Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Music Reviews: Thee Koukouvaya, Charlie Nieland, Squirrel Records

Independent music provides the life blood necessary to expand creative boundaries commercial enterprises place on this art form.   Drawing inspiration from sources meaningful to them, the purity in the work produced makes it all more interesting.   An artist unshackled by restrictions to conform is then free to create whatever they can imagine.   Although creators ultimately benefit from favorable audiences (which in turn provide an economic platform to continue), art is always better served when approached from a transparent, non-commercial approach.

This feature focuses on music created by independent artists operating in varying degrees outside of the mainstream.

On August 22nd, 2016‪, Fiercely Independent Records released "Ancient Race of Techno-Voyagers," the new album from electronic musicians Thee Koukouvaya, in vinyl and digital formats. It is the second full-length album from collaborators John O’Hara and Brian Wenckebach, following their debut LP “This is the Mythology of Modern Death” (Saint Marie Records) and their ambient EP Witches’ Jelly (soundinsilence).

The slightly muffled tom tom pattern first heard setting the pace in featured track “Limbic Crisis For Sparkle And Foam” is soon joined by deep buzzing bass tones and higher end modulation. This establishes a frenetic feeling, as if running through a forest at night. Crisp higher pitched sounds surface and buzz intermittently, like fireflies over summer fields.  Blips and bleeps abound as passages undulate and morph into other shapes.  There’s enough unanticipated dropouts and re-starts to keep clear of predictability, holding on to your interest.  Although one might point to 2006’s breakthrough artists The Knife and their “Silent Shout” as muse for this style of composition, all electronic approximations of hypnotic jungle drumming owe a certain amount of debt to Brian Eno’s “In Dark Trees.” It’s pretty much common knowledge that the 1975 album “Another Green World” still serves as the basic blueprint for all ambient electronic music that followed.  That’s not to say that O’Hara and Wenckebach don’t add anything new to this genre, for they surely do.  Many of their textures are new to my ears and as such, a delight to come in contact with.

Listen here:

Other tracks lean closer to pure film soundtrack material. The opening cut “We Walked Out of Mexico Loaded” is a tension-laced backdrop you’d hear in the buildup towards a pivotal scene in a Science Fiction thriller.

 The brilliantly titled “Suspicion Breeds Confidence” comes on at a more methodical pace. There is a central drone buildup that ratchets tension levels up, until a plateau is reached. Distant, muted voices can be heard periodically throughout, as if astronaut space technicians can be heard working on a new colony.

“The Modern Beige” approximates movements one might imagine a large pumping device would make. The track is actually in two parts, as the second half picks up the tempo, seemingly swapping out the pump for a whooshing surface sweeper.  Also, points for the title's clever play on an oft-used expression.

“Planetary Archive” undulates with a joyously dancey feel as processed voices provide a comforting humanoid backdrop. There’s a delightful sweetness to this track that sets it apart from all the others.

“Nauplia” provides the sonic equivalent of the sheer awe and wonder of staring into a magical sea of stars. Beat-less and without any real shape at all, it still envelops you in a warm bath of sine waves.

Mechanical clapping percussion creates an underlying polyrhythm on “Pluto Heart.” Softer sound waves move at a more deliberate pace, ultimately giving way to an abrupt liftoff.

“Margaritas By The Pool” may have the requisite prestige of a vocoder performance by electronic music innovator Ulrich Schnauss to draw attention to it. However, even without that respected contribution, the track stands out as an uplifting composition. The final (and another cleverly titled) track

“Aged Into Conformity” benefits from marimba and bell like tones. As those patterns loop, other textures rise up from underneath, creating the sensory equivalent of deep mysterious caverns.

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Recording artists looking for a studio run by the capable hands that produced this record, follow this link here.

