Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Interview with Tobia Poltronieri (C+C=Maxigross)

(This feature first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unedited interview click over the jump at the bottom of this post.)

Duncan Fletcher talks with Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of Italian psych-collective C+C=Maxigross, about their new album and self-curated festival.

Since we were kids we organised illegal parties in the hills, in basements and in the mountains… After many years we decided to do our real thing, Lessinia Psych Fest was born in 2014 in a garden of a friend's house in the mountains. Jennifer Gentle and Miles Cooper Seaton from Akron/Family were the headliners. We met Miles at that festival, he was touring Italy by himself at the time. Now he lives in Verona with us… Just to make you understand that the vibe here is REALLY GOOD!… Finally the festival is growing! Next year you’re invited, and your readers too!”

Anyone craving a unique boutique festival experience is advised to accept this invitation from Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of C+C=Maxigross, an ever mutating collective who organise their own festival each July in the mountains near Verona. The band (whose name is taken from a local cash and carry) have a sound that mixes the organic mushroomy goodness of the early '70s, with the playful wide-eyed wonder of contemporaries such as The Flaming Lips, Devendra Banhart and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Their willingness to experiment and improvise, coupled with state-of-the-art pop production marks them out as standard bearers for 21st century freak-folk.

Their recently released 2nd LP Fluttarn is titled in Cimbrian, an arcane local language found only in the Lessinia hills. Fluttarn translates as "to flutter, to fly about or fly away". “For us Lessinia is pure magic and mystery”, say Tobia, “and one of these strange sides is this ancient and almost dead language, “Cimbro”, from the German people who came here in the Middle Ages. Sadly almost nobody’s talking in this language today.”

The language may be in danger but the beauty of their homeland remains a more permanent inspiration - “Only people from Verona go there… sad cos it's definitely worth a look! These mountains are amazing, gentle pre-Alps, wonderful and magic! This place has been the shelter for our relaxation and creativity, where to go when we want to escape the city and its hustle and bustle. With our label, Vaggimal records, we started to record other bands in our studio in the mountains, we spent a lot of time there, creating and exploring music, letting the good vibes take over.”

Aside from the hills the band cite their prime influence as Os Mutantes, one that extends beyond music - “Their music is amazing! Crazy, free, colourful, unexpected, melodic and groovy. Our vibes! But also the context where they grew up: a nation under a dictator, far from the Anglo-American scene they loved (from Haight-Ashbury to Swingin’ London, you know better than me)... Starting from Brazil, they created their own world, so strong and unique that still now has lots to say. It’s the thing we like to do: mix cultures and inspirations to create something new. I mean, we’re a free form band from the north of Italy, singing in English, playing crazy psych vibes and always travelling Europe with different musicians and artists... At least we try to do our thing! Then we will see... Bat Macumba!”

Fluttarn is out now on Trovarobato/Vaggimal Records.

Mike Love - Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy

(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine)

Faber & Faber
More villain than hero. That's how the world views Mike Love in the pantomime story of The Beach Boys. This book attempts to set the record straight, with Love placing the biggest blame for the band's fractious nature on the Wilson brothers' father Murry, a control freak whose bad management decisions would haunt the band over the ensuing decades.

He's equally candid about his own shortcomings, with evidence of his contradictory personality throughout; the most business-minded Beach Boy, but one with an interest in meditation and astrology; a clean-living, drug-free vegetarian with anger issues; a serial womaniser who won't live with a woman outside of marriage. As self-appointed “road-dog” Love has worked harder than anyone in the band to keep their stock high, a role he claims he was forced to take after missing out on songwriting credits and losing rights to the back catalogue. (Murry Wilson again!).

Aside from the score settling, all the juicy stuff is here – making Pet Sounds and SMiLE, lawsuits, tour punch-ups, Maharishi, Eugene Landy and Charlie Manson. Love may never win a popularity contest when up against Team Brian, but he's good company and disarmingly gracious when it comes to his extended family of bandmates, complimenting all three Wilson brothers, and expressing palpable sadness over Brian's mental decline and the deaths of Dennis and Carl.

