North End ‘Alpha State’

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Jan 122017


2013 was an outstanding year for melodic instrumental rock releases. Our ears were treated to gems from Waking Aida (‘Hyperdiamond/Allergic’), Wiltz (‘Sea Dog’), Vasudeva (‘Life in Cycles’), Signal Hill (‘Chase the Ghost’), Enemies (‘Embark, Embrace’), and North End (‘Cognoscere’). Each record delivered intricately buoyant tracks, shifting time signatures, sharp u-turns, driving rhythms, and layers of chiming guitars. Follow-up releases from a few of the bands have either landed already (including Signal Hill’s brilliant ‘Alturas’) or will be arriving in 2017. One that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is ‘Alpha State’ from North End. When they reached out the other day with the offer of an advance listen, I was quick to agree and looked forward to play #1 once we were through the wonderful chaos of the holidays. As I expected, ‘Alpha State’ doesn’t disappoint. This blissfully-melodic whirlwind offers the pop-goodness of mid-period Wedding Present, the lush dynamics and forward-movement of 4AD’s Dif Juz, along with the angular rhythms and loops/sways of their contemporaries in the instrumental math-rock scene. The songs have a lighter touch than found on 2013’s ‘Cognoscere’ – the production focuses on the interplay between the guitars, while rhythm perfectly supports the movement with (at times) a more relaxed jazzy tempo. From start to finish, ‘Alpha State’ exhibits the confidence and maturity that develops after a band has been playing together for a long time (check out their press release below to learn more about the band’s history). This release isn’t just ‘Cognoscere’ part 2 – it’s growth and exploration, built upon the core North End-sound that we’ve enjoyed for nearly 10 years. A brilliant release that is highly recommended for all ears. ‘Alpha State’ is available now, so dig in and spread the word! For your listening pleasure, click on the arrow below to hear one of my favorite tracks from the record – Emergence. The full album stream, along with digital purchase/download is available on the North End Bandcamp page –> Keep an eye on their Facebook page for news about upcoming shows.


Philadelphia, PA (January 2017) – North End started in 2008 near Philadelphia, PA and much has changed since those early days. The Alpha State story is a reflection on how the band has evolved over the last 3+ years, from playing sporadic shows in the NY/PA area to moving around the country to becoming one of those bands that does the long distance writing thing. Previously, the band lived within 20 miles of each other, making it convenient to play local shows frequently, write songs, record, and conduct general band business. Now, Marcus (bass) lives in Denver, Russ (guitar) travels frequently for work, KB (drums) just had a daughter, and Pete’s (guitar) career has really excelled. Even longtime recording collaborator Kam (keys) worked on Alpha State in his RV at Yellowstone National Park. Life changes quickly, in a positive way, if you let it, and Alpha State is a culmination of these changes manifesting into the style of music we love to write, play and share.

As a result of North End’s remodeling, Alpha State was recorded uniquely as well. Drums were tracked in KB’s basement, guitars, some keys, and bass were tracked at Pete’s house, mixes were generated by Kam while still in an RV in Yellowstone and tracks were mastered by Paul Gold of Salt Mastering in Greenpoint Brooklyn. If you listen to the closing moments of “Imperial” you can hear the faint sound of rain captured by a single microphone in the park as Kam wrapped up the final edits during mixing. This array of locations and perspectives triggered boundless creativity but still kept Alpha State flowing cohesively.

Alpha State is available through the Brooklyn-based AM 800 Sound, an independent music collective bringing together like-minded bands. Limited 12” vinyl of Alpha State will be pressed and features the artwork of fellow label-mate Rishi Arora of Signal Hill. Following the wide release and distribution of Alpha State, North End plan to play shows in Philadelphia and New York City in 2017.

 Posted by at 8:01 pm
Oct 302011

Sleep Lady  ::  So Long Lonely Ghost

michael hayden – guitar
mario quintero – guitar / vocals
kristy hayden – keyboard / vocals
sarah quintero – bass / vocals
anthony (pork chop) dixon – drums

released 13 November 2012

produced by mario quintero / aaron harris / michael hayden
engineered by mario quintero at black box studios / san diego
mixed by aaron harris at vista sound / los angeles
mastered by james plotkin
album art by kristy hayden
photography by michael klayman / san diego

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865

With the release of ‘So Long Lonely Ghost,’ San Diego’s Sleep Lady takes us on a wondrous adventure down the rabbit hole, delivering eight magically delicious tracks that are heavy and dense one minute, delicate and quiet the next. At its core, this is a heavy rock record that sounds best when spewing from your speakers at blazing volume. Your first taste of its strength comes at the 2 minute 40 second mark of the opening song ‘Billions and Billions’ when the drums kick in and confidently anchor the thickly-layered guitars and electronics. I really love how deep and rich this song sounds – it’s obvious that the band spent a lot of time working to get the perfect balance from the recording (expertly engineered by Sleep Lady guitarist, Mario Quintero, at AudioMQ).

