Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My Top 10 albums of 2014

Despite my best intentions, I've been neglecting this blog for over a year now. There were so many great records I could have blogged about in 2014. So by way of recompense here's my round-up of my favourites:

Automat - "Automat" (Bureau B)
Modern-day krautrock meets electronic meets dub. Gotta love that heavy BASS! Features guest vocalists Lydia Lunch, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Blixa Bargeld. Perfect!  Buy it here.

Krautzone - "Superkraut" / Lamp Of The Universe - "Doors Of Perception" [Split LP] (HeadSpin)
This is a fantastic LP for a spot of astral travelling! Two side-long pieces from Germany's Krautzone and New Zealand's Lamp Of The Universe a.k.a. Craig Williamson. Well, I say side-long pieces but  actually Krautzone's side is split into two parts - Superkraut I and II - but it may as well be considered one long piece. It's all beautifully packaged too with sleeve spot-printed with UV gloss and silver/black marbled vinyl. Buy It Here.

Dead Sea Apes - "High Evolutionary" (Cardinal Fuzz)
Could have sworn these kraut/psychedelic vibes must have come from some of Germany's finest, but the Dead Sea Apes hail from no further away than Manchester. Another one for a spot of "inner travel". Buy It Here.

Earthling Society - "England Have My Bones" (Riot Season)
Brilliant. Just four tracks forming part of a seamless whole. Intense, spacey and jazzy too! I prefer the version here of Alice Coltrane's "Journey in Satchidananda" as opposed to the remixed version with new overdubs released on the "Coltrane" EP by Fruits De Mer Records and which was just too busy for its own good. Here it is absolutely perfect. Buy It Here.

Kreidler - "ABC" (Bureau B)
First class contemporary electronic music from Germany. It's like a harder-hitting Kraftwerk but with swathes of EBow guitar supplying an organic counterpoint to the synths. Buy It Here.

Teeth Of The Sea - "A Field In England: Re-Imagined" (Rocket Recordings)
Teeth Of The Sea were my personal big discovery of 2014. I think I found them via the Rocket Recordings bandcamp page and was intrigued enough to listen and then buy their albums. (I bought everything I could, alas I haven't tracked down the debut EP yet). The music takes elements of psychedelia, electronica, IDM, kraut, and the guitar, bass, drums, synths line-up is often supplemented by very effective use of trumpet. Perfect soundtrack music, as indeed was the whole point of this particular Record Store Day release which is in equal parts mesmerising and menacing. SOLD OUT but see Teeth Of The Sea and Rocket Recordings Bandcamp pages for other releases.

Sendelica - "Live At Crabstock" (Friends Of The Fish)
Recorded live at Crabstock, the Fruits De Mer Records Festival of Psychedelia held in Cardigan, Wales, back in April 2014. I had to include this album as a momento of a fantastic day, and with Sendelica's set (following hot on the heels of a fabulously intense set from Earthling Society) closing the festival in a blissed-out wave of instrumental psychedelia. The set includes a frenetic "Motorik Jam", a taster for what's in store on 2015's Anima Mundi album now renamed "Master Benjamin Warned Young Albert Not To Step On The Uninsulated Air". It also includes a live rendition of Sendelica's first Fruits De Mer Records 7" b-side, a cover of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" (I joined the band on stage to play rhythm guitar on this track, but hey, you're not going to hold it against me for nominating an album I actually appear on, are you?). Buy It Here.

Acid Mothers Temple et Rosina de Feira - "Live in Tolosa" (Bam Balam)
I bought this LP at a totally intensely crucial Acid Mothers Temple gig in Cardiff in the summer - it was absolutely jaw-dropping stuff as far as I was concerned. This album features some of the same material and in a way is memento of that unforgettable gig. Buy It Here.

Astralasia - Wind On Water (Fruits De Mer)
Just a really great slice of psyche from Astralasia - I have a particular fondness for "The Desert" which is one of the tracks on a 7" EP included alongside the LP as part of the package. And what a package it is too. Fruits de Mer Records went all out on this one with clear vinyl records, a screen-printed PVC outer sleeve and printed cover making for some weird optical effects. SOLD OUT but see Fruits De Mer Records for other releases.

Tor Peders - Brev Fran Ederstorp (Fruits De Mer)
Swedish band Tor Peders recorded this organ and fuzz guitar propelled album of instrumental psyche back in 2011, but following the death of guitarist Jonas in a car accident soon after completion, the album was put on ice. Thankfully, it was released by Fruits De Mer earlier this year, as it is simply too good to languish unheard and unreleased on a dusty shelf somewhere. SOLD OUT but see Fruits De Mer Records for other releases.

Honourable mentions:

Goat - "Commune" (Rocket Recordings)
Whilst not in my Top 10, this is one of my also rans. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine album, but it lacks the initial "Whoah" factor (as opposed to Wow-factor) that makes people sit up and listen that the first album "World Music" had. And that's mainly because it's re-treading the same ground. Not that that's a bad thing but it's not going to have the same impact as the debut.

Nice package from Rocket Recordings on this one including die cut sleeve, red vinyl with blue splatter, and additional 7" disc. Buy It Here.

Camera - "Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide" (Bureau B)
Another of my also-rans, which didn't quite make it into the Top 10.

