A Dusted Review: Draconis by Skullflower (October 30th, 2014)

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Listening to the music of Skullflower is a psychedelic experience in the same way that staring at a blank wall or ceiling in the dark whilst on acid, drunk out of your skull and/or high on grass (delete as applicable) can be. It’s as overbearing and unwavering as the open-ended violin drone compositions of Tony Conrad or the blasted walls of sound spat out by the likes of Vomir or the Rita. It’s proof that a full-on sonic assault can, in the right context, be as blissful and, I’ll say it again, psychedelic as the tripped-out musings of a Grateful Dead or Amon Düül II. It just takes more patience and a willingness to enter into labyrinthine minds of Matt Bower and Samantha Davies. Bower, in particular, has been ploughing this arcane, extreme furrow for the best part of 30 years, gradually honing it until he’s reached something approaching “tantric noise,” like Pärson Sound with the acoustic circular melodies replaced by unending acidic mechanical bile.

For Draconis, the duo returns to the absolutist vein of 2006’s Tribulation and Strange Keys to Untune God’s Firmament from four years later: this latest album, is impossibly long. The tracks bleed into one another like melting glaciers and the primitive song structures of 2011’s superlative Fucked on a Pile of Corpses are whittled away by saturation and excruciating volume. But compared to those two releases, Skullflower have been given (or gave themselves) license to flesh things out a bit, notably via the lush packaging. The album comes in a six-panel double-digipack, complete with a 16-page booklet overflowing with lush illustrations and bizarre photographs that both detail Draconis’ thematic concerns and deepen the mystery.

Bower has long had a fascination with arcana and mythological lore, although his focus is, as ever, enigmatic. The paintings that adorn these pages are abstract yet sinister, with vivid colours and strangely animalistic shapes creating an unerring sense of moody drama, as if we’re gazing at ancient humankind’s primitive attempts to recreate the legends of the earth’s creation or the epic battles of Norse mythology. Obscure symbols crop up here and there, whilst sketches and texts evoke trees, dragons and pyramids under the stars, drawing lines in myth and science from the north of England to Bhutan via ancient Egypt and the Hindu goddess Kali. Keeping things as vague and mysterious as possible only accentuates the album’s heady form of lyrical psychedelia. I cannot pretend to understand Bower and Davies’ vision, for I do not have their knowledge or imagination, but it sucks you in like a tornado, because you can’t help but try to figure it out.

“Tornado” is also a great metaphor for the music on Draconis. Each track on disc one is a veritable maelstrom of noise with extensive layer of “strings” (live they focus on guitar and violin, but sometimes I swear I can hear synths on Draconis, albeit bludgeoned into abstraction by effects) superimposed and swirling around one another like gales of wind blowing in every direction at once. Disc two is slightly more nuanced, from the two-minute opener “Alien Awakening” (there are aliens in here as well!) that sounds like Keiji Haino recorded in a wind tunnel mid-solo to the epic musical tapestry of 15-minute closer “Dakshinikalika” via “Dresden Spires”’ crumbling blocks of industrial crunch.

These are some of the most epic and evocative tracks ever released by Skullflower: huge slabs of metaphysical noise with the awe-inspiring primeval-ness of ancient stone circles, ice-capped mountains or ruined industrial buildings. In translating nature’s mystery and majesty into noise, Skullflower have thrown a curveball into the genre’s progression, taking out of sweaty club spaces and into somewhere more spectral, contemplative and, yet again, psychedelic. It’s no wonder the band mention Popol Vuh on the label’s website.

But should anyone reading this be tempted to regard Bower and Davies as little more than two slightly unhinged hippies with a taste for noise and post-pagan mumbo-jumbo, I urge you to check out their back catalogue and anything else you can find on them. There’s a vein of sly, sardonic humour that runs through their entire work (encapsulated here by a picture of their cat looking bemused in the booklet), whilst all this sturm-und-drang conceals first and foremost a deep sense of humanity: our past, our present, our future, our emotions and our fears.

It’s hard to tell if this hour and fifteen minutes of noise and drone is a definitive Skullflower statement, but it does what all great music must: it throws open the doors of possibility, asks more questions than it answers, and aims for something beyond the mundanities of reality.

A Dusted Review: Commune by Goat (September 4, 2014)

Try as I could, I remained singularly unmoved when masked Swedish psych-boppers Goat first sashayed into the world’s collective conscience about two years ago. I didn’t bite, but as a committed fan of psychedelic music since my teenage years (starting with Jefferson Airplane and Amon Düül II), I was more than willing to give them a second chance. After all, I may not have liked the slightly gimmicky nature of the band, but Goat can certainly churn out an infectious beat.

Goat unashamedly looks into the past to fuel its musical synapses, and, more importantly, the band casts its net fearlessly, drawing in African and Asian influences as well as nods to the traditional music of their home nation. If all that sounds insufferably hip, well that’s because it is in a way, but these are talented musicians and their plundering is never anything less than respectful and tasteful. On Commune, the African inspiration is particularly prevalent with jerky polyrhythms popping and fizzing through tracks like “Talk to God” and “The Light Within” with the energy of the Africa 70 circa 1977.

Which is not to say the music sounds like a pastiche, because Goat is canny enough to emphasize other influences (the brief instrumental “To Travel the Path Unknown” sounds positively Brazilian) and veer off into more straight-ahead rock before sounding like a covers band of whichever influence they’re mining. The band also clearly likes a wah-ed out riff and massed vocals; “Goatchild,” for instance, sounds closer to Woodstock than Lagos. To its credit, the band generally maintains a sense of cohesion on Commune, even as the songs fly off in so many directions.

The album’s title, and track titles like “Talk to God”, suggest a certain religionism, but the two female vocalists’ delivery is so blank and impersonal that most of the lyrics are pretty unfathomable.  As a result, Commune’s religious undertones never feel preachy. They do, however, feel contrived, and this is where the band falls down a tad. I just don’t believe them. They claim to build their songs up in lengthy improvisation sessions, but you wouldn’t gather that on listening to them. They wear masks, but it’s not clear what this anonymity achieves, beyond being a good selling point to the gullible and faddish. Commune is imbued with a certain spirituality, but beyond nabbing the musical traditions of faith music in Asia or Africa (chanting, ritual performance, etc.) and throwing in some rock ’n’ roll, I’m not sure what —if any — message is being conveyed on this album.

The best psych music of recent times (Gnod, Acid Mothers Temple, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sunburned Hand of the Man, to name four) has been defined by slow build-ups and a true sense of individuals coming together, dissolving their egos for the common good and setting the controls for deep space. Hell, it worked for Hawkwind. Goat are a bit too tight and knowing to be transcendental or truly trippy, for now at least, although the Afro-beat leanings that crop up all over Commune point at avenues rich in potential out-of-body experiences.

A Quietus Review: Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder by Psyche Bugyo (May 23rd, 2014)

 

Even amid the myriad offshoots that frequently peel away from the supersized parallel universe inhabited by Acid Mothers Temple and The Melting Paraiso UFO, Psyche Bugyo deserves much note, primarily because it manages to out-weird its parent band. Ostensibly a concept album based on a loose narrative surrounding samurais and ninjas, Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is mostly an opportunity for AMT bassist and vocalist Tsuyama Atsushi to go wild in a majestic homage to classic British heavy rock, and he and his team blow the fucking doors off in the process.

In essence, the concept and storyline behind Psychedelic Judgeman are immaterial, and I doubt even Japanese speakers would be able to get much of it, given the sparseness of the way Tsuyama deploys his lyrics and how nonsensical the delivery is. His eructations sound more like mantras, peppered by scattered woops and hysterical laughter; they’re both silly and unsettling, even when he lapses into deranged English on ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. What really marks Psychedelic Judgeman as a mini triumph of modern day psych is the way in which obvious influences (Cream, King Crimson, Free, Van der Graaf Generator) are fed into a magimix, reduced to a seamless paste and then spat back out as three tracks of burning, broiling hard-edged trippiness.