‘There Are No Happy Accidents’ begins with a reach back to the rural psychedelia of the early Amp records, hazy and mellow. But then a music-box transition soon leads the song into a trudging Sleep Lady sonic assault, setting the stage for the nine minute epic, ‘Drugged by the Sun.’ I’m not sure why (maybe it’s because I’m writing this while in-flight, jet-lagged and exhausted, having just finished reading Clive Barker’s short novel ‘The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus’ before this current roadtrip), but this song reminds me of the circus that would pull in to town late at night in the summer of our youth, and set up in the parking lot of the local fire department. Of course, the site of this spectacle excites the children, but the grown-ups look at the rickety construction with reserved concern. Ride at your own risk; the smart folks stick with the games and the fun house. The quiet moments of ‘Drugged’ still have an underlying edge and sweet creepiness, and the heaviness cuts through you like the metallic squeals of the racing coaster.

‘Weak Chin’ is the record’s meat grinder – slow motion sawing guitars over layered electronics and a churning rhythm. A dark, psychedelic, sludge-metal theme to a 70’s biker/slasher film. I really enjoy this song.

And then we get ‘Someone’s Gotta Win’ – a homage to the great indie-rock roadtrip songs of the mid-90s. I hear the best of Sonic Youth, Lilies, Stereolab, Underground Lovers, Kinski, Tsunami – summer songs, perfect for afternoons spent throwing the Frisbee, drinking beer, record shopping, and hanging out with friends. This one is definitely different than the first four songs on the record, but that’s one of the things I like most about Sleep Lady – they’re not afraid to keep the listener engaged with dramatic changes in style. Always interesting, and always something new to discover in each song.

I can’t really say that I have a favorite track on the record. Each song is so uniquely different that one day I prefer the heaviness of ‘Weak Chin,’ and the next day, I’m dancing around the room with my daughters while ‘Someone’s Gotta Win’ is cranking. But there’s something about ‘I Wanted To Be A Penguin Forever’ that really hits home for me. Maybe it’s the fact that the song perfectly blends post-rock, Bristol UK psych/space/rock, and 90s shoegaze – the three styles that have consumed me for the last 20+ years. Everything works on this track – dreamy vocals, heavy swirling guitars, and wonderfully melodic keyboards. The essence of the Sleep Lady sound.

As a prelude to the final song on the record, the band treats us to a fantastic acoustic composition that is clean, light, and so nice. ‘Night Moves’ gives the listener a chance to take a break from the complexity and heaviness of the other tracks. Looping and layered acoustics are the highlight here – a lovely melody that allows the guitar work to shine.

The final track, ‘These Fucking Worms,’ is a beast. Anchored by the now-familiar Sleep Lady rhythms, the guitars chime and weave, and slowly build to a churning climax. It’s heavy and tight, right up to the end, taking you to the cliff’s edge and leaving you there to catch your breath.

I’ve enjoyed Sleep Lady’s music since first hearing 2010’s ‘Fighting For The Year’. Their sound is unique and always interesting – intelligent music that will appeal to listeners who have an appreciation for the music that seeded this scene, and who are looking for a perfectly dynamic post-rock record that sounds great both on quiet nights and rowdy days. This one is definitely high on my 2012 favorite releases list.

” ‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, ‘It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it’s getting late.’ So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.”


 Posted by at 8:56 am
Sep 282011

Bleaklow – The Sunless Country

The guys from Bleaklow did this one right – they knew that the final mix was going to be 20+ minutes long, so they leaked teasers, a few minutes at a time, over a period of weeks leading up to the release date, wetting our appetites for the final product. And the wait was definitely worth it – the full version clocks in at a massive 23 minutes and 58 seconds and is truly an epic rock beast. It’s textbook Bleaklow – relentless, pummeling, and absolutely perfect. If you’re already a fan of the band’s music, you’ll be pleased with this EP (especially if you managed to get one of the 25 hand-stitched CDs). If you’re not familiar with Bleaklow, here’s what I think…

I really enjoy being consumed by the books that I’m reading, and I often try to find music that “fits” with the intensity of the story (for 6forty playlists, of course). Lately, I’ve been enjoying The Arthur Series by Bernard Cornwell. In the books, the combined forces of the British kingdoms repeatedly face the invading Saxons in a battle formation know as the shield wall. A shield wall was a “wall of shields” formed by soldiers standing in formation shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they overlap. Each man benefits from the protection of his neighbor’s shield, usually the man to his right, as well as his own. The soldiers in front have small swords for thrusting (no room for swinging large weapons), while the ranks behind use spears to reach the enemy. It’s brutal, slow, close combat. Described here by Derfel Cadarn (the main character) in book three, ‘Excalibur,’ during the battle of Mynydd Baddon:

