Welcome to the first Some Velvet Mixtape column of 2018. It's taken a few months to get off the ground, but the plan is to drop them more regularly from now on, so the format has changed slightly. Rather than just putting together a long list of bands every six months, we're going to be focusing on live shows, interviews, new albums, and re-issues all from the world of shoegaze, psychedelia, noise, and dream pop.
Already 2018 has delivered some fantastic records and Some Velvet Mixtape selects its favourite ten so far this year. The age of the reissue is also well and truly upon us so this month, the focus is on ///Codename: Dustsucker by legendary experimental outfit Bark Psychosis.
First, let's start with a gig by one of the finest acts to grace the Creation Records stable...
SWERVEDRIVER @ Dryden Street Social, Leicester.
So many acts have toured their seminal albums in recent years that the whole schtick is starting to feel a little tired. While the likes of 'Psychocandy and Daydream Nation could never sound tired after a million listens, there's probably a cut-off point to be had somewhere down the line. However, every now and then, someone comes along from yesteryear to revitalise the format once more.
Take Swervedriver for example, a band who if truth be told, never really went away. Instead, guitarist, singer, and founder member Adam Franklin merely put the band on indefinite hiatus while working on other projects. Nevertheless, their sound has constantly evolved, even between their first two records which we're here to celebrate this evening.
1991's Raise and its successor Mezcal Head might have emerged from the same era yet sonically and structurally they're poles apart. Where the former's raw energy identified Swervedriver as the most likely UK challengers to the throne Dinosaur Jr and their slacker ilk, their follow-up highlighted the band as genre-transcending experimentalists only too willing to toss a spanner or three in the works to see what happens.
Of course, that may have been in part to the band replacing their entire rhythm section between records. The only constants being Franklin and fellow guitarist Jimmy Hartridge as is also the case today. The production skills of Alan Moulder also loom in the background, clearly giving Mezcal Head a more rounded feel than that of its predecessor.
So this evening, as Mezcal Head approaches its 25th anniversary, becomes something of an acid test. Two albums, two sets, one after the other. There's an air of anticipation in the room as fans both old and new split into two camps; those in thrall to the full-on squall of Raise and those more enamoured by Mezcal Head's diversity. Never the twain shall meet until this evening.
With regular bass player Mick Quinn unavailable for this tour, Ben Ellis from Iggy Pop's band stands in as replacement. Yet alongside powerhouse drummer Mikey Jones, they provide the crucial rhythmic backdrop to Franklin and Hartridge's full throttle onslaught. And so it begins, the familiar strains of 'Sci-Flier' quickly segueing into 'Pile Up' before 'Son Of A Mustang Ford', undoubtedly the gateway entry point for most if not all present this evening, packs a powerful punch.
It's on the sludgier numbers like 'Feel So Real' and 'Sandblasted' where Swervedriver hint at what came after, both veering away from the US alt-rock formula that influenced their earliest wares. As 'Lead Me Where You Dare' brings the first set to a close, it's an ample time to reflect on the album that launched their career. Sounding unequivocally like no other British act at that time, it's easy to see why they're still held in such high regard.
So when Franklin and co return for their second set, the dye is already cast. 'For Seeking Heat' serves as a perfect bridge between the two albums, it's blistering energy not too dissimilar to that which powers Raise from start to finish, yet also daring to go where its creators hadn't previously ventured before. Lead single 'Duel', still their highest charting record having reached the dizzy heights of number sixty back in 1993, initiates the evening's first moshpit.
Such fervour continues throughout Mezcal Head's unpredictable ride, even through album tracks like 'Harry & Maggie' and 'A Change Is Gonna Come', both of which wouldn't have sounded out of place as 45s themselves back in the day. 'Last Train To Satansville' is still an enthralling spaghetti western of sorts, while 'Girl On A Motorbike' and penultimate number 'Duress' illustrate the level of progress made between albums. The latter in particular, it's dub handle reminiscent of Studio One at its finest.
