Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Paradise 9 - Nothing For Tomorrow EP

Paradise 9 have been around in one form or another for over a decade, originally formed by guitarist Gregg McKella under the name ‘Flowers from a Strange Land’ way back in 1998 and releasing their debut album, Showtime, the following year. The original band split in 2002, a revised line-up reformed in 2005 and they’ve continued ever since, picking up new members along the way (including Alternative TV’s Tyrone Thomas on lead guitar) and enjoying a spot opening for Nik Turner’s Inner City Unit at last year’s ICU gig at the Inn On The Green. McKella had previously guested with ICU when they reformed in 2007 and has also worked with long time Damned/Dr Spacetoad keyboardist Monty Oxymoron.

This four-track EP hopefully sets the current well on the road to a full LP, with further tracks already recorded Gregg tells me. Judging from the contents of Nothing For Tomorrow it’ll be well-worth waiting for because what they’ve got here is an excellent starting-point in the quest to bring their feisty punk-space rock to a wider audience. There’s bags of righteous attitude going on in the title track, a cracking diatribe about modern greed which sharply sets up this excellent taster of what the band are all about. They move the pace right down from the spiky opener to the lazily rolling ‘Crystalized Moments’, a gorgeously realised trance and drifting romantic soundtrack still delivered with a vocal edge and some lovely guitar.

‘Broken Promises’ is something of a ‘what if’ scenario... what if the Levellers played spacerock? (The band themselves make a comparison to New Model Army for this one so I’m hearing it in a similar way I think!). Again though, it’s smart and acute stuff with a good line in melody that’s a key element of the Paradise 9 sound – it’s always engaging and just highly listenable. They play out the EP with the eleven-minute ‘Points of View’, another terrific psychedelic-punk collision that has something of the extended Hawkwind improvisation about it, driven on by some really focused yet swinging drumming. They’ll have this CD available from MyChoonz and CDBaby as well as iTunes and Amazon downloads (I notice their first album is also available as an Amazon MP3 download).

Paradise9 are Gregg McKella ( vox / guitar / gliss / clarinet / fx), Carl Sampson (drums / backing vox), Neil Matthars (bass), Tyrone Thomas (lead guitar), and Steve Teers (jembe / keyboards and backing vox), with guest backing vocalist Jeanette Murphy. They play the Sonic World Festival at Lumb Farm in Ripley, Derbyshire on the 5th of September and in the meantime their EP is highly recommended.

Paradise 9 Myspace Page
Paradise 9 at CD Baby

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Hawkwind - The Chronicle of the Black Sword

I’ve blogged before on how the reissue programme for the Hawkwind back catalogue has provided a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate the band’s historical output, particularly in light of, generally, not having heard many of these records since Sonic Assassins was written back in 2002/2003. It’s a little like the classic Doctor Who DVD releases, having ditched or sold-on the videos years ago, each new release is an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the original stories (and to delight in the quality of the restorations, another thing in common with Atomhenge’s Hawkwind discs) and to revisit earlier assessments, for good or for bad. In the latter respect then, much disappointment in the recent release of ‘Battlefield’, which I’d previously considered much maligned for little reason, in the former, the quite stunning 3-disc set of ‘The War Games’, once considered a ten episode plod-fest and now seen as a totally engaging epic. I guess as we move through life our tastes and outlooks change and that reflects in the things we’ve loved and cared about over the years in a creative sense.

So, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, for which I’ve already had a few people taking me, nicely, to task for rating this studio version of Hawkwind’s Elric adaptations in contrast to the popular convention of its live counterpart, Live Chronicles being the better realisation of Mike Moorcock’s stories. And, you know, there is a valid point in the general consensus to be honest, even though I’m not going to revise my previous opinions, because there is something a little over-produced, a little too studio about this record. It has a sheen to it that wasn’t previously present in 1980s Hawkwind, something of a shiny surface to the sound quality or the mix that, compared to the live recording, leaves it a touch too clinical in a way.

