Sei Still - Sei Still
Released: 10th April 2020
There's a very European sound to the debut album by Sei Still released by Fuzz Club in a limited vinyl run of five hundred. As keyboards soar over motorik beats you can't fail but notice hints of Can and Neu! as reference points but despite their German name ("sei still" is translated as "keep quiet!") this five-piece actually hail from Mexico City. The band were formed almost by accident when three friends took a random trip to a desolate woodland to work on a couple of songs. Things went so well that Lucas Martín (guitar), Mateo Sánchez (guitar) and Andrés Lupone (bass) decided to recruit Sebastián Rojas (keyboards) and Jerónimo Martín (drums) to form a permanent band and this eponymous collection is the first fruit of their labours. Working with legendary Mexican underground producer Hugo Quezada, Sei Still have delivered a sharp, minimalist collection which very much avoids the side roads as it cruises relentlessly along the highways. 'Blumenkriege' sets the scene well, the driven beat overlaid by analogue synths and a criss-crossed floating vocal from Mabe Fratti. Gentle guitars skid slightly but never lose their balance and we reach 'El Camino' which ups the pace, pushed along by Public Image drums and a taut bass line. Swooping synths and flashing guitars drop us off at 'Emisión' which pounds menacingly as grating guitars feed back and soar. 'Fortuna' begins the second half of our journey more sedately as narrative is added before phased guitars lead us into unknown territory which is explored futher in 'Televisión' where vocals echo and guitars bend. As the journey concludes with 'Ladrón' night appears to fall and we enter the darkness. Still the world vibrates as the atmosphere becomes more oppressive and we know sleep won't come easy. There's an added bonus in the ten-minute plus 'Tácticas de Guerrilla Urbana' which didn't fit on the vinyl. This is a journey of your dreams, motorik heaven, racing along with freedom and taking in all the sights as they flash by. There's no adjusting of the propulsion but plenty of twists and turns in the road where guitars flicker lightly and synths burble before everything disappears over the horizon into the sunset. An interesting, sprightly first offering with just enough weirdness to make the trip worthwhile. Snap one up while today is still today.
Flat Worms - Antarctica
Released: 10th April 2020
2020: world in flames, deserts in permafrost, everyone in their own corners looking down into their hands, and Flat Worms emerging with their third album in four years. If you enjoyed the band's debut, half an hour of relentless pounding drums, scorching guitars and vocal chanting you may have been impressed that this trio of well-tested psych musicians found no time to waste on sonic doodling but opted to blast out rock and roll with punk manners and a refreshing conciseness. Don't expect more of the same here, for Antarctica is a very different beast: music that is focused with pin-point accuracy; music that hits hard without the accompanying histrionics. Like their previous albums, there is nothing long and overblown here: eleven songs take up just thirty-three minutes with only one breaking the four-minute mark, the lead track 'The Aughts'. Here the guitars take their time to swirl under a Will Ivy vocal that is delivered in Mark E Smith style. Tim Hellman's bass has room to breathe and it is even doubtful that drummer Justin Sullivan needed mouth to mouth at its conclusion. The song doesn't lose any of strength for its pared-back behaviour, however. It is pointed and hard and makes its statement with cold efficiency. And so the remainder of the album. This record mainly focuses on how California is becoming a natural and social wilderness and 'Market Forces' is particularly cutting in its derision, and unmoving in its density, while the title track allows the bass and guitar to interplay while barely breaking crawling pace. It's Flat Worms but not as we know them. 'The Mine' ups the game even further, drums changing tack, the bass huge and threatening, and guitars stabbing and swooping from every angle. It's good to see Flat Worms developing and stretching their base as all-out careless assaults have an appeal, but only for a limited time. This album was recorded at Electrical Audio in six days which makes its directness impressive; no doubt this was aided by having Steve Albini and Ty Segall at the helm. Albini these days is certainly no magician, but he can still be vitally effective and here he works to good effect. Antarctica is not all spellbinding and there are a couple of songs that fail to reach their full potential, but it is an encouraging step forward and certainly well worth investigation.
Dire Wolves - Flow And Heady
Released: 17th April 2020
Dire Wolves have offered up a lot of music over the past decade under their bracketed/non-bracketed pseudonyms. Flow And Heavy is credited to 'Dire Wolves Just Exactly Perfect Sisters Band' and it features a live recording from the Festival Of Endless Gratitude in Copenhagen on Friday 13th September 2019. There have been a few mightily impressive jam/live sessions released over the past few months by various outfits and most of them have appeared to feature Nik Rayne of The Myrrors. This one is no exception with Rayne not only playing guitar but also adding percussion and clarinet to the proceedings. It's great to see such co-operation between bands in the psych field which truly does offer up one of the most friendly and collaborative environments in music. Dire Wolves' bio states they are making "exploratory journeys" and "transportive trance-based experiments in vertical listening". Often they are doing this with spontaneous compositions where "the focus is more about feeling than any specific approach to playing. Psychic rock for the mind and body: breathe deep and grow towards that light." That may be stretching credibility a little for us post-punk veterans, but Flow And Heavy is certainly a record you can lose yourself in and emerge feeling rather like the chap on the cover, painted by Liz Walsh. This record can mess with your brain. There are just three tracks here, encompassing thirty-eight minutes, with the first a union of two parts. The nineteen minutes of 'Flow And Heady > By The Fireside' takes up the entire first side of the vinyl, yet seldomly has such time passed so fleetingly. It opens gently but the early guitars begin to warp from the beginning and, as layers of sound are added, they set off on their own tangental path. Behind Jeffrey Alexander and Rayne's tag team are scraped strings, whizzy things and some fine warbling by Ceylan Hay. Somehow all of this sets the right tone and purpose to scratch at the inside of your head; it's edgy but attractive at the same time: a siren call. 'Let The Dog See The Rabbit' is less intensely penetrating, but raises a notch on the head-flip scale, the whole being built on the big bass of Brian Lucas on which the guitars play with celebratory freedom. Its density is carried into the closer, 'Dr. Esperanto' where Sheila Bosco's harmonica almost turns it into psych blues. Her drums crash pleasingly while Hay's violin complains as Alexander throws his voice into the ring and his guitars carry everything off to a satisfactory conclusion. This is a great gig, thankfully captured nicely on tape, and Cardinal Fuzz's pressing throws in a poster and two extra concerts (from Bremen and Vienna) on the download, none of the tracks being repeated. Great value, great dreams.
