STEVIE SMITH s/t CDR (Stoss)
Since receiving the Rigsby CD (see singles section), Stevie sent me his solo CD which is a lot more DIY sounding. These homemade songs are rather lo-fi but not so much that it spoils the songs. Mostly the songs are pop, with greater or lesser amounts of country, blues and folk (American folk mostly) added to the basic pop sound, but there are also the tongue in cheek country/blues with a fake American accent of There's A Man; the almost psychedelic track Ordinary Paranoia, which is an instrumental with bits of spoken word over the top; the cheap keyboard based and slightly quirky The Way It Should Be (I think they call this style 'casiocore'); the experimental Ashamed to be Tired and the untitled experimental/post-rock instrumental at the end. Found a Different Friend and Shrinking Violent put me in mind of The Unspeakable Turks a bit. If you're an underground music fan you'll probably enjoy this more than Rigsby. firstname.lastname@example.org
AGUSTIN CRIOLLO El Retorno Del Sol De Nada CDR (Icono)
Quite possibly the most impressive music I've heard so far from Agustin. Covers quite a wide range of styles, eg prog, psych, electronic, experimental, spacerock, traditional Middle Eastern music, post-rock, folk and blues, but with an overall psychedelic feel. Some tracks are instrumentals, others have Spanish vocals. Very smart layout/artwork too, and the CD itself is a black CDR - I'd heard about these but had never been sent one until now. More info from email@example.com
GAZPACHO Get It While It's Cold CDR
Very classy stuff, this. Excellent songs with really moving melodies and atmospheres. The sound is mature and professional without being bland, throwaway or fashion-following; it's intelligent without being 'clever-clever'; it's artistic without being over the top; it's original without being weird. Comparisons are impossible (except perhaps with The Secret which has shades of Kate Bush and is also reminiscent of the underground band Shay) and it's also hard to describe this album in terms of genre - it's not strictly rock, pop or any indie subgenre, it's just simply GREAT MUSIC. There's an instrumental bit in Bravo that sounds Celtic inspired, but this isn't typical of the band's overall sound. This band deserve to be massive, and if the mainstream music industry wasn't so fashion-driven, they easily could be. This music has the potential to appeal to a huge audience; it just doesn't fall into the latest trendy scene. Anyone who appreciates well crafted songs should check this out. firstname.lastname@example.org
PORNORPHANS Beyond Good And Evil CD (State of Decay)
I first heard Pornorphans a few years ago when they had a tape out on Music & Elsewhere. Back then they were a little too metally on occasions but most of the time they were excellent. Since then they've appeared on Org Records compilation CDs and now they have a proper full album to themselves. Their music still contains elements of metal, but it's not the really heavy tuneless sort or the bad, dated, twiddly 80s sort. Their dark and/or sexual lyrics and dark atmospheres may also appeal to the goth crowd - again, goth is a genre I don't normally go for although there are a few bands I like who mix goth with other styles. So whilst Pornorphans' music has elements of metal and goth, overall they aren't strictly either. "Heavy dark melodic alternative rock" probably comes the closest to describing them. Lyrically they are often violent (as in Killerbitch) or sexually explicit (as in Heavenly Creatures, Karma and Filthmaster). I like Jytt's voice, which goes from powerful to almost sickly sweet (but in a good way), the instrumentation is powerful and the overall sound is heavy but not short on melody.
Excellent, well designed artwork too - the front cover shows Jytt with a serene facial expression, looking into a lake, but her reflection shows her screaming. The booklet also has graveyard pictures, which are coloured green and purple. A really brilliant album with no duff tracks, by one of the best heavy bands I've ever heard. Label info - email@example.com Band info - firstname.lastname@example.org
JENNY SORRENTI Medieval Zone CD (Celtica Napoletana)
I'm very keen on medieval music, traditional folk, and music inspired by these styles, but am very rarely sent music like this. I was, therefore, really pleased to have been sent this! Half Neapolitan, half Welsh musician Jenny Sorrenti has created a style called Mediterranean Celtic Music, that reflects her family background. In the 70s she was a member of the band Saint Just, who released two albums, and she subsequently released two solo albums. These records were only ever available in Italy and Japan. She has now returned with this album which consists of traditional songs and modern compositions influenced by traditional music. Most of the instruments used are modern ones and a lot of the songs have an electronic sound. This will probably upset medieval music purists, but if you're open minded and forward thinking about music there's no reason why you shouldn't like this. The songs are sung in various languages - Spanish, English, Italian, Langue d'Oil and Latin, and contain elements of the sort of music that's instantly recognisable as medieval but not especially associated with a particular country; traditional music of Celtic and Mediterranean origin; atmospheric electronics and rock music. A somewhat bizarre mixture of styles, you may think, but it works really well. I'd be interested to hear more from Jenny Sorrenti. email@example.com
THE FREE DESIGN Best of CD (Cherry Red)
This band's light pop would have been written off as easy listening music by the music fashion police a few years ago, but this sort of music, now redubbed 'soft pop' or 'sunshine pop', is undergoing a huge upsurge in popularity, especially amongst fans of indiepop. In fact, Spanish indiepop label Siesta has also released Free Design records. I believe the Free Design to be a band about 20 years ahead of their time. They were making music in the late 60s/early 70s, when indiepop hadn't even been invented; whilst their music isn't strictly indiepop, I think it's fair to call it 'proto-indiepop'. Even the artwork is all so indiepop - the booklet shows the covers of their original albums and one of them has a childlike drawing of a sad faced clown, which could easily have been on a record by any 80s twee band. The same can be said about many of their titles, like Kites are Fun, for example.