That said, I still hold this album to be at the pinnacle of 80s Hawkwind. They might have been drifting a bit in the previous couple or three years (really from the point at which Choose Your Masques didn’t come up to the standard set by Sonic Attack and they’d released the rather pointless ‘Silver Machine’ reworking as a single in preference to Langton’s LP highlight ‘Solitary Mind Games’) but this, along with Sonic Attack, is as close to a top-drawer album as they’d come up with for the whole of the 1980s. The entire first side is of uniformly high standard, the band mainstays all getting a crack of the whip on contributing to the writing of the album, Langton’s lead guitar complementing rather than dominating and Bainbridge’s keyboards really setting the atmosphere very nicely. ‘Song of the Swords’ opens up the LP at a good pace, a real strong opener, ‘The Pulsing Cavern’ has a lovely ambience to it, and I love the opening part of ‘Elric The Enchanter’ with its ‘frozen in a time trap’ imagery.

Side two is where it starts to unfold, however. I’ve always liked ‘Needle Gun’ in and of itself, it’s sharp and pokey and you can see why it’s there, it’s ideal 7” fodder and perhaps with a different label that could have promoted it a bit more sharply it could have been a contributor to a full-blown renaissance for the band in a chart sense. But it’s out of place in the run of the album and the, excuse me, chronicling of the Elric saga is rather compromised by its inclusion even though it’s thematically part of the ‘Eternal Champion’ mythology in general (why not have stuck it on the end as a ‘bonus’ track to tie-in with the single release, perhaps?). ‘Zarozinia’ misses the mark despite being a lovely song with well-chosen and constructed lyrics simply because it’s that type of slow, moody, song that Dave Brock doesn’t deliver terribly well vocally, to my ears, though its equally difficult to see who else in that line-up would have been suited to it either. Then we’re into ‘The Demise’ and ‘Chaos Army’, which really are nothing tracks and ‘Sleep of a Thousand Tears’ which starts strongly but goes nowhere, before things coalesce back into side one standard with the closing ‘Horn of Destiny’.

Perhaps where this LP also misses out is in its budgetary constraints and the restrictions of the single LP format. We know that Langton had two more cracking songs available, ‘Moonglum’ and ‘The Dreaming City’ (this release leaves me curious as to whether they were never laid down in the studio at all, given that not even demo versions surface here as extras) and of course what’s also lost to the vagaries of the Hawkwind line-up is what Nik Turner, who has previously noted that he’d been writing material for the concept at the time of his sacking from the band, would have contributed had his membership continued. It’s still a classic Hawkwind album, pretty cohesive and largely well thought-out, but one that just drifts off the boil mid-way through.

Additional material included here: ‘Arioch’, an instrumental previously available as the b-side to the ‘Needle Gun’ single, and pre-dating the Chronicles line-up, what’s often (mainly by me, I guess) been described as the last throw of the dice for the previous incarnation of the band, the ‘Earth Ritual Preview’ EP. Those are tracks that I’m fairly ambivalent about, honestly. Discounting ‘Dream Dancers’ which, again, is one of those something of nothing FX Hawkwind tracks, there’s three very good numbers here: ‘Night of the Hawks’, ‘Green Finned Demon’ and ‘Dragons and Fables’. What’s disappointing, in hindsight, about all three is that the original versions have been absolutely superseded by subsequent outings. Perhaps that’s natural as songs develop through being reworked and played live, but you’d absolutely hope that Lemmy guesting on a 1980s Hawkwind track would turn up something definitive. It’s difficult, though, not to feel that his presence on ‘Night of the Hawks’ was somewhat wasted in the final mix, where even the ensuing Radio One session version was superior, not to mention how good this song became played on the ‘Bedrock’ TV show and even by the stripped-down three-piece band in 1991. ‘Green Finned Demon’, a rather nice, understated number, was completely improved on by the ‘trio’, whilst ‘Dragons and Fables’, which to be fair hung around the Hawkwind set rather too long, improved soon after the release of ‘Earth Ritual Preview’ when Huw ever so slightly quickened the pace of the song at concerts, turning it into something of fan-favourite.

Again though, another cracking release from Atomhenge, roll on the recently announced 3-disc version of Levitation.