Servo - Alien
Released: 1st May 2020
It's coming up for four years now since Rouen-based three-piece Servo released their debut album, The Lair of Gods, so the arrival of their follow-up, Alien, on London's Fuzz Club label is very much to be welcomed. Servo's music inhabits the darkness and the first thing to be said is how fantastic the cover of this record is, just a touch of sepia helping to highlight the enigmatic and slightly worrying image. As usual, Fuzz Club have packaged the record beautifully, the deluxe edition gatefold sleeve in matt board embracing a picture of woodland in almost total darkness engraved with the warning, "The place is hidden by the mountains of fear". As you may have guessed, this is not a jolly record. Servo's sound is rooted in the gothic quarter of post-punk, built around motorik drumming and adorned with plenty of blasted feedback and drone. Arthur Pierre (guitar), Louis Herbert (bass) and Hugo Magontier (drums) all contribute to the vocals, which are generally icily detached, almost mocking, in the manner of a heavier Preoccupations. There is plenty of splendid noise but also a few lighter touches which serve to illustrate how heavy the heavy moments really are. The album opens with 'I' where an insidious refrain worms its way through the powerful chanted vocals and crashing waves of combatant guitars. 'Râ' is outstanding, unstable and fragmented. Opening to a siren wail, a comparatively light guitar riff begins to dance over a mellow drone before a switch is thrown and the vocal emerges from the shadows to confront you face to face. A pause for breath only adds further spite before the song passes through stages of hypnotic reflection and shuddering distortion before ending in a brazen display of malice. 'Pyre' is a sombre, gothic lament, single-paced but driven, which bursts into an iridescent outro as the flame is finally lit. Side one concludes with 'Soon', gently submerged with its sharp edges eroded away. Showy guitars cut through a sea of reverb before they begin to screech with frustration and die alone. Side two opens with purpose, the venomous and biting 'II' leading directly into the churning 'Yajña', an unsettling slab of post-punk with melodic backing vocals oohing over a welter of bloody confusion. Closer 'Room 3' is similarly offensive, swaying from psych drone to hardcore tornado, with its repeated vocal driving straight into your brain. This is a record full of intent and no little drama. Over forty-five minutes of pointed assault will leave you battered, but desperate for further punishment. Grab a copy while you can.
SPC ECO - 5EP
Released: 1st May 2020
We really love how SPC ECO have approached this year, putting out an EP on the first of every month as well as chucking in the odd random offering such as 'FRI-20-2020'. The music has been varied with the duo dipping into darkwave as well as dreampop, though with enough murk and fuzz surrounding it to appeal to the psych fan as well as the dreamer and the raver on the drop. Of course, we are not going to love everything they do and we were less than convinced by 4EP
, but they have hit back in May by offering up four impressive and absorbing tracks. We are again in darkwave territory, incorporating some beats and some drone, but nothing that overwhelms the fragility and subtlety of the songs. 'You Got This' is nicely introduced to a pulsing beat before Rose Berlin's vocals begin to get eaten away. Keyboards dance around explosions of bass and Berlin's voice drifts through the slipstream with indeterminate clarity. 'When You're A Liar' sees Berlin just managing to break through Jarek Leskiewicz's drone and it's a pretty thing, while 'So Much Better' is more forceful and structured, throwing out layers of sound where keyboards bubble and guitars crash in like waves. The best moment is the closer, 'Wish You Were Dead', six minutes of music box tinkling unmoved by the murky, smothering depths of the keys. Berlin is half choked with effects and sounds like a ghost rising from a lost desert; it really is quite affecting. Given the duo's approach to this difficult year there is always something to look forward to as the month turns so tune in and bed down. It's cheaper than dope. Again, 5EP
is only available as a download from SPC ECO's Bandcamp page here
. It is currently available NYP so give it a chance.
Ringo Deathstarr - Ringo Deathstarr
Released: 1st May 2020
If Ringo Deathstarr were part of a Venn Diagram, they would lie in the intersection between Lush and My Bloody Valentine: they have an undoubted pop sensibility, but this is counterbalanced by their fondness for woozy, warped psychedelia. Sometimes they assume serious faces and rock out a little more, but mostly their music glides by with a twisted smile and a lightness that would lift the Nimble girl with little effort. This eponymous album is their fifth, and the first since Pure Mood way back in 2015. We often wonder why bands release self-titled albums midway through their careers; it's either some sort of statement, a lack of imagination, or even a farewell. Maybe the band consider this record to be their definitive asseveration and, if so, they certainly aren't making it an easy one to come by, with only five hundred albums being pressed in the UK. Happily this is on 180g vinyl which is amply filled with thirteen songs stretching to forty-five minutes. Most hover around the three-minute mark. As usual, the vocal duties are shared between guitarist Elliott Frazier and bassist Alex Gehring (one or the other or both) and it is very difficult to escape Lush comparisons when Gehring sings; her voice is not only a ringer for Miki Berenyi's, she even adopts the same rising inflection, and the ebb and flow of the songs from quick march to slow time is very much redolent of those original shoegazers. 'God Help The Ones You Love' could be Lush-by-numbers, but that doesn't detract from its quality; it's very well done, harmonic and uplifting, while 'Heaven Obscured' follows very much the same path, with light, angelic choirs. 'Disease' echoes hauntingly, 'In Your Arms' changes tack somewhat by almost moving into darkwave, while the album's closer, 'Cotton Candy Clouds', is a delightful waltz that drifts along like a fairy tale before being injected with a huge guitar break and a large outbreak of fuzz. Frazier takes the lead in the songs with distinct warp signatures, most of which could have been dreamed up by Kevin Shields. 'Once Upon A Freak' stops and starts while the music bends beyond the call of duty, 'Just Like You' wobbles every way over twisted rails and 'Lazy Lane'
gently fries in a mass of fuzz and murk through the chorus. Where the vocals are shared, they scream MBV even louder. 'The Same Again' is buried in distortion with Frazier smothered and Gehring floating casually. 'Be Love' is simply guitar heaven, while the happy bass and Daniel Coborn's skittish drums relieve any tension brought on by Frazier's siren guitar bursts in 'Gazin''. This is a decent collection of songs that regularly fall off the path without injuring themselves. As before we see experimentation with sound and texture but never any evil intent. Ringo Deathstarr are far from threatening, but they can be a bloody good listen.
