8 Nov 2017

This Month's Active Listener Sampler


Hi Team. We're back with the second in our revived and revitalised sampler series. This month we've got exclusives and premieres from Active Listener favourites Balduin, Psychic Lemon and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, as well as some new faces.

Here's the full tracklisting.

1. Garden Gate - Saturn (version) 03:15 2. Balduin - Norman Stanley James St. Clair 02:40 3. Pansies - Feels Like Yesterday 06:49 4. The 1910 Chainsaw Company - Good Friend 03:56 5. Zombie Girlfriend - Echo Echo 01:38 6. The Striped Bananas - Swirling Colors (In My Mind) 03:12 7. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - By The Light Of The Moon 02:59 8. Psychic Lemon - Interstellar Fuzz Star 09:53 9. Hermitess - Black Lake 03:21 10. Flange Circus - Kwak 03:07 11. Void Watcher - Succour 07:05 12. Peyote Coyote - Mirrors 04:43 13. The Soap Opera - Eggs To Hatch and Cats To Kill 01:28 14. Blue Hole - Strong Current 04:16 15. Sleepyard Feat. Judy Dyble - Rainy Day Vibration (Woodland Version) 03:08 16. Kosmo-0 - Black Lodge 13:49

Its a $1 or donation download with all funds raised helping to cover our running costs.

Get it here:

7 Nov 2017

In Gowan Ring - B’ee’s Pent Pouch


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

In Gowan Ring’s main man and wandering troubadour B'ee, whose artistic vision has borne countless masterful psych folk releases over the last two decades, returns with the curious and intriguing new release ‘Bee’s Pent Pouch’. Describing In Gowan Ring’s music as ‘symbolist folk; music within a magico-poetic-folk tradition utilizing acoustic instruments, voice, and poetry to convey transcendent experience and to engage the listener in mythic realities’, B’ee ably delivers here on both this promise and description. There is also a curious history to this release, recorded back in 2012 in a specially constructed five sided tent/ dwelling behind a 16th century French chateau. It was within this structure that B’ee determined to record a five sided sound project. The album, initially given to those who helped fund the project, now sees the light of day in a variety of five sided packaging options, from vinyl to a pouch or box encased CD.

'Dream' opens the album with a drifting sitar drone, a steady hand drum and an unsettling, otherworldly chant that layers and builds as if a choir of ghosts, ever increasing in number. It is both tranquil and eerie, the sound of darkness falling and of dusk; magical yet ominous. A fitting beginning, it is followed by an able cover of Donovan's 'Wandering Aengus', solitary voices and acoustic guitar proving a powerfully bare setting for Yeats’s lyrical and evocative words. Nick Drake's little known outtake 'Blossom Friend' is another acoustic treasure, a delicate and yearning slice of fragile, bucolic beauty. B'ee is past master of interpretation with such songs as these and he doesn't disappoint here; indeed he never over-elaborates but rather inhabits the song in its stark and simple sadness.

Next, ‘The Open Door Of The Grand Invitation' uses B'ee's warm and emotive vocals to significant effect both as a lead and also as a multi-layered choral backing, recollecting such seminal acid folk artists as Perry Leopold (especially his ‘Christian Lucifer’ period) or Simon Finn. 'The Half Lumined Path' starts with the sound of leaves underfoot and distant crow song before percussion and subtle drones enter, creating both a nature ritual and an effective field recording. A re-reading of the stunning 'Leaf Patches On Sidewalks’ (from B'ees 2005 'Beirth' album) is most welcome and absorbs a new potency and poignancy in its stripped back form. 'The Moon Is Shining On My Guitar' offers a lament from B'ees tormented troubadour soul, a melancholy sliver of wyrd folk magic where such is the intimacy that it almost feels that B'ee is in the room with you, the sound of him taking off his guitar at the end only adding to this sense of connection. The album closes with a reprise of the opening ‘Dream’, the drone darker, stronger and more urgent as the circling chants float in and out of consciousness.

A true gemstone of an album, this is B'ee at his most minimal and nakedly genuine; recorded with mostly just his voice and guitar it only emphasises his mastery of his muse and musick. One then for sunsets on hilltops, dusk by rivers or sunrises over woodland; this is music that connects with something innate in both the heart and with nature.

6 Nov 2017

Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968 - 1976


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While it's primarily thought of these days as a folk label, an argument can be made that Transatlantic Records was one of the first and most influential underground rock labels too. Anyone wanting to present this argument would do well to have a copy of this new three CD box set on hand to silence any naysayers.

Nat Joseph originally started Transatlantic to license American jazz records on the Prestige and Riverside labels for UK release (hence the name Transatlantic I guess?). They then moved into sex education records before Joseph signed Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and started releasing ther records that they're remembered for today. Joseph continued to pursue other music that interested him however, releasing the Purple Gang's popular jug band psych hit "Granny Takes a Trip" in 1967, and within a few years he had an impressive range of underground acts on his roster.

"Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968-1976" focuses on these acts, with some crossover to some of his folk acts' more experimental material. There's some busy proto-prog from the ass-end of the sixties from Jody Grind and Circus as well as the Deviants representing the Ladbrook Grove scene, but things get really interesting amidst the offerings from the start of the next decade. The menacing prog-folk of Jan Dukes De Grey is represented by the title track from their second opus "Mice & Rats In The Loft" while highly rated prog rockers Marsupilami demonstrate their versatility on "Prelude to the Arena" from their excellent "Arena" LP. And while we're focusing on the progressive side of things, there are two excellent cuts each from CMU and Skin Alley. Elsewhere, there are very interesting experimental folk tracks from Mr Fox, whose "Mendle" is deeply sinister, as well as former Mr Fox vocalist Carolanne Pegg whose Transatlantic album "A Witch's Guide to the Underground" is a must hear.

There was more to Transatlantic's underground roll call than prog and folk though; there's McCartneyish pop from a pre-Stealer's Wheel Gerry Rafferty, hard rock from Stray, even a touch of glam from Metro, whose "Criminal World" (featured here) made enough of an impression on David Bowie for him to cover it on his zillion selling "Let's Dance" album.

Just a folk label eh?

It's a bargain and can be had here.



3 Nov 2017

Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth


Review and interview by Tom Sandford

Originally published November 2015, reshared to draw attention to Sugarbush's brand new vinyl reissue, replacing Sunstone's out of print first issue.

The Byrds’ wingspan of influence stretched across three full decades and flew through the sounds made by some of the most important bands in the history of rock, including Big Star, the Jayhawks, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Hüsker Dü, Echo and the Bunnymen and countless others. For a time it was de rigueur – if not downright cliché – to see the Byrds name-checked in almost any band’s bio. They were part of the holy trinity of influential B-named bands: Beatles, Beach Boys, and Byrds.

But to everything there is a season, and an apparent decline in the band’s influence on popular music seemed to coincide with the deaths of two of its original members, Gene Clark (in 1991) and Michael Clarke (1993). Notwithstanding this decline, the Byrds have always flown high and commanded serious respect among certain pockets of fans and bands alike – folks in Northern England especially, for some reason. Since 1990, we’ve seen the likes of the La’s, the Stone Roses, the Coral and Shack flying the jangle-pop flag. Since 2007, Kontiki Suite, a talented sextet from England’s Lake District, has continued in this tradition, evidence of which can be readily found on their sophomore release, "The Greatest Show On Earth".

As with their debut release (2013’s "On Sunset Lake"), Kontiki Suite proudly flies its Byrds banner via some obvious stylistic hat-tips to 1968’s "The Notorious Byrd Brothers". This time out, the band boasts a batch of impressive new Rickenbacker-based janglers (mainly from the pen of guitarist Ben Singh) and a tougher sound from the rest of the band (Jonny Singh, lap steel guitar; Marcus Dodds, guitar; Mario Renucci, bass; Chris Brown and Craig Bright on drums and percussion respectively). The result is a cohesive, 50-minute flight high above exquisitely atmospheric psych/country-rock/chamber pop soundscapes.

The opening moments of guitar/rim shots in the rousing, Golden Smog-like opener “Bring Our Empire Down” recall David Crosby’s serene “Dolphin’s Smile,” after which some Neil Young-like crunch is thrown in as the song gathers steam. “My Own Little World” features the kind of textured ‘n’ trippy triple-guitar interplay (including lap steel and 12-string Rickenbacker) that characterizes the overall tone of the album – tone that is often upended by deliciously abrupt shifts in tempo: the lads in Kontiki Suite are more than happy to jolt you out of the hypnotized state in which they deftly placed you. Occasional, judiciously chosen blasts of harmonica tug on the same heartstrings as in Big Star’s “Life is White.”

“Free From Sound” and “Here for You Now” are tremendous pop songs, the kind of tracks that, back in the day, would’ve jumped out of an AM radio and grabbed you by the throat. The former features a keening pedal steel hook that’s hell-bent on becoming your next earworm. The latter blends a “Ticket To Ride” beat with power-poppy rhythm reminiscent of Gene Clark’s evergreen “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”

Elsewhere, the band flexes its muscle on two lengthy guitar workouts, “Burned” (with its nod to Younger Than Yesterday’s “Renaissance Fair”) and the slow-burning “Under the Rug,” while “All I Can Say” shows the effortlessness with which Singh’s vocals can reconcile an ostensibly bouncy rhythm with a melancholic melody. In places he sounds uncannily like Gary Louris. Fans of "Sound of Lies"-era Jayhawks would feel right at home with this release.

Ultimately, "The Greatest Show On Earth" reveals increased depth, both in Ben Singh’s writing and the band’s collective vision. Kontiki Suite has created much more than a simple paean to the legacy of the Byrds; they have taken vital steps in forging a legacy of their own.

Chatting up the Byrds with Kontiki Suite’s Craig Bright and Benjamin Singh

Tell me about the cover/title concept for the new record?

Craig Bright: During the time period in which we wrote and recorded The Greatest Show On Earth, three of the six band members have been fortunate enough to become parents. One of the lucky fathers, Jonny Singh, wrote the opening song on the album, Bring Our Empire Down, about the juxtaposition of the joy and virgin challenges of parenthood and, one line in particular in the song, refers to "the greatest show on earth"; Jonny's way of describing the wonder of witnessing the miracle of your own child being born. Moreover, when we identified the title of the album, it served to conjure a vision of an old school creepy freak-show in our minds.

So, looking at the front cover of the album, you will see a couple of key elements: One, a crowd observing the show; and two, the decidedly freaky dream sequence of a child at peace, asleep. Our brief was realised by the fantastic Luke Insect, a U.K. based designer.

Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.

C.B.: The Byrds, and their various related bands and solo projects, are very important to Kontiki Suite. As children of the nineties, we were able to discover and appreciate The Byrds vicariously through a love of the bands they themselves inspired and influenced, in which I would include The Stone Roses, Ride and Rain Parade, among many others.

It never fails to blow my mind when I consider the volume and diversity of the music The Byrds produced, particularly between 1965 and 1969. I guess we would cite The Notorious Byrd Brothers as the zenith of their output, as it is a beautifully perfect culmination of all of the best elements of their albums (folk, pop, psychedelia and country). Undeniably, [it is] the template for our sound.

Of course, the consistency of The Byrds' output weakened thereafter, but the void was more than filled by the solo albums of McGuinn, Crosby, Gram Parsons and most importantly to us, Gene Clark. For me to attempt to tell you how vital Gene's post-Byrds music is would be complete folly. Personally, my favourite Clark song is “The True One” (from 1974’s No Other). Pretty much musical perfection in its simplest form as far as I'm concerned.

So, yes, The Byrds are a significant, direct influence on us, musically, aesthetically and culturally.

Take me through the steps in which a Kontiki Suite song typically comes together.

Ben Singh: A Kontiki Suite song will almost always start life as an acoustic piece – a folk song, I guess. If it sounds good with just the vocal and an acoustic it gives the song a good chance of sounding good embellished. The song is usually complete in terms of structure and groove before being presented to the rest of the band and if it's a song I've wrote and I've a strong idea of how it should sound I will sometimes record a demo in my home studio.

Down at the rehearsal room I'd play a handful of tunes to the band, either the recorded demos or just with the acoustic and we'd just jam through them. It's always nice if we hit the groove instantly. If it feels good we'll run with it and then we'll start to work on the guitars in more detail.

With the song beginning as an acoustic song I'll play the rhythm guitar while singing the melody. Jonny Singh plays a lap steel adding a kind of 'movement' to the sound, swooning in and out. We usually add a quite a bit of reverb and delay to give it more texture. Marcus Dodds plays a Telecaster for the majority of this album, usually either a clean tone with a touch of reverb or a classic fuzz. He tends to play the fills in between the vocal lines and more often than not he takes the solos.

Guitar textures are an intrinsic part of your sound, especially in terms of the interplay between them. Is this something you spend a lot of time consciously working on? Or is it just a natural by-product of how the band writes?

B.S.: The interchange between the slide and the lead occur quite naturally and aren't overly worked on; I guess that has came with the experience of playing together for the length of time we have. All the guitar lines are based around the vocal lines and melody and we try not to have too much going on at the same time. On the recordings I'll put down an acoustic track, this adds a percussive dynamic and then a picking 12-string Rickenbacker. I tend play this through a compressor with reverb. On a lot of the songs this is the main guitar of the track and other guitars play off it. The sound is very deliberate and we do consciously work on it but it does come very naturally to us. I think the reason why the three electric guitar parts work together so well is due to contrasting styles we play.

CD and digital available here. New vinyl issue from Sugarbush Records available here. Includes free postage worldwide.

31 Oct 2017

The Active Listener Presents More English Weather


Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs' "English Weather" is quite probably my favourite album of the last year or so. Stanley and Wiggs have done a fantastic job of selecting and sequencing these tracks to provide a seamless and unspoiled listening experience that is quintessentially English and wonderfully pastoral. Not to mention one that introduced me to a number of artists that I wasn't really familiar with.

In tribute, I've put together a follow up volume of tunes from the UK from the same era that evoke a similar mood for me. I'd like to think that Stanley and Wiggs had some of these shortlisted for their comp. Sound quality may vary as tracks come from a number of sources.

I hope you enjoy it - you can download it in 320 kb mp3 format here, and please investigate the full albums of these artists as many of the albums that these tracks originate from are classics in their own right.

And you can get Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present: English Weather here.

Tracklisting for More English Weather:

Tomorrow Morning Brings 2:39 Pacific Drift (from Feelin' Free)
Night Clouded Moon 5:41 Diabolus (from Diabolus)
Flying South in Winter 6:28 Tonton Macoute ( from Tonton Macoute)
October Witches 8:05 Still Life (from Still Life)
House on the Hill 4:05 Audience (from The First Audience Album)
Tell You I'm Gone 4:10 Woody Kern (from The Awful Disclosures Of Maria Monk)
We Can Make It If We Try 4:35 Aquila (from Aquila)
Dance In The Smoke 6:18 Argent (from Argent)
Skin Valley Serenade 3:45 Skin Alley (from Two Quid Deal)
The Garden of Jane Delawney 4:06 Trees (from The Garden Of Jane Delawney)
It Wasn't For You  5:33 Titus Groan (from Titus Groan)
Green Eyed God (7" Version)  3:50 Steel Mill (from Jewels Of The Forest (Green Eyed God Plus))
The House 3:28 Ginhouse (from Ginhouse)
Sun God a) Awakening b) Realisation c) Worship 11:14 Raw Material (from Time Is...)
Magical Love 4:37 Saturnalia (from Magical Love)

30 Oct 2017

Bons - Gras H'utsi


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Spillage Fete is a singular label that occasionally puts out highly conceptualised and wonderfully enigmatic records from a slowly rotating cast of players. I imagine it being run by someone who is completely bonkers but in a really nice way. The sort of person who would engage you warmly on the merits of making your own wooden furniture or birdwatching and doesn't watch much telly. Someone distractedly engaged with an outside world that they don't fully subscribe to.

