Saturday, 31 January 2009

Space Bandits - The Mighty Chuggernaut

‘Collectors Item Limited Edition’ says the front cover. ‘This is a masterpiece of science fiction fact’ notes the back. Wow! There’s confidence for you! Taking their name from, I assume, the Hawkwind album Space Bandits, this album seems to have been put together by two former members of a band called Chuggernaut who note on their Myspace that they’ve ‘revapourised and started to re-energise the ship to glorious effect, stronger better deeper fuel tanks etc…’

The end result is something of a curate’s egg (‘Good in places’). The opening tracks, ‘Chuggernaut’ and ‘The Sacred Flame’ seemed to me to be fairly standard AOR rock music with a sci-fi spin, that didn’t really excite me. I got more interested when the gentle rhythms of ‘Earth’ drifted lugubriously out of the speakers, sat up, took note and started to engage with what was going on.

‘Calling All The Tribes’ is real Spacerock, a grinding improvisational guitar sound with some eerie lead escaping from it and an overall sound coming across, as you’d expect from the track title, with well realised tribal effect – very nicely done. Had me in mind of a particular Hawkwind era and yet elusively I couldn’t tell you which one, so maybe that’s saying that it had an affinity to, without sounding directly like, Hawkwind. ‘We Want You’ is more upbeat, catchy even, whilst ‘Tartarus’ is slower and delivered with a sense of foreboding. ‘The Gods…(Chaos rules)’ takes them back into AOR territory but more successfully. ‘This is the Universe’ is spoken word over a slow drumbeat and spacey electronic warbling leading into the epic final track, ‘The Battle’.

Overall then, some nice touches here; I really liked ‘Earth’ and thought that led into something good going on the middle section of this CD, especially with the tribal overtones. I didn’t catch onto the surrounding material, which just seemed a little flat to me, but there’s certainly enough of interest to keep an eye and an ear out for further recordings.

Space Bandits Myspace Page

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Hawklords - 25 Years On

I bought my first copy of the Hawklords’ 25 Years On album on cassette from Redruth’s now defunct John Oliver’s record and book shop, fairly early into my original enthusiasm for Hawkwind, wondering what turn of events had them releasing an album under a different identity and surprised at the fairly laid-back sound of these songs. I battled on with that tape for a quite a few years, eventually replacing it with a vinyl copy, but have never owned this one on CD until Atomhenge’s excellent reissue landed here a few days ago.

Let’s talk a little bit about the album itself because it’s one that does get somewhat lost in the overall Hawkwind catalogue, sandwiched between the immense Quark, Strangeness & Charm and the crystal-clean rock of Levitation (omitting from the analogy PXR5, simply because although it was chronologically released after the Hawklords album, most of the tracks hail from prior to the formation of the Hawklords). Much has been made in the past of the notions of it being rocking chair Hawkwind, with the musicians laid-back and strumming along (as noted by Dave Brock) or as the moment when they back Roxy Music (© Lemmy). Of the two suggestions, probably Lemmy’s is closer to the mark, since there is something quite art-school about the album, and more particularly about the ensuing tour.

It’s surprising that so few songs from this collection have had any sort of longevity as live numbers, with ‘Psi Power’ being the principal exception. It might be understandable that ‘Flying Doctor’, devoid of Robert Calvert to render it’s humour, has never received a regular airing post-Calvert (though I saw Hawkwind make a good fist of this one a couple of years back as an encore), but there’s quite a few neglected gems amongst the other tracks. In particular, ‘The Only Ones’ is a classic example of Calvert’s sharp lyrics, ‘Freefall’, with Steve Swindells’ keyboards adding a wonderfully ethereal and dreamlike quality, and The Age of the Micro Man’ are high quality tracks that would deserve a place on any Hawkwind LP. ‘Automoton’ is something of an oddity that probably would have many pressing the skip button and ’25 Years’ is a sort of space-punk thing that to me sounds a little forced, a tad trite. ‘(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid’ seems the starting point for a Calvert solo album that never got made but folds quite well into the overall Hawklords theme. As a Hawkwind album, probably place this top of the mid-table in the Premier League but as an album by a gathering that could well be described as musically the most accomplished line-up in the band’s history it’s great to see it available again and does make you a little sad that this group didn’t go on to make a second album and develop things further.

