Tagged: folk

Necessary Monsters

The American duo of Hollow Deck turn in a peculiar album of songs and sounds with their Hobson’s Choice (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR239 / WEIRD EAR RECORDS WER-011), recorded in Massachusetts. Mia Friedman and Andy Allen are Hollow Deck. Allen has also appeared as Friendship Ceremonies, and is associated with other New England free noise acts, such as Guerilla Toss and Arkm Foam; both players also appeared in Survivors Breakfast, playing on a big-band jazz project of some sort by Anthony Coleman called The End Of Summer.

The present record might be described as a later strain of the “free folk” genre, admittedly a highly loose and contentious definition, but Hollow Deck’s approach is extremely fragmented and off-centred. Friedman will perform a song with the banjo and her angelic soprano voice, but the singing is extremely tentative, the melody purposefully kept vague, the lyrics are unintelligible, and the performance arrives very haltingly. I suppose it’s “folk” in as much as it’s acoustic music, and she plays a banjo, but beyond that I can’t connect the music to any known Appalachian roots, for instance; and genuine American folk singers of the 1930s, full-throated belters such as Darby and Tarlton, Grayson and Whitter, or Charley Poole, would probably be baffled as to why Mia Friedman is so hesitant about delivering her message.

Andy Allen’s contributions shift Hobson’s Choice down an even more avant-garde pathway, and he uses woodwinds, percussion, guitars, electronics and found tapes to create free-noise backdrops which are delicate, imaginative, and in places quite unexpected. On ‘Hurrah’, he uses a drum machine and some electronic pwoops to do all he can to disrupt the expected flow of Mia’s song; it’s like a mashup between Karen Dalton and Erikm. The duo also work together on more extended free-form noise scapes, such as ‘Montana Lite’ or ‘Here Is My Home’, where the emphasis is on generating something as alien as possible, but through simple under-stated means instead of “freaking out” like Egg, Eggs might do. As such, the record reminds me very much of the first two Red Krayola records, veering from delicate songcraft to bizarrely unstructured free sounds. There’s a concerted effort to derail common sense, blind-side the listener.

Some of the songs – or the same titles at any rate – appeared previously on a cassette of the same name from Friendship Tapes in 2014. This, from 8th April 2016.


Ants, eh…you can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em…at any rate, it’s always these six-legged bastards who show up in pseudo-scientific articles when some nincompoop author is clutching for a metaphor for human society. Perhaps it’s because we suppose these tiny black rogues have organised themselves into a hierarchical system, one with a monarch at its centre, and capable of productive activity on an industrial scale we puny humans can only dream about. Then there’s their elaborate communication system, which involves flopping their pathetic antennae about in some way, to relay signals throughout the entire colony. It’s only a matter of time before some smart alec compares that to “The Internet” and starts to make outlandish claims, for instance that “Ants Invented The World Wide Web” or some such nonsense.

I for one have never trusted the ant, and regard these crawling devils with the same suspicious eye as I do most of the smaller creatures who share the earth with us. They’re up to something, and I don’t like it. One interesting trend for many years has been the cultivation of a so-called “ant farm”, which I believe involves creating a mini-colony of these unpleasant monsters inside a glass box filled with sand or porous earth, allowing us to observe the ants plotting their nefarious schemes. These ant farms have proven especially popular among American school children, who proudly exhibit them as “science projects” when they wish to earn points in entomology. The truth is far more sinister, of course…any given ant farm is just a way of proving the inevitability of capitalism, perpetuating the exploitation of labour, and the “need” for a caste system that keeps us all oppressed; and where better to indoctrinate children with this poisonous ideology than at secondary school. It’s all there, in among the ants.

Some of my justifiable paranoia and bile has, I like to think, informed the record we have in front of us – titled Ant Farm (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR241) and credited to the players Elliott Schwartz and Big Blood. It’s a slightly creepy and weird slab of sound art and music, not without its frequently beautiful moments, but mostly issued as a warning against the rise of the ants. The music was originally the soundtrack for an art exhibit, also called Ant Farm, an event which was held in Maine to showcase the work of The Ant Girls, a visual art group including Colleen Kinsella and Dorothy Schwartz. Right there you’ve got a strong thread of “ant-ness” detectable in the genesis of this particular record. I shouldn’t be surprised if The Ant Girls knew more than they were letting on.