As with the Goat album, this Camera release is their second album, so perhaps is overshadowed by that debut release that initially made such an important statement about the band and their sound. Nevertheless it's a fine album of contemporary instrumental krautrock. I might have scored it more highly perhaps, if my copy of the record was not scratched from new (thank goodness they also included a CD copy of the album in the package. Still - it's NOT a perfect scenario, and with the cost of returning the LP to Germany to consider I decided not to bother - but please take note Bureau B, your quality control let you down on this one). Buy It Here.

Craig Padilla - "Sonar" (Fruits De Mer)
Another lovely package from Fruits De Mer records with glass-like coloured vinyls, beautifully krauty and colourful gatefold sleeve, etc. And of course, great spacey Tangerine Dream-esque electronic music from Craig Padilla. Another one to listen to and let your mind soar up into the sky. Buy It Here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Claymation - Mourning Rituals

2013 nanoBOX Records, NB003

A1: Satellite Down
A2: Grounding Wheel
B1: Orogens
B2: Ronin

Claymation is the solo project of Troy, NY based composer/guitarist Baird Buchanan and this, Mourning Rituals is his second full length release but the first, I believe, to have been issued on lovely vinyl. The record is available in standard black vinyl, and also in what the record label calls "electric blue in Coke bottle green" coloured vinyl. I have the latter version, and it is indeed a very eye-catching slab of vinyl.

Side one opener "Satellite Down" takes up the lion's share of this side of the disc with a running time of approx 17 minutes. It's a slowly evolving piece that - despite its eeriness - still manages to lull the listener into a false sense of security. It manages to both instill a sense of calm, albeit an uneasy calm, and then a sense of high tension as cathedral-sized slabs of treated electric baritone guitar (which you'd be forgiven for not even recognising as sounds that might originate from a guitar) gradually build up into loops of haunting atmospherics before being overwhelmed by the onset of a wall of fuzz and static which eventually recedes into the distance to allow the piece to ebb away like the turning tide.

The second piece on side one, "Grouding Wheel" is more industrial-sounding - I get the sense of it illustrating some industrial process. Like the preceding piece, you could imagine it being used as part of a SciFi or Horror soundtrack but where "Satellite Down" conveys a feeling of awe and wonderment, "Grounding Wheel" sounds as if it's the backing music for something more graphic in nature.

The guitar is far more easily identified on side two opener "Orogens", with a simple motif being picked out slowly and deliberately, the whole being drenched in delay and reverb.

Final piece, "Ronin" is another quarter of an hour cut which begins with an almost didgeridoo-like drone before effected guitar pads sweep into the mix, whilst other sounds whirr like chugging engines beneath a more delicately picked and restrained guitar motif. A sense of movement is conveyed; I'm not talking racing along at great speeds, but rather it is a drifting motion, slow but relentless. In my mind's eye, images are conjured up of travelling by boat across a vast but very still lake by sun-rise. Gradually as the sun climbs higher in the sky, other traffic is encountered upon the lake until the waters are bustling with a myriad of boats and ships.

I'd recommend this record to anyone into experimental and/or ambient instrumental music. Head on over to to score your own copy.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Fruits De Mer Records "Strange Fish" series, volumes 1-4

Fruits De Mer Records "Strange Fish" collection are an adventurous series of albums of instrumental music inspired by krautrock/kosmische, classic and new progressive rock, drone, sequencer/synthesiser, psychedelia, and more, performed by artists who followers of Fruits De Mer Records may already know plus several who are appearing here on vinyl for the first time.

A1: Craig Padilla - Full Moon World
A2: Craig Padilla - Secret Language
B1: Sendelica - Strange Fish

Strange Fish 1 is split between two artists, Craig Padilla from the USA and Sendelica from south west Wales, and contains only three - but lengthy - pieces. On side one Craig Padilla's "Full Moon World" (a track from 2005, I notice) starts quietly with something of a Gong-vibe to it with spacey synth sounds and a sub-bass under arpeggiated synths and a plaintive synth melody creating a very dreamy atmosphere. Halfway through things speed up with some minimalistic Kraftwerkian electronic percussion and ever-more complex and intertwining melodies. "Secret Language", recorded five years later by Craig Padilla and cohort Bert Hawkins (credited with "strange analog synth sounds"), feels more cinematic with a bass drone and spacey sounds panning across the stereo spectrum and having an ambient Jean-Michel Jarre vibe. There are lots of bubbly synths and pads, and again - halfway through - things change as a counter rhythm sequence is introduced.

Side two contains a side-long single piece by Sendelica which was almost certainly re-titled for inclusion in this series of albums. "Strange Fish" adds guitars and bass to the synthy whooshes and spacey sounds. After a weird intro in which a riff is gradually slowed down, a spooky atmosphere is introduced with Western-style guitar strums and a ghostly voice-like synth drifting in and out of the mix and sheets of white noise. It's a few minutes before the track truly takes off with a rapid repetitive bass riff providing some foundation, over which unexpectedly a saxophone appears. The main theme fades and the track continues with octaved bass and minimalistic guitar responses evolving into a new riff over which a heavily effected trumpet and Kraftwerkian "geiger counter" herald the arrival of some acoustic (or acoustic-sounding) guitar taking us into the piece's final phase, and finally fading out with the sound of kids playing in a playground. All in all, a very interesting piece, although perhaps not as coherent as Padilla's more formulaic pieces on the other side of the record.

