Saturday, 13 December 2014

2014 - A Year In Review

You're all still here, then? I thank you profusely for sticking with my outpourings of malcontented grumblings!

Another year has flown by, which can only mean it's a good excuse to make a list, as if I needed one, so yer t'is, as we yokels might say.

2014 was a good year for musical strangeitude, and leaving no stone unturned in my unending quest for the new and different, here are my musical highlights of the last 12 months, caught in my tattered net as the ceaseless tsunami of releases surges by. Before you ask "Where's Mordor's Weakness by Richard Volestrangler & The Mutant Discharge?", please bear in mind that even if I had had the assistance and advice of the ghost of John Peel, a man who lived the metaphor "snowed under", I still could not hope to listen to every vaguely progressive album that hits the shelves, virtual or otherwise.

Right then, all these are in highly approximate chronological order, and as ever, my top recommendations are in bold - though they are all worth a listen - and links to my endless blatherings on said platters are present and correct, should you wish to investigate further.

With a few exceptions, rather than slow down this page's loading speed to that of an eerie approximation of the swiftness of David Cameron's thought processes by cluttering this missive with embedded videos, I have created a Spotify playlist that features a track from everything I can find on that platform. For those that are missing, if you're curious head over to the review where you'll find links to YouTube, Bandcamp, etc.

So, sit back, crack open the gravy, load your bong with sprouts and transmutate...or summat!


...

Susan Clynes - Life Is
A delightful start to this or any other year, jazz chanteuse and pianist Susan Clynes gave us this charming set of highly personal songs.

Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas - Other World
The first of two Hammill releases this year sees Hammill's ongoing preoccupation with the march of time set against the blues-psych guitar of the Magic Band man. A good pairing.

Machine Mass feat. Dave Liebman - Inti
As respected reeds player Dave Liebman put it, this progressive jazz fusion album is "post-everything" and lays a new path for the sometimes tired old genre.

Sand - Sand
AKA Sam Healy from nu-prog wonders North Atlantic Oscillation, here letting his dreampop instincts off the leash, with no little panache.



Billy Bottle & The Multiple - Unrecorded Beam
In with a shout for Album of the Year, this wonderful release has lost none of its magic charms in the ten or so months since I first heard it. All hail the New Canterbury in Devon!

Spoke Of Shadows - Spoke Of Shadows
A Warr guitar class with plenty of soul. 

Gazpacho - Demon
The Norwegian wizards weave their dark storytelling magic with the consummate ease you now expect of them. Beguiling. 

Jack Bruce - Silver Rails
In what turned out to be his last album, the master bassman leaves us at the top of his game. RIP.

Chat Noir - Elec3Cities
A combination of piano trio jazz and electronica results in a cinematic and emotive album.

Factor Burzaco - 3
Hidden away in Argentina, it is a sad fact that this always surprising band will be largely ignored. The full album is up on YouTube, and is well worth checking out.

Messenger - Illusory Blues
A truly lovely album of acid-folk-prog that succeeds in every way. Marvellous!

Seven Impale - City Of The Sun
OK, it's derivative but it's a blast. No Van der Graaf Generators or King Crimsons were harmed in the making of this album.

Univers Zéro - Phosphorescent Dreams
An album that is nigh on impossible to get hold of at a reasonable price in a physical format outside of Japan may mean it will be overlooked, which is a shame. New boy Antoine Guenet ruffles some feathers with good effect.

Necromonkey - (a glimpse of possible endings)
Sophisticated instrumental progressive rock with a smattering of the more eclectic influences.

Beck - Morning Phase
Lush. Impeccable. Gorgeous. Sad. Redemptive...all in a dream.

Pingvinorkestern - Push 
This is fun, first and foremost. No mournful shoegazing allowed.

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
This is what became of the brokenhearted; masterful melancholic soul mining performed as only Tim can. Another contender.

Aquaserge - A L'Amité
The très agréable offspring of Planet Gong and Hatfield & The North gone very wonky. 

Jack O'The Clock - Night Loops 
Eclectic but not heavy in the slightest, an example of uncategorisable but accessible progressive music making.



Poil - Brossaklit
Punk-jazz and avant chamber music are just two ingredients in this sonic food blender of an album.

Led Bib - The People In your Neighbourhood
"Pigbag played by Gentle Giant" sez moi. That'll do for starters...

Earthling Society - England Have My Bones
Lancashire acid-rock wizards with the second of a declamatory trilogy, issuing forth righteous krautrock'n'roll from their cave lair at mouth of a foul estuary. Possibly.

Tohpati - Tribal Dance
To my ears, the best of the many Indonesian guitarists brought before a larger audience by the intrepid Moonjune label, here with a fine mix of fusion and ethnic stylings. In a word, class.

Rumour Cubes - Appearances of Collections
I haven't just put this here to prove that not everything I listen to is a left-field angular racket, you know! Lovely album, this band are a kind of noisy cousin of North Sea Radio Orchestra. I came to this late, so no review, but you can find it on Bandcamp.

Ut Gret - Ancestors' Tale
Great songwriting combined with an avant-rock sensibility and another of those very good female singers currently plying their trade in the progressive scene over The Pond makes for a fine album that improves every time you hear it.

Matt Stevens - Lucid
Purloining Steven Wilson's "Hardest Working Man In Showbiz" gong from the shoeless one's trophy cabinet while he was having his first snooze in years, Rushden's Finest, aka Matt Stevens found time in his restless schedule to make this highly varied and enjoyable album.

Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels
In the singular, it sure is. One of those rare instances that deserves the well-worn adjective "cinematic".

Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin
A song cycle depicting "a lifetime of emotion in 36 minutes". Probably his most Sugar-like solo record.

Knifeworld - The Unravelling
Another strong contender for album of the year, this kaleidoscopic and sprawling album is a distillation of the unbounded musical ambition of chief Knife Kavus Torabi. I was far too busy to write about this at the time, but my good mate Jez sez it all.

Swans - To Be Kind
Michael Gira continues on his singular declamatory path, funded by the equally intense fervour of his many followers. Cathartic is another of those over-used reviewing adjectives that finds a for once appropriate home.

Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials
An immovable object is battered by an unstoppable force. The result is atramentous and serene.

Kermit - Litoral
Not half as green as their chosen name, Kermit play space-jazz for the modern age.



Moraine - Groundswell
Consummately skilled and highly individualistic, Groundswell is a place where progressive jazz-rock for the 21st century collides with blistering improv and ethnic influences.

Moe Tar - Entropy Of The Century
Moorea Dickason is a lady who could sing a page of Hansard and make it sound like the most natural pop hook laden lyric ever written. It's pop, Tarek, but not as we know it, and bloody good it is, too!

North Atlantic Oscillation - The Third Day
Shimmering and dazzling. That is all. Another Album of the Year qualifier.

Goat - Commune
Tribal-psych lunacy and quite barking...woof woof...inspired my silliest review of the year.

Trojan Horse - World Turned Upside Down
Ah, it's those "Noisy Prog Bastards" confounding expectations of what "prog" means these days. I'm still convinced Hypocrite's Hymn is at least partly a pisstake!

Cheeto's Magazine - Boiling Fowls
A prog band looking like they're enjoying themselves? Is that allowed? The album is infectious and goofy, and of course, fun!




Robert Plant - Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar
A return to form for Percy, no-one does the world music/rock'n'roll face-off as good as this. Not that Band of Joy was bad, far from it.

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused
Just listen to that croon on Brando...and the spiky guitar...and the cracking bullwhip. Glorious, and almost accessible...almost.

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
Great songs and a slightly improved sound on last year's sonically grating debut - see later entry on this list.

Accordo dei Contrari - AdC
Deep eclectic progressive rock music for the connoisseur.

Regal Worm - Neither Use Nor Ornament (A Small Collection Of Big Suites)
The charmingly bonkers Jarrod Gosling returns from a brief sojourn to regale us with more asymmetrical tales of derring-do with titles like Odilon Escapes From The Charcoal Oblivion, But Endeavours To Return And Rescue The Cactus Men. An obscuranist's deelite of a follow up to last year's wonderful and wacky Use And Ornament album.

Kayo Dot - Coffins on Io
No metal here, the chameleon-like Kayo Dot morph into My Bloody Valentine's even moodier nephew.

