31 May 2012

Out Of The Crates

This is the first part in what I hope will become a regular feature on the site - although this will depend upon input from your fine selves, so it's entirely up to you whether we see more of this or not.
There's something in my psychological makeup that makes me unable to ignore a record collection when I visit a house for the first time, and all social etiquette becomes a secondary consideration.
I'm assuming this is something that affects other vinyl lovers as well and offer as an outlet for those urges "Out of the Crates" - an opportunity for readers to share some of their most prized vinyl finds for other record lovers around the world to drool over.
The format is simple -
Dig out a few of your most treasured vinyl finds, take a few nice pictures of them, and send them in to me at nford150@gmail.com with a bit of a narrative about the records and why you treasure them so. Easy, and we all love the opportunity to show off our record collection a little don't we?

I'm going to start the ball rolling with a few picks from my collection.

Simon Dupree & The Big Sound - Without Reservations
I set myself the difficult and quite possibly fruitless task of digging through all the $4 sale bins at Christchurch, New Zealand's Penny Lane until I could find myself a bargain.
My patience was eventually rewarded when to my surprise this original N.Z pressing on the Blue Parlophone label jumped out at me from amongst a particularly unpromising looking stack of Mantovani LPs.
The vinyl itself looked to be pretty well used, but as is often the case with these old N.Z pressings, it played exceptionally despite looking like it'd been run over.
Ten years later it's still my go-to record when I feel the urge for a one-man mod soul party, and while their later psych stuff is generally more well regarded I've got a major soft spot for this sucker.

This was a particular surprise when I stumbled across it, as it was one I'd assumed would be on my wants list until the day I died.
I'd had a digital copy for years and loved it, but found that it had been a particularly poor seller in it's native England, and was still not held in particularly high regard by collectors even now.
Assuming that it wouldn't have been pressed anywhere else in the world then, imagine my surprise when I pulled out this tidy looking Australian pressing on the Interfusion label for a very reasonable $50. Even with a textured cover it was in pretty good shape.
Wolf People fans should do themselves a favour and check this LP out - it's got the same sort of atmospheric, very English mixture of hard rock, folk and prog that "Steeples" has, and is ripe for rediscovery.
Now, if only the sleeve artist had been paying attention the day they covered faces in art class.

There was a time when I'd buy absolutely anything on the Vertigo label ( which isn't a cheap hobby ). I've grown more selective over the years and pruned a few titles back, but one I'll never voluntarily part with is this great jazzy prog rock album. It's a N.Z pressed gatefold with a beautiful sleeve by Keef ( also responsible for the first Black Sabbath cover ), and is the pride of my Vertigo Swirl collection.

The Third Rail - Id Music
This is one of the best finds I came away with after spending a day going through pretty much every record at Auckland's Real Groovy. What makes it particularly good is that it isn't the album I thought I was buying, but is even better. When confronted with tens of thousands of records my mind tends to play a few tricks on me, and when I thought I'd found myself an original U.S copy of the Inner Sounds of the ID for $25.95 I was rapt.
Needless to say, I was less than pleased when I discovered my mistake, but having paid for it I gave it a listen.
Despite it's origins as a bit of a dubious cash in, it's a fascinating mixture of Four Seasons style pop with inventive psychedelic studio trickery, and unlike so many pop psych albums of the sixties, actually deserves the very cool psychedelic sleeve it's housed in.  Occasionally too cute for it's own good, but mostly full of psych pop gems.

The Smashing Pumpkins / David Bowie - All The Young Dudes / Jean Genie 7"
As a huge fan of both Bowie and the Smashing Pumpkins in my formative years it was vital that I bought this when I spotted it on ebay.
It features the two duets by Bowie and Billy Corgan from Bowie's 50th Birthday Bash in 1997 with no other Smashing Pumpkins in sight.
It's a bootleg of some sort I presume, although the manufacturers have elected to press it as a white label "not for sale" promo to try and stave off the law.
I've never seen another copy of this offered for auction, so am curious if anyone can shed any light on it's origins or it's legality.
Whoever put it out did a pretty good job anyway - it sounds great and the creepy photoshopped cover looks as good as can be expected for a late nineties release.

Your turn now - send photos and info to nford150@gmail.com

30 May 2012

The Paperhead - Pictures Of Her Demise 7"

Reviewed by The Active Listener.

Contrary to what your ears will be telling you, these guys aren't a long lost English psych band from 1968. They're actually three young Texans with an average age of around twenty.
Having already heard the Paperhead's self titled debut and their earlier album as the Looking Glass I had a pretty good idea what to expect from this 7", and the key elements of their sound are still very much in place here. Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, July and the Move still seem to be the main influences, but what I didn't expect was how well their material would translate from the album medium to 45rpm.
Where the Paperhead's album tracks often branched out into more experimental and challenging areas, they've managed to trim back all the excess for these two tracks resulting in two concise, catchy but still delightfully weird psych pop nuggets which show that they've learned a thing or two from the Idle Race amongst others.
Big choruses, guitars straight out of the Move's Fire Brigade and a mix which would make you swear Norman Smith was behind the desk
Definitely my cup of lysergic tea.

You can buy the 7" with a free mp3 download directly from the label, Trouble in Mind Records here for $5 U.S.

