= August 2018 =  
Soft Hearted Scientists
John Howard
Nathan Hall
Dancing Mice
Dom Mariani
the Grip Weeds
Hanterhir
Plinth
Melody Fields
Neotropic
Donovan's Brain
Glenn Jones
Sneers
Stereocilia
Sendelica
Parades against Parades
Jon Collin
 Ewian
 
 
 
 
   

Home

SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS -TAKE TIME TO WONDER IN A WHIRLING WORLD
JOHN HOWARD - KID IN A BIG WORLD
JOHN HOWARD -THE HIDDEN BEAUTY
(LPs from You Are The Cosmos )

The debut album by Welsh wizards Soft Hearted Scientists was released about ten years ago and now sees its first vinyl release. The album starts with “The A470 Song”, a gently chanted haiku of a song which extols the virtues of said road, the first time I heard this it made me want to take a trip from Cardiff to Llandudno, the route of the road in the title, I finally got to do this a few weeks ago. The song tells of glittering skies, waterfalls and mountains, it’s accompanied by synths and gently strummed acoustic guitars, a terrific opening song.

This is followed by “I Wanted You”, an infectious shuffling song that takes in a billion years on planet earth. “Light Years To Nothing”, a dreaming song of space and time, woozy and slightly exotic, it asks the question ‘who wants to be the last of anything’? “Siberia”, is superb, a clicking, whirring, cyclical song of hummingbirds, Northern Lights, seven seas, of messages in bottles, but really it’s about lost love. “Meet Me At The Milky Way”, a brief banjo inflected interlude.

 Side two starts with “Rockford’s Return”, it begins with a cuckoo clock, before a sitar, whirling synths and massed acoustics conspire to create a soft psych epic. “Eyes”, follows, a pretty psych concoction that tells of striving and longing, follow your dreams, just don’t sit around all day watching reality TV. “I’ll Be Happy When I’m Sleeping”, an amusing tale of life in the middle ages and the comforts that progress has afforded us. “Hawthorn”, an arboreal psych inflected folk song. The album ends with the gorgeous “Drops In The Ocean”.  Amongst the instruments played are omnichord, pine cones, lunar cycles and sazz. Somewhere a cat purrs and we are treated to the ambient sounds of a Cardiff bus. The vinyl format omits the ten minute “Caterpillar Song”, which is included in the package on the accompanying CD. I love this album and hope that it does well for them. It deserves to be heard and is a modern day psych classic.

Kid In A Big World is a reissue of the 1975 album by English singer songwriter John Howard who was signed to CBS records.  It was recorded at the esteemed Abbey Road studios and produced by Tony Meehan.  The record starts with “Goodbye Suzie”, which was released as a single, it was a catchy song, but the subject matter concerned a suicide much like the Paul Siebel song “Louise” from a couple of years earlier. The single didn’t really set the charts alight for John, but I feel with enough exposure it certainly would have, Radio 1 refused to play it, considering it too depressing. “Family Man”, follows, it’s introduced by a sprightly piano motif, this one explores the role of traditional family values. The album explores various musical themes like glam rock and dramatic pop balladry. John’s instrument is the piano, which he plays in fine style across all the selections on this album. If comparisons are required think Elton John, David Bowie in his Anthony Newley phase or perhaps (whisper it…) Gilbert O’Sullivan. “The Flame”, has some nice touches, it’s a well observed yearning ballad, with some fine piano and lead guitar. “Maybe Someday In Miami”, is decorated by some lovely orchestral touches. “Gone Away”, is a baroque sounding song, embellished by harpsichord and vibes, again decorated by some fine orchestration.

Side two begins with “Missing Key”, a terrific ballad, again beautifully observed. “Spellbound”, is good fun, infested by horns and a nice descending bass line, crunchy and cool. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, is playful and seductive, very clever song writing, inhabited by the Marvel superheroes of Superman, Batman and Spiderman, very 70’s and expertly arranged, with some nice wibbling synth by Rod Argent. “Deadly Nightshade”, again has some punchy horns, it’s a short song about life’s uncertainties. The record ends with the title track, swooping strings, a roaring twenties feel, another well observed song that is about the transitory nature of stardom which unfortunately didn’t happen for John at the time with this album, but it has been steadily gaining traction over the last twenty or so years and is indeed now regarded as a lost classic.
 
The label have also issued an album of various songs that John also recorded throughout the seventies, some were produced by Eddie Pumer, some by Trevor Horn, with a few by John himself.  John Howard -The Hidden Beauty, is much more than a collection of odds and sods, containing as it does some equally great songs, I won’t go through them all, but highlights for me are opener “3 Years”,  recorded a couple of years earlier in 1973, it shows that John’s distinctive style was already in place by then. “Is this My Love”, is a cover of a song by Norman (Hurricane) Smith, which fits John like a glove. “Small town Big Adventures”, which shows off John’s falsetto, it shuffles along nicely to a cool piano figure and dramatic supporting instruments. “Stay”, from 1977 and produced by Trevor Horn is also excellent, why this one wasn’t all over the airwaves is beyond me, maybe it was just out of time, it has some great guitar and an arp synth stringing along. “Comic Strip”, “Pearl parade”, dedicated to Fred and Ginger. The record ends with “Loving You”, a song from 1979 which questions a starlet’s life in the bright lights of the city, too much booze and too much rouge.
(Andrew Young)

 

NATHAN HALL and the SINISTER LOCALS – TUNGUSKA TYDFIL
(LP/CD from Bandcamp)
DANCING MICE – MODERN TEMPERS
(DL www.dancingmice.co.uk for more information)

While Soft Hearted Scientists are seemingly still on a hiatus, Nathan Hall marks time with a follow-up release to The Sinister Locals’ debut from last year, the mostly delightful Effigies.