Bons is the latest musical venture to spring forth from the Spillage Fete label, noted for its interest in the less trodden of musical paths. "Gras H'utsi" does not disappoint on this measure or on many others as it's series of seemingly unrelated and tribal musical interruptions criss-cross your mind and pull you into a world that is simultaneously intricate and straightforward, instructive and confusing. The records title seems to indicate ruminations on European and African culture but are filtered and abstracted in such a way as to not offer anything as musically straightforward or instructive.

These are field recordings of half remembered dreams that the listener is asked to complete. It is a deeply personal listening experience that involves you in a way rarely found in these days of mass media manipulation.

So, how to describe in words this series of 16 short sonic interludes? Well here we go...

It is a supremely home-made record and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. The production values and instrumentation of choice mean that the record lives and breathes in your sitting room. It is optimally an indoors record that you allow to take a seat in your home - a conjuror's suitcase of 16 sounds with a human edge that all seek intimacy with the listener and gently coerce you into giving them your undivided attention. It's a great trick to pull off and Bons succeed perfectly in this objective.

Song titles as far as I can tell are not instructive and neither are the exquisite prints of paintings that adorn the accompanying booklet. This of course adds to the fun.

The exceptions to this analysis are the oddly affecting 'Double Latin' which to my warped mind is the most clearly conceptualised piece on the record. It successfully conveys the impression of slowly walking past the closed door of a school classroom during lesson time. And just as I congratulate myself for this amazing piece of realisation it quickly dissipates into a cloud of wow and flutter.

The other is 'Winnowing' which as you all know is the ancient Asian art of separating wheat from chaff by throwing it up into the air and allowing the lighter particles to blow away leaving the seeds to make the bread. A lovely metaphor for this beautifully sparse and deeply rural snapshot of warmth. It's a beautiful piece of music and my personal highlight of the record.

Elsewhere, we find the double bass and backwards tape treatment of 'Radical Shush' and the sweetly revolving 'Landschaft'. The mechanical looping of 'Syntax' floats overhead before taking a dreamy vocal turning - a bit like Grizzly Bear if they abandoned any sense of structure. "Dot Hub" is a weird collage that bewilders before dropping you off at a random bus stop miles from anywhere, though at least it's a stop with a shelter. Proceedings are brought to a suitably abrupt close with 'Low Hangs the Fruit' which announces itself before almost immediately making for the exit.

Colin Newman's (of Wire) "A to Z" is a fairly hopeful if sonically more dissonant reference point. You can also hear the work of Eno, Basinski and the hauntological essays of Belbury Poly, but really I'm grasping at the air - Bons are far too singular to stable comfortably with others.

What is for certain is that Bons have arrived to bring clarity to your overly cluttered life. Stop for a moment, make yourself a cup of tea and luxuriate in the endless possibilities of this delightfully strange musical experience. They are abstract expressionists of sound and masters at their chosen craft. You should find the time to join in with them for a while and remove yourself from the daily punishment of orthodoxy and routine.

Available on vinyl from selected independent retailers and directly here:

29 Oct 2017

Keith Seatman - All Hold Hands And Off We Go


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Hampshire artist Keith Seatman beckons us to return to his spooked, analogue world with his fifth album 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go', the follow up to 2015's masterful folk flecked slice of electronic pastoralism 'A Rest Before A Walk'. With a back catalogue of haunted gems as well as being the architect behind the highly recommended Test Transmission mixes, Seatman is quietly cementing a reputation as one of the foremost and most influential of electronic explorers in the realm inhabited by fellow travellers Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and Concretism. 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' more than cements this; this is possibly Seatman's finest yet and an album which seems to unveil more depth, detail and riches upon each successive encounter.

The brief ominous hum and distant chatter of voice that opens 'A Lighthouse Might Look Long' provides a startling and pleasingly disorientating beginning to proceedings before the driven and urgent synth stomp of 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' accelerates the listener into a metallic and neon filled dream. Electronic drumbeats propel the whirling strings and twisted carnivalesque keys and chimes; both exhilarating and disconcerting this ably sets out Seatman's stall and leaves some other 'hauntology' or electronica acts seem tame and plodding in comparison. 'Skipping Rope' goes even further down the rabbit hole, a descending synth motif merges with a children’s' song, music boxes and clattering percussion to create a truly spectral and ghost filled vision that begs repeat listening; nightmares have rarely sounded quiet so delicious. Next, 'Mr Metronome' eases the pace to a stately, dystopian glacial grandeur, strings framing vocalist Douglas E Powell's breathtaking performance; fans of John Foxx, should immediately seek this out. Should an alternative soundtrack to Ben Wheatley's 'High Rise' be needed then he need look no further; this is both chilling and addictive. 'Left behind, Lost Or Dropped' screams into view, propelled by insistent keys and increasingly frantic drumbeats, it's melody (as Seatman's seem to) getting under the listener’s skin and into the imagination; this music conjures visuals like almost no other. Next, 'Four Steps At A Time' shrouds its glistening melodies in a cosmic wind, echoes from a past within the present ricocheting and returning around the steady electric beat. Haunting and curiously uplifting, this track exemplifies the layers and careful construction involve din Seatman's mini symphonies, there is so much going on here that repeated listens are ably rewarded. 'Odd In A Nightcap and Cup' posits backwards effects amidst synthetic voices and analogue bleeps and whirrs before an organ harmony plucked straight from some decaying old Hollywood film hovers into view; this music is filled with ghosts. 'Tap Tap' is a foreboding slice of future sock; rasping keyboards and a colossal sounding drums give an indication perhaps of what Black Sabbath might have sounded like in alternate universe had they formed with a battery of Korg synths rather than conventional instruments. 'Boxes With Rhythms In' returns Douglas E Powell to the helm for an album highlight, a shimmering jewel of a song, banks of strings and keys creating a processional march of no small power. The album concludes with 'Of salt And candy', a children’s' nursery rhyme resonating against electronic howls and gusts; an ending befitting the otherworldly nature of what has come before.

This is a masterclass in atmosphere and mood but also in melody and song craft; Seatman has composed an album that lingers long after it has finished, it leaves its own ghosts behind and delightfully so. This is essential listening but don't stop here; seek out Seatman's earlier albums for more treasures.

CD and digital available here:

23 Oct 2017

Cozmic Corridors


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Interesting one this. In the mid nineties the Psi-Fi label released a stash of Krautrock albums on CD which were purported to originally have been released by the Pyramid label, with Cozmic Corridors' self titled 1972 album being among them. There was a lot of talk at the time as to whether these were genuine seventies albums or whether they'd been put together as fakes at the time of their mid nineties release. The fact that no-one seems to have been able to trace any of the original seventies Pyramid pressings of any of these albums seems to provide the most telling evidence in this case. Although "Cozmic Corridors" does also claim to feature Mythos drummer Hans-Jürgen Pütz on percussion, so maybe someone should ask him.

Either way, Guerssen's Mental Experience offshoot label has seen fit to rerelease "Cozmic Corridors" on vinyl (or release it for the first time on vinyl depending what side of the fence you're on), so that we can re-evaluate it and judge it on its musical merits exclusively, which is what I intend to do here.

If this is a fake (which admittedly seems likely), it's an exceptionally good one. Musically there's nothing going on here that would have been incongruous in 1972, in terms of influences or instrumentation. And more importantly, it's a really great album. Krautrock isn't the most user friendly genre, but "Cozmic Corridors" is a really inviting, easy to digest album, which is a little unusual as it's also a very moody piece of progressive electronic / kosmische music.

There's plenty going on in these five mostly lengthy pieces. Built on a bedrock of keyboards / synths (Moog and Rhodes feature prominently) there are some compelling forays into cinematic, gialloesque horror score sounds ("Dark Path", "Daruber"), organ drones reminiscent of Terry Riley, and ritualistic chants which give this a dark, meditative, occult atmosphere that I found irresistable.