Take the wacky opener ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’. Driven by circular organ riffs and open-ended twin guitar solos like the improvisational parts by In The Court Of The Crimson King-era KC, it builds into a typically AMT-esque wall of constant playing, a jam session elevated to rock & roll art. At intervals, when Tsuyama takes to the microphone, the band lurches into a soaring coda based on The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, which dissolves back into the main melody as Tsuyama’s vocals descend into ominous babbles and grunts. The drummer sounds like Michael Giles, the saxophonist more like Van der Graaf’s David Jackson, whilst there’s no end of references for the organ: take your pick from Wakeman, Emerson or Banton. At fifteen minutes in duration, ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’ sounds like the middle section of ‘Twentieth Century Schizoid Man’ extended into an endless, freeform jam throughout which Psyche Bugyo are somehow able to keep things together, their interplay bordering on the telepathic. It’s probably the most ferociously gleeful and hard-hitting of the album’s three tracks; a teleport through time to the height of seventies’ prog-rock’s gestatory phase, when it viscerally promised so much more than its later decades would ultimately provide.

After such an unfettered opener, the 34-minute title track and centrepiece is more conceptual and varied, starting with a similar driving opening section as ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’, although sounding here more like John Peel’s erstwhile protégés Tractor merged with Cream than King Crimson. Drums crash and thunder, organs are overloaded to the max and the guitars rip up an almighty tornado of ecstatic feedback and noise. Just over ten minutes in, the pace switches instantaneously to a slow-paced heavy ballad akin to Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’, or, perhaps more pertinently, ‘Kokoro’ by Japanese seventies explorers Far East Family Band. The solos here are exquisite, aching with bluesy emotion, the space opening up behind the guitarists to really pour out their notes. This section builds and builds, exploding with stadium-wide intensity, before disintegrating into a miasma of noise that betrays the band’s roots in Acid Mothers Temple. ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’ ends with a rapid-fire proto-metal dash to the finish line, mimicking ‘Siberian Khatru’, the finale from Yes’ seminal Close To The Edge.

After such a dramatic central track, closer ‘Son of Mr Livingfellow’ feels tacked on, its folky acoustic guitars, massed vocals and ever-changing tempos at odds with the burning intensity of ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. Maybe that’s for the best, and a folk-rock closer that nods towards the weird end of British psych (The Incredible String Band or Jan Dukes de Grey, perhaps) is no hardship. It also feels a lot closer to a number of Japanese bands like the aforementioned Far East Family Band or J.A. Caesar, proving that Psyche Bugyo are much more than the sum of their influences. Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is an album that sits out of time, for it could have been made at any time since 1968. There’s no higher compliment one could pay to a band bearing their inspirations so brazenly on their sleeves.

A Dusted Review – Stoner Rock by Bong (March 8th, 2014)

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“The more you think, the more you stink,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse producer David Briggs used to say, by way of explaining the way they went about crafting the band’s rough-edged form of intoxicating garage thrash. The principle was simple: The Horse’s heyday was during the era of grandiose prog and hard rock, but Young and Briggs achieved more transcendence than most of their contemporaries by sticking to a simple formula and never letting it get watered down by excessive overdubs or fancy production values.

I’m not sure if British doom metallers Bong have ever used that exact motto (and they sure sound ornate when compared to Crazy Horse), but there is a feeling on the ironically titled Stoner Rock that this band knows what it does best and has decided to run with it as far as possible.

Two of the genre’s founding fathers, Earth and Sunn O))), may have decided to elaborate on their heavy riffage by adding new textures, style or even by bending it to fit other musical varieties, but Bong is having none of it. For the duration of two monolithic, impenetrable tracks, it churns out a stream of repetitive, slow-burning riffs that straddle an omnipresent rhythmic base of plodding drums and fuzzed-out bass. It’s so boneheaded, so single-minded that it works when all reason suggests it shouldn’t. Do we really need another album of sloth-paced doom metal? Do we really need it to last for more than an hour over only two tracks? You wouldn’t think so, but Stoner Rock is pure sonic bliss, the kind of ear assault that, like the most brutal noise or most stately minimalism, burrows its way into the soul simply because it will not be moved. Put simply, there’s power in stubborness.

I’m aware this is starting to sound a bit like doom OCD, or the kind of elitism black metal fans have recently been accused of. There’s no doubting that some of the best music of the last few years has been crafted by bands and artists willing to twist doom’s fundamentals into fresh and invigorating new mutations, from Sunn O))) and its offshoots’ avant-garde genre-bending theatricality to Om’s cosmic spirituality, via Black Boned Angel’s hour-long meditation on the First World War on Verdun, Orthodox’s bizarre jazz inflections and Khanate’s brutal destructivism. All of the above have pride of place in my album collection, but I refuse to believe that Bong’s dogged pounding is in some way less worthy. Like Moss’ colossal Cthonic Rites, Stoner Rock gains power from repetition.

Yet listen closely and this is more than a brain-pounder. Bong’s guitars don’t just repeat themselves; they positively swirl, like whirlpools bursting out of Charybdis’ demonic maw. Beneath the fuzz and drone, a lone axe peals out a more majestic, open-ended solo, à la Manuel Göttsching, imbuing both “Polaris” and “Out of the Aeons,” Stoner Rock’s interchangeable slabs of sonic magma, with an energy bordering on the cosmic.

Even the somewhat comical spoken-word incantations can’t detract from this music’s hypnotic beauty. To listen to Stoner Rock at full volume is to lapse into a blissful trance where the world slides away to be replaced by fuzz, distortion and that sole guitar probing for the skies.

A Quietus Interview – Psychic Hi-Fi: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s Favourite Albums (January 23rd, 2014)

Neil Megson, now known as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, stands tall as an almost unique individual who has dedicated h/er entire adult life to h/er art. Best known, perhaps, as the intimidating and provocative lead vocalist in seminal, genre-founding industrial giants Throbbing Gristle, who evolved out of performance art group COUM Transmissions, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge became a key figure in the UK underground, with TG paving the way for the likes of Whitehouse, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.

However, as interviews with, and articles about, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge have consistently proved, there is more to Gen than h/er position as the first leading light of British sonic terrorism. Through h/er work with his post-TG band Psychic TV, and as an artist, s/he has consistently transformed the idea of how an artist can work and live through creativity, culminating in h/er collaborative work with h/er late wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, in which their all-consuming love led them to transcend the barriers of gender and identity, until they existed as two halves of one romantic and artistic creation, The Pandrogyne. Since Lady Jaye’s tragic passing in 2007, Genesis has dedicated h/erself to pursuing their shared vision, via the latest, righteously psychedelic incarnation of Psychic TV, and by continuing to share h/er and Jaye’s work, most recently in a lusciously-presented book compiling photos, artworks and writings.

Head to First Third’s website to get hold of the book.

Hapshash_and_the_coloured_coat_1390411452_resize_460x400Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids

Do you think it’s an unusual list?

Sort of, but I remember when we last spoke, I said that, contrary to what I’d imagined, you do come across as a bit of a hippie! Or at least deeply psychedelic.

Well, I grew up in the sixties. In 1962, I bought the first Rolling Stones single, and I still have it. I still have every single they released, in order, right up until Brian Jones was murdered. I saw Pink Floyd god knows how many times, and even did a couple of light shows for them…

We started listening to pirate radio and John Peel’s Perfumed Garden, and had a friend at school called Spidey who was very good at spotting interesting new music. John Peel was the first person to play The Velvet Underground, and Spidey said, “Listen to this, you’re gonna love this!”. That’s when we got the first violin.

