Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Coma Cluster - Observation

Observation is one of the most intricate and absorbing albums that I’ve been sent for review since this blog was established – it’s also by turns uncomfortable, discordant and challenging, but then in researching the background to this avant-garde spacerock conception I come away with a strong feeling that this was at least part of the objective of the compositions.

Firstly, there’s the multi-geographical make-up of Coma Cluster because although the driving force and the starting point is the vision of Icelandic musicians Hallvardur Ásgeirsson and Siffvilnius, this is another project made possible by collaborations through the ether - so that they can say that it was created across three continents and in four countries. And, befitting such a cross-continental endeavour, they note on their website that one piece here, gAldur, was performed live at the United Nations in the presence of Ban Ki Moon and Bill Clinton.

And then there’s the backdrop to the album’s themes, because what was conceptualised as being a reflection of what’s happening down here on Earth expressed as the observation of our industrial malaise by a race of beings far beyond our own technology, got overtaken in its recording by the global financial chaos and meltdown – which as we know impacted greatly on Iceland itself.

So this brooding and unearthly suite of sounds, emanating out from a country that I’ve always very much wanted to visit for its sheer sense of ‘outsideness’, reflects back the multitudinous opportunities for catastrophe that we’ve created for ourselves – and have had created for us by those in power, whether they wield that openly or from within the shadows. As such, this is a work of darkness that still allows the crystalline structures of hope and beauty to come through as shimmering lights amidst the often hopelessness that we find ourselves rooted in.

It’s the sort of work that is difficult to write about within the traditional framework of music journalism, since what’s being aurally visualised is a complex arrangement that is described by the composers as being “a new musical harmony, an organic sound capturing contemporary humanistic culture view from a remote perspective.” I can say that it possesses a studied sense of menace, that there’s a deliberate sense of unease that runs through its compelling free-form sounds - and that it’s a work that demands rapt attention from the listener.

The Coma Cluster - Official Website
Buy Download of Observation

Monday, 16 November 2009

Space Dust

With only a couple of weeks to go until the Hawklords perform at the Barney Bubbles Memorial gig which takes place on 29th November at London's 229 Club, here's a round-up of the ticket outlets:

229 Club Venue Hot Line 02073237229 or

Shindig! magazine has a great tw0-page interview with Nik Turner this month, well worth checking out - though just to note, the interview lists the Barney event as being at The Roundhouse - it's not, it's the 229 Club, Great Portland Street.

Jean d'Auberlaque of Scarlet Utopia, recently reviewed here, writes to say that the band has a track included in this month's Classic Rock magazine's Spacerock compliation CD - the track is 'Supernovae', so look out for that!

Finally, Richard Millman of Carlton Melton, also recently covered on this blog, kindly sent me a package across the pond containing their new vinyl LP Pass It On...; they've also got a new website online here.

More reviews coming later this week... and many apologies to bands and musicians waiting for reviews to be posted - this blog, I'm chuffed to say, seems to be going from strength to strength and whilst there's a little backlog currently, due to print deadlines having to come first, I'm endeavouring to get up to date as soon as possible. Thanks to everybody who supports the blog!

Inverse Gravity Vehicle - Magnetizer

Here's a project I'm helping with a little bit of press on, any high-traffic bloggers or print / radio reviewers interested, please drop me a note from the e-mail address on my profile page.

Anyone who has followed Joie Hinton’s travels through electronic music, from his early wanderings around the free festivals with the O’Roonies to the moment at the Stonehenge People’s Free Festival of 1984 when he had the opportunity to “make some swishy noises” with the embryonic Ozric Tentacles and onwards to Eat Static, will anticipate that any album with his signature stamped on it will be a delightfully contradictory collision of bucolic soundscapes, mad-cap electronics and deliciously outrageous samples. There’s plenty of all of those sounds happening on this release, a by turns thought-provoking and wacky development of his most recent project, Inverse Gravity Vehicle, aided and abetted by co-conspirator, synth player, lyricist and vocalist Deborah L. Knights.