I’ll not comment too much on the Sonic Assassins gig that makes an appearance on the bonus disc that comes with this release, the tracks have been heard many times in different places and are, of course, the ultimate capture of Calvert in full ‘Mad Bob’ flow, highly valuable as such. Much more of interest are the previously unheard Hawklords demos that are now available here.

An acoustic version of ‘The Only Ones’ kicks off these demos that, for anyone who wishes that Dave Brock would play a little more acoustic guitar will be an absolute delight. A couple of versions of ‘Freefall’ (along with the Sonic Assassins live version) tell us that Calvert was searching for the right form of words during the development of this number. A live studio rehearsal of ‘Flying Doctor’ is thrilling and energetic, whilst an eight-minute version of ’25 Years’ presents an interesting alternate take. ‘The Age of the Micro Man’ appears here, seemingly almost fully formed (is the principle difference here some backing vocals that were dropped for the album cut?) and it’s hard to get too excited about a full, extended, version of ‘Automoton’. ‘Assassination’ (a.k.a ‘Some People Never Die’) appears, somewhat different from the track that is familiar from the ‘Church of Hawkwind’ album, whilst one of the two takes of ‘(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid’ includes guitar from Dave Brock – absent from the final version. These demos are rounded out by ‘Digger Jam’, some stream of consciousness Australian-accented stuff from Calvert around a musical improvisation that is reminiscent of what became referred to as Hawklords Mk II with their ‘Douglas in the Jungle’ or ‘Time of the Hawklords’ mode. Absolutely mad stuff.

An excellent booklet accompanies this release, including a reproduction of the tour booklet designed as the manifesto of Pan Transcendental Industries. This is a fabulous package.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Temple

The Temple declare from the outset that they play ‘rawk fashioned from the unholy sound of Black Sabbath’ and that they are a ‘band that rocks with old school attitude.’ Immediately that leaves me saying that they are a little too much towards standard Heavy Metal fare for my usual taste, not really in the vein that I’d normally seek out. Their song titles, however, brush the fringes of Spacerock (‘Martian Attack’, ‘Deathray Baby’, ‘Children of the Darkside’), which was enough to generate some curiosity. With thanks then to the Yahoo Hawkwind discussion group’s StevePXR5, I’m in position of a collection of The Temple’s MP3s.

From these, I’m really still in a position of saying that they aren’t totally my glass of Coke, even though I can hear that much of what they do is both typical within their chosen genre, and well played and conceived in that context. ‘Stupid People’ is classic headbanger fare, play it right up loud because it’s definitely (and deafeningly) a grower with some nice lead guitar in the middle eight and a good driving rhythm to it. ‘In Doom’ has a grindingly slow and dark atmosphere, as dense and encompassing as black treacle with some really solid drumming at its backbone. ‘Martian Attack’ is real blanga: hard, rocking sci-fi music that then turns on a sixpence to some nice drifting instrumental rock that would have great to have heard them explore a little further instead of just being a unexpected temporary change of pace.

‘Children of the Darkside’ is back into that Sabbath style of HM, ‘Hell’s Chorus’ sees them experimenting a little, a cathedral organ sound with contemplative bass and a intoned lyric, is another interesting diversion that tells you this is a band with a few tricks up its collective sleeves. I liked this one a whole lot but it’s very short, which I only discovered after listening to it for a couple of minutes really absorbed in it and then saw that it was the same 19sec track set on ‘repeat’ on my player. It could work exceptionally well just like that, all joined up in a repeated mantra. ‘Exorcise My Mind’ follows on, the same mantra opening the track leading into some gritty vocals and powerful chords. Finally, ‘Deathray Baby’, another driving rock number, real mosh-pit stuff, a bit of cartoon sci-fi in its lyrics and a lot of, as we used to say, rock in its cock.

