25 May 2017

The Black Watch – The Gospel According to John


Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

For more than 30 years, The Black Watch have been flying under the radar of even the mainstream indie community, quietly releasing album after album of accomplished guitar-based indie rock. They’ve developed a dedicated cult following of people who seem to only share their music with the folks who they believe will love the band as much as they do.

But The Black Watch don’t want to be a secret, and The Black Watch shouldn’t be a secret; they should be a band that is just as well-known and just as beloved as any of their more-celebrated jangle pop cohorts. Their 15 th album, “The Gospel According to John” is another brilliant collection of impeccable indie rock that should, hopefully, gain them a wider audience.

While it’s not an offering that makes any radical changes to their well-established, jangling, vaguely psychedelic pop sound, there has been one noticeable tweak: the increased—and more-aggressive—presence of the guitars. There are simply more of them, and they are more immediately demanding of your attention.

Much of this change can be attributed to new guitar player Andy Creighton (The World Record), whose layers of effects-washed guitars carry echoes of Ira Kaplan’s (Yo La Tengo) affecting, slightly-off key moaning. It’s a sound that takes up a lot of space in the mix, but still provides a fine compliment to songwriter/bandleader John Frederick ‘s melodies and faux-British- accented vocals.

A perfect example is in album opener “Whence”, which kicks off with a wall of guitars so forceful that it pinned me to the wall before quickly dropping down to something a little more gentle. But, even after the dynamic shift, there remained layers: guitars chiming on the top of the mix, on equal footing with the vocals, leaving another layer of fuzz floating, menacingly, below the surface.

“Way Strange World” follows in much the same manner, with the guitars simultaneously playing off of both the vocal line and the rhythm section. The influence of the great NYC band Television is another obvious point of reference.

There is not much change in mood or sound throughout the album, but that’s okay. The band sets an immersive tone and carries the listener along on a wave of sound for 37 minutes of bliss, before dropping them off at the end of the line, with the chiming, propulsive “Satellite”.

It’s the same band, that you have (or should have) known since the 80s, but this time their terrific songs are colored with wider sonic palate and more adventurous harmonic constructions than ever before. Think not just of Yo La Tengo, but also of Eleventh Dream Day, and other post-rock- type outfits of the 1990s. It’s a lot to take in, but there is something new to hear every time you put the record on. So, my recommendation is to put this one on often.

And then go back and discover the 14 more great albums that The Black Watch has put out since the 1980s.

And now you’re in on the secret, too!

11 May 2017

King Black Acid - Twin Flames


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Daniel Riddle's King Black Acid are one of Portland's longest running psychedelic collectives. My knowledge of their output is limited and doesn't reach beyond their exploratory mid nineties output, so this new three track EP is a major surprise to me. Granted, twenty plus years have passed, but gone is the free-form space-rock of the likes of "The Wombstar Session" or the Frippian guitar textures of "Royal Subjects", replaced with carefully structured and intricate songcraft. This evolution will presumably come as less of a surprise to those who've been keeping tabs on a more regular basis than myself, but I trust they'll be just as impressed as I am by the contents of "Twin Lights".

This is a richly textured, lush production with meticulously crafted songs which suggest the direction My Morning Jacket might have taken had they embraced Pink Floyd in place of Prince. I doubt this is what Gram Parsons had in mind when he coined the term cosmic American music, but the cap certainly fits here.

Unusually in the current musical climate, nothing is in a rush here and these three lengthy tracks would be in danger of meandering in lesser hands, but here their unhurried pace is a virtue, creating a hypnotic tapestry that I found irresistable. The production deserves a mention too - it's almost as much of a star here as Riddle's songs. Check out the intro to "Headful of You" for a masterclass in slow-motion, free-falling lusciousness. And the chorus positively soars - great song.

The title track continues in this vein, adding a bit of a "Cold Roses" era Ryan Adams and the Cardinals vibe to it. This creates an intriguing dichotomy between the Earthbound and the ethereal which should collapse in on itself in the messiest of fashions, but maintains its balance perfectly.

Lovely stuff.

You can hear the title track below. CD and digital available here.

