Sunday, 20 December 2015

2015 - A Year In Review

Another year passes; a year of turmoil and tragedy, where as ever the poor are made to pay for the greed of the 1% in an ideologically driven fatwah in the name of capital. Still, there's always music, eh? Looking at last year's lists, it seems 2015 overall has not quite hit those high standards, but there has still been a veritable small hillock of commendable releases, and here I will scratch at the surface with my annual roundup.

Again for your delight I have put together a Spotify playlist, where the relevant release can be found in that digital Fagin's lair of goodies pilfered from the struggling artist...or summat. There will be other links in the main body for those artists who either eschew or have no truck with the miserly streaming beastie. So, sit back and light a big one, boil some sprouts, chase a reindeer, whatever floats yer bauble, and plow your way through this little lot...

Album titles link to reviews, * = my personal highlights

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Vestigium

Julie Tippetts, long-time jazz songstress, initially famous for her association with Brian Auger in the 1960s, and Martin Archer, a multi-talented independent Sheffield-based progressive musical adventurer, continue their partnership with Vestigium, their fourth album to date, further extending their highly individual exploration of the songform.

Troyka - Ornithophobia
You are as likely to find obscure electronica dance music references in Ornithophobia as you are blues licks, jazzy time signatures and Aphex Twin rhythms. A marvellous genre mash-up!

Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble - Not Dark Yet

Heavy metal played by a jazz big works!

The Unthanks - Mount The Air

Northern folk miserablism never sounded so classy...'appen.

Akku Quintet - Molecules
Hypnotic minimalistic jazz groove from Switzerland.

*Bob Dylan - Shadows In The Night

The Zim turns crooner, covering early Sinatra tunes with an effortless panache. To say his singing which has always been, shall we say, idiosyncratic, isn't the best on this album is stating the obvious, but some folk saying he is out of tune are way wide of the mark and they have obviously never had to sit through entire albums' worth of dreadful vocals in the modern progwelt! Have a look at Amazon for a clear divide of opinion. There is a strange naive charm to this record which appeals, in direct contrast to its creator's worldwearily gnarled outlook, and personally I reckon this is marvellous stuff!

*Karda Estra - Strange Relations
An album of extraordinary beauty and depth.

*Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Beautiful and heartbreaking, the story of Stevens' fractured realtionship with his mother. It doesn't get more personal than this.

*Mollmaskin - Heartbreak In ((Stereo))

The prolific Rhys Marsh under his band guise turns out a sumptuous suite of dark and  beguiling folk-prog-Gothic campfire songs for wood trolls.

*Julian Julien - Terre II
Samples on website
European arthouse jazz exotica. Nice!

Schnellertollermeier - X

A marvellously uncompromising racket, and all the better for it, too!

King Crimson - Live at The Orpheum
They might be playing old songs on this teaser from the current three drummer line-up's world tour, but unlike most other bands from the original era who are still functioning, King Crimson continue to reinvent their sound and never stand still. Phenomenal!

Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase.

I've had a strange relationship with this, the fourth solo album from the Hardest Working Man In Showbiz. My initial thoughts expresssed in the review were lukewarm, and since then it has grown on me to the point where sometimes I consider it to be the dog's testicles. I say "sometimes", for the other side of the coin is that occasionally I also find it too slick by half and as cold as a fish. However, it is worth the price of admission for the pairing of Home Invasion/Regret #9, which I will now gladly concede are probably THE best 11 minutes of"rock" this year.

Van der Graaf Generator - Merlin Atmos
Fantastic document of the last tour, Plague getting a live premiere. Classy, even though they do unquestionably miss Jaxon. With Crim, the only original prog band who still cut the mustard.

*Bill Fay - Who Is The Sender?
Thirteen songs of wonderment from reinvigorated early 70s cult songwriter

*Jack O'The Clock - Outsider Songs

A quietly strange album of covers from this fine and quirky band.

Trey Gunn - The Waters, They Are Rising

The master of touch guitar with a beautifully crafted ambient album themed around improvisations previously used as intros to the song "Here Comes The Flood".

Ciccada - The Finest of Miracles
Along with Anekdoten, the "proggiest" thing here, and there's nowt wrong with that!

O.R.k. - Inflamed Rides
Heavy and dangerous, like an anvil tumbling down a flight of stairs.

Metallic Taste Of Blood - Doctoring The Dead
MBV meet System Of A Down and whack each other senseless.

*Alco Frisbass - Alco Frisbass
Charming modern Canterbury sounds, from Italy, natch...

Soft Machine - Switzerland 1974

Live document of my favourite Softs line up. Holdsworth is on fire!

*Gavin Harrison - Cheating The Polygraph

Porcupine Tree songs done in a jazz big band style! This works, too :)

*Anekdoten - Until The Ghosts Are Gone
Triumphal return for the Swedish retro-prog masters who now simply sound like Anekdoten. A masterful album. Do I make another plea for that elusive gig in the UK? Oh...I just did. :)

*The Tea Club - Grappling
Consummate modern eclectic prog from a band who keep getting better. Read Raff's review for an insightful analysis of their fine old racket!

Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean The World
Another winner from the champion of doomed romance.

Gizmo - Marlowe's Children Part One
Fine storytelling from sadly obscure Canterbury band. Scribbles in the pipeline...

The Nerve Institute - Fictions
Marvellously intricate derring-do from the one man band and cultural polymath Mike Judge. If this is a "bedroom album", then this is the benchmark to aspire to.

Tom Slatter - Fit The Fourth

Variously described as "steampunk prog" and "barking mad", another one-man band that shows how it's done.

Not A Good Sign - From A Distance
Maybe not quite up to the exacting standards set by their debut album, but nonetheless a classy work of accessible and interesting modern progressive rock.

Taylor's Universe - From Scratch

If you thought there was nothing new to be done with fusion, think again.

Ghost Rhythms - Madeleine
...much the same could be said of this fine album, too. French, and brimful of je ne sais quoi.

KoMaRa - KoMaRa
Deathly, atramentous, and disturbing. Yowzah!

*Guapo - Obscure Knowledge
The heaviest thing in the universe. Listening to and watching this at nerve-wrecking volume live was akin to a religious experience. Possibly my album of the year...possibly.

David Cross & Robert Fripp - Starless Starlight
Elegiac and shimmering, this is probably the most perfect ambient album of 2015. A thing of rare beauty.

*William D Drake - Revere Reach
Oddness that could only be English. Jez explains in his erudite review.

Theo Travis' Double Talk - Transgression
Fantastic tuneage from the King of Reeds!

*Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs

They're not, at all. The 21st century answer to Todd Rundgren records an album in typically obtuse fashion. It has a huge but odd dynamic range, with lots of bottom and top end, but hardly any middle. It actually sounds great, contrary to some cloth-eared opinionating on Amazon. The songs are wonderful, by the way.

*Echolyn - I Heard You Listening
This is prog, and I like it. There's a surprise for you... :)

King Crimson - 2015 Tour Box
This is progressive music, and I like it. That is no surprise, at all.

Jumble Hole Clough - A List Of Things That Never Happened

The Hebden Bridge Massive continue to cut rugs in their inimitable style. Sparse funk zips though the cosmos with Talking Heads piloting a ship crewed by Smokin' Venusian Dancing Chimps. Educational too...I never knew beforehand that "bathysiderodromophobia" is a fear of subways!

Louis De Mieulle - stars, plants & bugs

Another nice twist on fusion from another must be something in the water.

*Rêve Général - Howl
Chamber rock to a surreal and dreamlike narrative.

*Loomings - Everyday Mythology
Spellbinding and complex, fun and full of unexpected twists and turns. This and Rêve Général currently in process as far as scribbling goes...

*Sonar - Black Light

Hypnotic math-rock...If Guapo is the rebellious and noisy son, then Sonar is the studied calmness of the father “tut-tutting” in the corner, with a hint of pride.

Thieves' Kitchen - The Clockwork Universe

Absorbing and clever modern prog that doesn't fall back on obvious tropes...well, it wouldn't be here if it did, would it?

