Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pure Phase Ensemble 4 – Live At SpaceFest!

Pure Phase Ensemble 4 artwork

I’ll tell you the moment that I really get into, really start to ‘get’ this record. It’s on track 3, ‘Notaki’. Spacerockers, it’s ‘Dream Of Isis’. I mean, it’s not actually ‘Dream Of Isis’, a Hawkwind song so obscure that even the Hawks themselves haven’t dug it out, dusted it off, and reintroduced it to the set. (For those who can’t bring this one to mind, it’s the B-side to ‘Back On The Streets’, their standalone 7” recorded circa Astounding Sounds… that slightly jazzy, partly funky, partly experimental and touching on oriental with indecipherable chanting, oddity). It’s not clockwork and regimented, or minimalist but energetic, like ‘Dream Of Isis’, instead its organic and spacey, but there’s an echo of it in its bass-lines and its plaintive background chanting and the frenetically busy feel of the whole thing. Coincidence… or an influence? I don’t know! It’s bloody great and I’d love to think that within this new space rock there’s a nod or glance back at something also great, but now overlooked, which ‘Dream Of Isis’ is. I might just be way off though… or properly way out, man, like the thoroughly exciting and engaging ‘Notaki’ is.

Pure Phase Ensemble 4 include Ride’s Mark Gardener and Ray Dickaty, once of Spiritualized and from that, and the musing above, you can tell that this comes from that crossroads out in the ether where shoegaze and spacerock somehow meet and condense the 70s and the 90s into one soundscape that owes progressive and indie and twists it into something contemporary. The band was put together specifically for the annual Gdansk SpaceFest event – I’ll quote here from the PR for this release: “The city of Gdansk plays host to this blossoming music festival each year in the first week of December, at which time numerous select musicians from Poland and abroad gather to take part in a special workshop series. They collectively compose a concert's worth of music, which they then present live to the festival-goers. Each year, this unique performance is recorded live and subsequently released as an LP.” The idea is that each festival is co-curated alongside Dickaty and Nasiono Records’ Karol Schwarz, and this one fell to Gardener.

"For me, this is interesting - it's perfect because it reminds me in some ways of how some of the early Ride songs came together... I didn't come in with a script, nor does Ray. There is no pre-work on this. It was just completely spontaneous," explains Mark Gardener. "Sometimes music like that is good before things get thought about too much and worked on too much. That can kill the energy sometimes. Of course some things have got to be worked and developed, but in this scenario, with such little time and to get an interesting set together, I think it's been good to keep it fresh and not over-worked."

It’s a hugely atmospheric set infused with melodic playing and, at points, some perfectly crystalline vocals, setting itself out into the vastness of space and drifting off in an interstellar, kaleidoscopic daydream haze. Bright colours, bright lights but still ethereal, intangible. It travels as though everything is about the journey, dancing out across stars and rejoicing in the way it effortlessly disperses out into multiple pathways.

Pure Phase Ensemble 4 - Mark closeup [Photo Pawel Jozwiak]

Photo © Pawel Jozwiak

What Gardener and collaborators have created, what they’ve composed and sent forth, is music with heart. It envelops its listeners, pulls them into that journey, and floats out, all kindred spirits together in our collective mind’s eye. A mind journey. ‘It’s not over/until it’s over’ sings Gardener on ‘Morning Rise’, a warming and comforting mesh of sounds with an uplifting, life-affirming lilt. You can hear it, let it fill your headphones or your headspace, and want it never to be over. 

Pure Phase Ensemble 4 Purchase Link

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Cary Grace –Tygerland



Drifting across boundaries, geographic, musical, comes Cary Grace, Somerset-based American, who I see getting a lot of review attention in my regular newsfeeds for psych sounds, and with justice because while the first 30 seconds of the opening title track had me wondering what was coming next – a discordant noisefest experiment – what does come next is an eclectic mix of psychedelic, progressive, jazz-fusion which moves from rich and rounded to minimalistic and bare by turn. I love it.

