27 Mar 2013

Get the New Active Listener Sampler Here Now. Go On.

It's time for this month's sampler, and this may well be the most diverse yet. And certainly one of the best yet, if I may be so bold.

Extra special thanks to the unfairly gifted Richard Tingley (http://www.richardtingley.co.uk/) for the fabulous sleeve art.

Inside you can sample these choice delights :

The Magnificent Brotherhood - I Want To
The Kumari - Fall In Love With The Sun
Paul Messis -It Doesn't Matter To Me
The Effervescing Paintbox - What Would You Say?
Jonathan Mono - Water Lilys
New Electric Ride - Mr Bumblebee
Gravys Drop -I Get Down
Joel Jerome - Errbody Wants Somebody (a brand new track, and it's a ripper!)
Palace of Swords - The Castle Spectre 
King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard - Evil Man
Dodson & Fogg - Everybody Knows
The Diamond Family Archive - Call In
Crafting For Foes - Threads
Frugal Puritan - Jane, Coming 'Round Again 
The Sounds of Sputnik - The Mission

Download it by clicking here, and don't forget to visit the links on the bandcamp page to hear more from these talented artistes.

26 Mar 2013

Psychic Ills "One Track Mind" Review

Reviewed by Dan Joy

"One Track Mind", released in February by Sacred Bones Records, is the fourth full- length release from Brooklyn psychedelic stalwarts Psychic Ills. It’s the second LP to reflect the sharp transition in the band’s approach to composition and record-making that we first heard embodied on 2011’s "Hazed Dream" LP.
Before "Dream", the band tended to source their songs from collective explorations and improvisations, “the whole band jamming and kind of pulling things out of that” as bassist Elizabeth Hart put it in Interview magazine. These methods, as one might expect, often yielded lengthy tracks, with several 8 to 12 minute opuses distributed across Psychic Ills’ first two full-lengths and the 2010 EP "Catoptric".
At some point after their third LP, "Mirror Eye", much of which was improvised in the studio, the band felt that they had taken this approach “as far as we could take it,” Hart said, “and wanted to try writing music in a way that was more unfamiliar to us, actually writing a song and not some kind of improvised approach.” With "Hazed Dream" then, a new modus operandi had been set into play, one in which guitarist/vocalist/multi- instrumentalist Tres Warren brought material written in advance to the rest of the band. (By this point the lineup had become the present trio of Hart, Warren, and drummer Brian Tamborello.) Hence the more conventional verse-chorus songcraft and more compact offerings of the last two LPs, both of which still retain a hypnotic, drone-underground atmosphere and manifestly psychedelic ornamentation.
Fans who were able to turn this corner with Psychic Ills to embrace "Hazed Dream", or who first connected with the band by way of that album, will likely also be pleased with "One Track Mind", which covers similar territory and upholds the previous record’s level of quality. "One Track Mind" represents a modest further step towards accessibility for the band, offering slightly sharper contrasts between tracks, with a few
songs a bit more uptempo than anything on the earlier album. The sound of the current LP is cleaner and crisper than that of its predecessor, with the vocal more forward in the mix and somewhat drier, though plenty of reverb remains. Each component of the drum kit is heard clearly and distinctly, whereas the kit on "Hazed Dream" stood further back with a somewhat muted sound.
Some of the press for "One Track Mind" has given the impression that Neil Michael Hegarty of Royal Trux and Howling Hex fame produced or at least co-produced this record. The sleeve credits, however, clearly limit Hegarty’s contribution to two tracks, both of which he mixed in Colorado while providing backing vocals on one (“Might Take a While”) and guitar on the other (“I Get By”). The rest of the songs were mixed in Brooklyn by Charles Burst, who has been working with the band since at least as far back as 2006 and who also provided vocal and instrumental contributions on the present release. In the absence of any specific “production” or “producer” citation on the sleeve, credit for the overall sound and approach of "One Track Mind" defaults to the band itself. Two aspects of the record’s overall character quickly struck me. One was the album’s smattering of country music accoutrements and devices: twangy lead guitar licks—even a little twang here and there in the vocals—acoustic guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, and bass lines occasionally toggling over fourth and fifth intervals. This rustic décor fed a more subjective impression, that of an unmistakable desert aura—a dusty, haunted evocation of the American Southwest. For the first few listens, the songs sounded to me like the musings of a fractured posse of alternate weird America hipster cowboys using laudanum to come down from peyote while kicking desultorily around an Old West ghost town.
To be sure, the music is spare and open in construction, a quality that along with a haze of reverb might help to evoke outspread desert expanses. Maybe the vibe in question is aided and abetted by the album art: the skulls on the cover, and an inky abstract on the inner sleeve that combines grays and browns with floral colors in a manner that could be taken as depicting a desert in bloom. (It’s worth noting that the artist from whose body of work these pieces were selected, Powell St. John, wrote songs for the 13th Floor Elevators back in the day!)
But these factors didn’t seem like enough to create an Old West impression quite as strong as what I was experiencing. Furthermore, my exploration of the lyrics yielded no concretely corroborative references except the title of the album’s instrumental penultimate track, “Western Metaphor,” the meaning of which seemed much more probably in line with that of “western civilization” than “spaghetti western.” I was relieved to find that it wasn’t all “just me” when I ran across a Pitchfork writer’s characterization of the album as “offering 10 tracks that all sound as if they were found along the same stretch of desert highway.”
With repeated listenings my awareness of the album’s limited country music appropriations and my sense of dusky psych-western ambience rapidly diminished to leave me with a fine sequence of often brooding, shadowy songs cast in Psychic Ills’ own voicing of contemporary drone-psychedelic rock idiom.
On both "Hazed Dream" and "One Track Mind" I have found the prevailing mood to be somewhat more narcotic than psychedelic, the spare construction, restrained pace, and at times almost muted delivery more resonant with the pruned-back affect and liquid slowness of an opioid trance than the complex effulgence of psychedelicized awareness. Or perhaps the psychoactive agent most truly implicated here is just good old weed—a nocturnal, contemplative indica rather than a sunny, bubbly sativa.

Psychic Ills bassist Elizabeth Hart, once aptly described as “too-hot-for-indie-rock.” (http://www.thesnipenews.com/music/concert-reviews/psychic-ills-vancouver/)
The aforementioned Pitchfork writer found this album “dull.” I can’t concur. It’s true that this music moves slowly—more warily (like Side B’s opener “FBI”) than lethargically—its briskest passages hitting middling tempos at best. It’s also true that this music doesn’t try to rivet your interest with abrupt changes, razor-sharp contrasts, emotionally saturated vocals, or other devices conventionally used to pack pizzazz into music. Rather "One Track Mind", like "Hazed Dream", compels interest with a more downtempo brand of bewitchment, conjuring a mesmeric and distinctively Psychic Ills mindspace and patiently transporting the listener through a series of the arid expanses, dusty attics, murky basements, and portentously empty twilit rooms contained therein like an excursion in dark picaresque cinema.
It all works well for me. In the course of writing these comments, I listened to the record from start to finish many times through, giving it all of my attention. At no point did this effort become a chore; the band worked its signature entrancement on me every time. Meanwhile, hooks from the album, like the lead guitar lick that starts off “One More Time,” the album’s opener, and the chorus to “Might Take Awhile,” the third track, began to lodge themselves in my head—a sure measure that Psychic Ills had done something right.
The album’s title phrase comes from the fifth track, “Tried to Find It”, which laments the destructive effects of obsession on relationships: “I’ve got a one track mind/ There’s some things that I shouldn’t have said/I made some friends and I lost some/ Tryin’ to clear my troubled head.” The option of escape—“But it’s easy to just walk on/ Do what I know how to do”—is raised and rejected in favor of a more hopeful course: “I’ll take it easy on you/If you take it easy, easy on me/Easy is the way to make things be.”
Departure, movement and travel, often seemingly for their own sake, emerge thematically across the album. The second track, “See You There,” offers the promise “If you’re goin’ back down the road, I’ll see you there…We can go anywhere we want to go.” The fourth cut, “Depot,” voices a traveler’s wariness: “If I see you at the station/ If I see you by the side of the road… If I see you at the depot/Like a breeze tryin’ to blow outta town…You know I’m not stickin’ around.”
In another variation on this theme, the narrator of “Drop Out,” the tenth and final track, declares “I’m gonna leave/I’m gonna get up and go/Find myself a way out of here.” The subsequent lines, “I’m gonna drop out…Find myself a new way to live/Find my mind a place where my thoughts are clear” hint at an understanding that dropping out—escaping societal madness and constraint—is as much a matter of changing consciousness as of going away somewhere.
Everywhere on "One Track Mind" the method is minimal and restrained. The music is spare and open, built of a small number of relatively simple parts. These components hang bare in an uncluttered sonic space where no shortcomings in ideation or execution get to hide themselves in a density of layers. A tempered distribution of trippy ornamentation and an almost constant gossamer of reverb suffice to maintain the album’s sense of psychoactive strangeness in lieu of a profusion of sonic embellishments.
Such a bare, unadorned approach, leaving almost every component of the sound so openly exposed, strikes me as an honest and courageous way of making music, especially given that the members of Psychic Ills aren’t highly polished, technically adept musicians, but to the contrary bring relatively basic chops to the table. Nowhere does the Ills’ pared-back honesty betray or embarrass them. The tempo of “Western Metaphor,” for instance, drifts in a way that sounds unintended. Rather than interpreting this unplanned event as a “mistake” to be “corrected”, Psychic Ills take the braver course and choose to press the music as it was played. The resultant passage is slightly unsettling, making the track more interesting than it might have been otherwise and supporting its strangeness of atmosphere.
Song highlights include “Might Take a While”, which, despite countryish qualities, has something of a Velvet Underground feel—always a happy allusion in my book. Hegarty’s spot-on backing vocals grace the chorus with added strength and punch in one of the record’s choicest strokes. The next track, “Depot,” endeared itself to me by recalling vintage heavy psych with a relentlessly simmering grind of a guitar riff and ominous organ rising slightly higher in the mix than on other cuts.
My favorite track, “City Sun,” offers the record’s most purely upbeat mood. This happy ode praises and feminizes the orb that warms and brightens the city with phrases that could come from a love song: “She’s all right you know she’s just fine with me…Everything’s fine when she’s keepin’ my mind at ease.” Despite the song title’s urban reference, this piece is texturally the album’s most rustic, its basic arrangement built of vocal, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and shaker, augmented only by a few late touches of organ and a brief, light thread of electric guitar at the very end.
Choice sonic touches sprinkling the album include the amusingly disorienting tape speed effects that open “Western Metaphor”; the high, chiming wah guitar that Hegarty weaves into “I Get By”; and all of Warren’s occasional organ and piano contributions. Warren’s shrewdly understated lead guitar licks are a consistent pleasure throughout the disc, with highlights provided by the slide guitar on “See You There”; the backwards guitar that subtly accents “Tried to Find It” while snaking prominently through the next track, “FBI” (a cut which also benefits from Charles Burst’s laconic bongo punctuation); and the plaintive, otherworldly lead guitar of “Western Metaphor.”
"One Track Mind" leaves me reaching to delve more deeply into the band’s back catalogue while looking forward to whatever they’re going to do next.

Note: all lyrics unofficial


Interview Magazine: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/psychic-ills-hazed-dream

Pitchfork: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/17661-psychic-ills-one-track-mind

Powell St. John: http://www.powellstjohn.com


Psychic Ills: http://www.psychicills.com/

Sacred Bones Records: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

Sospetto "Segni Misteriosi, Con il Sangue Dipinto Sul Muro" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Italian Giallo scene of the late sixties and early seventies is best remembered for it's groundbreaking assault on the senses - particularly the eyecatching visuals of directors like Dario Argento, but also for the envelope-pushing soundtrack work provided by the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and most famously, Goblin. These soundtracks essentially rewrote the book on how film music could be approached, integrating woozy psychedelia into the mix and upping the tension of Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" strings to unbearable levels that often had as much to do with the film's success as the directors.
German duo Sospetto have taken their love for the genre a step further than most and crafted a soundtrack for a non-existent film (the title translates as "Mysterious Signs, Painted With Blood On The Wall"), which pays homage to the style of these soundtracks without resorting to pastiche or plagiarism at any point.
Opener "Canto del cigno" sets the pre-credits mood nicely with a beautiful, unsettling vocal and piano melody that hearkens back to Fabio Frizzi's Fulci films, before "Uccelare" ups the tempo with jazzy drums, and dramatic Goblinesque Hammond organs.
Unusually for this sort of work there's very little repetition, so while there are several pieces that you could safely assume could fulfill the role of a main theme, they're revisited very rarely with the duo of Christian Rzechak & Hobo Jeans instead opting to explore new territory covering everything from atonal, psychedelic mood pieces to high drama Polizei cop chase territory with blaring brass and funky wah-wah guitars.
As with the best of Morricone's Giallo work, these two never leave you guessing how you're supposed to be feeling in any given scene, with masterfully observed and carefully manipulated atmospheres creating a creeping sense of palpable unease so effectively that the odd breaks into Bossa Nova and Polizei style funk offer a welcome respite, and a chance to regather one's wits before being plunged headfirst into further abstract terrors.
Another winner from Cineploit, who along with the Death Waltz Recording Company are quietly cornering the market in sinister soundtrack tuneage.

25 Mar 2013

Paul Messis "Case Closed" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

After several recent dalliances, firstly with San Francisco style folk rock with Jessica Winter on last year's excellent "Sunflower" 45 (review here), then with members of the Sufis on the more recent Market Square 45 (reviewed here), Kent based garage punk Paul Messis is back, and this time he's pissed.
With titles like "I Hate the World Around Me" and "(Don't Wanna Be) Scene Or Herd" and a press release where Messis admits to being angry as hell, you might expect this to be full of more punkish fury than it actually is, but the reflective nature of Messis' lyrics makes this a much more thoughtful affair than anticipated - the world's first existential garage psych LP? Who knows?
"Sowing Seeds" is a raucous early Kinks style rave-up, with an unhinged guitar break and a tempo that suggests that the wheels are about to fall off, but much like his first long player, 2010's "The Problem With Me", the emphasis here is more on moody minor key jangle, and shares DNA with the likes of "Here Without You", albeit run through a fairly shambolic garage filter rather than Gary Usher's crystalline production.
The south coast of England's bleak, rainy winters are an ever-present influence too, giving these Nuggets style numbers a distinctly English tweak that accentuates the melancholy to often unbearable levels.
Not a box of fluffies then, but nice to have something like this to reach for when I'm in a bad mood rather than say, Disturbed.
Demons perhaps exorcised, Paul's mentioned a more psychedelic direction as a possibility for his third LP, but for now I'm happy to have "Case Closed" in my corner with me when the world's against me.

Available April 15 from the folks at State Records.

24 Mar 2013

The Climax Blues Band "S/T" "Plays On" "A Lot of Bottle " Reviews

Released by Esoteric Records 2013

Reviewed by Joseph Kyle

The Climax Chicago Blues Band S/T
Borne out of the British blues scene of the mid-1960s, The Climax Chicago Blues Band initially offered up a raucous take on American blues. Their first album, recorded in late 1968, was recorded over a two-day period with Beatles associates Chris Thomas and Geoff Emerick behind the boards.
Because of the speed of recording, their self-titled debut has a spontaneous, electric feel; lead singer Colin Cooper is an ace belter, and Peter Haycock is an equally ace guitarist. Surprisingly, for a band playing a style of music that relied much on tradition, the majority of songs are original band compositions, and they're fine ones, too; it's hard not to be instantly won over by the introductory "Mean Old World," and songs like "You've Been Drinking" and "Looking For My Baby" are simply timeless blues- rock. As a band, they were very much in competition with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Cream, and Delaney and Bonnie. For a first record, though, at times it does feel somewhat generic; the handful of bonus tracks--many of which are first takes, as opposed to unreleased songs--are interesting, but not particularly revelatory.

