Head Trips & Flashbacks. August 2004. Can't live entirely in the past so occasionally I have to trip back to the future. And during one such trek, I happened upon, quite serendipitously, this mid-90's album which cried out with steadfast and intoxicating allure... Spin Me !! Aside from being mastermind by the multi-talented (artist, author, songwriter...) Steve Lines, I knew very little about Stormclouds or their music. However, hesitant to defy the beckon call of the sleeve's outstanding gargoyle, I gave the LP an earing. But I feared, solely from the sleeve and title, this could be a heavy metal nightmare.
Nightmares in the Sky was one those rare unexpected pleasures that started me thinking... perhaps the day the music died had not yet arrived. The opening track, a dreamy and ethereal To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, surpassed my expectations. The play was lush with melodic harmony featuring the lovely vocals of Melanie Townsend and backed by good, understated and complementary guitar that I found slightly reminiscent of Companion. Similar ambience accompanied the first several cuts as evidenced by Dream On My Angel. I noted sike overtones but decided to simply listen and enjoy the play rather than try to categorize the music. I found the entire spin well constructed and quite enjoyable. At times there was a rural touch but nothing unwholesome or pestilent... though to my ear Side 1 was the stronger half of the disc. Rocking a bit harder than most cuts, I generally hear Look At Her Eyes as the album's best play. But, the title track is certainly a highlight and a true throwback to the 60's highlighted by superb acidic guitar riffs. Without doubt, Nightmares in the Sky is a Psych Tripper recommended spin.
Prism Volume 23, #2: John Carter. March/April 1999. UK: Elsewhere in this issue you’ll see a review of a more recent Stormclouds release, Not of This Earth. First thing to spot is that the female vocalist is different on each album. Why? Don’t ask me. These things happen.
Once again the CD comes with a wee booklet of lyrics and a loose piece of artwork (a most excellent gargoyle) signed by the band. This is also a limited edition (number 446 of 900). Quite a collector’s piece I should imagine. Unlike the rockin’ country feel of Not Of This Earth, this album has a darker, Gothic feel to it. The haunting vocals of Melanie Townsend are ideally suited to the supernatural vibe of the majority of the songs. With titles such as To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, Looking Glass World and The Darkest Hour, Steve Lines once again showcases his talent for scribing an atmospheric rhyme. Indeed the feel of the album carries an overcast shadow along the lines of All About Eve and The Mission. No bad thing at all! Having never heard of Stormclouds before hearing these two CDs, I’m both surprised and impressed by the scope and talent presented. This group deserve a lot more attention for sure.
Strix #15: Charles Harvey. April 1999. UK: The style of Stormclouds might be described as folk rock. Try to imagine Ralph McTell, The Corrs and John B. Ford rolled up together and it might give you some idea. The melodies are delicately pretty for the most part with Melanie Townsend doing a superb job on vocals. The lyrics are printed in the little book that makes up the front cover, but are hardly necessary since her voice is so clear and the same goes for Ken Flynn who supplied vocals on Remember. Cover artwork is by Steve Lines, known throughout the small press for his short story illustrations. Steve also wrote most of the songs and plays guitars, keyboards, harmonica and bass. What a talent.
The first three tracks, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, Ocean Jewel and Dream on My Angel sound as if they might have been written for a child. The music has an almost jewel like quality and is filled with images of the sea. I think they are there to lull us into a false sense of security. The next track, Look At Her Eyes starts to change the mood a little, followed by the utterly beautiful November Rain (not to be confused with the Guns ‘n’ Roses song of the same name) and Drifting Away, which had hints of Fleetwood Mac. The title track is full of menace where the guitar distortion pedal is used with great enthusiasm for good scary sounds to match the scary lyrics - horror to music! More scary themes in Heart of Stone, Look At Her Eyes and Looking Glass World, which tells the tale of a woman who has trapped her lover inside her mirror. Pretty, yet frightening at the same time (I wondered what had happened to Thaddeus Breme’s dark mirror), The last track, The Darkest Hour left me nicely chilled. Almost all of the tracks are executed in a deceptively delicate style that belies the menace behind some of the lyrics. One to listen to.