“Aelle’s forces had pulled back a half-mile from Aquae Sulis before forming their line and now they waited for Arthur’s attack. Tewdric’s men marched under the Christian God, and at last, after straightening their shield wall, they closed on the enemy. I expected to see a conference between the lines as the leaders of the armies exchanged their ritual insults and while the two shield walls judged each other. I have known shield walls to stare at each other for hours while men summoned the courage to charge, but those Christians of Gwent did not check their pace. There were no meeting of opposite leaders and no time for the Saxon wizards to cast their spells, for the Christians simply lowered their spears, hefted their oblong shields that were painted with the cross, and marched straight through the roman graves and into the enemy’s shields. We heard the shields clash on the hill. It was a dull grinding sound, like thunder from under the earth, and it was the sound of hundreds of shields and spears striking as two great armies smashed head to head. The men of Gwent were stopped, held by the weight of the Saxons who heaved against them, and I knew men were dying down there. They were being speared, being chopped by axes, being trampled underfoot. Men were spitting and snarling over their shield rims, and the press of men would be so great that a sword could hardly be lifted in the crush.” (Excalibur, Bernard Cornwell, copyright 1997)

This EP is like a shield wall, solid, heavy guitar riffs on top of a trudging/driving rhythm section. It’s an excellent match for Pendragon legends – the kingdoms loyal to Arthur (500 AD) were fighting to rid England of the Saxon advance and life was a constant struggle. Bleaklow provides the perfect soundtrack to this desperate and dark story. No post- labels necessary for this record. ‘The Sunless Country’ is simply 24 minutes of perfect rock music. Or to describe it using Cornwell’s words, it’s “thunder from under the earth.”

The band has generously offered The Sunless Country as a ‘name your price’ download via their Bandcamp page. And definitely be sure to check out their other releases – all are great.

 Posted by at 3:46 pm
Sep 152011

Back in the mid-80s, a friend introduced me to Independent Project Records, a small DIY label/art studio based in Los Angeles. Founder/creative director/artist/musician Bruce Licher built the label as the vehicle to release his own band’s material, as well as that of like-minded musicians from the LA area. The IPR ‘sound’ was unlike anything else happening in the independent music scene at the time. Stark, desert-soundscapes; post-punk angular tribal/rock rhythms; and extended electro/acoustic improvisations, delivered in stunning hand-letterpressed sleeves – artwork and music both highly influenced by the natural beauty of the Western United States. I was (and still am) completely consumed by the IPR releases; records from Savage Republic, 17 Pygmies, Scenic, Lanterna and others were constantly spinning on my turntable.

Independent Project Records’ output continued throughout the 90s, and much to my delight, they were joined in the scene by new labels whose rosters included bands that were releasing music that seemed to be heavily influenced (whether intentional or not) by the foundation built by the IPR family. Kranky, Alien8, Quarterstick, and of course, the mighty Constellation Records, all offered listeners access to music that integrated field recordings, extended improvisational guitar soundscapes, strings, horns, alternative percussion, and a strong emphasis on the visual element. Videographers and photographers were invited to integrate their work into these compositions, both on the physical releases (record sleeves and inserts), and on stage, using the music as a soundtrack to further enhance the impact of the visual display. Three bands that come to mind during this period – Rachels, Hovercraft, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – perfected the integration of film with their live performances. The visual aspect, in my opinion, was just as important as the instrumentation – the bands offering it as a core component of their package, both in their releases, and in the live setting.

This marriage of art and sound continues today, and has been embraced by more bands than ever before. A perfect example of this integration can be seen (and heard) in the work of French experimentalists, Oiseaux-Tempête. My first exposure to the sights and sounds of Oiseaux-Tempête was via their release teaser on their website, and a few shorts on youtube. I was hooked immediately by their their dark, organic soundscapes, wrapped around a montage of stunning visuals. So I went looking for more, and I found these two brilliant long-players: Temps Zero Toulouse : live impro + fotoprojektions [link] and Ouroboros (featuring Gareth Davis), Live at Eglise Saint-Merry, Les Rendez-Vous Contemporains, 26.04.2013 [link], along with their self-titled debut, out on Sub Rosa Records [link].

Minutes in to first track ‘Opening Theme (Ablaze in the Distance),’ while the repeating wail of the guitar slowly builds like a stark siren in the desert, I’m reminded of the extended instrumentals created by mid-period Savage Republic, as well as on later releases from Godspeed. And since I’m a huge fan of both bands, I knew that this record was going to be a special one for me. You’ll notice as you work through the 9+ minutes of ‘Opening Theme,’ that the band doesn’t rush the compositions – each song has a strong sense of paced completeness, whether it’s a 2 minute interlude such as ‘Sophia’s Shadow,’ or the 17+ minute epic ‘Ouroboros.’ Field recordings, found sounds/experiments, and an occasional voice, integrate perfectly with traditional instrumentation to further develop each song’s story, and to provide added depth and interest to the longer tracks. Recently, I’ve been streaming the fotoprojektions video with no sound while the album plays. Although the images aren’t in sync, I feel that this allows me to experience the record as it was truly meant to be – blending a strong visual element to accompany the music.

‘Buy Gold (Beat Song)’ picks up the pace a bit, delivering a structured looping melody that builds to a much heavier guitar distortion, reminiscent of Crispy Ambulance, other early Factory releases, and first wave Constellation. It’s a confident, strong track that compliments the longer more experimental segments of the record. And it’s a perfect introduction to ‘la traversée’ and ‘Nuage Noir’ – the transition tracks – a collage of sounds and texture, acoustic/ambience, somber, yet ethereal – lovely songs.