There’s a Pink Floyd aura to some of its early statements, part of a session from August 2014 recorded with Here & Now and Sentient’s Steffe Sharpstrings, and former Scissor Sisters keyboardist John Garden which is scattered through this record. It’s the laconic drawl of the intro to ‘Cyanide’, the second track on the album, and taken from that August work, that bursts into perfect melodic rock with Cary’s purposeful but not overpowering vocals which starts to say what a delight this one is going to be. It’s slick but edgy, rippled with sentiments of bitter frustration and building into a powerfully reflective moment. And then it twists away into ‘Orange Sky’, a much more sparse affair… I was listening to OMD’s Architecture & Morality for the first time in many years very recently; ‘Orange Sky’ has something of the hauntingly understated tones that something like ‘Sealand’ has, a feeling that even while it wraps into itself, it’s still describing a vista that is wide and open, desolate and strikingly beautiful. Its moods, Cary’s Minimoog generated,  are introverted, but the space that it visualises is vast.

‘War Child’ shifts into blues rock, studied, sleazy and alive. Here, if this were a Waterboys song, I could hear Mike Scott and his drawling diction, pulling shapes with the words, expanding and stretching them, and Cary does a similar thing, getting every word loaded with meaning and articulated with purpose. But then, it’s not about it being a record that’s like this, or like that… it’s one of the most singular, distinctive albums that I’ve been sent in quite a while, and any comparison is just to say that it has qualities that stand it along side musicians and records that have meant things across the years, it has that sort of lasting quality to it.

That hard-bitten blues gives away to light and air, ‘Limelight’, where Cary stretches out into a summertime evening warmth that’s jazzy and pop, lazily feeling good and drifting with the flow, another one taken from last August’s session I believe, and if so then built on Steffi’s expressive guitar work, and certainly also predicated on Cary’s voice leaving that blues sound behind and finding lilt and breeze. Easy going, easy listening, easy to become immersed in and float away with.

From there, the strumming and gentle bass and drums rhythms that opens ‘Razorwire’ keeps the record bathed in that sense of brightness and enveloping warmth… you could give yourself to the song and never want to come back. ‘Into The Indigo’ echoes back to earlier work, noted as recorded during sessions for Cary’s ‘Perpetual Motion’ album which some lovely winding, roving, violin from sometime Gong musician Graham Clark that gives its new home an additional texture. And then its into a 20 minute experimental, improvised, artistic, poetic, and  oft reflective piece of sound and word, ‘Windsong’ that takes this exceptional record to its conclusions.

Cary Grace Official Website

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Strange Boat Price Drop!

Looking forward to The Waterboys at Glastonbury? Price drop on the Amazon Kindle edition of 'Strange Boat - Mike Scott & The Waterboys' for the rest of June. Read it at Glasters - or anywhere else for that matter - for 1.99! Then I'll afford a hair cut!


Thursday, 18 June 2015

Lay Llamas – Space Jungle Mantra


“Italian afro-funk psychonauts touch down in the Roundhouse temple,” says Dave Weller of 4Zero Records, in his opening description of the latest release from his label. “Originally, in the distant future, a mythical tribe of Nigerian time travellers... now an Italian afro-funk-space-psych outfit. Last year they released their acclaimed debut album, Ostro, on Rocket Recordings and toured the UK in support of Swedish voodoo rockers, Goat, culminating in an unforgettable performance at London’s Roundhouse. Captured on digital multi-track the subsequent recording was just too good to only be shared with ‘friends and family’ and so we are making it available as a highly limited CD and a highly unlimited download, that includes a unique prismatic remix.”

They’re a Sicilian duo, Nicola Giunta and Gioele Valenti, though they’re backed here in a live context by guitar, drum and synth, playing an addictively repetitive primal trance fusion thing that has something mystical at its core, something mystical in a primitive sense, invoking old gods and delving deep for a sense of groove rooted in instinct and freeness. Dave is right, of course, a live set far too good to not be made more widely available. ‘Spiritual Expedition’ they declaim as one of the track titles, a thoughtful and understated, angular yet intoxicating, drift where the restrained but insistent drum patterns push along a soundscape that mostly wants to hide itself in the background, emerging occasionally from its undergrowth and then burying itself back into itself again before swishing out into ‘Something Wrong’ with Nicola’s singing chanting vocals akin to a ritualistic camp-fire sermon.

