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!