Still not convinced? You can hear "Pictures of Her Demise" on this cloudcast - "The Now ( And Not So Now ) Sound of Psychedelia".

29 May 2012

Beaulieu Porch Review

Reviewed By The Active Listener

Beaulieu Porch is the work of one man, the multi talented Simon Berry, and judging by this he's some sort of twisted, psych pop genius.
Those who are in the know ( i.e those who aren't me ) may well have been aware of his excellent "Colour 55 / Navy Blue " 7" released by The Peppermint Hill Label. Having just ordered a copy I can happily confirm that it's still in print, but it's a limited edition of 300, so surely won't be around much longer - order here.
Beaulieu Porch's debut full length is quite possibly the most purely enjoyable psych-pop release I've heard this year so far. It's undeniably psychedelic, often openly borrowing from the spirit of the sixties, but is unmistakably contemporary in it's execution.
He's also got a very distinctive sound of his own. Witness the way "Navy Blue" effortlessly evokes both late period Beatles and Air's Virgin Suicides without losing touch with his own aural identity - not an easy task when channeling the greats.
It's a huge, kaleidoscopic album, with all the bells and whistles one would hope for from an ambitious piece of modern psychedelia, with plenty of memorable tunes at it's core.
A near perfect marriage of substance and style then, and one that I would recommend checking out as soon as possible.
And don't even get me started on those wailing guitars at the end of "The Colour 55". Lovely.

Beaulieu Porch's Debut is Currently Only Available Digitally. You Can Buy It Here.

Active Listener Radio - The Now (And Not So Now) Sounds of Psychedelia

I've got an extra show for you this week and it's a psychedelic blowout.
Leave your mind at the door unless you want it to be expanded........
Featuring music by : Sky Picnic, Mick Softley, The Paperhead, The Idle Race, The Lazy Smoke, Beaulieu Porch, Mordecai Smyth, The Movements, Miri May, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Straw Bear Band, Jacco Gardner, Oscar Suave, Wamoo Papez and the wonderful Smoking Trees.

28 May 2012

Sky Picnic's Chris Sherman Interviewed.

Chris Sherman from Sky Picnic was kind enough to allow me to interview him recently.
We talked extensively about Sky Picnic's  upcoming album, their influences and Chris' love of vinyl and psychedelia.
Why not stream their last album "Farther In This Fairytale" here while you read?
You can read my review of Farther In This Fairytale here.

Active Listener : Tell us a little bit about yourself and your fellow band members.

Chris Sherman : First off, thanks for allowing me to do this this interview.  I enjoy doing these more than I probably should...

I'm Chris Sherman, the guitarist and singer of Sky Picnic. We also have Leah Cinnamon on bass and vocals and Pete Meriwether on drums.  We're based out of New York. We got our official start toward the end of 2008 and things have been rolling along since then.  It feels like we have a lot of momentum with us right now, and things are really going well and the future is bright.

A.L : How would you describe Sky Picnic's sound to those who haven't heard you before?

C.S : Our sound is a very classic psych-rock sound, rooted more in the European model than anything you'd ever hear coming from the United States, tinged with some progressive rock leanings and perhaps the tiniest bits of folk.

A.L : You've stated in previous interviews that Pink Floyd are a major influence. What are some other influences of yours that we may not expect?

C.S : Does Donovan qualify as unexpected?  I will go through periodic binges with his late 60's output and that always gets the creative juices going.  Currently, my biggest influence is the psych music coming out of Sweden.  From Dungen to the Amazing and Life on Earth to Landberk before them...words can't describe.
I also get highly influenced by literature, with Aldous Huxley being at the top of the list.  I love his writing style, and his descriptions of characters in particular, so much so that it has paved the way for how I will approach shaping a set of lyrics.

A.L : You and Leah had a band called Universal Mind Decoder before forming Sky Picnic. Tell us a little about them.

C.S : It started as a solo project and was just basically the "musical alter ego" for myself.  Then Leah joined on bass and it slowly started to morph into something else while still remaining an extension of solo stuff. We went through a few different drummers and played throughout New York, but it wasn't psychedelic enough for what I wanted to do musically, nor did it have a band dynamic so to speak.  So we changed our sound and approach, got Pete on drums, and it leads us to today.

A.L : Was anything recorded by Universal Mind Decoder that might find release at any point in the future? You know, when you get huge and Universal are preparing the deluxe edition reissues of your albums?

C.S : Definitely not!  For starters, they really don't have much in common stylistically with what Sky Picnic is currently doing.  Even if there ended up being some huge demand for them amongst our fans (which I doubt would happen anyhow, but let's pretend), I still would not release them under the principle of not releasing anything I would never personally want to hear from one of my favorite bands.  I hate when bands put out demos as bonus tracks, or worse yet, as a stand-alone release.  You listen to them once, then that's about it.  Like the Beatles Anthology for instance...sure it's got some amazing stuff, alternate takes and all, but most of the demos leave a lot to be desired.  It's the kind of thing that might be nice to have, but is it essential to anyone's life?  There's enough music out there and some things are better left unreleased.