Unit Wail - Beyond Space Edges
Where spacerock meets avant rock at the bar, gets drunk and falls over, arhythmically.

*Ángel Ontalva - Tierra Quemada

Anyone familiar with Ángel's work with October Equus or as a solo artist will know what to expect. A bit of a treat...listen to the link!

Necromonkey - Show Me Where It Hertz

Driving Krautrock-inspired synthrock is a description that only scratches the surface. Marvellous album!


Well, that's your lot. There are some albums I have in the "to do" pile still in their shrinkwraps, and if they pass muster I will endeavour to include them in the "Ones That Got Away" section next year.

Here are some other bits and bobs...

Best archival release - Van der Graaf Generator - After The Flood - Van der Graaf Generator At The BBC 1968-1977

One That Got Away - Bent Knee - Shiny Eyed Babies
Released in November 2014 and completely missed by me last year, this album is so good I cannot allow it to pass unmentioned.  This great band have now found an appropriately eclectic home at Cuneiform Records, the future looks bright!

Another One That (Almost) Got Away - Peter Hammill - ...all that might have been
Released at the fag end of 2014, it just crept in to my list of that year, but some scribes are including it in their 2015 lists. Hammill's most perfectly executed long song format since Gog/Magog is well worth another mention here.

Gig of the Year - Magma, Cadogan Halls, London, 8th May 2015

Somehow, I find time to read books. Although this weighty tome came out in 2014, as it was an Xmas present I only got round to reading it this year, so a mention for Future Days - Krautrock And The Building Of Modern Germany, by David Stubbs. If you enjoyed Julian Cope's pocket guidebook Krautrocksampler to this fascinating cultural backwater and want to know more, this is the book for you. Incredibly well researched, this book not only has sections on all the major players, but puts it all into a social and historical context. A great read!

Finally, things I do not understand...

Snarky Puppy...incredible musicians playing jazz-fusion? I should love it, lots of folk do. Nope, it passes me by I'm afraid.

Star Wars...shut up, already...


That's it for another year, folks. Thanks for reading, have a fab Festive Season, and we'll meet up on the other side. Cheers! :)

Best of Years Gone By...

Monday, 30 November 2015

The MOJO CD - 2015

1. Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best 
First up, someone I've never heard of, old fart that I am. Ms Barnett chanels Elastica chaneling Wire. Enjoyable enough, with lots of punky pizzazz, unremarkable but for Courtney's declamatory vocals.

2. Sleater-Kinney - Bury Our Friends
So, this is what Sleater-Kinney sound like. From The Libertines school but less messy, just. Gets by on pure charm.

3. New Order - Restless
Like Sleater-Kinney, another band with a comeback album out this year. New Order had their moments for me, but quickly became formulaic. They now have a replacement doing a wan impersonation of Hooky, and it sounds like it always sounded like. All rather predicatable.

4. Songhoy Blues - Soubour
A great band from Mali, a place that seems to be the current centre for interesting African music. A beguiling mix of African blues, rock'n'roll and punky energy. Championed by Damon Albarn, the Blur frontman knows a good thing when he hears it, obviously.

5. Gaz Coombes - 20/20
Some really nice modern pop from the Supergrass frontman taken from his highly acclaimed  Matador album. If I was not up to my eyes in reviews to do, I might have bought this.

6. Bill Ryder-Jones - Two To Birkenhead
This could easily have come out in 1978, a mix of Nikki Sudden & The Jacobites louche indie rock meets Neil Young moves, and Wreckless Eric's failed romantic bittersweet swagger. It seems prog is not the only genre to be stuck on past glories.

7. Jim O'Rourke - Last Year
From the musical polymath's marvellous Simple Songs album, the only release on this compilation I already own. It's not simple, at all, but it certainly is a song, and a bloody good one too.

8. John Grant - Down Here
I quite like this guy, he writes some good songs, mostly bitching about broken relationships. If you get too close to him and it goes wrong, he'll almost certainly tear you apart in song. Here, he sounds like late 70s Bowie, and there are worse things to ape.

9. Matthew E. White - Rock & Roll Is Cold
Very Velvets/Lou Reed. There is nothing new under the sun. Apparently it's meant to be knowing, which kills it for me, but probably an unfair way to judge the previously unheard.

10. Sufjan Stevens - Should Have Known Better
I have a couple of albums by this highly individual and remarkable talent. Classy modern folk-pop Americana...sort of. Very nice indeed, and the best track so far on this rather average compilation.

11. Father John Misty - Bored In The USA
The wonderfully acerbic Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman, ex of Fleet Foxes) here takes on American consumerism and religion. Is there actually a difference, one wonders? A sad Nick Drake-meets-Randy Newman ballad in melancholic reply to Springsteen's tub-thumping similarly titled anthem, countered by biting lyrics..."Save me, President Jesus, I'm bored in the USA". Marvellous! I might have to buy this album.

12. Low - What Part Of Me
This band have been around for a long time. Over twenty years in fact, and are now up to their eleventh album. And I know nothing about them. This is a short, classy, effortless and oddly upbeat yet slighly miserablist anthem, which if I guess right is what they're known for. Can't say it makes want to delve deeper.

13. Julia Holter - Feel You
The album this is lifted from is MOJO's choice for Album Of The Year. This is pleasant enough, a piece of lightly orchestrated intelligent pop. One track out of context is not enough to go on, but it sounds promising.

14. Joanna Newsome - Leaving The City
Joanna Newsome's elfin warblings invite inevitable comparisons to a young Ms Bush, and so does the structure of this song. I saw Joanna live a few years ago at a festival where her lone presence on stage was dwarfed by her harp as she struggled to make an impression on the huddled masses in the field in front of her, later made all the more difficult by a persistent rain shower, when I and many others drifted back to our tents. Judging by this intimate slice of cleverly instrumented escapism, I may have to investigate further.

15. Jason Isbell - If It Takes A Lifetime
"We have both types of music here, country AND western". Jason does country rock. Not for me.

As ever, a mixed bag, and you can check out MOJO's full list HERE. Obviously, some truly innovative releases have been left out completely, but this mag, jointly with Uncut are the two best mainstream music monthlies (extra helping of aliteration, there!) by a country or indeed, urban mile.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

frostlake - White Moon, Black Moon

Martin Archer's Sheffield-based Discus Records is a home for the wilfully strange, and the occasionally unfathomable, but with frostlake the label presents its most conventional face yet. frostlake - the lower case "f" is deliberate - is a mysterious pagan goddess who weaves hymns to winter spun from the crystalline mists of the dark months on her debut album White Moon, Black Moon. She is also a member of Discus acts Juxtavoices, and Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, the former an enticing "anti-choir", the latter a magnificent improvising cosmic rock beast. On her solo album and left to its own devices her muse crafts delicate but dense psych-folk, in so doing highlighting her many and varied talents, showing that she is not content to be pigeonholed into one genre.

This introspective and beautiful album stirs into life with Black Winter swooping across the still land, a song sung from the perspective of a bird in flight, frostlake's picked guitar and echoey atmosphere forming the background for Nigel Manning's flute which becomes the airborne avian, carried aloft on frostlake's multi-tracked harmonic choir. The restless protagonist of No Looking Back seeks escape, driving her car far beyond the originally intended destination to "...leave this madness behind, follow a road that has clearer signs". Haven't we all thought that way at one time or another?

The muffled stillness of snowfall, the contemplative effects of moonlight in a dark room, the hypnotic power of Dark Winds made moan, all this and more marries the natural phenomena of the dark months with its power to turn us towards the introspective side of our psyches. The warmth of this record is an aural equivalent of curling up by a roaring fire while outside one of those strangely calm winter snowstorms blankets everything in white inertia.

In addition to painting the eternal English winter canvas, there are human songs in here, too. Connection bemoans the surplus nervous chit chat that fills all the gaps, because there's nothing to say, really, no common ground. Judicious use of a chorus pedal on the electric guitar and minimal Korg piano combine to produce a forlorn atmosphere redolent of Nick Drake.

