Thursday, 3 January 2019

THE WASTED LAKES - HÄXAN - WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES






TOR61. Released January 2018.

01 Häxan Part I
02 Häxan Part II
03 Häxan Part III
04 Häxan Part IV
05 Häxan Part V

I've always wanted to perform an improvised soundtrack to a film and last December, I done just that.

Häxan, a 1922 Swedish-Danish documentary about witchcraft, has long been a personal favourite. In its original form, it was two hours in length with dialogue boards. In 1968 a version with William Burroughs narrating was released. This was subtitled 'A History of Witchcraft'. I decided to use this shorter cut of the film.

Next, I asked Jonathan Sharp (The Heartwood Institute) and Joe Hiscoke (Holiday, Ponyland) to perform alongside me.



We had one soundcheck and decided to not prepare anything in advance.

The soundtrack was recorded, in front of the film and audience, on December the 14th and is presented here in full.


The film with accompanying soundtrack can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSCPSPhN3O4&feature=youtu.be


Saturday, 1 December 2018

MYSTERY SPRING - MEET ME AT THE WEATHER STATION




Released November 2018. TOR60.

Following on from last summer’s splendid debut album from Mystery Spring, Marc and Catherine present a 6-track EP that’s a total delight from start to finish and that, at a shorter length, perhaps holds together in a more satisfying and organic way than its predecessor.

Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but a couple of tracks here feel quite Christmassy to me, while the whole record radiates a warmth - like a mug of hot chocolate or a nip of the strong stuff - that is just right for the dark nights and the chill that’s beginning to take up residence in the air.

That’s not to give the impression of cosiness or to suggest that this isn’t a collection for all seasons. To the contrary, the songs here are all very strong and evocative and, at just shy of a 20 minute running time, it’s a record that’s just right for a listen at one sitting all year round.

The title track and opener gets the EP off to a low-key beginning. It’s an intimate and atmospheric number, with a whispered lead vocal from Marc, suggesting secrets being shared and giving the whole track a feeling of gentle mystery.

“Relative Comfort” is folky pop with Catherine’s lovely voice up front. It’s an infectious sing-along number, like something that might have popped up on Cherry Red Records in the mid-80s, but essentially it’s a classic Marc love song about a couple who are head over heels and out in the open air – perhaps hiding from everyone who can’t understand how they feel and might just get in the way (or break the spell).

“Cinematographer” is evocative of early ‘80s post-punk from its very title to the woozy Farsifa feel and cryptic lyrics while “Bedsit Disco Queen” is a lovely piano-led ballad with more than a touch of “Another Green World” Eno. The latter was recorded in one take and has a title borrowed from the memoir by Tracey Thorn (another Cherry Red artiste - the clues are building up, but maybe they’ll lead us nowhere in the end).

“You’re no reformist and I doubt I can be reformed”. And so “The Reformist” spins another esoteric yarn amid a reflective countryish piece with keening violins and crisp acoustic guitar, courtesy of Ste Benson (who also does the honours on “Relative Comfort” and is the only performer on the record other than Marc and Catherine).

Closing track “Mind the Chaos” is, despite the title, not really chaotic at all, but rather gently off-kilter and subtly disconcerting, while never being less than  perky and charming. It has an almost classical feel to the instrumentation (with a touch of the fairground) and the spirit of Jeffrey Lewis (and also perhaps Syd Barrett) lurking somewhere in the background. It is a song that sounds as if it’s being made up as it goes along, looking for either resolution or blissful oblivion, while not forgetting to ask important questions such as “where can I get free shoes” and “which colour will you choose”?

“Meet Me At The Weather Station” is a delightful concoction – a beguiling blend of voices, acoustic instruments and understated electronica (superbly mixed by Mr A Popple) -  that never outstays its welcome.  In fact, I would very surprised if you didn’t want to play it again as soon as it finishes – I’ve listened to it at least 5 times while I’ve been writing this review and I’m still ready for more. After all, doesn’t everyone need free shoes?

- David Thompson.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

BROCKEN SPECTRE - ABSTRACTIONS // ATTRACTIONS



TOR59. Released October 2018.

01 Beyond Nostalgia
02 Clap Hands
03 Downtown Abstractions
04 Art Defacer
05 Colour Fucker
06 Stockholm Cancelled
07 Ended Here
08 (In) Dreams
09 UYA


 All music by Brocken Spectre

All words By Marc Gillen
except 'Art Defacer' by Marc Gillen & Stephen Benson
and 'Colour Fucker' by Stephen Benson



Recorded October 2017 - May 2018 at Warwick Bazaar
Mixed November 2017 - September 2018 by Alastair Popple at The Kitchen Sync

Artwork by Stephen Benson



Friday, 28 September 2018

GHOSTS OF HOBBS END - AMSTERDAM/AMERICA




Released September 2018.

01 Amsterdam
02 America


Warwick Bazaar has for over two years been a second recording home for the artists at TOR. The start of 2017 saw it as the location for sessions for a new Nightowl sings EP. Myself, David Thompson, Jill Wallace, Jessica Lowes and Chloe Lee Maitland were present to aid the newest batch of songs from Marc Gillen.

Spirits of the Old and New World: Everything connects - the fault lines intersect. No matter where you start, you are always stuck in the web of history, adrift in the network of circumstance, lost in memory and the whispered past.

The sessions usually finished an early nine o'clock and Marc and the guests would leave. Jill, David and I would stay on; drinking, talking, smoking and sometimes playing. 

In modern Amsterdam, dodging bicycles, you can feel the pull of History and Art. The patience of Rembrandt is lit by candles in shrinking, soundless, haunted rooms while the fever of Van Gogh is drenched in fierce sunlight, a colour that never was, that never existed outside his carnivorous imagination.

