Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Thanes – She's Coming Back To Me (7")

Scottish beat 'n' folk. Part four in State Records' Soundgate Sound Acetate series.

Edinburgh's garage-folk overlords The Thanes break with tradition on the fourth instalment in State Records' Sandgate Sound Acetate series, being as the single was recorded at the band's own Ravencraig studio as opposed to State's own Sandgate Studio. It's no less satisfying however with the A-side being an original composition. She's Coming Back To Me is a stomping slice of biting 12-sting fuzz and Jagger-ish snarl, with a vocal plea that sounds simultaneously hopeful yet worried that things might not actually work out.

The B-side is a poignantly dedicated to George Gallacher, lead vocalist and songwriter with '60s beat legends The Poets who sadly passed away in August 2012. Here The Thanes cover Love Is Fading Away, a track originally recorded by The Poets back in 1965, but which remained unavailable for three decades. An altogether gentler affair to the A-side, its arpeggio jangle underpinning a more reflective and resigned take on love's passing and non-true course. Good stuff!

Limited to 500 copies on heavy vinyl with hand-stamped sleeve.

Click here for the State Records website.

Various – Shrunken Head Music (Double 7")

Krautrock, kosmiche and prog alert! Explore some inner space with this limited double 7” white vinyl!

More usually associated with the long-playing record, such genres as krautrock and progressive rock sit remarkably well on this double 7” single. As is customary with Fruits De Mer Records it's a selection of covers given over to modern make-overs. This double single opens with Frobisher Neck covering Brainticket's To Another Universe. Made with just a a Mellotron, it's impressive stuff, setting the tone of exploratory repetitiveness that characterises the rest of the EP.

Black Tempest bravely have a stab at Tangerine Dream's Rubycon Part 1, reining it in at five and half minutes in length. It works though, meditative drone giving way to motorik drive, all the while oscillating nicely.

Vespero show they're equally adept at covering Faust as they are Pink Floyd with their version of J'ai Mal Aux Dents. Repetitively hypnotic with conscious expanding guitar explorations and random vocal declarations. It's seven and a half minutes of driving band dynamics, with not a blues scale in sight.

Jay Tausig rounds the EP off with a version of Gong's The Glorious Om Riff. The opening vocal mantra giving way to the EP's most rockist track, with panned guitar breaks, synthesized sonics, and Coltrane-esque squally saxophone lines, all held together by a solid rhythm section. Get in! A truly satisfying collection, this may just be the pick of the crop in Fruit De Mer's current batch of 7” releases.

1 – Frobisher Neck – To Another Universe (originally by Brainticket)
2 – Black Tempest – Rubycon Part 1 (Tangerine Dream)
3 – Vespero – J'ai Mal Aux Dents (Faust)
4 – Jay Tausig – The Glorious Om Riff (Gong)

Click here for more on Frobisher Neck.
Click here for more on Black Tempest.
Click here for more on Vespero.
Click here for more on Jay Tausig.
Click here for the Fruit De Mer Records website.

Vibravoid – Colour Your Mind

Dusseldorf trio covers rare psych. Limited orange vinyl 7” with gatefold sleeve.

Fruits De Mer records are market leaders in applying modern production values to covers of rare psych. OK, maybe that market is small and niche, but the point I'm trying to make is they do it well. This latest release is a case in point.

Cult psych-rockers Vibravoid have dug deep into the crates for this release, selecting a globe-spanning selection of tracks to cover. Australia, France and the US west-coast are all represented by the original artists, those being Tyrnaround, Michael Polnareff and Human Expression respectively. Although all three tracks have been previously available on CD, they've been given a fresh mix for their debut appearance on vinyl.

Kicking things off with Tyrnaround's Colour Your Mind, all spiky guitar and descending Farfisa lines. The track's melodic debt to Syd Barrett is well evidenced but it's the improvised wig-out section where Vibravoid make the the track their own. La Poupee Qui Non Fait is a more innocent poppy affair, though darkened with a fair amount of studio sonics.

The Human Expression were a Los Angeles band in the heady days of 1966 through to 1967. Their song Optical Sound is acidic Sunset Strip incarnate, covered here with a suitably hazy yet sinister feel. The dark flipside to flower power's innocent dream. All in all this is a great little EP that'll leave you wanting to hear more from Vibravoid. Good that there's more available on the band's own Stoned Karma label.

1 – Colour Your Mind (originally by Tyrnaround)
2 – La Poupee Qui Fait Non (by Michael Polnareff)
3 – Optical Sound (by Human Expression)

Click here for more on Vibravoid.
Click here for the Fruits De Mer website.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Various - The Fruits de Mer 2014 Annual

Three bands, five tracks! Fruits De Mer Records find a home for the weird and wonderful. Limited 7” colour vinyl pressing with tracks from Astralasia, The Raiders and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies.

A marvellously eclectic bag which somehow holds together, this shared 7” opens with a spirited surf-guitar version of the Joe 90 theme tune, performed by the oddly monikered Blue Giant Zeta Puppies. The band also put their souped-up-surf stamp on John William's Lost In Space. Fans of Man Or Astroman will no doubt approve.

Astralasia is a band I never thought I'd see appear on a Fruits De Mer record. The long-serving trance and dub specialists have turned in a version of Johnny Remember Me complete with a Lee Marvin-esque deep vocal. The song was originally a hit for John Leyton and was Joe Meek's first number one record. Here the band have brought the song kicking and screaming into the modern age yet kept that eerie otherworld quality that made it a special song in the first place.

