Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Makes my job as an on-line reviewer so much easier when something drops into my inbox promoting a new release that’s actually a reissue of an album I know and love already, and this is one such instance since Sun. Broken I’ve owned on CD since the band kindly sent over a copy after my review of their Lime album three years ago, so although I never got around to posting a review of that one, I know the Important Records edition well. But it’s great to have a reason for mentioning it here, and that’s because there’s a 500-pressing vinyl LP version due from Cardinal Fuzz later this month (release date 24th March).
I mean, it’s a bloody corker of a space-rock record, totally intense, absolutely relentless, sounding fucking HUGE and living its life LARGE. The label seem properly chuffed to be giving it a vinyl release… and quite right too. So they’ve not just reissued it, but they’ve given it a packaging makeover with Sam Weihl’s new embossed design for its sleeve and what they describe as “stunning intergalactic black/white swirl” in its pressing.
Sun, Broken is all about power, epitomised by hard driving tracks with pounding drums, urgent keyboards and wailing technology, such as the opening ‘Technical Knowledge As A Weapon’ and the intensive and arresting ‘Labrador Hatchet’; it’s as though nothing is laid-down and committed unless it absolutely is going to plough through jacked-up to the max speakers as if it’s scientifically and chemically augmented to break the sound barrier itself, raging and racing, filling every crack and expanding, exploding, into every void: dominating your headspace and your environment. It’s that strong. Predominately instrumental, impenetrable chanting surfaces at moments, imploring us further onward. I look back at my review of Lime, and I was saying then that I “couldn’t enthuse enough” about that one… well, that’s Sun, Broken with knobs on, all turned up to screaming point, a record with everything a space-rocker might want and then some sonically challenging more.
Least we come away thinking its all heads down heaviness, Mugstar have more than just that modus operandi in their armoury. The 13.45 minute ‘Furklasunbo’ that sees out the album ranges across soundscapes, always moving onwards but having a robust and muscular subtleness to its opening movement – if that’s not a complete contradiction in terms – while always maintaining purpose, building up and working towards its interstellar travelogue despite its sprawling nature. It’s massive composition that sweeps and swirls in perfect symmetry. But then, it’s all totally stellar. Every space cadet should own a copy.
Monday, 3 February 2014
Amae is the side-project of Chris Boat from Spiral, an outlet for his ambient spacerock musings and a thoughtfully appreciated change of pace, of texture and tone, for this blogger. Eridanus is a river in Greek mythology. Eridanus is the Po River, according to Roman word usage. Eridanus is a southern constellation. Eridanus is four tracks of quiet and meditative reflection. Eridanus is minimalist, but it is not minimal.
This is all.
Admiral Browning, who are based out of Middletown Maryland, have been around since way back in 2002, though they started playing live in 2005, and are comprised of Matt Legrow (Guitar), Tim Otis (Drums), and Ron McGinnis (Bass), playing a principally instrumental form of heavy progressive rock – they’ve also an enormous reservoir of patience, since I’d afraid to say this is another release I’ve had backlogged for commentary for quite some time: they first dropped me a note back in July of last year. But they’re currently having a sort of ‘second-wave’ push on this album, ‘Give No Quarter’, so I’m pleased to be able to contribute a review to that, even if I was remiss in not following it up much earlier. Sorry chaps!
What they’re playing on Give No Quarter is well described in the album’s title: relentless, grungy, taking no prisoners; robust and muscular poundings with titles such as ‘Theme For Evil’, ‘Traps’, and ‘Rogue Planet’ and in that respect there’s a particular modus operandi at work and once they’ve found it works they don’t start digging around in their toolkit for something different. I’m not complaining – it works in a heads down, no nonsense rock manner with each man having a mission to make noise and the three of them combining to play something pretty pulse-pounding, and if it’s pile-driving chops that you’re after they’re here in spades.
And then it twists out of itself and into ‘Las Aranas Lobo’, which though it again builds into a great mashed-up mesh of sounds, starts with a South American, or at least South of the border vibe from Legrow’s guitar playing that maintains through the track while McGinnis lets go on some free-ranging, wandering, expressive bass-lines and Otis keeps a firm hand on the track’s rhythms, so that it’s a piece where each musician expresses himself deftly while all three still collude in that building up of noise. A curio, a piece that’s about individuals even while being a nine-minute let-loose band extravaganza.
‘Rogue Planet’ is also something of a point of difference with the full-on salvos of much that comes before it, starting with some haunting and spacey sounds, the most spacerock influenced of anything here, before Otis starts calling the trio to order with some ever more pointed and studied drumming, though his band-mates continue with their increasingly expansive riffing so that again Admiral Browning are building upon each other to get to that crescendo point of noise, urged on by the drums and finally reaching a peak before the soundscape retreats into that from which it expanded and an album that delights in sonic assault confounds expectations and leaves in discordant oscillating quiet.