4 May 2017

Dulls - Moon Violet


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

On last year’s self-titled debut (reviewed here), Philadelphia’s Dulls took a lighter touch to both their shoegaze and alternative-era leanings; they preferred, it seemed, to let space between voicings develop the theme throughout. But on this year’s Moon Violet, the band puts guitar-centered hooks at the forefront, channeling their grittier predecessors of the DIY genres – even with standout-track, “New Dream,” which, in other hands, might be a slow-burner but builds, here, to a dense pay off in the chorus that’s deserving of an angry sing-along. Moon Violet is another promising step for Dulls, exploring similar terrain as their debut while taking a few risks along the way – perhaps, in part, thanks to recording and mixing by John Ceparano of The Stargazer Lilies, whose own albums value similar balances between lush passages and the very human slide of the fingers across guitar strings.

The opening track, “View,” feels familiar from the start: a single guitar, lightly reverbed though heavily strummed through the progression. The result – when the whole band comes in – refuses to crowd the song with pummel and force, rather Dulls extends the simplicity, whether through a few accent leads or a tight rhythm; further still, when the layers drop away for the verse, the space left behind still hums with strength of the intro. This serves as the model for Dulls: lean all the way in and pull back to give perfect contrast.

Both releases from Dulls have been short, but, in so few songs, the band has proven their careful consideration, curating each release to their format (in both cases, cassette) and their ideal listeners, ones looking for mature reflections of legendary acts that still resonate – and maybe more so now – and conversations with those long-standing musical heroes. Perhaps four songs is the perfect tactile experience for listening, creating a balance and natural split. This level of consideration is somehow imbued in both releases; both feel meticulously plotted while still embracing the nuances of each musician’s contributions.

“Moon Violet” is available digitally or on limited-edition cassette below. This one just gets better with every listen. So, let it play through again; any good tape deck will do.

Highly recommended.

3 May 2017

David Colohan - A Melbourne Nocturne

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

David Colohan continues his steady creative flow with ‘A Melbourne Nocturne’, a delicate yet quietly epic piece of work that contains echoes of his previous releases with Raising Holy Sparks, United Bible Studies and Look To The North whilst also staking out new ground and travelling into territory uniquely his own. Available originally as a limited cassette from PSI Lab (now sold out) this release can now be fortunately be found on Colohan’s Bandcamp site and a good thing too; to miss out on something this exploratory, immersive and affecting would be a genuine loss. Recorded between Melbourne, Ballymahon & Southampton, Colohan describes the birth and cultimation of the piece as ‘(coming) to light amongst the moongazing crowd that had gathered outside Labour In Vain on Melbourne's Brunswick Street during the lunar eclipse of July 16th, 2000, before finally manifesting itself on the Summer Solstice of June 20th, 2016’. Indeed there are several themes and motifs that run through the collected pieces on this album that speak of something lunar, celestial and perhaps also the tension between gazing at the sky whilst being tethered and earthbound.