A.L : Your last album, Farther In This Fairytale sounds very much like a lost classic from 1968. Did you set out to make an album that captured that atmosphere, or is it just a byproduct of your influences that comes out naturally?

C.S : Thanks for the high praise! I think if anyone is immersing themselves in something, it will naturally come through in your creative output.  So it's never necessarily conscious.  You absorb your influences and then it comes out in the writing.  I think sitting down and trying to force a record to sound like something is almost a cop out and a form of imitation.
From a production and mixing standpoint though, yes there was a nod to past recordings.  Things like adding in Leslie on vocals, or extreme panning.  We also had it purposefully mastered for vinyl, and not brickwalled like most modern recordings tend to be.
Another part of it is the gear we used to make that album. We didn't use a ton of modern gear or digital effects, so as a result, it will have a vintage sound.
A.L : Does the writing process come easily to you? How much of your songwriting comes out of sitting down with pen and paper, and how much from jamming?

C.S : With writing, I tend to go through phases where I won't write anything for three months, I'll think my muse is gone for good and get paranoid about it, and then I will suddenly get 3 or 4 songs that come to me in a month's time.  I have a huge back catalog of ideas right now, and if I was to sort through it and improve on some of the loose ends, I think it could easily make our third and fourth LP's, and this would not be taking into account anything Pete or Leah has, nor any jammed on ideas we might create.  For the most part, the songs all start as ideas I'll play on an acoustic, then I'll start adding on parts, maybe a simple melody, I'll get a quick demo done, and then will come back to it down the road.  I never force anything out- I've found it just needs to flow, and if it doesn't, then it's probably not a good time to write. Then, when it's time to bring these ideas into our rehearsal space, I'll show off the basic idea, the band will work on the arrangements and after a few weeks, we tend to have a semi-finished product.

As for jamming, the next record has two pieces that began that way, but of what's been released thus far, we really don't have much that would fall under that category.  Most of it was pretty well thought out ahead of time.  I would definitely like to strike a better balance of that going forward though.

A.L : And what do you see as the defining Sky Picnic song up to this point?

C.S : Probably "The Universal Mind Decoder" (listen here). It has everything in it that sort of defines our sound.  From the chilled out verses with surreally introspective lyrics to the freak out section in the middle, I think it gives the listener every aspect of the band in one place.  And our live version takes it another step beyond the recorded version because it adds in some more improvisation and jamming to the piece.

A.L : One of the things I like most about Farther In The Fairytale is that it sounds very heavily psychedelic, but doesn't rely on studio trickery. Is it easy to replicate the sounds you've captured on record when you play live?

C.S : For the most part, yes.  We clearly don't do a lot of layering on record and tend to keep things very open, so it translates to the live setting rather well.  The songs are also a little more raw live obviously, so having them in that slightly less polished place gives the listener a different experience. I personally can't wait for the day when we can have our own sound crew to do vocal mixes and stuff for us because that is the one thing that suffers live it seems.  Getting a good vocal mix, getting the right effects on them...it's a mixed bag every show.

A.L : What's more satisfying for you - live performance or capturing something in the studio just the way you want it?

C.S : As much as I love performing, the rush of adrenaline that comes along with it, and taking some songs into really awesome places that you really can't when tape is rolling, I will always be a studio guy.  I like having that control over the situation, where if something isn't right, you start over.  If you don't like the sound of something, you can manipulate it to get it as you wish, then take it from there.  Live shows are such a finite experience, for better or worse.  When making a record, it's more of a creative process, which I where I prefer to be mentally.  I love thinking through the situation on how to add to a song.  And also, that moment is captured forever.  To me, that is the ultimate.

A.L : You've got a new album on the way. What can you tell us about it?

C.S : Well, the tentative title is "Paint Me A Dream".  It is another concept record for us that follows a dreamer through a cycle of dreams and nightmares.  We had ten songs as part of the "cycle", but have whittled it down to eight on the final LP, both as a creative decision and a practical decision as pushing 50 minutes for a record seems rather adventurous these days.

The amount of growth I hear between "Farther" and the new one is just incredible.  The band has really come into its' own.  A lot of different influences came out this time around, there are lots of new sounds and Pete and Leah definitely play a way bigger role in the record than previously, which is great.  It's a super tight collection of songs, everything flows into each other organically.  We have definitely reached new territory that I didn't think was possible just 6 months ago!  It just takes the band to a whole new level.  And soundwise, it has a very retro, warm and analog feel, so it does not sound like something created in 2012.

Also, I don't want to jump the gun yet on how soon it will be coming out...!  We're going to send it around first as we did with the last one so it can get picked up again.  My hope is that it will be out by the end of 2012.  We also have a potential 7" non-album single in the cards containing the songs that wouldn't fit in with the full-length, but again, no idea on the time frame for release.  People will have to come to the live shows to satisfy their cravings for the new material for now.

A.L : How has the recording process evolved for you from your first recordings up to the new album?