Quiet Storm is a tale of darkness rising, like a river soon to burst its banks, with subtle use of accordion and field recording over the plucked strings, painting a melancholy picture.The never ending wet grey of English winter is perfectly described in Endless Rain, frostlake gently bemoaning "Where do birds go to hide from rain, think I'll join them in their waiting game", while cyclical arpeggios gently tinkle away, and the subtle addition of clarinet in counter melody is a nice touch.

Sombre while simultaneously radiating warmth, White Moon, Black Moon has proved a timely, reflective, and spiritually cleansing soundtrack after the recent horrific events. It reminds me that those of us with a soul and a culture to cherish and respect will always triumph over the indoctrinated and spiritually bereft who through their misguided acts of pure evil would do us harm.

1. Black Winter (4:32)
2. No Looking Back (3:58)
3. Snowlight (3:29)
4. Falling Through Shadows (3:33)
5. Dark Winds (4:09)
6. Connection (4:12)
7. Night Watch (3:34)
8. Quiet Storm (5:36)
9. Endless Rain (4:34)
10. Thin Red Line (5:06)
11. Spring Call (4:22)
12. White Moon, Black Moon (4:25)

Total running time - 51:27

Line up:
frostlake - vocals, guitars, electronics, viola, wave drum, Korg synth, accordion, electric piano, field recording, E-bow

Terry Todd - acoustic bass guitar, slide guitar
Andy Peake - Korg synth, Korg piano
Steve Dinsdale - drums
Nigel Manning - flute
Charlie Collins - percussion
Mick Somerset - bass clarinet, bass recorder, bass flute, percussion
Martin Archer- glockenspiel, shaker, clarinets

Discus Records

Facebook - frostlake

Facebook - Discus Records

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Buzzcocks - The Roadmender, Northampton, 21st November 2015

Sometimes it is a good idea to leave the serious stuff behind, cease being over-analytical, and simply let your hair down - purely metaphorically in my case, you understand - and have a good time. Such was my approach to an evening of arthritic rug-cutting at Northampton's primary scuzzy music venue last night. Well if truth be told The Roadmender is, and has been since the mid 1980s, Shoesville's only dedicated music venue outside of the pub circuit, a sad state of affairs for the third biggest town by population in the country.

Anyway, after a curry and later a pint of sublime ale by the name of Release The Chimps, me and my mate enter the hallowed dimly lit halls of said venue, to find it packed to its 300ish capacity. I was expecting the audience to be entirely populated by fifty-somethings putting out collective backs attempting to pogo, but thankfully I was wrong, as the crowd was a nice mix of ages right down to teens, who seemed to know all the hits. The sight of an otherwise unremarkably attired fellow fifty-something bloke wearing a shiny new dog collar did make me smile, though!

At 9pm Buzzcocks saunter on to the stage to a rowdy reception. The only original members of the poptastic punk foursome present are Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. Considering they are the same age, with a mere 20 days separating their 1955 birth dates, two more different approaches to stagecraft you could not begin to imagine. Steve Diggle is permanently "Sixteen Again", consumed by a frightening level of energy, and obviously loves every second in the limelight as he bounces around the stage like an over-enthusiastic puppy making rock god moves and posing with his guitar, but in a purely joyous rather than studied fashion. Meanwhile looking across at his compadre stands the diminutive grey-bearded figure of Pete Shelley, every inch the kindly but world-weary retired social worker, who gives the impression of being Steve's benevolent but slightly exasperated uncle, putting up with his "nephew's" capers with a "here he goes again" expression on his careworn fizzog.

Buzzcocks have cemented their place in pop history for a succession of short sweet blasts of perfect pop punk, nine singles released between November 1977 and September 1979 that chronicled teenage angst and frustration better than any other band of their generation. All but one were penned by Shelley, whose sharp wit and wordplay married to the band's razor-sharp punky pop sensibilites made for singles that only the cloth-eared could fail to appreciate, punk fans or nay. As a result this gig despite obstensibly promoting Buzzcock's ninth studio album The Way was for the majority of audience, me included, an unashamed nostalgia fest.

Opening with the punk manifesto that is Boredom, released in January 1977 back when Howard Devoto was still in the band was a smart move. The cynical indifference of Devoto's lyric fits as a perfect counter to the energetic charge of the tune, and we're off, on a night of relentless and FUCKING LOUD punky rebel rousing. The guy behind the mixing desk seemed to find 11 with each slider almost from the first note, and left them there. This gave Diggle's nasal bark, thankfully only featured as lead vocal on a handful of songs a literally teeth-rattling quality, if "quality" is the right word. Painful it certainly was!

After that storming start, a shaky part of the set, starting with a ramshackle and a shall we say "rhythmically challenged" Automony was eventually corrected by a cracking Whatever Happened To?, and normal service was resumed. One of the songs from current album The Way sounded like Green Day, which when you think about it is doubly ironic!

Steve Diggle also gets to showcase his plank spanking abilities with a no doubt brief but in the context of the night, a seemingly long feedback drenched two note solo, possibly during Nothing Left, displaying the punk ethos that anyone can get up there and do it, to the nth degree. What he sorely lacks in technical ability he more than makes up for with over the top boyish enthusiasm, utterly at odds with his 60-year old frame. I'll bet he ached this morning!

Played in succession it becomes apparent how many of those great singles had singalong football terrace "whoa-ohs" in the choruses, which made for a great live atmosphere, and plenty of hoarse voices on the way home, no doubt. The encore ended with the last Devoto penned lyric, the acerbic wanking anthem Orgasm Addict, as far as I am aware one of only two hits in the history of the UK charts dedicated to the onanistic arts. The audience left...err...sated.

Set list:
Fast Cars
I Don't Mind
Fiction Romance
People Are Strange Machines
What Ever Happened To?
Why She's the Girl From the Chainstore
Sick City Sometimes
Moving Away From the Pulsebeat
Nothing Left
Noise Annoys
In the Back
It's Not You
You Say You Don't Love Me
Love You More
What Do I Get?

Harmony In My Head
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)
Orgasm Addict

Buzzcocks are:
Pete Shelley - Vocals, guitar
Steve Diggle - Guitar, vocals
Chris Remmington - Bass guitar
Danny Farrant - Drums

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ángel Ontalva - Tierra Quemada

A mark of a good album is how much it resists being filed away in a neat little niche, and Tierra Quemada by Spanish guitarist Ángel Ontalva is defying my efforts in that direction very nicely indeed. You may know Ángel as the guitarist and leader of Spanish heavy eclectic prog band October Equus, but this album proves there is far more to this man than meets the ear on hearing his band's music, nicely angular and coruscating stuff as it may be. Indeed, anyone familiar with Ángel's work will know he likes to branch out.

Three consecutive releases show the highly varied and always interesting scope of Ángel's muse. 2012 saw the release of Mundo Flotante, his first solo album, and a thoroughly enjoyable and languid album it is, too. Then in 2013 we had two concurrent releases; Permafrost from October Equus, and its companion album Isla Purgatorio, which was something entirely different to the band's usual output and was released as October Equus Quartet, essentially the usual group minus Victor Rodriguez' keyboards, and coming over as if the Mel Collins' era live King Crimson had been a product of the 21st century rather than the early 1970s - a truly stunning album that deserved more than the scant attention it got at the time, for it is far more than an afterthought to Permafrost.

That brings us up to date, and Ángel's second solo album Tierra Quemada. Translating as "Scorched Earth", and utilising the rich talents of the rest of October Equus behind the keyboards, bass, and drums, plus additional musicians lending saxes, clarinets, cello, hurdy gurdy and duduk to the heady mix, this is an album that is full of musical flavour, and is anything but the kind of heavy blast you might expect from the title and indeed from his avant-rock band. For all that, Tierra Quemada is a fulsome and spicy work that will satisfy even the most jaded palate. Mention must also be made of the fine artwork in the booklet and inserts. Ángel is also a highly gifted graphic artist, another string to his rather full bow!

The music on this fine album is often laced with a more than a hint of Oriental zest, apparent from the first track onwards. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan marries an insistent rhythm with a snake charmer of an arrangement from the tightly knit ensemble. All the tunes are composed by Ángel, who knows how to evoke an Eastern atmosphere without cliché as the gorgeously liquid Ugetsu highlights. I have not heard anything this evocative of the mysterious East, be it Near or Far this side of Dennis Rea's spellbinding Views From Chicheng Precipice*.

Some great sax work weaves through the more insistent rhythms of El Telele, and a repetitive but nonetheless intriguing bass line of one sort or another is becoming a feature of the album. One exception is the plaintive melancholy of Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City, which serves as a short, highly musical entrée for the climax of the album.

Fittingly enough, Tierra Quemada achieves an apogee of bliss with the final track. Cobra Trap is a sun-kissed delight of warm and sinuous themes coming to a natural climax, playing out on some marvellous fretwork from Ángel. Introduced with the cello, the guitar winds around until a calm but insistent bass line allows the ensemble the freedom to weave clarinet, saxophone and keyboard melodies on to its steady framework. Soon, Ángel teases with a few lines of molten gold as the tune is taken to the bridge with more fabulous reed work from Pablo Hernández. A great end to a contender for Album Of The Year in my tiny universe.

1. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan (4:38)
2. No return (7:09)
3. Tierra Quemada (3:59)
4. Ugetsu (6:56)
5. El Telele (3:47)
6. Comanche (3:40)
7. Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City (2:31)
8. Cobra Trap (8:58)

Total running time - 41:44

Line up:
Ángel Ontalva - guitar, bass
Amanda Pazos Cosse - bass
Victor Rodriguez - keyboards, melodica
Pablo Hernández -alto & soprano saxes
Luiz Rocha - clarinets
Marc Egea - hurdy gurdy & duduk
Pablo Ortega - cello
Vasco Trilla - drums & percussions

Bandcamp - Tierra Quemada

Bandcamp - Isla Purgatorio (yes, you need this, too!)

octoberXart records 

* Dennis Rea is an outstanding American musician with a long connection to Chinese and Taiwanese music, and interviews, reviews, you name it, can be found on this blog by typing his name into the search box.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Baron - Torpor

With their previous album, the rather upstanding Columns, Brighton post-everything-rockers Baron described themselves as playing "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Psych Art-Rock", and now they have moved on, adding vegetables and Germanic ambience into the mix, becoming purveyors of "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral-Kraut-Drone-Lettuce-Rock". A nifty little pigeon with asymmetric eyes fits in that odd-shaped hole, I'm sure.

Based in Brighton and employing some big fish from the small but highly talented pool of musicians that you will find cropping up in other bands based in that fair city, such as Diagonal, and Autumn Chorus, both of whom may or may not be currently in stasis, Baron are led by singer and guitarist Alex Crispin. Alex has a distinctive baritone croon that paints his songs of mysticism and pastoralism in a melancholic hue, aided and abetted by his favoured guitar sound, reverbed and echoing, swirling round in the wide open spaces afforded by the airy mix.

"Torpor" is a state of physical and mental inactivity, or lethargy. The feeling one has occasionally when the weight of the world presses down and one's limbs seem to become immovable objects. The feeling transmitted by this record, for me at least, is one of a more contented state of immobile bliss than the dread implied in the album title. Carrying on from where Columns left off, the band's sound takes on a heavier tone when additional guitarist Joe Hollick from psych-folk troupe Wolf People stirs up the mix.

One of his two guest appearances is on the track Stry, which builds as a moss gathering stone rolling down a low incline, gathering momentum by increment to become a post-rock mash-up of irresistible power, but it is all done rather deftly, the climactic bludgeon riffola and guitar freak out will hit you as a hundred tonne feather.

The band carry on with their peculiarly filtered take on post-spacerock with Sleepless, swapping a peace pipe with The Blue Nile, early Felt (UK version) and The Chameleons and exchanging stories of cosmic derring-do. Baron have not entirely left behind their inkling for pastoral dreamscapes, as the lovely and elegiac Dark Down proves, but there is an over-arching psychedelic shamanism at work in these zeros and ones, one example being the hypnotic fire dance of Deeper Align with its call to ancient wonder made over a repetitive mantric guitar and drum groove.

Elsewhere, beyond blue skies stars are shaken while tiny flying insects hover jerkily in the eyeline dazzling bright autumnal sun to the gossamer Mark Maker, flittering away on a highly Florian Fricke-like organ groove. Psychedelic but nonetheless churchy organ chords call the faithful to prayer on the closing Albedo Dei, recalling both early Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh.

The quasi-religious atmosphere of that last track and indeed the whole album no doubt owes more than a nod to the fact that "parts of the album were surreptitiously (and not entirely legally) recorded at Purton Green, one of the last surviving medieval halls in the UK". This otherworldy imagined landscape is immediately apparent in opener Dragonfly, Alex intoning mournfully "Dragonfly over me" as the mystical tone of the album is apparent from the outset, laid before us with this highly charged psychedelic mantra, the swirling guitar and keyboard figure taking the song to an abrupt end.

Highly meditative as well as uplifting, this fine album is out on 6th November (see pre-order links below), and well worth investigating if you dig the modern psychedelic seam, baby!

1. Dragonfly (4:49)
2. Mark Maker (6:54)
3. Wild Cry (4:51)
4. Dark Down (3:25)
5. Stry (8:15)
6. Sleepless (7:05)
7. Deeper Align (6:52)
8. Albedo Dei (5:32)

Total running time - 45:45

Line up:
Alex Crispin - Guitar, Vocals, Synthesiser, Electric Piano on track 5
Peter Evans - Bass
Blue Firth - Organ, Recorder, Vocals
Luke Foster - Drums, Percussion, (Organ on ‘Dark Down’)

Joe Hollick - Electric Guitar on tracks 4 & 5, Acoustic Guitar on track 4



Svart Records

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Bob Lazar Story - Self-Loathing Joe

In the modern era of music making, a pet saying of mine, aimed at the surfeit of truly average, sometimes awful music out there that was made only because of a working knowledge of cheap audio recording and manipulation software, regardless of any actual musical talent, is "bedroom music that should have stayed there".

Hundreds of these recordings that back in the day would not have progressed beyond the guitarist's parents' garage, let alone made it it to a studio are uploaded every month for the benefit or otherwise of the universe at large. Of course, I appreciate the irony in all that, being an amateur myself, but hey I can take it!

Here we have an ex-pat Scouser and occasional cab driver now residing in Christchurch, New Zealand collaborating over ye interweb with a drummer ensconced in Los Angeles, USA collectively under the name of The Bob Lazar Story. From what I said at the beginning of this piece, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am about to set sail on a self-induced stormy Sea of Rant. Well, no actually, as Self-Loathing Joe is actually an example of the benefits rather than the drawbacks of instant comms and easy access to recording technology.

The ex-pat Scouser is Matt Deacon, and the Californian sticksman is Chris Jago, and together they have made an individualistic instrumental EP that is full of invention and the joys of life. Matt's sense of humour is apparent from his instrument endorsements on Bandcamp. He uses "plenty of fucked gear held together with sticky tape and hope", a true "bedroom musician" description if ever I read one, while Chris appears to be a real pro, judging by his percussive listing.

I have no idea if the two protagonists have ever met, but Matt's occasionally slightly Zappa-esque tunes, with an added hint of mischievous glee now and and again are perfectly pinned down by Chris's authoritative but never overpowering drumming, as if the pair have been together in a real band for years.

There is also an archness that runs through this short but charming piece of work, highlighted by the opening and closing tracks, the latter being the reverse of the former, which is exactly as described. Also, you will spot a Hatfields' humour to the song titles, and even some of their musical influence within Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor. "Foodstool" is a reference to the duo's previous EP, which is another slice of eclectic but fun music making.

Ezekiel II, by far the longest tune here, commences as a slow funky strut led by Chris's solid beat before riffage and later some disembodied voices turn it to a is a cosmic glide in orbit around Matt's slide guitar figure and some reverbed keyboards, almost Floyd-like in places.

