28 Feb 2013

The Holydrug Couple "Noctuary" / Föllakzoid "II" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

The more I've immersed myself in contemporary psychedelia, the more exotic examples have presented themselves to me. So, fresh from my ransacking of the French scene ( The Sudden Death of Stars, The Blondi's Salvation etc.) comes my first foray into the Chilean psychedelic community.
The Holydrug Couple and Föllakzoid are both signed to hip Brooklyn label Sacred Bones, both are from Santiago and both released their new albums on January 22.
The Holydrug Couple are in their own words “a slow motion sixties beach party dream that you never want to wake from”. I'm certainly not one to argue, and "Noctuary" is quickly becoming one of my most played albums of the year, with it's hazy, trippy textures seeming to resonate with pretty much whatever mood I'm in.
Opener "Counting Sailboats" doesn't so much drag 'Tomorrow Never Knows" into the 21st century kicking and screaming, as it does invite it in and give it a cup of herbal tea.
The mood is sustained nicely throughout - think Tame Impala's trippier, more heavily treated material blanketed with ridiculous amounts of echo and effects. A pretty great Sunday chillout album for the more discerning listener.
BTW - if you like this album you should check out this free Bandcamp E.P from Dennis Olsen - they're on a very similar wavelength.

Föllakzoid are a much more precise but no less trippy prospect, with strict motorik rhythms fused with some very fine cosmic spacerock.
If you've ever wondered how Neu and Hawkwind would coexist in a musical partnership then this'll allow you to move on and find something new to ponder in you more obscure moments.
Sure groups like Wooden Shjips do this sort of thing well and have done for ages, but Föllakzoid do it better than anyone I've heard, and anyone I'm likely to hear I suspect.
There's nary a weak moment in it's  45 minute running time, but the best is undoubtedly saved until last with "99"s rock solid rhythm section allowing layers of cascading echo guitars to explore where they must, freaking out on us in a glorious deluge of otherness, while fifteen minute closer "Pulsar" racks up an unbearable amount of tension leading to a crushing climax that never arrives - an appropriate closer for an album that consistently defies expectations.
And you lucky Americans get the chance to see these two on tour together with fellow Sacred Bones psych-o's Psychic Ills in the very near future? Sheesh.

27 Feb 2013

The Martian Denny Orchestra "En El Spacio" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

If that glorious band name isn't enough to fully attract your attention, then the fact that Sundazed head honcho Bob Irwin is onboard as guitarist should do the rest. Sundazed are of course the premier American reissue label with an impressive back catalogue of garage, beat, psychedelia and more recently surf music.
Clearly the titles that Irwin chooses to reissue are labors of love, so it's not at all surprising that the Martian Denny Orchestra's full length debut sounds a whole lot like something that Sundazed would choose to reissue if they were to stumble upon it in a dusty crate somewhere.
These folks dwell in a land where the British Invasion never happened, the Outer Limits is watched from behind the sofa, Saturday nights are spent at the drags and all the most interesting folk are rebels who'll never be any good.
"Out of Limits" kicks things off with a blast - a gritty Ventures style surf rock number which playfully references the Twilight Zone theme - tongue very firmly planted in cheek .
What follows is a reverential, highly energized set of rebel rousers - well selected covers and masterfully composed originals full of honking sax and Duane Eddy twang, performed by a crack selection of some of the hottest players Nashville has to offer.
Highlights? Well, the gorgeous steel guitar on "Sealed with a Kiss" is the sort of sensuous delight you don't expect to find on wax post-1960, while "Brawl" has all the streetwise tough you'd hope for from it's title.
An excellent tribute, and five guys that obviously have a blast playing together - bet these guys are dynamite live!

You can stream the album or buy the CD here from the Sundazed website.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats "Poison Apple" 7" Review

Reviewed By Jim Peters

Smoke swirls from the basement doorway – part hashish haze part theatrical smoke machine – pulsing, flashing lights dance through the (om)fug silhouetting animalistic shapes thrown in wild abandon by those lucky enough to have survived the party this long and made it down this far. Casualties shrink the room slumping against the walls but at the far end of the room comes a red glow from the eyes of a group of justified sinners and deadbeats leading this elegantly wasted scene with their diabolic, primal glam riffs……..you had better kick out the jams and listen to your good old Uncle Acid – Mutherfuckers!
 `Poison Apple’ (on Rise Above Records) from Cambridge’s finest purveyors of psychedelic doom metal – Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – starts with a sleazy riff Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would sell their leathers trousers for – but then their 3rd album `Howl’ was named after the Allen Ginsberg poem and he himself is a Dead Beat. It’s a riff that is deviantly subversive in its glam feel in the same way that the New York Dolls could be at their best. But don’t be fooled ….there is something sinister in the buried vocals that have you wondering if you have been tricked into tapping along to something dangerous. `I’m your poison apple baby…..’- Hell yeah!
Formed in 2009 as an outlet for the frustrated imagination of the self-confessed unemployable Uncle Acid (guitars, organ, vocals) and recruiting deadbeats Kat and Red (bass and drums) plus on occasion the equally brilliantly named Harsh Ray, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have a sound that draws on the spirit of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple as well as a heavy dose of 70’s psych and garage fuzz.  Poison Apple follows on the back of (oc)cult albums `Vol.1’ and the video nasty concept album `Blood Lust’. Their look and style draws on a theatrical Amicus/Hammer style occult world like those of Satan’s Slave, Carnival of Souls and Messiah of Evil.
To be honest I wasn’t aware of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ Doom Metal/Psychedelic horror credentials when I first heard `Poison Apple’ (certainly not genres the Island comp. `El Pea’ aping cover suggests). From my first exposure to their music I was expecting a much more sleazy glam sort of band than reading their biography suggest. I was hearing Fred `Sonic’ Smith, Johnny Thunders, Bolan and Alice Cooper but with headphones on the arrangement and production does indeed hint at a far more seismic Deep Purple, Weedeater, Electric Wizard style of musical menace and a more groove aware version of Church of misery or Mars Red Sky.
The chugging riff that forms the intro stays constant throughout the track locking you into a grove that fly’s in the face of all you would expect from Doom Metal. This tune rocks but it will have all the hipsters, freaks and acidheads shaking their hips before the vocals have even begun. The murky, circular groove is joined by deeply buried bass and organ parts that add a hint of Iron Butterfly/Nuggets psych. The bass seems to fall in and keep step with the steady march of the guitar but is in fact the first hint at this tunes real cleverness. The bass adds barely noticeable runs of extra notes to the riff that, along with the hazy, smoke shrouded vocals, create a feeling that something is hiding in the mix – something that you are constantly unsure if you have heard of just sensed.
The 2-part vocal harmonies suggest a fleeting nod towards the poppier end of the heavy psych spectrum (The Zombies, The Troggs and good `weird’ Beatles) with the lyrics obscuring themselves and teasing us with mere hints. They could possibly be a messianic coke-fuelled call to arms or they could possibly be something else altogether. Uncle Acid variously announces himself as `the one’ and `the poison apple in the tree’ as well as claiming to be `the sire calling through your brain’. `I’m your own reflection you wish you had’ he tells us – and his is quite probably correct – before adding the sinister refrain `I will always watch you, I will always watch you’ – cue Neil Young style fuzz guitar solo. This, like the rest of the track, exudes confidence and swagger but is never overdone and never stays too long. The production and mix of the track is a further triumph and a trademark of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ sound. Everything bleeds into everything else to such an extent that it is impossible to untangle the separate parts which creates a feeling that the entire track envelops you and warms you up with the power of valve amp hum alone….
…….ignore the demonic paranoia and let Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats absorb you into their narcotic miasma as you drift through the crowd of ecstatic groovers and shakers. Let the growing red eyes guide you and remember it is just the reflection you wish you had.

