Ziggy Stardust (45)
(both Fruits de Mer)
I’ll Walk With The Stars For You
Of all the tributes offered up to the recently fallen David Bowie, the most affecting, and effective was, in fact, released before he fell. Fruits de Mer’s Fashions was released shortly before Christmas as the label’s annual gift to subscribers, and as you’d expect, rounded up a clutch of Fruity friends and family delivering their personal interpretation of a Bowie favorite.
Probably no surprise that a fair proportion of the bands chose to aim at Bowie’s early years - his pre-fame sixties get a better work out here than you’ll find any place. The Past Tense serve up a crunchily Mod inflected “Good Morning Girl,” with a rhythm that reminds us that you can’t hurry love; Sidewalk Society deliver a rambunctious “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”; the Nomen go all freaky psych on “The Gospel According to Tony Day” and already, memories of Bowie’s unreleased Toy album are ricochetting around the room - his own look back at his formative days, recorded in 2000, still awaits an official release in its entirety, and the first quarter of Fashions only exacerbates our impatience.
Ilona V haunts a truly glacial take on the 1970-ish bootleg favorite “Tired of my Life,” allegedly written when Bowie was just sixteen, and famous as the blueprint for Scary Monsters’ “It’s No Game”; Mooch transform “Andy Warhol” into palace filled with echoes and space effects; and leaping forward in the chronology, ZX+, Consterdine, Rob Gould and the Seventh Ring of Saturn go banging on Bowie’s Berlin front door to offer up their visions of other directions he might have taken his period psychosis - before the Blue Giant Zeta Puppies’ grasp “Fashion” and spin it all the way back to the sixties, a frail garage punker that makes you want to dance even more than the original.
Elsewhere, Cary Grace (“Black Country Rock”), Mordecai Smyth (“Kooks,” if Bowie had cut it with Feathers), Sheepshanks (“Life on Mars”) and Jack Ellister (“Drive in Saturday”) all come out on top, and word that Fruits are planning a second volume probably shouldn’t encourage us to start dreaming about what it might include. But Crystal Jacqueline has to cover “Rebel Rebel,” and Schizo Fun Addict really ought to have their sights set on“Hallo Spaceboy.”
In the meantime, though, if you do need more, the album ends - and the future begins - with Sendelica reappraising “Ziggy Stardust” for acoustic guitar, a noise that sounds like a middle eastern pipe, and a totally unexpected female vocal. The album version, however, is merely a taster for another attraction entirely - their latest single, almost double the length of the live LP cut, and realigning the saga of Stardust onto side two of Low. It’s utterly spellbinding, totally absorbing and absolutely dislocating. Bowie would be proud.
Of ourse, you can never have too much of Sendelica, so how fitting that there’s a new album out as well; I’ll Walk The Stars For You, which delivers a fresh, steaming slab of screaming psych madness from the screamingest, psychest madmen of all. The acid-on-stun guitars and full frontal roar is, as always, perfect, and the titles make you fall in love even before the needle hits the wax - how can anyone resist a song called “I Once Fed Peter Green’s Albatross,” particularly as it zeroes in on the heels of a positively gorgeous fuzz-led recreation of “Abatross” itself… think Frigid Pink’s “House of the Rising Sun” for further details.
Fifteen minutes long, and drifting in slowly and majestically, “I Fed…” feeds on a symphony of guitars and percussion, retaining the flavor of the previous cut but, of course, stretching out for whole new avenues - another in that long line of glorious Sendelica epics, in other words, but by no means the album’s only one. “Moscow Bunker Blues” is as foreboding as its title suggests it ought to be, Hawkwindy in places (it may be the sax), but more than capable of steering its own direction.
In other words, it’s Sendelica and it’s brilliant. What else did you expect?
Schizo Fun Addict/The Bordellos
But talking, as we briefly were, of Schizo Fun Addict…
Kassette is exactly what it says on the plastic box, New Jersey’s Schizo and Merseyside’s Bordellos meeting across the tape revival's most compelling effort yet, high-art psych and raw DIY, exuberant and ecstatic.