A1: Moonweevil - Condentia
A2: Vespero - Red Machine
A3: Organic Is Orgasmic - At Dawn Of Men
B1: Sendelica - 80% Neon Bridge Of Sighs
B2: Temple Music - From The Serene Republic
B3: The Grand Astoria - Space Orchid vs Massive Drumkit
C1: Cat Frequency - The Fragmentation of St. Veronica's Veil
C2: Julie's Haircut - Tarazed
C3: Julie's Haircut - Asioli (recorded with Valerio Cosi & Tiziano Bianchi)
C4: Weevil dropping
D1: Mechanik - Kwangmyongsong
D2: Mechanik - Radian
D3: Mechanik - You Yourself Are The Teacher And The Guru

Strange Fish 2 is a double album containing 13 tracks from nine artists from the UK (Moonweevil, Sendelica, Temple Music, The Cat Frequency), Italy (Julie's Haircut), Spain (Mechanik) and Russia (Vespero, Organic Is Orgasmic, The Grand Astoria). Side one kicks off with a very brief piece from Moonweevil which I can only liken to Monty Python's "Silly Noises". Track two is by Vespero, who we last heard reinterpreting Faust's "Jennifer" on one side of the Fruits De Mer Annual 2013 EP. With "Red Machine" we are treated to hypnotic Eastern rhythms, melancholic violin-like melodies, arpeggiators and space synth sounds augmented by the restrained sax and upbeat drums. Finishing with an almost Bloomdido Bad de Grasse-esque sax, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a Gong out-take. Side one finishes with Organic Is Orgasmic's 12-minute plus "At Dawn Of Men" with starts gently with strings, synth and guitar overlaid with a sax melody before drums and bass join and really get things going. The guitar textures remind me of Andy Summers, this could almost be a Police instrumental (and that is meant in a good way).

Sendelica return on side two with "80% Neon Bridge Of Sighs", a track recorded in Stockport - I'm guessing at a live performance. It certainly has that live energy to it and also benefits from the addition of drums to the line-up, something that was conspicuous by their absence on the side-long piece on Strange Fish 1. The piece also features snippets of conversation; I can't help wondering if the audience was miked up? Next up is Temple Music, who previously magnificently re-interpreted The Hollies' "Pegasus" on the other side of the Fruits De Mer Annual 2013 EP that I have already mentioned. "From The Serene Republic" is a strident up-tempo guitar, bass and drum (machine?) piece with guitar synth melodies and that trademark krautrock motorik driving rhythm. Finally on this disc, The Grand Astoria's eccentrically named "Space Orchid vs Massive Drumkit" sees a more "earthy" hippy-esque sound with acoustic guitars and sitar over a fluid bass and drums. An electric guitar riff asserts itself in the latter part of the song, the drums up the tempo and we are treated to a synth solo.

Onto side three (or record 2, side 1, if you prefer) which begins with The Cat Frequency's "The Fragmentation of St. Veronica's Veil". The organ/synth(?) drone at the beginning of the track possibly outstays its welcome as the listener is left waiting for the piece to actually "begin". Thankfully an arpeggiated synth arrives and is soon followed by some lead guitar wrangling, but the whole thing is too ponderous and you're left thinking that not only does the track not seen to get started but that it doesn't go anywhere either. The next two songs are by Julie's Haircut (an unusual name for an Italian band). "Tarazed" has a gentle fairytale quality to begin with but then the bassline starts, the drums kick in and a hypnotic groove develops. We are even treated to some vocals (yes, on an instrumental compilation!) in the form of wordless "Aaaaahhhh"s. Having listened to several sides of purely instrumental vinyl already, the human voice is most welcome! "Asioli" has a very avant garde piano-led intro with percussion. Again, a bassline kicks in and establishes a groove behind the keys. Vocals, sax, trumpet, and heavily effected guitars drift into the mix creating rich layers of sound. Faster drums and a counter-bassline create a greater sense of urgency towards the finish as things build up to a crescendo. Finally, side three closes with a very brief piece listed only as "Weevil dropping" which I assume is Moonweevil once again with more weird sounds and "silly noises", which - if you are not careful - could go on for ever, so watch out for that locked groove at the end of this side.

Side four (or record 2, side 2) is devoted to the Spanish band Mechanik. "Kwangmyongsong" consists of a bass and drum groove overlaid with guitar echo effects, synths, electronics, etc, and has echoes of Neu! perhaps. The guitar track develops and intensifies the melody before the whole thing ends with various spacey and electronic sound effects. "Radian" starts meekly with bass and guitars in an almost imperceptible melody but grows in intensity and builds up a sense of foreboding of what might happen next. It's very cinematic in feel with excellent use of loops and multiple echoes. Finally, "You Yourself Are The Teacher And The Guru" makes use of radio/TV cut-ups and delayed/looped guitars, with solid repetitive bass and drums providing a backbone onto which to hang all the echoes on. Again, the track builds in intensity, rises to a climax and falls away into echoes and EBow guitars - and a final droned note - which again could go on indefinitely thanks to the locked groove ending this side of vinyl.

