There was an error in this gadget

Friday, September 30, 2016

Syrinx - Tumblers from the vault: 1970-1972 (RVNG Intl)

A wonderful archive compilation of this Canadian group’s output from the early 1970s.

There’s an ecstatic quality to tracks like ‘Aurora spinray’ and ‘Tilicum’, a great kosmische bounce that borders on Eden Ahbez-like exotica in places, in others approaching the blissful pastoral haze of Cluster.

Elsewhere you’ll find the gorgeous stretched out electronic jazz trails of ‘Hollywood dream trip’.

All round a thoroughly fantastic slice of the 70s underground (although unexpectedly accessible) and a great piece of work by RVNG Intl.

Full details below.

The two instrumental albums that Syrinx issued in the early 1970s sound little like the psychedelic music prevailing Toronto’s rock venues at the time, and are even further removed from the electronic tape experimentations spooled by a younger John Mills-Cockell.

Instead, the path of Syrinx whimsically veers away from the dominant mode of ‘70s subculture, charting surprising commercial success. Tumblers From The Vault presents their entire recorded legacy, reviving the story of Syrinx and sharing their memorable, mind-bending melodies.

The musicians behind Syrinx were composer and keyboardist John Mills-Cockell, saxophonist Doug Pringle, and percussionist Alan Wells. All three were young veterans of the Toronto creative scene by the beginning of 1970. LSD played a supporting role in their artistic pursuits, but equal guidance also came from Mills-Cockell’s studies at the University of Toronto and Royal Conservatory of Music, where he established an ad-hoc, DIY electronic music course in the school’s basement. Before long, Mills-Cockell was an accomplished young composer and an important conspirator in Intersystems, a rogue, multimedia ensemble that intersected heterogenous artists and musicians via the Toronto underground. In this freeform environment, Mills-Cockell’s compositions found alert ears, among them his primary collaborator Doug Pringle, a wily wind player, and producer Felix Pappalardi, whose credits include Cream’s Disraeli Gears and who helped John land an album deal with True North Columbia.

After Intersystems dissolution, Mills-Cockell journeyed to Canada’s west coast to work on an album of original synth-based compositions using his multi-suitcase Moog as the primary instrument. Pringle was enlisted to color outside the music’s already adventurous lines, his sinuous, signal-processed saxophone adding another electrifying voice to Syrinx’s signature sound. A sound that hybridized chamber music dynamics with wild, yet tuneful electronic melodicism. With Alan Wells’ understated percussion rolled into the fold, what started as a solo venture for Mills-Cockell became a new kind of collective.

From these coastal sessions were conjured exemplary pieces like “Journey Tree” and “Hollywood Dream Trip,” both plaintive and serene expressions of Mills-Cockell’s economical arrangements, and also Syrinx’s restrained and expert use of their electronic resources. “Hollywood Dream Trip” alone presents a theme so memorable and melancholic that it calls to mind Erik Satie, John Cage’s early piano works, and the cinematic power of Golden Age soundtrack music. Syrinx’s self-titled debut arrived in 1970, followed in 1971 by Long Lost Relatives, which is highlighted as the first album on Tumblers From The Vault.

Between the two albums, Syrinx became a vital part of the Toronto music scene, with Doug Pringle’s loft serving as the central node for impromptu performances and the group’s collaborative activities. Syrinx also started receiving high profile work, first for television, film, and dance, and then for orchestra. One commission culminated commercially in “Tillicum”, the unforgettable theme music for pioneering reality television show Here Come the Seventies. As a standalone single, “Tillicum” would climb to #38 on Canada’s RPM charts. The most eventful assignment came from the Toronto Repertory Ensemble’s conductor and composer Milton Barnes, whose solicitation inspired the powerful orchestral suite Stringspace.

The studio version of Stringspace for Long Lost Relatives is a near faithful version to the live performance, the Toronto Repertory Ensemble offering the same sweeping, deeply engrossing symphonic support. (An original live version also appears on Tumblers from the Vault on the third LP, along with other rare and alternate Syrinx gems). “Tillicum” also appears on Long Lost Relatives, a nod to the group’s new visibility, and perhaps an assertion that Syrinx was part of the trailblazing new world that their television theme song signaled.

