Mooch - "Bottom Of The Barrel"
(Ambientlive 2009, ALR3087)
From Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011)
Don't be put off by the title. This 2-CD set is a nifty compilation of early Steve Palmer recordings, cuts from the first Mooch cassette only releases, live performances and other unreleased works. There's such a variety over these two CDs that covering them track by track is a must.
If you are, like I am, geeky about getting into as much history as possible of the musicians and bands you like, then the first track alone makes this collection essential. Out Of The Depths was Steve's first piece of electronic music recorded on the University of London's VCS3 synthesizer in 1982, and I'd say it's pretty good for the young artist's first effort. It's 27 minutes of totally spaced out experimentation with cosmic bleeps and blurps, pulsations, vibrations, oscillations, noise and plenty of cosmic fun.
New Voyager was Steve's third recorded electronic work from 1986, part of which was included on a Mark Jenkins AMP compilation. Steve used a synth owned by Clive Nolan (the Pendragon guy for you progheads) and Nolan contributes a solo in the closing section. This is very different from Steve's first recording, being a melodic spacey prog rock instrumental that also strays into synth-pop territory. Nice guitar solos too.
Mock The Moocher is an excerpt from the Mooch tape of the same title, recorded in 1992. Wow, this took me completely by surprise… total Blues Rock! Dig that dirty jamming Blues guitar and harmonica. Fusion Reactor is from Fusions, the third Mooch cassette album, also from 1992, and a track that Steve considers to be the first complex track he ever recorded. Yes, complex indeed… this is very funky-jazzy-whimsical, and has a Gong feel at times. Another one that's very different from the Mooch I've known. Blissed Out was a cassette album recorded after The Crypt Of Artificial Intelligences, so it must be from 1994 or so. The piece included here is about 6 minutes and consists of avant-ambient soundscapes and guitar patterns, voice and other effects. It's busy but still manages to be dreamy.
Wrapping up the first CD is Ethereal Breeze, a mid-90s live performance featuring Garry and Cal Lewin on synths, Terry Bartlett on treated guitar and Steve on guitar. It's an excellent combination of spaced out ethereal drift propelled by ethnic grooves. The music flows beautifully, every effect falling neatly into place, and light jazzy drumming forms a steady foundation. A powerful conclusion to the first CD.
The second CD starts with Black Notes, which features Mooch improvising live at a dance-fest in 1994. As you might expect from a dance-fest performance this one has some hip shaking grooves, but also a spacey chilled out ambience. The CD notes point out that the title Black Notes refers to the musicians only playing the black notes on their synths. Extended Life is another live performance, this one from December 1995, and this is a hot one indeed. Here we've got Mooch playing ambient soundscapey space rock. The music is very sound and atmosphere focused but it still ROCKS. Some really cool dirty guitar licks too. Arabic was recorded by Steve for Simon Scott's Dream FM radio show in the mid-1990s. It's less than 2 minutes but you'll get the gist of the Middle East-in-space theme. Input 51 - 18 is the entire Mooch band recorded for what I believe is the same radio show. It's an energetic spaced out electronic driven piece that combines ambience with a variety of frenetic alien sounds, howls and noise. A nicely crafted piece.
Dark Violin Oasis is Steve solo from 1998 or 1999 using a Mac computer and sampled violin. Sounds from nature like a flowing stream and crickets form the backdrop for slowly droning violin and darkly melodic keyboard notes. A somber moody piece.
Sub-Sahel was recorded in the late 1990s when, as Steve says in the CD notes, he "was pushing Mooch into the background, becoming interested in ethnic music and thinking about beginning the Blue Lily Commission solo project". It's meditative space music plus ethnic percussion, African shakers, and mbira (Google 'mbira' and the first return will be a Wikipedia page with a detailed description and pictures). Moroccan Oasis is from the same period and similar except this one has a high energy rhythmic pace and spiritual horn calls.
Garden Of Earthly Passions was recorded live in May 2006 at the launch event for the Gaiaspace album and features Steve and Jez Creek on synths. The first half is a combination of dreamy space waves and freaky sounds, but then it shifts to a very cool space-prog musical theme. Gene Flurry was recorded at the same Gaiaspace launch event. Gene Flurry was the first track on the Falcone & Palmer CD titled Gothic Ships, an ambient music collaboration between Steve and Don Falcone. This is a live performance of about half the length of the original, with the addition of 12 string slide guitar which proves to be a very nice touch. We also hear Don introducing the piece from California.
Wrapping up the set is a hidden track that consists of Steve standing on the top of Glastonbury Tor saying thank you to several of his fans (including some deadbeat who runs a space rock web site). This is a wonderful collection for Steve's fans, and a good career overview for the newly initiated.
For more information you can visit the Ambientlive web site at: http://www.ambientlive.com
Reviewed by Nulight