Tag Archives: Levitation

Nightmare pop

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‘…The four biggest British bands of the mid-nineties – Radiohead, Oasis, Blur and the Verve – had yet to release their iconic albums which would shape the course of the UK scene for the rest of the decade … Had this album been released as planned, it would have had a major impact on UK guitar music, standing shoulder to shoulder with the breakthrough albums by the bands mentioned above…’

…So reads the blurb on the Bandcamp website, thru which – in collaboration with Flashback Records – was realised the two decades-delayed release of Levitation’s ‘difficult second’. Like dead rock stars, ‘lost’ albums have a propensity for coalescing about them an impenetrable miasma of hyperbole and partial affection, fueled by a generally small but disproportionately loud and loquacious clique of devotees. Levitation attracted such a crowd back in the early ’90s, and deservedly so, in this writer’s opinion. Their early singles and EPs showed great promise, and debut album, Need For Not stands as one of the finest 45 minutes of rock music of that decade.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Meanwhile Gardens impressing the pop crowd in quite the same way as Definitely Maybe‘s meat-and-potatoes rock. Blur and Verve both played something of a long game, by contrast; taking their time to hone their sound for the masses (though not as long as Pulp!) as did Radiohead later. King Of Mice as Christmas #1? Nah.

It would be a shame, then, to allow such overbaked pontifications to obscure the fact that, yes, MG is a very good album and one which, like another unlikely group of one-time pop superstars, Marillion, deserves a fair hearing.

It’s a very different record to NFN. In some ways, it’s almost a backwards step: live favourites/single material such as Bedlam, Rosemary Jones and Purgatory had a looseness borne of the jam: not a million miles from early Verve, albeit angrier, more brooding. NFN by contrast, was a much tighter affair, albeit retaining that otherworldly feel which fans of ’60s/’70s psych/prog instantly latched onto. As an album it feels very complete; exploding out of the starting gates with Against Nature, World Around, Hangnail and Resist before settling into the ebbs and swells of a more melancholy second set. Closer, Coterie actually reminds me of nothing as much as Fields Of The Neph circa Elizium: all cascading drums and layered atmospheres, and a couple tracks aside, MG adopts that (latter) as an album-length blueprint. It has both sprawl and purpose in good measure.

When it falls down it’s not for the most obvious reasons: Food For Powder begins the album but feels like an ending; Even When Your Eyes Are Open is the sole concession to verse-chorus-verse-middle eight-chorus… ‘pop’ songwriting and so sticks out like a sore thumb. I would have relegated those tracks along with Never Odd Or Even/ Greymouth/Going Faster to the EP for a more harmonious feel acrosss both discs.

Those gripes aside, all the qualities a fan would expect and want to hear are present and correct: Dave Francolini and Laurence o’Keefe are/were the best rhythm section in indie rock, and their instinctive interplay underpins and propels this album much as it did NFN (and Dark Star‘s 20-20 Sound all the more seven years after). Bodiless, King Of Mice and Imagine The Sharks are brilliant examples of ‘songs’ that hang on questing, dynamic rhythms augmented by atmospheric touches from guitar and keys; not to mention some characteristic orchestration courtesy of CardiacsTim Smith during Magnifying Glass and Burrows.

And over all hangs Terry Bickers’ calculated anguish: background noise in his House Of Love days, now swimming gloriously to the fore.

MG is both recogniseably NFN‘s sequel but so much more, though ironically, it’s the judicial layering and sequencing of sound that takes it into – ethereal – new territory: like Talk Talk before them, and Radiohead a few years later.

Coolly sidestep nostalgia but make a point of (re)discovering this band before interest wanes. They need to regroup and get some gigs together.

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A Familiar stirring in The Wosp’s Nest

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(That’s not a typo, by the way 😉 )

http://www.ignatiarecordings.com/terrafamiliar.html

If you’re a music fan like I am, if music means as much (or nearly so) to me at forty-one as it did when you were a spotty sixth-former; then, like me you likely have a small, select mental roster of artists whose work exerts an almost black hole-like gravitational pull on you and your purse-strings. Your heart leaps at every scrap of information pertaining to their latest upcoming project and on release day – or these days, pre-order opening more likely – you’re first in the queue to click on that PayPal or KickStarter button; never mind that you’ve yet to hear a note of the promised new songs or that an electricity bill is imminent…

Along with – for me – Pet Shop Boys, Marillion, Steven Wilson, Neneh Cherry, Johnny Marr, Transatlantic, Scott Walker; Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes has become one such artist. You may know his work via his involvement with Cardiacs, Levitation, Dark Star, Panixsphere, Ring or his own previous solo releases as Mikrokosmos, and if those names ring a bell, you’ll quickly realise he’s a man with a nose for an interesting musical detour. As it happens, and incongruously, he also played live with PSBs when they toured their Release album, which demonstrates a certain chutzpah: one does not step lightly into Johnny Marr‘s shoes.

