tracks with not a duffer among them. Aside from his knack for boss tunes Piunti can also turn out neat, sharply barbed lyrics - “She's in six bands, none of them good”, or “while I'm burning both ends, you're just fanning the flames” delivered by his slightly raspy vocals. A little lyrical sourness to offset the sweet melodies.

Detractors may say there's no new surprises with Piunti staying well within the parameters of the genre. But if you do something this well, why change? Fans of Red Kross, Nick Lowe and Silver Sun need to get on this. Let's party like it's 1979!


Ronee Blakley - Ronee Blakley


(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Man In The Moon CD

Although best known as an actress with a resume that includes roles in Robert Altman's Nashville and Dylan's Renaldo And Clara, Ronee Blakley's parallel singing career generated some fine records, not least her eponymous 1972 debut for Elektra Records. With a predominate slant towards country music, it's a record that's stood the test of time, and still sounds fresh mainly due to Blakley's pure, crystalline voice and the musicianship of her assembled session players.

Alongside the country tracks are more introspective, piano-led songs ('Attachment', 'Graduation Tune') which compare favourably to those released by Blakley's friend and contemporary Joni Mitchell. Also of note is 'Fred Hampton', a protest song about the death of the Black Panther, shot by Illinois police at the age of 21.

Poor sales meant there would be no more records for Elektra though Blakley recorded a 2nd LP for Warner Brothers and continues to self-release music via her website.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Anton Barbeau - Heaven Is In Your Mind (Ltd. col. 7")


Four song 7” from your favourite pre-apocalyptic psychedelic popster!


I've written about the music of Anton Barbeau before on a sadly now defunct website, his Empire Of Potential LP being something of a delight and a great entry point into his work. With that in mind it's good to know that since re-locating from Cambridge to Berlin he's still coming up with the goods musically. His latest single on the ever reliable Fruits de Mer label is a four song affair, sixteen minutes of music on one coloured 7” (nice work by the cutting engineer!)

The bad news is there's only one Barbeau-penned track here – 'Secretion Of The Wafer' is melodic, elegant, driven by synthy swells and sparse piano notes, and full of sphinx-like mystery. The musical equivalent of a Buddhist koan.

To say that's bad news is misleading as the the rest of the single is made up of three very enyoyable (and brave) covers. Traffic's 'Heaven Is In Your Mind' being the title track of along with versions of Big Star's 'September Gurls' and David Bowie's 'Scary Monsters'.

This blue or yellow vinyl only set is released on July 24th but if you want more Anton Barbeau head to Fruits de Mer's annual three-day summer festival in Wales where Mr. Barbeau will be playing a solo set. The 15th Dream of Dr. Sardonicus runs over the weekend of August 4th-6th in Cardigan. Visit the Fruits de Mer website for more info.

Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.
Click here for more on Anton Barbeau.




Cyanna Mercury - Archetypes


Athens based Cyanna Mercury debut LP gets vinyl release plus new video!


Here at Harmonic Distortion we've followed Cyanna Mercury since their first self-released single 'Ode To The Absent Father' back in 2014. Since then the band have gone from strength to strength getting better with each release and have recently released their debut long-player. Archetypes fuses western psych-rock vibes with eastern scales and dynamics. I think you'll like it. Oh and the band have some tour dates coming up. Check out their website for full details.

I'll resist from giving a track by track breakdown and just let the music speak for itself, check out the album via the embedded Bandcamp player below. The album is available digitally and on CD, as well as on very desirable gatefold 12” vinyl. Yes indeedy! For the more visually-inclined there's also a new video for the track 'Nothing We Can Do'. Sit back, turn it up and enjoy!




Click here for Cyanna Mercury's website.
Click here vinyl goodies from Cyanna Mercury's Bandcamp page.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Aquaserge - Live dates plus new video!



Following the release of their new album Laisse ça être and after a string of shows in France and Italy, experimental pop band Aquaserge are embarking on a new leg of their tour, which will see them perform in Spain, Belgium, the UK, Poland and Sweden. Autumn shows in the Netherlands, Germany & more will be announced soon.
Most noteworthy are their concerts in London (sharing the bill with their friends Laetitia Sadier and Vanishing Twin for a triple-header show at Corsica Studios (June 27), and at the Different Sounds festival in Lublin (Poland) as part of the Crammed focus, alongside Tuxedomoon, Skip&Die, Kasai Allstars and Aksak Maboul (with whom Aquaserge members will collaborate onstage).
Aquaserge’s hyper-imaginative and delightful album Laisse ça être garnered a lot of kudos from the press, as witnessed by the quotes below. Their music takes on yet another dimension onstage.
To celebrate the start of this series of concerts around Europe, Aquaserge are releasing a new video, for the song Tour du Monde (Around the world). The video was made for the band by their friends Amanda Robles and Matthieu Salabura, who lmed their personal collection of postcards, in a single take. They intended this to be a kind of ‘good luck’ message (meaning: ‘may this song get you to travel around the world”). Incidentally, this is what the song’s lyrics tell us: “If you’re walking in your own footprints, you must’ve walked around the earth”...

