= June 2018 =  
the Amazing
Hexadic III
Richard Youngs
Chris Carter
Sam Moss
Mark McDowell & friends
The band whose name is a symbol
Cary Grace
Trent Miller
Beautify Junkyards
Sly & the Family Drone
Wooden Shjips
Culto al Quondor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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THE AMAZING – IN TRANSIT

The Amazing, a brilliant five-piece outfit from Sweden have recently delivered their sixth LP, In Transit. We are, in fact, treated to a double album this time around, a first for this band. Already a well-oiled machine, the band has managed to meticulously hone their craft even further, resulting in an entirely cohesive, focused effort. With an already impressive discography under their belt, In Transit proudly presents itself as the band's quintessential LP. The trademark hushed, mysterious vocals, the intertwining guitar lines, precise drumming and atmospheric arrangements all seem to congeal so perfectly. They've clearly got their own sound and their own identity. There is no band that I've ever heard that sounds quite like The Amazing.

The album cleverly starts off with "Pull", which instead of crashing out of the gates, could have easily been beautifully sequenced as a lovely closing track, slowly drifting along, gently drawing the listener in. "Voices Sound" delivers those familiar crunchy guitar textures with just the perfect amount of distortion, along with Moussa Fadera's inventive drumming anchoring the sound. "A Million Days" closes out side one with a swirling feeling that conjures up feelings of ascending up through the clouds on another sonic journey. The unassuming arrangements remain subtle, yet complex, as they pull the song together.

Side two opens with "First Touch of Light", and band leader Christoffer Gunrup's vocals are as sincere as ever; his voice is absolutely perfect for the band. "Rewind" has an utterly timeless feel to it, and is arguably the strongest track on the entire album, if not the most accessible. For anyone not already familiar with this terrific band, "Rewind" would surely serve as a fine introduction. The second side wraps up with "Never Be", a gentle, dreamy track that weaves through several textures.

Side three of this glorious double album starts with "Benson se Convirtio Completamente Furiosa" (which, hilariously, I must say, translates to "Benson Became Completely Furious", surely an inside joke about some sort of an incident with bass player Alexis Benson; there must be a great back story there!) This song turns over some stones that even this already accomplished outfit has not done before. The textures layer over and over and an underlying intensity builds throughout the song. The whole band is working in perfect unison, offering a stunning display of synergy. These are five excellent musicians at the peak of their powers. The track seems to draw to a close - and at the risk of revealing a spoiler here - out of nowhere the band launches into a full-throttle crushingly heavy psychedelic freak-out, dominated by the searing guitar work of Reine Fiske. Imagine if Kawabata Makoto had just popped by for an impromptu jam session, and you're in the right neighborhood. What a wonderful surprise.

Coming up for a much-needed breath of air, the record continues with the lovely "For No One", using their vast sonic palette to paint another fine offering with some delicate acoustic guitar, hand drumming, and flourishing keyboard components. "Leave Us A Light" finishes off the third side of this sprawling masterpiece of an album with a woozy guitar introduction, displaying just the right crunch of distortion, leading in to somewhat melancholic vocal delivery.

The fourth and final side of this majestic work opens with "Asleep", a rather cinematic piece, filled with mystery and intrigue. Make no mistake, this record is constantly pushing boundaries, albeit in subtle ways, and to much success.  Our journey ends with the curiously titled "Je travaille dans la banque" (which translates to "I work in the bank"). A terrific closing track, the lyric "Hey, at least I knew you for a while" really sets the reflective tone of the song. The songs fades out just after four minutes, and the album would have drawn to a natural close. However, this band -- and this record in particular -- is full of surprises. Just before an expected fadeout, the song takes a left turn and morphs into an absolutely beautiful coda, providing the proverbial icing on the cake. it is a fitting ending to a perfect record.

In Transit is truly a release to be celebrated. Ambitious in scope, it fulfills even the most stringent expectations. Each track is certainly unique, yet they all commonly bound by that unmistakable sound that is The Amazing. The sequencing of these songs is important, especially so with a double album and it is clear that there was much thought put into this, as the entire listening experience is well-balanced, cleverly timed and has a very natural, organic flow to it.

Having already built upon a truly impressive discography, The Amazing have inexplicably managed to find a way to raise the bar -- yet again.

(Kent Whirlow)

 

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – HEXADIC III

(LP/Cassette on Drag City Records)

Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance has invented a system of creating music which steers a path between composition and improvisation and he calls it the ‘Hexadic’ system. It is perhaps in the hinterland between Eno’s Oblique Strategies and more esoteric influences. Chasny has released his own Hexadic recordings under the banner of Six Organs of Admittance on two previous recordings but this record, Hexadic III, includes the first fruits of other musicians and bands using the system.

