Dominic Valvona’s essential reviews roundup

Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

We have the ninth, and apparently most ‘honest’ personal album yet from the renowned soundtrack composer Bob Holroyd, The Cage; a pair of releases from Ian Button’s inimitable Gare du Nord label: the ‘musical gift to a friend’s son’ EP of charming alt-American and pop from the Lille-based Life Pass Filter, Joseph, and Jack Hayter’s most brilliant psycho geographical folk survey of London’s Abbey Wood; the fiery and petulant art school Swiss/Canadian duo Peter Kernel’s third, and most impressive, album The Size Of The Night; the tenth album from the German experimental group Station 17, Blick, which features the cream of Germany’s experimental electronic and avant-garde including members of Tangerine Dream and faUSt; Die Wilde Jagd’s second album of adroit industrial and organic electronica, Uhrwald Orange; and the latest magical, Kosmische and psychedelic cult sounds songbook from David Thayer and friends Little Tornadoes project, Apocalypse!.

Jack Hayter   ‘Abbey Wood’   Gare du Nord,  23rd March 2018

Bringing light, or at least opening up a psycho-geographical narrative dedicated to the very edges of a largely ignored London postcode – so far out on the South Eastern outskirts as to be part of Kent –, an earnest Jack Hayter composes a yearning lament to Abbey Wood on what is his first solo album in fifteen years.

This doesn’t mean that our Jack has been indolent or on a respite; the former Hefner band member who also helped found Dollboy and the South London group Sponge Finger, has during that period been working with fellow Hefnerian Darren Hayman as well as Oliver Cherer, Ralegh Long and the Gare du Nord label’s house band turn supergroup, Papernut Cambridge. Many of those artists, including the Gare du Nord team leader Ian Button – in the capacity of host for this album, and as a drummer on the graceful, lilted and warbled guitar duet with Suzanne Rhatigan, Bigger Than The Storm – contribute to this earthy rustic minor opus; with the equally gifted storyteller Cherer – his last album, The Myth Of Violet Meek appeared in our 2017 ‘choice albums’ features – adding a omnivorous like range of instruments (piano, horns), tools (saw) and his voice throughout the Foley like atmospheres and moods; Long tinkling the ivory on the swirling fairground blues The Strangers Fair; and Riz Maslen provides ‘ethereal’ and eerie sorrowful lulling accompaniment to a quartet of songs in the first half of this album.

Talk about slumming it; living for his art, Hayter’s literature, and pun and landmark panoply was created in the most unconducive to creativity and safety environmental of a derelict Children’s home in Abbey Wood. With no utilities plumbed or wired in, Hayter took showers under a hose, cooked on a camping stove and slept on a bed made from warehouse pallets. For security he kept a very big stick handy. ‘Cold but free’, a self-imposed lifestyle, he was at least qualified to regale tales of isolation and hardship; experiencing the daily grind of survival on one of the capital’s unloved outposts; from the shitty end of life’s (other) big stick.


Featuring long forgotten laments and forlorn vignettes, two of the most vivid and haunting being the bookended tragedy of the Arandora Star; Hayter laying cooing elegiac wreaths to those unfortunate souls aboard the WWII requisitioned Blue Star Line passenger ship who died in the Atlantic Ocean, sunk by a German U-boat on July 2nd 1940, whilst travelling to Canada with hundreds of interned German and Italian citizens. The first part, written with Trudie Willingham, is a much-desired remembrance service to the unmarked watery grave, whilst the album’s final swansong is an Italian language translated and narrated eulogy, featuring the voice of Slyvia De.

Just as poignant is the equally haunting and sad But I Didn’t Know Frankie, a softly spoken word tale of woe, with a choral-like ghostly accompaniment, about the aforementioned stranger: sleeping rough, the circumstances of misfortune unknown but death on a fateful frozen night – unable to gain access to a warm sanctuary inside the Abbey Wood’s sub station – immortalized by Hayter; the exact spot marked out in a sympathetic but matter-of-fact tone: “They say he died right here, frozen solid underneath this window.”

Connected in some way to the Abbey Wood diaspora or its position as a gateway to the world via fateful songs that draw in the one-time gold rush phenomenon outpost of the British Empire, Bendigo in Victoria, Australia (on the Mick Harvey with a pinch of Dire Straits I Sent My Love To Bendigo), and the stoic symbol of a solitary Mulberry Tree that attracts a beautifully resigned woven historiography, which via the arrival of a curious Chinese girl name checks the silk trade – or lack of one – but turns into a malady about Abbey Wood’s melancholic scenery.  Playing on local haunts, such as John Cleland’s infamous 18th century Fanny Hill heroine/survivor turn pub name, on the disjointed Georgian Fanny On The Hill, Hayter can transport the listener back to the age of Thackeray – to a bawdry alehouse, a resigned diorama of highway men forced into brigandry and misbehavior – as easily as draw upon the present for inspired re-readings of abuse, tragedy and grief.


Abbey Wood deftly played with twangs of bucolic and Baroque folk, blues, synthesized atmospherics, Americana and reverent chamber music, is a multilayered songbook; a lived-in musical novel, rich with references, landmarks and peopled by those who left an indelible, if at times fleeting, mark upon this much forgotten or passed over postcode: their ghosts, no matter how small the part they played in its story, never inconsequential; remembered and written about with a certain gravitas by Hayter, who creates the most accomplished and brilliant of testaments.