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[This section removed due to extreme myopic arrogance and ultimately inferior quality of the vanity project.  Some people need to learn how to treat others better and never take anything for granted.  To quote TRUE actual pop artists - The Beatles - about  being "treated right" - "love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight." ]

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Musician/producer and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Nieland has created an array of picturesque music over the years. Writing and recording impressive dream pop with his band Her Vanished Grace, Charlie recently released his first set of solo material titled ICE AGE - now available on Bandcamp.  Reviewed here are the six songs included on that expansive set of acoustic guitar based songs.

The title track “Ice Age” opens with heavily reverberated sonics giving the impression a Pink Floyd style journey may be underway. That sense quickly shifts as bright acoustic guitar takes the forefront and softly sung vocals begin. Though the noisy undercurrent continues, sparse piano notes enter the mix along with the half-spoken/half-sung storytelling. “She will cry, I’m falling” catches the ear as an early bridge/hook. Percussion emerges in the form of light touch snare drum and cymbals on the second pass through. “She alone can melt all the ice away” creates a poetic resolution to any questions regarding thematic imagery. The early albums of Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and David Bowie all come to mind as the spiritual antecedents to this sound.

“All I’ve Ever Wanted” continues with the brightly strummed acoustic guitar textures and lush synth background atmospherics. Touching on the positive universal theme of self-recognition and seeking “the perfect moment.”

There is a bigger overall feel to the track “Lighthouse.”  Vocals are sung out more passionately against celestial chiming guitars, giving it all a Cocteau Twins feel – but with Robin and not Liz singing. Poetic phrases like “the color of your dreams” hint at the beacon’s purpose.

“Automatic” impresses with its lush, romantic chorus and an overall floating upward sensation. Reminiscent of 90’s era Projekt recording artists Love Spirals Downwards, Soul Whirling Somewhere and Black Tape For A Blue Girl.

Distinctive melody notes sit atop the acoustic chord structure of “Water” while a dreamy electric guitar haze carries on underneath. Feeling more Slowdive than Cocteau here, those distinctions may be subtle, but important to those in the know nevertheless.

“Falling” stands out with its piano chords as primary structural instrumental base. Strings create a dramatic backdrop for an emotional lyrical recitation. Voice takes the central focus, leaning on the sentimental while incorporating unexpected minor chord changes.

Find out more about Charlie Nieland and his music here on his Bandcamp page.

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Longtime friends of this site Squirrel Records has recently released Nuts and Vaults! - a two CD, 50 track compilation of carefully curated tunes from their vast catalog. Mixed in with those tracks are never before released cuts from a number of bands who have been on the label over the years - as well as a handful of bands who just wanted to contribute to this compilation.

Presented as the labels final major release, there is no shortage of great songs to be heard. Here are a selection of tracks that garnered review attention.

End It (Part One) - AILSA CRAIG

 Hyperactive, percolating percussion and a sturdy descending bassline serve as the driving entry for “End It (Part 1)” ‘Leaving so fast, you don’t know what you’re getting,” sings Caroline.  Matt Robson is credited with something referred to as “lead sample guitar” and evidence of it can be heard throughout the song. Of note is a particularly hooky chorus sung by Caroline that goes “I can’t go on like this – you must end it” A surprising and delightful rapid sequenced keyboard line emerges, which leads into Paul Elam’s powerful fuzzy guitarwork.

Down From Here - INSECT GUIDE

“Down From Here” is driving, catchy pop at its best, while the lyrics point towards something a bit more sinister. “There’s no further down from here,” can only imply you’ve reached rock bottom. So – the only way out is back up? With a single guitar line hook that references both The Cure (in tone) and The Jesus and Mary Chain (in construction) fans of those bands will surely love this.


“Hit it!” is a noise-fueled shorty that encompasses the rawness of The Ramones, with a “do, do, do do” vocal passage that’s pure JAMC. Guitar and bass trample the avenues of chaos and sludge, offering up total disregard for any rules of decorum.



Distorted feedback intros a Mo Tucker-meets-Bobby Gillespie backbeat on The Sunday Reeds “Handgun To My Heart.” The deep and sultry vocals of Romana Ashton explain that when your “love was doomed from the start,” this is the best way to consummate it.

