Reviews: Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, Crystal Jacqueline, Use of Ashes, Art of the Memory Palace, Vårt Solsystem, Mark E Nevin, Judy Dyble, Sand Snowman, The 13th Dream of Dr Sardonicus

1Blue Giant Zeta Puppies

Semyorka

(coming soon!)

When it rains puppies, it pours puppies.  Barely one has Blue Giant Zeta disc fallen upon our heads, than another is threatening to erupt… only this time, it needs your help.  Semyorka is a seven track mini album, thirteen minutes of sci fi instrumental goodness which the minds behind such madness intend squeezing onto a 7″ 33 1/3 rpm vinyl EP.  But, before it can spin upon the turntables of the universe, a Kickstarter type campaign will be kicking off, and if you head over to the Puppies Facebook page, you will doubtless learn all about it.

And this is what you’ll be helping with – the soundtrack to all your favorite Dan Dare comics, rewired through the Downliners Sect with Joe Meek at the controls, and with every sixties space-age television memory that you’ve ever wanted to have colliding and collapsing like a bucketful of dark stars (but not “Dark Star,” cos we’re not going there).

More or less seamless as it speeds to planets unknown, Semyorka explodes through titles as vivid as its soundscapes – “Lunakhod,” “Beikonur,” “PS-1” and a two part “Kosmos,” with phasers on stun and Jetsons on speed dial.  An asteroid for your ears.

2Crystal Jacqueline

Rainflower

(Mega Dodo DODOLP 8)

Whatever is going on in the depths of darkest Devon, England, one can’t help wishing it would take place elsewhere, too.  Across the last three or four years worth of odd singles, occasional albums, mutual side projects and more, Crystal Jacqueline, Icarus Peel, and the band of merry cohorts who dwell within their Honey Pot have been responsible for some of the most seductively subtle psych symphonies around.

Jacqueline’s voice and Peel’s songwriting are the focus this time around, on a sophomore Crystal concept that drapes languorous vocals over baroque melody in a spirit that might toy with the great lost classics of bygone acid folk, but defies you to find a single retro moment – even when you’re certain that you have caught a glimpse of one.  Hints of esotericism dance in the mix, instruments you know but cannot quite put your finger on.  Moods to make you moody.

Ten new songs and one cover, Pink Floyd’s “Grantchester Meadows,” paint a bucolic picture, half lullaby, half music hall hypnotist – imagine bringing up baby on a diet of Lovecraft, Lewis Carroll and a dash of Witchseason’s finery, and you’ve grasped the musical half of Rainflower’s equation (but not really); drape the walls with Trader Horne, Trees and a backyard full of hogweed and you’re looking towards its atmosphere.  But again, not really, because Jacqueline’s voice floats so high above all that the effect is akin to watching the world’s most beautiful balloon soaring over its most breathtaking landscape.

Any of eleven songs can be conjured as indicative of the album’s beauty – “Siren” with an odd sense of menace locked away in the tone of the delivery; “Winter Deep,” drifting, shifting, space rock in an English country garden.  “Daisy Chains,” which flickers over crunching, chiming pop; the title track conversely popping over crunch-less chimes; “Again… Dragonfly” spartan, sparse and nicely, spicily chilled.

It’s a late night album that you’ll want to play in daylight; a playful little platter that you ought to handle with care.  You can never have too much to dream.

3The Use of Ashes

Pink Ashes

(Tone Float TFL 41)

And talking of “Grantchester Meadows”…

Decked out in an almost note perfect facsimile of A Saucerful of Secrets, and split neatly between one side of Barrett-age Floyd, and another of early Waters-led wanderings, Pink Ashes is a deeply doo-lally recreation of what Pink Floyd might have sounded like if they’d commenced their career today, while writing the exact same songs, but with their space age electronics replaced by an unplugged ensemble.

It’s a fascinating concept, regardless of the fact that there’s scarcely a song here (particularly among the Barrett numbers) that hasn’t been covered to bits over the past thirty years.  There is no sense whatsoever of reverence – never one of the band’s most audience friendly numbers, “Bike” is performed as though a bunch of people who’ve never heard it are let loose in a room full of random stuff, and told to recreate the original’s own state of mind.  “The Gnome” is delivered with all the mocking malevolence that Barrett’s natural vocal stripped from his own performance; and Richard Wright’s “Paintbox” now sounds precisely like the Beatles song it should have been.

Not every cut is absolutely successful; “Jugband Blues” is relayed with perhaps a little too much attention to the Barrett legend, and the song’s subsequently assumed significance.  But both “Arnold Layne” and “Matilda Mother” are their own beasts entirely, with the latter, in particular, simply shimmering with understatement.

Side one closes, sweetly, with “Golden Hair,” the James Joyce adaptation that oddly highlights Barrett’s solo career, and skipping over to side two, “Grantchester Meadows” maintains the mood, all soft sensation and pastoral pleasures.  The rarely listened-to (even by Floyd fans) “Crying Song” is a surprise inclusion, but works with lazy triumph; “If” was always one of Waters’ finest compositions, and the Use of Ashes don’t change that scenario.

