Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Beckies - The Beckies

(This review first appeared in issue 52 of Shindig! magazine)

Hampered on its initial 1976 release by a refusal to tour and the feeling of it being a major label take on the new wave zeitgeist, this sole eponymous album has aged well. Marked by its warmth and pure joy of (power) pop, it may have been at odds with the prevailing AOR professionalism of the era but forty years on reveals itself as a lost gem.
Founding member of The Left Banke, Michael Brown had a genius knack for delicate melodies and classical influenced arrangements which sat well with the power pop brio of his newly found bandmates, who'd learned their craft in Chessmann Square, a journeyman group founded on a love of harmony-rich British Invasion bands.
The Beckies would turn out to be Brown's last release on a major label. This first time on CD reissue is a fitting tribute to the man, whose talents gave so much and deserved more in return.

Herbcraft - Wot Oz

(This review first appeared in issue 52 of Shindig! magazine)

Experimental rock trio Herbcraft continue to make music that challenges and compels in equal measure. For their fourth LP band mainstay Matt Lajoie and new recruits Joe Lindsey and Aaron Neveu have released an improvised rehearsal tape where ambient dub rubs up against mutant-funk and Sister Ray style jams. From the primordial soundscape of 'We're Gonna Make It', into the focused art-rock of 'Fit Ur-Head', learn to expect the unexpected.
'Push Through The Veil' is an uncompromising take on Afro-funk with rolling bass, drum clatter and unhinged but murky vocal wailing, whereas 'No More Doors' is a more abstract, swampy affair, all voodoo drums and interplanetary guitar scales.
'Bread Don't Rise' is the closest track to traditional rock, albeit with undecipherable lyrics and primal scream delivery. If you're looking for music on rock's outer reaches, music that's devoid of cliché and unafraid of experimentation, here it is. One for the heads.

Click here for Herbcraft on Bandcamp.

The Green Pajamas - Death By Misadventure

(This review first appeared in issue 52 of Shindig! magazine)

For a band with a back catalogue large enough to rival Grattan, (Sears if you're in the US), it's surprising that this Seattle-based group are not more widely known. Even more of a mystery given the strength of Jeff Kelly's songwriting on this vinyl reissue of their 2012 album. Though they may have strayed from the psych-pop/Paisley Underground roots of their DIY cassette releases of the mid '80s, their current brand of intelligent guitar-based pop for grown ups more than compensates.
The music veers from taut and muscular indie rock, through lilting piano ballads and McCartney-esque pop, to songs owing more to European gypsy music than they do Anglo-American rock. Despite such musical variations the album is held together by being a two part song-cycle that reveals depth and intrigue with each listen. If dark storytelling is not to your taste there's the upbeat 'Carrie', a true hit single in waiting.

The Sunchymes - Present...

(This review first appeared in issue 52 of Shindig! magazine)

The Sunchymes are a studio-based sunshine pop outfit from the distinctly unsunny environs of Northampton, and are a vehicle for the writing and arranging talents of auteur Aaron Hemmington. Their third album continues their ever more assured line in harpsichord and harmony laced soft-psych. Packed with Brian Wilson-esque melodies, chamber-pop arrangements and lyrics about parks, carousels and daydreaming, it makes for a pleasant, knowingly lightweight listen. The use of Mellotron strings and subtle phasing give the album a gently disorientating twist, though it's more psych that's safe for children than the full on lysergic experience.
'Time Will Tell' is typical of the fayre; breezy, upbeat and sugary. Despite lacking that killer song the album does a fine job in recreating a certain period charm and finely straddles the line between soft psychedelia and bubblegum. Abandon your alphabetical filing and stash this one between The Beach Boys' Friends and The Banana Splits LP.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

French Boutik – Front Pop

Parisian nova-mods' full length debut oozes style and sophistication!