26 Feb 2013

Vintage Cucumber "Tagesgestirn & Nachtgestirn" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Johannes Schulz A.K.A Vintage Cucumber is a ridiculously productive musician by any standards, but particularly considering the haze of dope smoke that his music seems to be wafting out from. This certainly goes some way to breaking the stereotype that stoners are unmotivated wastrels.
His latest release is a three track E.P (although at around thirty minutes it could pass for an album) based around the lunar and solar cycles - heady stuff.
For those that haven't heard his stuff yet (his last album "McGoyl Style" is great, check it here) you can expect to find within these grooves (or whatever the binary equivalent is) some of the trippiest instrumental psychedelia you've ever heard.
Opener "Sonnenmond" is a mammoth, eighteen minute piece of moody Krautrock that sets an ominous tone from the outset, with a slow, rigid tempo that makes it the aural equivalent of wading through molasses.
It casts a wonderfully hypnotic spell that is so strong that it's hard to adjust to the slightly more upbeat "Mondsonnen", which is built upon some lovely, relaxed tribal percussion with layers of underwater guitar and some beautiful organ work weaving in and out of the mix.
"Der Mond ist des Sonnes Freund" is a Floydian masterwork with a bassline straight out of the late sixties Roger Waters songbook and plenty of tasteful, lyrical guitar work.
This is very deliberately paced music for the patient among us who favor atmosphere and carefully layered embellishments over hooks, although there's plenty of memorable melodies to be found here also.
And it's a name your price download from Bandcamp!
Highly recommended to all you mind travelers.

My Drunken Haze "Pleasing Illusions" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Those Greek's sure love their psychedelia, and who can blame them?
The latest interesting blip on my Greek psych radar comes in the form of "Pleasing Illusions", the debut E.P from My Drunken Haze.
My Drunken Haze introduce themselves as lovers of sixties cinematic sounds, psychedelic pop and dream pop - so, very much my sort of thing.
They've pretty much described their sound with that statement too - imagine a slightly less adventurous Broadcast (to clarify - pretty much everyone is less adventurous than Broadcast in my book), with the majority of the keyboard parts replaced by guitars (there's still some very nice psychedelic organwork too), completely blanketed in a cosy, reverbed dreampop / shoegaze haze.
It's generally quite hard to get an idea of a band's sound with just three tracks, but this is a very fully fleshed out debut from a group who have managed to toe the line between diversity and having a solid aural identity perfectly on the first attempt.
Matina Sous Peau's ghostly vocals cast a dominant shadow over everything here, but songwriter and guitarist Spir Frelini ain't no slouch either, whether it be the slashing fuzz guitars of "Pleasing Illusions" or the tremeloed suspense building of "Sweet Sixteen".
It'll be intriguing to hear how My Drunken Haze blossom into an album band, but in the meantime this will do very nicely indeed.
Stream it below or e-mail the band at mydrunkenhazeband@gmail.com to buy a copy on CD.

25 Feb 2013

Download new Still Corners Track "Berlin Lovers"

London duo Still Corners are back with a free download from their upcoming sophomore album "Strange Pleasures" (due in May on Sub Pop).
"Berlin Lovers" is an eighties style synth-pop gem and a bit of a departure from the sound of their debut "Creatures of an Hour" which made us think wistfully of Broadcast.
Download or stream courtesy of Sub Pop below:

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard "Eyes Like The Sky" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

You may have come across these lads before on the recent "Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations Of The First Psychedelic Era" collection (reviewed here), but I should point out that listening experience will in no way prepare you for the contents of this one of a kind and thoroughly engrossing LP (also available on CD and download, if you must).
Eschewing conventional song structure almost entirely, "Eyes Like The Sky" is a gritty western narrative with story and narration by Dingoes’ vocalist Broderick Smith.
It's as delightful as it is unexpected, combining the grizzled narrative of Johnny Cash's early sixties western work (Ride This Train, Bitter Tears etc.) filtered through his later fire & brimstone offerings, with all the staples of the best spaghetti western soundtracks - dusty guitar twangs, harmonica that sounds like the most lonesome train whistle you can imagine and tribal native american percussion, all passed through a gritty Nuggetty garage filter.
If a young Ennio Morricone was to score a Tarantino or John Hillcoat western today one would hope that the results would sound a lot like this.
Combining this epic cinematic sweep with a down and dirty garage aesthetic is an inspired and totally successful idea which lends an extra layer of grime and reality to proceedings in the same fashion that recent western films like the Coen Brother's remake of "True Grit" have.
So if you've ever found yourself pondering in an idle moment what "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" would sound like performed by the Black Keys then you probably owe it to yourself to hear this now. And if that thought's never crossed your mind, I'd wager your curiosity is till going to get the better of you.
Now where do we sign a petition to make this into a feature film?

Stream below or click here to buy on vinyl, CD or download.

24 Feb 2013

Kontiki Suite Interview

Kontiki Suite is officially one of the Active Listener's favorite bands. We had a chat with Craig Bright from Kontiki Suite about the lure of the past and the exciting things the future has in store.
I'd urge you to hit the play button below and start the album streaming while you read:

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Tell us about the early days of the band and the build up to your debut album "On Sunset Lake."

CRAIG BRIGHT : Kontiki Suite started as a basic 3 piece band with Ben, Marcus and myself (Craig). Gradually over time, and as the songs were coming together, the line up expanded and contracted on a number of occasions with members coming and going until we landed at the what is now, the settled and hopefully definitive line up of the band. We haven't had quite as many fallen heroes as the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but we aren't far off.
'On Sunset Lake' was recorded in our own studio in Carlisle over the course of a year or so. The songs were written at various points during the journey of the band, and one or two Ben had written shortly before we came together.
Jonny produced, engineered and mixed the album. He simply wanted it to fulfill the sounds and ambition he and we had in our heads throughout the recording process. It would be foolish of us to deny the influence of the 60s and 70s, but the last thing we want is to be content with and restricted to the sounds of then and not learn from all of the great music since. Timelessness I guess would be the main aim, as utopian as that sounds.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : "On Sunset Lake" is a favorite of mine. I haven't seen any average reviews of it so far — they all seem to be glowing. How does the band feel about the album and its reception?

CRAIG BRIGHT : We are individually and collectively thrilled by both the album as a whole and the attention and reception it has received. It's been really rather humbling to read the reviews and more private comments we have received from people all around the world. The way that Anglophile pop music can communicate so effectively with people in Norway, Finland, Spain, Italy Portugal, Greece etc is really intriguing. No surprise really given the history of those countries all the way back to the 60s in producing some great garage, psych and power pop bands, but intriguing nonetheless when you are the subject of it.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : You're a band that critics (myself included) love to compare to other bands, whether influences or contemporaries. What would your dream comparison be?

CRAIG BRIGHT : Blimey. That would take a whole night of drinking and arguing to land at anything approaching a consensus in the band. Ben and Jonny as the songwriters would naturally have a large say, as well as varying opinions, but I guess the one band that probably best encapsulates our current sound and foundation right now would be The Byrds. Musically they covered so much ground in such a short space of time in the mid to late sixties, and when you look back now it's almost bewildering. Obviously to be compared to a band, you would need to sound like them, but we aren't consciously trying to sound like any one band, The Byrds or otherwise, or even one style or era. We play folk pop songs first and foremost. Sometimes with a country feel. Sometimes with a psychy feel. Sometimes with an American feel, sometimes very English. Sometimes all of those. I guess the one thing we have done to date which best illustrates the more diverse outlook of the band is the Time and Space Machine remix of Magic Carpet Ride, which transformed what we do onto a different level, including the dance floor. As Richard Norris calls it, Cosmodelica.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : How's the CD selling, and is a vinyl pressing on the horizon?