Ist Ist - Architecture
Released: 1st May 2020
We've been waiting for Ist Ist's debut album with eager anticipation and it is good to see that the band's meticulous attention to detail has made the whole package a thing of beauty. Housed in a matt-board gatefold sleeve the simplicity of the design is striking, with a small photo of a James Turrell installation at the Chichu Art Museum sitting alone on the front cover. Inside are the lyrics and an oblique photograph of the band, and the back contains song titles only. It's tasteful, minimalist and precise, just as you would expect. Though the image that adorns the front may be there for its sharp design and visual impact, when you consider the artist's work more deeply you can uncover a much deeper symbolism linking it to the band. If the piece looks familiar, there is an almost identical installation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The Deer Shelter is a concrete edifice built behind and beneath Grade II-listed eighteenth-century arches and walls that served (as you may guess) as a shelter for deer on the old Bretton Hall Estate when the weather was particularly inclement. The museum at Chichu has buried thick, angular, concrete walls into the island's ancient salt terraces, both institutions building the new on the foundations of the old which is precisely what Ist Ist have been doing over the past six years. How many times have we heard that they sound like this, sound like that, with critics missing the point of exactly what this current renaissance in alternative music, or indeed any renaissance, is all about? It's never been about doing it first
; it's about doing it right
. Taking the best elements of the past and melding them into the present and building something contemporary in which certain aspects may be familiar, but others surprisingly fresh and challenging. A way of putting everything back together. We commented some years ago now that Savages worked in modi antichi
with a thrilling defiance, throwing down slabs of monochrome vinyl that swept away the garish, digital pick and mix. This is Ist Ist today. Architecture. Building from the ground up over six long years, the foundation years, where they were precise and thoughtful and solid and presented things in all the right ways. And learnt.
Move into the centre of Turrell's installations and you are humbled by the tall concrete or marble walls that tower over you, by the unyielding rectitude of their design. This surely represents the music that this band offer up: unbending, cold and immense. Yet, as you sit in the protection of these fortresses, look up and there is an opening in the roof through which you see the sky, ever changing in hue, the complete antithesis of its surroundings. The skyspace reflects patterns, the changing of moods, and offers glimpses of warmth otherwise out of reach. While Ist Ist's music may sound hard or even domineering, if you search deeper you will see the skyspace in it. There's a fragility that is seldom shown in the music (though occasionally it is captured by Mat Peters' keyboards), but it is there buried in Adam Houghton's vocals, in the words that betray the deep, unyielding resonance of his voice. "What have I become? They will grind me down. I will never win." Doubt pervades. 'Night's Arm', 'Slowly We Escape', 'Black' ... there is almost a desperation and a helplessness. And a longing. Houghton looks to the skies but is rooted in his concrete bunker and you get the impression that discipline is not really the answer. Architecture is not just about the musical legacy Ist Ist are building, it is about the building blocks of the mind. If you build high enough the sky is within reach. And the sky is what they yearn for.
From the throbbing opening of 'Wolves' with Houghton already in emotional decay, Andy Keating's bass swings in to sooth the stabbing guitars and drag the mood off the floor. As the enthusiasm builds, this becomes no place for words, just a few petulant stabs when everything falls to quietness. There's Hooky bass to 'You're Mine' that may be the most satisfying musical moment here. Guitars plead and dance, keyboards flood and soothe, while Joel Kay's drums as ever punch holes in anything that dares to stand up to them. 'Black' is another highlight, measured despair sung with resignation while drunken guitars threaten to crash their cars. There so many layers to 'Discipline' it is a good lesson in production; each instrument is clearly delineated yet manages to form a whole that is so gorgeously rounded it is almost uplifting. Side one concludes with the funereal 'A New Love Song', which is Sisters Of Mercy plus plus plus. If only that band had had a drummer and keyboards they could have better captured the mood of desperate monomania.
The second side opens with 'Silence' which is one of the noisier tracks here, reworked from earlier days with a stunning boost to its power and thrust. 'Drowning In The Shallow End' is probably the weak underbelly here, too soft and compliant, though 'Night's Arm' quickly remedies things, considering its moves before attacking viciously and then telling us so, all to the encouragement of a particularly arrogant bass. 'Under Your Skin' has all of the building blocks of an epic, rattling, grinding and throbbing along at a little above death march pace. Much could be made of this live if the band were prepared to build upon it more. The album concludes with 'Slowly We Escape', a song that springs to life midway through a Houghton lament, but we know this burst of energy will ultimately be futile. However sprightly their retreat, Ist Ist will never escape and will find themselves back in their concrete bunker yearning for a glimpse of the sun and gazing at the stars.
This is a debut album that is more than we could have asked for, and every bit as much as we had hoped for.