Summing up then, I approached this not quite knowing what to expect and with a bit of a negative attitude about where they were coming from, but actually found this Preston-based three piece to definitely have some good stuff about them, particularly when they step slightly aside or around their principal sound. I understand they may have an album forthcoming, I think it’ll be worth a listen, for sure. In the meantime, go check out their Myspace page!

The Temple Myspace Page

Monday, 19 January 2009

Paul Roland - Nevermore

Germany’s Syborg Music label has done sterling service in 2008, reissuing some of Paul Roland’s 1980s work alongside more recent recordings and this, his most recent album. I gave it a short write-up in Record Collector two or three months back as a joint review with Syborg’s twofer reissue of Danse Macabre & Burnt Orchids (which contains his delightful ‘Dr. Strange’ 7” as one of its bonus tracks) and the revised edition of Re-Animator. I reviewed Black Widow’s edition of Re-Animator on this blog a couple of years back; Syborg’s version, with re-ordered track running and alternate takes is even better than BW’s release – and regular visitors to this blog will, I hope, recall how taken I was with the original.

So I have to say, I’ve become something of a fan having missed a lot of Paul’s work first time around – and it’s one of those moments of serendipity that come along too infrequently. Massimo at Black Widow sent me Re-Animator as part of a batch of promo CDs and though it was one I didn’t place a mainstream music magazine review of, I liked it so much I stretched the (already tenuous) Spacerock rule and included it here. Paul spotted the review, got in touch and tells me he’s had a copy of my Hawkwind book for sometime and equally enjoyed it. So, warm, fuzzy glows all round, I think!

So to his most recent offering, Nevermore, which I think treads some of the musical tones of Re-Animator though it takes its inspirations from different literary areas. The earlier album used the Cthulhu writings of H. P. Lovecraft as a starting pointing for its gothic atmospheres, Nevermore, though it starts with a song that uses Edgar Allan Poe as its touchstone and theme, draws from Jules Verne. There’s a three-track movement, with an overarching title of ‘Last Voyage Of The Nautilus’, which commences with the haunting ‘Captain Nemo’, capturing a wonderful ambience that evokes a chilling and misty launching of the vessel, beautifully observed and composed.

Following the Verne inspired segment, Nevermore gets somewhat heavier in both sound and lyrical content, leading with Roland’s fascination for the back streets and gaslight atmosphere of classic Victoriana. ‘Leatherface’ and ‘Great Deceiver’ are both sinister and stridently unnerving, before ‘Eight Little Whores’ brings the rock levels down again whilst maintaining a baleful vocal delivery. A mention also for the quite lovely ‘Ghost Dance’ where Roland borrows Native American mythology in his lyric and sets them against an engagingly wistful tune.

Nevermore plays out with a couple of a traditional tunes, ‘Sam Hall’ and ‘Foggy Dew’, a real change of pace which some might consider jar just a tad, I liked the former and didn’t care for the latter; but the album itself is a major addition to the Roland catalogue.

Paul Roland German Website

Syborg Music

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Hawkwind - Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music

Though I've summarised the first four reissues from Cherry Red / Atomhenge's acquisition of the Hawkwind back catalogue 76 – 97 for a future edition of Record Collector, I'm going to post more detailed individual reviews here.

Astounding Sounds is my favourite Hawkwind album, unfairly maligned over the years and, as Phil Alexander in Mojo notes this month, ripe for a re-evaluation. Actually, this album was my first exposure to Hawkwind when it was originally released in 1976 – not that I heard as much as a note of it until I got into the band at the end of the 1970s. Their first release for the Charisma label, it was heavily promoted (Yes, even in Redruth, Cornwall) with window posters in local record stores and it's pulp magazine style logo and its fantastical cover art was eye-catching to say the least. So I always entertained a curiosity about the release even though at the time I knew nothing whatsoever about Hawkwind themselves.