CRAIG BRIGHT : The CD is selling well. It has only officially been released for less than a month now, but we did sell a fair amount of copies late last year as an appetiser. I'd be lying if I said we were on the verge of taking the album charts by storm (do they even exist any more?), but we are happy with how it is fairing. That said, we could do with shifting a few more yet to replenish the coffers to make album number two a realistic short term aim.
Regarding a vinyl release; we sure hope so, though without wishing to reduce the magic of music to numbers, we would have to be confident that enough people would want to buy it to make it worth our while. So far we have had plenty such indications so it may well be feasible. Personally, I buy all new albums on vinyl if they are available, and I know there are many others out there who are the same. I also think that it would be such a shame to never hear the album given its sounds and vibe, on vinyl, so we'll be dong all that we can to make it happen.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Any plans to tour "On Sunset Lake"?

CRAIG BRIGHT : Tour is a strong word! But yes, we will certainly be playing as many gigs as our daily lives allow. Largely in the UK I guess, but we are trying to look at the possibility of some European dates later in the year too.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : How the heck did you get Richard Norris's attention for that excellent "Magic Carpet Ride" remix (B-Side to their Magic carpet Ride 12" )?

CRAIG BRIGHT : I had been a fan of what Richard had been doing for a long time, culminating in Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve with Erol Alkan and his own Time & Space Machine. As a regular attendee of Glastonbury, I had had the pleasure of witnessing the BTWS DJ sets in the early hours of the morning and what they were doing by spinning, mixing and re-editing classic old tunes by Love, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and other 60s psych/Nuggets stuff and more modern folkier tracks for the dance floor was really inspiring. They prove that you can look both backwards and forwards musically and that 'retro' music and more modern 'dance' music aren't mutually exclusive - they can live together quite happily, and thanks to Richard and other like minded sorts, they do, and where our music lends itself to incorporating that blend, we'll go for it. The re-edits they have done for the likes of Midlake and Findlay Brown are wonderful such examples.
Anyway, I met Richard at Glastonbury one year and subsequently emailed him to see what he thought of our new track (Magic Carpet Ride). He loved it thankfully and the remix just developed from there on in.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : How deliberate a nod to the Byrds is "See You In The Morning?" And was it written with this in mind, or did this happen when the band got a hold of it and starting arranging it?

CRAIG BRIGHT : Notorious Byrd Brothers is a big touchstone for us because it blends folk and pop music with country and psychedelia, as well as what at the time was a boundary pushing outlook using the rapidly evolving technology and production techniques. So yes, a love of The Byrds and in particular that album undoubtedly contributed to how that song sounds.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : While we're on the subject, how deliberate is your cosmic folk rock sound — is it a sound that you purposefully make happen, or is it just the way music comes out when you're in a room together?

CRAIG BRIGHT : Overall I think that we are just a product of our influences, as wide ranging as they are. There is always a degree of purpose and consciousness when it comes to navigating the sound of a band, but to say we pre-occupy ourselves with trying to sound a particular way would be misleading. Now that the template has been put down, I think we are at a stage where the sounds we make are largely organic and subconscious, but that's not to say we won't continue to evolve over the next few albums. I could as easily see us making a full on country album as I can a psychedelic opus. We'll go wherever the songs we write take us. Three of us have recently swapped instruments and formed another band (tentatively called The Flying Dimes) in which we are exploring the rawer grooves of 60s garage and psych sound. So watch this space!

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Describe the personalities in the band without offending anyone.

CRAIG BRIGHT : I think it's fair to say that we are all pretty laid back and easy going, sometimes to a fault. The band is made of two brothers, two cousins and two musos, so I guess we are always likely to blend together quite well, albeit with the occasional difference to keep things fresh.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : You sent me a folder of demos that were made before the recording of "On Sunset Lake" I believe. There's some pretty magical stuff on there — any plans to work on any of these songs for the next album, or are these relics from the past for you now?

CRAIG BRIGHT : I would say that they are now likely to be seen as music of its time and not revisited from a band perspective, unless we dry up altogether! I couldn't begin to tell you how many songs which Ben and Jonny have written which we are yet to tackle, so at the moment, I'm incline to to think that that revisiting them unlikely. Many, many other demos and versions, particularly Ben's home recordings, also exist, but we're saving them up for the inevitable Rhino box set in 20 years time!

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : I know you've only just released "On Sunset Lake", but you've alluded to a second album being in the pipeline. How far have you got with this and what can you tell us about it so far?

CRAIG BRIGHT : The second album is more or less recorded and waiting to be mixed and sequenced. We are hoping to have it ready sometime this year. So far, we think it sounds fantastic, having learned some lessons from recording 'On Sunset Lake', we believe it will be a step beyond in every way.

Follow Kontiki Suite on Facebook here.

You can stream and buy their music here.

23 Feb 2013

Dean Allen Foyd "Road to Atlas" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Hyped Swedish psychedelic rockers Dean Allen Foyd are old-fashioned in the best possible sense. Musically they recall that particularly heady time in the late sixties where psychedelia and blues were being coerced into strange and terrifying new shapes and progressive rock was still in a primitive, nebulous form with none of the tedious showboating that was on the horizon.
Aesthetically too, the Foyd, as I'm sure they're hoping to be referred to,  left their heart in the sixties with their cover art and promo photos showing a band very much in thrall to a time where anything was possible, whether it was a good idea or not.
It comes as no surprise then to find them following up their excellent debut long player "The Sounds Can Be So Cruel" (reviewed here), with that old chestnut of momentum maintainers, the E.P.
Never one to do things by halves though, this is a little more extravagant than the standard sixties fare. This is no seemingly random selection of album tracks from the previous album, in an awkwardly posed sleeve thrown together to generate a few christmas sales.
No sirree, "Road to Atlas" features five brand new tunes, all of which rival the best material from the debut, pressed on 10" vinyl and housed in the gorgeous psychedelic sleeve you were greeted with when you loaded this page.
Musically it's more of what you want too, with fabulous organ and guitar duels, memorable riffs aplenty, and on "Insects" a particularly hair raising  freakout section that ups the psychedelic ante further than anything they've accomplished so far.
"Leave Me Be" on the other hand may be their best psychedelic blues number yet, with a lovely, lyrical guitar solo and the sort of propulsive riffery that Ten Years After used to excel at.
Vintage, certainly but a particularly fine vintage.

21 Feb 2013

Feeding People "Island Universe" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

There's a lot of buzz surrounding Feeding People - and most of it centers around dynamic twenty year old vocalist Jessie Jones. Comparisons to giants like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin are being thrown readily around (although they seem to have originated in the band's press release, rather than the imagination of reviewers), making this an album that seems like it's setting itself up to disappoint.
Or so you'd expect at least.
Comparisons to Joplin and Slick may be pushing things a little, but Jones gives seventies rockers like Heart's Wilson sisters a run for their money, and as consolation prizes go that's pretty damn good.
Similarly the band's music isn't quite what we've been led to believe, but none the worse for it.
"Desert Song" and particularly "Uranium Sea" have some delightfully off kilter, woozy, carnivalesque organ work punctuated with demented seagull guitars, but the dominant flavour (and most successful in this writer's opinion) is big dumb seventies style rock (you all know that big and dumb become attributes when applied to seventies rock, right?).
They tone things back every now and then too - the title track is delicate, breezy and tropical, but they're at their best when they're loud and abrasive with Jone's voice allowed to soar. "Red Queen" and "Big Mother" perhap demonstrates this best, and play to the band's strengths - loose tempos, air guitar-worthy riffs and big fat lead bass, all delivered with a strutting bravado that belies the youth of this outfit.
So "Island Universe" isn't necessarily what you expect it to be, but check your expectations at the door and there's a whole lot of fun to be had.

Available on CD here and vinyl here.

19 Feb 2013

Maston Guest Mix - Active Listener Radio

You've all picked up a copy of Maston's Trouble in Mind debut "Shadows" by now presumably? ( if not - head here NOW!)
Of course you want more.
Well I haven't got any more for you, buuuuuut Maston mastermind Frank Maston has been kind enough to put together this nifty playlist for us, highlighting some influences on "Shadows" and some stuff that he just loves. Anyone who's heard "Shadows" has had a ball playing spot the influence, now it's time to see if we were right!
Stream it below:

The Active Listener Sampler 5 Available Now

Sheryl Crow may not have got much right, but she was right on the money when she said "a change would do you good".
The Active Listener Psychedelic Sampler has now become simply The Active Listener Sampler - still full of the best new psychedelia, but allowing a little more leeway for other worthwhile artists to reach your ears.
The cover for this month's sampler is by Dale Simpson - check out more of his incredible work here.


Please take the time to visit the links and hear more from these artists.

Azteca "Azteca" "Pyramid of the Moon" Reviews

Reviewed By Joseph Kyle

Azteca (1972)
Pyramid of the Moon (1973)
(Reissued 2013 via BBR/Cherry Red)

The psychedelic latin jazz fusion orchestra Azteca was formed by brothers Pete and Coke Escovedo shortly after their stint in Santana. Their aim was to put together a large band that would take the best elements of pop, rock, latin music, jazz, and R&B, mix them together into a heady, trippy soup, and create a new sound that was clearly rooted in tradition. Though theirs was a brief existence--they only released two albums.
Their self-titled debut, released in 1972, is a big record; heavy in sound, overflowing in groove, the album is initially a rather dense listen, but it's worth the effort, as it's pleasures soon start to reveal themselves. There's the trippy blues groove of "Empty Prophet," the Isaac Hayes-style "Peace Everyone" displays the Stax influence on the Escovedo brothers, while the Latin dance groove of "Ah! Ah!" and "Mamita Linda" will
put a smile on your face. Things get radically different, though, with "Love Not Then," when vocalist Wendy Haas takes the lead, and the band transforms into a 5th Dimension pop band. Less successful is "Ain't Got No Special Woman," where the duo sounds like a knockoff of their former band, Santana. Still, that one low spot doesn't overpower the greatness of the whole, as "Azteca" is a gem of a debut.

"Pyramid of the Moon", released in 1973, found the group reigning in the overwhelming sonic diversity of their debut, in favor of a somewhat straightforward Latin jazz sound.
"Someday We'll Get By" is rather standard Latin jazz-rock, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the album. While the grooves are smooth, something about the record feels missing; one longs for the up-and-down listening experience of the debut. Perhaps they were going for a more commercial sound--that would explain the slickness and the more pop-oriented material, such as "Find Love Today," while "Red Onions" borrows a little too heavily from "La Bamba," and feels like a knockoff of Ritchie Valens' signature hit. Yes, it's a traditional song, but even traditional songs and melodies can become cliched.
This more commercial direction didn't help sales, and the collective quietly dissolved shortly after the album's release. Guitarist Neal Schon would soon find commercial success with his band, Journey, and Pete Esovedo's daughter Sheila would, in a few years' time, become well known as percussionist and pop star Sheila E.
The idea of a musically diverse psychedelic Latin jazz fusion rock orchestra was a noble one, though perhaps "Azteca" was lightning bugs in a jar, a magical moment that couldn't be replicated.

Available here.

French Boutik "Les Chats de Goutierre" 7" E.P Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

OK, so everyone else was reviewing this towards the end of last year, but I'm never one to rush a good thing, and this thing is particularly good.
The thing in question is the debut 7" 4 track E.P (remember them?) from French Boutik, a marvelous group of Parisian pop mods.
The carefully observed period sleeve is a pretty good indicator of what you'll find inside too - flawlessly cool vintage pop that owes as much to early Kinks and Marianne Faithful as it does to Jacques Dutronc.
Swinging London cool and French chic never sounded so good together!
"Les Chats de Gouttière" is a swinging piece of garage beat, that showcases Gabriela Giacoman's effortlessly breezy vocals with plenty of groovy organ and beatnik percussion.
"La Vedette" meanwhile proves that guitarist Serge can flex his vocal chords too, while the rhythm section take this in a more Kinksy / Blur style bouncy pop direction.
Elsewhere there's retro cool organ runs that would make Brian Auger grunt appreciatively, propulsive backing vocals that go"ba ba ba" in all the right places, slashing, trebly guitar chords and a general air of the sort of effortless cool that the non-french can only dream of wistfully.
Vintage mods should form an orderly queue here immediately, while those that need further convincing should check out the preview below:

18 Feb 2013

The Kumari "Fall In Love With The Sun 7" / The Kumari E.P" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Heavy Soul label have already proven themselves to have impeccable taste with two of my favorite releases of last year from the Magnetic Mind (here) and the Strypes (here).
Next on their agenda of vintage fabulousness is the debut 7", also available as an extended 6 track Bandcamp download from London based act the Kumari.
The Kumari include Phil Istine among their number, a prominent reviewer for Shindig magazine, so it should come as no surprise that the six tracks on offer here are a masterclass in sixties guitar pop and that the Kumari can't decide whether they're psychedelia, garage or surf. They do each so well however that it would be an uncharitable soul who demanded they pick a single genre and stick to it.
The A-Side of the 7" "Fall In Love With The Sun" is kindred spirit to the reverb-drenched surfsploitation gems that the Allah La's were being widely praised for last year, albeit with an added layer of snotty bravado that suggests the Seeds were as much of an influence as the Surfaris.
Elsewhere there's plenty more in the way of moody Doors style organs, gritty r&b vocals that are pure '65, blistering surf guitar runs and a general sense that prog rock never happened.
Couple this with a vintage production aesthethic that emphasizes every bit of reverbed twang and you're onto a winner for garage fiends.
The limited edition 7" is available to buy here, or download the extended version through the bandcamp widget below.

17 Feb 2013

Sky Picnic's Chris Sherman Releases "Sandalwood Haze" Solo E.P

Sky Picnic frontman and sometimes Active Listener scribe Chris Sherman has released his first solo E.P. I'll have a review for it up here shortly. It's a name your price Bandcamp download, so there's no excuse for not checking it out! I'm sure a few dollars wouldn't go astray if you have them to spare either though.

Here's what Chris had to say about it : " I’ve written and recorded a solo EP that will be released this week, simply under my name due to a lack of thinking of a creative faux band to operate as.  It’s titled Sandalwood Haze and it’s a bit of a departure from what you might be expecting.  Three-fourths of the songs are deeply rooted in psychedelic folk sounds, while the closing track comes from my flirtation with writing film music.
In many ways, these songs can be seen as compliments to Sky Picnic’s output, as all of these (minus one) were written during sessions for the Paint Me A Dream LP, but just don’t really fit in with that scene.  Hence the solo EP release, as I am a believer in no good song being left behind.
All of these were recorded solo in my studio (using only 4 tracks at most!), and featuring acoustic guitar, sitar, tabla, Mellotron and vocals run through my Klemt Echolette.  These are by no means meant to be “high fidelity.”  The process was very therapeutic in many ways, and really just an exercise in writing and recording on my own.  Leah worked her artwork magic as usual and did provide some guidance.
Enough babbling.  Check it out.  I’ve made it pay what you like, as it’s just about the music and the love.  Do promise if you download it for free to spread the word about Sky Picnic!"