Station 17   ‘Blick’   Bureau B,  9th March 2018

With near enough thirty years of experience behind them and a changeable lineup of both musicians with and without various disabilities, the Station 17 collective once more shift their focus and sound; moving away from the all-out pop of the last album Alles Für Alle for a more improvised travail through the Krautrock, Kosmische and experimental electronica cannon.

Leaving the city, retreating to a point from the ‘modern world’, the Hamburg group spent a few weeks in the ‘summery seclusion’ of a coastal idyll, recording their tenth album at the Watt’n Sound Studio, near to the North Sea coastline. Free of predetermined structures, lyrics and ideas they enjoyed an improvised freedom; inviting a host of German musical royalty to take part in what is a collaborative recording experience – something they’ve done in the past, having worked with icons such as Michael Rothar and the late Holger Czukay. And so each of the album’s none tracks features the signatures of its guests: The writhing prehistoric Krautrock-jazzy Le Coeur Léger, Le Sentiment D’un Travail Bien Fait for example features the guiding avant-garde, ‘musique concrète’ presence of drum and bass partnership of Jean-Hervé Péron (the French title track I dare say his idea) and Zappi Diermaier; key founders of the reverent agent provocateurs Faust, who in recent decades have broken away to form their own iteration of the group under the faUSt banner. And, though only as part of its most modern regeneration, Tangerine Dream’s Ulrich Schnauss appears to gaze through a progressive Kosmische tinged explored ‘astronomical telescope’ on the album’s heaven’s gate opening finale.

Bringing out their very own homage to Germany’s golden age of analogue synth and motorik, journeymen and label mates Eberhard Kranemann (a founding member no less of early Kraftwerk and Neu!) and Harald Grosskopf (drummed on a number of Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel albums) have a ‘blast’ on the post-punk mooning Ein Knall; running through the full Klaus Dinger catalogue, from Neu! to Japandorf.

From another generation, Dirk Dresselhaus, aka Schneider TM, appears both as an engineer, capturing these sessions and crafting them into a coherent album, and as a collaborator on the kooky bossa nova preset Die Uhr Spricht. Andreas Spechtl of Ja, Panik! infamy appears alongside Station 17 singer Siyavash Gharibi on the poppier, Der Plan-esque Dinge, and another Andreas, Andreas Dorau, joins the same upbeat, marimba like candour on what we’re told is an “enduring appraisal of post-capitalist perversion”, Schaust Du, whilst Datashock travel through the primordial soup into another dimension on the Acid Mothers-hitch-a-ride-aboard-the-Cosmic Jokers-spaceship Zauberpudding.


Turning the dial on an imaginary radio station, attuned to all the highlights from Germany’s most experimental if rhythmic decades, Blick confidently absorbs the influences and inspirations of its multitude of guests to produce social commentary and reflect on the here and now. A sort of Bureau B label all-stars – the German label rapidly, more or less, signing up everyone of note from the last five decades; a home to most of the country’s experimental electronic music and Krautrock pioneers – this latest album from Station 17 uses its pool of talent and resources well, balancing the edgy with a melodic, motoring, cruising sensibility.

Peter Kernel   ‘The Size Of The Night’   On The Camper Records,  9th March 2018

Visually composed (except for the differing skateboard graphic style track listings) with one half of this Swiss/Canadian duo, Barbara Lehnhoff’s elegant, almost stately, childhood dog Arrow gazing out with a certain ruminating calm on the album cover, the music that lies within this sleeve is anything but.

Not surprising for a duo that originally met whilst attending the visual communications school in Switzerland, the already mentioned Canadian Lehnhoff choosing film whilst her foil, Swiss native, Aris Bassetti chose graphic design, both collide in bringing their own baggage and ideas together for an explosive art school sound.


Formed in 2006 under the figurehead moniker of Peter Kernel – an ambiguous character they funnel all their musical protestations and fantasies into – but only now releasing, on their very own imprint, a third album, it seems the duo aren’t so much succumbing to procrastination as taking their time and waiting for the right moment to launch a barrage of musical discourse. The previous album, the darkly resigned entitled White Death & Black Heart, was launched off the back of a UK/European tour supporting the most brilliant Wolf Parade in 2008 (I vividly remember attending the Brighton leg of this same tour); it was the band’s Spencer Krug who invited them to open for the acclaimed Canadian indie band.

Playing over 600 gigs, from diverse spots at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Milan Fashion Week, Peter Kernel have in recent years been nominated for awards at the Swiss Music Grand Prix and Swiss Live Talent for their dynamic live performances. Congruous to their artistic disciplines they also scored the music for Swiss-Peruvian director Klaudia Reynicke’s Il Nido film, and rearranged their own back catalogue for piano, harp, cello, harmonium and viola under the auspicious of the orchestral project, Peter Kernel & The Wicked Orchestra.


Hardly light of material in these anxious ‘hashtag’ prefixed times; the duo’s latest album title philosophically channels the complex duality of human behavior. Under the cover of the ‘night’ they posture such enquiring questions as, “What is the size of the night?”, and, “How can we measure the night?”. To them, the night acts as cipher, a totem for its ominous fears and obvious darkness, but also its mystery and allure.