What I particularly love about this album, and right here I'll concede that, yes, there are 'better' Hawkwind LPs but I'll argue that's not an inconsistency with having this as my 'favourite', is the way the tracks absorb the personalities and musical directions of the individual band members. Nik Turner always talks about this LP as being the most 'democratic' Hawkwind album in the way that almost all members contributed tracks, and I think that's the particular appeal of this record. 'Chronoglide Skyway' is Simon House's majestic and atmospheric composition of Spacerock that is the work of a consummate musician. (I've always felt this track would work as an 'alternative' theme music for a Doctor Who movie – visualise the Tardis falling through the time vortex to this soundscape). 'Kadu Flyer', the most criminally overlooked of Hawkwind numbers perfectly encapsulates Nik Turner's freewheeling spirit. 'City Of Lagoons' is Allan Powell taking the band (or parts of the band, it's not a full band recording) into Pink Floyd territory. We'll mention the dreaded 'F' word because Paul Rudolph's 'Aubergine That Ate Rangoon' of course elicited Dave Brock and Bob Calvert's horror of a 'funky' direction. Rudolph denies taking the band in this direction but it has to be said that whilst this track has a strong funk groove, it's funky within a Hawkwind context and absolutely works.

I never got to grips with 'Kerb Crawler', I can understand that lyrically it's meant to be ironic but it's a rare instance of Calvert's wordsmith skills failing, with the words coming across in a misogynistic manner whilst the music sounds to me just an attempt to recover some 'Silver Machine' ground. But 'Steppenwolf' is a grand, gothic demonstration of Bob's ability to take literary themes and apply them within Hawkwind both in the studio and, of course, visually on stage.

For those Hawkwind fans who like their 'meat and potatoes' heavy Spacerock, I can see that this rather more delicate flower would be a disappointment, particularly coming after one of the epitomes of the band's original approach, Warrior On The Edge Of Time. But for me, the intricacies and variation of work inherent in Astounding Sounds makes it most definitely a career highlight and in that respect alone it's fantastic to see Atomhenge bestowing such loving care in their remastering of the music and selection of material for the accompanying booklet.

Earthless - Live At Roadburn

The Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Holland, a gathering point for stoner and space-rock bands, has been celebrating the extended and improvised riff for nearly a decade now. Its influence spreads far and wide across the space-rock fraternity, showcasing everyone from the genre defining (Hawkwind, Monster Magnet, Litmus) to the most obscure European and American outfits. In the latter category we’d have to place San Diego trio Earthless, whose fortuity it was to fill a slot unexpectedly vacated by the 2008 festival’s headlining band.

Formed in 2005, the whole raison d’etre behind Earthless is the distorted, elongated mind-journey that comes trucking out of the industrial space-freighter end of space-rock. It’s a sound which Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba describes as “Heavy, Loud, Sonic mind melt,” a miasma of repetitive droning from the drums, and Mike Eginton’s driving bass lines, juxtaposed with the crackling fire of Isaiah Mitchell’s guitar. As this double CD recording of their Roadburn set demonstrates in what is notionally marked as four instrumentals but is really one massive head-trip, what they lack in cohesive direction (and it’s fair to say that none of this particularly goes anywhere) they make up for in the sheer guts of their sound.

Tee Pee Records
Earthless Myspace Page

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Deborah L. Knights & Joie Hinton: InVerse Gravity

This by turns deliciously mad-cap and delightfully bucolic album is a mixture of spoken word and song vocals layered across a psychedelic soundscape created by former Ozric Tentacles and Eat Static musician Joie Hinton and his partner Deborah Knights and features the voice of British scientist and inventor John R. R. Searl. Sometimes Searl’s voice is heard in lecture; sometimes in interview… he’s been a controversial figure who claims to have created perpetual motion devices during his time working for BR Rewinds in the 1940s and 50s; part of the objective for this project is to create new awareness of his methods and works.

What we have here is an engaging album that effortlessly moves between Deborah’s spellbinding vocals on tracks like ‘Eagle’ and ‘More Than Stardust’ and Searl’s professorial ruminations on the development of anti-gravity transport. We’ve heard poets like Robert Calvert adding recitations to space-rock, and there have of course been instances of experts from various walks of life having their speeches set to music (Tony Benn springs to mind). But this seems to me to be something of a first, an amalgamation of spacey synthesisers and scientific lectures. It’s an interesting idea, nicely executed and works predominately because it nicely flows between lecture and song, meaning that the listener is never overwhelmed by Searl’s scientific commentary. You’ll, of course, have to make your own mind up about the ideas being expounded but it’s a very creative package and highly enjoyable on several levels.