Inverse Gravity Vehicle developed out of Deborah’s long-time friendship with Professor J. R. Searl, her experiences of the healing benefits of his Searl Effect Generator, and Joie and Deborah’s interest in his experiments into the extraction of clean and sustainable energy that can be used to power a multitude of applications. “John Searl is the Grandfather of inverse gravity,” Joie explains. “He’s developed technology that could save the world. It’s a really positive thing to do, like having a band with an ecological message.”

“I was working on songs about his work and investigating his story,” adds Deborah, “and then got involved with a film about him, which originally a major film company was funding though the director eventually made as an independent DVD, researching and gathering evidence. The song ‘Through The Eyes Of A Child’, included here, was originally intended for the film. I was working on the album and involved in the film research over a couple of years, so I had plenty of ideas and endless audio recordings of John Searl earmarked for tracks. On the other hand, ‘Predator Control’ is an animal rights song, which I wrote with passion and anger, so there’s a range of themes that we want people to know and think about.”

Joie and Deborah had encountered each other some twenty-five years ago in a Primrose Hill Studio, met up again several years later, and found themselves perfect partners for Inverse Gravity Vehicle. The resulting combination of Professor Searl’s narration, Deborah’s elegant vocals and Joie’s spacey electronics has already graced two Inverse Gravity Vehicle CDs, but this two-disc set brings the music much more to the fore and is an excellent jumping-on point for those yet to catch-up with this project.

Gathered are an impressive range of collaborators. Ozric’s Ed Wynne makes his unique guitar presence felt on ‘Predator Control’. More recently Hinton has performed with the band that inspired his own musical ambitions, Here & Now, leading to contributions here from mainstays Keith ‘Missile Bass’ Bailey and Steffe Sharpstrings. Even Tom Billings, Lord Mayor of Glastonbury at the time of the recordings makes an appearance, playing piano on Deborah’s peace song, ‘Friendly Fire’.We’ll only brief allude to an ‘appearance’ from a rather grandiose figure of television presenting, and instead revel in the melting pot of the weird, the wonderful and the way-out tracks that are loaded with imagination and which will engage its audience with its multi-layered approach and sheer zest.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Humans - We Are The Humans

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of half an hour’s telephone interview with Toyah Willcox for a forthcoming magazine feature, which gave me the opportunity to ramble around Toyah’s classic output and talk to her about her current project, the vocals and bass focused trio The Humans.

Toyah’s publicist was kind enough to send over copies of The Humans’ debut album We Are The Humans and the accompanying single, their minimalist cover of the Nancy Sinatra classic ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, featuring a guest performance from Toyah’s husband, Robert Fripp. He’ll also be making guest appearances on some UK dates The Humans have planned for February 2010 (currently booking are The Assembly, Leamington Spa on 22/02/2010, The Junction, Cambridge, 23/02/2010 and The Scala, London on 24/02/2010 but I understand more are in the pipeline).

The concept of The Humans is essentially to mesh bass frequencies with vocals to achieve something both pure in sound and which pushes boundaries in its goal of deconstructing the traditional pop music format – their cover of ‘These Boots...’ is a manifesto to this respect you’d have to conclude. It’s sharp, snappy and sexy, has a vitality all of its own and a delicious sense of irony in its sparseness that takes it far away from the original. It’s available for digital download and though it’s not on my copy of the accompanying album, I do understand it is now included with subsequent versions.

The album itself is a startling work. Startlingly brave and ambitious - and startlingly different from the general public perception of what a Toyah album is, despite her own creatively diverse body of work since the ‘glory’ days of the early ‘80s. That’s quite correct of course, since this is a group project, a core-trio also comprised of bassist Chris Wong and REM drummer (and former Ministry guitarist) Bill Rieflin. “The Humans already have a very good following of people who are just not interested in what I’ve done in the past,” Toyah noted to me. “So, yes, I opened the Rewind festival a few weeks ago to 30,000 people and that was a ‘80s festival, but I think The Humans have just won a completely new audience. [They might be] interested in the history of myself, Robert and Bill, but the whole point of that history is that we can condense it into something completely different and new.”