Colleen Kinsella is also one half of Big Blood, along with Caleb Mulkerin, and they’ve been making records since 2006, many of them issued as CDRs on their own Don’t Trust The Ruin label. Weirdly, they’re actually a four-piece but only have two members. They probably came under the influence of the ants to arrive at that point. Elliott Schwartz is a veteran American composer whose modernistic (I assume) escapades date back to the 1960s, although he also made a remarkable record with Marion Brown called Soundways, issued in 1973 by the Bowdoin College Music Press. It’s remarkable for its combination of electronic keyboard music with free jazz sax blowing, a combination which always works for me. Schwartz has no traceable connection to the world of ants, and is just guesting.

The Ant Farm record will draw you in at first by dint of its unusual sound – lo-fi, crackly, misted-up recordings as if heard through a layer of aural fog. From these gentle rumbles and purrs, there will emerge strange tunes and eerie keyboard fugues, some of them played on gamelan instruments such as the Baliphone, or other hammered instruments like the Dulcimer. There’s more atmospheric home-brew electronics than you could fit in a shopping bag, and Schwartz plays his heart out when called upon, offering near-classical tunes of intricate delicacy, many of which have a narrative vibe very fitted to telling the stories of these darn ants. For instance, ‘The Queen’s Egg’ or ‘Winged Pile’ or ‘Swarm’. All of these uncanny musical elements – plus some occasional whispery breathy songs on side two – are blended into a seamless suite of gentle, vaguely sinister music of a supreme oddness, leading the listener through that evil maze-like warren that is the tunnel system of the ants. To top it all off, it’s packaged in some gorgeous sleeve art and inners, featuring paintings of – guess what! – ants at work. These images are uncredited on the release but are possibly provided by one of the Ant Girls. Great! From 17 May 2016.

Believe in No Coming Shore: not quite the breakthrough album for US folk / black metallers Falls of Rauros

Falls of Rauros, Believe in No Coming Shore, United States / Sweden, Bindrune Recordings / Nordvis Produktion, digipak CD BR022 / NVP023 (2014)

Falls of Rauros are a Maine-based band who originally began as a duo and over the years expanded into a quartet. On this, the band’s third album, FoR have a clean sound and a melodic and mournful style that effectively pushe their music into post-BM mood territory. The combination of sharp-edged harsh BM with its wailing vocal and a clean blues-oriented sound suits the album’s subject matter in which humanity stands accused of failing to take responsibility for its crimes and sins inflicted upon a fragile planet and towards its own kind, and thus now faces extinction, spiritually as well as physically. The album holds some hope that we won’t follow blindly in our forerunners’ steps and will instead use our gifts and strengths to repair this planet and create a better future. The bulk of the album is taken up by four fairly lengthy tracks book-ended by short instrumental pieces.

“Believe in No Coming Shore” could have been a very epic work with a varied range of moods and atmospheres, and with soaring lead guitar solo pieces where appropriate and hard gritty rhythms and riffing. The musicians play as a fairly tight (but not too tight) unit. Parts dominated by acoustic guitar or urban blues playing have distinct mood and inner-oriented ambience and the switch between these and the more BM passages is smooth and not at all jarring. The major problem with the album with respect to the mechanics of the music is the style of the vocals; they are very ragged, limited in their range and expression, and set far back in the mix. As a result the music has to carry the expectations of listeners and there are occasions (especially in the middle of the album) where it seems to meander with no clear direction or emphasis.

The songs are good but not remarkable and I think longer tracks like “Ancestors of Smoke” and “Waxen Voices” could have been edited for length with some of the slower instrumental music taken out. “Waxen Voices” doesn’t quite hang together and parts of the song seem a bit disjointed. Overall the general tone of the album is even with a gradual build-up in intensity from the first major track “Ancestors of Shadow” through to “Spectral Eyes” – although the tension at this point isn’t well resolved due in part to the shouty vocals and the music’s failure to strive beyond the stars and perhaps fall over through over-reach.

At this point in their career, Falls of Rauros needed a breakthrough album that alerts mainstream and underground labels and audiences alike that here is a band with a distinct style and purpose. “Believe in No Coming Shore”, which sticks to a minimal instrumental set-up and a style of fusion music that has been done to death by others, unfortunately sets back that moment of transition.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 2


Vermont Singer Ruth Garbus charmed the world with her introverted song album Rendezvous With Rama for Feeding Tube Records, a remarkably withdrawn and sorrowful statement where her shy voice was barely staining the recording tape. I loved it. Her Joule EP (OSR TAPES OSR27) is much more upbeat and could be mistaken for a singer-songwriter from the 1960s or 1970s, by a young Joni Mitchell or Linda Perhacs. Very melodic acoustic pop with a good deal more confidence in the singing, her vocals are distinctive, and her understated and ingenious harmony vocal overdubs are magical, sure to please fans of The Byrds or sunshine pop records of the 1960s. Lyrical content is quite dense and full of clever sentence construction that can trip up the listener, but I sense there’s a lot of self-determination and self-expression in among the anecdotal observations of every-day life. Well-crafted, highly enjoyable, Ruth Garbus’ work is heartfelt and sincere. Recommended.