Flying Lotus - You're Dead
I never imagined I'd be recommending an album with Snoop Dogg on it, but there you go. Inspired by the song suite idea that informs Soft Machine's second album, apart from being imbued with a jazz sensibility this album is nothing like the then emerging Cantabrians, or indeed like anything else at all. A lesson in production techniques as much as muscianship, it is both eclectic and brilliant. Apparently Mr Lotus is Alice Coltrane's grand-nephew which explains a lot. Death never sounded so groovy!  

Wrupk Urei - Kõik saab korda
Estonian mekanik spacerock, escaping the yoke of Russian oppression past and present. It's a good laugh, too!

The Mercury Tree - Countenance
The American side of a coin that flips to reveal The Fierce And The Dead. Must be played loud, natch.

The Blue Ship - The Executioner's Lover
This is certainly different. Although originally released in 2013, this year saw its first physical release, on the esteemed Italian label AltrOck. A Kurt Weill-inspired operetta performed by a Scottish chamber-rock collective. it works!



Gong - I See You
Even in his 77th year Daevid Allen can still show folk a third his age how it's done. Last I heard he was recovering from illness - get well soon!

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere - O2
Improv with Krautrock and jazz-rock leanings, via Terry Riley, all expertly done. Industrial soundscapes with no meandering.

The Amorphous Androgynous & Syd Arthur - A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble
I have often wondered what Syd Arthur's cluttered and murky self-produced studio sound would turn out like in the hands of a dedicated producer. Well, now we know, sort of! Bloody brilliant, that's what...this is an album's worth of remixes by psych-heads Amorphous Androgynous (aka FSOL) as part of their ongoing A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble series, and well worth £6.99 of anyone's money (or £15 for the LP version).



Peter Hammill - ...all that might have been...
Less guitar than the last one, perhaps obviously, and heavy on the synthscapes and atmosphere. Look, you can't go wrong with a bit of The Thin Man, now, can you?

Jumble Hole Clough - 202 Days
"No-one releases albums in December" or "December and January are graveyard months for new releases" are two statements of common sense. Sod common sense, eh Colin? December 6th saw this slab of Spartan Space Funk from Hebden Bridge land on my hard drive, and a bloody good job it did, too!

Markus Reuter - 6 Reflections
No-one told Markus Reuter about December either. A sublime set of layered guitars and effects resulting in expertly controlled harmonics and resonance. Another reviewing cliché applies, as these are indeed sonic cathedrals in the sky. The best ambient album I've heard for quite a while.

...

After all that I have to tell you that my Album of the Year is Beck's Morning Phase. There are many good reasons why this superb album features at the top of, or in the top three of probably every non genre-specific "Best Of" list, and if you have not heard this little beaut you really ought to seek it out.

You should see her when she's angry...
And now, please give a big Yuletide welcome for the plate spinners and fire-eaters who will entertain y'all while I regale you with more of my searing rapier-like opinionated bollocks...

Gig of the Year
A Celebration of Lindsay Cooper - The Barbican, London 21st November 2014. Not so much a gig as an event. A truly wonderful occasion.

Flop of the Year
Yes - Heaven & Earth. An album that henceforth will be used as the musical yardstick for a damp squib, or as Mick Farren once succinctly put it "Yes? No." The cover's a tad garish, too, if you ask me.



The view from the office was most distracting...
Label of the Year
A rather fine stable, run by an East End hard man (heheh...) and home to those Horses otherwise known as the "Noisy Prog Bastards", come on down Bad Elephant Records.

This fine boutique has come up trumps on more than a few occasions this year. I think this is the first time I've given this particular limp banana to a British label. Huzzah!

Track Title of the Year
Research and Destroy from the Rumour Cubes album up there in the list. Heheh... 

Other nonsense
Bob & Bonio - shut up already...oh...it seems you have.

Mr Fripp has let it be known that there is a "possibility" of a UK gig (or even gigs) for Crim MK8 in September next year, if a "suitable" venue can be found. I won't believe it until I have the tickets in my gnarled and malfunctioning digits.

Endless River was instantly misunderstood even though Gilmour and Mason had been at pains to point out it was not a Pink Floyd album in the fully realised sense. It has grown on me, and it is a fitting tribute to a dignified gent who was treated appallingly by the bass player. Don't go and spoil it by releasing any more previously buried studio noodles, eh?

Facebook - we all moan about it sometimes, but 2014 saw a few more "Friends" being met and hopefully made in the real world, so it certainly still has its plus points. You know who you are and you're all damn fine people!
...

In conclusion

"Prog" to me continues to simply be an abbreviation of progressive, which may well explain why most of my list is some way removed from "prog" the syle. In an era where everything musical has already been done, progressive music does not necessarily have to push boundaries, but as a minimum requirement it should at least be able to see the boundary on the horizon. It seems to me that prog the style is barely aware that there is a boundary at all, much preferring to stay at home where it's safe and warm, surrounded by mementos of the past, with little threat of anything deviating from the tried and tested.

A fellow blogger reckoned that prog releases were "a bit thin on the ground" in 2014, and if by that he means conservative music for the over 50s that readily displays one or more instantly recognisable musical tropes from the first half of the 1970s, then maybe he is right. Me, I wouldn't know, much less care.


Finally...
Thanks again for reading my nonsense this year, there's much more where that came from, you lucky people! Have a great Winter Solstice break, see you on the other side.


Best of Years Gone By...
2013

2012

2011

2010

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused


adjective: soused
  1. 1.
    (of food, especially fish) preserved in pickle or a marinade.
    "soused herring"
    synonyms:drench, soak, steep, douse, saturate, plunge, immerse, dip, submerge, sink, dunk More
    "a crunchy bruschetta soused in green olive oil"

    pickled, marinated, soaked, steeped
    "a soused herring"
    antonyms:fresh
  2. 2.
    informal
    drunk.
    "I was soused to the eyeballs"

When Sunn O))) turned up at Westpoint Studios in London to record their parts for this collaboration with Scott Walker they brought with them so much amplification it would not all fit in the studio. Along with Sunn O)))'s motto "Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results" which turns up on the back of the Soused CD cover you would be forgiven for thinking they are forboding portents of the album's contents, but actually you would be wrong. Soused, while drenched, nay, soused in sound is not the kind of full-on aural assault you might expect from Sunn O))), nor is it the wilfully difficult music-as-art-terrorism so beloved of Scott Walker of late.  

Soused carries with it a weight so heavy that one expects the thing to buckle under at any point, only Sisyphus just keeps on pushing, never defeated. The massed guitars of Sunn O))) fed through all manner of trickery boxes create dark industrial drones and screaming backgrounds for Scott to invent the melody as he goes along. 

Brando leaps out of the speakers from the get-go fully formed as if it one had turned it on halfway in. "A beating would do me a world of good" croons Scott in character, for Brando is a tale of the monosyllabic actor's perceived flirtations with masochism underlined by the cracking of bull whips. Tos Nieuwenhuizen's angry whipcrack guitar figure is a prominent repeated feature as the first half of the song sees Scott transmit rising angst, his voice nearly cracking, too. The song ends on Sunn O)))'s drawn out drone, a device that will occur elsewhere on the album. 



The tone has been set, and Sunn O)))'s monolithic fearsome noise played with the grim determination of infinitesimally creeping tectonic plates digs into your very core on Herod 2014, their menacing and barely changing low-end rumbles topped off with the piercing tortured seagull screams of (presumably) Tos' guitar while a moaning elephantine sound lumbers around.

Add to that the soon-to-be background noise that introduces the song sounding like the amplified heartbeat of a baby in the womb, and we are in familiar Scott territory, enhanced by some visceral and physical lyrics referencing disease, infestation and cigar ash. "The nurseries and creches are heaving with lush lice", another line amongst many over which imaginary therapists fight one another to use in dissertations.

The nightmare soundtrack grows until it is joined by an industrial hoover from Andromeda, sucking your brains inside out as the ante is upped with a now repeated four-note monstrously huge low-end guitar line, and later a reprise of the fragile feminine bell that introduced the song now transformed into an agonised distorted pealing. The pace never changes, and maximum volume does indeed garner maximum effect, as Scott mournfully sings in that distinctive baritone "she's hidden her babies away"...

Ah...the lyrics. No analysis of a Scott Walker album would be complete without at least attempting to describe the current literary obsessions of this most iconoclastic of writers. In actual fact the lyrics are less impenetrable than on Bish Bosch, and so a literary dissection is not necessary. For all that they remain flying around the listener in an esoteric orbit that bears comparison with no other lyric writer today.

