Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Shizo Fun Addict - El Shoegaze Bossa Nova

Seventh album from Jet Wintzer and Jayne Gabriel's ever-evolving collective!

The clue is in the title with this one. The meeting of shoegaze textures, indiepop melodies and Brazilian Bossa rhythms make up this latest long-player from New Jersey's Schizo Fun Addict. The band have been around since 2000 and are centred around the musical partnership of Jet Wintzer and Jayne Gabriel. For this record they're joined by guitarist Rex John Shelverton (Bellavista, VUE, Portraits Of Past) and new drummer Daniel Boivin (Asa Ranson, Death Of Fashion).

Musically this album occupies a place quite unlike any other. It is in turn sexy, moody, melancholic, dreamy, sad, cinematic and slowly charms rather than demands your attention. A touch of mariachi brass here and there along with plaintive piano adds to the vaguely spaghetti western feel while the clever use of analogue keyboards and layered guitars makes any attempt at genre-placing futile. Put simply this is mood music – transformative and moving. Best heard on a rainy Sunday morning while contemplating life's regrets and hopes. Deep themes demand deep emotionally resonant music. Here is some.

El Shoegaze Bossa Nova is available digitally now from all the usual outlets. There is also a limited audiophile vinyl release via Sugarbush Records.

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Papernut Cambridge - Mellotron Phase: Volume 2

Retro-to-go! A second volume of library music from Ian Button & co!

It's impossible not to love Papernut Cambridge. Already this year they've released the fantastic album Outstairs Instairs, and now this, a follow-up to 2017's Mellotron Phase: Volume 1. For anyone unfamiliar with those two albums here's the crack – Outstairs Instairs is a song-based album rich in sentiment, intelligence and lyrical ideas and allows the collective's many talented musicians to shine. Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is a 10” vinyl LP featuring library-music inspired instrumental pieces with sounds sourced from original Mellotron tapes. At times the music is funny, sad, moving, intriguing, cheesy, evocative, wry, uplifting and much more. And now we have a volume 2!

Released by head-Papernut Ian Button's Gare Du Nord label in conjunction with boutique library music company Ravenwood, this album is as authentic as it gets. As stated on the sleeve - “Apart from the drums, bass guitar and some light percussion all the instrument sounds you hear on this record were made originally by a Mellotron or one of its contemporary tape/disc-based playback instruments. The sounds were picked from Gforce's M-Tron Pro tape libraries... Throughout, the original unedited mono patches were used to preserve the tone and functionality of the original instruments.”

Library music remains as highly prized among collectors as ever and continues to inspire today's musicians. It's not difficult to see why. It allows them to step outside of traditional band-based collaborations and draw upon a different set of influences – foreign pop and folk, soundtracks, new age music,TV themes, light entertainment orchestras, military bands. Literally anything goes. The track titles on Mellotron Phase: Volume 2 are evocative in themselves – for example 'Cha-Cha-Charlie', 'Cygnus Probe', 'Boss Club' and 'Sergeant Major Mushrooms'. My own personal favourite being 'A Cowboy In Montmartre'. Each piece is its own mini film score delivered with wit, verve and a whole lot of musical ability. For all the melodic and stylistic variation, the sonic restrictions lend the album a continuity of sound which holds the whole thing together in a most delightful and satisfying way.

Like its predecessor Volume 2 is released on 10” vinyl. There is also a CD version which collates both volumes. Buy with confidence, you will love this record.

Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Twitter.
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Click here for Ravenwood Music.

Various - The Three Seasons

Mind blown! 3LP set celebrating the flowering of late '60s counter-cultural pop!

It can't have escaped your notice that The Beatles are on sale again. This time to mark the 50th anniversary of the White Album. Originally released in 1968, a year after the dazzling summer-of-love opus Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a year before they opted to “get back” to their roots by playing a stripped-down adaptation of rock and roll. Now I love the Beatles as much as I ever did but I've long since concluded that Paul McCartney has had quite enough of my cash over the years and I'm not shelling out a chunk of my wages on the boxed set of the White Album, as good as it may be. I'm sure the 102 takes of 'Sexy Sadie' are illuminating in their own way but I won't be investigating further.