We used to go to Birmingham, to this tiny little record shop that had nothing of interest except some Albert Ayler and free jazz. There was a record in there, and we recognised the artwork from Oz magazine so we knew it was by Hapshash and The Coloured Coat, because they used to do psychedelic posters and Oz. So we bought it just because of that. It was on Magnet Records. When we pulled out [the disc], we were shocked to see that it was on red vinyl, which we’d never seen before. We later discovered that all these people on the scene in London wanted to raise money for the legals fees of John “Hoppy” Hopkins, the first person who’d been busted for drugs and who co-founded the International Times. He was a real mover and shaker of the times. It’s like twenty to a hundred people high on acid jamming! We fell in love with it and still listen to it all the time. When we DJ, people come up to us and ask, “What was that with that great riff?” Guess what one of them ended up doing? Writing “We Are The Wombles”! That really got me in the head, that was worse than a bad acid trip!

Mike Batt! He also wrote the music for William Hague’s campaign…

Oh no! How could he go from Hapshash to that! That’s disappointing to say the least. Michael Batt, what a twat! I didn’t even like The Wombles…

Acid_mothers_temple_1390411485_resize_460x400Acid Mother’s Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. – Lord Of The Underground: Vishnu And The Magic Elixir

It was my manager, Ryan Martin, who also does Dais Records, who said, “You don’t know who Acid Mothers Temple are?!” I knew the name, but had never listened to them, so he immediately burned about 30 CDs! We loved it, and then he rang me to tell me they were playing live at The Knitting Factory the following week. He took me, and I was absolutely entranced. The guy at the front, with hair longer than mine that had gone grey, and he was swaying off the rhythm of the music, in perfect time to something in his head. It just blows you away. And then, what’s his name with the guitar, begins with an M…

Makoto Kawabata?

That’s it. He then freaks out, and does the opposite to this Zen thing. He’s everywhere, with his big afro. And you just think: “Fucking hell! That’s what music’s supposed to be like!” Psychedelic, free-form, and when you feel like going nuts, you go nuts. And then at the end the one who was so zen suddenly got his guitar and hung it from a pipe in the ceiling and started swinging it so it started to feedback. And then they just walked off. And we just thought: “After my own heart!” [laughs]. Afterwards, Makoto came up to us and said, “We’re such huge fans of yours, we can’t believe you came to see us. Here’s my guitar!”, and he signed and gave me his guitar neck, which he’d snapped off! He had a t-shirt of Che Guevara that he’d turned into himself, and he wrote lots of stuff in Japanese in a silver pen and gave it to me. We were so proud of that t-shirt. And then my fucking cleaner came in and laundered it! All the writing came off, all I had was the Che.

And everyone’s got a Che t-shirt! It’s interesting because a lot of the bands on your list, including AMT, are ones I discovered through Julian Cope.

Oh yes, of course. He loves all our new stuff too. He’s the same: it’s acid jamming. And it’s my roots. My roots aren’t rhythm & blues, it’s this. And a day comes when you think, “Fuck what the world thinks, I wanna hear what I like to hear, and there’s no-one around me doing it so let’s play our music”. And strangely enough, we’re more successful as a result of having just let go of all preconceptions and deciding to go back to this era. The audiences just go nuts. There you go. Be true to yourself.

Church_universal_and_triumphant__incChurch Universal And Triumphant, Inc. Featuring Elizabeth Clare Prophet – The Sounds Of American Doomsday Cults

This was the hardest one to track down and gather information about. I found a video of some chanting on YouTube.

Isn’t it weird? How do they do that with their voices [ululates manically]? There’s a really good documentary called Death Cults or something, and it shows you them digging this enormous bunker, and [Elizabeth Clare Prophet] says: “The world is going to end on this date with a nuclear war”. The bunker’s not finished on time, but they go down anyway, come back out about a week later and the world hasn’t changed [laughs]. She says the master’s order wasn’t right, and that the world will actually be in four or five months. So they all go back down, and it doesn’t happen. It turns out she has brain tumours, which probably explains the entire cult, and then she dies. But it’s still going! They interviewed them a few years later. The women all look like Elizabeth Clare, with their suburban haircuts and clothes, and big smiles! There’s one piece on the album where they’re cursing pop music, and it’s just stunning. Hilarious. We play them at the beginning when we DJ!

Hawkwind_1390411557_resize_460x400Hawkwind – Hawkwind

I just saw Nik Turner on Sunday night. He’s doing good. We have a strange history with him and Hawkwind. In 1971, in COUM Transmissions, we somehow managed to con this benefit concert for a commune that had been busted for drugs that Hawkwind were headlining, and got the second slot on the bill. None of us had ever played anything, except me on drums, and it was the era when everyone was trying to have the biggest drum kit, so we borrowed drum kits from some of the other bands involved. We got a dwarf on guitar who’d never even seen a guitar before. We had someone from Bridlington on a surfboard on a bucket of water as the vocalist, who just told jokes because he was actually a comedian. Cosey was dressed as an English schoolgirl with a starting pistol, firing in the air, and her own whips. Nik Turner and Lemmy and everyone remember Cosey!

Then in ‘92 or ‘93, Hawkwind came to tour the West Coast, and Nik called me up and asked if I wanted to play keyboards for Hawkwind. I said “of course!”. We got to San Francisco and Jello Biafra was there and he came running into my dressing room and said, “Gen! I love Hawkwind!” I thought he was kidding, but he was serious and said it was his dream to sing ‘Silver Machine’ with Hawkwind. So we got him to join in on backing vocals on ‘Silver Machine’. He was thrilled.

HH.P. Lovecraft – H.P. Lovecraft

Wonderful! Brilliant! It’s very different to everybody else, and it’s all men singing who sound like women. It sounds like Jefferson Airplane at times, and you think, “Who’s that woman?” and then you realise it’s a man. And now that singer does TV commercials and plays accordion in coffee shops.

They were quite big. In England, quite a lot of people bought their records. We DJ-ed a lot with our original one, and somebody stole it from a club. We’ll find one again! H.P. Lovecraft were really underrated in terms of the sixties bands from the West Coast.

I suppose they were quite different.

They were! They were all classically-trained, and refreshing because of that. They weren’t just following everyone else.

The_incredible_string_band_1390411608_resize_460x400The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

I’ve got everything they ever did, and it’s hard to pick one, really. We like ‘A Very Cellular Song’ – who else could write a song about an amoeba and make it sound great? That was Jaye’s favourite Incredible String Band song, so that’s why we picked that album. You can see the connections growing here, can’t you?

DrDr. Strangely Strange – Kip Of The Serenes

We came across the song ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal’ on a psychedelic compilation and fell in love with it. I just thought, “Who could write a chorus of, ‘Strangely strange but oddly normal’, and make it a really catchy song?” The whole thing was sort of irrationally brilliant, and later we found out that one of them went off to Japan and tried to become a Zen priest. Of course, when we considered the history of literature in Ireland, with James Joyce and everyone, it started to all gel. And then we found out Joe Boyd was involved. They did the first one in one afternoon, because he didn’t think it would sell. We’re not sure which, who and when, but there was some exchange of personnel with the Incredible String Band at certain times.

DrDr. Strangely Strange – Heavy Petting And Other Stories

The second album has the guitarist from Phil Lynott’s wonderful band.

Thin Lizzy? Really?

Yes! He does the guitar on my favourite track on there. It’s very different to the first, it’s a little bit more rocky. There’s a drum kit in there, but they also sing some church hymns. That whole thing that the ISB and Dr. Strangely Strange did, with sudden shifts. You’d think you’d know where [a song was] going and then it would stop dead and something completely different would happen. We always loved surprises and novelty and chaos happening that reprograms the brain to stop assuming things.