White Canyon & The 5th Dimension - S/T
Released: 1st May 2020
Originally released in digital format by Escarlete in September 2019, Peru's Necio Records were quick to see the potential in this self-titled debut album by White Canyon And The 5th Dimension and offer it a physical release. And with just one hundred copies being advertised on Bandcamp
and 250 copies in total, this initial pressing on red marble vinyl is flying off the shelves so be sure to grab one quickly because this really is an impressive offering. Sometimes a record will just hit all the right spots on a first listen and this is one of those. It has a fluidity to its sound that wraps itself around you and never slackens its flow. It is full of gentle passages that will carry you away blissfully and even its tougher moments are calculated not to grate on the ear but simply to twist the soothing soundscapes into equally pleasant kaleidoscopes of shape and pattern. Brazilian duo Gabriela Zaith and Léo Gudan show a maturity far beyond their experience; the pair only came together a year ago after discovering they shared a passion for the same music and a desire to create something new. While their approach may not be especially innovative, their talent is undoubted: you don't make an album with such shimmering beauty without understanding both where you are coming from and where you are looking to go. At its gentlest, through 'Silver Bird', 'Bright Colours In The Sky' and 'Surrender', it is difficult not to capitulate to its mellow, hypnotic charms. The beats whisper suggestion and the guitars probe as they ease themselves into your hypothalamus, inducing pleasurable slumber. Lie down and drift away and absorb the sensations. Once captured, gentle tweaks are applied. 'Love Witch' gathers more force without shaking your conciousness, while 'Everything Is Light' throws The Mary Chain and The Doors into your dreams for a splendid jam session. It's a great psychedelic melting pot, undisturbed by any intruding reverb or feedback. It's too overwhelmingly powerful to be knocked off course, and this allows the duo plenty of room to manoeuvre. The band's biography refers to a "register of homonymous designation", "ritualistic essences" and "edenic musicality" and we are not sure that really helps; suffice it to say White Canyon And The 5th Dimension
is scintillatingly pure and rounded and needs to be listened to.
Excellent Skeleton - Excellent Skeleton
Released: 8th May 2020
With their tenth vinyl album soon to appear, Weird Beard have embarked on a separate project of producing a series of short-run cassettes to highlight new music with the possibility of it leading to vinyl releases in the future. Limited to just fifty copies in various colours, these recordings also come with a Bandcamp download code and a neat hand-numbered obi strip. The first in this series is a self-titled offering from Cardiff five-piece Excellent Skeleton. According to their Bandcamp page, the band produce melodic music that draws on "psychedelic noisescapes and traditional rock & roll to create a wall of psych/gaze sound" and that's not far from the mark. Most of the eight tracks here sound like early Ride fed on a solution of steroids and acid and when you think about it, that's no bad starting point. This music is built on heavy backing tracks (the bass is huge) and then overlaid with fuzzy shoegaze guitar washes and harmonic doubled-up vocals. Chuck into the mix wah-wahing and phased lead guitars and the music begins to move dimensions almost effortlessly. 'Train Station' is the closest to a standard indie rock track here, clean though urgent, but it is sandwiched between two far dirtier songs. On one side of it the album opener 'Moving Away' begins prettily enough before huge Sabbath riffs smack you in the face and boiling guitars chuck in some extra malice; the whole track wields enough force to knock you off your feet. On the other side the eight-minute 'Mosquito' is a tour de force, packing power, punch and a relentless drive. 'No Escape From You' with its nagging Slowdive guitars sounds almost celebratory as it swoops upwards at every chorus. 'On Mercury Sea' offers up a gentle minute of relaxation which is carried into the seven-minute 'Key To The City' which meanders pleasantly before ending messily, and '(Tell Me Where I) Get Some' offers up some nice psychedelic moments, melting at the edges as harmonic backing vocals blithely lilt under a screamed refrain. Excellent Skeleton have even left the best to last with closer 'Stop Waking The Sun' bringing back memories of Loop as guitars wind around a snaking rocker with sixties pop sensibilities. Altogether a very impressive debut and it will be well worthwhile keeping an eye on what this series has to offer. Contact details on the Weird Beard website
Adama - Ganga
Released: 15th May 2020
It is great to see that the second release in Weird Beard's limited edition tape series is a world away from the first. Adama are a five-piece band from Östersund in northern Sweden whose intent is to create music in the psychedelic field that "reaches back to the very roots of what the genre symbolises ... capturing both the burning essense of gloomy psychedelic darkness, and the intense kaleidoscopic colours of the northern lights." We are no experts in psych history but what Adama present us with is something very much more spiritual than the puncturing assaults of Excellent Skeleton. There are seven tracks here over thirty-three minutes with most hovering around the three or four-minute mark and only the closer 'Templet' stretching to over seven. The music is atmospheric and unhurried, occasionally even wistful, though there is just enough grating energy to shake you from your dreams. Keyboards dominate, church organ chords droning or notes spiralling to contrast with the gently pagan air introduced by the humming vocals, tapping rhythms and abundant bird song. Opener 'Light' may give you the wrong impression as it is a smooth piece of synth pop overlayed with a blanket of sadness. There's even an occasional catchy hook and the whole thing is dreamily pleasant. It's the closest the album comes to convention though. 'Now' opens with a nice guitar intro recalling memories of Bruce Gilbert's work with AC Marias before the organ begins to dominate and the detached vocal hovers between song and narration. 'Float' throbs gently over broken vocals, while 'Kan' is altogether more mystical, dark and resonant with birdsong and flutes only just lightening its heavy, funereal tread. 'Fall' begins with the church organist warming up before a looped, descending bass line carries it off. The whole song gives the impression of tumbling into the abyss which is cleverly done and its relentless sway borders on the hypnotic. 'Vaken' ('Awake') continues with the more traditional psych sound, droning and throbbing, while the closing track 'Templet ('Temple') revisits the mystical soundscaping, a chant to the gentle approach of the dawn, an embrace of the natural environment. An interesting one, this, and good that Weird Beard are chucking these into the arena to see if they will stand up. Dive in quick, they will be gone before you can say "Jack ...
