Not too long ago Fruits de Mer Records put forth the question, Whatever Happened to the Soft Hearted Scientist?Then proceeded to answer it on that sprawling overview of Cardiff’s Soft Hearted Scientists.What happened right after is anybody’s guess, but the important thing is what is happening now. And that would be False Lights. If you do a cursory poke on SHS, you usually get some reference to Floyd. Unfortunately, that’s become sort of a catch-all comparison these days. Most of that can probably be blamed on Floyd’s own sprawl that covers more ground than the casual consumer thinks. Since pigeon-holing SHS is as hard as putting Floyd in a box, it seems like a good place to start. There is a Syd/Floyd vibe…subtle, but there. From a slight nasal twang in some vocals, to a whimsical and skewed lyrical palette that touches on Pegasus, honey bees, and a giant squid, you can see where that comparison comes from. Even though it’s a surface comparison, it’s easy to do since it’s effortless. Which leads to our next point: False Lights is itself effortless. Each song, the flow from one to the next, is so organic and aerodynamic it’s even easier to overlook the craft and construction, let alone the playing. Infinitely hummable and as welcoming as an old comfy chair, False Lights is saturated with a warmth and intimacy that borders on narcotic. Country, folk, psych, 60′s psych/pop, pale prog tendencies…all tumble out. SHS are so good at executing it all it seems without agenda, which to these ears makes a point far beyond the love they obviously have for their alchemy. It drives home a commitment that is beyond the band, one that is aimed at songwriting, at music—all kinds—and to the wealth of influences they absorb into their own comfy chair. The deliciously U.K. aura they exude puts them in the circle of other pop-savants like Gorky’s, Super Furry Animals, XTC and…Syd…. Casually, of course. The synthesis of sounds eclipse genre by rendering categorization useless. The casual listener introduced above won’t see that. They’ll see the buoyant, spritely nature of some of the tunes and the lyrics as something tossed off. Get down in it and revel in a richness often not found in pop—good pop–and it quickly becomes obvious that there is much, much more going on…from being whip-smart and witty, to complex and impeccably crafted. Taking a partial clue from the title, and one in reverse, SHS shine with a light that is as inescapable as the lure of music…without one false note.
Panorama :: Soft Hearted Scientists :: False Lights (2013, The Hip Replacement)
We recently got introduced to Jim Guittard, ‘a 4th Generation Musician and 2nd Generation Writer,’ and his off-center (certainly not to the right) brand of folk/psych rock. He’s got a wealth of material, the latest being Forward, released last year. There’s a definite 60s slant, from the bare bones, rootsy based singer-songwriting to the lyrical content, updated for the modern times of course, made obvious on cuts like War is Fun or Ballad of Homeland Security. Vocally its skewed like his lo-fi concoctions, but laced with his commentary and subject matter, it quickly leaves behind any humorous vibe that might have lured you in from the get go.
It’s No Fun But I’m Ok :: Jim Guittard :: Forward (2012, Jim Guittard)
Dealing primarily with government and social issues, it’s eccentric, but serious. Forward pokes it’s head into other grooves as well on some instrumental tracks that marry his psych vibe with more modern tangents, like the great Raga. Occupy Monotony and Smoothie veer into the strange lands more than some others; Smoothie especially conjures up a definite atmosphere that’s one part unsettling and one part enticing…a dose for each ear. Mr. Groove isanother instrumental oddity that, like the others, isn’t at odds with the more singer-songwriter cuts. Mr. Groove is a definite kindred spirit to a great American, Stan Ridgway. Like Ridgway, there’s a country element that runs through, as bent as it might get. From what I gather, Guittard is a one-many citizen army of sorts, but he doesn’t operate in a total vacuum. He’s collaborated with Henry McGuinn, son of Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) in the Ragas as well as writing with Dominica Campanella of The Quarter After on his album California Daze, that Guittard describes as paying ’tribute to the birth of the Neo-Psychedelic scene that emerged beginning in 2000 in Silverlake, California with groups such as the Beachwood Sparks, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Quarter After, smallstone, the Warlocks, the Tyde, and the Belle Isle.’
You can find Guittard’s music at his Jamendo outpost and at jimguittard.com. The wonderful Homemade Lofi Psych Blog has an interview with Guittard with more info on where he’s coming from, as well as been.