Like its predecessor there are similarities to the distinctive sound of SHS – unsurprisingly given that Hall is principal songwriter for both bands, although perhaps there is a little more semblance of clear daylight between the two here. It’s a warm and homely collections of tunes recorded at the band’s “The Sinister House” in Cardiff and on which disparateness abounds, from an adaptation of ‘Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’ (which got me checking out You Tube and reliving an important part of my pre-pubescent TV viewing), to the disarmingly sunny ‘Sometimes I See You’. There are lavish splashes of Love dotted throughout, and not just in the harpsichord but the guitar phrasings too. And there are mellotrons, or what sound like them, and I’m nothing if not a sucker for those.

Cope-style keyboard runs pepper the tantalising vignette ‘Lock In At The Last Chance Saloon’ while a sitar-like drone underscores ‘Song Of A Sourpuss’ (you see, the titles aren’t half bad either). The mostly languid and innocent sounding set list occasionally veers into the genuinely sinister, for example on the Bolero-style ‘Carnival Of The Damned’ which nudges into darkly burlesque Tiger Lillies territory. And yes, there are those Hall-mark repeat lines and circular motifs that always make me wonder if Nathan doubles up as a scoutmaster leading a load of kids in a mass-whittling of penny whistles around the campfire to the strains of “ging gang gooly” or whatever. It matters not, this is a wonderful summer camp diversion from all the nastiness out there in goblin wood. Fuck Trump, embrace this.

Edinburgh’s Dancing Mice, self-deprecatingly cite their influences as ranging from the 70s to the mid-70s (which begs the question why Fruits de Mer haven’t picked them up). In fact they may be thought of as a Caledonian version of Soft Hearted Scientists, slightly less bucolic perhaps but with an added quarter turn of XTC pop sensibility. Opener ‘Saint Rita’s Matrix’ is a fine case in point, a jollity farm-full of neat hooks and melodies that also doffs a cap in the direction of Divine Comedy. ‘Swiss Disco’ is also familiarly Partridge, a little more edgy and intricate with notes of early ‘80s King Crimson in structure and arrangement. This is the one I keep coming back to. The see sawing ‘Wastewater’ and ‘ECML’ (the latter about rail travel as you might have guessed from the title and therefore likely to pique our esteemed editor’s interest) are two that, unwittingly perhaps, cement the aural bond between Edinburgh and the Cardiff. ‘Summer (It Seemed To Me)’ though is vaguely Cope-ish – think those first couple of albums with their pastoral sequences - with a hint, too, of Barrett’s ‘Scarecrow’.

Nothing at all not to like there, then. It doesn’t always strike gold, though. ’Standing In For Love’ sounds flippantly jazz-lite in an old fashioned Radio 2 style and pretty much undoes the good work of ‘Saint Rita’s Matrix’ while there is a slight tailing off in quality in the latter third before ‘The Viper’s Bite’ brings us safely home to camp, though, in a manner that might not be unbecoming of a latter-day Caravan. Truth to tell this didn’t really gel with me the first time and selective listening would still be advisable, but it’s good to see them back with this their first album since 2014. While it’s been some time in gestation (as has this review) let us not forget the old adage, that if a thing’s worth doing well it’s worth doing slowly.

(Ian Fraser)

 

Home

DOM MARIANI & THE MAJESTIC – THE HI SEAS
THE GRIP WEEDS - HOUSE OF VIBES
( LPs from Sugarbush Records )

Australian musician Dom Mariani was a member of The Go Starts and The Stems amongst many other projects like DM3 and The Majestic Kelp. He started his career at the beginning of the eighties and is fairly prolific. This album has some wonderful guitar playing throughout and the styles run from surf through to rock. There are quite a few highly polished pop gems to be found in the grooves of this latest album.  He plays guitars and sings and is joined by Luke Dux- on pedal steel and guitar, Stu Loasby- bass, piano and organ, Steve Mancini- guitar and Todd Pickett- drums and vocals, plus a few guests adding percussion, vocals and piano.

Many of the songs have long instrumental passages with the vocals kept to a minimum. First song “The Spider And The Sailor” an instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack it’s fairly minimal surf rock. The guitars are clean and the rhythm section provides just the right amount of support. Highlights are the short tremolo guitar dominated “Silver And Gold” which also has some nice combo organ. “Blue Olive”, has plenty of pedal steel swells, fine percussion and piano. “Angel Angeline”, another instrumental with some wicked lead guitar.

 “Hi Seas”, the title track drifts along nicely, this one has Geraldine Rey on backing vocals, you can almost feel the sea spray. “Francisco Street”, has that Duane Eddy guitar style down pat. “Sweet Dee”, is a slow languid gem, this one is fairly reminiscent of Santo And Johnny’s classic song  “Sleepwalk”,  “Hi seas”, is reprised at the end, re-titled  as “Walking On the ocean”. I have found a new summer soundtrack, it’s very, very good indeed.
 
The Grip Weeds hail from New Jersey and have a fairly extensive discography. This is a rerelease of their debut album from 1995, which has been out of print for a while now [I seem to remember reviewing it in the Ptolemaic Terrascope a lifetime ago – Phil]  They are in that Big Star, Byrds, Badfinger, Buffalo Springfield, Beatles or any other band beginning with the letter B field of pop rock, and indeed take their name from “Muskateer Gripweed” a character played by John Lennon. 