Music & Elsewhere: Mick Magic. 1999. UK: Steve Lines and new vocalist, the delightful Melanie Townsend, present the new style psychedelic folk of the mighty Stormclouds ...with digital clarity! This album has already appeared on vinyl, but the CD has extra tracks and different mixes, so stands up well it it’s own right. It’s a long way removed from the kitsch sci-fi psychepop of Psychotronic, but Stormclouds have lost none of their charm. From the acoustic guitars that brightly open the album, they still have that stunning art of simplicity that is Stormclouds. Mel’s dreamlike voice cuts through the brightness with crystal clarity, inverse electric lead adds a sublimely psychedelic feel, and the background fluety sounds add a touch of Moody Blues progressiveness to boot. Some of the album reminds me of the more gentle side of All About Eve, lilting melodies, a folky/country feel almost. Oh and after all the "could they find a vocalist better than Louise" stuff...well, yes, they could, and did; Mel’s marvelous - makes me go all gooey! Look At Her Eyes is a variation on the theme, Blondie Sunday Girl punkesque and a little bit kitsche, which is no surprise if you remember older tracks like Lost in Space and then there’s the addition of haunting violin (courtesy of Emily Drake) to the gentle guitars and soft calming voice here and there. As for the title track itself, ahh...masterpiece of psychedelia indeed. A wild slice of mayhem with Rustic Rod Goodway on wacky wah-wah guitar, all phased out, forwards and backwards. Whew. The sort of album you need only ears (two of) to love.
The Original Sin #18: Dider Becu. Winter 1998/9. Belgium: If you’re ignored by the press who is ruled by money, it’s still possible to have success. Underground stars, then? Well, Stormclouds definitely are and knowing how important the underground can be, Steve from the band is running his own tape label, Acid Tapes (contact him to get a copy of his huge catalogue!!!) But let’s concentrate at the new release by Stormclouds which is released on their own label, Rainfall Records (previous album Not of This Earth was released on Elefant!). Just like with any other original band it’s quite difficult to describe the music properly but it’s surely a collection of sugarsweet songs balancing on the edge of genius country and excellent indie-Sarahpop. Even if hyped major bands can deliver amazing stuff as well, it really would be a big mistake to overlook excellent stuff such as this.
Holding Together #22. August 1997. UK: Stormclouds have been around for about ten years and this CD is an adapted re-issue of their previous vinyl album, which sold out soon after release last year. Their territory is dream-like, vaguely psychedelic folk and their vocalist Melanie Townsend has a delivery well suited to the mood.
Occasionally the psychedelia burrows its way to the surface and takes control of proceedings: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream dresses an attractive lilting melody in a cloak of phased/backwards guitars. Ocean Jewel features a lovely, jangling guitar and another delightful vocal from Melanie: the title track is drenched in the wild, sprawling lead lines of guest Rod Goodway, as Ms Townsend sings of the demons who watch us, unseen, from the skies. Creepy! Steve Lines is a fine songwriter, unafraid to nail his emotions to the mast. Many of his songs are desperately sad, ranging from sorrow and pain (Look at Her Eyes) and unrequited love (Dream of You), to missed opportunities (Samantha). Third member Ken Flynn, adds guitar and keyboards and sings the gentle Remember, which has strong Gene Clark overtones.
Hawkfan #26: Brian Tawn. July 1997. UK: Released on vinyl and on CD, with bonus tracks. Stormclouds is the band which includes Steve Lines in the line-up and Steve is a Hawkwind fan from w-a-y back. In fact Steve was doing Hawkwind artwork for me in the pre Hawkfan days when I published a fanzine called Scribe. Despite that long Hawkwind association and interest, Stormclouds do not make Hawkwind-style music. This is a collection of medium paced songs, sung by a lady with the voice of an angel, supported by first-rate musicians. The gentle, laid back approach masks lyrics which suit the album title. As I said, it’s not remotely like Hawkwind (modern folk ballads perhaps...I find it terribly difficult to categorise music), but I play it a lot and think it is terrific, as does Anne.