Before that, the mid-point of their Roundhouse set assuming that the album represent the full swathe of the performance is the scene-setting jungle squawking of ‘Overmind’ and ‘Beyond The Time & Space’, into which they insert the opening wash of synths, communing with nature, building up gossamer-thin layers of sound that shimmer into their rainforest of effects. It’s an entrancing start that luxuriates in the expanse of time in which they allow it to grow and develop, nearly six minutes before it starts to become more forceful, more robust, hinting that they could let it loose in a muscular release but keeping it held-back, keeping it crystalline and fragile. They play that bit out in transporting their audience back to a supplication to those old gods or pagan calls, and then let loose their groove with ‘Archaic Revival’, a funky call to dance and movement that wants the audience to respond as one, as a tribe with single purpose.

It’s all long-form, extended music. Each track takes its time to build into its theme, their tunes all having plenty of space to work within – no walls of sound but instead a sense of freedom where they give each other a massive amount of room to play in. ‘The Place Where We Come From Is The Place Where We’re Going To’ its final expanse, eighteen minutes that starts at a sloth’s pace and a tribal dance’s sense of destiny and purpose, a world music with a satisfying range that reaches a crescendo of sorts, a flickering of bodies in unison around a fire, the flames licking upwards and the bodies flowing around it before ending in an off-kilter reverb appropriately coiling the suite back into itself again.


Lay Llamas on Facebook

4Zero Records Website

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Kettering Vampires – Nico & The Velvet Underground

alan jenkins

So the fabulous conceit driving this record is that The Velvet Underground & Nico was not a seminal and acclaimed work of the mid-60s, but actually a bloody good surf-rock instrumental record by some guys calling themselves The Otter Sandwich. It’s completely different of course, with the titular names reversed and the running order set back-to-front, and they’re no longer The Otter Sandwich, but are in fact The Kettering Vampires, but of course it’s a surf-rock LP. How else would The Jesus & Mary Chain have recorded ‘Cherry Came Too’ if it wasn’t?

‘European Sun’ becomes, then, a classic Californian or Hawaiian dream, angular guitar twangs and cascading drums but it can’t be that simple and ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ is sombre squelching keyboards with some suitably tongue-in-cheek squiggles over the top that segues into the L Ninja Snake (yes, honest) guitar-led ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and some more honest to country twanging of ‘There She Goes Again’. ‘Heroin’ is 15 minutes of stone-cold serious Krautrock played by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark circa Architecture & Morality during which I notice the iTunes banner says it’s ‘The Experimental Surf Music Tribute To The Velvet Underground & Nico’ whereas, this track aside, it’s just great surf’s up stuff. But then, I’ve been playing it in my car in what’s passing for the Cornish summer. Catch this wave, I’d be surfin’ on top of the world, man.

‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’? A Big Country-esque spaghetti soundtrack wherein Mr Ninja Snake plays the part of Hank Marvin, guitarist of this parish. Or the delightfully 50s sweet ‘Femme Fatale’. ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, a Stranglers opening instrumental with the Men in Black in a good mood and it's ‘Sunday Morning’ having been played to the JAMC once and the brothers Reid asked to re-create it from the notes they’d made while listening. I'm Hanging Ten on my Big Wednesday because this is my summer's Pet Sounds, right?

Cordelia Records

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Damned and Damned some more


First Damned bit of this blog; a heads-up that I’m interviewing the great Brian James in the current issue of Vive Le Rock magazine, talking about his terrific new solo album The Guitar That Dripped Blood and generally chatting about his other recent solo work… and checking with him which bottle of wine would make the appropriate soundtrack to his latest record. Easy Action Records have Brian’s solo records on sale here including a handy bundle of his previous albums. Tell all your Damned friends!



