Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Paperweight Array - Transmisssions From A Distant Star EP


One of the more enticing releases to have come to my attention recently, this time via the magic portal that is Twitter, is the debut release by Northampton/London-based trio called The Paperweight Array. Their three-track EP 'Transmissions From A Distant Star' brims with melodic invention, accomplished harmonies and side-stepping chord sequences that conjures up an impressive list of possible influences. Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, ELP, Jellyfish are just a few names that spring to mind.

Like all good bands though they're more than just a photocopied version of their favourite bands with a sound that both pushes boundaries but not at the expense of accessibility As is said in music industry parlance they're definitely "ones to watch". Intriguing to see what they'll come up with next. Check out the EP via the player above. 

Click here for The Paperweight Array on Twitter.
Click here for The Paperweight Array on Facebook.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Girls Want The Boys! Sweden's Beat Girls 1964-1970


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ace CD

Sweden in the 1960s had yet to prove itself as an international pop force yet this compilation shows it had a wealth of home-grown talent waiting in the wings to help its exportation of pop rival that of Volvo. The collection kicks off with a track apiece from pre-ABBA Agnetha and Anni-Frid before expanding into lesser known femme-pop territory. It's a stylistic smorgasbord ranging from funky soul grooves, breezy MOR, sassy girl group sounds to street-smart contemporary pop.

Sweden's pop industry clearly took its cues from Britain and the US as shown by a heavy reliance on covers: 'Summertime', 'Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)', 'Gimme Little Sign', 'Music To Watch Girls (Boys?) By' and more are all given a Swedish language makeover. While some tracks may have had a whiff of cash-in at the time they sound remarkably fresh and spirited now. Proof the Swedes had much to offer before ABBA mania.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Federale - All The Colours Of The Dark


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Death Waltz CD / LP

In the wrong hands a spoof spaghetti western soundtrack could be an ill-advised dish. Not a problem here, Federale's third LP is cooked to al dente perfection. Its musical cues are taken straight from the master, Ennio Morricone: haunting whistled melodies, twangy guitars, high strings and mariachi brass all present and correct. Though they're not the only band to attempt this sound, with the likes of Spindrift ploughing a similar furrow, what really sets them apart is the vocal narrative: sinister tales of vengeance and violence delivered in a pleasingly deep baritone. Think Nick Cave and Scott Walker singing a song-cycle set on the Andalusian plains.

For an album that wears its influences so proudly on its sleeve, (literally with artwork that pays homage to Scott 3), it's a true gem, packed with all the darkness and drama you can handle. Widescreen, cinematic Americana doesn't get much better than this.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Billy Ritchie - The ABC Of 1-2-3


(This book review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ingram

The reputation of 1-2-3 has been steadily growing since the first magazine articles appeared in the mid-'90s championing the Scottish trio. “The greatest band you never heard of” claim carries weight when you stack up the musicians who've cited the band as a major force or influence. Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney and David Bowie were all big fans. Marquee manager John Gee would go on to say they were the best band he saw in all his years at the club.

Billy Ritchie's place in popular music history is assured by being the man who introduced David Bowie to Jimi Hendrix but his true legacy is his musicianship. As a self taught child keyboard prodigy and through a succession of bands Ritchie made the journey from post-war Forth, Scotland, to the hip hangouts of swinging London and stadium tours of the States before walking away from music altogether.

Ritchie convincingly makes the case for 1-2-3 having been pioneers and architects of what would later become keyboard-led progressive rock, openly naming and shaming those who took influence from him and went on to reap vast rewards. (I won't spoil it for you here by repeating the names!)
Unflinchingly honest about the musical decline and industry machinations that failed to keep the band in the public eye, Ritchie is equally adept at analysing band chemistry, breaking down that elusive alchemy all collaborative musicians yearn for. A fascinating read and one which will have you re-thinking everything you know about the history of progressive rock.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Leviathan - Leviathan


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Grapefruit CD

First time on CD for this legendary lost album, and bolstered with the addition of three 7” tracks. The band formerly known as Mike Stuart Span were only the third UK band to sign to ultra-hip Elektra Records. After changing their name at label boss Jac Holzman's request in order to be promoted as a new band, their 1969 recordings for what should have been their debut album were rejected as not strong enough. In truth they probably lost something in transatlantic translation as they chime nicely with the heavy-psych and hard rock scene happening in the UK at the time.

