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

Skullflower

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.

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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.