Joe Meek is also a name that springs to mind on hearing The Raiders track on this compilation single. I Remember is an unreleased instrumental from 1964, and features a guitarist called Trevor Midgley AKA Beau, who went on to release albums on John Peel's Dandelion label. Why the track was unreleased is a mystery as it's a real gem. Perhaps its haunting and eerie Meeks-meets-David-Lynch quality was too much for folks back in the pre-England swings era. Anyway it's available here now so check it out.

The best is saved for last though with Astralasia's Johnny In Dub. A heavy skanking dub mix of Johnny Remember Me. Again, even with Fruits De Mer testing the time limits of a 7” single there still enough deep groove on this record to carry the room-shaking bass-line. Nice!

1 – The Giant Blue Zeta Puppies – Joe 90 Theme
2 – Astralasia – Johnny Remember Me
3 – The Giant Blue Zeta Puppies – Lost In Space
4 – The Raiders – I Remember
5 – Astralasia – Johnny In Dub

Click here for The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies on Facebook.
Click here for the Astralasia website.
Click here for the Fruits De Mer website.

Vespero – Careful With That Axe, Eugene

Russian psych-prog band's salute to Pink Floyd on 7” coloured vinyl with double sided poster.

Although Vespero have appeared on the Fruits De Mer releases before, this is the band's first stand-alone single for the label, and one with which they've chosen to pay tribute to psychedelic and progressive godfathers (The) Pink Floyd.

The two instrumental covers will be familiar to all Pink Floyd fans out there, A-side being Vespero's version of the early PF classic, Careful With That Axe Eugene, with B-side One Of These Days, the opening track from 1971's Meddle.

Pink Floyd fans can be notoriously sniffy about others tackling the band's tracks (unless they're Australian and ape them note for note), but even the grumpiest PF enthusiast would be hard pushed not to like this single. Still recognisable as Floyd tracks but with a band feel and dynamic that's all Vespero's. No mean feat.

With both tracks approaching the eight-minute mark, this single tests the limits of the 7” format in a very satisfying way. Careful with that lathe, record cutting man!

1 – Careful With That Axe, Eugene
2 – One Of These Days

Click here for Vespero on Facebook.
Click here for the Fruits De Mer website.

Mark McDowell + Octopus Syng - The Regal Crabomophone 2014 Annual

Mark McDowell and Octopus Syng go head to head on a split single of neo-psych. Limited 7” colour vinyl pressing with free poster.

The Regal Crabomophone record label is an offshoot of Fruits De Records which specialises in original material.

Mark McDowell is a Breton shirted, modern-day minstrel with an impressive line in soft baroque psych-pop. His track on this single, entitled Girls Of Belvoir, tells of 17th century witchcraft at a castle in Leicestershire. You don't get that on X-Factor! Folksy and enchanting but with a slightly sinister edge, it's Witchfinder General scored by Vaughan Williams, unsettling and very English.

Finland's Octopus Syng grace the flipside with their eight minute opus Listen With The Moths. Similarly disturbing yet with more of an acid-folk feel, the track builds with its simple guitar motif and drum rolls joined by breathy in-your-ear vocals. The track grows and swells up to its guitar solo climax. “Listen with moths, to take you back home” they sing over and over. Whether this is the best or worst advice for surviving an LSD trip I can't tell you, but it works well enough while drinking a cup of tea.

1 – Mark McDowell – Girls Of Belvoir
2 – Octopus Syng – Listen With The Moths

Click here for Mark McDowell on Reverb Nation.
Click here for Octopus Syng on Facebook.
Click here for the Fruits De Mer Records website.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sasquatch - IV

Fourth album of big-footed stoner metal from LA's premier power trio.

It's a bold act that decides to release albums in a numbered sequence. Those big name acts that have done it previously seem to have pulled it off though; Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel and Scott Walker have all put out firm musical statements that more than justify those heavy Roman numerals.

Now here come Sasquatch, heaviest of the heavy with IV, an album which bludgeons the listener from start to finish with supercharged, propulsive rock. Drawing from the best of the past – acts such as Grand Funk, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath, the '90s North-west grunge scene, as well as their contemporaries on the stoner and doom scenes, Sasquatch have once again come up with the goods.

Opening with straight-ahead rocker The Message, the album then broadens out to reveal plenty of surprises. There's the circular, descending riff of Eye Of The Storm with its mystical, loaded lyrical references to white horses and seventh moons; The devilish tritone interval used to full effect on Smoke Signal; the blues-rock overdrive mode achieved on Me And You, as well as the classic rock-isms on Corner.

Alongside the album's metallic roots there's the odd notable influence of the last 10 years of electrified country blues. Check out the bluesy riffing on Sweet Lady which bears a likeness to The Black Key's I Got Mine, complete with its Jack White-esque, octave-leaping guitar break. Mostly they sound utterly like themselves though. Four album's in for a band that show no sign of running out of steam or ideas. Long may they rock.

Click here for more on Sasquatch.

Schnauser - Where Business Meets Fashion

Bristolian Prog-poppers' third album!

Prog-influenced music gets a raw deal. Not aided by the fact that in the mid '70s the genre became overblown and bloated, characterised by extended solos, costume changes, money-losing stage designs and even an ice-rink! However its main crime was that it took itself too seriously.

Thirty years on, here's Schnauser, a Bristolian quartet whose music claws back some credibility for all things Prog, as well injecting it with a welcome sense of humour and fun. Though they might have passed under your radar before, this is actually the band's third album, their first since 2010's The Sound Of Meat.