Certainly fans of Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Emtidi are encouraged to investigate this immediately, as are fans of the Ghost Box label who will find the textures here evoke the same sense of comfortable but uneasy nostalgia that artists like Belbury Poly specialise in.

Vinyl, CD and digital (as well as full stream) are all available here:

19 Oct 2017

Oliver Cherer – The Myth of Violet Meek


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Oliver Cherer is highly prolific, I sort of think of him as a more benevolent ‘Surgeon of Crowthorne’ (aka Dr. William C. Minor 1834 – 1920), despatching odes and sonic letters to the outside world from his half-lit lair by the gently lapping English Channel. In his guise as solo artist he has concocted a rather sinister tincture that when aurally ingested plants the listener firmly in the fly-agaric world woodlands of the South Downs. His new release, “The Myth of Violet Meek”, successfully combines the unsettling and the euphoric in a series of folk-laden lullabies that threaten to overwhelm but ultimately leave enough air-space to allow safe(ish) passage through its rural and occasionally savage path.

So what we have is a self-authored legend charting the life, habits and death of Violet and the impact of her being on those in her immediate surrounds and of the musical curator who feasts upon her existence. The mood is often heavy, with barely suppressed violence and sexual depravity colouring the air amid the scraping of strings and the forthright punctuation of the piano that often surfaces in some benediction of the events that are unfolding and serve as a shell for the listener to make safe travel through. It reminds this author of 70’s acid-folk misfits Comus (‘Who Killed the Bears’) filtered through a more incisive set of songwriting chops that say someone like Luke Haines would display (‘Violet Says’). You could even make an argument for the record in totality being a reworking of Lou Reed’s gothic masterpiece ‘Berlin’ translated to a field in Victorian England.

In any case, all of these comparisons however inaccurately applied tell you a lot about the songwriting chops of Oliver Cherer. He is a classicist composer with genetic mutation whose fusing of musical viewpoints and deployment of light and shade utilising a range of largely acoustic instruments is mightily impressive. Even in the presently overpopulated ‘nu-folk’, ‘alt-folk’, ‘acid folk’, ‘fuzzy felt folk’ genre, ‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ shows the qualities of a thoroughbred in a field of ponies. Listen to the beautiful ghost waltz of ‘Valentine’ as it skips across your mind and entrances you whilst expertly keeping you out of the dance before vanishing into the net curtains of your mind. Or the stately ballad ‘Unspoken’ delivered with all the authority of a walnut grandfather clock chiming out at three. In an empty house. The queasy hurdy gurdy string ensemble of ‘A Bear with Two Backs’, the hobo folk-blues figure of the almost unbearably self-disgustedly frank ‘Slag’.

As always, Oliver Cherer is not a perennial half empty communicator and he is programmed to find some warming resolution to any concept, however heavy it may be. The penultimate, ‘Trees’ is a brilliant anthemically drifting song which appears from behind the dark side of the moon to illuminate the twilight world we have previously dwelled in when hearing of the myth of Violet Meek. Our brains may be damaged but peace can be found in the trees. In the nature from which we sprang and from which we all must return. It’s a celebratory end to a remarkable journey. Almost. For as we draw our curtains and reach for bed the faint rustlings and psaltery of Violet and her sisters lurk just out of sight, beyond the hedgerow. Waiting.

‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ is available on several formats including a lovely white vinyl edition from your local independent stockists or direct from Wayside and Woodland Records.

17 Oct 2017

Tanizaki - Archaeology


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Where Tanizaki's first EP "Ouroboros"(which I raved about here) was all subdued synth menace and wobbly beats, the new EP "Archaeology" makes extensive use of acoustic guitar to capture the same atmosphere of disquiet. Granted, there have been several releases since "Ouroboros" that I haven't heard, so I'm missing a few evolutionary steps, nonetheless the change here is startlingly impressive.

It's not totally unheard of for acoustic guitars to be used in the hauntology genre - both The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly have dabbled and used them for colouring before - but it's unusual to hear them given such prominence. There's long been a relationship between pagan folk music and hauntology and it's addressed very nicely here. Tanizaki describes it best when he calls his music 'weird nature music', a description that could be taken a number of ways but conjures a very specific sound in my mind, almost a hauntological 'thin wild mercury sound'.

Tanizaki is really doing a service to the genre by pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as hauntology here. While it's often viewed as a branch of electronica, I've heard correlations in the more natural instrumentation of artists like Wyrdstone, Sproatly Smith and the Rowan Amber Mill that give me the same nostalgic rush as Ghost Box's more celebrated artists. The "Year in the Country" series can also be thanked for illustrating this relationship on their excellent compilations.

"Archaelogy" successfully strips back the keyboards, which now provide a subtle supporting role and focuses on lovely, pastoral acoustic guitar that evoke memories of Summerisle, with snatches of field recordings adding further textural colour.

The haunting arpeggios of "Dumnonia" make for an arresting opener, but best of all is "Crane Dance" where the guitars and vintage synths engage in a moody sensuous dance, effortlessly and inseperably entwined.

Lovely stuff, available as a name your price download here:

12 Oct 2017

The New & Improved Active Listener Sampler


Hi Team, we've revamped our sampler series now that we're back in action and here's the first of hopefully many.

We've got exclusive tracks and premieres from some of our favourites including Lake Ruth, Radiophonic Tuckshop, The Greek Theatre and the Citradels as well as a whole lot more.

18 tracks in all for a single shiny dollar (or more if you wish) - funds raised will help keep various Active Listener operations happening, so if you'd like to see more of these you can support us by downloading.

Full tracklisting:

1. Radiophonic Tuckshop - Kensington Garden Pie 04:07 2. Lake Ruth - The Great Selkie 04:33 3. Jonothon Heron - Heron Pool 03:45 4. The Greek Theatre - Just a Little Drop of Rain 03:07 5. The Village - Voodoo Skull 02:47 6. DulceMuse - Midnight Sunstone 04:00 7. Hanford Reach - Theatre of Shadows 03:17 8. Warrior Squares - Longshore Drift 08:01 9. The Late Pioneers - Rizzo's Booze 05:13 10. The Citradels - Milk and Honey 02:32 11. Headroom - How To Grow Evil Flowers 09:56 12. The Paperweight Array - Corporal Cameo 04:14 13. Briars Frome - Forever 04:50 14. Three Dimensional Tanx - Astral Plane Flight Attendent 05:59 15. Keith Seatman - Odd in a Nightcap and Cup 05:16 16. Diamond Incarnation - In A Loss Of Soul 04:56 17. Chris Oliver - Uen! 05:05 18. East & West Rendezvous - Colombo 15:25

Download or stream here:

10 Oct 2017

Pefkin - Murmurations / Annelies Monseré - Debris


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Two beautiful releases from the auspices of the excellent Morc Records label have reached The Active Listener of late; Annelies Monseré unsettling ‘Debris’ and Pefkin’s haunting ‘Murmurations’. Both share a rare quality in that they stand defiantly outside of the bustling, mainstream of life and exist in their own quiet, unique universes. Monseré follows up her sophomore effort with her third album that is a more skeletal and minimal affair than previous, yet with the same brooding presence and steady power that previous releases have wielded. Pefkin (the solo project of Electroscope’s Gayle Brogan who can also be found playing in Barrett’s Dottled Beauty (recently reviewed on these pages) enlists Electroscope’s Phil Cavanagh and Kitchen Cynic’s Alan Davidson to lead the listener through five extended gentle yet otherworldly excursions.