A1: Palace of Swords - Live At The Aberdeen Witch Trials 1597
A2: Zenith: Unto The Stars - Gemini
A3: Earthling Society - Theme From A Vampire's Kiss
A4: Earthling Society - The Dream
A5: Earthling Society - Kiss Of The Vampire - Morning Glory
A5: Palace of Swords - Vicus Lemurum
B1: Dead Pylons - Theme From The Dead Pylons
B2: Dead Pylons - Osiris
B3: Dead Pylons - Dream Cargoes
B4: The Golden Cake Company - Thrum Mystique
B5: Palace of Swords - The Temple Of Golden Rays
C1: The Golden Cake Company - Arthurian
C2: Vert:x - A Floating Mass Of Metal And Heavy Electricity
C3: Vert:x - Bad Calibration
C4: Vert:x - Killer Beez
D1: Black Tempest - Energy Of Stars
D2: Frobisher Neck - Underwater Starblob

Strange Fish 3 is another double album, although this time all the artists are from the United Kingdom (Zenith: Unto The Stars, Earthling Society, Dead Pylons, Vert:x, Black Tempest, and Frobisher Neck all from England, Palace of Swords from Scotland, and The Golden Cake Company from Wales). Record one, side one opens with Palace of Swords' "Live At The Aberdeen Witch Trials 1597" which with its repeated drum pattern and swirling keys feels like a summons to a gallows. "Gemini" by Zenith: Unto The Stars furnishes the listener with more swirling synths and pads, plus an almost Arabian melody implying a sense of travel. The following three tracks on this side are a suite of tracks from Earthling Society with the umbrella title of "The Vampires Kiss". "Theme From A Vampire's Kiss" features nice dulcimer sounds and has almost an Ennio Morricone Western soundtrack feel to it. "The Dream" features gorgeous crystalline synths and sees Earthling Society mainman Fred Laird joined by Hilda Tittington on suitably vampire-esque vocals. "Kiss Of The Vampire - Morning Glory" seems to have conflicting rhythms at the same time - perhaps the music is meant to imply some sort of revelation but for me it doesn't seem to go anywhere until the acoustic guitar and "syntar" (?) are introduced into the mix for a mellow acoustic section. Oh, and recorders too! Palace of Swords opened this side of vinyl and they get to close it too with "Vicus Lemurum" consisting of a guitar loop and crystalline synth sounds (am I allowed to say "crystalline" again?), which together create magical circular patterns - musical fairy rings!

The first half of side two is given over to three tracks from Dead Pylons. The first is "Theme From Dead Pylons" and sounds like something the late lamented BBC Radiophonic Workshop might have created. It certainly has that horror/Sci-Fi cinematic quality to it. "Osiris" has an exciting and original electronic rhythm and bass guitar line; it's as if experimental electronic meets dub! It even has that melodica sound that reggae/dub producers love so much. "Dream Cargoes" has a lazy dreamy feel and perhaps a more authentic "kraut" sound than many of the other tracks here. On to The Golden Cake Company and "Thrum Mystique" which sees layers of arpeggiated synth and echoed guitar collaborating to create a wall of sound. The resultant spacey sounds are quite trance inducing, whilst subtle melodies, FX and changes in texture don't allow it to stray too far into a totally ambient soundscape. Palace of Swords again provide the side's closing piece. "The Temple Of Golden Rays" features more repetitive synth loops and pads, overlaid with subtle melodies. It sounds like a piece from one of FM3's Buddha Machines.

Side three opens and we're back again with The Golden Cake Company and a piece entitled "Arthurian". Once again, I detect a Gong "space rock" influence here in the intro with weird synth whooshes and glissando guitar. It noodles along for a while without a melody emerging then an arpeggiator starts up over some guitar gliss creating a subtle melody of sorts. It has all the right ingredients but this cake isn't quite as golden as I'd have liked. The remainder of this side of vinyl is given over to Vert:x, actually a one-man band comprised of Neil Whitehead who records using basic 4-track analogue equipment. "A Floating Mass Of Metal And Heavy Electricity" consists of sub-bass rumble and the by-now obligatory "spacey sounds". Unfortunately it's all a bit too abstract for my tastes. "Bad Calibration" is better, with guitar and bass and a good old-fashioned motorik beat. The use of "basic 4-track analogue equipment" is apparent here with the general lo-fi nature of the recording; nevertheless it feels all the more fitting for krautrock style music. Perhaps it's more La Dusseldorf than Neu! but it's definitely one of the better tracks in this set. "Killer Beez" fades in slowly and could be variation or remix of the previous piece with some serious phasing/flanging going on. (In fact, because of the nature of the music it took me a while to realise that a lot of fluff had built up on my stylus and the record was skipping. There was me thinking it was homage to Neu! 2, side two!)

Side four consists of just two pieces. Black Tempest's "Energy Of Stars" is nearly 13 minutes in length and features the usual spacey sounds juxtaposed with flutes, synth pads, etc, and after a couple of minutes along comes the inevitable arpeggiated synth part, plus what sounds like a violin melody (electric violin perhaps?) then some vibey/piano sounds. The rhythm could almost be taken directly from the middle section of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn". Around the middle of the piece, the arpeggiator fades out and we're left with pads and spacey sounds. The resultant effect is a little like listening to an organ in a cathedral... before some wild synths enter the mix and things start to get very busy. I fancy there are choral voices being used here too (mellotron or modern equivalent perhaps?), but soon the whole dies away to reveal a simple piano motif before the piece comes to a close. The second and last track on this side - and indeed the final piece on Strange Fish 3 - is by a name that should be familiar to most collectors of Fruits De Mer Records product, Frobisher Neck a.k.a. Tony Swettenham. "Underwater Starblob" has an organic almost "backwards" feel to it (use of melloton, tape loops and backwards echo on some of the sounds). It manages to very nicely set up an atmosphere; a rich and intriguing collage of sounds. Supposedly there was a sitar in the mix too, but my ears couldn't pinpoint it.