The Climax Blues Band "Plays On"
The band's second album finds two very noticeable changes. One, the band's name has been shortened, thanks in part to a legal issue dealing with American band Chicago. ("It was no big deal," say the liner notes). Second, from the first notes of "Flight," you find that this band has suddenly become rather "trippy". Lead singer Colin Cooper started to use his saxophone abilities, and the addition of that element--as well as more funky organ and keyboard playing--finds the band shunning the more generic sounds of their debut. Also amazing is that this transformative change took place in a space of less than a year; this was recorded mere months after their debut album was released. The band's sudden discovery of psychedelia provided an interesting mix with the band's formerly traditional blues- rock sound. Don't get me wrong; "Hey Baby, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, Yeh Yeh Yeh," "Little Girl," and "Like Uncle Charlie" still retained that rawness found on their debut. It's the moments like the aforementioned "Flight," the Afro-Cuban "Cubano Chant," and the almost proto-Prog Rock of "Mum's The Word" takes their sound to another level. Then there's the sudden medley of "Twenty Past Two" and "Temptation Rag;" considering that their team worked with the Beatles, one can't help wondering if maybe this most interesting, curious melding of two utterly different songs without warning inspired a certain Beatle or two to do the same thing on their own 1969 album. Perhaps inspired by The Grateful Dead and Santana, "Plays On" is a stunning collection of songs from a quickly mutating band. It's no surprise, then, that the record was a minor hit in the UK and the USA.

The Climax Chicago Blues Band "A Lot of Bottle"
As the band had quickly recorded their second album, so too came the band's third album. The band reverted its name to include "Chicago" (though this may be for this reissue only; there's no clear explanation why this was the case, as American versions of the album retained the abbreviated name). As they had done previously, they started their album with a completely different sound--the roots-rock instrumental "Country Hat" not sounding like anything on their previous two albums. Gone, too, is the trippy psych-rock of "Plays On." Also gone is the traditional blues-rock sounds of before. Instead, one finds them turning into a rather straightforward hard-rock band. It's not a bad thing; "Reap What I've Sowed" and "Please Don't Help Me" could easily give Steppenwolf a run for their money. After listening to the awesome "Plays On", "A Lot of Bottle" feels like a bit of a letdown; one would hope that they would have continued on in the psych rock/blues amalgam that was so rewarding. The bonus songs find the band in the live setting, and listening to what "Flight" turned into--from a jazz-rock fusion to a blues-rocker--is a bit disappointing. "A Lot of Bottle" feels anticlimactic; especially considering how much of a jewel "Plays On" happened to be. Still, the band would continue on, and is still active, forty-five years later. These three reissues do a fine job of showing exactly why this band is still going today, and even if some of the records disappoint, they still retain a quality not found in many bands--either of the era, or today.

Foxygen "We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Foxygen's lo-fi debut "Take the Kids Off Broadway" was an ambitious but ultimately chaotic listen that sounded like Sam France and Jonathan Rado were worried that they'd never get the opportunity to record another album, and that they'd better get all their ideas out while they had the chance.
This approach hasn't changed a great deal with album number two, but they've learned an important lesson, namely that you can dress your songs up however you like if they've got a killer pop hook at their core.
This heightened focus on quality songwriting yields surprisingly solid results, making this an early contender for most improved act of the year.
Having Richard Swift on hand to offer guidance behind the desk does no harm either, I'm sure.
Influences are still worn openly on sleeves, but who can blame them when it allows them to reach the majestic heights of the likes of "Oh No", which has an outro that cops both "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Moonage Daydream" without batting an eyelid.
Elsewhere there's magic in the form of "San Francisco" an effortlessly sweet sixties style ballad, with a backing vocal that knowingly borrows a refrain from "It's Only a Northern Song" and piles on the Northern Soul grandeur with unexpected subtlety. A genuinely indescribable cross-pollination of genres and one of the best new songs I've heard this year.
And it's in good company here with the streetwise "No Destruction", and the marvelously odd "Shuggie", with it's Radiophonic synth flourishes giving it a good run for it's money. And then there's the fabulous psychedelic soul ballad "Oh Yeah" with it's karaoke-baiting falsetto vocal, and cheeky "What a Man" guitar refrain, that single handedly outdoes everything on the recent Unknown Mortal Orchestra LP, which is certainly no slouch either.
Never a dull moment and many of these moments are inspired, this is one of the most melodically gifted and cleverly crafted albums I've heard this year so far, and I can't imagine much topping it.

Get the LP here or the CD here.

21 Mar 2013

Homer "Grown in the USA / The Complete Recordings" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

After a spate of pirate releases from the likes of Akarma, Homer's "Grown in the USA" finally sees a legitimate release, with GearFab handling the CD and Guerssen the vinyl release.
The sound quality is improved over these earlier issues, but still a little primitive (due in no small part to the original master recordings).
If you're a psychedelic record collector or someone who's spent much time thumbing through books like "Fuzz, Acid and Flowers", you'll no doubt have seen this referred to at the very least, and with good reason.
While "Grown in the USA" isn't 100% successful, it is fairly unique in it's attempts to combine country-rock, hard rock, psychedelia and progressive rock.
While it wasn't unusual for major label bands of the era to need to pad their albums out with experiments in genres that they weren't necessarily equipped to deal with (I'm looking at you Emerson Lake & Palmer), Homer create a distinctive mix of these genres, that is blended far better than you'd normally find on a small press album like this - CSN style vocal harmonies, Thin Lizzy style dual guitars, impressive mellotron, steel guitars - unusual bedfellows indeed, but surprisingly effective in each other's company.
The playing and vocals are uniformly strong throughout particularly on "In The Beginning", and while there's not a weak track to be found, there's also little that's truly exceptional in the songwriting department.
Unusually for a release of this sort, the bonus material, consisting of the three singles Homer released before the album as well as a few demos, are the real treasure. Showcasing a much more gutsy garage psych sound these cuts are much closer to the band's roots in the Outcasts, with a moody garage take on Willie Nelson's "I Never Cared For You" (which delves into Greig's "Hall of the Mountain King") proving most memorable, with the Gene Clark meets Peanut Butter Conspiracy meets early heavy metal stylings of "Texas Light" not far behind.
Odd, ambitious and often effective.

Available on CD here and on vinyl here.

20 Mar 2013

Frugal Puritan Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've always been slightly baffled by the whole idea of Xtian acid-folk. I'm sure that music like this eased the transition for a number of longhairs finding their way to the Lord in the late sixties and early seventies, but message aside (and these sorts of songs do have a message, applied with sledgehammer subtlety), I've always been uncomfortable with how subversive it seems spreading an evangelical message via a musical outlet that partially aims to replicate a drug experience.
Nonetheless Xtian psychedelia and acid-folk has a smallish but staunch following amongst record collectors, partially down to the relatively small numbers these albums were invariably pressed in, but also occasionally because of the quality of the music they contained - these newly discovered tapes by the otherwise unknown Frugal Puritan fall squarely into both camps.
The backstory revolves around a Christian commune set up on a farm outside a small English village, led by a mercurial, evangelical figure referred to in the liner notes as Jimmy. Frustrated with the group's lack of success fitting in with the suspicious and conservative locals, and with their evangelical efforts providing few dividends the group slowly became more insular. Jimmy began using recreational drugs to aid him in his quest for God and introduced elements of Sufism and Crowleyism into his teachings. Naturally enough, things went pear-shaped pretty quickly and before long there was a mysterious fire, and the members of the group went their own ways never to be heard from again.
Or so the story goes.
These songs - recorded on the farm apparently - are seemingly presented in chronological order and chart the story of Jimmy's descent into confusion and chaos in a fascinating and sometimes disturbing fashion.
It all starts out innoculously enough with "Lost Son" and "Raising of the Dead" (sadly not a zombie epic) - pretty, straightforward folk songs with some lovely acoustic guitar work, and surprisingly emotive vocals from Jimmy, who often sounds like he's not going to quite reach the notes he's aiming for. The clunky, devotional lyrics are more of a challenge, but if you're a fan of this sort of stuff you know what to expect.
Which makes the darker, more ambiguous material like "North Street Reign", which may or may not be written from the perspective of a murderer all the more surprising (and welcome).
The instrumentation matches the increased lyrical depth too from this point with some beautiful backwards guitar work on "Jane, Coming Back Again" and some angry sounding fuzz guitars appearing to show some insight into Jimmy's increasingly disordered mind.
The epic centrepiece "Seven Stars" still comes as a shock however - a stunning ten minute plus psychedelic protoprog epic ripe with Thelemic imagery that could only be the work of someone on the brink of madness.
If you've delved into the world of Xtian acid-folk before and been disappointed, I'd recommend one last plunge here before you write off the whole genre. 
Uneasy listening certainly, but a fascinating insight into a damaged mind.
Folk Police Recordings are releasing a limited run of 250 copies on CD through their Northwestern Series imprint. Order here.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Concert Review - March 19 Wellington

Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Photos by Sean Aickin

March 19, 2013, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington, New Zealand

A bucket list gig for me here, and one that didn't disappoint.
Opening act, The Drones did a reasonable job of grace under pressure, even with an appalling mix that turned the guitars and vocals into a wall of trebly mud - not to mention a crowd that made it clear that they didn't want anyone but Neil on stage.
Easy to see why too, once Neil and the horse lumbered on for a two and a half hour set that much like the recent "Psychedelic Pill" album, emphasized heavy jams with lengthy guitar solos.
Key to the show's success was an expertly balanced set list that included enough old favourites to keep the casual fans happy, and choice selections from "Psychedelic Pill", which in this context carry all the weight of his best known material - "Ramada Inn" in particular may be the best song he's written in the last thirty years, with a devastating chorus and some exquisitely subtle and emotive guitar wrangling.
Neil was in fine form, personably and musically and was never short of a joke with the crowd, or with fellow Crazy Horse guitarist Frank 'Pancho' Sampedro.
A mini acoustic set offered a brief respite from the guitar histrionics, with an excellent solo version of "Twisted Road", sounding more direct and sincere than it's clunky studio counterpart, and a crowd pleasing "Heart of Gold" showcasing some fabulous harmonica work.
There were a couple of new songs in the setlist too - not bad for someone who had to write an autobiography because they had writer's block. "Hole in the Sky" sounds like a luke warm "Are You Passionate?" outtake, but "Singer Without a Song" is much better; an emotive piano ballad with sensitive vocal accompaniment from Billy Talbot.
Things got loud again pretty quick with a quickfire selection of classics; "Cinnamon Girl", an inspired "Like A Hurricane", "Sedan Delivery" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" amping the band and the crowd to a fever pitch, before pulling out the old Reactor chestnut "Opera Star" for an encore and finishing with a hilarious, shambolic new arrangement of "F*!#in' Up" that the band haven't quite worked out how to finish yet.
Definitely the best night out I've had watching a bunch of old men making a racket in what may as well be an aircraft hanger - inspired.

Set List
1. Love And Only Love
2. Powderfinger
3. Born In Ontario
4. Walk Like A Giant
5. Hole In The Sky
6. Heart Of Gold
7. Twisted Road
8. Singer Without A Song
9. Ramada Inn
10. Cinnamon Girl
11. Like A Hurricane
12. Sedan Delivery
13. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
14. Opera Star
15. F*!#in' Up

17 Mar 2013

Elephant Stone S/T Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've been following Rishi Dhir with interest ever since the release of the High Dials fantastic debut "A New Devotion" (which you need to buy immediately, it's hard to find now, but still available through places like this). "A New Devotion" was partially responsible for convincing me that psychedelia recorded in the 2000s was able to foot it with the originals.
Since then Rishi has been first call sitar enchanter for the likes of the Horrors and the Black Angels, and started up his own "Hindie Rock" (his definition) group Elephant Stone who have one good, and now one great album behind them.
Debut "The Seven Seas" wasn't short on fine moments, but it's not without reason that Rishi Dhir has chosen to release this as a self titled album - it's the definitive Elephant Stone release (so far anyway!)
Elliott Smith fans will be amazed at the uncanny vocal likeness on many tracks - the vocal melody line on "Heavy Moon" in particular feels like it's been plucked from an alternate universe "Figure 8", although Rishi has a much more diverse range of influences - Sonic Youth style noise rock tangents, jangling guitars, and passages that marry Beatlesque rhythm sections with sitar and tabla in a way that can only be compared with Kula Shaker - a parallel that likely won't win me any friends, but shorn of Crispian Mills' cock rock attitude and occasional bouts of juvenilia (Great Dictator of the Free World, anyone?), this culture clash continues to pay dividends.
"The Sea of Your Mind" combines all these elements best - a faultless piece of indie tunesmithery with extended instrumental passages that build in intensity from sitar-heavy riffing to chiming Rickenbackers to an all out whammy bar assault, all filtered through a glorious paisley drone.
 And for those more concerned with the tunes themselves, the likes of "Setting Sun", "A Silent Moment" and "Hold Onto Yr Soul" could be stripped down to their barest essentials and still retain their melodic charm.
I'm sure that in years to come Elephant Stone will be discussed in the same sort of hushed tones as Cotton Mather - let's give him some credit and start spreading the word now then shall we?

16 Mar 2013

Bardo Pond "Lapsed" Obscure Classics

By Jason Simpson


Lapsed is the third long player from Psychadelphia veterans Bardo Pond, acting as a missing link between first-wave Shoegaze guitar wrangle, and all the titanic sludge drone that would follow in it’s wake.

Lapsed finds our heroes at a crossroads, a turning point. It’s what you might call a pivotal record. It was their first for indie behemoth Matador Records, and their last working in a ‘professional studio’ (the band would proceed to build their own Lemur House studios and work the home recording ethic into their sound, as well as their songwriting.) They worked with producer/engineer Jason Cox at Cycle Sound, in Philadelphia, which doubled as a motorcycle repair shop. Some of the grit and motor oil worked it’s way into the record, like guitarist Mike Gibbons said, in an interview for the Ptolemaic Terrascope, “really good and warm, but with a hard, dirty edge to it.” Some members of the band felt that the previous record, the sprawling double-LP Amanita was “selling out”, too clean and commercial, and took dubious delight in the recording process being described as “sick”.

In the same Terrascope article, journalist Tony Dale described this LP: 

 'Lapsed' seemed to be the point where you had pushed your instruments so far that they broke up into clouds of abstract stellar matter, back-scatter radio transmissions of pure-fuzz. In fact the record sounds like it was picked up by a radio telescope and recorded onto giant slow-moving reel to reels for later analysis and yet it‘s inherently melodic. 

It’s hard to top the Terrascope, so I won’t bother trying. In response, Michael Gibbons said that “heavy distortion and density were what we were digging. Lapsed predicts futurist drone onslaughts like Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport, the melancholy infinity of Jesu, the colorful psychedelic metal of Boris. It is worth remembering, dear readers, that this record was made in 1997. It predicts the future because it helped to create it. Bardo Pond’s DNA has woven it’s way into the psychedelic genome, enormously influential, and always good, or at least interesting, yet overlooked beyond the scene.

The good folks at The Active Listener have given me some space, to sing the praises of underappreciated classics. I picked Lapsed off the top of my head, because I felt like listening to it. There isn’t much opportunity to do investigative journalism on older records, in the mainstream media, unless they’ve been re-issued or compiled, or somebody dies, so we end up with a skewed version of history, of culture, of what people are listening to. In short, there’s no room for ‘classic’ records, in these busy times. If my listening habits were entirely confined to the flavor of the week, buzzbin album du jour, I should surely vomit holy water, hang up my headphones, and move to Wyoming.

It’s this fight for attention that is the elephant in the room, in these times. Is it possible to have a favorite record anymore? I notice an increasing trend of people’s favorite record being from before the internet, with nostalgic ramblings of neighborhood record stores and sweaty cheap concerts. Invariably, the rosy hued charm of what used to be. I remember having favorite bands, of which i was a fanatical expert and enthusiast (I used to own 52 LPs by The Cure and have seen Phish live 42 times). But anything post-2000, and my mind turns into an amorphous grey blur, waterfalls of downloaded data and white noise, cascading through my waking thoughts, into my dreams. I remember every record, along the way, and the pivotal moments of discovery, the ones that marked me. My aim is to turn back the clock, tip the scales, and re-investigate some lost classics. Because I’d like to hear them, and get to know them better.

They’d have you believe that every motherfucker stringing sentences together for Pitchfork has a Ph.D. in musicology, was suckled at Joe Strummer’s hyperextended endocrine gland, but I’ll be the first to admit it: I AM NO EXPERT. I am trying to become definitive (and losing badly) and everything you read here, or anywhere, is written in the moment, after a string of sleepless nights, twisting my beard and praying for an inspired line. So I turn back the clock, like Doc Brown, and return to 2001. I was 21, living in Chicago, working at Whole Foods. One of the managers, Karl, was a fellow shoegaze rock ‘n roller, and had impeccable taste. I was finally living in the city, for real, rather than visiting on the weekends, and had gotten out of poverty and a precocious marriage, got a leather jacket and was very proud indeed. (The badness was yet to come). I came upon indie rock, on my own. With a Bardo Pond or Tortoise or Godspeed You! Black Emperor LP, I felt as if I owned a holy relic. You could practically smell the censor. I was avidly pursuing Blake’s advice, “the road of excess shall lead to the palace of wisdom”, and doing my best to eradicate all personality. These were the Shoegaze years, living in a slanty attic bedroom of a former convent, staring out the window until dusk, watching the days fade to grey, long amorphous guitar squall making me feel like I was sailing on an endless, turbulent sea.