Syrinx’s music is more than a faded strain in Canada’s consciousness, but has never expanded universally. One modest task of Tumblers from the Vault is to reinstate Syrinx to their place in the wider canon of groundbreaking music so their story can be appreciated beyond the limits of Canadian notoriety. Another task is to simply have this music heard again, which is an endeavor made less difficult by the fact that the most defining quality of Syrinx’s music is its timelessness and agency.

Unlike so many turn of the ‘60s experiments fusing rock and pop music language with new technology, Syrinx was never excessive in expressing their vision of what electronic music could offer. Instead, they blended these sounds in a holistic way, allowing the acoustic and electronic textures to create one organic voice. They opted to foreground the lyrical and poetic content of their compositions rather than their innovative techniques.

It’s a tribute to John Mills-Cockell’s compositions, and his comrades Doug Pringle and Alan Wells, that the tangential path of Syrinx remains as present, exploratory and inviting as ever.

Syrinx’s Tumblers From The Vault will be released on October 14, 2016 as triple LP set, double CD, and digital formats. An accompanying documentary about Syrinx by artist and filmmaker Zoe Kirk-Gushowaty will screen selectively.

Nathan Bowles – Chiaroscuro (from the album Whole and cloven, Paradise of Bachelors)

This is about the last thing you would expect from an artist renowned for banjo playing and Appalachian folk tunes.

It’s a solo piano piece consisting of a core unchanging 6-note pattern – fast, repeating – while around it staccato bursts of notes drift in and out of phase creating a hypnotic interlocking whole.

It’s the kind of minimalist phasing exercise you might associate with Messers Glass or Reich.

It lasts about 3 minutes but it feels much a good way. In the sense that you feel like you’ve been through something significant. Something worthwhile. And something, if you’re anything like me, you feel you need to listen to again immediately to figure out what just happened.

It’s not exactly clear what it’s doing on an album of mostly banjo tunes, mysterious and tantalising as they are.

But then again, why question when beauty arrives.

Let’s just treat it as an absorbing, intriguing puzzle.

Track 8 in this playlist

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Playlist 416 - Sept 27 2016

Two bands from down under who burst through in the 1980s to start the show. The Moles have a new album out, it's great. From The Chills we heard from their 1986 album on Flying Nun, Kaleidoscope world, their album last year was a brilliant and thoroughly authentic update on the 1980s sound.

The singular sound of Xylouris White who play Cork in October as part of the Jazz Festival (my kind of jazz). Syrinx, the kosmische sound of the Toronto early 70s underground, a beautiful thing. Nathan Bowles, making banjo swing and swoon.

And Barry McCormack, the ex Jubilee Allstars man has a new album out, a rollicking folk rock set with a scathing eye on his home city of Dublin. Like The Fall, always the same, always different.

More on these pages.

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 416
Tues Sept 27 2016
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

The Moles - Artificial heart
The Chills – Rolling moon
August Wells – Keep my matches dry
Frank Sinatra – Goodbye (She quietly says)
Barry McCormack – A long way away (playing Conservative Club, Dublin, Oct 21)
Itasca – Buddy (playing Islington Assembly Hall, London, Nov 17, w/ Ryley Walker)
Nathan Bowles – Moonshine is my sunshine (playing Gulliver's, Manchester, Nov 20, w/ Steve Gunn)
Xylouris White – Short rhapsody (playing Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Oct 28)
Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek – Cin
Lake Ruth – The inconsolable Jean Claude
Syrinx – Tillicum
Hiss Golden Messenger – Biloxi
DTCV – Bourgeois pop (playing The Shacklewell Arms, London, Nov 3)
The Monochrome Set – Cosmonaut
Cory Hanson – Ordinary people

*next week's show features music from Trashcan Sinatras, Alien Ensemble & Fair Mothers, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cool Ghouls – When you were gone (Empty Cellar Records/Melodic Records)

There’s a gorgeous Byrdsian flow to this single from the San Francisco band’s third album, the wonderful Animal races.

The vocals and guitars unfurl in unhurried fashion, culminating in some glorious steel guitar work.

It chimes and rings like (probably) only a Californian band truly can and the arrangement is all the more affecting for the counterpoint against the lyrical discussion of death and mortality.

It is roots music brought into contact with something very groovy.

A piece of class is what it is.

