Sunday, 30 January 2011

Alone Records

Towards the end of last year I received a bundle of new releases from Malaga-based Alone Records which I've been looking for an opportunity to cover here; not a label that I've encountered before but a look at their website (available both in Spanish and in English) reveals a company that works in the general area of psychedelia – progressive – folk and has a number of releases coming to fruition currently.

Holy Picnic is the debut album from psychedelic folksters Aleppo Pine who came together in Barcelona during 2008 and who place their music in the context of inspiration from Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. "Coloured trees, sounds from the forest and space trips. Submerge inside the occult among folk, psychedelia and rock... The landscape transforms all around you." What they've produced is very much a late 60s, early 70s sort of feel using sitars and theremins to create a typically quasi-mystical hippie vibe that's also suggested by the surrealistic collage artwork of their cover and booklet. It veered too much towards that sort of 'fairy magic' for my own tastes, though some of the tracks that possessed a harder edge, such as 'It's all in Your Mind', I found much more successful in delivering a psychedelic mind journey into inner self... as it were. The eastern theme of 'Coloured Trees', very heavily dependent on sitar sounds, I also thought very pleasing and evocative and when they talk about their music leading to "hidden paths, where darkness and mystery become light," then I think these tracks particularly deliver on that intent, evoking an incense and mysticism based mediation and peace that has an gossamer and elusive charm about it. Not quite my thing, overall, but I can see the appeal for followers of this strand of psychedelia.

I always sit up and take notice of albums recorded at Dave Anderson's Foel Studios up in Wales as the amount of great music created there increases year on year and the musicians that I talk to that have recorded there have only good things to say about their experiences – particularly when Dave plays them In Search of Space in that environment, so The Soulbreaker Company's Itaca immediately grabbed my attention for that very reason. And indeed the Welsh studio seems to have worked some magic again for its part in recording this atmospheric mix of soulful, progressive and heavy space rock. Hailing from Vitoria in the Basque Country, this is their very accomplished third album, full of fury and with a really sharp edge – big, rounded sounds with a classic rock vocal delivery, some insistent drumming and really thrilling lead guitar lines offset with some excellent sax from guest saxophonist and flautist Kike Guzman. As with the Aleppo Pine, the vocals are delivered in English and in the case of Itaca these are very strong lyrics. 'Oh! Warsaw' talks of how 'I heard the chimes of war / Till the end of my life', while 'Where the Mermaids Sing Loud', a really powerful and energetic piece of work deals with rootless and inner turmoil while having a true wall of sound cacophony in its delivery. The overriding musical motifs are those of a heavy progressive persuasion tripping into the space rock genre by virtue of the sax and synths but it's an album of steely resolve and boundless power playing that's very motivational with the dial turned up very high.

Which leaves us pondering the final in this trio of releases, Barcelona-based Cuzo and their improvisational and experimental guitar / bass / drums and effects mesh, Otros Mundos, visually the most overtly space rock in terms of presentation and a really challenging mix of heavy and deliberate rhythms often overlaid with distortion and fuzz that actually never loses sight of its musicality despite that. 'Coche Imaginario' takes as its starting point a very slow bass line that develops with tribal drumming and a gritty guitar riff and works itself into a dark jam, densely textured even whilst it maintains a feeling of space between the instrumentation. 'Ni Vivos ni Muertos' has a brooding sense of unease that leads into 'Robots en Movimiento' with its aura of regimentation and repetitive action that has a Fritz Lang / Metropolis sense about it, certainly a black and white cinematic feel that lingers around a lot of Cuzo's music here. Rather dark in mood and texture, and very successful.

Alone Records

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Round Up the Unusual Suspects

Before kicking off this quick survey of things I've been e-mailed about or that have otherwise come to attention and need passing onwards, a quick mention of what I'm up to in the print world this month. R2 magazine has just published its January/February edition (if you're attending any of the forthcoming Levelling The Land Levellers shows, this issue will be available from the band's merchandise desk – otherwise from the usual outlets, or use the handy stockists locater here). My principle activity for R2 this month is way outside of the space rock arena, as I've a three-pager interview with Mike Scott on the Waterboys Appointment with Mr. Yeats shows that are taking place over the next few days, and chatting with 'white bluesman' Dirty Ray and his excellent debut album Big World for a Little Man, but I'm also covering a couple of reissues from the always dependable Esoteric Recordings, notably the Here & Now album Give and Take and the Soft Machine disc Land of Cockayne as well as releases by Dakota Suite, Mostly Autumn, Haight-Ashbury and The Daydream Club. Over in the February Record Collector I'm taking a turn at tackling the regular 'Label of Love' column by interviewing Dave Weller of 4Zero Records about the inception, development and future plans of the label, enjoying the diaries of Belle & Sebastian mainstay Stuart Murdoch, The Celestial Cafe, and covering a DVD of Ginger Baker's Airforce and EMI's Lindisfarne reissue package. Busy week then... other than all being written back in 2010. So last year!