A1: The Cat Frequency - Dreaming Of A Wooden Fish
A2: Organic Is Orgasmic - Chinese Horoscope
A3: Organic Is Orgasmic - Lifeless Void
A4: Zenith: Unto The Stars - Juno Quartet
A5: Zenith: Unto The Stars - Con Bala
A6: The Vox Humana - Shortwave Radio And The Ionosphere
B1: James McKeown - Avebury
B2: James McKeown - Euclid Dreaming
B3: James McKeown - Ursa Minor
B4: James McKeown - Sublime Knight Elect
B5: Temple Music - Dreaming of Flying East
B6: The Bordellos - Spirals

Other than Russia's Organic Is Orgasmic, Strange Fish 4 consists solely on British acts with only The Vox Humana representing Wales and all the other acts being English. The Cat Frequency open the proceedings on side 1 with "Dreaming Of A Wooden Fish" (a suitable catty title) which is an organic sounding piece with picked acoustic and electric guitars, having a sitar-like quality, and maybe there was some backwards guitar in there too? Organic is Orgasmic have two pieces in a row here: "Chinese Horoscope" features a wah-wahed guitar over a synth melody and some earthy-sounding bass, and "Lifeless Void" has bubbling synths, pads and some weird pitch shifting effects. Next up comes a pair of tracks from Zenith: Unto The Stars: "Juno Quartet" has a lush ambient spacey feel and builds nicely in intensity as the piece progresses and fades away again. "Con Bala" again starts with ambient pads, with a voice-like sound, and gives me the impression of hanging in space and slowly drifting. The Vox Humana's "Shortwave Radio And The Ionosphere" closes side one with more delicate picked acoustic guitar over a slow bass synth backing and various strange sounds in the mix (apparently MiniDisc loops and 10-band transistor radio receiver). A delicate synth melody line is picked out whilst a distorted electric guitar occupies the sonic territory in the background. The human voices from the radio receiver are quite welcome having listened to so much instrumental music on these albums.

Onto the final side then. Side two features four tracks in a row from James McKeown. "Avebury" is a repeating acoustic guitar and bass pattern overlaid with some swirly synths. "Euclid Dreaming" has more acoustic guitar, bass, and a glockenspiel melody making for a delicate dream-like quality. "Ursa Minor" showcases more of McKeown's acoustic guitar playing, with some EBow guitar providing counter-melodies in the background. "Sublime Knight Elect" sees acoustic guitar and various effects, more EBows, distorted guitar and picked individual notes all combining to give a hazy effect. The reference of "Oblique Strategies and tape" in the sleevenotes is lost on me here. The penultimate track is by Temple Music and it took me a while to realise that I wasn't still listening to the previous artist's work. "Dreaming of Flying East" has more acoustic guitar picking over a synth backing. It has quite a whimsical feel, and some spacey FX (I wondered what had happened to them) part way through. Finally, The Bordellos' "Spirals" is a stripped back keyboard "lament"-like melody. I'm not sure what happened to the guitars, bass, percussion and harmonica mentioned in the sleeve notes.

To be brutally honest, listening to so many sides of instrumental music for this review was hard work. I wasn't overly keen on Strange Fish 4, particularly side 2: all the tracks were very samey, and I think it may have been better to have positioned these elsewhere within the series so that they were juxtaposed against tracks of a different style.

Perhaps also for my own tastes the music on the whole was too "progressive" in style and not "krautrock" enough. Although I appreciate that "krautrock" is a very broad church, personally I like acts like Neu!, Harmonia, Cluster, Can, Faust, but I absolutely cannot abide the likes of Amon Duul (I and II), who to my ears sound just like American hippy shit rather than a musical style that could only have evolved in post WWII Germany. Maybe, this is a fault in my own tastes, but give me some good old motorik beats and a one-chord guitar riff and I'm happy. For myself I would have condensed this whole set of records down into a double album. I feel there is a lot of filler. It's not that there are any bad tracks included as such, it's just that a lot of it was OK when I wanted it to be AMAZING. I would have liked to have heard more vocals too. I mean, krautrock often had vocals, so why not?

Because I bought these albums as a set, I also got a free copy of Strange Fish 5 - a compilation of further pieces by even more bands but this time on a CD. I confess that I've not yet got around to listening to it. Also, because I put my order in early, the set also came with a very limited 7" 33rpm EP including a couple of edited highlights ("Euclid Dreaming" by James McKeown and "Song 4" by Julie's Haircut which was retitled on the actual album, although I forget which of the piece it was) and on the other side there is "Song From The River" by The Soft Hearted Scientists - it's a song from their new album False Lights and strangely is a track that was not included on the Fruits De Mer Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists double vinyl LP compilation from earlier in the year. What's more - this track had vocals - which was most welcome!