CD Services: May 1997. UK: Debut album of psychedelic tinged folk with female vocals - the styles vary throughout the album, from Kendra Smith & Sally Oldfield to Shirley & Dolly Collins & Nico. The arrangements are first rate, with echoes of Floyd & Velvets in amongst the heady but deceptively simple, easy to absorb compositions. Overall, a mix of light indie/electric folk from a duo of vocals and multi-instrumental layers. The exquisite and delicate vocals soaring over a solid but ethereal backing from electric/acoustic guitars, drums and bass, with some graceful harmony & multi-tracked vocals along the way. The songs are all really compulsive listening. They get inside your head and remain fresh with every listen. Pace varies from ballad to uptempo, occasionally underpinned by some Lou Reed style guitar, with some songs evoking laid-back early Velvets with Nico. In essence, a magical album which will appeal to anyone into ethereal, modern indie-pop or psychedelic folk.
Astro Zombie: Ollie. April 1997. UK: What I adore about this is that it subtly portrays dark and looming ideologies that are originated from the most feverish of dream visions without the actual need to audibly fuck your head up by paranoia inducing screeches, harsh feedback, spiralling basslines, screams, etc. This is beautiful, flotational psychedelic folk that enables you to gently hover over all that is funeral and look down omnisciently with a sad smile.
The vocals are piercingly emotional, similar to the effects of Dead Can Dance, where you would all of a sudden be thinking twice about your own existence, your past and future and actually feeling the joy of suffering through the passage of time. There are moments when these fears subside and we can reassure ourselves that we are only dreaming, perhaps the life state itself is merely a state of deep unconsciousness and that the next is the epiphanic dawn or awakening from our dark life. The guitars wail gently out circumstance, thrash at the frustration of the moment and massage us with a calming assurance that our suspected madness is only temporal, like hamlet we yearn for true sleep, not the nightmare visions that are a reality but the escaping of this harsh, cruel world, "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream". This album is thoroughly recommended and is perfectly adequate in its objective to haunt our thoughts either in our unconscious nightmares or during our most perceptive moments of self-realisation.
Sound Views: Gary Pig Gold. April 1997. USA: This enticingly enchanting British combo has been recording and releasing music through a variety of labels the world over for upwards of a decade now, toiling confidently away in basic obscurity as other, lesser practitioners of their oeuvre (i.e.: Cranberries) plaster themselves across all the most obvious of situations. Perhaps just in the nick of time then, Stormclouds first "official" album is released, complete with exceptional new vocalist Melanie Townsend on board. The result is music steadily, uniformly dreamful and reclined throughout, inviting - no, pulling you into its midst as few musics can and do in these most truculent of times. Already being favourably compared to Marc Bolan, in his most ethereal of incarnations of course, I’ll take the allusions one step higher as I hear, rather echoes of early Fleetwood Mac and especially Incredible String Band: dew drenched sounds ideal for lazy English afternoons spent beneath the influence of certain potent potables.
Bucketful of Brains: Fernando Naporano. December 1996. UK: After eight cassette-only releases and a couple of singles recorded between ‘86 and ‘94, Stormclouds have come up with their first proper album, and it’s one of their best efforts to date. (This CD version contains three extra tracks from the original vinyl released in August ‘96).
