ghosts of Christmases past – second visitation….

archive singled out from Dec 2007 – first transmitted on losing today…

missive 148 – part 2
Singled Out
Missive 148
part 2 – Ah Mount Vernon Arts Lab – one of pop’s sore thumbs and a collective rarely given the credit and acclaim they so richly deserve, children of an era when the BBC Radiophonic Workshop conquered and championed the surreal, the abstract and the oblique. Personally I was much surprised to find these outsiders still plying their trade as its been fair few years since we had the pleasure of hearing anything by them – with a fifth album snucked under their collective belt in the shape of ‘the séance at hobs lane’ (which we really must try and nail as our own) – this aural project is named after the fictional underground train station where the supernatural / sci-fi classic Quatermass and the Pit unravels. Deeply indebted to Desmond Leslie and Tristram Carey these excerpts provide or an eerie encounter with one of electronic music’s most noted experimentalists, primitive analogue disturbances to file alongside that very excellent Ochre outing from a few years back gathering together the incidental sounds featured on the Dr Who story ‘the tenth planet’ – these sparse montages pulsate ominously within desolate landscapes – exploring the same aural trajectories as unearthed by Johnny Trunk, Broadcast and EAR. A trio of tantalisers feature here from the tension racked mooching Moondog like anticipation of ‘the black drop’ to the frequency manipulating whirr core of the bleak and alien ‘the submariner’s song’ while ‘dash wood’s reverie’ wraps the set in fine form sounding like a subterranean score eked from the pen of Barry ‘UFO’ Gray.

And while you are there to may well be advisable to hook up to Belbury Poly via – a bit like receiving an mp3 from the early 70’s these fluffily perky celestial gems sound like they’ve fallen straight through a time fracture from a time often referred to as the space age, an age where Gerry Anderson ruled children’s TV and cheesecloth was legally allowed to be sold in shops and marketed as a fashion item – alas the good old days – okay we never had the trials of rickets or small pox but damn it man some of us had to live through Birmingham bags, tank tops and nylon pyjamas which believe it or not if you rubbed real hard gave off so much friction that you became a magnet for papers, comics and magazines – bit like a walking library with Stan Laurel hair. Alas no information on the band if indeed it is a band who knows it could be a randy toaster for all we know – that said these sprightly minimalist analogue nuggets strike familiar distant chords from a past long since gone ‘Wildspot’ in particular is a sumptuous bossa nova ./ samba styled slice of chilled out boogie that has you thinking of an impishly surreal backdrop featuring Joe Meek colluding with an ice cream selling promenade stall marshalled by Jean Michel Jarre on the set of ‘Vision On’ – ‘pan’s garden’ though proves to be our favourite – a wonderfully scribed spring bouquet of pastoral sweetness and idle some carefree cuteness not so far removed admittedly from the sounds found on that rather excellent ‘Ivor the Engine’ collection put out by Trunk. – a quick mention for Oggum records given that we briefly mention them again somewhere about these pages in relation to a planned Owl Service release – all getting complicated this constant seamless toing and throwing is it. Been an absolute age since we heard or indeed spied anything by the Oggum imprint that being because the blighters went awol for a while – our listening pleasure was never the same. One time home to the immense Alphane Moon a band for whom the description drone folk psychedelicists was never lost, the Oggum crew very much tapped into the whole Ptolemaic Terrascope (see below) mind set and with equal impish efficiency released records as regular as the said journal printed issues. Inspired or so it sounded at the time by the late 60’s Cambridge folk scene although appreciably in their hands and the interpretation of their roster – Our Glassie Azoth – this affection had a knack of straying down crooked and overgrown secret pathways via eerie folk drone collages. Still word has it the mighty Oggum are back – we suggest for starters you familiarise yourself in readiness by checking out the pristine pastoral due drop like ‘treflyn – demo 1’ – and don’t forget Owl Service loom large in the background. – been absolutely ages since we had anything by Yep Roc – in fact if memory serves me right last thing we heard was the late veteran of rockabilly Ronnie Dawson’s ‘more bad habits’ and the Mayflies USA’s excellent ‘summertown’ debut. A quick spy on the labels web site had us much miserable to discover that we’d missed out on the recent Robyn Hitchcocks retrospectives and repackages culminating – in what looks like – a superb vinyl box set entitled ‘I want to go backwards’ which features his solo stuff ‘eye’, ‘black snake diamond role’ and ‘I often dream of trains’ all re-mastered and packaged up with a must have 5 disc set of bonus material entitled ‘while thatcher mauled Britain’ (is it too ate for a last minute Santa request we wonder). Anyhow I digress – ‘jesus of cool resurrection’ is the tribute site and name of a specially packaged 30th anniversary set (due in February) in honour of Nick ‘basher’ Lowe (a nickname earned in reference to his ability as a producer to quickly turnaround and capture a subjects essence in such a short time) – or more rightly his debut full length from ‘78 – ‘jesus of cool’ (obviously) which in the states was known as ‘pure pop for now people’. Noted producer and former member of Brinsley Schwartz and Rockpile (alongside Dave Edmunds), Lowe was the first artist to appear on the (as was) fledging and now legendary Stiff label with ‘So it goes’. the repackaged 30th anniversary set gathers together all the available cuts from the alternative UK and US pressings additionally including seven bonus cuts. Mixing pub rock (‘so it goes’), 50’s styled bubblegum pop (‘little hitler’), new wave power pop a la Modern Lovers (‘heart of the city’) with humour and veiled sarcasm (check out the lip smacking sugar laced faux homage to the Bay City Rollers ’Rollers Show’) – despite its age the album appears to have succeeded where most of its contemporaries have sadly fallen short in that its stood the test of time. The site also provides a link from you can hear the album streamed in its entirety – well tasty.

Nick Lowe also appears on the cover mounted CD that adorns the festive edition of the Word (#59) with the quite slyly sublime ‘I trained her to love me’ culled from his ‘at my age’ full length – which we really must remember to add tom our wants lists over the coming days. Elsewhere among the 15 ‘best of 2007’ selection – prime cuts as far as we are concerned come courtesy of Amiina’s absolutely spellbinding and lazy eyed ‘rugla’ kindles with the same lilting resonance as was once the remit of Landshipping – elsewhere there’s the beguiling sonic imprint of Epic 45 who – well maybe its just me – appear to have been hogging a fair amount of tabloid column inches for their excellent ‘may your heart be the map’ set – though all said and done it’s the unlikely pairing of Martin and Eliza Carthy with Paul Weller that really stops you in your tracks – culled from the expansive ‘imagined village’ project which includes guest spots from Transglobal Underground, Tunng and Billy Bragg – ‘John Barleycorn’ is a dizzying spectacle of old skool folk meets new world – frankly so good that words fail us – your gathering rightly its on our shopping list forthwith. As to the magazine all your usual stuff which when combined makes this a thoroughly consistent good read – there’s your obligatory the best and worst of Xmas songs – though how Chris Rea managed to sneak into the favoured side of the deal is quite baffling perhaps the writer had been a little early at the sherry – mind you agreed over the worst list – what a motley crew – the kind of line up that has you dreading the winter months and office parties Further in this issue there’s a Doctor Who special focusing on the up coming Xmas special with Kylie ‘omnipresent’ Minogue – of course we love her to bits who doesn’t – just the right size for our Xmas twig – blimey just buy the damn thing. – twanged up psyche boogie from Munich, the Vibro-tones are a duo who if we didn’t know any better we’d swear had tripped out of the grooves of the ‘Pulp Fiction’ soundtrack, succinctly blending Morricone’s western styled scavenged dust relics with the conscious clarity of prime time Shadows these dudes devise well oiled V12 powered shade wearing surf nuggets from scratch (non more so than the aridly atmospheric Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet like ‘nova express’), these three featured cuties purr and side wind with devious ease incorporating elements of 50’s sourced primitive grind a la the Link with the uber cool stare you down black heart sheen of the Jesus and Mary Chain – just check out the primal voodoo boogie of ’non so lo’ with its looping riffs and latino accents. That said best of the set is the 60’s invested flower power popping shimmer of the Ramones spliced with early career Pastels ’I come’ – think we need to hear more and pretty darn soon.

And just before we round off this my space part of this particular missive two absolute gem like treats with which to leave you with, first featuring one of the best bands we’ve had the pleasure of hearing in a fair old while…. – it all started with an email and a link to an MP3, a simple message ’check this out I think you’ll love it’ or at least words to that effect. Several plays of said MP3 later and quick visit to their my space site and we were banging on to them how we needed to hear more, in fact so impressed we even pinged ’holy wholly’ (for that was indeed the track that gave us our introduction to Cody High School) immediately on the losing today top 5 chart which as observers familiar with these things will testify is a rare thing given they are unsigned and relatively untested. With an album at the mastering stage tentatively titled ‘last days of the suicide kids’ which the band are looking to self release, Cody (Come on Die Young – to give them their expanded name) High School are a secretive quartet who having only been together for a few months may well be tinkering about with what could be one of the early album highlights of next year if these three cuts are anything to judge by. Breezy 70’s styled drifting pop is the name of the game all delicately offset with sheens of tenderised pastel hues of west coast exquisiteness and the kind of soft lingering hazy laziness that was one time much the realm of Buffalo Springfield. Perfect to a fault these after glowing gems nibble ever so slightly at the more laid back catalogue of Teenage Fanclub while simultaneously investing elements of ’durable dream’ era Moviola, early career Summer Hymns and the odd dash of mid 70’s era Neil Young, ‘you get so alone’ is ready made for long summer evenings idly wiling the days end away beneath the shade of a tree while the slinky easy thrill of ‘it’s about time’ is so melodically astute in all things early 70’s styled super chilled soul pop it leaves you swooning with its slyly carved side winding buzz sawing codas. All said and done if ‘holy wholly’ had of come pre-packed adorned with New York City plates or tattoos then certain elements of the music press would be drooling and pissing themselves with excitement over this, with its lip smacking pop thrilled deep set snaking honeycombed fuzz buzzing groove – all at once sassy, slinky and sexily demurring this uber cool babe is a shade wearing sizzler that craftily imports the warming gulf streams of the west coast and sumptuously blends them in a deliciously addictive hybrid of glam and 50’s bubblegum wraps. We await that album with fevered anticipation.

And as a parting shot and to ensure your all snuggled up something of a tasty new rough mix from singled out favourites Kelman…….. – bugger me with a big stick the enigmatic and ever so crucial Kelman are busying themselves putting the finishing touches to their as yet untitled second full length due to do record rack damage sometime around March next year. As a sneak peak they’ve posted a rough cut of ‘shut a final door’ – a majestic tear stained beauty wrapped in delicate sheens of shimmer like strums that stab and punch holes in your defences in pretty much the same way as was once the forte of the Flaming Stars though here solemnly peering from the bottom of a hopeless glass of sorrow – undeniably aching stuff – Tindersticks, Wedding Present and Galaxie 500 fans be warned this will seduce, romance, caress and inevitably floor you. A bewitching drunken dandy from the arbiters of pain killer pop.

Ian Brown ‘Sister Rose’ (promo). Ian Brown? What him from the Stone Roses. Old chimp features makes half decent record, well it is the season of miracles I suppose though saying that we‘ve never cared for his solo work so the mere sight of a platter with his name adorned upon it is pretty horrific enough and that‘s even before we put the blighter on the hi-fi. But put it on the hi-fi we did and do you know what I’m happy to say our fingers were out of our ears in a jiffy and the normally reserved for painful listening experiences grimace which we keep in a jar just in arms reach for emergencies was tendered into a sly smile of relief. Culled from his ‘the world is yours’ full length, ’sister rose’ sees Brown getting his shit together in fine style, backed by Messrs Jones and Cook of Pistols fame ’sister rose’ is a hypnotic neo psychedelic snake charmer swept amid swirling strings and side winding riffs that coalesce to create hazily warmth filled eastern mantras atop which the shade adorned Brown ducks dives and shimmies with cool reproach.

Kate Nash ‘Pumpkin Soup’ (Fiction). Rounding off what’s been a pretty phenomenal year for Ms Nash that begun being a struggling unknown armed with a sackful of quirky tunes that quickly rooted themselves in the nations psyche with forest fire spreading word of mouth culminating in a hit album ’made of bricks’ and a shed load of awards. Lazily thrown in with the odiously catch all generic anchor that is the LDN set and often compared to Lily Allen which on one hand is no bad thing but then on the other so painfully off the mark as to make you wonder whether certain people have indeed chosen the right profession to be in. ’Pumpkin Soup’ her best (‘recorded’) outing to date and that includes the annoyingly addictive ’foundations’, sees her assuming a big beat armoury to her sound, the rhythms are still dinky, skewiff, dislocated as they devilishly zig zag their way past your defences – her clever word plays revealing her unending confusion as to playing of the love game is still in tact though this time amid the paranoiac confusion of mixed signals from her beau she’s obviously thought sod this and gone for the direct approach and rather than wearing her heart on her sleeve has tattooed the blighter on her forehead . A hit no doubt.

Wolf People ’Storm Cloud’ (Battered Ornaments). Release number 5 for the highly eclectic imprint Battered Ornaments who in recent weeks appear to have thawed out of their hibernation to come out to play having already planted one quite essential release upon us in the shape of that awesome Beneath Fire and Smoke 10”, now get set to turn heads and minds alike with the long awaited follow up to last years near perfect ‘October Fires’ debut (see missive 101) from Wolf People. This babe comes pressed up on limited quantities of bespoke sleeved 7 inch slabs of wax – 500 in all, the aforementioned debut flew from the racks so be warned no tears when they’re all snapped up. Led from the fore by the princely pied piper Jack Sharp, Wolf People are a travelling band of acid fried drop out minstrels – or so it would seem – who frequent a strange woodland world lost in the mists of time at the crossroads between reality and folklore occupied one would imagine by Cat Weazel. ’Storm Clouds’ sounds like a rarefied trippily spun hocus pocus relic from an era where the likes of Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators and Tomorrow bestrode the hi-fi’s of the clued up cognoscenti with their warped flavours and promises of astral plane trajectories. Embedded with a lushly hypnotic lysergically tipped melodic mantra, ‘Storm Clouds’ is decorated with mind erasing swirls of softly seductive psyche folk treads much reminiscent of Oddfellows Casino as though reworking Cream into chilled states that flickers and flutter in bliss like hazes craftily working their spellbinding potion all the time sumptuously braided by chorus’ of frazzled fuzz laden riffs. The deceptively funky and hallucinogenic ‘Cotton Strands’ over on the flip is festooned with flutes, dreamy harmonies and 60’ pastoral treatments and trips deliciously amid a flashback floorshow delicately underpinned by an exotic floral pageant made up of intertwining melodic threads drawn from Love, Traffic and Soft Machine – all at once enchanting and intoxicating its like partaking of some strangely sweet matured elixir and being inebriated on the timeless vibe of classically calibrated English psychedelic. Quite perfect if you ask me – joint single of the missive.

Unusual and Electric ‘Under the Skin’ EP (Zirkus). Third EP from Mark and Adam’s Unusual and Electric alter ego which by a quick arithmetic check means we’ve missed EP’s 1 and 2 to much gnashing of teeth – a two track turntable taste machine of sorts which unless I’m very much mistaken makes it not an EP at all as such but rather more a bog standard single affair. Am I being pedantic – I guess so. Anyhow gripping stuff, if this don’t get the toes a tapping, the hips a swinging and the body a gyrating cutting cool shapes on the floor then frankly we suspect you could be a corpse. ‘Mad Dogs’ is one funky little bastard, imagine Roy Budd’s theme from ’Get Carter’ given a sassy mutant skanked up dubbed out drum n bass re-cut by a collective headed up by Wagon Christ and Adrian Sherwood who aside bringing along a shed load of samples, grooves and multi faceted genre crossovers have managed to shoehorn in the odd kitchen sink or two and wrapped all the ingredients into a club floor rumbling party pack power house – kinda like Yello’s ‘the race’ but smoking better grade grass. ‘Deep Pitch’ features over on the flip which should appeal in the main to fans and admirers of the mighty Superimposers and Lemon Jelly – a huge ever growing spongy slice of wig flipping trippyness, a dub-tronic daydream replete with dissipating loops and whacked out chemically enhanced vibes – think upon it as a fried carnival of loony lunatics – of course your record collection needs it. Smoking stuff.

Ten City Nation ‘exhibition time again’ (self released). I feel apologies are due on this one (and it won’t be the first release featured here that’s a fair while old). Sadly this was one that got away and got itself lost – a spanking release which we hope isn’t lost on the band – who by now have probably split up and found careers as bank managers or some thing equally evil. Ten City Nation are a Suffolk based trio who judging by the quality of this three track EP could in time prove to be more than a match for most in terms of aggression, intensity and melodic muscle. This trio of tracks reveal an ensemble not content with being easily pigeonholed, while the raging tour de force ‘exhibition time again’ with its pummelling front line assault of searing riff attacks nailed to the floor by a killer chorus hook that’d make the QOTSA weep with jealousy may well be a ringer for early career Foo Fighters with their mindset well and truly attuned to Nirvana’s Wipers obsessed ‘Bleach’ – the parting shot the emotionally crushed ‘everyone’s a tourist’ with it needling intertwining cloud piercing riffs reveals an aching lovelorn mindset buzz sawing within their chemistry. That said both are no match for the monumental and refined ‘the air is on fire’ – dark, brooding and epic, this majestic babe mooches in the parched airless stratospheric reaches prickling and prowling amid cavernous cascades of atmospheric chimes momentarily erupting into life to scowl and strut in fearless fashion – damn smart if you ask me. Well worth nailing as your own.

Frightened Rabbit ‘Be less rude’ (Fat Cat). Another release that we found snugged down the back of the hi-fi forevermore thought lost. Sadly the press release which we suspect accompanied it is still AWOL. Anyway been a while since we had anything by Fat Cat since we somehow fell off their mailing list – ha ha – these things happen don’t you find. Anyhow Frightened Rabbit hail from Glasgow are now fully paid up members of the ever evolving Fat Cat roster and have (or should have) their self released ‘sing the greys’ full length polished, touched up, repackaged and doing brisk business at a decent record shop near you right about now and such a wonderful thing as we’ve heard it only for the blighter to go momentarily walkies to which as a result a crack squad of seek and search mercenaries have been despatched to root out. Two cuts feature here ‘be less rude’ the lead out track is clipped by a bitter sweetly happy sad shanty like feel upended by lashings of droned out keys (and unless we are very much mistaken liberally toasted with breezy harmonicas) and chugging guitars which all serve to come across sounding like prime time Pavement duelling with ‘Tommy’ era Wedding Present – fans of Decoration will swoon though the puzzling thing is why oh why does it remind me of Eddie and the Hot Rods? Flip side ‘the Greys’ with its stuttered stop start panic attack dynamics has all the urgency and seizure inducing hysteria of a cavalry regiment fronted by the Weddoes heading over hill to the rescue, slowly building to a steady but sure chest beating crescendo leaving not a dry eye in the house – quite a special thing if you ask me.

The Pony Collaboration ‘Fast Lane’ (Series 8). Another of those ‘blimey where the hell did that come from’ finds in the great pile of lost singles that we recently unearthed – although strictly speaking we are ahead of the game on this for once being that we reviewed it originally at Missive 135 which means – thankfully – that this is a spare we’ve been sent. Any how you can’t keep a good record down and blimey this is a bit of a belter. ‘Fast Lane’ is the kind of thing that frequently slips out of the stables of the Track and Field and Fortuna Pop imprints, vivacious, euphoric and a shimmering belle of loveable 60’s summer pop that sounds like some divine meeting between ‘lazy line’ era Belle and Sebastian and St Etienne – nuff said think. Flip side as previously noted is a ringer for the Tindersticks or better still sounds like reclining Kelman – which in our books makes it the bollocks wouldn’t you say?

MPD ‘Fruits of the forest’ EP (self released). Now I’m hate to sound like I’m beginning to get a bee in me bonnet about these things – but three tracks does not make an EP – okay fair do’s maybe it is just me – I’m suffering from the flu and I’m a tad short on patience – hey ho. MPD (which incidentally is not the Metropolitan Police Department – or at least we don’t think so) is a young and mysterious soul originating from Preston who according to the attending press release was one time member of a short lived combo by the name of Calderbank who split amid musical differences. Retuning to solitude to lick his wounds this shy eyed soul went back to drawing board dispensing of the collaborative assistance opting instead for the slow but painful process of nailing the sounds in his head culminating in the three cuts found on this debut showcasing release. These mercurial acoustic treats weave an alluring spell, the initial moments of ‘electrical’ the opening cut are infused with a bruised noire-ish shade much reminiscent of ‘murder ballads’ era Nick Cave, aching and longingly braided by sorrowful strings it soon unfurls magically as though a parting of the clouds has occurred to silkily woo and enchant with a haunting pastoral exquisiteness as if ’up the downstair’ era Porcupine Tree where flirting with a windswept Radiohead. ’the first time’ perhaps the weakest of the trio of cuts still has enough resolute bleakness about its being as to cut to the bone the steeliest of hearts though for me personally the best is left till last, ’refrain’ takes its cue from the quieter more intimate moments of Verve’s ’Urban Hymns’ before throwing a curveball

Circle ‘Vaahto’ (Trensmat). Is there anything better in life that having the latest fresh of the presses Trensmat release happily doing its thang on the turntable – well now you come to ask yes in fact there is and that’s two Trensmat platters doing their business on the hi-fi. We must admit it was as though Christmas had arrived one month early in our gaff this morning. The arrival of a familiar Irish postmarked parcel was hastily ripped open its contents immediately fed on the eager as hell turntable and the rest of the day subsequently put on hold while we savoured those all important slabs of ear gear. First up on the inspection blocks are Finland’s coolest dudes Circle who over the course of some 16 years now have graced the more clued up record buying cognoscenti with their defining brand of psyche kraut which to date has culminated in a bulging 20 plus album back catalogue. Pressed up in strictly limited quantities of dinked red wax (and which across its run out grooves has scratched ‘take a stress pill and think things over’ – rekindling a lost art) this baby offers up 12 minutes of mind morphing mutations set across two cuts, quite frankly just what the doctor ordered regardless of whether you wanted it or not in the first place. How best to describe both ‘Vaahto’ and ‘spektaakkelin kritiikki’ would be best summed up by having you imagine having your head forced into a psychedelic tumble dryer on the hottest possible setting. Alternatively you might prefer the notional bad assed krautrock. Whatever your chosen preference these brain mushing babies are the bollocks – ‘Vaahto’ is so brazenly uber cool it could house its own fashion collection, repetitive locked down looping mesmerising motorik grooves spliced with distressed harmonicas give this a deliciously dusty aspect to which fans of old school Echoboy and Sunray will swoon in bliss behind their shades to while casually basking amid a mind enlightening snake winding blues mantra that has you imagining a super chilled RL Burnside tangled up in some sort of amorphous progressive primitive space age stew curated by a meeting of mindsets belonging to Goblin and Neu! Flip cut ‘spektaakkelin kritiikki’ provides the best moment of the brace – the bastard offspring of sorts of Barrett’s ‘Lucifer Sam’ though on this occasion shot through with an edgy psychosis that’s been partly fed through Spacemen 3’s fried back catalogue and then pummelled unrecognizable by the minimalist austere scarring of post punk intonations (think Left Hand’s ‘minus eight’ – second mention same missive) – stunningly bleak if you ask me. There’s a by all accounts absolutely essential full length kicking around entitled ‘the blaze game’ via Conspiracy which features Circle and Sunburned Hand of the Man going head to a head for the mother of all jamming sessions under the guise of Sunburned Circle.

The Telescopes ‘Another Whip’ (Trensmat). Would you believe it we’ve actually mislaid our copy – foolishly – so this is just a warning call -of course it’s already sold out on pre-release alone though we advise you check with the usual Trensmat stockists – we’ll nail this blighter down and get it reviewed over the weekend. Promise. Well frankly two Trensmat releases in one missive – that’s plainly asking for trouble – don’t want to get spoiling you too much now do we?

Muller and Patton ‘Hows it done’ (Vexin). We don’t mind admitting that since this little cutie arrived at the singled out shoe box sized record shed its been hogging the hi-fi and into the bargain causing a fair amount of swooning from this here scribe. A taster no less for the simply superb would be lemon popsicle opera that is their second full length – ’Jonathan and Bailey’. Sumptuously blending the cheesy with the classical the duo – Jaye Muller and Ben Patton now relocated in London – apply the key note examples of the pristine pop manual to sound, the completed translation a breathlessly audacious and out of step collection of sugar laced breezy west coast fired tuneage that demands you never leave its presence until the dying crackles of the stylus leaving the run out vinyl grooves conclude. Three teaser cuts feature here all culled from Act 2 of the aforementioned set (which before we forget even has an intermission break – how cool is that?). Think Dean Friedman (especially on the bitter sweet and cleverly phrased wordplay of ‘you obnoxious little brat’), Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alan Price, a youthful Billy Joel and the Beach Boys all locked in a studio charged with the task of concocting a lilting effervescent pop dream. Not since Ben Folds 5’s self titled debut has a musical union been so delicately explicit in their appreciation for the fine art of lovelorn symphonic melodic craft, ‘hows it done’ shimmers with 60’s sultriness and 50’s bubblegum, melting harmonies, 70’s basked zig zagging riffs set to a honey hued re-scripting as were at ‘spread a little happinss’. That said best of the set ‘the Massachusetts slumber party massacre’ manages to arrest your defences like some potently incurable virus, from its ‘over the rainbow’ introduction it freewheels superbly incorporating all manner of enticing tricks and traps with which to draw you in – from the ‘uh oh’ comedic use of the saxophone that strangely sounds like a kazoo, the faux Hitchcockian string slashes, the Beatles-esque dreamscaping flute montages a la ‘strawberry fields’ to the off kilter buzz sawed power pop throb – this goofily purring babe occupies similar pop orbits to both the criminally undervalued Epicycle and the wilfully overlooked Eskimos – frankly there’s nothing else for it other than to pin upon it the joint single of the missive tag.

Okay plenty of Owl Service related goodies flying around our gaff at the moment – though momentarily we seem to have mislaid their debut album ‘A garland of song’ – and not for the first time since it arrived here romancing its way into our life. Beautifully crafted and sadly out of print at the moment though you should be able to nail yourself a download of it with four additional cuts via – though word has it Southern Records have picked it up and are intending to re-release it early next year on CD and vinyl formats (in which case we’ll be nabbing a copy of each – surely we can’t lose a 12” slab of vinyl – can we – oh I don’t know – it has been known). Any how enough tittle tattle – as said several releases have come via our way recently. Those familiar with the Owl Service will be all to aware that this was a one time single handed mystical folk adventure undertaken by one Steven Collins who on the evidence of what we‘ve heard so far appears to have unearthed a somewhat long lost and (we assume) overgrown pathway linking the present to the past along which he‘s seem fit to skip to and forth along with carefree abandon. These days following acclaimed outings via Static Caravan (‘Cine’) and having featured on the simply superb double disc collection put out by Cold Spring records entitled ‘John Barleycorn Reborn’ (where he rubs shoulders with the likes of Peter Ulrich, Alphane Moon, Quickthorn and a whole host of others awaiting affection and love on the underground folk scene) – the Owl Service has expanded into a full compliment even being known to partake in the odd live appearance or two.

Releases via their own Hobby Horse imprint arrive as hand crafted beauties in ever limited quantities – one such being the 8 track ‘Midwinter Concert’ collection. Originally due to be a gig only available affair – however pressing plant cock ups meant it was delayed and made available for a limited period via the Midwich Cuckoos site at As said featuring 4 acts cutting up amongst themselves 8 tracks – the attending parties being Sharron Kraus, Nancy Wallace, the Straw Bear Band and of course a trio of (quite possibly) delights from the Owl Service – we say quite possibly because we’ve have tried playing this on all known devices and nowt, even the PC coughs and splutters barking at us that the disc is blank – oh dear. Steven if you are reading this can you re-do please. Anyhow looks a treat and includes the usual inserts we’ve all come to know and love.