The strange fish artwork on the album covers and record labels was all very nicely realised, but I do feel the packaging was still a little too bleak. It would have been nice to have had pictures of the participating artists on the back covers for example. Also, I realise that the choice of black and white swirled coloured vinyl was to fit in with the black and white scheme of the cover art, but swirl black and white together and what do you get? Grey! It's not the most exciting of colour schemes is it? (And why out of six records, was only Strange Fish LP 1 almost completely white?) Black and white half and half records would have looked much nicer, but perhaps they'd have worked out as a more expensive option.

Anyway, there's a lot more information and soundclips over on the Fruits De Mer website, and I believe each of the volumes are still available either singly or as a set (the set comes in its own outer sleeve too) so if this style of music appeals to you why not give them a whirl?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Camera - Systeme Solare 12" EP

2013 Bureau B, MS 977196 BB139

A1: Skylla
A2: Meteor
B1: Skylla (Remix by Solyst)
B2: Meteor (Remix by Alvin B. Clay)

This white vinyl 12" EP by Camera is the other Record Store Day 2013 release from Bureau B that I referred to in my recent review of that label's other three releases for RSD 2013.

Camera are a German band producing modern-day "krautrock" or "space rock" styled instrumental music. The trio behind the Camera - Franz Baargmann on guitar, Tim Brockmann on keyboards, and Michael Drummer on drums (with a name like that he must have felt compelled to take up that particular instrument) - have been making such a big impression on the "kosmische" music scene that a certain Mr Michael Rother (Kraftwerk, Neu!, Harmonia) has joined them on stage on several occasions. Their debut album Radiate! was released in 2012 by Bureau B and offers a fantastic slice of the genre; I'd recommend it to anyone keen on progressive instrumental rock.

This EP, however, was recorded at session in February 2013 and sees the trio joined by bassist Shaun Mulrooney who is credited on the Radiate! album only as "Invisible Man", so I'm guessing he's just an occasional band member.

"Skylla" offers much promise opening with a Tangerine Dream-like analogue synth pattern and then delivers magnificently as an insistent drum beat kicks in and is joined by bubbling synthesiser melodies intertwining around one another whilst a plaintive lead motif (not sure if it's another synth or else an EBow guitar or similar) provides a sense of melancholy amidst the maelstrom. The track rushes to a climax with grinding guitar added to the mix before the whole thing rapidly dissolves away to nothing.

"Meteor" effectively gives us more of the same, but ratcheted up a notch. With an arpeggiated synth groove, crashing drums and guitars it feels like the band are going for it at full throttle. Guitar feedback squeals give the track a very "live" feel; I can't help but think if ever The Jesus & Mary Chain decided to produce a kosmische song it would sound something like this.

On side two we get the same two tracks again, but this time in remixed versions. "Skylla (Remix by Solyst)" brings in a new bass motif and moves with a much more relaxed pace than the original track. It's also more atmospheric with emphasised percussion sounds and a new plucked string melody line. This time the whole track dissolves in a minor cacophony of radio interference and static.

"Meteor (Remix by Alvin B. Clay)" offers a more predictable "thud thud thud thud" four-to-the-floor dancefloor filler style, and probably features much less of the original source material than the first remix on this EP. It's a bit of a stomper but somehow manages to retain the atmosphere and urgency of the original.

Although this was a Record Store Day 2013 release limited to 700 copies, Bureau B still have a few copies available via their website. If synth-based instrumental kosmische music is your thing, snap one up soonest!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Goat - Stonegoat/Dreambuilding 7" single

2013, Rocket Recordings, LAUNCH058

A: Stonegoat
AA: Dreambuilding

I've been meaning to write about Goat, the Swedish tribal voodoo hippie world funk collective, since the conception of this blog. Their album World Music released in 2012 has to be one of the most original records I've encountered in many years, whilst an album's worth of remixes of "Run For Your Mama" spread over two 12" Record Store Day 2013 releases are also worthy of their own blog item. However, for this particular blog post, I am going to focus on Goat's brand new, hot-off-the-press, double A-side single Stonegoat/Dreambuilding. For the serious collector there are actually three distinct pressings of this single, as it has already been released by Stranded Records in Sweden on 12" white vinyl, and by Sub-Pop Records in the USA on 7" black vinyl. The releases also differ in that the Swedish and USA editions both have "Dreambuilding" on Side 1 and "Stonegoat" on side 2, but the UK release has reversed this.

My copy is the UK release from Rocket Recordings (distributed by Cargo Records), and is a 7" single on green vinyl... which was weird because the press releases I've seen for this record said it was going to be pressed onto purple vinyl (which would have been a better match for the sleeve artwork). I couldn't tell you whether this was a last minute colour change, or if purple vinyl copies also exist. [EDIT: according to the Rocket Recordings blog, there were 200 copies pressed on white vinyl and 800 on purple vinyl. No mention is made of green vinyl.]

But never mind the packaging, what's the music like? Those familiar with World Music would have some idea what to expect. Plenty of tribal-style percussion and drumming, frenzied half-chanted/half-sung female vocals, and some glorious fuzz guitar. "Stonegoat" is a slice of tribal psychedelia informed by Led Zeppelin, with a 1960s fuzztone rhythm guitar overlaid with with an insistent guitar/bass riff before Goat's priestesses chime in with a semi-deranged vocal delivery. And - as if all that fuzz guitar wasn't already enough - in kicks a seriously fuzzed-out guitar solo, and with that it's all over and done and the stylus hits the run-out grooves at the centre of the record.