Lapsed was one of the earliest discoveries of that period, and one that parallels my listening tastes since then, the descent into metal, noise, drone, finally everything. It sounds fresh and modern, and still utterly unique, even now. It nods it’s head to the classic psychedelia of the ‘60s (Phil from Ptolemaic Terrascope compared them to Jefferson Airplane) but filtered through the Jesus And Mary Chain’s drained fuzz pedals and wearing a sneer. This music is big and bold, passionate; not for lackluster heroin addicts. These are bonafide mystics, the Gibbons Brothers’ guitars, reaching for the heavens, with Isobel Sollenbergen acting as a very capable sorceress. ‘Tommy Gun Angel’, the album opener, would be my pick if you were to hear one track off this record, or just one song to capture the ghost of the Pond, but you’d be selling yourself short. The searing damage of ‘Flux’ is becoming a new favorite, with its low down, slowed-down EARTH like dirge, making me glad I pulled this one out for another spin. Also noteworthy is the culmination, ‘Alprin’, simple acoustic guitar, run through delay pedals, with satellites of electric guitar floating like will o’ the wisps around the margins while Isobel coos. It’s 14-minutes long, and I feel lulled and refreshed after every listen. It’s got everything that was good about classic adventurous Pink Floyd, which is reason enough to bring it to the attention of this blog’s readers.

Overall, this album has a cleansing, rejuvenating effect. The act itself can be a harrowing experience, as the tumult of ‘Tommy Gun Angel’ consumes your world like Galactus, and most of the fare on here features a dense, hot wall of guitar white noise. Apparently listening to noise music releases chemicals in your brain that makes you feel at ease. You get used to it. It’s not all skree, however, BP have always had an element of blues shuffle boogie to their sound, here manifested as ‘Pick My Brain’, which sounds like ‘Seamus’ by The Floyd, with a soaring electric guitar playing the part of a baying dog, or an experimental b-side from The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl. There’s a little something for every psych lover on here (unless maybe you're one of those Canned Heat throwbacks).

Writing about an old record, especially on the internet, seems to fulfill one of two functions.

1. To advise people to hear the record themselves.
2. To attempt to describe sounds, perhaps out of some nerdly compulsion.

Consider this review a combination of the aforementioned motivations. You NEED to hear this record, if you love shoegaze noise music old rock ‘n roll nodding your head to a pulse like a beating heart swimming in a glassy ocean undisturbed by ripples or waves floating in stars like eternity expanding to become the whole cosmos. If you HAVE heard this record, consider yourself reminded: Bardo Pond are awesome, worthy of your adoration. Worthy of your precious time. For me, this is merely another battle against musical ADD and the continual degradation of our culture into soundbytes and disposable tunes.

14 Mar 2013

New Joanna Newsom Video - Covering Sandy Denny's "The North Star Grassman and the Ravens"

Joanna Newsom is back, and what could make that news better?
How about the fact that it's a cover of Sandy Denny?
In this case, her gorgeous "The North Star Grassman and the Ravens".
The video is directed by Maximilla Lukacs for an upcoming fashion line from Melissa Coker's Wren label.

13 Mar 2013

"Hail Be You Sovereigns, Lief & Dear" Review

Reviewed By Nathan Ford

A fourth volume in Cold Spring's Dark Britannica series (although confusingly subtitled Dark Britannica III), "Hail Be You Sovereigns, Lief & Dear" further continues Cold Spring's mission to prove that U.K folk music isn't dead, no matter how mercilessly Mumford & Sons defile it.
There's slightly less emphasis on the dark side to be found here than on previous volumes in the series, with the compilers digging a little deeper than they've previously had to, resulting in a higher count of unfamiliar names and a much more varied selection of music. This unfortunately does result in a less cohesive tome, but if viewed as a sampler rather than a carefully sequenced album in it's own right, there are still plenty of surprises to be found.
The Hare & The Moon's "The Willows" opens things up in a suitably moody fashion, and things get weirder as we progress. The Rowan Amber Mill add a Radiophonic touch to "On Ridgeway Fields" with layers of pastoral seventies synthesizers, while Woodwose's "Frenetique" sounds like something you'd hear on a Sega Master System highland games cartridge.
So not quite as good as previous entries in this series (they set a high benchmark to be fair) but this is still a highly adventurous, evocative, often daft and consistently fascinating listen that paints a portrait of a genre peopled by artists unafraid to take risks, subverting the ancient to create something nebulous and new.
It doesn't matter how many sons Mumford has - they'll never step outside their formula and risk creating something as attention grabbingly odd as this, or I'll eat my hat.

Buy it here.

12 Mar 2013

Gravys Drop "Gumball" Review

 Reviewed By Nathan Ford

I've come to rely on Burger Records, Spot on Sound and Patrick Haight to provide me with a regular fix of cheesy-grin inducing , good time rock n roll, and Gravys Drop does not disappoint. Burger must be cloning these guys or something - their well is seemingly bottomless.
Gravys Drop is their latest success story, gravitating around the talents of one Billy Grave, a Berkley gent with what I'd assume is a very cool record collection, if the sound of "Gumball" is anything to go by.
Studying Rock n Roll 101? Look no further - here is your musical textbook, study hard.
Grave and co. have done a pretty thorough job here of distilling the essence of fifties and sixties rock (when it still had a roll permanently attached) into an easily digestible little package with enough contemporary bite to keep it palatable enough for the discerning youth of today.
It's easy to imagine a ten year old Billy Grave, tennis racket in hand, acting out Michael J. Fox's "Johnny B Goode" scene from "Back to the Future", especially when presented with the twin delights of the piano heavy raver "Snakebite", and the magnificent "I Get Down", which unleashed a rather geriatric bout of duckwalking from myself, much to the chagrin of my work-mates.
"Singing in the Shower" meanwhile flirts successfully with doo-wop, while the likes of "Velvety Suitor" and "Thinking About You" channel the new wave artists of the late seventies who were themselves reaching back to the late fifties.
And the best is saved til last with "No More Snuggly" an epic rave-up that winds up towards it's climax into a not too distant relation of the Who's "A Quick One" right down to the windmilling guitars and eight armed drummer effect.
"Gumball" ultimately toes the line nicely between respecting it's lineage, and subverting it's influences into something fresh and exciting.

Available soon! Catch them at SXSW and grab a tape before they're on general release.

11 Mar 2013

Psychedelic Artists: Kiryk Drewinski

Following on from the review of the Magnificent Brotherhood's "Dope Idiots" (back here), I'd also like to bring to your attention the artwork of Brotherhood member Kiryk Drewinski, which is some of the finest psychedelic artwork these eyes have ever seen. Check out a few samples below, then visit www.kiryk.com to check out the rest!

The Magnificent Brotherhood "Dope Idiots" Obscure Classics

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

At the suggestion of one of my writers, Jason Simpson, we've re-established the Obscure Classics section of the Active Listener - an outlet for older unmissable albums that you may have missed.
First up from me is Germany's Magnificent Brotherhood who, if  "Dope Idiots" is anything to go by, are indeed magnificent, even if they are fibbing about the brotherhood bit.
Garage psych revival isn't a new game, but the Magnificent Brotherhood play it better than most (not to mention better than many of the original garage psych practitioners).
They're also more fervently devotional than pretty much anyone else I can think of - it's no exaggeration to say that "Dope Idiots" sounds more authentically 1967 than half of the albums released in 1967 do - and this was released in 2011!
The Music Machine, the Count Five, the Seeds, the Electric Prunes - the Magnificent Brotherhood hold their own against their more celebrated forefathers with ease, not something that can be said of many current bands. There's nothing "neo" about them, these guys are 100% authentic and don't let the fact that they were born totally in the wrong era stop them from spreading the garage gospel in the most convincing terms imaginable.
The only thing that doesn't absolutely reek of 1967 is the fact that the Brotherhood don't have a record label breathing down their neck for a new album every six months, so "Dope Idiots" has been given the chance to happen on it's own terms, free of filler. Most sixties outfits would be proud of a hits collection this solid, let alone an album.
"I Want To" is a breakneck opener, with tight start/stop rhythms that betray a more dexterous musicianship than you'd normally expect from garage, but sacrificing none of the pure, animal instinct that separates the legit operators from the phonies. Even the mersey tinged beat ballad "Degenerate" is gritty as hell.
Unparalleled attention to period detail (fuzz guitars, immaculate organ work), are important sure, but it's the impressive songwriting of Kiryk Drewinski and Erik Haegert that clinch it on this one and ensure that "Dope Idiots" is more than just another retro also ran.

