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Earthball- Fruiting Bodies (2021 Misophonia Records)

FALSE POS cover.jpg

I can appreciate art that makes me feel uncomfortable. And while I do think Fruiting Bodies has some absolutely breathtaking moments, I cannot deny that those eight minutes of harsh feedback noise of which opener You, Me, and I consist gives me the creeps and makes me reach for the skip button every time. They must know this though, I suspect it to be the reason they only released this album on Cassette. They need you to man up and endure.

Luckily there is a lot more to enjoy on this little gem, that will so far only see this Cassette release by British record label Misophonia Records. It’s a medium I would personally be reluctant to buy, but I see the real collector people slowly catching on so all the power to it. And like the LP, it has a slower, more intense quality to it. When you hit play you made a decision to be alone with this album for a while, and you choose the whole ride.

The whole ride with Earthball is quite a trip down dark experimental alleyways of noise, dark jazzy intermezzi, psychedelic freakout outbursts, and angsty androgynous vocals. It is not necessarily a good trip all the time, as the noise and experimentalism some times gets so dark and twisted you sure need a good stomach to keep yourself together. “Are you inside my eyelids? //I could wear your shoes…” I am sure the noise rock community and fans of bands like Swans, Daughters, and Girl Band will love this strange kick in the head.

What ultimately kept me on board for the whole ride was the adventure and the boldness Earthball displays. It takes a brave band to come up with something unheard of, and I want to discover sounds that I haven’t heard before. Earthball serves those sounds on a plate of mixed emotions and a glass of sissy tears on the side. I am glad I met them, but now I require like a nice quiet walk in the forest to process. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Taras Bulba- Soul Weaver (2020 Riot Season Records)

I spent some quality time with Soul Weaver, the second album by Taras Bulba on a snowy afternoon. I wasn’t supposed to, because I have this “rule” that I only review “new” music, for fear of becoming swamped with music to listen to. However, Fred Laird (of Earthling Society fame) and his rich music background somehow convinced me otherwise, and I am glad I did. For Soul Weaver is a very rich album, that takes the listener on a journey through many different sound countries and colors, from heavy guitar driven psychedelic freakouts to contemplative shoegazer musings, even something that could be classified as “world music”, and more.

The production value and just sheer un-commercial approach in which the album is set up makes it feel like a tough little oister to crack at first; but once you have cracked it open it will reveal all its colorful pearliness and shimmery shine. It encourages you as a listener, to make an effort to join this trip, and once you are well and truly prepared, you are ready to explore this brave new Taras Bulba world.

Enter the Taras Bulba brave new world here…

Diving deep into Soul Weaver and a deep 50+ minute psychedelic experience later, it is incredible to think that one man made this in a small confined space during lockdown. It feels rather the opposite of that, and it is so comforting to know that you can really go anywhere in your mind through music. We are free when we have creative power.

Fred Laird

Thankful for the experience, I contacted Fred Laird to shed some light on his creation. This is what he said.

Hi Fred! Could you give a little background about Taras Bulba? I have listened to Earthling Society a lot, and we even shared a label (Nasoni) for a short while when my band No Man’s Valley released Time Travel in 2016. It seemed to me Earthling Society gave you plenty of artistic freedom, so why did you feel the need for a different moniker? 

In 2018 I decided to end Earthling Society. It was straight after our release Mo The Demon. The main reason was I felt that the line-up we had from 2014 to that time had basically done all it could without churning out the same stuff. Spacerock is a pretty limited genre and I fell out of love with it in a major way. I also felt the band was losing interest. We’d hit many obstacles along the way, struggled getting prime gigs and festivals and I think everybody started getting weary. Our live sound which was pretty formidable in 2016 was a shadow of it’s former self by 2018. You gotta know when to quit. The band members took it a bit harshly though.

Taras Bulba is just getting to branch out, experiment and not be boxed in by a particular genre. If any genre fits Taras Bulba then its ‘weird’. I think it’s a bit of a curate’s egg to some listeners but I’m fine with that.    

Could you describe your Corona experience and the effect it had on Soul Weaver? 

We had a very sudden bereavement in the family just as the first lockdown was about to start in April. It was a bolt out of the blue and effected us in many ways. When the lockdown started and we couldn’t work we kind of got trapped with this overwhelming loss. So to focus we tried to be creative as a family and as individuals. I converted the spare room into a DIY studio, bought a piano, new instruments and just started making more and more music and trying to develop my very basic production skills. I love those DIY albums from the early days of RNR like Hasil Adkins, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Link Wray’s 3 track recording debut for Polydor. That’s the kind of sound I try to replicate, raw and primitive.    

One of the things I love most about the album is that it feels really like a journey and that it kind of lacks constraint; it has a lot of different “feels” which I really like and which keeps it really interesting from start to finish. Can you explain that? Does your geographical position have anything to do with that? (being close to the sea?)