Matt and Chris have emerged from their virtual bedroom with their dignity intact and judging by this EP do not deserve to be confined there, at all.

1. Harmonics (0:16)
2. Don Branch Venom (3:00)
3. No Wait. Yes Chips (2:45)
4. Self-Loathing Joe (2:05)
5. Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor (3:04)
6. Ezekiel II (8:59)
7. Scinomrah (0:15)

Total running time - 20:24

Line up:
Matt Deacon - Guitars and Mouse
Chris Jago - Drums

Tanya Didham - Vocals on Ezekiel II
Zeke Deacon - Other vocals


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Tētēma - Geocidal

Mike Patton as part of Faith No More played a big part in one the best albums of the 1990s regardless of genre, the brainfrying acid punk metal cinemascape that was Angel Dust. Since then I have dipped in and out of Patton's career, especially his projects away from the band, whom he joined in 1988. Faith No More split ten years later and since then Patton has developed into something of a musical polymath. His career covers all bases; from continuing to front his previous band, the absurdist pop-metal outfit Mr Bungle who ended on a high in 2000 with the superb California album, to experimental solo albums, via the avant garde improv group Hemophiliac with John Zorn, to singing Italian oldies from the 50s in front of an orchestra under the name of Mondo Cane, and not forgetting the barking but wonderful experimental metal outfit Fantômas. Oh, and he's dabbled in opera, too, as well as acting in films and composing film scores, and of course he joined the newly reformed and still working line up of Faith No More in 2009, and then there's alt-metal supergroup Tomahawk, and the seemingly dormant Peeping Tom project.

No wonder then that Patton blamed the break up of his marriage to Italian artist  Cristina Zuccatosta partly on his obsessive working practices, during which as legend has it, nothing stronger than caffeine was consumed to keep him going. This man makes Steven Wilson appear sloth-like!

And so we arrive at Patton's latest adventure along the road less travelled, the exotically named Tētēma. This project is really the brainchild of Australian pianist, electronica manipulator and composer Anthony Pateras, who spent 18 months putting this together, the germ of the idea apparently "…started when I locked myself in a convent in rural France for 10 days to think about rhythm and sound". Sounds like a normal day at the office for Mike, no wonder he was interested.

Taking my cue from the record label's PR blurb, and because I am feeling especially lazy this dreary wet autumnal day, I won't attempt to describe this in my usual lengthy detail, only to say it is an analogue-electronica-percussion-vocal mash up, the like of which you won't have heard before. As Ipecac Recordings put it, "To us, it sounds like two maniacs in their respective studios having the time of their lives, rebirthing some of the most insane songcraft this side of the godforsaken Miley-Cyrus worshipping millennium". Yep, that'll do.

This deeply unsettling and specially commissioned video by avant-garde film maker Sabina Maselli for the track Tenz sums it all up perfectly...

One thing to note is that only a small part of this work derives from sampling, the majority is real and organic, although your ears may struggle to believe it. Followers of Patton will not be surprised that this record is way out on a limb, just as it should be.

1. Invocation of the Swarm (2:44)
2. Pure War (2:410
3. Irundi (4:18)
4. The Hell of Now (3:15)
5. Ten Years Tricked (7:31)
6. 3-2-1 Civilisation (3:36)
7. Tenz (3:22)
8. Suishaman (0:35)
9. Kid Has Got The Bomb (4:31)
10. Emptiness of Ecstasy (2:10)
11. Death in Tangiers (4:01)

Total running time - 38:43

Line up:
Mike Patton - voices
Anthony Pateras - synths, pianos, machines

Will Guthrie - drums 1-7, 9

...and a whole lot of other guest musicians, written in a nigh on impossible font to read. You'll just have to buy the CD and squint!

Ipecac Recordings

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Magic Bus - Transmission From Sogmore's Garden

Hailing the that hotbed of rock'n'roll excess, Totnes in Devon, Magic Bus are rather accurately musically described on their PR sheet as turning out "sun-drenched harmonies and vintage prog rock noodling". That kind of retro warning would normally have me groaning, but Transmission From Sogmore's Garden is such a charming affair, you'd have to be an even more battle-weary old scrote than moi not to appreciate its thorough winsomeness.

There is a review on Amazon that is headlined "Better than Caravan?", well, obviously not, but these chaps and chappess have certainly been playing the first few albums by the Canterbury instigators on heavy rotate, along with large helpings of the the first two CSN(&Y) albums. There are worse things to be influenced by, it has to be said.

Opening with Sunflower, Magic Bus lay their cards on the table. This band are not going to be pushing any envelopes anywhere soon, but hey, that's just fine. Nostalgia certainly IS what it used to be in Sogmore's Garden. Sunflower is infused with a heady West Coast aroma, via Welsh wizards Man's own appropriated Californian vibe on their Rhinos album. Led by a winsome flute line it skips away down the winding path, full of the joys of life, including a very Caravan-esque solo from the keys player.

Three of the songs here were composed by singer and guitarist Paul Evans, the remainder by Evans in tandem with keyboard player Jay Darlington. Paul has one of those voices that while it sometimes struggles with staying on note in a fashion similar to Pye Hastings' charmingly strained high croon, manages not to make me wince, but smile to myself. This despite living with perfect pitch, which can be a curse as much as a blessing, particularly as I no longer have a practical use for it. Paul's singing is enhanced no end by the lovely harmonies of Viv Goodwin, Benny Brooke and Terence Waldstradt, the "flowers in the hair" on the head of the blissed-out and occasionally wavering lead voice.

The top line instrumentation consists of guitar, keyboards, mostly of the organ variety, and flute, in varying combos. You will have recognised the name of the keyboard player, yep, it's the tall one from Kula Shaker. After the demise of Kula Shaker, Jay Darlington spent five years as the touring ivory tinkler with Oasis, but we'll forgive him that, everyone has to make a living. More recently he has reconnected with his true pastoral psych-prog calling, contributing organ to a couple of cuts on the fabulous The Unrecorded Beam by fellow Devonians Billy Bottle & The Multiple, as well as being a full-time member of Magic Bus since their debut album in 2010. However, this second album is not a showcase for any one individual, but a complete band effort. Even so, that won't stop me mentioning the organ break four and a half minutes in to Seven Wonders, which is a straight copy of Dave Sinclair's reedy sound on Nine Feet Underground. Heheh.....

What Paul might lack technically in the tonsil department, but not I must emphasise to the detriment of the record, he more than makes up for with his gently fried guitar lines. Together with Jay's swelling organ (heheh...the old ones are indeed, the old ones), the two make for a lovely combination on the introduction to the rambling and pastoral Ballad of Lord Sogmore, which from the start of the vocal section has that indefinable "getting it together in the country" feel that Traffic used to great effect waaay back in the day. Paul's marvellously acidic solo towards the end of the tune is followed by a flute solo on the outro, all quite lovely.

And that is the general tone of the album, as it combines drifting across the cosmic vastness under the influence of many cups of mushroom tea with an inescapable pastoral English vibe. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn lights the way with a waltz across the lawn, and Three Days hints that if they could do it again, they'd do it all over you, I'm sure. "Climb aboard the bus, let's head off for the summer" sings Paul, and indeed this is one of those hazy, lazy records recalling stoned days in the countryside. Marvellous!

Pretty soon the Bus is away across the universe on an expanded trip, and it's real good out here, we may even be immaculate. Hints of jazzy keys enlighten Jupiter 3AM, Dave briefly vacating the place behind the electric piano, Steve takes over...only for one album. Jay knows his Caravan keyboard players, is all I'm saying! Melody is never far away, and a simple but effective tune points the way to the small hours as the biggest planet fills our view, before the trip goes skewiff on the back of a atypically aggressive section. Flung back out of gravity's pull, the trip continues.

That's probably more than enough individual track description. If you like what you've heard and hopefully read, then just go buy the thing! Helpful links provided at the end of this nonsense.