With witty and knowing songwriting which covers such subjects as the hapless love-life of early computer gamers (Good Looking Boy, which comes complete with the sound of a Spetrum ZX81 loading from a cassette), tedious and predictable conversations (Dinner Party), and uncomfortable social situations (Large Groups Of Men), the band mine a reach seam of modern suburban anxiety. It's like Abigail's Party re-imagined as a concept album and performed by Kevin Ayers.

The Prog tag actually does Schnauser a dis-service. This is Pop music! Pop in the best possible sense, in that it's equally indebted to melodic masters as Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson as it is to Prog virtuoso musicians. Catchy, purposeful, subversive and fun. For each prog-rock twist, turn and trapping there's an equally attuned ear for melody. And despite the album's title it's neither business-like or slavishly fashionable and is all the better for that.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Movements – Like Elephants 1

 Giant steps! Grandiose choral-psych epic-ness from Gothenburg!

There's a heaviness that permeates this LP by The Movements. Not only does its title mention an animal that's the epitome of wild regal dignity but the album's lyrical themes are big and imposing too; death, religion, reincarnation, and the seismic shifts of seasons, etc.) The fact that this is merely the first release in a two part opus (Like Elephants 2 follows early next year) only adds to the feeling of it being a statement as opposed to merely a release. I first became aware of the band via the Garage Punk Hideout social network, always thought they were one of the more interesting garage rock bands out there but never expected them to release anything quite as accomplished as this LP.

The album's opening cut is recent single, The Death Of John Hall D.Y. It begins with snippets of lo-fi rehearsal tapes before a segue into the fully recorded version. It's effect is a bit like the shift from black and white to technicolour in The Wizard Of Oz, and serves to mark the band's progression from the raw, (but still rather good) garage band of yore, into the more ambitious sounding band we have before us now.

With a sound rooted in late '60s psych-tinged folk-rock, embellished with vocal harmonies, 12-string chime, guitar freakouts and the use of extended free-form sonics, the band have captured autumnal sadness on a grand scale. While there is a harking back to the classic bands of yesteryear (most notably The Byrds), The Movements have not merely aped a sound, rather they've co-opted it to share their own thoughts, feelings and messages. Let's hope part 2 is equally rewarding.

The Cubical - Live In Oslo (ONE DAY ONLY FREE DOWNLOAD!)

Recorded live on tour, Liverpool swamp blues band give away an 18-track album for nish! Be quick though, the offer is only open for one day!

As one of the 'Pool's best bands, The Cubical's string of albums on their own Halfpenny Records label never fail to hit the spot. Gritty, and bluesy, with intelligent lyrics with a Waits-meets-Beefheart delivery. I can't recommend them enough. I previously reviewed the band's second album for Subba-Cultcha. (You can read my review which I've re-posted here.)

On Monday 21st October, for one day only the band will be giving away a free download of an 18-track live album via their Bandcamp page. Recorded earlier in the year on a Scandinavian jaunt, Live In Oslo captures the band at their very best. Do, do, do check it out!

Here's where you can catch the band live over the next few weeks -

31st Oct - Psilocybenea, Hondarribia, Spain
1st Nov - Wurlitzer Ballroom, Madrid, Spain
2nd Nov - Monkey Week Festival, Cadiz, Spain
3rd Nov - Day Sessions Festival, Lleida, Spain
15th Nov - The Lomax, Liverpool, England

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!! - Todo Roto

Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!! return with their third album of Spanish language, gonzo-garage!

You know you're into for a treat even before pressing the play button for this latest Slovenly Records release. There's a great photo on this album's back cover, with the band attending what looks like a wrap party for the kids' TV show Horrible Histories. It's a party that's seemingly held in the middle of a wood, with band members sporting a random selection of costumes. There's a potion wielding wizard, a toga-wearing Roman threatening the cameraman with a baseball bat, traditional (Turkish?) national dress, a pistol-totin' woman in a strapless black dress, and a bare-chested horseman brandishing what looks to be a highwayman's musket.

For all this display of arcane weaponry it's vocalist Juanito Wau's distinctive voice which is likely to do the most damage. With of one of the most recognisable voices in garage rock, a genuinely menacing, snarly tone and over the top delivery which lifts the band's music above that of your average garage band. It matters not that it's all sung in Spanish and I can't understand a word, it's the feeling that counts, and the feeling I get from this matches the primal punch of the music. A raw mix of garage punk, surf, beat and yé-yé, with an energy level that never dips.

Alongside seven new and original tracks a hit is tipped to those '60s acts who continue to inspire, with covers of tracks by The Kinks, Jacques Dutronc, Cuby And The Blizzards and The Unknowns. Considering their music is of a genre that's ideally suited to the 7” vinyl single format, Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!! have pulled it off here, delivering a long-player that will sit nicely alongside your Back From The Grave compilations. Now let me get my fancy dress outfit on so I can go and find that party!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Wicker Man 40th Anniversary - Special Screening, Limited Edition LP, T-shirt and Poster!

I don't usually post about films but as my all time favourite film, (and soundtrack) is now 40 years old and getting an expanded "final cut" release it seems only right to give this a mention. Unfortunately I won't be in London to make it along to the special screening but praise the gods of mail-order, as the T-shirt, vinyl and poster are available online! Read on for the full press release from the good folks at Silva Screen Records.

The Wicker Man has long been accepted as a cult classic and now, forty years after its release, the movie’s pull for audiences old and new is as irresistible as ever.  In honour of its lasting appeal, Studio Canal is releasing a new cut of the film which hits cinemas this month. 