“Out Of Today”, the opening track, sets out their stall with a fine shimmering rocker. “Salad Days”, is a concise Rickenbacker led song with some fine harmonies, i’m reminded slightly of the eighties group The Smithereens. The album is squarely in the power pop arena and has some really tight songs and a polished production. “Realize”, introduces congas, acoustics and percussion, along with some shimmering guitars. “Embraces”, contains some blistering guitar and is fairly close to the classic Beatles template.
 
Side two starts with “Always Come”, a mid paced song, again with some excellent harmonies and a cool guitar solo. “Don’t Belong”, is a Paul McCartneyesque shouter. “Haunted”, has cool organ fills, spooky lyrics and atmospherics. “Realise”, has fuzz guitar, congas, a Rickenbacker sitar, plus a little bit of flute or maybe ‘tron. “Before I Close My Eyes”, is a bit more in the Brit pop vein ala Oasis. Last song “Walking In The Crowd”, has some terrific taut wiry guitars, tight harmonies and rocks along nicely. A pretty cool album all told and one that certainly deserves to be rereleased.
 
(Andrew Young)

 

Home

HANTERHIR – THE SAVING OF CADAN
(Five-sided LP and 2xCD from http://easyaction.co.uk)

It’s a wonder that the time honoured tradition of putting a load of musicians together in the country and leave them to their own devices hasn’t result in some calamitous Lord Of The Flies type scenario. Pleased to say that crisis seems to have been averted this time as well, as this group of indigenous Cornish musicians, coalescing around the Redruth area (recording venues include a Methodist chapel a cricket club and llama farm) find sufficient inspiration to turn in five (?) sides of vinyl or two CDs worth of material that must have stretched budgets as far as it is likely to test the stamina of anyone contemplating taking in all of this in one listen.

The results are a muscular, at times anthemic; sprawling and occasionally lumpen concept album, but full of interesting surprises. ‘Hello Sunshine’ acts almost as an overture the ambitious 21 track opus, beginning sedately enough with floating keys before clipping into action like a squat rock band from the fringes of Stonehenge circa 1980. Stirring stuff, driven along by some solid riffing and wailing sax and a good omen for what’s to follow, before a further change of mood and pace starts ringing faint Prog alarm bells. Remember, for better or worse this is a concept album after all. ‘Delivered Hope’ is dreamy eyed, a quite lovely Floydian slip of a thing and yet they can’t resist crashing through the stockade, at which points it morphs into something that sounds like Van der Graaf Generator fronted by the chap from Jethro Tull. It’s all lavishly old school and the influences map like an inter-state if not inter-space intersection, By the time ‘Step Backwards’ steps up to the plate either they’ve started recycling ideas or this has the instantly familiar and welcoming feel of a timeless folk rocker. If the latter then they need to rush-release for 6 Radio airplay (it does lose something in the 80s style soloing though).

Switching discs and ‘The Dream’ packs a pleasingly experimental, trippy feel with dub notes and has to rank as one of your reviewer’s favourite cuts. ‘Alone Again’ (as elsewhere) contains trace elements of early Bunnymen as well as a most Satie-sfactory coda with added birdsong. By ‘Worlds Apart’ my multiple selves are having a great time spotting the musical reference points (I’m winning that one, by the way). In some respects they save the best until last with ‘This Is How It’s Always Been’, a breezy semi-acoustic number with guitar and flute the fore not four to the floor. It clearly demonstrates what they’re capable of when the reign in the excess of ideas and over-delivery.

The Saving of Cadan is a rollercoaster of a ride and one that requires of the listener a plentiful anaerobic capacity. Being hard to pigeonhole means that the listener will like some it but may struggle to embrace all, and that goes for individual compositions as well as the album as a whole. This is a valiant and very worthwhile effort, though, and if it doesn’t always succeed then it isn’t going down without making an impression – one that becomes more favourable with perseverance. It is one that you’ll be tempted to dip into repeatedly in order to get the most out of the constituent parts. Replicate this live and they could prove to be a pretty useful addition to your festival, too.
(Ian Fraser)

 

Home

PLINTH – MUSIC FOR SMALLS LIGHTHOUSE
( www.claypipemusic.co.uk )  
Five years ago Michael Tanner delivered the album Music For Smalls Lighthouse to Frances at Clay Pipe Music, who duly adorned it with some terrific artwork and matching booklet in an edition of 500. This duly sold out within minutes. Previously it had been released as a sumptuous small hardback book and CD by the wonderful subscription only label Second Language records, in an edition of 150 in 2010. This was accompanied by a ten track 3” CDR - this remains the only edition to feature these bonus tracks.

A veteran of several Terrascope-promoted shows and festivals, Michael Tanner records under a variety of monikers, including Cloisters, Thalassing, Taskerlands and The A Lords, also contributing to music by Mark Fry and the Irish group United Bible Studies, collaborating along the way with Alison Cotton of The Left Outsides.

 It is a delightful record that is a mixture of atmospheric chamber music and neo -classical pieces. The album concerns the story of two Welsh men Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffin, who spent six months in the year 1800 living in a Lighthouse on Smalls Rock, Nr St David’s in Pembrokeshire. During this time one of the men was killed in an accident, with Howell left to look after himself with Thomas’s body flapping outside in the wind. Howell tried to push his body in to the water but it got caught up where it remained just out of his reach, eventually driving Howell insane. This is a gruesome tale but the album is far from a horror fest, it’s a cathartic listen, plenty of real sounds incorporated into the pieces, some recorded in caves, we are treated to plenty of seagulls and loads of watery sounds.

