Catherine Irwin – Little Heater

It’s nice to have a speck of dirt within at times an airbrushed folk scene. Irwin’s  arched vocal chords, beautifully atonal at times, seem to have a story of their own to tell.  And they are the defining impression that the album leaves you with.  The backing vocals, pedal guitar, strings, piano can at times go unnoticed, which is not a criticism rather they serve to highlight an independent voice. On Mockingbird there is the addition of William Oldham but perhaps because of the Bonnie Prince Billy name, expectations are set to unreasonable levels, and its questionable what Oldham adds and he simply muddies a good song so as to underwhelm. On To Break Your Heart, this partnership is far more satisfying as they swap roles collaborating rather than competing.

In Piss to Gin, you hear echoes of folkways, banjo in hand but it’s not simply a lazy take, here there is a play on the atonality of some early Appalachian folk with the addition of a scrawl of string dissonance. Throughout there is a cleverness and a progressive touch so as to not simply stand on the shoulders of others.

There are no sudden dramatic movements, throughout Irwin simply lowers us into an depressed malaise particularly adeptly on her cover of Sinner Saves A Saints. Despite the fact there are no moments of particular revelry, this does not mean you’re left in a rut, Irwin adeptly traverses variations of melancholia from anger, sorrow, desperation, though still leaving us in depths. Even on the Banks of Ohio, beginning with talk of marriage it quickly turns to death and drowning, following in the tradition of Murder Ballads. Fire, brimstone, Americana, death and depression are natural partners, with their own chequered history. But among these dark hues there is perverse sense of warmth and comfort as we wallow in these shared tragedies.

This is only Irwin’s sophomore solo record following up her debut album tens year later showing us that though well worn, the saying that ‘good things come to those that wait’ rings as true as it ever has and now we can only wait.


Evan Caminiti – Dreamless Sleep

The music of the instrumental psychedelic duo Barn Owl, and the solo projects of the two members Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras, is so powerfully atmospheric and evocative that at times their work seems more like an attempt to document the vistas of a fantastical other-worldly landscape than a series of albums. Barn Owl’s superb 2011 album, ‘Lost in the Glare’, complemented the nocturnal sand dunes and distant mountains of its sleeve with uncanny aptness, surging drones and sombre guitar peals reverberating through cavernous open spaces. While Jon Porras’s solo album released earlier this year trekked across similar open steppes, Evan Caminiti’s new record, ‘Dreamless Sleep’ is a rather different beast. Guitars taking a more subdued role and analogue synthesizers occupy the centre stage. When guitars do make an appearance they’re heavily manipulated; shimmering mirages of their former sound.

The result harkens back to krautrock pioneers such as Popol Vuh, especially the synthesizer driven work on their iconic soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s ‘Aguirre’. Both Caminiti and Porras are both professed krautrock fans, if the teutonic moniker of track ‘Absteigend’ (trans. ‘descending’ or ‘downward’) didn’t give you any clues. The influence is a fitting one, given how frequently Popol Vuh’s music accompanied the astonishing landscapes regularly featured in Herzog’s films. However, while Popol Vuh’s music occasionally drifted rather too close to New Age folly ‘Dreamless Sleep’ draws upon plenty of rawer, more modern, reference points. This album has an affinity with drone and looped waves of distortion that draws similarities to works like Tim Hecker’s stellar 2012 album ‘Ravedeath, 1972’.While variations in sound appear across tracks, such as the burbling trebly synths of ‘Symmetry’ or the soaring walls of noise that open ‘Becoming Pure Light’, the overall effect is more one of gradual modulation. This is an album to be enjoyed as a whole, one which is as enveloping as the title promises, and further evidence that Caminiti and Porras are at the forefront of the ambient drone pack.


The Black Twig Pickers — Whompyjawed

The Black Twig Pickers take us to the mysterious world of Appalachian Mountains. Heart-warming melodic screech of the violins, mixed with the stomps, banjos and the occasional yeehaw. They present music rooted in a place and heritage, expanding upon these traditional pieces. This is romanticised view of bluegrass, remaining upbeat throughout and there is little space for introspection or melancholy. One of the joys of music like ‘Brushy Fork of John’s Creek’ is being able to hear the history of the song, with what sounds like Anglo-Irish folk elements, listening to the melting pot and evolution of folk music. The original recordings that inspired this music are now approaching a hundred years old.  Considering how much tastes have changed over this period the staying power of this style of music is even more remarkable. Having a band still practicing this music in its rawest forms and providing us with new recordings is simply a pleasure.