From his Amsterdam address the singer Seamus Cater sent us his single Lunora Live (ANECDOTAL RECORDS ANEC 02). I guess this guy’s work shades into avant-folk malarkey, for instance his banjo and harmonica record with Uncle Woody Sullender called When We Get To Meeting or his records of “subterranean soul searching sad songs” with Viljam Nybacka and others, called The Anecdotes. Here on live recordings from a tour of Italy, he’s not using much more than a concertina, a harmonica, and an electric piano. For some reason Cater never really connects with me. His singing voice is distinctive, but also rather fey and mannered. The melodies he sings strike me as very ordinary, with not a single phrase that might make them memorable to the listener. Both ‘Lunora’ and ‘The Piano’ here are strewn with sad symbols in the lyrics which don’t really carry meaning across to the listener, and leave Seamus stranded alone on stage in a fixed melancholic state. Most of the folk music I like to listen to is very direct, but Seamus Cater can’t seem to get to the point. On the plus side, I suppose there is something to be said for the spartan no-frills arrangements of these songs, and the clarity of the recording. The idea behind that is something to do with presenting the “core essentials” of a song; Seamus Cater arrives here by process of subtraction. This reductive approach has presumably been applied to the cover artworks, where the lettering is barely legible and we’re left with cryptic visual riddles to decode. Arrived 5th March 2014.


Always enjoy the intense Swedish gloom and noise from Fang Bomb Records. I wish there more of it. The single by Trepaneringsritualen (FB020) we’ve had around here since 2013. It’s a collector’s item by now. Notice the religious themes in the Bleeding Jesus cover art and the titles ‘Judas Goat’ and ‘Didymus Christ’, both of them rewriting chapters of the New Testament on their own twisted terms. Spin this little sliver of blackness to enjoy two bursts of a sort of intellectualised Black Metal, where the vocals are grisly and distorted and make their moan against a complex backdrop of non-guitar sounds. It’s a brilliantly evil way to concoct a monstrous sonic murk and highly original in the context of third-division Black Metal projects with their endless guitar thrash. Trepaneringsritualen is the alias of Thomas Martin Ekelund, my favourite Swedish depressive who also used to record as Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, and runs the cassette label Beläten. On these two sides, he finds a new way to express his despair and frustration, tying it in with naked religious symbolism to express feelings of guilt, anguish, and transgression. A superb release.

Posledni Vlci: a peek at two obscure Slovak raw black metal bands

Aeon Winds Concubia Nocte

Aeon Winds / Concubia Nocte, Posledni Vlci, Poland, Eastside, CD (2016)

As these two Slovak BM bands share a member and both bands express a common interest in Slavic mythology, you really don’t need a crystal ball to predict that sooner rather than later Aeon Winds and Concubia Nocte would release a split album. Aeon Winds contribute four songs that take up the first half of the album and Concubia Nocte fill up the second half with five songs.

The overall style of the album could be described as harsh raw black metal with folk pagan, symphonic and ambient influences that occasionally throws out some heavy atmospheric bluesy mood music. Aeon Winds mix up their brand of fast-paced raw and aggressive blast-beat BM with dark ambient and folk resulting in a cold and forbidding yet dramatic and powerful style. “The Path of Devouring Flames” rockets along at super speed, guitars sparking on fire and synthesiser barely managing to keep up with this music in full attack mode. The vocals are just barely audible above the rapid pounding and if only they had been a bit more upfront in the mix and had more rage the song would be even more forceful and uncompromising than it is. After this, the band goes straight to the instrumental dark ambient side of its personality with “In Times of Old”, a hypnotic orchestral mood piece with dreamy trilling keyboards and animated acoustic guitar melodies. Birdsong in the background adds a feeling of brightness and serenity. Aeon Winds’ contribution concludes with a cover of an Emperor song “Inno a Satana” delivered in straightforward melodic black metal style with steely grinding riffs and harsh wraith-like vocals. The synthesiser layer in this song seems completely unnecessary.

