Archive for the ‘From The Vaults’ Category

Brian Ellis : ‘Free Way’ (Benbecula)

Brian Ellis is guitarist for San Diegan Prog heroes Astra, but he also creates mind-bending Jazz/Prog/Electronic sounds on his own too.  He’s a multi-instrumentalist, and by that I mean he can play over 15 instruments, and runs his own recording studio.  He has a new album out via Parallax Sounds entitled ‘Quipu’, which I have on order from Norman Records and am eagerly awaiting.  Below is a review I wrote for his ‘Free Way’ Release, which was issued by the now defunct and much-missed Scottish label Benbecula.  Please be sure to check this fabulous interview too, which Sound Colour Vibration recently conducted with Brian concerning his new record amongst a host of other topics — it makes for very interesting reading

Part of Benbecula Records innovative, monthly Minerals Series, “Free Way” acts as a pre-cursor to Brian Ellis’ first album proper, “The Silver Creature” (due out on August 6th). This effort, however, focuses on the more experimental aspects of Ellis’ electonica-fused jazz sound. From Soft Machine to Supersilent, Sun Ra to Squarepusher the San Diego-based musician has channelled the energies of jazz musicians old and new, to provide this startling seven track album. Where as certain albums in this field tend to veer into self-indulgent territories or, in the case of The Cinematic Orchestra, choose a bland and pedestrian route, “Free Way” oozes pioneering qualities from start to finish. Ellis proves himself to be one daring musician, here.

“Escondido” builds from reverbed tribal drum patterns and, what can only be described as, discordant banjo sounds into a juggernauting groove that literally rattles the floorboards. Drums are pounded relentlessly as manic saxophone screams to be heard over them. It may seem totally anarchic to the casual listener, but jazz-heads will appreciate the intense nature of the rhythms and the pulsing textures. Ellis, meanwhile, imposes some space-age sounds over a tightly woven beat and throbbing bass line, on the futuristic-sounding “Sewer Bugler”, before some uncompromising guitar work takes over and sends it spiralling off in all sorts of weird and wonderful tangents. But perhaps, the stand-out track is the sprawling “The New Free Way”, 12 minutes worth of acid-soaked guitar, rich bass and complex time signatures. Ellis adeptly mixes each element into one hypnotic and satisfying groove.


As a multi-instrumentalist (Ellis can play over 15 instruments, including the obscure Kalimba) “Free Way”, at times, sounds as if it was performed by full-blown jazz ensemble, rather than one man. But with exquisite attention to detail and complex time signatures executed expertly, this record blows away most of its competition. A formidable release, music can’t get any cooler than this.

Stray Ghost – ‘Losthilde’ (Highpoint Lowlife)

I’ve spoken of Stray Ghost before, mainly about his collaboration with Eugene Robinson of Oxbow fame, but his 2008 LP ‘Losthilde’ is the focus of this older review.  This monumental record came from nowhere and snuck into my Top Ten of that year, no mean feat from an artist I had barely heard of.  A lot of demos  landed on my doorstep that year. The majority were usually competent, but generic and repetitive stuff. Stray Ghost was different; from the first moment I listened I was transported to another dimension. Some of the most expansive, all-consuming sounds I have ever heard. Like Godspeed doing drone, the symphonic nature of ‘Losthilde’ found Ant Saggers operating in a stratosphere of his own, read my review from 2008 below:

Highpoint Lowlife have provided a veritable feast of delights recently, particularly over the first half of 2008 issuing the likes of the electric “Magnetism” vinyl and the pulsating “Dubstoned Ep” by Dutch duo Funckarma.  It is essential, though, that you get your jaws around the latest offering from the London stable. A simply colossal offering from Stray Ghost, in the shape of “Losthilde”.

The work of Oxfordshire avant-guitarist and sonic terrorist Ant Saggers, the four tracks featured here collectively clock in at almost seventy minutes, giving you an idea of the daunting aura surrounding this record.  Saggers deploys an arsenal of crude programming tools and banks of effects pedals and field recordings to create a monumental sound that teeters between the waltz-like grace of Post-Rock legends Godspeed You Black Emperor and the solar winds, charged electromagnetic pulses and vast ambient clouds found on the Voyager Recordings series.

“There’s An Ocean Between Us, You and I” is wisely split into two sections.  Even still, Part 1 runs as if it is a collection of three movements as Saggers directs the piece from a processed passage of ghostly symphonies towards a myriad of mystic, Middle Eastern textures via desolate, astrowind battered plains, over the course of its twenty-four minutes.  Part 2 also impresses, starting as quietly as a whisper before developing into a volcanic roar, with the skull-shattering noise reaching Burgess style ‘ultraviolence’ levels.

“Suadade – Part 1” is equally as epic, kicking off with a twisted mélange of fire-flecked guitar, tempered percussion and disconcerting tones speckled with froth and hiss.  interlocking sections of noise and dissonance bleed into melody and harmony to create a sound that is not of this world.  Part 2 follows suit, the elegant majesty of Saggers constantly shifting sound rivaling past-masters such as Tangerine Dream.  Its complexities, seemingly as vast as space itself, are awe-inspiring as strange atmospherics clash with industrial noise and ghostly sounds, like the evocative of being caught slap bang in the centre of a huge, all-consuming storm.

You may want to take a moment to compose yourself, pause for breath, or indeed scrape you jaw from the floor, after subjecting yourself to “Losthilde”. Saggers has created a truly cathartic piece that cleanses right to the core.  “Losthilde” is a trip and a half.  A trip of mammoth proportions.

Full Stream

Take A Worm For A Walk Week – ‘Take A Worm For A Walk Week’ (Midmarch Records)

Here’s another older review I wrote back in early January 2007.  This one details the debut offering from Glaswegian quartet Take A Worm For A Walk Week.  The reason for posting this will become clearer in a week or so, when I review their new LP ‘TAWFAWW’, which has already scored a 9/10 from Rocksound and a 5/5 from The Skinny.  What I’ve listened to on their bandcamp page sounds like one of the most engaging, fresh sounding records I’ve heard from a Glasgow band in some time, this band have seriously progressed in their relatively short lifespan.  For now though, let’s delve into the past and learn about their debut record.

This release from Glasgow group, Take A Worm For A Walk Week, is a ‘slight’ departure from has went on in this site previously. But, I like to think I am an open-minded guy and will give most things a try. The artwork for this CD (a mass of skeletal bodies on a black background) points to a band a little more direct and, perhaps, dangerous.

Dangerous, however, would not do the music here justice. It’s ferocious, blistering, menacing and bludgeoning. The group themselves have been gaining a reputation locally on the Glasgow live circuit and also nationally, supporting the likes of Sikth. Kerrang! and Rock Sound both gave the band excellent reviews recently and the music on this self-titled release seems to back up this up.

I have to admit to being behind the times when it comes to heavy rock, my own tastes have just moved in a different direction of late. Having said that though, 3 or 4 years ago I would have lapped this album up.

It is a relentless blast of discordant noise that jumps effortlessly between Eyehategod sludge and Dillinger Escape Plan time signatures. In fact, it is the impeccable and complex rhythms that propel this 13 track, 15 minute release above its peers. It barely pauses for breath and it must take a remarkable amount of concentration when playing this stuff live. The razor-sharp vocals are delivered in the same manic manner as Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, possibly even more deranged!. While some of the instrumentation simply bludgeons you into submission.

Fans of calm, ambient soundscapes need not apply here, but if you like gutteral roars, impeccable time signtaures and sludgy guitars this is the album for you. What it lacks in length is more than made up for by the outstanding delivery and instrumentation.

About as subtle as a knife to the face, as grating as feeding your hand into a mincer, take a worm for a walk week thrust their riffs down your throat, then scream them into your bowels. Tech as fuck, fast and hard, mixing the intensity of eyehategod with the speed of agoraphobic nosebleed, and almost Jacob Bannon esce vocals. Hailing from Glasgow, featuring ex-members of Torqamada, their self-titled album weighs in with 13 tracks.

The album was recorded by Aereogramme’s Ian Cook, and boasts stunning artwork from artist Richard Forbes-Hamilton, who has designed for such acts as ASVA, depicting a writhing mass of bodies, fading into corpses, a perfect metaphor for the desperation and pummelling nature of this band. ‘TAWFAWW’s 15-Minute debut will leave you felling disoriented, irreparably violated, and with a charred and bloody mess where your face used to be.

Source: http://www.recordstore.co.uk/productdetail.jsp?productPK=unittest-V03JKaJkEHQm1nI2qN3IEb-1

From The Vaults

Posted: March 21, 2011 in From The Vaults
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An article in which I revisit old reviews written for other publications, a pointless exercise perhaps, but one which might point people in the direction of a hidden gem of a record.  First Up is Diagonal, a seven-strong Prog collective that clearly wish they were around a long time ago!  I stand by most of what I wrote, but this record has aged quite well and still gets a fair few spins.  They’re signed to the ever excellent Rise Above Records and I’m hoping they have another album in the works, though there’s no forthcoming news from band or label.  Still Diagonal are a must for any self respecting Prog fan

DIAGONAL  - ‘Diagonal’ (Rise Above Records)

One look at the accompanying press shot for Diagonal’s debut full-length tells you all you need to know about this Brighton-based septet. They clearly wish they were around at least three decades ago, perhaps more, in the company of luminaries such as King Crimson.

Indeed, much of this record owes a great debt to Crimson, particularly their ‘Red’ period as Diagonal concern themselves with fusing Jazz, Prog, Acid-Rock and Moody Blues-style psychedelic whimsy and dragging it kicking and screaming into this century. They pull it off too. Well almost….

Opener “Semi-Permeable Man-Brain” displays not so much a fondness, but an unhealthy obsession, for psychotic prog and over the course of its near 11-minute lifespan Diagonal make for a convincing listen. They dive headfirst, straight into a big vat of acid (rock) collecting mellotron, bass, drum and guitar and concocting the grooviest of prog stomps. “Pact” impresses similarly and the scope of this 14-minute closer is extremely pleasing. A real tale of two halves, the first concerned with furious acid-prog, underpinned by a deeply melodic vocalist croon, while the second deals in pure, dreamy Enochian bliss.

The three tracks sandwiched between also have their moments too, though it’s fair to say they’re far more cumbersome with Diagonal preferring to meander under the weight of instrumentation. Each of these pieces are notable for the players showing off their considerable technical prowess instead of concentrating on the structure of the song. King Crimson, surely a benchmark for these lads, managed both with ease. Diagonal, at the moment, are not at this standard.

A case in point is “Cannon Misfire”, which initially hits its target (pun intended) with a blast of driving bass, sturdy percussion, acid guitar licks and shrieking sax, only for the band to become bogged down with instrumentation, before returning to form with a delicious, rousing outro. Conversely, “Child of the Thunder Cloud” has a poor kick-off, with an ill-advised marriage of piano and sappy woodwind. Diagonal hit their stride eventually though, by boosting into Psych Rock territories – a place that suits them exceptionally well. “Deathwatch”, meanwhile, is decent fare with its poignant, space-like aura, but could do with shaving of a few minutes of the instrumental stuff.

While their goals are clear, Diagonal are some way off hitting the heights of their heroes. Perhaps they suffer from trying to cram too much into such a short time. Though I do suspect when this band realises they can have their own identity they may well do something particularly life-affirming. This record? Well, it’s a start and a bloody good one at that. The vocals are impressive, the guitars are of a good standard, the percussion is inventive, the woodwind and brass segments are reasonably unique and there’s a tonne of ideas throughout the 45 minute running time. All the ingredients are there and when they arrive at their own, true sound the Diagonal experience will be something quite special indeed.