Friday, 30 September 2011

D'AccorD - Helike

Helike is the second album by Norway's D'AccorD, formed, as they say themselves " capture the true essence of the early 70’s Progressive rock", so they fall into that often divisive category of regressive rock.

Helike is a sunken city off the Greek coast and often tagged the "real" Atlantis, and this two track album is its story writ large.

Of the two songs (Part I and Part II), the second is the better as it contains many more interesting instrumental passages, and the instrumentation is fuller than the first part. The overall production sounds a bit thin, particularly the keyboards, and dominating proceedings is the voice of Daniel Måge, who tends towards a Hammill theatricality, but lends enough of his own phrasing to make his voice fairly unique. On Part I he sounds a bit strained in places, but comes across far better in Part II. The cover informs us that the songs and lyrics were written by Daniel, and that he mixed, recorded and co-produced the album! No wonder his voice is so forward in the mix, which sometimes is a shame as the music, especially on Part II bodes well for the future of the band should they decide to branch out a bit more from recreating 70s sounds.

The construction of the album with two songs of around twenty minutes each fits well into the 70s scheme of things, as does the music itself. With plenty of easily identifiable classic prog references this will appeal to fans of Wobbler and their ilk. However the band show enough of their own skill to indicate that they should have the confidence to create their own niche in the future.

Helike Part I (20:44)
Helike Part II (23:30)

Line up:
Daniel Måge - Vocals, Flute, Keys
Stig Are Sund - Guitars
Martin Sjøen - Bass
Årstein Tislevoll - Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Fredrik Horn - Piano and Keyboards
Bjarte Rossehaug - Drums

Links: Band website - Karisma Records

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Interview with Jan Erik Liljeström of Anekdoten

Roger: Thanks to Jan Erik Liljeström of Anekdoten for giving us his time to do this short interview, no doubt taking time off from rehearsing for the upcoming European tour. (Go here for full gig listing) Speaking of which how are the rehearsals going, as I assume it is some time since you played together?

Jan Erik: Normally we meet regularly, typically once a week, but the focus for quite some time has been on trying to come up with stuff for the new album. We had a long summer vacation and the last thing we did on stage was a support gig to Messhugah on Easter Sunday. We only played 6 songs then, so we had quite a lot of catching up to do. We have rehearsed 18 songs from our back catalogue and some of it haven't been played for more than 3 years. This was evident in the first rehearsals, but now we are back on track and ready to rock!

Roger: Will there be any of the new material in the set? When do you think the new album will be ready?

Jan Erik: We discussed how we should go regarding this, but we came to the conclusion that it would be better for the overall quality of the shows if we concentrated on getting our old songs to sound really good, instead of dabbling with the final arrangements of new songs. The situation today with things surfacing on Youtube also made us reluctant to present our most innocent little babies to the world in an uncontrolled way.
There won't be a new album in 2011, but we will hopefully start recording by the end of this year.

Roger: I suppose you can't really answer this beyond Yes or No, but will the encores contain any surprise cover versions? Your version of Easy Money was great!

Jan Erik: No. It would have been great to do a surprise cover or two, but our own material will be prioritised.

Roger: Nicklas has been busy with the fab My Brother The Wind project, and his El Ultimo soundtrack, but what have the others been up to musically since the band last played together, day jobs allowing of course!

Jan Erik:  Well, I've had 2 kids since "A Time Of Day", so that's what has kept me busy!

Roger: I'll bet!

Roger: I've followed the band since Nucleus, which of course led me back to Vemod, and in that time you've released some mighty music, and played all over mainland Europe and Japan and the USA, but you've never, as far as I know, played in the UK before. I hope you're all looking forward to visiting London's Camden Underworld on 6th October (Go here for tickets - quick, before they sell out!).

Jan Erik: England is actually the white spot that we are most eager to finally explore. We've played in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris etc, but it's been nagging us that we've never come over to England. We will most likely lose money playing in London, but when the opportunity came we felt that we had to do it this time around.

Roger: In my humble opinion the double Official Bootleg, Live In Japan CD is one of the best live albums I've heard, the sound is simply immense! Any plans to record the shows of the upcoming tour? A lot of bands now make live recordings of gigs available as downloads, it would be great to think you would do the same.

Jan Erik: No, we won't do it on this tour. What has been discussed is a dvd at some point, but that project will also have to wait a while longer.

Roger: Have you got any plans for future vinyl releases? I really liked the Vemod LP reissue, it was a high quality piece of work.

Jan Erik: This year we've put out Vemod and Nicklas' soundtrack album on LP and they've both been very successful so there will definitely be more vinyl releases on our label in the future. Regarding re-releases Nucleus feels like the logical next step.

Roger: Is the songwriting a group effort, or do individual members bring their own songs to the band? I think it's always interesting to read how a band construct their songs.

Jan Erik: Nicklas comes up with all of the basic ideas for songs, but all members contribute with some riffs and melodies.

Roger: What music are you into at the moment?

Jan Erik: Not that much prog actually, but I like Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues" a lot.

Roger: Yes, they are rather good - a sort of 21st Century CS&N!

Roger: I seem to recall reading a while back that another group had "borrowed" your Mellotron and forgot to return it! Did you ever get it back?

Jan Erik: No, we got it back

Roger: Glad to hear that...:)

Roger: I always like to end on a food related question, so what culinary delights will you be looking forward to sampling in multi-cultural Camden when you come over?

Jan Erik: I'd love to go to a really good Indian restaurant if possible. London marks the end of this small tour, so hopefully we'll have time for a few pints as well.