"Dreambuilding" is swiftly propelled along by an urgent harmonised wah-wahed guitar riff over an articulate fuzz bass, punctuated by the priestesses' almost-childlike vocals and a myriad of crazed percussion. The whole thing feels like a highly agitated voodoo ritual ceremony, the culmination of which is another blissed-out guitar solo. Once again the song is over far too quickly, with the listener being left feeling they are the survivor of a unexpected hurricane which has just passed overhead, and clinging to the wreckage of their auditory senses.

Currently available from Cargo Records. The other editions I mentioned may still be available.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Link Wray - Stuck In Gear

1975, Virgin Records, V2050

A1: Southern Lady
A2: Tecolote
A3: Quicksand
A4: I Know You're Leaving Me Now
A5: Did You See The Man
B1: Midnight Lover
B2: Cottoncandy Apples
B3: BoJack
B4: Jack The Ripper (live)

Here's a relatively rare LP record by legendary guitarist and rock'n'roll cult figure Link Wray, the guy who invented the power chord, who first experimented with guitar distortion (reputedly by puncturing his amp's speakers with a pencil), and whose 1958 single "Rumble" was banned for supposedly inciting violence, which you have to admit is no mean feat for an instrumental!

Indeed, Link Wray concentrated on instrumental guitar music early on in his career. Having contracted tuberculosis during service in the Korean war, he had a lung removed in hospital and was told that he wouldn't be able to sing. However, after having a string of instrumental hits in the late 50s and early 60s, he did indeed start singing on his records, revealing a very pleasant baritone voice with perhaps a hint of the King himself.

Acclaimed guitarists such as Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend cite Wray as a major influence. When you think of who those guys influenced in turn, you have to concede that the history of the guitar could have turned out quite differently without him.

But to return to the record in question, Stuck In Gear was released in 1975 by Virgin Records in the UK, having been recorded on The Manor Mobile at Ridge Farm, near Dorking in England. It seems strange that such an iconic American guitarist should have come all the way to the UK to record an album, but I guess that was part of the deal he'd struck with Virgin Records.

Side one kicks off with "Southern Lady" and true to its title is a great slice of Southern Rock (even if it was recorded in Dorking), with fluid bass lines, understated piano and organ, a rather nifty stereo effect on the drums, and of course Link's intricate guitar playing. In fact the solo takes up best part of the second half of the song. I can't quite place who his vocals remind me of... perhaps somewhere between Gerry Rafferty and Roy Wood.

"Tecolote" (which is apparently a Spanish terms derived from Classical Nahuatl, and I think it means "Owl" but don't quote me on that) has a native American "tribal" feel to the intro and bridge, which feels appropriate as I believe Wray had native American ancestry. The song again launches into one of Wray's classic guitar solos, with some quite incredible use of the vibrato arm.

"Quicksand" is quite a standard boogie of a track and features a gorgeous harmony guitar solo (isn't that an oxymoron? I guess he doubled the solo in different complimentary intervals), and "I Know You're Leaving Me Now" is a country-esque ballad complete with pedal steel and which very nicely demonstrates the sheer power of Wray's vocals, which sound remarkably Elvis-like here.

"Did You See The Man" wraps up side one with its carnival atmosphere and more Presley-esque vocals, and even a sax solo just in case we were in danger of suffering guitar overload!

Side two begins with the highlight of the record. At 6.05, "Midnight Lover" is the album's longest piece and it's a cracker. The lyrics sound kinda cheesy, "I'm your midnight lover / I'm your midnight man..." but Wray pulls it off effortlessly without a hint of irony, and besides the lyrics are right at home here for this is a funk song. We've got a funky bassline, funky rhythm guitar and keyboard counterpoints, and then (I'm trying to avoid saying "funky" again) there are Wray's guitar riffs and solos a-plenty throughout the song, with some more impressive string bends on that vibrato arm. There's even a proto-rap spoken word section over a lone drum beat in the middle of this song. It's got it all! As I say, best track on the album - absolutely LOVE IT.

"Cottoncandy apples" starts off as a slower-paced piano-led ballad with Wray's vocals once again informed by The King, but half-way through the drums and bass kick in and the track moves up a gear (as opposed to being "stuck in gear"). Even though it has vocals ("My name is BoJack / And they call me Smokestack"), "BoJack" is informed by Wray's own instrumental pieces from earlier in his career what with its opening pentatonic guitar riff. It also features a crazy off-the-wall guitar solo, before changing tack completely for a piano and organ bridge reminiscent in style to the previous piece on the record.

Finally, the album's closer seems almost like an after-thought tagged onto the end of the record to make up the running time. It's the kind of piece you'd more likely expect as a bonus track on a CD, rather than on a non-compilation vinyl album. It's a live version of Wray's classic instrumental piece, "Jack The Ripper", recorded at The Lyceum in London. Even though it's placement here on this album is somewhat bizarre, it has heaps of attitude and bucketloads of feedback. There's a very odd "solo" section featuring a low rumble of feedback over drums towards the end of the piece - I'd love to know exactly what Wray was doing with his guitar there.