The cloak of darkness is however lifted, as both Lehnhoff and Bassetti try to find a balance and acceptance that they can simultaneously be both “sensitive” and “assholes!”. Expressing “this new consciousness” between bouts of light and shade post-punk, grunge, doom and the psychedelic, they throw themselves into and hurtle with a controlled energy, into the night.

This is an album filled with musical surprises, spiraling as the duo does through petulant yelped Katie White (of The Ting Tings fame) fronted Royal Trux lovelorn spite (There’s Nothing Like You), marauding Raincoats dub-y bass verses breakbeat drums lumbering coquettish sarcasm (Pretty Perfect) and what sounds like transmogrified Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra western style chanson duets (The Fatigue Of Passing The Night); all of which is a positive in my view. At their most esoteric they channel the Black Angels channeling The Beatles on the book of the dead kick Drift to Death, and oozing with dark exotic distaste (flipping between English and Italian), they venture towards the Middle East or Byzantine on Men Of Women.

Most of the themes that are currently keeping the Twittersphere active are covered, though more in the manner of sympathetic deciphered enquiry and at times, metaphorical nagging doubt; or as with the sloganize looping shout out The Shape Of Your Face In Space, a host of “isms” is spewed forth, like an exercise in expelling fear.

Never a cacophony, always in control, The Size Of The Night finds the duo at their apex; a good balance of dynamics and rhetoric that stretches post-punk to the max.

Bob Holroyd  ‘The Cage’  HTML,  9th March 2018

Composing some of the most intimate and personable of cinematic music for an impressive number of movies and mainstream TV shows over the last two decades – from The Sopranos to Panorama; The Dark Knight to Coast – Bob Holroyd’s sophisticated peregrinations have embraced ambient, minimalism, world music, classical and jazz to create a diverse body of work: Whether its the use of the percussive sounds he picked up on his travels throughout Africa and Asia for the club sound of African Drug, or in highlighting the plight of the Kalahari Bushmen through the collaborative Sanscapes project, Holroyd crosses cultural boundaries in his quest to produce interesting, engaging musical narratives and thoughtful soundtracks. The likes of which Coldcut, Four Tet, Nitin Sawhney and Steve Roach have felt compelled to remix over the years.


With what could be his most ‘personal’, intimate and honest album yet, Holroyd cites work in therapy and an exploration of the complex emotions that make up “every moment of our lives” as inspiration. The metaphorical ‘cage’ of his ninth album title references a (to a point) self-imposed barrier; one created subconsciously to guard against “negative emotions”; a safeguard that “ultimately made” Holroyd “unapproachable to others” and even himself. Instead of trying to escape that cage, he enlarges its dimensions, widening the bars to accommodate all emotions, all feelings, experiences and people: “If EVERYTHING is in the Cage then I am more free then if I were keeping all influences out.” This sudden epiphany results in Holroyd’s “liberating” new approach to recording; lifting the constraints of the past in favour of a more organic process of just recording what feels right on the day.

Despite the turmoil and complexity of whatever lies beneath those subconscious thoughts, the twelve ambient suites on this album are mostly contemplative and peacefully ruminative, subtle in creating what are, spaces to think. Prompting track titles offer an emotive starting point or describe a relevant response to the ambient woven textures that follow. Inner Mind Sigh sounds like just that; a slow pause, in-take of breath and dissipated exhale of cerebral reflection set to a trickling neo-classical purposeful piano and throb of neurons. Falling Together with its gossamer David Sylvain vibes and refraction like Jah Wobble bass notes tumbles deftly through the movement of the droplet falling piano; and, no surprises, Into The Light, which could be a missing Mogwai score, finds a passage out of the dimmer gauze of the subterranean into (you guessed it) the light!

Manipulating the many tools and instruments at his disposal, and those of his contributors, Holroyd reverses, shapes and bends the subtle guitar, piano, cello and minimal synthesized textures into open space. Notes and plucked reverberations often hang or float in a mix of Eno-esque traverses and more mechanically turned interplays between kinetic elements. The rare occasions when a rhythm is struck up, such as the Four Tet like Woven, the movement is kept sparse and controlled, despite the roaming wavering intentions.

Looking inwards to expand outwards, Holroyd encapsulates a myriad of cerebral elements and processes into a soundtrack of deep, tender and measured reflections; a slow release of composure that longs to escape like a gauze-y mist from The Cage.

Little Tornadoes   ‘Apocalypse!’   River Jones Music,  9th March 2018

More or less making music of one kind or another, under a host of names, over the past thirty years, David Thayer’s most recent project, Little Tornadoes, channels cult sounds, Kosmische, psych, counter-culture country, post-rock, 70s pastiche French chanson and even acid-jazz to dreamily muse over the end times.


Born in the States, Thayer began making music in his native San Jose on the cusp of the 90s, before making his way towards San Francisco during that decade, setting up a bi-weekly event, inviting the cream of the techno movement to play at the Bahia Cabana Club. A change of international scenery, the eclectic collector and absorber of various music scenes made a move to Europe as the new millennium dawned; finding a hub for his sonic and political activities in Zurich. From the squat scene performances as the Xeno Volcano in Switzerland and Germany, revitalizing the infamous and original fountain of Dadaism, the Cabaret Voltaire (alongside Mark Divo), taking over the running of the Sue Ellen Bar in Zurich, and in setting up the Iniciativa project to recuperate the contaminated waters of the Bogota River in Colombia, Thayer’s interests are far reaching and varied.