Its best listened to as a whole, it’s a pretty unique album that’s well worth trying to find a copy of, again it is one of those hard records to write about but very easy to listen to, I am fortunate to have listened to it many times over the last ten years and always find something new to admire within its 40 minutes. If you are quick you may still find a copy; it is now sold out on pre orders at source.

(Andrew Young)

 

Home

MELODY FIELDS – MELODY FIELDS
(CD/Streaming on Kommun 2 – SoundEffect Records)
 
You can tell a lot about a new band from its sound, especially if, like Gothenburg, Sweden outfit Melody Fields, the sound seems born fully formed and consistent throughout.  In their case, that sound contains two prime elements, deep, jangly guitars and even-keeled harmony vocals.  It’s a combination you may hear on other modern psych records, and one I absolutely love, and Melody Fields executes it to perfection on their debut.  Their label, SoundEffect Records, advises “Think of endless summer nights, infinite access to weed and a 24/7 flying carpet service, and you get a glimpse of what is going on here.”
Like the best psychedelic music, Melody Fields sounds both old and new at the same time.  While rooted deep in 1960s psych traditions, the sound is also fresh and modern.

Blasting off with the eastern-tinged “Morning Sun,” originally released as a debut single in 2017, the jangly guitars greet the listener as happily as the morning sun itself.  As the three-part harmonies enter, the song takes on a flair of Jefferson Airplane doing a sped-up take of the Velvets’ “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”  However, just when you’re settled in and want more, a squealing saxophone solo takes over the rest of the song.  In the reprise that closes the album, “Morning Sun Revisited,” the sax is replaced by a sitar.  I would have preferred they left well enough alone and left the song(s) unadorned of sax and sitar, with just the guitars and harmony vocals - which are their strengths - as they do the rest of the album, but your mileage may vary.

“Liberty” follows, and sails along at a comfortable clip.  The harmony vocals are again delightful.  The guitars follow a nicely grooving riff, with just a whiff of Robbie Krieger in the undercurrent.  And of course, the lyrics - about you guessed it, Liberty - are a positive sentiment.  Melody Fields has a way of finding your comfort zone, and lodging themselves there, and Liberty is a perfect example.

“Run” sports many layers of guitars, including acoustic guitars and a fuzz guitar that plays the repeating main riff, and yet more guitar tones on the solos.  And as always, they take great care with the vocal harmonies.

“Rain Man” is my favorite track on the album.  After a quavering intro with a “Baba O’Reilly”-type synth, heavy guitars and three-part harmony vocals thunderously crash on the shore.  The guitars canter along similar to the Fabs’ “Rain,” but heavier (the guitars, not the rain, that is).  The song features a catchy chorus, and the more chilled the voices are, the more powerful the overall effect.  The instrumental break features a veritable sonic attack of layered guitars and effects.  It’s “Rain Man” that plants Melody Fields firmly on the map.

Next up is “Fire.”  Another guitar wonderland, Fire starts with an acoustic intro, then transits descending electric guitar riffs.  I’ll give a shout-out to the production team at this point.  On tracks like Fire, they do a nice job of sound-separating the acoustic and electric guitars, low and high parts, and many tones and effects, that in the hands of amateurs would be relegated to mush.  It’s certainly not the case here.

The ten-minute slow-burning potboiler “Tradgransen” is another favorite.  (Unfortunately, my word processing skills aren’t sufficiently up to par to properly place the umlats.)  Tradgransen is basically three sections.  An eastern-flavored quiet guitar figure opens, vaguely reminiscent of the break in Tim Buckley’s “Song Slowly Song.” This quietly builds until soft, soothing harmony vocals enter around three minutes in.  The vocals are as usual, full of self-control, as the drummer backs them on the toms.  However, storm clouds gather, and again Melody Fields prove less is more as the vocals maintain their quiet composure, yea as the hounds from hell seem to gather round, making for a dramatic contrast.  The dam inevitably bursts, and we are subject to all the psychedelic explosive fire and fury, sound and guitars Melody Fields can throw at us, which is a lot.  A brief return to the quiet opening section rounds out a striking piece.

Melody Fields are off to a fine start.  The band both pays homage to the greats of the past, as well as constructing a winning, contemporary style all their own.  Another helping, please.

(Mark Feingold)

 

Home

NEOTROPIC – THE ABSOLUTE ELSEWHERE  
( Slowcraft Records )

The Absolute Elsewhere is the new album from Riz Maslen.  Riz may be familiar to you as a collaborator with artists such as the Future Sound Of London, Piano Magic, The Silver Servants and Oliver Cherer, amongst others.  For this beautifully presented hand crafted, hand stamped and numbered CD, (her seventh full length album I believe), Riz has created an otherworldly mix of sumptuous  vocals, and exotic sounds of a post classical-neofolk. 

The record starts with the seven plus minutes of “Overture”, its icy noir post- rock pouring all over my ears in a soft cascade, as it slowly develops, before twinkling away into the ether like a disappearing ice cream van. This is followed by the anti war song “Your War”, an impassioned plea to warmongers, it’s a ghostly, haunted song of quiet beauty, infused with some fine stately piano, mournful brass sounds and elegiac but powerful vocals. “Wreckage of Dreams”, is next, her crystalline disembodied voice giving voice to the dead, the lost souls, a prayer for the ones that have gone far too soon, in the futility of war, may they rest in peace, a siren song that fades out to a sort of briny blur.