Friday, September 23, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Dronne (The Household Mark)

Another sublime set of tunes from Craig Fortnam and company which combines folk, kosmische and avant garde classical strands, taking the legacy of former band Cardiacs into fascinating new territory.

Woodwind and strings are strong and strident against a hushed motorik rhythm on centrepiece song ‘The British road’, a wonderfully sharp state of the nation analysis of Brexit era Britain – “when will they learn to fight like our men”, “how can I rise if you don’t fall.”

These poised swooping strings, along with the cooing woodwind, the signature guitar style of Craig Fortnam – courtly, playful, lithe – buzzing synths and the great pure singing of Craig’s wife Sharon against Craig’s reedier tones provide the core elements throughout.

The swoon of ‘Queen of all the day and night’, the cosmic twinkle of the title track, the plain straightforward beauty of ‘Alsace Lorraine’.

An inspiring and uplifting set that stirs the heart and brain from one of England’s most consistently rewarding groups.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Playlist 415 - Sept 20 2016

We had a good deal of instrumental music in this week, another 2 hour stint.

David Pajo is reportedly releasing new music soon, great to hear something from his 1999 masterpiece Live from a Shark Cage.

Some great soundtrack pieces from Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler and also Nick Cave & Warren Ellis.

Fixity with dark and enigmatic improv work. Elias Krantz with wonderful propulsive rhythms. And as near instrumental as makes no difference from Syrinx, great kosmische feel.

Plenty of people touring - TAU at Liverpool Psych Fest, The Goon Sax in the UK, Rats on Rafts in Ireland, Pascal Pinon, C Duncan, The Lemon Twigs.

More on these pages.

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 415
Tues Sept 20 2016
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

XTC – Harvest Festival
The Monkees – You bring the summer
The Goon Sax – Sometimes accidentally (playing DIY Space, London, Sept 26)
The Ocean Party – Restless
Rats on Rafts/De Kift – Sleep little links 2 3 4 (playing Crane Lane Theatre, Cork, Sept 26, and other Irish dates)
Pumarosa – Cecile (playing Whelan's, Dublin, Oct 31)
North Sea Radio Orchestra – The British road
Tim Presley – Can you blame
TAU – Mo anam cara (playing Liverpool Psych Fest, Sept 24)
Bjork – Come to me (live)
Pascal Pinon – Fuglar (playing The Waiting Room, London, Nov 18)
C Duncan – Wanted to want it too
Grumbling Fur – Molten familiar
Jane & Barton – It’s a fine day

Hour 2

The Handsome Family – Back in my day (playing Union Chapel, London, March 2)
Howe Gelb – Paradise here abouts (playing Café Oto, London, Dec 10)
Bert Jansch – No one around
Elias Krantz – Patchwork Part 1
Fixity – stigmatostigmata
Syrinx – Tillicum
Papa M – Roadrunner
Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler – Stanislas
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Comancheria (from the soundtrack of the film Hell or High Water)
The Lemon Twigs – These words (playing ICA, London, Sept 22)
The Galaxy Electric – Temporal
littlebow – Some may transition
Jean Claude Vannier – La giraffe au ballon
Eden Ahbez – Eden’s Island
Yama Warashi – Quagmire moon
Jason Falkner – Hectified

*next week's show features music from Barry McCormack, The Chills & August Wells, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Angel Olsen – My woman (Jagjaguwar)

This is the Angel Olsen record I was waiting for.

There’s a lovely garage rock feel to the guitars, a setting that works very well with her voice.

It’s a wonderful voice of course. It can be tender, it can be harsh, soft, berating, pleading, encouraging. Soulful needless to say, capable of turning the direction of a line with some crucial inflection or a change of gear. Usually simmering with intent and always laden with emotion.

This guitar vocal combination is best showcased in the early sequence of ‘Never be mine’, ‘Shut up kiss me’ and ‘Give it up’, a killer run of love, loss and fuzzy guitars. (She also does a marvellous thing midway through ‘Shut up kiss me’ which involves a bank of Angel voices racking up the tension on one repeated note in glorious harmony.)

It must be said that she tries on other clothes over the course of the album (‘Those were the days’ is an especially gorgeous cosmic soul turn), and there’s no doubt she can turn her hand to many things, but for me those garage rock clothes fit her best of all.