'A Melbourne Dreaming' opens the album with a reverberated choir of voices, a stillness and a sense of the sacred that is both arresting and deeply beautiful. This slowly fades into 'Yarra Yarra, River of Mists', a spoken word piece recounting the (psycho)geography of the land framed with atmospheric bursts of Matt Leivers' soprano saxophone and Colohan's drifting, analogue synth. There are elements of Tangerine Dream's 'Phaedra' here, Popol Vuh's 'Aguirre' and Terry Riley's 'A Rainbow Curved In Air'; a cosmiche and intuitive landscape of sound conjured through echoed vocals and vintage electronics. The choral element returns for 'A Circle Of Chalk Surrounds The City', a hum and murmur of voices surrounding the yearning, keening vocal creating a sense of vastness and ancient leylines imbued in the dry earth. Next, 'Moonrise Over Mount Burnett' paints a vivid image of the heat and the haze in the antipodean dusk, swells of synth and drifting saxophone suggestive of the twilit colours and humid air. 'Moon Fades Over Fitzroy' is a polyphony of voices, a psalm to the living, breathing continent whilst 'Fiona Paints The Starlight Dark' is a gorgeous, night sky symphony of melancholy strings, a lament to a memory long gone. A bell signals 'The Last Tram Home' as both organ and modular synth pulse and rattle their way forward, narrating the night-time journey. Peals of saxophone add to the emerging cityscape as the circling electronics suggest motion and travel. 'Shell Middens, Scarred Trees, Fish Traps, Mounds And Quarries' follows, a communal mass of choral parts combining to create something at once both celestial and deeply human, a sense of stretching out for the stars. Exquisitely beautiful, there are hints of Lisa Gerrard to be found here as well as perhaps Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. 'A Circle Of Stars Surrounds St Kilda' swirls in to view on banks of quiet wind and waves of electronica, a gentle sadness pervading. Likewise 'The Fire, Where We Once Lived' breaths an air of solemnity, voices wordlessly calling out into the darkness, pained at times, rapturous at others. Colohan is an expert story teller through sound, this is effectively an instrumental album and yet it feels as if the listener knows exactly the images he is intending to illustrate and the precise mood of the tales he tells. 'Fionnuala Dreams The Desert Closer' buzzes into life, its modular harmonies, swells and rises pulled as much from deep within Colohan's memories and psyche as from his keyboards. Truly affecting, this is music for late at night; the liminal times. The album closes with 'Towards The Southern Aurora', a delicate and breathtaking vocal piece that both haunts and enraptures, speaking to the ghosts of the surrounding landscape. It is a fittingly atmospheric piece to conclude these travels (and there is a sense of having journeyed, this being a record of Colohan's impressions of Australia and the lasting memories impressed upon him by the land).Additionally, should an alternative soundtrack to the heat stricken, strange dreamscape of 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' ever be required, this is it.

‘A Melbourne Nocturne’ then is an album which dares to reach its hand out to the night sky and to feel the awe and dread that this act involves. It also recognises and contains the beauty, transcendence and despair that comes with acknowledging the vastness of the universe around us and translates this into some of the most affecting music you will hear. Seek this recording out; turn your eyes to the sky.

15 Apr 2017

Jon Brooks - Autres Directions


Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ah, Spring 2017 is almost fully upon us and like the blooming daffodils, Clay Pipe Records has emerged from hibernation to herald the real new year with another beautifully evocative offering from Jon Brooks. As with Jon's previous outings on the label ('52' and 'Shapwick') there is a strong sense of conceptualisation and sonic impressionism (or audio cinema verite if you like) that informs 'Autres Directions'. In this instance the new offering is inspired by time spent by its creator in Brittany and Normandy in northern France. And perhaps this sleek, beautiful organic, wonderfully alive and textured work is a prescient love letter from post-Brexit Britain to its soon to be divorced European counterpart?

Musically there is much to place the record in the ongoing artistic development of its author. Part episodic series of ethereal soundscape canvasses, part field recording driven hauntological essay, part ambient/prog reinterpretation of the kind of approach the likes of Pink Floyd, Harmonia or Eno were aiming for in the 1970's - In totality it reflects all of this whilst retaining its own robust identity and makes for a deeply immersive sonic experience that reveals great depth with repeated listens. Read on active listener, read on...

'Se Reveille' calls us to rise with a cluster of brightly repeated notes, concluding with the perfect intonation of our French ferry announcer advising us that our journey across La Manche is about to conclude, our arrival on the north coast of France imminent. We make landfall by 'Le Chateau' where gentle analogue waves lap on the shore beneath the castle walls. This is probably my favourite piece on the record with its warm droning filigree of notes evoking nothing simpler or more beautiful than beads of sunlight dancing on the gently crashing surf. Seagull sirens of sound float in and out of view rising upwards on the thermals of sound that swirl upward into a sunbaked blue sky. Imagine 'Big City' by the Spacemen 3 removed from its urban environment, slowed, stretched and relocated to a beautiful place of coastal countryside. It is a stunningly beautiful moment of teleportation on a consistently beguiling and absorbing record.

"PN_17" glides into view following the sound of a train passing before unfurling itself on the other side of the tracks to reveal a hushed afternoon meadow of sound punctuated with some lovely gently swaying tones and bird calls. Sounds swell, feedback builds and fades, pictures sharpen then dissolve.