The second half of the record begins with the dark post-punk sounds of ‘Kyrie Eleison’ – bass-heavy, industrial rhythms, sampled recordings, driving percussion. I really like the fact that the band chose to include this song. Although stylistically different than everything else up to this point, it still fits well with the movement of record, and contrasts nicely with the delicate sections of ‘Silencer,’ the second interlude that follows. Images of silent films, weathervanes, falling leaves.

A barking dog introduces ‘Ouroboros,’ the 17+ minute epic that anchors this release and firmly places it at the top of my favorites list for 2013. The first half moves at a leisurely pace – repeating guitar explorations, occasional feedback, and stark rhythms. The heaviness begins at the 10-minute mark – a slow build that crescendos into a wall of wailing guitars, riding on a churning low-end. If you enjoy the extended sonics of Fourteen Nights at Sea, ‘I Could Live In Hope’-era Low, Godspeed, and Swans, you’ll enjoy this one. I highly recommend watching the ‘Ouroboros’ Vimeo link that I mentioned above. Gareth Davis on bass clarinet is an outstanding addition.

‘Call John Carcone’ is a rock song. And one that is so perfectly reminiscent of the early IPR releases (specifically, Savage Republic and Deception Bay) that I can almost picture in my head what Bruce’s design would look like on the letterpressed sleeves. Searing monotone guitars, staccato snare, waves of controlled feedback, and driving bass. The only bad thing about this song is the abrupt ending after only 6 minutes – I wouldn’t mind if they extended this beast another 4-5 minutes.

The album wraps up with two subdued soundscapes. ‘l’île’ oozes with throbbing electronics for several minutes, and then transitions to a wash of bass clarinet, vocal-effects, and synth/drones. ‘Outro (for the following)’ is a brief experiment, and goes out in silence.

Oiseaux-Tempête is visual music; rich in texture, depth, and color. A peaceful, yet subtly challenging release, offered to listeners as an escape from a chaotic world. My only disappointment is a selfish one (since I live in the US) – I’ve not had the opportunity to see them in a live setting, to experience the band as they explore and improvise through their set, consumed by the music and accompanying imagery. For now, I’ll have to settle for headphones, volume, and pictures on a screen. Unless of course, you’re a wealthy patron interested in sponsoring a 6forty project post-rock festival here in the States, and are willing to fund travel expenses for a few select bands. Now that would be a grand adventure…

Please take the time to explore the world of Oiseaux-Tempête. Turn off your phone, lower the lights, relax in a comfortable chair, turn up the volume and start with ‘Ouroboros’ [link]. Your eyes and ears will thank you…

 Posted by at 7:50 pm
Jul 082011

What The Blood Revealed   .   Harbour Of Devils
Field Records, 2012

The drums were pounding out a battle beat as the Iron Victory swept forward, her ram cutting through the choppy green waters. The smaller ship ahead was turning, oars slapping at the sea. Roses streamed upon her banners; fore and aft a white rose upon a red escutcheon, atop her mast a golden one on a field as green as grass. The Iron Victory raked her side so hard that half the boarding party lost their feet. Oars snapped and splintered, sweet music to the captain’s ears.

He vaulted over the gunwale, landing on the deck below with his golden cloak billowing behind him. The white roses drew back, as men always did at the site of Victorion Greyjoy armed and armored, his face hidden behind his kraken helm. They were clutching swords and spears and axes, but nine of every ten wore no armor, and the tenth had only a shirt of sewn scales. These are no ironmen, Victorion thought. They still fear drowning…

…The Drowned God had not shaped Victorion Greyjoy to fight with words at kingsmoots, nor struggle against furtive sneaking foes in endless bogs. This was why he had been put on earth; to stand steel-clad with axe red and dripping in his hand, dealing death with every blow. They hacked at him from front and back, but their swords might have been willow switches for all the harm they did him. No blade could cut through Victorion Greyjoy’s heavy plate, nor did he give his foes the time to find the weak points at the joints, where only mail and leather warded him. Let three men assail him, or four, or five; it made no matter. He slew them one at a time, trusting his steel to protect him from the others. As each foe fell he turned his wroth upon the next.

By then the deck was slick beneath his feet, and the dead and dying lay in heaps on every side. He threw his shield away and sucked in air. “Lord Captain,” he heard the Barber say beside him, “the day is ours.”  **

If you’re a regular 6forty visitor, you already know that I enjoy connecting the site’s content with books that I’m reading. So when I was given the opportunity to write a review of the latest release from Scotland’s What The Blood Revealed, I quickly agreed. Their EPs are on regular rotation here at camp 6forty, and I was confident that ‘Harbour of Devils’ wasn’t going to disappoint. I also had the perfect literary reference in mind, one that I’ve associated with their music since I first heard the early releases (EP1 – December 2010 / EP2 – January 2011), and their massive track on the ‘A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters – Issue 1’ (November 2010) compilation. The fierce confidence and power of What the Blood Revealed’s music consistently reminds me of House Greyjoy, one of the seven great houses of Westeros, featured in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The above quote is just one of many scenes that graphically illustrates the strength and determination of the Greyjoy’s fleet commander (and mightiest son), Victorion, as he easily overwhelms his enemies at sea. He endures the days of extended calm as his ships hunt for prey, and then unleashes his full fury on anyone who mistakenly ends up in his path. What the Blood Revealed’s latest release ‘Harbour of Devils’ (Field Records) delivers this same intensity – seven slabs of heavy instrumental rock that ebb with moments of restraint, and then hit strong and hard, much like Victorion’s Ironmen.