The album begins with an unaccompanied choral piece, just the band singing do-re-mis but it's really effective, and shows that whilst lyrics often are important, they don't always have to be. Very untypical of the band though - their usual sound is light, summery, immensely catchy pop with male/female vocal harmonies, often with childlike subject matter (eg the aforementioned Kites are Fun, Bubbles which is about bubblegum, and Love You which reels off lists of sweets and toys), and tinges of jazz, folk and easy listening in various tracks. I can hear the influence of this band on Shelflife bands such as The Shermans - although the Free Design are folkier.
So yes, it is light and airy pop, and no, it's not 'difficult' music, but don't write it off as just straightforward easy listening music before hearing it - if you do you'll be missing out on something that's simply SUBLIME. Well, OK, one of the cover versions on here (You Are My Sunshine) is a bit too easy listening, but the band's own songs are unmissable. Chorale, Kites are Fun, Bubbles, I Found Love, Never Tell The World, Love Me, Love You, Daniel Dolphin, 2002 A Hit Song and Kije's Ouija (which borrows from the Prokofiev piece Lieutenant Kije) in particular are real gems. firstname.lastname@example.org
MOUTH MUSIC Seafaring Man CD (Nettwerk America)
Another traditional folk inspired album I've been sent - things are looking up! Not that there's anything wrong with indiepop and the other styles I normally cover, but I'm so into folk music that it's a shame that so few folk artists/labels contact me to review their music.
This album is Celtic-inspired folk, a couple of traditional tracks with Gaelic lyrics, but mostly new compositions in English by Martin Swan. Like Jenny Sorrenti, whose album I reviewed earlier, Swan brings the tradtional sound up to date by adding electronic elements and other modern styles to the music. He sings one of the tracks himself but elsewhere vocals are provided by guest singers Kaela Rowan, Martin Furey and Ishbel MacAskill. A large assortment of instruments from various cultures/eras are used, such as flute, fiddle, xylophone, bowed psaltery, zither, shawm, guitar, shehnai, calabash, mbira, cabasa, accordion, bodhran, Uilleann pipes, berimbau, etc.
The title track mixes the traditional Celtic style with soul, electro beats and jazz. The 9 minutes-plus track Whaling Ship has some effective use of percussion and the violin is played in a style reminiscent of Arabian music. Over two minutes into the track, the song proper begins, and it has a very traditional sounding melody, more so than Seafaring Man. Then there's a fiddle part which again sounds very traditional. The traditional song Milleadh Nam Braithrean is set to atmospheric instrumentation. Manitoba is an excellent song using acoustic, electric and electronic instruments. Month of July is another one that adds soul and jazz influences to the traditional folk sound. The verse has the soul/jazz and the chorus is much more folkish. Inveralligin is somewhat slower and more minimal than most of the other songs and has some mournful sounding Uilleann pipes played at the end. Thoir A Nall Ailean Thugam is another traditional song, given an almost dancey treatment. Snowgatherer begins with an Indian-meets-Celtic instrumental part, then some bleepy electronics, then the song begins and the Indian/Celtic melody returns during the chorus.
