Wednesday, 2 December 2009

National Health - National Health

Emerging from the embers of key Canterbury band Hatfield And The North, augmented by remnants of the original Gilgamesh line-up, National Health released two albums on Charly Records in the second half of the 1970s, starting with this eponymous LP, and a further album in 1982 following the untimely death of keyboardist Alan Gowen. (Though their second, Of Queues And Cures, is released concurrently, it wasn’t available for the review deadline here).

A true ensemble creation, National Health reflects the multitude of contributors that came, played and move on during a three-year gestation period, so that although the overall vision is that of Hatfield (via Egg) keyboard player Dave Stewart, the compositions had plenty of room for not just the core line-up but returning ‘guests’ to add their embellishments. It’s that breadth of range that makes National Health such an intricate listen with acoustic and electric guitars and pianos contrasting with layers of competing moog, clarinet and bells, over which ex-Hatfield singer Amanda Parsons emerges from the melee to add her understated vocals. Completely at odds with the time of its creation but a curiously involving and representative slice of Canterbury sounds.

Litmus - Aurora

A couple of reviews tonight that originally got written for print magazines but got squeezed out through space considerations. Ha! That's a pun, you know! But seriously, though...

For anyone who has been following London-based space-rockers Litmus in recent years, and thanks to endorsements from the likes of Julian Cope that’s an ever expanding audience, their third album is an absolute treat. For though this band has sometimes been tarred as being too obviously Hawkwind influenced, Aurora says that they’ve broken free of convenient journalistic shticks with a contemporary sci-fi swish that might be possessed of elongated improvisation but is based on solid verse, chorus foundations.

Two years back they released Planetfall, a juggernaut heavy rock album that obscured the more thoughtful parts of their work. They’ve avoided repeating that here by recording the guitar/bass/drums at Foel Studios in Wales and then overdubbing with well-judged keyboards back at base. Saturating their basic sound in this way has produced an immensely satisfying album of warmth and depth.

Whilst Litmus are happy to pay homage to the extended riff, they’re always in control of their destiny by being able to bring their music right back into focus as songs, so that the epic bookends of this record, ‘Beyond The Sun’ and ‘Red Skies’, have hooks that pay-off throughout their driving majesty. ‘We are kings of infinite space’ they chant. Quite right.