As rock's most dysfunctional family band, The Beach Boys' story is one we'll never tire of, and from this angle it's less black and white than some observers would have us believe.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sendelica/Superfjord - Zappa (Ltd. colour 7")

Welsh spacerockers and Finnish psychedelic jazzers take a side each on this 7” tribute to Frank!

Frank Zappa was a musician with a devoted following, one that shows no sign of weakening almost a quarter of a century after his death. With that in mind it's a brave move to cover an artist that many would think uncoverable. Purely from a technical point of view this is not for the faint hearted. And who would want to upset those fervent Zappaphiles?!

Welsh spacerockers Sendelica and Finland's Superfjord have stepped up to the proverbial plate, each taking a side each of this limited edition 7” to give their spin on a couple of Frank's most iconic compositions.

Superfjord's version of 'Peaches En Regalia' keeps the originals sense of fun, ups the acid-rock ante and adds an additional jammed out section. It's also has one hell of a funky bassline. Sendelica opt to tackle 'Don't Eat The Yellow Snow', beginning with a spaced out ethereal section that segues into a heavier riff-based part which has an almost glam-rock feel, making full use of two drummers.

As they say in football parlance this two-tracker is a game of two halves. Difficult to pick a winner as they're both enjoyable. And hey, music ain't no competition after all, it's a collaborative labour of love. Another winning combination from Fruits de Mer.

Superfjord – 'Peaches En Regalia'
Sendelica – 'Don't Eat The yellow Snow'

Released as a limited edition colour vinyl 7” on April 17th.

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.
Click here for Sendelica.
Click here for Superfjord.

Judy Collins - In My Life / Wildflowers / Whales & Nightingales

(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine.)

This three album compilation, remastered and repackaged as a 2CD set, covers the years 1967-1971 and showcases Collins' transformation from collegiate folk-boom survivor into baroque-folk interpreter of the great contemporary songbook. Most of the tracks here are drawn from songwriting heavyweights; Dylan, Cohen, Baez, Seeger, Newman, Mitchell, The Beatles and Donovan all get a look in, along with Brel, Brecht and Behan. Collins' self-penned songs and her take on traditional tunes hold their own however, finely balanced between introspection and melodrama.

In My Life is artistically the most successful in part due to its reliance on big songs. Wildflowers is more idiosyncratic and beguiling, in many ways a braver statement. Whales & Nightingales is notable for the hit single 'Amazing Grace', a partial return to traditional folk material and the album's environmental themes as shown on whaling song 'Farewell To Tarwathie' which features the recording of a humpback whale as backing.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Brinsley Schwarz - It's All Over Now

Over forty years on the pub-rockers' shelved US breakthrough album finally gets released!

Brinsley Schwarz started work on this LP at Rockfield Studios at the tail end of 1974, drafting in producer Steve Verroca to give their sound a more commercial sheen. The band had hoped it would be the record that helped them break through to a wider audience in America. It wasn't to be. The band's soulful rock and earnest, accomplished musicianship were about to be upstaged by punk's need for a clean slate. That aside they also felt they had run their course and were on the verge of breaking up. And break up they did, in search of fresh musical challenges. The tapes sat gathering proverbial dust until guitarist Ian Gomm needed some two-inch tape to test out a new studio he was helping build. Remembering the shelved album he was able to rescue the tape days before it would have ended up in a skip.

A few years ago Gomm made a few handmade CDRs available via his website but now the record is getting it's first full commercial release on Mega Dodo Records. So how does it sound over forty years after its intended release? Pretty good I have to say! There a some great songs on this record - 'Cruel To Be Kind' (later a solo hit for Nick Lowe), an ace version of 'Private Number' and a reggae version of 'It's All Over Now' (better than it sounds on paper/screen, trust me!)

There's still over a month till this album hits the shops but a quick look at the Mega Dodo Records' online shop tells me the vinyl has all gone on pre-order. One for Discogs then if you want a copy, or sign up to Mega Dodo's mailing list for news of any re-presses. Also available on CD and very limited cassette.

Click here for Mega Dodo Records.

The Higher State – Your Casting Doubt (Ltd. 7”)

Latest single from Kent garage-heads! 300 copies only!

The Higher State's LP from last year, the misleadingly titled Volume 27 was a winner for those of us who like their music with a distincly '60s hue. The three man line-up that made the album are back with a new 7”, limited to only 300 copies.

A-side 'Your Casting Doubt' has the same musical DNA as Volume 27 – plenty of fuzz guitar, authentic trebly production, and that Yanks-copying-Brits-copying-Yanks vibe that was all the rage back in '66. Wait a minute, these are Brits-copying-Yanks-copying-Brits-copying-Yanks! Get your hear round that folks!!

Anyway let's not get bogged down in the ethnology, suffice to say that it sounds great. Flipside 'X-Ray Day' tells a worrying tale of a hospital visit/nuclear dread delivered with charmingly lazy, nasal vocals. Neat!

If you want a copy, 100 come in a folded over sleeve (available via the band's own Bandcamppage), with the other 200 regular copies available from Market SquareRecords. Get ordering doods!

Click here for The Higher State.
Click here for Market Square Records.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Aussie acid-folkers Trappist Afterland announce UK and European dates

Trappist Afterland head over to the northern hemisphere soon for a string of gigs, including support slots with Wolf People and Trembling Bells. Well worth getting along to!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Fay Hallam - House of Now

(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine.)

Well Suspect CD / LP
Aided by acid-jazz supremo Andy Lewis (Pimlico, Paul Weller etc.) in the producer's chair, Hallam's latest album holds on to her modernist Hammond-groove roots but reaches new conceptual heights. Thirteen tracks, loosely held together by themes of spirituality and an unspoken religiosity, they sound like they belong to a early '70s counterculture inspired musical. Hallam and her assembled band are on killer form with a sound that's somewhere between Julie Driscoll's psych-infused R&B and the big-hearted orchestral soul of Marta Kubišová. The Medway modette still has it.

Further sonic territory is explored via the spacey soul-searching of 'Fragment', the Robert Kirby style strings on 'Heart Cries Out' and the lover's lament of 'Colours'. Though for the most part finger-snapping soul beats brush up against Latino-funk on an album that exudes both cool sophistication and an exuberance that pushes you towards the nearest dancefloor. All that and fuzz-guitar breaks! What more could you want?!

Tim Presley - The Wink

(This review first appeared in issue 60 of Shindig! magazine)

Drag City CD / LP / Cass
On the first album released under his own name it's unclear whether the artist formerly known as White Fence is an idiot savant or enjoying a private joke. Given the album's title it may well be the latter. Even so that holds its own charms. With nursery rhyme melodies, stream of consciousness lyrics and ego-less vocals he presents himself as a potential Syd Barrett for the cassette generation.
Characterised by fragmentation and dissolution, this strange, skewed pop is not easy to like at first but gradually reveals its layers, shifting between deconstructed post-punk grooves and sentimental lo-fi balladry. Producer Cate Le Bon has had the task of assembling the song choices from a mountain of demos, which adds to the sense of detachment.

Salvation comes via the spiky guitar lines which are worthy of Wire and even Trout Mask Replica. It makes you wonder what Presley could produce should he feel more engaged.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Interview with The Blind Owls

(This feature first appeared in issue 59 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unedited interview click over the jump at the bottom of this post.)

Corpus Christi is a coastal city in south Texas and the unlikely home of latest garage-beat sensations The Blind Owls. In a city famed for palm trees and subtropical weather The Blind Owls play music more readily associated with dank Liverpudlian cellar bars and rowdy Reeperbahn strip-joints. Their debut LP, All Day And Night, echoes Merseybeat and early rock 'n' roll with a hint of US garage. All played with verve and vigour, and a musicality beyond their tender years.

The band describe themselves thus - “'60s rock 'n' roll, well-dressed, energetic and raw”. True, but not the full story. Rather than the usual one-sound-fits-all favoured by many garage acts, these guys have a variety and breadth of approach. Guitarist Josh De Leon explains “I took a classical guitar class in high school, where I learned all about new techniques and styles of playing. I try to bring a different style into our music influenced from any genre that I'm currently listening to. I also enjoy playing the organ and have incorporated that into a few songs.”

Their harmonies, George Harrison style guitar licks and instrumental colouring put the band ahead of many contemporaries. Guitarist and main songwriter Jesse De Los Santos says -“We do our best to put a lot into our music, it’s something we all had to work hard at but now seems to come naturally. Harmonies are very important for us; the right harmony at the right place can change the mood of the song. The same goes for guitar fills and so on.”

For a band born around the time the Beatles Anthology compilations, their affection for '60s music is as passionate as it is surprising. Says Jesse - “We grew up influenced by our parents, listening to the Beatles or Elvis every day on the way to school and just being around that music struck a chord with us. As we got older, we delved deeper into the music of the '60s, where we discovered many new artists. We fell in love with the sounds of close harmonies, jangly guitars and all the beautiful melodies and talent these musicians had. There’s so much great music to be found and the music of the '60s is something that we really appreciate.”

Other influences include The Zombies, The Kinks, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Easybeats, The Chantays and Buddy Holly. Drummer Dylan Rommel's influences stretch further still - “I've been playing drums for 10 years. However, I didn’t start taking it seriously until I joined the band. I use my drumming to bring a laid back style, influenced by R&B and jazz of the 1960s.”

Live shows are an energetic affair with bassist Carlos Garcia citing Pete Towshend and Elvis as his visual inspiration. The band plan to mak shau as far afield as money will allow but sadly there are no plans for a European visit just yet. Though as Jesse says “we hope to bring our music there one day, if anyone would like to help us let us know!” Over to you promoters!

All Day And Night is self-released on CD. A cassette version is available from Dadstache Records. Soundflat Records will be releasing a vinyl LP.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Neighbourhood Strange – Let's Get High / One Last Chance 7”

If sixties were nineties. Beefy garage-psych from the Salisbury quintet.

Less than a year on from their eponymous debut 7”, The Neighbourhood Strange are back with another double A-sided dose of dark garage-psych. This couln't have arrived at a better time for me. I recently had chat with a pal about psychedelia where he described it as music that's all about head-in-the-clouds, holding hands and golden unicorns. This slab of plastic may help in opening his up his mind. Let's all wear flowers in our hair? No thanks, let's just crack on with the substances instead. Psych is a very broad church that can accomodate a lot of punk-ish attitude.

The Neighbourhood Strange have one foot in the Sunset Strip garage sound of the mid '60s and another in the swaggering guitar band sound that was all the range in the '90s. With a lead vocal that recalls both Lennon's salty snarl and Jim Morrison's baritone. 'Let's All Get High' is a call to arms for heads everywhere. Unlike the treble-heavy '60s recordings that have obviously inspired the band, the track benefits from today's production values. It's all about the full sonic spectrum baby, where the bottom end can cut through!

Flipside 'One Last Chance' has a slower early '70s Stones-ey vibe. Jagger-esque vocals with instrumental passages where both guitar and organ get to take centre stage. Another top release. Nice work lads! Anyway where did I leave that golden unicorn?

Released on March 17th on 7” vinyl and CD (Each limited to 500 copies).

Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Facebook.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Bandcamp.

Green Seagull announce debut 7" single!

Green Seagull
Scarlet b/w They Just Don’t Know
Limited edition 7-INCH SINGLE (300 COPIES).
RELEASE DATE: 16/06/17

Taking their name from a mis-heard Rolling Stones lyric, Green Seagull are the latest band to burst out of London's burgeoning neo-psych scene. The band formed in 2016 when Paul Nelson (New Electric Ride) approached Paul Milne (Hidden Masters / Magnetic Mind) to work on some songs together. A shared enthusiasm for late-60s baroque psychedelia and 12-string jangle soon blossomed into a prolific songwriting team, and before long the duo had more songs than they knew what to do with. 

They were joined shortly after by Sarah Gonputh on keys and Carlos Redondo on drums, and the newly-minted quartet set about recording a demo in their rehearsal room on an old cassette 4-track. These lo-fi recordings pricked up the ears of Mega Dodo Records, who immediately signed the band for an album deal. 

Since then the band have played a handful of well-received shows around London and have been hard at work recording their debut single and LP at Sausage Studios with producer Sebastian Kellig (My Drug Hell). 

We were reluctant to commit ourselves to naming an A-side and it did seem a bit audacious to refer to these 5 minutes and 58 seconds of joy as a single. So, we have covered our embarrassments by treating this as if it were a mini LP and releasing it in stereo in a sleeve with a pretty colour picture. 'Scarlet / They Just Don't Know' is released by Mega Dodo in June 2017, with a much longer album set to follow later in the year.

Click here for Mega Dodo Records.
Click here for Green Seagull on Twitter. 

The Greek Theatre - Broken Circle

Swedish duo follow up their acclaimed debut with another stunning LP!

Having done this writing malarkey for quite some years now, there are certain albums that stick in the mind and heart more than others. One personal favourite that came my way has been Lost Out At Sea by The Greek Theatre. It was their debut album, the first of four LPs the band claimed, after which they would cease to exist. It's folksy, west coast soft-rock embellished with woodwind and pedal steel had a sun-drenched sadness and staring-at-the-sea introspection that chimed with me at the time. And still does.

At the time the band stated their next album would have more of a Brit-folk sound, taking its inspiration from the Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Pentangle and the like. That album has now “dropped” as the current parlance goes. I was a little hesitant to play it at first. Who among us has not experienced that disappointment of the “sophomore” album. (Another journalistic pet hate, can't we just say second?!?) I'm pleased to say my fears were unfounded. This time round the sunny west-coast vibe has been replaced with chilly winds and drizzle from the North Atlantic.

Sven Fröberg and Frederick Persson are the core duo that make up The Greek Theatre. Their music is melodically strong but open ended enough for fluid improvisation. For this album they've been assisted several collaborators including pedal steel player Matthias Danielson (who featured on Lost out At Sea), Lisa Isaksson and David Svedmyr from Me and The Kites. Andreas Ralsgård adds clarinet to several tracks and drummer Tomas Eriksson does a sterling job with David Axelrod beats throughout.

Though the Greek Theatre's musical influences hail from the late '60s/early '70s they somehow manage to tap into today's zeitgeist. The music on Broken Circle would not be out of place on the recent Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs curated English Weather compilation on Ace Records. Gentle acoustic passages, interspersed with with improvised rock, all embellished with jazz and folk touches. It's music that reflects the uncertainty of our times. Not pessimistic as such, but resigned to sitting things out until the good times return. As they sing on the album's title track -

Let's go together through the chaos all around. And though the road is rough and rocky rest assured it'll lead us home.”

Click here for more on The Greek Theatre.
Click here for The Greek Theatre on Facebook.
Clickhere for Sugarbush Records.

David McWilliams - Lord Offaly

(This review first appeared in issue 59 of Shindig! magazine)

Esoteric Recordings CD

He's best known for his 1967 song 'The Days of Pearly Spencer', but David McWilliams' later recordings reveal a songwriter whose deep talents should have been more widely recognized. This is perhaps the best of his '70s albums, revered most for the progressive folk and Irish history lesson of the title track. With his knack for folk-based storytelling songs the “Irish Bob Dylan” tag was well deserved, though on the evidence here he could also have given James Taylor and Elton John a run for their money.

A shy, thoughtful man away from the stage, qualities which are reflected in the sensitive songs on this newly re-mastered CD. Lack of promotion in an era crowded with singer-songwriters meant he was overlooked by the record buying public, but this reissue shows him as the real deal - a compassionate songwriter whose eye and pen turned towards those in society who others shunned.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Amazing - Ambulance

(This review first appeared in issue 59 of Shindig! magazine)
Partisan CD / LP

The Swedish quintet's fourth album sees them hone their brand of finely sculpted ambient rock. The majestic glacial guitar chimes and fluid jazz-informed drumming are intact, along with Christoffer Gunrup's melodic, icy vocals which drift over the backing like mist over a fjord. Scandinavian indie-noir indeed! But there's more – the skewed breakbeat and eerie tumbleweed twang on 'Blair Drager', the breezy indie-pop of 'Floating' and album closer 'Perfect Day For Shrimp' which showcases their folksier acoustic side.

Imagine the band Nick Drake would have formed if he'd gone electric and recruited The Edge as second guitarist. The addition of understated keys, string swells and hazy vocal harmonies further enhance but it's the softly sung, often undecipherable vocals which allow listeners to create their own associations, meanings and relationships with the songs. Sublime but soaringly emotional, moody but magnificent. The perfect soundtrack for late summer introspection.