Concubia Nocte have a similar split raw BM / ambient style and the music is equally as fast. The band combines its machine-gun raw BM aggression and folk pagan elements better than Aeon Winds does but then this difference could just be a consequence of the choice of songs both bands include on the split. Concubia Nocte’s music sounds slightly more accessible and songs have a definite Odinpop feel in their riffs, melodies and general song-based structures. Of the five tracks on offer, the highlight is the very powerful and hard-hitting “Ve?ná Vô?a” which boasts huge riffs, thunderous percussion and a constant grinding bass groove. The thin vocals are all but overpowered by the huge scale of the music. Keyboards on a track like this are really unneeded but the band wants them in anyway. “S Posledným Lú?om Slnka” is a more underground and garage-sounding BM track, fiery and malevolent and threatening in its style and attitude, and offering some moody surprises in its otherwise rapid-fire spitting rage.

Both bands are good but I much prefer Concubia Nocte for their aggression and sound. The band relies much less on synthesiser and its sound is stronger, less pallid as a result. Whatever keyboards exist are really surplus to the music and the band could, maybe should, junk the synthesisers altogether. If both bands must have additional instruments, I’d much rather they had acoustic keyboard instruments. Aeon Winds have a more tinny and thinner sound which disadvantages them when they are paired with Concubia Nocte. The biggest downside for both groups is the weak vocals on all tracks that feature them. On the whole though, this split is a good introduction to both bands and provides an entry into the Slovak black metal scene.

The recording is also available through Asgard Hass.

Demonic Frequencies

Midnight Doctors

Midnight Doctors
Through A Screen And Into A Hole
UK OURODISC ouro05 CD (2015)

Phil Begg, the head of Ourodisc – formerly Ouroboros Recordings – coerces some like-minded friends into Newcastle’s Icmus Studios to help him assemble a superb album of jazz-tinged, soundtrack-influenced experimentalism and fast-moving craziness. A previous self-titled album was released by alt.vinyl and Ourodisc simultaneously in 2013. Midnight Doctors swung a bit harder and had a massive list of contributors, some of whom were also involved in the creation of Through A Screen And Into A Hole. But Through A Screen… is much less a joyous celebration of off-kilter, although essentially accessible, musicality and more eerie and dark-sounding endeavour.

Begg himself is the axis around which the satellite musicians revolve. He brings piano, guitar, harmonium, modular synth, radio, percussion, tubular bells and “electroacoustics” to the table while being augmented by drummer Christian Alderson and double bassist John Pope. The filigree is provided by the violins of Sean Cotterill, Niles Krieger and Rachael Hales, brass players Faye MacClaman and Laura Davison, the clarinettist Jamie Stockbridge, while Richard Dawson contributes a ferocious wordless vocal on “Climactic Loss” and Joe Possett provides “tape jams” which, where it surfaces, effectively turns the music on its head. The sleevenotes refer to the personnel in the past tense which suggests that Begg prefers to use specific groupings taken from a pool of musicians available to him for each of the sessions that result in a piece of music. The group is described as having a “rotating membership” on Discogs. A pretty effective use of resources, I’d say. Begg’s approach is refreshingly libertarian; his direction produces great performances and superb material.

The first half of the album, roughly, is made up of five short, jazz ensemble pieces. “Life and Light Apart” is beautiful and mournful in equal measure. A theme is presented carefully, only to be replaced with fragile held notes for the final 40 seconds while “Chump Change” is jazz Darwinism divided by a great concrète section. “Long Sands Black Labrador”, where Begg breaks out his tubular bells, features another mournful melody underpinned by strings droning away on single notes.
Begg’s percussion solo, “Death Of Similaun Man”, bleeds and spreads like an inkblot over aural cartridge paper. Getting a better grip back on the reins, “Rust Coloured Smoke” is the first track to feature Joe Possett’s “tape jams” and manages an eastern flavour, from the guitar sound possibly or maybe Possett’s pre-recorded material? Sounds like drone strings on indian sitar or sarod or perhaps a sample from Begg’s “electrocacoustic” armoury?

Of particular interest to me is “My Forsyth (Demonic Frequency)”, an electronic exploration duet of Begg’s various keyboard instruments and Joe Possett’s tape-based constructions. A concrète edifice to the mildewing legacy of Henri Chopin or Pierre Schaefer filtered through everyone’s current obsession / fascination with the idea of Brian Eno’s invention of Ambient Music. None of which terms would apply in this case, to be strictly accurate. But my point is: why isn’t more music like this? Why don’t more people listen to “sounds” rather than “music”?

“Climactic Loss” acts as a counterpoint to the order and stability of the previous pieces. Here, the group demonstrates a level of intensity, power and integrity over a fifteen minute duration that Guy Garvey could only dream of. The musicians ramp up the tension wave after wave, with Richard Dawson’s ecstatic vocal doing nothing to alleviate the anxiety.

On the closing track, “The Slow Way Home”, it is as if Begg has taken a nursery rhyme melody and slowed it down to a glacial tempo; heightening feelings of bewilderment and hopelessness through implosive gaps in the sound, before dropping high-mass blocks of ensemble playing on the unsuspecting listener’s toes.

From unadulterated free jazz through unsettling electronic experimentation to noir primal screaming, Through A Screen And Into A Hole is a very cool item which I urge you to acquire and investigate thoroughly. I’d put this album up there with the recent release from Martin Archer’s Inclusion Principle project in its intent, poise and execution. It makes me wish more contemporary jazz groupings were willing to work in this stylistically freer (rather than simply free, or not free at all), way. At other times, unexpectedly, it simultaneously reeks of the daemon swamp air of the dark side of English folk-rock in feel if not in style. Either way, I’m all for it.

Minor Singing

Nattavaara Rocks

Nattavaara Rocks
Ox Choral
SWEDEN SEISMIC WAVES Seismic001 (2015)

This appears to be a download only release, although I could be wrong. The download code comes with a full colour professionally printed A5 pamphlet. I would say: if you are going to release something as a download only, why not produce a cool physical product like the box containing a relevant and crucial art poster like with Diatribes’ Augustus? Here we have a textless (apart from the tracklisting on the end page), full-colour brochure full of uninspired and artless photography of a beech wood with one lonely shot of a maple sapling to ease the monotony. Natavaara Rocks’ beatific likeness graces the cover, if indeed that is him and not some random hipster pulled off the street.

Anyway. Having downloaded the whole album via Naatavaara Rocks’ Bandcamp page in a .zip file, it becomes apparent that Ox Choral is eight pieces of music (I chose .wav files but you could also have .mp3, .flac or other options), a cover image, instructions for accessing some videos from the web and the entire mediocre booklet design again, this time as a .pdf. I also have the press release in my hand and it says Ox Choral is “…arranged to be perceived as more close-sounding, defined and direct”, and calls itself “guitar-based ambient/folk/drone”. To me it sounds like a pretty faithful addition to what multifarious bands working under that nebulous term “post-rock” have been doing for the last twenty years. In that time, “post-rock” has become a genre appellation in its own right, rather than just an ideological concept. See Jack Chuter’s excellent book Storm Static Sleep if you’re interested in the loud/quiet dynamic.

Twangy reverbed guitars, string synths and digital mellotrons cycle endlessly, boring into your psyche on ‘Blind Kites Circling’, in a kind of pseudo-Spagetti-Western approximation of post-rock. ‘Light Pillars’ ends with mildly Robert Fripp-style glissando guitars over a chimed bell loop mixed with some “atmospheres” poached from a Korg Trinity preset or similar to arrive at something not a million miles away from David Sylvian’s Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities. ‘Forest Hollows’ seems derived from acoustic guitar and autoharp sources, while ‘A Rite Of Passage’ mixes colossal drums with mellotron and flutes and string synths struggling to remain in tune. More guitar cliffhanging. A theme is presented, repeated, with little development and then ends in a flurry of expensive reverb.

So far it seems to me all these tunes are far too short. ‘Monoliths’ is only a smidge under 3 and a half minutes, but still manages to be monolithic in spite of this. ‘Minor Singing’ is very brief at 1:36 and I swear I can hear the Japan influence in there again. ‘As Their Bodies Slowly Sank’ has a clanking loop, while bubbling fairground organs rise out of murky waters of throaty guitar. ‘Water Graves’ church organ provides an appropriate ending. The whole thing is great, but it’s no more than 26 and a half minutes long. That’s an EP in my book. Levitation used to do single songs longer than that.

Wherever it Falls



Summer is the time I typically turn to desert blasted, Arabic acts like Tinariwen and Omar Souleyman. So I find myself slipping on the debut CD from the Middle Eastern ‘supergroup’ in the hope of tricking the sun into visiting these drenched and dreary regions. Draping their dramatic and dynamic rock-fusion in the local colours (which could be anywhere given the members’ far-flung origin points range from Palestine to London), this five-man diaspora boldly stations itself ‘at the forefront of the independent music in the Arabic world’: a boast consolidated by their choice of name – Alif – the head letter of the Arabic alphabet. With equal candour, their ambitions exceed the merely musical, encompassing socio-political poetry, progressive humanism and a diversity of personal/cultural histories while concentrating decades’ worth of studio know-how into taming the resulting explosion for the western ear. Put briefly, it’s a sleek set of psych-rock beasts not entirely unlike those of the Invisible Hands’ surprisingly smooth second turn, Teslam.