We've covered French Boutik here before of course, and delighted in their previous standalone vinyl releases – Les Chats De Gouttiere 7” and Ici Paris 2x7”. Now stripped to a lean and mean quartet they've just released their debut long-player which more than lives up to expectations. No great game changing moves but there's a definite distillation and honing here, along with a growth in confidence.
With the boy/girl vocals and split between French and English language songs French Boutik bring style and sophistication to the fore. Their previous releases hinted at a band capable of a range of moods and styles. Over ten new original tracks and a neat version of Francoise Hardy's 'Je Ne Suis Pas La Pour Personne' the band get to show them in full
They describe their sound as Pop Moderniste and that's about right. Rooted in '60s soul and mod but with a nod to The Style Council and a touch of acid-jazz here and there (check out the flute solo on 'Hitch A Ride'). Factor in a little bossa nova, some louge-core within that musical melting pop you'll find French Boutik. Step in and enjoy!

Click here for French Boutik on Facebook.
Click here for French Boutik on Twitter.
Click here for Copase Disques.
Click here for Detour Records.

Icarus Peel - Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow

Conceptual village wyrdness among the rolling hills!

A concept album about an undertaker and a gang of London villains set in a village between the Cotswolds and Milton Keynes! Yep you heard right. The leader of The Honey Pot and musical collaborator with Harmonic Distortion favourite Crystal Jacqueline has concocted a song suite set in a fictional English village. A seemingly normal world but scratch beneath the surface and the strangeness of old Albion soon reveals itself. Packed from start to finish with the sort of pastoral eccentricity that went out of fashion when Mr. Barrett retreated to suburban Cambridge, this album was apparently written as a bet. The nature of that bet may not be known but the resulting LP means everyone wins.
No-one would make the claim for Icarus Peel as being a great singer, his voice more suited to teaching geography than selling a song but that matters not and indeed is almost the point, with the songs all delivered in a straight, English folk story-over-style manner. Shifting between gentle psychedelia, acoustic ballads and soft spacey rock, this is a strange album for an even stranger year and a great tonic when the real world's ugliness is too much.

Available on limited edition black vinyl (250 copies) and as a 4 CD set housed in a handmade individually numbered wooden box.

Click here for Icarus Peel on Facebook.
Click here for Mega Dodo Records.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Oriental Sunshine - Dedicated To The Bird We Love

Deluxe reissue out 2nd December on Round 2 Records 


The long and winding countryside of Norway in the late sixties was hardly the ideal time or place to be playing psychedelic folk music. But the teenage duo of Nina Johansen and Rune Walle, aided by their friend Satnam Singh, triumphed over high odds to make one of the most spellbinding albums in the genre made in any country.

Johansen and Walle met at a Peoples College in 1968 in the rainy small town Manger outside of Bergen, and discovered a shared love of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and eastern sounds. They soon started playing and writing songs together. Then they met Satnam Singh, one of the very few people of colour living in Norway at the time, and luckily he turned out to be an excellent flute and tabla player. It was meant to be — Oriental Sunshine was formed.

A sole album was made, released on Philips in 1970, with the trio joined by accomplished jazz musicians Espen Rud (Min Bul), Sture Janson, and Helge Grøslie (Junipher Greene). The album was recorded by the legendary Norwegian producer and recording technician Jan Erik Kongshaug. After the death of Johansen’s father and with Satnam Singh facing deportation the band lost contact for 35 years and no music has been produced by the group since. This truly is a one off, and a key, unique record in Norway’s psych history.

Round 2 are proud to present this long out of print rarity, with remastered audio, exclusive poster and liner notes by Richard Morton Jack.