A much better way to celebrate the flowering of late '60s counter-cultural pop is via this latest compilation from Fruits de Mer Records. A triple vinyl set featuring the cream of today's psychedelically inclined grass-roots artists covering their favourite tracks from the late '60s. The set is titled The Three Seasons in reference to the the years 1966, 1967 and 1968. It's from these three momentous years that all the tracks are taken. There are big names covered (The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Small Faces, Love and even Neil Diamond), along with the ever fascinating foot-notes from the era (Touch, Family, Made In Sheffield, Don Shinn and more).

There is so much great stuff here it's difficult to know where to begin. Take a look at the tracklisting below to get an idea of what makes this such an amazing collection. I won't go through every track but they're all worth hearing. Standouts for me include The Locker Room Cowboys excellent take on The Stones' 'We Love You', The Past Tense's version of 'Magic In The Air' (originally by The Attack) and Jay Tausig's take of folk standard 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' (included here having been covered by Pentangle in 1968).

Suffice to say this is probably the best compilation I've heard all year, I can't recommend it highly enough. Oh and it also features three '60s legends in The Pretty Things, The Electric Prunes and The Yardbirds. So if fiftieth anniversaries are your thing avoid that White Album deluxe box set and opt for this fabulous collection instead. You will not regret it.

Side 1
1. The Past Tense - Magic In The Air (originally by The Attack : recorded in 1967)
2. LoveyDove - Bedazzled (originally by Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations : 1967)
3. Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder - Amelia Jane (originally by Made In Sheffield : 1967)
4. Jack Ellister - Aquarius (originally by The Zodiac:Cosmic Sounds : 1967)
5. Rob Gould - Granny Takes A Trip (originally by The Purple Gang : 1967)

Side 2
1. Mark McDowell and Friends - Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire (originally by The Small Faces : 1966)
2. Anton Barbeau – Sunshine Superman (originally by Donovan : 1965)
3. The Electric Prunes - 7 and 7 is (originally by Love : 1966)
4. Moonweevil - Child Of The Sky (originally by The Deviants : 1967)
5. Kris Gietkowski - A-Minor Explosion (originally by Don Shinn : 1966)
6. The Yardbirds - Think About It (live in 2016) (originally by The Yardbirds : 1968)

Side 3
1. The Locker Room Cowboys - We Love You (originally by The Rolling Stones : 1967)
2. King Penguin - White Bird (written : 1967, released by It's A Beautiful Day : 1969)
3. Aunt Cynthia's Cabin - Solitary Man (originally by Neil Diamond : 1966)
4. The Luck Of Eden Hall - Reflected (originally by Alice Cooper : 1968)

Side 4
1. The Honey Pot - Kites (written by Hackaday/Pockriss; recorded by The Rooftop Singers / Simon Dupree and the Big Sound : 1967)
2. Cary Grace - 1983 (A Merman I Should Be...) (originally by the Jimi Hendrix Experience : 1968)

Side 5
1. Sidewalk Society - A Saying For Today (originally by The Action : 1968)
2. Jay Tausig - Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (trad. recorded by Anne Briggs : 1963 / Pentangle : 1968)
3. Magic Bus - Tribal Gathering (originally by The Byrds : 1967)
4. Proud Peasant - Down At Circe's Place (originally by Touch : 1968)
5. Icarus Peel - Beck's Bolero (originally by Jeff Beck Group : 1966)

Side 6
1. The Green Ray - Dusty (originally by John Martyn : 1968)
2. Ex-Norwegian - Winter (originally by Family : 1968)
3. Consterdine - Fly (originally by J.K. & Co : 1968)
4. The Gold Needles - The Smell of Incense (originally by West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band : 1967)
5. The Pretty Things - Loneliest Person (live at the Half Moon, 2010) (originally by The Pretty Things : 1968)

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Lara Smiles - All For You

Debut album of bold and glossy electro-indie rock.

Lara Smiles is that rare artist that recognises the importance of accessibility while simultaneously chipping away at the coal face of experimentalism. This duality is present throughout the the ten tracks that make up her debut long-player All For You. Self-produced by Smiles and mixed by recording legends Youth and Tim Bran, the album brims with confidence, strong melodies and state-of-the-art pop production.

