Friday, 8 March 2019

The Electric Stars – Sonic Candy Soul

(This originally appeared on Subba Cultcha way back in 2012)

Manchester quintet release their broad-sweeping, mod-friendly debut album. 

No one accuse Mancunian quintet The Electric Stars of being cutting edge, that's not where they're at. And neither are they an out and out retro act. The truth is they take what they like from music's past for their own ends. What the band's really about is the quality of their songs, and playing and serving them well. It's this sense of craftsmanship that runs through all eleven tracks on Sonic Candy Soul, their debut album for Detour Records.

From the fake vinyl crackle of album opener '136' onwards it's the attention to detail that impresses. Though essentially a guitar band they're not afraid of adding other touches, such as the trumpet solo on Stoned Again, and the dramatic piano and synths on the dark, sinister Bedtime Stories. Singer Jason Edge proves himself a fine singer and decent lyricist, perhaps best shown on Alison Williams,a modern day kitchen sink tale.

Though their main influences are the '60s beat era, the poppier side of psych, and some of brit-pop's confident swagger, there's a subtler strand of US influences that help add some soul to the English pop classicism. Not least the finger-snapping grooves of Between The Streets And The Stars, the stoned country-soul verses and Bo Diddley beat coda on Blind, and the gospel backing vocals on Stoned Again (courtesy of sometime Primal Scream member Denise Johnson).

The album is produced by fellow Mancunians Martin Coogan (Mock Turtles) and Yves Altana (Wonky Alice), with all the soft-psych tricks in their armoury – flange, gentle stereo panning, the occasional backwards cymbal. There are also clues as to the band's true live sound via the amp-crunching, rocking out of Not Man Enough.

Click here for The Electric Stars' website.

Wide Hive Players – Players II Guitar

(This originally appeared on Subba Cultcha way back in 2013)

In-house label band draft in some top guitarists for an album where jazz meets soul, funk, rock and blues.

Wide Hive Players are truly an in-house affair for their California based record label, comprised as they are by musicians from across the label's roster. Label owner Gregory Howe also makes a big contribution with the compositions as well as on production and engineering duties. The band began as a live sessions project in 2009 and went on to release a well-received eponymous album of soulful, funky modern jazz.

For Players II Guitar, their second album release they've secured the talents of four guitar playing greats to come in and add some special magic to the tracks. And what an impressive line-up it is, with Larry Coryell (famed for his solo albums as well as having worked with Charlie Mingus and John McLaughlin), Calvin Keys (toured and recorded with Ray Charles as well as successful solo releases on Black Jazz Records), Harvey Mandell (Canned Heat, John Mayall), and Barry Finnerty (Miles Davis, Chico Hamilton, The Crusaders).

The result is a musical version of a four seasons pizza, each guitarists' individual style adding its own flavour to the album; there's Calvin Keys' fluid and intricate solos, Larry Coryell's expressive playing on the contemplative 'Sworn Statement', Harvey Mandell getting soulful and funky on 'Preachers Pistol', and Barry Finnerty's dexterous mastery as evidenced on 'The Paladin'.

At times laid back and languid, other times with an up-and-on-it dance floor groove, there's shades of both David Axelrod and Acid Jazz across the tracks. Despite the guitarists taking top billing, this is a definite group effort with the brass and rhythm sections in fine supporting mode. If such a collaboration had happened in an era when jazz was a more popular, less niche musical form no doubt this album would be big news. As it is, it may just be a secret waiting to be rediscovered.

Click here for Wide Hive Records website.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Embrooks - We Who Are

The freakbeat goes on! Limited edition LP out now on State Records!

Bands have down-time or even split up for a while, but when the time feels right to make a new record the good ones will deliver. Case in point is this new record from The Embrooks. The band originally formed in 1996, split in 2005 and reconvened a couple of years back to record a new 45, the success and positive reaction to which led to this brand new album. We Who Are is the fourth album from the band who comprise of Alessandro Cozzi-Lepri (guitar, vocals), Mole (bass, vocals) and Lois Tozer (drums).

Whether or not the title is a cheeky reference to Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon is unclear. The two bands may share the same three-piece instrumental line-up and much like the mid-'60s Who, The Embrooks make music that mixes hard-driving R&B with a slight experimental edge, but there the similarities and sly references end. This is most definitely an Embrooks album, not a slavish pastiche.