C.S : I think as time goes on, you get more comfortable in the studio setting.  You learn from your past mistakes, learn how to be more efficient, and most importantly, that you can't rush ANYTHING!  When we did Synesthesia in 2008, it was just, let's set up mics and hope for the best.  It seems so primitive now, but it worked at the time.  You assume the first good take you get is the final product, but that's never the case.  You learn you have to strive for perfection because that is how I want our recordings to be, at least to my ears.  
From a production standpoint, I've learned how to capture the atmosphere more, and how to get the sounds in my head out to how I ultimately want it to sound on tape. We've also worked with better gear now as time goes on, this time using some nice ribbon mics for the vocals to generate some warmth.  The Klemt Echolette played a huge part in shaping both the guitar and vocal sound of the next record as well.

A.L : Farther In The Fairytale was released on vinyl ( the preferred psychedelic format of course). Are there plans for a vinyl release of the new album?

C.S : I think our only choice for the new release is a vinyl pressing (and of course, a download for those not into the vinyl scene).  This is the type of album that begs to be pressed on vinyl.  We even sequenced the concept so it would fit side A & B!
And it's great that vinyl has become the preferred format again.  Especially once you've heard enough on record, you start to hear the imperfections of the digital mediumsThe CD as a format is dead.  I understand the convenience of the MP3, but listening to them does a complete disservice to the musicYou're missing so much of the information that should be there. It's what kills me about people today- everyone wants the highest quality movies in bluray and the best possible flat screens, but musically, everyone seems content with their .99 cent download from iTunes running through stock earbuds.  I guess it just shows how disposable music is to the masses, which really is sad. 

A.L : Are you a vinyl collector? If so, do you have any treasured finds to tell us about? Rarities or obscurities?

Photos supplied by Chris.
C.S : Yes, I am a rather avid collector.  I've scaled back a little bit these days and only buy the essentials, but I have a large portion of my tiny apartment filled with LP's!  I think one of my greatest finds was at this flea market where this guy had all original US pressings of the Beatles mono LP's for $2 a piece.  The "Sgt. Pepper" mono (in a mostly near mint condition with the inserts!) was by far the best find in there.  Randomly stumbling upon Dungen's "Ta Det Lugnt" a few years ago was a life changer.   Finding a super limited edition copy of Primus "Tales From the Punchbowl" was amazing.  One of my first purchases (an early 80's pressing of "Pet Sounds") will always hold a ton of sentimental value.  I have some early Floyd reissues on the Fame label (from the 70's) that are some of the best sounding records I own.  It's tough to narrow down my collection to specifics.  I love most of what I have! ( You can check out photos of a few more of Chris's favorite finds at the end of the interview )

I'd love to get into a friendly debate about your top 40 psych albums some day too...

A.L : Certainly. That's proven to be a pretty controversial list. Still I'd find it a little creepy if someone admitted to liking the same forty albums in the same order as me. 

Who do you admire in the current psychedelic scene? I'm especially interested in those that capture the feeling of the sixties as your recordings do?

C.S : Dungen, who is my favorite band.  I caught them live in 2010 at this tiny club in Brooklyn and it was quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen.  Stardeath and White Dwarfs.  Black Mountain.  Tame Impala.  Wolf People.  The Amazing.  Entrance Band.  We've also had the pleasure of working with a ton of great bands on the Fruits De Mer Records compilations we've been part of (like Octopus Syng and Extra to name a few) and shared bills will some really awesome ones too along the way.

A.L : What's the question you most wish you'd get asked in interviews that no-one ever seems to ask?

C.S : Well, we got to talk records just now which was fun.  Anytime I can geek out on vinyl, my day is made.  That hasn't come up before in an interview.  No one ever asks about gear, but I suppose that's understandable as this isn't a guitar magazine or something.  Honestly, I don't know!  You've already broken some new ground above, so that's already exciting.
Perhaps something like- where would I want to live and relocate Sky Picnic to if possible?- because, and not to slander NYC or anything because it really is great, but it is a tough city to get anywhere musically.  Everyone comes here thinking they can make music, and it really dilutes the water, so to speak.  Day to day life wears and tears at you, and a lot of the time, you get stifled creatively (at least in the psychedelic genre as I've learned.  It goes to show you why certain types of music thrive in certain cities and fail in others, which would be an interesting study, but I digress...).  So if I could up and move, I'd love to take the band to northern Europe, where most of our fan base seems to be anyway.  Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen.  Somewhere in that region.  If we had to stay in the US, then San Fran would be logical.

A.L : Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

C.S Thanks again for the interview.  I hope everyone out there checks out our tunes on the bandcamp site (http://skypicnic.bandcamp.com), and if they dig it, please support us by ordering the vinyl through us there, or via Nasoni Records (http://www.nasoni-records.com/SKY_PICNIC_release_Farther_In_This_Fairy_Tale.html).  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the new material, hopefully out later this year.  Help spread the word about Sky Picnic if you can, and if anyone ever wants to talk vinyl or music with me, drop me a line!

Active Listener Radio # 7

This week's show is a short, sharp 47 minute set of old favorites - predominantly psych, prog and acid folk, but with a few curveballs too.

Music from John Carpenter, The Chordettes, H.P Lovecraft, Leonard Cohen, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Midlake, Bill Fay, Espers, Goblin, Odin & Room.

27 May 2012

The Owl Service - There Used To Be A Crown / Collected Tracks / Rise Me Lads

Reviewed By The Active Listener.

