It’s been 20 years since Kula Shaker exploded into the UK Britpop Scene with their million selling debut album K. Their brand of esoteric psychedelic pop rock, full of Eastern mysticism made them one the most unique (often termed eccentric) of the Brit Pop bands in the 1990s.
This year Kula Shaker are back together playing intense live performances as witnessed at the Roundhouse earlier this year. Govinda sung entirely in Sanskrit and the only Sanskrit top 10 UK single ever, is still chanted by the crowds that attend the shows. Tattva, Hey Dude, through to the hit single Hush are all great songs that still sound as fresh today, 20 years on.
Further celebrations for the 20th Anniversary of the ‘K’ album will see the band performing ‘K’ in its entirety, alongside songs from the rest of their four albums, on their UK December tour.
Like me, you may not have heard of Al Berkowitz; and you may be forgiven for thinking, as I did, Al Berkowitz is obviously a singer / songwriter. It’s more complicated than that. Al Berkowitz is a trio from Spain who play psych rock fused with folk music and a 1960’s lounge / easy listening. None of them are called Al Berkowitz.
The band were formed in 2006 when the Spanish psychedelic band The Inhabitants joined forces with American beatnik Aldous Berkowitz . After Aldous’ departure in 2007, they christened the band Al Berkowitz as a homage to their former bandmate and mentor. They are now a trio consisting of Ignacio Simón, Santiago Estrada and Lorenzo Palomares.
Al Berkowitz is formed around multi-instrumentalist Ignacio Simón and his angelic, beautiful honey-dripping voice. The album was self-produced by Simón in an idyllic and tranquil setting off the coast of Cádiz (Spain). The music drifts effortlessly between a psychedelic haze and folk aspirations reminiscent, at least in part, of the likes of Tim Buckley and Scott Walker.
The opening track, ‘You And I‘, sets a sun-kissed and chilled scene. With its Spanish guitar, echo-drenched vocal and angelic choral backing, I’m transported back to the Mediterranean Sea, watching a beautiful sunset unfold before my eyes. But ‘The Frenchman And The Rabbitman‘ disturbs me. The angelic voice is replaced with a lemon twisted psych rock. I feel somewhat rudely and abruptly awoken; and so the journey begins.
With ‘How Could We Get Ourselves Lost?‘ the album’s tranquility returns which leaves me thinking the previous eight minute psych out was in some way representative of a bad acid trip. An interruption that possibly has significant and underlying meaning. Am I detecting this is a concept album?
Ignacio Simón‘s beautiful and delicately angelic voice is perfectly accompanied by the sadness of a cello on ‘How Could We Get Ourselves Lost?‘ and the fourth song to make up ‘A Long Hereafter‘ is ‘Magical Cynical‘ with its oompah-pah piano and sing-a-long chorus, it fills me with a nostalgic sense of golden age vaudeville drunken merriness through 1960’s rose-tinted glasses.
The album is very clearly set out in two parts and ‘Nothing Beyond‘ begins with ‘Farewell My Lady‘ with its stirring psych rock attitude. Confusingly, the song ‘A Long Hereafter‘ appears in this second part. This song has me thinking of Scott Walker, Jacques Brel and Ignacio Simón as a troubadour.
‘Nothing Beyond‘ has a dreamy sadness. Full of echo the song floats in a telling way. Like the end of a something beautiful that has served its time and been left to drift effortlessly and happily towards a heavenly unknown.
‘Sensitive, Not Dramatic‘ introduces an industrial element with its rhythm churning away in the background while monastic-like harmonies fuse psychedelic headiness with experimental err towards kraut rock, as A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond closes gradually like vapour caught in a light breeze.
A Long Hereafter Nothing Beyond was originally released on the Spanish record label Green Ufos in March 2013. The album was apparently well received but suffered from a limited run promotion. Temple Arts signed Al Berkowitz in 2014 and felt it only right this album should be re-released with full support and promotion across Europe in the hope that Al Berkowitz would receive the critical success they feel, the band deserve.
The re-release of A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond has been remastered and edited from 12 to 8 tracks, as the original release included 4 tracks against the band’s wishes. Further to the re-release, Al Berkowitz will be relocating to London later this year to help promote themselves and pursue wider appreciation in the UK and across Europe.
Ignacio Simón has a beautiful, angelic voice and A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond, a truly wonderful album; and Temple Arts are right, more people need to hear the music of Al Berkowitz.
Al Berkowitz – A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond is now available on Temple Arts.
Hailing from Venice, Italy, New Candys are scheduled to release their second album, New Candys As Medicine, on 6th April via Minneapolis based label Picture In My Ear on vinyl, CD and digital download. A deluxe vinyl edition will also be released on Fuzz Club. httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpEkMNgFRFk New Candys play dark, broody psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll swamped in swathes of fuzz, distortion and a chamber full of echo.