Moon Duo give us ‘Square Of The Sun’, a typically hypnotic psych rock groove with lots of space and atmosphere which plays out over six minutes of blissful grooves over a steady beat until its unexpectedly sudden ending breaks the spell. Jenks Miller’s ‘The Hanging Man’ has a great melodic Television style guitar line and laid back groove which has more than a touch of pastoral ambience. Meg Baird and Charlie Saufley’s ‘Protection Hex’ changes the mood with a much more spare and atmospheric pysch folk feel and it’s a lovely piece of music with gorgeous vocals as might be expected. Tashi Dorji contributes ‘KO’, a short acoustic guitar instrumental which takes a noticeably different direction to what has gone before it but is nonetheless an interesting listen. Richard Youngs performs ‘Abandoned Problems’, a folk and Robert Wyatt influenced piece characterised by a lyric repeating the song title in each line with tumbling guitars, a woozy off kilter melody and some raw and fuzzy solo breaks.

At over 13 minutes ‘Solastalgia’ by Stephen O’Malley, Tim Wyskida and Marc Urselli is by far the longest track on the album and its centrepiece. Measured, almost mathematical guitar chord crashes come at regular intervals with cymbal washes and sparse drum fills partly occupying the lengthy pauses between chords being struck. It’s an atmospheric and intense, skeletal, drone based piece which manages to retain power and presence and keep the listeners attention without the usual Sunn O))) sonic attractions. The final track is Phil Legard’s ‘Zoa Pastorale’ played on the organ. It starts gently before taking on a repetitive Glass-like minimalism that slowly evolves into a more church like tone. It is a gorgeous piece of music.

Whilst I don’t fully get the role of the Hexadic system in making these recordings (maybe I need to read Ben’s book on the subject) and stylistically there are perhaps one or two tracks which don’t particularly sit easily with the general flow of the record (although they are fine in their own right) there is much to enjoy in this collection and that’s enough for me.

(Francis Comyn)

 

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RICHARD YOUNGS – BELIEF

(LP/CD on O Genesis Records and available at www.nofansrecords.com )

Richard Youngs is one of the most prolific artists recording today with a catalogue of solo releases and collaborations adding up to around 140 records across many labels. Across that vast catalogue of recorded music there is a jaw dropping array of sounds and styles both experimental and more traditionally song based. He has touched on drone, dub, noise, krautrock, lo-fi pop, acapella and is an artist that never sits still. Whilst you might not like every style and stop on the journey, there is always something you’ll at the very least want to hear.

This latest release comes on Tim Burgess’s ‘O Genesis’ label and is a complete triumph. The record evokes a strong sense of traditional folk with a very strong nod to the art song and arrangements of such craftsmen as Robert Wyatt, Peter Hammill and Mark Hollis but it is still informed to a greater or lesser degree on each track by past expeditions in sound. It is a solo album in every sense not just because all instruments are played by Richard but it is clearly a very personal album that whilst not of the highest fidelity is very definitely highly crafted and imbued with meaning.

‘My Own 21st Century’ starts things off wonderfully well with dramatic treated chords and a very Wyatt like vocal over a monotonous drum machine beat which actually helps to keep the doomy tension in place. ‘Nebulosity’ follows and is a beautiful track with a mournful melody that could actually get some serious airplay. ‘Feeling Like Dystopia’ reminds me of Nick Drake if he took his great powers of melody and decided to play the song in an early ‘Bunnymen’ style. ‘As The Mind Shrinks It Tends Towards Disappearing’ has a similar crashing chord and drum machine style to ‘My Own 21st Century’ but with heavier, squally guitar playing. ‘Bewilderment’ has a lovely wonky beauty with more than a touch of The Thin White Duke in its melancholic and reflective balladic sound. ‘In Another Fog’ has a sparse sound, often just simply plucked guitar, or percussion with multi tracked vocals. ‘Caledonia Running Out Of My Mind’ is again sparse but not stark and combines an almost prayer like vocal with a multi tracked chorus singing the title repeatedly underneath, not unlike some of Peter Hammill’s vocal experiments. ‘Can You Not See My Intensity’ is another repetitive, almost hypnotic vocal treatment with squally guitar intruding very effectively. ‘Great Breath Of Wonderment’ concludes the record with an intermittent shuffle of drums and occasional peal of ringing guitar in a spacious arrangement that provides a quite beautiful finale.