A surprising indirect digression via Transubstans Records, ‘sister’ label Sakuntala Records offers up Swedish singer/songwriter Emma Nordenstam’s third platter. Nordenstam handles the instruments for the most part, but there is another surprise in store with members of My Brother the Wind making an appearance on the last cut, mini-epic The Opening Within. Once The Opening Within stretches out its legs and grow feathers, it really makes sense. The lengthiest of the cuts, it’s a nicely placed subtle crest to ride out the close with; summation and microcosm of Response. There’s plenty of old-school folk buttons that should be pressed by Response To The Birddream, but it’s certainly a record of the now, especially with the cut above, the vibrating Cowboy or the subtle electronic adds on I’m In Shadow in the fold. The opening title cut sets the tone, and pace, for most of Response. Starting off like a lo-fi crackling warm fire, it invites you to have a seat while the rest of the record leisurely opens up. Nothing is shouted here, nor does it need to be. Response seems to be more about conversation than confrontation, maybe with a touch of confession thrown in for good measure. Nordenstam has a set of lilting, alluring pipes that dovetail right in with her songs, and how she executes them. Or responds to them.
Long Since Gone :: Emma Nordenstam :: Response to the Birddream (2013, Sakuntala Records)
“These recordings, along with a handful of photos and an extensive set of ‘explanatory’ notes, were passed to Folk Police Recordings by a musician loosely associated with the label. They were given to him by an obsessive collector of rare folk and psychedelia who has asked us to respect his anonymity. We can tell you nothing about Frugal Puritan – the album or the band. We can’t tell you when or where the songs were recorded, who wrote them or who plays on them. The sleeve notes tell a tale of utopian dreams turning into nightmares, of Jesus Freaks metamorphosising into Crowley-obsessed occultists, of innocents turning from the light and slipping into a darkness of drug-fuelled orgies and madness.”
Whether a believer or non-believer, Frugal Puritan have plenty of common ground, in one form or another, to meet on…and agree on. Get over it…hot tempers cause arguments, so take it some place else…Frugal Puritan, for all the press mystery, isn’t hiding where it’s coming from or the long, long history trail behind them. Frugal Puritan—possible intentions asides—is a soothing balm of pastoral psych folk, mixing in enough dynamics and shifts to keep it from becoming a blurry—and starry—eyed wash of wafting questions and twee ruminations. From the lilting opener Dives and Lazarus Intro to the equally calming process of Raising the Dead, Frugal Puritan keep the touch light without selling the depth short by resorting to fawning. They’re equally at home getting a jubilee going with (Give the Lord a) Handclap, an upbeat whirl that takes the familiar pitter-patter akin to Tull’s Fat Man and shods the feet with their own shoes to get it through the eye of the needle. Seven Stars dips into darker waters, going down for a lengthy dive, picking up some fuzz and lo-fi psych freak by the end. Dives and Lazarus Outro takes you out with a deceptive wink and nudge showing that Frugal Puritan is far more well-rounded and worldly than might appear on the surface. Though roots lie in Christian folk, Frugal Puritan shares those with ‘secular’ concerns—and flavors—that extend a hand across the aisle…and the pew. Believe it or not.
Chris Sherman, taking a break from Sky Picnic and eating cereal, has a wonderfully languorous solo EP floating about going by the name of Sandalwood Haze. All but one cut were gestating during Sky Picnic’s Paint Me A Dream, so there’s obviously no mistaking Chris’ day job and its own haze, but as he tells it, ‘Three-fourths of the songs are deeply rooted in psychedelic folk sounds, while the closing track comes from my flirtation with writing film music…In many ways, these songs can be seen as compliments to Sky Picnic’s output…’ Indeed, but they also make up a shimmering gem of a statement on their own. Whether they’re slow-moving and pensive like the opener Time Must Have Stopped or pick up a slight Norwegian Wood-ish updraft like the all-too-brief Swirling Thoughts, Sherman keeps the waking edge billowing and free of sticky inertia. The title cut stretches the longest legs here and earns every right to do so. Like everything else here, it’s a rich smoky mix of the earthy and the ethereal, both sides working together for escape in tandem. Preponderance of the Great, more filmic as Sherman said, wordlessly wraps it up leaving a few embers to put in your pocket to take with you. Though it may come from a different place than the other cuts, it’s seamlessly right at home here with the others. The same can be said for Sherman’s work with Sky Picnic, and his dreamy digressions here.
“Our brand of psychedelia features council tax and second-hand cars as well as the usual psychedelic feelings of transcendence.”—Nathan Hall, Scientist
If Fruits de Mer are going to deviate from their usual flight-plan and deliver an opus of all originals, then they couldn’t have offered up the copilot seat to many better than Cardiff’s Soft Hearted Scientists. The self-professed purveyors of “kitchen sink psychedelia” have their catalog and a few exclusivities presented on Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists. Started in 2001 after Nathan Hall and Dylan Line become disenchanted with a medievally smitten mime troupe, they began making cassettes at Hall’s house. From there, technological savvy blossomed, fellow kitchen-sinkers were accumulated and their manifesto was born. Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists is a sprawling set of…sprawling sounds, gloriously incapable of being categorized or quantified. Again in their words (…they seem to know best. They are men of science…), they strive for ‘Sound policies for a better world.’ They succeed. It’s impossible to walk away from their blended flavors of all kinds of psychedelia, folk, prog, pop and oddness without feeling this is something good on this rock. That goes double when they start winking. Intended to be a single album from FdM, it’s easily to realize why it grew into the 2LP and 7″ gift it is when the whittling became nigh on impossible. Filler free and never bloated, Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists isfull to the lip-smacking brim. Whether they stick to the usual handful of minutes for a song, or stretch their stilts on the 10 minute The Catepillar Song, Soft Hearted Scientists have such an innate feel for what they do, and how they want to do it, it’s easy to get lost in the lushness and overlook the intricacies and dew-drop details. And that’s probably the whole point; immersion in the kitchen sink. Without going down the drain. If you can draw a straight line from the likes of The Beatles, Floyd, Traffic…to modern maestros like The Beta Band and fellow countrymen Super Furry Animals, then you’ve not only missed the point, you probably took the long way around. And overlooked a lot along the way. Soft Heart Scientist are here to show you what happened in between.
Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists is available as limited edition vinyl, of course, from Fruits de Mer Records.
Beaulieu Porch, the confectionary front stoop of Salisbury based Simon Berry’s one-man shop, recently made a grand showing in the 2012 Shindig! Writers’ Poll and a sampling of the nuggets in Beaulieu Porch make it clear why. It also makes clear (or one more damn good reason among many) that forgoing a year-end top rundown—or at the very least a timely one, let alone inclusive—here makes perfect sense. With the spigot now endlessly running keeping up is impossible, but if resources where in similar supply as that hallowed mag, Beaulieu Porch would have surely floated effortlessly to the upper regions…just as effortlessly as the sounds waft from Berry’s Porch. It is indeed a beautiful place. It’s so commonplace to say that bands that embrace a brimming, lush psych-pop stance are ‘Beatle-esque’ that the statement loses impact. And scope. The magical mystery tour didn’t stop there, or then. Berry is highly in tune to passengers picked up along the way, and Beaulieu Porch is a testament to all the singular pop-savants that have floated downstream since. More than the succulent pop sounds, the watery melodies, crunch and strum, or Berry’s downy and uplifting vocals, it’s the songs that stay front and center. Each song is a gem in its own right, and when all put together you get a box of pop-candy that leaves you licking your fingers for just a little bit more. There’s euphoric, blissful peaks in plenty as well as rapturous longing in cuts like the gorgeous Greencroft Street or the Love-ish Sweden. Lest anyone get the wrong impression, it’s not all pixie sticks by a long shot, made clear by punchy porch rockers (more on that in a minute) like Raspberry Babies or Laminations Are Loaded. In bites, or as a whole, Berry’s washes of sounds flow and cascade with kaleidoscopic colors that crest at a vantage point where you can see that Strawberry Fields really do go on forever.
If you like your sweets made with a touch more granulated sugar, Berry can satisfy that tooth also with his other project, Spider 72. Seven. has all the pop surge of Beaulieu Porch, frosted with a bit of glam and plenty of thick, chunky chords. Coursing out as naturally as Beaulieu Porch, there’s no mistaking its the same cap’n working the rudder. This time downstream though, the waters percolate as Berry shoots some pop rapids, navigating as assuredly as above. Cuts like the amped Giant Supermen and Devolution are where power and psych pop meet head on for a celebration that oozes into every other track, and between your teeth. There’s no sugar substitutes here, and neither does it slip into a saccharine quagmire. Infused with his enthusiasm and sheer exuberance, this is heartfelt stuff. As much as Beaulieu Porch.
Take a bite. Take two. And for once, forget about brushing and just enjoy.