On the first and seventh day of February we stayed late and improvised. We were all dealing with major downers and the sessions could be clouded by a dark fug, the late night improvisations proved both an anti-dote and cathartic release.

Here, Space is narrow and tall, clenched and nervous from climbing up small, cramped stairwells. It is a city of international ghosts and vertical dwellings. Brisk horses clip-clop on cobbles and make way for the bells that warn Anne Frank to stay in the attic. Otherwise the tourists will track her down, and her story will be subsumed by static. Yellow stars stare from a black and white time – evil exists without logic or rhyme. 

Both sessions were hours long, swapping instruments and sometimes bashing away with no real idea, direction or sense. Every now and again, we would somehow fall into something and it worked, purely by accident.

Was lack of space and the flatness of the land, forever expecting to be lost to the waters, the reason the Dutch went looking elsewhere, for places to name and space to spare. 

These sessions were recorded and I put them to one side, where they would wait.




And so New Netherland predated New England and old New York was once New Amsterdam. Boston is eating clam chowder, watching the Red Sox and hunting humpback whales. The city is walkable and civilised, though rocked by Irish devilment.  On the hill where gravestones whisper, visitors from Britain and France and Japan take photos of the fallen, petrified by History.  We are the phantom chamber quartet, playing you back into sight and mind. We have waited for you for the strangest and most faithful time. We see all those patriots in the falling leaves, scrabbling for Liberty - hungry and honest and true.

David visited Amsterdam and several states in America in 2017. I asked him to collect as many field recordings as he could. I had been recording sounds around the shop and on adventures out and wanted a bank of found sound to add to a project that was starting to develop.

A Yankee call to arms becomes a Rebel Yell and we jump on the Mystery Train, bound for Memphis. Down south, the past becomes a Blues song, wounded and wailing, and a country tune also, with ants in its pants, guzzling moonshine and itching for a fight. There’s a distant train whistle and soon the blues has a beat behind it, a swing in its step. And the city is lazy and easy, with aimless, broad avenues and vanished streetcars and music pounding in the dim-lit bars. Johnny Cash is playing on the haunted jukebox at Earnestine and Hazel’s, where Ray Charles and Chuck Berry caroused when rock and roll was still young. So order a Soul Burger, since it’s the only thing on the menu, and walk around upstairs, spirits at your elbow evaporating with every backward look.  And the Memphis Queen is moving down the murky Mississippi, with ghosts in the shadows the ancient trees make and a hundred old shoes lost in the gumbo mud. 

On the twelve of May this year, I asked Jill and David to my home for a recording session. Jill manipulated a radio broadcast performance and David affected several drone tracks. We added these to the collection of field recordings made in Amsterdam, the jam sessions from the first of February and performed a the 'Amsterdam' collage.

And back to New York, which is no longer New Amsterdam.

For the 'America' collage, we assembled at Warwick Bazaar on the seventh of July. This time I conducted a drone performance by Jill and David and we added to this to the jams recorded on the eighth of February the previous year and the remaining field recordings.

Both collages were performed once and those are the versions on the sides of this cassette.

Third time lucky - the Village is a benign labyrinth and Zoltar speaks the future at Coney Island. 

Maybe.

- Stephen, David (italics)


Cassette artwork kindly provided by Britany Gunderson.

Friday, 27 July 2018

BROCKEN SPECTRE - DRIVE BY ELECTION



TOR 57. Released July 2018.

01 Drive By Election


The last release from Brocken Spectre was the 'TERROR' cassette back in April of last year. At the time of that release the band were defunct and other projects had been started by the various members.

One year on from that release, Brocken Spectre release their first new material since re-grouping in April 2017 with Drummer Steve Orchiton.

Since then the band have played live several times, developed as a sound and an idea and a whole LP has been recorded and will see release in the Autumn.

Until then, here is the non album single 'Drive By Election'. 


Friday, 28 July 2017

MYSTERY SPRING - THE GIRL WHO HID BEHIND TREES






















TOR56. Released July 2017.


01. Nightwalking
02. Can't Put This Fire Out
03. Angel Face You Will Drive Us All To Hell
04. Saint Mary Kills Me
05. Split the Blues
06. What to Do Today
07. Open Water
08. Stone Pickers
09. Slow Moving Cartwheels
10. Last Rites, Maybe


Me and my dog, Billy (that's him on the CD artwork) looked forward to Fridays last winter. We would go round to Marc's and drink tea, eat biscuits and play music together. What started out as a bit of a jam has turned into this album.

We had a great time making it - despite occasional dog noises and technical problems with Marc's recording kit.

It was quite a spontaneous process and although the album took a few months, most of the recording happened quite quickly.

A highlight for me was playing Marc's Ultranova keyboard on 'Nightwalking' - there was a childlike joy in twiddling the knobs and feeling like you are playing the BBC Radiophonic workshop.

This is our first Mystery Spring album, but we hope there will be more.

- Catherine Reding


Thursday, 8 June 2017

GOATHERDER - SOOTHER OF GRIEF






















Released June 2017. TOR55

01. Soother of Grief I
02. Short Term Memory Loss Replaced by Nostalgia that Never Existed
03. Soother of Grief II


Between late 2014 and early 2017, I archived any recordings I made; field recordings, demos,
experiments and so on. I put them to one side, unsure of what to do with them.

Occasionally I would review an experiment or refer to a demo. It occurred to me that most of these
recordings would go nowhere, so I decided to give them a home.



In February and March of this year I 'performed' collages of these tracks, the live mix being the
performance.

The end result is like an aural mind diary; ideas and sounds all together. It makes some kind of
sense to me.

- Stephen.