At the core of the sound is a three-piece indie rock band – Smiles on guitar and vocals, Sara Leigh on drums and Joe Singfield on bass. All superb players. Added to this are layers of electronic sound taking the record to a different place and level. None of this would matter of course if Smiles' songs and singing were not up to task. They are however, and then some. Coming across like a version of Amy Winehouse seeped and schooled in post-punk and electro rather than vintage soul and jazz. That comparison is bolstered by the album's closing track 'Turn It Around', a relative soft landing after the preceding fast-paced tracks, where Smiles delivers a final aural-love-letter full of soulful longing and melodic twists and turns.

A startlingly impressive debut from an artist who will no doubt progress and develop as time goes on.

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Eyeball – Paradox Of Eternal Limits

Experimental astral rock from North Carolina.

A nice surprise waiting for me when I returned from my summer holiday was this CD EP by Eyeball, they're a quartet from Raleigh, North Carolina. Not only do Brian Oaksford, Trey McLamb, Aaron Albrecht and Myriam Martian have a great collection of surnames they also make music that entertains, challenges, defies expectations and gets into a fistfight with any notion of categorisation. The band describe themselves as a “Psychedelic Experimental Music Ensemble” which is a pretty good starting point. Paradox Of Eternal Limits is their debut release and came out in 2017. Don't expect any love songs here unless they relate to aspects of quantum physics or astronomy.

Opening track 'Acid War' is built around an ominous and eerie guitar riff, driving beats and a vocal that despite being centred only two or three notes is as catchy as they come. The track comes across like Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' re-imagined by Neu. Pretty neat! 'Inside The Moon' opts for a more textural Dreampop approach with slow tempo, shoegazey guitars, electronic shimmer, and (what sounds like) a violin solo.

'Astral Projector' then flips any expectations on the head by going all acid-folk – gently strummed acoustic guitar, hand-held percussion and a vocal that sounds not unlike Anton Barbeau. The EP finishes with 'The Red Minimum' a doom-rock opus that starts slow but picks up tempo a minute in. It comes adorned with '50s sci-fi movie sounds and a vocal from the John Lydon school of singing. It occupies that sweet spot between punk and metal.

Interesting to note that with only four songs the band demonstrate a variety of styles and sounds. If they ever release a full-length LP and really stretch out who knows where they'll take us. Wherever that is it will be worth the ride.

Click here Eyeball's website.
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Sunday, 9 September 2018

PoP - 3

Second time around for New Jersey band. An infectious mix of power pop and indie rock.

I send apologies to any regular readers for the recent lack of posts. A combination of school holidays, going away on a family holiday, and getting back to an increasingly demanding workload at the day job has meant I haven't had the time I'd have liked to concentrate on the blog. Hopefully that should change soon, and looking on the positives there's been a build up of great music to listen to, write about and gently push your way. So I'll start now!

One promo that was waiting for me when I came home from holiday was this EP from PoP. The band are a three-piece based in New Jersey, USA. They original formed as a quartet in the mid '90s and like many a band worked hard, wrote some great tunes, gigged plenty but somehow never managed to get that lucky break and wider recognition. The music eventually took a back seat as careers and families became more of a priority. As all musicians know the desire to make music is an itch that will eventually need scratching. With the sudden and unexpected passing of founder member Ian Long, the remaining members (Andre Mermegas, Matthew VanNortwick and Christopher Goss) got together to record this five song EP in his memory. It's a fitting tribute that not only shows that the band have lost none of their drive and energy, but also that they can still turn out decent catchy tunes.

The music a mix of Anglo and American power pop and melodic indie rock (think of a Venn diagram with circles representing Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Foo Fighters, and The Jam, then place PoP somewhere in the middle). It's a sweet spot that finds just the right balance between jangle and crunch. Factor in vocal harmonies, overdriven guitar riffs and tunes that pass the whistle test and you have a pleasing and accomplished comeback.

Lyrically it's a case of taking stock with songs that either look back to the band's earlier days and lack of lucky break ('Warhol's Promise') or document the band's present ('4 Is 3') and their future ('New Again'). Today is a different era to those heady pre-internet days of the mid '90s and whether PoP progress any further this time round only time will tell, but that's really not the point. The music is reward enough as I'm sure they're only too aware. And one of its many associated pleasures is being able to share it with an increasingly switched-on world. Ladies and gentlemen take a listen to PoP.