“Drop Dead Cool” is both harder and trashier. The snare drum has that deep echo on it that appeals on a number of levels. Powerful guitar riffs snake throughout as Romana deadpans lines like “hey kid you’ve got no blues – hey kid you got nuthin’ to lose” – but – it’s “drop dead cool.” Well alright!


“Made Out Of Perspex.” A quicker, bass guitar and synth hook driven pop groove, the catchy lyrics “I won’t care about you, I’m an instant automaton,” get stuck in your head.



A previously never before released rave-up, “Kubanskaya” finds Manhattan Love Suicides alumni Adam fronting his own project here. With a vocal performance reminiscent of David J’s work with both Love and Rockets and solo, the track is quite impressive. A female voice joins Adam on significant passages, as the bass guitar driven rhythm powers it all along.

One Track Mind - HOROWITZ

Capturing the spirit of Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers classic anthem to nihilism, a near note and beat perfect rendition is executed here.  Jerry Nolan beats,  Johnny's and Walter Lure's guitar riffs - it's all there.  Those boys would be proud of this one.



A quickly recorded Roky Erickson cover that has never been released anywhere else, “Nothing In Return” is a faithful rendition that gets to the heart of what the MLS were all about. The spirit of original Texas rock and roll and the psych-rock that it spawned (like viruses spreading in a biological horror movie) flows through this track. Special props go to Caroline for her impassioned vocals.


Getting Faster - THE BLANCHE HUDSON WEEKEND A surprising 60’s keyboard/organ part steps out as the primary melodic accompaniment on “Getting Faster.” Underscoring how Darren and Caroline’s post Manhattan Love Suicides project expanded from the stripped down fuzzy guitar, bass, drums and voice only formula. Those other elements are still there in full force however.


With an intro guitar tone reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking,” vocalist Su Sutton alternates between a sweet and sandpaper quality on this track. Spinning a tale of “wasting another night with you,” bright tambourine (meticulously placed) accentuate key moments as Stan Howells guitar layers add power and clarity to it all. “I go through charcoal grey – I go through black,” Sutton laments. “I go through charcoal grey – I’m not coming back,” she concludes.


Suzy Blu takes on the Texas legend that is Buddy Holly in a truly inspired way.  Building their entire song around a single word sound sample of Holly's trademark "Well" - provides the necessary sonic gravitas for Suzy's own creative flow. After Buddy's initial "appearance," the track takes on a forceful minimalism of driving tom tom percussion accompanying storyteller vocals. Guitars emerge into the mix and serve to create an appealing level of tension throughout. The bigger move, however is a jacked up chorus featuring buzzaw guitar chords, matched throbbing bass, electronic handclap percussion and floating outerspace sounds. It's all pulled back together with the return of Buddy's "Well." The cycle repeats with enough incidental sonic variations to hold the listeners interest. The story being told focuses on the eternal search for love - or at the very least a compatible partner. While one may "find it easy to lie in the dark" the other challenges them to "play your part." "Do you want to sink or swim? Show me how thick's your skin!" If only Buddy were around to hear this.

This wonderful compilation can be ordered here.

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Additionally, Squirrel Records has a recent 7" vinyl release that is a pretty cool collectors item as well.

The seventh, and final single release from the mysterious collective Girl One And The Grease Guns

Here they bring you "The Shatterproof Man" b/w "A Steel Cat In A Glass Jar."  The disc comes pressed on clear vinyl in a transparent sleeve. 

The a-side is a vigorous slice of electronic pop, while the flipside takes you on "a 6 minute experimental journey into a creepy, Eraserhead inspired world filled with the sounds of factory machinery, and a feeling of dread."

That single can be ordered here.

Previous Squirrel Records features on this site can be found via these links:

True Independent Music Labels

Pop Threat / Dirt N' Dust 1999-2003 Album Review

The Insect Guide - Dark Days and Nights

The Blanche Hudson Weekend

ailsa craig - a silent no : 19-10-09

The Manhattan Love Suicides - Singles

The Manhattan Love Suicides - Burnt out Landscapes

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Mirror said...