A really inventive mix of styles that works well. Highly recommended. email@example.com
VARIOUS Hava Narghile vol 1 CD (Bacchus Archives)
Subtitled 'Turkish Rock Music, 1966 to 1975', this is a collection of bands who mix traditional Turkish music with psychedelia, and sometimes other styles such as surf, blues, garage and funk. Some tracks are instrumental and others have vocals, and the music ranges from slow ballads to noisy psych-outs. Many of the tracks are taken from vinyl and there's surface noise, but if you don't mind this, this is your chance to hear this mostly brilliant collection of songs that are probably hard to find elsewhere. Comes with colourful artwork and information on the bands/tracks featured. Artists include Mogollar, Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Siluetler, Haramiler, Grup Bunalim and more. firstname.lastname@example.org
B-TRIBE Spiritual, Spiritual! CD (Higher Octave)
An interesting combination of the New Age side of ambient music, flamenco and Middle Eastern music. They also journey into classical territory, on their version of Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, which mixes classical guitar with synth, and the Rodrigo piece Matador De Sa Pena which also introduces brass instruments. Traditional folk also puts in an appearance, in the shape of She Moved Through The Fair. There are also snatches of medieval style female vocals which bring to mind Jenny Sorrenti, and Gregorian chanting samples which make the songs sound reminiscent of early Enigma. Fans of both of these artists may well enjoy this album due to its mixture of medieval (and other bygone eras) and electronic music. (Should be available in shops).
THE BOSWELLS Planet Nine CD (Hum Radio)
Wow - this is great! 11 tracks, every one a gem! It's catchy guitar pop with oomph - probably best described as powerpop, but not the punky sort of powerpop - this has more in common with the sort of stuff that's out on the Rainbow Quartz label, but a touch rockier on occasions. The Lucky Bishops' offshoot band Cheese are doing a similar thing as well. If you like a good tune and like it to stay in your head, this is a must! Contact Mitch at Hum Radio - email@example.com
THE PSYCHEDELIC BREAKFAST A Gaggle Of Summertime Smokes CDR (Pyramid Theory)
Very impressive album from this Newcastle band. On the whole it has a more stripped-down approach than their usual sound. Complete Submerger is a predominantly acoustic track with a laid-back feel. Overflow is another mainly acoustic song, this time adding strings and percussion. Sounds like a more indie-ish Rabbit's Hat. Powder is again acoustic, this time sounding more poppy and upbeat. Hangin' Outta Windows is another poppy number, this time with organ and jangly guitar. Searchlights is a laid-back indie-type song with bits of backwards instrumentation and what sounds like wooden wind chimes at the end. We Know How It Feels To Belong has some whispered vocals that put me in mind of the early 90s band Arthur (this isn't the first time I've compared the 'Breakfast to them), some psychey/bluesy/folky/rocky guitar and all-over-the-place organ playing. That's 'all-over-the-place' in a good way.
The band really start to live up to their 'Psychedelic' name with the next two tracks. All Make Love is vaguely Middle Eastern sounding psychedelia with the addition of more of the Arthur-esque whispering, as well as lots of repeated, hypnotic singing/vocalisations, samples of twittering birds, and chaotic guitar noise. Strawberry Hearts goes on for a massive 15 minutes plus, and brings together a laid-back dance beat, echoey guitar, psych-folk guitar, psych-rock guitar and assorted speech samples. There's a lot of power behind the singer's voice, which is rather nasal and throaty, yet not offputting. This is a band with a huge amount of potential, whose songs have the ability to appeal to fans of both indie and psychedelic music. I'm keen to hear more! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS Sixth Sense CDR and 7th Heaven CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Two more recent CDs from the very prolific COH. The first of these is a mainly instrumental album, bringing together an eclectic set of influences such as atmospheric experimental soundscapes, prog rock, folk, jazz, blues, reggae and soul. Some tracks have spoken word or vocalisations such as 'ooh-ooh-ooh', etc, so aren't exclusively instrumental, but aren't song-based either. They do do a couple of songs, which are covers - Yellow Submarine (delivered in a minimal, folky style, and they've altered the tune slightly in parts, but it's still recognisable as the same song) and Status Quo's In My Chair (again with minimal instrumentation) but no song-based tracks of their own.
7th Heaven, however, mainly shows the more obviously melodic, song-based side of COH, and because of this, it is my favourite album of the two. Daydream (In the Slipstream), Hard World, The Sun Is Rising, The Prodigal's Guide and Mazed and Mystified are tuneful, sophisticated rock in the vein of their previous band The Rabbit's Hat, but sometimes more proggy and spacey than them. The Oats & Ivy Symphony sets a version of the wartime song Mairzy Doats to some vaguely medieval sounding prog guitar. Andy Warhol Dancing with Nuns in a Barrel of Paint starts off with some circus music that, coupled with the surreal title, led me to expect something really eccentric, but it's actually an atmospheric but melodic instrumental with touches of prog. Near the end of this track it turns into an eerie soundscape with a sadomasochistic voiceover. Orgasmic Hairnet Sandwich is based around a prog-folk guitar piece, with some spoken word in the background, then it turns into an atmospheric soundscape, with the title repeatedly sung and spoken. Little Sir Echo on Warlock Hill is an eerie and spacey version of the traditional song Little Sir Echo. An excellent album, recommended for fans of prog, spacerock and even to some extent folk-rock.
