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.

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

Karisma Records

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.

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

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?

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)

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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