So that gives me a neat neat neat segue into mentioning a new creator-owned comic by my old mate Paul Cornell, This Damned Band, which is nothing to do with The Damned I should point out but is a six-part mini-series from Dark Horse Comics that tells “the story of Motherfather, global rock superstars of 1974.  Like several prominent musicians of that era, some of the band like to intimate that they, you know, worship Satan.  But then they discover they’re actually, you know, worshiping Satan. This Damned Band is a somewhat cruel comedy/horror six-issue miniseries, definitely not for children, told as if we’re seeing a documentary movie that’s been pieced together by a film crew.  So there are interviews to camera, sections where ‘filmed footage’ is replaced with ‘artist’s depiction’ to render the subjective experiences of drug use, questions from out of frame.  One of my favourite shows is Parks and Recreation. I love that specific use of the documentary mode, where one can get reactions to camera and see intimately the gap between what people say and what they mean.  So, obviously, when writing a dark comedy about how mainstream the occult was in the 1970s, P&R was a major influence.” 


Really looking forward to this one! Pre-order it with your local comic book store!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Crystal Jacqueline – Rainflower



I was enthusing about Electronic Memory, Mega Dodo’s Crystal Jacqueline and The Honey collection in Record Collector recently, a collection of songs, some of which had previously had appeared on vinyl via Fruits De Mer, just as I’d enthused about Sun Arise, Crystal Jacqueline’s first solo album back a couple of years ago in R2. What’s next is Jacqui’s newest solo recordings – of course in tandem with Icarus Peel – and after all that previous enthusing… well, here’s another record from deepest Devon to enthuse about!

Though it’s still infused through with that hazy 60s psychedelia that they’ve totally captured with such a delicate, light touch in their recordings, Rainflower feels like a more sophisticated, more grown-up record. Partly that might be because there’s more original material on this record than earlier albums, with Icarus’s song-writing in the ascendancy; perhaps they’re buoyed by the great comments both Crystal Jacqueline and The Honey Pot are getting both in print and across psych-related websites. I hope so. There’s a couple of great covers: Status Quo’s ‘In My Chair’ really bursts out, a much rock-driven track than we’re used to hearing and quite startling in its exuberance, and a rendition of the Floyd’s ‘Grantchester Meadows’ that’s also part of FdM’s ‘Momentary One’ 7” single that Ian McCann was reviewing in Record Collector recently.

But what’s great is the way that Icarus and Jacqui are stretching their creative legs and pushing, bending, their sound in different directions. ‘Siren’ is dark psych-folk, shimmering and unsettling with Jacqueline’s vocals being a, well indeed, siren call, imploring, tempting, dangerous. It’s a compelling track with its urgency at the fore. ‘Winter Deep / Dress of White Lace’ an opus, with Mordecai Smyth sharing writing credits, a cleansing and dreamy drift out of the darkness where the Winter is a frosty sharpness described by beautiful vocals and beguiling guitar playing that gives way to a Floyd-ish second half that applies a background of what I’m going to describe as idyllic looseness, that then wraps itself around a delicious and redemptive vocal.

The title track is summer afternoon after a thunderstorm, that perfect quality of air when everything feels renewed and refreshed. ‘Strange Bloom’ is an elusive and hypnotic trip that expands out into another heavier track, and ‘Again… Dragonfly’ is a mystical soundtrack that allows Jacqueline to put some power into the vocal delivery and add that extra bit of magical majesty to the evocative words. All the promise of Sun Arise confirmed and and built on.

Crystal Jacqueline on Facebook

Mega Dodo Website

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Mushroom Project


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I’d reviewed this side-project album from members of the Magic Mushroom Band and Astralasia in a recent issue of Record Collector, and given that can be found on-line (here) then I’ll not double-dip it by reviewing it here as well – particularly as I’ve not been actively posting for a while and have a backlog of stuff that I want to mention – but I did meet up with MMB / Astralasia mainstays Swordfish and Wayne Twinning recently and took the opportunity to ask them about this record which they’d originally conceived as a potential work with former MMB members Garry and Kim.