KROM LEK Collective Conscious CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Compilation of tracks recorded between 1985 and 1995. The music has a wide range of influences spanning the 20th century as well as traditional eras, including spacerock, psych rock, Jethro Tull style flute, tribal style music (didgeridoo, drumming, whistles, chanting, etc), reggae/ska, prog, punk, New Agey ambient music, jazz and Mediterranean music. There's often a mystical/occult or environmentally aware theme to the lyrics, which is echoed in the artwork of a stone circle, the Earth and Moon and mystical symbols. Info from Stone Premonitions - email@example.com
SOMEBODY FAMOUS The Ship of Grandad's Day CD (Empress)
This is rather old now, from 1991, but is still available through Stone Premonitions. The band includes Steve Robson (formerly of Punishment of Luxury and now in Shay) and Tim Jones (Punishment of Luxury, Neon, Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Census of Hallucinations) and the music is very much in the early Rabbit's Hat style - there's even a version of Hieronymus on here. Expect sophisticated melodic rock with pop, prog and folk tinges - very good stuff! Half Mantra also adds an electronic element to the Rabbit's Hat style prog-rock-pop. Info from Stone Prem as above.
There's also a 7" which is even earlier, from 1989 (Love Will Stay on Raindance Records), which shows the poppier origins of the band.
THE SATELLITERS Sexplosive! CD (Dionysus)
Mod/psych/garage/60s pop-rock band from Germany. When I Arrive and As Times Gone are in a similar vein to the more modish, later-period Sea Urchins material (Day Into Day etc). The rest is less Sea Urchins but more influenced by actual 60s bands, from The Monkees to The Byrds to The Who. This album has all the 60s revivalist hallmarks like the 60s organ sound (Farfisa or similar), sneery vocals, late 60s rock guitar solos, jangly guitar, etc. It's not the trendy sort of 60s revivalism that was popular in the mid/late 90s, but the genuine sort, made by people who really do dig the 60s and don't just pretend they do in order to fit in. So it's nowt really new but at least they mean it. And whilst I like original & inventive music I'm also a sucker for 60s influenced music, so long as it's from the heart and not fake trendy fameseeker stuff. The thing with bands like The Satelliters is they sound very familiar, and obviously 60s influenced, but without being a direct ripoff and pinching the tunes from 60s bands. And this of course is a good thing. They also genre-hop at times too - World of Bubbles is a curious mixture of psych, surf and horror movie music! Info from firstname.lastname@example.org
VARIOUS Defeated by Technology CD (Cripperty)
Compilation of bands from the Isle of Man, described in the sleevenotes as "an attempt to convince the sceptical masses that Manx people can be interesting too and not the butt of sitcom jokes and misinformation. The idea was to put together a really good album and not just a collection of random tracks by some spotty young herberts that just fancied being on a CD ... We also decided to avoid having fake Celtic music on here." Well, they've achieved their aim cos there's no stereotypical trad folk here and it also comes across as a cohesive album and not just a collection of unrelated tracks like a lot of albums compiled by area as opposed to genre. This album includes a collection of slightly off-centre indierock, 80s-ish indiepop, quirky lo-fi pop, alt-country, pop-punk, spacey noisepop, spacey experimentalism, psychey pop, dubby/spacey stuff with spoken vocals, and noisy shouty stuff. So, a varied collection of stuff but all in the 'alternative' sphere, unlike a lot of the area compilations that feature metal and Kylie Minogue wannabes alongside the indie bands. Artists on here include Ways of Stephen, The Gregs, Mike Seed, Selwyn, Capri, February Arse, Mark Cleator, Tea, Powderroom and Rhysical Pheck, amongst others, and most stuff here is well worth a listen. Costs £10.99, payable to S Callister, from 37 Oakhill Close, Glen Park, Douglas, Isle of Man.