Not on the album, but one I liked from their Soundcloud…
Sunday, 2 February 2014
Johannes Schulz plays all instruments on this psychedelic / krautrock project and by the look of his Bandcamp page has been pretty prolific about it recently, but it’s his latest recordings, Tee Sessions, that he’s emailed me about. Now, as a committed non tea drinker, would these recordings be my, err, glass of coke, I wondered? (‘Not my cup of tea’, you see what I did there? No, you’re right, I’ll never make anything of myself in comedy).
Actually, I spent quite a pleasant half an hour on a Sunday afternoon listening to Johannes’s music, drawn in by the bright and engaging ‘Hagebutten Tee (Am laufenden Band...)’’, which Google Translate advises me as ‘Rosehip Tea (Churning)’, a bubbly six minute piece that sounds like Ozrics Tentacles taking time out and relaxing with a cuppa, though with some background vocals slipped into the mix. ‘Weißer Tee (Maakute a Shaakalaka...)’, which apparently is ‘White Tea’, is a different texture, quite dark and brooding while the thirteen minute ‘Green Tea’ (‘Grüner Tee (Laufen ohne Schnaufen...)’) has a squelchy keyboard arrangement that when it really gets started – and when I say ‘gets started’ I mean a back-beat kicks in but gently - it reminds me just a little of what Pete, Glenda and co of Sendelica are sometimes doing with their more ambient krautrock pieces.
‘Gelber Tee (Nachricht an mich...)’, otherwise ‘Yellow Tea (Message to me..)’, is a an abbreviated piece, less than a minute and a half in length, and as such as just something of Eno’s ‘Another Green World’ about it, lovely and understated, making you wish there were more of it but actually perfectly judge in content, so it absolutely works on that level. Finally, ‘Schwarzer Tee (Gans allein...)’, ‘Black Tea’, rounds this EP out with seventeen minutes of droning sounds and intoning vocals that feels oppressive and perhaps tells us that from the bright opener to the denser closing piece, there’s a journey laid out and undertaken. I liked these recordings and definitely would investigate further.
Sunday, 19 January 2014
Can’t tell you much about this one, other than that Dead Sea are a French shoegaze/psychedelic rock band based in Paris who’ve cut one song so far, an ethereally hazy and dreamy drift entitled ‘Before We Die’, which they say will be included in a forthcoming 2014 compilation. I thought it was a really good track!
Sunday, 12 January 2014
Oslo’s Mayflower Madame introduce themselves by declaring themselves as a post-punk/psychedelic band who have already gained recognition both in their homeland and abroad. “For example,” they say, “we have played support gigs for Night Beats (US) and Crystal Stilts (US), and we also conquered the Underwood Stage (a showcase for the 8 ‘most promising’ bands in Norway) at this year’s edition of Norwegian Wood Festival (headlined by Nick Cave and My Bloody Valentine).” They’re proper Spacerock Reviews material, really, a blend of intriguing dark textures, relentless rhythms and lyrics twisted around what in other ways are really quite melodic tunes – based on what I’m hearing in their debut EP, released in August 2013 and available both as a download and, I’m always pleased to report, on 180g vinyl. I love the immediacy of digital, but it’s always good to see bands still having reverence for the permanency of the physical format, especially vinyl.
They are “a four-piece band – conceived in the chilly asphalt jungle of Oslo, Norway – and nourished by a range of influences that vary from German Expressionist art to 80’s post-punk and newer shoegaze and neo-psychedelic rock. [Our] music can be described as dark and haunting, sometimes ecstatic and noisy, yet always indulgent to the soothing charms of melody.”
‘Hot Blood Shivering’ really sets the EP up in great style, with a deftness of touch and a dynamic, busy, racing mesh of guitars, bass and drums that has a touch of Technique-era New Order but with Ian Curtis vocals at the start before it expands into an ever more exciting piece that grabs you and demands replay upon replay – quite brilliant stuff. The titular track, ‘Into The Haze’ opens with simple patterns leading into brooding bass lines and a sense of quite ominous atmosphere, tense and pensive, that draws in the listener and that somehow works as both a counterpoint to and an extension of the EP’s lead-in song so that as an EP it really makes best use of that format to create a joined-up and complex listening experience.
These tracks kick-off with appealing little hooks or vignettes, momentary starting-points that are the gateways into each main event, a shimmer of light before the darkness descends and reels us in. ‘Pitfalls’ is no exception, a delicious fragment of scraping guitar sound that gets swallowed up into the the song, still there through the number, never quite swamped by the denser work around it and giving some of the melodic lightness that counteracts the intenseness of the vocals. When we get to the final track, ‘The Longing’, then everything we’ve come to expect through this EP is encapsulated again in its exquisite complexity and we’re ready to back round again to the start and find something new again in this collection’s intricacies.