Yeah I think it helps by not being pigeonholed to a particular genre so I can venture anywhere I please and although the genre changes it still is un-mistakenly Taras Bulba. I think the geography of where I live has a lot to do with it. Fleetwood might as well be Nowheresville. There’s no music scene, no like minded musical souls and if you shut off what you hear on the internet then the music you make isn’t really going to sound like anyone else. It’s like being marooned on a desert island with some coconuts and a guitar made from a warthog carcass. You’re not going to sound like U2. That’s what Taras Bulba is. I’m Ben Gunn of the new psych scene.    

Can you shed some light on the lyrics? You wrote you were sub-consciously inspired by a novel? How does that work?

12 month’s before recording ‘Soulweaver’ I’d read this book called the ‘Sea Priestess’ by Dion Fortune. It was about this guy with a health condition who meets this occultist and through magick working he gets better, falls in love with her and discovers she’s the Egyptian goddess Isis incarnate; like you do. It’s a charming period piece but frankly it’s also a bit shit and as I remember a bit of a labour to finish it. Anyhow I started draughting these lyrics to ‘Moon on the Tides’ and ‘ Tethered on the Wheel’  and was like ‘Where have these ideas come from? It was all very automatic and very quickly written; I don’t remember pondering much on the lyrics. When I realised, I went back to the book and drew similarities to certain paragraphs. It was very odd.

I also live only a few hundred yards form the Irish sea and I think the early spring walks and the stormy weather at that time; with crashing waves and such definitely weaved a bit of magic.  

Playing psychedelic music, does drugs play any role in your art at all?

No I haven’t done drugs for a very long time. In the early days of Earthling Society there was a lot of amphetamine and magic mushrooms and lots of booze. I quit drinking a year ago and I don’t smoke weed. I did grow some magic mushrooms and was getting truffle microdose kits during the summer of 2020. I thought it was helping my creativity but when I stopped it didn’t change a thing. It’s left me with a lack of conviction to the whole microdose thing. I practice Martial Arts, do regular exercise which adds elements of yoga and meditation and that’s the best drug for me. A peaceful mind is the best for creativity.   

You have been at it for quite a while now, what is the highlight of your musical career so far? And what would you have loved to do differently?

We’ve had a few highlights. Roadburn was a good one in 2007, playing Berlin, supporting Julian Cope and Damo Suzuki. Damo and I sat together on the merch stall, selling his stuff which was fun and then he gave me a hug afterwards. There’s been a few good things.

Ah the things I would love to do differently, ha where do I begin. Never have a professional synth player. Never have synth players girlfriends as backing singers. Don’t travel down the prog rock route, stay close to your vision and don’t let anyone interfere. Don’t turn down a mini tour of Eastside USA and don’t enlist musicians who can’t play but you keep them in the band anyway because they give you free drugs and so forth.

Julian Cope sent me a great letter once. It was after the release of our second album for Nasoni which was also the debut of our first keyboard player. He wrote ‘ Your keyboard player ruined your album and made it cack – Love Julian’ haha brilliant.

What are your goals for the near future, and the distant? What is something you would still like to do as a musician?

I have just finished the third Taras Bulba album and I feel it’s the best thing I have ever done. Total control, freedom and plenty of time to do it to. It’s the first time I’ve spent over 6 months on a project. I have a wonderful female vocalist contributing to the vocal tracks and a killer saxophonist on 3 tracks. It’s a great thing that incorporates all the influences that have been close to my heart forever – from Rowland S Howard to Big Star, Cocteau twins to Bohren and der Club of Gore.

Final question: can you provide us with a list of your most important influences?

Here is my top 10 in no particular order

1. Dub me crazy — Mad Professor
2. Black Earth – Bohren and der Club of Gore
3. Room full of lights – Crime and the City Solution
4. Heavier than a death in the family – Les Rallizes Denudes
5. In den garten pharaohs – Popol Vuh
6. Low – David Bowie
7. Easter Everywhere – 13th Floor Elevators
8. Music for Zen meditation – Tony Scott
9. Cocteau twins – Head over Heels
10. Lucifer Rising – Bobby Beausoleil

Needlepoint- Walking Up That Valley (2021 Stickman Records)

It’s 2021; when you were born in the ’80s like me, growing up with movies like Back To The Future and Mad Max, it definitely sounds futuristic and far away. And yet, here we are: no flying cars, no dystopian wasteland (not yet, anyways), and musicians haven’t been replaced by robots. On the contrary! When you start listening to this new album by Needlepoint it’s almost as if the past sixty years have never existed at all…

Walking Up That Valley is a lovely record if you love spinning your old prog and folkrock albums. Albums like the first couple of Yes records, or Gentle Giant’s not too heavy progressive noodlings. It’s music like a warm blanket; familiar, cozy, non-offensive, polite, even. That almost sounds off-putting, like there is no edge to their sound, but I really mean it in the most positive sense. Nor is it fair to just mention the retro aspects of Needlepoint. For as their sound is firmly rooted in the 70s, there is an indie side to them that would perhaps just as easily link them to a band like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and of course to the mellower works of their fellow Norsemen Motorpsycho.