Joe_byrd_and_the_field_hippies_1390411691_resize_460x400Joe Byrd And The Field Hippies – The American Metaphysical Circus

This has a bit of an H.P. Lovecraft feel to it. We were stuck, because there were two albums, the other one being by his band, The United States of America. That one’s much more weird, and we like it a lot, but this one we always found harder to listen to, so for that reason we chose it. Because if it’s still hard to listen to, there must be something in it that’s playing with my expectations, whereas The United States of America is fairly funky. So, it was a struggle to choose one, but in the end we picked that one for the singing.

There are more people on it…

Yeah. It was done as a project for his college!

The_13th_floor_elevators_1390411726_resize_460x400The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators

Well, I had to have this on it! We’d like to have it on vinyl. Did you watch the documentary about Roky Erickson’s life? There’s this moment when you first come across him in the documentary. He’s sitting in this room that’s filled with junk. He has about ten or more television sets. Some are black and white, some are colour, some have no picture, just zigzags, but they’re all on full. And he’s got radios on full. And he’s sitting in the armchair and says, “This is the only way I can go to sleep! It drowns out the noises in my head.” And you’re thinking those are the noises in your head! [laughs] But he’s playing again! He’s back, it’s incredible.

I know. It’s hard to believe, because I’ve read interviews with him from years ago where he’s barely coherent. But on that album, vocally he sounds like Mick Jagger, but with screeching!

“Aaaaaahhh!!” And then there’s that jug sound, which is just incredible! I don’t know how they did that!

Blossom_toes_1390411755_resize_460x400Blossom Toes – The Psychedelic Sound Of Blossom Toes, Vol. 1

From what I’ve read, this is a bootleg…

You’d have to ask Giorgio Gomelsky. It’s probably a bootleg by Giorgio Gomelsky. Do you know the story about him? He was the guy who first managed the Stones and put them on at the Station Hotel. He was right that he thought the only way to get the Stones publicity, as the house band, was to get the Beatles down to hear them, and they loved the Stones. And then he got Andrew Loog Oldham down to see them, and Brian Jones secretly did a commercial deal with Andrew, because they’d never written anything down with Giorgio, he just trusted them to stay with him. He then went and got The Yardbirds.

Good ear!

A very good ear! Which he still has to this day, because – he lives in New York – he has hundreds of thousands of amazing tapes. But they left him, and he found the Blossom Toes, whom he thought would be the next of his successes, but they weren’t because they were so fucking quirky. There’s one song which goes, [sings] “You should have come home you little frozen dog/ You stupid little frozen dog”, and that’s the chorus. They were trying to do a sort of Sgt. Pepper’s based on Giorgio’s Eastern European understanding, and so it’s just really odd. Very English, and very quirky, and fun, with lots of funny effects and brass bands – the whole thing that everyone was trying to do. And it didn’t sell at all. So he decided, after The Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin, that Blossom Toes should be like Led Zeppelin. So he tried to do a Led Zeppelin album, which is absolutely terrible! Sorry Giorgio, we’re friends, but it’s terrible. So that’s them, the one thing they did, in my opinion, that is worthy of discovery because it’s odd. He should have just let them do their thing.

The_zombies_1390411840_resize_460x400The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle

That was the first record that Jaye ever played to me when we met. It was surprise. This is a girl who ran away from home at age 14 to Alphabet City in the eighties, lived in a squat there, was into the hardcore scene so went out with one of the biggest hardcore guys in a band so no-one would beat her up or touch her, and yet she loved sixties psychedelic music. The Electric Prunes, The Zombies… Eventually The Zombies reformed to do one gig in New York, in this little club, so I got tickets, and they were spot-on. They did Odessey And Oracle, and afterwards I introduced her to The Zombies and they signed her album. It’s an excellent album. The harmonies and Colin Blunstone’s voice are stunning. That voice with the hissing in it. We had this friend, who did a lot of co-production on early Psychic TV, and he said my voice took to tape really well because it had this hiss in it. Apparently, it gave more resonance, so I accidentally have the same sort of resonances as Blunstone. Sadly, not the same voice or skill!

Syd_barrett_1390411875_resize_460x400Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

I had to. I mean, how do you pick one? Syd Barrett, brilliant. One thing he did which just knocked me out, at a very early gig – and we thought we’d imagined it because we were stoned but we read about it in a magazine – in those days a lot of the bands would do an hour set, and then maybe the drummer would do a half-hour drum solo while the others went off to do drugs, or they’d all go off and we’d all be sitting around for half an hour because we’d do drugs. And then they’d come back. So, anyway, they went off, and we thought, “Oh no, drum solo, I guess it’s time to do drugs”. And they changed into workman’s outfits and old macs and one by one they all came back. One of them brought some wood, another one had a toolbox, another one had a flask and tea-cups, and the floor of the stage was miked. They made themselves things to sit on, and it was all done rhythmically, creating this piece of musique concrète. They made a table and sets of chairs, then sat down, turned on a transistor radio and drank cups of tea! Then they left and came back on as Pink Floyd! I was thinking, “Did I really just see that?”, and for years thought we’d imagined it. And we didn’t, it really happened.

Kind of sums up Syd Barrett in one anecdote!

[laughs] People used to say his solo stuff was all crap, that he couldn’t do it anymore, but as time has gone by, I think anyone with any brains has realised just what a genius he was. My two children grew up with his music and would say that ‘Baby Lemonade’ was their favourite song of his. So, every birthday we’d have to play ‘Baby Lemonade’. Pretty good taste, no?

A Quietus Review: Master by Teeth of the Sea (October 4th, 2013)

Keeping track of the continual evolution of London-based post-everything-and-anything quartet Teeth of the Sea has been fascinating from the moment their emphatic debut, Orphaned By The Ocean hit the stores in 2010, amid much praise from the music press and none other than everyone’s favourite weirdo Julian Cope. The band instantly struck this reviewer as being a unique entity, with comparisons to other acts seeming ridiculous, and references to influences only painting part of a dramatic picture. The album mixed sparse noise with trumpet-driven psychedelia and hints of expansive krautrock-ish prog, but never coalesced into any of them, instead existing in a world of its own, one where grace and discord existed in a troubled harmony (of sorts).

From that impressive starting point, Teeth Of The Sea have continued to challenge themselves, refusing to drop into the kind of self-satisfied comfort zone that blights so many “rock” bands. And with Master, they’ve made their biggest leap forward yet, with the band members leaping across genre divides with a confidence and sure-handedness that shows them at the peak of their powers. With casual boldness, they embark on something approaching a concept album centred around a theme seemingly lifted out of the world of Philip K. Dick-style psychedelic science fiction. Despite rarely using lyrics, Teeth of the Sea manage to recreate a mind’s-eye view of a world in which humans and machines have become intermingled, perhaps perversely. This sentiment is echoed in the cover art, featuring an x-rayed man soaring skywards through a garishly-coloured neon sky. It’s spectacular, yet somehow unsettling, an LSD-fuelled vision of a chaotic future; and it’s one that filters throughout Master‘s nine tracks.

When I first heard some of the material on Master at a concert last year, I was staggered at the new direction Teeth Of The Sea were taking. Jimmy Martin’s instantly-identifiable guitar roar was scaled back, shimmering synth lines dominated, and Mat Colegate drove the set with martial drum beats taking in krautrock and techno simultaneously. It was thrilling, an absolute rush, but quite a curveball. Master ties past and present together more neatly, coming on as a heady cocktail of rhythmic electronica, heavy rock and gnarly Van Der Graaf-like progressive rock. After a brief opening snippet, the album kicks in righteously with ‘Reaper’, a soaring, emphatic track that borders on the anthemic. The band pile up the synth riffs and hypnotic beats, melding electronic and acoustic until the two become a single organism, a musical cyborg marching resolutely onwards and upwards. The rhythm, so sharp and repetitive, brings to mind the kind of thing Martin Rushent would have deployed with a Linn drum machine on The Human League’s Dare! in 1981, and yet, having seen Colegate in action, I can testify that the man has the kind of metronomic rigour to match any machine. As the synths build up in Moroder-esque layers, Martin drops in fuzzed-out non-riffs that snake and swirl around the main melody like digital static.