The use of field recordings that capture distant voices inside a revolving 5 note synth wash on the title track manages the very difficult trick of being both very simple whilst entrancing the listener into a kaleidoscopic reverie of flashbacks entirely sourced from one's own memory banks - hauntology par excellence.It's final cluster of hazy, unintelligible voices close out the first side of the record in a strong and strangely cinematic fashion.

Side two opens with "L'ancienne Grange", a tightly wound melody with counterpoint set in a botanical garden of mysterious and exotic sounds - it has an almost hypnotic quality. "Lanverec" is a slow burn descending drone piece replete with bird calls and a somewhat sinister vibe to it that gives rise to thoughts of cloudy hillsides, overamped electricity pylons and shaded country lanes. It leaves the listener uncertain of the intended destination and definitely strikes hard as the most unsettling point on the record. "Centre Vile" follows, bringing some momentary focus with its soberingly sharp church bell introduction ringing out a note of awakening. This call to prayer is followed by washes of synth, bowed cymbals (I think) and drones that once more envelop and surround the listener. It's a pretty mesmerising scene, heavy with blankets of ambient sound that breathe slowly and deeply through the speakers.

Le depart arrives all too quickly with the brief and appropriately titled 'Sortie', its combination of field recordings and light drones transporting the listener effectively to the point of departure. The ferry announcers call is heard and closes the circle but on this ocassion the voices are distant, mysterious and unclear giving way a denouement is almost indetectable. We arrive back at our present location, unsure of where we have been but our perceptions changed by the journey we have completed. Therein lies the power at the heart of 'Autres Directions'.

So once again Clay Pipe release a compelling work of imagination and guile, another wonderfully evocative piece of work from Jon Brooks that may be his best solo outing thus far. Needless to say as with all Clay Pipe releases this is beautifully packaged in what I am interepeting as a wonderful collision of vintage Blue Note and Highway Code graphic artwork courtesy of the endlessly talented label owner Frances Castle (on a lovely fog coloured vinyl too). Equally needless to say, this limited vinyl run of 500 will almost certainly sell out with days of (pre)release so look sharp and grab a copy while you can. Au revoir mes amis.

Vinyl pre-orders are available from the label, and digital will be available directly from Mr Brooks on the release date of May 5th. Put it in your diary!

29 Mar 2017

Lamagaia - Lamagaia


Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

There are few bands around now that insist upon long-form songs; still, there are fewer that absolutely require just shy of twenty minutes to really express a contained, continuous and coherent idea. Gothenburg, Sweden’s Lamagaia make long songs feel necessary and effortless – even brief, in a way, by their continually vibrant, fresh take on Krautrock-inspired heavy psych; the two songs making up their proper debut, “Aurora” and “Panorama Vju”, are both one side of a 12”, but their urgency and pace have a way of shrinking their significant lengths to quick and potent doses.

With only a 7” and a self-released 12” to their name – both available from the band’s Bandcamp – Lamagaia is slowly but surely building their catalog; in so few tracks, the band has quickly and impressively built a brand, one of balanced fervor and outrageous composure. Their eponymous debut simply tills new tracts of the fertile ground. “Aurora” is a deft and dense track that, at first, feels so complete as it builds, the vocals – straightforward as they are, though masterfully effected – come as a surprise, almost unnecessary to the song’s fullness. It’s hard to find such welcome surprises in most listens.

“Panorama Vju,” undoes all the density and frenzy of its reverse side and spirals through a hazy and atmospheric exploration. The song really gets its legs five minutes in as it vaults a skyward, delay-heavy melody, only to let loose entirely through the remainder of the song with washes of guitar noise and manipulations. Co-released by Sunrise Ocean Bender and Cardinal Fuzz, get the vinyl or digital format of your choice on their respective Bandcamp pages.

Highly recommend this one.

27 Mar 2017

Barrett's Dottled Beauty - Owls In Her Eyes


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Here is something very special indeed. A collaboration between fellow ornithologists and Scottish sound technicians Gayle Brogan (of the wonderful Pefkin and Electroscope) and Alan Cynic (of the legendary and critically acclaimed Kitchen Cynics), 'Owls In Her Eyes'can be found 'nursing an obsession equally with Syd Barrett and lepidptera' within the grooves of this vinyl only release. Housed in a beautiful collage style sleeve designed by Alan himself, four lengthy but weightless and truly transcendent tracks take the listener from the coastal haar of Kitchen Cynic's native Aberdeen to the misty showers of Brogan's west coast. Indeed, there is much of a sense of nature and of a wild and weather stricken environment contained within the floating, drifting beauty of these hugely atmospheric, arcane and ambitious pieces.