Sample the joys of "Dope Idiots" here :

10 Mar 2013

Neils Children "Dimly Lit" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

No idea who this Neil chap is, but he's done a sterling job with the kids because "Dimly Lit" is one of the best new records I've heard this year.
Dad jokes aside, Neils Children (the name references John's Children as well as the band's original bass player Tom Hawkins, who allegedly resembled Neil Morrissey) are a UK based psychedelic outfit who've been knocking around in one form or another since 1999.
After taking ten years to release their debut album, then calling it a day shortly after, it would've been a brave soul who suggested that one day we'd have "Dimly Lit", yet here it is.
The reformed Neils Children may only constitute founding members John Linger and Brandon Jacobs, but "Dimly Lit" sounds very much like the work of a full band, and one who's firing on all cylinders at that.
They spent a considerable amount of time in the mid 2000s supporting the likes of the Bloc Party and Razorlight, but anyone who's expecting this to sound like another Johnny-come-lately post-punk outfit is in for a surprise.
While Jacob's drumming still carries a vague post-punk accent and there are occasional moments that recall early New Order at their moodiest, the dominant flavor is distinctly lysergic, although with a suggestion of something more cinematic and panoramic than most new bands can muster.
Treated vocals and heavy reverb are only the tip of the iceberg, with the majority of the atmosphere provided by carefully selected vintage keyboard sounds, with the space age Broadcast style library pop of "The Beat of the Boulevard" and "Telling", the instrumental mellotron fest of "The Way The Web Was Woven", and the massive church organ of "Warm Wave" providing a particularly strong example of this, mid-album.
Linger's bass playing deserves a special mention too, and sounds like it betrays a youth spent soaking up John Barry scores, with dexterous, wandering basslines racking up the tension and intrigue.
And don't let me lead you into thinking this is some sort of academic, chinstroking mood piece. This is a record full of solid songs with hooks everywhere - a worthy successor to Broadcast's earlier work perhaps?
Check out the first single "Trust You" below and judge for yourself.
Click here to pre-order a digital or vinyl copy.

9 Mar 2013

Ravi Shankar "A Life in Music" Review

Reviewed by Joseph Kyle

The music world lost a great man this past December, when sitar master Ravi Shankar passed away at the age of 92, eighty years of which were spent composing and performing traditional Indian music. He was a well-established artist and performer when he was seemingly "discovered" by Western rock musicians. The two-disc collection Ravi Shankar: A Life In Music, doesn't even begin to highlight his career, but these recordings are considered to be the pinnacle of his long and storied discography. The biographical liner notes make an interesting point about the importance of the music found here, hinting that they very well may be the recordings that were heard by George Harrison and Brian Jones and other British rockers. Shankar would downplay his association with the rock world, and expressed unhappiness about his music finding favor in the drug subculture.

Yet one cannot deny the power of the music found in this collection; opening "Raga Jog" is a quiet, gentle half-hour journey into the heart of time and space, a meditative piece that quietly turns jubilant, as the other members of the quartet quietly add their own instrumental touches.  Occasionally, the peaceful, gentle compositions turn rather frantic, such as on "Raga Simhendra Madhyamam" and "Dhun In Mishra Mand," both of which feature a highly rhythmic, danceable beat. For the most part, this collection offers what most of Shankar's music offered: a quiet respite from the outside world and stresses. Try meditating to it; you'll drift off into another place when you do. It's not hard to understand why the Brits were so taken with the man's music, as these recordings, well over fifty years old, still sound timeless and otherworldly.

Note: A funny story about Harrison and Shankar. Upon discovering his music, Harrison wanted to see Shankar and his trio perform, so he arranged a private gathering and flew  Shankar and his musicians to England. Harrison's entourage, wanting to pay tribute to the Indian musicians, dressed in what they felt to be the finest, most exquisite Indian robes, beads, and attire, to show their guests that they appreciated their culture. When Shankar and company exited the plane, Harrison and his friends were slightly embarrassed to discover the sitar master and his friends dressed in brand new Armani suits!

Available here.

8 Mar 2013

Kaleidoscope's Peter Daltrey Interviewed

The legendary Peter Daltrey has very kindly answered a few questions for this interview via e-mail. As you'd expect his answers are illuminating, insightful and above all else honest.
You can read plenty more in his books (available from http://www.chelsearecords.co.uk/ ),  and also in the lovely Kaleidoscope vinyl reissues from Sunbeam.

On with the interview!

The Active Listener : Looking back, how do you rate the Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour material?

Peter Daltrey : To be honest I don`t think I should be the person to rate our music. I leave that up to the fans – and move swiftly on to the next question...

TAL : Did you feel more comfortable with folkier material ("Bless the Executioner" etc. ) or the more psychedelic  Kaleidoscope material ( "Further reflections...." etc)?

PD : Let me start by admitting that I listen to very little music – and certainly not my own. After developing hearing problems I have to protect my ears. But listening to music on headphones with the volume up was a pleasure in days gone by. Close your eyes with a pair of good quality headphones clamped to yer lugholes and you can lose yourself in the music and – if you have average hearing – can discern nuances of the production that are often lost when listening through a wide speaker system. When producing and mixing it is rather fun to place instruments, sound effects and flourishes in various areas of the stereo field knowing that someone listening on headphones will really appreciate these details.

Back to your question. I love all the various styles of our music – and there were many varied and colourful styles. Everything from the crazy smash `n grab of `Music,` the swirling aural rainbow of `Faintly Blowing` to the delicacy of `Dear Nellie Goodrich` and the mysterious `Poem.`

Your use of the word `comfortable` is interesting. To look at the converse side of that coin: there are tracks that I could admit to being uncomfortable with such as `Balloon` and `In my box` and some from my own albums, early songs composed without much craft at that stage. I`m an old geezer now so listening back to songs that I wrote that are just plain silly, blatantly juvenile leaves me cold.

But I am proud – if I`m allowed such an immodest word – of many of the band`s songs and a few of my own. It is comforting to look back from this lofty peak of accumulated years and find that my youth was not misspent.

TAL : Was "The Sky Children" inspired by children's literature or Edward Lear?

PD : The band was on holiday in Devon in the summer of `66. Each morning we would walk a few miles out to a castle at Durlston Head that over-looked the sea. We would climb down to the rocky shore and walk back to Swanage. Being a miserable solitary kinda guy I would slow down so that I could walk at the back on my own.

This particular morning some words began insinuating themselves in my reverie. Lots of words. A lyric. But the verses kept piling up so it became difficult to remember them. I didn`t have a pen and paper with me. When we eventually got back to our digs I splurged out the words onto paper, editing them later. That is how the lyric of `The Sky Children` came to be written. What inspired them I`ll never know. I had never even heard of Tolkien and only vaguely knew of Edward Lear but of course, as a child I had grown up with English fairytales and the Brothers Grimm.

More than anything I would say that the song simply came from a moment in time, blooming almost totally formed from that beautiful summer`s morning, walking along that beach with my close friends, the sky a perfect blue, the sea crashing ashore to my right, the seagulls circling above. One of those moment`s in one`s life when you pause, look around and find yourself amazed at the world, perfectly content – knowing that you will remember that moment for the rest of your life.

It happened to me again a few years ago when I was swimming with a friend in an icy lake in the middle of a dense forest in Norway. We both stopped and listened to the pristine silence, and breathed in the pine-rich forest air and tacitly knew this was one of those moments. He died a couple of years later – but the memory of that moment is now very special.

TAL : You played with some legendary acts in the mid to late sixties. Who made a big impression and why?

PD : The only band that made an impression was The Who and that only because we had never seen a band perform that way, smashing their instruments at the end of their performance. It was awe-inspiring to be that close to an iconic band – and then share a dressing room with them later and watch as Townsend dumped the remains of his Rickenbacker in its case.

Can`t say we were actually impressed with the other acts with whom we played like Caravan, the Fluer de Lys, Them, Brian Auger, Simon Dupree, the Blossom Toes. But Slade did blow us off stage with a stunningly tight performance.

Of course, at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival we played with the real greats of popular music – but because we were somewhat traumatised by our own experiences at the event I can`t recall seeing a single act.

TAL : Legend has it that Kaleidoscope's "drug" of choice was cider. Would you care to elaborate?

PD : Steve and I experimented with pills but it frightened the life out of me once my heart rate reached 180bpm. We never went further than that, although there was plenty of grass around. We used to rehearse in a school hall in Acton where Ed and Dan lived. Right across the road was a grotty pub. If we had a few pennies to rub together we`d indulge in halves of cider or shandy – but that was not often as we were mostly broke.

Luckily none of us was inclined to over-indulge in anything. That often wrecked bands through drug or alcohol misuse. We were so focused on our music that distractions were kept at bay.

TAL : I'm a pretty big Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour fan, but until recently hadn't heard about "I Luv Wight" - could you tell us a little bit about this?

PD : We were contracted to play at the 1970 IOW festival. The Foulk brothers also commissioned us to write and record that year`s theme song. The agreement stipulated that the song would be played at least once between every act over the weekend. With that in mind big things were predicted for the single, a Number One chart position assured.

Ed and I wrote, `Let the world wash in` and we recorded it. Philips was very excited and printed up thousands of copies, each in a souvenir picture sleeve. If everyone going to the island bought a copy as a momento of the event we had our first hit on our hands.

For some incomprehensible reason our manager decided to cover our identity with the twee name I Luv Wight. It was to be a great mystery: Who is this band? This was irrelevant once the compare, Rikki Farr, played the song once, trashed it – and tossed the single into the crowd never to be seen – or more importantly, heard – again.

There followed two days of angry recriminations as our manager gamely fought our corner. It was agreed that Ed and I could jump up on stage on the final Sunday evening between major acts and perform the song acoustically. But Rikki Farr and Jeff Dexter were having none of it and simply ignored us.

What happened to the many thousands of copies of this great single...? Binned – never to be seen or heard again. Pity as I consider the song to be one of the finest that Ed and I ever wrote. Written to order and delivered on time. A song that has, in my humble opinion, stood the test of time.

TAL : What was behind the name change to Fairfield Parlour?

PD : We had struggled as Kaleidoscope against the odds. Fought every step of the way against the insurmountable wall of Fontana`s incompetence. Their distribution department was next thing to useless. We had turntable hits that failed to actually sell because the bloody records weren`t in the bloody shops!

But the music we had made was very much of its time. That time was the florescent summer of 1967 – a truly magical few months of total artistic freedom when all the various genres knew no boundaries. Everything was possible no matter how outlandish and colourful.

But that time had run its course. It was difficult to define but the mood was changing. The Paris riots, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Something in the air. And music lost much of its innocence.

In my lyrics I was making a conscious effort to eliminate all traces of elves and fairies and the blatantly purple passages. New songs had more maturity and depth of feeling simply because we were growing up and becoming less naïve. We`d been through the bloody mill backwards and some of that trauma and stress and frustration rubbed off. I was looking back in songs such as the totally autobiographical `Aries` and others such as `The Drummer Boy of Shiloh` and `Emily.`

When our manager took the reins he advised us to turn our backs on all that had gone before, start afresh with a new name, a new sound – and a new determination to succeed. We raised our chins and prepared for the new musical battle ahead.

TAL : Why was "The White Faced Lady" eventually released under the Kaleidoscope moniker rather than Fairfield Parlour?

PD : Many years had passed. And during that passage of time when we thought we`d been forgotten in fact our star was rising. New generations were discovering our music. But our newly polished reputation was based mainly on our Kaleidoscope catalogue of work. It made sense to concentrate on the Kaleidoscope name – so although `White-Faced Lady` had been recorded during the dying days of Fairfield Parlour it emerged from the ashes under the Kaleidoscope banner.

TAL : Do you think that you'd have stuck with music throughout the seventies if it'd been financially viable for you to do so, or were you ready for other things at that point?

PD : We were broke, We had lost our contact at Vertigo as he moved to RCA. But he said he couldn`t give us a contract there as they wanted nothing to do with his previous acts.

Plans had been made for us to do some dates at USAF bases in Germany, but I`d had enough I threw in the towel, got married, escaped to the country and never looked back. I didn`t listen to music for another twenty years. I was not only too busy bringing up a family, I simply wasn`t interested. The pain of our lost battle was still raw. I simply moved on.

TAL : What coaxed you back into recording in the late nineties?

PD : The fact that we`d been rediscovered, exhumed from the past! With the release of `White-Faced Lady` there was a lot of talk about getting back together but it was so much hot air. Once I realised that, I knew that to continue in music I would have to relearn my craft. I embraced the technological advances that had been made in the recording industry, built up my own very modest home studio – and learnt how to write songs on my own. The learning curve for all of this was like climbing Everest in a pair of worn out wellies. But I got there in the end from shear determination.

TAL : You've been fairly prolific since re-entering the industry. You still seem driven although presumably your motivations and expectations have changed since the late sixties?

PD : I am driven. I simply can`t stop. Look, let`s be blunt here. I ain`t got much time left. I don`t wish to be melodramatic but time is of the essence. There are simply not enough hours in the day. I never stop. I am currently writing my seventh book, I have photographic projects on the go – and live work that needs planning. For the moment musical recording projects are confined to the back burner. Although the reason for this is mainly the fact that I am currently many months into a dreaded dry period.

I have no expectations. I simply do what I have to do. If you are a creative person you can never turn off... Even if no-one was interested I would still write and record. A last gasp grope for immortality...? Hmm.. Probably.

TAL : A lot of people have unfortunately missed your solo and recent collaborative recordings - can you guide us through what you consider some of the highlights, both from a personal and critical viewpoint?

PD : I have released many solo albums. But the collaborative work has proven very satisfying. My three albums with Damien Youth have been the high point for me. Particularly our album, `Tattoo.` If I never recorded again I could climb in my box feeling that in that one album we had contributed significantly to the world of music. (http://rocketgirl.co.uk/label/artist/peter_daltrey)

Whilst I have enjoyed the challenges of writing and recording on my own, the magic that springs from a sympathetic collaboration simply can`t be matched. Damien and I gelled from the start. We instinctively knew where we were going with our songs even with the thrashing Atlantic between us.

I regard Damien as a lost genius of American music. Listen to his masterpiece, `Broke Heart Singer` and tell me that is not one of the greatest songs you have ever heard in your life. I listen to it at least once a week and am transported afresh by its beauty each time.

If anyone is interested in sampling my solo output they could do no better than trying my two `Best of...` collections, `Candy` – available through www.chelsearecords.co.uk – and `King of Thieves` – available through www.gragroup.com

I have also collaborated with Arjen Lucassen on his concept album, `Into the Electric Castle` writing and performing the narration throughout.

But my latest project with new-psyche US band Asteroid#4 is something of which I am very proud.

TAL : "The Journey" is great. How did this collaboration come about and how were the Asteroid #4 to work with?

PD : Damien acted as the matchmaker, suggesting the band and I link up with a view to working together in some capacity. We exchanged musical ideas, discussing where we saw the project leading – and very quickly we were writing together. As with Damien, the band would send me files of their musical tracks and I would then work out a melody line and start writing lyrics to fit. I would record a scratch vocal and punt it back across the pond. If they were happy we moved on to the next. Soon we had an album`s worth of material.

The band then finished their music tracks – but that left us with only rough vocals. All this coincided with me being invited to California in autumn 2011. So whilst there I linked up with the band and we went into Rob Bartholemew`s LA studio and cut the lead vocals over a couple of days.

The band were great, a really nice bunch of guys. We all hit it off immediately. Although I still cannot understand why a group of such talented young musicians would want to dig up an old bloke like me to work with. I`m not being disingenuous it really does amaze me.

TAL : Was there a conscious effort to give the album a more psychedelic sound, or was this just a natural extension of working with the Asteroid #4?

PD : Nothing was forced at any point. The overall sound of the album evolved organically from their rough tracks to my home-recorded vocals, from their wonderful final recordings to the laying down of the lead vocals with their stunning harmonies and then on to the mixing.

It was a musical marriage made in heaven as far as I`m concerned. `The Journey` is one of my most satisfying projects. It is soon to be released on vinyl and CD through Joe Foster`s Poppydisc Records.

I would love to write a follow-up album with the band but perhaps that is somewhat presumptuous of me. They are a talented group and have already recorded a new album and moved on. I`m just so grateful that they involved me in just one episode of their career.

TAL : What songs are you most proud of writing and why?

PD : OK. If you insist in me confronting my `pride`... There are a few that I hear and wonder where the song came from and how I managed to nail it:

`A Linden Tree in Chelsea`

`English Roses`

`Magda Bruer in the Rain`


`Queen of Thieves`

`Song from Jon`

`Pounding on the Door`

To name a few. But don`t let`s go on. I`ll leave it up to others to decide the value of these ephemeral wisps of music and word.

TAL : What can we expect in the future from Peter Daltrey?

PD: I`m still writing the history of the band in various forms across several books. I`m currently working on the definitive collection of lyrics that will include every recorded song that I have written – together with some ultra-rare lyrics of songs Ed and I wrote just at the time of the band`s demise and never recorded. People have been asking for years for a book of lyrics. So here it comes – get yer wallets out!


My other passion outside of music is photography. Prints of my work can be ordered online at http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/peter+daltrey/all

I`m also likely to be playing some UK gigs later this year if current plans materialise.

Hey, Nathan – thanks for your interest in my old band. It`s appreciated.

TAL : Thanks Peter, it's been a pleasure!

You can buy "The Journey" on CD here or on vinyl here.

Chris Sherman "Sandalwood Haze" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Sky Picnic have been navigating their way through the murky depths of Floydian psychedelic space-rock for a few years now, with increasing dividends over the last few years with two excellent LPs, "Farther In This Fairytale" (reviewed here) and "Paint Me a Dream" (you guessed it, here).
What then to expect from the more sparse offerings that a solo offshoot project would presumably entail? Especially from someone who seems to be such a dominant force in their dayjob band - surely there's the potential here for this to just sound like a bunch of Sky Picnic demos?
Well doubters, no need to worry on that count. "Sandalwood Haze", despite the almost constant presence of Sherman's very distinctive set of pipes, is a very different beast indeed, and doesn't suffer from the samey one dimensional nature one sometimes finds in solo recordings. The key to this is Sherman's mastery of a number of instruments, making this a much more varied selection of songs than you'd expect, especially considering the absence of any form of rhythm section for the most part.
Opener "Time Must Have Stopped" is the most straightforward track here, and shows Sherman's much hinted at Donovan influence more strongly than anything we've heard from him yet - a gentle psychedelic folk song with a strong melody, and a graceful sitar accompaniment weaving in and out. Don couldn't have done it better himself (and hasn't for quite some time, sadly).
The concise "Swirling Thoughts" admittedly starts off sounding a little demoish, but before you've had time to register this fact properly, it's lifted by a gentle tabla beat and some of the most glorious mellotron you're likely to hear this year - mellotron which you'll be glad to hear doesn't back off for the duration of the E.P.
The title track starts off with a majestic mellotron flute theme before Sherman's voice enters, layered with so much reverb that you'd swear you were alone in an empty church with him. This is the proggiest track here, but not any of this 'tricky time signatures, fit in as many notes as you can prog', nope. This is prog how it used to be done, pretty much exclusively in England, and only for the briefest time before everyone wanted to be Keith Emerson. Think the quiet pastoral bits of "In The Court of the Crimson King" and you're on the right page.
And what's this for the final track "Preponderance of the Great"? A piano and mellotron infused instrumental with a church bell intro? You have been studying your Deram / Vertigo songbook very closely Mr Sherman, and good thing too.
Top stuff then, the only problem being I'd like more please. If you write any other songs that don't fit the Sky Picnic mould a similar treatment would be much appreciated thanks.
A neat little E.P that manages the difficult task of showcasing the diversity that Chris has to offer, while also demonstrating clearly what the rhythm section of Leah Cinnamon and Pete Merriwether bring to Sky Picnic. A pretty neat trick.
And it can be yours for a price of your choosing via the Bandcamp link below. Splash out.

7 Mar 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra "II" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Over here in New Zealand the local music scene is swamped with bland reggae and dubstep so it's a helluva nice to have some local psychedelia to appreciate - at least now I can feel like I've been born in the wrong time, and not necessarily the wrong place geographically too.
Like his brother Kody (who's debut as Opossom was one of my favorite albums of last year - see here), Ruban Nielson creates a sort of soft focus psychedelia that doesn't really sound like a product of the sixties or the present.
If anything, this has more in common with the likes of out of time mavericks like Bobb Trimble. Indeed, if someone had thrown this at me blind and claimed that it came from some early eighties bedroom psychedelicist's self released cassette I'd more likely than not have believed them.
I'd also have been pretty impressed, as this is a much more consistent album than the debut. Like the debut, it takes a few listens for the melodies to escape from their fuzzy, lo-fi cocoons, but once you've acclimatised to the murk you'll wonder why you had to put any work in at all to be won over by these effervescent gems.
There's nothing as immediate as "Ffunny Friends" from the debut, but there's a greater attention to sonic detail, a few more complicated, proggier numbers that give Ruban a chance to flex his impressive guitar muscle and on numbers like "So Good at Being in Trouble" some of his most soulful vocals yet committed to tape.
There's also a far greater number of hooks - both vocal and instrumental, for those willing to spend a little time listening.
Yes - there are plenty of folks out there who'll write this off as frustrating and more's the pity, but I'm firmly of the opinion that a great pop hook is exactly that, no matter what finery it's presented in.

Available here on Vinyl or here on CD.

6 Mar 2013

Athanor "Flashback" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

What do you get when you cross a Lennon fixated high school English teacher who now teaches a college level Beatles class with a meticulous harmony fiend with a writing background for Crawdaddy magazine?
The answer of course is Chicago duo Athanor. Pat yourself on the back if you already knew that, because I sure as hell didn't before this Guerssen promo fell into my hands.
Athanor released three 45s in small quantities between 1973 and 1975, most of which went out to record labels and radio station before subsequently disappearing. Enough copies found their way into collector's hands for the seed of a reputation to take root and now Guerssen have emerged from the rock and roll mine clutching another chunk of gold with this essential collection made up of both sides of their three 45s, demos recorded throughout the seventies and early eighties and a new (well, newer) track recorded in 2006.
The three 45s paint are particularly interesting pieces of proto-powerpop, especially considering Greg Herriges and Rick Vittenson's musical interests of the time didn't extend past the late sixties - essentially they were one of the architects of powerpop, but were seemingly oblivious to the fact that they had a peer group at the time.
There's a huge Beatles influence evident throughout, less obvious on the first single which is a fuzzy, but enjoyable relic full of twelve string acoustics, over the top wah wah leads, spot on vocal harmonies and the odd merseybeat style guitar riff.
Things get a whole lot more Beatlesque on "Urizen" - the A-side of their second single which is a much more forceful and psychedelic affair with some sublime backwards guitars.
Last single "Habits" ups the heavy psych factor again impressively but the fidelity of it and it's B-Side are average at best - unfortunate as these are probably the most fully realized tracks that the duo recorded.
Personal complications got in the way of an album being made, but the duo did sporadically get together to demo new tracks which make up the second half of this collection.
They're a surprisingly varied selection of fully fledged tracks that occasionally betray the times in which they were made (especially the abysmally titled, but actually rather good "Rock Me Roll Me" which sounds like it's been lifted straight off Lennon's "Double Fantasy") , but at their best (the moody acoustic numbers "Hidden Monsters" and "Like a River Flows") match the quality of their previously released material with aplomb.
So a mixed bag for sure, but more hits than misses and a very interesting listen for fans of the likes of Lazy Smoke, Hudson Ford and other Beatley powerpoppers.
Guerssen will be releasing this on vinyl in March, and on CD in April.