Steven Collins of the Owl Service has been a busy man of late.
Firstly, he's established his own record label, Stone Tape Recordings ( visit them here ).
They describe themselves as " a new independent music collective inspired by the English folk revival, Edwardian occultism, Norwegian black metal, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1970s doom rock and the electronic landscapes of Detroit and Berlin."
Sounds good to me.
Secondly, The Owl Service have just released a shedload of new or previously unreleased music in a number of formats.
The most high profile of these releases so far is "There Used To Be a Crown", which is a four track e.p of Pearls Before Swine covers, available on 7" with free CD-R (here) or as a digital download (here). As a huge fan of Tom Rapp, Collins agonized over the contents of this e.p and his hard work has paid off admirably. Performed entirely solo except for Diana Collier's haunting acapella "Green & Blue" it's a testament to his affection for the material and his interpretive abilities. His take on "Translucent Carriages" manages the unlikely task of bettering the original - to these ears at least.

There are a couple of other unexpected surprises for us in the form of "Collected Tracks" and "Rise Me Lads" which are free downloads available here, on the Stone Tape Recordings bandcamp page.
"Collected Tracks", despite being a collection of tracks donated to various compilations, would make an admirable introduction to new listeners, exhibiting the full breadth of the Owl Service's ambition from timeless traditional folk balladry ( "King Henry VII & The Shipwrights" ), to sitar-laden psych folk instrumentals ( "A Christmas Fantasie" ) via a number of unlikely covers ( Scott McKenzie's pop psych "San Francisco" and a nice moody take on the theme from Don Coscarelli's cult horror "Phantasm" ).

"Rise Me Lads" on the other hand is more thematic but no less essential - five traditional sounding folk instrumentals written to help launch "The Pattern Beneath The Plough" series.
If you're new to the Owl Service and don't fancy the task of digging around their sizeable back catalogue, you've also got the option of picking up a copy ( here ) of "She Wants To Be Flowers, But You Make Her Owls" a data DVD containing their entire back catalogue plus a full live show in mpeg format.
The long delayed "Garland Sessions" is due out soon too - expect a full review here.
Collins has also announced that he's hanging up "The Owl Service" moniker after one more release,a third volume of the celebrated "Pattern Beneath The Plough" series, but has a number of other musical happenings on the horizon, among them Stone Tape signings Greanvine and Country Parish Music, so don't worry there's plenty more to come from him.

26 May 2012

Lee Hazlewood - The L.H.I Years (Singles, Nudes & Backsides 1968-71)

Reviewed By The Active Listener

Lee Hazlewood is most well known for his duets with Nancy Sinatra, and while they're undeniably great there's a whole lot more to his legacy. He's also responsible for bringing not just Nancy, but Duane Eddy and Gram Parsons to the public's attention.
But the original psychedelic cowboy's biggest strengths were as a producer and songwriter.
At the end of the sixties, Hazlewood was back on the fringes and moving to Amsterdam kept him there, commercially at least.
During the next three years he set up LHI ( Lee Hazlewood Industries ) and produced a string of albums and singles that up until now have remained more obscure than they deserve to be.
Now, thanks to the impeccably tasteful Light In The Attic label we have this remarkable collection to show that Hazlewood was just as prolific, adventurous and witty during these lost years as at any point in his past. Where Light In The Attic generally reissue albums rather than putting together compilations, they've certainly made the right choices in this case, cherrypicking from a number of albums and singles to create a great compilation which although covering only three years, has a depth that results in a collection that most artists would be proud to have as a career retrospective.
Hazlewood's wry wit combines with a deep sense of melancholy on If It's Monday Morning's opening couplet " There were times when being together was fun, and there were times when being apart was even more fun. "
Everything that made Hazlewood great can be found here. There are dramatic mariachi duets ( "Chico"), carefully orchestrated pop gems ( "What's More I Don't Need Her"), psychedelic pop rave-ups ( "Nobody Like You") and most importantly, Hazlewood's expressive Johnny Cash meets Leonard Cohen baritone is everywhere and has never sounded better.
If you're not familiar with the man you could do a lot worse than starting here.

You Can Buy The LHI Years on CD Here.

25 May 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Sky Picnic's Chris Sherman

Chris Sherman from the excellent Brooklyn based psychedelic band Sky Picnic has weighed in this week with his Desert Island Discs selections. Chris supplied us with photos of his own copies of the albums for a personal touch.
You can read an in depth interview with Chris here very soon so stay tuned for that, and in the meantime you can read the Active Listener's review of the last Sky Picnic album "Farther in this Fairytale" here.
And why not listen to their epic "Universal Mind Decoder" while you read, hmmm?
Sky Picnic on the web : http://www.skypicnicmusic.com/
Chris's Collection

Chris : "Let me preface my choices with the following: As such an avid music lover and collector, this is a tough assignment. There are way too many albums I hold in the highest esteem to whittle this down to just ten. Some legends must get left off as much as it kills me. I also tried my absolute hardest to only list one release per artist for more variety, again, as hard as it is to make those cuts. (This is also subject to change at any time at my discretion! Of course, only I will know, so drop me a line in a few months if you want an update!) Also, no compilation records were considered, as those are not a "real" release."