Darren Lockwood wrote:

Excellent Nuts & Vaults review there......Cheers, Dave. Those photos make that Girl One And The Grease Guns 7" look particularly desirable as well, don't they? I picked out the photos and wrote half of the liner notes (with Caroline taking on the rest, of course) but we couldn't have put that artwork together without Jon Aldersea at Goldphone. That fella knows his stuff.

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Marlene Marlene wrote:

Darren is an artist of wit.

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Tom Lugo wrote:

Stan Steven Howells Emma Hazard Suzanne Denise Maynard check it out: Squirrel Records' Nuts and Vaults! comp is featured. Great job Dave Cromwell

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Squirrel Records shared DaveCromwellWrites's feature:

Just spreading it around.....something to read when you sit back and relax today.....A nicely detailed review of our recent Nuts & Vaults compilation CD, with several bands and tracks singled out for a write-up. Oh, and a fine little review at the bottom for Girl One And The Grease Guns' Shatterproof Man 7" , as well. Cheers Dave.......much appreciated.

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Caroline Mcchrystal wrote:

Another fine write up Mr Cromwell!

It was fun putting this together! We had a real delve in the archives for some of it!

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Romana Ashton wrote:

Cool. Thanks, Dave Cromwell!

It's excellent. Love it! :)
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Suzanne Denise Maynard wrote:

Another great review on three of my songs! Thanks

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DaveCromwell said...

Glad you know you like my analysis, Darren.

Yeah, the Squirrel Records packaging is always top notch. You are as much a visual artist as a sonic one. ;-)

I can relate to your particular view of life through movies and music. Keeping things interesting while avoiding dullness and boredom is the always sought after state of mind.

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Appreciate your feedback, Caroline! "Archive delves" usually produce interesting results!

That compilation certainly does look like it was fun to put together. I’m happy to also includes links at the end of this feature to the many previous reviews done on the great Squirrel Records output over the years!

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Good to see Romana from The Sunday Reeds and Su from Insect Guide and Suzy Blu checking in with their approval as well.

((((((bug said...

Don Henley is dyslexic.
Always has been. So when he went for 2 doses of Robitussin and ended up taking 5 and then inexplicably bit on some tin foil, the cacophony created in his mind is audibly represented in the track “Limbic Crisis For Sparkle And Foam” . A track that builds in a slow intensity until Don finally breaks and tells Jackson Browne “I get it man, I get it.. just shut the fuck up already! fuck. Fer realz!’
It’s good to see that Drina is still getting work after TLC. The keyboard/piano on this track is so smoov I netflixed and chilled myself. And then nervously waited 2 days for a text.
Charlie Nieland is a throwback sound to Marty Willson-Piper of 2002. While I’m not a huge fan of the whispering ‘I’m making sweet love to you as I swipe right’ vocals the guitar work on “Water” is some of the best stuff I’ve heard this year.
Unlike The Blanche Hudson Weekend I don’t feel like I’m “Getting Faster”. I think it’s more an ache than a speed. But I do dig this track, especially the organ. I feel as if there is probably some dance in Redondo Beach that goes with this track.
“Wasted” Insect Guide takes me back to the Adult Orientated Grunge of the early 90s. Kinda a Juliana Hatfield joint. I also entertained the idea of an Insect Guide being the size of a small insect too. That would make me giggle.

DaveCromwell said...

Your own personal review of these artists is a delight to read, bug! Nimble of wit, you touch on all the various positive qualities while injecting a large dose of madcap humor into it as well.

Current du jour pop culture references sit neatly besides dream-trip scenarios that would make for some twistedly fun graphic novel material.

I have to admit I've always been curious as to the origins of the band name "Insect Guide" - but surprisingly, never got around to asking. There's a story in there no doubt I'm sure.

Mirror said...

Heather Sparx/Drina posted:

Thanks DaveCromwellWrites for our first review for "Adore Me"!