Monday, 27 July 2009

21st Century Space Adventure

Alisa Coral, of Space Mirrors and Psi Corps fame, dropped me a note to tell me about Russian label RAIG's latest project, a spacerock compilation series in free-to-download MP3 format. Closer inspection of RAIG's website brings up the following link and details:

"21st CENTURY SPACE ADVENTURE is a series of digital albums Alisa Coral and the RAIG’s Accessory Takes net-label compile and release for the purpose of exposing our listeners to modern exciting music of so-called Space Rock genre. Today, Space Rock refers to a new generation of independent bands that draw from psychedelic and progressive rock / trance, acid, dub and ambient electronica / alternative metal /world music / experimental & avant-garde influences. It typically favors otherworldly, hypnotic, space-out and mind-bending sonic explorations over conventional song structures with vocals sometimes playing second fiddle to the shimmering instrumental textures. The main goal of the series is to challenge music lovers to try and hopefully support this kind of music as well as to function as a platform that brings underground musicians and listeners from various countries together.

21st CENTURY SPACE ADVENTURE releases are available for free download to all visitors via our web-site under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license, which allows the music and artwork to be freely distributed and shared around in varying formats as long as no profit is made, but not to be used without permission for any TV, Radio, Film, etc. purposes and not to be used to produce any further works e.g. remixes, sampled, general plagiarism. Since Accessory Takes does not charge for its releases, we can offer no compensation to musicians for their work, but they keep all rights over the material for future use. Although we don't require exclusive material to be submitted, we do give preference to unreleased tracks, which gets listeners excited over the compilation and maximizes its potential audience. Also, musicians are welcome to contribute tracks to upcoming albums or from their newest albums, which gives listeners a taste of things to come without having to contribute an unreleased track. We think of the series as another promotional tool, and musicians can expect to have their tracks heard by hundreds of individuals."

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Spacerock in the Music Press - July 2009

The latest issue of R2 (the renamed Rock N Reel) arrived this week. I'm reviewing the new album by Sendelica, The Girl From The Future Who Lit Up The Sky With Golden Worlds in this one, issue 16, the Cropredy Festival edition. I've also got a review of SAF Publishing's compilaton of writings by Gong's Gilli Smyth, Nitrogen Dreams, and in non-spacerock related releases I'm casting a eye over the highly recommended Dengue Fever DVD Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, the delicious jazz-cafe sounds of Tallulah Rendall, reissues of Procol Harum, and a new album of Smiths-esque guitar indie-op from The Parish Music Box.

And over at Record Collector this month, my spacerock related in-put includes the new album from Earthling Society, Esoteric's reissues of The Deviants and the premiere on DVD of Nic Roeg's film of Glastonbury Fayre. I'm also reviewing Jarvis Hammond's excellent music book meets travelogue, A Year of Festivals, a four-CD set of Killing Joke's recent London shows and Esoteric's Gilgamesh reissue.

Strange Daze '97

It’s a curious thing, but this double disc of bands from the original Strange Daze spacerock festival, held in Sherman, New York is a historic representation of a seminal moment in the development of the US spacerock scene and yet fails in its endeavour to chronicle that event through a total lack of information on its in-lay and liner notes. For though it contains some of the key bands of the era (Red Giant, Quarkspace, F/i, ST37, and Alien Planetscapes amongst them), their inclusion on the first disc seems to be treated as little more than hors d’eouvres for the inevitable appearance of Hawkwind (whose appearance at Strange Daze that weekend marked their first ever open-air festival show in America). Browsing the accompanying booklet, I find that “Disc Two Features Hawkwind” and how “Disc 2 was conceived as a sort of “Cosmic Trip” through the Strange Daze spacerock festival.” But I looked and I looked again, and nowhere did I see a proper running order for the first disc, or more than the scantest of detail (band names and song titles, not in any particular sequence) of the artists included. A visit to distributor Voiceprint’s web page suggests that it “presents the bands on disc one in chronological order as they appeared at the festival.” Which is not much more help than the booklet itself, frankly. I just see that as a huge shame, since some of the bands included are still recording and releasing material today and others have previous CDs still available. Compilations like this are a part of the oxygen of publicity that the scene needs and warrants, and to reissue this previously out-of-print collection without taking the chance to deliver a modest boost to those bands with a bit of biographical data and links, and to not even detail track-by-track which bands you are listening to at which point, is a real pity.