This is a hypnotic album which although sparse and minimal at times has a melancholy beauty in the manner of late period Talk Talk and the solo work of Mark Hollis. Despite the sometimes home recorded feel (which is a compelling feature), there are depths and layers to this record which repeated listening brings to light. I for one am happy to keep this wonderful record on regular rotation.

(Francis Comyn)

 


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CHRIS CARTER – CHEMISTRY LESSONS VOLUME ONE

(LP/CD on Mute Records)

Chris Carter has a long history in electronic music whether in the early art experiments and provocations of COUM Transmissions, the sonic industrialism of Throbbing Gristle or more recent work with Cosey Fanni Tutti and Nik Colk Void. This is his first solo work in almost two decades.

On this record we get 25, mostly short tracks that provide an electronic music journey from the Radiophonic Workshop through a diverse ambient landscape imbued with influences such as kosmische, industrial, dance and techno orientated sounds (even 80’s techno-pop on the way) but without moving away from what is essentially a melody, mood and song driven collection rather than harder, more minimal beat driven dance sounds. Sampled and treated voices weave their way through many tracks, some evoking new age ambience, church choirs and others more mysterious electronically treated ethnomusicological or folk song treasure. The whole experience has a certain cinematic or soundtrack feel to it and despite the fact that we essentially are listening to 25 short pieces it holds together extremely well as an end to end listening experience, moving back and forward through different influences, textures and soundscapes intelligently rather than as a linear, compartmentalised passage which could have been a more difficult listen, especially on vinyl where reprogramming isn’t an option. The brooding and the beatific fit together very well on this record. Whilst I can imagine some of these short tracks providing the basis for extended exploration into a longer piece, there is a lot of detail and listening packed into each short piece with very little that could be called inconsequential.

This is a wonderful exploration of Chris Carter’s electronic world – the industrial, the experimental, the rhythmic and the pastoral no doubt informed by living in rural Norfolk. As I write this review I’m in the garden early in the evening with a breeze blowing through the trees, bird song drifting in and out and fence panels gently rattling with the distant sound of people, traffic and aircraft occasionally coming into earshot. This record seems to almost soak that urban and natural ambience up, make some sense of it musically and soundtrack the night perfectly. I am intrigued to where things may go with Volume Two.

A fine record and I urge you to explore its pleasures.

(Francis Comyn)

 

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SAM MOSS - NEON

(LP/CD/MP3 on Lost Honey Records)

You could be forgiven for thinking folk singer Sam Moss hails from somewhere like Washington state, Oregon, or a pastoral quarter of the UK. Heck, even the cover of his wonderful new album Neon is an illustration of a forest of tall pines, for criminy sake. Nope, nope, and nope. He’s a city boy from Boston. One disclaimer, he moved to Boston from Brattleboro, Vermont, a few years ago so all the woodsy thinking turns out right after all.

Moss is a fine songwriter, and all the songs on Neon sound warmly melodic and comfycozy. He started out in the early part of this decade sticking to acoustic guitar instrumentals. That history shows in Neon, as his finger picking is melodic and accomplished, the result of years spent on the road perfecting his style. Like Ryley Walker, he’s a guitarist first and singer second. But if singing didn’t come naturally to him, you’d never know it. I would imagine if you’re used to just playing guitar, singing isn’t as easy as it seems. But his vocals are assured and embraceable.

Neon’s songs include some with just Moss singing and playing, and many with a small band, including Daniel Radin on piano and electric guitar, bass player Michael Siegel, who also engineered the album, drummer Benjamin Burns, and background vocals by Rachel Sumner and Justine Bowe, who also played keyboards. As I found out, the album makes for great listening on a rainy day, or night. The songs are intimate, and a bit melancholy.

Opener and title track “Neon” is a noir scene, taking place at 3 am, on a bleary-eyed walk through the neon cityscape. Like many of the album’s songs, “Neon” is about looking for one’s place, both geographically and metaphysically, and leaves many questions with few answers.

“Flowers” returns to a dark corner in the middle of the night, with some wonderful combinations of acoustic and electric guitars pervading a moody atmosphere. “Allies” tells of a distant love, and ponders whether there’s any hope of a romance. It features Moss’s beautiful guitar picking, a light touch of keyboards and a soft background hum of vocals.

The short “Rust” sounds like it’s going to be a lovely instrumental, with Moss’s gorgeous fingerpicking and his guitar capo’d to a high register, but he begins singing sort of unexpectedly about 50 seconds in, with delicate background harmonies, and it’s most welcome. The words are enigmatic, like much of the album, but I could listen to it over and over for its beauty.