This is great.


We love your spot on review!


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drinamusicBrooklyn, New York posted on Instagram:



Thank you for the write up, @davecromwell! We loved reading your thoughts on "Adore Me". Head to Davecromwellwrites.blogspot to read it!

#adoreme #newmusic #newartist #synth #rnb #rnbsynth #drina #drinamusic #iamdrina #brooklyn #berlin #review #musicreview #diy

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heathersparxBrooklyn, New York posted on Instagram:


Thanks for the write up @davecromwell! Head over to his blog, Davecromwellwrites.blogspot to get the T on what he thought about "ADORE ME".
#review #writeup #newmusic #newartist #drina #drinamusic #iamdrina #synthpop #rnb #rnbsynth
Delete CommentdavecromwellAwesome! This link will take you there as well:
__yeux_verts beautiful


sophb0 🎈🎁

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DaveCromwell said...

You're welcome team Drina (Heather and Justin).

I loved how the "floating upward keyboards and layered vocals dovetail together giving the track a dreamy/chill vibe."

The social network sharing and re-sharing - and promotion of this blog is much appreciated as well.

Looking forward to hearing more tracks as they come!

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DaveCromwell said...

But what did you think of the music here, hari narayan?

By the way - that telescope is a little pricey. I may shop around a bit before I pull the trigger on that Captain Ahab spyglass ;-)

Mirror said...

Brian W / Vilan Dredo of Thee Koukouvaya wrote:

Thank you for the insightful review and write-up.

It's such a pleasure when someone really knows how to LISTEN to music.

This is definitely a review to promote and share!

Pretty much agree on all points covered, so of course shared on all our Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc accounts!

Awesome job! Many thanks. You are truly a gentleman, Dave.

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Kou Kou ‏@theekoukouvaya Posted on Twitter:

"A frenetic feeling, as if running through a forest at night." #idm #electronic #vinyl #NewMusicKou Kou added,
Dave Cromwell @DaveCromwell
New Music Reviews from Dave Cromwell Writes! Featuring Thee Koukouvaya, DRINA, Charlie Nieland + Squirrel...

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DaveCromwell said...

You made a great record there, Brian. Ancient Race of Techno-Voyager by your band Thee Koukouvaya *should* be heard!

I focused on the music in my writing above, but it’s worth mentioning here how you envision Thee Koukouvaya as "the conceptual aural sister city to Vilandredo, Rethymno, on the island of Crete."

And how you are looking to generate "a sonic liminal space between the organic and the mechanical."

That's a heady descriptive concept that brings additional imaginative focus to it all.

Misty said...

this is quite a broad range of music covered here.

Thee Koukouvaya is definitely the most 'spacey' of them all. but i like that kind of thing from time to time. its the sort of music you can put on in the background and do other things, and then after a while realize how much you've been enjoying what you've been listening to.

Drina is definitely a change from that band Sparx you had previously featured on here. i had to laugh at what one of the comments above here, " good to see that Drina is still getting work after TLC. The keyboard/piano on this track is so smoov I netflixed and chilled myself. And then nervously waited 2 days for a text."

hee, hee. that's silly but also kind of amusing too.

Charlie Nieland is definitely the singer songwriter of the bunch here. there are some really nice compositions.

as for Squirrel records massive output there, its nice to see a label doing a total retrospective of all the artists they've collaborated with. i remember reading some of the earlier features on their artists here on this site. so, good to see it all coming round full circle.

DaveCromwell said...

Interesting that you should mention the act of putting music on and then doing other things (rather than active, focused listening), Misty. When I'm not writing reviews, that's my favorite way to take in music. I think it really sinks in deeper when you can do that over the span of a longer time frame. The music then becomes emotionally attached to whatever activity you've been engaged it. Then every time you do that thing again - you have this feeling - this reminder of how the music related to it.

There is surely a psychological explanation for this.

That's an investigation for another time.

Right now I'm just enjoying listening to all this music (while I do other things).