Silva Screen has teamed up with Hackney Picturehouse for a Halloween screening of The Wicker Man: Final Cut, with a Harvest Fair before the film, a pop-up cider bar, apple bobbing, pumpkin carving and more!

In addition, artist Richey Beckett has created a movie poster to be revealed at the event (above is a small section of the illustration) which will be screen printed onto a Limited Run of 300 numbered posters.  This same unique image will grace the sleeve of a new LP vinyl release (limited to 500) of the soundtrack and a Rare Sleeve t-shirt.  All of these will be available to buy on the Rare Sleeve site, as well as at the event on the 31st October.

Karine Polwart - Traces

Fifth studio album from BBC Folk Awards winner Karine Polwart. A fine mix of story and song and quiet protest.

Pure of voice, and possessed with a way of telling a good story within a song, Karine Polwart's latest album will undoubtedly please her Radio Two target audience. While her songs are rooted in traditional Scottish folk forms, it's a record that shimmers with just the right amount of modern studio gloss. Her closely miked voice augmented with tastefully sparse addition of harmonium, guitar, sansula, clarinet, and flute. Though the record may seem musically conservative, especially to younger ears, it's the strength of the songwriting that's her main asset and sets the album apart.

What really resonates is her eye for a good story, and her ability to create something compassionate and and compelling out of everyday observations. Take for example Tinsel Town, where she recalls seeing magical lights and flames from a petrochemical plant near her childhood home. It's political without the overtness that would hamper a less talented songsmith.

Elsewhere there are tales of golf parks taking over local beauty spots despite nearby resident's protests (Cover Your Eyes), adaptations of Russian poems (Tears For Lot's Wife), homages to the emotional resonance of buildings and homes (Sticks n Stones), and the heartbreaking tale of the death of a schoolgirl taking her first unaccompanied walk home on Half A Mile.

There's a case to made for this album as a protest record. Not in an overt sense, but within its quietly dignified stance, its belief in community and neighbourliness, and its resolute opposition to big business' love of profit over people.

Stealing Sheep - Into The Diamond Sun

Oh Liverpool, so much to answer for! Kaleidoscopic mix of wyrd folk, indie and electronica on Stealing Sheep's stellar debut.

Liverpool has a fine tradition of producing psychedelic music, from the original mystic scallies of Lennon, Harrison & co, through the fey, Love-inspired Pale Fountains and epic raga-rock of Echo & The Bunnymen, right up to more recent takes on psych-pop from the Coral and The Cubical. Refreshingly, the latest psych-troubadours to emerge from Merseyside are Stealing Sheep who buck the trend by not being the standard acid-head blokes with guitars; instead this female three-piece concoct a heady brew of experimental pop and analogue electronica, with a hefty dose of wyrd folk. Theirs is a sound that has its roots in the acid-folk of the early '70s but this is no nostalgia trip, though their influences are traceable there's still a sense of the band making something new, and this is what makes Into the Diamond Sun such a joy to listen to. It sounds like they actually had fun making it rather than say over-analysing drum sounds. If only more bands had such a pleasingly, playful approach.

The heart of the band's sound is similar to the freak-folk of Devendra Banhart, or Vashti Bunyan but with a broader instrumental palette, and the feeling that they could veer off any minute on a completely different tangent. One minute there's spiky guitar lines over brooding tom-toms (The Garden), next they come across as the coolest majorette band around (White Lies). All the time their eclectic approach is characterised by the band's distinctive three-part harmonies and quirky melodic twists. You're probably already familiar with lead single Shut Eye, a delightfully infectious treat, or its follow up Genevieve, but those are just the tip of the iceberg, there's enough variety and invention on this album to keep you coming back to it over and over again, hearing new things with each listen.

As is evident from their videos, they have a fondness for all things homespun, folksy and experimental. If Oliver Postgate had started a band instead of making kid's TV shows from his garden shed the results would probably have sounded something like Stealing Sheep. Part Crosby, Stills & Nash, part Tiger, part Can, part Syd Barrett, part Bjork, but always themselves, Stealing Sheep can safely claim to have made one of the 2012's stand out releases.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Black Rainbows – Holy Moon

Mini album (maxi EP?) from Italian power trio heads for the stars with their stellar stoner, drone and space-rock.

Having been aware of Italy's Black Rainbows since the band's second album Carmina Diablo, it's obvious from the first few seconds that the band have progressed. The heavy stoner rock is still there but there's been a broadening of musical palette. Space-rock, stoner, drone and boogie are all represented, with even some Jimmy Page style acoustic riffage for good measure.

With only six, albeit long songs on this album, Black Rainbows have managed to display a range of styles and moods that somehow make for a satisfyingly cohesive whole. The album's opening title track is a five minute slice of prime stoner rock grooves complete with '60s space-race themed spoken word samples. Rewarding enough on its own things then take off for avenues new.

Monsters Of The Highway harks back to the sort of noise that used to to be heard at Reading Rock Festival in its pre-student-friendly days, when the Hell's Angels ruled the campsite. A heads down blues rock number with post-Hendrix guitar soloing, it's the perfect soundtrack for your speed 'n' snakebite consumption. Then there's the curve ball of Chakra Temple a softer, meditative number with its spiralling eastern scales over a constant rhythmic drone. Definitely not your standard muscle-headed metal.