Dodson & Fogg "Derring Do" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

Dodson & Fogg's self titled debut was one of my favorite folk albums of last year, so I'm very (pleasantly) surprised to see a follow up so soon.
The debut (reviewed here) was a solid piece of singer songwriter / folk rock that recalled prime era Donovan, as well as any number of artists on the underground labels of the late sixties, early seventies - Harvest, Deram, Charisma, Island etc.
On "Derring Do" Dodson & Fogg's Chris Wade has set about expanding his palette, without sacrificing the period touches that made the debut so appealing.
So while this is still very much an acid folk album, there are forays into all sorts of unexpected places.
"Too Bright" could be an acoustic demo from T.Rex's "Electric Warrior" album except with backing vocals that sound like they belong on a Wings LP, while "Why Not Take Your Time" is a majestic piece of prog with mock Mellotron and an unusually gothic atmosphere which is much more successful than it should be with those ingredients. There are also harpsichord flourishes on "Flying High" and "Dreams of You & Me" that Ray Davies would be proud of, and some lovely trumpet parts that sound like the work of whomever arranged Scott Walker's "The Seventh Seal".
Having guests the caliber of Trees' Celia Humphris and Hawkwind's Nik Turner, who reprise their roles from the debut  doesn't do any harm either of course, along with Mellow Candle's Alison O'Donnell and The Floating World's Amanda Votta who supplies some devastatingly lovely flutework on "Dreams of You & Me".
But ultimately it's Chris Wade's impressive Donovan meets Nick Drake songcraft, not to mention his inventive use of the home studio that is the star of the show here.

Available here.

15 Feb 2013

Ummagma News - Video Fest + Jane Woodman Remix

Remember Ummagma? I reviewed their genre-defying debut albums (that's right, two) back here.
They also featured on the very first Active Listener Psychedelic Sampler here.
They've not been resting on their laurels since either, with a number of exciting developments.
Their debuts are now available as Name Your Price Downloads via Bandcamp here, so if you can't afford to pay for them you don't have to.
The last three weeks have been a particularly busy time for them with no less than four videos being created for them.
The Blog that Celebrates Itself and Dimitry Uziel have created this video for "Human Factor" :

There are also new videos below for "Talk To Her", "Kiev" and "Rotation". Check them out !

And if that weren't enough the fabulous Jane Woodman has created this excellent remix of Ummagma's "Lama". Jane is a solo DIY artist with an impressive shoegaze, goth, post-punk, and darkwave aesthetic. Her debut album is due in March - you'll hear more about it here soon!

Lisa Germano "No Elephants" Review

Reviewed By Joseph Kyle

Lisa Germano's solo work has always been dark in nature, yet possessing an innocent charm and a curiosity about the way the world works. "No Elephants" is no exception; if anything, it's her darkest, starkest record to date, with Germano often accompanied only by a piano, drum machine, or guitar, as well as field recordings of birds and outdoor life. Stripped down in such a bare-bones arrangement gives the songs an atmosphere that can be disturbing--especially for those who may not be familiar with her work. For those who know her, there's plenty to love here. Highlights include "Up In The Air," "Diamonds," and "Ruminants" - three songs cut from the same cloth, her breathy singing over a simple piano line. It's minimalism that is both haunting and beautiful, a musical listening experience both inviting and off-putting. "No Elephants" isn't for everyone, and at this point in her career, Germano is simply making the music she wants to make, and for those who know her work, the result is a beautiful, sublime masterpiece.

Available on CD here and digitally here.

14 Feb 2013

Broadcast "Berberian Sound Studio" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Considering the influence that film scores have obviously had on Broadcast's sound, it's a wonder that it's taken this long for them to get around to scoring one of their own.
And in many ways "Berberian Sound Studio" is the ideal vehicle for them, so much so that you can imagine director Peter Strickland casting them before any of the actors.
There's been a little criticism of this soundtrack among the mainstream music press, although I suspect the writers concerned are generally those who believe a soundtrack's sole purpose is to accompany and build on what's happening onscreen, rather than provide a satisfying listening experience independently - an unfortunate and shortsighted view. The best scores - and make no mistake "Berberian Sound Studio" can certainly count itself among this number - have an evocative allure of their own which you rarely find in other genres.
The film itself is a celluloid love letter to the Italian giallo movement of the late sixties and seventies. In a twist on the Englishman abroad genre Toby Jones stars as a meek English sound engineer who is hired to work on a psychological thriller in 1970s Italy. Jones' quiet life living with mother and working on children's TV shows hasn't prepared him for the demands of this particular job, and he begins to lose his grip. Madness ensues.
Ideal fodder for Broadcast then who know their giallo well enough to avoid the staccato strings associated with the black gloved killer in favor of the weirder and more psychologically unsettling end of the spectrum - throbbing synths, tinkling Goblinesque tubular bells and rambling treated demonic voices represent the creep-factor, but there's plenty of beauty to be found too with some lovely flute work, ghostly elliptical piano lines, and a couple of vocal appearances from the much missed Trish Keenan which are particularly striking, but then again that was always her gift wasn't it?.
This certainly doesn't sound like any other Broadcast album, but it's one that we knew they could and should make, and one that we hoped if we were very lucky they would make. And they have.

Available on CD here , Vinyl here and DVD here.

Video Launch - Charity Children "Elizabeth"

Indie folk duo Charity Children (Chloe Lewer and Elliott McKee) have come a long way in a short time from their roots as a two-piece in New Zealand, to the recording of their debut album "The Autumn Came" recorded with a massive fifteen piece folk orchestra in their new home of Berlin.
"The Autumn Came" will be released by Monkey Records later on this year, and is preceded by their debut single "Elizabeth", which is a massive indie folk anthem sure to appeal to fans of the Head & The Heart and Ed Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
In their own words, "Elizabeth" is "a tribute to the unloved; a marching exaltation devoted to the downtrodden, bullied and supposedly weak. Not a mawkish bellow of patronizing sympathy, but a fighting cry to those tormented souls who refuse to feel small by the will of others."
"Elizabeth" is due for official release on the 18th of February, but Charity Children have chosen the Active Listener to launch the single and it's video three days early, so here it is:

Record Label: www.monkeyrecords.com

Spanish Moss "Kelp" Review

Reviewed By Chris Sherman

The Spanish Moss (based out of Santa Cruz, CA) have released a killer debut EP "Kelp".
Opener “Fuzz Puzzle”, which rather appropriately begins with a fuzzed guitar riff, is a winding and epic masterpiece, featuring echoey distorted vocals over a heavy rhythm section.
“Chemical Catherine” continues where that leaves off, again, with heavy fuzzed riffage that brings to mind Sun Dial’s masterpiece "Other Way Out" crossed with Sabbath’s Vol 4.
“Vril Loop” is a backward soundscape not unlike early Stone Roses that acts as a nice little interlude. If I may take the time to mention at this point that I heard this digitally, and can only begin to imagine how glorious this sounds on vinyl (which is available still according to their webpage).
The cover conjures up the exact mental image I was getting from these songs, focusing on the darker purplish end of the spectrum.
“Witch Rings” (which featured on one of the earliest Active Listener samplers) contains one of hardest rocking moments on the EP when the chorus switches to overdrive in both tempo and tone, which segues nicely into dreamy atmospherics.
Instrumental album closer “Catherine’s Last Trip” begins with a tamboura drone that sets the mood for the heavy raga rock feel of the piece, where the guitar feels like it was transposed from a sitar line.
Drop in, drone out indeed.

13 Feb 2013

Introducing Frugal Puritan

Interesting new developments here from Folk Police's Northwestern Series offshoot.
An archival release from a mysterious outfit known as Frugal Puritan....
Here's what the press release has to say :
"These recordings, along with a handful of photos and an extensive set of ‘explanatory’ notes, were passed to Folk Police Recordings by a musician loosely associated with the label. They were given to him by an obsessive collector of rare folk and psychedelia who has asked us to respect his anonymity. We can tell you nothing about Frugal Puritan – the album or the band. We can’t tell you when or where the songs were recorded, who wrote them or who plays on them. The sleeve notes tell a tale of utopian dreams turning into nightmares, of Jesus Freaks metamorphosising into Crowley-obsessed occultists, of innocents turning from the light and slipping into a darkness of drug-fuelled orgies and madness.
What we can tell you is that here we have ten songs that range from gently pastoral hippy folk to full-on fuzz-drenched acid rock, complete with lashings of devotional frenzy, handclaps and monster guitar solos. We have plaintive vocals awash with harmonies and subtle psychedelic touches. We have lyrical concerns that stray far from standard issue Christian folk: The Raising of the Dead borrows liberally from a particularly apocalyptical biblical passage; North Street Reign appears to be from the perspective of a murderer; Song for John David seems to quote approvingly from Aleister Crowley. The final track, Seven Stars, is a shimmering lo-fi psychedelic epic. This album will appeal to anyone who has explored the outer reaches of lost Christian acid folk: Caedmon, Perry Leopold, The Water into Wine Band or The Trees Community.
We can also hear echoes of artists as diverse as S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things, Spaceman Three and Roy Harper."

Frugal Puritan will be released as a limited edition CD on April 1st in a vinyl-style gatefold sleeve with 16-page booklet with design by Dom Cooper. It has been remastered by Pete Philipson (Starless and Bible Black/The Woodbine and Ivy Band). It'll also be available to download.

More info coming soon at http://www.folkpolicerecordings.com/

Check out  "North Street Reign"

The Floating World "We Hunted" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

The Floating World make hauntingly beautiful music that is almost wholly impossible to write about without using words like ethereal, which in turn is going to lead you up the wrong path and make you think this is something along the lines of Enya or Clannad which it most unequivocably is not. Anyone still ill at ease should check out the playlist of material (here) that the Floating World were listening to while recording this.
"We Hunted", their latest album, features a line up consisting of Amanda Votta on flutes, bells and FX, Neddal Ayad on guitar and the rather splendid Grey Malkin from the mysterious Hare and the Moon providing his usual unsettling jiggery pokery on drums, bells, mandolins and lord knows what else.
"The idea for this album formed during time spent traveling in summer, back and forth on highways to and from cities, often at night, between them the small towns and their shining lights appearing and disappearing - the stars, the road and the forward momentum the only constants." says Amanda, and the great outdoors is certainly evoked in effective and often spectacular ways here.
This is instrumental music which relies on atmosphere as much as melody.
There's a pastoral element at play that acid folk fiends are likely to connect with, but I can also imagine mid seventies Tangerine Dream coming up with something like this if they were dumped in a glade somewhere with only flutes, acoustic guitars and percussion at their disposal.
Obviously "We Hunted" is a unique creature then, capable of robbing me almost completely of my descriptive powers, but leaving me with a deep seeded urge to share it with as many of you as possible.
You don't have anything in your music collection like this, but you should.

Available in very limited numbers through Reverb Worship - order here.

Stream a few selections below:

12 Feb 2013

Mehrpouya "Soul Raga" Review

Reviewed By Joseph Kyle

Iranian musician Abbas Mehrpouya may best be known for being the man who brought traditional Indian music to Iran, his music transcends easy categorization. He is known primarily for his sitar work, but this two-disc collection of singles and his sole album shows that Mehrpouya was a much more internationally inspired musician, and not wholly inspired merely by Eastern sounds. Sure, moments like "Soul Raga," "Ghame Tanha Instrumental" and "Solenzara" clearly put him in the same category as the masterful Ravi Shankar, it would be wrong to assume that particular sound was his masterwork. Soul Raga will surprise, for while traditional sitar music is his forte, he was just as capable of taking on Middle Eastern ballads ("Sareban"), African funk ("Ghabileye Leyli"), and, surprisingly, American musical styles like rockabilly ("To Bemani Va Man"), easy listening ("To Koyaje"), and hot jazz ("Bargizan")! He was a nimble composer, able to adapt sounds and styles from around the world and make them into his own. The best moment, however, would have to be "African Jumbo," where he takes on the endless funk of Fela Kuti and shows himself to be a master of that style as well, as the eleven and a half minutes this song requires will turn you into an ecstatic, dancing mess. That Mehrpouya easily and masterfully sponged up the musical styles of his day and reprocessed them into something so unique, enjoyable, and masterful is proof of the man's genius as a musician.

Available here.

Joel Jerome "Babies On Acid" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

The Active Listener's listening sphere has been widening a little of late and one of the main catalysts for this re-evaluation has been the steady stream of amazing retro pop gems issuing forth with ridiculous regularity from Burger Records, who will have taken over the world by 2016 at this rate.
The latest Burger release to snag, then caress my ear in the most pleasing of fashions is from Joel Jerome of DIOS semi-fame, now recording with Babies on Acid, and hell is it good.
Pitchfork and co. would be all over this if it was released on say, Sub Pop, but as the more mainstream alternative press (contradiction? probably) have so far seemed resistant to the not inconsiderable charms that Burger has to offer, it's left to little guys like myself to wave the flag vigorously.
And an album like this one is certainly worth getting your arms tired for.
Jerome writes some of the sweetest, quirkiest pop songs you've never heard, with a vintage fifties / sixties aesthetic that suggests Doc Brown never met Marty McFly and instead took Elliott Smith on a one way trip in the DeLorean, where he was given the opportunity to soak up the very best that these golden decades had to offer first hand.
A perfectly functional cover of the Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry" does little to prepare the listener for the unstoppable powerpop juggernaut that follows, with it's addictive melodies and HUGE drums.
Sure, the quirky outsider pop of "I Don't Wanna Marry You" isn't gonna be a mainstream hit anytime soon, but for those of us weened on the likes of Jonathan Richman this is a certain kind of wonderful that we'll defend to our very last breath.
And the best news is, Joel assures me that there's HEAPS more where this came from. I'm ready how about you?
In the meantime check out "Grrrl" below, swoon, then visit Burger Records here to order the tape.

Kurt Vile Announces New Album, Shares First Track

Everyone's favorite longhair Kurt Vile has announced that his new album "Wakin' On a Pretty Daze" will be released through Matador on April 8th.
"It's totally our 'Tusk', but no cheese. Just rock," Vile told Spin, alluding to Fleetwood Mac's classic.
"You turn it on and it sounds like me. But the guitar playing is better and the ideas are new. It's classic, it's epic, with many more solos," he added.
The album follows Vile's widely praised 2011 release "Smoke Ring For My Halo", and features guest appearances by members of Warpaint and Beachwood Sparks.
Check out the title track here :

"Wakin On A Pretty Daze" clocks in at over 69 minutes and will feature :
'Wakin On A Pretty Day'
'KV Crimes'
'Was All Talk'
'Girl Called Alex'
'Never Run Away'
'Pure Pain'
'Too Hard'
'Shame Chamber'
'Snowflakes Are Dancing'
'Air Bud'

11 Feb 2013

Surly Gates E.P Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

Austin TX has a proud psychedelic heritage which stretches all the way back to the mid sixties and legendary acts like the 13th Floor Elevators, Golden Dawn and the ridiculously fabulous Bubble Puppy (who moved to Austin from San Antone).
You can now add Surly Gates to this select group of quality lysergic tunesmiths, an excellent new five piece whose debut E.P is so good it doesn't need a name.
There's an expectation of what contemporary psychedelia from Austin will sound like, and granted there's a certain amount of ground shared with the likes of the Black Angels, but Surly Gates do stretch themselves over these four tracks, tempering their reverb laden guitars and clattering drums with shamanistic chants, creepy carnivale organs, trippy oscillators and on the intro to "March of the Furr Creatures" the sort of tremeloed, moody, crystalline guitar figures that bands like the Strawberry Alarm Clock once excelled at.
And for those who think you don't get anything for free in this world, I'd draw your attention to the download links on Surly Gate's soundcloud widget below.
Definitely a band to watch we think.