Roger: I've a good mate in London, I'll ask him if he can recommend anywhere, hopefully we can meet up. In the meantime good luck with the tour and we all look forward to seeing you and the band in Camden on 6th October!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Asian Women on the Telephone - ICanT

The album is available on Bandcamp as streaming and as a free download, play it as you read, but not advised if you've got a headache! 

Another band of art-noise-terrorists from Moscow on that home for the awkward and obscure waifs and strays of the Russian music scene, R.A.I.G. (Russian Association of Independent Genres) are the marvellously monikered Asian Women on the Telephone, a band for whom, as far as I can gather, musicallity is secondary to their theatrical stage shows.

Opening proceedings on this their second album is Pleasure dome, an eleven minute ambient piece that gently bucks and sways like a leaky and creaking Russian freighter leaving the listener feeling a bit sea sick by the end. Cabaret Voltaire proto-industrial minimalism infuses Otverstie-uchitel', echoed male and female voices weave in and out of the repetitive slow beat and single note guitar picking. The conjured spirit of Damo Suzuki, but more unsettling. At nearly seventeen minutes long, this piece does not really go anywhere, but maybe that's the point, for it could be the soundtrack to a European highbrow art house film. This slow and faintly disturbing industrial hypnotic quality pervades the whole album, and while certainly more accessible than, say, Nurse With Wound, it is not for fans of the more traditional musical structure.

In fact musical structure is secondary to creating an atmosphere of bleak post-industrial proportions. Their neighbourhood must be a grim place! Komu verish, konopataja barsixa has two chords in it, and feels like The Fall warming up while waiting for Mark E Smith to finish his pint. Strange percussion, scratching and yelping pervade the intro to Lysogo gonjal oganjan which continues in the primitive Can vein, a repeated chant slowly building. What is it saying? As my knowledge of Russian is zero, I've no idea but it sounds suitably crazy to me! The bass line in Vip-Maria-viva-trance recalls Jah Wobble from early PiL, and as a result the piece almost swings. Mr (or Miss) "Brown Polizei" layers some strange childlike keyboard stabs over the top, and the guitar is doing a Keith Levene impersonation. All we need now is Lydon's wailing and we're "Careering"! I find myself tapping along to the rhythm as compared to the torpid nature of what has gone before this is almost jaunty. The upbeat continues into the next track Kljuch, zamok, yazyk with the snare drum panning across the stereo spectrum while strange high pitched treated voices intone the track title accompanied by synth rumblings from the drains. Very odd, this, perplexing but intriguing and not easy listening. With Poxotlivaja gorbun'ja ischet & naxodit we're back to the slow persistent beat, and if I've got the translation all wrong and this is not about a "lustful hunchback" it damn well should be. Manic chuckling and ecstatic noises precede and interfere with what almost becomes a tune over shambolic percussion. Then the guitar starts stumbling around like, well, a drunken hunchback would be about right. Quite mad. 

The pseudonyms the band use are great (see below) and have a touch of the Acid Mothers Temple about them, as indeed does last track title White rabbi motorcycle dub, which after the madness that has gone before is almost calming in a very off-kilter way. In fact you could well imagine a synapse-shifting gig where AWOTT were sharing a bill with AMT - now that would be something!

Not an album for those who insist on a melody, and guaranteed to clear the room of late stayers at a party, AWOTT have made a wilfully obtuse album to be filed with your most unpleasant Faust albums. I actually quite like it, but then again I can be a contrary sod!

The transliterated Russian track titles make little sense when put through Google Translate, but to give you a flavour, three I have at least hopefully partly deciphered are noted after the Latin transliteration....I could be completely wrong!

01 Pleasure dome (11:06)
02 Otverstie-uchitel' (16:53) (Hole teacher)
03 Komu verish, konopataja barsixa (4:53)
04 Lysogo gonjal oganjan (7:09)
05 Vip-Maria-viva-trance (10:07)
06 Kljuch, zamok, yazyk (3:51) (Key, lock, language)
07 Poxotlivaja gorbun'ja ischet & naxodit (11:18) (something about a "Lustful hunchback")
08 White rabbi motorcycle dub (12:32)

Line up:
Oriental Yid - drums, guitar
Good Enough Freundin - guitar, vocal, drums
Brown Polizei - keyboards, voice, bass
Divine Gift - percussion, voice
Mutter Land - drums, percussion, bass
Lewd Primat - bass, voice

Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon

Steve Hackett, with a solo career of well over 30 years behind him is certainly not resting on his laurels with this album of both literal and metaphorical travellin' tales. Backed by his usual electric band Steve takes us on an Odyssey from Loch Lomond, the band marching over the hills on the back of an almost metal riff, to end with the epic symphonic tale of Turn This Island Earth, on the way visiting many exotic corners of the globe and indeed beyond and inward. Make of that what you will!

On the way we encounter all sorts of styles melded together to make an involving and cohesive whole, and without any of the tempo and mood changes sounding forced. A great blues-rock riff that puts me in mind of early Uriah Heep crashes into the almost sedate introduction to Prairie Angel, and throughout the album classical touches abound as do various world music influences. Possibly a balalaika on Waking To Life is later complimented by a distinct middle eastern feel, leading into some Kashmir-like sounds on the intro to Two Faces Of Cairo, so far one of my favourite moments on the album.

Throughout Steve's guitar sounds more energised than ever, when one would expect a mellowing over time, and he even verges on heavy in places, especially on blues shouter Catwalk. Some of the songs are bridged with short acoustic pieces which add to the overall cinematic atmosphere.

The longest song on the album is the closer Turn This Island Earth, clocking in at just under 12 minutes. As befitting such a mini-epic, everything is thrown at this, the orchestra and the treated vocals at the start lending it an almost ethereal presence until a rock riff from Steve takes the song down another alley, but the theme is never lost even in the more chaotic Sorcerer's Apprentice sounding moments. A classical symphony in miniature, this is an unexpected but great way to end a fine album, which, at just short of an hour long has not made the mistake of many over-ambitious projects where bands feel they have to get as close to filling eighty minutes as possible. In Steve's case never mind the width, feel the quality.