To start with Pefkin, ‘Murmurations’ finds Brogan referencing her ornithological interests and reflecting upon her observations amongst nature. Fittingly then, 'Redshanks' opens the album with the buzz of bowed strings and Brogan's beautiful, unearthly vocals, suggesting dusk upon a deserted landscape, wind curling around the barren horizon and the shapes of wheeling birds. Exploratory slide guitar takes this track into darker, shadowy territory not unlike ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ era Floyd in its vast, cavernous mood. Layered strings and vocals build the track into a buzz of pensive beauty, a truly remarkable opening to an album that continues to be a hugely immersive and affecting listen. 'Phalaropes' is equally gorgeous though distinctly more cosmiche; modular synths whir behind Brogan and drift into vast echoes in space, hints of Popol Vuh and Cluster orbiting around the glorious collage of sound. Next, 'Swallows' enters on waves of analogue synth, Brogan's vocals eerily swooping in and out of the electronics until distant percussion and drums punctuate the landscape. Quite unlike anything else you might hear, Pefkin has created her own soundtrack to the dying of the day, the music that invites the myriad of birds and creatures to awake into the twilight world. 'Jackdaws' reverberating organ intones Suicide-like, an ominous hymnal to the natural world that both captivates and unnerves whilst album closer 'Starlings' is a gorgeous lament framed by piano and violin. A remarkable album and clearly the product of a singular vision, 'Murmurations' needs to be heard. Listening now it can easily be imagined that hearing this album is something akin to what it must have been like hearing Nico's 'Marble Index' when it was released; alien yet curiously familiar, beautiful yet stark, hypnotic yet troubling. A triumph.

Annelies Monseré 'Debris' is a subtly different creature yet shares the same sense of desolate gentleness. Opener 'Wake III' has a solitary piano accompanying Monseré's vocals, a yearning and heart-rending work of quiet despair. 'Are You Going To Leave Me' stirs into view on the hum and throb of echoed guitar, Monseré intoning over the growing swell of shimmering strings. The song's apparent simplicity becomes at once a symphony of heartbreak and defiance, a mesmerizing mass that references Neu as much as My Bloody Valentine. 'Blind/Light' is an organ led slice of melancholic loveliness that builds to a sense of the sacred, Monseré's voice harmonizing with itself and multi layered to provide a chorus of impassioned beauty. The sound of picked strings and harmonium weaves slowly into the second segment of the song, the central motif returning now fully orchestrated and with a significant underlying power and poise. 'Traces' spectral vocals and lonesome waves of strings provide a haunted house of a song; there are ghosts here in very note, every word. Next, 'Sun' is a devastating piano work that shivers into being whilst 'Wake IV' is an album highlight, guitar spidering its way across wraith like keyboards that brings to mind Swan's apocalyptic opus 'Soundtracks For The Blind;' it contains this level of intensity and affect. The album closes with 'Strangers' a folk shanty of a song that lingers long after the final notes have rung out.

Both of these albums are labours of love, creations that undoubtedly come from the artist’s very being. They are then consequently emotive, individual and highly original yet also curiously accessible. There is a keen sense of melody and song craft at work amongst the experimentation on both these releases. Both of these albums cannot come highly recommended enough; haunting, beautiful and unique they demand your attention.

Available now as downloads and on beautifully packaged vinyl through these links:


8 Oct 2017

Marian Segal & Jade - Fly On Strangewings: The Anthology


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Ooh, this is a lovely box set from Cherry Tree. Marian Segal & Jade's sole 1970 album "Fly On Strangewings" is a bit of a folk-rock classic, but if you're reading this, you likely already know that.

This three disc box set aims to tell a more complete version of Segal's story, including an expanded version of "Fly On Strangewings", "Paper Flowers" (a collection of pre-Jade acoustic folk duets recorded with Dave Waite), and most intriguingly of all, "Kiss of the Buddha" a collection of archive material recorded after the Jade album spanning the years 1971 to 2013.

First of all "Fly On Strangewings". Often compared to Fairport Convention, with Segal's voice frequently likened to Sandy Denny, I'd suggest that it's Segal's songwriting and the album's arrangements that are more comparable to Denny's. Certainly there are a great deal more strings than Fairport ever employed, and Segal's songs are rooted in the contemporary with little of the trad imagery that Fairport employed. Fans of Sandy Denny's 1972 album "Sandy" will likely feel right at home here though.

Segal's songs are uniformly strong across "Fly On Strangewings". It's easy to see how it's acquired its stellar reputation, with the album's few detractors seeming to be those who've approached it expecting something with a psychedelic approach (understandably as dealers have been labelling this as acid-folk for years to drive up the prices). Try the delicate title track, or the fantastic opener "Amongst Anemones" (both embedded below) for an idea of whether this is your bag or not.

Moving on to "Paper Flowers", originally released in 2004, but recorded between 1967 and 1969, this is made up of acoustic based folk duets with Dave Waite (who was also in Jade). Soundwise it's quite similar to Sandy Denny's pre-Fairport recordings (solo, with Alex Campbell and with the Strawbs), although most of the material is Segal's own, bar a few Dylan covers (of which "Percy's Song" is particularly lovely). It's a very pleasant listen, with Segal's songwriting developing nicely but not quite up to the caliber of what she'd achieve on "Fly On Strangewings" as of yet.

"Kiss of the Buddha" kicks off with two lovely recordings from an aborted 1971 solo album which steps away from the UK folk sound and betrays a welcome Laurel Canyon influence. There's also a selection of demo recordings from the early to mid seventies which have a contemporary singer-songwriter vibe to them. Also of interest are a pair of recordings produced by Jeff Wayne in 1976 featuring the likes of Chris Spedding, Julie Covington, Tony Carr and Alan Hawksworth. Don't expect "War of the Worlds", but in a musical climate that saw Cat Stevens racking up hit after hit, it's easy to imagine these sides doing well had they been released at the time. The only mistep I'd mention is the non inclusion of anything from the 2007 album "The Gathering" which Marian (or Marianne by this point) recorded with Circulus, a necessary chapter in the story, especially for those interested in her psych-folk credentials. Omissions aside, what is here is very interesting indeed.

The box comes with each album packaged in attractive vinyl replica sleeves and an informative 22 page booklet which sheds further light on Marian's post-Jade activites.

Get it here.


7 Oct 2017

Balduin - Bohemian Garden


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

In a corner of the Alps there is a tear in the dimensions of time and space. Within its uniquely swirling vortex is a time lock that is always oscillating between 1967 and 1973. From that forbidden zone, the new Balduin record, “Bohemian Garden” has reached escape velocity, striking like a lightning bolt into the present. In achieving this feat, Balduin shares a musical creation that makes a bold and compelling case for being the baroque psych-pop-analogue synth event of the year.

For those not familiar with Balduin’s previous forays on Sunstone Records we are very much in the cosmic sandpit here surrounded by pretty ballerinas while wind chimes hang down from the stained glass windows of the gingerbread house and though its hard we try not to stare at them. This new record sees his sonic palate expanded with tunes that deploy taste ripples of primitive synth – pushing the sonic envelope further into new territories that his previous outing on Sunstone, the delightful ‘All In A Dream’ .

The opening duo of the title track and “Leave to Seek The Light” are perfect confections of kaleidoscopically arranged psych-pop. Absolutely nailing a mood of dreaming introspection and tripped out wonder – this is highly developed craft at work here. It’s a really strong opening and I am pleased to report that it sets a benchmark for the rest of the record that it is able to match for the remaining 25 minutes of this brief but perfectly formed collection.

“Cap Frehel” pushes the envelope further, taking the listener into a meadow of early 1970’s pastoral scenery complete with primitive synth and chiming vibes. Its a real groovy ‘Dralon trip’ and provides a lovely counterpoint to the more established ‘Balduin’ vibe which occupies most of the album. That Balduin vibe being very much a strain of euphoric psych-pop that tweaks the classic approach of its forebears to create its own unique medicine show. Balduin knows his history but is his own guy and has his own twist on the genre that makes listening to him a joy.

The intimate vibe created on ‘Your Own’ with its subtle acoustic guitar shifts and spectral backing is a joy and sets up the strange acid drenched and haunted collision of bossa-waltz ‘Libelle’ perfectly. A very smart musical one-two that spins a web around the listener that I have no desire whatsoever to try and escape from.