“Slow” brings in the full band treatment for a song about killing time while your thoughts range all over the map. The melancholy “Shoulder” continues with the full band, and has some excellent production values and a faraway feel.

The instrumental “Interlude” is only 2:40, which is a shame. It features Moss’s deft finger picking, with some light organ and cymbals for sonic coloring. Like so many songs on Neon, it’s full of gentle wonders and delights, economical to a fault, but you wish it would go on and on.

“Snap” is about saying something you wish you hadn’t that you can’t take back. The instrumentation is light behind Moss, but the song’s purpose and impact are immediate.

Sam Moss is a talented acoustic guitarist and songwriter with a bright future. “Neon” gets it just right – the melodies, the playing and the feel. It’s a folk album for rainy days and late nights. Take it in and relax.

(Mark Feingold)

 

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MARK MCDOWELL AND FRIENDS – DARK WEAVE

www.mcdowell.bandcamp.com 300 x Ltd Green LP/CD/DL

Dark Weave is the fifth album from Mark McDowell and Friends, gaining a vinyl release on Fruits de Mer imprint ‘Friends Of The Fish’ and what a little corker of an album it is, recorded at various studios from San Francisco, Bristol and Presteigne, Wales.

We start with title track “Dark Weave” an instrumental which takes the form of a shimmering acoustic guitar song, with a few light drones and masses of burbling synth, building and decaying throughout the song played by Pete Westaway, whose wizardry is fairly integral to the record. ”Service Of Owls”, swiftly follows and introduces us to Mark’s voice. He has a soft melodic voice reminding me in places of Al Stewart, the song also has some very tasteful electric guitar and some nice female joint vocals. “Look In The Dust”, is a pure sixties inspired garage nugget, melodic organ fills and shimmering electric guitars. “Walking Back To You”, slows things down a bit, it’s a memorable song about the last days of summer, with a catchy guitar figure throughout and some fine strings courtesy of John Hymas, note must also be made of the playing of David Gould who appears here on bouzouki, dilruba and stick dulcimer.

“Celequiem”, invested with plenty of birdsong is a trippy song, an acoustic based instrumental, introducing massed synths and fine electric guitar lines, spectral and haunting. “Light Of Love”, starts off like a classic Hawkwind style tune, with billowing synth but with added ‘exposed nerve’ guitar, chopping orchestration and some massed chorals, the percussion throughout the album is used sparingly, appearing here as bongo’s. “Forgiven”, is another sixties garage rocker, melodic and pretty true to the spirit of the original pebbles and nuggets songs. “Elizabeth”, is a continuation of the vibe investigated earlier on “Light Of Love”. The record ends with “Message Sent”, a lovely mid paced rock song, imbued with a touch of wah wah. I could well imagine this being some long lost Stone Roses song. Definitely try and secure a copy of this album; it reminds me in places of The Clientele, high recommendation indeed.

(Andrew Young)

 

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THE BAND WHOSE NAME IS A SYMBOL – BOX SET II

(LP/CD on Cardinal Fuzz Records)

Following on from their recent run of top notch releases on the never less than essential Cardinal Fuzz imprint, TBWNIAS now really spoil us with this object of wonderment and delight. Hats off to Dave Cambridge, the venerable Cardinal of the record label for putting together this fabulous package chock full of archive goodies. For a very reasonable amount of luncheon vouchers you get 4 vinyl LPs and 2 CD-r albums of rehearsal sessions and if you order direct from the label a third CD-r (Shed Sessions) will be yours too.

A common criticism of archival box sets is that you can give the fan way too much and there is no need for every sigh, whisper and discussion about the merits of different cooking oils to be included on CD number 37. TBWNIAS thankfully do not fall into this trap and we get a fascinating look back over archive albums and behind the scenes jams and rehearsals all of which I am pleased to say, you definitely need to hear.

There is far too much material here to review track by track and therefore I won’t even try to do that. Suffice to say that each individual record or CD-r has plenty to enjoy for the novice or longer term fan of this great band.

‘Superficial Marks’ dates back to 2008 and starts with an ear to ear grin inducing reference to Kiss’s ‘Detroit Rock City’ before taking that riff into their own territory and making it into a monster. The record has some short blasts of joy and some longer workouts where quality riffing is the order of the day. There are lots of nods to southern rock, early heavy blues rock, classic metal, the Stones, Television and other points of reference which is absolutely fine by these ears. I love ‘Dusty Groove’ which could very well be TBWNIAS’s very own ‘Gimme Shelter’. The 13 minutes of ‘Proglodyte’ allows the band to explore heavier psych rock with some wonderful spacy and improvised diversions. The record clearly sets the template for many of the finest aspects of the band’s work on future records.