Mayflower Madame is: Trond F. (vocals and guitars), Rune O. (guitars), Petter M. (bass) and O. J. (drums).
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
I was really thrilled recently to be asked to be part of Shindig! magazine’s Spacerock special, Interstellar Overdrive, which is out mid-January and available for pre-order now from the magazine’s website (or from Amazon if you prefer – but do please buy direct where possible) and should be on sale in all good newsagents as they say! I’ve contributed an overview to what spacerock means and a feature on the eponymous first Hawkwind album containing interviews with Dave Brock, Marion Lloyd-Langton and producer Dick Taylor discussing the album , its recording and the characters who came together to make this wonderful record. Plenty of other stuff going on as well of course, but I was absolutely chuffed to be able to take a fresh look at this classic album in such good company!
Here’s the detail from the magazine itself about this special edition:
Shindig! explores spacerock’s peculiar mix of heavy riffs and electronics through the age of the space race, the resulting sci-fi explosion and the mind-expanding influences of the acid-fried 1960s and beyond. We trace spacerock back to its roots with the soundtracks of the '50s, including Louis and Bebe Barron's FORBIDDEN PLANET, through to the incredible work of JOE MEEK on Telstar. In addition, we will cover the social and cultural context of the moon landings, sci-fi literature and the spaced-out cinema that shaped the end of the '60s. In this environment came early spacerock efforts from THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, PINK FLOYD and THE BYRDS. One band arrived at the close of the decade to define the genre HAWKWIND. Just as influential in their own idiosyncratic way were GONG with their Radio Gnome trilogy. Several artists pursued the electronic side of spacerock, such as SILVER APPLES and FIFTY FOOT HOSE, whilst the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP added a distinct Britishness to proceedings. The Germans also produced their own unique contributions to the idiom with AMON DUUL II, NEU and ASH RA TEMPEL. At the close of the '70s several artists such as CHROME utilised the punk spirit to reinvigorate spacerock. The magazine will take the genre through the '80s and '90s with HERE AND NOW and OZRIC TENTACLES and the cross-pollination of the indie scene with SPACEMEN 3 and LOOP. Taking things up to the present day and proving the genre is still in rude health are the likes of ASTRA, THE HEADS and WHITE HILLS. There will also be numerous diversions through key spacerock obscurities as well as articles from the likes of Johnny Truck, Patrick Lundborg, Ian Abrahams and Rich Deakin.
I have to say, I’m not used to seeing my name as a selling-point so I’m pretty pleased about that as well!
That’s one of the reasons the blog has been a bit quiet lately but plenty of good sounds building up. If you’ve emailed and I’ve not got back to you yet, I will, and if you’re waiting for a review to appear, apologies for the delays and I’ll be posting stuff over the next few days.
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Having raved more than once on this blog about Wooden Shjips’ Ripley Johnson’s side-project Moon Duo, the forthcoming release of a new Wooden Shjips LP is actually a chance for me to get acquainted with, so to speak, the main event because I’ve been aware for quite some time that they’re a band that I should know about – and that if I knew about them properly I’d love them – but despite being quite passionate here on the subject of Moon Duo I’ve not graduated, or side-stepped perhaps, to Wooden Shjips themselves. Colour me converted.
From their website, then, I glean that they commenced in 2006, based then in San Francisco though now relocated to Oregon, cut a few records, one in 10” and the others in 7” format on lovely collectable coloured vinyls, then promptly imploded, leading to the Wooden Shjips that have recorded and toured since and who cut the album West, their first proper record label release (via Thrill Jockey, as indeed is Back To Land) a couple of years back.
No surprises, Back To Land has much in common with the Moon Duo records that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years, driving, melodically robust, fuzz and distortion-laden progressions that wind their way through inner-space with vocals which seep into the background in a way that suggest they complete the vividness of the Wooden Shjips picture without being specifically important in their words, while being vital in the way they mesh into the overall sound. What Wooden Shjips commit to is a miasma of thrusting rhythms that by twists and turns are thrilling expansive and yet at times seem laid-back, almost languid, as though they’ve dropped in, dropped out and spaced out while still maintaining at their core a rocket-propelled sense of purpose and urgency, a contradictory and valedictory fusion. No track too short to engage and develop, no tune too elongated to outstay its welcome, outwardly exploratory in wide boundaries, but bounded indeed by a sharp sense of time. Hawkwind played by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Wooden Shjips have a danceable groove that’s a hypnotic playground for the senses, a liberating vibe and a good vibration. They lean on minimalist as a description, which I don’t really get unless they’re telling us that each track is based around a simple theme that’s expanded and experimented on in the song’s journey, in which case I’ll turn on a sixpence and say that minimalist really hits the nail squarely on the head. In any case, all cranked-up to the maximum in the propulsion of their sound and vision they’ve certainly cranked-up the spirit and senses of this reviewer.