The West Country’s The Honey Pot debut their sweet sounds To The Edge Of The World this February via a new partnership between Mega Dodo and Psychedandy Records. One spin through and it’s not surprising that Psychedandy, home of Icarus Peel, is half of the conduit. Sharing much of Peel’s appeal and mission, The Honey Pot are purveyors of psych pop that is a bit folky, a touch groovy and thoroughly English (spare a tuppence for some butterscotch ice cream and curried spam?). Full of ‘black penny grooves’ sprinkled with a dusting of whimsy, The Honey Pot nimbly keep their tunes from becoming treacly, or worse yet, twee. Name-checking a rich history full of the likes of The Hollies, The Kinks, Donovan…you know the candy jar we’re talking about…To The Edge Of The World offers up as diverse a box of goods as you’d expect with that lineage. Vocal duties, split between the sexes, work to serve the songs’ best interests whether it’s more pastoral oriented fare or more outright hazy psych provisions. Though firmly rooted in that era above, The Honey Pot still keep the sound current…and currant. Opting for a lighter, frosted touch that keeps the melody up front rather than drenched in fatty sonics, To The Edge Of The World should please the sweet tooth, as well as leave a little something sticking to the ribs.
Tuppence For Your Thoughts :: The Honey Pot :: To The Edge Of The World (2013, Mega Dodo/Psychedandy Records)
“Well, you got some sanctified rural acid rock, jubilant space-synth testifying, interplanetary ritual ethno-foraging (Mars bass), and a solid helping of hellfire’n’brimstone.”
PA’s Evening Fires newest, Light From On High, is certainly that, and more. And I’m here to testify. With a catalog that is as diverse, cohesive and enriching as anyone peddling that old-time rural acid rock, Evening Fires have made it very clear who has salvation and who is hawking watered down snake oil. There isn’t much overt about Evening Fires, there’s nothing that needs to scream for attention. They judiciously spend the silver from the collection plate on subtlety in craft and execution. The richness, and satisfaction, of Light From On High is the proof. And it’s a strong proof; a legion of influences and touchstones are distilled through their pipes that to name check them all for the sake of description does them, and Evening Fires, a disservice. Quantifying it all thins the experience to gruel, and walking away from this one hungry is no one’s fault but your own. And a sin. As you move from cut to cut you’ll find yourself gliding through an eco-system as interconnected and self-sustaining as any. Evening Fires make living, breathing music. Music that is anchored in Mother Earth, yet floats up and disperses until you’re not sure if they are under that canopy of buzzing stars or if they were the ones who put them there. Distillation was mentioned earlier, and Evening Fires themselves say ‘The refining process is key: Original recordings were gathered in root cellars, churches, and all-wooden rooms around central PA.’ Which makes perfect sense; their music goes far beyond pigeon-holes of psych folk or prog so why should their studio be anything less than encompassing? All of this filters into a unique and deep voice that is both its own, and part of something much bigger than itself, something that’s been going on for a long time. Their latest is also one of the most unlikely, and hands down finest, space rock (yes) records to come down, well, from on high in a long time. Unexpected? Maybe, but that’s what this is supposed to be about. To these often pagan ears, that makes Evening Fires a quintessential–and timeless–American band and Light From On High one of the finest of this or any other year.
The Molten Fingertip Of God Almighty :: Evening Fires :: Light From On High (2012, Deep Water Acres)
Brother Ong (Mike Tamburo) transfers from creation to vibration as he continues his explorations of folk and Indian music on his latest Deep Water Acres release. It’s tempting to say that Deep Water Vibration picks up where Deep Water Creation ends, butas both show, Brother Ong isn’t about edges, or stops and starts. In the broader and more encompassing sense, it’s about the cycle. With a focus on the Indian shahi baaja, Brother Ong weaves another meditative blanket of sound that recalls “extended kosmische trance-outs” that aim at both the astral and spiritual travelers. Vibrations and transmissions come via two long cuts with the soothing and gentle brief drone of Six White Houses connecting Deep Memory Of A Past Projection and Cycles or Sagas. Whether the trips are inner or otherworldly, Brother Ong makes them both rooted, exotic and reachable with the choice of tools and a light-handed, and at times fleeting, touch. Holistic and hallucinatory, Deep Water Vibrations is as much a part of Deep Water Creation as it is a continuation.
Deep Memory Of A Past Projection :: Brother Ong :: Deep Water Vibration (2012, Deep Water Acres)
"This show is 110% … one of the most consistently awesome programs we have come across."
The Sunrise Ocean Bender sets sail every Monday morning, 1 – 3 a.m. on WRIR lp 97.3 FM, to find something for your ears, and something for your head … From psych to prog to pop and whatever tributary we can find on the way … and right back around again. There might be a map, but the destination is up for grabs. If it all goes right, we may just get lost. Meet me at the muster station … it might be a long week.