“Madrigal” dives into yesterday with its flowered up toytown pop delights and gentle groove before spinning off into the clouds and making way for the deeply lysergic ‘ Song for the Moon’. This peach of a song is all chiming ‘She Said, She Said’ guitar lines and floaty vocals that threaten to go into orbit but opt instead for an earthbound kaleidoscopic patchwork of sounds before evaporating in front of your very ears. The skewed music hall moves (for the benefit) of ‘Mr Bat’ is a queasy seaside postcard from another day and another lifetime with its sinister offer of ‘dance with me and you’ll be mine’. Matters are brought to a suitably bewildering conclusion by the brief and baffling ‘Rondo Vampyros’. Or perhaps they have been brought back to the beginning? I certainly found myself hitting repeat to spend another half-hour in Balduin’s bohemian company.

So there you have it. Balduin. A man who sees the world through kaleidoscope eyes, whose pop sensibility is sharper than sherbet. A man whose quest to make the perfect pop-psych record has delivered this many jewelled wonder. Come play with him in the garden and leave your mind at home.

Vinyl is available directly from the glorious Sunstone Records and select purveyors of sonic delights. Digital and full stream can be found here:

6 Oct 2017

Ashtoreth - Morana


Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Belgium's mighty Ashtoreth have been releasing highly impressive and affectingly atmospheric albums over the last few years to an increasingly dedicated audience, culminating in the beautiful and expansive collaboration with TCH, 'Angels Will Guide The Way To Our Harbour', a post rock symphony of echoed guitar drones and vast shifting swathes of desolate sound. However they have arguably produced their finest work here with the recently released 'Morana', an ambitious and hugely accomplished recording that touches on key contemporaries such as Sunn O))), Blood Of The Black Owl and The Elemental Chrysalis whilst also traversing the dark psychedelic paths taken by luminaries such as Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream and 'Saucerful of Secrets' era Pink Floyd. Recorded (with the exception of one track) in a single sitting, this is an organic and improvisational work that breathes, twists and shifts like grey smoke, drifting with purpose exactly where it needs to go. Inspired by a Slavic goddess and seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature, this is an album that combines the sacred with something more deeply of the earth, something ancient and sleeping.

Opener 'Hyberna' gradually and glacially shifts into view, a melancholy drone with bursts of guitar that fold in on itself and repeat, building and endlessly layering. The piece grows, shifting in tension and power, a tolling guitar note chiming like a bell calling time at the end of the world as the song becomes ever more expansive. The crackle and burn of guitar feedback drifts steadily like stormclouds beneath, indeed there is something here akin to the feeling before an electrical storm, the hum and suspense in the air. 'Kāla Nāg' continues this haunted journey but with the addition of wordless female vocals, cosmiche strings and an echoed guitar motif that bleeds ominously over the distant chatter and washes of sound that ebb and flow throughout. That Ashtoreth is the work of one man Peter Verwimp, is something quite impressive indeed. It is equally mindblowing how he has essentially constructed this in a singular take; complex layers develop and overlap, meditative pauses allow for controlled feedback to tear at the heartstrings and there is a genuine sense of careful composition, yet this is essentially one man's intuition and vision. Next, the enormous 'Tymor', a staggering 26 minutes long, creeps stealthily into being on a melancholic and repeated guitar line, whilst behind deep, resonating drones and ebow construct a cobweb of haunted sounds as an unsettling bass rumble indicates something more sinister growing in form. Backwards effects bring a sudden and dramatic pause until tentative strings drifting like thick fog emerge and a more meditative and sacred mood returns; you can almost feel the cold tendrils of mist as the sound resounds, a chill and cold air pervading. By gently adding further cathedral-like textures Verwimp achieves a religious sanctity that is both affecting and emotive, a true symphony of sorrow. The album finale 'Wani Yetu' begins with a distorted vocal chant before being joined by a deeper, baritone voice to create something both ancient and eternal, a spectral choral master-work. Unsettling and chilling yet also deeply human, this is the sound of a thousand ghosts calling out to us, reminding us that we soon will be part of this eternal choir.

A remarkable achievement, 'Morana' begs to be heard widely; it is both post-rock/psychedelic as well as an experimental piece and yet is also arguably modern classical; a movement in four segments that is genuinely transportive for the listener. Many such instrumental works rely on certain common and recognisable motifs, clichés and dynamics to keep the listeners attention; not so this album which connects and enraptures in its own unique and individual manner. Seek out Morana, this is an important work and one which needs to be experienced; immerse yourself in the drone.

5 Oct 2017

One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz & Funky Folk 1968-1975


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Another of RPM's attractively packaged (and attractively priced) clamshell box sets, "One Way Glass" offers three packed discs of underground material from the tail-end of the sixties through the mid seventies, focusing on how black American music of the time was making its influence felt on the mostly white English progressive scene.

The sixties UK scene had always embraced Motown and American R&B and soul, so it should come as no surprise that as the scene evolved, the increasingly accomplished musicicans (particularly in the prog-rock scene) would become enamoured of the adventurous jazz and funk sounds emanating from across the Atlantic and attempt to integrate them into their own increasingly complex compositions.

A number of the tunes featured here are pretty much straight funk tunes, and while that will appeal to funk collectors, I'm more interested in the tracks here that retain their prog / psych / folk credentials while remaining dancefloor friendly. There's plenty of this to be found here, with fans of late sixties / early seventies proto-prog who like a bit of flute and saxophone being particularly well served with outstanding contributions from Audience, Demon Fuzz and Skin Alley (whose Skin Valley Serenade retains a distinctly tudor feel) among others.

The compiler's have cast the net wide for this, with plenty of material from the Dawn, Vertigo and Transatlantic catalogues as well as lesser know labels. Additionally, many of these tracks are sourced from hard to find E.Ps and singles, making it an attractive prospect for album collectors who will likely have a few gaps in their collection filled by tracks like Demon Fuzz's "Message to Mankind".

Other notables include Graham Bond and Pete Brown's excellent Dr. Johnish "Macumbe", Pentangle's lovely, loose "I Saw An Angel" and two versions of Manfred Mann Chapter Three's classic "One Way Glass", by Trifle and the John Schroeder Orchestra (featuring vocals by a certain Chris Thompson who would later join Manfred Mann's Earth Band). Interesting the Manfred Mann original doesn't feature here, but I'm sure the majority of parties interested in this release will already be well familiar with it.

With three discs of material there's plenty to dig into, and if you're anything like me it'll fuel further digging for albums by many of these artists that I'd not heard before. Recommended.

Available here (UK/World) or here (US).




29 Sep 2017

Moongazing Hare & Trappist Afterland Sing Songs For Nathan


As those who follow me on Facebook will know, I've been receiving treatment for cancer (which we're confident will sorted by this treatment).

Two of our favourite acts have been ridiculously generous with their time and put together an album to help raise funds for me and my family while I recover from the treatment.

Thank you so much to Moongazing Hare and Trappist Afterland who have put together Songs for Nathan, which includes covers of songs originally by Lal Waterson, Coil, Syd Barrett and the Mountain Goats, as well as tackling one of each other's tunes apiece and providing an original track each.

It's a lovely thing and I'm blown away by the kindness of those who have donated their efforts towards this project.

Here's a review from The Sunday Experience.

You can purchase the album here - any donations are very gratefully received. Thanks everyone.

30 Aug 2017

Gilroy Mere – The Green Line



Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

There is something almost sinister about how Clay Pipe Music schedule their records during the year to seasonally reflect their content. Thus the recent arrival of Gilroy Mere’s debut release, the transportationally themed “The Green Line” is perfectly timed to reach me in the balmy summer haze of a mid-August afternoon in London.

As with all conceptually strong works a quick contextual paragraph is in order. The Green Line was real. The Green Line was one of the main bus service routes in/out of London that served nearby home counties and would shuttle London residents off to summer oases across the south east coast throughout the 1950's until reaching its last stop in the mid-1980's. Sun seekers could pack their bag and head for such salubrious and bucolic coastal resorts as Margate, Reigate, Whitstable and all the way round the coast to Rye, Camber Sands and even Brighton or Eastbourne. Others would use the opportunity to nestle in the hills of the South Downs paying visits to chocolate box villages where time had stood still. These were some of the great day trip holiday destinations for the working class folk of the post war years and the Green Line buses would continue to plough a wonderful farrow through old England until the monstrous deregulation of bus services under the parasitic Thatcher Governments of the 1980’s. In this fine work, Gilroy Mere offers this beautiful and warm psycho-geographical homage to a time when society was more cohesive and you could buy lemonade in glass bottles. A gloriously metaphysical metaphor in resplendent sound, no less.