The record kicks off with the grinding guitars and trudging rhythms of ‘Embrace The Rational And Seek The Truthful’ and ‘To Travel Deadly Ground.’ These two beasts are restless and explosive. I enjoy how the band utilizes the quiet moments to give more power and emphasis to the heaviness throughout the songs. Most of the tracks follow this same format – a dynamic that definitely gives the record an added richness and depth. ‘Waiting For The Storm’ is up next and churns like rolling dark clouds over the ocean  – it’s melodic, yet brooding, and slowly grows in intensity as the song nears its end. But just when it reaches its peak, it transitions immediately into ‘The Streets Ran Red With The Blood Of The Pious’ – 9 minutes of epic instrumental rock. When I listen to this track, I enjoy adding the visual of Victorion Greyjoy leaping on to the deck of his enemy’s ship, ax in hand and kraken helm blazing in the afternoon sun. Next up is ‘Eyes To The Horizon’ – once again, relaxed and calm rock music to start, but slightly different than the others since its build is slower and much more melodic, with the last few minutes highlighted by a very lyrical lead guitar, weaving its tale cleanly on top of the solid rhythms.

And then there were two… I first heard ‘The Corporation As We Know It Is Dead, Dead, Dead’ on the ‘Cheery Wave’ compilation, and 7 minutes 30 seconds later, I was completely consumed by the power of What The Blood Revealed. Grinding, ominous, and unsettling – a post-metal anthem for our struggling world. Closing out the record is one of my favorite tracks from What The Blood Revealed – ‘Cast Adrift In A Harbour Of Devils.’ This massive beast is so perfectly heavy – it’s best when played at full volume so the low end rumbles through your body like a freight train. This would definitely be Victorion Greyjoy’s anthem – powerful, complex, and intensely driven.

What The Blood Revealed’s ‘Harbour of Devils’ is an outstanding rock record, and definitely one of my favorite releases of the year. The only thing that would make this listening experience better for me would be if I were in a pub enjoying a fine cask-drawn ale, while the band cranks through these beauties on stage. Spring tour with Alright The Captain? Sounds good to me. Now if only someone would invent the damn transporter…

** George R.R. Martin, ‘A Feast For Crows’ copyright 2005.

 Posted by at 8:48 am
Jul 012011


Andy Othling (Lowercase Noises) has been busy. Late 2010 saw the release of his full-length gem, Carry Us All Away; he has contributed songs to several outstanding compilations (Singularity1, Hope For Japan, Hawk Moon Records Volume II); and now we get his latest EP, Migratory Patterns, which, according to the notes accompanying the release, “is about a lonely whale, and is inspired by this story”

You should definitely read the blog post about the whale – the story is somber and lonely, and the calm of the songs on this EP give an additional dimension to this mysterious animal. ‘Migratory Patterns’ is a classic Lowercase Noises release – melodic, modern guitar soundscapes and hushed electronics, perfectly accompanied by strings and other acoustics. There’s a wonderful richness and depth to these songs, and as you listen, it’s easy to picture this mysterious whale wondering the ocean. I know that Andy isn’t fond of the word ambient as a description for his music, although for those of you who aren’t familiar with Lowercase Noises, but are fans of ambient/electronic/acoustic artists such as Harold Budd, Michael Brook, A Produce, and Robin Guthrie, you’ll definitely enjoy this record, as well as the other LCN releases.

When listening to ‘Migratory Patterns’ (which I do quite often these days), I hear a confident musician whose talent and experience is evident throughout the five songs on this release. “Song for No One” starts the EP quietly with hushed and smooth waves of sound; “Persistence” is a more traditional Lowercase Noises song with a relaxed beat, keyboards, strings, and guitar; “Depths” is melodic and quiet – a composition that features a wonderful strings arrangement, bringing to mind the work of Martin McCarrick, and the instrumental tracks on This Mortal Coil’s classic ‘Filigree and Shadow;’ and closing the record are two outstanding selections, “Migratory Patterns” and “Farewell,” that will surprise you with the addition of mellow vocals and banjo – a very interesting and wonderful layer to the final songs on the EP. Andy has truly mastered the art of Lowercase Noises. His enthusiasm and passion about his music is what makes it so perfect for the listener.