‘Biker Smell’ continues the progression into heavy riffing over a mixture of short and long tracks with strong blues and psych influences coming through. ‘Circle of Disharmony’ manages to take us on a journey from Steppenwolf to Black Sabbath, the wild guitars of Sonics Rendezvous Band and the Stooges and many points in between in its wonderful 17 minutes of squalling heavy psych mayhem. ‘Raga Quo-Tation’ is another standout 11 minutes of crunching power and wild guitar abandon which keeps the head shaking and foot tapping. There’s a lot of improvisation and invention at work in these tracks and it is a skill of this band that they use their influences very wisely to make their own, rather excellent sound.

‘Punks, Twats and Urban Cowboys’ from 2011 sounds like a strange door policy for a nightclub but it is actually a very fine record and possibly my favourite in the box set. Whilst including many fine heavy psych and metallic knockouts as is to be expected it is more openly experimental and dare I say ‘jazzy’ than previous releases. The opening ‘7 White Guys And An Arab’ sounds like a lost Can track with very strong middle eastern overtones and more free form playing. ‘Jaz-per usual’ has a slowed down loping funk and jazzy undertones whilst clearly recognisable as TBWNIAS. ‘At the Gates of Ra’ follows and it takes on a much more direct jazz improvisation feel with a middle eastern edge. It’s a wonderful track that began to really show how this band could chart many new territories.

‘Basement Blowouts’ is a series of very well curated rehearsal tapes from 2010 and 2012 and the LP and accompanying CD-r’s included with the box set includes a dazzling treasure trove of tracks which in many cases have appeared in final form on other records. There is indeed gold in that there basement and purchasers of this box set will be very happy indeed diving in but I will mention just a few in dispatches which are particular wonders to these ears. The ridiculously good ‘Talk Back Fatherland’ with its hints of Dick Dale’s surf rhythms and coruscating guitar playing manages to be raw, mysterious and exotic all at once and the ecstatic hoedown of God II (Eastern Block version) is a listening adventure every pair of ears should experience. The masterclass in how to build up intensity that is ‘Sanitorium’ and the 18 minutes and more of ‘West Nile Curiosity’ with its drill like drums, powerful riffing and repeating pedal steel figures more than gives latter day Swans a run for their money.

I cannot recommend this box set more highly and whilst I think there may be a handful of copies still for sale from Cardinal Fuzz and other outlets I wouldn’t waste time as they won’t be there for long. Go on and treat yourself, it’s much better value than a barbeque in the British summer.

(Francis Comyn)

 

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CARY GRACE – COVERS VOLUME 1

www.carygrace.com

Cary has just put out a new record, this time she has taken a bunch of cover versions that have been released on various labels or exist as b- sides to digital singles or taken from ludicrously limited lathe cut singles, including one edition of 35 which sold out in one minute, this being her very special edition of Fat Old Sun.

When she is not hard at work soldering all manner of synths and various keyboards, for her day job, Cary finds time to record and release a few of her own records, as well as play live with her band. We begin this first collection of her covers with her version of the Bowie classic “Queen Bitch”. Compressed lead guitar, plenty of synth fills, (showing quite a Glammy approach) set us up nicely for an instrumental “Sound And Vision”, both formerly released by Fruits de Mer in tiny pressings. “Black Country Rock” is a mid paced rocker with nice synth wibbling. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, takes the Dylan ballad and pours liquid pedal steel guitar all over it, genius! This song first appeared as a b side to a digital single, released in 2010 and is my favourite on this album. “Archangel’s Thunderbird”, the Amon Dűűl 11 song, is delivered with passion, incorporating as does the original some excellent synth sounds.

The Stones epic “2000 Light Years From Home”, is terrific, some fine ghostly organ edging in to the track, it’s taken at a suitably slow pace and ebbs and flows in fine style. “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, sees the Cream song given the Cary Grace treatment, in actual fact this stays fairly true to the original, note must be made of the terrific guitar solos, this rendition being originally tucked away as a b-side to her single Pandora. We end with two Pink Floyd covers “Cirrus Minor”, an avian delight, the bird song featured here being not a nightingale but crows and blackbirds, lending a slightly sinister feel. I always loved this song and Cary more than does it justice with her version, dreamy and sublime with a really good arrangement, decorated with synthesised bird song. Setting us up nicely for the final song “Fat Old Sun”, where she just shines, sounding a bit like a Kate Bush fronted Pink Floyd, a perfect song for a summer Sunday, sing it out brother sing it out.