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour 
The Beatles at their most psychedelic. While "Sgt. Pepper" is the obvious choice, I think any record that has "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" is more vital, along with "The Fool On The Hill", which is a personal favorite song (my god, those flutes!). From the opening notes of the title track, through the fade out of "All You Need Is Love", this is just the perfect Beatles album, and thus would be my top choice. (and yes, I realize that this is technically a compilation, as the UK version was only an EP originally, but it has since been embraced using the original USA Capitol track list, so it squeaks by on that technicality).

Pink Floyd - Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
No single record puts me in the creative mood more-so than this one. Sky Picnic is essentially built upon this classic, so it is a no-brainer. There is nothing better than hearing Syd at his absolute peak. This really is a treasure and a glimpse into his rather bizarre mind. There is so much experimentation ("Interstellar Overdrive", "Flaming") and such a cacophony of sounds ("Bike"), that it takes multiple listens to take it all in. After all these years, with each listen I am still discovering little things I had never heard before! ("A Saucerful Of Secrets" comes in a close second for Floyd picks)

Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt
As soon as you hear those opening drums in "Panda", you know you're in for a treat. A record that honestly sounds like it was made in 1969. I get chills upon every listen of "Festival" during the the bridge with the guitar, flute and piano riff leading into the outro. And I have beyond sensational memories of seeing them play "Bortglomd" live. A modern psychedelic masterpiece.

King Crimson - In The Court of the Crimson King (An Observation)
Firstly, one of the greatest album covers of all-time. It beautifully represents the music inside. The sheer majesty of this LP is beyond comprehension. I love the dichotomy of raw power ("21st Century Schizoid Man") next to some of the most beautiful moments you'll hear ("I Talk To The Wind") and then the epic melltoron strings that permiate through "Epitaph" and the title track.

The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
A lost gem that perhaps isn't so lost these days? Either way, this is possibly the most beautiful album ever, with some extremely soulful vocals. "Brief Candles" and "Hung Up On A Dream" are possibly my favorite back-to-back on any album, and the use of mellotron gives it that extra touch. "This Will Be Our Year" is, in my mind, THE sweetest love song. I think side one might be the most perfect side of recorded music ever, and it all concludes with one of the most perfect singles ever.

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The genius of Brian Wilson on full display. Some of the best harmony vocals you will ever hear (I highly recommend checking out the Pet Sounds Sessions box set to hear isolated vocal tracks!). Amazing song arrangements and instrument choices make this one of the crowning achievements of music. "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is one of my favorite sets of lyrics ever.

The Byrds - The Notorious Byrd Brothers
While others may disagree, I think this is by far their high point. They were merely a two-piece for most of this album, but you'd never know. Shifting between folk and country and psychedelia and then back, there are too many highlights to name..."Draft Morning"..."Get To You"..."Change Is Now"....


George Harrison - All Things Must Pass
The sprawling triple LP that shows George had just as much, and if not more, writing talent than rest of the ex-Beatles. "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp" is the highlight for me, along with "Art of Dying."

Graham Nash - Songs For Beginners
My favorite singer ever. I love the vibe this record gives off- it has a very comforting and inviting feeling. "I Used To Be King" and "Better Days" alone make this a desert island choice.

Primus - Tales From the Punchbowl
I had to pick at least one album that I grew up with, so let's go with the psychedelic polka that is Primus (as described by Les Claypool himself). This LP is the band at it's trippiest and most cartoon-y. Songs that lyrically deal with beavers, pachyderm, Christmas trees, and hallucinogenic car rides sit on top of music that is driven by masterful bass playing. A rather epic listen.

24 May 2012

The Resonars - Thoughts 7" E.P Review & Interview

Reviewed By The Active Listener

As with The Paperhead  (who also have a recent 7" out on Trouble in Mind, review coming soon), the Resonars are obviously enamoured with the music coming out of the U.K in the sixties, although the Resonars material generally evokes more of the merseybeat / mod and freakbeat sound of 1965/1966 than the more oft referenced psychedelia that was to come.
Now, there are two things about the Resonars that are remarkable.
Firstly they're authentic to the era to the point that had I not known their origin I would have argued that the  tracks contained here were the work of some great lost Liverpool band circa 1965, obviously cruelly underpromoted by their label - how else could these massive A.M radio hits in the making not have been chart toppers?
Secondly and more impressively, the Resonars aren't actually a band as such. Certainly they started out as one in the nineties, but these days every note is played, sung, harmonized, recorded and tweaked by one man - Matt Rendon.
Where similar arrangements by other artists who shall remain nameless often end up sounding flat and lifeless, the Resonars material is full of vitality and sounds like the work of a musically tight, hungry young band.
Of the four tracks featured here "Long Long Thoughts" is the most singleworthy with a massive chorus and Beatley pentatonic guitar riff.
"Sit Right Down" alternates between a sweet harmony laden verse and a much tougher garage rock chorus which evokes the likes of the Who and Ron Wood's early outfit the Birds.
"Paint My Windows Green" is my pick of the bunch - a great freakbeat number with infectious call and response vocals, tight harmonies and slashing guitar parts.
All up four quality tunes, none of which would have sounded out of place on mid sixties radio sandwiched between the Kinks and the Who.
You can buy the 7" E.P directly from Trouble In Mind Records here for just $5 U.S

Matt was kind enough to have a few words with us too:

Active Listener : The Hollies and the Who seem to have made a deep impression on you. Who are your other main influences?