Difficult for this reviewer then is it to account for such adventurousness without feeling like a hapless, pastel-garbed tourist who finds hair blown back upon passing a vibrant street band while on holiday; one driven albeit by such formidable musicianship that whatever pleasure one took in music at home momentarily disappears. Such is the group’s mastery of tension and their comfortably passing it to one another across these eight songs, which are said to have resulted from two years of committed international collaboration followed by a blitz of last-minute pre-gig rehearsal time that must have brought a colossal amount of nervous energy into those early Cairo shows. It is certainly evident upon hearing the synergy of a rhythm section as powerful and propulsive as ‘Synth whizz’ Maurice Louca’s atmospherics are space-inducing 1. We inhale the intoxicating residue as they calmly build steam without premature release, as in to ‘Al-Khutba Al-Akhira (The Last Declamation)’ and we wig out amid the disorienting psychedelic fluttering of “Dars Min Kama Sutra (A Lesson from Kama Sutra)”.

Potent as it is, the sticking point for some may be the Arabic lyrics, though given the Palestinian singer Tamer Abu Ghazaleh’s avowed vocal power this shouldn’t necessarily be the case. I am ashamed to say however that in spite of the music’s resilient and poetic heart – including recitals of avant-garde poets such as Iraqi Sargon Boulus (“Holako (Hulagu)”, and the feminist writer Faiha Abdulhadi – his impassioned singing style actually brings to mind past restaurant dining experiences of mine. In my defence, my copy is not furnished with the standard edition’s English translations of the songs, and it takes little imagination to perceive a collective mind as familiar with the intricacies of modern geopolitics as with the geography of the human heart.

  1. Louca has actually just turned up in Alan Bishop’s new group, Dwarfs of East Agouza, adding his wonky weirdness to that group’s brinkmanship jamming, and just enough of it here to mark his own territory without inducing vertigo.

From The Outskirts

From November 2015, we have a set of 10-inch vinyl releases on the Belgian record label Okraïna, run by Philippe Delvosalle. All of them are decorated with colourful illustrations by Gwénola Carrère and are quite sturdy little packages. Already I feel a certain warmth and old-school charm verging on the quaint, with a visual art style which I can only describe as an emulation of a nameless “between the wars” style before modernism truly arrived. Also a sense that I ought to be cranking up my hand-wound Victrola to play these sides. They don’t play at 78 RPM, but I feel they should.


Rose (OKRAÏNA #4) features two ten-inchers, both showcasing the work of Ed Askew. This American singer-songwriter is an underground folk hero to many, his reputation based to some extent on his 1968 record for the hip New York label ESP-Disk, an album variously titled Ed Askew or Ask The Unicorn. Its original cover art had the photo accidentally printed in negative; only the UK Fontana issue managed to get it right. Here, Askew is paired on the first disc with Joshua Burkett, sometimes called Yellow Beard, a contemporary hero of acoustic folkish song; his Gold Cosmos is one record I do recommend, but he’s been making other albums of interest since 1995. What we hear is a 2007 radio set recorded for WFMU, where Askew’s songs are interspersed with informal chat about his compositions and his albums’ history. The date coincides with the release of Little Eyes in 2005, one of his “comeback” albums, and some songs from that release are featured here. On the second disc, Askew teams up with Steve Gunn, a talented young guitarist from Landsdowne in Pennsylvania, and the duo perform a number of songs for another radio slot, this time from 2010, on the Greg Healey show. Nothing wrong with any of the music here, but Askew fails to excite; he lacks the fire or invention of Peter Stampfel, a true Lower East Side maverick beatnik, and is somewhat closer to the melancholic whine of Tom Rapp of Pearls Before Swine, but without any of Rapp’s acerbic bite. I mention both of these as possible contemporaries of Askew, and as ESP label-mates. Askew’s not one for melodic invention, or an original guitar style, rarely straying outside simple chord changes and progressions; and some of his lyrics may appear mawkish. But there’s no denying the sincerity of his intention, and the distinctive contours of his voice, even after 40 years, continue to exhibit a certain odd charm.