'The Cynic, the Dipper and the Thrush' opens the album with harmonium drones and picked acoustic guitar, Barrett hued slide pulling the song into focus as Brogan's unearthly but startlingly beautiful vocals emerge from the morning haze. Cynic's deep Aberdonian brogue recites a delicate spoken word piece as shimmering cascades of guitar and analogue synth gently hover behind. An incantation to the land and to the seasons that is reminiscent of the ethereal yet earthy Fovea Hex, this is material to truly raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Midway, a descending guitar run and flanged vocal takes us deeper down the rabbit hole into a more cosmiche universe, something more madcap and lysergic before the song ends in a symphony of backwards tapes and voices. Next, 'Forvie' enters on a foundation of pulsating organ drones and subtle fuzz guitar that combined proves quietly effective. Brogan's vocals are again utterly striking and the track seems to have its own internal pulse and breath, wraith-like synth bleeps and vintage keyboard sounds pick out an unearthly and eerie melody from the glistening haze. Cynic's guitar builds to come to the fore along with a steady, insistent harmonium note before Brogan's layered vocals create a ghost filled, echoing choral resonance that seems to linger long after the track has finished. The album's title track comes next, repeated keyboard spirals and a deep humming herald a breathtaking duet between Cynic's emotive and haunting voice and Brogan's treated backing vocals. Droning psych guitar notes pierce through the washes of sound, slide guitar and strings weep and wander towards the stars; the result is akin to ancient Scots lament by way of the UFO Club in London's swinging 60s. Genuinely affecting and quite unique, this really has to be heard. Finally, 'The Rain Has Come In Misty Showers' starts with a melancholy, resonating keyboard pulse and Brogan's pensive and reverberating vocals, a deep sense of stormclouds overhead and the weathered landscape never far from mind. Indeed, a piece by visionary poet John Clare is recited, further emboldening a mood that seems rich and filled with the environment and its effects upon both the psyche and human condition. At once filled with beauty and dread, this is a heartbreaking piece that begs to be played somewhere wild, barren and windswept, preferably at dusk.

This album comes very highly recommended; fans of Pefkin and The Kitchen Cynics will both want to seek this out and for newcomers this serves as a different but equally fine entry point to both artists, providing you also seek out their rewarding back catalogues along the way. 'Owls In Her Eyes' is a veritable nestful of riches, do not let this pass you by but also do not delay; this release is limited to 80 copies complete with download code.

11 Mar 2017

The Avengers - Everyone's Gonna Wonder - Complete Singles....Plus


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While they're relatively unknown internationally - even to psych collectors - the Avengers were genuine stars here in New Zealand during the latter part of the sixties. Their versions of the Episode Six's "Love Hate Revenge" and David McWilliams "The Days of Pearly Spencer" still crop up regularly on classic hits radio and are regarded by many (myself included) as definitive.

This collection from New Zealand sixties reissue specialists Frenzy & RPM gathers up the the majority of the band's two pricey studio albums along with a few single sides and curios for the band's first international CD release.

Impressively, the band's legacy was all put to tape between 1967 and 1969, with the band's two studio albums and sole live album all released in one calendar year (1968).

Assembled by manager Ken Cooper as houseband for his club, "The Plaice", the Avengers were essentially a manufactured pop group, initially costumed in John Steed style suits and bowlers, with their extremely successful first single ("Everyone's Gonna Wonder") coming from an outside writer - Chris Malcolm. Fear not though, New Zealand Idol this is not; the band gelled quickly and soon proved themselves to be gifted performers, writers, and interpreters.

Not unusually for the time, their first album, "Electric Recording" threw a little bit of everything into the pot mixing pop, mod, beat and psychedelia in fairly equal measure, along similar lines to the first Aphrodite's Child album or early UK Bee Gees albums. As debuts go it's a very strong effort, but the best was yet to come.