I'm always griping about prog bands who want to make "Fragile By The Pound", and it might seem a tad hypocritical of me to shout this band's praises as I have been doing, for they are just as unashamedly nostalgic as any Yenesis wannabee you care to mention, but you see, the thing is, bands that wish to be stuck nine feet underground in early 70s Canterbury while dreaming of toking with Crosby and Nash in Laurel Canyon are, perhaps thankfully - I wouldn't want this album to be the start of a trend - a damn sight rarer and therefore far easier to enjoy.

I like this album a lot. It seems everything in Sogmore's Garden is rosy. While there are melody lines here, riffs there that have you thinking you're sure you've heard that before, in the fullness of time it matters not a jot, just get on the Magic Bus and enjoy the trip. You pay your fare in bananas, cos they got no bones... ;)

That was a recommendation from "The Peter Cook of Prog", as I was christened by a prog fan from Totnes, oddly enough! Buy this newish-but-dusty slice of dreamery from the band's website below.

1. Sunflower (3:51)
2. Ballad Of Lord Sogmore (5:15)
3. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn (3:47)
4. Three Days (7:32)
5. Jupiter 3AM (8:37)
6. Seven Wonders (5:33)
7. Morning Mantra (6:55)
8. Earthpod (4:44)

Total running time - 47:20

Line up:
Paul Evans - Lead vocal and guitar
Jay Darlington - Hammond organ and assorted vintage keyboards
Terence Waldstradt - Lead guitar and backing vocals
Viv Goodwin - Flute and backing vocals
Benny Brooke - Bass guitar and backing vocals
Matt Butlin - Drums

Listen to the whole album on Soundcloud

Band website


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Karda Estra - Strange Relations

Last year a curious album by the name of Strange Relations came my way, and over the months since it has slowly revealed its many delights to me. For many years now, Richard Wileman has been ploughing a thoroughly individual furrow as Karda Estra, releasing several albums since debuting with A Winter In Summertime back in 1998. While I have heard some of the back catalogue, it is this strange and beguiling twelfth album that has completely hooked me.

Marrying complex rhythms and a modern classical sensibility to an exploratory nature allows Richard to make a unique music that would probably fall within the avant sphere if one was looking to conveniently categorise. "Avant"  can mean whatever you want it to, but would always suggest a sense of adventure, and Strange Relations has that in joyous quantities.

The six-part suite of music that comprises Strange Relations was co-written with Muffins' drummer Paul Sears, and the duo are joined in the composing credits on Strange Relations 2 by Kavus Torabi, a man whose musical path seems to be criss-crossing mine with increasing regularity these days. Kavus adds some atypically restrained and effects-free electric guitar playing to the track, giving it a languid, alt-jazz feel, especially in juxtaposition to Mike Ostime's plaintive trumpet.

Richard invests his compositions with a sense of space that allows the listener to float away with his or her imagination, and his ear for melody and subtlety keep this well away from the stridency and angularity that can sometimes be to the detriment of the more wilful exponents of music in the avant world. Strange Relations 1 has an otherworldly quality that I can easily imagine being enhanced by an individualistic voice, perhaps Robert Wyatt? Now there's a combination that would be a delight to behold!

The music of Karda Estra covers a large sonic spectrum, from ethereal psychological thriller movie soundtracks to gorgeous sci-fi waltzes, taking detours into cerebral modern classical along the way. Strange Relations 4 is that sci-fi waltz, and a lovely  thing it is too. Keyboards, guitars, oboe and cor anglais, the latter two from long-time collaborator Caron De Burgh combine in the most sublime fashion imaginable. Part romantic fairground fantasy, part chamber rock, this exquisite music is uplifting and soulful in equal measure.

Paul Sears' playing caresses the rhythms rather than forges them on a drum skin anvil, and the subtlety and grace with which he guides the melodies is fascinating to follow, and I say that from the perspective of one who has never sat behind a drum kit. Most of the other contributing musicians have worked on previous Karda Estra albums, in particular vocalist Ileesha Wileman who has been there from the beginning, whose wordless multi-tracked choral singing imbues another layer of mystery to the already mist-shrouded Strange Relations 5.

The suite unravels in the most unforced way with the final part, highlighting Richard's avant classical leanings. Reflective and wide in scope, Strange Relations is an unfolding musical tale that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

The album ends with two separate pieces, Ylla, inspired by a similarly named Ray Bradbury short story, and The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, a piece of music composed for a compilation based on 14th century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron. The former fits in with the musical theme of Strange Relations rather well, Amy Fry's clarinet and saxophone weaving melody in and around Richard's piano and electronica flights of fancy.

The naturally medieval feel of The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, Ileesha's one-woman harmonising leading to a descending scale acoustic guitar combining with brass and reeds, transmits a knowing air of implied frolicsomeness. Later, there be shenanigans. A nice "bonus track" with which to conclude an absorbing album.

1. Strange Relations 1 (4:31)
2. Strange Relations 2 (5:27)
3. Strange Relations 3 (9:15)
4. Strange Relations 4 (6:47)
5. Strange Relations 5 (9:09)
6. Strange Relations 6 (5:27)
7. Ylla (4:45)
8. The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa (7:41)

Total running time - 53:02

Line up:
Richard Wileman - electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitars, keyboards, samples, percussion, zither, rastrophone
Caron De Burgh - oboe (4, 5, 8), cor anglais (4, 8)
Amy Fry - clarinet (4 , 7, 8) , saxophone (4, 5, 7)
Mike Ostime - trumpet (2)
Paul Sears - drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), percussion (6)
Kavus Torabi - electric guitar (2)
Ileesha Wileman - vocals (5, 8)


Karda Estra website

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Kettering Vampires - perform Nico & The Velvet Underground

Kettering n. - The pattern left on one's posterior from sitting too long in a wicker chair 
Vampire n. - Iain Duncan Smith

The Kettering Vampires have nothing to do with either definition, nor, disappointingly, are they from Kettering. Welcome to an alternate universe where "Blodwyn P. Teabag records some overdubs on a tune called Shit Weasel", bands are called things like The Thurston Lava Tube, and there is a cult around a long extinct band called The Deep Freeze Mice. This is all the fault of a bloke called Alan Jenkins, as indeed are "The Kettering Vampires". Alan came up with this name for a band that were previously called The Otter Sandwich. According to Alan "A couple of the guys have a history in the business - usually when somebody tells me they have a history I have to send out some hired bastards to erase all trace of it". Alan's name is on the cover because "a record with my name on it automatically ensures seven figure sales and a Grammy". Well, it didn't work for Warhol, so why not?

This is all true.

Guitarist Lenny Ninja Snake here leads his creatures of night on an album covering the iconic Warhol album in a surf stylee, with the track list backwards, and a pear replacing the banana, natch. Lenny, who is part Scotch used to be a balloonist on Pavonis Mons, until his mum told him there was a future impersonating Dick Dale, which Len carries off with no little panache. Transported to Earth to make cheap Top Of The Pops covers albums in the 1970s, Lenny, an anarchist at heart famously drenched Litlle Jimmy Osmond tunes with "twelve minute feedback solos".

Keyboard player Neil Ska, so called because his mum christened him Neil, plays a nifty line in Farfisa organ wheezees and things that go "screeeee". He's a dustman in the real world, his "four O Levels" coming in useful when determining who can be fined for putting some wrong shit in the wrong recycling box. Neil studied "at De Montfort University under Dave Bartram of Showaddywaddy".

Bass player Jack Darkness has been known to spit his own weight in tobacco chews, when not helping Lenny dismantle journalists' psyches, or breaking their knees. Famously attired in shiny boots of leather, it was his idea to mix up the surf with a bit of ska on The Ketts' languidly slack-jawed version of Venus In Furs, that lights up this album like a 40 watt energy saving bulb, taking about 28 minutes to get into gear, or so it seems. Jack also plays a Prepared Bass Guitar. This means it is in tune.

Did I tell you about drummer Minnie Bannister's socks? No? That'll have to wait, then. Minnie, a hirsute woman in her mid 70s is surprisingly adept at catching mice, with spoons, which she also uses in place of drumsticks, to some effect on the appealingly proplapsed take of I'm Waiting For The Man. She plays Prepared Ostrich Spoons. This means the ostrich was cooked.