‘The Servant’ outlines the album’s psychic universe, as an emotionless, looped voice intones moodily about “November in what remains of the city” over brooding digital hiss and distant horn moans. ‘Black Strategy’ picks up where ‘Reaper’ left off with driving rhythms, although its pace is more redolent of mid-period Cabaret Voltaire than vintage Moroder, the atmosphere emphatically established as one of sombre dystopia. The track bleeds into ‘Pleiades Underground / Inexorable Master’, on which Martin treats himself to some molten doom-inflected riffs and fuzzy feedback. As the album evolves, Teeth of the Sea pull in strands of influence ranging from Throbbing Gristle to the darkened dub of a Raime or Dalhous, with the emergence of the trumpet adding a distinct sense of melancholia and unease.

The album ends on a truly emphatic note with the rapturous ‘Responder’, ten minutes of bliss that evolves from slow-burning, broiling noise textures into a floor-pounding dancefloor epic buoyed by an infectious back-beat and raucous trumpet blasts. With its gnarly opening and sweeping final segment, it neatly condenses the various moods, textures and sounds of Master into one track, signing off on the highest of peaks. If Fuck Buttons hadn’t gone stadium-sized, and instead expanded on the brittle edges of their superlative debut Street Horrrsing, they might have ended up sounding as weird, majestic and abrasive as Teeth of the Sea do on Master. One thing’s for sure: these tracks probably won’t end up soundtracking a major sports event.

A Quietus Review: 4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (June 20th, 2013)

The title of Matthew Bower’s latest project automatically brings to mind his Sunroof! outfit, whose Panzer Division Lou Reed remains one of the man’s best releases. However, where Sunroof! saw Bower twisting banks of feedback noise around grungy guitar arpeggios. As such, Sunroof! connected vividly with the earliest incarnations of his most famous band, Skullflower. Black Sun Roof!, meanwhile, feels like a continuation of more recent Skullflower releases, which perhaps makes sense because, like that in band’s most constant recent line-up, and in Voltigeurs, he is partnered by Samantha Davies, here performing mostly on violin, with Bower as ever using his guitar as one mighty noise source, bolstered by some equally freaked-out synths. The pair have been collaborating for several years now, and they’ve developed in that time a potent form of noisy synergy, regardless of the name they’re operating under.

4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow is, unsurprisingly, a loud and fucked up beast of an album, but Bower and Davies’ approach to these 12 tracks – spread out over two CDs – in a very different fashion to their previous work as a duo, mainly through their use of unruly, faltering rhythm patterns as an ever-shifting bedrock for most of the tracks. Skullflower started life as a full-on noise rock band, complete with muscular drums, but here the forward momentum, such as it is, is provided by a sickly-sounding drum machine that the pair use to inject added unease rather than actual rhythm, as snare loops bubble up and recede in disconcerting fashion, evoking the brittle pulsations of early 80s industrial electronic music, notably San Francisco goth-nihilists Factrix. As such, whilst 4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow flows from the same dark, sense-sapping well as Skullflower and Voltigeurs and Sunoof!, it operates on a subtly different level.

If you consider the titles of recent Skullflower albums such as Strange Keys to Untune God’s Firmament, Malediction or Fucked on a Pile of Corpses, it’s easy to discern a form of bleak spirituality, a pursuit of gnostic philosophy rendered abstract as Bower and his various musical partners pile on the waves of distortion. His erstwhile band and label mate Gary Mundy has spoken to me in the past of “bleak psychedelia”, and Bower seems to generally aim for the core of those two words, to the point that they become irrevocably intermingled. As the high-octane drones of 4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow wrap themselves around ones senses, however, it soon becomes clear that Black Sun Roof! is both more and less abstract than anything Bower has done before, as if the haze of distortion is keeping something concrete and tangible just out of arm’s reach. On the first disc, ‘Truffled Abyss’, the level are cranked into the read, but fluttering synth phrases and beats seep through the cracks between the walls of noise, outlining half-formed melodies usually framed by Davies’ overdriven, yo-yoing violin lines. Via e-mail, Bower speaks of the pair’s desire to move away from existing ‘dark’ music archetypes, with Black Sun Roof! instead trying to create their own “alien artifacts”. In a way, it reminds me of artists like Wim Mertens or Sigur Ros inventing their own languages: the strange collages of synth, rhythm, violin and guitar; of melody and dissonance feel familiar (“concrete”, as Bower puts it), but never to the point of being instantly recognisable. Black Sun Roof! exists very much in a world of its own, one that they allow to bleed into ours, and into their own history.

‘Perfumed Pressure’, the two-part opening salvo, blasts the album into existence with Bower’s trademark squealing feedback heralding familiar multi-layered guitar mayhem, which sounds like he’s been spending time in an underground wind tunnel buffeting his ears with white noise. However, the aforementioned beats, which skip and collapse like the minimal rhythm on Factrix’s ‘Center of the Doll’ underpin the track, keeping it from soaring into the spheres, whilst ghostly half-formed sounds evoke sinister voices sounding from behind a wall of fog. We’re a long way from Umberto’s more overt sci-fi explorations on his latest album, Confrontations. The aliens on 4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow are only suggested, like something moving at the corner of perception. Later tracks such as ‘Monstrous Souls’ and ‘Glassy Penetralia’ will feel more familiar to Skullflower fans, except even these are suffused with gasping rhythmic pulsations and sketches of synth or violin harmonics, but these wisps of light amidst the darkness are used as texture and colourations rather than as mere counterpoints the unforgiving monstrous drone Bower rips out of his six-string.

The second disc, ‘Werewolf Universe’ is markedly different to the first, a more subdued affair where Bower and Davies’ ever-shifting patterns evolve less mono-maniacally. Here the various components, be they distant voices, juddering drum machine explosions or entwined violin/guitar duels, dance and phase around and in and out of each other. Even on the 10-minute epic ‘Thunderbolt Cumshot Axis’ (what a title!), the interplay is dextrous, even subtle, the music seeming to build up of its own accord, as if Davies and Bower are mere channels for something bigger. Bower compares it to a “virus”, and it’s true that 4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow may be his most organic and unpredictable release for a very long time. And fear not, Skullflower and Voltigeurs fans, these tracks are so loud and monolithic that you can still get lost in them as the waves of sound roll over you, like the best of both those bands.

4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow is a long and occasionally impenetrable album, one which seems to be in perpetual motion, the various instruments colliding until they’re barely distinguishable, and yet with splinters of texture and atmosphere colouring each carefully-crafted piece. It won’t be too everyone’s taste, and it’s incredibly, overwhelmingly long, but it’s another thrilling direction that Bower and Davies are taking. Oh and, despite what you may have read, there actually isn’t a hint of tremolo on any of the tracks.

Liminal Reviews: Liminal Minimals, May 2013 (May 31st, 2013)

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John Butcher, Tony Buck, Magda Mayas, Burkhard Stangl – Plume (Unsounds)

This lengthy album brings together two trios based around the backbone of saxophonist John Butcher and The Necks’ Tony Buck on drums. The first, ‘Flamme’ sees the pair joined by Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl, who plays peppery acoustic notes in a style that evokes Derek Bailey, minus the Englishman’s acerbic humour and penchant for pure dissonance. Indeed, the thirty-minute epic is remarkably restrained, with Stangl and Butcher exploring the outer limits of their instruments’ potential for quietness and diffuse textures, the former plucking abstractly at his strings, the latter releasing bubbly or hissing tones that sound as much like air or samples as they do sax notes. On both tracks, Tony Buck takes as much pleasure in gently coaxing unexpected sounds from his kit using bows and brushes as he does in building up any precise rhythmic direction. The second track, ‘Vellum’, another mighty, sprawling work, is the best of the two, as Buck and Butcher, joined here by pianist Magda Mayas, build up several heads of steam over nearly forty minutes, with Mayas countering Buck’s clatters and shakes and Butcher’s squalls with some righteous manipulation of her piano’s strings. These raucous passages are juxtaposed with several more intricate ones showcasing the trio’s ability to stretch out on each instrument in ways that are always both surprising and expertly balanced.