JUNE
1st  RENNES, UBU
2nd ALLONES La PĂ©niche Excelsior
6th BRUSSELS Atelier 210
8th BOURGES Emmetrop
10th CHOLET Parcours Secret
27/06/2017 LONDON, Corsica Studio
28/06/2017 BRIGHTON, Prince Albert

JULY
6th LUBLIN Different Sounds Festival
8th STOCKHOLM Gagnef Festival
0th LIEGE Les Ardentes
22ND LA JEMAYE Festival Le Grand Souk
Aquaserge - Tour du monde
Aquaserge - Tour du monde

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Paperweight Array - Transmisssions From A Distant Star EP


One of the more enticing releases to have come to my attention recently, this time via the magic portal that is Twitter, is the debut release by Northampton/London-based trio called The Paperweight Array. Their three-track EP 'Transmissions From A Distant Star' brims with melodic invention, accomplished harmonies and side-stepping chord sequences that conjures up an impressive list of possible influences. Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, ELP, Jellyfish are just a few names that spring to mind.

Like all good bands though they're more than just a photocopied version of their favourite bands with a sound that both pushes boundaries but not at the expense of accessibility As is said in music industry parlance they're definitely "ones to watch". Intriguing to see what they'll come up with next. Check out the EP via the player above. 

Click here for The Paperweight Array on Twitter.
Click here for The Paperweight Array on Facebook.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Girls Want The Boys! Sweden's Beat Girls 1964-1970


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ace CD

Sweden in the 1960s had yet to prove itself as an international pop force yet this compilation shows it had a wealth of home-grown talent waiting in the wings to help its exportation of pop rival that of Volvo. The collection kicks off with a track apiece from pre-ABBA Agnetha and Anni-Frid before expanding into lesser known femme-pop territory. It's a stylistic smorgasbord ranging from funky soul grooves, breezy MOR, sassy girl group sounds to street-smart contemporary pop.

Sweden's pop industry clearly took its cues from Britain and the US as shown by a heavy reliance on covers: 'Summertime', 'Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)', 'Gimme Little Sign', 'Music To Watch Girls (Boys?) By' and more are all given a Swedish language makeover. While some tracks may have had a whiff of cash-in at the time they sound remarkably fresh and spirited now. Proof the Swedes had much to offer before ABBA mania.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Federale - All The Colours Of The Dark


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Death Waltz CD / LP

In the wrong hands a spoof spaghetti western soundtrack could be an ill-advised dish. Not a problem here, Federale's third LP is cooked to al dente perfection. Its musical cues are taken straight from the master, Ennio Morricone: haunting whistled melodies, twangy guitars, high strings and mariachi brass all present and correct. Though they're not the only band to attempt this sound, with the likes of Spindrift ploughing a similar furrow, what really sets them apart is the vocal narrative: sinister tales of vengeance and violence delivered in a pleasingly deep baritone. Think Nick Cave and Scott Walker singing a song-cycle set on the Andalusian plains.

For an album that wears its influences so proudly on its sleeve, (literally with artwork that pays homage to Scott 3), it's a true gem, packed with all the darkness and drama you can handle. Widescreen, cinematic Americana doesn't get much better than this.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Billy Ritchie - The ABC Of 1-2-3


(This book review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ingram

The reputation of 1-2-3 has been steadily growing since the first magazine articles appeared in the mid-'90s championing the Scottish trio. “The greatest band you never heard of” claim carries weight when you stack up the musicians who've cited the band as a major force or influence. Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney and David Bowie were all big fans. Marquee manager John Gee would go on to say they were the best band he saw in all his years at the club.

Billy Ritchie's place in popular music history is assured by being the man who introduced David Bowie to Jimi Hendrix but his true legacy is his musicianship. As a self taught child keyboard prodigy and through a succession of bands Ritchie made the journey from post-war Forth, Scotland, to the hip hangouts of swinging London and stadium tours of the States before walking away from music altogether.