The Hunter (no not the Free song) will keep fans of Carmino Diablo and its follow-up, Supermothafuzzalicious happy. (Check out the video below). More surprises next when a distorted hacking cough vocal leads into If I Was A Bird, a track which owes a debt to Jimmy Page's acoustic riffing on Led Zepellin III. Probably recorded on a Welsh mountainside. The album closes with a version of MC5's Black To Comm, which is given a lengthy Hawkwind space-rock makeover. For all the non-metalheads out there, don't think you wouldn't enjoy this record. There's an intelligence, sensitivity and even humour to this record that a lot of metallic fare lacks. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

French Boutik – Ici Paris (2 x 7”)

Parisian lounge-mods further the “pop moderniste” sound on their second EP, a double 7” no less!

Following last year's Les Chats de Gouttière EP, Paris-based boy/girl band French Boutik get even groovier on their latest double 7” single. Ici Paris is an more assured and confident take on the mix of lounge, beat and mod-ish sounds that made the band's first EP so welcome and refreshing.

The five piece group, whose musical taste is as sharp as their clothes and haircuts, personify retro cool while documenting the trials and tribulations of la vie moderne. Their sound is rooted in the '60s, as best demonstrated on lead song Ici Paris, the first of three French language songs and a track which would sit easily on La Belle Epoque, EMI's compilation of '60s French girl singers.

Though my schoolboy knowledge of the French language has mostly faded from memory, the odd phrase or sentence cuts through. On Ici Paris vocalist Gabriela Giacoman sings of a tenant (and her cats) fighting against a greedy landlord and the soulless desires of city planners. This theme of the underdog is echoed on Facile, an uptempo floor-filler which rallies against big business.

Pousse Au Crime has a spy movie vibe about it with some neat organ and guitar chops. As on the band's last EP there's a token English language track for us non bilingual rosbif. Kinky Alumette tells a tale of trying to get to a band practise during a Paris Metro train strike. Groovy retro-pop done with flair and humour. As with the band's previous 7”, it's a lovingly designed and packaged affair, and well worth a spin on anyone's Dansette.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Band – Live At The Academy Of Music 1971

Stunning 5 disc edition of the Rock Of Ages /New Years Eve concerts. Remastered set captures The Band at their best and contains many unreleased tracks!

Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, collectively known as The Band, were the musician's musicians. With big name fans that included Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton and countless others, The Band's reputation as the musicians was largely built on their first two albums, Music From Big Pink and the self-titled follow up. The Band played and pretty much defined Americana before the genre even existed, with the five man group being the epitome of musical brotherhood with their ego-less playing. They managed to mix country, blues, funk, folk and rock into music which sounded comforting and somehow old, (much welcomed in the USA, a country whose young men were away fighting in Vietnam), yet still managed to forge dynamic new ground.

(Click over the jump for more on The Band's Live At The Academy Of Music 1971)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Richie Syrett – Good Morning Midnight

Mancunian Americana in the area! Great second album from Manchester based singer-songwriter.

It's heartening to find that while the major label struggle waiting for the next big thing, there's plenty of great grass roots and under the-radar-releases out there worthy of our attention. Such records that may not have the benefit of expensive ad campaigns, radio pluggers, and buy-in tour support slots, but rely solely on the quality of the music, a small but growing fan-base, and that all important word of mouth.

One such recent album is Good Night Midnight by Manchester's Richie Syrett. It has a lovely, warm homespun quality, was recorded on a shoestring budget with a simple sonic palette of Syrett's voice, acoustic and (minimal) electric guitar, bass, drums and occasional harmonica. Its songs and style are firmly rooted in the classicist American style of Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell, et al, a bluesy meld of folk, country and storytelling.

Opening track “Wax On The Melt” borrows the chords from The Seahorses “Blinded By The Sun” before Syrett's voice comes in. And what a voice! To my ears the closest comparison would be Tim Buckley circa Happy Sad, a great tone with gentle swoops on the long held notes, with the song's words delivered sincerely. Thankfully he also has the songs to match it.

The album's Americanisms are deftly offset by some of the song's subject matter which take their inspiration from contemporary northern life in what we now call broken Britain. “Ten Past Ten” relates the sorry tale of sitting on public transport next to a tracksuit wearing lager drinker. “Stone In My Shoes” channels the spirit of Gram Parsons and casts its eye on downbeat, on-the-dole bohemia, subtly aided by the additional of some gentle pedal steel.

There are also some fine moments of introspection, not least on “Sway” a love song of sorts where Syrett reminisces of being fourteen with “big brother hand-me-downs and frayed jeans”. It's on this track where a little English folk creeps in with strings and some Nick Drake style finger picking. There's not really a bad track on this album, with each listen revealing more of the its lyrical strength. Well written songs, beautifully sung and arranged. What more could you want.

Click here for Richie Syrett's website.

Dwellers – Good Morning Harikari

Anyone for some top pedigree stoner grunge from Salt Lake City?

Dwellers are something of a supergroup in the Utah dark rock scene. (OK, I'm not sure such a thing exists but for the sake of this review let's go with it.) Joey Toscana (guitar and vocals for heavy rock outfit Iota) has teamed up with the rhythm section of dark-folk band Subrosa to form Dwellers. Their debut album Good Morning Harikari was recorded eighteen months ago but is only now getting its release on Small Stone Records. Dwellers' sound has its roots in the classic power trio format, though they've mixed in the grunge rock of Soundgarden, Nirvana et al, then stretched it out into something more progressive and meditative.