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Implodes – Recurring Dream (Kranky)

More moroseness, as Implodes follow on from their bleak debut Black Earth with another slab of woozy, despondent post-shoegaze noise rock. As with Vår [see below], the band’s influences are quite clear, nestling themselves as they do in the shadowy corner where gothic miserabilism nestles down discontentedly with fuzzed-out guitars and hushed vocals, a territory previously explored with much success by Cranes. Implodes don’t quite match their forbears for seething, haunted intensity, but there are many moments of true beauty on Recurring Dream, from the bleak, blasted pop-rock ‘Scattered in the Wind’ (surely a potential hit among fans of this type of music) to the seething metal storm of ‘Ex Mass’, which sounds like a Jesu outtake, via the deceptively graceful funereal march of ‘Sleepyheads’ and the towering mast of distortion and Peter Hook-inspired bass thumps that is ‘Necronomics’. On each track, the vocals are folded deep into the mix, imbuing everything with a ghostly, evasive atmosphere, like dry ice rolling over an audience at a rock concert. If you can imagine Sofia Coppola one day making a film that is not quite so obviously self-satisfied as most of her previous ones, she could very well choose Implodes to provide the soundtrack. It couldn’t be worse than sodding Phoenix…

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People of the North – Sub Contra (Thrill Jockey)

This side project by Kid Millions and Bobby Matador of Oneida doesn’t actually feel like one at all, such is the duo’s focus and commitment across the bruising 39 minutes of Sub Contra. People of the North certainly shares a lot of the pair’s parent band’s whacked-out psychedelicism, but, stripped to the bare bones of drums, synths, keys and vocals (with a few additional flourishes here and there from their Oneida pals), their music is more abrasive and minimalist. ‘Drama Class’ kicks the album off at a fractured, unpredictable pace, with Matador’s ramped-up organ weaving a curtain of malevolent drone that sits impassively in direct contrast with Millions’ constantly-shifting, freeform drum rolls and fills. Occasionally, Matador lurches forward to churn out some unintelligible lyrics, but for the most part, ‘Drama Class’ is as monomaniacal and immovable as a brick wall, the kind of intense drone metal perfected in less gleefully contrarian fashion by Windy and Carl. ‘Coal Baron’ is markedly more relaxed, the duo relying on drifting synth patterns, à la Klaus Schulze and low-end hum, with Kid Millions’s drums remarkable by their absence, while the two-part ‘Sub Contra’ suite sounds like Throbbing Gristle jamming with Han Bennink, all jazzy drums and bubbling, industrial drone. To wrap things up, Millions and Matador save the most expansive piece, ‘Osage Orange’, for last, taking the listener on a gruelling journey through repetitive looped electronics and warbling bass frequencies that morph into shimmery synths and a positively martial rhythmic thud before receding into near-silence as the fourteen minutes draw to a blissful close. People of the North don’t really break new ground in psychedelic music on Sub Contra, but they display a refreshingly gnarly take on the genre.

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Vår – No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers (Sacred Bones)

I have to hold my hand up here: I’m a bit of a sucker for moody, monochrome post-punk, and have been ever since I first discovered Joy Division as a perpetually morose 18-year-old. So, even if No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers comes on the back of much publicity surrounding singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s main band, Iceage, and steeped in a wealth immediately-recognisable influences, I can’t help but find myself enjoying nearly every track as if I was actually one of the pale young waifs that make up its target audience. The entire album is coated in an atmosphere of foggy disillusion, as Rønnenfelt and co-singer Loke Rahbek sketch out their mournful vignettes on wispy synths and the occasional pounding march of drum machine beats. Their two voices are nicely contrasted: Rønnenfelt, on the one hand, yelps like a frightened cousin of The Cure’s Robert Smith, whilst Rahbek possess the grimy snarl of a young Adrian Borland out of The Sound. Both bands are among Vår’s obvious influences, but the Danes carefully balance their clear debt to predecessors with a keen ear for melody and songcraft. The NME have got predictably over-excited and proclaimed No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers as the Faith for the 2010s generation but, while that’s more than a little hyperbolic, there are several great moments on the album, especially when the quartet rack up the beats and go (admittedly with downcast eyes and pouty lips) for the jugular, as on the delicious pair of post-punk pounders ‘The World Fell’ and ‘Pictures of Today / Victorial’.

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Jozef Van Wissem – Nihil Obstat (Important Records)

There is something so simple about Dutch lutist Jozef Van Wissem’s music, and yet it is surely this simplicity that makes it so instantly affecting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the instrument he uses, the tracks on Nihil Obstat seem to be beamed in from a time long since passed, but that doesn’t mean they sound dated, quite the opposite. Van Wissem connects with a sort of collective sensitivity in a way that is not dissimilar to the liminal sensations initiated by the music of American primitive artists like John Fahey and Sandy Bull, especially as the latter was an adept of the oud, which carries a similar sound to the lute. Van Wissem’s notes on each of these six tracks are as clear as a mountain stream, and just as resonant, whether he’s unfurling deeply melancholic sentiments, such as on the harrowing ‘Apology’, or playing something bouncy and playful like the ten-minute madrigal ‘Where you lived and what you lived for’, with its hints of ‘Greensleeves’. There is an emotional potency on display on Nihil Obstat, like with fellow “somewhat minimalist” composer Richard Skelton’s electric guitar sketches or the hazy piano compositions on Lubomyr Melnyck’s recent Corollaries album, more proof of just how much one can achieve with minimal means.

A Quietus Interview – Altered Head Space: An Interview With Anthroprophh (January 31st, 2013)

“The intention was to create music in [a psych-rock] vein, as it’s a genre that dominates my record collection, but I wanted it to be a bit more sparse and minimal as the record went on, and not just sketches.” Paul Allen, erstwhile guitarist with Bristolian heavy psych band The Heads, is discussing his new solo project Anthroprophh, whose debut self-titled album has just been released through the ever-reliable Rocket Recordings, home of Gnod, Goat and Teeth Of The Sea. Anthroprophh essentially encapsulates the sound of modern psych-rock, as espoused by all those bands: it’s heavy but subtle, driving but fleet-footed, taking in a range of moods and atmospheres, the kind of music you can head-bang to gleefully in a mosh pit, or be serenaded by as you while away a sleepless, hash-hazed night. It’s a style anchored in the rock traditions of the post-’67 era, but equally one that’s keen to look forwards as well as back.

While roughly half the album’s tracks are laced with the sort of fuzzed-out riffs and pounding percussion that will be familiar to devotees of Allen’s parent band, there’s far more going on than a simple re-wiring of The Heads’ earlier successes. “I think it has similarities to the Heads for obvious reasons,” he says, “and isn’t necessarily a break or reaction to the band, it’s a kind of a continuation of what I would have presented next to them.”

In particular, Anthroprophh finds him fully succumbing to his love of krautrock, which he readily cites as an influence. “There’s an Ash Ra Tempel and Achim Reichel influence in there, along with Hawkwind,” he reveals. “For me the thing that had the most impact in relation to that genre was when Julian Cope published the Krautrocksampler book back in the mid-nineties. It opened up a new world of musics I mostly didn’t know existed due to it being in the pre-internet days and those sort of records never really turning up in record shops.” And despite the sturm und drang that dominates tracks like opener ‘Hermit’, Allen’s initial point of departure was in fact the kosmische drone sounds of Berlin’s Cluster, something that quickly becomes apparent on spacey, almost ambient tracks like ‘Precession’, with its minimal percussion, and ‘Ende’, which feature drifting synth lines and moody organ textures. “I think some of my favourite pieces of music are quiet these days, so it was nice to do something that was like that, that almost crumbles towards the end. I think sometimes it’s easy to cover stuff with heavy noise, especially in a live situation.”