Bull has sections that sound almost like a conventional rock song, but anchored by the crushing gravity of Jupiter - it is one damned heavy muvva. Here amongst the oblique lyric, repeating the phrase "Bump the beaky" we have examples of Scott's black humour; "Woke nailed to the cross. Could not give a toss", and "The leapin' - like a River Dancer's nuts". This song also includes the repeated phrase "Custodiunt migremus", which is Latin for custodial agreement. I have yet to unravel this dark treatise, and it may even be Scott's little joke - perhaps the clue is in the title? As if to confound earlier expectations of "rock" music, the longest drawn out drone of all plays out the ending of Bull for what seems like an eternity.

Fetish opens with avant-garde metallic shards of atonal sound, and is probably the closest track thematically to Bish Bosch. Peter Walsh is the star here, and the longtime sound terrorist partner to Scott's bloody and bodily lyricsmithery gets free range with all the dark effects he can muster, including a deranged crowing cockerel, before Sunn O))) return with another crushing blow of an Ur-riff. All highly unsettling, Scott intones blood'n'guts and catharsis by physical exorcism, as he "carves the ghost mascot the length of his skin".

Lullaby sees Scott chisel out his own version of a song written for musical polymath and modern day Dietrich Ute Lemper, one that appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of her 2000 album Punishing Kiss, but was probably more widely known from its appearance on the only Scott compilation that matters, 5 Easy Pieces. It is an interesting departure from the original, with Sunn O)))'s menacing one note backdrop and some lonely synth strings replacing the initially sparse and latterly cinematic sound of the original with its swaying orchestral arrangement and dramatic intent. Both versions work in their own contexts. For what it's worth I prefer the Lemper version.

Scott intoning "The most intimate personal choices and requests central to your personal dignity will be sung" indicates that the song may be referring to assisted suicide as apparently confirmed in interviews by Lemper at the time - I have not found proof of that, but it fits. So, here we have a lyric possibly about assisted suicide, with added night-terror, juxtaposed with a chorus from William Byrd's innocuous poem My Sweet Little Darling to the backing of high-pitched synth screaming - would you expect anything else?

The much anticipated collaboration between these two utterly wilful but also utterly different groupings of musical visionaries is an undoubted success. Sunn O)))'s Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have added heavy layers and a sense of infinite weight to the production of music-as-high-art espoused by Scott Walker and Peter Walsh, all to great effect. Soused is probably the most accessible collection of music to have come out of either participant's stable in the 21st century, but have no fear, you can't dance to it, and neither is it an easy listen.

Soused is not an album to be dipped in and out of. An album in the proper, if unfortunately old fashioned sense, it requires your concentration for 48 minutes, you are not permitted to wander. It demands "You will sit down and listen to me whole, or not at all". You cannot argue with it, for that would be pointless. Five tracks of roughly equal length and pace make for a hypnotic and totally immersive experience. Walker describes being in the centre of the sonic maelstrom as "like entering a furnace...a furnace of sound", where "you can feel it right up through your knees".

Turn the lights out and jump in!

Soused website


Tracklist:
1, Brando (8:44)
2, Herod 2014 (12:01)
3. Bull (9:25)
4, Fetish (9:10)
5. Lullaby (9:24)

Total running time - 48:43

Line up:
Greg Anderson - guitars
Stephen O'Malley - guitars, re-amped hi synth
Ian Thomas - drums
Tos Nieuwenhuizen - lead guitar, Moog
Mark Warman - keyboards, drum programming, shaker
Guy Barker - trumpet
Peter Gamble - bull whips
Dot Allison - girl vocal
Sam Walsh - boy vocal
Andy Findon - saxophone
Peter Walsh - keyboards, FX, drum programming
Scott Walker - vocals 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My DPRP Reviews

I have re-organised the page "My DPRP Reviews" - link over there on the right. It's nearly up to date, I'll add the missing ones over the next few weeks...

Aquaserge - À L'Amitié

This album came out back in May, but up until a few weeks ago it was nigh on impossible to buy in any format. Originally released as vinyl only with a download code, the album was "available", and I use the term advisedly, from a French website that...well "didn't work" is a kind description. The online shop is called Chambre 404, and the deep irony in that number suffix was not lost on me!

As it was a pointless exercise reviewing an album that the prospective listener could not get hold of, I have held off until now as thankfully the band have recently created a Bandcamp page which means one can now obtain the album in any format desired. Huzzah!

I am glad I persevered as Aquaserge are a bit special. They were a band unknown to me until a chance scroll through Udi Koomran's always informative Avant Progressive Facebook page a few weeks ago, after which I obtained a review download. As said download came sans press release, I have very little info to go on other than my limited attempts at translating the "Histoire" tab of their website. Aquaserge have been going since 2005 and this is the band's fourth album. The core members are Julien Gasc, along with Benjamin Gilbert and Julien Barbagallo.

Their sound is a spacious groove, a collision of art rock, post-punk and Canterbury references, but with a Gallic twist that gives it a certain laid-back "je ne sais quois". The louche harmonies of the opening tile track recall the Hatfields filtered through Gong at their most relaxed. Guitarist Julien Gasc (presumably) contributes a short and gorgeously wonky guitar solo to proceedings, adding just the right amount of otherworldliness.

The band reveal a punkier side to their nature on Serge Singe, which is led by a spiky guitar figure that delves deeper into Gong territory. For Bob returns to the off-kilter Canterbury-thru-a-gauze, and by now I am well and truly hooked.



The instrumental song suite Sillage progresses from calm beginnings to a fraught charge in part 3 that could easily soundtrack an alternative reality James Bond boat chase. They slow the pace down on the dreamy but slightly edgy Je Viens (I'm Coming), with its heavily plucked bass, whistling and bells to the fore.

The train rolls on down the track during the metronomic Travelling, glimpses of disinterested faces flashing past your window in black and white. Preparation is a composition that sounds like a cut-up but isn't, and then we reprise I'm Coming which shows the band have a knowing sense of humour. It is a grandiose epic sweep of almost-rock that leads into Ceci ("She", presumably?) that crystallises the avant-classical sensibilites of the band amid chirping agitated percussion and a heavenly choir voice.

A suitably strange end to a beguiling album that is most certainly progressive in the only and proper definition of that over-used term. Make À L'Amitié a friendship that lasts.


Tracklist:
1. A L'Amitié
2. Serge Singe
3. For Bob
4. Sillage 1&2
5. Sillage 3
6. Je Viens
7. Travelling
8. Preparation
9. Je Viens (Reprise)
10. Ceci

Line up:
Benjamin Gilbert - guitar, bass
Julien Gasc - keyboards, guitar, vocals
Julien Barbagallo - drums
Manon Gilbert - clarinets
Audrey Ginestet - vocals
Lucie Antunes - vocals

Links:
Aquaserge website

Bandcamp

20th November 2015 - it has only now come to my attention that the band's name is a kind of off-kilter tribute to Segre Gainsbourg, and the drummer also wields the sticks for trendy and frankly rather good Australian pop-psych outfit Tame Impala! You learn something every day...



Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Simon McKechnie - Newton's Alchemy

Just over a year ago I reviewed Simon McKechnie's second album Clocks and Dark Clouds. A highly intricate work recorded under the most difficult of circumstances, it is with some relief that I can report that Simon is well on the way to recovery from his long-running health problems, and that the recording of third album Newton's Alchemy took place under far more "normal" conditions, although Simon did have to take many breaks during the recording process. Clocks... arose from a series of improvised musical sketches that Simon recorded mostly while flat out on his back, not that you'd guess, for the end result was surprisingly cohesive given the circumstances. Newton's Alchemy on the other hand is a through-composed piece, written as one piece of music, and therefore it evolves more organically as a consequence.

Simon retains his fascination with mathematics, and Albert Einstein, the inspiration for Clocks... is here replaced by the father of modern mathematics, one Isaac Newton. Newton's Alchemy as the title suggests, is based around the Renaissance Man's other obsession, the transformation of elements, or alchemy to you and me. In common with many scientists of his era, Newton's quest for knowledge led down the path of the possibility, later debunked, of changing one base element into another. The Age of Reason idea that everything is connected to everything else is not that far removed from modern dark matter theory, and Newton was not after gold, but was attempting to unravel the deeper mysteries of existence in a thoroughly modernistic fashion with the tools at his disposal.

The lyrics include direct quotes from Newton's notes, and from his translations of the Emerald Tablet, also included in the CD booklet. The Emerald Tablet was an ancient text said to contain the secret of transmutation, a Bible for alchemists. Newton's translations and musings are linked by Simon's own weighty words, and it is all set to music that while split into separate tracks forms a developing whole in the grand prog sense.