It's very much a guitar player's album, with only six songs, (though two of those clock in at over the ten minute mark), characterised by lengthy guitar solos, pentatonic riffing, and heavy use of wah-wah. The minimal lyrics tend to feature in the first half of the songs, sometimes re-appearing to towards the end, with each track dominated by ominous crushing riffs, the longer tracks containing less dense second sections where some space is let in and the band stretch out and let the music find it's own dynamic, building up or releasing the tension as the stoned groove dictates.

Opening track “Secret Revival” typifies this approach with its grungy riffs and thundering bass giving way to a four minute breakdown. Closely followed by “Black Bird” which breaks away from their signature sound with its use of slide guitar. They save the best track till last though, at ten minutes long “Old Honey” is, for my ears, the best offering. Pretty much built around one chord, its mystic appeal enhanced by vibraphone and layered intertwining guitars playing eastern scales. It slowly builds and builds before the guitar solo milks the wah-wah pedal's battery for all it's worth.

A special mention also for the album's cover painting which depicts the trio calmly sitting around a table as if waiting to be served breakfast despite the fact that their intestines are all hanging out and draped onto the table and floor. Unsettling maybe but it's once seen, never forgotten and doesn't come across as an afterthought like a lot of modern day sleeve art.

Kontiki Suite – On Sunset Lake

Laid back West Coast jangle, harmony, and good, good vibes courtesy of Cumbrian soft-country psychers.

As I write this we're at the tail-end of one of the wettest years on record. As welcome as an SAD lamp then comes this debut album from Kontiki Suite. A bumper thirteen tracks of Byrdsian jangle, late '60s folk-rock vocal harmony and West Coast haze. The last couple of weeks listening to this CD has saved me a fortune on tanning salon fees. The band's trademark sound harks back to a golden era Californian folk-rock when bands such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield ruled the roost, melodic country-ish songs over a soothing bed of strummed acoustic guitars, topped off by a shimmer of twelve-string electric arpeggios and subtle slide playing.

It's surprising to learn that the band weren't in fact formed on Sunset Strip in 1966, they actually hail from the decidedly less sunny English Lake District. For all the California dreaming the band's North-West roots are laid bare on the opening track 'Down By The Lake' where vocalist Ben Singh sings of his desire for domestic bliss aside “the lake.” A simple enough wish no doubt hampered by second homers pushing up house prices.

Conversely on 'Hollywood' Singh expresses a yearning to move in the exalted rock royalty circles of LA. Whether you prefer the Lake District or Laurel Canyon it's clear he has an undeniable ability of for writing strong songs, which the band tastefully flesh out. Dropping a couple of the less successful tracks might have made for a stronger, more coherent album, but there are some genuinely sublime tracks here – 'Magic Carpet Ride' is as much a modern day folk-rock gem as its title suggests, and 'Watching Over Me' would have happily graced an album from the Byrds' mid '60s purple patch. So if you fancy a little bit of winter sun without using your passport this is well worth checking out.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There Is A Bomb In Gilead

From the heart of Dixie, mixing southern rock, garage, country, soul and gospel in some righteous ragged songs.

There are certain record labels you can trust, such as Alive Natural Sounds. They've been releasing consistently good music for the best part of twenty years, usually by bands that make gritty yet accessible rock that has one foot in the past, yet also manages to point a way forward. They also have a good take on how to release them. As well as CD and digital formats they also do limited bespoke runs of coloured vinyl for most of their releases.

The latest band to get their break courtesy of Alive Natural Sound is Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires with their debut album There Is A Bomb In Gilead. (The title comes from Bains mishearing a hymn as a child, mistaking the word balm for bomb). Though there's nothing particularly new or ground breaking about this album, the mix of southern rock, garage, country, soul and gospel makes for an infectious brew. Sung and played with infectious fervour. It's not a million miles away from the music made by their old touring buddies Alabama Shakes.

The band's music is firmly rooted in the deep south, Bains having formed the band in Birmingham, Alabama, returning there after a spell at college in New York. After a few listens to the album, Bains' knack for storytelling and scene setting begins to shine through. Unlike a lot of more famous song writers he has something to say and he says it well, with a skilful turn of phrase. You get the impression he's one of life's good guys, like a more punky Bruce Springsteen. Take a listen to Righteous Ragged Songs and you'll see what I mean. “Say a prayer for punk rock and a prayer for me” sings Bains. With pleasure sir, 'tis done.

Click here for Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' website.

Duncan Maitland – Lullabies For The 21st Century

Good old fashioned easy-on-the-ear pop, big on tunes and refreshingly low on cynicism.

Every once in a while a record comes along that may be out of step with current fashions, but is so well written and executed that it deserves a wider audience. This debut solo effort from Duncan Maitland is that sort of record. A shame that quite often such records fall through the cracks press-coverage wise, losing column inches to lesser-talented attention seekers.

Comprising of eleven songs, all with big catchy melodies, that hark back to a time when tunes were considered an essential part of a record's make-up. (Strange to think that melodies are now often an afterthought to a lot of today's song-smiths.) This album sounds to me like the latest addition to that peculiarly English or Anglophilic thread of music and songwriting that begins with McCartney's White Album contributions, continues with the melancholic baroque pop of The Bee Gees, and Gilbert O'Sullivan, through ELO's less bombastic moments, and continues with XTC and the adult-orientated pop of Crowded House and The High Llamas.

It's the early 70's sound that resonates most loudly throughout this set of songs. Real instruments well recorded with an analogue warmth, and treated with just the right amount of minimal effects make for an album that would sit nicely in your collection next to any of the artists mentioned above. The XTC comparison is particularly pertinent, with Maitland having previously contributed keyboards to their recordings, and also written songs with Andy Partridge. The artistic cross pollination is returned by XTC's Colin Moulding guesting on Maitland's album.

Highlights include the ascending “ba, ba, ba” backing vocals on Crash Position. (Jimmy Saville would have approved!), along with the fairground organ gone wrong intro of Horror Stories. There's even room for some Sinatra style crooning for album closer Insect Under The Stone. In truth there's not a bad track here, and though it may be a little too soft rock for some folk's tastes that would frankly be their loss.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Benjamin Folke Thomas - Debut Album, Tour + Free Track!

Harmonic Distortion faves, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou have given us a heads up on the forthcoming album by Swedish folk-bluesman Benjamin Folke Thomas. The album's entitled Too Close To Here and is released on September 16th b y Bucketfull Of Brains Records. Along with a string of live dates to promote the record Benjamin is giving away a track from the album. Check out "I'm Alive" via the widget below.

Benjamin Folke Thomas’ debut album Too Close To Here is one of the most keenly awaited releases from London’s thriving folk & roots scene.

It is five years since Folke Thomas left the southern Swedish archipelagos to make his name on the London live circuit. He quickly found his feet; and his sound: An astonishing, explosive brand of Americana, delivered through supersonic guitar picking offsetting moody baritone vocals, like a cross between Robert Johnson and Warren Zevon.

Folke Thomas’s live ability has attracted a dedicated fan base and rave reviews, including Q Magazine (“stunning playing… his finger-picking is the best you will ever hear”) and The Guardian (“stands out like Oliver Reed at an AA meeting”). In an attempt to capture his talent on record, cult-label Bucketfull Of Brains released the eponymously titled EP in 2010, described by the Sunday Times as “a convincing calling card…reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1965.”

Tours followed (including support slots for with folk duo Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou and a.h.a.b.) and a string of festival appearances including Glastonbury, Green Man, Larmer Tree and No Direction Home.

Growing acclaim led to interest from high-profile music charity Strummerville (instrumental in the careers of many established musicians including Bastille, Anna Calvi and Frank Turner), who in 2012 organised the release of the showcase live album “Equinox…Live at the Hawley Arms”.

In 2012 Folke Thomas toured in the UK, Spain and Texas and received widespread radio play. Too Close To Here is set for release by Bucketfull Of Brains/Proper Music in September 2013.

Tour Dates -

13th The Green Berry, Deal
14th The Crown, Leytonstone, London
15th The Bell, Bath (1pm show)
15th The Old Queens Head, Islington, London (evening show)
16th The Railway Hotel, Southend
17th The Railway, Winchester

18th West End Centre, Aldershot
19th The Borderline, London (Supporting AHAB)

The Movements - The Death Of John Hall D.Y. 7"

Fantastic new 7" from Swedish psych rockers. Released on September 27th on Crusher Records.

My latest jam/earworm (or whatever they're calling them now) is the forthcoming single by Swedish pysch rock band The Movements. "The Death Of John Hall D.Y." has a heavy mid to late '60s folk-rock vibe, slightly borrows its ascending melody and feel from The Byrds "Eight Miles High" and injects a majestic sense of melodrama and sumptuous vocal harmonies.

It's a definite movement (see what I did there?) for the band, away from their garage rock roots, towards something grander, more ambitious. As a taster for the forthcoming 2 albums (yes 2!) it bodes well. Like Elephants 1 is released later this year, with Like Elephants 2 coming early next year. Do investigate!

The Movements are - David Henriksson - Vocals, Gustaf Gimstedt - Keyboards, Christian "Krita" Johansson - Guitar,  Daniel "Dolly" Petersson - Bass, Thomas Widholm - Drums.

Band photo by Anders Bergstedt.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Ape Skull - Ape Skull

Organic classic rock gets a new lease of life courtesy of Italy's Ape Skull.

“Rock is dead they say. Long Live Rock!” - That's what The Who reckoned way back in the early 70s, and those eight words carry a lot of truth. What can now be seen as a musical form reaching its peak with the emergence of heavy blues based rock played with virtuosity by power trios, also signalled the moment just before the rot set in. But it's the last three words that also point to a hopeful future. We have the form down, now take that and give it a function.

Italy's Ape Skull play heavy rock music that has little to do with any music developments since 1974 but that's not the point. What they do is take the blueprint of warmly cranked up amps and groovy hard rock and have fun with it. Let's be honest there's plenty of modern day rock bands that are stifled by the pressure of adding something to the form. Personally I'd rather hear something that comes from the heart and has a bit of soul as opposed to something hampered by an obligation to progression.

Ape Skull's self-titled debut album recalls the golden age of the power trio format, channelling echoes of Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Free, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer et al. It's hard acid rock with a soulful groove, and would be more at home on the free festival circuit of the late 60s/early 70s than on any modern day beer-sponsored stage. Not afraid of sitting on the groove or taking an extended guitar solo, this is rock music you can boogie to. unpretentious, unhinged and a whole lotta fun.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Space Agency - Bombay Potatoes 7"

East meets west, surf meets spice, everyone has a groovy time.

Currently a household favourite round at mine is this limited 7” by Hove-based trio The Space Agency. The A-side is a surfy, twelve bar instrumental made all the more interesting and fun by the sitar lines that sit on top. You could easily imagine it being used in a '60s American teensploitation movie. I guess you could almost call it a novelty record (and that's a compliment by the way, novelty records are a very misunderstood and neglected genre I reckon).