(Andrew Young)

 


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TRENT MILLER- TIME BETWEEN US

Bucketful Of Brains Records www.bucketfullof brains.com

Trent returns with his fourth album and his third for BoB. If you have never heard of him and have a liking for all things Byrds, and specifically one member- the Missouri born nightingale Mr Gene Clark, then you are in for a treat. However the record is tempered by its subject matter, as this album deals with the breakdown of a long term relationship. But my god, there are some lovely plaintive songs on this terrific album.

“How Soon Is Never”, is just so sad, but so brilliant, what an opening song, I’m deeply impressed, lovely piano, fine strings , synths and a yearning ballad of the first order, difficult to believe that you are not listening to some out take from No Other. Slow David Lynchian guitars glide and dreamy keyboard sounds create a nice backdrop for the finely observed soul bearing “Moonlight Cafe”, and so it goes, great song followed by great song. Go out and buy this you won’t regret it. “Lady Margaret Street”, is a ringer for Gene’s ‘Strength Of Strings’. “Bonfires Of Navarino Road”, is an atmospheric, string laden ballad. “Days In winter”, is the most Byrdsian tune here, it’s a poetic song a longing for the summer. “Hearts Forever Changing” tugs at the old heartstrings, a downbeat song on which I am reminded of Paul Siebel, a Maryland singer, who I have plenty of time for, there are also shades of the reclusive Texan singer songwriter Rich Minus.

“After The Great Betrayal”, with a title like that it was never going to be roses, and so it proves here, a bitter tale of betrayal, did I say he reminded me of Gene Clark, well he just does, that’s not his fault, however he really does deserve to be known in his own right, what a talent, to be able to slip seamlessly into such illustrious company. “Since You’ve Gone”, is Dylanesque, nice Hammond B3, and what sounds to me like a 12 string Rickenbaker, more sad news I’m afraid, the title says it all. “Lament Of The Sea” a sombre reflective song, elemental and raw vocals against a minimal musical setting. Final song “She’s Leaving This Place For Good”, is also never going to be a barrel of laughs, here Trent exits in style with one of his finest. Here is an original English singer songwriter, who given enough exposure would surely sell plenty.

(Andrew Young)

 

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BEAUTIFY JUNKYARDS – THE INVISIBLE WORLD OF…….

(LP/CD on Ghost Box Records)

I’ve been a fan of Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards for some time. They have delighted me with their previous releases on the very fine Fruits de Mer and Mega Dodo labels which defy easy categorisation. This latest offering on Ghost Box is another sumptuous feast of high quality, immersive and inventive music which charts a course between the stately songcraft of Robert Wyatt, a touch of Kosmische, the old weird acid folk sounds of ‘The Wicker Man’, Brazilian psych pop such as Os Mutantes and the lush 4AD gothic folk ambience of the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil.

The record has a great flow to it and nothing sounds out of place. Opening track ‘Ghost Dance’ sets the scene with an echo drenched vocal over a lovely and relaxed ambience of rolling percussion and guitars with a lush synthesised backdrop putting me in mind of Talk Talk in their later years at times. ‘Sybil’s Dream’ has a lovely vocal from Rita Vian floating on top of a Stereolab/Broadcast influenced cinematic tune again with a tinge of latin rhythm. ‘Prism’ continues this lovely atmosphere with a shared vocal between Rita Vian and Joao Branco who brings a Robert Wyatt like singing style to the song to great effect. ‘Golden Apples of The Sun’ starts with a lovely ‘Kosmische’ keyboard opening before being enveloped in a sumptuous and very cinematic instrumental with beautiful cello weaving its way through dramatic swirls of almost orchestral intensity. The short and eerie ‘Echo Chamber’ is next and is followed by another very short but not inconsequential track, ‘Manha Tropical’ which has an early Tropicalia feel in its trippy sound. ‘Aquarius’ has a much more overt Brazilian rhythm but blends it cleverly with a 4AD ambience and vocal and a touch of Stereolab style keyboard. ‘Shelter’ has a lovely shared vocal and again wraps itself in a lovely cinematic folk atmosphere. ‘Cabeca-Flor’ put me happily in mind of Gal Costa, enough said! ‘Sorceress’ conjures up a lovely gently rolling sound with Joao Branco’s high soaring vocal bringing an almost hymnal feel to the track. ‘The Masque of The Hidden Garden’ adds a touch more darkness to the sound and brings an almost gothic or supernatural feel albeit still rather gorgeous. ‘May Day Eve’ has a more urgent sound with some skittering percussion in the background and once again the lovely vocal of Joao Branco bringing a Wyatt-like touch to the song. After all this beauty you could be forgiven for thinking that to conclude with a short spoken word piece ‘Trackways’ would be a little odd and incongruous but let me assure you it is a perfect ending that brings together some of the sounds and themes of the album.

