You know what the problem is with modern music?
There's not enough secret societies, gathering in the shadows to make deliciously dismal sounds, which they then unleash upon a world which… well, you can fill in your own blanks.
And it's about time we said enough is enough. About time we joined the Mortlake Bookclub. Who may be a bunch of avid readers who meet every Wednesday night in a corner of southwest London, to discuss the latest Scandinavian murder mystery. Or may not.
Because all we really know about them are four unrepentant slabs of echoing dissonance and mystery that find the middle ground between folk, electronics and the ghostly sounds of shortwave radio, and then stir them into something that sounds nothing like any of them.
It’s the Conet Project set to music by an army of Zeitkratzer fans. It’s nothing to sing along to, but it’ll hang in your head regardless… Brian Eno once remarked, apropos David Bowie, that he was the only person he’d ever met who could hum both sides of No Pussyfooting. The Mortlake Bookclub probably share that talent, and might even be doing so here, somewhere behind the mournful tolling of an over-stimulated ship’s bell and the echoes of an English spring morning.
Spoken word tells stories that you may or may not want to listen to, and the night rides in on wired electric broomsticks. And the cowled and darkened figures, bookclubbers one and all, drift out of unearthly earshot as the final echo turns the page, and yes. Your bookmark did just bite you.
The Forest / The Wald
The latest, and some might say one of the greatest, offerings yet from the ever-trustworthy A Year in the Country, and one which in turn stands among the finest compilations of its type in recent years… a themed collection, to be sure, but one that passes through the forest and registers every tree.
Many of the names here will be familiar to regular Spin Cyclists… David Colohan of United Bible Studies, the Hare and the Moon, the Rowan Amber Mill, Sproatly Smith... and their contributions glisten as brightly as you’d expect. Elsewhere, though, the seasons shift through a dozen tracks that rage and range from the manic Morris Dance of Cosmic Neighbourhood’s “Equinox” to the electronic storm of Time Attendant’s “Fantastic Mass”… and how aptly named it is. Richard Moult’s “The Hand Of Auctumnus” is Harold Budding beauty; Polypore’s “Deep Undergrowth” takes you there. And back to the Hare and the Moon, for the stately beauty of “A Whisper in the Woods,” a funeral mass for your favorite nursery rhyme.
A Year in the Country themselves close the album with “Where Once We Wandered Free,” conjuring power lines striding across a once-unspoiled landscape, but bird song and beast bleat prevail through it all. An album, then, to listen to in undisturbed sittings, as you pick out the stories that it tells. And needless to say, it’s essential listening.
United Bible Studies
(Golden Pavilion Music)
When Spin Cycle reviewed this album back in 2013, it was imminent. And three years later, it is here. Who says time doesn’t fly?
But what we said then holds true today, so to save you searching back through however many past postings, past mentions of UBS have included the Incredible String Band, Broadcast, Current 93 and Sweeney’s Men, all of whom inhabit the same stygian fringes of the acid folk revolution. But there are moments of even darker dissonance on display as well, a place where you begin to understand how gig-goers must have felt in 1967, when they went to see Pink Floyd play their hits, and wound up watching AMM go through their paces first. In other words, no matter what one UBS album might lead you to expect, another is going to take your hand and lead you some place entirely.
That said, Rosary Bleeds is an album that you could probably play to any ears you like, and they’d find something they’d want to take home with them. Much of that is surely down to O’Donnell, co-writer with Colohan of all but one song, and whose vocals hang over the soundscapes even when she’s not singing.
Possessed of an ageless voice that naturally combines sweet allure with firelit ritual, wrapped around the spectral echo harmonies of “Glendalough Carved In An Age Of Ice,” or warm amid the eerie rhythms of “The Devil’s Trumpet Is A Witch’s Weed,” O’Donnell conjures a sense of … not Pagan mystery, because some people will immediately take such a description the wrong way, and they’ll all be off playing their Zeppelin albums backwards before we can get another sensible word out of them.
But you know when you’re alone in a dark wood at midnight, and you hear things rustle and you don’t think they’re animals, and you see lights flicker and you know they’re not fireflies? That’s what Rosary Bleeds sounds like, mist over ancient mounds, trees old as time itself and, again, a lot of that is O’Donnell’s doing.
“Brew The Sequence,” a sixties TV theme wrapped around an avant garde blues; “Apartment 6,” which sounds like something Pye Corner Audio might have contributed to a creepy, cautionary fairy tale; “The Reign of the White Plague,” with its introductory distortion best making sense if you’re chewing silver foil at the time – the midway point through Rosary Bleeds also serves up the pulsating heart of the album. You’re in the woods now, the rustling and flickers are all around you. And now is when they reveal themselves.
It’s a couple of years old now, but still well worth pursuing… at least if the idea of Mike Garson, Nik Turner, Geoff Leigh and Judy Dyble throwing in with multi-instrumentalist Oliver Kersbergen appeals to you.
They’re not on every track… hell, they’re not even on most of them. But imagine what it would sound like if they (and others) were, and Black Sails doesn’t disappoint. Imagine, too, Sigur Ros and Biosphere, ambience soundtracks to dark mental imagery, cut through and over slices of drifting mood and melody, David Bowie's Low on an all-time high.
It's a haunted winter’s afternoon of an album whose instrumental textures are occasionally broken by full-on vocals (Dyble’s “Rainy Day Vibration” is a showpiece for one of the most illuminative vocalists around); occasionally by muttered distance; and occasionally (“Chocolate River”) by the sound of a full on psychedelic freak out. Which completely shatters the mood, but when has that ever been a bad thing?
You may or may not know what it’s like to live above a rehearsal studio. You may or may not remember how it feels to have the furniture rattling and the bookcases collapse every time your neighbors plug in for a session. And you may or may not recall the sense of sheer astonishment you felt, the first time you saw them playing live, and realized you just bought their latest album.
Foam feels a lot like that. It’s going to be thrown into the psychedelia bag because that’s probably its closest living relative. But what it really is… is an album of maniacally clattering pop songs, a joy-soaked garage band reaching out for sonic sunshine and not caring where they find it… yes, that is a snatch of “Interstellar Overdrive” that ignites “When Where How Why”; that is an old nursery rhyme that gets nailed to blistering sitars on “The Wise Old Owl”…
And that probably is a copy of Piper at the Gates of Dawn that you’ll be pulling out to play next. Not because they sound the same (except in the parts where they very deliberately do), but because… if Floyd ha been the band in the rehearsal studio, the shock would be identical. An album that rides in on the most gloriously ear-shattering clatter of pop, nine songs of raucous whimsy and weirdo virtuosity whose middle name is "earworm," and whose every breath screams "louder!", Foam gives bubbleglam psych pop an even better name than that. It's frothy, man.
10th Anniversary Tour 2016
Recorded earlier this year at the Cosmic Puffin, Blind Cat and Dr Sardonicus festivals, this is exactly what it says it is - Sendelica celebrating ten years of astronomical dominance with what could be a live greatest hits album… but isn’t, because that’s not how they play things.
The last jam band standing, if “jam band” wasn’t such a grotesque term (and laden with such hideous connotations), Sendelica’s live show is a series of roughly-fixed points around which the cosmos simply rolls and ricochets. And Sendelica themselves are a band whose entire oeuvré could be dropped onto an iPod (a very big iPod, it is true) and allowed to play through uninterrupted, simply so you can find out if they ever repeat themselves.
They probably don’t, which is why we cheer at fresh takes on “Manhole of the Universe,” “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buddha” and “Standing on the Edge,” and don’t even care that the same set is basically repeated twice across the course of the disc.
Because you can never get too much of Sendelica.