Posted in Whathaveyou on September 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If perhaps you’re like me and you’re an eternal sucker for a heavy psych jam, you might want to tune your mind into what Italian foursome Manthra Dei have going on. The Brescia outfit have signed to Acid Cosmonaut Records for the CD release of their self-titled debut, and they’ll match that with a vinyl issue through Nasoni. Two rousing endorsements, and with the laid back exploration of “Stone Face,” the recently revealed first audio from the album, I’m happy to add my endorsement as well, whatever it might be worth.
Don’t get lulled too far to sleep, because “Stone Face” picks up to some pretty killer space rock (the synth!) and I wouldn’t want you to miss out.
Info and of course the track follow, per gentile concessione di the PR wire:
We’re really happy to announce our next CD release, the homonymous album by Italian Heavy-Psych masters Manthra Dei! Coming this october, also on vinyl by Nasoni Records!
Here’s the first track off the album, Stone Face, a majestic trip into space/psych/prog areas. Enjoy it!
More than a band, Manthra Dei are a bunch of friends in love with lysergic deserts and forged by nights spent listening cassettes of teenage idols. Spontaneous, raw and mind-tripped tunes get pierced together by their bipolar personalities and become straight as headbanging on a kick-ass riff. Michele, Paolo and Brano started back in 2009 as an instrumental power-trio that brought them to self-produce an EP with two log trips for almost 40 minutes of improvisations. Soon after, Maestro Paolo T. (yes, a real Maestro) joined them to start a long list of live-shows with Karma to Burn, Yawning Man, Vibravoid among many others up to a memorable Pietrasonica Festival in 2011.
After that the band decided to fix their jams into an album and consequently to get closed in a rehearsal room for almost two years … at least up to 2013, when Nasoni Rec – Colour Haze, Machine, Siena Root anyone? – decided to cast on vinyl their recordings. CD edition was taken in charge by a young Italian label, Acid Cosmonauts, that spread the world with a limited edition of 300 copies of their first full-length.
What to find in the album? Hawkwind, Causa Sui, Can, Kyuss, Earthless, Black Sabbath, Colour Haze, King Crimson, Motorpsycho, Popol Vuh, Sleep, Goblin, Hypnos69, Jethro Tull, Ozric Tentacles mashed-up with no criteria but with horns up against the sky.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
My unrequited nerddom of Nasoni Records continues. The ultra-respected German purveyor of psychedelic fare has issued the new long-player from Belgian lysergians Cosmic Trip Machine. Dubbed Golden Horus Nameand entrenched in a narrative that you can get a feel for in the PR wire info below, it’s richly progressive in the post-Floyd sense, textured and purposeful in the way its sprawl develops, with heavier flourishes of guitar coming on for a song like “Let Your Eye Come Down,” which you can also hear at the Cosmic Trip Machine Bandcamp, also linked here.
And while we’re at it, audio follows as well, so you can get a feel for some of the fascinating weirdness the band have on offer.
Dig if ya dig:
February 2008, Cosmic Trip Machine, named in tribute to 60’s and 70’s records, started by recording one album, shortly after Will Z. and Majnun first group split (with angry quarrels and strong divergence in opinion). The two friends collected materials for an opus called Lord Space Devil, a never-completed project began in December 2000 (unreleased songs, instrumentals, experimental and conceptual ideas).
The Golden Horus Name project is the return of Cosmic Trip Machine on stage then, from May 2012, in studio, with a new line-up. The album tells two different stories melted: the celestial cow Egyptian myth in broad outline and the story of Barrington, a cursed rock star, a Great Pharaoh reincarnation, who lived in the Swinging London and fell into a deep depression. The character is directly inspired by the life of the musician Ramases who recorded during the 60’s and the 70’s some singles and two beautiful albums. Golden Horus Name is a return to heaviest roots of the band, with progressive structures.
Proffering rich, organic tonality with an unpostured flair for the soulful and classically rocking, Brooklyn’s Traveling Circle made enough of an initial impression to be picked up by Germany’s Nasoni Records for the release of their first album. That’s high praise for psychedelia — especially American psychedelia — and the record, 2010’s Handmade House(review here) left little to question of the three-piece’s having earned it, a patient but still motion-minded flow playing out over the course of tight grooves and well-placed flourishes of synth. The follow-up, Escape from Black Cloud(review here), was also issued on LP by Nasoni late last year.
Its pulse is no harder to read in terms of overall accessibility, but Escape from Black Cloudis nonetheless a more developed full-length, two-sided all the way in its blend of classic psych and modern tonality, a steady beat throbbing under unrepentantly shoegazing opener “Higher,” while the high-pitched vocals space out above the sway. Elsewhere, as on side B’s shuffling “Fountain of Time,” they touch the ground, but there’s little interest presented in remaining there, as the sleepy “Newborn Shadow” demonstrates and the more playful “Rock this Feeling” confirms. At rest or in motion, Traveling Circle draw forth an engaging atmosphere akin to but not necessarily biting off anyone else’s work in psych or space rock. The more you let yourself be carried off by Escape from Black Cloud, the more satisfaction the album is like to provide.
Traveling Circle is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Maiden, bassist/backing vocalist/electric pianist Charlie Freeman and drummer Josh Schultz. All three were kind enough to participate in the following Six Dumb Questions. Please enjoy:
1. Escape from Black Cloud seems to have a more laid back feel than Handmade House in general. Were there things you knew you wanted to do differently coming off of the last record, or is that just how the songs came out of the jams?
Josh: I do think our attitude was a little different for the new record. We kept in a more sort of spacey pulse area for this album. For me, I really tried to keep the drums more pulsing. I tried to be creative in the approach but also keep it simple. I saw a documentary on Krautrock a while ago and Jaki Liebezeit describes a spaced-out audience member approaching him to suggest he should “play more monotonous.” I definitely tried to “play more monotonous.”
Charlie: Simplicity was the general approach all around. I tried not to overthink things but we had a certain sound in mind.
Dylan: Yeah, the goal was to compose a more linear structure throughout and fill it with melodic accents that give you the feeling of moving up and down.
2. How does the Traveling Circle writing process usually work? Am I way off in hearing a soul/funk influence? If I’m not, where does it come from?
Dylan: There may be some influence from those territories. But, to be honest, I draw inspiration in my writing from just about every place conceivable. The subliminal and subconscious are important drivers behind our writing process. There are many elements at work. We usually enter the practice studio and start arranging these elements into the sonic positions we feel are most appropriate for each song’s narrative.
Charlie: I can see what you mean with the soul/funk influence. “Rock this Feeling” has that vibe running throughout. In general, Dylan has a very soulful vocal delivery and Josh and I have an intertwined approach to drums and bass. This album definitely has more groove injected in it.
Josh: Over the two albums we have used a number of different methods in terms of writing. I think this record has some really great songs that Dylan brought in more or less done from a guitar/vocals perspective. Higher is a good example of this, the way I remember it. Some songs started as jams. “Closer” was sort of an unwritten jam at first. We first played that song as a jam at a bar in Brooklyn called Legend and just improvised it. The room was empty at the beginning of the song and began to fill up by the end. It looked like a good idea to polish it up after that. People seemed to relate to it. “Candle Light Sways” was an odd one in that I worked out the entire drum part at home and then brought it in to see if Charlie and Dylan would be up for making something out of it. The structure changed a bit with the group though. Maybe this is too mechanical an answer…
3. Tell me about writing and recording “Newborn Shadow.”
Dylan: This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I wanted to create a nostalgic atmosphere with the guitar sound, which involved very simple strums. Serendipitously, the guitar ended up sounding like a harp. Then I overlaid vocals that sound like they’re coming from a gothic cathedral. I really love Charlie’s bass on this track. It holds everything together and makes me feel like I’m on a teetering boat with a lantern in my hand, trying to make my way through the darkness ahead.
Charlie: This one came together pretty quickly right before we went into the studio. Dylan had a very clear idea of the overall sound he was going for. It has a really nice build to it. It’s a very haunting song.
Josh: The drums were more involved on that song at one point and it was worse for it! In trying out ideas we got around to the current treatment, which is much stronger for the simple drums.
4. The album sounds so natural. How much of Escape from Black Cloud was recorded live? What was your time in the studio like? Has there been any consideration to bringing in a synth player as a full-time member of the band?
Dylan: We’ve been praised for our live performances. Many people have said they prefer hearing us live to our albums. The aim of Escape from Black Cloud was to capture the energy and emotion of our live performance and bring it to the forefront. We brought in friends to help with arrangements such as synthesizer and Theremin, but this by no means compromised the integrity of our sound. Having our brethren by our side helped accentuate the most important bits and crystallize the vision. Nostalgia and dustiness aside, considering how many tracks we recorded live, Escape from Black Cloud came out sounding quite polished as a studio piece, both in its execution and production.
Josh: We did the bass, drums and guitar tracks all at once in a live fashion and then went from there. We recorded at Seaside Lounge with MitchRackin. Mitch is the best! His record with Heavy Hands is great. I listen to it pretty regularly. The album is called Smoke Signals. Seaside is a great place to record. They record to tape and have a lot of sweet vintage gear and are great guys! I wish I was at Seaside Lounge right now! As for the mixing, Dylan was in contact with Gordon Raphael and we decided to approach him about trying out some mixes, we really liked what he came up with and so we asked him to mix the album. He was working between Berlin and Texas so we handled the mixes through the mail. It was an unusual way to work for us but I like what we ended up with.
We have talked at times about adding a member but haven’t really done much about it. Charlie handles the keys on “Willow Tree Fair.” He comes up with great parts. Other additional parts include Theremin played by Matt Dallow and some studio magic from Gordon.
Charlie: We keep some pretty odd rehearsal times too. A lot of people don’t want to get up that early on a Sunday morning.
5. Can you give some insight into Erin Klauk’s work on the cover art? Was there some discussion of direction beforehand? How did you wind up working together in the first place?
Josh: Erin has done a lot of posters for us over the years and also the cover to the last LP. She did the posters for Brooklyn Psych Fest as well. I don’t recall much direction. I guess she just riffed on the title. Pretty far-out stuff, right? Alexandra Zorbas-Maiden took the sweet photos, including one on the back and another on the poster insert.
Charlie: Erin had some couch pillows made with the cover art and gave them to us as gifts. That was the first time I saw the art and I was blown away. We’re really lucky to have people as talented as Erin and Alex working with us.
Dylan: I was at an art opening in Chelsea that featured some really cool Himalayan artwork. They were dark depictions of mountains and clouds. Very simple line drawings that almost resembled wood engravings. I was very inspired and thought the tone somehow related to the songs we selected for our second album. Knowing Erin was going to illustrate the cover,
I texted her pictures from this Himalayan artist as inspiration for what would later become Escape from Black Cloud.
The photo on the back cover of Escape from Black Cloud was taken in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, by my wife Alex. The poster insert photo was also taken by her in the Muir Woods.
6. Will there be a CD release? Any shows, plans or other closing words you want to mention?
Josh: Currently there are no plans for a CD but we have been receiving requests. The best way to pick up Escape from Black Cloud is on vinyl at www.nasoni-records.com. They also have both an LP and CD of our first album, Handmade House. If you don’t listen to records, Escape from Black Cloud is on iTunes and Spotify. We are currently planning to hold record listenings in three cities as well, New York, San Francisco, and Sydney. If anyone is interested, keep an eye on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TravelingCircle for more details.
Posted in Reviews on January 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Brooklynite trio Traveling Circle made their debut on Nasoni Records with Handmade House in 2010. It was a fascinating listen (review here) for a number of reasons, chiefly its buzzsaw fuzz, falsetto vocals and displayed affection for late ‘60s psych-pop. On their follow-up, Escape from Black Cloud, the space-minded unit of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Maiden, bassist/backing vocalist/electric pianist Charlie Freeman and drummer Josh Schultz expand the formula a bit, keeping the soulful elements in play while drawing back the tonal bite of the first album and exploring a more shoegazing feel. The 10-track/34-minute vinyl-only outing earns a return endorsement from Nasoni, and the LP package includes a separate lyric sheet fitting the aesthetic of the striking Erin Klauk artwork. As with last time around, there’s something playful about Escape from Black Cloud – even the title sounds like a children’s story, and Traveling Circle keep a sense of wonder in the material, songs like the grooving side two highlight “Rock this Feeling” – is that a Prince influence? – and the earlier analog trippery of “The Candlelight Sways” smoothing out much of what the first album presented without sacrificing the refreshing originality Handmade House presented. They are almost universally farther back in the mix. All three of them. From the Freeman-begun opening of leadoff cut “Higher,” everything is full-reverb, and that follows through to Maiden’s guitar and vocals as well, while Schultz’s drums seem to come in bursts of cymbal wash while otherwise sticking to a vinyl-compressed thump that hints at that moment right before rhythm sections in power trios threw the “heavy” switch and Cream gave way to Blue Cheer. A sense of weirdness prevails, and Traveling Circle seem to delight in it, adding theremin first to “The Candlelight Sways” and later to “Rock this Feeling” and “Conduit is Closing” on side two. All three are standouts on Escape from Black Cloud, and the theremin, played by Matt Dallow, is no less drenched in echo than the rest of the instruments, the vibe staying consistent across the release and never relenting from an effective balance of subtly presented structural traditionalism coated in some kind of hallucinogenic moss.
Slow, ethereal and righteously psychedelic, “Newborn Shadow” is perhaps some of the most affecting material on the album, making latter day Dead Meadow sound like thrash in comparison to its ambient hypnosis. Past the opening duo, which weren’t exactly lacking resonance on their own, Traveling Circle spend the rest of side one in a flowing slow-motion freakout, Maiden cooing over light-touch rhythmic minimalism on “Newborn Shadow” before the instrumental build of “Green Spider” takes hold, melding surf rock guitar à la Yawning Man with prominent fuzz offset by Freeman’s counteracting fills and a more-forward-in-the-mix snare march from Schultz. A linear progression is at work, but Traveling Circle are patient with it, letting the song come to its own peak before shifting to the more space-rocking launch of “Closer,” which sets its musical crux around variations of the repeated lines “Closer today/So far away/Closer.” If it seems barebones, it is, but the actual sound of the track is much fuller, Maiden injecting wah swirl for a tiger-growl at the halfway point before cycling once more through the verse. Freeman and Schultz pick up the already insistent pace for a build that Maiden soon joins and the whole song comes to a head on a drumroll and set of crashes, ending side one with as much energy as Escape from Black Cloud has yet shown. Side two begins with “The Willow Tree Fair” – the longest track on the record at a sprawling 4:53 – the central chorus of which seems to be nodding at early British psych rock lyrically, while the music is undeniably more modern, hitting its apex late in a similar spirit to “Closer” but having an even more languid vibe for the extra time it takes. Subtlety is a big part of what makes Escape from Black Cloud work, here a look at different psychedelic themes lyrically, there an ambient nod to experimental post-rock indie. It makes for an intriguing aesthetic, and with a firmer grip on his falsetto, even the “oohs” and “aahs” of “Rock this Feeling” come across more convincingly than they might have last time out, the fuzzed-out funk groove underscored by echoing slide-whistle theremin sounds, woven in for engaging texture amid Freeman’s excellent bass work.
Posted in Reviews on September 4th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
At six tracks/33 minutes, Blood is Love has all the flow between its songs that one could ask of a full-length, but it is nonetheless the darker second in a trilogy of EPs from Italian stoner rockers Ivy Garden of the Desert. That they’re heavily indebted to the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age/Desert Sessions sphere of heavy shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – they had much the same influence on the prior Docile EP (review here), also released by Nasoni, and they do have “desert” in their name – but the Montebelluna three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Diego, bassist Paolo and drummer Andrea set their own mood within that scope, not really veering too far from what one might expect, but keeping a humble kind of individuality in the tracks. That proves increasingly true the closer they get to the finale, “Glicine,” but even with the more active beginning that “Viscera” – would it be too much to call it “gutsy?” – provides, they remain melodically aware. In that, Blood is Love is consistent with Docile, though the latest is perhaps even more cohesive in terms of style. There’s an element of the brooding in Diego’s singing, his accent adding to it as the lyrics are in English, and that fits the laid-back grooving in the riffs as well, though the separation in the mix between guitar, bass and drums is prevalent, and though the EP ends with a sample of a tape spinning out, it sounds much more like a digital recording. Whether it is or not, I don’t know – information is sparse – but that’s how it sounds to my ears, anyway, with a decent amount of compression on Andrea’s kit and the guitars and bass alike. The mix was my chief issue last time around, with Diego’s vocals high and cutting through, and to an extent that remains true with Blood is Love, but the instruments stand up to the singing, whether it’s the Songs for the Deaf-style speed riffing of the opener or the punchy bass of “A Golden Rod for This Virgin,” the second track which seems to have long ago passed the “Welcome to Sky Valley” highway sign.
Without lyrics or some general statement of intent beyond the basic knowledge that Ivy Garden of the Desert are working on a trilogy of which Blood is Love is the middle, more aggressive piece, it’s hard to say what exactly it is tying the releases together beyond the basic aesthetic and desert atmosphere, but if that’s it, at least there’s plenty to work with. They’re obviously aware of the genre they’re working in, and where much of the European heavy psych and stoner scene seems to be pushing toward tonally warm jamming, Ivy Garden of the Desert never feel out of control in these tracks, even as the cyclical tom work and start-stop riffing of “A Golden Rod for this Virgin” gives way to its building second half. There’s an open feeling in the tonality, but the songs remain structured, even if it’s just one part into the next. It flows. The songs within themselves flow and the tracks each into the other, though again, if they were written to purposefully serve some overarching whole, I don’t know. It does make the EP an easier listen that it otherwise might be, though. The instrumental “Weasel in Poultry Skin” continues the desert-minded push of the first two cuts, working in some vague Helmet influence both in its intro and later start-stop moments while also avoiding any vocal mix issues, but even here, Blood is Love offers little clue as to what it’s about. They remain aligned to genre, but push the line somewhat with “Ghost Station,” furthering the start-stop guitar that’s been present all along to the absolute fore, both Andrea and Paolo joining Diego in mutes and thuds. The song introduces itself with a jangly guitar, and that comes in again at the end with a more active bassline, but the crux of it is a series of single hits that don’t seem to develop a dynamic build, staying on a kind of repetitive plateau that, coupled with Diego’s moody, bottom-of-the-mouth vocals, begins quickly to smack of nü-metal. One might also point to that as a post-Helmet facet of the band’s sound, but it’s the melody that makes the difference. It sounded like nü-metal when Page Hamilton started singing too.
Released last year by Nasoni, the debut full-length from Spanish rockers Arenna, Beats of Olarizu (review here), was warm and engaging. It seems like the five-piece took those ideas to heart. They’ll be playing Stoned from the Underground in Germany this weekend (more info at their Facebook), and to mark the occasion, they’ve just released their first video, for the song “Fall of the Crosses.”
And in it, basically what you get is a bike ride. Popping a tape (awesome) into a Walkman (I totally had that same one; I bought it at Caldor), our friendly beardo protagonist presses play to start the song and soon sets off on a ride through what looks like beautiful rural Spain, winding up at a garage where — well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that the video, though simple, is an excellent extension of the unpretentious wholesomeness the band put forth on the album. Here’s hoping they kill it in Germany this weekend.
I seem to recall being in touch with Nasoni Records at one point in my life and reviewing their stuff, but these days, any chance I get to buy Nasoni releases at non-import prices is both a rarity a boon. As I perused the Exile on Mainstream merch area at a certain European fest in the Netherlands a couple weeks back that I think I may have already mentioned once or twice, I was able to pick up a few Nasoni discs without thinking twice, and one of them was the 2010 sophomore outing from Peru/Argentina heavy psych trio Tlön.
Called simply Tlön II, it’s a record that makes its bed on organic low-end warmth. Tlön was founded by drummer Walo Carillo, who was a member of early ’70s curios Tarkus, and so they come by the heavy rocking traditionalism honestly. Joined by Marcus Coifman of Reino Ermitano on bass and principal songwriter Christian Van Lacke on vocals and guitar, Carillo dutifully marches into echoing caverns of groove. Van Lacke is occasionally given to a classic falsetto as on opener “El Banquete De Los Niños” or the acoustic-led later cut “Ave Azul,” and it adds an oddly mystical element to his songwriting, but is never fully cartoonish. It’s just one more way in which Tlön present their ethereality.
The band take their name from the noun-less fictional world in the 1940 short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, and sure enough, Tlön II has an otherworldly feel to it. Its 10 songs vary some in mood, but all are presented as though from a distance, and even the doomed pacing of “El Día Aquel” or the crunch in Van Lacke‘s intro riff for closer “50 Siglos” seem beamed in from a sonic elsewhere. I don’t really have a full grasp on the vibe as yet — my sense is that to get one would take more than a little while — but it’s a record I’ve been digging since I first put it on, so I thought maybe I’d recommend it to anyone else who might be interested.
Tlön have two other albums to date: a 2009 self-titled debut and this year’s apparently-vinyl-only Tlön III, both on Nasoni, so if you’re up for it, there’s a bit of investigation to do. To get you started, the band have a track from each record on their Bandcamp, and the label’s site has notes about each release, including the different and varying limited editions of the LP versions, should you want to go all out. If you don’t feel like clicking off, here’s the live version of the band doing “El Día Aquel” in 2010:
Posted in Features on April 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Right now, on my rather lengthy reviews-to-do list, there is a double-disc live release from German heavy jam trio Electric Moon. This is a situation to which I’ve become rather accustomed over the past several months, as it seems the mere act of keeping up with the band’s output would require a full-time staff working around the clock. Their music, almost always captured live, is vibrant, colorful, dynamic and hypnotic in a way that most improvisation based material simply isn’t. You want to try as hard as you can to get lost in it.
They make that easy. Recently covered albums like The Doomsday Machine (review here) and Flaming Lake (streaming here) and their split with Glowsun (review here) are extended trips to some psychic “otherplace,” they ensnare the attentions and proceed to zone out the mind’s eye. Guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also of Zone Six and the head of Sulatron Records), bassist/vocalist/visual artist Komet Lulu and drummer Alex offer a guiding hand, but really, even they’re not sure where the journey is going to end up, and they’re as much riding the crescendo as you are.
It only serves to make the music more exciting, and while you can put on an Electric Moon album and know you’re going to be there for a while, the spirit with which those albums are constructed and the ultra-organic processes from which they come about provides more than enough impetus for multiple visits. And unlike a lot of jam-based heavy psych, with Electric Moon, the songs never come off as wholly redundant or all pointed in the same direction. Sure, a flow is established, but the structures that exist (you’ll note I say “structures” and not “boundaries”) are open and more dependent on the whims of the players than vice versa.
As they continue to mine the visible spectrum and interpret it freeform into music, I recently hit up Sula Bassana and Komet Lulu for some insight as to how the project came about, their reliance on improv, Lulu‘s artwork, Sula‘s upcoming releases with Sulatron Records, and more. It’s kind of a short interview, but if you’re not familiar with Electric Moon or how they came to be the endearing, fascinating band they now are, it should be well enough to give you some idea of where they’re coming from. In a word: Space.
Complete email Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.