If previous Mikrokosmos releases are anything to go by, he’s no less interesting as a solo artist than as his contribution to the aforementioned projects might suggest. Both Mikrokosmos: In The Heart Of The Home (2006) and Mikrokosmos ii: The Seven Stars (2007) are exploratory albums, recalling (musically) The Beatles‘ psychedelic phase, the prog/punk collision of his days as a Cardiac and post OKC Radiohead‘s twisted, glitchy electronic rock. His Jonathan Donahue-laconic (albeit relocated to Westminster) tones effortlessly inhabit a sometimes-shifting, occasionally-jarring, precisely-fuzzy landscape of feedback, jangle, FX and washes that bear comparison to latterday Talk Talk, if only for their sheer audacity, single-mindedness and unlikely gravitational appeal. If the hard rock/post-punk elements take something of a backseat by comparison to Levitation/Darkstar period then this serves as an incentive to listen harder. In a sane world, this guy would be a national treasure; at least in my geeky world. This is progressive music, indulgent in its way, albeit in service to a good musical cause. Both ItHotH and TSS were pressed – onto CD – in very limited numbers (500 copies apiece) and the fact that they are still available to buy as such almost seems a crime, though I doubt it concerns Hayes unduly: he is nothing, one suspects, if not a musician’s musician: a lover, a geek.

You can listen to the new album, Terra Familiar in full here (I haven’t – I’m waiting for the CD 😉 )

and the two previous instalments

In The Heart Of The Home

The Seven Stars

via Bandcamp. If you enjoy imaginative, original music that respects the past as much as its own muse, then Hayes is your man. The download button is your friend, geek 😉

p.s. some highlights from Hayes past:

 

Hold your breath … ’til you feel it begin…

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Further to ‘Lightbulb Moment…’ here’s a taster for the upcoming Edison’s Children album The Final Breath Before November:

The Final Breath is the opening cut from the new album and hints at something darker than In The First Waking Moments, pushing further into ‘gothic’ territory: in particular (singer, Eric) Blackwood‘s breathy vocal is faintly-reminiscent of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Carl McCoy.  Musically I’m also reminded of the lush, spacious textures (that band) peddled on The Nephilim and Elizium, also by Levitation especially on the moodier second half of Need For Not, and Gazpacho‘s Night conceptual opus. These are albums that build intricate layers of sound into immersive mood trips, whether by alternating post-rock style repetitive riffs with explosions of muscular prog or interpolating evocative tonal details and haunting synth washes.

Pete Trewavas and Eric Blackwood are no slouches in the musicianly stakes, but it was utilizing these kinds of writing and recording ‘tricks’ that made In The Last Waking Moments such a memorable album, rather than in yo’ face showboating. Conversely, whilst neither are technically-proficient singers, their pleasingly-raw delivery and sincerity impart real character into the songs.

Here’s hoping their ‘Final Breath…‘ is nothing of the sort…

This track does it’s job as a teaser well: it gives little away yet leaves an indelible impression. I want to hear more…

New Sounds…

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Gotta share a couple – very different, but both fabulous – tunes that arrived in my inbox today…

First up, a new collaboration between System 7/Gong musicians Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy and Japanese psych/jam band Rovo. Hinotori is from their Phoenix Rising album, released today. If you’re a fan of either or those projects, or instrumental psych/prog like Ozrics and The Future Kings of England then this might well be your cup of tea…

And for a complete change of tone, this ongoing collaboration between Terry Bickers (House of Love/Levitation) and Pete Fij (ex-Adorable) is producing some wonderful work: infused with that peculiarly-British penchant for underplaying heartbreak: like a scruffy bum on a park bench humming a cheerful tune to himself, clutching a half-empty can of Special Brew. This is Downsizing

Watch the clip, too: some chucklesome moments including a badly-spelled homage to Manic Street Preachers.

And in case you missed it, here’s previous, also excellent ‘single’ Betty Ford:

Check HERE for news and details of upcoming gigs and releases…

Fresh from the vault (4)

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The House Of Love’s first two albums are landmarks of British Alternative pop, channelling the spirit of ‘60s psychedelia without resorting to crude pastiche. Following their second – the still remarkable –  “Butterfly”, featuring THoL’s closest brush with mainstream success, “Shine On”, their lead guitarist, Terry Bickers was unceremoniously offloaded in the wake of a drug-fuelled depression. His next project, Levitation surfaced a year or so later, producing an EP (After Ever) and a compilation (Coterie) whilst touring extensively. They were, in Bickers’ own words, ‘…progressive… but totally in the now’ Their debut LP (and masterwork) wouldn’t appear until 1992, however:

“Need For Not” is very much an album of two halves, with opening track, “Against Nature” setting the agenda for the first half: rocking far harder than anything in the HOL’s catalogue, it’s driven by Dave Francolini’s hyperactive drum fills and the intwined riffage of Bickers and (Cardiacs’ protégé) Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes. The next two tracks follow in the same vein, before “Resist” drops the tempo somewhat: a dreamy Bickers’ vocal floating on the swell of guitar noise, imparting to the track something of a Shoegaze feel. “Arcs Of Light And Dew” begins in similar mode, but this is where the album really opens up, with Robert White’s keyboard work becoming more prominent in the mix and distorted riffs supplemented by more intricate guitar flourishes. Over – a vinyl-centric – forty-four minutes, loud/quiet, fast/slow, noise/melody contrasts are explored to dramatic and unsettling effect, and even the more rocking material is infused with the trippy ‘otherness’ that characterised THoL’s best work. It’s a short listen by today’s standards, but every track, and the album as a whole swells with grandiose intent, climaxing with the shifting textures of “Coterie”, which twinkles menacingly before a controlled explosion and long fade brings band and listener back down to Earth, exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure.

Bickers suffered another breakdown whilst touring Need For Not and dramatically quit the band onstage, nixing any chance of a follow-up (although a part-completed album with replacement singer Steve Ludwin was released in Australia prior to the band’s dissolution). Hayes, Francolini and, bassist Laurence o’ Keefe have resurfaced in various projects since – most notably Dark Star, Mikrokosmos and Dragons – but never quite re-captured the intensity and focus of this astounding album .

World Around:

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