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”...

2nd ALLONES La Péniche Excelsior
6th BRUSSELS Atelier 210
8th BOURGES Emmetrop
10th CHOLET Parcours Secret
27/06/2017 LONDON, Corsica Studio
28/06/2017 BRIGHTON, Prince Albert

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.)


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.

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.)

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.

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.)

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!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Fay Hallam - House of Now

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

Well Suspect CD / LP
Aided by acid-jazz supremo Andy Lewis (Pimlico, Paul Weller etc.) in the producer's chair, Hallam's latest album holds on to her modernist Hammond-groove roots but reaches new conceptual heights. Thirteen tracks, loosely held together by themes of spirituality and an unspoken religiosity, they sound like they belong to a early '70s counterculture inspired musical. Hallam and her assembled band are on killer form with a sound that's somewhere between Julie Driscoll's psych-infused R&B and the big-hearted orchestral soul of Marta Kubišová. The Medway modette still has it.

Further sonic territory is explored via the spacey soul-searching of 'Fragment', the Robert Kirby style strings on 'Heart Cries Out' and the lover's lament of 'Colours'. Though for the most part finger-snapping soul beats brush up against Latino-funk on an album that exudes both cool sophistication and an exuberance that pushes you towards the nearest dancefloor. All that and fuzz-guitar breaks! What more could you want?!

Tim Presley - The Wink

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

Drag City CD / LP / Cass
On the first album released under his own name it's unclear whether the artist formerly known as White Fence is an idiot savant or enjoying a private joke. Given the album's title it may well be the latter. Even so that holds its own charms. With nursery rhyme melodies, stream of consciousness lyrics and ego-less vocals he presents himself as a potential Syd Barrett for the cassette generation.
Characterised by fragmentation and dissolution, this strange, skewed pop is not easy to like at first but gradually reveals its layers, shifting between deconstructed post-punk grooves and sentimental lo-fi balladry. Producer Cate Le Bon has had the task of assembling the song choices from a mountain of demos, which adds to the sense of detachment.

Salvation comes via the spiky guitar lines which are worthy of Wire and even Trout Mask Replica. It makes you wonder what Presley could produce should he feel more engaged.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Interview with The Blind Owls

(This feature first appeared in issue 59 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unedited interview click over the jump at the bottom of this post.)

Corpus Christi is a coastal city in south Texas and the unlikely home of latest garage-beat sensations The Blind Owls. In a city famed for palm trees and subtropical weather The Blind Owls play music more readily associated with dank Liverpudlian cellar bars and rowdy Reeperbahn strip-joints. Their debut LP, All Day And Night, echoes Merseybeat and early rock 'n' roll with a hint of US garage. All played with verve and vigour, and a musicality beyond their tender years.

The band describe themselves thus - “'60s rock 'n' roll, well-dressed, energetic and raw”. True, but not the full story. Rather than the usual one-sound-fits-all favoured by many garage acts, these guys have a variety and breadth of approach. Guitarist Josh De Leon explains “I took a classical guitar class in high school, where I learned all about new techniques and styles of playing. I try to bring a different style into our music influenced from any genre that I'm currently listening to. I also enjoy playing the organ and have incorporated that into a few songs.”

Their harmonies, George Harrison style guitar licks and instrumental colouring put the band ahead of many contemporaries. Guitarist and main songwriter Jesse De Los Santos says -“We do our best to put a lot into our music, it’s something we all had to work hard at but now seems to come naturally. Harmonies are very important for us; the right harmony at the right place can change the mood of the song. The same goes for guitar fills and so on.”

For a band born around the time the Beatles Anthology compilations, their affection for '60s music is as passionate as it is surprising. Says Jesse - “We grew up influenced by our parents, listening to the Beatles or Elvis every day on the way to school and just being around that music struck a chord with us. As we got older, we delved deeper into the music of the '60s, where we discovered many new artists. We fell in love with the sounds of close harmonies, jangly guitars and all the beautiful melodies and talent these musicians had. There’s so much great music to be found and the music of the '60s is something that we really appreciate.”

Other influences include The Zombies, The Kinks, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Easybeats, The Chantays and Buddy Holly. Drummer Dylan Rommel's influences stretch further still - “I've been playing drums for 10 years. However, I didn’t start taking it seriously until I joined the band. I use my drumming to bring a laid back style, influenced by R&B and jazz of the 1960s.”

Live shows are an energetic affair with bassist Carlos Garcia citing Pete Towshend and Elvis as his visual inspiration. The band plan to mak shau as far afield as money will allow but sadly there are no plans for a European visit just yet. Though as Jesse says “we hope to bring our music there one day, if anyone would like to help us let us know!” Over to you promoters!

All Day And Night is self-released on CD. A cassette version is available from Dadstache Records. Soundflat Records will be releasing a vinyl LP.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Neighbourhood Strange – Let's Get High / One Last Chance 7”

If sixties were nineties. Beefy garage-psych from the Salisbury quintet.

