Hawkwind biographer Ian Abrahams reviews all things SpaceRock related, from CDs and DVDs to Demos and Myspace Pages. Plus Psych, Stoner, Garage, Krautrock and whatever else strikes a power chord or two!
Items for review are welcome, just drop me an e-mail from my profile pages.
I said in Record Collector recently that Fruits de Mer are quickly becoming a collectable label in their own right; they've a quality to their selection of releases that's extremely strong and though I don't get to review everything that they send over for promotion purposes there's always a little thrill of anticipation when one of their CDR review copies for their vinyl-only catalogue drops through the letterbox. I don't love everything they issue – in any case their psychedelic-folk range is far encompassing and never going to be consistently to any particular person's liking – but the attention to detail from the outer envelope through to the inner promotional material and on to the music itself is just so impressive.. and, frankly, it mostly is to my liking, for sure! So I just think that what these guys do is provide an immense service to musicians and listeners alike and I absolutely cherish being privileged in being on their review radar.
Their release of Permanent Clear Light's 7" 'Higher than the Sun' (b/w 'Afterwards') is a case in point. Due on 13th October, it's a limited to 800 copies coloured vinyl that continues a Fruits de Mer trend of releasing records where one side is an original and the other a cover version. PCL are a Finnish band, formed back in 2009 to play experimental, avant-garde jazz-rock though the A-side here is a beautiful and warmly melancholic song that's far more approachable, involving and immediate then sometimes those epithets suggest or deliver. There's a suggestion that it contains shades of 'Golden Brown' and I sort of hear that ... sort of ... and it could indeed be likened to just beyond that era of The Stranglers, but honestly I just hear it as a deliciously absorbing slice of sunshine lightness with a contrasting emotional depth. 'Afterwards' is a cover of the track from Van Der Graaf Generator's The Aerosol Grey Machine LP. I'll admit that although I've reviewed some Peter Hamill and some VDGG releases over the years, neither Hamill as a solo artist or VDGG themselves have ever really been significant in my listening, so I'm not going to be able to make a sensible comparison between this cover and the source material but again PCL's version has an appealing lightness to it that I'd not particularly associate with Hamill's work. I really liked both sides here.
American 'psychedelic maverick' Anton Barbeau has a three-track 7" on the same day, again one original song, the whimsical and up-tempo 'Psychedelic Mynde of Moses'. Here's what I mean about FdM's promotional material: "In a better world," they say, "everyone would still buy music on vinyl, this would be a hit single, Anton would be a superhero and bags of fruit pastilles would have no green ones in them." They are so right, my friends. Barbeau is firmly in a place where musicians such as Paul Roland, Robyn Hitchcock and Bevis Frond are sometimes found to inhabit – indeed Nick Saloman turns up to provide a guest turn on guitar on the lead track. The covers here are an anarchic take on Hitchcock's 'Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl' and one that my old mates Keith Topping and Martin Day would both greatly appreciate, a minimalist, lo-fi but still effects-and-fuzz-laden version of Julian Cope's 'Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed'. Ah it reminds me of happy days playing Marty's copy of Skellington up at his Kensal Rise bedsit after a beer-heavy Thursday night at the Fitzroy. (You've no idea what I'm talking about, have you?). I bloody loved everything on this one as well.
Last time I was writing on a record steeped in Lancastrian occult folklore and delivered with Krautrock trappings was in Record Collector and the release was Earthling Society's Stations of the Ghost album, of which I noted "It's a heavy cauldron of oppressive moods that also takes in dark folk and their trademark lo-fi Krautrock vibe." Here's another album founded in the same surroundings and also dependent to a large extent on similar textures, this time by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, The Eccentronic Research Council.
1612 Underture is, in their words, "one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem. Exactly 400 years since the trials and executions of the 12 women now known as The Pendle Witches, a purpose assembled collective ... pay homage to the legendary Lancastrian sisterhood." That collective includes the actor Maxine Peake – a smashing performer who is never less than excellent in everything she does and, if I recall correctly, someone who in a past interview alluded to being something of a, perhaps lapsed, Hawkwind and Gong fan – whose no-nonsense delivery of Flanagan's words is the emotional heart of a record that, from their own description, would sound depressive and introspective but which masterfully blends a very serious and rightfully righteous indignation with a well-defined sense of character and humour. It might have a soundtrack that largely depends on being akin to the output of the bastard lovechild of Delia Derbyshire and Dik-Mik Davies, Radiophonic Workshop bleeps and signals merge with intricately minimalist Krautrock patterns and experimental electronic tunes, but it's an immensely listenable, compelling and absorbing record (CD currently, vinyl LP to follow).
Some of the material seems designed to play to the strengths of their key collaborator; 'Trial by Jiggery Pokery' is a thought-provoking rumination on the nature of justice and the manner in which the process that delivers 'justice' can be distorted, with Peake's impassioned recitation being a Martha Costello-esque performance straight out of an episode of Silk, all passion and determination and a need to say that this isn't right or that what we do here, this doesn't equate to justice. Elsewhere they play to strength, with Peake's broad northern accent giving a deadpan delivery to the notion that the A666 might be misnamed as 'The Devil's Highway' since "I can't believe the Devil came from Bolton ... and I don't believe he was ever a fan of Chris Rea". It's simply deliciously sardonic but genuinely humorous stuff that really brings the colour and shade to this work.
It's clear then that their homage to the Pendle Witches isn't a dryly historic rumination but something that juxtaposes light and dark, and it's also a starting point for a very contemporary opinion piece that at times, whether that be through its examination of the nature of law or particularly on the final track, 'The Ghost of Old Elisabeth Southerns Returns...', which with its list of modern curses (the Jeremy Kyle/Matthew Wright audience, Rabid Cameron, crocs and flip-flops, the ancient law books [still] used today...) is withering and sharp in the manner that it finds things mediocre, lacking in substance, or archaic. And in being that sharp, that direct and to the point, actually it's intriguing and challenging. It's quite the best new record that I've heard this year so far.
Best Track: 'Curious Morbids'. "We pulled into a heritage centre with Doctor Who as a narrator..." OK, not, not the best track – though for Peake's delivery of that opening line alone I'd so want it to be, but actually I'd pick out the arrangement of 'Another Witch is Dead', a conflagration of sound poem and song with Peake and the vocalist Philly Smith working alongside and across each other in unsettling call and response.