Ritchie convincingly makes the case for 1-2-3 having been pioneers and architects of what would later become keyboard-led progressive rock, openly naming and shaming those who took influence from him and went on to reap vast rewards. (I won't spoil it for you here by repeating the names!)
Unflinchingly honest about the musical decline and industry machinations that failed to keep the band in the public eye, Ritchie is equally adept at analysing band chemistry, breaking down that elusive alchemy all collaborative musicians yearn for. A fascinating read and one which will have you re-thinking everything you know about the history of progressive rock.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Leviathan - Leviathan


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Grapefruit CD

First time on CD for this legendary lost album, and bolstered with the addition of three 7” tracks. The band formerly known as Mike Stuart Span were only the third UK band to sign to ultra-hip Elektra Records. After changing their name at label boss Jac Holzman's request in order to be promoted as a new band, their 1969 recordings for what should have been their debut album were rejected as not strong enough. In truth they probably lost something in transatlantic translation as they chime nicely with the heavy-psych and hard rock scene happening in the UK at the time.

With phased drums, incredible lead guitar work and occasional Beatle-isms Leviathan sound not unlike a pre-glam Slade, or a more melodic, less blues-based Zep. Quintessentially heavy, right down to the band's whale-shaped logo. A nice follow up and companion piece to Grapefruit's recent I'm A Freak Baby box set.


The Shacks - The Shacks EP


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Big Crown CD / 10”

It takes confidence to open an early release with a cover but here it's fitting; The Shacks' take on Ray Davies' 'This Strange Effect' enchants and unnerves in equal measure, setting the tone for the rest of the EP. They display a musicality and restraint that belies their youth, with their own compositions as satisfying as their choice of covers.

With closely mic-ed vocals set to barely more than a whisper and lo-fi bedroom indie backing, comparisons with Mazzy Star, Jane Birkin and the Velvet Underground's third LP are not unfounded.
This young New York boy-girl duo have created the sonic equivalent of Coraline, eerie yet familiar and certain to draw you in. Also notable is the rocksteady backing provided by The Frightnrs (Daptone Records) on 'Hands In Your Pockets'. With seven tracks on the vinyl (nine on the CD), this is a generous appetiser for their debut LP due early next year.


Interview with Shadow Band


(This feature originally appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)

Philadelphian collective make wintry psych-folk with a nod to the occult and nature mysticism. Duncan Fletcher feels the icy chill.

“A musician I admire told me that influence could be split into two categories: ghost and substance. Substance could be the conscious decision, as in, the songs were written largely with a folk palette, and we had some shared influences in mind. But ghost is harder to trace. It's the conscious or unconscious influence of a much broader palette. Ghost is about aesthetic or feeling, not discrete sounds... I'd argue we're driven more by ghost than by substance.”

So says bassist Jacob Brunner talking about the range of musical backgrounds that shape Shadow Band's modernised take on '70s acid-folk. Hear it for yourself on their new single 'Eagle Unseen' which, according to vocalist and songwriter Mike Bruno, was inspired by “the current dark age we live in, the toxic political climate and perpetual warring... the thankless will to do just and good in a bad world as one's only hope for personal salvation, and nature's gathering response to our abuse unto her.”

The video for the single's other track 'Moonshine' was filmed in the band's residence and creative hub, a townhouse called Castle Corbenic. It's the ultimate hippy hangout crammed with books, LPs and exotic musical instruments. Keyboardist Morgan Morel expands - “Corbenic is located in an as of yet unnamed neighbourhood in South Philly. There's a vibrant mix of people from around the world, with an energy that borders on chaotic. It's comforting to think that within the walls of Corbenic we've created a microcosm of our surroundings.”

Tellingly the house also contains a raft of vintage guitar amps. Not surprising for a band who cite Black Sabbath as a major influence. Jacob explains - “I'd say we're plugged in more often than not. We've played punishingly loud and feather-soft in the same show. It's hard to say where the folk ends and the rock begins!”

'Eagle Unseen' b/w 'Moonshine' is out now on Mexican Summer. A full-length LP Wilderness of Love is also now available.



Click over the jump for the full interview.

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.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Aussie acid-folkers Trappist Afterland announce UK and European dates


Trappist Afterland head over to the northern hemisphere soon for a string of gigs, including support slots with Wolf People and Trembling Bells. Well worth getting along to!