Simon plays all the guitars, keyboards, the bass, and does all the singing, and the drums and percussion are supplied by Adam Riley. Extra textures are given by early music specialist Clare Salaman and flute expert Jan Hendrickse. The music is never bombastic, but certainly complex. There is a lightness of touch that perfectly compliments the at first glance impenetrable lyrics, which are all on Simon's website if you are curious.



Simon's voice is well suited to the mysterious subject matter as it has the otherworldly quality of a wizard casting spells. The guitar is Simon's instrument, and he plays everything from acoustic, through classically tinged plucking, ending up with spiky almost avant electric web weaving. This is the kind of eclectic prog that ticks a fair few boxes for me, and it is thankfully cliché free.

This is not an album you will be singing along to in the shower, but anyone into complex music that requires a bit of concentration, which probably means you will not be able to absorb it in one sitting, music that on the other hand is in no way inaccessible, should find plenty to enjoy here. This is definitely an album for prog fans, and one that lends itself well to a long session with the headphones accompanied by a good single malt and the lyric pdf on the laptop. Actually, you don't need the headphones, for my personal "racket barometer" aka my better half has not commented at all!

Simon McKechnie is a talented guy who deserves more exposure, and I recommend Newton's Alchemy to those who like me are always on the look out for something a tad different.


Tracklist:
1. The First Matter (7:50)
2. Miracles of Only One Thing (Emerald Tablet 1) (3:47)
3. The Work Begins (8:50)
4. The Father of All Perfection (Emerald Tablet 2) (3:24)
5. Star Regulus (7:25)
6. Force Above All Force (Emerald Tablet 3) (3:25)
7. Philosophic Mercury (9:14)
8. A Great Secret (3:14)
9.Turning of the Wheel (8:23)

Total running time - 55:30


Line up:
Simon McKechnie - Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Dulcimer, Psaltery, Percussion
Adam Riley - Drums
Clare Salaman - Nyckelharpa
Jan Hendrickse - Bass Flute


http://www.simonmckechnie.com/

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Saturday, 29 November 2014

The MOJO CD - The Best Of 2014

It's that time of year again when the "Best Of" lists start coming out. In order to give any band daft enough to release an album in December a chance, I always hold off until the Xmas holiday, but MOJO are there already with their picks of the year on January's cover CD.


Why do mags release issues in one month and call them by the month after next? Anyway...most of these are new to me, and here are my opinings:



1. Beck - Blue Moon (from Morning Phase, MOJO#1 album of 2014)
A typically lush and downbeat anthem from Beck's wonderful rise'n'shine album Morning Phase, which MOJO have as their album of the year. Do I agree? That would be letting the cat stick a tentative paw out of the bag now, wouldn't it?

2. Jack White - Lazaretto (Lazaretto/#4)
I quite like Jack White, the guy has a way with a choon and a dirty geetar. This noisy charge through White's garage rock workshop is enjoyable enough, and will certainly shake the dust off your shelves.

3. Robert Plant - Turn It Up (Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar/#19)
Percy's world music and rock'n'roll mash-up gets ever more eclectic. I might buy this album.



4. Sharon Von Etten - Nothing Will Change (Are We There/#11)
The first name new to me, this cathartic soul-bearing wouldn't have sounded out of place on Beck's album. Nice.

5. Temples - Keep In The Dark (Sun Structures/#32)
They do glam rock too, apparently. OK, but a bit tame. Goldfrapp does this kind of thing better.

6. Ty Segall - The Faker (Manipulator/#13)
Another 70s stompathon with freakbeat tendencies. If you had never heard this kind of thing before it would get you jumping like like a loon.

7. Steve Gunn - Milly's Garden (Way Out Weather/#6)
My first boss was called Steve Gunn, and our cat's sister that lives two doors down is called Milly. Actually, this is rather good - more wistful singer-songwriter stuff, from a guy who reinvented himself in a plaid shirt, for he was once an avant-guitarist, apparently. A bit Steve Earle-ish.

8. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All The Way Down (Metamodern Sounds In Country Music/#15)
As far as I can make out, that mouthful of an album title translates as trad Nashville with a bit of sampling chucked in. Pass

9. Julie Byrne - Holiday (Rooms With Walls And Windows/#7)
Yep, singer-songwriters seem to have been this year's thang, at least as far as MOJO are concerned. You can imagine what this sounds like from the album title I'm sure, and it does. Gossamer-light and quite lovely.

10. The War On Drugs - Under The Pressure (Lost In The Dream/#2)
Ah...a band I've heard of at last...
Definitely the hipster group of choice at the moment, I struggle to see the appeal of this band with the wettest name imaginable. Listen to this and tell me it's not one of The Waterboys' lesser moments. It's a nice tune, but way too earnest and probably twice as long as it needed to be...does that make it prog?



11. Kasai Allstars - Yange, The Evil Leopard (Beware The Fetish/#29)
The only non-Western record in MOJO's top 50, this Kinshasa band play some nice Afrobeat, all hip-shaking rhythms and liquid guitar runs. This sort of music is timeless, and a nice change from the shedloads of angst elsewhere on this CD.

12.Wild Beasts - Wanderlust (Present Tense/#16)
Sounds like Cabaret Voltaire meets Depeche Mode. Singer's quite good, but musically it's a bit dull.

13. Caribou - Your Love Will Set You Free (Our Love/#12)
Mildly interesting electronica from Canadian Dan Snaith that doesn't live up to the Pseud's Corner hyperbole the mag lays on with a trowel.

14. Sleaford Mods - I Keep Out Of It (Divide And Exit/#3)
Described as "grot-hop", this Nottingham duo sound like the kind of fellas you'd cross the street to avoid. They look like it too. If I was 16 I'd love this. I'm not and I don't. Seems I've turned into my dad...



15. The Bug (Feat. Flowdan) - Dirty (Angels & Devils/#10)
Now this is how you do attitude. Dystopian rapping ain't my thing at all, but I can see where it's coming from. Makes Sleaford Mods sound like 14 year-old football hooligans, which is probably what they once were.


Well, if that lot represent the best of 2014, I must have been on another planet for the duration...oh...hang on...




Tuesday, 25 November 2014

London (Jazz Festival) Calling

Well, we have not long returned from a long weekend in "That There London" as it is now henceforth known to us mere yokels, or hicks, if you're on the other side of The Pond. The weekend came after another visit a few days earlier, and taken together we have now attended four events sponsored by the EFG London Jazz Festival in under a week.

This cultural extravaganza started on Tuesday 18th November with a gig by Snarky Puppy at the famous rock venue, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse. The actual raison d'etre of this particular soirée was to meet up with a handful of regulars from Pete's Nice Enough To Eat Facebook page, a place where several stoned hippies (and me) gather together in a cave and groove with...YouTube videos of psych and prog music past and present.

Pete I've met before, but it was great to put faces to "Dave Maximum Darkness", "Arv Lotus", and "Diane Sofer", which could well be her real name! :)
Also, a shout for Toby Mearing, who actually got us all interested in Snarky Puppy in the first place but circumstances conspired to force him to miss the pub meet-up and the gig.

As for the group, well until a few months ago I had never heard of Snarky Puppy, and it's not often that a band you've never heard of can quickly sell out a venue the size of the Roundhouse. Around 3000 mostly 30-somethings amongst whom was a large smattering of bearded hipsters got well into the band, who have been going quite a few years now, and seem to have built their audience through ceaseless gigging. Their music is beat-driven jazz-fusion-lite with world music influences, and while certainly very well played I found it a tad difficult to make a connection.

There was even a twenty-minute drum solo, augmented by furious bongo-bashing, the likes of which I thought had ceased to be around 1976. During this overlong percussive interlude one poor chap behind us slipped and fell near the bar, banging his head and passing out, causing much panic among the venue staff. One hipster wag near me said to his mate "maybe the excessively long drum solo made him come over all unnecessary". I hope he was OK...the tumbler, not the hipster.

Much as the music did not do that much for me, it was great evening from a social point of view.

On the Friday, off we went "darn sarth" again, this time for a long weekend with our better halves, as Phil W and I had a gig on that night, and a book launch on the Sunday night. The gig was A Celebration Of Lindsay Cooper, and my full review can be found HERE.