Initially a duo composed of Steve Lines (instruments) and Louise Allen (vocals) now (apparently) a trio with Lines accompanied by the enchanting voice of Melanie Townsend and the assorted guitars and keyboards of Ken Flynn. However the main change is a noticeable ripening of the sound, both in the development of the group’s identity and in the quality of the recordings. Instead of the previous digressions, Wiltshire’s answer to the U.S. Paisley Underground and the subsequent pop-fuzzed-acid-folk with The Jesus And Mary Chain overtones, there’s a climatic psychedelic edge wrapped in a dense folk heritage encompassing Nick Drake, Fotheringay and The Walkabouts. Replacing the Spectoresque wall of sound vocals of Louise Allen, there’s the Sonja Kristina-like inflexions of Melanie’s voice. Another improvement is a farewell to the truly irritating drum machine used on earlier recordings for a better sounding one, its still incapable of matching the density of the songs, but it’s better. Lyrics like "Lost souls in torment" or "secrets hanging on the wall" embrace a traditional English romanticism and sometimes dwell on mystical and metaphysical issues. On Dream On My Angel and Look at Her Eyes they evoke a melodic and melancholy Velvet Underground circa Jesus or Sunday Morning, but in a more refined vein than Strawberry Switchblade in the 80’s. The panoramic swirl of the Byrds is revisited on Remember (sung by Ken Flynn), whilst some serious psychedelic textures are explored on the title track that filters a West Coast sound in an affected Arabic packaging. Their primary influences, Clay Allison and Opal, still shine through on Looking Glass World and The Darkest Hour, while on Look at Her Eyes they still retain a bit of the old Jesus & MC tag. Overall these 15 well crafted songs are an ideal companion for grey wintry afternoons where the purest British "Nightmares in the Sky" are inherent.
Flickers ‘n’ Frames #26 : John M. Peters. Autumn 1996. UK: This is the first ‘official’ album by SF artist Steve Lines’ group, Stormclouds. I say official because the group have released several cassette albums, but somehow musicians don’t feel that they ‘made it’ until that first slab of vinyl slaps on to the turntable. The album features a revised line-up of Steve Lines and Ken Flynn as multi-instrumentalists and vocalist Melanie Townsend. The album eschews the familiar sci-fi pastiches of previous tapes and contains a collection of mature ‘indie’ style songs. With tracks such as To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, Ocean Jewel, Drifting Away and Dream on My Angel, the album’s theme is clearly about the dreamworld. Coming across album like this restores my faith in music - some friends have got together to make fine music and have done it without the hype and bloated budgets that most artists now look on as the norm.
Rockerilla: October 1996. Italy: Reputed one of the most complete artists of the English underground scene, Steve Lines is well known mainly for his graphic skills; for instance, he’s responsible for the artwork adorning the Crohinga Well cult-’zine. This should not let his musical talent pass unnoticed, as our guy, besides conducting the fabulous Acid Tapes series which documents all sorts of psychedelic ferments, is also the multi-instrumentalist who leads the most weather-influenced project in the British environment, the already tens years active Stormclouds. After four tapes on the aforementioned label, the first vinyl has come out a few weeks ago (soon it will be available as a CD with bonus tracks & alternative mixes), a self production labelled with a new rain loaded brand; meanwhile the original line-up, that was a duo open to occasional collaborations, has been expanded with the replacement of singer Louise Allen with the sensual voice of Melanie Townsend, and with the recruitment of a third element, Ken Flynn.
One of the distinguished mates that shared the artistic path of Steve Lines in the past has been nobody less that ‘Rustic’ Rod Goodway who has been the honoured guest of Stormclouds first tape as well as playing with Steve in a couple of projects (The Tryp, Jellymonsters) captured on Acid Tapes, besides commissioning him a few graphic projects (like the sleeve of the recent Mellifluous Confluence, second Ethereal Counterbalance masterpiece); well, nobody else than Rustic Rod has accepted to take part to Nightmares in the Sky, watering with acid fertiliser the title track which is also the most exciting song on the album, that is anyway superb on the whole, as it abandons almost completely the retro inspiration of the previous tapes, charged with bubblegum music of the Fifties and with minimal garage punk, rather stimulating vibrations close to the spectral bands of the binary system Opal/Mazzy Star. Sparkles of such nature are emitted by the Hamletic To Sleep, Perchance to Dream and the onirical Dream on My Angel, but also by the remakes of Look at Her Eyes and The Darkest Hour, taken from previous episodes and much better performed and produced than the original versions. In Looking Glass World we can even recognise the ghost of Nico in Velvet Times, while a couple of sweeter tasting gems (November Rain, Dream of You) leak droplets of Talulah Gosh/Carousel reticent dew. The quality growth of Stormclouds did thus require the change of format, this time the occasional weak numbers are almost absent (the only song we could question is maybe Remember by chance the only track not sung by the wonderful Melanie) and the weather forecast is happily announcing persistent rain for a long time still.....