10 Feb 2013

"Tisheh O Risheh - Funk, Psychedelia and Pop From The Iranian Pre-revolution Generation" Review

Reviewed By Jason Simpson

Pharaway Sounds is a new re-issue label that has been on fire since their inception in 2011. ‘Tisheh O Risseh’ is their fifth LP, and the third to feature Iranian pop, funk, and psychedelia from Pre-Revolutionary Iran. Several of the acts on "Tisheh O Risheh" have shown up on previous entries "Zendooni" and "Khana Khana", the first time they have been made available to an English speaking audience. The folks at Pharaway Sounds must eat, sleep, and breathe exotic vinyl, trawling glitzy middle-eastern club mixes to unearth solid gold soul. Pharaway Sounds stand to be just as well-known as fellow diggers like Finders Keepers, Sublime Frequences, or The Numero Group.
Shahram Shabpareh (appearing here as just Shahram) gets things started right with "Asheghi Ham Hadi Dare:; a fine slab of robo-discofunk, full of sunbaked hand-percussion and string stabs in a minor mode. There’s a horn interlude that sounds remarkably like bagpipes, and the misplaced temporality of ‘Asheghi’ leaves you feeling like you're standing at a transcontinental crossroads - of both time and space, seemingly Scottish, Italian, African, and Iranian, all at once. A fine jambalaya!
Looking into Shahram lets the listener know what they’re in for: obscure websites in arabic, full of hairy-chested gold-chained individuals, many of these prolific composers have not even made their way to Discogs.com, apart from their scant contributions to crate digging compilations such as these. Shahram has appeared on a number of compilations recently; the exotica diggers are starting to dig him up. It looks like "Asheghi Ham Hadi Dare" originally appeared on 1980’s Gorg Va Bareh, although its hard to say definitively. The sleuth-work is half of the fun, when writing about albums like this, and it makes you wonder where Pharaway Sounds dug this shit up from to begin with. Damn, we all need to get a life...
Beti appears twice on here: "Nazr" is mostly serpentine movie-house organs, persian silk percussion and snake charmer vocals. It's hypnotic and sultry, begin planning your next seduction now. The hook sounds like it's running out of time or energy, perhaps falling into a pit of lava, doomed to re-incarnation, starting all over. I like the sixties dust of the wheezy organ, there’s a flea market/bazaar quality to these sounds that mark them ‘other’, that makes this whole record seem trippily psychedelic and mind-boggling.
"Khooneh Kaleh" is far more futuristic, full of flying saucers and zapping lasers; what it might sound like if the Close Encounters aliens had descended upon a street-market in Marrakesh. It's got that Ethiopiques, rolling polyrhythmic funk that thrills and delights the discerning digger. Those that have been craving more international espionage and romance in their lives will love the cardamon spice of Beti’s tracks. I couldn’t find much information on the artist, not sure if it’s a ‘she’ or a ‘they’, but her tracks have been popping up on re-issue comps the past couple of years, it seems the cognoscenti are catching on to her charms.
"Nasim-E Yaar" by Soli is 60s psychedelic elevator music: think Canned Heat playing with Funkadelic. This is one of the ‘straightest’ (ie. ‘whitest’ or ‘most western’) of the bunch, full of Moroder brass and hard-hitting breakdrumming. The slurring, half-time hook is tight and thrilling, and refreshing to hear, after a billion hours of tightly-quantized machine music. Loose and precise as a drunken sniper; unleash this at your next Bollywood night.
The segue into "Pichak" by Noosafharin is smooth and flawless, revealing Pharaway Sounds to be mixtape masters and expert curators. "Pichak" has nearly the exact same flute part as "Nasim...", far out cosmic 70s exotica that must’ve been en vogue when this was coming out. Its got a spanish flamenco feel, complete with desert brass. The song is pretty skeletal; bongos, flute, trumpet, little guitar, all behind THAT VOICE. Fatima Abdi Golangashi is probably the closest thing to a superstar featured on this comp, the one with the most information available, anyway. She emigrated to India, after the revolution in 1979, and is now part of a community of Iranian expatriates living and working in Southern California. Her catalog is full of dusty gems, rife for mining.
Amir Rassie delivers the title track, "Tisheh O Risheh", funk staccato guitars and more funky bongoes (egads these folks loved their bongoes. Its like a coffeehouse on a wed. night here). Some sweet guitar leads and theremin-lite synthesizer that sounds like space flutes or the rings of Saturn, underscore Rassie’s plaintive vocals. The title track is outshone by Neli’s "Ki Bood",  the least exotica-sounding of the bunch, full of soaring disco strings and crunchy middle-eastern beats. This is like a Muslimgauze remix of an Italo soundtrack for a Lollywood film, as multicultural and confusing as that sounds. Its not; its delicious. This would be an excellent place to train your ears towards microtonal sitars and complex polyrhythms, practice a few choreographed dance moves.
Habib Mohebian brings us acid folk fusion with "Maadar": pastoral acoustic guitars smoothly rippling over cheap synths, sick breakbeats, wordless cooing, and silky bass. It sounds remarkably Pentangle-like, coming from half-a-continent away. Man, they would fuse ANYTHING in the ‘70s! Seriously, though, this is a beautiful track, not kitschy in the slightest. The dated sounds may jar some ears, but most likely anyone reading this will have long since acclimated to archaic synthesizers and incomprehensible vocals, so you should be able to appreciate the splendour.
Shahreh Solati weighs in with some Anatolian cha-cha: there’s that jazzenflaut doubling the horns again, the soaring strings and ceaseless bongoes. The bongoes! The bongoes! This sounds like Indian ska. Solati’s got a lovely voice, but 8 tracks in, the ears get slightly numb to the similarities of some of the material. This album is probably meant to be dissected by DJs and beat-makers; only hardened Persian exoticists (and album reviewers) will listen to this from start to finish. Due to the high standards of when this material was originally aired means even the merely passable all have incredibly high production values and performances. There’s nary a misplaced note on the entire affair, try to avoid the exotica blues of ‘this all sounds the same’ and pay attention to the details.
It would be madness to expound upon every track on here, and I don’t think it’s really necessary; you should hear it for yourself. Discofiends, sample-hounds, cocktail-party stoners and ethnomusicologists will all find plenty to sink their fangs into. Most of the material on this record sounds like some variation of traditional Persian music, mixed with futuristic Disco or acid-fried funk. It ranges from nearly authentic to almost insultingly stereotypical. "Dige Base" by Afshin Shad, "Baroone Bahari" by Fereidoon Farrokhzad And Mahnaz, and album closer "Eshghe To" by Gita are all noteworthy contributors to the tail-end of this party.
Listening to, and writing about, this obscure branch of musical history has been fascinating. Trying to unearth information on the artists featured on "Tisheh O Risheh" will lead you down a wormhole of arabic websites, lo-fi mp3 sites and Wiki articles on the Iranian revolution. I love it when journalism intersects with zeitgeist and psychogeography, and we can hear the spirits of the seventies trapped on wax like living amber. Several of the artists I discovered via "Tisheh O Risheh" have worked their way into my daily listening habits, mainly Nooshafarin and Gita. I love the sci-fi synths mixed with tribal percussion! It reminds me of an ancient ritual, designed to summon the starseed. Ancient and modern, just how I like it.

Find it here.

9 Feb 2013

Soft Hearted Scientists "Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists?" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Welsh have a somewhat unique relationship with psychedelia and an uncanny ability to inform even the weirdest of ideas with a skewed pop agenda that while not necessarily assuring stadium-level commercial success, is certainly palatable enough to the masses to earn a decent sized cult audience.
Bearing this in mind it's puzzling that one of the best of these bands, Soft Hearted Scientists, remain so resolutely obscure despite the best efforts of a sterling back catalogue that's earned serious acclaim but far too few listeners.
Fruits de Mer Records recognize the injustice of this situation and are doing their bit to make the world a better place by compiling the first Soft Hearted Scientists collection, which will be the first time any of this material has been available on vinyl.
Turns out Keith who runs Fruits de Mer is a bit of a super fan, and has had a little trouble whittling down the selections for this collection which has ended up as a double LP with an extra 7", containing choice album cuts, singles, previews of tracks from their forthcoming album and a bunch of demos.
Too much of a good thing certainly doesn't apply in this case however with the breadth of the Soft Hearted Scientists ambitions requiring a collection of this size to suitably convey it's scope.
But what does it sound like you ask?
It's psychedelic and pastoral prog pop of the very highest order, which sounds at times like Caravan attempting to soundtrack "The Owl Service", with that magical and mysterious vibe that makes Welsh folk music seem so exotic to us Johnny foreigners.
And it's marvelous through and through. Highly recommended.