This varied approach comes to a glorious head (no pun intended) on the 16-minute ‘Entropy’, which evolves gradually across several phases, taking in the cosmic ambience of Cluster’s Zuckerzeit or A.R. & Machines’ ‘Einleitung’ (from the wonderful and sadly obscure Echo album) before stretching into free-form percussion and distorted avant-rock, evoking Klaus Schulze’s deranged polyrhythms and Manuel Göttsching’s acidic guitar with Ash Ra Tempel. “‘Entropy’ was based on just one basic riff on an old Futurama guitar which I just added layers and layers to as it went on,” says Allen. “I had some problems with the percussion on it and had to get Jesse from [Bristol band] the Big Naturals to add the main bongo and snare. It nearly didn’t get completed because of these issues and the track drove me a bit crazy!”

The same kind of influences have been present throughout Allen’s musical history, especially during his tenure in The Heads. The latter are the living, breathing definition of a cult band, drawing praise from the likes of Julian Cope while casually influencing a whole new generation of wannabe tripped-out rockers and sailing cheerfully under the radar, seemingly unaware of their many admirers or any backlash against psych-rock, which is often viewed as mere fodder for doped-up stoners. “I think for the most part the critics have been favourable of our sound, or maybe I have just ignored them”, Allen muses. “Except for the first Heads LP which got zero out of ten in the now defunct Vox magazine. I don’t think we ever felt connected to the stoner rock scene really, but a lot of those so-called stoner rock bands didn’t want to be called stoner rock either. It’s difficult to feel any connection with other psych rock bands when you are in that strange little microcosm that is a band. Only from the outside looking in can you see definable links.”

It does seem, however, that with fellow Heads guitarist Simon Price also making solo forays as kandodo, now is the time for members of The Heads to start flying solo. Allen admits he’d been considering doing so for a while, even going so far to send some demos in Rocket’s direction, although they initially declined. “Most of the music I recorded was experimental analogue keyboard music with occasional guitar based sketches. Some of these I managed to sneak on Heads LPs, like ‘Assault on BS3’ on Under The Stress Of A Headlong Dive in 2006. After buying some new recording and editing equipment I started working on the album in Christmas 2011.”

For Allen, working on Anthroprophh material proved to be something of a creative shot in the arm. “I had just become obsessed with record collecting instead [of being creative], and although it’s great and expands your musical vocabulary it can become overwhelming,” he says. “Too much stuff, and no time to listen or absorb much of it. All other bands had become infrequently active or had ceased to exist (like Fuzz Against Junk). Also I had really enjoyed Von Himmel’s Space Communion album and wanted to create similar krautrock-inspired music that had a primitive rhythmic quality that sounded like it was created in a cave. Also to try and avoid the Neu! drumbeat approach which has been over-used.”

Anthroprophh differs from Price’s kandodo in that, on several tracks, it features the aforementioned Big Naturals in addition to Allen himself. The latter are a remarkable noise-rock duo consisting of drummer Jesse Webb and bassist/electronics whizz Gareth Turner, whose self-titled debut was released last year on their own Greasy Truckers label. An appropriate hook-up, then, and one offering yet another clear sign that Bristol is one of the places to be to get your fix of heavy psychedelia – but it also indicates that there’s more to the local scene than noise and fury. High-octane thrills might be supplied on tracks like ‘Hermit’, but there are deeper layers to peel back when delving into the album’s Cluster-inspired mood pieces. It’s all likely to coalesce most effectively when Allen takes Anthroprophh onstage as something of a power trio alongside Webb and Turner, something he’s planning to do imminently. “I do have a few gigs in the UK in the early part of this year with Big Naturals that will cover all aspects of the heaviness and more spacey stuff,” he reveals. “We are up for doing more when the offers come up – it is like starting all over again really. I need to get out there again and play before the agoraphobia kicks in.”

A Quietus Interview – Bleak Psychedelia: Michael Gira Of Swans’ Favourite Albums (November 13th, 2012)

Michael Gira and Swans have cast long shadows over 2012, via two critically hailed albums (one live, the other the monumental The Seer) and an extensive series of tours and gigs. Whether appearing solo or with the full backing of his near-legendary band, Gira projects an incomparable aura onstage, an intensity so potent it transfixes the imagination.

As we discovered while quizzing the man on his thirteen favourite albums (or the thirteen he thought of when contacted – he’s keen to stress this isn’t a definitive top thirteen) on the eve of Swans’ performance at OFF Festival in Poland, that intensity doesn’t just apply to his shows or records, but to interviews as well. It’s rare that talking about music is this scary…

You can go here to listen to a Spotify playlist from the 13.

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Miles Davis – On The Corner

I didn’t discover that until ten years ago but I love the grooves on it and it’s interesting in that there’s no melodies. It’s sounds like electronic music, except it has the fortunate aspect of being played by humans. It’s influenced obviously by James Brown, one of my favourite artists. James Brown is like the Bach of modern music, a fantastic composer, so complicated and yet so much below the hips as well. I love On the Corner because it’s kind of abstract but also so compulsive. I guess it’s uncharacteristic for Miles, and it caused a lot of controversy at the time. I’m not so fond of, say, Bitches Brew, with the electric guitar, but I also love Sketches of Spain, with the great arranger, Gil Evans, who also did Out Of The Cool. I like really arranged and cinematic jazz. That’s enough on that one!

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Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine

Well, this is one of any I could have chosen. I’m not fond of when they started using computers, like on Computer World. I found it interesting to learn in a recent biopic that those drum sounds were actually played with chopsticks. In the punk days – when did this come out, like ’78? – I listened to it obsessively, not for any reason, I just thought the songs were beautiful and that it was a new way of making music. But that was just secondary to how beautiful the songs were.

Did any of those sounds filter into how you made music?

I would say that it influenced the early way of making music with Swans. It’s changed, obviously, considerably over the years, but in the early days it was very diverse and ranged from The Stooges to Throbbing Gristle to Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk. Just people using sound as a way of making music. Obviously, I was a bit more visceral, but that was inspirational to me. It was very liberating, the idea of abandoning structures and making something immediate.

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David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

That’s just a brilliant work of art.

He’s one of the only living people to have a blue plaque up in London, where the cover photo was taken.

He deserves it. He had ten really good years. The rest has been really dismal, unfortunately, in my opinion. But that album is a masterpiece in terms of arrangements and songwriting, everything. It manages to sort of rock, but at that same time it has this sort of cabaret song aspect to it, and from a producer’s point of view, which I suppose you could call me, it’s impeccable: no sound gets in the way of another sound, it’s always changing with every four to eight bars. It’s to me as good as, if not better than, Sgt Pepper’s. One of the best rock albums ever made.

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Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats

It’s a sort of pop album, some of it, although ‘Discipline’ is hardly a pop song! That was something I looked up to at the time, and it was inspirational, I guess. I wasn’t really thinking of it that way, I was just a fan and enjoyed it. Their single, ‘United’, was very beautiful, and I’ve always admired Gen [Genesis P-Orridge] from the early days of COUM Transmissions.

I was a fortunate art student, in that I knew about COUM Transmissions. I followed him the whole way, and I was so fortunate to meet him about ten years ago. He remains a hero to me, in the way he lives his life as an act of imagination. He seems to have immense courage and dedication to living life as a magical act. I don’t care about it being groundbreaking electronic music or anything, that doesn’t matter to me at all. I just find the atmosphere, the will and the intent behind it to be really beautiful.