And then there is the drummer. Olaf Olsen is, very much in line with the rest of the band, a jazz beast in disguise. Just check out opener Rules Of A Madman, where all seems merry and steady at the start of the song, but later on something stirs in the air and then he just bursts into a jaw-dropping drum fill that sets the whole scene on fire. To be honest, the rest of the musicians are top of their game too, but I keep returning for those jazzy drum fills…

From the hand-drawn artwork depicting a man being picked up by ants, to the different shades of retro prog in the music, Walking Up That Valley makes me happy. These highly skilled musicians and their artistic fire are just the spirit-lifting these dire times need.

Here Lies Man- Ritual Divination (2021 Riding Easy Records)

Don’t you just wish you could listen to a band for the first time again? Listening to Ritual Divination, the fourth(!) album by Los Angeles eclectic “afrobeat meets Black Sabbath” experimentalists Here Lies Man the feeling pops up. Man, I loved their first album; so wildly original, so far out there, so incredibly cool. But also very dependent on a pretty narrow formula: mixing gravelly 70-style afrobeat music with heavy stoner riffs. How long would they be able to keep that up? At least one album a year seems to be the answer, and my my; the novelty has worn off, but those funky riffs are contagious enough to keep the listener drawn in. My only grievance is that I can’t experience that first time kick in the head again when I first heard this stellar sound. It feels like an old friend by now.

Here Lies Man is determined to turn their sound into a full-fledged genre, and as they don’t seem to have any competitors they are quite welcome to it. They wear their oddball sound comfortably like a 70s pimp would wear a furcoat, top hat, and bling. In fact some of these songs sound exactly like that look, perhaps with added purple and green smoke clouds emanating from their nostrils. It’s music that makes you want to move, but with such a layer of laziness added to it that you’d probably end up only wiggling your big toe. That was a conscious Tarantino reference by the way, as Here Lies Man would be a perfect house band for one of his darker vintage-style movies.

The thing I like most about Ritual Divination is the fact that the band really jams whenever they can. They have proven themselves to be pretty well at writing danceable, catchy tunes, and that is still a major part of their sound, but this time around they really went for the psychedelic groove and repetition whenever the song allowed for it. The longer tracks like In These Dreams, Collector Of Vanities, and Cutting Through The Tether have a strong hypnotic quality to them that make you wish they would never end. Apart from making the listener not getting up out of that chair any time soon, I guess that’s a pretty good quality for a song to have…

A critical note? Sure; there is nothing new under the sun here, and if you are familiar with previous Here Lies Man albums you’d know what to expect. But hey: no one else sounds like this, and the band does this sound really well so I have absolutely zero complaints. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit in my easy chair wiggling my big toe to Ritual Divination some more.

M Caye Castagnetto- Leap Second (2021 Castle Face Records)

Obscurity might not be something many artists necessarily strive for, but a certain amount of remoteness and mystique can definitely help shaping an interesting image of an artist. It forces the listener to bend the mind to an image of its own based solely on the music. There is plenty of obscurity surrounding M Caye Catagnetto. Born in Peru, the artist spent time living in Lima, London, and California during the five years creating Leap Second, and the eclecticism expected from such a background story is definitely on display here.

Just close your eyes and listen…what do you see? Leap Second feels so versatile, it’s like you are changing the channels on your TV in a foreign country. Opener Invented Disco makes me dance on the streets of Cuba drunk on something, way after the party has finished. Stopping You makes me feel the hangover afterwards, the music at times like Mars Volta at its most lethargic. Slippery Snakes is something else altogether; danceable, but jittery, like a dune buggy with the front wheels almost falling off. Mi Mentira is more serious all of a sudden, with synthesizers ominously swelling up in the end. All Points North is a fragment of beauty, with some great vocals. Amor Cabra is sexier, darker, with voices coming from all directions. Influences of hiphop are shining through now. Hand On The Business is my favorite song on here, it makes the best of those heroin-chique vocals that summon thoughts of Velvet Underground and Nico, surrounded by purple and green smoke clouds. Until is more beautifully broken pop with sweet but creepy vocals, while Street Evening Green is much more majestic, romantic feminine Radiohead synth. Chase Water Blue Moon is the longest track and the album’s closer, and turns out to be a very sad but adorable drunken cover of Blue Moon.

Leap Second is a sweet little album that you can grow to love. It shows all little nooks and crannies of M Caye Castagnetto’s imaginative brain, it will creep you out a bit, charm you, possibly haunt your fever dreams. It’s a gentle little surprise. One that will probably be overlooked by many and end up in obscurity, where the best little pearls are found.