Divided neatly one side apiece, and with all the proceeds bound for Save the Children, though you’re too late to snag the tape, the artwork alone is a revelation, hand-stamped, numbered and hand-decorated by Jet and Sister Jayne from Schizo, and featuring sections of a numbered John Squire lithograph. Yep, the tape’s sold out, but the music is readily available from Small Bear’s Bandcamp page. Go get one now, and we’ll talk about the music while you’re listening.
Schizo have rarely sounded this feral, whether cracking the world’s most demented blues across “Lake of Fire,” or crashing headlong into Stone Roses territory with the discordant (and brief) dance of “The Pale Horse.” Which itself shifts straight into what is the most gentle cut in sight, Jet and Jayne’s shattered duet across “Lotion Chills,” and it’s still all clattered rhythm and so sweet guitar lines.
A so-called second part of long time Schizo favorite “Dream of the Portugal Keeper” is another dreamer, while the first half of the party wraps up with “Diesel Dolphin,” a lurching acoustic ramble that sounds like three solo Syd Barrett songs all playing at once, and as such should be treasured forever.
Operating on an crunchier end of the musical spectrum, the Bordellos sound like - and probably are - a bunch of sugared-up teenagers who’ve just been let loose on the darker side of dad’s record collection. All manner of ghosts can be conjured out of their manic exuberance, but only so the Bordellos can kick them in the bottom and laugh at their discomfort.
The feedback on “Hit It” is a band in its own right, “Melody Inn” is as pretty as it should be; and “Chocolate My New Rock’n’Roll” is as brilliant as its title, a guerrilla Richard Hell out-take recorded at three in the morning so as not to disturb the neighbors. Yet. In fact, the whole thing has the kind of murky, menacing sound that your ears would like to associate with that particular strain of mid-seventies New York that wasn’t in thrall to either the Ramones or Television, even as the Bordellos set sail for the most beguilingly confounding alternates.
Two of the era’s most intoxicating bands, then, together on one of its most unexpectedly reanimated formats. What’s not to love?
Dodson and Fogg
As unputdownably great as always, D&F’s latest is a tangled web of dark shadows and vivid dreams that draws actor Nigel Planer and Trees veteran Celia Humphries into the strangeness, while romping along with the same skewed panache that has made masterpieces of the rest of the one-man band’s catalog.
The stand-out here might be “I Could Tell You The World Is Yours,” which rides a propulsive mid-sixties Dylan guitar; but it might also be “Book of Rules,” chunky amplification gleefully photobombing what might otherwise have been a fairly gentle little song. Although, with fourteen tracks to choose from, and D&F’s traditional fog of agitated acoustica blazing throughout, the whole thing plays past with a timeless authority that would be impressive even if the songs themselves weren’t so powerful.
Other reviews have already proclaimed this to possibly be D&F’s best effort yet, but it’s (equally probably) too early to say so definitively. It’s definitely up there, though….
United Bible Studies
The Ale’s What Cures Ye - Traditional Folk Songs from the British Isles (CD)
With a title like that, and highlights that include “Twa Corbies,” “Farewell Nancy” and “Ten Thousand Miles,” it’s no surprise that this should be UBS’s most conventional album yet. If convention can be twisted sufficiently to absorb the inimitable atmosphere, menace and melody that is truly the soul of the UBS experience.
The strength of the catalog itself is undeniable - the songs here (and elsewhere in the folk canon) are among the essential building blocks of all that we listen to today, and it’s true that a few of them have been replayed on so many occasions that there simply cannot be another iota of meaning to draw out of them.
But from the moment “Blacksands” opens on mildly discordant keyboard, the sound of rain on sheets of glass, it’s clear that UBS have no intention of making this an easy lesson. Wholly instrumental, “Blacksands” serves as an overture for newcomers, before plunging them into the supernaturally charged and harmonized “Farewell Nancy.”