For sheer audacity, however, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the album’s centerpiece, ten plus minutes of whispered drift, things that click, and so devoid of any warmth or echo that it might as well have been recorded in deep space.  By monks.  Dutch monks, who aren’t afraid to use their accents.  It’s actually kinda scary.

Vicious pink vinyl completes the concept, and it would be easy to write Pink Ashes off as some sort of twisted novelty album.  But the band’s approach, rearrangements and most of all delivery are deeper than that, and more dangerous, too.  Take forty minutes to listen once, a couple of hours to play thrice more, and then come back and say you don’t see the point.  It’s a slow grower but a great one.

Oh, and the download card serves up two further jewels, Barrett’s solo “Opal,” and an utterly outrageous slice of “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.”  Play it and you’ll swear that your fried egg is winking at you.

4Art of the Memory Palace

This Life is But a Passing Dream

(Static Caravan)

The best descriptions have already been taken.  According to The Herald Scotland, the duo of Andrew Mitchell and Raz Ullah sounds like “a cloister of monks who indulge their passion for Krautrock and John Carpenter soundtracks by folding them into Gregorian chants.”  Add a Depeche-ian eye for melody, a Moroder mind for rhythm and an arsenal of instruments that extends from hammered dulcimer to an Omnichord, and you have a soundscape that sounds implausibly grandiose before you’ve even listened to a note.

It doesn’t disappoint.  The opening “Sun-blinded Capsule Memory Haze” has the beats and effects that remind you of all the reasons you think you like electro, but which too many of its practitioners then lose somewhere along the way.  It’s painstakingly created, but it doesn’t sound forced, doesn’t feel like the pair of them were beavering away in the studio, hitting button after button until they located the sound they were looking for.   Again, a problem that a lot of people have.  Organic electro.  What a concept.

The two part “The Ghost of Benno Ohnsborg” is an early highlight, live drums joining the party to  underpin what could have been a sixties TV theme; “The Ancient Mariner’s Burden”  has a faintly Floydian air to it, had that band never stopped writing songs like “Embryo.”  And the title track is so grandiose, sweeping keys and majestic chords, that it effectively tells the story of an entire skein of prog in no more than 120 seconds.

Captivating and compulsive.  You will be fidgeting to it all night.

5Vårt Solsystem

En Månvandring

(info@beyondbeyonddisbeyond.com)

Quite honestly, this is the kind of album that makes you stop whatever you are doing, turn open mouthed to the speaker and just mouth… the expletive of your choice.

It’s the Faust of fondest memory, Amon Düül dueling with free form prog, a Swedish collective’s journey to the center of our solar system (which is what their name translates as), captured live in Stockholm in April last year, and sounding fior all the world like something that has just been excavated from a decades-old tape, to make you wish you were fifty years younger, and then you could have caught it in the flesh.

Wish no more.  Ten tracks blend through the features of the planetscape, seas of clarity, rain and peril, oceans of storms, lakes of death – names that would probably mean nothing to the denizens of the regions in question (do amoebae dream of electric bacteria?) but which inspire the musicians through a host of sequences, moods and meanderings.

Flashes of the early 70s continental circus clash with more updated notions of electronica and psych, Gong-like wind howls across desolate plains; the album is not so much a listen as it is an experience.  And, as such, it should be both listened to and experienced.

6Mark E Nevin

Beautiful Guitars

(Plane Groovy PLGO 32)

Of course you remember Mark E Nevin, from the once-delirious ride that was Fairground Attraction.  But all that was so long ago that, rediscovering his muse in 2015, every expectation is left at the door – and rightfully so.  Of course Beautiful Guitars reminds us of the sheer brilliance of his songwriting, but it also reminds us that a great songwriter moves on even faster than the years pass by.

So, while familiar influences Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Graham Parker are still on display, other flavors range from Mark Knopfler to Jarvis Cocker, with an Americana bent that is subtle enough to merely catch the light, but pronounced enough to justify, for example, the steel guitar (BJ Cole) country strains that serenade the distinctly Anglo-themed title track.   An ode to the musical stores and their customers who once populated one particular corner of London’s west end, “Beautiful Guitars” is beautifully nostalgic, too, name-checking a real life world that … of all things… a bloody railroad station is sweeping into oblivion.  But hey, who needs heritage when you can have tourists?  Who will now have nothing to look at, because everything else has been knocked down for parking lots.

There is a very real sense of passing time, tunes and tones here; musically, Beautiful Guitars harks back to a world before even Fairground Attraction – soulful in places, heartfelt throughout, it’s one of those records (and yes, it is a record, twelve solid inches of groovy grooved vinyl) to which you’ll find yourself returning again and again.

7Judy Dyble

Flow and Change

(Plane Groovy PLG 025)

Released, at last, in the format that it always demanded (and sounding as pristine as it ought to), Judy Dyble’s last studio album begins paving the way for her next with a reissue that reminds us again just how tremendous a treasure she is.

A decade-plus on from her so-called “comeback,” although better to call it a whole new beginning, Flow and Change is Dyble’s second album with multi-instrumentalist Alistair Murphy (following on from Talking with Strangers – also reissued, by Tone Float), and it would be churlish to play favorites with them.  But from the opening sparseness of “Black Dog,” all windswept heaths stalked by mythical beasts (and that’s just the music); through “Crowbaby,” “Silence” and “Wintersong,” Flow and Change builds not to a climax, a la its predecessor’s sidelong Harpsong, but to an outright statement of intent.

“The Sisterhood of Ruralists” is epic again, albeit a mere twelve minutes this time, but like its own lyric explains, “weavings of the silver magic curl… through the forests wild.”  Take from it what you will, but as Noddy discovered when he was out late one night, it isn’t very good in the dark dark wood, in the middle of the night when there isn’t any light.  Unless, of course, it was you who blew the lights out in the first place.

Exceptional instrumentation places Dyble’s equally exquisite vocal stage front; with barely a traditionally folky bone in her body, she nevertheless slips effortlessly into a milieu which the album’s art work, inside and out, likewise delineates – a sense of lost past, ancient Englishness, village fetes, plows and plowmen, and fortune tellers who nobody visited because they always seemed to know too much.

That’s what Flow and Change sounds like.  More than that, that’s what it feels like, too.

8Sand Snowman

A Doll’s Eyes

(Tone Float TFL 51)

With a discography longer than many’s people’s arms, much of it self-released (and all of it highly recommended), the mysterious Sand Snowman resurfaces on his occasional roost at Tone Float with a generous vinyl helping, two albums long if you order swiftly enough.  Three hundred copies arrive not only with the headlined A Doll’s Eye… described by the Sandman as his least folky album yet; but also with Red Rag Blues, a thirty-minute instrumental six pack that follows the parent’s brief with wicked twisted zeal.  The soundtrack to shopping for King Crimson albums might be a fair description of its contents although, by the time it’s over, you’ll probably have thought of something else to buy.

Like the rest of the Sand Snowman catalog.

Back to the main attraction; his least folky album, but one that is cast nevertheless within familiarly sandy territory, the chorale vocals that rise, as the fourteen minute title track gets underway, across meditative piano, and only gradually does the scenario shift.  In interviews, Sand Snowman has talked of how he took a year to learn piano well enough to record “A Doll’s Eyes.”  It was time well spent.

At the other end of the scale, however, the Snowman’s musical appetites lurch back to the post-punk era that he calls his favorite musical movement, a Banshee/Killing Joke/Joy Division brew that percolates in the opening “Unmaking the Doll,” and dances wildly in “Give me The Child,” but in each instance, it does so without a drop of the grim self-consciousness that normally scars such operations (even, occasionally, in the hands of the progenitors).

And at another end entirely, the closing “Loss and Solace” is a meditation that looks to Miles Davis for its lead, dancing within the silences between his notes, while laying down a rhythm that hits out hard.  It’s a dislocating closure, but a fulfilling one too, one which reflects not only on the foolishness of trying to pigeonhole music like this, but also on the sheer vision that lies behind an album of such sonic magnitude.

9various artists

The 13th Dream of Dr Sardonicus

(Fruits de Mer PROMO 6-8)

With the Fruits de Mer’s next festival of fuzz zipping up fast – August 7-9, calendar watchers – three bumper stuffed CDs also emerge to celebrate … well, everything that the festival celebrates.  Which is, a psychedelic underground so rich, diverse and, in places, utterly bonkers that you need three CDs just to map out its co-ordinates.

Forty-four tracks are spread across the triptych, which means there’s way too many to list here.  (But we will, anyway, so hello to – Jack Ellister, Claudio Cataldi, Paul Foley, Simones, The Telephones, White Sails, Cary Grace, Alison O’Donnell with Firefay, The Honey Pot, Us and Them, Hollow Hand, Me And My Kites, Soft Hearted Scientists, Zombies Of The Stratosphere, The Seventh Ring Of Saturn, The Luck Of Eden Hall, Mooch, Cat Frequency, The Past Tense, Beau, The Alain Pire Experience, The Bevis Frond, Sendelica, Katla, Vostok, Red Elektra ’69, Gizmo, Kuschty Rye Ergot, Julie’s Haircut, Astralasia, Ash.Magna, Simfonica, Craig Padilla and Skip Murphy, Spurious Transients, Superfjord, Solar Music, Earthling Society and Schnauser.)

Which, between them serve up everything from current album tracks, unreleased oddities, forthcoming releases, unheard home demos, EPs and singles, live cuts and out-takes.  Any and all of which will probably send you seeking out more, if you’ve not already done so.

Quantities of the three CDs are limited to festival-goers only, so no suggestions how to find a set.  But you should, anyway, because you know that old expression about there being “plenty more fish in the sea?”  On this occasion, there’s not.

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