Clickhere for PoP on Facebook.
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Saturday, 25 August 2018

Big Star - Live At Lafayette's Music Room

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Omnivore CD / 2LP

This hometown set from 1973 has been released before (as disc four on the Keep An Eye On The Sky box set) but a standalone release comes newly restored and remastered, and makes its debut on vinyl. The band were supporting Archie Bell and The Drells at the same venue where four months later they'd play the legendary Memphis Rock Writers Convention.

Despite Chris Bell having recently left, the new three-piece are captured on top form. With superior sound and performances than those on the Live (at WLIR) album from the following year, it's a set worth owning for Jody Stephen's joyful drum fills alone, and contains sprightly covers of The Kinks, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Todd Rundgren and T Rex. It's also a reminder that the band were not then lauded – acoustic versions of 'Try Again' and 'Watch The Sunrise' compete with disinterested audience chatter and receive scant applause. Here's to hindsight!

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Birth Of Joy - Hyper Focus

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Glitterhouse CD / 2LP

Birth Of Joy's fifth studio LP finds the band capturing their road-worn psych-blues rock in all its VU meter pushing glory. No fancy production embellishments, more a straight ahead juggernaut of a record that you either jump aboard or risk being crushed by. For all its bludgeoning testosterone-fuelled energy there are many moments of sophistication – the scale-ignoring organ fills on 'Join The Game', the swing-jazz found on 'Forenoon' or 'Sypdorkat's hint of afro-rock rhythms.

The Dutch power trio's tag-line is “sixties on steroids” and indeed their sound has roots in the organ-led heavy rock of Deep Purple, ELP, Vanilla Fudge et al. Similarly the album's title could be read as a sly reference to fellow Dutchman Thijs van Leer's long-serving prog rockers, but Hyper Focus pioneers as successfully as it follows. State of the art 21st century heaviosity that's both a portal to the past and to new possibilities.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Dodson And Fogg - A New Day

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Wisdom Twins CD

You wonder how Leeds-based polymath Chris Wade finds the time. The debut LP released by his musical nom de plume Dodson And Fogg, came out in 2012, since when he's released a further sixteen albums, wrote several books and made a couple of films.

The music on his latest album falls loosely under the folk-rock banner, be it the delightful sitar accompaniment on the titular instrumental, or the one-chord acoustic guitar and flute boogie on 'Look At Your Home', Wade finds enough variety to maintain interest, at times recalling a cross-legged Bolan and the anti-establishment protest of Roger Waters.

Best of all is elegiac closer 'There's a Change In The Air', where rooted and muted brass sounds back an exploratory electric guitar. A neat musical metaphor for contemporary Britain? Perhaps not but the homespun folk on A New Day resonates with a decidedly bucolic Brit-folk vibe that's as eternal as the Pennines.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Osiris Club - The Wine-Dark Sea

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Indie CD / LP

Much modern music claims to fall under the banner of dark psychedelia but little of it contains such drama and energy as found on this second LP by London-based quartet The Osiris Club. Their follow-up to 2014's debut The Blazing World sees them mix nightmare-inducing '70s prog with doses of post-punk spikiness and nu-metal urgency. It's music that echoes King Crimson, Cardiacs and even at times The Teardrop Explodes, but ultimately evokes their own shadowy universe, one dense with guitar riffs and ominous textures.

Such sombre haunting is not surprising given the songs' subject matter which draws from the horror fiction of HP Lovecraft and Robert Aickman, and sinister comic book characters ('Citadel of the Fly' is inspired by occultist Gustav Strobl from Hellboy). It may be an unrelenting voyage to the darker side of music and the human psyche, but is recommended for those that need to nourish their inner Goth.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Nick Coleman - Voices: How A Great Singer Can Change Your Life

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)


Coleman's previous book A Train In The Night was a poignant but hopeful account of suffering from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. A big deal for anyone but more so if you've spent the previous 25 years writing about music for a living. Though impaired his hearing has returned in sufficient form to allow the consumption and enjoyment of music again.

Voices is the result of binge-listening to his favourite singers in an attempt to store up the feelings, insights, nourishment and emotions they generate. Over the course of ten taut chapters Coleman distills what it is about an artist's voice that makes it so affecting, mixing in some social history and a little autobiographical colour. He dissects why certain music chimes with us at certain times (or not in the case of Sinatra). It's a subjective book but covers much ground mixing the great with the unexpected. Whether analysing rock 'n' roll giants, Motown legends, footnotes of jazz, or ruminating on British blue-eyed soul, rock's mature sophistication and punk's re-scattering of the dice, Coleman always presents a precise and engaging case.

