Tag Archives: Psychedelia

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.

Reverb Nation (Bzzzzzzzzzz)

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Further to my last post – God, they’re pretty few and far between these days; but that’s a good relationship for ya – I’ve had Terra Familiar in my grubby little mitts for three weeks now, and in the very best way possible, I’m unsure of what to make of it. It’s long been something of a cliché to talk of hearing something new in each listen.

I like it. Very much. I hear new things every time…

It doesn’t much feel like a continuation of Mikrokosmos i and ii. It stands very much apart. Those albums consisted of 15 tracks – and that word is undeniably apposite, more so than songs – apiece; some of them very short, little more than sketches, interludes. iii features just 9, several of which hover around the 6-7 minute mark. Unsurprisingly, the ideas herein feel more developed, luxuriated-in, albeit stopping short of sheer indulgence for the most part. Still not ‘songs’ to the same degree as much of Hayes‘ work with Levitation or Dark Star, mind.

Where those were albums of fragments collected, this one ebbs and flows. One almost feels the nine tracks ought to bleed more completely into each other; in the manner of Edison’s Children‘s The Final Breath Before November or Faithless‘ No Roots.

If Psychedelia can be simplistically divided between that which is anchored by beats and a more free-floating variety then this album ticks both boxes. Unsurprisingly the legacy of The Beatles looms large; also Can: not so much in and of themselves but Echoes (no pun 😉 ) of the bands that followed them down the rabbit hole: Floyd, Early Verve; Primal Scream (circa XTRMTR/Evil Heat); Tool without the aggression, the pathos; Underworld; Secret Machines…

And if you feel that by piling on the references I’m on a hiding to nothing; that it’s journalism as lazy as it is ultimately useless; then you’re maybe on the same page as me. You’ll maybe recognise the ghosts of these lofty antecedents and quite possibly like the record, whilst concurring that Terra Familiar is uncannily well-named: the sum of its parts and yet so much more besides. It’s a journey well worth taking.

Stream or buy this (and previous) albums here

 

 

Lightbulb moment (his Children’s children)

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This is kinda one of my ‘Fresh From The Vault’ posts by any other name, albeit with benefits and shiny pre-order knobs on. One of my favourite albums of last year (it was recorded and released in 2011, I was a little late to the party) was the transcendental In The Last Waking Moments by Anglo-American duo, Edison’s Children.

Never heard of them, right? Fair enough, no reason you would’ve; but within the demographic best-predisposed to like them they’re already superstars. The other half, alongside singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Eric Blackwood, is Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and few bands do audience-engagement in the internet era as effectively as Marillion. It’s the ’80s band that refused to die – should’ve, some might say – but in spite of having had its commercial heyday some two decades previously, its never been in better musical and financial health. Of the five-strong membership, Trewavas has long been the most musically accomplished and promiscuous, and like his best-known extra-curricular projects, EC fits in somewhere on the prog rock spectrum, albeit a million miles away from anything he’s recorded with Marillion, Kino or Transatlantic. It’s closer in tone to early/mid-period Porcupine Tree – before Steven Wilson got chummy with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and imbibed a draft from the poisoned spring of Death Metal – and the widescreen Gothic melodrama of Fields of the Nephilim, minus Carl McCoy‘s ‘from beyond the grave’ baritone. That said, there’s more than enough originality there for the project to stand on its own merits; and it possesses certain qualities rare enough to be considered remarkable in today’s – more than ever – saturated musical marketplace

ItLWM is a real headphones album, a seductive, immersive sonic universe that is almost fiendishly well imagined.  Although the pace rarely rises above that of a leisurely ramble across the moors (80bpm, say) there’s an understated, rolling urgency in its beats and chords that sweeps up and carries the listener as surely and powerfully as a driving trance anthem or moshpit filler. It’s just not possible to hear this as a set of stand-alone songs: in an iPod age where the album form has been eroded by download-overload, ItLWM remains stubbornly shuffle-resistant. Cue up Dusk and you’ll find yourself in it for the (70min) duration – which is no mean feat. Wall-to-wall brilliance was rare enough in the age of the LP: 35-40 minutes of flawless composition and performance is a big-enough ask and the number of consistently-listenable double sets even in that golden age a select group. The advent of CD made the 60, then 70 and now 80 minute – effectively double – albums a possibility and in some quarters an expectation. Quality was bound to suffer, if not always, then often: Prog rock aside, Hip Hop and R’n’B records have been especially prone to padding out decent records with material that, in days gone by would have been relegated to single b-sides.