Again the social side of things made an already memorable evening into a special occasion. Phil and I met up with Billy and Martine from Billy Bottle & The Multiple, whose delightful album Unrecorded Beam is certain to make my "Best of 2014" list. Much post-gig nattering initially in the foyer of the Barbican Centre and later at a nearby overpriced yuppie pub by the name of The Jugged Hare meant we did not get back to our hotel until some time well after 1am.

I often consider that some amateur scribblers have far too cosy a relationship with some of the bands they write about, and I rarely go out of my way to meet the objects of my keyboard tappings in order to retain a modicum of objectivity, but in this particular instance I am glad I did, for Martine and Billy are genuinely nice people without a hint of the infamous artistic ego.

I had a bit of a thick head on the Saturday morning, and Phil and I and our partners spent a rather nice relaxing day at Chartwell, the country house of Winston Churchill. The building looked suitably mysterious and spooky in the unshifting winter murk, as you can see.

A very wet Sunday was sensibly spent under cover in the Science Museum, and after a late afternoon meal, we sauntered on down to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre for An Evening With Robert Wyatt, the book launch for Marcus O'Dair's biography of the great man. This was to take place later in the evening, and the reason we got there early was to catch Billy and Martine's bandmate Roz Harding playing as part of the free concert in the foyer.

Roz Harding's Wave were performing as one of four female-led ensembles as part of jazz club and label Blow the Fuse's 25th anniversary celebrations. We got there early enough to catch the Chelsea Carmichael Quartet too, and damn good it was! Roz Harding's Wave followed and she was supported by Mike Outram on guitar, who also appears on Unrecorded Beam, and Jim Bashford on drums, the trio playing out an enjoyable sparse modern jazz set.

The free concert was headlined by Blow the Fuse founder Alison Rayner's Arq, playing tracks from their new album August. Despite Dierdre Cartwright's guitar amp spluttering and eventually going FUBAR and having to be replaced mid-song (well done the guitar tech), the set was hugely enjoyable and perhaps more melodic than Wave's. That was a shame as our partners had decided to call it a day before Arq came on, leaving us two reprobates to our own devices.

Alison informed us all that their new CD was for sale from the merch desk, to the bemusement of the guy standing behind it who thumbed through the box on the table without finding it. Phil informed Alison about this, and the CD seller reaped the whirlwind, as the dozy sod had a full box of Arq CDs under the table by his feet!

And so on to An Evening With Robert Wyatt which commenced with Marcus O'Dair interviewing Robert, who arrived onstage to a long and thunderous ovation. As Robert does not play live this was as close to a gig we are ever going to get, so we took the opportunity to let him know how much he is appreciated. Marcus's questioning took in Robert's songwriting and collaborations, with a brief detour into his radical politics. There then followed a Q&A session with the audience, and the all too brief encounter was over.

Next up was a short set by vibraphonist and software manipulator Orphy Robinson, another and recent collaborator with Robert. Taking in sound samples that included a humorous take on the shipping forecast of all things, Robinson played his looped vibraphone to create a dark soundscape. The evening was concluded with an airing of the BBC documentary Free Will and Testament:The Robert Wyatt Story.

By now it was a lot later than we had expected and we had to dash across town to get a tube train and then an overground train back to our hotel in south London. This was compounded by an enforced detour up the Northern Line due to some unspecified problem on our preferred line, but we managed to get "home" a minute before the witching hour, so all's well that ends well.

We didn't get the chance to say our goodbyes to Billy and Martine, so, if you're reading this, I can't wait to hear your new single!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Wright Stuff...

As this piece is only partly a discourse on the merits or otherwise of Pink Floyd's "new" waxing Endless River, I have avoided the usual "Band - Album Title" header.

Firstly, I have always been of the opinion that Pink Floyd were a) not a prog band as such, and b) stopped developing after Dark Side... came out. The Syd era will not be discussed here, it's another group effectively, anyway.

They tried being prog; the studio album of Ummagumma while it has its moments is largely forgettable, although it did give us one of the best track titles ever...you know what that is, I'm sure! Probably their most "prog" piece, Atom Heart Mother, was ok, but it cannot hold a candle to its peers of that era. Before you ask, Echoes is an enjoyable hark back to their own take on post-Syd space rock, and not prog in the slightest. Now, there is nothing wrong with not being prog, in fact many would say that's a bonus - me included, sometimes!

The post-Syd band peaked with Dark Side Of The Moon, which was an utterly brilliant piece of very English classic rock, and will always be regarded as one of the best rock albums by anyone, ever. If you disagree, you are simply wrong, and reading the wrong page. After that, Wish You Were Here was a good if not great album, and the start of their long march into moroseness courtesy of Roger Waters, who then and subsequently used the band as a vehicle to exorcise his sour demons. Animals was one-paced, self-indulgent and frankly dull, and as Andy Gill in The Independent rightly put it in his review of Endless River, made Floyd one of the reasons punk had to happen. As for The Wall, well by then Waters was telling us in practically every song how the mental scars from being buggered behind the bike sheds of his minor public school were still haunting him...well, not quite, but it's bloody grim. The best song by several country miles on that acerbic and self-absorbed double album was not written by Waters, let's leave it at that. Around this time, Waters was falling out big time with Dave Gilmour and more so with Rick Wright, who quit in exasperation at Waters' demanding attitude, or so one of several versions of the story has it. Not only did the autocratic Waters effectively sack Wright in all but name, but he had the temerity to re-employ him to play it live, the cad! As for The Final Cut, there is no involvement from Rick who may at least have leavened its Slough of Despond with some soothing keyboard atmospherics. A thoroughly dreadful album, and a full stop on the most commercially successful era of the band.

Endless River is culled from The Division Bell sessions, an album released in 1994, seven years after a Waters-less and Wright-less "Pink Floyd" reformed for the rather poor A Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. The Division Bell was by far the better of the two, as Rick Wright and his trademark atmospherics and piano flourishes were back in the fold. Stylistically, the trio had settled on a comfortable MOR rock sound, instantly identifiable as Floyd by Gilmour's iconic guitar tone. The album passed me by to be honest, as by then Floyd were hardly relevant. One reviewer called it "a glib, vacuous cipher" of an album, which is well over the top, but it certainly wasn't blazing any trails and sounds like the musical equivalent of wearing slippers and putting your feet up. Listening to it now, apart from High Hopes it is indeed somewhat soporific, but then post-Syd they always were to a degree, that was part of their charm.

All of which brings us neatly on to Endless River. As Gilmour and Nick Mason - can't really say "the band" with any justification - have pointed out on numerous occasions, this is NOT a Pink Floyd album per sé, but a tribute to their friend and colleague Rick Wright. The album shows that Wright was an integral part of the Pink Floyd experience, and it is a fitting tribute to the mild-mannered keyboard player. The only fully realised song on the record is the concluding Louder Than Words, and, listened to in context, I defy you not to have shivers running down your spine the first time you hear it.

Unfortunately it is by far the best thing on the album. The previous 17 instrumental tracks are pleasant enough, and sound like what they are - works-in-progress polished up for release. A disembodied voice (Wright?) introduces Things Left Unsaid, and we are off an a 52 minute trip through a late middle age dreamworld, to be helped along by your relaxant of choice. It's What We Do is basically a lift from Shine On..., Sum starts "Side 2" according to Spotify, and begins with some great keyboard sounds from Rick. Skins sees Nick Mason get slightly animated, and there's even a track called On Noodle Street, which at least shows they still have their sense of humour. No Floyd album would be complete without some languid sax, and along with some rather nice clarinet (?), that's what we get on Anisina, topped off by a short trademark Gilmour solo. Talkin' Hawkin' features the instantly recognisable voice of Prof. Stephen Hawking, telling us that "mankind's greatest acheivements have come about by hardship", making me smile, as Gilmour and Mason must be two of the most well-heeled musicians on the planet.

I heard Gilmour comment on Jools Holland's Later, in contrast to Mason and his previous caveats, that "there was too much for one album" at the time of Division Bell, but all that does is beg the question that if there was "too much" for the album, implying it was good enough, then why didn't it get finished and released at the time?

One final thought - Gilmour has said in an interview that he thought the reason Endless River topped the Amazon pre-order charts was down to younger listeners being discontented with the uniform blandness of modern mainstream music. Well, you can't get much more mainstream in the rock world than Pink Floyd, Dave, and no, it topped those charts because it was pre-ordered by thousands of (mostly) blokes my age hitting "Buy Now", people who lost interest in mainstream pop, if they ever had it, 40-odd years ago. These folk are now part of a very conservative demographic who will readily open their wallets for the latest rock nostalgia-fest, while truly impressive, cutting edge music, be it prog or not, struggles for an audience.

I do not begrudge the existence of Endless River, for it is a fitting and dignified tribute to Rick Wright's contribution to an, if I may employ an over-used adjective in its proper context, iconic British rock band. As that has been stated by Gilmour and Wright as its raison d'etre, one hopefully assumes that Wright's family will profit from the lion's share of the royalties, and so they should.

All that said, I won't be buying it for there are far more worthy musical causes deserving of my support, and the band will not miss my £15 anyway.

Listen on Spotify

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The MOJO CD - November 2014

Yep, it's another keeper in the MOJO cover CD series. It is no surprise that one of the best tracks on this compilation is a cover of a classic from the original psychedelic era. Having said that their are some other corkers on here too. Celebrating modern psych-rock in all its many guises, Brain Damage is the kind of glorious racket that can really only be played LOUD.

The psychedelic classic I refer to is Interstellar Overdrive, which, along with Astronomy Domine started the British version of acid rock in 1966. The tracks that make up Brain Damage all share some degree of inspiration from the freedom expressed in Syd's formative forays into lysergically propelled acid-rock expression.

Everyone knows the story behind Syd's primal descending riff that bookends Interstellar Overdrive, surely? No? OK then - Floyd's manager had an earworm going through his head, but he couldn't remember the title. So, he hummed the riff as he semi-remembered it to Syd who then played it back on his guitar. Liking it so much, Syd used it in what would become Interstellar Overdrive. The tune Peter Jenner was trying to remember was Love's Little Red Book, itself a cover of a Bacharach/David composition, from the band's 1966 debut album. As Roger Waters noticed at the time, Interstellar Overdrive also bears a fleeting resemblance to the theme from Brit sitcom Steptoe & Son, a coincidence that points to the impish humour so often seen in Syd's work.

1. The Coffin Daggers - Interstellar Overdrive
If this band were my age, they'd no doubt be called The Coffin Dodgers.



It's hard to get this one wrong, and they don't. Even the lysergic breakdown in the middle is right on the button. This is taken from their 2002 debut album, which apparently is a mix of damaged originals and all sorts of interesting covers - might be worth checking out. A great start to this collection!

2. Pontiak - Ghosts
A pleasing and rumbustious mix of stoner rock and 13th Floor Elevators acid-infused pop hooks from this American band, named after their hometown in Virginia.

3. Anthroprophh - Crow With Sore Throat
Pere Ubu on baaad acid, speeding toward the centre of the Sun. It's great!

4. Foxygen - Star Power II: Star Power Nite
This band are currently so hip it hurts. As a result they may well be the first band on this CD that you've heard of. Had Jack White been brought up on a diet of 60s garage psych music, White Stripes might have sounded like this. They probably would have tackled this simplistic mess of a tune in a far more appealing manner, too.

5. The Wytches - Digsaw
Ah...now this is more like it. The singer changes from wild-eyed high register incantation in the verses to Black Francis throat shredding on the chorus where the band rock out in fine punk-psych style. It will get your toes twitching. They're from Peterborough, of all places. What with Kettering's Temples is there an East of England new psych scene in the offing? No, for this lot sensibly decamped to Brighton.

6. Goat - Gathering Of Ancient Tribes
The second helping here from Rocket Recordings comes from these charmingly bonkers masked Swedes, whose live appearances are something of an event. Mixing classic fuzzed overdriven guitar with mantra-like rhythm sections, and shamanic twin lead vocalists, the band also dabble in world music influences, making for a heady mix. Undoubtedly much better in a live setting, this is still a blast. This short video, awful sound quality aside, will give you an idea...



7. Dead Skeletons -Dead Mantra
They're not wrong, and dead good it is too, as motorik rhythms meet post-punk doom laden guitar. From Reykjavik, you would therefore expect nothing less than slightly odd. The "look at me, aren't I clever" hyperbole in MOJO's preamble made me smile, for apparently they "conjure up the brilliant sound image of Goethe's Der König in Thule brought to the stage by Television, live at CBGB's in 1977". Not having a degree in German literature, I had to look that up!

8. Gnod - Visions Of Load
A sinister but low key and single note guitar riff, which is a millimetre away from being a direct lift from The Stooges 1969 forms the basis of this eight-and-a-half minute long spacerock excursion. Another one that probably works far better in a live setting.

9. Hookworms - On Leaving
Great band name! And a decent tune too, another repetitive riffer with that ubiquitous Farfisa-like organ sound. Builds up nicely to some frantic single note guitar squalling, as indeed it damn well should. MOJO describes them as "too young to have seen Spacemen 3 or Loop live", which made me feel quite old.

10. Hills - Master Sleeps
Third bag of goodies from psychrock sweetshop Rocket Recordings, who are cornering the market in garage psych it seems. Some gloriously dirty but languid fuzz guitar and some blissed out vocalising does not take this nine-minute non-tune out of the garage, but instead locks it in and buries it in the inspection pit where it writhes around in a lackadaisical fashion for many minutes before entering an altered state and slowly dying out.

11. Lay Llamas - We Are You
Second band on here you may have heard of, and yet another on thee olde Rocket Recordings. Actually, I've no idea why you might of heard of this band, but I have! Hailing from Sicily, this duo show the similarly constituted Foxygen how two people should make psych-pop. This tune is a beguiling mix of hypnotic mid-period Can and Europop. Nice!

12. White Manna - Acid Head
You can probably guess what this sounds like. It does, too, all acid-fried guitar and thunderous bass turnarounds, this Californian band freely admit to ingesting psychedelics for musical inspiration. Julian Cope will see things in here I can't, but I like it all the same.



13. Thee Oh Sees - Penetrating Eye (Feat. Chris Woodhouse) 
I was wondering if there would be a band on here spelling the indefinite article with an extra "e". The best song title on the compilation is somewhat spoiled by the "Feat." addendum. Taken from the band's eighth (!) album, this sees a return to the inspiration behind this fine compilation, banged out with a devil-may-care panache.

14. Electric Wizard - Sadiowitch
Actually, take that last one back; this is the best song title on here. They also have the best label name - Spinefarm Records - marvellous! I have heard of Electric Wizard, too. Ending the CD in fine fashion, this is a shapeshifting beast of a riffmonster from dirty acid hell, blasting away the wasted synapses of the free festival crowd like Black Sabbath leading a tripping Panzer division through Hades. As the blurb says "Electric "Fucking" Wizard are back!" The fact they are from Dorset rather spoils that image...then again, Dorset is where one Julian Cope resides! ;)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Seven Impale - City Of The Sun

It seems I have followed the careers of Norwegian proggers Seven Impale on this blog since the beginning, reviewing their debut EP Beginning/Relieve back in March 2013, and following that up with an interview. This was not planned, it just panned out that way, so rather than write this review on TPA or DPRP, for the sake of continuity, I shall wibble on and on and then a bit more, right here.

Well here they are then with their first full length album City Of The Sun, and they seem to be coming along quite nicely, albeit a tad in thrall to their influences, particularly on opener Oh My Gravity! which runs the gamut of VdGG and the mighty Crim, the latter even down to a take on the stop and start section of 21st Century Schizoid Man in the middle of the song. It's still a fun ride though, and the boys in the band show they are getting rather skilled in the arrangement department, contrasting a repeated gentle guitar run with Tormod Fosso's growling bass. The latter will become a feature of the album, popping up now and again to rattle the collective cage. Charging from a quiet start to a furious denouement, Oh, My Gravity! ticks all the heavy prog boxes, and although it is obvious which records these guys have been listening to, they inject armfuls of youthful enthusiasm to drag it out of the museum and into the 21st century street, kicking and screaming. Playing out on the reprised hypnotic understated guitar run from earlier, the song is something of an emphatic statement. We are impaled.



For all that, I much prefer it when they run with their jazz instincts, as on second song Wind Shears, containing as it does some great interplay between the guitar of Erlend Vottvik Olsen and the saxophone of Benjamin Mekki Widerøe. The song builds to a jazz-symphonic bombastic conclusion, of a style that is beginning to sound their own.

This nascent individuality continues into the initially deceptively calm Eschaton Horo which opens the gates of Hades to reveal a scorched earth VdGG-styled angular and angry blast right out of Still Life before descending further into the abyss on the back of a neo-RIO segment, then returning to the lounge jazz song of the start. Again, there is enough in here to make one forget the obvious influences after a while, and this song shows undoubted promise.

The dirty and grungy bass of at the start of Extraction develops into a meeting between between the heaviest of jazz-prog, grunge, and freakrock. The declamatory and dramatic vocals wouldn't sound out of place on a metal album, but there is no grunting, thank your deity of choice. This tune changes tack more often than a straggler in the Fastnet yacht race, and I think maybe it is trying just a little too hard to impress. One thing this band are not short of is ideas!

The album ends with the full-blown epic, the daftly titled God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman a song that builds slowly and purposefully, Håkon Vinje's atmospheric keyboard effects to the fore. The sudden interjection of a few seconds of Jannick Top-like gnarly fuzz bass hints at what is to come. This time singer Stian Økland leaves the bombast at the door, and his vocals are all the better for it. Much syncopation between guitar and sax interweave with subtle percussion led sections as the tune reaches a furiously swaying bridge, blown about in a blast of some more of that heavy jazz-prog.

In structure this epic is again similar to the first 70s reformed version of VdGG, and it has to be said that Seven Impale have become a whole lot heavier since the Beginning/Relieve EP eighteen or so months ago. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

Tracklist:
1. Oh, My Gravity! (10:08)
2. Wind Shears (6:44)
3. Eschaton Horo (8:46)
4. Extraction (6:48)
5. God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman (14:41)

Total running time - 47:07 

Line up:
Stian Økland - vocals, guitars
Fredrik Mekki Widerøe - drums
Benjamin Mekki Widerøe - sax
Tormod Fosso - bass
Erlend Vottvik Olsen - guitar
Håkon Vinje - keyboards

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Monday, 20 October 2014

Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels

Multi-instrumentalist Emmett Elvin is the keyboard player for Guapo, Knifeworld, and Chrome Hoof. In another no more or less real world he is an artist and graphic designer and an exponent of sundry related activities. He describes himself on his website as “hectically creative”, a description that also fits this, his second solo album to a tee. 

Bloody Marvels consists of thirteen (plus two "bonus" tracks) pieces of mostly instrumental music varying in length from under a minute to well over five minutes, and it could all be the soundtrack to a wilfully obscure arthouse movie that still only exists in its writer's head.

Aided by many of his colleagues from the aforementioned bands, along with some other musical friends and relatives, Emmett has created a vast all-encompassing cinematic soundscape in which the listener can easily get completely absorbed, to the point where the album has ended either after ten minutes or two hours, who knows? This audio painting is mixed and mastered (you can't just say "produced" these days) by Mark Cawtha who has worked with Knifeworld and North Sea Radio Orchestra amongst others. Those two bands are at opposing ends of full-on and minimalist music making, and Mr Cawtha has used the sonic traits of both on Emmett's album, to great effect.

Emmett's main instruments are keyboards of various hues and acoustic guitars that maybe bear the traits of a classical training. You can see from the credits below that no instrument seems to be beyond this musical polymath, a fact given away by the modest "etc".

Thirteen soundtracks to thirteen impressionistic arty videos, or a complete soundtrack to a road movie of the mind, all yet to be made - these are my first thoughts as the plaintive slide or bottleneck guitar melody slips mournfully across quickly picked arpeggio guitar on opener Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone, a tune that exposes fraught nerves just under the surface. 

Phobos is three minutes of chamber music with piano and cello, and the slide/bottleneck returns on Toxic Sweetheart with a very similar melody to Pterodactyls.



Beyond Astronomy's Reach references Gustav Holst's Planet Suite, ascending oh-so-slowly like a Saturn rocket on take off determinedly escaping gravity's pull. Introductory swampy mists swirl on bridging track The Indolent Spirit, and then we are in a run down shack in Alabama where all kinds of dark backwoods ghosts roam through Where Do You Think You Are Going? More strings to Emmett's ever-expanding musical bow come when a banjo adds to the reflective cello and more finger-picked and bottleneck guitar. Bassoon, trumpet and a slightly overdriven distant electric guitar add to the mix in a hypnotic cyclical progression that makes this tune the most intense of the album so far.

Harmonium Phosphate is played over a horror-short scripted by Alan Bennett, and by now the largely acoustic instrumental palette is proving a boon to spur my imagination to ever more unlikely scenarios. Thora Hird as an undead repressed Methodist matriarch, anyone? Nocturine is a time to bring out your dead, and the jester cavorts to bluegrass bottleneck as Jupiter Sneezed, by Jove he did!

Suddenly Two Tree Island Drowning has us in the court of a medieval king dancing a formal dance in the round, all classical guitar motifs, enlivened by bottleneck electric to add a nerve jangling element of suspense. The scene dissolves and the lens refocuses on the protagonist dreaming, eyelids twitching, mental vistas shifting as synapses spark.

After the deceptive calm of the echoing Disaster Avenue, we arrive at what turns out to be the only song on the album. The vocals, initially displaced and shifting, come as a surprise and Witness Unknown is not a million miles from a Knifeworld song in structure. I'm not quite sure it fits in here.

More gorgeous strings return on the classically inclined Medicine Box, and Outro is the musical box winding down. The two bonus tracks commence with film-noir dramatic intent on X Corpus, a tune imbued with a dissonant dark menace that would have fitted on the main album, perhaps in place of Witness Unknown. X Corpus also uses a Holst motif, obviously a favourite of Emmett's. The very odd Dustbowl Prizewinner ends the journey with a cut-up of snippets of what has gone before, chatter, dog barks and birdsong. "What's going on?", indeed!

All in all, a quirky and enjoyable ride from a musician brimming over with ideas. I look forward to his next solo effort which I am sure will be as different to Bloody Marvels as this album is to its predecessor Emmettronica '98 - '05, a compilation of sample-based electronic music. Bloody Marvels is another winner from the Bad Elephant stable, definitely a label to watch.

Tracklist:
1. Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone (5:03)
2. Phobos (3:06)
3. Toxic Sweetheart (3:41)
4. Beyond Astronomy's Reach (5:35)
5. The Indolent Spark (1:30)
6. Where Do You Think You're Going? (5:19)
7. Harmonium Phosphate (3:33)
8. Nocturine (1:08)
9. Jupiter Sneezed (2:41)
10. Two Tree Island Drowning (4:30)
11. Disaster Avenue (1:57)
12. Witness Unknown (4:56)
13. Medicine Box (2:18)
14. Outro (0:58)
15. X Corpus (bonus track) (3:40)
16. Dustbowl Prizewinner (bonus track) (3:32) 


Total running time - 53:35 

Line up:
Emmett Elvin - 6 & 12 string guitars, resonator slide guitar, piano, recorders, percussion, mandolin, banjo, etc

With:
Beverley Crome - French horn, tenor horn
Chloe Hetherington - Bassoon, cor anglais, alto saxophone
Richard Larcombe - Harmonium
Anna Tam - Cello
Daniel Friend - Trumpet
Matt Stevens - 6-string guitar
Sarah Anderson - Viola, violin
David J. Smith - Percussion
Will Elvin - Acoustic bass



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sounds Of Sputnik - New Born

Sounds Of Sputnik is Russian multi-instrumentalist and producer Roma Kalitkin who is here aided by Canadian/Ukranian duo Ummagma on three of the five tracks of this, his debut release. Proof positive that you can have successful collaborations between Russians and Ukranians in these fraught times.

Shauna McLarnon and Alexx Kretov are Ummagma, under which name they released their first two albums simultaneously back in 2012. Since then they have released singles and remixes while keeping very busy promoting themselves online in order to be noticed in this over-populated internet music world.

Like Sounds Of Sputnik, Ummagma are firmly rooted in the world of shoegaze and dream pop, and here the trio rekindle a working relationship originally tentatively begun some 12 years ago until McLarnon and Kretov moved away from Russia. Theirs is a perfect match and here they present us with five new songs steeped in the world of MBV, Slowdive, Cocteaus, and just about every other British original shoegaze band you could think of.




Although obstensibly an album, this release is effectively an EP, as seven of the thirteen tracks are remixes, and one a radio edit, as you can see from the track listing below. The five original tracks constitute 21:23 of the total running time of 59:12, and although some of the remixes are interesting enough in themselves, it is a strange tactic. My guess is that these days no-one under 40 plays albums all the way through anyway, so the inclusion of re-imagined versions of songs makes little difference in this "playlist" age of short attention spans. Whatever the reason, this is not an album in the traditional sense.

Of the five original songs, Ummagma appear on tracks 1, 2, and 5, and the combination of the post-rock and Gothic musical atmospherics are complimented nicely by Shauna's breathy tones on lead song New Born, an epic psychedelicised space-ballad walking the thoroughfares of an anonymous Russian city in winter. Light Scheme is a jauntier affair, and to these ears a more obvious choice for a single.