Bring You Buzzard Meat (OKRAÏNA #3) is a team-up between Ignatz and Harris Newman, and is a 2008 studio recording; it was originally sold as a tour CDR in 2009, and is reissued on vinyl here. Belgian singer Ignatz (i.e. Bram Deven) first came our way in 2005 with his debut album for the K-RAA-K label, but the Canadian guitarist and studio engineer Newman is a new name to us; I see he’s made a few albums for Strange Attractors Audio House. The two met at a music festival and found they had a lot of common ground; a few live shows have resulted from their pairing. The five tunes here were performed with various guitars – electric, lapsteel, acoustic, and sonically speaking there’s a rich range of steel-string textures on offer here. The real innovation has been to combine this traditional folky guitar sound with an analogue synth, which on occasion – particularly on the astonishing ‘Political Song for Carla Bruni To Sing’ – creates a hair-raising, abrasive experience for the ears. The title track however is rather pedestrian circular noodling and finger-picking exercises, like a bad version of Leo Kotke; and the languid atmosphere of ‘Rise While You Fall’ is singularly lacking in tension, despite the attempts by the duo to foster a tone of melancholic doom with the hollow singing and the reverb effects. ‘Stray Dog’, with its treated surfaces, halting rhythms, and uncertain vocal moans, may come closest to realising the duo’s plan, which appears to be some sort of futuristic update on Country Blues idioms; at any rate, the label blurb calls it “equal parts science experiment and Geechie Wiley tribute”. I’ll give them a bonus point for name-checking Geechie Wiley, but next time when I order buzzard meat, please don’t bring me these slices of warmed-over turkey breast.


Folk Songs Cycle (OKRAÏNA #6) is performed by the singer Éloïse Decazes and the keyboard player Delphine Dora, who plays piano and harmonium, adding occasional vocal harmonies. The 11 songs here are from an arrangement by the 20th century avant-garde composer Luciano Berio, who originally composed them for his wife Cathy Berberian to sing, with orchestral accompaniment; I imagine this proved quite a popular seller when issued as an LP on the RCA Red Seal label, though it’s equally possible audiences are divided. Something of the utter simplicity of the folk song is arguably lost when transposed to this faintly pompous classical setting, and Berberian’s performances can appear stilted. Decazes and Dora are anything but stilted, and they have clearly made a determined effort to return folk song to its basics, so these intimate recordings were realised with just one or two voices, with a piano or harmonium providing a very simple setting. The record is thus quite direct and has a homespun charm; at times, the women might almost be in their own front parlour at home, not recording for an audience. Neither of them has a particularly forceful or distinctive singing voice, but for the material they’re working with, this isn’t an issue. While I’m not about to sell my records by Shirley & Dolly Collins (listen to them if you really want to hear what you can do with a heavenly voice and portative organ or acoustic piano), these two girls from Auvergne are sure to find a place in your heart with their unaffected approach. The sleeve art resembles a sampler, which seems very much in keeping with the spirit of the work; I can almost imagine these two wearing hand-embroidered smocks at home! Éloïse Decazes made another record for this label with Eric Chenaux, now sold out, but you can hear the tracks on the Bandcamp page.


Lastly, we have an unusual song-recit essay piece by Ed Sanders, called Yiddish Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side (OKRAÏNA #5). This item originally saw light in 1991 as a cassette tape, so this reissue is its first release on vinyl. Ed Sanders is yet another ESP-Disk alumnus, famed as co-founder of The Fugs, although it’s Tuli Kupferberg who was arguably the more abrasive and agitational of this counter-culture duo; his 1967 solo album No Deposit No Return is a crazy record of subversive poetry formed from cut-ups of popular press adverts. Here, Sanders is telling a history of Jews settling in New York, doing so in a mixed style which is part narration, part poetry, part singing; he accompanies his vocals using a home-made electronic instrument which he calls the pulse lyre, and the melodic range throughout is severely restricted. Perhaps by accident, all of this tends to give the sensation of an excerpt from a lost opera by Robert Ashley. Yiddish Speaking Socialists follows a political bent, so you can expect references to Ellis Island, sweatshops, and various social injustices, and anecdotes about these recounted in a fairly stark manner; it seems that Sanders, like Robert Wyatt by the time he made the record Old Rotten Hat, wants to make sure his left-wing messages are in no danger of being misunderstood, so utter clarity and precision of expression is the order of the day. There’s also an overwhelming slew of historical detail; at the end of 20 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve read an entire book, or had one read to you. This “personal essay” style is an intriguing song form, and it might be interesting to see what other poets and songwriters could do if they followed a similar approach. For the cover artworks, Gwénola Carrère has gone the extra mile in her attempts to illustrate and amplify Sanders’ themes, an effort which I do applaud, even if there is the risk that she is trivialising the serious issues into colourful innocent-seeming story-book images.