“Byzantium”, features parts of a poem by William B Yeats, here she is joined by Oliver Cherer, on additional vocals, and it is another watery tune, from that ‘dolphin-torn, gong-tormented sea’, ghostly sirens from the shores of the holy city of Byzantium. The soft beats of “Nyolat”, are gradually joined by the glacial beauty of Riz’s voice, the beats becoming ever more insistent as they evolve throughout the song. “Pleiades”, the penultimate song on the album is a beauty, ethereal, slightly operatic and otherworldly, it see- saws in a dramatic way through to its conclusion.  The record ends with “The Restless”, an icy noir folk song of a travelling girl, her pure untrammelled voice singing a timeless graceful melody, joined by seagulls, bells and ghostly choirs.  This is a quietly powerful, yet beautiful record, highly recommended.

(Andrew Young)

 

Home

DONOVAN’S BRAIN – CONVOLUTIONS OF THE BRAIN
(Career Records www.careerrecords.com )

New 3 CD set of unreleased, remixed and live recordings of Donovan’s Brain, including a complete, multi tracked, studio recording of their rehearsals for the Terrastock 4 festival in Seattle 2000. This set features 48 songs, nearly all of them unreleased. Considering the six different line ups of the group over this time period 1991-2007 it’s remarkably cohesive, with members of Help Yourself, Man, Long Ryders, Young Fresh Fellows, Savoy Brown and even Ric Parnell from Spinal Tap. It is jam packed with quality playing and songs. Ron Sanchez being the only consistent member to appear on all of these recordings, and the one who has compiled this huge set of recordings. It may be a little too much to consume in one sitting, but since its arrival earlier this week, I have done exactly that, twice now!

The jewel in this set for me are a whole bunch of songs featuring the guitar playing from one of one of England’s finest guitarists, Richard Treece, who sadly passed away in 2015. His glorious runs, up and down the fretboard, are often sent heavenwards in magnificent, incendiary runs, scattered throughout these three discs. He was a member of the Monday Morning Glory Band, before joining Help Yourself, The Neutrons and The Green Ray. If you enjoy the West Coast/ Bay Area style of playing by the likes of John Cippolina and Jerry Garcia, then you will certainly find much to like here.

The first disc begins with the catchy “My Favourite Record”, then we are introduced to the first of four readings of “Perky Pat”, this one is taken from the Terrastock rehearsals for Terrastock 4 at The Showbox in Seattle. The line up for this set was Ron Sanchez, Richard Treece, Colter Langan, Jeff Arntsen and Ron Craighead. If the live set they played are anything like these rehearsals, then whoever was in the audience for this show was in for a real treat! (and if you weren’t, then this long out of print VHS tape of the event will have to suffice – Phil)

I am not going to list all the songs but will dwell on quite a few. This first reading of “Perky Pat”, is certainly one of the sets highlights; Richard is on fire, his questing, quavering, curlicues of notes are sent spiralling up into space, a real tour de force. A cover version of Dwight Twilleys “Sincerely”, works well, imbuing the song with backwards guitar, 12 string and Mellotron.

“Punch Wax Circus”, sees some excellent slide guitar by Richard and has a progressive country rock feel. “Oh Lorelei”, written by Bobby Sutliff, sung by Tony Miller, is punchy and has some cool keyboards from Ron Sanchez, plus a cool guitar solo from Deniz Tek. “Control”, then arrives, a sprawling 15 minute epic, written and featuring Jeff Arnsten on guitar and vocals, with some sparkling playing from Ron on piano, synth and Mellotron. The Indian vibes of “Hurry Curry”, sees Ron playing everything. This first disc ends with a song written by Jones, Leonard, Whaley and Williams (the classic Man line up) with “The Single *2”, it’s no surprise then that it sounds like them, sung here by Kels Koch. A couple of instrumental songs follow, by the trio of Ron Sanchez, Deniz Tek and Ric Parnell before Richard Treece and Colter Langan set “Central Services”, alight. The disc ends with a slightly muddy sounding live version of “Burning Name Of Love”.

Disc 2 begins, with those magnificent Terrastock rehearsals, presented here in their entirety. Comprising “Tads’s New Cymbal Stand”, “Tiny Crustacean Lightshow”, “Holly Green”, “Say Farewell”, “The Magic’s Gone”, “My Little Town”, then a medley of “Central Services”/”Make A Noise Quietly”/”Perky Pat”, oh to have been a fly on the wall! “Bok The Beer Elf”, follows this 40 minute section, and sees the ‘electric fur trapper’ at the top of his game, fuzzy ‘rip the skin off your back’ guitars, bursting out of the speakers. “Dim Gem”, is another gem, this adds lap steel and Mellotron. “Lost Marbles”, see’s Ron reminiscing on childhood, this one is sung by Dave Walker. The disc ends with “Days Playing Perky Pat”, which adds whispered vocals, piano by Anthony Sacco and sees Richard playing some furious lead guitar, giving his wah wah pedal a good seeing to in the process.