Side A
Across Your Life
Mother Nature
Look At Me
Land of Wisdom
Let It Be My Birth

Side B
Can Anybody Tell?
My Way To Be Hurt
Where You Went (Tum Kahan Gaye)
I’m Going

Sam Knee - The Bag I'm In

(This review first appeared in issue 51 of Shindig! magazine)

Sam Knee's previous book A Scene In Between documented the fashions of the 1980s UK indie music scene. His new book widens the net to cover the golden years of Britain's musical tribalism, ranging from the leather gangs of the early '60s to the baggy scene of the '90s.
Alongside the great photos it's also a study of links between fashion and music. Knee's writing is incisive and sharper than the creases in a pair of Sta Prest, passionately charting the changing political and social mores as well as the rise of the beagle collar, lopsided wedge cuts and bondage strides.
British youth have always forged strong links between music and fashion, what better way of expressing your sonic allegiances than through clothes, hair and mode of transport. Knee chronologically dissects each tribe, be it teds, rockers, mods, space-rockers, suedeheads, anarcho-punks, goths or soulboys, noting subtle nuances, gentle mutations, and sometimes the seismic shifts between them.
The photographs are evocative and nostalgic, mixing rare shots of musicians with those of provincials youths in their finest outside-of-work clobber. Whether dressing up or dressing down, they all look to be having the time of their lives.
Some of these looks remain timeless but all too often they've ran their course or been co-opted by high street cash-ins. Knee's book serves as a reminder of how, at its best, British youth culture has a vibrancy and spirit that's somehow always one step ahead of the money men. Long may this last.

 Click here for Cicada Books.

The Hanging Stars - The House On The Hill

(This review first appeared in issue 51 of Shindig! magazine)

Anyone bemoaning the lack of recent releases by The Coral will take comfort from this three tracker by London's loose rootsy collective. 'House On The Hill' is a murder ballad which takes the Hoylake boys' folk-rock template and adds lush vocal harmonies and a twangy surf-guitar solo by guest Christof Certik. B-side 'Endlessly Aimless' has more of a fey indie feel, its themes of loneliness and longing given a psychedelic twist by the addition of Mellotron strings.

Rounding things off is a cover of The Gun Club's 'Mother Of Earth'. A live favourite, it's slightly faster than the original but maintains the tumbleweed country eeriness via pedal steel and baritone vocals. A slice of dark Americana at odds with the jangle of the previous tracks though no less satisfying. With three different styles showcased, it'll be interesting to see which wins out when their debut LP follows next year.

Click here for The Hanging Stars.
Click here for Great Pop Supplement. 

Trappist Afterland - Afterlander

(This review first appeared in issue 51 of Shindig! magazine)

Fans of The Incredible String Band, Heron and Comus take note. Australian acid-folkers Trappist Afterland have quietly released an album each year since their 2011 debut The Round Dance Of The Cross. They've honed their craft and vision on their fifth and latest Afterlander which has a sound drenched more in olde England myth and mist than Melbourne surf and sun. With its Old Testament prophesying and limited Christ-blood red vinyl release, the vibe is as eerie and sinister as a deleted scene from Witchfinder General.
Though the freak-folk flag is raised high the mood is resolutely downbeat, thanks to chain-like percussion, hypnotic use of drone and repeated chants and mantras. Despite an instrumental smorgasbord that includes oud, tanpura, tabla, bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, harmonium, cello and more it's let down slightly by a sameness in mood and tempo. Though if apocalyptic wyrd folk is your bag dive right in!

Click here for Sunstone Records

Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker - Land Of Plenty

(This review was first published in issue 51 of Shindig! magazine)

A live LP collated from the final two shows of a month long hometown residency, Land of Plenty showcases two musicians at the top of their game. Ryley Walker is perhaps today's most fêted finger-style guitarist, his Primrose Green album almost certain to feature in the end of year polls. He's joined by fellow Chicago resident and Darts And Arrows guitarist Bill MacKay for seven instrumentals which merge folk, jazz, blues, early music and ragas.
As with all great improvisational music, the pair push, compliment and inspire each other. Such seat-of-the-pants playing echoes Davy Graham's flights of fancy, the intuitive understanding of Jansch and Renbourn, and the emotional playing of Vini Reilly.
The heavy stereo mix (Bill to the left, Ryley the right) allows for isolated listening, though it's really all about interplay and counterpoint. With moods ranging from mournful, to contemplative, to celebratory, the music is always tasteful, fluid, and inspired.

Click here for Bill MacKay's website.
Click here for Ryley Walker's website. 
Click here for Whistler Records.