With phased drums, incredible lead guitar work and occasional Beatle-isms Leviathan sound not unlike a pre-glam Slade, or a more melodic, less blues-based Zep. Quintessentially heavy, right down to the band's whale-shaped logo. A nice follow up and companion piece to Grapefruit's recent I'm A Freak Baby box set.


The Shacks - The Shacks EP


(This review first appeared in issue #62 of Shindig! magazine.)

Big Crown CD / 10”

It takes confidence to open an early release with a cover but here it's fitting; The Shacks' take on Ray Davies' 'This Strange Effect' enchants and unnerves in equal measure, setting the tone for the rest of the EP. They display a musicality and restraint that belies their youth, with their own compositions as satisfying as their choice of covers.

With closely mic-ed vocals set to barely more than a whisper and lo-fi bedroom indie backing, comparisons with Mazzy Star, Jane Birkin and the Velvet Underground's third LP are not unfounded.
This young New York boy-girl duo have created the sonic equivalent of Coraline, eerie yet familiar and certain to draw you in. Also notable is the rocksteady backing provided by The Frightnrs (Daptone Records) on 'Hands In Your Pockets'. With seven tracks on the vinyl (nine on the CD), this is a generous appetiser for their debut LP due early next year.


Interview with Shadow Band


(This feature originally appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)

Philadelphian collective make wintry psych-folk with a nod to the occult and nature mysticism. Duncan Fletcher feels the icy chill.

“A musician I admire told me that influence could be split into two categories: ghost and substance. Substance could be the conscious decision, as in, the songs were written largely with a folk palette, and we had some shared influences in mind. But ghost is harder to trace. It's the conscious or unconscious influence of a much broader palette. Ghost is about aesthetic or feeling, not discrete sounds... I'd argue we're driven more by ghost than by substance.”

So says bassist Jacob Brunner talking about the range of musical backgrounds that shape Shadow Band's modernised take on '70s acid-folk. Hear it for yourself on their new single 'Eagle Unseen' which, according to vocalist and songwriter Mike Bruno, was inspired by “the current dark age we live in, the toxic political climate and perpetual warring... the thankless will to do just and good in a bad world as one's only hope for personal salvation, and nature's gathering response to our abuse unto her.”

The video for the single's other track 'Moonshine' was filmed in the band's residence and creative hub, a townhouse called Castle Corbenic. It's the ultimate hippy hangout crammed with books, LPs and exotic musical instruments. Keyboardist Morgan Morel expands - “Corbenic is located in an as of yet unnamed neighbourhood in South Philly. There's a vibrant mix of people from around the world, with an energy that borders on chaotic. It's comforting to think that within the walls of Corbenic we've created a microcosm of our surroundings.”

Tellingly the house also contains a raft of vintage guitar amps. Not surprising for a band who cite Black Sabbath as a major influence. Jacob explains - “I'd say we're plugged in more often than not. We've played punishingly loud and feather-soft in the same show. It's hard to say where the folk ends and the rock begins!”

'Eagle Unseen' b/w 'Moonshine' is out now on Mexican Summer. A full-length LP Wilderness of Love is also now available.



Click over the jump for the full interview.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Prana Crafter - MindStreamBlessing


Mindful and meditative music from the Washington woodlands.


I've written before about the American musician William Sol, who musical nom-de-plume is Prana Crafter. His previous LP Rupture of Planes (on US label Deep Water Acres) mixed UK acid-folk with textural soundscapes to great effect. MindStreamBlessing, Sol's latest LP, freshly released on Eiderdown Records doesn't give away its influences as much but that's no bad thing. The finger-picked guitar is still there as are the electric flights of fancy but this time round the inspiration comes from deep within his own range of emotions.

Using a simple palette of guitar, drums and organ the music has a timeless, elemental quality, inspired by nature and vistas and the feeling of being far from the madding crowd. Fans of the much-missed Windham Hill label will feel an affinity with the music here. This six song LP is the perfect soundtrack for insomniac nights and the stillness and of early mornings. Don't expect hooks, riffs or gimmicks, but do expect subtle, slow-burning pieces that given time will have a deeper, longer lasting satisfaction. A fine example of solitary yet subtly cosmic Americana.