Gilroy Mere for those who don’t like a good mysterious nom-de-plume is south coast polymath and allround good guy, Oliver Cherer who in various guises has spent the past 20 years or so delivering output of great quality under his own name and also as Dollboy. Anyone who has knowledge of Cherer's back catalogue will know our man in St. Leonards is a sonic alchemist of rare ability. They will also bear testament to his fondness of the egalitarian beauty of public transport and its ability to liberate the mind and body.

So what does it sound like? Well, if conceptually it is hugely appealing to many of a certain disposition, it more than matches up sonically - a beautiful tapestry of sound that is as warm as an August sunset and sweet as a packet of Spangles. To this reviewer, the spectre of Brian Eno is definitely hovering over much of what constitutes the journey on the ‘The Green Line’. Opening track ‘Dunroamin’’ is a slowed down diesel fuelled reinterpretation of ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ (minus the Fripp-tronics) from ‘Another Green World’ refracted through the dreamier moments of Steve Reich and dowsed in that deep sense of contemplative musical humanism that permeates much of Oliver Cherer’s work.

‘Cuckoo Waltz’ follows with an almost pagan feel to its circular folky pattern and features the first of several highly tasteful string arrangements, adding a layer of deeply impressionistic and heart warming resonance to proceedings. ‘RLH48’ celebrates the iron horse of the country lanes, with some very tastefully deployed Gilmour-esque slide guitar flowing over a sparse motorik beat imaging the endless green-scenery of the rural autobahn. ‘Hop Pickers’ is watery and strange with its arpreggios falling and rising in gentle breaths of sound. ‘ A Lychgate’ features some lovely multi-tracked recorder and chambered guitar/piano interplay giving the impression that the listener has departed the bus and somehow stumbled upon the enactment of some ancient rural rite in a derelict churchyard.

"I Can See the Sea From Here" is an abstracted collision of synth generated ambient noise and brightly strummed banjo/mandolin. It threatens to overwhelm and anaesthetise the listener as it gradually builds an enveloping gauze of treated sound saving us only by virtue of its sheer sense of euphoria.

The title track is a peach. Its propulsive and arresting opening fuses some crashing, teutonic piano chords with delicately picked guitar and some almost ‘Low-era’ Bowie-esque spectral chanting. Then we shift gear to move into some spiralling keyboard runs that keep us very much in the realms of the pastoral - especially if your idea of pastoral has room for the likes of Pink Floyd's 1970 masterpiece 'Atom Heart Mother'.

“Moss and Yew” is a beautiful, wordless baroque folk-ballad that throws a well worn picnic blanket on a sandy dune of distant memory. Fiercely evocative, like the best of Cherer's work, its a wordless poem of quietly yearning, peculiarly English desperation and provides a penultimate sigh of the heart before its uplifting and unexpected closing section bring the bus back to pick us up and take us home. The closing and aptly titled “Just Turn for Home” surges on the back of some Robert Kirby style string arrangements and a lovely acoustic guitar motif.

As we reach journey's end and get off the bus there is a final flourish of engine noise and ethereal soundscape that places an invisible arm around our shoulder and leads us gently back to our homes and lives. Cherer doesn't do sad - the resolution of the record is calm and measured, warm and reassuring. Glowing. The trip on The Green Line has been a fabulous journey of self-discovery thanks to our designated driver. A wonderful, brilliantly conceived and executed record that speaks gently yet directly and irresistably to your heart.

Needless to say, this latest production is impeccably packaged by visionary artist and label owner, Frances Castle and the vinyl pressing of 500 (green, of course) is likely to be gone before you can say “Tickets please!”. So don’t be slow, get aboard and nab a top deck window seat for a journey through the past that will enrich your present in myriad ways. Record of the year? A must for the any shortlist.

Available direct from Clay Pipe Music - preorders are available from tomorrow (September 1), full release September 15.

29 Aug 2017

Cory Hanson - The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo



Reviewed by Nathan Ford

WAND frontman Cory Hanson's solo debut totally passed me by when it was released late last year as it appears to have only received a fraction of the attention which he enjoys with his WAND releases.

Which is a real pity, as, having found its way into my CD player today finally, it has me totally entranced. Why the lack of promo? Terrible title, granted, but this is every bit as important as any of the WAND albums.

It's certainly a much quieter affair than his normal releases, but there have always been lovely quiet, acoustic vignettes on the WAND albums - this just expands those ideas to album length.

It's a very delicate wee thing with some lovely baroque string arrangements which inevitably evoke "Forever Changes" and do so with some success.  There's also a hint of the acoustic side of Ty Segall's "Manipulator" in places too (there's always a hint of Ty with Cory isn't there?), but only Ty at his very gentlest.

Anyway, this wasn't really intended as a real review, more of a "wow, how'd I miss this, and I hope you haven't too". If you have you know what to do:

Available here (UK/World) or here (US).

3 Jul 2017

Spaced Out - The Story of Mushroom Records


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Vic Keary's short lived (15 months!) underground label Mushroom Records released some extremely collectible records, so it's surprising that this intriguing selection from Grapefruit Records represents the first attempt at a label overview.

Where major label offshoots like Vertigo, Deram and Harvest more or less focused on hairy prog and hard rock during this timeframe, Mushroom had no parent company to call the shots and as a result their output was startlingly diverse.

Vic Keary's background was in reggae, with numerous credits on the venerable Trojan label among others, but when he set up his own Chalk Farm Studios he was happy to dabble in recording a bit of everything and that's certainly evident here.

Heads and psychedelic collectors will be well acquainted with the likes of Second Hand, Simon Finn and Magic Carpet, who are all well represented (particularly Second Hand, who appear five times as well as in a latter incarnation as Chillum).

But there's plenty more to delve into too. Avant-jazz menace Lol Coxhill stretches the envelope, while there are also a couple of appealing Indian classical excursions from Ravi Shankar and Pandit Kanwar Sain Trikha as well as folk that ranges from contemporary (from Greek folksinger Andreas Thomopoulos) to as trad as they come (The Liverpool Fishermen)

All of which makes for a fascinatingly diverse listen - literally something for everyone. And that's just the first disc!

Disc Two moves beyond Mushroom's output and looks at productions Vic recorded in the sixties for other labels. Even more diverse than the first disc in this collection, this sidesteps his more well known reggae productions and gathers a plethora of sixties pop in its many varied forms.

There are countless highlights: Procol Harum influenced psych-pop band Felius Andromeda's sole single has been collected often and both sides are very welcome here, as they're two of the best slices of pop perfection to appear during the golden era of the Deram single. I wasn't aware that they'd cut a further single under the abbreviated moniker of Andromeda, but they did, and both sides are also here, a real treat for collectors.

There's also two sides from excellent freakbeat combo the Attraction, including a fabulous, gritty take on the Kinks "Party Line" and several cuts from highly rated London psychedelicists Tuesday's Children, including their classic "A Strange Light From the East".

Add some moody girl group melodrama, folk-pop, the odd crooner, a heap more freakbeat and beat gems and you've got quite the mixed bag / curate's egg / whatever tired cliche you fancy using.

"Spaced Out" is a little too diverse for its own good perhaps - it's unlikely that anyone will like everything here, and its title and cover art are a little tacky given the quality of its contents, but there's little else I can fault this on.

Available here for a pittance.


12 Jun 2017

Nirvana (UK) - Local Anaesthetic / Songs of Love & Praise


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

UK psych-pop duo Nirvana had a pretty good run on Island Records. The three albums they recorded for Island are now held in high regard (although they weren't hugely successful at the time), and tracks like "Rainbow Chaser" and "Tiny Goddess" are among the very best that UK psychedelia had to offer from the next tier bands.