Here’s a snatch of them in acoustic mode, playing ‘These Shadows’ from Back To Land in quite a different manner than you’ll here it on this terrific record.
Saturday, 21 September 2013
Anyone who read my review of the most recent ‘proper’ Hawkwind album, Onward, might remember that I found myself disappointed with that entry into the Hawkwind catalogue – though following on from that I reviewed much more enthusiastically both the Hawkwind Light Orchestra album and especially the lovely Looking For Love In The Lost Land Of Dreams from Dave Brock. This new collection, put together with a particular eye on the US market but of course also available in the UK, is in a nice position of rounding up what recent Hawkwind has been all about without having the pressure of adding to the canon as a whole. So though it trawls both past and present in the same way as Onward did before it, this one is more like the current Hawkwind incarnation’s equivalent of, say, Out & Intake, a snapshot at a point in time (perhaps with time lapse exposure, as it were, reflecting that this current line-up has possibly the longest stability of any) that says “this is what we’ve been up to… catch up!” if you will, and is hugely enjoyable for doing that without the weight of expectation of being in the sequence of definitive studio LPs. Some of it reworks standards, some of it gives Dave Brock a chance to take a fresh approach to the mix of more recent numbers and there’s some unheard new material receiving an airing as well.
To pick at a few choice entries here, one of the great thrills of following Hawkwind is those moments where they’ll pick out something that’s been hidden away in one of the nooks and crannies of the canon and breathe fresh life into or bring it into the mainstream of their set. ‘Where Are You Now’ was once an overlooked gem, known only as a snippet of encore from Hammersmith in the mid-70s and captured on one of the Weird Tapes releases; then without warning and really quite thrillingly it re-materialised as a segue onto the back of ‘Assault & Battery’ / ‘Golden Void’ circa 2003 and that’s where it appears again here, rumbling out of ‘Golden Void’ and longing relating the crumble and decay of some unknown ancient race. If memory serves, I’m not alone in love for this from way back, since I think it appears as a paragraph heading in what I’ve always thought of as one of the really great Hawkwind music paper features, that one by Alan Moore in Sounds circa Chose Your Masques that I’m so fond of quoting from (“the day-glo Hawkwind insignia blazed in the ultra-violet light … Christ, I had one hell of a time.” That one.).
Other gems pulled out of long-ago on Spacehawks include ‘The Demented Man’, loving recreated on the 2013 Warrior tour and long wished for as an inclusion in the live set, and ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’. They sort of fare differently here. ‘The Demented Man’ is gorgeous, wonderful to hear again (Pre-Med did a super version on their The Truth About Us album a while back as well), and just to stand in a hall and hear it played, as I did down at Falmouth a few weeks back, is such a treat. And I enjoyed hearing it again here; but it’s one where the brittle melancholic delivery of the original, on Warrior On The Edge Of Time, is just so perfect, so fully realised, that revisiting it might not ever get beyond 99% of doing it justice; the original is the perfectly-pitched definitive article. On the other hand, the fresh look at ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’ just seems not just to revisit it but update it, moving it from a cautionary, ‘Eve Of Destruction’ protest song to a wistfully fatalistic rumination on the way the world has gone, and as such is an apposite re-working that brings something new to another neglected classic. ‘Master Of The Universe’, included here, is poignant for a totally different reason, featuring the great and so much missed Huw Lloyd Langton on what was, as I understand it, his very last Hawkwind recording.
Of Spacehawks reflection of newer material, there’s some very strong tracks included here. ‘It’s All Lies’ is a proper Hawkwind song and no mistake, provocative and challenging, having something to say about society and saying it in forthright tones and is really part of that element of the canon which contains those songs I think of when I remember how Richard Chadwick once described Hawkwind to me as, “Poking at society, saying what about this? What about that?”. On other newer tracks, where this collection works is in showcasing numbers that are, again, ‘proper’ songs rather than those more experimental numbers. ‘Sentinel’ is a terrific mood piece that sounds quintessentially Hawkwind in its mix and explains it in its soundscape why the way back when and the up to date contemporary now are all wrapped up into being part and parcel of what Hawkwind is. ‘Touch’ sounds like one of those experimental numbers I’m suggesting this compilation eschews, but it moves into a dreamy lushness that continues with ‘Lonely Moon’ and the gorgeous ‘Sunship’, sending the album out with a consistently beguiling, haunting, mood across its last three entries. This one, I understand, comes in standard, deluxe digipac, and vinyl editions. I enjoyed it immensely.