Were you drawn to the confrontational aspect of their music?

I don’t think it was confrontational, I think it was insistent upon making something happen at the moment, and if people liked it, they did, and if not, fuck them. It’s a simple notion that Swans has always had. People have always assumed it was confrontational, but it wasn’t really that. It was extreme, but not an attack on anyone.

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The Stooges – The Stooges

That’s another one I listen to constantly. I heard that when it came out. I didn’t know anything about them. I was in a bar in Germany, where I was living, very young to be in a bar – I was 14 – and the bartender was a kind of hippie guy who knew music and he’d play that. I didn’t hear it again until the punk days, and it always resonated with me because of the song ‘We Will Fall’. It’s fantastic, what can I say? Iggy’s a brilliant lyricist in his own way and the production on that album by John Cale is stellar. It doesn’t get any better than that and, again, I don’t care about them being the forefathers of anything, I just enjoy the music.

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The Doors –  Strange Days

Another one that shaped my DNA with the aid of illicit substances! Just a beautiful voice, beautiful production and it has ‘When the Music’s Over’ on it, which is a masterpiece. A great performance – I don’t know how many overdubs it has on it, probably none! There’s a very early use of synthesiser on there at one point. In retrospect, I think Jim Morrison’s pretty corny, but it works with the music, and to be blessed with a voice like that is an act of God.

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The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

That I listen to, again, contemporaneously. When I was 12 or 13, and with the aid of various substances, it implanted itself in my mind and I obsessed over that record. I had an instinct: I didn’t gravitate towards the light pop music of the day, I liked the really unwholesome aspect of the Mothers. They were much more an affront than punk ever was to modern consumer society, they were just outrageous. America was very conservative at the time. It was very outrageous, but the music was there too. ‘Help I’m A Rock’ is a fantastic piece – it’s as freaky as Can, for sure, with a fantastic groove and tape sounds coming in and out. A brilliant piece of music, and I guess that whole double album was an influence on the Beatles making Sgt Pepper’s, which would have rankled Zappa! So he did We’re All In It For The Money, another great album. I like Zappa for the first three albums and then I don’t care one bit about him.

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Nick Drake – Pink Moon

I didn’t know about that until Jarboe introduced me to Nick Drake in the 80s. I was blown away, I listened to him constantly, for a long time. For better or for worse, I’d be hearing him and revisiting early Dylan convinced me that it was time for me to start trying to write songs on acoustic guitar. It took a long, long time to figure out how to do it. Unfortunately many early attempts ended up on record [laughs].

Drake was inspirational to me in thinking about the simplicity and about creating something that has genuine power and truth in it, with very simple means, as opposed to Swans, which relied on volume. There’s nothing wrong with that – we still do it! – but at that time I wanted to venture into doing things in a very simple way. As far as Nick Drake goes, he was an absolutely amazing guitarist and singer, totally genuine and lacking in irony or solipsism. Truly beautiful and honest. That’s what I look for – I don’t like cynicism.

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Henryk Górecki – Symphonie No.2

I just found about that recently. As opposed to the “pop hit”, Symphonie No.3, which is very beautiful as well. Symphonie No.2 is an apocalypse, with a series of percussive stabs in real odd time signatures that really, in a way, sound like Swans, in retrospect because I didn’t hear this in the early days. It sounds like the end of the world, but at the same time it’s very compelling and uplifting, with a very beautiful lament at the end of the symphony. Like Penderecki and Ligeti, it just speaks to me in a very natural way.

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Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks

That’s an album that I come back to every five years I guess, and listen to obsessively, and then don’t listen to for a long time. I haven’t listened to it for quite some time right now but it’s been important to me throughout my life. I can’t pontificate on its value, culturally, but to me it’s just had a lot of resonance in personal situations I’ve been in.

I recall listening to that album when I was peripatetic at one time, driving around in my van across America, sleeping in state parks -this was in the mid-to-late 90s – just driving around. I’d escaped where I was and just spent several months by myself, cooking food on my propane burner at night, drinking a six pack, going to bed and then driving again in the morning. I remember driving through Montana in a pretty torrential rain, listening to this album and just crying, weeping. It was one of those moments where an album just kind of conjoins exactly to the circumstances of your life. Does it give you hope? I don’t know, but it’s just such a beautiful record. It’s so extreme and heartfelt, so I guess it gives you hope in that way.

Of course, it has really quiet, beautiful moments like ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. ‘Idiot Wind’ is the infamous one because it has this really wonderful line “We’re idiots babe/It’s a wonder we even know how to breathe”. It’s a break-up song. I don’t think you can get any better than that, I think it’s one of Dylan’s best. It’s not really groundbreaking in any way, because it’s a work of art, except for that stupid-ass song ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’. It’s like this goofy moment that ruins the whole album! [laughs]. I try to edit out the fact that it’s his “most personal record”, because I don’t really care about his personal. It has to some meaning to other people too. Maybe because it’s so personal is why it’s so universal. I don’t know.

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Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa

Again, I discovered that with Jarboe in the 80s. We were in a record store and just liked the cover. I just gravitated towards it naturally. There’s a piece on there called ‘Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten’ with these shifting time signatures, and it keeps cascading over itself and never seems to rise. It’s very deep and emotional, I suppose, it goes to the back of your head. Arvo Pärt’s music is really important, I think. It’s a little tedious sometimes when it’s only the vocal pieces but, some of the big symphonic efforts go to the deepest place possible. I guess he’s very spiritual, but all of us hopefully are.

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Howlin’ Wolf – The Chess Box

Well, that’s my hero!

When I saw you solo at Cafe Oto, I was thinking of him.

Well sure, he’s a true inspiration for me. Let’s just say he’s my demon, the guy that lives with me always. He’s a sort of litmus test: does what I’m doing hold up to the Wolf? People talk about the blues being dark, and he has that aspect, but it’s really visceral and fun at the same time. It’s just great music. His voice is operatic, as far as I’m concerned: he goes from this deep, low growl to a falsetto, which I just found out was inspired by Jimmy Rodgers, the yodeling cowboy. Any black man in those days had to find a schtick, you had to stand out from other people, and that was one of his ways. He worked it as much as possible, as well as getting down on his knees and shaking his ass in the air with a tail hanging out.

He was very crude, but also like an angel and he, to me, having grown in the rural South, is like a titan. He didn’t have his first pair of shoes until he was 13, he pushed a mule around like a deadbeat, learned to sing by banging a can or stones – it’s inspiring. I guess it’s the same as prison work songs. He could never play guitar that well, ‘cos his hands were like catcher’s mitts in baseball, huge, but he was a showman and by dint of will and raw talent. He managed, along with Muddy Waters and a few other, to change the face of modern music and culture. That’s magic if there ever was.

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Pink Floyd – Ummagumma

That’s very meaningful to me. The live part, particularly, because of the ever-ascending song structures. Things just keep building and building, to the heart of the sun, really. It’s psychedelic rock at its best. They were always looking for transcendence, and this was them at their height. I like that era better, in some ways, than the one with Syd Barrett. I lost interest in Pink Floyd pretty much after Meddle. I had the good fortune to be a runaway kid in Europe and I went to this rock festival in Belgium and saw them playing then.  And it was transcendent. It’s stuck with me throughout the years, and it’s another piece of music I hold up as a litmus test. It’s an experience, something really profound. Pink Floyd was the best psychedelic rock band ever.

I’ve heard Pink Floyd described as “bleak psychedelia”, and that’s something that comes to mind with Swans, particularly The Seer

Well, at times, we have the same dynamics. I don’t want to be pretentious, but we’re going for an epiphany. The electric guitars and sounds are amplified to something extreme and played repetitiously and just slowly grow. I liken it to stacking up strings in a symphony. Electric guitars have the possibility for total self-immolation and simultaneous actualisation.