Think what Jesus & Mary Chain and Psychocandy would have sounded like if the Reid brothers had erred away from the sugar sweet sixties pop influences of surf city and the Beach Boys and erred further towards the Velvet Underground’s European Sun. Think Loop, Brian Jonestown Massacre at their most swirling, drug-enhanced, hazy floatation tank best (Anemone). Think The Black Angels, leather trousers, beads, the summer of love, back-combed hair, and cool dark sunglasses with acid-tripping pupils. New Candys formed in 2008 with Fernando Nuti on vocals, guitar and sitar, Diego Menegaldo on guitar and vocals, Stefano Bidoggia on bass and Dario Lucchesi on drums. The band unashamedly wear their influences on their sleeves – 1960s psychedelic rock, especially The Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett. In August 2010 they released their first self-produced EP that caught the attention of the Italian independent press and since then they have been playing live continuously, sharing the stage with artists such as Crystal Stilts, Dead Skeletons, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Rose Windows, The KVB and many others. The cover-art for ‘New Candy As Medicine’ was self-made by the band, and attempts to translate the album’s layers of sonic melodies into images with a mixture of different paper and surfaces glued together – the final result being a coordinated chaos – whilst the leitmotif for the album’s imaginary comes from Maya Deren’s surrealistic films together with the Patent Medicines’ period, when drugs compounds were sold pretending to be medications with exclusive ingredients. The album includes 10 great songs including ‘Dark Love’, one of the strongest tracks and obvious contender for lead single, though a personal favourite is ‘Overall’.
It kicks like a mule and fills my head with hazy daze smiles. Drums pound a driving rhythm and the vocals swim around the guitars like porpoise in a sea of echoes. The odd scream of distortion and throbbing bass is together heading towards signs of perfection in my book. I can’t wait to hear this played loud and live! New Candys will apparently support the album release with some yet to be announced UK dates. Though the album sounds great, I’m thinking it will sound a whole lot better in a small venue with the amps cranked up to eleven. New Candys as Medicine was mixed by Loop’s original drummer/producer John Wills which makes perfect sense.
The album was preceded in January by the release of the AA split 10” single with Kill Your Boyfriend on Shyrec / Xnot You Xme. ‘Dark Love’ is taken from the album, while ‘Surf 2’ is exclusive to the single.
New Candys – New Candys as Medicine Tracklisting:
1. Thrill Or Trip
2. Song For The Mutant
3. Patent Medicine
4. Dark Love
5. Aphrodite In Leather
7. Bones On Fire
9. Jolly Pan
10. Endless Deadline
New Candys – New Candys as Medicine is due for release on 6th April on Picture In My Ear.
In 1986, amongst the explosion of exciting lo-fi indie pop sounds that would become known as the ‘C86 sound’, a debut single was released by a Brighton band with a peculiar name. 14 Iced Bears had signed to the local fledgling Frank Records label and released, what I thought on first hearing was a classic pop song. ‘Inside’ starts with a rough, jagged, twee yet angst-ridden guitar, before pounding tribal drums precede an ear-bleeding barrage of treble-heavy distorted guitar noise that fills the room and my head, simultaneously. The cacophony of noise has me slightly wincing with ear-aching pain and pleasure. The assault is lessened only by the fact that it was predated by The Jesus & Mary Chain and Meat Whiplash debut singles on Creation Records – ‘Upside Down’ and ‘Don’t Slip Up’, respectively.
‘Inside’ delivers a short, sharp shock of intense indie pop music noise as singer/songwriter Rob Sekula delivers a gentle, naked vocal that collides beautifully with the energy & rush of music. The song comes and goes far too quickly. No time for a middle-eight. No room for a self-indulgent guitar solo. The 14 Iced Bears were one of hundreds of lo-fi exponents that had sprung up in opposition to over-produced commercial twaddle, and the dry ice and pomposity of Goth music.
As with any period in music history, where there’s a sea-change music journalists will tag a name to it. By 1986 the UK was certainly awash with new groups, small record labels and clubs that across the country appeared to have rekindled the ‘do-it-yourself’ punk ethic and in the process formed an uprising from…. somewhere.
The 14 Iced Bears were lumped in with the indie pop ‘scene’. In many ways they were a perfect fit. Their sound, both live and recorded was heavily influenced by twee, jangly treble-heavy guitars and a sense of lo-fi amateurishness. But 14 Iced Bears also had a psychedelic edge; and by the time of their debut album, they had erred further towards psychedelia and with hindsight, clearer to see they were forerunners of what became known as the ‘shoegazer’ scene.
