LP: The Beast Shouted Love
Portugal’s Junkyards have stalked these pages before, purveyors of a debut album that already marked them out among the prime progenitors of whatever we call the new psychedelia these days. Now comes their second set and, improbable as it sounds, they’ve outdone themselves.
Timeless, transcendent, toy-like in places, The Beast Shouted Love is, first and foremost, one of those albums that you're sure you must have heard before, but where and how and when? Neither locked into a single musical area, or built within any particular expectations, it channels Broadcast (“Rainbow Garland”) as exquisitely as it revisits more historic notions - a reminder that, in the most adept hands, any musical vein worth pursuing is always more of a linear thread than a sequence of slippery stepping stones.
This is especially apparent when the band fall into their native language, as on the gorgeous, and gorgeously hypnotic “Pés Na Areia Na Terra Do Sol,” and later, the spectral chimes and whispers of “Refresco Eléctrico.” The fact that you don’t need to know what the words are about, because the voice alone says enough, pushes this album into more-or-less uncharted waters.
Meanwhile, frontman João Branco Kyron’s description of the band taking their inspiration from “the British autumnal folk period” is borne out only in as much as that was the last time music this pristine, poised and exquisitely unselfconscious was being made with any regularity. It’s good to see they’re back in fashion.
Long ago and far away, Linda Hoyle was vocal and focal point of Affinity, one of the more incendiary of the jazz rock bands flaming on the edges of British prog. A single album for Vertigo at the height of its swirly iconography, was their legacy; a solo Hoyle album their final last breath.
But Angel Air has worked marvels in keeping the band’s name alive, with both reissued and unreleased archive albums, and now Hoyle herself resurfaces, alongside Affinity bassist Mo Foster, and a newly written and recorded album that can truly be viewed as a fresh beginning, even as it echoes back to her past,
The Hoyle voice remains a thing of beauty; her willingness to stretch is deserving of your awe. The title track drifts in on percussion and whispers, Hoyle’s voice high, almost keening, over the rhythms, ushering you into a world wherein nothing at all could be called familiar, but which grabs your attention regardless. Clearly, when she was convinced to “come back,” it was completely under her own terms.
There are a few moments where the playing maybe gets a little slick; where the feral vision that is Hoyle at her best could be said to have taken a back seat. But visionary lyrics and a voice that drips expression are never far from view, and The Fetch lines up among this year’s most unexpected comebacks, as well as one of its most welcome.
United Bible Studies
So As To Preserve the Mystery
(Deep Water Acres)
Raising Holy Sparks
Raising Holy Sparks - A Mendicant Hymnal
(Deep Water Acres)
Across a career that has more highlights than this famously ever-shifting line-up has had members, United Bible Studies remain eminently capable of the one thing that ambient, experimental, atmospheric neo-folk ought to have: the ability to surprise. And keep surprising. It is that which keeps people returning to their catalog, long after other bands in similar fields had either given up or fallen out; that which ensures their latest, So As To Preserve the Mystery effectively does exactly what it says on the cover. It preserves the mystery.
Fragile in some spots, raging in others, and buoyed throughout by instruments and voices that cling to you even when they’re silent, it is a full sound, realized melodies and firmly footed dreams - in some ways, UBS’s most accessible album yet, but only if you’re prepared to access the things that they offer. The instrumentation is lush, but skeletal too, its symphonies built as much around the space between the notes as the notes themselves, and lyrics that offer only random clues as to what might really be happening.
It’s a continuation, without ever being obvious about it, of the balladic traditions of pre-industrial Ireland (the band’s home base), not in terms of subject matter, so much as atmosphere and mood. Stories are told, messages delivered, but the allegories are sonic, not spoken, and “progress” has transformed the landscapes into dreamscapes, a reminder that the veil that always divided the natural world from the supernatural one has been reinforced not only by cynicism and science, but also by the passing of time itself. It used to be said that the past is a foreign country. It’s now a distant echo as well, but still its tendrils reach out across the centuries, to find willing resonance within So As To Preserve the Mystery.
Raising Holy Sparks, meanwhile, is a 2CD side project by UB Student David Colohan, a couple of years old now, but so reflective in its ambient abstractions that it's never too late to treat it as new. Released within a series of similarly titled albums built upon North American atmospheres and landscapes, its lush evocations of specific places and scenes are wholly instrumental - a silent road movie for the ears. Its visions are seldom overt, its voice is rarely outspoken. But still it conveys a sense of open space and uncharted desert, and though that’s not a unique notion, still its execution here is both flawless and unique. If wanderlust is a state of mind, then this is the justification it has always demanded.
7-inch: “Seven Wonders”
Across a couple of albums, Magic Bus have earned deserved comparisons with the classic Canterbury/Caravan sound. Their Fruits de Mer debut single, however, puts one more in mind of Pink Floyd, circa that period of delightful indecision that separated More from Ummagumma and, in the process, unleashed some of their loveliest melodies.
“Seven Wonders” certainly merits inclusion in the same breath, even as it bleeds into a second half that is more in keeping with the band’s reputation (must be that flute), while flipping the disc unleashes their version of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” that might well have been recorded even further up than that.
Stripped of the original’s familiar wildness, draped instead with, again, that pastoral sheen for which “very English” is now the best shorthand, it’s a lovely revision, and one which should certainly send you chasing their Transmissions from Sogmore’s Garden CD. On which you will find “Seven Wonders,” but not the eighth wonder that is its b-side.
CD: What I’ve Been is Places and What I’ve Seen is Things
(Sunrise Ocean Bender)
CD: Incredible Adventures
(Deep Water Acres)
Their bio says it best. “From their secret den in a northern Appalachian forest, Evening Fires brew up a rich blend of wide-spectrum rural psychedelia, with ingredients ranging from earthy folk sounds to cosmic drones to full-on rock freak-outs.”
They’ve also pumped out a staggering quantity of albums, a lot of them on the ever-enterprising Deep Water CDR label, and this pair… best described as companions, although most of the band’s stuff sounds like this… lie in wait for the unwary today, two slices of ambient clatter and mood-enhancing whispers; space rock for a planet built entirely out of forests.
Instrumental music of this ilk posits any number of comparisons - varying shades of Krautrock is a frequent touchstone in Evening Fires reviews, but Hawkwind, the Mothers and the Velvets are referenced too, as textures within the overall soundscape touch upon an idealized version of all in full flow. “Roll Away the Stones” imagines the latter’s “The Ocean” being jammed by Amon Duul II; “We Cast Our Lots with the Waves” samples Nico if she’d joined Tangerine Dream, instead of just opening for them in a French cathedral. Elsewhere, the son of monster magnet returns with room to spare.
And so on through ever more exotic blends and blurs, but bleeding through it all, a sense that Evening Fires are blazing from a musical center that wasn’t so much ignited by the past, as reflected in it from forty years distance, while wondering what might have happened if the whole thing was starting up again now. And then it keeps going, spilling out of the sessions that produced What I’ve Been, and onto a whole other disc’s worth of excursions into even deeper improvisational waters. But never once losing either the atmospheres or the melodies that are so eloquently produced at every unexpected turn.
Of course Incredible Adventures can be enjoyed in isolation, but why would you want to do that? Line up both discs and glue the headphones on tight. And then start tracking down the rest of the Evening Fires discography.