Swordfish: It started two or three years ago; I did some little loops, Pete [Pracownik] did some rhythm guitars, and Wayne and I put some instrumental ideas together which we were going to throw at Gary and Kim because as an instrumental, Chris [Hillman, of Magick Eye Records] said “it’s not going to sound like the Magic Mushroom Band without having vocals, or a certain section of vocals.” If it was going to come from anyone it should come from me, and we hadn’t spoken in a long time so we sent Garry a message and got in touch, but he felt it all ended in 1995 and that was it as far as he was concerned. We thought about putting it out as the Magic Mushroom Banned but we thought that might be a bit contentious…

Wayne: Good taste prevailed!

Swordfish: And aside from the Mushroom Project, in terms of Astralasia, we’ve almost gone back to that, that basic form where you throw all these things in and hope something comes out of that, rather than here are the chords, this is the song, here’s the chorus, it goes like this… all play along. We’d lost all that jamming, just freaking-out and doing that kind of thing. This album, we wanted to address that and take it back, so even if Gary and Kim had been involved we would still have kept it like that, had more of a free-form element to it.

It’s more space-rock than you’ve been doing recently…

Swordfish: Oh yeah, it’s that grungy riff where you might say it’s got that Hawkwind-ness to it, because it has got that… those two chords… and that’s probably intentional, just to make it rock; we didn’t want to use the machines we’d been using in dance music, we went back to the old school to do it this way and it’s the same with the stuff we’ve done recently for Fruits De Mer. We’ve kind of done all that [dance] and there’s so many kids out there now doing that dance thing it’s like we don’t want to compete in that sort of thing anymore. We were doing it before any of them were there, and the fact that we can do that… but we can still do this and that and we can do this, and they can’t. They just do the same thing. We’ve been back to those trance gigs, back to those places… I mean, they’re good at what they do, but they don’t do anything else. Life and music is so much more exciting than that, isn’t it! So many colours to the palette and so many things you can do. I suppose that’s why we did the Mushroom Project, we thought lets grind a bit and do something a bit rocky. We sent a copy to some people in Italy, and they wanted it to sound like the old Mushroom Band, they wanted vocals and songs on it and said that “it sounds like the boring Ozric Tentacles.” Well, everyone said, “that’s not a bad thing, is it?” Well, no, not really!

You’ve got Simon House playing on it?

Swordfish: That’s just a bit that got left over [from other recordings]. We’ve been trying to get hold of him for ages.

This one is on Talking Elephant, and you did an early days bits and pieces release with them recently as well, Blues Spores

Swordfish: Blue Spores was leftover material, it was a way of getting stuff out because I’m a great believer in using the structure… having things come out properly. If we’re going to do things ourselves, unless we’re going to make a really big effort and do it like a proper package, and with this being old stuff and not a current thing that we’re working on, it seemed better to release it through someone like Talking Elephant. And [label owners] Malcolm and Barry are like a couple of old Hawkwind roadies…

Wayne: More like a couple of Fairport Convention roadies! They’re lovely.

Swordfish: They really are lovely and we’ve done a few things with them over the years. Pete’s done some artwork for them. It just seemed right to put these things out with them.

What can you say about the tracks on Mushroom Project?

Swordfish: The titles, there’s some references there. The first track, ‘Imperial Eye’… they all hark back to festival things, Imperial Eye Band were a festival band…

Wayne: A large reggae band from Slough!

Swordfish: I remembered them; then the second track is ‘Invisible Guitar’, after Rory Cargills’s Invisible Band. ‘Sunkissed’ refers to old members moving to Australia! ‘Clear Blue Sky’ the end track, is, I suppose, what I would have liked to have been the way the Mushroom Band would have gone… this won’t come over right, but I wanted us to become a Fleetwood Mac, not in terms of the music or the songs, but in terms of as a unit, as a band.

Wayne: Not the best example of a band, with the internal politics…

Swordfish: But getting over it and making something that was bigger than anything, because the music is bigger than all that. When you get on that stage, when you’re playing, that is what it’s all about, that moment and what you get back is worth everything, whether it’s fifty people or fifty thousand!

Mushroom Project on Talking Elephant