As Coleman knows only too well there are times we'll all need the services of a doctor, nurse, specialist or surgeon. Hopefully not often and not for long. Our favourite singers however can be called on every day for solace, sensitivity, salvation, inspiration and wonderment. Coleman's book is a warmly written reminder of this that will have you delving into your music collection with fresh thanks and renewed appreciation.

Click here to buy via Amazon.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Snowchild - Age Of Change

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

Kozmic Artifactz CD / LP 

This Wichita-based power trio know certain boxes need ticking for successful doom/stoner/sludge rock – long songs, ominous riffs and sheer heaviness for starters. What happens beyond that determines whether you rise above the competition. Snowchild needn't worry - subtle tempo changes, intuitive ensemble playing and dynamics ensure that Age Of Change never gets boring. And despite the old-school rock leanings, the subject matter makes for an album as contemporary as they come.

Anyone upset because Black Sabbath have knocked it on the head can find solace and cause for celebration here as bassist/vocalist Larry Donaldson is a graduate from the Ozzy School of Vocal Phrasing. There are other influences – the intro of 'Born in Flames' owes as much to Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul as it does to Master Of Reality, and 'Boudica' expands their palette with sitar-like guitar, eastern scales and a space rock vibe. Dark, heavy and soulful.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Daniel McGeever - Cross The Water

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

You Are The Cosmos CD / LP

Edinburgh-based musician McGeever has plied his trade as guitarist in The Wellgreen and Delta Mainline but now steps out front with this wholesome solo debut. Taking inspiration from Lennon's piano period with a pinch of Bill Fay, McGeever has a classicist's approach to songwriting, turning out meaningful heart-on-sleeve lyrics and memorable choruses. His middle eights are pretty decent too.

'MMXIII' is a highlight with dreamy backing vocals, strings and what sounds like a Mellotron in the coda. 'You're Coming Home' is a Memphis soul ballad transported to Auld Reekie, whereas 'For Violet' makes the personal universal, a heartfelt song for a newborn family member that could melt the most cynical of hearts. Not one to shy away from the big themes, with family, love, life and death all covered, there's a sense of McGeever taking emotional stock, looking back and forward in equal measure, with a rarely found but welcome openness.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Richie Havens - Richard P. Havens, 1983

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

Retroworld CD

1969 was a defining year for this Greenwich Village folkie. The opening appearance at Woodstock and the release of this sprawling 17-song collection, which originally came out as a double vinyl set. The Orwellian title taps into the paranoia of the age, the songs half utopian ideals, half the dawning of dystopian realities, all rendered in the production values of the time - heavy stereo, loose jams with subtle exotic touches of tabla, sitar, congas and even an Ondioline.

An underrated writer mixing poetry and protest in his self-penned songs, Havens' was also a skilled interpreter, unearthing nuances here in songs by Dylan, Donovan and Cohen, along with four Beatles tracks. Most poignant is the final run of songs (side four of the original vinyl), recorded live at a Santa Monica gig where his rich soulful voice, warm rapport and willingness to improvise remind us what an original talent he was.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Brad San Martin - Shoot Tomorrow / Learn Tonight

(This review first appeared in issue #75 of Shindig! magazine.)

Jigsaw CD

The former member of indie-popsters One Happy Island stays the right side of twee on the follow-up to 2015's Tell Someone, not striving for complication or perfection, but winning listeners over with simple arrangements and inspired instrumental touches from his guest players (Mitch Easter, Pete Weiss and Kevin Dunn). Added to that is his vocal delivery, reminiscent of Eric Matthews, and a winning way with tunes, be it the stately piano pop on 'Promises' or the sprightly upbeat 'Hey Everyone'.

The main attraction however is the range of subject matter. Martin is unafraid to lay his frailties, fears and faults on the line which makes for an album that's honest and brims with curious thoughts and obsessions. Whether comparing the merits of various British jazz critics, analysing the appeal of The Bar-Kays' 'Soul Finger' or documenting his move from Massachusetts to North Carolina he's unguarded and open. Therein lies the album's charm.