The second CD has, we assume, a few items recorded at the same time as the main album but not necessarily fitting in with the theme. This CD at just under half an hour starts with the Four Winds mini-suite featuring some fine classical piano and classical guitar, as well as some restrained electric soloing from Steve.

Classical piece Pieds En L'Air conjures visions of costume dramas in the grounds of stately homes, electric instrumental She Said Maybe is pleasant if unassuming, and there's a stunning cover of Focus song segment Eruption:Tommy, not bad for a bonus disc, but you should be more than sated with the main course anyway.

There's no doubting the love and enthusiasm Steve and the band have put into the making of this well produced album, and Steve along with Roger King and wife Jo have written some gorgeous stuff here that sounds at times like the soundtrack to an epic film, and it sure is a journey well worth taking.

.....and I didn't even mention the "G" word!

Track listing:

1. Loch Lomond
2. The Phoenix Flown 
3. Wanderlust
4. Til These Eyes
5. Prairie Angel
6. A Place Called Freedom
7. Between The Sunset And Coconut Palms
8. Waking To Life
9. Two Faces Of Cairo
10. Looking For Fantasy
11. Summer's Breath
12. Catwalk
13. Turn This Island Earth

1. Four Winds:North
2. Four Winds:South
3. Four Winds:East
4. Four Winds:West
5. Pieds En L'Air
6. She Said Maybe
7. Enter The Night
8. Eruption:Tommy
9. Reconditioned Nightmare

Line up:

Steve Hackett (guitars, vocals)
Roger King (keyboards)
Gary O’Toole (drums)
Rob Townsend (sax, whistle, bass clarinet)
Nick Beggs (bass)
Amanda Lehmann (vocals, guitar)

With guests:
Chris Squire (bass)
Simon Philips (drums)
John Hackett (flute)

Buy the album here
...or here

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Opeth - Heritage

Opeth are a band I once wanted to like, and indeed I have tried to in the past, but one thing kept putting me off - barbed-wire gargling, growling, cookie monster vocals, call it what you will. In my mind although this expression of aggression can and indeed does have its place, especially within the context of what I believe is risibly termed "death metal", when an album's entire vocals consist of unintelligible grunting, it comes across to me as pure laziness. Do these death metal bands have lyrics in their songs? If so why go to all the effort involved in the creative process only to have the "singer", and I use the term loosely, destroy any veneer of comprehension by growling and grunting all over it? I can see how judiciously used growling would have a good effect, but like I said earlier, doing it all the time and as a default setting puts me off completely.

Right, now I've got that off my chest, let us turn to the band in question, whose music is undoubtedly intriguing but past albums have not got past the first "Grrrrrghwaaargh" on my hi-fi for reasons already stated. Yes, I know they've put out a couple of albums with minimal grunting, but by then I'd lost interest.

I described myself to a reviewer colleague as an Opeth virgin, so putting Heritage in the CD player was an act accompanied by no little trepidation. I need not have worried for Mikael Akerfeld and his buddies have come up with an album of homage, as the title may suggest. The homage in question is to all kinds of 70s prog influences, and it soon becomes apparent that there will no growling here, no siree. This surprised me to say the least, so God only knows how fans of the band take it, for Opeth are one of those groups that inspire a rabid fanaticism. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall while a death metal loving Opeth fan sat through the opening title track to be greeted by two minutes of what sounds like Chopin warming up, just a lone piano and nowt else! This is followed by The Devil's Orchard which starts as a fairly run-of-the-mill prog metal work out, before a jazzy middle section slows things down, ending with a short Steve Wilson sounding guitar solo, with Mikael singing in his plaintive but fairly unexpressive voice throughout. A decent start.

The scene is set as things slow down with some nice acoustic work on the third song I Feel The Dark which has a stop-start feel about it before becoming more doomy about halfway through. The drumming on this and on the the rest of the album is well up in the mix, and it must be a relief for the drummer to be released from the shackles of metal stylings to show his chops, which are right up there with the best. A heavy riff eventually enters, stops and is mirrored on an acoustic. It's almost as if the band are going "Whoah, stop now, we're getting back in the heavy groove". in fact there is a feeling sometimes that they are straining at an invisible leash, imposed on them to remain in a largely 70s style, but on a modernistic framework.

The leash is dropped briefly on Slither, where dues are paid to all kinds of 70s hard rock (not metal, hard rock). Akerfeld, if his voice was half an octave higher could have done a good Coverdale impression on this! The very brief guitar break too is very Blackmore, until again, there's a pulling of the leash and we're back into gentle acoustic territory. This is now becoming a theme, or possibly a symptom?

I'm sure I heard some keyboard Gentle Giantisms in Nepenthe, which is all angularity and has probably the best guitar work of the album. This song really grabs me, I must admit. We're back to more playing on the leash and within self-imposed boundaries on Häxprocess, not to say that it doesn't have some nice musical touches, including a laid back and effortless guitar break near the end that reminds me of Wishbone Ash circa 1973. King Crimson mug Jethro Tull on Famine, but the leash still holds them back just when you think the song might take off. The Lines In My Hand almost gets funky in places and reminds me of Uriah Heep towards the end. Folklore at 8:17 is the longest song here, the main theme featuring runs up and down the scales that has a lilting, lyrical quality, acid folk running through its core. The Hammond sound also frequently reappears in the heavier sections, and there's a lovely Steve Howe like acoustic break in the middle before the song hints at shifting gear, but of course it doesn't, the leash being pulled at again. Finally two minutes or so from the end a mellotron led guitar solo speeds things up. This must sound fab in the surround sound mix, no doubt overseen by the ubiquitous Steven Wilson.

