Future Tense – Tomorrow Syndicate

One of the few downsides of loving Krautrock is the fact that there’s only a limited amount of it.  Sure, there are bands on the fringes of the scene to be picked up once you’ve obsessed over all those albums by Can, Kraftwerk, Faust and the rest of the big names, but they tend either to be not all that good or only have a single LP to their name.  So it’s great that labels like Polytechnic Youth continue to release modern music which so beautifully fills that painful void where new kosmische music should be.

With shades of early Neu! , Future Tense is an electronic trip into space, full of retro sounding keyboard hooks and floating Spiritualised style vocals but with enough of a voice of its own to make the sound fresh, even to my elderly ears.

And they’re Scottish too, for extra brownie points!

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://tomorrowsyndicate.bandcamp.com/album/future-tense

(only digital left on Bandcamp, but there are 300 vinyl copies out there somewhere)

The Volga Sturgeon Face E.P. – Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals

Nathan Hall claims to create music which ‘mixes psychedelia with baroque touches’ and that’s as good a description of this debut EP from the Soft Hearted Scientists front man’s other band as any.

Beginning with the pop psych of ‘Everybody’s Burning Effigies’, a wonderfully upbeat XTC-like slice of 60s tinged loveliness, the EP slides gracefully into the more musically mellow ‘Song for the Flowers’.  ‘Like a Setting Sun’ adds some orchestration and has a bit of a Peter Gabriel feel to it, before the record comes to an end with ‘Catacombs of Camden Town’, back in XTC (and Genesis) territory.

It’s a short listen, but a rewarding one, and the ideal way to discover whether you like Hall’s work (or are wrong, and don’t!)

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com/album/the-volga-sturgeon-face-e-p

(digital only)

Traditional Melodies Decomposed by Aïr – Aïr

This is the kind of thing Bandcamp seems designed for to me.  Mellow, laid back layers of Krautrock influenced improvisations by four Finns – plus a cover of a Guru Guru song!

Aïr apparently started life as a noise duo, but morphed into a quartet in the late 90s, and put out this collection of four tracks recorded in 1999 in early 2017.

There’s a bit of everything in here.  Chilled freeform psych guitar lines meander up to  noisy garage freakout on ‘Multiple Mirages of a Nomad’, someone plays digeridoo on the more experimental live track ‘Kula Ring’, the cover of Guru Guru’s ‘Next Time See You at the Dalai Lhama’ is solidly enjoyable and ‘Camel Hair’ is a proper extended guitar work out, ending in feedback and effects pedal antics.

Nothing massively original, then, but well worth seeking out and spending a few quid on…

If you only listen to one track listen to this

https://aiirmusic.bandcamp.com/album/traditional-melodies-decomposed-by-a-r

(digital only)

 

Under Blankets – Caught In The Wake Forever

I drive along a winding country road every weekday, going to and from work.  Last December, I ended up stuck in traffic on that road in the dark, inching painfully slowly forward, with snow falling and thick flakes being caught in the headlights.  ‘Under Blankets’ was playing. It was a perfect moment.

It’s a 40 minute long ambient piece of gentle swells and lulls, slow and soft, all rounded edges and muffled tones, and perfectly suited to a certain mood.  Fraser McGowan, who is Caught in the Wake Forever (and also Small Town Boredom whose wonderful  ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ I have bought twice on vinyl)) is the finest crafter of melancholy (in its most positive sense) music working today.  All of his releases are worth a listen, but this is a lovely, tranquil place to start.

https://caughtinthewakeforever.bandcamp.com/album/under-blankets

(digital only – cd sold out long ago)

Bellow the Surface – Shae Bird

Not my usual kind of thing really, but I heard ‘If I Followed my Heart’ somewhere, and was delighted to discover there was an entire album of the same kind of clever, witty guitar pop from the same artist.

The album is perhaps best summed up by Bird‘s description on their Bandcamp page:

‘content warnings: gun, sexual assault, being trapped, losing the will to live (cheerful ukulele context)’

It genuinely does contain all of those elements, plus a smattering of more than decent guitar and violin playing and some killer melodies.  Like a cheery sounding Joni Mitchell singing some especially cutting Leonard Cohen lyrics, this is a surprising and often moving record (‘Smile’ is a particularly extreme example) which really deserves a physical release.

While you’re waiting for that, you could do far worse than picking up the download.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://shaebird.bandcamp.com/album/bellow-the-surface

(digital only)

What would this record have sounded like if John Cale had had some setback and Cinzia La Fauci and Alberto Scotti had taken his place? – Various

Bandcamp is positively littered with this kind of thing; huge, sprawling collections of themed cover versions by bands you’ve largely never heard of.  The themes range from the tentative (single band efforts which are effectively just ‘stuff the band can actually play’ – though this set by Bournemouth based band Chuter is really good) to the pretty damn ambitious (there’s a great 45 track collection of Pearls Before Swine covers out there with not a single duplicate – or bad – track). 

This Stooges covers collection falls somewhere in between those two stools.  Crucially, though, the quality is great, and the approaches taken pleasingly varied (odd that more than a fifth of the running order is taken up by versions of ‘Ann’ though – it’s not exactly the most obvious Stooges cover).  There are relatively straight-forward garage/noise covers, of course – including, predictably but enjoyably enough, ‘1969’ and ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ – but also experimental soundscapes (‘We Will Fall’) complete with what sounds like someone taking a hacksaw to a violin. Nouvelle Vague-tinged euro electronica (‘No Fun’), and all sorts of heavy, bone weary twists on the Stooges tale.

Oh, and most importantly, the fabulous Frank Chickens do a cover of ‘Not Right’, so – frankly – there’s no reason not to own this, right now.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://snowdonia.bandcamp.com/album/what-would-this-record-have-sounded-like-if-john-cale-had-had-some-setback-and-cinzia-la-fauci-and-alberto-scotti-had-taken-his-place-stooges-compilation

(Digital and compact disc)

Five Best Ambient Tracks on Bandcamp

It’s actually not all that tempting to write something about each of these ambient masterpieces, because ambient (or drone or classical or experimental or however else you personally choose to label such music) as a positive listening experience depends on the listener’s mood and what they hope to get out of it, as much as on the artist’s intentions, and so it all tends to get a bit pretentious really quickly.  I’d be talking about ‘washes of sound like warm water on your hands after a walk on a winter’s day’and ‘the echo of distant galaxies sliding across one another to dissolution’ before you could click Play on the first track.

So, instead, here they are – my current favourite five ambient/drone/call it what you will tracks on bandcamp.

Stars of the Lid – Dopamine Clouds over Craven Cottage

Rameses III – When the Phone goes Dead

Tim Hecker – Obsidian Counterpoint

David Colohan – Arc of a Snowfall III

Caught in the Wake Forever – To Wild Flowers Forgotten

Time Shifts – 62 Miles From Space

Obviously (says me, a middle aged man with a huge record collection), physical artifacts are generally to be preferred to streaming and downloads, but in the case of ‘Time Shifts’, I’ll make an exception.

Not, I hasten to add, because their four track debut EP is rubbish (far from it, it’s great), but because the download from the always reliable Mega Dodo Records contains two extra tracks in addition to the four dream-like slices of keyboard magic on the vinyl, and every bit of 62 Miles from Space’s output is worth savouring.

Combining late 60s synth sounds with carefully positioned vocals on some tracks (check out the title track below), and Kraftwerk-infused electronica on others, the oddly named 62 Miles from Space (a ‘virtual’ band created by two talented Moscow-based guys who collaborate entirely via the internet) have created a short collection of songs which deserves to be more widely heard.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this:

https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/album/time-shifts

(digital and vinyl editions)

After the Fall Outtakes – Dodson and Fogg

Dodson and Fogg is Chris Wade, a one man music industry all of his own, who seems to release a new album every month or so.  Unbelievably, given this fairly constant output, he’s yet to release anything not worth listening to, if what you like to listen to is pretty gentle prog/folk rock.

That said, and with typical perversity, my favourite of his many releases is this, a collection of outtakes from the album, After the Fall.  I should admit up front that I do like random collections of songs; sets stitched together from scraps left on the cutting room floor are often, I find, full of interest and lost promise, even when there’s nothing wrong with the parent release. And this outtakes album is the perfect example…

For one thing, it starts with ‘The Charge’, which  I assumed for months was actually a cover of an instrumental section from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.  It’s not, but it should be – if ever a song was screaming out for Justin Hayward to start singing over it, this is it.  From there, it’s on to a series of minor gems with Wake’s vocals to the fore, none of which – to my ears anyway – sound in any way weaker than the tracks on the album they failed to make.  Particular highlights include the more jazzy ‘The Stars are out Tonight’, the psych folk of ‘Out on the Fields’ and the infectious ‘It’s Not Real’.

Oh, and the final track, ‘Richard Burton Hiding in a cave’ appears to exist purely to allow Wake to do his Burton impersonation, but he can be forgiven that, given how good the rest is .

If you only listen to one track listen to this

https://wisdomtwinsbooks.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-fall-outtakes

(digital, and the page mentions a cd, but there’s no indication of how to buy it – possibly it’s sold out)

A Shadow in Time – William Basinski

The thing with drone is that – even more than other types of music – just as much depends on what the listener brings to the experience as the creator intended. Titles are a helpful guide to the intent of the artist, but as often as not I find the images a drone piece conjures up in my head to be a mile away from the label attached to it. ‘A Shadow in Time’ is an example which both exemplifies and contradicts that point.

Let’s start with the title track, a 20 minute plus slice of layered sound, in which individual layers build and peak, then fade back into the background, all set against a constant, swirling hum. Listening to this on decent headphones in a dark room, it begins – for me – as the soundtrack to some slice of early sixties’ BBC science fiction; a slow walk across the moon, or a monochrome pan across planets hanging in matte painted space. Four minutes or so in, and the little effects which prompted that image disappear from the mix, and we’re left with long washes of sound, where one note or other dominates for a space then falls back again, the sound to me of travel and things passing by. And then, fifteen minutes in, sparse chimes and muted bells herald a slowly building repeated refrain of 8 or so notes which increase in clarity until the end. It’s a beautiful, restful piece, if a little different from other Basinski I’ve heard.

The flip side, ‘For David Robert Jones’, on the other hand, is more straight-forward and does exactly what it says on the tin. It begins much like ‘A Shadow in Time’ with waves of swirl and drone, but after six minutes the sound of (Bowie’s?) disintegrating saxophone bleeds into the mix and takes over, repeating its brief, collapsing riff for fifteen glorious minutes, each time ending with what sounds to me like a foghorn (and with the track being a requiem, I can’t help but picture a boat being guided through the mist, like some Styxian vision). It’s a melancholy, but perversely triumphant, piece and one the man himself would have appreciated, I think.

If you only listen to one track listen to…

https://williambasinski.bandcamp.com

(digital only on Bandcamp – also available on vinyl and cd)