Returning for an encore that sees non-album single and live favourite 'Never Lose That Feeling' dispatched with all the grace and fury of a band still in their infancy. It's fair to say they haven't lost that feeling yet, and with a new album Remembering Forwards imminent, probably never will any time soon.
Without further ado, here are 10 albums that define 2018 to date starting with...
AIR FORMATION: Near Miss
Hard to believe that Air Formation have been around for 20 years now, albeit in various guises during their embryonic stages. Having released their last EP Were We Ever Here back in 2015, the Brighton five-piece set to work on their fourth long-player and almost three years later, Near Miss is with us. What's more, it compares with the band's finest recordings to date, drawing on their now signature atmospheric sound alongside Matt Bartram's distinctive whisper.
Recorded in just two days with esteemed producer Pat Collier and released on Club AC30 in March, it represents another exquisite addition to a near flawless canon that once again highlights Air Formation as one of the finest exponents of their ilk this century. Currently playing a couple of shows around their hometown and London in support of the LP which we're led to believe could be extended beyond that part of the world in the coming months.
BLOODY KNIVES: White Light Black Moon
With their roots in both the punk rock and noise scenes, Austin's Bloody Knives are a band that defy genre classification. Which is probably just as well because they've spent the past decade confounding listeners with their aural assaults. Comparisons to the likes of A Place To Bury Strangers, Nine Inch Nails and even Atari Teenage Riot have seen them pick up a disparate legion of fans over the course of their existence.
Last month saw the release of the band's fourth LP, White Light Black Moon. Consisting of ten (eleven if you include 52 seconds long closer 'Prelude' which grinds the album to an incendiary halt) distinctively loud pieces of sonic vitriol, the trio - Preston Maddox (vocals, bass), Jake McCown (drums), Jack O'Hara Harris (guitar) - haven't so much hit upon a winning formula as turned it inside out to fit their own agenda, and the results make for one intelligent melee of noise and confusion.
Even more exciting is the fact they're back in the UK in October, playing nine shows - including one for this very column in Nottingham on 19th. Simply not to be missed!
CATCH THE BREEZE: Glow
OK, so maybe naming your band after one of Slowdive's best known songs might not be the greatest idea if you don't want to draw attention to yourselves. However, when you've an armoury of songs as good as this trio it would be churlish not to want the whole world to hear them.
Based in the Danish city of Aarhus, which is where DiS first clapped eyes on them at last year's SPOT Festival, Catch The Breeze have taken their time putting together Glow, their first of hopefully many records. Recorded by Rasmus Bredvig (aka "The Sound of Aarhus") at the city's TapeTown studio last year. Glow marks the culmination of four years' worth of hard work since their first EP and should herald a bright future for its creators.
Hailing from Athens, Chickn are something of an unknown quantity outside of their homeland. Their self-titled debut came out two years ago to a cavalcade of praise back home, and follow-up Wowsers! looks set to be the record that launches them to audiences farther afield.
Drawing on influences that range from Can to Ariel Pink, Frank Zappa to Judie Tzuke, and Spiritualized to Sun Ra, Wowsers! is a delectably eclectic mix of swtyles and sounds that thinks outside the box and ultimately goes beyond any form of compartmentalisation. Recorded over the latter part of last year and early part of this, Wowsers! is out now on Inner Ear Records and well worth the time, money and effort of tracking down.
DIE NERVEN: Fake
This Stuttgart based trio have been bludgeoning synapses for the past eight years. As with all the best bands, Die Nerven aren't the types to compromise or concentrate on one single genre alone. Instead, their music is a frenetic fusion of punk rock, post rock, noise, shoegaze and even the odd metal riff for good measure. It's this element of surprise that's made each of their four albums to date "must owns", separating them from many of their comfortable peers.
The most recent of these, Fake, came out last month on Glitterhouse Records and combines all the facets of its predecessors that make Die Nerven one of the most unnerving forces around right now. Check them out.