Conrad Schniztler – Blau – Rot the one positive with Conrad Schnitzler’s passing is that his work is going through somewhat of a renaissance. With the reworking of many of his pieces by contemporary artists on the M=Minimal label and now we have reissuing of some of his earliest solo albums on Bureau B. Schnitzler early on in the German electronic scene served as somewhat of a connective tissue playing on the first Tangerine Dream album as well as with Dieter Moebieus and Hans-Joachim Rodelius as part of Kluster and founding the Zodiak Free Arts Lab where both groups first played in public.

But it is with Schnitzler in isolation that we see him in his most radical form. On Meditation his first track on Rot his debut solo release, there are growing dissonant harmonies, piercing and booming. There are vast array of sounds harsh and electronic, joined by those softer more animalistic. Then the entry of characteristic high oscillating and long synth lines, in chorus with a loping rhythm of sounds as they loop fade and loop again. It then ends on metallic reverberations of earlier sounds. With it all there is a freeness and randomness as your aurally probed, though behind it there is an underlying structure, stopping it from dissipating into chaos. No matter how seemingly random the noises from the outset, his music has a developmental arc.

Krautrock starts with spasmic birdlike noises with a fluid morphing rhythm, building to false peaks. Half way through it changes shift, peaking down into the ominous with a flattened horror film organ feeding in and fading. A consistent but changing rhythm provides navigation through the shifting sounds. Krautrock within its core provides one of the most strongly impressionistic piece on these two releases. Spasmodic birds returns to bookend the piece, deformed into a rhythmic throng, cleverly re-joined at the last with our old rhythmic guide.

Red Dream a track not on original release, starts with, sun rising swathes of synth, rising and fading. Even within this beauty there is menacing overtone. Compared to the rest of Rot this is Schnitzler at his more restrained with cleansing stark tones, cleaning the palette. The setting fades, to delayed stultified drums, that develop into a more concrete pattern, over this minimal scene he riffs over the top with screeching noises, morse like beeps and impressionistic noises. Wave of synths return though this time less pristine, muddied by the controlled cacophony of noises coming at you.

Red Dream serves as a nice transition to Blau as Blau shows the more restrained side of Schnitzler psyche. With slowly eroding rhythmic grooves into the songs structure, then joined once again by ominous organ noises, the light plink plonk of artificial rainwater, turning into swirling confounding patterns. Then the subtle introduction of depressed slurred tones, demurring to silence.

Jupiter emerges with alternate sounds that were in Red Dream similar but slightly off. There is more of planned chaotic spark of Rot, with buzz, high-pitched tones, varying shifting patterns though still engulfed in a mellowness which undercuts. It quickly morphs ending up in the futurist realm as interstellar lift music. Melodic wails, merge with mix of sounds as are beats all coming all at you, but rather than assaulting you, they soothe and comfort.

Blau features an extra suite of tracks under the title Wild Space, they present Schnitzler perhaps at his most accessible, with the pieces condensed and developing more quickly. Wild Space 2 features the Zug like rhythm and though relatively restrained with strong airy melodic vibe. The pieces later progresses to harder metallic rhythms and eerie synth tones such as on Wild Space 5.

The beauty of Schnitzler in these early works is that from start to finish everything can have changed the rhythm, melody, pitch, tones yet there is a continuity. Trademarks of these releases are constant oscillation and variation of sounds. Creating a futuristic,  surreal atmosphere, with a sense of menace The albums when compared reflect their names, Rot provides more of a direct challenge, often in agitation, while Blau is far less aggressive and feels more restrained in tone. Both show varying elements of Schnitzler’s work and with over 50 years of music we can only hope that more of Schnitzler’s music is revived as well as reworked by others.


kandodo – kandodo

‘Kandodo’ is inspired by Simon Price’s time growing up in Zambia and Malawi, but this is a distinctly Western viewpoint, there is no cultural appropriation here. It starts with a recurring motif, two duelling melodies in full tremolo each matching the others call. This first track ‘dawn harmonix’ is ‘kandodo’ at its most direct and follows and its moog like tones are reminiscent of early electronic krautrock. But the album also feeds into the cold anomalous streak of this tradition, ‘laud the hyena’ creates an expansive otherworldy soundscape. ‘Witchdoctor’ has a similar setting, though this time spurs trudge across a austere landscape. The album then leaves us with ‘lord hyena, 3am’ and we have the final showdown and fade.

kandodo – kandodo from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

‘Ceramy’ on the other hand separates itself with its light wistful dreamlike nature. Throughout much of the album, there is strong psych vibe particularly on the title track, eastern sounds and wailing guitar in tow. The album as a whole pulls from diverse strands, perhaps not unusually for a debut solo project but rather than there being a cohesive style throughout, the tracks shine better in isolation than as a whole. But there are standout pieces and ‘kandodo’ is at its most memorable is when it at its most melodic on ‘dagga’ and ‘dawn harmonix’.


Melvins – Freak Puke

The late, great, John Peel once described The Fall as being “always different… always the same”. This comment applies equally well to sludge-rockers Melvins, who also share the Mancunian post-punk’s longevity along with an equally prodigious discography. Melvins have continuously ploughed their own path on the long journey from their hardcore/grunge origins, and on the way they’ve influenced just about every rock band with even the slightest penchant for left-field riffs; from Nirvana to The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon all the way to Liars.

After a period of relative stability, with three albums and an EP released with the two drummer lineup formed from the absorption of bass-and-drums sludge duo Big Business, ‘Freak Puke’ is a new, if still recognisable, beast. The twist here is a return to a three piece line-up with Trevor Dunn, the incredibly talented bassist who’s played with Mr Bungle and John Zorn (among many others), on acoustic double bass. This stripped down, unplugged line-up has led to this being released as a ‘Melvins Lite’ release, though as ever with Melvins it would be a mistake to take this at face value – frontman Buzz Osborne’s guitar is still amplified, Dale Crover’s drums still pound, and it’s packed with the brilliant riffs and gloriously skewed drumming that are the closest things to constants in their music.

However, Dunn’s playing is also central here, with ominous, droning double bass both opening and closing the album. Elsewhere, his lithe, fluid playing establishes itself as just as important a presence as the guitars and drums, and just as mutable and strange as the rest of Melvins’ music. ‘Inner Ear Rupture’ even features a bow-played double bass solo of sorts, although it’s more akin to atonal, avant-garde classical music than the rather less imaginative strings music that ends up on rock records. On other tracks that distinctive plucked double-bass results in music that end up sounding like a particularly warped take on the polite acoustic jazz music that ends up on supermarket CD racks; uneasy listening, if you will. ‘Worm Food Waltz’ features perhaps Dunn’s strangest take on the instrument, with drawn-out, reedy, bass notes sounding practically medieval – not all that far from a hurdy-gurdy – before breaking down into a series of creaks and groans.

If the descriptions of Dunn’s playing make this album sound inhospitably experimental, then don’t fear – Melvin’s love of classic rock is present all over the record. For all their underground cred, Melvin’s have always unashamedly embraced over-the-top rock – at one especially surreal moment in their career they even supported Kiss on a stadium tour. Their last full-length record, ‘The Bride Screamed Murder’, featured a 7 and a half minute version of The Who’s ‘My Generation’, albeit slowed down to a more Melvins-esque sludge dirge, and here closing track ‘Tommy Goes Berserk’ seems a likely reference to the  iconic rock band. More explicitly, the penultimate track is a cover of a Paul McCartney and Wings song ‘Let Me Roll It’.

‘Freak Puke’ confirms Melvins’ position as an underground rock institution, with a creativity and vitality that shames most younger bands. Long may the tentacles of their influence spread.


Alexander Tucker – Third Mouth

It’s fitting that I’m writing this review now, sitting by a window overlooking the countryside with the weather at its balmiest – Alexander Tucker’s music perfectly fits the warm luminous evenings and the thunder-presaging tense humidity that characterises the English Summer. It just as seamlessly fits into the tradition of pastoral English psychedelic music, along with 60’s folk revivalists and progressive pioneers. This is not, however, in any way a retro album, comfortably aligned as it is with more recent delvers into anglo-esoterica such as Current 93 and Broadcast. This psychedelic lineage is reflected in the album’s palate of sounds, with finger-plucked guitar and strings combined with electric and synth elements. This balance of electronic and acoustic instrumentation runs throughout the album – even on the entirely electronic ‘Rh’ the synthesizers sound so organic they practically creak.

‘Third Mouth’ is a leaner, denser record than last year’s ‘Dortwych’, and amply demonstrates that Tucker has grown more confidant and skilled both as a songwriter and as a singer. The melodies are more potent, with Tucker’s vocals, guitar and strings back by deep swells of synthesizers and strange noises.  ‘A Dried Seahorse’ features an otherworldly synth drone, gorgeously reminiscent of horns and cellos. ‘A Glass Axe’ is more minimalist, but features some of the album’s most gorgeous melodies, and features Tucker’s most ambitious vocal performance. ‘Andromeon’ features stirring, cinematic strings, a marked contrast to the more internalised, introspective tone of much of Tucker’s work; launching up from the familiar English countryside into the vast black cosmos. ‘Sitting in a Bardo Pond’ is a playful reference to the influential American psyche band, replete with giddy organ lines. ‘Rh’ – the most heavily electronic track on the album – has Tucker’s plaintive vocals at once grappling and embracing the burbling, stuttering synthesizers. Throughout ‘Third Mouth’ Tucker deftly welds intimate singer-songwriter material with more experimental, psychedelic sounds.

With ‘Third Mouth’ Alexander Tucker has shown himself to be a rare beast; capable of both working in a long musical tradition while producing something unique.