Monday, 17 March 2014

Zendad – Evolving Entities

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I’ve often opened blog posts with regrets about being behind on review commitments or not getting to stuff as quickly as I’d really like to, but really there’s a bit more to it than that because the volume of emails I get from people hoping to get a review or a mention is growing regularly and I’m additionally conscious that I don’t cover even half of what I get sent links to (I had three different submissions today alone) and I really regret that. You’d think that the Internet offers fantastic opportunities for musicians to get their music out to their target audiences – and it does – but the sheer volumes of creative outpourings create a whole new problem of being heard amongst all the great material being produced. I’m not prolific on this blog, I know that weeks can go by when, through print demands or nine-to-five stuff, it goes untended , then I’ll try and have a bit of a burst and catch up… I wish I could produce the quantity of high quality and knowledgeable reviews that friends such as Scott Heller are blogging (check out Scott’s always excellent blog on the links list) but I don’t always get the time.

Stephen Kavanagh’s ‘Zendad’ album I’ve had the link to since January, listened through it at the time and really liked it and completely failed to deliver the promised write-up that I committed to. Which is wrong of me, because blog readers here will really like this record, and because Stephen is another of those musicians producing really good stuff and struggling to get that music heard among the myriad of other releases – and this blog should be about trying to get a few people along to have a listen and support the music.

Where does it fit within our genre? Well, it’s a inventive, imaginative Hawkwind derivation in a lot of places – that’s to say it wears its influences on its sleeve and its predominant influence is the band that really causes us all to be here enthusing about space-rock in the first place. And in terms of being Hawkwind influenced it has something of an 80s Hawkwind vibe, but not in that Heavy Metal or Grungy way, more that it has the atmosphere or aura of 80s Hawkwind in its thoughtful, trippy keyboards (go and listen to ‘After The Fall’ in this respect and you’ll hear what I mean) and it’s as though it’s a Hawkwind as Hawkwind might have been if dominated by Harvey Bainbridge and Huw Lloyd-Langton… and then it’s also Hawkwind as a ‘lost’ Dave Brock solo album from the time of Earthed To The Ground. It’s a soft rock space-rock, floating in dreams, easy going and peaceful and instantly likeable.

What’s it all about? It says it’s “a concept album that explores the themes of conspiracy theories, reptilian bloodlines, alien life forms, UFOs, the exploration of outer and inner space, the fall of man and the coming of the new age.” Sitting listening to it on my computer the words just drift across its surfaces and that’s possibly what’s intended. There’s comfortingly repetitive lyrics on the title track that are breathed over some light and airy music, again keyboard-led but leading into some nice guitar. “Guardians from a higher place take us to another place.” The words aren’t the important bit, it’s all about the delightful sounds that they float upon.

‘Elohim’ crosses over into Tangerine Dream territory, slipstreams slightly away from space-rock to a degree but still has a languid spaciousness that intoxicates. When it detours from that modus operandi it’s still wearing its soft rock credentials - ‘Beyond The Sun’ rocks up and rocks out but it only seems heavy in contrast to what’s come before, its riffs and Eastern lines are robust but hardly muscular but its a nice and steady beat and in any case, ‘Starlight’ takes us back around again to what’s best about this album, the gentle and elegant space keyboard sound that absorbs the listener in a diverting and pleasing manner.

 

Zendad at Bandcamp

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Fruits de Mer Records – March 2014

I’m always banging on about how good it is to receive one of Fruit De Mer’s excellent packages of promotional material; well, this time I’m even more pleased because the bundle of promo CDs in support of their vinyl releases for this month contains amongst its excellence a Double 7” by Crystal Jacqueline and The Honey Pot which gives me a opportunity first of all to deviate from the review of FdM’s offerings and make a plug for Crystal Jacqueline’s excellent Sun Arise album [Mega Dodo Records] which I enthused about in R2 a couple of issues ago:

“Busy and involving, invoking halcyon 60s psychedelic haze and daze, and really quite smashing, is this debut album from The Honey Pot’s Crystal Jacqueline, produced, played-on and partly written by fellow Honey Pot member Icarus Peel. It’s a record that creeps up on you with all its beguiling intricacies and doesn’t easily get out of your player or off your mind.

It has a darkness to it that’s quite appealing and cuts through the potential saccharine of its loaded psychedelia references that range from a brooding cover of ‘Play With Fire’ with its allusions to St John’s Wood and heiresses that make it seem almost an historical document, to what feels almost like an obligatory Alice In Wonderland piece and onto that great slice of 60s acid-trip visions, err, Mary Poppins. It has to be said, though, that the version of ‘Fly A Kite’ included here is just breathlessly wistful, a proper and heartfelt reading.

So in a way it has a great nostalgic feel to it, safely tucked away in a cultural hinterland; but it’s that mix of sweetness that’s not cloying and darker depths, note in this context also Jacqueline’s vocals on a cut of The Troggs’ ‘Cousin Jane’, that makes it so palatable. As Alice might have said, it’s curiouser and curiouser.”