Of course it was in the '60s when a lot of western musicians flirted with the mysterious drone and twang of the sitar, not least George Harrison. This 7” has more in common with the work of Ananda Shankar and Lord Sitar (aka top session man Big Jim Sullivan) than the full on immersion of Beatle George, mixing beat music with raga scales to make music that's kind of familiar yet takes you some place new too. It's beat music with added exotic spice.

The singles' other track 'Purple Power' is a more of a dramatic, energetic surf instrumental that pushes all the right retro buttons. It'll have even the most land-locked among us wanting to wax down our boards. Twang on brothers and sisters!

'Bombay Potatoes' is out now on Market Square Records. (Limited to 300 copies in a hand-numbered picture sleeve).

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Latest singles from Fruits De Mer Records

Fruits De Mer Records will be having a busy month. While the rest of the country seemingly take August as their cue to head for some foreign beach, FDM instead opt to take regular trips to the local post office with the release of five 7" singles. All were available at the label's recent all-dayer at London's Borderline. If you weren't in attendance fear not, let mail order work its magic by visiting their website ( Read on for the roundup on all five releases.

Crystal Jacqueline - Cousin Jane (Ltd. colour 7")

New signed to Fruits De Mer, Crystal Jacqueline has recorded a three song EP featuring a tasteful selection of covers aided by fellow Honey Pot member Icarus Peel. The Troggs' Cousin Jane is given a stately reading, its simple piano chords, strings and sense of space reminding you what a great song it is. This is followed by a version of Second Hand's A Fairy Tale. More of a rock song than the other two baroque-ish tracks, I wasn't familiar with this track before but this had me heading over to YouTube to check out the original. A fine choice. The EP finishes with a sinister take on the Rolling Stones' Playing With Fire

Me And My Kites (with Tony Durrant of Fuchsia) - The Band (Ltd. colour 7")

Me And My Kites hail from Sweden, which in musical terms always piques my interest. The fact that their name is taken from a song on Fuchsia's eponymous 1971 album makes this 7" an even more appealing prospect. Due to the powers of internet communication Fuchsia's Tony Durrant has ended up guesting on the A-side, a new version of one of his old demos called The Band. Very nice it is too. An old song given a contemporary acid folk vibe. B-side Isis' Adventure is dedicated to Kevin Ayers and has a suitably Canterbury feel. Impressive modern soft-psych with a summery bucolic feel.

White Sails - Laguna Sunrise (Ltd. colour 7")

One thing all these releases have in common is the making you aware of long forgotten nuggets that may or may not be lurking in your record collection (or your mum or dad's). This EP from White Sails is no exception featuring two lesser known Black Sabbath tracks - Laguna Sunrise and Fluff. Both instrumentals are given largely acoustic readings, soft drum shuffles and acoustic guitar motifs. Who's have thought Sabbath could have had just as successful a career had they gone down the folk route! These are backed with two original instrumentals - The Answer and Death On A Pale Horse. The Transatlantic band (members hail from San Francisco and Finland) should be rightly proud of this folksy EP. If I had to pick just one single from the five for the mythical desert island I'd go for this one.

Jack Ellister - Within You, Without You (Ltd. colour 7")

It's a brave move to cover a Beatles track in 2013, especially such an iconic and stylised one as Beatle George's Within You, Without You. Amsterdam's Jack Ellister has come good though. Without losing any of the songs' message or psychedelic splendour, he's made it his own. With less reliance on Indian instrumentation, this is a more strident rock version with a suitably unhinged wig-out towards the end. Nice! There's also a short psych-drenched reprise. Flip the single over and there are also stellar versions of Flaming (Pink Floyd) and Song For Wild by cult acid-folker Mark Fry.

Stay - Mersey Dream (Ltd. colour 7")

Spanish psych band Stay kick off their four song EP with an original tune dedicated to pop music's most favoured river. Mersey Dream is a rocking mod-ish groover which brings to mind Fools Gold-era Roses and early Charlatans and Deep Purple. Its heavy B3 Hammond, funky bassline and choppy guitar lent a sweetness by the song's melody. The other three tracks are all covers - Guess I Was Dreaming (The Fairytales), I See The Rain (Marmalade), and If I Needed Someone (that Beatle George again!) And pretty neat they are too. It's no surprise that the band have supported Beady Eye and Ocean Colour Scene when those bands have toured Spain. The band formed in 2005 and have so far released four albums, so there's plenty more to go at if this single rocks your world.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Higher State - Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy) 7"

The latest 7” in State Records' Soundgate Sound Acetate series.

Following on from last years' “I Just Pretend” (read my review here), The Higher State's latest 7” ups the psych-punk quota, adding extra acidic bite to their west coast folk rock sound. A-side “Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)” is a cautionary paranoid tale which mixes frenetic drumming, snarling fuzz guitar, vocal harmony and folk-rock jangle.

You could rightly argue that this has all been done before in the 60s but right now nobody else is making records with this sound so convincingly. State Records just get it right every time. Want further proof? Then check out the recent Paul Messis album, or last year's Suzi Chunk LP. It's aided by State having their own small but characteristic sounding studio. As every musician and sound engineer knows, limitations are beneficial in achieving a great sound.

B-side “All Ties That Bind” is pretty cool too, one and a half minutes of melodic folk-rock bolstered by spiralling lead guitar. The intro also contains a knowingly cheeky nod to the Stones “Last Time”.

Limited to 500 copies of 70gram vinyl on State Records.