Disc 3 begins with a Malcolm Morley/Richard Treece song “Brand New Girl”, sung by Dave Walker, it also sees Ron playing a variety of keyboards, it again has some wondrous guitar by Richard. “Eclipse And Debris”, sees Ron playing everything but bass, he sings it with heavily treated vocals; this one has some fine slide by Ron. “Joey’s In The Pouch (Slide)”, sees an alternate version of the song, sung by Paul Rose, it also features some stinging slide guitar by Richard. “Hearts In Her Eyes”, is a pretty good, Byrds sounding cover version, of a ‘Records’ song. “To One Still Waiting”, is sublime and again sees some blistering playing from Richard. “Fever’s Touch”, breaks up things quite nicely, an instrumental song by Ron who plays everything bar drums, which is odd considering the fact that the next song “PHC” sees him playing drums quite skilfully. “Central Services”, follows, there are no personnel details supplied for this 11 plus minute epic, it’s a great version. The final outing for “Perky Pat”, sees an alternate version of their signature tune, from those same Terrastock rehearsals. “Violin Thing”, is taken from the bands tribute to Micky Jones, appearing on the Micky Jones Tribute Album, but remixed for this set. This mammoth record ends with “CGL2”, an interesting Colter Langan instrumental, which rounds off the set nicely.
(Andrew Young)

 

Home

GLENN JONES – THE GIANT WHO ATE HIMSELF AND OTHER NEW WORKS FOR 6 AND 12 STRING GUITAR
(LP/CD from https://thrilljockey.com)

Not so long ago, a couple of years back, maybe, Glenn Jones played a small town on the Shropshire/Powys border near to where I live. Shamefully I failed to go and see him, a decision I have from time to time regretted, no more so than on listening to this new release on the estimable Thrill Jockey label.

Boston via New Jersey’s Jones continues to forge a reputation as foremost exponent of the Fahey and Basho charm school of off-kilter skills – an instrumental raconteur whose chops engage rather than alienate. He’s clever, yes, but not too clever by half, his showiness being a legitimate expression of his creativity rather than showmanship for the sake of.

Twelve tracks appear here, led off by the title one, on which the skipping rag soon bends and twists this way and that. ‘Everything Ends’ is more throttled back and wistfully contemplative. It’s a lovely piece in which snatches of Spanish and early classical composition can be glimpsed. Continuing with the theme of finality on ‘The Last Passenger Pigeon’ the early gloomy long notes leavened by a cantering 12-string, an instrument that’s a bugger to tune but when played well (and boy does Jones play it well) exudes the hypnotic illusion of more than one instrument.

Ah, birdsong and field recordings! Don’t we just love those? Well the compact ‘River In The Sky’ has them both, the mechanised aviation juxtaposing with the organic feathered variety and punctured by flashes of slide. Jauntily melodic, ‘From Frederick to Fredericksburg’ records a journey Jones took with his old friend and collaborator, the late Jack Rose, and their homeward journey late into the night. It’s one of several contenders for the outstanding track, one of about twelve at any rate, as is the exquisite ‘Even The Snout And Tail’ (one for all you un-reconstituted carnivores out there). Indeed there’s almost as much pleasure to be had from the song titles as the delightful music, as befits many of the best instrumental albums where you sense the artists still feel they need to go the extra yard to entice you in. There’s really no need for that here, as Glenn Jones’ aural palette alone is sufficient to paint not only the evocative portraits of old ghosts such as Fahey and Rose but a bold canvas on which to showcase his own considerable talent. Oh and Glenn, if you come over here again I’ll make the effort next time, honest.

(Ian Fraser)  
 

Home

SNEERS – HEAVEN WILL RESCUE US, WE’RE THE SCUM, WE’RE IN THE SUN
(LP on God Unknown Records)

Sneers are new to me even though they formed back in 2012 in Berlin. They are a duo formed of songwriter and guitarist M.G. Blaankart and drummer Leonardo O. Stefenelli and have released two previous records. This new release comes courtesy of the good folk at God Unknown Records.

The record starts strongly with ‘Sailing As A Saint’. It’s a swirling gothic SWANS like howl of sound wrapped around a pounding guitar and drums riff with sometimes rasping, sometimes scream like singing not unlike a higher toned Diamanda Galas ramping up the drama. The SWANS sound is perhaps unsurprising due to the presence of Kristof Hahn who plays lapsteel guitar with the band. The SWANS gothic blues feel continues through ‘No Man Is Poetry’ albeit slower and more sparsely played. ‘For Humanity To Rest’ changes the tempo and brings in a lighter shade of darkness with an acoustic, almost folk dance vibe which tends more towards a 4AD/Dead Can Dance sound. ‘Heaven Will Rescue Us’ is lovely and opens with extended atmospheric guitar before developing an interesting, slightly fuzzier Cocteau Twins shimmering melody underpinned by a simple and insistent drum beat. ‘Fevers For Believers’ starts as a dissonant My Bloody Valentine like soundscape broken up by occasional little drum explosions before gathering pace thanks to a driving almost ritualistic drum beat and ghostly vocals which hint at early Banshees but also gothic industrial sounds from the post punk era. The excellent ‘Rossella In Badlands’ continues this Banshees-like psychedelia followed by ‘Wind Unseen Force’ which has a faintly eastern feel at times, occasional hints of ‘trip hop’ and more mellow than previous but very engaging vocals which are in the hinterland between singing and talking. Finally ‘Evil Does That Thing’ completes this excellent record with a woozy riff that has a touch of early Nick Cave in its repetition and melody.