“Sullivan’s John” is relatively more straightforward, lone voice and plunking around the fireside. But a medley of “The Dalesman’s Litany” and “The Burning Sea” both drones and whispers, the sound of mist and the flavor of waves, a chillingly hurdy-gurdyed eulogy that is granted deathless perfection by Alison O’Donnell’s ever-miraculous vocal.
Later, Aine O’Dwyer’s harp takes center stage on a glorious “The Recruited Collier,” while the crows-and-percussion fed first half of “Twa Corbies” stands among the most effective passages of sound in the entire UBS catalog. Which is not an easy judgement to make, but still, the union of this band and this canon is one that any fan of the original songbook should hear - and any newcomer should have tattooed to their heart.
(Sunrise Ocean Bender)
In The Cities of Your Eyes (CD)
Two albums that take their inspiration (and, in the former instance, raise funds for) the refugee crisis that is, or should be, paralyzing the European conscience; two albums that every home should pay attention to.
In the Cities of your Eyes is a twenty-three track comp raising funds for the victims, journeying across every dark corner of folk, ambient and wyrd with a ragbag of names, both familiar and otherwise, that clings together with a purpose that is rare from even a one0-band concept album.
Sandfinger’s a cappella rendering of the old hymn “He Who Would Valiant Be” sets the stage, its minute-and-a-half enacted just a little faster than you might remember it being, but it’s an effective lead in, particularly with Dmitri Panas’s “Necropolis” following immediately on. Written around the demonstrations that mark the anniversary of the police killing of fifteen-year-old student Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens on December 6, 2008, it’s an incredibly affecting piece of music, and again, makes it clear that this is not going to be a light-hearted listen.
Cindytalk’s “Lost in the Hum of the World” instrumental is shattered tumult - imagine a twisted twin to the first This Mortal Coil album; Edward Ka-Spel’s “The Ministry of Disinformation,” contrarily plays on a sparse, one-man punk singer-songwriter mood, all the better for the lyric to reach out and throttle you. Stone Breath turn over the chilling dislocation of “The Blood Red God”; the Hare and the Moon the gorgeous “Black Shores,” which feels a little like John Cale’s Academy in Peril, if he’d recorded it for a Nigel Kneale teleplay.
Elektronik Meditation’s “Cave” is indeed electronic, indeed meditative, and feels so dark and cold that its title was well come by; at ten minutes-plus, it’s the longest cut so far… but only because we’re still awaiting Book of Shadows’ “Peace Star,” which, at sixteen minutes, spreads itself so slowly that you could listen to three or four other songs in the time it takes to unfold.
But you won’t because it’s compulsively eerie, just as Temple Music’s “They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships” - spoken word, acoustic guitar and foreboding mounting with every moment - is chillingly all-encompassing, and, perhaps more than anything else here, brings home the sheer enormity of the crisis that this album hopes to help alleviate.
The mood remains relentless across the entire collection, and then spreads further, out of th comp and into the first album by Sicily-based Gioele Valenti’s Juju project. Utilizing haunted psychedelia as only the modern age could imagine it, Juju employs rhythm, sonics and legend to communicate its own vision of the unfolding catastrophe. The result is a monumental creation, an album that refuses to blend into anything approaching either deafening polemic or simple background noise; and which refuses, too, to allow itself to be defeated by the nightmare scenarios that inspired it. Seek it out, and pay attention. It’s worth it.
Uncanny Tales from the Everyday Undergrowth: A Musical Voyage in Three Parts (CD)
(Hip Replacement HIP REP 008)
From 2006, the SHS's debut album is reborn and remains as awesome today as ever, the original LP (which itself compiled the band’s first three EPs) paired with a disc of illuminating demos for the same set of songs.