Pre-order it from  Fruits de Mer Records here.

Sample the delights of Mount Palomar here :

8 Feb 2013

Watch a Live Jacco Gardner TV Performance

Here's a fabulous half hour live performance by Jacco Gardner and his band live from Dutch television show 3VOOR12!
Jacco's debut "Cabinet of Curiosities" is out next week on Trouble in Mind Records.

7 Feb 2013

Kiki Pau "The Pines" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Helsinki based Kiki Pau are a pretty exciting proposition. Exciting enough in fact for Dungen's Gustav Ejstes to prick up his ears and mix their third album "The Pines". One listen is enough to see exactly what grabbed his attention. There's not a moment on here that lacks spontaneity, yet there's also the impression that the whole is very deliberate and very carefully constructed - this is certainly not a directionless jam record, despite a surfeit of long instrumental passages.
Comprising four long pieces, in many ways it's a return to the heady days of the late sixties and early seventies when albums were meant to be played as a whole, although the execution and ideas displayed here are plenty fresher than that pedigree may suggest.
Opener "Tomte Mars" drifts in breezily with some atmospheric sonar guitar blips before snaring the listener's attention with a familiar Beatles referencing guitar melody which is inverted and turned on itself as it builds majestically.
This is followed by "Astronauttija" which embraces the funky psychedelic legacy of the Band of Gypsys, while simultaneously spiralling off into all sorts of crazy space rock with some of the most extreme phasing I've ever heard. An impressive showcase for versatile guitarist Henrik Domingo.

Side Two starts delicately with "Pines" - a deliberately paced little beauty, equal parts "Albatross" and "Sun King", lush, atmospheric and regal with splashing cymbals ebbing and flowing nebulously, before segueing into the album's longest and most varied track "Pines II Makumatka" which embraces folk music, eastern riffage and extreme psychedelia, still finding room for some serious jew's harp along the way.
These constant stylistic shifts could sound clumsy in less skilled hands, and while Kiki Pau are pushing themselves into uncharted terrain where things admittedly could fall apart at any minute they instead tend to coalesce into moments of inspiration that sound like they're surprising the band as much as the listener.
An unparalleled success.

Available digitally here, or you can stream or buy on vinyl through this widget :

6 Feb 2013

Grouper " The Man Who Died in His Boat" Review

Reviewed By Jason Simpson

When a high-profile artist, in this case Liz Harris (aka Grouper) releases a new record, it places a would-be reviewer in a tough pickle. If your review is not published within the first few seconds of the album’s release, you run the risk of being delegated to Google’s backpages, and you're forced to retread and rehash what other journalists spout. It raises one of the first unspoken questions of album review: Why are you writing about this?
In some cases, you might be assigned the task, but I (and most of my fellow writers here at The Active Listener) are operating under much more primal instincts. Be it recognition, charity or boredom, we feel the need to spin words about sounds, which brings us to the music.
First of all, here are the facts:
1. "The Man Who Died In His Boat" was released on 2.5.13, on Kranky Records (mmm... Kranky Records), to coincide with the re-release of "Dragging A Dead Deer Uphill".
2. "The Man Who Died In His Boat" is made up of outtakes from the "Dragging A Dead Deer Uphill" sessions.
3. The title and the album as a whole, is based upon an incident in Harris’ youth, where she and her father came upon a deserted sailboat, whose pilot “had simply slipped off somehow, and the boat, like a riderless horse, eventually came back home.” - from Liz Harris' press release.
Now, every journalist on the planet has been forced to spin some permutation of those three basic facts. But I’m not here to bullshit you dear reader, I would expect more adventurous reading habits from those that frequent the burned-out grooves of the majority of albums that end up here at The Active Listener. We are not looking for objectivity here. We are trying to find a trustworthy psychopomp to lead us into the abyss, where we can still find miracles.
Liz Harris’ music is not well-suited to the limelight (although it does stand up). Last summer, I saw her play as part of an Improvisational music festival here in Portland (which you can read about here if you're curious). She played in a nearly pitch-black room, with skeletal branches harshly backlit to throw scratchy shadows on the wall, while an interpretive dancer mimicked The Hermit; a shining light in the darkness. Harris hunched over her pedals, swaddled in subaquatic turqoise light, filling the room with layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of cooing reverbed vocals and disembodied electronics. The air was thick with tension, almost panic, waiting for some MOVEMENT, some GESTURE; a point to it all. Many people do not realize that Grouper is the dark holy feminine; ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’, it will not come when called.
It was not until I had abandoned all expectations, quietened all rampant thoughts and societal worries, and let the room become a time capsule and a sensory deprivation tank, that I could feel the holy spirit. Dark owls filled my mind, and I was bathed in moonlight.
Listening to Grouper is like this: her records are amniotic dream states that will make you cry. She says everything, without using a word. "The Man Who Died..."  is a fine summation of everything she has done to date, all her trademarks and signatures; warm minimalist folk guitar, saturated tape-collage, ghostly vocal choruses, found sounds and field recordings. One of the main things I must emphasize about Liz Harris’ work is that she is absolutely NOT another bullshit drone artist (I hope to further quantify what exactly that means, at a later date), rather her records are like listening to Karen Dalton or the Cocteau Twins at half-speed. Spacious and languid enough to appreciate the peaks and troughs of the waveforms, to find the beating heart in the heart of darkness. At the end of the day, listening to Grouper is an emotional experience, and it is such a godsend to have a feminine touch in the deep dark underground, to find a different kind of magick.
It's amazing that this was recorded five years ago; its totally in line with her recent work, reminding me of last year’s "Mirroring" project most thoroughly. Being a long time fan of Grouper has been like watching a dark-eyed specter, gradually emerging from the gloom. Turns out she’s not a ghost at all. My friends and I used to imagine Liz Harris in a dim, dingy room, coked up on pharmaceuticals, coming out of her reverie every 26 minutes to strum her guitar. I was legitimately worried for her; it seemed like her music was her only salvation from the void, barely making it to the next day. It's been a relief to watch her grow and thrive, becoming an atavistic force in the experimental world, pushing and challenging others off the edges of the map.
"The Man Who Died In His Boat" is personal and intimate, yet it still has the sparkle of a major release. I’ve never known Kranky to put out a dud, and I don’t doubt this, or "Dragging A Dead Deer Uphill", will sound bonkers on vinyl.
I don’t claim to be an authority on this record. Every time Harris comes out with a new record, I become obsessed and infatuated and have to start all over again. It makes me want to hear every note she has ever released, see her every time she plays. This is the power of mystery and suggestion. I can tell you that some of my personal favorites are ‘Vital’ with its languid acoustic strum and heartfelt, faraway vocals; ‘Clouds In Places’ trancey pulsing guitar and sweet, sweet singing (I don’t think enough has been made of Harris' guitar playing. It's simple and perfect. Inspiring.); ‘Vanishing Point’, because its nice to hear some experimentation amidst the ‘songs’; and ‘Living Room’ - it's gorgeous and nicely closes the record. Its what it might sound like if the Captain from Slint’s hair-raising ghost story ‘Good Morning Captain’ were to get in through the window, settle in next to the fire, tell you a story in a dripping puddle of brine and slime.
I can’t really recommend one particular track; I recommend taking it in as a whole, maybe watching the sky through a window, or while wandering in thought. Drink it all in, let it merge with your molecules, and then start over, and listen to every single note she has ever produced.

"The Man Who Died in His Boat" is available here.