Blizzard and Shades of the Cosmos are solo efforts from Roma Kalitkin, and the former has a slow, doomy, and overdriven guitar as the base for chiming guitar and synths to take the simple musical construction to reverb and echo heaven. Ending too soon, it is followed by Shades of the Cosmos, a dark trip through early Cure and MBV moves, full of more effects-laden shimmering multi-tracked guitars.

Overdrive sees the trio reunite for a Siouxsie-like romp through an upbeat post-rock skip and jump, with a great distorted cacophony of a guitar sound that sprawls all over the second half of the song. The section of original songs concludes with its best moments, for sure. Shauna McLarnon's lyrics to this and the other two fully realised songs on the record focus on an optimistic viewpoint of new possibilities, renewal and exploration, which makes a nice change from the doom-laden obsessions of a lot of post-rock and Goth rock.

Of the four remixes of New Born, for me the best is the Malcolm Holmes/OMD version, which opens up the spaces in the song and brings Shauna's voice, the thing that marks this collaboration apart, blinking into the daylight where it prospers in the airy mix. The Morozov mix deserves a mention for taking the thing waaay out into a far flung orbit, as if on the end of an infinitely long rubber band.

There are some fine songs here, and some good examples of studio trickery on this album-that-isn't, but I would like to have seen this trio make an album in the proper sense, as they certainly have the talent to do that. Perhaps I'm showing my age?

Tracklist:
1. New Born (4:57)
2. Light Scheme (3:53)
3. Blizzard (3:10)
4. Shades of the Cosmos (4:49)
5. Overdrive (4:36)
6. New Born (radio edit) (3:51)
7. New Born (Malcolm Holmes/OMD remix) (4:39)
8. New Born (Sputnik remix) (4:51)
9. New Born (Oleg Mezherovsky remix) (5:01)
10. New Born (Morozov remix) (6:52)
11. Light Scheme (Fran Ashcroft remix) (3:38)
12. Light Scheme (Sputnik remix) (3:38)
13. Light Scheme (Mind Movies remix) (5:17)

Total running time - 59:12

Line up:
Roman Kalitkin – instruments, arrangement
Shauna McLarnon – lyrics and vocals, arrangement
Alexander Kretov – vocals (tracks 2, 11, 12, 13), mixing, artwork & design
Graham Bonnar - drums (track 5)

Links:
Sounds of Sputnik on Facebook
Sounds of Sputnik - Bandcamp
Ummagma
Ummagma on Bandcamp
Ummagma on Facebook




Thursday, 2 October 2014

Has it really been ten years??!...

Ten years ago this month the man who kick-started my continuing obsession with the musically odd, the consquences of which I continue to occasionally inflict upon you, dear reader, moved on to play that jukebox in the sky. He touched the lives of thousands if not millions of fellow curious music lovers and will continue to be sorely missed. That man was of course John Peel, and fellow scribbler Mark Whitby over at Unwashed Territories had the marvellous idea of getting some of the many bands Peely featured over the mostly later years of his reign to contribute to a free compilation put together in the great man's honour.

21 Songs For John will be available as free download until 30th November, when it will be deleted...go on, what have you got to lose?



Mark is doing mini-features on the artists involved, starting with Cuban Boys, and this will be a series to keep an eye on. Shame there's no Fall track, but you wouldn't expect anything else, really!

John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004) RIP

Monday, 29 September 2014

Martin Archer - A man following his muse...

Martin Archer ducks the mainstream...
Some time ago - August last year to be more exact - I reviewed a strange and singular but nonetheless enjoyable release on Discus Records by the name of Juxtavoices - Just another anti-choir from Sheffield. My route to this odd record started with Combat Astronomy's Kundalini Apocalypse, an equally uncompromising but utterly different beast. Both these albums featured the talents of Sheffield citizen Martin Archer, and the Juxtavoices CD was one of a number of CDs sent to me unprompted by Martin following the Combat Astronomy scribbling for DPRP.

As I am constantly buried by my "to do" pile I have never found the time to write about the other CDs in the box. That, and quite frankly, I found the prospect of hour upon hour of challenging music that I had no frame of reference for a scary prospect. "Come on, ya big wuss, get on with it" the box kept saying to me, staring at me malevolently from the groaning shelf it sat imposingly upon. Now that what sounds like a rather good second album by Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is on its way, that combo being another of Martin's projects, I thought it was time to man up and have a proper listen to the other CDs he kindly sent me.

Martin Archer has been part of the Sheffield jazz and improvisational scene since the late 1970s, starting the Discus Records label in 1993 as "a reliable platform on which to make (his) work available", and probably because other avant music outlets, if they existed, were very few and very far between. His work displays a true artist's vision and a questing intelligence, and thereby becomes something apart from the humdrum of the everyday.

There follows some brief thoughts on each of the releases I received last year, and rather than go to my usual OCD lengths with track listings etc, I have provided links to such information on the Discus Records website, which is also the place to obtain these audio oddities, should you be so inclined. The logical place to start then is obviously...

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere
Discus CD40
This is the first self-titled album from this improvisational collective, released in 2012. A sprawling two and a half hour double CD, it features a vast array of musicians contributing electronic and acoustic instrumentation, including a string quartet, a wind ensemble, and appearances by the aforementioned Juxtavoices.



The sounds created take up a mantle passed on by Terry Riley and the looser improvisational end of Krautrock. I am also put in mind of Keith Tippett's Centipede. The end result is vast, loose, organic and thoroughly mesmerising. Prog fans will hate it!


The rest of Martin's postal surprise will be dealt with in order of release...

Martin Archer - In Stereo Gravity
Discus CD33
2008 saw this double CD unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Featuring longtime vocal collaborator Julie Tippetts (née Driscoll) in a relatively small nine-person ensemble in comparison to OUA, we are treated to Martin's unique take on rock improvisation.



Martin's home turf is reimagined as an agrarian Utopia in the drawing on the cover, and the wide open spaces depicted are reflected in the spartan space groove of the music, where avant skronking blends with motorik rhythms and sampling.

Inclusion Principle - The Leaf Factory Fallback
Discus CD38
Onwards to 2010, and Martin teams up with like-minded sound pioneer Hervé Perez for their second outing as Inclusion Principle. The pair use found sounds, laptops and saxophones to create strange dislocated ambient music concrète with a minimalistic bent.

No Soundcloud link for this one, but there are some brief samples in the attendant catalogue link.

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Tales of FiNiN
Discus CD39
2011 saw the release of this haunting and evocative work. Julie Tippetts' rich tones tell tales of Gothic mystery over Martin's nine-piece ensemble that includes violins, cello, occasional fiery guitar, keyboards, electronica, found sounds, programming and a turntablist. The sounds they make are thoroughly modern and simultaneously ancient, and a contrast of tonal and atonal, resonance and dissonance. Deep and dark, this is a record that rewards studied listening. Oh, and it's another double CD, in gorgeous packaging, too!

Again, no Soundlcloud samples for this one.

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Serpentine
Discus CD41
A 2012 release from the fearless sonic explorers sees their muse pack kit for all weathers, as no-one knows where they're headed.



Following the album title, Serpentine is sinuous and slinky. Completely unconventional in approach, the pair show a spirit of adventure that pushes the music into unchartered waters. For the most part it works, as Martin's combination of electronica, found sounds, rhythms and ethereal instrumentation weaves a Gordian Knot with Julie's strong voice to form an indefinable whole. Another one that rewards repeated listens. You will most likely not "get" it first time round. 

Martin Archer - Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites
Discus CD43
Fast forward to 2013, and a release by a band originally formed for a one-off performance.



You thought the version of King Crimson currently treading the boards in the USA, with its front line of three drummers was a new idea? Well, maybe in rock music it is, but here with his group Engine Room Favourites Martin Archer is one step ahead. "The concept of the group is to write music structured primarily around the four drummers / percussionists..." as it says in the information section. The brass, reeds, and piano of the rest of the band reinterpet scored music over the four-man percussion section. There are no guitars on this record - this is avant jazz band music like you never heard before.


Well, that wasn't so bad, was it? I found all that difficult music rather intriguing, to say the least. Anyway, that's it from me, and thanks to Martin for sending me all this weirdly intoxicating music.

There are many more releases to be found over at Discus Records along with biographies and sound samples.

Discus Records
Soundcloud

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