VAL DAVIS Immortal CDR
Sophisticated melodic rock with folk and psych elements. Val Davis is a very talented songwriter and musician, he plays all the instruments on some of the tracks here. I'm wondering if Val has ever heard The Rabbit's Hat or any of the several other bands Tim Jones has been in, as certain songs here bear an uncanny resemblance to Jones' songwriting style. Just listen to Curse of the Fool for example, which could easily be a Rabbit's Hat song. This album, which has taken 10 years to record, is quite simply a superb collection of songs. The first four tracks especially are mindblowing! I'm keen to hear more from this artist - hopefully the next release won't take another 10 years to appear! Info from email@example.com
THE EMBROOKS Separations CD (Dionysus)
Last issue I raved about The Embrooks' album Our New Day; well this is the American reissue of its more lo-fi predecessor. Still in an authentically 60s style (mostly from the mod/garage side of things), but with rawer recording quality, this album isn't quite as great as the follow-up, but is still well worthy of your attention. firstname.lastname@example.org
VARIOUS You Cannot Hold DIY, It Is An Adjective CD (Ouzel)
Italian label Ouzel started off releasing homemade tapes, then CDRs. They have now branched out into professionally duplicated CDs with this compilation album. The most well known band here is June of 44; there are also a whole host of bands/artists that may well be familiar to followers of the hometaping scene - Morose, Onq, Ian Simpson, Minmae, Klimperei and The Colours Seen From Behind are the ones I've heard of before.
Musically, this comp contains a rather good collection of lo-fi pop in various forms, from the minimalism of Morose, to the Boyracer-meets-shoegazing chaotic noisepop of Jumpincherries, to the instrumental indiepop of Ian Simpson, to the lo-fi electropop with elements of lounge music from Skoda, and more in between. There's also some less poppy tracks like those from The Zen Circus and June of 44 (shouty indierock), Spiralman (a sort of prog/psych/post-rock instrumental), Azucena (post-rock), Klimperei (electronic instrumentation with the feel of film music) and Cary Quant (experimental music), but the tracks that are pop are pop in a very wide sense, so the tracks that aren't strictly pop fit in OK with those that are.
The Cary Quant track is a bit too much on the random side of experimentation for me to really enjoy it, but the other stuff here is worth a listen. If you're into melodic homemade music, check out this comp. email@example.com
ROB SKANE Self Noise CD (Montague)
Rob Skane describes his music as 'garage.folk.rocknroll'. I'd say it was basically mellow rock - the good sort not the naff 80s sort - and occasionally Rob goes for a more stripped-down, melancholic, largely acoustic approach. The Compromising Situation has a particularly lo-fi, homemade feel. It's A Great Day is laid back rock meets indiepop, and Kiss in 3D is lo-fi experimentation with spoken word. The latter is a bit too non-melodic for me, but there's no shortage of tune in the rest of the tracks. On the whole this is good stuff, I'd be interested to hear more from this artist. firstname.lastname@example.org
NPB This Is My Happening And It XXXXX Me Up white vinyl 10" (Catchy Go Go)
Bang! is a raw indie-rock instrumental with an occasional surfy twang. Loaded is a jangly and slightly quirky song. Evil Things is a raw and dirty version of country-rock. The other tracks would be best decribed as garagey indie-rocknroll ... lots of dirty riffage and power and energy. Great stuff! Oh and by the way, that's their censorship in the title, not mine! Info from email@example.com
GENITORTURERS Sin City CD (SPV)
This is rather old now - from 1998 - but I'm inclined to agree with the idea that good music is good music no matter how old it is, and therefore if it's good it's still worth writing about. This is one of those records that I like, despite it containing elements of styles I normally don't - in this case metal and industrial. Metal can be good if it's not the tacky 80s sort or the tuneless sort, and this is neither of those. They also mix up the heaviness and noise with an electronic element. The band are fronted by a dominatrix and professional body piercer by the name of Gen, and their live show apparently features sado-masochistic acts and nipple/genital piercing. Needless to say they have caused outrage amongst moralists. The Genitorturers have quite a bit in common with that other overtly sexual heavy rock band, Pornorphans, whose album I raved about earlier. Sin City is also a brilliant album - but definitely not for the easily offended! (Should be available in record stores).
PLANKTON Ganja Killed the Dinosaurs CD (Ochre Europa)
Another one that's been out for some time but is far too good to leave out of the zine just because of its age. Plankton make a bizarre and angular style of music that mixes punk, folk, spacerock, experimental weirdness, indiepop, funk and psych, complete with absurd lyrics and odd time changes. The ranty vocals bring to mind The Fall, but this is just one aspect of Plankton's varied sound. Plankton are not mere copyists, they have an individual sound of their own. Songs like Headless Chicken, Subdub, Boredom and Lola are particularly great. Contact the label - firstname.lastname@example.org
VARIOUS Words Will Never Be Actions LP (Departure)
Departure is a new label set up by Sid Stovold who used to be in Inter and before that, Who Moved The Ground? The music here is mostly old school shouty punk with political lyrics - bands with names like Hatework, Dogshit Sandwich, Age of Chaos, Pus, Psychoterror and The Voids. None of the new-style melodic punk with lyrics about girls here! There is the occasional deviation from this theme, such as spoken word/poetry artists Colin Cross, Steve Juxta and Jasmine Maddock, and also Stephen J who plays trashy noisepop, and the weird experimentation of Quankmeyer Faergoalzia. The last track here, by Coldharbor, is a mix of post-rock and shoegazing - it's good to hear something like this after all that aggression. To be honest I'm no fan of old-style punk, it's far too shouty and noisy for me, I tend to prefer music with an emphasis on melody. A shame there's nothing here that sounds like the bands Sid was in; whilst they were punky they were also tuneful. This album is on the whole just for punks, but the Stephen J and Coldharbor tracks provide some welcome variety. Costs £7 in UK - send postal orders or UK cheques payable to MS Stovold, or cash. Rest of world - send $10 (US dollars only). Departure Records, 24b Alexandra Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 6DA, UK.
YEAH YEAH NOH Leicester Square - The Best of Yeah Yeah Noh CD (Cherry Red)
Collection of material from singles, albums, Peel Sessions, and a handful of previously unreleased tracks by this 80s band. The songs cover a variety of moods ranging from bright jangly songs to darker and more psychedelic forms of pop to ramshackle post-punk/pre-indiepop, surf and even mock gospel. I only previously had the one single by this band, but listening to this shows that I've missed out on a lot over the years, cos there's some fantastic songs here. Pink Green, Hands up for Happiness and Chocolate River are superb examples of catchy janglepop - unbelievable that these tracks hadn't been released until now. Contact email@example.com
BIRDIE Reverb Deluxe CD (Apricot)
Birdie are fronted by Debsey Wykes, formerly of Dolly Mixture. They are one of the current wave of indiepop bands influenced by the indiepop of 12 or so years ago. Sometimes they sound like a more summery Field Mice, as well as having the general feel of other old-school indiepop revivalist bands like those on Shelflife and Matinee. Unlike these bands, Birdie have a 60s rock side that's raring to get out. Watch out for Theme from Tired, which as well as having a great title has 60s-ish rock guitar, retro organ and bongos. In a similar vein is Send and Receive which sounds like mid 90s Delta in instrumental mode. Their own material is excellent enough, but what's most of note here is their SUPERB cover of The Sea Urchins' Please Rain Fall - when I first heard this I was totally blown away by it - the same sort of feeling I got when I first heard the original all those years ago. There's just a few subtle changes to the melody and the lyrics are more or less the same - unlike some covers where the band messes around with the original words and tune, rendering it unrecognisable - but the arrangement is very different. It features a minimal synth which creates a very similar sound to the early 90s band Solace, who if their name is anything to go by, were also influenced by The Sea Urchins. There's also minimal percussion and the occasional bit of psychedelic backwards guitar, and Debsey's voice really suits the song.
Funny how Sea Urchins covers were virtually nonexistent until now, some 11 years after the band split up, when 2 Sea Urchins covers come along in close succession (the other being The Tyde's version of Sullen Eyes). What would be FANTASTIC is if some label put together a compilation of Sea Urchins covers... The Tyde's and Birdie's are both of an exceptionally high standard, I'd be very interested to see what other bands could come up with. If you're after old fashioned, pretty indiepop (and I must say that neither of those adjectives are meant as insults) then you've come to the right place. If you like 60s music but dislike the arrogance and swagger of a lot of 60s style bands, you've also come to the right place. And if you're a Sea Urchins fan, you can't afford to miss this because Please Rain Fall alone is well worth the asking price. I can't praise this version enough! firstname.lastname@example.org
BEDHEAD Transaction De Novo CD (Trance Syndicate)
Another album that should really have been reviewed ages ago - one I was sent when I was in full time work and had little time to do zine stuff, and as a result formed part of a fairly large backlog of CDs that I'm gradually working through. The first track starts with a dark sounding, minimal post-rock instrumental piece, then the melody gets a bit brighter and vocals come in. It's that sort of minimalistic, low-key indie music that gets branded lo-fi even though the recording quality is actually OK. Stewart Boyracer's 555 label puts out similar stuff (and if my memory serves me right I seem to recall Stewart saying he rated Bedhead - this doesn't surprise me). Parade is excellent indiepop with noisy instrumental parts. Half-thought and Lepidoptera are more examples of great indiepop, with a bright jangly guitar sound. Extramundane is again melodic indiepop but this time with a chugging, punky riff. Forgetting is country tinged laid-back pop. The volume gets turned up for Psychosomatica, a brilliant noisy but melodic song. The Present starts with an extended post-rock instrumental, then about 4 minutes into the track, some sombre vocals come in. This is a really great album, well worth checking out (if you haven't done already!)
Since writing this review I've been informed that the version on Trance Syndicate is no longer available, but the album has now been reissued on Touch & Go, so watch out for this version!
UNION WIRELESS All Her Life CD (Elefant)
Elefant is normally associated with indiepop and noisepop, but they also release some more experimental stuff, such as this. The title track begins with some droning that on the surface seems pretty standard, but the difference is that this is based around strings instead of guitars or synths. Also, instead of just being a one note drone with nothing much going on throughout the track, it then picks up speed and introduces some drums and rather psych-rock sounding guitar and improvisational woodwind.
Afterglow begins with some synth droning and melodic piano but this time adds vocals. The song itself is straightforward and tuneful, contrasting sharply with the random, discordant strings (which oddly enough work well in this track and don't just come across as a racket). A Carnival starts off as post-rock with clarinet and strings, that sounds a bit like Electroscope. Then vocals come in, with a song which has rather a folkish melody. Union Wireless have been classed as 'space-folk' in the past and this is appropriate for this track in particular. They also experiment with Latin rhythms (samba?) on The Best Time of the Day, which also includes elements of jazz, both the melodic and improvisational sort.
Walking or Running is a melodic song which later just consists of one word, 'Wait', repeated over and over. The backing mixes drone-rock, funk and improvisational-sounding bits. Smoke and Deception includes some melodic woodwind and lots of percussion. Three minutes into the track a song begins which has a fairly dark melody. Circulation is rather like modern classical music. All packaged in a very nice hard card foldover sleeve. Elefant Records, PO Box 331, Las Rozas 28230, Madrid, Spain.
MIKE SEED Passing Trade CDR (Skimpy)
After the split of his band Ways of Stephen, Mike returns with this solo album. On the whole this is far less indie-ish than WOS and is more suited to a folk music audience, but I use 'folk' in rather a wide sense here. St Stephen's Green is alt-country; Waltz of Virtue is more of the same but with no instruments. Chapel Lane is minimalistic folk-pop, but with some louder instrumental parts that work well. High Water Mark is another track that mixes full band and minimal parts, and even contains some improvisational woodwind. The chorus of this song is very catchy. School features an accordion yet manages to sound like something other than the most cliched form of folk music. He Drives Out Every Morning is another unaccompanied song, this time with a folkish tune. Winter Jasmine is strummy minimal pop. Temperance Terrace shows a jazz influence. Bleak December Hills is folk with guitar so minimal it's barely there. You're Done is sombre pop with double bass. William In A Trance includes some drumming of real drums in a style that's normally associated with electronic music. Sea Rose is a melodically and lyrically dark song with no instrumentation. High Water Mark, School and You're Done are particularly outstanding tracks. Costs £7.50 inc p+p from Mike Seed, 16 Westbourne Road, Ramsey, Isle of Man IM8 2EP.
THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN One Winter's Night CD (Middle Pillar)
I always understood darkwave to be a sort of synth-heavy, goth/new-wave crossover, but later heard the term used to describe dark, atmospheric, medieval influenced, folk-style music. Which is correct? Probably both, as I can think of several words that are used to describe two completely different styles of music. Powerpop can mean melodic punk, or it can mean 60s-ish bands like The Minders. Spacerock is Hawkwind, but it is also drone-based instrumental music. Ambient can mean atmospheric experimental music, but it also refers to electronic stuff like The Orb. And I won't even begin to explain the different interpretations people put on 'indie' and 'alternative'.
I mention this here because TMITG are one such band who have been categorised as darkwave. The electronic element is there, and the dark folk element is there, so it's as though they take instrumental inspiration from the one sort of darkwave and melodic/vocal inspiration from the other. They do not, however, sound like goth in the stereotypical sense of the word, even though their music is rather dark. Another term bandied about in the dark music scene is 'ethereal' and that is very descriptive of this band.
Control has noisy guitars and that pulsating synth sound associated with the first sort of darkwave, but also has some more atmospheric elements. They do a version of Antonio Lotti's Miserere Mei, which has an appropriately choral feel to the vocals, mixed with an almost industrial electronic backing. Falling, Too features a very sombre synth melody, over which is a dark, atmospheric folk-style song. Fear No More is based on words from Shakespeare, set to a dark, folkish melody and accompanied by minimal piano and synth. The Sleep of Angels is solely written by Roger Fracé (as opposed to being jointly written with Summer Bowman) and has a more modern-sounding melody than most material here. Part of it reminds me of a song from the early 90s that I think was by The Stone Roses, but its title escapes me at present. I was never much of a fan of The Stone Roses in case you haven't guessed, but despite this slight melodic similarity, this is an enjoyable song. Lullaby is penned by Summer Bowman and is a sombre song with minimal piano and choral-style backing vocals.
Summer Bowman is a hugely talented singer with a simply beautiful voice. She is a professionally trained vocalist and it shows! Tracks like Falling, Too, Miserere Mei, Fear No More and Windows of their Eyes really are things of beauty. I'm keen to hear more from this band! email@example.com
A MURDER OF ANGELS While You Sleep CD (Middle Pillar)
Followers of dark music should have heard of the people behind this band - Bryin Dall (Loretta's Doll, 4th Sign of the Apocalypse, Thee Majesty) and Derek Rush (Dream into Dust). This is very dark and disturbing, predominantly instrumental music that's been described as 'damnbient'. Dark drones, sombre synths and creepy sound effects all come together to produce a nightmarish atmosphere. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SOFTIES It's Love cassette (K)
Another of the batch of old stuff I was sent while I was in full time work, that I'm just now finding time to review. This is especially old though - if I'm not mistaken, it had already been out 3 years when I was sent it. Therefore I'll be brief. It's strummy/jangly, old school indiepop with no drums. At least some tracks sound rather like a more twee version of The Carousel - the vocal harmonies are especially reminiscent of them. Recommended for fans of that band as well as Talulah Gosh and a lot of the stuff Waaaah! and Heaven Records were putting out.
HERMAN DÜNE Turn off the Light CD (Atmospheriques/Prohibited)
Debut album from the Herman Düne brothers and their friend Omé, based in Paris. Their music is low-key, often folk-tinged pop with varying degrees of off-centre-ness. Across the album you will also hear elements of skewed noise, psych-rock, country-ish slide guitar and dark off-kilter blues. They are clearly unafraid to mix up different musical ideas and this is of course a good thing; the end result is well worth checking out. (In the shops, distributed by Vital).
MATTHEW WARD Matthew Ward CD (Snowstorm)
Good melodic guitar-based indiepop covering a variety of moods - bright and upbeat, slightly off-centre, jazzy, and some songs with melancholic elements, but these are not the most gloomy songs you will ever hear, and the dark atmosphere does not pervade the whole song. Although there's a mixture of moods here, the songs all go well together, instead of sounding like a mishmash of styles. (In the shops, distributed by Cargo).
CHRIS T-T The 253 CD (Snowstorm)
Originally the bass player in Magoo, Chris left that band and released the home-recorded Beatverse in 1999 on his own label Wine Cellar. He then signed to Snowstorm and recorded his second album Panic Attack in Sainsbury's, this time in a studio. This, therefore, is his third album, which in case you were wondering, is named after a London bus route.
Starts with a jazz-tinged piano instrumental, also named after said bus route. As well as the piano being played in a conventional sense, the piano strings are strummed with a plectrum. Ownership is a good noisy but tuneful pop song with meaningful lyrics: "If you love your things more than yourself then you've really got a long long way to go". Build A Bridge, Burn A Bridge is lyrically inventive, telling the (obviously fictional) story of Tony Robinson's Time Team digging up the Holy Grail in Somerset and the Pope having to queue with everyone else to get a look at it in the British Museum. A number of love songs follow, but these are definitely not your average dull, cliched, meaningless romantic numbers. Instead the songs are intelligent, deep and at times humorous.
Drink Beer is a jokey, but cleverly written song about, well, beer, and its effects. 6/8 Haircut Instrumental is a short instrumental complete with percussion that sounds like hair clippers. In Hedgehog Song, the lead character, who is indeed a hedgehog, philosophises about the state of the world before motorways were built and trees were cut down, whilst having injured his leg with a drinks can on a traffic island. The pain is so bad he considers crawling onto the road and getting run over, but then he has a near death experience in which an angel tells him it's not his time and it is safe for him to cross the road. He does so, and sees that there is no traffic coming because there has been a 7-car pileup and an oil tanker on fire "just for me".
You'll notice that I've spent more time describing the lyrics than the music (which, incidentally, is basically indiepop with varied moods ranging from laid-back and largely acoustic to upbeat and noisy) but this is because Chris T-T is a very talented lyricist with ideas that stand out from the crowd and demand full attention. He clearly has a vivid imagination which he uses to tell stories that seem far fetched on the surface, but have an underlying moral or at least are thought provoking.
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