Less than a year on from their eponymous debut 7”, The Neighbourhood Strange are back with another double A-sided dose of dark garage-psych. This couln't have arrived at a better time for me. I recently had chat with a pal about psychedelia where he described it as music that's all about head-in-the-clouds, holding hands and golden unicorns. This slab of plastic may help in opening his up his mind. Let's all wear flowers in our hair? No thanks, let's just crack on with the substances instead. Psych is a very broad church that can accomodate a lot of punk-ish attitude.

The Neighbourhood Strange have one foot in the Sunset Strip garage sound of the mid '60s and another in the swaggering guitar band sound that was all the range in the '90s. With a lead vocal that recalls both Lennon's salty snarl and Jim Morrison's baritone. 'Let's All Get High' is a call to arms for heads everywhere. Unlike the treble-heavy '60s recordings that have obviously inspired the band, the track benefits from today's production values. It's all about the full sonic spectrum baby, where the bottom end can cut through!

Flipside 'One Last Chance' has a slower early '70s Stones-ey vibe. Jagger-esque vocals with instrumental passages where both guitar and organ get to take centre stage. Another top release. Nice work lads! Anyway where did I leave that golden unicorn?

Released on March 17th on 7” vinyl and CD (Each limited to 500 copies).

Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Facebook.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Bandcamp.

Green Seagull announce debut 7" single!

Green Seagull
Scarlet b/w They Just Don’t Know
Limited edition 7-INCH SINGLE (300 COPIES).
RELEASE DATE: 16/06/17

Taking their name from a mis-heard Rolling Stones lyric, Green Seagull are the latest band to burst out of London's burgeoning neo-psych scene. The band formed in 2016 when Paul Nelson (New Electric Ride) approached Paul Milne (Hidden Masters / Magnetic Mind) to work on some songs together. A shared enthusiasm for late-60s baroque psychedelia and 12-string jangle soon blossomed into a prolific songwriting team, and before long the duo had more songs than they knew what to do with. 

They were joined shortly after by Sarah Gonputh on keys and Carlos Redondo on drums, and the newly-minted quartet set about recording a demo in their rehearsal room on an old cassette 4-track. These lo-fi recordings pricked up the ears of Mega Dodo Records, who immediately signed the band for an album deal. 

Since then the band have played a handful of well-received shows around London and have been hard at work recording their debut single and LP at Sausage Studios with producer Sebastian Kellig (My Drug Hell). 

We were reluctant to commit ourselves to naming an A-side and it did seem a bit audacious to refer to these 5 minutes and 58 seconds of joy as a single. So, we have covered our embarrassments by treating this as if it were a mini LP and releasing it in stereo in a sleeve with a pretty colour picture. 'Scarlet / They Just Don't Know' is released by Mega Dodo in June 2017, with a much longer album set to follow later in the year.

Click here for Mega Dodo Records.
Click here for Green Seagull on Twitter. 

The Greek Theatre - Broken Circle

Swedish duo follow up their acclaimed debut with another stunning LP!

Having done this writing malarkey for quite some years now, there are certain albums that stick in the mind and heart more than others. One personal favourite that came my way has been Lost Out At Sea by The Greek Theatre. It was their debut album, the first of four LPs the band claimed, after which they would cease to exist. It's folksy, west coast soft-rock embellished with woodwind and pedal steel had a sun-drenched sadness and staring-at-the-sea introspection that chimed with me at the time. And still does.

At the time the band stated their next album would have more of a Brit-folk sound, taking its inspiration from the Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Pentangle and the like. That album has now “dropped” as the current parlance goes. I was a little hesitant to play it at first. Who among us has not experienced that disappointment of the “sophomore” album. (Another journalistic pet hate, can't we just say second?!?) I'm pleased to say my fears were unfounded. This time round the sunny west-coast vibe has been replaced with chilly winds and drizzle from the North Atlantic.

Sven Fröberg and Frederick Persson are the core duo that make up The Greek Theatre. Their music is melodically strong but open ended enough for fluid improvisation. For this album they've been assisted several collaborators including pedal steel player Matthias Danielson (who featured on Lost out At Sea), Lisa Isaksson and David Svedmyr from Me and The Kites. Andreas Ralsgård adds clarinet to several tracks and drummer Tomas Eriksson does a sterling job with David Axelrod beats throughout.

Though the Greek Theatre's musical influences hail from the late '60s/early '70s they somehow manage to tap into today's zeitgeist. The music on Broken Circle would not be out of place on the recent Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs curated English Weather compilation on Ace Records. Gentle acoustic passages, interspersed with with improvised rock, all embellished with jazz and folk touches. It's music that reflects the uncertainty of our times. Not pessimistic as such, but resigned to sitting things out until the good times return. As they sing on the album's title track -

Let's go together through the chaos all around. And though the road is rough and rocky rest assured it'll lead us home.”

Click here for more on The Greek Theatre.
Click here for The Greek Theatre on Facebook.
Clickhere for Sugarbush Records.