Razorcuts - The World Keeps Turning
Released: 15th May 2020
Very few bands go out at the top of their game, yet Razorcuts were one of them. Their early singles on Subway were enthusiastic and endearing, if not refined, but over the years Razorcuts' sound developed, their playing improved and their lyrics grew in both shape and effect meaning that when they signed to Creation in 1988, they were in the right place to produce their best ever work. 1988's Storyteller was an excellent starting point, but the following year this was trumped by The World Keeps Turning, a masterful, poetic and moving collection of eleven songs without any apparent weaknesses. It proved to be the band's parting shot as they decided to call it a day after a short promotional tour in 1990, but what a legacy they left. Some thirty-one years after the event, Optic Nerve have remastered Razorcuts' back catalogue with both Storyteller and The World Keeps Turning being released in double LP sets each featuring an 8-track bonus disc containing the band's singles, a twelve-page colour booklet with notes by Popkiss author, Michael White, and presented in heavy-duty gloss laminated gatefold sleeves. With singer and guitarist Gregory Webster writing all of the music and bassist Tim Vass writing all of the lyrics, Razorcuts were an usual band, but on The World Keeps Turning both words and music fuse into perfect union. This was unexpected as the songs were not written with a coherent theme in mind as Storyteller had been, yet not a single one of them is remotely out of place. The less strident production and stripped back drum sound only add to the simple beauty of the songs and the band, who admit themselves they were stretching their limits, never played better or with a lighter touch. Being Razorcuts, this is a record about ordinary people and the frustrations they face, both emotionally and socially. And way ahead of their time in expressing environmental concerns, the fear of the damage being caused to the world runs deeply through it. This makes it fitting that they ended the album with the stunningly effective title track, poignant and emotive – and what better way has any band ended their career? "If I had time I'd find a better way to explain / But all the noise of the city makes it so hard for me to think straight / And if you know me I expect you think that it's strange / I sometimes wonder why the world keeps on turning..." Add to that the heartbreaking 'Goodnight England', the sparkling 'Waterfall' and the beautiful 'Snowbound' and it's a surefire winner. In our mind the best record ever to emerge from the so-called 'cute' indie genre.
Moths And Locusts - Helios Rising
Released: 22nd May 2020
Another reissue here, this time Cardinal Fuzz rebooting an exploratory album from Moths & Locusts which first saw light of day back in May 2016 on the fantastically-named NoiseAgonyMayhem Records. Housed in new artwork produced by Brett Savage, Helios Rising is a weighty collection of eight songs stretching over forty-five minutes, most of them making it to five, though one weighing in at a hefty ten-and-a-half. The four-piece from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, identify themselves as "space rock explorers" who produce "dynamic, heavy, melodic, fuzz-drenched explorations of the inner and outer cosmos" which gives you a pretty good idea of where they are coming from. If you look internally, there are plenty of signs of conflict; guitarist Mike Breen's father had passed away just two days before the band entered the studio which left him numb and only able to play what he felt, which was "sadness, confusion and anger". So, where there are reflective, melancholic moments that appear almost soothing, there is plenty of rage bubbling under the surface which cannot be buried for long. 'Troubled' opens quietly, its vocals broken and forlorn. It leaks emotion, but not enough to dam in the pain which builds as guitars begin to growl, overwhelm and finally turn trouble into breakdown. Similar turmoil burns through 'Invisible Light' where choral vocals feel the weight of Dave Read's bass and Angus Barter's crushing guitars allowing the subject matter to offer little solace in the overwhelming darkness. Closing track 'Helios Rising' opens to piano like a gentle Velvet Underground lament. Again, the world closes in on it, shaking it to its core, leaving nothing certain. These are moving moments, but it's not all introspection. When this album explores the outer cosmos it fascinates in the differences it encounters; multi-layered soundscapes soothe as well as shake with each song uncovering new worlds and new atmospheres. 'Capsule' sings as it soars while 'Biblical Prophecy' is on a five-year mission with plenty of smooth riding, some expansive nebulas, a couple of asteroid belts and a bumpy landing. 'Beach Party Shakedown' simply trashes everything it meets, urged on by Dave Bean's tumbling drums. A pleasingly diverse record with much to love and one in which followers of Hawkwind will feel especially at home. There's sonic and emotional power here, so plug in.