All in all, it's a very fine album with not a duff track in sight, and proof that Link Wray was not only a very fine guitarist but he could sing pretty damn well too. Alas, he passed away in 2005 at the age of 76. I mentioned earlier that this LP is relatively rare, and I know it's quite sought after by Wray's fans. It's never been reissued on vinyl or - amazingly - even on CD. The only way to get a copy is to track down an original pressing second-hand somewhere. I found my copy several years ago on eBay; I believe I paid approx £35 for it, but it's such a good record that I thought it was well worth the price. I was going through a serious Link Wray phase at the time and had even tracked down an original Yamaha SG-3 guitar which was as close as I could find to Wray's infamous "Screamin' Red" (which was actually a Yamaha SG-2).

Why this album has never been re-issued is quite beyond me; it's almost criminal! Track down a copy if you can!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sparks - Kimono My House

1974, Island Records, ILPS 9272

A1: This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us
A2: Amateur Hour
A3: Falling In Love With Myself Again
A4: Here In Heaven
A5: Thank God It's Not Christmas
B1: Hasta Mañana Monsieur
B2: Talent Is An Asset
B3: Complaints
B4: In My Family
B5: Equator

Kimono My House is the 3rd album for Sparks, but was the first of a trio of albums they made for Island Records in the mid 1970s when the brothers Ron and Russell Mael had relocated from Los Angeles to the United Kingdom, with a band they put together using British musicians.

This particular vinyl copy of the album was given to me a few years ago by a friend who had bought it in a car boot sale. The condition of the record is practically mint, both the record itself and the packaging. I don't think the record had even been played before. It just goes to show that there are excellent finds to be had at car boots, in charity shops, and the like.

This album is a classic. I already owned a copy on CD, but it was a real treat to hear it as intended on vinyl. The first track is Sparks' best known song, the fantastic "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us", a song that I never tire of hearing. I recall when the single came out, we thought, "Wow, what was that?" as Russell Mael's falsetto vocal performance and rapid lyric delivery was something quite special, and not like anything we'd heard before. Add to that the Top Of The Pops appearances during which Ron Mael on keyboards just looked bizarre, not just his appearance, all dapper with Chaplin-esque moustache, but also in his facial expressions which made it appear that he'd rather be anywhere else at that moment in time. They were certainly an act that caught the attention!

"This Town..." finishes and immediately "Amateur Hour" starts up. Those two songs just sound right together. "Amateur Hour" was another single and discusses teenage urges and fumblings, warning that to be accomplished sexually is something that has to be worked at, that "It's a lot like playing the violin / You cannot start off and be Yehudi Menuhin".

This is one of the reason I love Sparks so much. Their humour, witty lyrics, word-play, wicked observations and view of the world. And they aren't just lyrically brilliant, the tunes are first class too, with a lot of interplay between vocal lines and instrumental riffs and motifs. Ron Mael, Sparks' principal song smith, must be one of the finest composers that popular music has ever seen.

"Falling In Love With Myself Again" is typical of Sparks' sometimes absurdist humour. Sparks would later return to the theme of such narcissistic tendencies on their 2002 album Lil' Beethoven with the song "I Married Myself" - I guess it could be seen as a sequel to "Falling In Love With Myself Again". (In 2004, I saw Sparks play a show at London's Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown Festival as curated by Morrissey, where they performed both albums Kimono My House and Lil' Beethoven in their entirety - I remember Russell's comment that we should "compare and contrast").

"Here In Heaven" is a tale of two lovers who have made a suicide pact, told from the viewpoint of the only one of the pair who had actually gone through with the act. Who else but Sparks could write and deliver a love song with lyrics: "Up here in heaven without you / It is hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here / For years and years and years"?

"Thank God It's Not Christmas" - an anti-Christmas song... Brilliant! As anyone who has worked in retail will know, having listened to endless loops of festive music at that certain time of year, a song with this sentiment is awfully appealing.

Side Two kicks off with "Hasta Mañana Monsieur", a Russell and Ron Mael joint composition celebrating wordplay, and which is also the source of the album's title. Considering at the time this record came out Sparks were popular with a pre-pubescent and young teenage audience, you have to wonder what these fans made of lines such as "You mentioned Kant and I was shocked / You know where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues".

"Talent Is An Asset" is the story of child genius Albert (Einstein?) and his over-bearing family. One has to wonder if this song may be partially autobiographical, the brothers Mael having been child actors/models. "Complaints" and "In My Family" are quite straightforward Sparks songs with no apparent hidden agendas, depths nor meanings, but are beautifully composed vignettes all the same, the latter delivering the delicious line "Gonna hang myself / From my family tree".

The album closes with "Equator", on which Russell really pushes himself vocally with the piece finishing with some acapella, almost scat-style singing.

Of course, CD editions contain bonus tracks: the single b-sides "Barbecutie" and "Lost And Found", plus live tracks on later CD reissues, but really the essence of the album is provided by the 10 songs on the original vinyl record. It's perfectly formed as it is. Standout tracks? All of them! They are all brilliant, the album flows naturally from one song to the next, they got everything right with this record, the tracklisting, the running order, the lyrics, the music, the quality of the musicianship. All is absolutely first class.