Monday, 27 September 2010

Harvey Mandel - Cristo Redentor

Harvey Mandel is a fantastic guitarist who never settled in a band, although his talents would not have been out of place in virtually any rock band of any kind of the late 60s or 70s. This was his debut album from 1968, and is an intrumental psych blues rock bonanza. The opening track, a version of the old gospel blues track 'Wade In The Water' shows off a variety of styles: he comes in with a filthy fuzz tone over a strings and rhythm groove, before switching to a clean tone to demonstrate his trademark liquid style of play, using volume pedals, panning and delay to awesome effect. This is a real guitar-heads album, with some glorious guitar tones, and some ridiculous sustain that out-Santanas Carlos Santana. It's also beautifully recorded, with a crystal clear mix, and is a joy to listen to. There are great string arrangements aplenty, and the layering of Harvey Mandel's guitar lines is genius: the wah stomp of 'Bradley's Barn' has some scintillating backwards guitar over the top as well as some unusual low end dive bomb noises. The gloriously expressive 'You Can't Tell Me' is even better, as sweet phrases flow into and over one another over a great groove. The sound palette is expanded on a few tracks: the title track has a female choir, and sounds like a prog synthesis of Nelson Riddle and Santana. Then 'Before Six' comes on like fuzzed out acid jazz, with some tremendous horn section blasts and Jimmy Smith type organ duelling with the guitar, and the best bass and drum rocking out of the album. Looking at the sleeve notes, this appears to have been recorded all over the place, and the producer credit says "Believed to be produced by Abe Kesh'. It's amazing that there is such a unity of (fantastic) sound, and that the album has such a strong identity.
Harvey Mandel released a few more solo albums in the following years, and the one I've heard are all pretty decent - they toned down the psychedelic elements a bit, and became slightly more jazzy - Feel The Sound, Shangrenade and Baby Batter are all worth checking out. Lastly - check that classic cover! I'm pleased I've also got this on vinyl.
I haven't included the bonus tracks - buy the cd!


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Locust - Natural Composite

A classic example of electronica from 1994. Mark Van Hoen has been responsible for some excellent music over the years under his own name, as Locust, and as a part of Autocreation amongst others. Some of his later work became more lush in texture, incorporating vocals to great effect (The Girl With The Fairytale Dream from the Morning Light album is a beautiful example) – but this album is rooted firmly in the realms of dark, moody abstract electronica. Pattering percussion, low-pulsing bass and restrained metallic rhythms are integral to the sound, but secondary to the dark, sombre and disquieting soundscapes enveloping them. This is mainly synth based, but sunk into depths of reverb; and accompanied by loops and samples, an alien and claustrophobic feeling is evoked on the darker tracks. There are some more driving, rhythm based tracks that call to mind similar artists from the period like Reload and Aphex Twin, but the best stuff is the more ambient material. It’s a soundtrack to paranoia, dissociation, mental disintegration in a flotation tank. My favourite, ‘Good God’, has a repeated sibilant whisper of a sample – a woman repeatedly intoning the words of the title. This is incredibly effective, summoning up some kind of abstract nameless dread.


In reply to the comment, this was ripped from the old cd. The version available on itunes is remastered, and has extra tracks, so go and purchase them. Check out Mark Van Hoen's website - it has a soundcloud mix of selections from his discography, as well as details of all his releases and their availability.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Grails - Burning Off Impurities

Grails are a psychedelic instrumental band from Portland, and this is one of many excellent releases by them, from 2007. They specialise in a hazy, drifting, shuffling kind of post rock forged from ostensibly cliched components - reverby psych guitar, eastern cadences and a smattering of acoustic instruments (sitar, mandolin, piano); all held together with gummy resin from the inside of a bong. The whole adds up to much more than the sum of the parts, convincingly delivered at a perfect pace, with a masterful grasp of ambience and dyamics. They often rock out as a counterpoint to the glowing ambient parts, but never with a wall of heavy guitars, which is quite refreshing, despite how much I love heavy guitars. Brilliant stuff - you can buy loads of Grails stuff from Temporary Residence.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

James Plotkin & Mick Harris - Collapse

Excellent slab of ominous, industrial dark ambient from these two purveyors of fine sounds, released in 1996. Both had beginnings in far heavier musics - Napalm Death in the case of Mick Harris, and although this is superficially a long way from metal, it could also be seen almost as its logical conclusion. This is uncompromising, and very heavy; but also beautiful and meditative: it can be used for wholly immersive listening, or as a background wash. It responds to the volume level - if you turn it up you are shaken by the wall of bass; at lower volumes it becomes spectral and sepulchral. The exception would probably be 'Collision', which reflects its title with some clashing industrial noise, but on the whole this is a brilliantly executed and intriguing exploration of dark soundscapes. The best example of which is the 20 minute title track, which manages to convey both dread and exultation at once with its churning sonics.


Monday, 6 September 2010

Olivia Tremor Control - Dusk At Cubist Castle

Also known as Music From The Unrealized Film Script "Dusk At Cubist Castle", from 1996, this is a lovely, unashamedly retro slice of kitchen-sink psychedelia, of a similar variety to Dukes Of Stratosphear - particularly their '25 O'Clock' mini LP. Like the Dukes, OTC display a massive Beatles influence, with some terrific harmonies, and some gloriously tuneful songs. There are also loads of counter melodies on fuzz bass, little backward tape loops, weird intrumentation, phased vocals, and that's just on 'Define A Transparent Dream'. Things reach a peak with a wonderful trio of songs in the middle: 'Memories Of Jacqueline 1906' is a fab song that could have come from Ween's Mollusk, which breaks down in to the deeply psychedelic jam of 'Tropical Bells', with chugging raga fuzz and hookah bubbles. This segues into a classic Nuggets type eastern tinged groover called 'Can You Come Down With Us'. A suite of 9 tracks, all called 'Green Typewriters' follows, comprised of ever weirder sketches, where they indulge their more experimental side, with some chaotic and trippy moments - treated vocals, drones and sci-fi noises with a pulsing and spooky 9'40" track that sounds like the tour of the bowels of an alien spaceship, which is full of weird things hiding.
A hugely enjoyable combination of smoked out psych and great pop. Also recommended is 'Black Foliage'.