With the arrival of the progressive era Alex Spyropoulos amicably left, leaving Patrick Campbell Lyons in sole charge of the name and his sole album for the Vertigo label "Local Anaesthetic" is an adventurous stab at the prog-rock aesthetic from an artist who's gift was for perfect three minute pop singles. This being the case, you'd expect this to be a somewhat uncomfortable metamorphosis, but where side long tracks were the order of the day, Campbell Lyons' approach was to continue to write those perfect, short pop gems, stick them together into side long suites, and surround himself with tried and true prog legends (Jade Warrior and King Crimson's Mel Collins) who could stretch the material into more ambitious directions. It's not always 100% successful but it's never dull. And the sleeve is one of iconic Vertigo photographer Keef's very best.

More successful, but less popular from a collector's viewpoint is the followup album "Songs of Love & Praise", released on the Philips label in 1972. It's a bit of a forgotten entry in the Nirvana catalogue. All traces of psychedelia have been stripped away and the lengthy prog expeditions of "Local Anaesthetic" have been left behind in favour of a simpler, contemporary pop approach, which reminds me a lot of the sort of material that Ray Davies and Donovan were producing around this time, although the inspiration here appears to be less sporadic than the scattershot approach these two were exhibiting by this point.

The re-recordings of "Pentecost Hotel" and "Rainbow Chaser" aren't a patch on the originals and give the impression that Campbell Lyons was perhaps struggling a little in the songwriting department at the time, an impression which is certainly not borne out by the new tracks which make up the rest of the album. Again leading a crack band, Campbell Lyons seems much more comfortable here and the arrangements are inventive, with some lovely instrumental interludes.

I admit I didn't expect much from "Songs of Love & Praise", but put aside expectations of trippiness and this is a pretty hard album to dislike. It's not hugely substantial, but it is thoroughly charming. Particularly fine is the closing "Stadium", which provides a rousing, climactic end to the original album.

Both releases are lovingly remastered as is Esoteric's way, with extensive sleeve notes and bonus tracks that don't detract from the main course and will prove essential to collectors.

Available here and here.

8 Jun 2017

Halasan Bazar - Burns


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ah! 'Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!' As Danny Kaye memorably sang (or was it Donald O'Connor? No matter). Here is a really great piece of work from Danish psychotropic innerspace explorers Halasan Bazar who aim to turn us into true believers with their new release; the chiming, oddly affecting and very strangely beautiful record entitled 'Burns'.

Mining a seam of baroque - freak - pop-psychedelia not unlike that pursued by the likes of Jacco Gardner and Kurt Heasley in recent years (no bad thing), "Burns" has strength in depth. Every song is an unhinged and hook laden narco-fairground ride waiting to take the active listener through a hall of musical mirrors that disturb and confound in equal measure. Thank God for mental illness.

After a brief rippling intro, 'Honest People' kicks things off proper with an ecstatic chiming guitar fest and equally delirious and declamatory lead vocal that reminds me a little of Dean Wareham, in a good way of course. "Get Sick and Die" (apart from being a great title for a song) has an elegantly wasted vibe to it that gets your toe tapping instantly and like the rest of this record hooks you like a hungry catfish on a pole. There is so much going on in these relatively simple but sonically highly crafted arrangements that elevate matters into something eerily sophisticated and engaging. In tone, in depth, in staying the right side of self-indulgence (nothing here is over 4 and a half minutes long), Halasan Bazar crank out killer tune after killer tune. "Fools" is a trip to the drive-in with your favourite girl in your dads car on a beautiful July evening where you lean back and look at the stars just as the acid you took before you picked her up kicks in. And then you realise you're gonna have to drive home.

'Freak' is a sick serenade that sets my teeth on edge with its see-sawing strings and its glib drugged out insanity. "Burns My Mind" is a lovely alt-country prairie lament that never quite feels settled with a macabre sensibility to the impressionistic and dream like lyric. The off-kilter melancholy of "Junky" has a certain sunny-side up quality as if being presented at some psychedelic holiday camp talent competition on the Baltic coast to a captive audience of drooling freaks. Halasan Bazar are definitely messing with your mind and they know exactly what buttons to press.

Enigmatic closer, "Lucky You" penetrates the walls of your head with its reprise of ecclesiastically skewed organ washes that seem to emit a sick warm polluting odour that threatens to submerge you until the clutch is released and a gently stomping valedictory love song rises out of the fog. As a way of bringing proceedings to a close it seems entirely appropriate as it is both happy and twisted.

With 'Burns', Halasan Bazar present an irresistable cavalcade of memorable classically framed pop psych delights shot through with an anxiety that is somewhat unique and sets them apart from their peers. They are The Brian Wilson Massacre, they are Galaxie 600, they are Arcade Fire blazing on high grade acid and stripped of phony pretention, they are a glittering North Sea surf reflecting the light of the summer sun in endless pinpricks of luminosity but most of all they are themselves - a hazy, sweet, sour, ragged dream freak scene that I wandered into one evening. You need this record to help soundtrack your life in 2017, to help you make sense of the insanity that has swamped the world and threatens to drag us under. Feel the burn.

Available from visionary record stores on vinyl/cd around the planet and the bands record label through the widget below (where you can also here the whole thing)

2 Jun 2017

Prana Crafter - MindStreamBlessing


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Over a year has passed since we at The Active Listener delighted in the psych wonder of 'Rupture of Planes' from Prana Crafter, the project of Washington Woods guitarist William Sol. It is fortuitous then that from his isolated forest home Sol has been quietly assembling his latest offering, 'MindStreamBlessing', which is now available courtesy of  Eiderdown records.

Opener 'At Agartha's Gate' delicately enters on a hush of chiming guitars and mellotron, a gently epic introduction that recalls both Zeppelin's 'Rain Song' and Ben Chasny's finest moments with Six Organs of Admittance. Yet these are just reference points; Prana Crafter are unique in their own individual vision and in the particular combination of both rustic and cosmiche that they conjure seemingly at will. If this track is the mist over the redwoods and the sense of soft rain on your skin, then follower 'As The Weather Commands' is the full blown thunderstorm. Cascades of corrosive psych fuzz guitar flow over strident bass in torrents, a truly captivating and thrilling downpour of controlled noise and melody. Feedback swells and calm interludes give way to a wash of symphonic keyboards, summoning a break in the deluge that is almost meditative; a breathing out after the force of nature that preceded. 'Prajna Pines' is equally transcendental, rough hewn and distorted picked guitar soaking into the sound of organ and American backwoods blues; you can nearly smell the pine tree needles and the damp of the forest surrounds. The album's title track ushers in a darkening mood, swirling guitar lines disappearing amidst a fog of echoing keyboards until an urgent and beautifully tense acoustic refrain emerges. Sol is a master of this, of creating and carefully constructing a mood both melancholic and triumphant, that captivates to the extent that this listener found himself literally holding his breath at times. Next, 'Luminous Clouds' places a pensive guitar line over a shimmering organ drone that builds and layers until there is a veritable guitar orchestra at play. Shuddering bursts of electricity crash through the looped percussive and circular backing in a manner suggestive of Neil Young accompanying Mike Oldfield circa Ommadawn. Unpredictable and deeply emotive, this album contains many such moments that leave you practically shivering with both excitement and release. Closer 'Bardo Nectar' is a case in point; what on the surface appears as a bluesy, Americana stroll then unleashes waves of guitar that, in their dark fury, wouldn't be out of place on an early Sabbath album. A fitting end to an album that confidently combines harmony and an unshackled joy in noise, contemplation and wild expression and a sense of both the rural and the universal.

Seek out this album and make it your soundtrack to this year; take it with you when you walk, drive or wander. But make sure and also investigate the other jewels in Prana Crafter's back catalogue, this is a treasure trove that is quietly and steadily growing in size with 'MindStreamBlessing' a crowning achievement.

Available now as a limited edition cassette as well as a download release in a beautifully illustrated cover from Eiderdown records.