Sneers are touring the UK around the release of this record in September and I for one would be interested to see this music performed live. In the meantime, this is a fine collection of gothic and industrial blues influenced psychedelia dripping with atmosphere and indeed it is not to be sneered at.

(Francis Comyn)

 

Home

STEREOCILIA – WORMHOLE
(CD and DL from https://stereocilia.bandcamp.com)

Faced with a bit of downtime during a European tour last year, John Scott took something of a busman’s holiday, holed up in WORM studios in Rotterdam surrounding by old analogue Moog, ARP and Roland paraphernalia. Wormhole is the result of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, the condensed product boiled down from three hours of kid-in-a-sweetshop noodling.
Ambient washes and guitar loops serve up Stereocilia’s trademark mesmerisation and lush textured drones on the opening ‘i’. By all means take your pick of wormholes, though - there are five of them including an epic ‘v’ spanning more than half an hour. ‘ii’ packs more crackle and fizz than ‘i’ and is busier, instilled with a semblance of most engaging rhythm and hum. The cybernetic ‘iv’ probes with a throbbing cadence and is my pick of this bunch of fives. Well that was until I got to grips with the aforementioned ‘v’, which at 32 minutes sounds like it might be something of a cue to go out and wash the car. Mercifully that’s not the case here. From slow beginnings The Hum approaches and a road sweeping drone develops. It all percolates slowly and synthetically in a very industrial space landscape, bubbling and ripping as it goes to the gentle tap, tap beat of an ancient drum machine. Then the defiant guitar, an almost bagpipe like lament that does heroic battle with the swirling cacophony of space penal colony dystopia before the return of what, on close inspection is a not-quite flat line drone, where subtle intricacies play out in the background. Lengthy it may be but, like ‘er out of Fairport, you’ll end up wondering where the time goes. Dammit just strap yourselves in and go with it.

There’s always a danger that electronic music starts to repeat itself in pretty short order so it’s good to know that Wormhole is pretty as varied as you can reasonably expect within the genre’s limitation and without resorting to ridiculous BPMs. Evidence if any were needed that John Scott remains on top of his game. He’s welcome here at Terrascope Towers any time, where of course the second best bone china is always at the ready (not available to staff).

(Ian Fraser)

 

Home

SENDELICA – CROMLECH  RE-IMAGINED VOLUME 1
(LP/CD on FRG Records)

Sendelica’s ongoing series of records bearing the title ‘Cromlech Chronicles’ has been a joy to date, touching many bases including folk, space rock, kosmische and Floydian bliss across the three volumes released so far to create their immersive Cromlech soundworld. This release, the first volume of  ‘Cromlech Re-imagined’ presents three tracks on vinyl (originally released as a limited edition at the Sixteenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival in Cardigan earlier this month) with a five track release on CD and download.

‘The Return Of The Elohim (Altar Mix)’ opens proceedings with a delicate ‘Shine On You Crazy Sendelicans’ like keyboard and guitar ambience over an extended opening section before soaring guitar and sax lines over a steadily intensifying riff take us to a dramatic finale. ‘Slow Burner (Re-entry Mix)’ originally from Cromlech Chronicles III starts with a spacey howl of synths and guitars before settling into a Crazy Horse like rocker with a driving drum beat and a beautiful guitar solo which has hints of Neil Young and David Gilmour in its high flying glory. From this peak we enter a swirling mass of kosmische synths bringing blissful and dissonant chaos to the middle of the track before breaking out on the other side with a concluding blast of the main riff and melody. It’s a wonderful track of contrasts and collisions in style which work very well indeed.  The lengthy ‘Even Though My Mouth Is Silent (Cosmic Connections Mix)’ takes a track from Cromlech Chronicles II into a new Laurie Anderson-esque world of electronica and voice before introducing the Celtic feel of the original bathed in a dance infused Tangerine Dream like wash of synthetic beats and melodies. Towards the end of this near twenty minute track the beats and synths retreat and a lonely plucked bass and vocal emerge before the string melody ends this dramatic and quite astonishing piece of music. One of the lovely things about this track is that it actually feels like a song with long and engaging instrumental passages that add colour and dimension rather than simply a long instrumental with vocal parts to break it up which is testament to great singing, writing and arrangement.

The first of the CD and download tracks is Pete Bingham’s original demo mix of ‘12 Shades Revisited’ (from Cromlech III) which starts with a dreamy guitar melody, cymbals and sax providing colour. The music gathers power with punchy drums and a choppy guitar line before returning to a brooding, sparse ambience where the guitar, sax and percussion bring the piece to its gentle conclusion. Finally, ‘Theme From An Imaginary Victorian Ghost Hunter (Aviv Mix)’ ends this excellent release with what does indeed have an air of mystery and soundtrack quality in its sax led, cinematic jazz like melody played over an eerie chiming guitar and gently swinging beat.

I often despair when presented with alternative and new mixes of tracks as quite often they bring nothing of discernible value to the table and feel like an exercise in squeezing more money out of an exhausted record. I am happy to report that this is certainly not the case here and I can wholeheartedly recommend this release as a fine companion to the Cromlech Chronicles series which seems like it has some way to go yet. Build shelves in readiness folks!

(Francis Comyn)

 

Home

PARADES AGAINST PARADES – DRIVING ME STONED
(LP on Cardinal Fuzz Records)

‘Driving Me Stoned’ is the result of a very fruitful exploration into the archives of Saskatoon’s music scene resulting in a new release on the ever reliable Cardinal Fuzz label. It is an important link in a family tree which highlights the early adventures of members of key Canadian bands including Shooting Guns and The Switching Yard and sheds light on the evolution of their sound.