Wendigo, Bethesda and Midnight Mutinies were the EPs, each of them furthering the correspondingly scientific claims that these soft-hearted souls were spearheading something very special indeed, a warm musical rapture that looked not so much back at the original psychedelic age with which they are most commonly associated, as the eighties counterpart that (quite coincidentally), Cherry Red has just resurrected on the A Splash of Colour box set. And which you should also seek out.
That said, the spoken word interlude that bisects “Diving Bell” surely places the Scientists firmly in their own space and time (Billy Ray Cyrus fans might want to steer clear of it), while the quirky instrumental “Wendigo” oddly puts one in mind of Echo and the Bunnymen, if they’d got out of bed on the right side for once.
Later, “The Yongy Bongy Bo” belies its silly title with an even sillier Edward Lear-like story, and that does reflect back on the classic psych era, and it does it very well. Only for “The Haunted Song” to dispel the mood completely, of course, with the percussion bouncing like a superball around a gloriously-illustrated spectral fairground.
“Many a Monster,” too, has a light-hearted air that places the Scientists firmly within the more pastoral realms of Anglo pop eccentricity, and it’s their eye for the querulous sonics that gives the band a lot of their impact… no matter what it is that’s standing in for the drums on “Midnight Mutinies,” it sounds like someone slapping over-inflated cheeks at an old time boardwalk talent show. Which is something you don’t hear very often these days. And then there’s “At Night the Quarry Glows Like a Mothership,” which could be the soundtrack to a Spielberg sci-fi epic, but only if it starred the cast of Hatfield and the North.
So on and so forth, then, through the twelve tracks that make up the album, and the dozen more that are the bonus disc of demos, and it’s so hard to believe that it’s ten years now since this album first materialized that we should pretend that it isn’t. Because if this was a new issue, it’d be one of the albums of the year.
Cosmic Sound (45)
(Fruits de Mer)
Here She Comes Now (45)
A rollicking slice of old school prog for yer, Texan Peasants setting the controls for the hearts, on one side, of Eloy; and, on the other, Manfred Mann’s Earthband - “Daybreak” in the first instance, thundering like more horsemen than even the average apocalypse could muster; “Saturn” and “Mercury” in the second, moodier still but just as momentous, and would it be bratty to say it’s nice to find the Fruits catalog getting back to the pastures of Prog that it once stalked so imperiously? Probably, but we’ll say it anyway.
Time for a Van Der Graaf Generator tribute?
There again, if it’s grinding drones that float your boat (of a million years), the title track of Claudio Cataldi’s EP takes us back to whichever basement Lou Reed was hanging in when he wrote the title track, and lets the walls close in even further they normally did. Three originals follow, two from past Cataldi releases on the synchronicitously (is that even a word? It should be) -named Seashell label, and one newie, the deliciously slurred “All My Friends Are Here,” and if your blood pressure was raised even a point by Cataldi’s last Fruity excursion, covering Syd Barrett on A Momentary Lapse of Vinyl, this is for you.
Sons of the Void
Sons of the Void (LP)
(Sunshine Ocean Bender)
Take the vivid psychedelia of Hoboken’s Tadpoles, and the vibrant sensibilities of Psychic TV; lock them away in a Switzerland studio and you have this glorious slice of modern pop psych, the first album by ex-patriate David Maxx’s latest alter-ego.
Bright and vivacious, pressed on eye-catching cyan vinyl, it’s a swinging limited edition that has a hint of the English indies about it, that wide-eyed singalong naivety that Luke Haines makes such a great job of playing, but precious few others beside him. Maxx is one of the ones who do, and the ensuing sonic blast emerges the kind of fluffy festival that leaves you listening with an idiot grin on your face, regardless of what else you’re doing today.
“Kolliderscope,” which opens with what sounds like a stadium live band getting ready to rawwwwwwwwwwk, before turning into the sort of backwards-band experiment that the Beatles liked to play with, might be the key cut, but the whole album grips the turntable like you’ll never want to remove it. And it wouldn’t let you if you did.