Ptolemaic Terrascope: Steve Pescott. October 1996. UK: At last some welcome Stormclouds on the horizon, and if there’s a richer, more human and fulfilling platter released in ninety-six I’ll refute its existence. Back-room orchestrators Steve Lines and Ken Flynn have found a terminally great new vocalist in Melanie Townsend, who, in rockier moments like the "Sweet Jan-ish Look at Her Eyes and the title track of this album resembles the tonsil motion of a Pauline Murray mannequin raised on old Fairport discs, while down in her melancholia (the lush Dream On my Angel or The Darkest Hour) she inches towards the sorely-missed voices of Beverley Martin or Linda Thompson (as was). It’s in this second style, with sympathetic lo-key backing in fifty shades of blue, that these songs will live with you like an old friend for times to come.
Crohinga Well #12. July 1996. Belgium: Stormclouds is a band we’ve known about for about eight years already: it used to be the duo Steve Lines (yes Crohinga Well’s own graphic artist) and singer Louise Allen. They produced a number of cassettes and a few singles filled with quirky, psychy science fiction pop, pretty charming in places. That’s all history now: Steve Lines teamed up with Melanie Townsend and Ken Flynn. The musical concept changed drastically: Stormclouds is now a psychedelic folk band and their first LP is a real gem, displaying a large variety in musical styles. The LP starts with To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, a Shakespearean title that hides a brilliant 1967-sounding fairytale, an early Pink Floyd standard with backwards guitar bits, stoned vocals, etc. Ocean Jewel and Dream on My Angel are calm, serene, esoteric British folk songs of the Sally Oldfield mould. Look at Her Eyes sounds like a folk version of a Velvet Underground & Nico ballad. Melanie’s rich voice is at its best when she sings moody, psychy, somewhat mysterious modern folk of the Kendra Smith type in Drifting Away, Looking Glass World and The Darkest Hour or when she performs like a traditional British folk nightingale in songs like November Rain, Heart of Stone and Dream of You, evoking the memories of legends like Trees, Stone Angel and Shirley & Dolly Collins. Remember is brilliant sixties US folk rock in the Vegetables/Ashes/Byrds vein with Ken Flynn taking over the lead vocals. The absolute highlight of the LP is the title track, a dark, brooding mass of totally stoned-out-of-your-mind folk rock with the haunting - dare I say - ethereal guitar playing of guest musician Rod Goodway. Nightmares in the Sky is one of the ultimate psychedelic folk or folk rock LPs made in Britain during the past few years. It will please those who like a rich female folk voice as well as those who prefer a psych setting for all theses pastoral vibes. Absolute psychedelic folk nirvana, mega-recommended.
Music & Elsewhere: Mick Magic. June 1996. UK: What a totally excellent album this is, introducing the glowing golden voice of Melanie Townsend to the world. There’s always been a very warm and cute quality to Stormclouds, whether on their twee psychotronic space pop or their other acoustic folky side. Melanie slots in as if she’s always been there, even adding some warmth to the band. I thought Louise Allen was an excellent singer, Melanie’s even better. The album’s a nice blend of acoustic folk with electric psychedelia, sometimes fused together on one track, sometimes separate elements. Bright guitars and that beautiful warm voice, reminds me of the girls from Everything But The Girl, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Look at Her Eyes sounds almost like vintage Blondie, punky guitar. kitsche Americana vocals, that was quite a surprise! So was the violin on one track (Emily Drake)! Little country elements (not naff country though), most nice. The title track is a classic piece of psyche rock, lovely wah-wah from Rod Goodway, a touch of 70’s mysticism and groove on down. It’s a real shame about the short runs of vinyl nowadays, but it still sounds much better than their cassettes, and a CD will be coming later. This 12" of vinyl is a must anyway, limited to 500, so don’t hang about!