We end with Marrow Of The Earth which concludes the album in much the same way as the title track opened it, but this time on melancholic guitar. Actually, it is quite lovely.

A strange album this one. Although I've now spun it half a dozen times, and it is slowly growing on me, it still leaves me with the feeling of a band slightly unsure of where they are going, and the unresolved tension of not rocking out is palpable in places. Still at least it's an Opeth album I've played more than once and I'll certainly play again. Of course, the other eagerly awaited 70s homage album, Steven Wilson's Grace For Drowning is out next week, and it will be interesting to see how it compares. It is surely no coincidence that SW and MA have both decided to ditch metal at the same time, as they are big buddies.

The guy from earlier who I was watching as a fly on the wall would probably have written this, which I found on Amazon "I really hate to say it but this album is terrible. Why have they released this under the name Opeth?". Actually, no it isn't and why shouldn't they? For once, a band that gets lumped in as "progressive" has actually lived up to the label with this album, a brave move that will no doubt alienate their more rabid fans, but hopefully win just as many new admirers. It's where they go from here that will be the clincher.

3 out of 5 musically, 5 out of 5 for bravery!

Interview with Mike Sary of French TV

French TV is a great band from Louisville, Kentucky, USA, who have been dispensing their twisted brand of avant-jazz-prog since as far back as 1983, and I e-flurried (©Robert Fripp) with founder and leader Mike Sary to come up with this doggerel....

Roger: Hi Mike, and thanks for giving us your time for this chat. For those unfamiliar with French TV tell us a bit about the history of the band. 
Mike: We came, we saw, we forgot to conquer. Sorry to be so flippant, but we're talking 20+ years here!  
Roger: OK folks, just go buy the CDs here - - if you only buy one, get the 2CD version of FTV 10 - it really is good! See my review for more info.
Roger In those 20+ years French TV has released ten albums of massively complicated and at the same time hugely enjoyable music. Would I be right to assume a Zappa influence with a large helping of the more convoluted end of Canterbury prog, and possibly a soupcon of Gentle Giant with some European RIO thrown into the blender?  
Mike: Yeah, that about covers it, but I have to say I'm equally influenced by the more "traditional" prog bands like Yes, ELP, Crimson, etc, to say nothing of a lot of the 70s fusion bands, particularly Weather Report and Brand X, even if it's not so obvious in the writing.  
Roger: You’ve just reissued last year’s album I Forgive You All My Unhappiness with the great bonus disc Live At ProgDay 2009. Was this down to fans requesting more live recordings?  
Mike: Nah, I can't say we get much in the way of fan requests to begin with. It was more a matter of Mike Potter, the mastermind behind Baltimore's ORION STUDIOS, offering to record us [as well as the other bands playing ProgDay that year] using his mobile recording truck. I had worked with Mike before, and knew this would be recorded well, so I expected it would be good enough to put it out eventually. MALS RECORDS wanted to re-issue FTV10 and suggested bonus tracks to make it different, and I countered with including a live CD. 
Roger: Judging by the accompanying pictures, ProgDay 2009 looks like an idyllic setting. Where did this happening take place and was there a good party? 
Mike: In Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As for the party, it was okay, except for the part where I was trapped between two 70s rock trivia experts who spent the evening correcting each other. My head was about to explode, much to FTV drummer Jeff Gard's delight.  
Roger: Oh Gawd, that sounds lovely!
Roger: Your music, to the non-musician at least, sounds like it is rather complicated. How do you manage to reproduce it live, as I would imagine trying to remember all the twists and turns is no easy task. Is any of it scored or is it all in the head? And, I wonder if the band could play a 12 bar blues “straight” without veering off into another far more interesting universe?!

Mike: Drummer Jeff Gard and I devise the basic structures for the tunes, and I generally allow the other contributors a lot of leeway in coming up with parts that compliment whatever's going on in the tunes, although my preference is to be sitting with them coming up with parts. But for the last few years, I've had to work with long-distance collaborators, so I have to allow them some autonomy. I rarely, if ever, need notes or scores when I record my parts or perform live, but the others guys generally have to have some sort of notation. 

Roger: Do you hope to play outside of the USA any time soon? The UK beckons so yours truly (and my mate!) can finally get to see French TV. 

Mike: Nothing concrete yet, but it feels pretty inevitable. It helps to be invited to a larger-scale festival somewhere, then we can organize 5-10 dates surrounding that. I'm DYING to return to Europe! 

Roger: I’ve got this far without mentioning song titles, so what is your favourite make of bass guitar  (heheh)? 

Mike: Generally models I can't afford! My two main "problem-solvers" are a 5-string fretless Steinberger "Spirit", and a 5 string fretted Ernie Ball Music Man. Would dearly love to find a nice inexpensive Warwick P-Nut or Streamer, or a 4001 Rickenbacker [had one back in the day, but foolishly traded it away]! Or a Lakland...or a vintage Wal...or Alembic...or... 

Roger: OK then, let’s get it out of the way – You have mentioned to me before that the bane of reviews of French TV’s CDs are those that are so nonplussed by the music they spend most of the time musing on the origin of song titles like With Grim Determination, Terrell Dons The Bow Tie. Your song titles seem to this Brit to have a strong Zappa/Anglo influence. My favourite is 801’s “Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil”. Any that make you smile? 