So getting that mention out of the way first (if you think it sounds right up your street from that review, go and get it – it will be!), FdM’s release is a mixture of Crystal Jacqueline tracks and those from Icarus Peel’s band The Honey Pot, which features Crystal in any case. Now, I don’t often watch ‘Reality’ shows, Strictly… aside, though I will confess to sifting through the audition rounds of The Voice, but when I do the it seems to me that the judges are always talking about “attack”… that rendition was full of attack, you approached the song with attack, that sort of thing. Well, among these covers, I’d particularly note that The Honey Pot approach their version of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ with a lot of attack. Full of attack, it is. I mean, it’s ripe for attack anyway, but this is a really splendid run through, better than The Damned’s version circa The Black Album, and that was pretty good itself. Meanwhile, Crystal Jacqueline does a terrific take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Remember A Day’ and among the other songs, she also does more than justice to ‘I Had Too Much To Dream’ (didn’t The Damned have a stab at that as well?), while The Honey Pot give a delicious poppy lilt to Mighty Baby’s ‘Egyptian Tomb’. This release is seven tracks, spread across two 7” singles in a gatefold sleeve and an eight page booklet. I know FdM have released a Crystal Jacqueline single previously; I’d overlooked that one but since the Sun Arise album, I’ve determined not to overlook any more.

Dragging myself away from that one, Schizo Fun Addict have a cult movie 7” featuring as the A-side a track from the 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria, which I’m talking about with authority of course… but have never heard of… and a B-side, ‘In The Long Run’ taken from Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, which of course I’ve heard of [behave] and which actually captures 70s tackiness in all its technicolour glory… I smiled all the way through and really liked it! On the other hand, Bristol-based Schnauser’s release is a bit of a Curate’s Egg for me, headlined as being ‘As Long As He Stays Perfectly Still’, the A-side is actually covers Yes’s ‘Astral Traveller’ and at this notion I have glazed eyes and a vacant expression for I have never understood Yes and never found their appeal, though the ‘headline’ track, covering a number from Soft Machine Volume Two I found more interesting, even if,again, Soft Machine have never really been my glass of Coke. I’ll pass along from this one as it didn’t really float my boat.,

Moving right along then, Scandinavian duo Us And Them have a three-track single, including one original track. I’ve never heard Sandy Denny’s ‘By The Time It Gets Dark’ before, and the promotion for this single identifies it as a lesser-known entry in the Denny canon, but the Us And Them take on it is crystalline, fragile, affecting and moving, the thinnest china, so delicate that it might shatter and be lost from a single glance but lovely and precious to behold. Alongside it is a cover of an interpretation, as it were, a take on Donovan’s appropriation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’, followed by an Us And Them original, ‘Do I Know You’, a sparse but elegant piece. Way outside of the remit of this blog, of course, but FdM’s releases are becoming so well-loved that anything they conjure up is worth investigating.

Finally, then, a three-tracker from Bronco Bullfrog, whose reason for existing seems to be to try and catch and bottle their impression of 60s pop-psych, which they do pretty well in their whimsical, slightly silly and off-kilter, manner, on the release’s lead song ‘Time Waits For Norman’, which, while it’s something of a 1066 And All That version of the later 60s sound, the bits that you think you remember, is a suitable amount of fun for sure.

Fruits de Mer Website

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Movements - Six Feet Under

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Mugstar – Sun, Broken

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Makes my job as an on-line reviewer so much easier when something drops into my inbox promoting a new release that’s actually a reissue of an album I know and love already, and this is one such instance since Sun. Broken I’ve owned on CD since the band kindly sent over a copy after my review of their Lime album three years ago, so although I never got around to posting a review of that one, I know the Important Records edition well. But it’s great to have a reason for mentioning it here, and that’s because there’s a 500-pressing vinyl LP version due from Cardinal Fuzz later this month (release date 24th March).

I mean, it’s a bloody corker of a space-rock record, totally intense, absolutely relentless, sounding fucking HUGE and living its life LARGE. The label seem properly chuffed to be giving it a vinyl release… and quite right too. So they’ve not just reissued it, but they’ve given it a packaging makeover with Sam Weihl’s new embossed design for its sleeve and what they describe as “stunning intergalactic black/white swirl” in its pressing.

Sun, Broken is all about power, epitomised by hard driving tracks with pounding drums, urgent keyboards and wailing technology, such as the opening ‘Technical Knowledge As A Weapon’ and the intensive and arresting ‘Labrador Hatchet’; it’s as though nothing is laid-down and committed unless it absolutely is going to plough through jacked-up to the max speakers as if it’s scientifically and chemically augmented to break the sound barrier itself, raging and racing, filling every crack and expanding, exploding, into every void: dominating your headspace and your environment. It’s that strong. Predominately instrumental, impenetrable chanting surfaces at moments, imploring us further onward. I look back at my review of Lime, and I was saying then that I “couldn’t enthuse enough” about that one… well, that’s Sun, Broken with knobs on, all turned up to screaming point, a record with everything a space-rocker might want and then some sonically challenging more.

Least we come away thinking its all heads down heaviness, Mugstar have more than just that modus operandi in their armoury. The 13.45 minute ‘Furklasunbo’ that sees out the album ranges across soundscapes, always moving onwards but having a robust and muscular subtleness to its opening movement – if that’s not a complete contradiction in terms – while always maintaining purpose, building up and working towards its interstellar travelogue despite its sprawling nature. It’s massive composition that sweeps and swirls in perfect symmetry. But then, it’s all totally stellar. Every space cadet should own a copy.

Cardinal Fuzz Website

Mugstar Website