His second album as the Little Tornadoes, like most of what he does, involves a myriad of contributors, including long-term collaborator and foil Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab fame – who of course, Thayer has worked with on numerous occasions in the past and when the group were still active – on bass line duties and backing vocals. Keeping up the Kosmische and psychedelic vibe are guest spots from a trio of drummers, Holden/Astrobal member Emmanuel Mario, Tortoise’s John Herndon, and Hans Hansen as well as some more bass guitar from Amin Khatir, guitar from Joel Raif and vocals from both Caroline Sallee and Giorgio Tuma.

Leaning heavily towards that Stereolab sparkle and pop lilt, and also lightly underpinned with a melodious country drift, Thayer’s Apocalyptic entitled vision gently meanders through a relaxed if ominous on occasions songbook of Super Furry Animals psychedelic sunshine, languid Raincoats dub gait post-punk, subconscious Andean shoegaze and Altered Images fronted by Cate Le Bon indie pop. Setting up a range of scenes, Thayer and friends muse like broody French noir characters acting out a resigned affair over coffee and Gauloise on Cherie La Mouche; take a languorous space walk on Ursa Major; drift off on a sun lounger beside the Sea of Tranquility on Water Song; and return to Thayer’s desert origins on the drunken piano and country breakdown, Texas.


There’s plenty of well-crafted songs on this album; most of which are short in duration and so devoid, thankfully, of indulgence and extended experimental tedium. Each idea breezes in, no matter how troubled or serious the lyrical themes, travelling between its various inspirations and musical collages with a light touch. Apocalypse! is a candy-coloured psychedelic, cosmic and country trip; sighing over the anxieties and stresses of what could be the end times.

Life Pass Filter  ‘Joseph EP’  Gare du Nord,  Available now


Unsurprisingly for a label with such a romantically gestured affinity for the city of Paris’ most famous railway station – a label based in the English county of Kent, where the Eurostar hurtles through, passing on its way between London and the Continent before hitting the Channel Tunnel – would at some point add a bona fide French act to their growing roster. The curious Lille-based collaboration between composer/sound designer Antoine Boucherikha and graphic designer Anne Hélou, under the moniker of Life Pass Filter, have marked their inaugural debut for Ian Button’s Gare du Nord label with a succinct EP of endearing advice and comfort; a present to Joseph Chevalier-Poher, the first-born among the duo’s inner circle of closet friends.


A celebration but also a document that records the change when young adults suddenly become parents and proper grown-ups with responsibilities, the Joseph EP is a melodious encapsulation of the ‘sweetness of childhood’ and a peaceable message to the “adult this boy will one day grow up to be”.

Consciously hinting at 60s and modern pop, you could be mistaken for believing this was an American artist at work; the scent of France all but obscured by their penchant for a stateside sound. To a mostly lilting acoustic accompaniment, Boucherikha sings a vibrato effect song of assurance, welcoming the “little man” into the world on the slightly tropical wistful opener, and offers the sweet adage that there’s “no place like home” on the repeating, twanged pedal-looping song of the same title. There’s a psychedelic gauze-y feel to Morning Lights, which sounds like a soothing Flaming Lips playing at the crèche. And the finale, Lullaby, sends the little guy off to up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire; a dreamland where Beck gentle coos and plucks away in quivered bliss.

Short but sweet, this intimate celebration has a curious undertone of seriousness too, a present of knowing and depth that makes this EP anything but saccharine playtime treat. Young Joseph should feel honoured and blessed that someone is bothered to save this moment for posterity; a testament to hope, sagacious wisdom and childhood.

Die Wilde Jagd  ‘Uhrwald Orange’   Bureau B,  6th April 2018

Fashioning a mysterious ‘Clockwood Orange’ world of Gothic and ominous dreamscapes, inspired by and named, in part, after the studio it was produced in, and by both the 17th century menagerie paintings of the Flemish artist Frans Snyder and the collected devotional Medieval period songs of the Llibre Vermell De Montserrat artifact, Die Wilde Jagd’s Sebastian Lee Philipp takes us on an eerie, cosmic and slinking travail through a throbbing sophisticated earthy electronic soundtrack. His musical partner on the group’s adroit debut self-titled experiment, producer Ralf Beck, is excused from the follow-up but lends out his extensive racks of vintage analogue synthesizers to Philipp, who transforms and obscures their banks of sounds into ghostly permutations, shadowy creatures and lurking, dancing and honking sonorous cries from a murky wilderness.


Building each track up gradually, with over half the album’s tracks running over ten minutes in length, these soundscapes and semi-organic, semi-industrial pulsing dance tracks twist and contort, with elements rotating from the background to foreground. Live sounding drums and limbering My Life In The Bush of Ghosts style bass lines move it all forward, with tracks such as the clip clopping hoofed bestial, industrial laced pop 2000 Elefanten heading towards a strange amalgamation of Depeche Mode and DAF; especially when there’s stoic Teutonic soul-in-the-machine vocals and sleek techno pulses flashing.