Anyway, I dug around on the Internet and turned up this track listing for disc one:

1.Awakening (Gaia Avatara)
2.Rooms Of Shord (Red Giant)
3.Green Acid (Nucleon)
4.New Arrival (ST 37)
5.Holographic Caves (Architectural Metaphor)
6.Evanwalker P.I.M (FI)
7.Laminate My Organ Donor Card (Bionaut)
8.Pre Millennium Transmissions (Freak Element)
9.Harbour Of Infinity (Melting Euthoria)
10.Burning Inside (Born To Go)
11.Faerienot Space(Quarkspace)
12.Soft Martian (Alien Planetscapes)
13.The Stream (Drumplay)

Now, to be fair, like any developing scene it’s a mix of enthusiasm over ability combined with genuine talent so there’s some roughness around the edges but it is great to see this set getting a reissue because the festival itself is rightly looked back on as a cornerstone of the US-arm of spacerock. It was a real coming together of the like-minded and a chance for those bands involved to take confidence from elevating themselves to the same bill as Hawkwind and Nik Turner, pivotal figures in the genre’s creation, and those that had already reached a certain level, most notably Far Flung.

Disc Two then is described, as I note someone doing on Amazon, as a ‘stream of consciousness’ with cut-ups, extracts and further tracks. Here again, the listener is left to do some detective work as to who is playing and what is actually being played, and my Windows Media Player came up with an incorrect listing (I was amused to see the Hawkwind tracks falling over completely as being by ‘Unknown Artist’, though it has to be said that the Nik Turner & Far Flung tracks were assigned to the wrong artists as well). I dipped in to what WMP reckoned was ‘Burning Inside’ by Born to Go, for example, to discover a really good number by Nick Riff’s Freak Element called ‘Vagabond’, at least if this Internet listing is correct:

1. Intro 0:20
2. (Gaia Avatara) Sunrise 1:22
3. (Nucleon) Green Acid 2:15
4. (ST37) Translunar Injection 3:47
5. (F/i) Evan Walker P.I.M. 1:09
6. (Red Giant) Rooms of Shord 0:43
7. (Far Flung with Nik Turner) 25,000 Feet Per Second 5:16
8. (Far Flung with Nik Turner) /Soul Herder 1:05
9. (Far Flung with Nik Turner) /Opa Loka 3:33
10. (Bionaut) Re-Laminate my organ donor card (longer re-edit) 4:05
11. (Nick Riff's Freak Element) Vagabond 5:58
12. (Born To Go) Burning inside 0:39
13. (Quarkspace) Faerienot Space 3:49
14. (Drumplay) The stream 1:42
15. (Architectural Metaphor) Kairds 1:50
16. (Alien Planetscapes)Radiation King 3:44
17. (Melting Euphoria) Celestial Hysteria 1:07
18. (Hawkwind) Kauai 1:30
19. (Hawkwind) /Assassins Of Allah 9:14
20. (Hawkwind) Brainstorm / In Your Area 12:39

The class of the field here is Nik Turner’s collaboration with Far Flung, being very indicative of the quality of his work across his American tours during the 1990s, the reinvention and updating of ‘Opa Loka’ a particular highlight. Hawkwind’s selections here are predictable choices of familiar standards (the beautiful Kauai is simply a backdrop for extended acknowledgments and gratitudes from the organisers) with two acts of Brainstorm (featuring a guest appearance from Turner) sandwiching the quite dreadful, who on Earth thought this was a good idea, ‘Hawkwind In Your Area’ cod-reggae disaster.

Look, the re-availability of this set is a good thing and welcome exposure to a melting-pot of imaginative artists all set on taking a similar set of inspirational starting-points in a myriad of different directions. But what would have served this better as an archive representation of that weekend might have been to have torn-up what had previously been put together and release a single disc of highlights with a more explanatory booklet placing the whole thing in its proper perspective, telling the listener a bit more about the featured acts and, radical thinking here, actually telling you what you are listening to.

Get it though, because it’s an important snapshot of this scene.