That was all one barefaced lie.

1. European Son (2:24)
2. The Black Angel's Death Song (1:34)
3. I'll Be Your Mirror (4:13)
4. There She Goes Again (2:52)
5. Heroin (15:05)
6. All Tomorrow's Parties (3:06)
7. Run Run Run (4:22)
8. Venus In Furs (5:30)
9. Femme Fatale (2:17)
10. I'm Waiting For The Man (4:02)
11. Sunday Morning (3:20)

Total running time - 49:14

Line up:
L. Ninja Snake - Lead Guitar, Ostrich Guitar
Neil Ska - Organ, Prepared Piano, Ostrich Prepared Piano
Jack Darkness - Bass Guitar, Prepared Bass Guitar
Minnie Bannister - Drums, Percussion, Spoons, Ostrich Spoons, Prepared Ostrich Spoons

Buy this, and other jolly good nonsense, HERE

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Emmett Elvin - Emmettronica 1998 - 2012

Following on from the artistic triumph that was last year's appropriately titled Bloody Marvels album, Emmett Elvin, keyboard and electronica wiz of this and all other parishes has re-released his eclectic compilation Emmettronica '98 - '05, that traces his imaginative and wide-ranging solo recordings all the way back to a time of hope, now with 13 extra tracks, being the first 13 of the download accounting for the extra seven years added to produce the 1998 - 2012 tag.

Emmet tinkles ivories, plastic or real, and does odd things with synthesisers for Guapo, Knifeworld, and Chrome Hoof, but here he is let loose to follow his own peculiar and individualistic muse to his heart's content, and we are privileged to be able to hear the results of Emmet's 14 years of messing about in studios.

Sparse Eno-esque electronica collides with alien Herbie Hancock funk, mangled techno beats, avant garde larking about, and an ear for a decent melody as the good spaceship Soyuz Elvin travels back and forth through time on a never-ending quest to seek out the unusual. Setting the scene with the eerie spacewalk of Cosmonautilus, we drift into the alt-jazz-techno of My Headless Tortoise and a veritable cornucopia of sounds and ideas is laid out before us on this highly entertaining rummage through Mr Elvin's musical attic.

The grubby hull of the speeding craft is scrubbed clean to the accompaniment of Burn & Shine, hurtling through the asteroid belt with furious glee, disembodied voices muttering with dark portent. Scatter-gun beats chatter while synths gabble on The Burnt Ocean, on Lunopolis classical keyboard arpeggios chime in quasi-religious incantation to unknown deities...and so we rise, so we ride.

The modern film-noir feel to Those Shirts is followed by Starbuck's End, where piano tensions rise and a rare and sharp guitar line cuts through as previously avoided dues are paid. The classical influences return on the Bach influenced Poor Zokko, and several rugs are cut by seven-limbed three-clawed aliens doing the Magellan Shuffle to Bugshutter. Like Philip Glass on speed, Electropipe charges along on a runaway rhythmic stream of consciousness, while the following blissful and appropriately titled Marshmellow gives the listener time to gather his or her thoughts.

Rare vocals swirl through Wayfarer as the metaphorical journey continues. This whole thing would be great to listen to on a long train journey as Europe endless speeds past the rain-flecked window. Dream reveries are cut short on the industrial Sturm und Drang of Andromeda Backwash, only to return with the haunting Last Sunrise On Earth. More Philip Glassisms pervade the gently bubbling Phantom Arboretum, and some lovely treated guitar follows on Secondary. The warm bath of bass on Soltair soothes our weary space traveller, returning from the first part of the album contemplating insignificance while stargazing. The album ends with the elegiac Fergetit, a short piece of anti-choral multi-tracked vocalising with the most minimal arrangement, and it is quite lovely.

While Emmettronica 1998 - 2012 is not as coherent and is more minimalistic than Bloody Marvels, as it is a collection of snapshots of a mad professor at work in his evil sound laboratory rather than a planned album, it is definitely well worth your time, especially as it is only £5 (or £10 for the double CD) for an hour and a third's worth of intriguing, beguiling, and in places quite bonkers music!

01. Cosmonautilus (2:10)
02. My Headless Tortoise (2:11)
03. Burn & Shine (3:55)
04. The Burnt Ocean (3:18)
05. The Croaker (3:23)
06. Lunopolis (3:36)
07. Fergetit (2:24)
08. Occurzaalite (3:42)
09. Those Shirts (3:58)
10. Starbuck’s End (3:42)
11. Mattmath (2:23)
12. Monkey Fist (3:09)
13. Polly & Joan (1:46)
14. Overbaked Overture (1:19)
15. Poor Zokko (1:28)
16. Bugshutter (3:15)
17. Interfog (1:01)
18. Blue Nails (4:02)
19. 3AM on the River of Sleep (3:15)
20. Marshmellow (2:58)
21. Wayfarer (4:22)
22. Andromeda Backwash (2:06)
23. Last Sunrise on Earth (2:53)
24. Phantom Arboretum (3:16)
25. Secondary (1:28)
26. Electropipe (3:18)
27. Soltair (2:14)
28. Nostar (2:00)
29. Radar Search (1:50)

Total running time – 1:20:22

Line up:
All instruments by Emmett Elvin, except where noted below:-
Dr Matthew Day – “for his contribution to Mattmath“.
Mr Henry Platt – Jen Synthesiser on Lunopolis.
David Wright – Sliced, diced and reconstituted tenor saxophone on My Headless Tortoise.
Duncan Western – Sliced, diced and reconstituted drums on My Headless Tortoise.
Ms Miranda Barber – Sampled voice on more than one track, principally on Fergetit.


Bad Elephant Records

Double CD version available from The Merch Desk

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Metallic Taste Of Blood - Doctoring The Dead

With a name as redolent as Metallic Taste Of Blood, in addtion to the gruesome cover of their second album Doctoring The Dead, it is indeed a surprise that the music this multi-national trio make does not make one feel queasy, but rather conjures an atramentous and shifting sonic ague that draws in the listener, whether they are willing or not. While metallic, this music is not metal, prog or otherwise, for it transcends genre description.

Doctoring The Dead inhabits the outer reaches of a similar universe to Mike Patton's gloriously visceral Fantômas and their literally and metaphorically bloody great Delìrium Còrdia album, but while Fantômas is cackling to its collective self and getting deep down into the process of the operation without anaesthetic, Metallic Taste Of Blood are merely observing through a two-way mirror, later to dissect the corpse of Fantômas's bloody offerings.

Not as obviously demonic as Patton's wilfully strange band, but nonetheless as dark as a bottomless pit, Metallic Taste Of Blood meld the disparate influences of their members to produce a throbbing mass of sound that will reverberate through your headphones or floorboards and shake your very core. Colin Edwin I'm sure you know all about, and drummer Ted Parsons has hit things for the mighty Swans, Prong, and Killing Joke to name but three strikingly feral bands on his CV. Let's just say that Colin Edwin's bass is monstrous, a gentle giant intermittently roused to fearsome growls, in tandem with Ted Parsons' drumming that shifts from a deft lightness of touch to a  Bonham-like insistent rhythmic brutality that not so much propels, but forges the music, a sixteen-ton lump hammer shaping the molten core on an anvil of sound.

Opening track Ipsissimus is about as upbeat at gets, a mid-paced beast lurching along, bouncing off the walls, with great work from the rhythm section and a cheeky Fripp-like "guitar as wonky piano" interjection from band leader, Italian guitarist and sonic manipulator Eraldo Bernocchi. Eraldo is a man of many talents who can lend proceedings anything from a dark ambient howl to some huge post-rock riffery as and when appropriate. Early PiL come to mind in the way Colin's dub bass and Ted's snare drumming enmesh on Pashupati, with Eraldo supplying blissful glissando above the wall-shaking bottom end.

The spooky and evocative title track is an eerie swirling mist of a thing, where Eraldo is joined by Roy Powell, a keyboard player of some repute at the more obscure end of the telescope. Powell adds layers of Gothic strangeitude to the track Doctoring The Dead that make for an unsettling yet oddly trance-like listening experience.

At the conclusion of Blind Voyeur the threesome lock together on the heaviest of riffs, the kind of thing that would give Mogwai the night terrors. This leads into the contrasting ambient intro to Day Of Bones, another track featuring Roy Powell's textural keyboard work. Parsons reprises the beat from the previous song, and this is another example of the thematic links running through the album. Colin's bass on this one isn't so much heard as felt. This band would be a killer proposition live.

The wonderfully verbose but erudite press release claims that "listening to this will lift you into a state not unlike that of cognitive dissonance, one of deep, uncomfortable enjoyment" - it's not wrong.

01. Ipsissimus (4:54)
02. Pashupati (5:54)
03. Synthetic Tongue (6:17)
04. Doctoring The Dead (7:17)
05. Blind Voyeur (6:31)
06. Day Of Bones (6:24)
07. Murder Burger (6:03)
08. The Death Of Pan (6:28)

Total running time: 49:51

Line up:
Eraldo Bernocchi – guitars & electronics
Colin Edwin – bass guitar & ebow
Ted Parsons – drums & percussion

Roy Powell – keys & electronics (1,5 & 6)
Matilde Bernocchi – electronics (3 & 4)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Nerve Institute - Fictions

This latest album by The Nerve Institute has a rather strange backstory, in that it was recorded back in 2008 and released in 2010 under the name Ficciones by Sinthome, a name given to an earlier one-man project operated by American composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Judge - not the Beavis & Buthead guy by the way. As Mike says in a highly informative interview with my TPA colleague Jeremy Rowden: "Nobody really heard Fictions, which was originally called Ficciones, on its first release, so I thought it might be worth reissuing now that a few people know who I am. The new version has been remastered by Udi Koomran, who’s a wizard, and sounds way better."

Well I was one of those who never heard the original, and judging (no pun intended) by this rather lovely and compellingly complex beauty currently occupying my soundstage, I'm glad that Udi Koomran and AlrOck took the time to re-release it as a Nerve Institute waxing, much to the surprise of the main man as I am led to believe.

The Nerve Institute are effectively a one-man band, with Mike Judge playing all manner of instruments, with the focus of his talents being on the guitar and the drums, as well as manipulating all manner of electronic sonic trickery found at the bottom of this garden of earthly delights. Married to his skill as an arranger, the end result is about as far removed from the dreaded "one man in his shed with a laptop" variety  of solo effort as can be imagined. Guesting on a couple of tracks is Jacob Holm-Lupo of White Willow, fleshing out Grimoire - which he co-wrote with Mike - with extra guitar, and City of Narrows with additional keyboards. Other than Grimoire Mike wrote everything here. A satisfying mix of art rock, psychedelia, off-kilter song writing and punky energy, the record rollicks along at a fair old pace.

This is a big, bold, psychedelic stew of a record, and labyrinthine in its complexity. Much like a good maze it is a delight to get utterly lost within its Gordian Knot-like twists and turns. Mike's guitar has a Zappa flavour, with occasional dashes of Bill Nelson, but it is a style that is his own. The cleverly put together ensemble playing is quite mesmerising, easily giving the feel of a full band.

Having started out as a drummer and bass player in the punk scene of Kansas City, Mike is no slouch behind a kit, and this is a pleasant surprise, for it is often in the drumming department that one-man projects tend to suffer. If he ever gets the chance, this music would come over just right in a live setting. No doubt intentionally claustrophobic in places, this dense sonic template would suit a cramped "club in a cellar" type surrounding. Mind you, unless Mike has had a change of heart since writing The Nerve Institute's Prog Archives entry, any live appearances are somewhat unlikely. He hasn't played his material live for years, apparently "due variously to a distaste for teaching people to play it to my tremendously anal standards, disgust with the whole enterprise of The Music Business and, frankly, with audiences in general..." That and the fact that his music now seems secondary to his writing - a novel is in progress - shame!

Opening song The Confidence-Man has an air of a more focused Syd Barrett about it, replete with early Floyd-like synth squiggles and jangling psychedelic guitar, taking the song through a lens backwards and on into a veritable zoo of sound and percussive rattles. A great start to a thoroughly absorbing album. This nascent psychedelia continues into the hypnotic City of Narrows, where we fly off down narrow dimly lit alleyways, zipping along just above the rough ground, our way lit by jazzy sparks in the sonic ether. A lovely guitar break winds its way round your heart and you are stolen.

Knives of Winter/Coronation Day skitters up and down an Escher staircase, presaging another great guitar break, this time with a definite Zappa feel, before ending on a fairground ride, the effects-drenched guitar screaming away with a fiendish grin on its face. And so we trip off into Mike's surreal sound world, perfectly complimented by the Hieronymus Bosch cover art, jarringly but effectively contrasted with photos of cityscapes at night.

Mike goes into deep analytical detail into the origins and meanings of his songs in the TPA interview, and he is obviously a highly intelligent man, and a deep thinker. In the Leprosarium for example uses disembodied quotes from J G Ballard and " the electronically-altered voices are reading something I found at a shut-down mental hospital in rural Missouri". Here's another brief lift from the interview: "Knives of about modes of unofficial, non-state-sanctioned reality which have fallen into disuse and been replaced by whatever the official epistemology of the era is – first it’s nature, then it’s religious dogmatism, then it’s Reason, then it’s empiricism, now it’s a toxic combination of scientific literalism and capitalist doctrine". Suffice to say that this does not and should not serve as background music. When you give it your full attention it will not leave you weary as some "difficult" music can do, for as complex as Fictions is, it is actually easy to listen to. However, easy listening it is most certainly not!

The dreamy space-ballad Whistling Wire, a delightfully fizzy construct, contains some marvellously reverb-drenched power chording that had me recalling Brit psych rockers Levitation. Knives of Summer is a musical tour de force, and Rayuela, despite its slight oddness has an underlying Iberian feel. With a title like With Joy We Espy the Sacrophagus, this song was either going to be a Zappa-like construct, or head off into the more esoteric end of Canterbury, and it turns out to be both at once, but rising above its influences. There are nods to Dave Stewart in the keyboard stylings, and the arrangement and guitar give it the feel of Zappa fronting National Health. That ticks a couple of boxes for me!

Heading off into Phil Miller territory, the guitar in Grimoire, possibly by Jacob Holm-Lupo is a delight. Meanwhile, back in Spain, Abrazo y caminando - possibly "Embrace and Go" - swirls its skirts right next to your table, with a devilish glint in its eye.

The album ends with a stroll through the quarantine area of avant-symphonic rock and angularity with Docile Bodies/In The Leprosarium, cut off from the outside world in a haze of disease. More soaring guitar moves that remain elegant amid sundry time signature shifts take us through a place where all is not as it seems. Much like, say, The Mars Volta at their early peak, this music never quite does what you expect. Each time you listen to it, there is something else revealed. Listening to the ultra-complex drum patterns is enticing enough in itself, without even considering the avant-prog magnificence that is writing a many-volumed tome above the polyrhythms. After a short almost unnoticeable break the final three minutes - In the Leprosarium one assumes - is an ambient trip through the inner sanctum of the unholy and unloved. This may be ambient music, but you could not meditate to it!

Mike Judge is a rare artistic talent, and a restless one at that, having for the time being at least, seemingly left his music to gently simmer while he veers off into writing, which you can find HERE. I for one hope he returns to the studio sometime soon! 


1. The Confidence-Man (6:14)
2. City of Narrows (6:23)
3. Knives of Winter/Coronation Day (7:22)
4. Whistling Wire (4:38)
5. Knives of Summer (10:19)
6. Rayuela (4:42)
7. With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus (6:21)
8. Grimoire (3:34)
9. Abrazo y caminando (4:11)
10. Docile Bodies/In The Leprosarium (11:22)

Total running time – 65:08

Line up:

All music composed, performed and recorded by Michael S. Judge
~ except
Jacob Holm-Lupo – Co-writer & additional guitars on Grimoire, keyboards on City of Narrows



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