Unique ‘n’ Wondrous


Dredd Foole (i.e. Dan Ireton) has In Quest Of Tense (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR213), a vintage album from 1994 originally released as a CD by Forced Exposure and now reissued on vinyl by Feeding Tube Records. One common factor between these two labels is writer and collector Byron Coley, who writes about this release from direct experience, knowing the major players involved, and he provides an exhaustive sleeve note documenting the genesis of this release and putting the music and song of Dredd Foole in context, an exercise which I personally find extremely useful…I had no idea Dredd Foole And The Din (with its ever-shifting lineups) had been active since the late 1980s, nor that there was such a strong antipathy towards conventional rock music, and its apparent ubiquity, being harboured by Ireton and his followers. At any rate it’s clear that Coley and the FE team welcomed the music as a breath of fresh air, perhaps at a time when the USA was saturated by an unwelcome surfeit of Nirvana imitators. The story of this record is that after a number of spotty releases and live gigs in the early 1990s, Dan Ireton got his hands on a four-track recorder and a reverb unit, and recorded In Quest Of Tense at home in Wakefield. It’s all solo too, apart from one track which features his frequent sideman Ed Yazijian on slide guitar. The result of one week’s worth of improvising, In Quest Of Tense was released as a CD in 1994 and – according to Mr Coley – is now regarded as a seminal piece in the development of a latterday acoustic folk underground scene across the eastern seaboard of the United States, a phenomenon that would include I suppose The Tower Recordings and P.G. Six, and led to strains which later developed into even more unhinged and hairy free-form collectives, like Sunburned Hand of the Man or Valley Of Ashes.

Dredd Foole undoubtedly occupies his own niche, however. While I’m still not sure if I count myself a complete convert to his cult, there’s no denying the power of this release, the unique sound of it, and the generally unhinged vibes emanating from every moment of his free-wheeling performances. When I heard That Lonesome Road Between Hurt and Soul, his record for Bo Weavil Recordings, I was trying to reclaim Dredd Foole as some sort of warped American storyteller. But on In Quest Of Tense, he’s more like a demented wild-eyed poet, at times slipping into the assumed identity of a mountain hermit, possessed by the need to howl his self-penned chants and spells into the wind as he hurls them against the follies of the world. His special talent is revealed most clearly on the two long tracks, ‘Turn Turn (Turn)’ and especially ‘Ascension: Ra And Buk (Bridge Of Cries)’, the latter of which occupies most of side two; this is a performer who relishes the large canvas, so that he can fill every available moment with his continually-extemporised strums and vocals like Jackson Pollock flinging and dripping paint every which way. Once he’s in the zone, there’s no stopping the man, that much is clear. It’s impossible to decode any of the content of his mystic incomprehensible yawls, but the sense of meaning is still somehow transferred, and he’s not some loopy acid-head jabbering empty platitudes in an invented language.

The listener can’t help be overwhelmed by the odd sound of the record. Who’d have thought that a reverb unit, adding liberal doses of echo across almost the whole album, could have created such uncanny sensations of mind-altering dizzyness…that, and Foole’s brilliantly raw stabs at overdubbing additional guitars and other instruments, showing that he managed to master the technology at his disposal very quickly. Then there’s the cavernous tone of his singing voice, often-times transformed into another instrument as he barks or yelps out crazed vocal interjections to spur the song along like an errant beast on a cattle drive. One vocal mannerism is his hollowed-out mouth drone used to accompany certain passages, providing his own unique take on the art of overtone singing. The listener need only tune in for five seconds and that box of paracetamol will fly out the window. Many of the factors coalesce nicely on the 3-minute ‘Glory’, which is more like a poem or recit than a song, one that starts out like an incarnation of the truly dark prince of Rock that Jim Morrison never quite managed to become in reality, and then degenerates quite swiftly into an alarming flurry of overdubbed mouth-jabberings. Wild, freaky stuff; perhaps its only precedent on vinyl is the record by Mij The Yodelling Astrologer, that 1969 freakeroonie released by ESP-Disk’. It too made liberal use of the echo chamber to multiply and magnify the stoned ramblings of its creator.

The term “folk music” has been applied in recent years to all manner of material that is clearly nothing whatever to do with indigenous folk music history at all, and happens simply to involve acoustic guitars or non-electric instruments. One such example of this grand error is so-called “Finnish Folk”. Even Coley can’t quite bring himself to write the word and instead coins the phrase “modern völk sub-underground” to help situate Dredd Foole’s work in a context we can live with. However, faced with the crags and rough edges of this near-possessed statement, I can’t help but think of it as a piece of hand-made folk art, thinking not of music but of some physical artefact crafted in leather or wood and exhibited outside the house of some isolated American loner-genius. A cultivated form of Outsider Art, almost, but I’m aware that’s an even more loaded term. At any rate, this might be the record that finally tips the balance for me in favour of this one-of-a-kind musician. Provided the doctor lets me out at weekends, that is. From 22 September 2015.