Ancient River - After The Dawn
The Acid Test
Released: 24th May 2020
It is always good to see new labels emerging and After The Dawn
is one of the first offerings from The Acid Test, a new enterprise led by Brett Savage who intends to offer up "psychedelic influenced music" without being tied down by any restricting genre definitions. Ancient River's music fits that billing perfectly as Floridian duo James Barreto (guitar) and Alexis Cordova (percussion) reveal a particularly thoughtful and weighty collection of songs on their seventh album, written on the back of the band's recent tours and described by the pair as "dark and moody". 'So Long Ago' evokes memories of the harder tracks on Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World
, though the song is semi-submerged in a mist of fuzz and the vocals border on hymnal. 'Trust In Me' is more tangental, guitars firing in from the peripheries over a tribal rhythm; it's an atmospheric piece which never gets over its apparent discontent. 'The vocals distort into 'Until The End' where Sabbath riffs battle with psych tinkering as the drums run rings around them both. The first side closes with 'The Nothing' a lightly droning instrumental interlude which leads us up to 'King Freak' where again hard riffs battle with choral voices. The bi-polar 'Walk With Me' alternates from pulsing to defibrillating and ends in epic metal style. 'With Love' takes you into a trance state where your heartbeat reverberates as the world melts all around you, and the album concludes with the excellent eight-and-a-half minutes of 'Under The Stone'. There are some quite sensitive touches here as the song builds from its almost pretty first half with delicate, ghostly vocals into something more disfigured. The first power chord signals take-off with the smoothness of the flight soon being spoilt by turbulence and it's all downhill from there. We're pretty certain it ends in the sea being enveloped by the waves. After The Dawn
is a multi-dimensional record that doesn't go for the throat even if it does eye it up longingly on occasion. There are shades and nuances as well as assaults and batteries. It's an intriguing listen and a nice one with which to kick off a new venture. It wasn't long ago the NME
were tipping this band for big things. With only 350 albums pressed, this is not going to shake the world but it might be bloody annoying if you missed out on one. Grab your copy from The Acid Test here
Los Mundos - No Hay Quien Se Salve
The Acid Test
Released: 24th May 2020
The other record opening The Acid Test account is a reissue of an album first released in 2015, No Hay Quien Se Salve (There Is No One To Save)
, by the Mexican duo Los Mundos (The Worlds). Originally seeing light of day on a cassette produced by Mexican indie label Cintas, this is the first time this has been pressed to vinyl and a splendid job has been made of it, the green and purple swirl tying in nicely with the dramatic cover art which has been adapted from the original. The music has been remastered as well and that helps this record to pack an almighty punch. A decent frame of reference is The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'The Living End' with its relentless, pounding rhythms. However, the Los Mundos beat is a world stronger and their feedback not so beautifully all-encompassing. That doesn't prevent 'Como Si Importara' ('As If It Mattered') from resonating nicely with its messed up guitars and occasional squealing lifting the driving beat off the floor. It is more typical than opener 'Catatonia' which sets out the stall early on that this band do not do subtle, its succinct, post-punk guitars being enveloped in a calamity of drums. Other highlights from this long album (thirteen tracks over forty-eight minutes) include the burrowing solo on 'Pánico Al Diablo' and the clambering guitars struggling over the general murk of 'Ciencias Ocultas' ('Occult Sciences'). The two minutes of 'Bestial' echo later Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, while the chatty guitar on 'Mil Fieras' ('A Thousand Beasts') completely ignores the Dr Who-like swirling rush of keyboards. Best of all, 'Decadencia' strides relentlessly through a maze of noise with even a rare change of pace as the song rushes to what appears to be a terrible conclusion. The song titles give more than a hint of where this record is coming from: it's a dark journey through dark spaces, but it is one you will savour unless you are especially into daisies and Eurovision. Tough and doomy. As an aside, we can't help but wonder what these tracks would sound like with an expressive female vocalist singing rather than the almost traditional detached, disembodied chants... No doubt these will fly off the shelves so get your copy from The Acid Test here
grasshopper - Scuttle
Released: 5th June 2020
Some bands simply get it and some bands never will. Though forty years have passed since post-punk took music in a completely new direction it remains a vital era. That it still enthuses new bands in this day and age is not the least bit surprising because the sounds it produced were challenging, inspiring and bold. And it was not just about the music; post-punk brought with it an uplifting self-confidence. Its protagonists had the strength to detach themselves from the mainstream because they understood it smothered individuality, creativity, quality, dignity, style and passion. Post-punk engendered a fearsome sense of independence which spurned compromise and commerciality; it was about doing things properly and never, ever bending in the face of pressure. Quite simply it was them and us. And as it was in the beginning, it is now and ever will be. Them's the rules. And the sounds of that era are not some holy cow to venerate. That music is something to admire and emulate; it is there to influence and to be referenced, to be dipped into, bent and shaped to the will of new musicians in order to create contemporary sounds that will in turn inspire bands forty years from now.
In Manchester, Ist Ist have been fastidious in walking the walk, being careful to do everything properly while they learnt and developed. And while their reputation soared, in Brighton grasshopper were treading a similar path. OK, their northern counterparts have the edge on them in age and experience and grasshopper would do well to see how cleverly Ist Ist have worked, but in truth the southern band have done nothing wrong, have continued to grow and have always impressed. The stupid thing is that grasshopper were formed eight years ago now and seem to have been around for ever. That's not unremarkable in itself, but bassist Luis Fedrick was only TEN when the band began and the other members not much older. They were still at school when they were playing music live that wiped the floor with a lot of their contemporaries. They are just beginning their journey and yet are already so far ahead.
Scuttle features nine tracks over forty-two minutes recorded between 2015 and 2019 with The Cure producer David M Allen. It's a pleasing mixture of post-punk elements. The band's influences are not difficult to lay a finger on, and it is almost like they acknowledge this in opening track 'Obsession/Repetition': "I listen to whichever voices give me the most strength / I watch the light filter through these distorted lenses ... New life in these dances to come, these new maps to draw." Musically, the band focus intensely on distant vistas and paint them in sepia shades. Nothing is black and white. Built on Rachel Garrett's tribal, pattern-making drumming, the guitars of Javi Fedrick and Morgan Jones don't dominate, but encourage and occasionally urge, while keyboards sweep across to temper any dangerous, rough edges. This is not a record that cuts you ruthlessly because it is burdened with uncertainty. It's just not quite sure enough of itself to want to hurt. Even Javi's distant baritone has enough give in it not to render it heartless. His every word may be weighed up, but every emotion is shaded, "Does a person fall if no one's around to hear them?" For a record of its type it has an unusual amount of heart and though it points to the horizon, its focus is really far closer to home. We won't pick out highlights because the only weaknesses it shows aren't in the music but the intangible processes of the brain. This means Scuttle is both ruthlessly consistent and emotionally enigmatic, and that makes it quite a prize.
Kombynat Robotron - Kernzeitverletzung
Released: 12th June 2020
While many of us have been laid up through the lockdown unable to work, Kombynat Robotron have been busy making and releasing music with an almost alarming regularity. Recent months have seen a series of live recordings emerge from the band's rehearsal facility at Schaubude Kiel, titled KR I to KR IV (January, March, April and May) and these have been supplemented by the March release of Recklinghausen, recorded at the Recklinghausen Creative Outlaws Club, and the May outing of Dickfehler Studio Treffen I recorded live at Dickfehler Studio in Aurich by Hanno Janßen. With the latter having just emerged on vinyl through Drone Rock Records, this is another recording being given physical format by Weird Beard, becoming the third in their series of limited-run cassette albums. For those who do not know the band, Kombynat Robotron are a four-piece Krautrock band from Kiel formed in April 2018 following an initial jam session by members of various German psych bands. With the session having gone well, the quartet decided to stay together as a jamming outfit rather than one that composes standard songs. The bonus of having members who play with other bands is that different influences are brought together in a nicely bubbling melting pot of sound that is based around almost mellow grooves interspersed with bursts of psychedelia and noise. Kernzeitverletzung (Core Time Violation) is forty-one minutes of music, split into two tracks. The first part of the first song, 'Verdinglichung' ('Reification', the Marxist concept of social relations or emotions being perceived as material things) is lazy and doubtful, built on a loping bassline with keyboards gently bubbling under the surface. As it enters the second part, 'Futur V', the pace is picked up and guitars begin to chatter and whirl. There's more assurity and hope and the promise of danger and excitement. The first section of the second track, 'Entfremdung' ('Alienation'), rumbles more ominously, with assertive drums and bass powering forward as guitars scythe and mumble. This gives way to 'Modell T' which shimmers over a motorik beat. It's all very cultured and soothing, and at times almost pretty. Kernzeitverletzung is not a threatening collection; it knocks on doors rather than knocking them over and teases your senses rather than looking to fry them. Pleasingly, it also maintains Weird Beard's run of offering up completely different approaches on each of the cassettes in this series.
Ghost Patterns - Oracle EP
Released: 12th June 2020
Ghost Patterns are a relatively new band to the scene, having come together in London just over a year ago. After playing an AC30 gig night in the capital, the four members of the band were happy enough with the result to decide to continue and the Oracle
EP is their first real release to date. Ghost Patterns describe themselves as a "shoegaze/psychedelic band" with influences ranging from 1960s' psychedelia to 1990s' British and American alternative rock and there is certainly some aural pick and mix displayed on this three-track offering. Opening song 'Oracle' takes us all the way back to 1980 with its distant percussion and sharp guitars opening like post-punk notables In Camera. The difference is in the vocals here which are much more human and accessible as keyboardist Somrata Sarkar repeats the mantra "What do we really know?" as she weighs up her inability to predict other people's behaviour, realises her vulnerability in a wildly uncertain world but ultimately finds strength in the freedom this bestows. James Walker's rattling drums, Letita Austin's moody bass and Sarkar's "aahs" make the introduction of 'Infinite' sound like the essense of early Dead Can Dance, though the guitars become more gothic than ethereal and the vocal is more earthy and rooted than Lisa Gerrard's ever could be. There's a nice mystical air to her voice as Sarkar balances the pain she feels against the weight of infinity. Guitarist Terry Hale takes the lead on 'Disappears (Dark Star Remix)' which is certainly more embedded in shoegaze territory with flickering guitars, blurred lines and shifting sands. There's the almost classical movement from the slower, thoughtful passages to the driving outro with attacking drums and harder guitars. Ghost Patterns have very much a DIY ethos, having written, recorded, produced and mixed all of the songs here as well as designing their own artwork and videos. It's great to see young bands with such enthusiasm, and it is well worth checking out the EP on Bandcamp
. They are also helping to build Other Side Promotions to arrange live gigs in London and already have some top psych bands lined up to play later in the year. All power to them.
Mayflower Madame - Prepared For a Nightmare
Released: 12th June 2020
Originally intended to be released in March but postponed due to the corona pandemic, Prepared For A Nightmare
is the second offering from Oslo trio Mayflower Madame following on from 2016's debut Observed In A Dream
. That album created quite an impact on its release with the band earning fine reviews and tours in both the USA and Europe where they shared the stage with the likes of Killing Joke, Moon Duo, Night Beats, Psychic Ills and The Underground Youth. This second album will only build their reputation as one of the continent's best purveyors of hazy, smoke-laden doom as this ten-song, thirty-eight minute collection is built on classical gothic lines, imbued with dark, brooding beats, unrepentent vocals and guitars that stab and shine. It evokes the mumbling desolation of Fields Of The Nephilim, the relentless blank rhythms of The Jesus & Mary Chain and the barbed edges of The Sisters Of Mercy, all wrapped together in a package that is uniquely their own. The most pleasing aspect of this record is that it neither demands nor offers too much. The closing track 'Endless Shimmer' proves anything but endless, stopping dead just before the four-minute mark with absolutely no fanfare or notice of intent. The sense of anti-climax fits the mood of this record perfectly; the band who began their life rehearsing in a desolate industrial building, sharing space with a carwash company, have no time for such fripperies as displays of excitement or tasteless triumphalism, they simply reveal things how they see them: shaded, blurred and vaguely repelling. Vocalist Trond Fagernes never emerges from the shadows; he gropes for melodies in the darkness but leaves them there. Occasionally he doesn't even bother to search for an opening and settles on a bitter drawl or a hoarse whisper. There is simply no escape from the sombre backdrop created by his hollow bass and Ola Kyrkjeeide's unemotional drumming, though Håvard Haga's guitar flickers at the edges of the night, providing welcome animation. The undoubted highlight is the title track that opens the album. The chiming guitars make this a thing of beauty, offering a belief that the absence of light need not be an absence of hope. A closed door protects as much as it imprisons. This is a nicely-worked collection of songs that will hold you in their grip and urge you not to bother. Released by France's Only Lovers Records, you can order the album on vinyl and CD from the band's Bandcamp page here