Beautify Junkyards have succeeded in bringing together a range of sounds and influences that could be a little bland and messy or indeed result in the sound of trying too hard to be cool and knowing. Their skilful writing and arrangements and sheer musicality dispel any such fears. This is a great record which wears and utilises its influences very well indeed and I happily recommend it to you.

(Francis Comyn)

 

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SLY AND THE FAMILY DRONE – LIVE AT CAFÉ OTO
(CD/DL from https://familydrone.bandcamp)

It may not have escaped the notice of some of you that one or two of us inhabitants of the less salubrious wings of Terrascope Towers are, from time-to-time, quite partial to the odd pun (in fact the odder, some might contend more excruciating, the better). Imagine our delight, then, when a few years back up popped an outfit called Sly and The Family Drone.

This Sly sound, though, is as noticeable for its absence of stinky fonk as for its energetic embrace of uncompromising avant-garde and a fearlessness when it comes to pressing the big red button. Employing drums, skronking brass and processed cassettes these guys punch well above their weight, a primordial and seemingly unstoppable outpouring of pulverising beats, radiophonic noise emanating from tables of wires and stomp boxes and abstract vocalisation. There is, as they say, no place for guitars in this band. Nor, it seems, for the faint hearted.
Sly and The Family Drone are a people’s band in the sense that audience immersion is key to their live performances. Drum kits often dismantled and component parts passed among the audience to keep (a semblance of) beat while the freestyle cacophony and deconstructive madness unfolds on stage. Where there is a stage.

And so to the matter in hand. 3rd August 2015 was a sweltering night by all accounts (in fact the night after Terrascope’s 25th (paper) and 10th (what you see) Anniversary show in London headlined by Bevis Frond which was indeed a warm one). Café Oto, was the venue, the celebrated London arts space that a couple of us have also been known to frequent and where Francis Comyn is rumoured not only to have a second home but also a dishwashing job to help pay off his merch tab.

This live performance consists, at least on the promo version, of two lengthy cuts (entitled simply ‘One’ and ‘Two’) of the most visceral and times cathartic racket this side of Acid Mothers Temple. It’s experimental, noise rock (yes drone) and, in a strange way, it’s jazz. Now that isn’t as bonkers as that may read the first time. The discordance of drums, saxophone and trumpet places this on a logical continuum with Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch to create something, well, out to lunch and uncompromisingly contemporary. It takes but a few thuds to hit warp factor plenty, in fact it’s difficult to recall when I witnessed such a lack of foreplay to a live set. Your ear lobes are not so much nibbled as chomped, chewed up and spat out and, yes, there will be an ache in the pelvic region. Sonic Attack, indeed. This is “totalen krieg” attrition taken to almost ludicrous last man standing lengths. Even when the beats stop temporarily the space is filled by punishing feedback. What you don’t get the impression of here is the predilection for disrobing and clambering over amps, Iggy-style (but we’re damned sure You Tube will oblige).

There are a few bands like this out there in the Badlands of Britain. Some, like Cattle, come close but none quite take it to the brink or have the sense of theatre that this lot have. Go and see them if you can. Consult your GP first if you have to.

(Ian Fraser)

And speaking of Café Oto, Terrascope’s last scheduled event of 2018 will take place there on Thursday 12th July featuring the rather gentler sounds of Trembling Bells and The Left Outsides. Most tickets have gone but at the time of going to press there were some still available from:

https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/events/trembling-bells-left-outsides/

 

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WOODEN SHJIPS – V
(LP/CD/DL from https://thrilljockey.com)

For once, reader, the reviewer is not huddled in its veal crate.

No. I’ve removed myself to right near a little known side entrance of a rarely trodden North wing with an engine running while all the while listening nervously for the snuffling of the Master’s attack dogs, the Twin Terriers of Terrascope Towers, trained to root out and bring down suspected heretics at 100 paces. Strike first, repent…whenever. So you’ll understand I don’t have long.

You see, I’ve never much cared for Wooden Shjips.