But it’s really the mark of a continuing creativity and an eclectic openness to experimentalism that underpins this band. Toyah’s vocals possess a staccato spikiness loaded with confrontational passion that tells us she’s still as challenging in her art as she ever was, but in comparison to her earlier records the sparseness of the surrounding instruments here gives her wide-open spaces in which to work and this is immensely effective and satisfying. ‘Quicksilver’ has an urgent, sultry vibe to it that’s incredibly absorbing, and the juxtaposition into the following ‘Labyrinth’ with its heavily rhythmic descending bass lines is therefore all the more exciting. ‘Noise In Your Head’, with its layered voices contrasted against punctuated bass notes develops into a discordant lushness that switches off in an instant to keep that unsettling tone at the front. But, really, everywhere in this exceptional debut are the sounds of skilful exploration of technique and tone, and with a second album already in the pipeline, you’d have to anticipate this to be a project that will continue to creatively grow.

The Humans Myspace Page
Toyah Willcox Official Website
Toyah on YouTube

Marc Hans Rummig - Alien Hymns

I don’t know much about Marc Hans Rummig, other than that he lives in Lakewood, Washington, USA is influenced by Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre and Tim Blake, amongst others, has been playing synthesisers since the mid-70s, and, based on these instrumental tracks here, has an interest in Star Trek and a passion for making well-played and nicely quirky spacerock music.

Alien Hymns, I believe, has as its basis a collection of compositions that Marc originally conceived about twenty years ago and has been reworking and updating for this self-released CD. It kicks off with an engaging sea shanty piece, cunningly rebranded as ‘The Vulcan Space Shanty’ before wandering through a range of styles, taking in the cathedral organ sounds of ‘Stratos’, the monastic echoes of ‘Talos Lullabye’ and the brightly futuristic sparkle of ‘The Romulan March’.

The second half of the CD works itself around a recurring theme with an overarching title of ‘The Voyage Home’, an up tempo movement played with a brightness and light deftness that’s really rather appealing before playing out with the more strident and grandiose ‘Leaving Vulcan (Reprise)’.

Marc’s got some samples of this CD available to listen to on his Myspace page, including the afore-mentioned ‘Stratos’, the fragile brittleness of ‘Walking with Tomita’ and the militaristic ‘Klingon Battlecruiser’. Drop by and have a listen!

Ancestors - Of Sound Mind

I’ve been reading bits and pieces from the current Marvel Comics story-arc ‘event’, Dark Reign, wherein various ‘Dark’ versions of characters and teams have been enjoying their own mini-series, and it struck me on listening to this album by Los Angeles quintet Ancestors, that there’s a useful way to describe their music inherent in Marvel’s titles. Bear with me, because it’s as if Of Sound Mind was created by alternative versions of some of the notables of the spacerock scene – if it were a gig it would feature a headline line-up of Dark Hawkwind and Dark Pink Floyd. If a band with Pink in their name could have it prefaced with ‘Dark’ of course.

It’s a real magnum opus, a powerhouse art house suite full of not just big but genuinely massive sounds, overwhelmingly saturated with blackness at its core. By drawing the ‘Dark’ analogy, it’s not to say that they sound like this or that band, even though in free-flow instrumental mode, such as on ‘Mother Animal’, they’re akin to Hall of the Mountain Grill or Warrior on the Edge of Time era ‘live’ Hawkwind, that sort of multi-layered, multi-textured freakery where every musician is laying on more and more drive so that what’s organically created is a density for which ‘Wall of Sound’ is a totally inadequate metaphor. It’s more to say that you’ve heard this music before, it’s a soundtrack that’s brought you to where you are now and yet you’ve never heard it previously – that sort of warped or twisted vision of something close and vital.

Much of this mighty and drawn-out set of aural movements is totally thrilling in its relentlessness. When they take things down a notch or two, as on the piano-based ‘Challenging’, they lose nothing whatsoever of their intensity – they might become thoughtful and brooding but they mesh their sound in such a way as to be completely absorbing and demanding of rapt attention. What didn’t I like? Yet more guttural vocals seeping in, even though I’m sure most would not find that delivery style out of place in Ancestors’ urgently primal brutality. That aside, Of Sound Mind is yet another great Tee Pee Records release – we’re learning here to look to each new release from this label with ever more urgent expectation, right? – and absolutely will hook-in readers of this blog to its uncompromising delivery.

Tee Pee Records Website