The record has a lovely lo-fi quality which displays a wide range of influences loudly and proudly. Perhaps the most obvious reference is the Rolling Stones in their late 60’s/early 70’s prime and perhaps to a lesser extent the Velvet Underground but this record is much more complex than that. What we have is a very satisfying confection blending blazing sixties garage rock, acid tinged psychedelia, a touch of improvisation and an occasional drop of punky attitude which taken as a whole often reminds me of the live pleasures of the Dream Syndicate in their heyday.

Two versions of ‘Heading Up To Head Down’ are included and both worthy of being here albeit they aren’t radically different. It’s a great song to start the record, starting out with a sparse Velvet Underground feel before slowly turning the amps up and letting loose with a howling gale of guitar. ‘Some Sort Of Problem’ is the first of the tracks where we get a strong reference to the Dream Syndicate in its soaring riff and guitar lines with an underlying hint of Crazy Horse and even Echo and the Bunnymen in the quieter moments. ‘Driving Me Stoned’ has a nice fuzzy riff and builds up the noise into a punky, guitar rocker with strong garage roots. ‘Sonic Reaction’ continues the theme with a great strutting riff and pounding beat with a Stones like simplicity and guitar interplay. ‘Love’s Addiction’ hits hard with a Stooges/MC5 like energy and snarl. The finale is the ten minutes plus ‘Wasting All My Time’ which starts off with a huge bluesy Stones feel and a Jagger-esque vocal and it keeps a Stonesey feel throughout whilst building to a raw, incendiary climax of almost freeform jamming.

‘Driving Me Stoned’ is an entertaining ride with good songs, infectious riffs and some great punky psychedelic excursions. It wears its influences well and uses them to create something well worth your attention.

(Francis Comyn)
 

Home

JON COLLIN – WATER AND ROCK MUSIC VOLUME 1
(LP on Feeding Tube Records)

I’ve been a huge fan of Jon Collin’s music for some time now and whether it’s his more experimental and improvised performances or folk and blues derived outings, there is always a rewarding listening experience to be had.

This record was recorded at Lake Malaren near Bromma, Sweden in Spring 2017 and is a beautiful recording that brings alive the image of recording at the lakeside on a Spring day. Environmental sounds permeate the recording including lapping water, birdsong and the gentle blowing of the wind, sometimes prominently and at other times just a whisper within earshot. These sounds do not simply provide ambience and incidental sounds however and Jon uses the environment almost like an additional instrument to great effect.

Whilst there are six named pieces of music on the record it comes across almost as a suite with each composition or improvisation effectively sounding like an emotional and musical response to the weather and the experience of being lakeside on that day. The guitar playing, mostly acoustic slide, is quiet but detailed and each sound including the gentle percussive taps and rattles of the guitar shell is an essential part of the listening experience. Occasional hummed vocals and breathy wisps of harmonica drift quietly by, under and between the guitar notes. Minimal blues and folk melodies spring from the music which is unique in character but also nods respectfully to influences such as Loren Connors and the guitar soli of Jack Rose and Robbie Basho.

This is beautiful, hypnotic and contemplative music which would grace the wee small hours or indeed any quiet hour that you can sit back and just listen without any other distraction than perhaps watching the world go gently by. Volume 2 is apparently on the horizon and I for one can’t wait.
(Francis Comyn)

 
 

Home
 

EWIAN – OF THOSE WHO DROWN TO LIVE
CD/DL from https://ewian.bandcamp.com)

This fourth album from eponymously named German band fronted by singer and composer Ewian Christensen is a diverse collection of tunes that while they occasionally run a bit hot and cold and veer a little close to the mainstream are well worthy of investigation.

Vocally, Christensen brings to mind the sweetly tremulous tenor of the late Jeff Buckley (I’d cite his even-better dad Tim but know full well that Phil wouldn’t be able to resist his Bum Tickly joke) such as on nicely crafted and radio friendly opener ‘Drown To Live’. As often as not he sounds like the Golden One fronting Radiohead or some such – in fact there are a clutch of neatly packaged tunes including ‘Beautiful Lie – The Salvation’, ‘The Final Bow’, ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Box Of Pandora’ which smack of that slightly off-kilter sound of the more pale and interesting outpouring of 90s UK post-rock. So what if there is a periodic feel of ever-so slightly anaemic as opposed to anthemic Britpop about some of the proceedings then why not? After there are any number of UK exponents of so-called Krautrock, some of whom you suspect may well have difficulty pointing out Germany on a map.

The best tracks here make good use of space and stop-start motion while the changes of pace and theme are generally accomplished without sounding contrived. Wittingly or otherwise there are echoes of early Tull in ‘The Sweet Ones The Evil Ones’ and there is even a nod to cyber pop in the form of ‘VAST’ wouldn’t disgrace any Nick Nicely release. There’s more than a hint of subsidence in the coda, mind, as the last couple of tracks slip away (although the first part of ‘Life Uncut’ would have made fine incidental orchestration for that lost Nick Drake album and showcases Christensen the serious composer).

In athletics terms this is something akin to the Decathlon and Christensen shows himself adept at multi-disciplinary compositional styles. Definitely one for lovers of eclecticism and, if not quite “something for everyone” it’s still a good stopping off point for those who appreciate song craft and even something to hum along to. Keep an eye out too for the videos, one a month over the next 12 months, one for each track.

(Ian Fraser)