Yes, yes I know. During those dark days of the late noughties it was they and seemingly they alone who held aloft their freak flags around which a small but doughty band of faithful rallied. Respect enough, I suppose. To be fair to them I sort of gave up on them after the first couple of albums which, despite repeated listens, failed to impress me in the way a lot of my fellow groundsmen and stable lads seemed to be bowled over like ninepins. It’s high time to open the trap door and take another sniff inside

V is only their fifth album which suggests that main man Ripley Johnson’s attentions may have been concentrated elsewhere, such as the erstwhile side project Moon Duo and which, perhaps justifiably has come to wider public attention in recent times. This is more focussed that the rather fuggy claustrophobia and vocally incoherent morass that I remember. Far from being stuck in a rut of their own diggin’, V resonates with a lightness and spark underpinned by rhythmic precision as well as a sensitivity that allows the melodies to flower and the lungs to expand. After the bright opening of ‘Eclipse’ comes ‘In The Fall’ a real go-to track that skips as it beats as it shines with some gorgeous guitar runs courtesy of Mr Johnson and a harmonic construction that melds the Byrds with Dead Meadow. Dammit the next Terrascope Playlist is already on the drawing board.

‘Red Line’ is the pop song, a throwback to Surfin’ USA before them pesky mop tops came along. It’s given an added credence by backward tapes, more delicious guitar licks and, this time, the muggy vocal treatment works a treat. This really is a lighter shade of Shjip, a summer song that chimes with the current prolonged spell of fine weather many of us are experiencing here in the UK (yeah I know the pinch marks are beginning to join up it’s that weird). ‘Already Gone’ is cut from similar cloth, some neat hooks almost spoiled by some plinky-plonk keys in the first break but redeemed by the strength of composition and…has Johnson’s guitar received a mention yet?

And so the heady seasonal buzz continues with the album’s outrider, the aptly titled ‘Staring At The Sun’ which is how you’d imagine Jesus and Mary Chain improvising on ‘For What It’s Worth’ out on Neil Young’s ranch. ‘Golden Flower’ is a return to the beat, an uplifting and affirmative blossom that unfurls in primary colours before your very ears. Dammit I’d dance and skip through the scullery with carefree abandon if I thought it wouldn’t alert those mad mutts (I’m not sure I’m out the woods yet).Then it’s straight out of the door and down the yellow brick road with ‘Ride On’ a meander that builds into something approaching stoned anthemic grandeur. If only we could remember who had the cigarette lighter then perhaps one of us can still get it together to hold it aloft along with flags.

It may be that long term fans will be disappointed by the lightness of this album. Perversely (well waddya expect?), they’ve just found a new fan. NOW will you call off the dogs, I’ll return to the veal crate and I’ll promise to be a good boy from now on. Honest?

(Ian Fraser)

 

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CULTO AL QONDOR – TEMPLOS
(LP from Drone Rock Records http://dronerockrecords.com/)

While Italy and Sweden are rightly lauded for their thoroughly distinctive-sounding and highly prodigious psych output, our South American friends may justifiably feel a little hard done by if they don’t always getting the recognition they deserve. Let’s face it, Latin America has spawned numerous great bands with a hallmark sound that owes plenty to German kosmische (we hates the word Krautrock, precious) while at the same time as packing some of the most destructive fire-power in the space rock armoury.

Peru is to psych what Chile is to death metal (ok and to psych as well). True, Culto Al Qondor are a new name to me but then hey, any band that comprises former members of La Ira de Dios and the mighty Serpentina Satellite, (whose Mercanica Celeste album on Rocket sent me all wobbly headed a few years back) has got to be a sure bet, right?

And so it proves. Four lengthy instrumental burn outs ensue, headed out of the traps by ‘Martillo’, a hi-octane, blisters-on-the-brain, feast of frenzy. ‘Amanecer en Tres Cruces’ contains more than trace elements of Follakzoid in its staccato guitar motifs, supplemented by a front- of-mix descending bass riff and tribal drums while. ‘Antiguos Dioses sobre Chilca’ takes us to the land of the dramatic long intro and more slabs of descending chords before it all kicks off and we hit hyperspace. As deep space exploration without a hand break (or one senses reliable navigation) goes then I’m happy to make do with this.

You always hope the title track will be a killer and so it proves, it’s the most restrained thing here proving what we all know that less can sometimes be more and that you don’t need to go all out to break the speed of sound every time. Like everything here the playing is crisp, the guitar crystal clear, the bass the right side of muddy and the drumming as urgent as it needs to be to keep the motors going at a speed that must make the arms ache. All very traditional you might think, except Culto also make intelligent use of loops and delay to enhance their sound – muthas’ little helper and all that.

Play, repeat, and then do it some more. This will take some scraping off the turntable. Peruvian flakes they ain’t.
Ian Fraser