Released on digital download or as a limited edition cassette (100 copies only).

Click here for Prana Crafter on Twitter.
Click here for Eiderdown Records.

Kris Gietkowski - songs from the first LP by Egg

Polish muti-instrumentalist releases a bizarre but lovely labour of love!


I have to admit I'm not that familiar with the first LP by Egg, being still in nappies when it was released. My earliest musical memories coming a few years later and limited to the glam pop and tartan-clad boy bands prevalent on AM radio at the time. Anyway thanks to the powers of the Internet I've learnt that Egg were a three-piece prog band who signed to Decca in 1969 and released and eponymous debut LP a year later.

Fast forward 47 years and in a bizarre labour of love, Polish multi-instrumentalist Kris Gietkowski has decided to record a full length LP featuring most of the songs from Egg's first LP. Notice that that's most and not all, as the press release explains - “it's only 'most of' as one of the tracks would have taken him months to learn and he didn't fancy the ten second intro track on the original album.”

Reading that I knew I'd just love this LP, regardless of how it sounded. But anyway it sounds pretty good. A fully instumental album full of jazz-prog organ fugues, proto math-rock and quasi-classical passages in what I'm led to believe is a fairly faithful replica of the original LP. And it comes as a colour-in-colour vinyl LP, yellow in white to look like a poached egg. How can any self-respecting vinyl freak not dig that right!?!


Released as a colour-in-colour vinyl LP on April 17th. (300 copies only)

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.



Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals - The Volga Sturgeon Face EP


Soft Hearted Scientists' frontman releases solo EP.

It's difficult to think of a contemporary band as prolifically good as Soft Hearted Scientists. After seven LPs (and nary a bad one among them) the band are taking a year out to re-charge their collective battery. That's not to say they won't be making music. Frontman Nathan Hall has already enlisted a bunch of pals to back him on his debut solo EP. Ladies and gentleman say hello to Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals.

Fans of SHS will not be disappointed, this new outfit ploughs a similar furrow. The same astute, subversive worldview that characterised the best work of the SHS is present throughout this four song Extended Play. Wide ranging references, with equal portions of absudities and insights have always been hallmarks of Hall's work and here is no exception. But there's always a point to be made, be it with lyrics intent of taking revenge on the perpetrators of genocide, lamenting the passing of time or anaylising existencial crises. Clever stuff. No slouch with the music and textures either. Gentle neo-psych one minute, baroque pop the next before bursting out some ideas-packed prog the next. Neat work.

Tracklisting
Everybody's Burning Effigies
Songs For The Flowers
Like A Setting Sun
Catacombs Of Camden Town

Click here for Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals on Facebook.
Click here for more on Soft Hearted Scientists.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Interview with Emm Smith (Stereo Moon)


(This feature first appeared in issue 62 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview with Emm Smith click over the jump at the bottom of this post. Photo by Mat Manser.)
 
Canadian sonic adventurers go back to the future and top up their studio tans with Duncan Fletcher.

Ultimately I want to trip out like when you're dreaming, which can be the most amazing journey. Jumping from one adventure to another, seeing things appear in multiple places or configurations. Using the recording studio as an instrument. A Jerry Garcia quote says it best - 'mixing it for the hallucinations'” So says Stereo Moon mainman Emm Smith talking about modular recording, the technique pioneered by Brian Wilson on 'Good Vibrations' and SMiLE, and also utilised on Stereo Moon's latest outing, The Shape Of Psych To Come EP. Over its four tracks the band pick up the psych baton that was dropped by mainstream musicians in the late '60s. “I think in a Brian Wilson interview from that time he mentions the future of music being psychedelic and it doesn't happen. That future is a lie to some.”

Aside from the tightly arranged psych-pop of lead track 'Requiem For The Non-Believers', the band get to stretch out with free-form jamming and studio experimentation on the EP's instrumental tracks. They've also been obsessively re-working a debut LP, Smoking Shake By The Riverside, which should be ready for mixing next year. “There's a lyric in one of the songs that says, 'I've been driving myself insane but I wouldn't have it any other fucking way'. There's everything from pedal steel to horns, strings, double bass, organ, piano, banjo. I was laid-off from work in 2015 so production has slowed down. It costs money to rent a vibraphone for example, the next thing to get excited about! All the exotic instrumentation can be hard to find, or even people who can play them!”