Hinton plays in Here & Now these days, and from there he’s recruited Keith Missile and Steffe Sharpstrings as guest musicians. A second Inverse Gravity Vehicle album, Amongst The Pigeons has, I believe, recently been released.

Joie Hinton Q&A

Tell us something of Inverse Gravity Vehicle…

It’s a kind of concept project, which I’m doing with Deborah, and with a professor, Professor John Searl who is kind of the Grandfather of inverse gravity. He’s developed technology that could, you know, save the world. You know these people who design water powered cars, and they all get coshed or bumped-off by the government? He’s one of these types; he’s developed stuff to do with magnetic devices that can be healing devices and forms of travel. He’s called these things SEG, which is the ‘Searl Effect Generator’ and he’s a close friend of Deborah’s. We’ve got tons and tons of interviews and talks with him – you could power the world on his stuff, free energy, instead of using coal and electricity it would be possible to power everything with no pollution. He’s been persecuted by government, had stuff taken off of him – one of these characters. He was down here for Christmas and we started off doing this mad music with him on it, and it’s a crazy mix. Deborah’s a songwriter, I do my own sort of wacky weirdness and we’ve got John Searl ranting and raving about magnetic-powered disc-shaped craft that he’s test flown. It sounds a little bit like Professor Stanley Unwin, gone mad, on top of our music.

So you put his interview tapes on top of your music?

Yeah, or vice-versa. We’ll have a track going, or we’ll phone him up to do stuff and it’s great fun. One of the things we’re doing with it is not just to raise awareness, but also to get help and funding for what he wants to do. He has got a few people interested, backers, and apparently they are very close now to building the first big solar flight generator. He did develop disc shaped craft that flew – that whole UFO mystery scene of the 60s and 70s… they were actually his test flights. So it’s a really positive thing to do, it’s like having a band with an ecological message with it. It’s also rather unusual to hear a mad professor rapping over psychedelic music; most people, whenever they use voices just use samples but in this case we’re sometimes playing half a lecture. We’ve done one album and a second is nearly complete.

Buy Inverse Gravity at Planet Gong
Buy Amongst the Pigeons
Joie Hinton Myspace Page
John Searl Website
John Searl - Wikipedia Entry

The Upsidedown - Human Destination

For a moment, this CD from Portland, Oregon’s The Upsidedown leaves you wondering what exactly you’ve stuck into your CD player… it’s the opening of the second track (and first full number proper on this album), ‘If You Are Hell Girl’. It sounds The Blues Brothers attempting to play The Jesus & Mary Chain and on reflection tells you a little bit about what’s to come, because like the Mary Chain (who they’ve previously opened for) there’s a taste of familiar riffs strewn around these tracks, always nicely deviated with their own brand of carefully constructed and by turns elegant and energetic rock music.

Their first album, Trust Electricity, appeared way back in 2004, since when they’ve been gaining increased exposure with, aside from the Mary Chain, prestigious support slots alongside The Dandy Warhols and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Released last August, Human Destination is a thoroughly absorbing work, full of hazy and melancholy guitars and backing vocals that are supporting coarse, gritty lead vocals to create songs both sweet and sharp, like the dreamily beguiling ‘Umbrella (Laura Palmer)’. ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’ drifts gently out of a soft electronics and guitar sequence into a soothingly slow number underpinned by a deliciously smooth background vocal. ‘Halo’, which follows it, is instantly reminiscent of BRMC’s first album and every bit good enough to be compared with that masterpiece.

Further in, ‘Ernestine’ has something of a ‘60s psychedelia about it, whilst ‘Number Twenty Nine’ shines through as a perfect pop song that trills and thrills and cries out to be played over and over again. ‘Something always comes along and turns in to something else’ they claim on this one… to me, they are very much heading in the right direction all on their own.

The Upsidedown Official Website
The Upsidedown Myspace
Beat The World Records