It features the previously mentioned 2016 single 'Nightmare' along with eleven brand new tracks. 'Going But Not Gone' and 'Don't Look At Me' find the band at their garage rock finest, their sound embellished by some nicely reedy keyboards on the former and inspired addition of woodwind on the latter. 'Human Living Vampire' has more of a moody US-garage sound, twelve-string twang and minor chords. 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody' is the album's strongest contender for a single - the sort of track that pirate radio stations would have traded lifeboats for back in the day. It has a chorus that's stickier than Unibond's No More Nails.

'Riot On Kingsland Road' places the action firmly back on terra firma and in 21st century London. It features, flutes, police sirens and the sound of breaking glass along with lyrics about the 2011 riots. 'Baby From The South' is stomper that both highlights the band's debt to R&B and allows Alessandro to indulge in some wild guitar solos. Other standouts include 'Peace Of Mind' which finds the band locked into a hypnotic psych-rock groove, and album-closer 'You Can If You Want' which signs off the record in fine freakbeat style, complete with clattering drums, crashing guitar chords and a wailing harmonica.

It's been a long wait since the band's last album (2004's Yellow Glass Perspections), but in the interim they have been active elsewhere – The Galileo 7, Thee Jezebels, The Baron Four, The Jack Cades are just some of the combos to have benefited from some Embrooks input. As special as each of those bands are, the unique chemistry of The Embrooks is undeniable on We Who Are.

A note for vinyl fans - I'm not sure which pressing plant the label has used but the vinyl copy is a real beauty. Weighing in at a reassuringly chunky 180g and with a quality cut and pressing that labels ten times the size rarely attain. Not only that, the record is housed in a gatefold sleeve and comes with a CD version and download for those that like to listen on the move. Nice work. The Embrooks, we salute you!

Click here for The Embrooks on Facebook.
Click here for The Embrooks on Twitter.
Click here for State Records on Facebook.
Click here North Down Sound Studio on Facebook.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Interview with Jonas Waaben from The Sonic Dawn

(This feature first appeared in issue #87 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom.)

The Sonic Dawn's new album is a graceful psych-rock odyssey. Drummer Jonas Waaben talks songs, sound and vision with Duncan Fletcher

“A lot of the album is about the end of the world, the idea that everything is coming to an end, we're fucked with the climate crisis, there won't be enough food around in a few generations, all those doomsday ideas which have a rational foundation,” says Jonas of 'Forever 1969', the lead single from The Sonic Dawn's new album Eclipse. “But change on a major level is possible if people come together. In 1969 you had Woodstock, also the largest peace marches against the Vietnam War, all that stuff. It's possible to turn the shit around, that's the message of the song.”

Drummer Jonas along with childhood friends Emil Bureau (vocals/guitar) and Niels 'Bird' Fuglede (bass) formed the band in Copenhagen in 2013. Eclipse is their third album, one which focuses on the art of the song. “We tried to really sharpen the concept for each song, make it sharp and shorter. On the previous albums we definitely had longer escapades whereas here we tried to go where we wanted to go immediately... Eclipse is in a way back to the roots of our own inspiration, a lot of that is sixties music. We admire that strange combination of a short, three-minute pop format song that can be trippy as fuck!”

The influences of The 13th Floor Elevators, Red Krayola, Country Joe & The Fish and more can all be heard on the album. Another defining feature is its subtlety and grace, achieved in part due to the tastes shared with producer Thomas Vang. “We tried to accomplish something far removed from a stadium rock sound or a modern, hard-hitting, bass-driven rock sound. It's much easier to work with someone like Thomas, he's a trained jazz musician and has produced a lot of jazz records out of his studio. He has a much better natural feel for how the group sounds in the room and how to capture that. Then we will try to push it further production-wise - 'hey man we need way more echo here' or 'it needs to get crazier.' But a good natural sound for the drums, he has an ear for that.”

The band are hitting the road hard in 2019 but a word of warning to anyone who hitches a lift with the trio - “If we see a hitch-hiker we will pick them up and continue playing stuff like Trout Mask Replica or Red Krayola or Beat Of The Earth. Just insane music and nobody will say anything. The hitch-hiker will just sit there frozen - 'who are these maniacs!?' haha! It's a very delicate form of torture, one that I take great pleasure in I must admit!”

Eclipse is out on February 1st on Heavy Psych Sounds

Click here for The Sonic Dawn's website.

Click here for Heavy Psych Sounds Records.

The Sonic Dawn are :-
Jonas Waaben – drums 

Emil Bureau – Vox/guitar
Niels 'Bird' Fuglede- bass

(Click over the jump to read the full unpublished interview)

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Deep Cut - Different Planet

Long-awaited third album! A superb distillation of psychedelic rock, dream-pop and indie!

I have to admit I've only recently become aware of Deep Cut despite this being their third album, but my interest is more than piqued! A quick history - the band formed in 2006 since when they've put out a couple of long-players – the excellently-titled My Thoughts Light Fires (2009) and Disorientation (2011). The band's main songwriters are Mat Flint (ex-Revolver) and Emma Bailey. Mat's brother Simon plays bass and Ian Button (Death In Vegas, Papernut Cambridge) is on the drums. After an extended break the band are back with a new album. Different Planet came out a couple of weeks ago on the Gare du Nord label.

I've had the album as soundtrack for my commute to and from work on these recent cold dark days and it's helped keep any seasonal affective disorder at bay. The band's influences are many, easy to detect and proudly worn on their sleeves so to speak. There are traces of The Byrds, Velvet Underground, Cocteau Twins, early Primal Scream, House Of Love, Phil Spector, Sarah Records, Lush, Motown and The Jesus And Mary Chain. But as we all know influences are only half the story, it's how they're mixed and presented that matters. Different Planet contains ten tracks that are catchy, infectious, energetic and engaging.

Take their track 'No' which opens the album. Cheeky little steals from either The Byrds 'Eight Miles High' or Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme', and the VU's 'I Can't Stand It' underpinned by pounding beats, jangling guitars before building into a wall of noise containing riffing guitars, handclaps, and those awesome boy/girl harmonies.

If you want to pigeonhole the record Indie, Dreampop or Shoegaze would be most apt given the shimmering textures and effect-driven sounds that permeate the album, though categorisation is only half the story. What really impresses is the distillation of influences, bold production and strong songs. Neat work indeed.

Click here for Deep Cut on Twitter
Click here for Deep Cut on Facebook.
Click here for Gare du Nord Records.

The Sunchymes - Emily Layne

The Sunchymes strike again! New track from Northampton's sunshine popsters!

Always good to have new music from HD faves The Sunchymes. While the title may strike you as a mash up of two of Syd Barrett's finest tracks the music owes more to Brian Wilson. Full of melodic twists, harmonies, neat guitar solo and that quirky chorus. It's a ray of sunshine for a cold February day. Yes I guess you could say I like it!

The Sunchymes is the brainchild of Aaron Hemmington, a Northampton-based music maker. 'Emily Layne' is the latest creation in an ever-growing catalogue of breezy yet intelligent, highly catchy psychedelic pop. You'll be pleased to know this is just the tip of a very cool iceberg (haha!), head over to The Sunchymes Bandcamp page to check out plenty of other great tunes. You'll be glad you did. Happy listening peeps!

The LOVE Band - Farewell UK Tour

Celebrating the music of Arthur Lee and LOVE

The LOVE band featuring Johnny Echols sees Arthur Lee’s longest serving band return to the UK to perform classic songs from LOVE’s first three albums LOVE, DA CAPO and FOREVER CHANGES as well as some special deep cuts for the last time.

From 1993 until Arthur’s death in 2006, the band Baby Lemonade performed with him, being an essential part of the renaissance of LOVE’s music. This iteration of LOVE saw many sold out tours, as well as back to back Glastonbury performances and an appearance on Later With Jools Holland.

Joining Baby Lemonade is LOVE’s original lead guitar player and founding member Johnny Echols, who was part of the classic line-up that recorded the seminal FOREVER CHANGES.
Johnny Echols and Arthur Lee were childhood friends whose families both moved from Memphis to Los Angeles. Teenage Johnny & Arthur teamed up to form the groups Arthur Lee & The LAG’s and The American Four before they formed LOVE in 1965. The classic LOVE line up featuring Johnny disbanded in ’68. Johnny reunited with Arthur Lee in 2005 to perform with LOVE once more.

Baby Lemonade formed in 1992 by Rusty Squeezebox, Mike Randle, David “Daddy-O” Green, later adding Dave Chapple to the mix. In ’93 the band landed the gig of a lifetime opening up for LOVE. That show was the last for that incarnation of LOVE as Arthur replaced them with the four Baby Lemonade members. Baby Lemonade released records on Sympathy For The Record Industry, Munster and Big Deal between ’93 and 2001.

Upon their return from a LOVE tour of Europe, in 1996, Baby Lemonade was shocked to find that Arthur had been sentenced to 12 years in prison on a weapons charge.

After nearly six years in prison, Arthur’s case was overturned and shortly after, at his request, Baby Lemonade began rehearsing for what would be non-stop LOVE touring throughout North America, UK, Europe and Australia between 2002 and 2005 where they enjoyed unprecedented success with sold-out tours, back to back Glastonbury performances, Roskilde and Benicassim festival, two sold out shows at The Royal Festival Hall that spawned a live album, and an appearance on the Later With Jools Holland TV Show.

In 2005 the LOVE line up once again featured Arthur’s childhood friend and founding member Johnny Echols on lead guitar who returned after a 37 year absence.

In July of 2005, Arthur was diagnosed with Leukaemia and after a brave battle he passed away one year later. Arthur’s last show was with Baby Lemonade and Johnny Echols on June 23rd at San Francisco’s Cafe Du Nord. The world had lost a true music legend.

In 2019 The LOVE band featuring Johnny Echols will return for one last UK tour to celebrate the music of Arthur Lee & LOVE.                      facebook                               twitter

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Magnetic Tape Band - The Subtle Art Of Distraction

(This review first appeared in issue #80 of Shindig! magazine.)


Pete Williams and Neil Innes are the men behind ATA Records, a soul and jazz label based in Leeds. A disused garage on the outskirts of the city serves as their recording space, housing Mellotrons and Clavinets among its vintage gear. It was here that the pair, along with vocalist Rachel Modest, recorded this fascinating LP which draws on spaced-out psychedelic soul, Library music and deep-rooted Gospel.

Modest is a gifted and versatile singer whose background singing in church is explored on the album opener 'Let The Church Say'. A fine start but there's more to come. As the album expands she proves to be an extremely gifted and versatile vocalist. Soft and pleading one minute then soaring into enchanting falsetto the next. All the while the band are laying down grooves that echo Rotary Connection and Shuggie Otis along with textures more often found on current hauntological records than on deep-cut '70s soul.

Friday, 25 January 2019

The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic

(This review first appeared in issue #80 of Shindig! magazine.)

Merge CD / LP

It's twelve years since The Essex Green's released their fourth and apparently final album Cannibal Sea. Since then all three principal members left Brooklyn, dispersed and concentrated on real life rather than harmony-infused indiepop. It's this experience of mid-life and its accompanying trials and tribulations that informs much of their new and unlikely comeback. With moods ranging from quirky and twee, to serious, sad and poignant, Hardly Electronic is proof that each member can still write catchy and engaging pop songs.

Highlights include 'In the Key of Me', a piano based track complete with Left Banke baroque woodwind, the melancholy yearning of 'January Says' and the chiming guitars and harmonies on 'Waikiki'. With Sasha Bell, Jeff Baron and Christopher Ziter now all living in different states it's not surprising that themes of losing touch, old friendships and connectivity make up a large part of this unexpected but highly enjoyable collection.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Aquaserge - déjà-vous?

(This review first appeared in issue #80 of Shindig! magazine.)

Crammed Disc CD / LP

This revelatory live album from Toulouse's sonic explorers follows last year's Laisse ça être and is as playful and arty as its title suggests, mixing French film music with afrobeat, free-jazz art-rock and whatever else takes their fancy. Played live with an “optional” horn section the tracks have a dynamic and improvised possibility that the previously released studio versions only hinted at. If the precise groove, unique vocal phrasing and wild guitar solo on 'C'est Pas Tout Mais' isn't enough to blow your mind check out 'Travelling' which hurtles along like a runaway train before morphing into a wash of drone and white noise.

Also worth hearing is their impromptu take on the jazz standard 'My Funny Valentine' and 'Tintin On Est Bien Mon Loulou' which reveals itself as a heavy duty rock monster. Anyone with jaded ears needing musical refreshment should immerse themselves in this gloriously audacious album.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Dylan Rodrigue - Cat's Game

California calling! An empathetic fusion of country, indie and alt-rock.

The “singer-songwriter” tag often carries a lot of baggage and can provoke a bunch of unwarranted assumptions. Bob Dylan's protest years and the sensitive, confessional musings of James Taylor and Jackson Browne, as good as they were, have left a mark on expectations from the term. But the truth is that singer-songwriters, much like folk music itself, represent an extremely broad church. It's a point encapsulated on Cat's Game, the debut album by Dylan Rodrigue.

Forget the cliché of one bloke with an acoustic guitar singing of personal pain (though Rodrigue is adept at that too). Cat's Game is a record that moves from full-steam indie-rock, punkish rampages, a few alt-rock shapes and even throws in a charming acoustic duet. All in all a varied musical selection box and like some of those chocolates consumed over the winter holidays it's a album with hard outer edges but with a soft emotional centre. Empathetic post-rock may be the most apt description if you're looking for caterogisation, most strongly evidenced on 'Living In Color', a call for more nuanced understanding and less polarisation. Other standouts include 'Some Kind Of Heaven' which sounds like a long-lost acoustic track by Big Star, and the downbeat indie rock of 'Minimize The Damage'.

So that's the songwriting but what about the singing? Rodrigue's voice is a distinct and unique instrument in itself. Lived-in without being overly gravelly, very likable and utterly convincing. His is a voice that favours passion over perfection. Fans of Pavement, Elliott Smith and Kurt Cobain will find in Rodrigue a similarly talented and distinctive artist.

To become a songwriter when your name is Dylan is a tough gig – after all there's a lot to live up to there! Which may or not have been at the back of Rodrigue's mind when making the video for 'Self-Love'. There's a sly nod to his Bob-ness in the video with Rodrigue using the card and caption technique pioneered by the-artist-formerly-known-as-Zimmerman on the promo film for 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'. You can enjoy the video below. Enjoy!

Click here for Dylan Rodrigue's website.
Click here for Dylan Rodrigue on Facebook.
Click here for Dylan Rodrigue on Instagram
Clickhere for Bad Paintings Records.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Nick Nicely - All Along The Watchtower

Nicely does new stuff to Hendrix doing Dylan! And then presses it onto 7” vinyl!

Another ace 7” single in the latest batch of releases from Fruits de Mer is this newie from Nick Nicely, the dude behind '49 Cigars' which we wrote about some time ago. Not one for doing covers this take on 'All Along The Watchtower' comes as a surprise albeit a very welcome and rewarding one. Take a sneaky preview via the video below. And here's Nick with a summary of how it came to pass...

“I don't do covers generally, but for one of Pete Bingham (Sendelica) and Keith FdM's festivals I thought something familiar might prevent people drifting off and be an opportunity to swap guitar licks with ol' mucka Paul Simmons from The Bevis Frond, on a twin lead section. Never made the festival and anyway the Frond were there on a different day, so all dreams turned to ashes...til Keith suggested releasing the 'irreverent' Watchtower backing tapes plus studio vocals, guitar and effects. 'Doors Of Perception' is similarly constructed with tapes from my current live show plus studio vocals and guitar, so the pair connect well. We all have boundaries but when it comes to making Fruits de Mer Records I feel duty bound to go to the edges of mine...two tracks born out of live, flying their freak flags along my sonic borders!”

When you think of the stature that artists such as Dylan and Hendrix have, you'd have to be either very foolish, brave, talented or secure in your own artistic vision. Fortunately it's the latter two traits for Nicely. His re-imagining of 'Watchtower' owes little to either the Dylan or Hendrix version, is heavy on textures and effects and comes with features stellar guitar wig-outs and vocoder vocals.

The single's flipside is a similarly glorious sonic excursion. 'The Doors Of Perception' is like a gospel song given an electronic makeover, if you can imagine such a thing. Best listened to loud with headphones on and the lights low. Nicely does it indeed!

Click here for Nick Nicely on Facebook.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.