Merging post-punk, Kosmische, dance music and darker evocations of the clandestine and sinister together, Philipp conjures up arcane and futuristic, esoteric and Eastern mystical visions; from the balalaika echoed, prowling Popol Vuh venerable soundtrack of Kreuzgang (translates as Cloister), which could as easily be set in Tibet as the Medieval Lutheran Benelux, to the Velvet Underground and Nico ponder tribal cult witchery, Ginsterblut (Broom Blood).

Die Wilde Jagd’s progressive sound is tight, rhythmic and cleverly put together. Uhrwald Orange is a classy imagined score, balancing cool, gleaming and aloof German electronica with menacing, nocturnal earthiness, yet also reaching for the celestial. One minute imbued with hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Eno, Cluster, and Faust, the next slinking on to the Tresor club or Basic Channel dancefloor. In short: a most impressive album.



A mixed bag, even for me, this month, with a triple haul of albums from the Kent estuary dreamers wishing to travel far, Gare du Nord. A trio of releases from Ian Button‘s pet project label includes a Pop-sike collection from Joss Cope, fairytale metaphor folk spells from Karla Kane and a ‘switched-on Bach’ like treatment of Vivaldi Baroque classics from modular synth composer Willie Gibson. We also have a new album of Victorian themed pastoral forebode that chimes with our times from Oliver Cherer; a brilliant experimental grunge, new wave and alt-rock experimental album from Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand; the debut album from Gwyneth Glyn for the new artist/label partnership Bendigedig; and finally, two chaotic avant-garde electronic music soundclashes from maverick artist Andrew Speckman, under his recently adopted Sad Man persona.  


Read on….

Joss Cope  ‘Unrequited Lullabies’  (6th October 2017)
Karla Kane  ‘King’s Daughters Home For Incurables’  (6th October 2017)
Willie Gibson  ‘Vivaldi: Seasons Change’  (13th October 2017)
All three released on the Gare du Nord.

Absent from my review selections for a while now, estuary romantics Gare du NordIan Button’s independent label, run from an HQ that sits on the edge of the metropolis of London and the pastoral pleasantries of backwaters Kent – have sent us a triple bundle of releases, all earmarked for release in the first half of October. This autumnal flurry includes a new album of psychedelic pop soft bulletins from Joss Cope; an Anglophile hushabye fairytale of folk from Californian sun-kissed artist Karla Kane, of The Corner Laughers fame; and a transduced ‘switched-on’ modular synth treatment of Baroque Vivaldi classics from, the non de plume of George Baker, Willie Gibson.

A real mixture you’ll agree, the first of which, Cope’s Unrequited Lullabies, is in the mode of classic 60s revivalism and 80s psychedelic pop.

Sibling to arch druid polymath of the ‘head’ community, Julian, brother Joss Cope shares an equally colourful CV; serving and rubbing shoulders during his formative years with a number of famous and cult figures from the Liverpool music scene, including Echo & The Bunnymen Les Pattinson, Wah Heat’s Peter Wylie and Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney. Not before fleetingly spearheading Bam Caruso label favorites Freight Train – releasing the modestly pivotal album Man’s Laughter in 1985 – before splitting and joining ‘rivals’ the Mighty Lemon Drops, Joss left Liverpool to be absorbed into the Creation Records mayhem of London. During his spell in the capital he played with Crash, The Weather Reports and Rose McDowell before carving out a solo career, releasing two albums under the Something Pretty Beautiful banner.

Inevitably Joss would at some point cross paths with his elder brother, contributing famously to the Fried and St. Julian solo albums; co-writing with both Julian and his former Freight Train band mate Donald Ross Skinner the album tracks Pulsar and Christmas Morning.


Before this becomes just a biography, Joss would form and play with many more bands during the 90s and noughties – The United States of Mind, Dexter Bentley and Sergeant Buzfuz among them -, balancing music with a careers as a video director for MTV, narrator for a children’s BBC animation series and an online producer/activist for Greenpeace.

This latest chapter in a checkered backstory of affiliations sprung from Joss’ regular sleepovers in Finland, home to his current partner, the cartoonist Virpi Oinonen. In 2016 he began collaborating with the guitarist Veli- Pekka Oinonen, bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka trio of Helsinki talent, and the (what must be the most Irish of Irish sounding names in history) keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke on what would become this album, Unrequited Lullabies.

Not quite as gentle as the title suggests, but still quite meandrous, peaceable and safe, the lullabies, coastal tidal ebbs and flows and metaphorical drownings include the full range of influences from Joss’ earlier output on Bam Caruso; namely the cult label’s Circus Days compilations of obscurities and novelties from the mostly kaleidoscopic afterglow music scene of English psych and pop-sike. At various times you can expect to hear traces of 70s era Pretty Things, House Of Love, Mock Turtles, early Charlatans, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Edmunds, XTC, The Eyes, and most obviously (and prominent) Syd Barrett. Controlled with assured maturity throughout, those influences loosely flow between the pastoral, shoegaze, backbeat pop and acid psychedelia.

Yet despite tripping occasionally into mellotron steered mild hallucinogenics, there’s nothing here that ventures beyond the ‘calico wall’; no surprises or raw energetics; no teeth rattling scuzz and fuzz or melting chocolate watchbands. Unrequited Lullabies is instead an understated effort, erring towards gestures of love – as Joss himself rather poignantly and regretfully puts it about one particular song, “Love songs to the children I never had…’ -, with a side order of ruminations and the sagacious forewarning advice of a late generation X(er) on the ‘good and bad’ aspects of life ‘in this magical place’. All played out to a most melodic songbook of classic psychedelic pop.

Time-travelling off on a completely different tangent, the Willie Gibson alter-pseudonym of one-time British soul journeyman George Barker (playing trumpet back in the late 60s and early 70s with J J Jackson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the “sweet soul music” Stax legend, Arthur Conley) transduces the Baroque classics of Vivaldi via a range of modular synthesizers; ala a strange kitsch sounding combination of Wendy Carlos, stock 80s paranormal soundtracks and a quaint sounding Kraftwerk.

Moving from soul into post-minimalist electronica on the cusp of a new era in technological advances, Barker was among the first recipients of the iconic all-in-one multi purpose digital synth/sampler/workstation, the Fairlight CMI; using its signature sound to produce sound design and music for radio and TV commercials in the 80s, whilst also lending his skills on this apparatus to Madness and Red Box on a number of recordings during the same period. Under the Ravenwood Music banner, Barker has carved out a career for himself as a producer and music publisher of synth based composition.

Modulating a fine sine wave between ‘on hold’ call-waiting style background electronica classicism and cult retro-futurism, this latest treatment of the Italian genius’ most familiar and celebrated set of opuses – Opus 8, Il Quatrro Staginoni i.e. ‘the four seasons’ – certainly has its moments. The actual execution, made more difficult by Barker’s process of ‘un-creatable’ layering, playing one part at a time with no recall, but constantly evolving his set-up and expanding until all that remains is the ‘control data’ – like the written score itself – is quite clever.

Split into triplets of quarters, each section features a subtle fluctuation of changes and melodies. The first trio of compositions, La Primavera 1 – 3, features fluttering arpeggiators, heralded pomp and glassy toned spritely descending and ascending robotic harpsichord. It sounds at times like a 80s video arcade symphony from Stranger Things. Both majestically reverent and cascading patterns follow, as Barker conducts his way through a carnival four seasons and trilling Baroque sitting room recital. Later on however, the L’Inverno 1 – 3 suite sends Vivaldi towards Georges Méliès visions of space; bounding and mooning around on a nostalgic romanticized dreamy lunar surface.

A future cult obscurity, Seasons Change is a knowing, clever exercise in retro-modular synthonics; returning to the classical source to produce a well-produced and crafted homage.

The final album release of October from the label is in conjunction with the group that US troubadour Karla Kane leads, The Corner Laughers: all three band members including husband Khoi Huynh, who co-produces and accompanies Kane throughout, appear on this album.

A cross-Atlantic venture between the two, Kane’s debut solo, King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, unveils its true intentions and angst from behind an enchanting, lullaby-coated folksy and disarming veneer. Partly post-Trump diatribe fashioned to a rich metaphor of Grimm tale whimsy and a Lewis Carroll meets a lilting Ray Davis like meander through – what I interpret as – a sulky ironic vision of an old insular England and aside at those who voted for Brexit, this songbook, written under the comforting shade of a beloved oak tree in Kane’s California backyard, states a clear position; knowing exactly which side of the fence it sits.

An Anglophile of a sort, much of this solo debut is informed by Kane’s experiences touring the UK. Recordings from an idyllic pastoral England, courtesy of Richard Youell, imbue endearing lulls with birdsong and the friendly buzz of bumblebees. Also from this ‘septic isle’, the idiosyncratic Martin Newell of the cult favorites Cleaners From Venus fame is invited to add a narrated stream of British institutions and romanticized descriptions of eccentric foibles and pastimes in a sort of Larkin-style (“cricket matches seen from trains”).

Mellifluously sung and played, though on a few occasions pushed through with bit of intensity and swelling anger, Kane’s sugar-coated ruminations are deeply serious; touching as they do on feminism, immigration and the anxieties of motherhood in what can, especially in the demarcated political bubble of social media, seem like an ever more oppressive climate. Kane does hold out hope however; as the accompanying PR blurb cites, Kane has a deep desire to summon optimism and hope in a dark world. Something I can confirm she conveys extremely well on this, her debut solo album.

Oliver Cherer   ‘The Myth Of Violet Meek’
Wayside & Woodland,  29th September 2017

Wayside & Woodland, home to haunting folk, conceived not under an old steadfast oak tree but the man-made pylon, and super 8 nostalgic field recordings, has been busy of late. A flurry of activity has seen a duo of albums – an appraisal collection of Home Electronics produced in the 90s by the Margate dreamers of ambitious electro and new wave pop, They Go Boom!!, and the Bedrooms, Fields & Houses compilation sampler of label artists – released in recent weeks. And now, following in their wake, and earmarked for a 29th September release date, is this latest brilliant travail from Oliver Cherer, The Myth Of Violet Meek.

Probably most recognized for his Dollboy persona, Cherer’s varied musical affiliations and projects also includes the big beat Cooler, Non-Blank and experimental popsters Rhododendron. Here, he drifts towards a hazy fictional reminiscent style of folk and pastoral psych, a musical vision pulled from the ether and a Bellows Camera captured past, on this poignant fantastical tale of Victoriana.

Set in the Forest of Dean, this lamentable concept album (billed as ‘part-fiction’ ‘part fact’) weaves the dreamy folkloric story of the tragic Violet Meek (a play on words of ‘violence’); mauled to death or not by the dancing bears of a visiting circus troupe in the twisted and, musically alluded ominous maybe magical, tree thickened woods. Based we’re told on a vaguely real event that happened in the 1880s, Cherer’s story isn’t just a vintage walk in the past and melodic indictment on the cruelty of Victorian society towards women, but draws parallels with the continuing issues of inequality, chauvinism and mistreatment still prevalent in our own times.

This album is also a homage of a sort to Cherer’s own formative years as a teenager spent in the Forest of Dean – the diorama setting for this sorry tale – and a troubled and plaintive denouncement of the suspicions and distrust of a small community; casting out the strange misunderstood and foreign. It is the treatment of Violet though, slurred by innuendo – sharing a similar kind of ‘horseplay’ sexual predilection of idle gossip, and immature sniggers that continues to still colour the reputation of Catherine The Great – that lies at the heart of and moves on this beautifully articulated collection of harmonious crooning, lulling laments and leitmotif instrumentals.

This is an unforgiving unflattering portrayal of England, a nascent nostalgic one with little room for equality and the presence of outsiders, which is every bit as revealing about the present. As lovely, often dreamily so, as the music is the 70s pastoral accompaniment is often trembling and quivering, the fiddles distressed and bewitchery, enticing us into a esoteric psychogeography that features a languid brushed backbeat and Morris Dancers like flourish around the maypole on one song, but finds evil in the idyllic scenery on another.

Traces of 70s era Floyd, Wiccan folk, the Super Furry Animals and Darren Hayman’s civil war opus The Violence fill my senses; though Cherer stamps his own signature confidently among the inspirations and influences. Dollboy fans will find much to admire in this understated, assured and beautifully put together minor opus, as will those familiar with the Wayside & Woodland label output. A most stunning and beautiful work.

Sad Man  ‘S/T’ (OFF Records),  ‘CTRL’ (Self-released)
Both released on 8th September 2017

From the harebrained imagination of garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers) electronic music composer Andrew Spackman, emanates another of his personas, the Sad Man. Like an unconscious, untethered, stream of sonic confusion and madness, Spackman’s experiments, played and transmogrified through a collection of purpose-built gizmos – including remodeled and shunted together turntables -, combine art school practice conceptualism with the last thirty years worth of developments in the electronic and dance music arenas.

Acid, techno, trip-hop, breakbeat, UNKLE, DJ Shadow and early Warp (especially the Aphex Twin) are all channeled through the Duchampian inspired artist’s brain and transformed into an often rambunctious, competitive soundclash.

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail under his previous Nimzo-Indian identity, Spackman’s newest regeneration is an exploration in creating ‘the saddest music possible’. It is far from that. More a sort of middle age resigned sigh and sonic assault with moments of celestial melodic awe than plaintive and melancholic despair. Perhaps throwing even more into the Sad Man transformation than he did with the Nimzo-Indian, all the signature wonky squiggles, interchanges; quirks and quarks remain firmly in place, though heavier and even more bombast.

Usually found, and despite my positive reviews, by mistake, languishing on Bandcamp, Spackman deserves a far wider audience for his maverick mayhem and curiosity. This month he plows on with a duo of Sad Man showcases; the first, a generous self-titled compilation of released through the Belgian enterprise OFF Records, the other, a shorter self-released keyboard command inspired album, CTRL. The former, launched from a most suitable platform, features an idiosyncratic collection of obscure recordings, spread over a traditional 2xCD format. Full tracks of caustic, twitchy, glitches-out cosmic mayhem and internal combustions sit alongside shorter sketches and edits, presenting the full gamut of the Sad Man musical vernacular. CTRL meanwhile, if it has a concept or pattern at all, seems to be a more quantifiable, complete experience, far less manic and thunderously chaotic.

Kosmische, acid gargles, breakbeats, trip-hop and the trusty faithful speeded-up drum beat pre-sets of late 80s and 90s techno music wrestle with each other for dominance on this seven-track LP – each track named after a key command, all five combining for some imaginary keyboard shortcut. Struggling to break through a constant rattling, distressed and distorted barrage of fuzzy panel-beaten breaks are cosmic symphonic melodies, stain glass organs and tablas. And so, pummeled, punch bag warping ride over serene glimpse of the cosmos, and raspy rocket thrusters blast off into more majestic parts of the galaxy. A space oddity for sure, a tumultuous flight into the unknown lunar expanses, but also a soundtrack of more Earthly chaos, CTRL is essentially a mental breakdown yet strangely also packed full of lighter more fun moments.

Thankfully neither of the Sad Man releases live up to the central ‘saddest music’ tenet, though probably best experienced in small doses to be on the safe side. This duo of offerings will hopefully cement a reputation for eccentric electronic cacophonies, and showcase an interesting body of work.

Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tro’
Bendigedig,  29th September 2017

Lighting the way for a new ‘integrated independent partnership’ between the Cardigan-based Theatr Mwldan, the polygenesis renowned ARC label, and artist, the first major solo album from assiduous writer, poet and songstress Gwyneth Glyn, effortlessly traverses the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, Appalachian Mountains and West African landscapes with an assured earnestness and the most delicate of touches.

In what will be a long gap in scheduled releases – the next in line an album from Catrin Finch and Seckou keita won’t be out until April 2018 -, Glyn’s inaugural album of both Welsh and English language sung songs proves a wise choice with which to usher in the Bendigedig platform.

The Jesus College, Oxford philosophy and theology student and revue performer, with stints in the folk Americana group Coco Rose and the Dirty Cousins, was the Welsh poet laureate for children between 2006 and 2007, and it’s her native home to which she returns again on Tro. A journey back to Glyn’s roots in rural Eifionydd, after a five-year sojourn in Cardiff, Tro, or ‘turn’, is inherently a Welsh imbued songbook. However, despite ten of the thirteen odes, ballads, elegies and explorations being sung in the native tongue, Glyn’s transformations of universal and ancestral standards drift subtly across the Welsh borders into a Celtic and beyond inspired influence of sound and ideas.

Previous collaborations with Indian music artist Tauseef Akhtar and the already mentioned Senegal kora player Seckou Keita resonate on this ‘Wales meets the world’ self-styled album. Keita in fact adds a touch of plucked lilting Africa to many of the songs on Tro; joining the sounds of the metal tine African mbira, played throughout by Glyn’s producer and the multi-instrumentalist Dylan Fowler, who also performs on an array of equally exotic instruments from around the globe on Tro.

Dampened, often wafting along or mirroring the ebb and flow of the tides and shifts of both the ominous and changing prevailing winds, the backing of plucked mandocello, tabwrdd one-handed snare drum, bellowed shruti box and banjo sitar genteelly emphasis and pushes along the imagined atmospheres; moving from the Celtic to country genres, the Indian drone to the south of the equator music zones.

Glyn’s choice of cover material and her controlled but stirring, lingering vocals hint at America and Britain’s legacy of counterculture troubadour heroines, including Joan Baez, Vashti Bunyan, Joni Mitchell – a famous quote of Mitchell’s, ‘Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them’, is used as catalyst for Glyn’s music in the press release – and the not so political, more sedate, Linda Ronstadt. The train-like motion rhythm Ffair, – a translation of the Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair – even sounds like a Celtic Baez, and the American/Scottish woe Y Gnawas (The Bitch) – an adaption of the old standard Katie Cruel – was first brought to Glyn’s attention via another revered voice of the times, Karen Dalton, who as you expect, made her own inimitable, unique mark upon the song when she covered it many moons ago.

Unfamiliar with the Welsh dialect as I am, I can only imagine that the lyrical tumults offer the usual fare of sad betiding’s and lament. Whatever the subject may be, she sings, nee swoons, with ease and comfort; the phrasing unforced, flowing but far from untethered. And so Glyn proves to be a singer of great talent and skill as she bares her soul across an age of pastoral, rural furrowed folk.

Ushering in the label/artist partnership on an adroit, though at times indolent, debut, Tro is a subtle refined encapsulation of the Bendigedig platform’s raison d’être; an enriching experience and showcase for an impressive singer. On the strength of this album alone that new venture looks set to be creatively rewarding.

Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Wonderland Wins’
Jangle Nest,  September 2nd 2017

Recording under a variety of guises over the years, including Dog, Paper, Submarine and This Heel, the Swedish songwriter and multi instrumentalist Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand uses his own name once again on this, perhaps one of his most, omnivorous of albums. Stridently changing styles at a whim, Sjöstrand has previously tested himself with lo fi, instrumental surf, prog and alternative rock, but now tries his luck with a mixture of grunge, indie and new wave influences on the recently released Wonderland Wins.

Those influences play out over a combination of shorter incipient doodles and fleeting meditations and more complete songs; Pavement on the garbled megaphone vocal lo fi strummed In the Orbit Of The Neutron and sunshine pop remix of Calla Lily, Weezer on Man Of Self Contempt, and Nirvana, well, everywhere else. But saying that, you’re just as likely to pick up references to Guided By Voices, Devo, The Residents, Flaming Lips and DEUS on an album that doesn’t really have a theme as such or musical leitmotif.

There is a sort of coherency here however with the album’s brilliant Archers Of Loaf meets Placebo power pop alt-rocker Waiting: a full on electric Yank-twanged vocal version opens the album, and a stripped-down more poignant and sad live version (Live At The Animal Feed Plant) closes it. Waiting for a myriad of cryptic endings and a release, this standout minor anthem sounds like a missing gem from the grunge era of the early 90s.

Sjöstrand also likes to experiment, and those already mentioned shorter excursions certainly head off on curious tangents. The most silly being the self-titled fairground organ giddy romp; the most plaintive, the acoustically picked romantic “last dance”, Myling; and the most ominous, the force field pulsing bassline warning and crackling heavy transmission, The Moon Is A Playground.

A quirky take on a familiar back catalogue of inspirations, playing with a number of classic alt-rock tropes, Sjöstrand’s Wonderland is a well-produced, confident album of ideas, and more importantly has one or two great tunes.

%d bloggers like this: