Prog-influenced Nottingham quintet The Chemistry Experiment are set to release their second album, the intriguingly titled “Gongs Played By Voice”, through Fortuna POP! in January, some ten years after the release of their debut album “The Melancholy Death Of…”. Housed in beautiful artwork by the Bulgarian artist Gyukov, a set designer in communist Bulgaria, the new album sees the band conclude the transition from their indie roots with nine beautifully arranged and recorded songs that encompass such influences as Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy, Tindersticks, King Crimson and Soft Machine.
Formed by songwriter Steven J. Kirk (vocals, guitar) and Paul Stone (bass) and completed by Emily Kawasaki (keyboards), Lee Tombs (flute, vocals) and Martin Craig (drums), two of the band have long since departed from their Nottingham origins with Kirk now resident in Bologna, Italy and Kawasaki living in Brighton where she plays in krautrock grrrlgruppe Slum Of Legs. The release of “The Melancholy Death Of…” in 2005 saw critical if not financial success with the NME awarding the record 8/10 and describing it as “Strange, gargantuan rhythms, weird instrumentation and a singer who sounds like Kurt Wagner under ten feet of snow”.
If the geographic dispersion of the band wasn’t challenging enough, in 2009 drummer Craig was diagnosed with MS. “It has made drumming somewhat tricky”, he says.“I still gnash my teeth to the rhythm of the music though, and I feel honoured to join the company of Ronnie Lane, Clive Burr, and Don van Vliet.” All of which may go some way to explaining the My Bloody Valentine-like gestation of their second album, although Tombs posits a more positive explanation, saying, “ ‘Difficult second albums’ are difficult because people spend 5-10 years gathering up what they need for the first, and then have to knock out the next one in a matter of months. We overcame that problem by taking ten years.”
Loosely based around the theme of seasons, elements and the sea, the album opens with the wondrous “Hung Lam”, followed by the track “Rainy Day”, on which Stone employed the little known technique of water percussion. “Martin and I started swirling water in saucepans and tapping the edge of the pan to make the woooo noise. I’d heard something similar on an Edith Piaf record”.
The fantastically catchy “Leo & Magician” has an even more fantastical plot. “It’s about a scarecrow who runs away from his farm, leaving the farmer (Leo) without a way to protect his crops from the birds,” says Kirk. “Luckily Leo’s friend Magician comes along, and although he can’t help him with the scarecrow due to union rules, he turns Leo into a cat to scare away the birds, and that is why birds to this day are scared of cats. The scarecrow also abducts Leo’s wife but I didn’t want to go into that in the song.”
Other songs include the beautiful “We Have Seasons”, “Jandek Bakery”, “The Event and the Experiment” (“It’s kinda the same story as Valis by Phillip K Dick”) and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Story of Isaac”, but perhaps the standout track on the album is “Channel Light Vessel” which Kirk describes as the best song he ever wrote and says, “This is about the sea, and sailors, and a boy I read about on BBC news who impaled himself on a fence trying to pick conkers.”
The album concludes with the nine minute long “A Good Wind”, describing a windy day on the coast of Australia and the classic battle between good and evil, nature and synthetic, human and vocoder. Like many things about The Chemistry Experiment it’s unique, slightly odd, and shouldn’t really work but somehow does. In the ten years since their last record a thousand faceless indie bands have made a thousand dreary records, while The Chemistry Experiment have ploughed their idiosyncratic furrow to produce “Gongs Played By Voices”, the perfect distillation of their strange and distinct vision.
"Nottingham quintet whose flute-edged songs are as tuned-in to the prog sorcery of king Crimson as the reflective rootsiness of Will Oldham"
(Mojo, 4 stars)
"Sophomore albums are always a difficult feat for independent artists, and a sophomore album slated to be released almost 10 years after the first is indeed a rare thing to accomplish. The Chemistry Experiment (which, by the way, is comprised of four members who are outspread between the U.K and Italy) has apparently taken on these challenges with remarkable aptitude evidenced by the creation of mysteriously titled album, Gongs Played by Voice. This album’s sound is roughly “indie” with an odd tinge of the liturgical. Initially the songs may be described by a listener as “dreamy”, however upon closer inspection one may note the tones to be much more suited for an idyllic vision of the afterlife: choral and hymn-like with a perpetual organ groaning in the cloudy distance. Most of the time, their musical approach is fresh and does much to extend beyond certain overworked aspects of the current “indie pop” scene, or at least The Chemistry Experiment does these tropes (I’m thinking of their moments of whimsical synth-laser sound, or overt attempts at “weird”) stylistically well .
I was first impressed by the vocal breadth of this album, the tracks are peppered with everything from femme-whisperers (fans of Warpaint will enjoy these moments), deeply bizarre baritone (a vocal style which is confirmed to be heavily influenced by Leonard Cohen by their cover of “Story of Isaac”), to the use of Laurie Anderson-esq robotic distortions crescendoing through the closing track “A Good Wind”. Though the melodically slavering baritone is especially prevalent throughout the album, every other voice slips through tracks with a significance that should not be ignored (at least until you are distracted by one of several laser-blast sound cameos which frequently aparate through the songs ). Lyrically, Gongs Played by Voices creates ample opportunity for vocals to explore their scope. “Leo the Magician” makes good use of The Chemistry Experiment’s vocal strength by carving uniquely recognizable characters for its strange narrative, spinning the track into a scene stamped with the wax and wane of spinning psychedelic guitar.
After researching this group a bit more, I wasn’t surprised to discover their “Prog” rock background. The traces of this past can be felt in their guitar: it’s unhinged at the wires and the guitarist seems a meek officiant to its whims. This album is unafraid of the electronic organ, and while it is amply employed to flesh out the more “experimental” or adventuresome songs, sometimes the organ colors a track or two with a few corny, old-time-religion-ish shadows. Rhythmically this album stays simple, harbouring deftly concise beats that yield respectfully to the psychedelic undertow and vocal importance of the songs. Electronically the album wavers, like certain sci-fi movies, it seems like they could have been a bit more choosy with the special effects. However, where the album remains recognizably instrumental, it commands a well-woven strength of craftsmanship that is especially alluring."
"Ten years is a rather long time by anyone’s standards but when that ten years becomes the gap between your debut album and the follow up then you have to wonder exactly how that band are going to regain any momentum they may have acquired. Music history is littered with such gaps and usually the end product is something of a let down and sounds the death knell for the band.
The Chemistry Experiment may not face the same struggle as, say, The Stone Roses did with Second Coming and although their debut album The Melancholy Death Of The Chemistry Experiment may have garnered critical acclaim this didn’t really equate into world wide fame. In some respects then, they have the weight of expectation thrown off them. On the reverse side, the fans they did gain may well have moved on to pastures new.
There shouldn’t be any need to worry too much though as Gongs Played By Voice has more than enough about it to see those wayward fans come running back and if anything is fair in this world, see them gaining a hell of a lot more. It may have been ten years in the making but a cursory listen is enough to tell you that those years haven’t been wasted.
Less orchestral than their debut, this album does require repeated listens and the more you put in, the more you get out. It is an album full of layers and beneath the at times jaunty, flute filled experience there is innovation, contradiction and beauty. There are red herrings too and as ‘Hung Lam’ guides you in with its simple pop lyrics and soft rock chords, this is soon thrown to the wind with the odd ‘Rainy Day’ whose vocals alternate between speakers as the strange story comes to life.
‘Leo & Magician’ is this album’s upbeat stomper and behind its faux Flaming Lips exterior, there is an almost science fiction feel to it. Indeed, this whole album is a hybrid of love, loss and sci-fi set to pastoral music that at brings to mind the great prog albums from Genesis and Camel.
Beauty is everywhere too and nowhere more so than in the lovely ‘We Have Seasons’. Enjoy this slight excursion into simple territory though as ‘Jandek Bakery’ serves to show the more deep prog side of the band. Set to a woozy melody, electronic flourishes break through the soft haze created by the song to forever keep you on edge. Behind this is a story which outshines Wayne Coyne at his most hallucinogenic and acts as the centre piece of the album.
What is wonderful about Gongs Played By Voice is that every song is deceptively simple and you find yourself singing along, even if you haven’t got a clue as to what. The glam stomp of ‘The Event And The Experiment’ is a prime example as you giddily sing about the boy with beams coming out of his face. He’s from outer space you see.
Not a moment goes by where something new grabs you and as the album reaches its climax with ‘Story Of Isaac’ which rides along on a great Mellotron sound before dumping you into a the lysergic ‘Channel Light Vessel’, you wonder just how this album will end.
End it does though with what is nine minutes of some of the best music you will ever hear. If you thought all that had gone before was enjoyable, ‘The Good Wind’ will simple make your jaw drop. Tying up all the themes of the album, it’s a song that just keeps building and as the final minutes reach its rapture you just feel the need to throw your arms in the air and pray everlasting devotion to this most remarkable of bands. It’s simply extraordinary, but then the whole album is."
(Echoes And Dust)
Limited Edition (500) 7" Single.
The first single to be taken from Allo Darlin’s album 'We Come From the Same Place', "Bright Eyes" is a hugely enjoyable duet between singer Elizabeth Morris and guitarist Paul Rains.
The Best I Can
Fortuna POP! / Captured Tracks
1. Psykick Espionage
2. ...And Keep Reaching for Those Stars (I Hate Myself cover)
3. Adult World (The Secret)
4. Leash Called Love (Sugarcubes cover)
The Joanna Gruesome/Perfect Pussy mutual admiration society had an emergency meeting and this split single was the result. Each band does one original song and one cover, and the single comes with a super cool 24-page comic by renowned artist Phil McAndrew.
For the covers, each band has dug deep and skirted the obvious. Joanna Gruesome turn in a driving, pummeling version of I Hate Myself's "...And Keep Reaching For The Stars," while Perfect Pussy tackle The Sugarcubes "A Leash Called Love." And of course the originals are 100% up to both group's usual high standards.
It's a fantastic package, the bands' styles complementing each other perfectly. A brilliant racket, and a fun read.
12” EP (white vinyl).
January suddenly seems like a terribly long time ago, but if you can cast your mind back that far you may remember a remarkable album released just mere weeks into the then fresh, unsullied year that was 2014.
Full of driving drums, doom-filled fuzz guitars and perfect monochrome vocal harmonies, September Girls’ debut album Cursing the Sea shot into the new year with all the excitement, vim and vigour of an outrageous New Year’s Eve party. Critics rejoiced and new fans were birthed, kicking and screaming to the front rows of gigs and festivals across the globe. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Phil Spector, The Velvet Underground, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain, the five-piece play reverb-soaked noise-pop of the finest order and have been described as "a combination of razorwire guitar lines, thudding Moe Tucker beats and girl group melodicism".
Cursing the Sea garnered widespread coverage, with a Guardian New Band of the Day piece, NME radar and 8/10 review and a 4* review in The Fly as well as coverage in The Sunday Times, The Observer and Uncut. The Financial Times said that they were “like a less malevolent Jesus and Mary Chain – impressive power, conjuring exactly the right balance between noise and sweetness”, while Time Magazine no less named them as one of the 11 best new bands in the world. In the intervening months September Girls have been busy on the road, playing SXSW as well as UK festivals such as Beacons, Body & Soul, Great Escape, Stag and Dagger and Wales Goes Pop, not to mention a mobbed show to a packed Berwick Street for Record Store Day. Bobby Gillespie and Andy Weatherall turned up for their show at The Lexington in London and they were invited to support John Spencer Blues Explosion in Dublin.
They are set to play at The Liverpool Psych Fest later this month and CMJ in New York in October. As their year of triumph draws to a close, September Girls return with a brand new four track EP entitled Veneer, recorded deep underground in Guerilla Studios, Dublin. Whilst still retaining their signature drenched feedback sound the tracks have a greater depth and polish than the album recordings. Each of the four tracks is written and sung by a different member of the band.
The perfect way to round off September Girls' incredible year, the Veneer EP builds on the foundations of Cursing The Sea to offer a tantalising glimpse into the band's future as purveyors of the finest dark-hearted pop in town.
2. Black Oil
# Please note:
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- Limited to 150, coloured vinyl, jukebox hole, record middle, tote bag, badge, mp3 download
Initial copies of the LP ship with a limited edition Risograph art print and bookmark designed by Allo Darlin' guitarist Paul Rains.
The 3RD full-length recording from the much loved Anglo-Australian four-piece is made up of smart, beautiful pop music, with lyrics that resonate with experience and melodies that chime, echo and soar.
The album combines the eagerness, urgency and immediacy of their 2010 debut with the contemplation, sophistication and ambition of their 2012 follow-up Europe, and yet it goes beyond either both sonically and in song. It was written at a time of considerable change for songwriter Elizabeth Morris, a time during which she fell in love, moved to Italy and got married - not that that seems to have hindered the songwriting process. They then returned to their spiritual home of Soup Studios.
The intention was to capture a more instinctive and fluid live studio sound and to play as well as possible while the red button was on, a different approach to the more piecemeal recording of their previous two albums. Or as Paul Rains put it, “We've used three years of touring to try and get some of that sweat and grime and togetherness and sweetness and anxiety onto a record.” One of the themes of the new record is new beginnings and things drawing to a close. ”Nothing feels the way it did before and I am grateful for that”, sings Elizabeth on "Crickets in the Rain", a song written after her move to Italy and which she describes as “anti-nostalgia”. Built along the same lines is the gorgeous “History Lessons”, of which Elizabeth says, “I guess at some point I became a bit tired of everything seeming better in the past, from music to relationships to buildings to societies. We´re a bit obsessed with it and it can become overwhelming.
We don´t live in the present. This song is trying to express that frustration.” Among the highlights of the album is “Bright Eyes”, a duet with guitarist Paul Rains. Elizabeth again, “I wanted to write another duet, but the only problem with doing that is that when you play live it´s very rare that the person you recorded it with can be there. So I thought it would be great to write a song with Paul singing the other part. Another standout is the Twin Peaks-referencing “Half-Heart Necklace”, based on a true story from Elizabeth’s hometown. “There had been some murders, and this girl who was my age was missing and presumed killed. It turned out she had been hiding for years in her boyfriend´s cupboard, and she was charged for wasting police time”.
Other notable tracks include the rollicking “Kings and Queens”, inspired by a show they played in the USA with their friends and kindred spirits The Wave Pictures, and “Romance and Adventure”, originally earmarked for a film soundtrack and written in response to a challenge from Paul to write a pop song in a minor key. Allo Darlin’ were formed by Elizabeth Morris, fellow Australian Bill Botting (bass), Paul Rains (guitar), and Michael Collins (drums).
Their debut album was named No. 2 record of the year by eMusic. Their second album ‘Europe’ scored 8.1 on Pitchfork, was made USA Today’s Album Of The Week, and garnered praise from Uncut, Q, NME, The Quietus and The Guardian. It was named Rough Trade Shop’s Album Of The Month and was their biggest selling album of the year. The band have been playlisted at BBC 6Music and have recorded many sessions for 6 Music & XFM, as well being Steve Lamacq’s personal pick for BBC Introducing. Allo Darlin’ have produced a wonderful record - thoughtful and exciting and exquisitely played – that will please their existing army of fans and newcomers alike.
"Breezy rom-pop brilliance." 8/10, NME
“Classic indie pop... doesn't rewrite the formula for wistful bedsit charm as much as show that it can still be carried out masterfully.” Pitchfork
“A masterclass of modern cult pop.” The Guardian
18th Nov - Sticky Mike's, Brighton
19th The Maze, Nottingham
20th Deaf Institute, Manchester
21st Unity Hall, Wakefield
22nd Henderson Halls, Edinburgh
23rd Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle
24th Scala, London
Recorded at Soup Studios with producer Simon Trought at the helm, and inspired by the psycho-geography of walks in North London woods and in the forgotten grey hinterland of the city’s back streets, Comet Gain's seventh album “Paperback Ghosts” comes soaked in autumn melancholy. Tender-hearted but not miserable, defiant but not angry, it maintains the delicate balance that has always been Comet Gain’s strength.
Heavyweight Vinyl LP + MP3 Download Card.
Mining the rich territories of The Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys, their debut album proper "Wooden Head" features fourteen thrillingly taut and melodic pop songs with a deep, dark undercurrent. Comprised of Argentinian Max Claps and James Hoare (also of Veronica Falls) – who both sing and write the songs – and joined by Daniel Nellis (bass) and Robert Syme (drums), the band have already shared stages with the likes of Real Estate, Woods, Crystal Stilts, Toy and Metronomy. Maximo Claps arrived in London in 2008 on a one-way ticket from Buenos Aires, aided by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.
Oldham had produced a record by Claps' Argentinian band of the time but the group had fallen apart in a mess of drugs and acrimony and Claps' family were attempting to intervene by sending him to a mental hospital. The only option seemed to be to flee the country. As Claps recalls, "The day before flying to the UK I got run over by a car and had to escape hospital in order to make it so I arrived with bandages and my head all stitched up." A few weeks later Max walked into the vintage clothes shop where James Hoare sat behind the counter reading a book on The Velvet Underground, and attempted to cause a diversion while his kleptomaniac girlfriend stole a pair of boots. “She didn't steal them in the end,” says Max. “They weren't her size”. However, the shop assistant and the would-be accomplice bonded over a mutual love of the Velvets, Love, Felt and West Coast pop and began writing together, taking their name from a song by the pioneering soft psych band The Free Design. In 2010 they released their first single, "Recalling", following it up with a five-song EP for London label No Pain in Pop.
In 2013 Lo Recordings released all their output to date on a collection titled "Waiting for the Summer", followed by the single “First Step Out” in February 2014. Their new album was recorded at a studio in Hackney, as well as at home in their old flat in Whitechapel on a broken 8-track reel-to-reel bought off eBay from an angry guy who threatened to shoot them and chop off their balls when they attempted to return it - a terrifying experience for a pair of skinny indie boys.
Taking inspiration from Berlin-era Lou Reed, Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Darklands”, The Television Personalities and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, the songs are breezy and easy on the ear, with sublime harmonies and chiming Byrdsian guitar, but with a darker twist and a pervasive air of melancholy. Stand-out tracks include the beautiful but sad “Summer’s Gone” (about mental illness), “Magazine” (an upbeat number written from the perspective of a bullet in the barrel of a gun) and “You’ll See” (about how when you die you’ll see everyone you know, all there lined up in a row).
With "Wooden Head", The Proper Ornaments prove that it is still possible to create an album of pure pop perfection. Max's girlfriend may not have stolen the boots, but The Proper Ornaments are about to steal your heart. “The joint project of James and Max, through romantic drama that borders on that of The Libertines. And when you hear The Proper Ornaments you’ll see why it’s all worth it.
4. Now I Understand
5. Don't You Want To Know (What you're going to be)
8. Step Into The Cold
9. Tire Me Out
10. Always There
11. Summers Gone
12. What Am I To Do
13. You Shouldn't Have Gone
14. You'll See
"Horseshoe" is the magnificent first single proper from the long awaited second album New Gods by WITHERED HAND (aka Edinburgh based folk-rock troubadour Dan Willson). Love and the fear of loss is the theme here, and its plaintive entreaty “Please don’t put a shadow on her lung” is coupled with an epic, widescreen, soul-stirring pop tune that leaves no room for doubt. As Dan himself says, "It's about love. Not romantic love or sexual love. The other stuff."
2. Not Another Sunny Day
1. Why I Am A Terrorist
3. Menwith Hill
4. Saint Bob?!
5. One More Parade
6. When The Morning Comes
7. Music Rules
8. Money (That's What I Hate)
9. Meat-Eating Hippies
10. Talking Newcastle Nuclear Nightmare
11. Two Chord Trick
12. The Return Of The Repressed
13. Ballad Of The New Orleans Flood
14. Betrayed By Folk
15. McCarthy In 2005