Mike: Captain Beefheart titles: "Ashtray Heart", "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains". Lots of Zappa: "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" [if only for the sentiment], "Bamboozled By Love", "I'm a Beautiful Guy". But the undisputed king of song titles has to be the fellow from FOREVER EINSTEIN, with classics such as "It's A Good Thing I Don't Have Super Brain Powers Or You'd Be In A Thousand Little Pieces Right Now", "I Wish I Had Me Some Of Them Miracle Smart Pills", "With a Car Like That You Must Be Knee-Deep in Whores", "The Iron Boot of Stupidity Will March Across Your Face", and my all-time fav, "Hercules Pushes Giant Goats Over The Cliff And Watches As They Fall Into The Canyon Below". 

Roger: Haha! That guy should write a book! A sense of humour is an important part of life and obviously important to you, but why do you think most prog bands come over as po-faced and oh-so-serious, particularly it seems to me in the prog-metal fraternity? 

Mike: I wish I knew! But I blame Roger Waters and Pink Floyd. 

Roger: So do I! Is there anyone in the current prog scene that you are into? Another great and underrated American band that I love is NYC’s Frogg Café whose music has a similar feel to yours in places. Have you ever crossed paths? 

Mike: Guitarist Frank Camiola and I DO have a mutual admiration society. I remember in the "National Health Complete" booklet notes, Dave Stewart mentions that he, Mont Campbell, Alan Gowan, and Phil Miller were constantly trying to "out-complex" each other on the compositions, and if I were in a band with Frank, I suspect it would be a similar situation. Also met violinist Bill Ayasse at a festival once. Oh, and FTV10 keyboardist Steve Katsikas guests on the next Frogg Café cd!

As for other bands, there are TONS of them I love and many of whom I'm friends with (in fact, I have a section of our website devoted to recommendations): PANZERPAPPA,
does, DJAMRA, FORGAS BAND, GUAPO, KLOTET, PLANETA IMAGINARIO, UNDERGROUND "old-timers" like UNIVERS ZERO/PRESENT, MAGMA, HAMMILL/'s amazing that as shitty and unprofitable as the music biz is these days, there's an INCREDIBLE amount of quality music/bands plugging away.  
Roger: In my review of IFAMU/Live At ProgDay 2009 I made the observation that French TV seem so obscure that even a Chilean mountain rescue team may have difficulty locating them. Maybe an exaggeration I know, and a tad cheeky to boot, but as you have been going nearly 30 years, presumably this is a situation you’ve come to accept? 
Mike: I'm not sure whether it's acceptance or not, but I guess I regard it as living with some sort of disability-some combination of resignation and bitterness, and it's probably never going away. All you can do is hold onto the expectation for that moment when something magical pops out of your fingers in combination with other musicians having similar moments. 
Roger: What’s coming up for French TV gig-wise or recording-wise? 
Mike: Well, we've got a new keyboardist from Greece, and we're having quite a bit of fun improvising together as a trio. We have skeletons & frameworks of tunes for the next album, but trying to get the 3 of us together at the same time has been a pain. We DID play our first gig together about a month ago, with promising results-we'll see what happens 
Roger:  Finally a bit of levity – I hope you are a Monty Python fan (if you’re not then this question is pointless, and I pity you!), so which Python sketch would you have liked to appear in?

Mike: UPPER-CLASS TWIT OF THE YEAR!!! Also once dressed for an FTV Halloween gig as one of the Gumbys. Of course, the other members wimped out of dressing up for this particular gig, despite being thrilled at the prospect during rehearsal. 
Roger: Finally, finally a bit more levity – Do you know what Cricket is?

Mike: YES. Do I understand it? NO. Do I WANT to understand it? NO.

Roger: I have a similar view of American "Football" and Baseball! We can't go without mentioning food, so, a curry or a pasta dish? Washed down with a good beer or wine, or possibly a cup of tea?

Mike:  CURRY (Thai)! A nice Gang Keow Wan (eggplant + beef), with a bottle or two of WOODCHUCK DRAFT AMBER CIDER!

Roger: Good choice of grub there. Thanks again for your time Mike, and if you ever plan on coming to Europe, be sure to let me know.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sleepin Pillow - Superman's Blues

Sophomore albums come in four kinds, the first being those that are only a slight advancement on the first, and so a bit of a disappointment, those that are an almost mirror reflection of the first, and so tread water, those that sound rushed and as a result run out of ideas halfway through, and, rarest of all, those that make such a great stride forward that it takes the listener by surprise. Superman's Blues is such a beast as the latter, where the Greek acid rockers of the charming but obviously influenced Apples On An Orange Tree become a fully rounded group of their own making, taking those earlier influences and moulding them into their own complete sensory assault.

Darker and more mysterious than AOAOT, Superman's Blues is by turns brooding, triumphant, threatening, cynical and dreamy, taking the listener on a voyage through Sleepin Pillow's now own brand of progressive psychedelia.

The Superman of the title track is probably more Nietzsche's than Clark Kent's judging by the cynicism on display, "go and buy go and die, a million dollars in the sea"...boy he has got dem blues and bad! An Idiot's Point Of View is a highlight and might have been what mid period Porcupine Tree would have sounded like if they had let their psychedelic influences win over their love of metal. Some groovy synth work leads into understated riffage creating just the right amount of tension. An existentialist's trip through world weariness and paranoia, lines like "fear and hate products of propaganda, I was born and raised a child of mind control" say it all. Exuding a sparse beauty, the music and lyrics combine perfectly on such as Pathetic - "I forgive you, though I know you won't forgive me, I can recall what I gave you was pathetic", and I don't think he's talking about an unwanted Christmas present! This song and its companions combine to produce a melancholic but never morose piece of work that has an easy confidence and continuity within its CDs have grooves?...who cares!