"Medallion" may well be the best album to come out of the local sixties psychedelic scene, and is every bit as colourful and lurid as it's sleeve. New Zealand's studios at the time were pretty primitive so local attempts at psychedelia often fell a bit flat. That's certainly not the case here though; while the Avengers were definitely more on the pop-psych end of the spectrum rather than psych-pop, tracks like creepy stand-out "Midnight Visitation" stand up remarkably well production-wise against similar material recorded in more affluent UK based studios. Compare "Midnight Visitation" to the Yardbirds' "Turn to Earth" for a prime example of this.

There's not much missing from the two albums here and the extensive liner notes and top mastering make this a very fine substitute for those who don't have the $300 you'd have to lay down for nice original copies. Now let's do something about reissuing the live album "Dial Triple A, Alive! Avengers in Action", by all accounts a very exciting affair which sounds like it'd provide an intriguing counterpoint to these well tailored studio excursions.

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


9 Mar 2017

The Greek Theatre - Broken Circle


Reviewed by Kent Whirlow

The long-awaited second Greek Theatre LP has arrived! Lightning has indeed struck twice (thrice, if we're keeping count, as 2016's excellent The Sunniest Day EP, reviewed here, is surely not to be overlooked).

I am always hesitant to throw around terms like "instant classic", but this certainly fits the bill. The album kicks off with the wonderfully titled "Fat Apple (at About Noon)", which also happens to be the longest track on the LP, clocking in at over seven minutes and it really sets the stage for this beautiful record. For the initiated fan, within the first 30 seconds you will recognize that you are in familiar territory and in for a real treat (those unfamiliar with this brilliant Swedish outfit would do well to acquaint one's self with their first masterpiece here). Indeed, this is unmistakably The Greek Theatre that we know and love, a duo who have somehow managed to create a stunningly unique sound that I've not heard any contemporary band match. The guitar work is even better than ever, and that is saying something. As with all of their songs, there is a tremendous amount of depth and texture to the music. There is quite a bit going on, which is evident when you carefully listen to and study each track and start to understand how it somehow all blends together so seamlessly. This is psychedelic music at its very finest. There are some wonderful Folk, Country, and even Progressive Rock ingredients as well. However, dear listener, you may do yourself a favour and dispense with genres, labels, and any preconceived notions, as there is really no way to pigeon-hole the sound of this band. Just close your eyes and allow the music to take you to that special place that only music can do. The pacing of this opening track is brilliant; the introduction lures you in and it gradually starts to build, incorporating all sorts of instruments and arrangements and just takes off in a truly majestic flight. The trademark Greek Theatre vocals are firmly in place, buoyed by some outstanding interwoven guitar work.

"Paper Moon" will be instantly recognizable to those who have already had their ticket punched by way of their aforementioned "The Sunniest Day" EP, though a different version is present here with some new arrangements, resulting in a fuller sound this time around. Lovely swirling sounds in the background, beautiful harmony vocals which ring through clear as a bell, powerful drums, and some pretty mean bass playing are all components here. Again, some searing psychedelic guitar work takes center stage, along with some gentler acoustic guitar blended into the mix. "Still Lost Out At Sea" is the not-so-missing link to the classic first LP, both in terms of sound and, obviously, the title. A gentle, pastoral piece that is filled with reflection has a bit of a country feel to it, particularly in its slow shuffling, though subtle backbeat. It is uniquely punctuated by some sublime woodwinds. There is a terrific calming, contemplative mood woven into this track. The rhetorical question, "So, why am I lost out at sea?" cleverly recalls the lyric "Another year. lost out at sea" from the first album. However, make no mistake, this record is not merely "Lost Out at Sea, Part Two". The wonderful psychedelic journey continues, though what we have here is a brand new endeavor; this record clearly has its very own identity. The repeated lyric, "Love you even more..." somehow serves to reinforce the feeling of the record.