Matt Rendon : The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Byrds, Guided By Voices, Yardbirds, Mamas & the Papas..there's too many to list actually. Any record I love has influenced me in one way or another. The Hollies thing, that's funny to me because, though I love them, they aren't a HUGE influence. It just so happens that our harmony vocal ranges are similar and that my voice sounds like Allan Clarke's at times.

A.L : What do you find are the pro's and cons associated with being a one man band?

M.R : The pro is putting exactly what you want on tape without compromise, but that also can be a con. The major con though is being stuck in a room by yourself for such a long stretch of time.

A.L : What can you tell us about your next album?

M.R : It's called Crummy Desert Sound and it will be released by Burger. It's taken FOREVER to do because of all the different recording machines used. A lot of the songs have been recorded two or three times. Vocals need to be added and then it's finished.

23 May 2012

The Solar System - IT'S A MYTH! Review and Interview

Reviewed By The Active Listener

Sometimes it seems we live in a cynical time - a time where we generally assume that the word 'interesting' is being used as a euphemism. Well, I'd like to start a movement back to a simpler time, because 'interesting' is the word I came back to most often when listening to the Solar System's new album "It's a Myth". I of course mean it in the most old fashioned sense of the word, as this is an album that is consistently unpredictable and clever - not 'cramming in the kitchen sink' clever, but clever in terms of letting songs go off in their own often surprising directions.
The Solar System is the pseudonym of Chris Oliver, an advocate of home recording who has been recording himself and various bands he's been associated with since the late nineties.
His albums are not what you'd necessarily expect from home recordings - they push the format to the limit and are diverse, multi-textured and they sound huge.
"It's a Myth" is his newest and it's a doozy. Oliver pulls from a varied pool of influences and injects plenty of his own personality to come up with an album that would fit in nicely with the Elephant 6 aesthetic of psychedelia influenced dream pop. It's an album that's very aware of the sixties, but could only have been recorded now.
Delicate slurred guitar arpeggios that aren't a million miles from Radiohead's recent work, insistent vocal hooks and pounding drums make tracks like "Soft Bullet" and "Wildfires" jump out of the speakers at you, while "Puscifer Rising" indulges a more challenging experimental bent for the more cerebral listener.

Chris had a chat with us about his work.

Active Listener :  You've been recording yourself for years. Can you tell us a little bit about your recording set-up and the gear you use?

Chris Oliver : Ever since I can remember I've been interested in music and recording. My first recordings ever were made on like fisher price tape recorders etc etc.
When I was 16 my dad got me my first 4-track machine. Since then I've gone through 3 or 4. I still use my Tascam 464 every now and then but I mainly record
On my Mac which my girlfriend got me for Christmas awhile back. I use a program called Garageband. I have no outboard gear or anything. Just Garageband and a USB microphone and my instruments.

Active Listener :  You've recorded with R. Stevie Moore. How did that come about, and what was he like to work with?

Chris Oliver : I discovered R. Stevie Moore's music about 5 years ago now. I don't remember how or where I first hear it but I found out about this guy who they call the "Godfather Of Home-Recording" and that he has 400 albums to his credit etc etc. This just caught my ear as I'm someone who records pretty much all the time. It's all I think about and all I want to do with my time. I love making music and want to be able to make it my career or job I guess you could say. Anyways I got a bunch of his albums and was hooked. Befriended him on Facebook and at some point I had this half finished song that I was calling "Time Share" I just sent him a message on Facebook asking if he would like to collaborate so I sent him the song and he dug it. A few weeks later I got an e-mail with the complete song and it's a piece of psychedelic heaven. It made me even happier when he included it on his 2010 album "Space Bar" which came be found on his Bandcamp site. Since then R. Stevie has FINALLY been discovered and now is becoming the star he deserves. I can only hope for the same myself one day!

Active Listener :  Your sound has obviously evolved quite a bit since the late nineties. can you guide us through your back catalogue and tell us a little about each of your releases?

Chris Oliver : Wow! this is going to be tough. Well since I got my first 4-track when I was 16 in 1996 a lot has changed. It went from pretty much forcing my friends to record
These crazy things with me and a lot of just experimenting, trying to figure out how to write songs. The first tape I put together which I thought was good enough to show my friends etc etc was a album I called "Living Alone" in 2003. Sadly I can't find the master tapes in which those songs are on but since that album I've put out 12 albums so i'll try to keep this short. At this time I was also making long distance recordings with my friend Zach Biggs who lives out in Austin TX. We were sending our 4-track tapes in the mail and adding to each other's songs so besides working on the Solar System albums I was doing that.

The Warmth EP- A collection of 4 songs, 3 of which are instrumentals. I was really into The Residents, Brian Eno, Skip Spence and Syd Barrett so I think that explains enough HA!

Then My friend Zach and I put together a collection of older recordings from 2003-2007 called " The Four Track Sessions 2003-2007" Clever title huh?
And these contain what Zach and myself consider my best early songs. Some of "Living Alone" is featured here.