The instrumentation has progressed from the first album, and now displays touches of electronica, in places feeling like a sort of Here Come The Warm Jets for the twenty first century, Anakrousis being a prime example, waltzing aliens would cut a rug to it. Things get further skewed on A Big Circle where a robotic voice reads off a list of seemingly unconnected lines over a backing consisting of morse code and a classical quartet. Very odd and great fun for the slightly deranged! Masterpiece contains the great line "she comes in reverb", and, maybe fittingly the final song Superman Singing The Blues is an instrumental.

A modern psychedelic triumph that is not a slave to its influences and a big stride forward from their first album, one wonders where they go from here. Me for one, I can't wait to find out!

1. Holy Monster (6:28)
2. Silicone (5:46)
3. Superman's Blues (3:28)
4. An Idiot's Point Of View (6:07)
5. Pathetic (6:37)
6. Dope (6:35)
7. Home (2:32)
8. Anakrousis (5:35)
9. A Big Circle (2:27)
10. Masterpiece (4:57)
11. Simple Words Of Truth (3:04)
12. Superman Singing The Blues (5:19)

Total Time: 58:56

Line up:

- Nomik / voices
- Aisha Sama / bass
- Rispa / guitars
- Antoine / keyboards and guitars
- Nick Jacqueline / wind pipes and percussion
- The Skinman / drums


4 out of 5

Kwoon - The Guillotine Show

Kwoon, a rather fine French combo, first came to my attention thanks to my good mate Phill and I was especially intrigued by their quirky video for the splendid left-field pop song I Lived On The Moon. Now, with two well received albums behind them, comes this EP, released on 6th October, six tracks clocking in at just under half an hour.

The sound they make has a distinctive European feel, and the first song and title track The Guillotine Show opens with the tolling of a bell, the song making a spooky entrance in a waltz time, unfocused atmospheric vocals adding just the right amount of mystique to a Gothic tune.

Wark continues the Gothic feel, slow building keyboards backing mysterious vocals, the mystery added to by Sandy's accent making the English vocals sometimes hard to decipher, but this only adds to the atmosphere. Us Anglo types are suckers for a Gallic tinged vocal after all! The song eventually builds to a wonderful classic post-rock layered guitar assault.

Following song The Last Trip Of A Drunken Man (great title!) is an almost straight acoustic number, and you can just about make out the group through swirls of imagined languid cigarette smoke. The band show an increased maturity on the EP, and the songs exude a burgeoning confidence, a swagger exemplified by the intro to the anthemic Emily Was A Queen which one can imagine going down a storm in a live setting. A thunderous bass guitar underpins the latter half of Bird, which begins in a style not far removed from Deserter's Songs period Mercury Rev, and the EP ends with an acoustic version of the marvellous I Lived On The Moon, all introspective chords, delicate harmonies and haunting cello.

A strong collection of songs by a band going from strength to strength, and a great introduction if you've not come across them before.

The band are on tour from the  October 10th, playing all over Europe. If there's any tickets left, they are playing at the Barfly in London on November 1st, a date I'm sad to miss, having a full gig diary around that time. Oh well, definitely next time!


1. The Guillotine Show
2. Wark
3. The Last Trip Of A Drunken Man
4. Emily Was A Queen
5. Bird
6. I Lived On The Moon (acoustic remix remastered version)

Total Time: 27 minutes approx

Line up:

Lyrics & music by Sandy Lavallart

Sandy Lavallart : Guitars / Vocals 
Guillaume Pintout : Guitars
Yoann Lamouroux : Bass
Pierre Michel : Drums / Rhodes/B3


4 out of 5

Friday, 23 September 2011

Sleepin Pillow - Apples On An Orange Tree

Sleepin Pillow, a Greek psych band with a big expansive sound crashed through the headphones with this, their first album released in 2008. Aiming to create "modern psychedelic rock blended with Greek and Eastern traditional music, with English lyrics", this they do with a certain amount of style.

They possess a sound that is all indie rock and spaciness, while eastern strings conjure desert vistas. "There's an amplifier in my heart, feeds an ancient fire in my heart" as it should. A lot of modern psych takes early Black Sabbath as its template and seems to come from a heavy metal place rather than what to this mind is the true source of psych rock, as exemplified by this group. More predicated on English indie, with the bass sound in particular reminiscent of early Cure, combined with a healthy early Floyd presence, and with more than a smidgeon of 13th Floor Elevators to add to the potent brew, this group tick all the right psych boxes for me.

Drug is suitably woozy, and Motherhood has a spooky vibe that along with Winter Dreams forms the high point of the album to these ears, the latter combining those Eastern strings again, with synth swoops and percussion creating a suitable backdrop for the`dreamy and breathy vocals. Throughout its seven and a half minutes Winter Dreams takes you somewhere else, and given the conditions in modern day Greece it's no wonder the band want to transport themselves and the listener to a Utopian idyll. Gorgeous!

"You ain't gonna go far" & "You're the son of a gun", our protagonist is the Apple On An Orange Tree of the title track, an ode to the perennial outsider, a rock'n'roll staple declaimed over a rousing coda, given that extra edge by the occasional and mournful strings. Slow builder Once heads for Secret Machines territory and is the most straight thing here. not to say it is bad, it isn't, but it is not the best fit with the rest of the album. The last two tracks, the lovely mainly acoustic and fuzzy round the edges Spell, followed by the very odd Hail Messiah form a fitting end to an interesting and engaging debut album.

Commercial enough to sell, strange enough to appeal, Sleepin Pillow have delivered a fine piece of work. The album is very well produced and the sound is as clear as a bell throughout. Some nice original ideas combine with traditional Greek inspiration, an obvious love of English indie music, and psychedelia from all over the place to produce a likeable debut from the six piece from Thessaloniki. Right, now I've got to sit down and listen to the follow up, 2010's Superman's this space...inner and outer...

1. Instrument Of Time (4:20)
2. The Black Sea (4:44)
3. Amplifier In My Heart (5:13)
4. Drop The Mask (5:26)
5. Drug (5:03)
6. Motherhood (4:44)
7. Winter Dreams (7:32)
8. The Light Is Real (4:28)
9. Rise (4:31)
10. Apples On An Orange Tree (4:35)
11. Once (9:07)
12. A Thousand Times To Spell (5:56)
13. Hail Messiah (5:06)

Total Time:70:45

Line up:

- Nomik / voices
- Aisha Sama / bass
- Rispa / guitars
- Antoine / keyboards and guitars
- Nick Jacqueline / wind pipes and percussion
- The Skinman / drums


3 out of 5

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The End Of The Road Festival - September 2/3/4 2011

We passed a pile of rocks on the way..
Located in Larmer Tree Gardens roughly midway between Shaftesbury and Salisbury and just inside Dorset, the End Of The Road Festival is a mid-sized event with a crowd of probably around 20 or 30 thousand (don't quote me, I'm hopeless at judging crowd sizes!), and is  now in its sixth year, and until about two months ago was a complete unknown to yours truly. A well kept secret is now out, and a charming thing it is too.
Happy campers!

The weather in the week before had seen grey skies and plummeting temperatures, so I was more than pleasantly surprised to awake to find Thursday morning warm and sunny - a perfect early September day in fact. With my fellow campers, Russ and Derrick we arrive after a three hour trip on a sunny and warm afternoon, pitch the tents, an act which fellow tentees Russ and Derrick did in about ten minutes, me in about twenty after some cursing, as I'm a bit rusty in matters tent pole related.

Thursday evening was spent on a food and beer search. I have to say things on the catering front have improved no end since the last time I went to a three day festival, the grub on offer was all wonderful and covered every sort of cuisine. Humungous chicken kebabs with loads of salad, really funky veggie curries, a choice of three or five dishes on one platter, real pizzas, all day breakfasts with black pudding no less, homemade burgers & chips, North African delights, falafels, burritos, etc etc, and not a soggy noodle in sight! As for the beer, it was a bit in short supply on Thursday night as everything was still getting up and running, but there were several real ales on offer throughout the festival proper, Goddards Ale of Wight, Shepherd Neame Late Red, Milk Street Funky Monkey, Wellbeck Henrietta being staples of mine while there.

There were three main stages, a smaller stage under canvas, an outdoor comedy stage, a disco area in a forest, and we even had access to the gardens which were an idyllic retreat from the crowds when required.

Friday morning sees the sun blazing down as the trailer for a scorching day, good job I packed the axle grease. The festival was sponsored by Rough Trade and roughly a third of the acts were from that stable. The first act seen was the Secret Sisters on the idyllic Garden Stage, who eased us gently into the scene with some down home country, including covers of George Jones and Patsy Cline tunes. Not my normal musical entreé but it worked well in the sunny garden setting. After ambling across to the main stage aka Woods Stage, we encountered Californian act The Growlers who made a good fist of acid blues reminiscent of The Doors and pre-weird Beefheart. Next up was Best Coast, saccharine pop delivered with an American slouch. On record this lot remind you of every girl fronted Yankee pop combo you can think of. going as far back as the Shangri-Las. It didn't hold my attention I'm afraid, so I wandered over to the Big Top Stage, which as its name suggests was a marquee and proved to be the home of the noisier acts of the festival. upon arriving I was confronted, and that is the right word, by the remarkable noise of Drum Eyes, wherein a kind of collision between post-rock, Fuck Buttons and Krautrock was underway, a truly fabulous racket. Apparently they feature a chap called DJ Scotch Egg, so there!

Back In Judy's Jungle...
An enticing prospect was the alluringly named Cambodian Space Project in the Tipi Tent Stage, who it turned out were little more than an Australian bar band with a penchant for 60s acid rock fronted by an angelically tonsilled Cambodian girl who it seems the band had rescued from a life of poverty. Her no doubt moving lyrics were sung in her lilting native tongue over the 60s garage band stylings of the band. A worthy if somewhat disappointing combination

After a brief rest back at Hotel Tentpole it's back to the fray and Health in the Big Top, who made an amateurish fist of noisecore that was a bit humourless and all over the shop. Lykke Li back on the Woods Stage proved just how diverse and interesting the sprawling Scandinavian music scene is with her (their?) percussive goth-pop.

Oi, Smith, yer miserable bugger!
At this point in the proceedings I went my own way from Russ & Dek who stayed on at the Woods Stage to watch Beirut, but there was no way I was going to miss an appearance by King Grouch and his latest bunch of slaves, otherwise known as The Fall. Everything changes and yet always remains the same with this band. On they saunter and launch into a typical Fall riff for a few minutes, and as expected on shambles Mark E Smith, who launches into one of his impenetrable rants. Stern faced and not speaking to the crowd, Smith led his miserable charges through chunks of the latest album, and mucked about with the settings of his guitarists' amplifiers, a trait that must be a nightmare for the players and the guy behind the mixing desk. His wife on primitive synth squiggles played the entire gig with a bag slung across her shoulders and looked for every inch as if she had just been shopping at Tescos. At the end, Smith exits first and unseen orders his charges off the stage leaving just the drummer. The poor sod had the temerity to stop playing before Smith was ready and he was ordered back to his stool for a cursory final drum roll. He did not look best pleased.

Mr & Mrs Smith make noise
By the end the audience was about half the size of that which started watching the set, leaving only the real aficionados behind. That's the thing with this band, you love 'em or hate 'em, there ain't no "they're ok" with this lot. You might think from what I'm saying that I thought it was rubbish, and it was, which is also why it was marvellous! A bloke next to me, obviously of the same vintage as moi, asked me if "...that was the same Mark E Smith from the 70s wasn't it?" "Certainly was" sez I "He ain't changed much has he? A bit fatter maybe" and that just about sums up The Fall.

New band discovered - Drum Eyes
Highlight - The Fall
Eats - Full English breakfast, Chicken kebab with tons of salad, and later some chips.
Drink - Sensible 
Weather - Scorchio (sunburned leg to prove it)

England's glory..
Saturday early morning, it was breezy and cloudy, but dry. After yesterday's heat and the discovery of a patch of sunburn on one of my legs a welcome relief indeed. After breakfast we took a quick stroll in the surrounding countryside, something you are rarely free to do at other festivals.

The music starts, as Friday, at the Garden Stage with Beth Jeans Houghton a diminutive charming Geordie folk singer, another perfect start. Wandering over to the Big Top for the catchily named Allo Darlin' who after overcoming initial nerves in front of probably the biggest sea of faces they had ever played for, triumphed with their charmingly twee indie pop to an appreciative large crowd.

Serious stuff, they're sitting down!
Next up, still in the Big Top were the highly atmospheric Timber Timbre from Canada, whose Tindersticks-like soundscapes built on layered guitars, violin, cello, autoharp all through sundry effects pedals were highly charged and evocative. A previously unknown quantity to me, these deserve further investigation.

A late lunch with a simply delicious pizza was followed by Bob Log III on the Woods Stage. Russ knew a bit about this guy and the premise of black country blues sung by a white guy hiding under a glittering helmet turned out to be...Son of Seasick Steve. The novelty wore off fairly quickly, a quick snooze back at Tentpole Manors was called for. Back to the Woods Stage for Gruff Rhys who continue the tradition of pastoral Welsh psychedelia with aplomb.

Hunted, like freaks..
Then it's back over to the Big Top for the Nuggets style Texas acid rock of The Black Angels. Loud, sprawling and necessary. My headliners of choice were the masters, if not instigators, of quiet-LOUD-quieter-LOUDER post-rockisms, Glaswegians Mogwai. I've never warmed to their albums, as I find their music predictable and dull, but live the dynamics come over far better and they proved worthy headliners. The penultimate number actually had a guest vocalist and it was upbeat too! Wonders will never cease.

New band discovered - Timber Timbre
Highlight - The Black Angels
Eats - Breakfast sausage bap, Classic pizza with rocket, and later a very tasty multi-dish veggie curry.
Drink - Eight pints of various decent real ales. 
Weather - Mainly cloudy, but dry.

I was woken at about sunrise (about 6am) by the sound of rain hammering down on the tent, but it was over fairly quickly. By the time we crawled out from under canvas it was a windy day, some sunshine. I was soon to feel the effects of last night's curry, and despite what you may have heard about festival loos, these were ok. Just as well really!

Again the Garden Stage was the starting point, with Lightning Dust offering up their intriguing gothic folk. Apparently they are the sister project of "Zeppelin-esque rockers Black Mountain" who may well be worth investigating.

Shoegaze lives!
Next up in the Big Top were the compelling Lanterns On The Lake who build songs around dream-like sequences of lush instrumentation, all shoegazey and ethereal, and very nice indeed.

Tinariwen -Luckily the last pic from my rubbish mobile phone!
Willie Mason next on the Woods Stage, and old-time country rock is the dish. Following this were the Tuareg sounds of Tinariwen, a name I find difficult to say without tripping over my tongue for some reason, whose Malian desert blues fitted the occasion perfectly. After some grub, we return to the Woods Stage for Laura Marling, a woman wise beyond her tender years if her songwriting is anything to go by. I love her songs, but she struggled to project them over such a large space, which was a pity.

Following Russ & Derrick's recommendation I went with them to the Garden Stage for Josh T Pearson but unfortunately the heavens opened not five minutes into his set, so I hightailed it the Big Top to avoid the storm, where I caught the retro-indie of Americans Wild Nothing who dispense a heavily New Order and early Cure influenced sound with ease. I found it a bit too regressive, but the audience seemed to enjoy it. Poking my head out into the grey yonder, the rain had slowed to a trickle so I sauntered over to the Woods Stage where Midlake were midway (hurrhurr) through their set. At the end of last year I bought their critically lauded The Courage Of Others album on spec and was somewhat disappointed by it, for although it has some fine songs it comes across as one-paced, and lacks any light and shade. It is remarkable that it takes four guitars, keyboards, bass and drums to produce this, and live although better it still seems one dimensional.

The rain got heavier while Midlake were on, so, it's back to the Big Top for Brakes, a highly entertaining band from Stroud of all places. They got the place dancing and jumping with their infectious punky-pop, interspersed with some pointed humorous digs made at American foreign policy, and environmental campaigners. Funniest was the singer's line "I hear (Dick) Cheney's got a book out. We've written this song in tribute"....1-2-3-4 CHENEYISACUNT (to extra fast syncopated guitar). Maybe you had to be there, but it made us laugh!

Not fancying standing in the rain to watch the warblings of harpist Joanna Newsom who closed the festival, I returned to the tent for an early night ready for an early start on the homeward journey on Monday morning.

New band discovered - Lanterns On The Lake
Highlight - Brakes
Eats - Breakfast bacon roll, maple and banana pancake, large chunk of homemade carrot cake.
Drink - Hardly at all. 
Weather - Alternate sunshine and cloudy, rain later.

The End Of The Road Festival is a charming festival with an eclectic and varied bill, set in idyllic surroundings with a laid-back vibe. Well worth it!

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