“Stunning new studio album from the duo of Matthew Valentine and Erika Elder joined by a rotating cast of free-folk players. Their studio material usually comes out on either their own Child Of Microtones imprint or “proper” labels such as Time-Lag, Ecstatic Peace and Di Cristina – and of course, any new “official” studio material is always a major cause for celebration round here. My preference is probably for the more spectra-sounding material that appears on the COM label as opposed to the more song-based material on other labels – although 2008’s “Drone Trailer” was a personal favourite – therefore, in advance I was not completely sure the direction this material would take. However, I was not expecting something just quite this stunning: Country Stash must stand as one of this artist’s most definitive and important releases to date, a release which seems to combine all those elements of psychedelic spectrasound, carefully-crafted real songs and the influence of those extended live jams all into a single album. Overall, the closest comparisons are probably something that sits between Liberty Rose, Bollywoe, Drone Trailer and those recent live Heroines with Mick Flower. MV&EE’s previous association with Three Lobed was a vinyl release of the previously issued “Ragas of the Culvert” but here we are treated to 4 brand new immaculate studio conceptions (two in excess of 10 minutes) and a radically re-worked and re-invented studio version of “Tea Devil” that is simply stunning – the definitive version of this track and just possibly the album’s highlight.
The album’s opener “Foxy One” starts with some gently strummed chords which remain in place throughout the track, acting like the canvas upon which the various musical expressions are created. This is a delightful loose jam based on a few repetitive chords with layers of super psychedelic sounds and spectra vocals dropped on top with subtle precision. In a way this reminds me of David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name where the whole songs on that album develop around a few chords with complex layers of instrumentation and vocals. There are some spell-binding echoey vocals from Erika that are almost ethereal in quality with captivating melodies despite there being no discernible verse/chorus structure. The guitars added throughout are clearly influenced by some recent live jams but show much more subtly crafted consideration, paying as much attention to space as to notes, and timbre as to texture. Plucked guitars sounding like harps, backward looped FX and interweaving guitar lines all combine to produce a sonic tapestry – it’s that good. This is a masterpiece spectra jam which finishes with what must be the first proper MV&EE harmony. At 4m30s as the guitars drop with only Erika’s vocal remaining MV comes in with a harmony which sounds like something off Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue – simply sublime and then it’s gone. The album is filled with these kind of treasures that are uncovered with repeat spins. Next up is “Crash Palace of Records” which is more song-based with captivating melodies which just take your there. In a sense I think this has the same aesthetic as Jeremy Earl’s Woods, who similar to MV&EE have a wild psychedelic live sound but on record simply focus on carefully crafted songs and melody. The album’s centrepiece and title track “Country Stash” is an epic 13 minute kraut/kosmische rock infused jam. The song starts with a beautiful psychedelic guitar line with a repeating looped flute sound in the background. There is an almost euphoric feel to the music with the sound of underwater guitars that also seem to ebb and flow, reminding me of the kind of musical high I get when listening to Neu!75. It is completely consuming, as if lifting you up on some kind of Byrds-ian magic carpet ride. The song develops into a long psychedelic west coast style jam with some of the guitar playing reminding me of Ripley Johnson (of Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips) in places, given the slight kosmische vibe. Live I can really see this one being stretched into epic proportions. Side two opens with a radically re-worked studio version of “Tea Devil” that surpasses all previous versions. It comes crawling in like a black snake moan with the sound of the march of a Mississippi voodoo queen. The twisting interlocking guitar and bass lines (courtesy of Mick Flower) have an almost sexual or sensual feel to them. The recording of the vocals is simply sublime, even enchanting. As MV joins Erika after a few lines I am not sure whether the double-tracked vocals sounds like the chant of a medicine man or some early gospel blues duet like “Keep your lamp trimmed and burning”. You read it here first when we were going wild about that version of “Tea Devil” from the Subcurrent show documented on I Left My Wallet In The Trossachs and “those beautiful high-end strummed sliding chords” – well, they first appear here at 2m17s and re-emerge throughout transcending the song. Lyrics about “marrying a railroad man”, “having your Sunday dollar in your hand” and “carrying a heavy load” evoke the spirit of southern Mississippi. Taking the source and influences of early country and electric blues MV&EE have completely re-invented psychedelic free folk blues in the same radical way as the British blues boom bands of the early-mid 60s or the West Coast groups of circa ’67 made it relevant for their time – on this performance no one else comes close. Closing track “No There, There” and is another super psychedelic masterpiece with spacey spectrasound vocals that are completely absorbing. The track opens with the wildest sounding “environ” harmonica over a jerkily strummed acoustic guitar. This develops into a sweet stretched jam of acoustic and electric guitars creating a hazy psychedelic soundscape, again reminding me of the feel and sound of If I Could Only Remember My Name. Even the title shares some similarities with David Crosby’s ongoing theme of altered state/confusion with tracks like “Deja-vu”, “Where Will I Be?” and “Laughing”. There are too many highlights to choose: at 5m37s the combination of psychedelic harmonica and wild wah-wah chords, at the 7m10s the oscillating feedback guitar notes emitting beacons of sound. MV&EE’s recent live jams have been getting more experimental and so I was prepared here for sweeping waves of lunar sounds transcending the sonic trajectory but I wasn’t quite expecting them to land the goddamn mothership – you’ve got to hear this. Just when I thought MV’s influence from Eastern and mid-Eastern music was absent, a short raga passage closes the record. At 9m46s a tabla drum appears followed by some light lucid meanderings of raga guitar from MV and some gentle country slide guitar from EE – the perfect combination of eastern and western cultures. Lasting only a couple of minutes before fading, this possibly sets the scene for a more jazz, improvisational or raga type of musical presentation from this artist later in the year – we await with anticipation.
Overall, I think this has to be one of the most complete performances yet from this artist and a landmark statement. There are too many highlights to choose but possibly that vocal harmony at the end of “Foxy One”, the euphoric wave at the start of “Country Stash” or a second side which is as perfect a side of a record as I have heard. And if all that wasn’t enough, then it comes on thick black wax with a free download code, and, in the usual Three Lobed style, is housed in a thick cardboard sleeve which looks, feels and even smells great. For those that have been following my reviews of the Heroine releases I don’t even need to tell you that this comes with my absolute highest possible recommendation!” – Andrew Ross.