"Stray Dog Blues" marks the second appearance of a track first heard on "The Sunniest Day" EP, and as with "Paper Moon", it fits in perfectly with the album. A delicate masterpiece, we are treated to new mix of this track which differs from the EP version. Still present are the lovely female backing vocals in what appears to be a melancholic, though ultimately optimistic song offering up hope. In what I believe is the first instrumental piece from our beloved Greek Theatre, "1920" arguably serves as a short interlude that ties together the first and second parts of the record. Here we have some exquisite classical guitar work, with both a Spanish and Blues flavour sprinkled in. There is a careful dialog taking place between the various guitar parts here, a sort of unspoken story. It is, to me, unlike anything else in the Greek Theatre canon and one of the countless reasons to love this band so much - they are filled with so many surprises and cannot be nailed down in any singular way. The album's title track, "Broken Circle" fires up the aural cauldron for a delectable ambrosial psychedelic stew. There's a terrific driving organ that reminds this active listener just how important Rick Wright really was to Pink Floyd. I, for one, am waiting for the hour long out-take of this truly spellbinding jam, though I fear that particular dream may go unfulfilled. Things start to wind down into a calming, plaintive bridge with a lovely flute passage and the journey continues with a chorus of the song's title. A timeless, epic track, this is surely one of The Greek Theatre's finest moments. This piece is a testament to the power of music; there's an embarrassment of sonic riches somehow crammed into less than six minutes. The musicianship is truly stellar here, every little nuance is expertly crafted and fits together perfectly.

"Ruby-Khon" features some graceful layers of intertwined acoustic guitars and gentle, ethereal voices. Imagine yourself floating on a cloud and this is the perfect soundtrack to accompany you. And that may serve to exemplify what The Greek Theatre does so eloquently. They effortlessly take you to places where time and space cease to exist, they unlock that secret combination to one's imagination and allow you to be transported to a magical world. "Kings Of Old" begins with an almost unassuming introduction, but soon launches into a full-throttle psychedelic adventure, anchored by the record's most intense drumming. The album closes with "Now is the Time", which slowly winds things down and offers the lyric, "I saw you smile", which is outlined with cautious optimism and endless possibility. Soaring harmony vocals are joined by a splendid brass arrangement culminating in a grandiose farewell to a truly special record. If this is not the finest release from 2017, I'll gladly eat my hat.

Lastly, it must be noted that the production of this record is truly excellent, so if you're Bandcamping, don't short-change yourself with an mp3. Buy and download a lossless version and you'll be treated to a glorious 24-bit recording.

Vinyl available direct from the label here, digital through the Bandcamp link below:

3 Mar 2017

Leviathan - The Legendary Lost Elektra Album


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Mike Stuart Span may have a pretty formidable reputation in hindsight, but during their heyday they were somewhat down on their luck (as evidenced by the "A Year in The Life" documentary which is sporadically available on youtube). No surprise then that the boys leaped at the chance to record for the legendary Elektra label, something only one previous UK band (Eclection) had done at this point. Elektra head honcho Jac Holzman had a couple of conditions though; first and foremost a name change to a more monolithic moniker -Leviathan in this case - and while you're at it lads, how about a few heavy blues numbers ala Led Zeppelin?

With that in mind they set to work on a rather splendid album that was pulled at the last minute by Holzman and not released officially until 1990, and then only on vinyl. This release from Grapefruit Records represents its first release on CD and is very welcome indeed - particularly as it includes several previously unreleased recordings as extras.

Ironically the weakest cuts on offer here are the heavy blues numbers which come off as leaden and cumbersome, but they're a very small minority here with the bulk being made up of material from the Mike Stuart Span days, as well as newer material that aligns more closely to the Span's more convincing psychedelic tendencies.

The Span were unusual for the time in that they didn't have a psych-pop period in the wake of "Sgt Pepper's..." like the majority of their peers. Instead, there's was a gradual evolution from freakbeat to heavy psych, and as a result here, the guitars are pretty wild at times with barely restrained feedback and plenty of tasty tremolo bar abuse. The incendiary lead guitar riff that kickstarts Flames could even be mistaken for a vintage Iron Maiden song - perhaps a subliminal influence on "Aces High"?

Elsewhere, numbers like the moody epic "Time" show admirable restraint and depth that hints there could have been a lot more of interest in store had things panned out well for the band.

Holzman unceremoniously pulled the plug on the album at the last minute though and the rest, as they say, is history. History lessons are rarely this captivating though and Grapefruit Records are to be thanked for blowing the dust off of this tome. Recommended.

Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).