Ciprian Costache from Romanian band Arc Gotic has dropped me a note about an instrumental track, "recorded in our garage", that's now available on Soundcloud, tagged as shoegaze and space rock, entitled 'Floating Upstream'. I really rather liked this well-named composition, one that feels intimate and yet spacious at the same time with a real dream-like quality to it. I'm interested to hear more and have added their Soundcloud page to the links on this blog – I'll get around to dividing the links into blogs and bands at some point, and start adding more links, so if a link would be useful to you then drop me an e-mail. I've not really got into Soundcloud so far though it seems to be something that has taken-off with the apparent demise of Myspace as a meaningful way of distributing new music – someone should have told Myspace that if it's not broke you don't need to fix it, now they have one miserable mess on their hands it seems to me – but I picked up, thorugh the Arc Gotic page, a link to another band who I think are called Harmony of the Spheres with some interesting, if defiantly lo-fi, sounds uploaded; also worth a look.

Soundawesome is, I assume, another music distribution system that is coming through to fill the gap left by the current poor state of Myspace. I need to mention here that the Hawklords have a presence there – and am most heartened by their status tagline advising that they are "planning UK gigs for Spring 2011". The principal reason for directing people to their page is that their Barney Bubbles concert from a while back is in the final stages of being released on DVD and looking, from the clips already released, as though it's going to be a very good film indeed. Advance order details are on the Hawklords' page, and Jerry Richards tells me that the actual release date is only a couple of weeks away.

One of my up and coming print reviews will be of the Tim Smith benefit album, Leader of the Starry Skies, a gathering of musicians including Julianne Regan, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and XTC genius Andy Partridge. I know there'll be a lot of fans of Cardiacs here and this is a respectful and enthusiastic reflection of the esteem in which Smith's music is held, a little idiosyncratic perhaps for the non-devotee but still a good reflection of the body of work so cruelly halted by Smith's massive heart attack back in 2008.

OK, more Soundcloud postings. I've heard from Joel Davis of Portland band Mars Retrieval Unit, or MRU, who recently had the opportunity to support Ozric Tentacles in Portland. They've just released a CD, Two Sides, and Joel's directed me to some tracks that he particularly thinks of as being space rock. I'll note these tracks here and plan to produce a proper review in due course. 'Amanita Dream' is a delicious mix of a rather clean and cool jazz sound mixed with a heavier spacey lilt in places, 'Osmosis' (featuring dual vocals that I believe are from Chelsea Luker, who is really good on 'Amanita Dream' and guitarist Rob Sipsky) is again a clean sounding, leaning almost to AOR, song with some lovely sax playing, also from Chelsea, extending out to ten and a half minutes so that MRU can lay claim to jam band status in the way that they extend and use the running time – though I don't know much about them aside from one live CD in my collection I'd say they touch a bit of the same ground as Phish. 'Ares' has space rock lyrical themes and resides to towards the modern progressive rock side of the genre, consummately professional in delivery and contemporary in feel. I've delved into their Facebook page and see that my old mate Roger Neville-Neil is a fan of theirs – that's a good enough recommendation for me and I'll follow up and cover this band in more depth in the future. I assume the Soundcloud link is for public consumption (again, I don't really know the ins and outs of Soundcloud yet) so I'll note that their page is here, and delete the link if I'm in error, but it seems to me a good way to sample before buying and naturally encourage appreciative ears to support the band with a CD purchase from their website.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Mugstar - Lime

Let's not even get into New Year resolutions that might include keeping this blog rather more up to date than it has been over the last couple of months; I mean, the resolution is there sure enough and there's a stack of great material that arrived in the last quarter of 2010 that needs a proper addressing and writing up but recently there's been plenty of print work which has rather got ahead in the 'to do' list I'm afraid. For those asking, and 'thank you' because there have been plenty, Festivalized is going through its final editing process and we can very confidently anticipate a publication date during the spring; aside from that there's a few interviews coming up for R2 magazine, and Record Collector readers will hopefully have spotted a number of space rock items that I've reviewed in its pages over the last few months, particularly Esoteric Records' very welcome Here & Now reissues, the In Search Of Hawkwind covers album that I also covered here a few weeks back and a number of Steven Wilson / Porcupine Tree CDs and DVDs among other items of interest to readers here.

But to kick off 2011 here, what better start than to go back and cover one of the best space rock albums of 2010, from a band that managed two album releases last year and most definitely therefore out most, your humble chronicler of the scene among them, to be the busiest working in the genre by a country mile! I didn't get to hear their first offering of the year, ...Sun, Broken..., but received a review advance of their second, Lime, from Important Records and can't really enthuse enough about the four dense and dirty tracks powering across this record.

'Sunburnt Impedance Machine' (what sort of machine?) launches proceedings in a full-on manner, really solid drumming and some driving guitars and keyboard sounds that create a mighty conflagration which gets right into their uncompromising mix of space and kraut rock and burns with a undying sense of primal urgency. Like a lot of In Search of Hawkwind, Lime has a debt to the Nik Turner wing of the Hawkwind sound, promoting weirdness and discordance but there's also the chugging drivability of the Brock approach as well. 'Serra' just seems to go on forever, weaving in and out of its groove, testing out pathways and following its own internal sense of reason, totally absorbing, absolutely mesmeric. 'Radar King' is a total mind-fuck, commanding its share of the disc with military authority before descending into fx loops and then outwards and onwards to experimental adaptations of its original theme before returning to its original process with even more added menace. And 'Beyond The Sun' plays things out with a studied repetition of aching atmospherics that once again demands the comment that this is totally absorbing. I think what 'Beyond The Sun' leaves us with is a reminder that while across this record the power of Mugstar's sound is the predominant force, the brooding mood of unsettling unease is another compelling component of what they are all about.

Important Records
Mugstar Official Website