‘Migratory Patterns’ is an outstanding Lowercase Noises release. It’s mellow, melodic and as smooth as a calm ocean. Has Andy captured the essence of this wondering whale? That’s for you to decide – you can listen to it in its entirety via his Bandcamp page (along with his other releases), and since it’s so reasonably priced, you should buy a copy for your music collection. I need no convincing – I’ve been a fan for a long time, and I look forward to enjoying the music of Lowercase Noises for a long time to come…

As an extra treat, my daughters (Eliza is 5.5 and Abby is 9) listened to the songs while I was writing this review and did their own artwork to go along with the story and the music (link below).

Abby, Eliza, and the whale


 Posted by at 9:10 pm
May 112011

Years of Rice and Salt :: Nothing of Cities (2011)

Plymouth is dreary and raw today. It’s not raining, but the gray clouds are threatening, so I’m settled into a comfortable couch at the pub with a fine cask-drawn ale and queue ‘Nothing of Cities’ on my iPod. Soon after it begins playing, I realize that I’ve been completely consumed by this record ever since I received it. It has been on repeat play for days…

There’s so much energy and passion in each song – lush melodies, epic compositions, and the seamless integration of strings, wonderfully combine into one of the finest releases of the year. I’m reminded of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Industries of the Blind, Do Make Say Think, Our Last Hope Lost Hope, Stubborn Tiny Lights vs Clustering Darkness Forever OK?, and others who have mastered this unique style of cinematic post-rock. I’ve been patiently waiting for this record ever since first hearing their 2009 release ‘Service Bell’ (also an outstanding record that you can hear here Service Bell) – the wait was definitely worth it. The songs are intensely focused and perfectly executed. It’s obvious that the band wasn’t going to rush this release. There’s such a completeness about this record. It leaves you feeling the same way you do after finishing your favorite novel or watching your favorite classic film – utterly satisfied.

I’ve decided not to include descriptions of each song in this review. In my opinion, ‘Nothing of Cities’ is perfect, so there is no need to go into detail about the songs – the record is really that good. If you are already a fan of the collections on 6forty, then you know the music that I enjoy, and you should trust me when I say that you need to own ‘Nothing of Cities.’ You definitely won’t be disappointed. For me, the only thing that could top this listening experience would be to have the opportunity to see Years of Rice and Salt perform these amazing songs in a live setting. Maybe someday…

 Posted by at 6:40 am
May 092011

Mender :: Body of Gossamer
released 2011 (Mender/Deadpop records)

Body of Gossamer was performed, arranged, recorded and produced by Ash West-Mullen at his home in Nottingham. Ash is an electronic artist and drummer of Alright The Captain

There’s a wonderfully diverse selection of electronic music available at the moment, and although much of it is quite good, I find myself listening most to the records that are mellow and introspective. Regular rotation includes older projects from Edward KaSpel, Pan American, Seefeel, Nurse With Wound, and Famous Boyfriend, along with the outstanding new music being released by labels such as Heat Death Records and Hawk Moon Records. One of the newest releases that has been streaming a lot lately in the office is Ash West-Mullen’s project, Mender.

Mender’s latest EP, Body of Gossamer, definitely can be categorized as electronic, but what makes it stand apart from many other releases is the way that Ash has embraced and integrated a variety of acoustic elements into the mix. This combination gives the record the same pastoral quality that you’ll find from bands such as Hood, Declining Winter, Woo, and Ithaca Trio. You’ll hear a steady down-tempo beat throughout, providing a solid base to layer the acoustics, along with an interesting variety of electronics. There’s no rushed feeling with any of these tracks – the EP is perfect for a quiet night’s relaxed groove, or as a soundtrack for your mellow adventures. I was recently in England on business and found myself really enjoying ‘Body of Gossamer’ while we were driving through the southwest countryside, exploring the tors of Dartmoor. ‘Apsis’ and ‘Heal This Cathode’ open the EP and both meander softly with keyboards and guitar, ‘Worried About My Heart’ envelops you with reflective electro-acoustic soundscapes, ‘Lounge Cat’ and ‘Minimal Bitch’ deliver sublime funk, and the EP closer ‘Dead Waves’ finishes with hushed vocals and a bit more effected edging on the guitars and keyboards. Overall, a solid collection of songs that make for a very enjoyable listen.

Body of Gossamer is a perfect choice when you are in the mood for confident, intelligent music. The songs are balanced, and very well developed. I definitely recommend giving the record a listen if you’re a fan of any of the bands listed in this review. Mender has delivered a really good new release – I’m definitely looking forward to more. Also, not to be missed is the artwork and layout by Carrie Hodson Walker. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the songs on the record.

You can listen to the record here >, and once you get to the end of song 6, I think you’ll agree that it’s a release that needs to live in your music collection.

 Posted by at 5:48 pm
Mar 092011

I really wish that I had more time to write reviews, but my work and home schedule tend to consume most of my awake hours. Lately, the best time to write is when I’m business traveling – long hours trapped on a plane with music in my ears is the perfect opportunity to catch up on my extensive backlog. This afternoon, I’m on my way to Seattle, so I have plenty of time to write about a few of the records that I’ve been enjoying lately.