Then came "World, I Don't Need You Because I'm Awesome" I had the idea to make sort of a rock album on my 4-track. A bit heavier songs as I was very much into bands like Sebadoh and Guided By Voices at the time, But as with all my albums there are traces of Psychedelic music in the sound as it's the music that is in my soul. It's the style of music and sound that means the most to me!

Next up is "Materi" Which is an album looking back is to me quite a stepping stone in my development as a songwriter and musician. This is a very psychedelic and experimental album that a lot of friends seem to think is the perfect "Stoned" album. I was just pushing my 4-track to the limit and having fun turning the tape backwards and exploring sounds I heard from the cosmos!

"Materi" was followed up by "Ugly Face/Ugly Town" This album was recorded rather quickly. I should state most of my albums come together rather quickly. I tend to let the muse take me. So from my memory this was written and recorded in about 2 or 3 weeks in the summer of 2008. I was hanging out with my good friend Joseph Paris, who is responsible for most of the cover art on most of my albums. So we were hanging out a lot and he was super helpful and supportive of my music and this made me and continues to make me feel good. It's always nice to have someone in your corner. So with this album I was trying to channel in my own way the creative side of albums like "Electric Ladyland" and the first 4 or 5 Brian Eno solo albums, in which both Hendrix and Eno used the studio as a instrument. I feel in my own way I did. This one is another album that I think is super psychedelic and very textural. I try with all my albums to take the listener on an aural journey. I'm very much inspired by the production techniques of the classic 60's psych albums as well as a lot of modern psychedelic music like the Elephant 6 Recording Collective. Robert from the Apples In Stereo and Will from Olivia Tremor Control are masters in my mind and I'm always inspired by their work.

After this I started recording a bit on my friend Joe's computer. Using the same program I use to this day. It's how I learned how to record on the computer. Anyways I kinda didn't want to completely let my 4-track go so I came up with the concept of my next two albums. The first being "Analog" and the other "Digital" "Analog" was recorded on my tascam 464 and is mainly an instrumental album. Very much a late night psychedelic trip of an album. "Digital" was recorded using Garageband and is kinda all over the place style wise. I'm proud of "Digital" but out of the two, "Analog" is the winner!

Up next is "3 Bird" my little play on words with the Lynyrd Skynyrd song Free Bird. Get it? This album, like "Digital" is a bit scatterbrained but I like that quality of my work. Some of my favorite albums and artists albums jump around style wise. It's like a mix CD a friend made you or free form radio or something.

Then comes "Drawing A Blank." This album along with "Materi", I see as another turning point. Very psychedelic and textured in it's sound and production and contains some of my favorite songs.

Up next is "Butterfly On The Wheel", another strong, very psychedelic trip-type album. I was getting more comfortable using Garageband and all it's possibilities to bend and shape the fabric of sound. I think it shows on the album. Plus I was falling in love at the time!

Major Heave came from my friend Henry Van Loon, a friend and musician who is amazing in his own right was telling me about National Solo Album Month which is every November and he said I should take part so I did. Most people who do just make a short album of 8 to 10 songs but I gave myself a challenge of writing and recording a song a day. 30 songs in 30 days. This to some may seem crazy but it was a lot of fun and most of it turned out great. It's a very dynamic and diverse album as I think you can hear all of my influences coming through.

Active Listener :  I always find it interesting to hear how an artist hears their own music. How would you describe "It's a Myth" and which of your major influences do you think are most apparent on it?

Chris Oliver : Well After "Major Heave" I took a bit of a break. The band I co-founded with one of my best friends "Cody Stagefright" stopped which to me was a god-send as I'd slowly been losing interest,  and one of the members and myself just couldn't get along with each other, no matter how hard both of us tried. So once the group stopped, I felt a huge weight come off me and I started writing. 2 of the songs though I should note were either written or started before the writing session began and those songs are "Donating Blood" which was originally written and recorded back in 2007 when I was in Austin TX visiting my friend Zach and playing drums in a band he was in at the time called "School Police." So the original recording of that song is on our album entitled "II" and the song "Wildfires" was started in Austin again but this time in 2011. The first half of the song was written the day after my girlfriend and I saw Olivia Tremor Control live. I found out they were to be playing there on the 2nd day of our vacation and the show was great and it was nice to get to hang out with them and become friends with some of them. Also I got to finally meet my friend Paige Dearman who has a project of her own called "Midget and Hairs" and has featured pretty much everyone you could think of from the Elephant 6 crew. So with the good vibes of the show still in my mind I started the song - that explains the first half sounding very much like a long lost Olivia Tremor Control song.
After Cody Stagefright stopped I was feeling like myself again and started writing this album. I think it's one of my strongest albums and I'm very proud of how it turned out. Every musician hears their influences in their sound which is something you just can't get away from no matter how hard someone tries, but with this album, beyond hearing all that I can clearly hear myself in this music. It started with "Materi" and has slowly been morphing into something that I can say is the "Solar System Sound".

Active Listener : Anything to add?

Chris Oliver : I Just wanted to thank the other artists who did cover art for me. Especially since one of them is family ha ha. So there is Mitchell Oliver, Nina Pratchios and Mikki Shenkenberg.

You can check out all of Chris's releases here on Bandcamp.