Elsewhere – and again long since deleted (there where only 30 hand numbered copies of this skulking around) is the delightful 10 track ’Chime Hours – live in a room, Autumn 2007’ set. Again a superbly trimmed hand made thing of beauty (believe you me these will be serious collectors pieces in years to come) replete with the usual inserts this aural document catches Steven Collins (nee the Owl Service) performing a rehearsal session in the intimacy of his dining room along with his extended family of musicians who helped record ’A garland of song’ preparing for the ensembles first full band compliment live appearance in support of Lisa Knapp. As said ten tracks feature here (six if you don’t count the alternate re-takes) which apart from ’red haired boy’ and ’a child’s calendar’ all feature on the aforementioned deleted debut full length ’a garland of song’. Despite the minimalist setting the recordings are superbly worked and lose none of their integrity – in fact the first take of ’the rolling of the stones’ actually improves immensely on the original, a gorgeously serenading marriage of Gaelic classicism and timeless medieval styled rustic folk eliciting a spellbinding slice of maypole flirting. Elsewhere ’Apple tree man’ is so delicately unyielding it woos and enchants in in a celebrated union that sits somewhere between Dead Can Dance and Circulus both on location on Summerisle. Then there’s the quite transfixing festivities of the violin / mandolin saturated sprightly village green hoe-down that is ’red haired boy’. Yet for us nothing quite eclipses the disarming ’a child’s calendar’ here found examined twice – a frail, fragile and delectably demurring floral bouquet of pastoral beauty that’s both eloquent and enchanting – a honey due lovelorn gem – a trembling treatise to the seasons past.

Alas we don’t like to rub these things in but we must admit to being more than a tad privileged in having our very own limited edition hand numbered 1 of 1 copy of this compilation of various Owl Service releases. Admittedly we’ve had this for a fair while but stupidly mislaid the blighter in the great CD mountain that seems to be threatening to take over our ‘living’ space. 8 tracks feature here that cull together the ’Cine’ and ’straight on till morning’ sets as well as including ’north country maid’ prized from the aforementioned must have ’John Barleycorn Reborn’ double disc set. Of course we reviewed ’Cine’ when it originally came out in its ultra limited to 30 pressing (and again when it was reprised by Static Caravan) – see – three sumptuous and faithfully crafted re-appraisals of 70’s cult soundtracks – the Wicker Man, Psychomania and Girl on a Motorcycle. In that same review we also cast an eye over the Owl Service’s impeccable debut outing ‘Wake the Vaulted Echo’ – the cuts that make up the four tracks that appeared on the limited ‘straight till morning’ are commissioned remixes by a select number of invited guest musicians. The Heavenly Music Corporation are the first up with their ‘Tigon mix’ of the lead track ‘Wake the Vaulted Echo’ here repatriated masterfully as a timid and fragile glacial heartbreaker replete with looping piano motifs and a breathlessly beguiling celestial sheen peppered with majestic monastic ambient sweeps. Lazy Comet get to grips with ’the two magicians’ and hook it up as ’magicians on comets’ mix to impart a lazy eyed after lights out seductively off kilter funk some down tempo spot of jiggling bliss. In the hands of Pelican Island ’fine horseman’ is given a deliciously sparse though vaguely warming and alluring shipping forecast styled becalming melting away haziness that’s braided by shuffling beats and an ostensibly out there vibe. The Dave Yates Compartment round up the pack to re-drill ’Interlude I + II’ and give it an eerily trippy almost hallucinogenic transcendental texture – essetial if you ask me though how you’re gonna lay your hands on a copy is anyone’s guess.

Hobby Horse / Owl Service plans for 2008 – well the much tooted lathe vinyl series should shortly see the day – initial releases will see the Straw Bear Band and of course the Owl Service laying down the grooves so to speak, the former are busying away at the ’Eccentric Heart’ project while the latter are planning to release not only an EP tentatively titled ’the fabric of folk’ but are also mooted to be planning a mini album for the legendary (well in gaff anyway) Oggum imprint ’the midnight house’.

And to round up this extended Hobby Horse spot news of a freebie download via the Woven Whispers site (for address see above) featuring the debut release by the Kittiwakes entitled ‘lofoten calling’. Currently busying themselves recording their debut full length this free to rip four track EP provides for a taster of the mercurial delights that await, The Kittiwakes are a Brit folk trio who it seems craft timeless and magical acoustically dappled folk treats – gentle and alluring ostensibly gaelic in sound texture and gorgeously flighty braided as they are by corteges of mandolins, accordions and violins. Led from the fore by vocalist Kate Waterfield these traditional old school village fayre sorts are dedicated and hitherto inspired by the Lofoten Islands which are apparently situated in the upper artic circle just above Norway – we suggest you fall head long in to the arms of the charmingly cute sweetly skipping and knee slapping frolicking feast that is the shanty like ‘Ole Petter’ – delicious.

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