ECHO LADIES: Pink Noise
Malmo has been at the epicenter of Sweden's musical underground recently with Fews and Hater both making a big impression elsewhere. We predict the next name to be added to that illustrious list will be Echo Ladies, a trio whose songs evoke a bitter yet ultimately sweet taste. Inspired by the likes of The Cure, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, and New Order, their skewered take on all things pop throws a host of twists and turns throughout the eight pieces of music that make up Pink Noise.
Following on from the band's self-titled EP which came out earlier this year, Pink Noise is released on 8th June through Sonic Cathedral and is well worth the pre-order entrance fee.
LOWTIDE: Southern Mind
Lowtide have been around for a decade yet only really came to our attention four years ago off the back of 2014's self-titled first LP. Nevertheless, we've been keeping an eye on their progress ever since and after giving us a taster last August of what was to come, the band's long awaited second album Southern Mind finally dropped in February of this year.
Recorded in the Australian trio's hometown of Melbourne, Southern Mind pulls together all of the ingredients which made them one of Some Velvet Mixtape's best new discoveries four years earlier. Fusing pastoral soundscapes with the luscious harmonies of Lucy Buckeridge and Giles Simon (who's since left the band), Lowtide might just have released a genuine contender for best album of 2018.
MANON MEURT: Manon Meurt
European showcase festivals such as MENT and SHARPE tend to throw up several undiscovered gems, and it was at the former where we first came across Manon Meurt. Hailing from Rakovnik in the Czech Republic, the four-piece have undergone several line-up changes since starting out some eight years ago (and indeed two this year) but the core of the band - Kateřina Elznicová (vocals & guitar), Vojtěch Pejša (guitar) and Jiří Bendl (drums) - remains the same and together they make a glorious racket that's part Slowdive and part Beach House in its execution.
Which brings us onto their self-titled debut which actually first came out in 2014. But such is the power of the internet and the ability to re-package and re-release albums with consummate ease at very little cost, Manon Meurt re-emerged earlier this year on vinyl and we urge you to purchase a copy today from the Label Obscura store but hurry, there's only a handful left!
ROSAIRE: Crystal Eyes
I was handed a demo at last December's Transmusicales festival in Rennes. That demo happened to be from a band called Rosaire, a four-piece hailing from Saint Brieuc in Brittany. At the time they were putting the finishing touches to their first long player and earlier this month, released said album in the shape of Crystal Eyes.
Drawing on a wide range of influences both old and new, Crystal Eyes is an intriguing affair that will almost certainly bring them acclaim from a wider audience far and beyond their native territory.
Hailing from Cardiff with a penchant for all things fuzzy and whimsical. Wylderness might just be your favourite new band of 2018. Taking their vision from classic Creation era bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and The House Of Love, then adding elements of surf and dreampop fused with ambient textures, Wylderness are yet another fine export from Wales' ever delivering underground.
Having put out debut single '72 & Sunny' at the turn of the year, the band released their self-titled album in March and it's a surefire winner. Produced by former Test Icicle and current member of Josefin Ohrn's Liberation Rory Attwell, it's a record that's sure to feature prominently in many end of year lists, which is a bold production considering we're only still in the middle of May.
Reissue of the month:
BARK PSYCHOSIS - ///Codename: Dustsucker
Whisper it quietly but Bark Psychosis pretty much invented post-rock. Inadvertently perhaps, but along with fellow kindred spirits Disco Inferno their extraordinary take on mainly instrumental if distorted guitars and high levels of reverb was somewhat revolutionary at the time. Although only active for eight years during their initial period, they released a series of EPs and an album, Hex, before calling it a day in 1994, only for founder member Graham Sutton to relaunch Bark Psychosis as a solo project of sorts five years later. Working with numerous collaborators including Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris, a second album ///Codename: Dustsucker finally saw the light of day in 2004, a record that fuses influences from as far afield as freeform jazz and traditional eastern folk alongside the experimental tendencies of Bark Psychosis' earlier works.
Now, having been deleted not long after its initial release, ///Codename: Dustsucker gets a well deserved reissue this month courtesy of pivotal independent outlet Fire Records. Housed in a double gatefold sleeve, it remains an important artifact that's as relevant today in the progression of experimental music as it was when first released.
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