Live shows are a less disciplined affair. Says Emm, “Live I’m going for more of a noisy Velvet Underground sound with psychedelic organ. For me the VU and The Beach Boys are the two ends of the spectrum I want to explore.”


Click here for Stereo Moon on Twitter.



Muscle - Muscle


Debut LP of quirky garage rock from Toulouse-based quartet.


One of the more interesting bands to have come into my orbit recently is Muscle. Mixing garage rock with hi-octane post-punk, their sound is quirky, off-kilter and full of enough interesting little twists, turns and additions to raise a smile from even the most jaded garage-head. The band formed in 2015 in Toulouse, France and contains members of Gaz Gaz, Crank!, Dividers and Liminanas.

Their quirky punk sound topped off with sharp, acerbic lyrics is a real tonic in troubled times. The've recently toured France, Switzerland and Belgium. Hopefully they'll make it over the Channel sometime but if you can't wait why not head across to France yourself? Muscle play the Binic Folk Blues Festival in Northwest France in July. A festival on a beach is as good an excuse as any for a cross-channel trip. Even more so if Muscle are playing! Have a listen to their eponymous LP below.

Out now on limited edition vinyl LP, CD, cassette or digital download.

Click here for Muscle on Bandcamp.
Click here for Muscle on Facebook.
Click here for more on Binic Folk Blues Festival.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Bendith - Bendith


(This review first appeared in issue 61 of Shindig! magazine.)

 
Agati CD

Top session guitarist and Colorama mainman Carwyn Ellis teams up with family harmonists Plu for this short but charming suite of Welsh language folk. Bendith means blessing in Welsh, a fitting title for a band and album that pays homage to family and fond childhood memories of time spent in Carmarthenshire. This is most notable on lead single 'Dannybanc', named after the home of Ellis' grandparents.

This firmly-rooted sense of place permeates the album with the sparse, subtle arrangements and acoustic instrumentation allowing the Plu siblings' voices to take centre stage. Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys' three-part harmonies are haunting, beautiful and mysterious, helping make the album into the perfect Sunday morning soundtrack

Minimalist and easy on the ear, this delightful modern folk will be of particular interest to those resident in west Wales, but will resonate further afield with anyone with open ears willing to give it a chance.

EZTV - High In Place


(This review was written for issue 61 of Shindig! magazine. They didn't use it due to lack of space so it's appearing here.)

Captured Tracks CD / LP

City-dwelling anxiety and problems caused by gentrification are explored on the band's 2nd LP. The world-weary lyrics against a backdrop of breezy 12-string guitars provides a happy/sad dynamic akin to glimpsing the sun through an imposing skyscraper skyline. It's this feeling that binds and runs through the whole album.

With their harmony drenched guitar pop, EZTV may be the natural heirs to Teenage Fanclub, bringing melodic, slightly melancholic jangle to a new generation. But for all their inspiration from the janglers of yore - The Byrds, Big Star, The Feelies et al, the New York-based trio still manage to sound like a band for now, one for today's indie-kids to claim as their own.

Guest appearances from Jenny Lewis, Chris Cohen and members of Real Estate and Quilt give the album a contemporary indie shimmer, as does the crystal clear self-production and Ezra Tenenbaum's wistful vocals. Big city loneliness has rarely sounded so good.


Jim Lea - Therapy


(This review first appeared in issue 61 of Shindig! magazine.)


Wienerworld CD

As the musical half of one of the UK's most successful songwriting partnerships it's no surprise the former Slade bassist's 2007 “midlife” album displayed his prodigious talents, with Lea playing almost every instrument on the record. For an album composed and recorded while Lea undertook a psychology course, what could have been an indulgent album, full of introspective navel-gazing, is actually a blast. Despite the preoccupation with self-exploration the album is full of brash and ballsy songs, with hooks and killer choruses aplenty. It seems the man cannot help writing belting pop-rock tunes, and can also knock out a pretty decent piano ballad ('Smile Of Elvis').

Reissued here with extra tracks and a bonus disc of a rare 2002 gig performed with a hastily assembled rhythm section “for the existential buzz”. Tearing through an incendiary covers-heavy set, the self-confessed “miserable one” from Slade sounds like he's having fun. Revelatory and immensely enjoyable.