But before the debut album, they released the exceptional ‘The Importance of Being Frank’ 12” EP & the equally absorbing ‘Come Get Me’ 7” single. The 12” included no fillers just four brilliant tracks – ‘Balloon Song’, ‘Train Song’, ‘Like a Dolphin’ & ‘Lie to Choose’. For me, this cemented 14 Iced Bears as one of my favourite bands of the moment. They already had more great pop songs than most of their contemporaries. ‘Come Get Me’ was released on the much coveted Bristol-based Sarah record label. But because of the labels ‘no albums’ policy they were forced to release their eponymously titled debut album in 1988 on a third label, Thunderball Records.
By now the C86 ‘thing’ had passed and the UK indie music scene had dissipated. Some groups signed for major labels in search for commercial success and other copycats & hangers-on simply fell away or changed their colours (The Soup Dragons!). But with the release of their debut album, the 14 Iced Bears sound had simply evolved and taken on new brighter, more elaborate colours.
“I genuinely think 14 Iced Bears’ eponymous debut album is a bit of a lost psych classic.” – Alexis Petridis, The Guardian
Over the course of their career, 14 Iced Bears had a pretty fluid line-up. But always at its centre was singer/songwriter Rob Sekula. The original noise pop and C86 twee had been superseded by a heavily-influenced 1960s psych pop sound that was always present but sometimes hidden amongst the noise, pop and distortion. The album is indeed a lost and by many, forgotten classic. ‘Take It’, ‘Spangle’ and reworked versions of ‘Train Song’ & ‘Cut’ were quite possibly overlooked as nothing more than a release out of time with shifting tastes and trends.
The influence of West Coast psychedelia continued to influence the band’s music as 14 Iced Bears continued to err closer towards psychedelic ‘shoegazer’ space releasing a further two EPs in 1989 and a second album, Wonder in 1991.
Hitherto, I was unfamiliar with the second album and listening to it afresh in 2014, it includes some great songs that still hold an essence of what I first fell in love with, coupled with a clear evolution that is clearly demonstrated when listening to this whole compilation. Through this later period they enjoyed more success on the college circuit in the US than they received in the UK. However, the band split in 1992 and lay dormant until 2010 when Sekula resurrected the band for some live dates following a resurgence of interest.
There have been a couple of noteworthy 14 Iced Bears compilations over the past 20 years, the best of which is Hold On Inside – Complete Recordings 1991 – 1986 on Cherry Red Records. In reverse order it contains both albums and all the singles, starting with ‘Hold On’, the last track on the second album and closing with their debut single ‘Inside’. Hence the title!
Listening to this album brings back good memories. How I met Rob and arranged a gig in Chatham. How the band came back to mine for dinner; and most of all how good the songs were and still sound so good all these years later. As I listen to this double album I wonder why the 14 Iced Bears didn’t leave more of a mark and bigger impression on more people than they did.
The Strawberry Alarm Clock are best known for releasing one of the defining records of 1967 & the psychedelic Summer of Love with the US chart-topping 45 ‘Incense And Peppermints’, but this west coast psych pop band were far more than one-hit wonders.
Incense And Peppermints (apologies for the poor quality but this is a rare performance)
Tune In via Cherry Red Records release a 2CD set comprising of The Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s first two albums – Incense & Peppermints and Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow + three bonus single tracks.
Curse Of The Witches from Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow
Incense And Peppermints/Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow comes with a 16 page booklet featuring a new essay on the band that, with quotes from the leading players, examines the cult that surrounds The Strawberry Alarm Clock and includes the story behind that iconic single and details of the band’s exploits on the road with the likes of the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield.
This Tune In Records release comes with a superb master tape sound quality and the booklet includes some rare photos.
The Strawberry Alarm Clock Incense And Peppermints/Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow track listing:
1. THE WORLD’S ON FIRE
2. BIRDS IN MY TREE
3. LOSE TO LIVE
4. STRAWBERRIES MEAN LOVE
5. RAINY DAY MUSHROOM PILLOW
6. PAXTON’S BACK STREET CARNIVAL
7. HUMMIN’ HAPPY
8. PASS TIME WITH THE SAC
9. INCENSE AND PEPPERMINTS
10. UNWIND WITH THE CLOCK
11. THE BIRDMAN OF ALKATRASH
12. NIGHTMARE OF PERCUSSION
13. SOFT SKIES, NO LIES 14. TOMORROW
15. THEY SAW THE FAT ONE COMING
16. CURSE OF THE WITCHES
17. SIT WITH THE GURU
18. GO BACK (YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY)
19. PRETTY SONG FROM PSYCH-OUT
20. SITTING ON A STAR
21. BLACK BUTTER, PAST
22. BLACK BUTTER, PRESENT
23. BLACK BUTTER, FUTURE
24. TOMORROW (SINGLE MIX)
25. SIT WITH THE GURU (SINGLE MIX)
Incense & Peppermints/Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow by The Strawberry Alarm Clock is reissued as a 2CD release on Tune In Records via Cherry Red.