Krautwerk - Neuling
Released: 26th June 2020
Number four in Weird Beard's cassette series is another from a prolific German act, Krautwerk being one of the pseudonyms used by self-professed "guitar-based ambient artist", Nico Seel. Seel has recorded numerous ambient collections under his own name, though this is the first release to appear under the Krautwerk banner since 2017's Computerrock. Of course, Seel is also known for creating intense, threatening doom rock with Father Sky Mother Earth, and for a well-regarded series of drone recordings with The Space Spectrum which emerged over a four-year period from 2013. Krautwerk is one of his projects with a lighter touch; the songs on offer here are smooth dreamscapes laid over meticulous rhythms and layered with gentle synth patterns and soothing, reverb-soaked vocals. It is reminiscent of the early 1980s' Neue Deutsche Welle, a blend of new wave and post-punk music dripping with electronic influences. The basslines are simple yet effective, the drumming pointed and metronomic, and the guitars occasional visitors contributing to the conversation with delicacy and tact. All the vocals are in German. These are certainly chilled out grooves for late night listening. There's not a discordant note to cause any ructions yet its inherent neatness is pleasing rather than intimidating. Hold this music up to a mirror and there's not a hair out of place, but it's not offended by your crazy three-month lockdown barnet, it just hints at a world where everything will be how it should be – and how it always should have been. The songs take us from 'Monotonie' ('Monotony') to 'Frühling' ('Spring'), from lockdown to the reborn world, and the ten-minute closer is certainly a pretty place to be where the synths sparkle as much as the gently chiming guitars. It's a highight but it doesn't tower over the rest of the record as every song here has more than a little to offer, full as they are of interwoven melodies and gently whispered secrets. It really is a beautifully constructed collection of songs and one you shouldn't let pass you by. With this series of tapes disappearing quicker than a startled oozlum bird you will need no urging to get in quickly, but even if you miss out, grab hold of a download, dim the lights and sigh with admiration.
Bo Ningen - Sudden Fictions
Released: 26th June 2020
It's six years now since we were treated to Bo Ningen's last album, III, so it is pleasing that the band have not only produced the long-awaited follow-up, but that Sudden Fictions is their most adventurous offering to date. It's a concept album in as much as the band are attempting to re-write history. Seeing rock music regularly being swamped in the modern era by ever more generic sounds they are attempting to rewrite the present by digging back to their music's roots and rebuilding its timeline free from the restraints of method, geography, race and gender. To embrace a rich diversity of culture Bo Ningen recorded the album in London, Tokyo and Los Angeles, soaking up classical works and literature as well as using instruments from musical history ranging from a 1920s jazz drum kit to the legendary Prophet 5 synthesiser of the early 1980s, used so effectively by Keith Levene of Public Image Limited amongst others. Unsurprisingly Sudden Fictions acts as a conduit that channels all of this metaphysical energy into something more solid. There is an attractive melding of disparate ideas and sounds that branch out in all directions. A stuttering opening soon forms into a more recognisable format, with 'AKA' both melodic and dissonant, with its harmonic vocals laying over bells and guitars that don't want to keep step. 'Silenced' opens with a big bass and jazzy percussion which is dubbed away as the song melts into a most unsettling lullaby. 'Zankoku' spits and claws from all angles, broken and looking to break, while 'Minimal', with a contribution from Bobby Gillespie, again flows each and every way, making its nursery-rhyme vocals deeply insidious. 'Kyutai' is also given the dub treatment while guitars play by themselves on the left, with the song mellowing into the gentlest thing here, dreamy and chilled, though 'Kuzurenai' reintroduces the unsettling edge with its uncomfortable rhythms and distorted, whispered vocals. 'B.C.' opens with echoing voices before gaining solidity with a fat beat, brilliant chiming bells and picky guitars. It's such a beautiful melding of influences, it must surely be the highpoint here. The album closes with 'Riff', suitably warped and off-kilter. Sudden Fictions is a clever record, bursting with ideas and though it may take multiple plays to get a handle on it, the effort will surely be rewarded. We love those bands who take a different approach and who challenge boundaries. Here, Bo Ningen are re-writing boundaries and re-scripting history which is fabulous. Music that deserves to be heard.
Permanent Clear Light - Cosmic Comics
Released: 26th June 2020
We missed this one when it came out in June, but there are still copies available, so better late than never. Permanent Clear Light are one of Finland's top psychedelic groups whose sound is very much rooted in the 1960s' pop-psych field. We have seen many crunching howls of protest produced this year, and we love that, but sometimes it makes a pleasant change to listen to music at the lighter end of the spectrum and PCL's woozy melodies are attractive and heartwarming. It has been six years now since the trio's debut album, Beyond These Things
, was released to some critical acclaim, though Cosmic Comics
has certainly been worth the long wait. This is a record that feels nostalgic but remains relevant; there are hints here of many of the great sixties bands as they began their experiments in the psychedelic field, but this collection is far more than a series of pastiches; the songs are nicely constructed and refined in the studio and at times they are so pretty they take your breath away. The sound is layered but never over-busy with melody given priority over punch. The whole has a sense of refinement that many records lack; often too much can be chucked into the pot, but here the ingredients are measured and balanced. Picking highlights is not easy as this is a pretty consistent effort, though opener 'This Quiet Smiling Man' is a bit of a stunner, changing tack halfway through, and 'Peasants And Peons' with its beautiful keyboard break is quite lovely. The soaring chorus lifts 'One In Five', some pleasing jazz giddiness affects 'Salmiac', and closer 'The Rip' is broken into pieces and slowly buried. Enjoyable stuff and though this appears to be a record to listen to while lying in the sun by a riverbank and inhaling as the clouds saunter above your head, it doesn't fail to bring some much-needed warmth to the bleak midwinter. Cosmic Comics
is available here
on 180g mint green vinyl as well as CD, both limited to 500 copies.