Glories ‘Mother Reverb’
This has been an amazing year for new releases. So instead of focusing on just one new record, three bands are going to share this space. The first is Glories. Their record ‘Mother Reverb’ has been on heavy rotation lately – it’s an outstanding collection of smooth and melodic instrumental rock. The other day as I was settling in to work, the sun was just coming up, and the morning fog was perfectly lit as it slowly faded. ‘Pagan Holiday’ was streaming – I really couldn’t imagine a better soundtrack for the moment. Blissfully chiming guitars; gentle yet powerful swells; and such easy movement. Highly recommended for fans of Explosions in the Sky’s ‘Friday Night Lights,’ Red Room Cinema, Rest (Nashville, US), Sunlight Ascending’s ‘Appointment’ EP, and Moonlit Sailor. This is a wonderful collection of music – definitely a post-rock gateway drug.

Mother Reverb by Glories   released 12 April 2013
‘Let’s Not Rush Out And Tell Everyone’ Official Music Video

Oak ‘Not Afraid Anymore’
I am, and always have been, a big fan of heavy (instrumental) rock. Growing up in the 70s with older brothers who introduced me to all of the earliest heaviness, and then through high school, college and beyond – years of industrial and post-punk damage spewing from my speakers, I remain to this day ‘hooked by the riff’ (sorry, I had to say it). Mid-period bands such as Sonic Youth, Rodan, Savage Republic, Major Stars, Labradford, Dust Devils, and Rothko (all growing up in the 70s also), provided me with a massive brainful of trudging guitar rock that was always innovative, complex, and constantly evolving. Of course, I wasn’t the only person to be consumed by these sounds. Over the last ten years, an incredible number of outstanding new bands have continued to experiment with this post-punk heaviness and their own psychedelic rock influences, while adding unique and driving rhythms, and densely melodic compositions.

Oak’s new release ‘Not Afraid Anymore’ is an excellent example of this new breed. The songs are dynamic, brooding and dark. ‘ER, 2am’ oozes with restrained power for many minutes, and then pummels you with a wall of wailing guitars and pounding bass – this ten-minute beast finds itself on repeat often at 6forty HQ. And it’s my go-to song when I’m introducing Oak to new listeners. I really like how the band masterfully handles the numerous transitions in each of the epic-length tracks. No need for vocals here – the varied tempos flow together seamlessly, keeping the listener engaged as the tracks move and weave a thickly settled story.

‘Not Afraid Anymore’ is definitely one of my favorite releases of 2013. Highly recommended for fans of Rest (Cork, Ireland), What The Blood Revealed, Barrows, Fargo, Anna Purna, Red Sparrowes, and Daturah. If you enjoy powerful and intelligent instrumental rock, you will love this record – trust me. Here they are with several other great bands – 640.071 ‘In the Kingdom of the Cuckoo.’

Not Afraid Anymore by Oak   released 19 January 2013
Teaser – Recording Session 2013

The Shaking Sensations ‘Stop Start Worrying’
The Shaking Sensations second release ‘East of Youth’ was #1 on 6forty’s 2011 favorites list, and is definitely in my top 10 list of best post-rock records. So while I waited for the release of the follow-up, I wondered which direction they would go with their sound, and how it would compare to the numerous strengths of ‘East of Youth.’ Release day arrived in the form of an email with my download code (the CD wouldn’t ship for another few days). Granted, an email with a URL and a few numbers and letters didn’t quite match the fond memories of walking in to the local indie record store and finding it on the new releases rack. But it was still pretty good. A few minutes later, I clicked play, turned up the volume, and settled in for the ride.

‘Start Stop Worrying’ does not disappoint in any way. It’s a perfect follow-up to ‘East of Youth’ – the tracks are lush and melodic, and exhibit many of the same characteristics that made the first two records so enjoyable. The way the band embraces expanding layers of percussion; chiming guitars that weave and soar; perfect transitions between the heavy and soft moments; and my favorite quality – the confidence in the song structure and writing – no need to follow the cookie-cutter post-rock template. Instead, the band delivers six stunning and mature compositions that firmly position them among the best in the instrumental rock genre.

This record is easily as good as ‘East of Youth’ and will definitely live high on 6forty’s 2013 favorites list. It’s guaranteed to appeal to post-rock fans who enjoy the music of Pg.lost, Caspian, Ef, Moonlit Sailor, and Codes in the Clouds. I look forward to hearing these songs live – some day I’ll figure out a way to fund a 6forty music festival that will include The Shaking Sensations on the bill. Maybe I’ll buy a lottery ticket tomorrow…

Start Stop Worrying by The Shaking Sensations   released 22 March 2013

 Posted by at 5:26 pm
Feb 172011

Before I begin my rambling, please note one thing – To me, a compiled playlist of songs (especially if art and/or a title are involved) is considered a mixtape. And that’s just perfect, because…

…if there’s one thing in this world that I know, it’s the mixtape. I’ve been building compilations since the early 80’s. My first cassettes were made for road trips, new music fans, and, of course, to (attempt to) impress the few “indie” girls who were in my class. The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, Wire, Echo, Gang of 4, and many others would flow together on so many wonderful collections. Eventually, the mixtapes simply became the easiest way to introduce new music to my friends, and to compile my favorite songs on to one convenient 90-minute medium. I had access to a huge library of records while I was working for WPTS (University of Pittsburgh, 1986-1990), so I was cranking out the tapes on a regular basis. I had a name (A Colony of Slippermen Production), I named/numbered every mix, created art for the covers, and I even kept a journal of the playlists and eventual owners. I still really enjoy going back through the logs, loving the memories attached to each of the collections. Tapes gave way to CDRs (my production slowed a bit at that point – real life started getting in the way of my free time), and then to my current “mid-life crisis” – a music/blog web site featuring compiled mp3s, streaming for anyone who visits and clicks play.

Throughout this long-time music adventure, one thing remained constant – a carefully-planned consistency and coherent theme for each playlist. Mixtapes are more than just a random selection of songs that are pulled together from the stacks. There should be a comfortable flow to the playlist, and the collections have to ‘just feel right.’ Anyone with a CD player and/or turntable can rip a handful of songs to a CD/cassette, but it takes practice, patience, and commitment to put together a mix that captivates the listener and truly motivates them to further explore the represented bands.

Now, you’ll find countless music blogs on the Internet that feature mixtapes. And many of them are really great. But every once in a while, you find one that is exceptional. The fine folks curating the instrumental music collections, collectively known as A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters, are in that exceptional category. The 4th volume has just been released, and features 10 outstanding songs that flow perfectly, and combine into one really solid collection of rock music. Of course, I may be somewhat biased since, 1) I’m a huge post-rock fan (visit 6forty project for a taste of my hobby), 2) I love the other three collections, and knew that the guys were going to maintain the high standards set on the first three, and 3) I really enjoy all of the bands featured on this release.

My real job tends to keep me utterly consumed most days, so I rarely have time to write reviews, but in this case, I’m on a long flight, my laptop battery is expired (yep, this was written in a notebook with a pencil), and I’m listening to the collection on my iPod. So I figured that I would write a few thoughts about Volume 4.


Lost in the Riots – I Find your Lack of Faith Disturbing. A perfect opener to volume 4 – tight, hard, and driving. I would love to see these guys on a bill with Listing Ships and Alright the Captain. An excellent song.

What The Blood Revealed – Waiting for the Storm. Taken from one of my favorite albums of the year so far, this tune is ominous, powerful, and thundering. This is a great teaser, but to truly appreciate the impact of what The Blood Revealed, check out their full-length record, ‘Harbour of Devils.’

Lions Are Smarter Than I Am – Galbras. The track on Volume 4 is my first time hearing this band. Melodic monotone guitars, trudging rhythms, vocal instruments, and frequent tempo changes – so good. I’m really looking forward to exploring more from this band.

The Rustle of the Stars – Drawing Lines to the End of the World. A night-time song – sparse guitar, strings, melancholy soundscapes. So sublime and relaxed; a nice interlude on this rock playlist.

Karhide – Turing. Tim integrates such a refreshing combination of sounds on this recording. Heavy guitars, keyboard and other electronics, and a driving mechanical beat, all synced together into the perfect new-wave / prog / post-rock mashup.

A Hundred Black Kites – The Last Day. Shoegaze post-rock?! That’s just fine with me. Melodic swells, chiming guitars, a relaxed meandering tempo, and a grand exit. Very nice. Another new band in my collection that I’m eager to check out further.

Arbor Lights – Post-Rock/Paper/Scissors. I really like this song. It has such a smooth movement – clean melodies, a tight arrangement, and an easy focus. I’m reminded of my favorite early Cure instrumentals, which is why this song works so well for me…

Flies Are Spies From Hell – Nerves Still Beating (edit). Even in its slightly shortened form, this is still an epic and huge song. Flies do it so well – guitar swells and a driving rhythm, alongside their trademark (and wonderful) piano arrangements. Don’t forget to check out their full EP to hear this track in its extended beauty.

Dead Red Sun – Caverns. This is my favorite song on Volume 4. Racing guitars weave and surge on top of staccato beats, building in intensity as the song crescendos to the end. I love their EP, and can’t wait to hear more from these guys.

Eschar – Singularity. This song is so good, and is such a great way to end the collection. It’s heavy, and yet perfectly melodic. Post-rock or post-metal or whatever tag you want to assign – to me, it’s simply excellent rock music.


Remember, no matter what type of music lives on the mixtape, the person taking the time to compile the playlist had one primary goal – to introduce the listener to music he/she may not have otherwise known. Which hopefully leads them to buying record(s), motivating to see the bands play live, and/or just continuing to pass on the love of great independent music. The art of the mixtape continues to thrive. And thanks to collections like A Cheery Wave, listeners will continue to have interesting and exciting new music to discover for a long time to come.

Here’s a link to the latest volume, along with links to the previous three collections:

A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters: UK Post-Rock / Instrumental / Math-Rock (4th Wave)

A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters: An Instrumental / Post-rock Compilation (Issue One)

A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters: An Instrumental/Post-rock Compilation (Volume Two)

A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters: UK Post-Rock / Instrumental / Math-Rock (3rd Wave)

 Posted by at 8:41 pm