So It’s notable that the final running order for ItLWM was culled from an initial burst of creativity that ran to nearly 50 demo’d songs: hard work, great chemistry and also quality control made that album what it is. The songwriting is consistently strong, and whilst it’s ostensibly a concept album – Sci-Fi gubbins themed around alien abduction; plenty of scope for pitfalls into stinky, cloying Gorgonzola already; deftly-avoided, mind  – it’s the strength of its musical themes that lend it coherence as a piece. The four part Fallout sequence dispersed thruout the album recalls the similarly-structured Marbles theme from the Marillion album of that name; still regarded as a high-watermark of its 30-year career by many. There’s a whiff of Another Brick In The Wall in Fracture. A Million Miles Away  comes from the same stable of confident, mature pop rock as Don’t Hurt Yourself – albeit with a darker edge – also from Marbles. The album is rich in intriguing sonic detail: back-projected, tinkling, burbling samples, squeeks and washes that convey atmospheric depth – this an obvious point of comparison with the aforementioned Nephilim – and impart a sense of unity to the collected songs. The middling pace is broken on occasion: Outerspaced is a demented stomp rocker; Aerosmith in their drug-addled vintage transported to the restaurant at the end of the universe. And The ‘Other’ Other Dimension almost overplays the gently psychedelic element that elsewhere simply suffuses and underpins the songwriting. Totally overplays it, actually, it’s a bit silly, in a Viv Standhall-as-Dr Who kinda way. But these diversions just serve to add colour to an already rich palette in the end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, all told. The story, such as it is, remains as opaque as Dream Theater‘s Scenes From A Memory was until I looked it up on the Wikipedia page; but I still feel I was taken somewhere, which after all is what the best prog – hell, music – is supposed to do.

So I was understandably excited to receive today’s email from marillion.com updating me on the progress of Edison’s Children‘s sophomore release. It’s going to be called The Final Breath Before November. As before, it’s predominantly the work of Trewavas and Blackwood – with the duo handling all the guitars, keys and digital wizardry, vocals, recording and production – plus support from a handful of collaborators including Henry Rogers (DeeExpus/Touchstone) on drums and Wendy Farrell-Pastore on additional vocals. With Trewavas fielding a full schedule touring with his day job and working intermittently on the next Transatlantic album the man is clearly on fire, and if the last album is anything to go by, Blackwood makes for him an excellent creative foil. As Marillion have previously done since 1997, EC are employing a crowd funding model and fans wishing to buy-in early can support the upcoming release by heading over to the EC pledge page HERE .

TFBBN has a lot to live up to and I don’t mind stoking the flames of expectation a little higher.

p.s.

Having mentioned Kino and Transatlantic up top, it seems churlish not to include a little of their brilliance into the mix. Check ’em out too:

(Bit of an epic this one – amazing gig, though; and I can vouch for that cos I was there 😉 )

 

Viva Echo Street

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Amplifier, Manchester-based exponents of epic, fuzzed-out Space Rock announce their forthcoming new long-player, Echo Street, via a brief post by frontman Sel Balamir on the band’s forum:

http://www.amplifiertheband.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3415

More details and an official announcement to follow: and fairly soon, one hopes, given that the album is being mastered this week. No soundclips at present, but  fans will be expecting new and inventive variations on the band’s roadtested melange of stoner rock, grunge, prog and psychedelia.

Whether they’ll be offering an all-singing, all-dancing special edition in the same vein as 2011’s The Octopus remains to be seen (fingers crossed; they attract the kind of cultish following of rock nerds who really dig that kinda thing) but expectations for the music are high, based on the exceptional quality of The Octopus and Balamir‘s tentative proclamation that it’s ‘probably our best album’.

If you’re not familiar, check out some clips from The Octopus:

 

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:

Smile: