Welcome to Bliss/Aquamarine - alternative, underground and indie music.

ALBUM REVIEWS

ALFARSPACE Work CD (Around The Corner)
I enthused about the music of Hjörtur Blöndal last issue; now he's back with a new project Alfarspace. The name comes from álfar, the Icelandic word for elves, but don't get any preconcieved ideas based on popular perceptions of elves as something twee, elves just aren't like that in Icelandic tradition. The music is just as eclectic and creative as anything Hjörtur has done in the past, bringing together futuristic electronic pop music, electronically processed voices, woodwind, guitars - electric and acoustic, rockish elements and various other bits. Some tracks include a lot of the above elements mixed together; others like I Am, are more straightforward pop songs. Straightforward needn't mean dull though, I Am is a really well-crafted song with a very strong tune.
As with Hjörtur's previous album Keen Sabid, the music incorporates a wide variety of different styles but isn't a mere attempt to sound off-the-wall. Instead this is genuinely inventive, creative music by an artist who seems very much to be doing his own thing without direct influences from whatever music is flavour of the month right now. In a time when so much music is an obvious rehash of what has gone before, it is refershing to hear music which seems only to come from within the musician's mind. Contact alfarspace@hjortur.dk

DARK Teenage Angst: the Early Sessions CD (Kissing Spell)
Collection of early recordings from this late 60s/early 70s band. The first five tracks date from just before their LP, and the remainder are from the original lineup and recorded while they were still at school. As explained in the sleeve notes, some of these early tracks are of poor sound quality and this has only been issued due to popular demand. They recommend that anyone new to Dark should listen to their 1972 LP before listening to this. I'm new to Dark so this probably isn't the best place to start, but the first few tracks here are of ok quality so this isn't completely a 'fans only' release.
Dark were a rock band with some heavy bits and meandering psychedelic soloing, but an overall emphasis on melody. Whilst the second part of the CD contains material that is quite lo-fi, I've heard worse sound quality than most of these tracks. However Grey Man has a very muddy sound and the sound drops out in places. This particular track would definitely benefit from better recording quality, though it does give you an idea of what the song sounds like. Cloud of Unknowing is also very poor quality, bordering on unlistenable; the vocals are incomprehensible due to (unintentional) distortion. Also at 15 minutes plus, this track is overlong for my tastes. But ignoring these two tracks, this CD shows Dark were a pretty good melodic psych-rock band and a particularly good one considering they were only teenagers when they recorded this stuff. Contact Will at Kissing Spell - will@willmccarthy.com

BRIAN CAMPBELL The Courtier's Manuscript CD (BeeDeeCee)
Canadian singer/songwriter Brian Campbell is from a folk-based background, but is also unafraid to venture into other musical territories. His folk-influenced songs are truly excellent; I hear shades of various artists/bands popularly considered to be folk, such as The Incredible String Band and Nick Drake, as well as yer actual traditional folk music. He also explores a number of other styles, with equal sophistication and talent. If You're Ever Around is like 80s alternative pop, but with a difference, due to its additional meandering psych-rock guitar soloing. Time Leadin' Us On mixes together the music of various folk traditions, from the bluesy harmonica to the African-style percussion. To My Whimsical Love is sunshine pop with brass. Liliane is a classy pop song, a bit 60s, and with brass and woodwind. Sometimes Words blends folk, pop, bass clarinet, spacey guitar soloing and distinctive percussion. As A River Runs To The Sea features ethereal female backing vocals which have an almost choral quality. Plateau Weather Change begins with the sounds of a thunderstorm, and the song itself mixes American folk, world beat and quirky pop. Woman of Desire mixes rock, jazz, hiphop beats and even adds a tuba to all this. Chorus For Eurydice is a poem, with no musical accompaniment. Empty House is an atmospheric song, very well crafted, and impossible to describe in terms of genre.
If the name Hum & The Quick means anything to anyone, sometimes Campbell's songwriting reminds me of them, though he has a different approach to arrangements. A more famous name he is sometimes reminiscent of is Paul Simon. Whilst most stuff here is sophisticated, The Essential Love Song comes across like a comedy song, with theatrical voices over minimal strummed guitar. Whilst it has novelty value, it's definitely not representative of Campbell's music. Elsewhere though, it is clear that Brian Campbell is a talented songwriter with an individualistic and creative approach. Contact beedeecee@sympatico.ca

SKANDINAVIA Skandinavia CD (Global Warming)
At last, the debut album from Skandinavia, who are without a doubt the most exciting band I have heard in a long while. First I must comment on the artwork, which strikes several chords with me, being a purplish colour, with a font that looks like 19th Century handwriting, and is emblazoned with Icelandic magical symbols!
Skandinavia are fronted by Icelandic singer/songwriter Eliza Newman, previously from Bellatrix. It would be a big mistake to expect them to sound like her former band though; Bellatrix were noisepop with synths and fairly teenage lyrical concerns, whilst Skandinavia are an intense, powerful rock band with a whole new musical and lyrical maturity. The intensity and power are present in Eliza's voice and the musicianship of the rest of the band; it really is awe-inspiring music.
There are elements of 70s heavy rock and modern indierock here, but presented in a way that is entirely their own. You really cannot accuse this band of being derivative. I doubt there are many rock bands who incorporate an atmospheric violin into their sound, or seamlessly shift from singing in English to Icelandic.
Nordic mythology, a subject close to my heart, is an influence on their lyrics, most notably Valkyrja, and hinted at in the title of Sól. Whilst they usually favour a hard-hitting approach to their music, there is also a more laid-back side to the band, as heard in tracks like Swim and the aforementioned Sól. These are very beautiful songs, yet are still in their own way very powerful. And unlike many other heavy bands, Skandinavia have no shortage of strong tunes. This is a truly astonishing album; I think I can safely say that Skandinavia are my favourite band right now.
Also out now is the Never Too Late single; the title track also appears on the album but even if you have the album, the single is still well worth getting for its B-side Storm. This is more overtly 70s-ish than their usual sound, but is no less impressive. I can't recommend this band enough! Contact the label at globalwarming@btclick.com

BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL Halo Star CD (Projekt)
Ninth album from Black Tape For A Blue Girl, the band of Sam Rosenthal who runs Projekt. There are a variety of sounds on offer here, all held together by the dark atmospheres they have. Tracks include the atmospheric Middle Eastern tinged instrumental Glow, the atmospheric and rhythmic goth track Tarnished, the beautiful dark and ethereal song Your Love Is Sweeter Than Wine, the apocalyptic folk of Indefinable, Yet, Scarecrow which mixes apocalyptic folk with almost psychedelic atmospheric guitar and keyboard and distinctive drumming, Damn Swan!, where the doom-laden meets the delicate and beautiful, the dark beauty of Already Forgotten, with its strings, piano and woodwind, and Dagger which mixes deep gothic vocals with dark ambient backing. The Fourth Footstep combines ambient and melodic elements to great effect - a really captivating song, in which they do the spacerock/post-rock thing better than many spacerock/post-rock bands!
So it's a goth thing, or at least music that appeals to goths, but they usually avoid the obvious stereotypes. The closest they get to something obviously goth is in the lyrics of The Gravediggers and the male singer's vocal style. Those of you who think goths are too serious for their own good may be pleasantly surprised to know that Black Tape are able to laugh at the whole goth stereotype. Knock Three Times has tongue in cheek lyrics like "Knock three times on your coffin if you want my love" and "She was so cute in a 'why don't you get out and see the sun' kind of way", and rhythms that sound like rattling bones.
For more info on Projekt and Black Tape For A Blue Girl, contact question@projekt.com

AUTUMN'S GREY SOLACE Over The Ocean CD (Projekt)
Although Projekt is primarily associated with gothic music, this band are sure to appeal to indiepop fans. Their sound is atmospheric and reverb-drenched yet strongly melodic dreampop with female vocals. The singer's voice is distinctive, sometimes I think it sounds almost childlike, yet it also has strength behind it. They also add a spacey psych-rock touch to the guitar solos in Fractured and Deserted and Desolate, and the melancholic The Sadness of Years Past features a style of guitar playing that seems Mediterranean influenced. Over The Ocean begins with the soothing sound of the sea, which adds to the overall atmospheric feel of the track (and indeed the whole album). The label recommend Autumn's Grey Solace to fans of Love Spirals Downwards, Cocteau Twins and Mira. I'd agree with that, whilst also adding My Bloody Valentine and late-period Secret Shine to the list. This album is quite simply sublime. It doesn't have the darkness of many Projekt releases, but certainly has the beauty. Highly recommended. Contact question@projekt.com

VARIOUS Arctic Paradise 2005 CD (Fimic)
I am an avid listener of Nordic folk music, so was very excited to receive this beautifully packaged compilation of contemporary Finnish folk artists, compiled by the Finnish Music Information Centre. The CD comes in a textured cardboard sleeve which is quite simply a work of art in itself, and is accompanied by a 44 page book with equally impressive presentation. The book has information on the bands/artists on the CD (although Pekka Kuusisto and the Luomu Players are curiously omitted and Plektronite are only briefly mentioned), plus information on a whole host of other folk musicians from Finland.
The CD is a diverse compilation, highlighting the various musical traditions in the country (there is not just one style of Finnish folk music) as well as bands who incorporate influences from overseas into their sound. Anna-Kaisa Liedes & Utua have an excellent song based around voice and kantele (traditional Finnish instrument similar to the zither). Snekka do excellent, powerful instrumental folkrock, this band are new to me and I'd definitely like to hear more from them. The Maria Kalaniemi Trio appear here with a laid-back accordion/piano piece. Marianne Maans plays a kind of experimental folk, combining voice and violin with a forward thinking approach. I'm reminded occasionally of neoclassical music in the violin playing, and the voice is a series of wordless vocalisations; the vocals are used more like another instrument. Pekka Kuusisto & the Luomu Players play jazz-tinged instrumental folk.
Värttinä, perhaps the best known band here, appear here with a song from their latest album, Iki. This is quite a departure from their previous recordings, though I've found Värttinä do have a forward thinking approach to folk music and seem to reinvent themselves with every album. This track is a modern composition not a traditional song, and puts me in mind at times of Hungarian music and sometimes of something more Mediterranean sounding. Johanna Juhola has an accordion piece with effective use of glockenspiel in the background. Arto Järvelä has an excellent fiddle instrumental with almost psychedelic accompaniment. Wimme is one of the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia, whose traditional singing is the yoik (also spelt joik or jojk). This is a type of shamanistic chanting. Wimme combines the yoik with ambient and techno music, a mixture which works well.
Pekka Lehti & Outo Voima have a great instrumental track which features unusual instruments such as oboe (I think?), didgeridoo and various percussion. Markku Peltola's instrumental piece is like old-time dance music melody-wise, but the arrangement is far from old-time, having as it does a quirky modern approach. Plektronite have a great catchy mandolin tune. Frigg are a part Finnish, part Norwegian band who are of course named after the Norse goddess of the same name, who is the wife of Odin and is usually defined as goddess of marriage and motherhood. Three of the Finnish band members are of the Järvelä family, a famous family of fiddlers from Kaustinen. Other members of this family play in the well known fiddle ensemble JPP. The Norwegian brothers Gjermund and Einar-Olav Larsen are also from a family of fiddlers. Frigg combine elements of the Finnish and Norwegian fiddle traditions with elements of American folk music. I have their self-titled album but was completely unaware that they had a new one out. This compilation has alerted me to that - looks like I have some serious catching up to do! Alamaailman Varasat are a genre-hopping world-fusion band whose track here is like Turkish music played on horns and metally guitars. Bizarre stuff, and another band I'm keen to hear more from. Meri Tiitola combines a traditional folk song with very creative experimental music. A very impressive piece.
An excellent compilation that does a great job of showing what creative, forward looking people can do with folk music. Folk needn't be a genre that stands still, and this compilation proves that. The only downside is that this package is only available for promotional purposes and is not for sale to the general public. However, you can find out more about Finnish music at www.fimic.fi or by emailing info@fimic.fi

MOTHER GOOSE Autumn Masochism CD (Verdura)
This album is easily amongst the best stuff to have ever come from this band, a consistently great album that's right up there with their classic songs like Cocaine Mirror, Steady Cam Man, Pirate Ship, Mozart, Man Boiling Dust, Girly Magazine, Nature Says No To Youth, Love Is Seven, and the two tracks from their recent 7" (Schizo Ladies/Rondo Fennoscandia). With this album they have moved further and further away from their noise roots (they were originally on Blast First and sounded typical of that label). Whilst Autumn Masochism is not an entirely noise-free album, the overall emphasis is on off-centre lo-fi pop songs - though not quite as off-centre as their earlier blatantly quirky material like Nag, Steady Cam Man or Girly Magazine. If you disliked Mother Goose in the past, for being too noisy or too weird, this album might just make you change your mind about the band. Whilst it's amongst their more accessible material, they have not reinvented themselves as a straightforward pop band; there is still an edge to this stuff, and a sense of originality. Mother Goose just wouldn't be Mother Goose otherwise.
Affection begins as pop, then takes a detour into (non-irritating) noise territory with an extended noisemaking session at the end. Despite its length and its loudness, it doesn't grate - perhaps because there is still a semblance of a tune in there. Autumn Masochism lasts for a massive 13 minutes and 15 seconds. It's a bizarre, dark pop song which then turns into improvisational experimental noise, then there's a bit of piano, then some more off-kilter pop with dark undertones. Any other band would sound like they're just making noise for noise's sake if they did the improvisational section from this song, but Mother Goose are somehow able to get away with it. Cirkus and My Car are great quirk-pop that's utterly bizarre yet never becomes annoyingly wacky. And then there are songs like Päivi, which is the more serious and sophisticated side of off-kilter pop (this track again features an extended improvisational noise session at the end, yet it doesn't sound irritating or self indulgent, as this stuff normally does). An absolutely brilliant album, highly recommended. Contact janne@verdurarecords.com

FUTURE WHIRL s/t CD (Gompa)
Future Whirl is the latest project of Bard Titlestad, who used to record as Oberon. He is a truly talented and creative artist, playing the majority of the instruments on this album himself (only one track, Lotus, features a guest musician, guitarist Trond Arild Tjøstheim, who also wrote the music for this song). The music of Future Whirl shares some qualities with Bard's previous band, but has a less obviously dark sound. The music is not easy to categorise, even though it is song-based and melodic. It's very moving music, with deep, poetic and thought provoking lyrics. Although the music is built around acoustic guitars, it has a much 'bigger' sound than you may expect, as it's fleshed out with strings and atmospheric and orchestral sounding synths. There are elements of classical music here and there, along with various world musics such as Spanish, Middle Eastern, Asian - but on the whole this is something very different from all those genres. It's guitar-led and song-oriented, but to call it pop or rock or even folk would be very lazy and very wrong. I won't even attempt to pigeonhole Future Whirl, but can only say that this is quite honestly an awe-inspiring album. The music has a deep effect on me, as do the lyrics, especially of Never Be The Same Again and The Frozen Isle, which have a strong sense of spirituality about them. I'm left stunned and speechless after hearing this. As much as I love music, it's definitely not every day that I'll hear music that's capable of moving me in the way that this does. This is sophisticated and intelligent music from an exceptionally talented artist. I'm thoroughly impressed! Info from whirl@futurewhirl.com

TRESPASSERS W Sex and the End of It CD (Somnimage)
Trespassers W are a long-running Dutch band who deal in arty and quirky music that's difficult to categorise, due to the sheer number of styles it incorporates. This album is a concept album about sex; there's lyrics about flirty barmaids, feminist cyberporn, adultery, sex shop goods, the eroticism of stilettos, nude dancers, and the rude shape of the banana. The music incorporates elements of neoclassical, old movie soundtracks, spoken word, country, quirky guitar pop, dark experimentation, noisepop, jazz, drone, rock, hip-hop beats, ska, choral music, punk, tribal percussion, tape manipulation... basically, you name a genre and Trespassers W have probably made use of it on this album! A very creative and original band; this and their many other releases are recommended listening for anyone who appreciates music that's different. Contact the label at somnimage@aol.com

MAGYAR POSSE Kings of Time CD (Verdura)
This has great packaging - 8 interchangeable front cover inserts! Although the album is divided into 7 tracks, there are no individual titles, it's just one piece called Kings of Time. The first track starts with a 3 minute drone instrumental, then it becomes a melodic, folk-tinged piece with acoustic guitar, violin and la-la-la vocals, then this part is joined by some atmospheric modern-psychedelic guitar. Track 2 starts off with some melancholic violin, sounding like old weepie-movie soundtrack music, then you get some retro-futuristic organ and dramatic guitar, then a neoclassical touch with the piano, then something big, dramatic and filmic with drum rolls and bell ringing. Track 3 opens with some eerie sound effects, then whilst it gets more melodic it's no less foreboding with its stark neoclassical elements and the guitar that wails like a tortured soul. Then it introduces a guitar melody that's like a less twangy version of surf music, before returning to the sombre/eerie mood. Then the track picks up speed and the melody is played on searing noise guitar. Track 4 has elements of post-rock and retro-futurism, and there's even a piece at the end which is reminiscent of church organ music meets prog. Track 5 is simultaneously delicate and dark and incorporates neoclassical and experimental elements. Track 6 could be loosely called post-rock but there's much more to it than that, especially due to the powerful, expressive drumming and the wordless but effective vocals. The final track is upbeat and powerful and introduces some prog tinges in the keyboard style.
This could easily be film soundtrack music, but it's no mere background music. It's highly inventive, artistic music which engages the listener with its ever-changing moods. It's very intelligent music, like if modern classical music was to be played on rock band instruments. Definitely a band with their own ideas. Contact the label at janne@verdurarecords.com

HJÖRTUR Chandni CD (Around the Corner)
Hot on the heels of various other projects from Hjörtur (also reviewed this issue) comes this new album, which shows yet another side to his musical creativity. You Are The One is a kind of new age/folk/world music thing with an ethereal-voiced guest female singer. The Paradoxical Commandments has Hjörtur reciting Kent M Keith's words over an electronic backing which again has quite a new age quality. Azure is a melodic guitar/synth instrumental that's very calm and very beautiful. Shining Bright is well-crafted laid-back pop. Wind of Green is inventive, laid-back and floaty folk-pop. United and Rearranging are both atmospheric electropop which has a meditative quality but also manages to be strongly melodic. The Answer is laid-back and atmospheric pop which includes some electronically processed church bells near the end. Hjörtur is good at genre-hopping and there's a lot of that in Sail Away, which is a kind of folky, atmospheric, ambient pop. Sha-lala-lala does the genre-hopping thing again, combining neoclassical with electronica with poppy 'sha-la-la' vocals.
This is much more relaxed music than Hjörtur's previous albums. Some might even call this 'easy listening' but I think that would be unfair as it manages to avoid the blandness associated with that genre. It's calm music but not bland music. There's far too much creativity and originality here for it to be dull. Contact Hjörtur - hjortur@hjortur.dk

BENJAMIN STAUFFER The Tears of Things CD (Somnimage)
Benjamin Stauffer makes instrumental music that's best described as neo-classical. It's sometimes like film soundtrack music, but don't expect mere background sound effects. This is very detailed, complex music which totally involves the listener. Instruments used are piano and a full-bodied synth sound that acts as an effective modern replacement for an orchestra. There's something sounding like an oboe in there too, but it could just be a particularly good synthetic copy. Despite the 'classical' tag, the music still sounds modern. But whereas a lot of modern classical composers go for an atonal, discordant approach, Benjamin Stauffer's music is very melodic, whilst also being atmospheric. As well as apparent influences from 20th century composers, the music integrates various other elements such as dark atmospheric music, and on rare occasions such as in Imaginosis and The Last Waltz, baroque. Cold Late April begins with a section that is less modern sounding than most tracks here, it has a distinctly 19th century feel about it. Later in the track Stauffer introduces some more recent-sounding elememts, such as the bits that sound like particularly sombre and unsettling film music. Remember introduces an electronic beat, and there's more sombre and unsettling film music and a section that's like a music box gone all warped. There's real depth to this album, it's clearly the work of a very creative and intelligent artist. Recommended for anyone seeking music that is sophisticated, intellectually challenging and slightly spooky! somnimage@aol.com

BLACK SUN ENSEMBLE Starlight CD (Camera Obscura)
Black Sun Ensemble, led by guitarist Jesus Acedo, have been around since the mid 80s, and this is their (I think) 7th album. Whilst I've heard of the band for years, this is the first album of theirs I've got, but if this is typical of the band, it looks like I've got a lot of catching up to do. This album is quite simply excellent.
Jewel of the Seven Stars is Middle Eastern/psych/drone/jazz with banjo. Other bands have mixed those styles together before, but it's not often you hear Middle Eastern style melodies played on the banjo! It's an original idea that works well. Loki's Monstrous Brood combines jazz and heavy prog rock, and jumps all over the place with its unconventional time changes. Despite the strong jazz influence on show here, the band never sacrifice melody in favour of improvisation. The same can be said for elsewhere on the album where a jazz influence is evident. I Am I Was introduces vocals and is excellent psych-pop with Spanish and Middle Eastern hints.
Arabic Satori combines psychedelia, surf, traditional Spanish-style music, jazz, and recited, part ranted, vocals. Angel of Light is brilliant jazz-tinged psych-rock. The Lycian is bizarre heavy prog. Tralaine is a superb traditional folk-styled guitar piece. Mascara Moon is pretty heavy psych-rock with jazz undertones. Sun Beam Angel is laid-back harmony pop meets psych-rock. Remedios Rising is an atmospheric and jazzy psych instrumental. Starlight is a kind of laid-back rap with surreal lyrics, over the top of a psychedelic instrumental with Spanish and Middle Eastern elements.
This is a really great album with lots of inventive ideas - I hope to hear more from this creative band. Contact the label: camera-obscura@tpgi.com.au

VARIOUS A Cage Went In Search Of A Bird CD (Somnimage)
Collection of music inspired by Franz Kafka. Themes of darkness and experimentation run throughout the album. Attrition sound different every time I hear them; here they sound like a cross between neoclassical, experimentation and unsettling film music. La Funcion De Repulsa have a demonic sounding experimental track mixing dark ambient, electro beats and sinister vocals. Angelhood is the band of Somnimage label owner Mykel Boyd, making unsettling dark experimental music with classical undertones. Mara's Torment appear here with an ambient track which has a meditative, dreamlike quality, and isn't as dark as the band name suggests. Loren Jan Wilson II and Ryoji Furui do chaotic experimental techno. After this noisy collection of random notes, there is a much less harsh track from Neither/Neither World, which is best described as dark folk or apocalyptic folk. The chaotic noise returns with Halo Skycrash's track which combines eerie synths, loud guitars, pulsating electronic rhythms and throaty growling vocals. Julian Tulip's Licorice sounds like it should be the name of a psych-pop band, but in actual fact the band of that name produce experimental sound manipulation.
Benjamin Stauffer appears here with Imaginosis, from the album reviewed above. It's a very intelligently written piece combining dark, filmic soundscapes with strongly melodic classical and baroque influences. Chagas provide a harsh noise piece with spoken vocals. Shinjuku Thief do a mixture of piano-based neoclassical music and eerie sound effects. Chthonic Force have a dark ambient and spoken word piece. Garden of Dreams do 80s style gothic music. Remora have a dark experimental noise/ambient piece. Oblivia's track is a mix of electronic, gothic and ethereal music; it's unmistakably gothic but avoids the stereotypes of that genre, favouring a more individual sound. E A Zann does eerie experimental ambient music. The New York Room are an American band singing in French and making ethereal gothic pop.
Some stuff here is just too random, harsh and/or non-melodic for my taste, but many of the more melodic tracks are excellent. Neither/Neither World, Benjamin Stauffer, Oblivia and The New York Room provide particularly notable contributions to this album. Contact somnimage@aol.com

BUMBLE B Flight of the Bumble B CDR (Crawling Chaos)
Knowing that Bumble B (singer with Norwegian psych band The Smell Of Incense) had a new solo album out was exciting news enough - TSOI are a very impressive band. But knowing the album was a collection of Norwegian folk songs was REALLY exciting news. I am very fond of Norwegian folk music, so much so that I went to Norwegian lessons. It was only a beginners' course so I'm not fluent by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I can understand bits of songs. Looking at the list of tracks on this CD, I recognise a number of titles, having heard versions by other artists. When reading the sleeve notes I found that Varulv is based on the version by 1970s band Folque who are among my favourite bands, and that particular song is one I love to bits! The more I found out about this album, the more excited I was!
So, does it live up to my expectations? Oh yes, definitely! The songs are sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes with fairly minimal folky or psych-folk arrangements, sometimes accompanied only by psychedelic/experimental percussion, and on the aforementioned Varulv, with full band instrumentation supplied by The Smell of Incense. Often I'm not all that into unaccompanied song, it seems lacking in something, but here the songs are so strong that they stand up on their own two feet without accompaniment. The experimental percussive backing of Rosensfolen is an interesting and effective addition. Svein Svane is a superb song with an effective mix of instruments - spacey synth, viola and a kind of folk flute that sounds similar to a recorder. TSOI's Varulv is excellent folkrock, one of the highlights of the album. Lova Lova Line is accompanied by sitar, an unexpected instrument but one that works well with the song. Signe Lita features spacey synth and psych guitar, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.
I strongly recommend this album to both psych-folk fans looking for an introduction to Norwegian folk music, and to people who are already into it. There are tracks here that are traditional enough to appeal to folk purists, and then there are the more experimental/spaced out tracks, the arrangements of which are anything but traditional! The CD comes with explanatory notes in English, telling the stories behind the songs. Also in the notes, Bumble B names Steeleye Span as an inspiration - now that's what I call good taste! The excellent artwork shows Bumble B is not just a talented singer and musician, but a talented visual artist too. It contains elements of Art Nouveau and psychedelia, with mystical and mythological themes. Contact Bumble B/Crawling Chaos: belbmub@hotmail.com
There is also a vinyl version out on Acony Bell, a sublabel of September Gurls Records of Germany. Contact them at septembergurls@compuserve.com

FAMLENDE FORSØK One Night I Had A Frightful Dream CDR (Crawling Chaos)
Crawling Chaos, run by members of Famlende Forsøk, The Smell of Incense and other bands, started off as a tape label in the late 70s - surely one of the first tape labels? These days they're in the process of remastering their old material onto CD, and releasing new CDs such as this. This album (also released as an LP on September Gurls) is a tribute to the horror/fantasy author H P Lovecraft, and the vinyl version includes a detailed and informative booklet giving background information on Lovecraft and on Famlende Forsøk. I'd always avoided Lovecraft's works in the past because of the racism claims levelled against him; however, the booklet explains why such claims were based on misconceptions - something I'm glad to hear.
Famlende Forsøk's music is as spooky as you'd expect music influenced by a horror author to be. It combines dark experimental soundcapes with more melodic elements, but is definitely no rehash of all other dark experimentation that came before it. This band have original ideas like incorporating instruments such as tenor flute, regular flute, viola, electric violin, piano, saxophone and congas into the sound, alongside the stuff that's more expected of experimental music. The Call of Chtulhu is a bizarre mix of sound effects, percussion, processed vocals, noise guitar and psych-rock guitar. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a sinister collection of sound effects and wailing sax noise. Imagine a saxophone screaming like a tormented soul; this is what you get here. The Gardens of Yin sounds less horror-inspired than a lot of stuff on this album; this is atmospheric psychedelic electronica. The Festival is excellent, a kind of experimental folk with viola, flute and congas. At The Mountains of Madness can also be loosely described as experimental folk, this time with Middle Eastern tinges. A very creative, inventive album. Contact details for September Gurls as above; contact Lumpy Davy from Famlende Forsøk/Crawling Chaos at lumpy.davy@c2i.net

VARIOUS Organ Radio 21: This Is Why I Bookmarked You CD (Org)
Org Records evolved out of the long running fanzine Organ (quite possibly the longest running fanzine, at least in the UK). They've promoted a lot of bands through their Organ Radio series who have since gone on to bigger things - eg Lostprophets, Raging Speedhorn, My Vitriol, Breed 77 and quite a few others. As that list suggests, the emphasis with Org is with various types of heavy/noisy music, but don't go away if that's not your thing - Org isn't just about metal and punk. Remember the glitter-powered pop band Charlie's Angels? They were on Org. There's lots of surprises and (positive) contradictions with this label.
Having said that, this particular compilation is more from the rock/metal/punk side of the label, but there is still variety here. And if you've been reading Organ for any length of time, you'd know they can't be doing with punk by numbers and cliched forms of rock. They always were big supporters of the style they dubbed 'pronk', and if you know what pronk is, you'd know it's one of the most inventive, genre hopping types of music out there.
This compilation features Twentysixfeet (atmospheric, soaring underground rock - grandiose in a good way), 65daysofstatic (creative proggy post-rock stuff), The Kramers (shouty punk with a dark edge), Midasuno (urgent, off-centre, unpredictable rock), I-Def-I (screechy hardcore metal with the occasional melodic interlude), Suns of the Tundra (ex-Peach, kicking heavy psych-rock into the 21st century. There's even woodwind in it, great to hear bands that use instruments that are unconventional for their genre), Leisur Hive (dark sleazy rock; more from them soon in Aquamarine), Suitable Case for Treatment (prog-punk-metal with roaring/yelping vocals, just as mad sounding as the band name suggests), Cubic Space Division (a mix of screamy metal and more forward-thinking, melodic rock), Caretaker (the same Caretaker that first surfaced at the back end of the 90s; underground rock that's both atmospheric and powerful), Thee More Shallows (the song itself sounds very like something Grandaddy could have come up with; they add to this textured atmospheric noise and toy piano. Very intriguing stuff from a band who seem like they have much creativity up their sleeves), John the Baker and the Malnourished (riotous metal-tinged punkrock), When Reason Sleeps (scream-metal meets a more melodic but no less fierce brand of underground rock), Trouble Maker (aggressive shouty punk), The Sick (another shoutathon from a band somewhere between punk and metal) and Everything Must Go (more shouty punk aggression).
Screamy metal and most shouty punk are styles I've never liked and probably never will, but there's lots of stuff here that's much more to my taste. If you had rock down as a tired old genre, this compilation will prove you very wrong. There's lots of bands doing creative, exciting stuff with rock and if you want to investigate further, this is an ideal place to start. More info at www.organart.com

THE RADIATOR EXPERTS Times Are Bad For Dreamers CDR (I'd Rather Be Fat Than Be Confused)
The band of Ben Sharpe of IRBFTBC fanzine, also starring Paul and Becky. They're a pop band, though by no means a one dimensional one. There's lo-fi psych-pop, catchy summery powerpop, twee fuzzpop straight out of the mid 80s (and no, 'twee' is not an insult!), minimal indiepop, and even a nod towards 70s rock in Heavy Rock Grrl. Imagine a cross between old-school fuzzpop bands like the Fat Tulips or Talulah Gosh, American powerpop and something more lo-fi and off-centre. They're a bit Elephant 6-ish in the way that they mix up powerpop with quirky bits. Yeah, it's lo-fi, but 24 track studio quality just ain't the point with bands like this. Excellent stuff, a must for fans of DIY pop. info@radiatorexperts.co.uk

LEISUR HIVE 3 Ton Edition CD (Actual Size)
Leisur Hive feature amongst them members of Living With Eating Disorders and Cardiacs, so you know you're not going to get run of the mill music here. Their sound is based around a gloomy & angular variety of forward-thinking rock. Try To Be Still adds to this a guitar style that's almost like traditional Greek music, which strangely enough works well with the rest of the track. On Sectional Pad is a kind of dark experimental punk with searing noise and energetic vocals. Get Clean has the effective additions of crunching percussion and fearsome violin. And if 'fearsome violin' sounds like a contradiction, I will just remind you that Leisur Hive are not a run of the mill band. Aeroplane is like music from a dark, arty, grainy, experimental movie. The Opaque is dark and sleazy off-centre rock; Neck Decision could be described in the same way except it has the addition of sinister wailing violin. Waiting Rooms combines the not-in-fact-incompatible ingredients of sleazy garage rock riffage, clanging industrial sounds, snarly punk vocals, and atmospheric post-rock. A very adventurous and individual sound; for more info contact info@leisur-hive.co.uk

CLANGER The Cosmos Got To Know Itself CD (self released)
Clanger has had a long history in music, playing guitar with Garageland, Robyn Hitchcock, The Mutton Birds, and Homer who included ex-members of The Sundays, Squeeze and The Blue Aeroplanes. However I'm mostly aware of him from his work with The Palantines, an astonishing Midlands band with highly original and addictive songs, who in an ideal world would have been huge. I've not heard much about them for a while, not sure if they've split up or have just been put on the backburner. Clanger is a songwriter as well as a guitarist, and with his new band The Glow Buzzers, has recorded this album of his own songs, which he hopes will be picked up by a label (although this is no mere demo; it's a professionally produced CD with barcode).
This is a great album of melodic pop music, often with psychedelic undertones, and with lots of creative ideas. Your Beautiful Knees is sophisticated harmony pop that puts me in mind of The Zombies, or a more recent reference, Peter Lacey. Elsewhere the songs don't particularly remind me of anyone else, but are just intelligent, tuneful and inventive pop songs. The album finishes off with ...And Back Again, which is an alternate version of the first track Going Your Way - a nice touch, which gives the album a definite beginning and ending. Excellent stuff, well worth a listen. Contact clanger@clanger.net

PETER LACEY Beam! CD (RP Media)
I recently reviewed Peter Lacey's later albums, out on Pink Hedgehog, as part of an article on the label. These were so impressive that I tracked down a copy of his debut album, Beam! The late-period Beach Boys influence evident on some tracks from the subsequent albums is very prominent here, alongside smatterings of 60s/70s soul and lounge music. Despite the very obvious influences prevalent on this album, there are a number of tracks that show Peter is beginning to explore other sounds and find his own style.
The Wasteling is a very beautiful, atmospheric track with choral-style vocal harmonies and psychedelic undertones. Sanctuary Cove is a swirly instrumental track combining elements of new age, psych-rock and baroque. Wilson Avenue has the Beach Boys and old-school soul influences, but all wrapped up in a floaty, dreamlike atmosphere. How The Land Lies is another dreamlike and ethereal song, very beautiful. Ditto The Green Man, which is free of instruments and has exceptional vocal harmonies with a strong choral feel.
There's too much inspiration from Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Burt Bacharach on this album for it to be truly original on the whole; if you're new to Peter Lacey I'd suggest checking out his later albums before this one. It certainly has its fair share of more inventive tracks though, as outlined above; these are songs of pure atmospheric beauty and should not be ignored. Whilst this isn't out on Pink Hedgehog, you can get it from them - contact simon@pinkhedgehog.com

AUTUMN'S GREY SOLACE Riverine CD (Projekt)
Doesn't seem long since the last Autumn's Grey Solace album, Over the Ocean, came out. Now there's Riverine, a similarly impressive album. Autumn's Grey Solace are a dreampop band led by the ethereal-voiced Erin Welton, whose voice fits the music perfectly. Her vocals are quite often multi-layered, giving a very beautiful choral effect. The mood ranges from soaring to sombre, but a strong atmospheric feel pervades the music at all times. Highly recommended for fans of the shoegazer genre. question@projekt.com

LIFESMYTH Music for the Third Ear CD (Camera Obscura)
Scott Smith has been putting out self released tapes and CDRs under the Lifesmyth moniker since the 90s. I've been following his recordings for a number of years now, so it's great to know that a label has now picked up on Lifesmyth. The old recordings are gradually being remastered for potential release, starting with the fifth album, 2000's Music for the Third Ear. Lifesmyth's music isn't easily put into a straightforward pigeonhole; it can be somewhat lazily defined as psychedelic, but that only gives part of the picture. Elements of psych-pop, psych-rock, folk and prog make up the Lifesmyth sound, along with smatterings of blues, heavy rock and even classical music. The overall sound is spacey and hazy but also very melodic, quite often introducing unpredictable changes into the music. There are bits that hark back to the 60s and 70s, and there are bits that are much more new and original, coming only from within Scott's mind. Being Alive, We Have Come From The Earth and What I Came With are my particular favourites, along with the trad folk and classical-inspired instrumental The Polish Question, although the entire album is very creative and enjoyable, and a good place to start for those new to Lifesmyth. I look forward to the re-release of Scott's other albums; he is an artist who deserves a far wider audience than just followers of the tapes scene. Contact the label - camera-obscura@tpgi.com.au

WHEN'S THE FUTURE Then CDR (Stone Premonitions)
I think this band has a connection with Krom Lek. Their eclectic mix of funk, spacerock, scratching, jazz, ambient, experimental, prog, Indian-influenced music, didgeridoo, chanting, manic techno drumming, sampling and heavy psych-rock makes for an engaging listen. My Coat is a brilliant song that can be loosely classed as prog rock, yet it has a pop sensibility and slight tinges of folk. They go from this to the psychedelic techno of Dream Cracker, showing that genre boundaries aren't important to this band. There's lots of inventive stuff going on here; would definitely like to hear more from When's The Future. Contact Stone Premonitions at stonepremonitions@fsmail.net

THE PSYCHEDELIC BREAKFAST In Uncle Sam's Basement Emporium CD (Too Far North)
AMBER SOULS Always Tripping CDR EP

The Psychedelic Breakfast are now called Amber Souls; a good move, cos 'The Psychedelic Breakfast' conjured up all sorts of wackiness that the band just aren't responsible for in reality. The album artwork is Aubrey Beardsley pastiche with a nod towards surrealism and 60s psychedelic poster art. The music contained within is late 60s/early 70s-inspired rock, with psyched-out guitar soloing, confident vocals, and effective use of hand drums which complements well the drum kit. I can sometimes hear reminders of very early Delta; I don't know if that's intentional or whether it's just that The Psychedelic Breakfast and Delta were both listening to the same bands. (Delta always said they were too disorganised to have influences, but they had such a retro thing going on that they must have been subconsciously, if not consciously, influenced by 60s and 70s music). Whilst Delta fans would probably like this band, they certainly don't sound the same; The Psychedelic Breakfast are more overtly psychedelic, both in the music and the druggy lyrics. The guitar solos are longer and twiddlier, and the actual songs bear no resemblance to anything by Delta, it's just that bits of the arrangements have a similar vibe. All 10 tracks here are joined together as one long track, and the final track ends with an extended instrumental part that's very spacey, with experimental undertones.
Whilst the band name has changed, the music is still much in the same vein. As Amber Souls, the band have recorded new versions of Always Tripping (called Always Trippin' Always Stoned on the album) and Hanging Out Of Windows, which The Psychedelic Breakfast recorded some time ago but it never made it onto the album. Hanging Out Of Windows is absolutely brilliant; sounds just as great now as when I first heard The Psychedelic Breakfast's version a couple of years ago. It's a very strong, catchy song which has a pop sensibility whilst still being basically psych-rock. Alongside these tracks are two that are new to me; Donna Wanna Change and Everglades (Sea Urchins reference? Or just a coincidence?), which are really excellent, of an equally high standard as the best of The Psychedelic Breakfast's material, if not even better!
More info from Adam at Too Far North Records - adamofford@hotmail.com

TALES OF JENNY s/t CDR
In my recent Planting Seeds article I was writing about Pinkie, and pondering whether Alex Sharkey's new band sounds so authentically old-school because he was involved in the scene the first time around. Most current indiepop bands have shades of the old stuff but there's something that gives it away that they're new bands. Well, Tales of Jenny have blown that theory out of the water; I don't know if they're just an exception to the rule or if there's more bands like this out there that I just don't know about. Tales of Jenny sound completely authentic, I would really have thought they were a first wave indiepop band - but in actual fact they were only born in the 80s! I think it's great that indiepop, the first style of music I was ever completely passionate about, is continuing to have an influence on a whole new generation of people today.
There's 7 tracks here, all firmly within the mid 80s jangly indiepop style. The music seems twee on the surface, but the cutesy atmosphere masks a deeper content with intelligent, poetic lyrics. The whole album is great, although Prague Spring and Reading Oscar Wilde In Public are particularly superb; really well-crafted and melodically memorable old-style indiepop to rival the best of the stuff from the original indiepop scene - and I don't make those sort of claims lightly. Anyone with the vaguest bit of interest in 1980s and early 90s indiepop must check out this band. Contact clj106york@yahoo.co.uk

UNTO ASHES Grave Blessings CD (Kalinkaland)
I've been really impressed with everything I've heard from Unto Ashes in the past, so was eagerly awaiting this new album. This is, as expected, just as impressive. Unto Ashes' music is dark and very beautiful and moving. It's primarily influenced by folk and medieval music, with elements of classical and opera also. They also venture into other musical territories such as the piercing gothic rock of In Memory of D'Drennan, but the whole album is held together by its dark atmosphere.
As well as material penned by the band, Grave Blessings features excellent interpretations of a variety of music, ancient and modern. Three Haiku is an adaptation of 11th and 12th century Japanese poetry set to music by the band. Frühling is based on Qntal's version of a piece from the 13th century German manuscript Carmina Burana. It combines an authentically medieval atmosphere with big epic synths. I'm not familiar with Flipper but believe they were a punk band. Unto Ashes' version of their song The Way of the World is definitely not punk, but delicate and sombre folk music. I absolutely love Maddy Prior and June Tabor's version of Four Loom Weaver, so was very excited to learn that Unto Ashes have based their version of the song on the Prior/Tabor version. For those unfamiliar with the song, it's a 19th century Irish folk song about poverty and hunger. Unto Ashes' version is accompanied only by the sound of rain and thunder. It's spine tingling stuff.
Tortured by Rose Thorns is an Unto Ashes composition which is an atmospheric mix of metal guitar, folky dulcimer and bleak gothic synth. Vocal-wise, the song is a mixture of dark folk and demonic yowling. The Turning, written by Unto Ashes' Natalia Lincoln, is sombre neoclassical music. Dramatic strings appear throughout their version of The Cure's The Drowning Man. If I Come To You has prominent use of percussion and an effective half-sung, half-spoken vocal. Tous Eforciez is a 13th century composition by Gautier D'Espinal. This features French horn, hurdy gurdy and operatic vocals and is really impressive, emotional stuff.
An astonishing album. More info from info@kalinkaland.de

JO GABRIEL Island CD (Kalinkaland)
This truly stunning album features the impassioned, distinctive voice of Jo Gabriel against a very moving backdrop of piano and cello. Jo Gabriel is an artist of great talents, making music that is individual, sophisticated, beautiful and haunting. I do hope we'll be hearing a lot more from her in future. I can't recommend this album enough! Contact the label - info@kalinkaland.de

MIRA There I Go Daydreamer CD (Projekt)
12 songs of dreampop, from laid-back to more rhythmic and forceful, but always with a strong sense of both atmosphere and melody. Pieces is a really strong track which introduces elements of psychedelic rock alongside the band's usual shoegazer sound. The same could also be said for Long Division, though this is more laid-back and spacey. The first minute or so of Window Seat is instrumental spacerock, then it picks up speed, transforming into a prime slice of atmospheric noisepop. Passerby is melancholic and beautifully melodic, whilst Nearest Exit is a dark, heavy piece, again tinged with psych-rock. More info from question@projekt.com

VARIOUS Summoning of the Muse: A Tribute to Dead Can Dance CD (Projekt)
I'm very keen on the music of Dead Can Dance, especially their medieval and world music styled material, so the idea of a Dead Dan Dance tribute is an intriguing one, especially considering it's out on Projekt, a label that can be trusted to release consistently impressive music in the dark/atmospheric field. Most of the music here is very much in the spirit of DCD, but with enough of the bands' own sound to prevent the tracks from sounding like clones. As to be expected from Projekt, there's a lot of very beautiful tracks here. There's Dark Sanctuary's Summoning of the Muse, with perfect choral-style vocals; Autumn's Grey Solace's shoegazer version of Musica Eternal; Faith & the Muse's Chant of the Paladin, in which wild primitive chanting and percussion are juxtaposed with funereal church bells; Black Tape For A Blue Girl's Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to the Book, in which droning electronically processed violin provides a backdrop for the song itself which is wonderfully dreamlike and atmospheric with violin, piano and flute; Rajna's Cantara, which adds a menacing synth to the Middle Eastern-tinged sound present in the original version; Mirabilis' (including Summer Bowman of The Machine in the Garden) version of The Writing on my Father's Hand, which sets very beautiful layered vocals to atmospheric electronic instrumentation; Chandeen's In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated, which is a kind of sophisticated, grandiose pop; Arcana's superb version of Enigma of the Absolute; Kobe's Bird, in which shamanistic chanting and drumming feature alongside ear-slicing noise guitar and electronic bird sounds; Athan Maroulis with Surface 10's version of Ulysses, which is very faithful to the original and could almost be by DCD themselves; and finally Cantara is revisited by Stoa, whose orchestrated version owes more to classical and operatic music than Middle Eastern traditional music. A truly excellent album, totally recommended for Dead Can Dance fans. Info from question@projekt.com

STONE BREATH The Silver Skein Unwound CD (Camera Obscura)
Excellent psychedelic folk, effectively combining elements of traditional British, American, Middle Eastern and Indian folk music, along with experimental music, in a way that is musically and lyrically esoteric. There are shades of The Incredible String Band, though Stone Breath are certainly not mere copyists. The songs range from dark brooding dirges to beautiful rural and medieval-styled ballads. A kind of arcane Christian mysticism pervades the lyrics, along with occasional allusions to mythologies such as the Egyptian and Norse. A 16 page booklet completes the package with astonishing, dark and psychedelic artwork. More info from camera-obscura@tpgi.com.au

JET JOHNSON Micropolitan CD (Seriously Groovy)
Full length album from Jet Johnson, masters of beautiful understated and atmospheric indiepop. But don't expect laid-back minimalism throughout; Jet Johnson are also masters of variety and unpredictable genre hopping. There's the brilliant upbeat & catchy indiepop of Donnie; the dark, brooding Ring which is a kind of sombre dreampop; Something Impossible, a song that's both upbeat and melancholic, proving that sad songs needn't also be slow songs. It bridges the gap between indiepop and psychedelic rock, and includes some delightfully atmospheric synthesized strings and noisescape effects. There's the slightly off-centre mix of post-rock, dreampop and indiepop that is Great Super; the accurately titled Beautiful, an excellently off-centre and ethereal slice of pop-psych-folk; the quirky blend of morbid lyrics and jangly indiepop that is Death Song; and the country tinged Cats In Heaven. The diverse set of influences is all held together by a general low-key yet atmospheric mood and a sense of creativity that can only be found in the underground. Contact info@seriouslygroovy.com

KATE WATERFIELD Runa Megin CD (Changing World)
As soon as I heard of this album I knew I was going to love it. I was intrigued & excited by its subject matter (runes, which I'm interested in from a primarily historical point of view, as Scandinavian history & mythology are amongst my main interests) and its musical influences (amongst other things, Scandinavian folk music, which is perhaps the type of music I am most deeply passionate about). Listening to the album, my initial perception of it was not proven wrong. Kate Waterfield, musician and shamanic healer, makes extremely innovative music which combines vocalisations of the rune names and sounds; folk music from Scandinavia and beyond; and atmospheric electronic and experimental elements. Despite its avant garde quality, it is very melodic and haunting, with strong tunes that stay in the head.
Here are nine musical compositions, inspired by nine of twenty four runes of the Elder Futhark (nine is a sacred number in the Northern tradition. It appears throughout the mythology, for example in the nine worlds, and the nine days & nights in which Odin sacrificed himself in order to gain the runes). Uruz is a deeply atmospheric choral piece. Raido is an energetic, driving piece that fully conveys the movement/journey interpretation of the rune. Kenaz is a truly exceptional world-fusion piece with elements of Scandinavian and Celtic folk and shamanistic drumming and chanting. Gebo has the feel of Eastern European choral music, combined with modern electronica and delicate, melancholic folk guitar. It has medieval touches at times but is also totally new. Isa is an experimental piece which conjures up images of frost, ice and cold winds; appropriate as Isa's primary meaning is ice. Algiz is a truly beautiful, mainly folk-inspired piece, but its sharp 'zzzzzzz' sounds accurately evoke the protectiveness and defensiveness inherent in the rune Algiz. Sowilo is a very moving vocal piece of great beauty, in which the archaic and the modern (possibly even futuristic!) sound completely at home together. Tiwaz is a greatly innovative composition which uses the voice as a percussion instrument and also to create a kind of otherworldly chanting that really is like nothing I have ever heard before. Ingwaz is another moment of pure beauty, combining medieval choral music, Scandinavian folk music, shamanic drumming, and truly original elements with no outside influence at all.
There have unfortunately been a few people who have misused runes and Nordic mythology in order to peddle extreme right wing politics and/or a kind of pseudo-Satanism, neither of which had any place in the original Northern religion. Kate Waterfield however seems to have no such ulterior motives; she has embraced the spirituality behind the runes and the overall effect is so moving that it's clear she understands the subject she's dealing with. For the listener, a familiarity with the symbolism behind the album is perhaps helpful, but it can also be enjoyed for what it is on a more exoteric level - an immensely creative, innovative set of compositions. Further info from enquiries@katewaterfield.co.uk or enquiries@changingworld.co.uk

THE MORRISONS Songs from the South of England CD (Firestation)
The Morrisons were originally a part of the late 80s indiepop underground; they released a flexi, a small label 12" and appeared on a comp tape, but weren't heard of for a long time since. They were more recently rediscovered by Firestation Records (formerly Firestation Tower) who included them on one of their Sound of Leamington Spa compilations and also released this 16 track album which compiles the tracks from their flexi and EP along with a number of demos. The Morrisons' sound is very typical of the era they were from, reminiscent of bands like Mighty Mighty, the Brilliant Corners, and early Orange Juice. The recording quality is often pretty lo-fi, as you'd expect from a collection of demos and flexi tracks, but it's not lo-fi enough to detract from the songs themselves - and lo-fi or not, at least Firestation have rescued these songs from oblivion. Worth investigating, for fans of mid/late 80s janglepop.
The Morrisons are now back together and recording again; I have a CDR EP of their new material, to be reviewed soon. For more info contact the label: info@firestation-records.de or the band: ian.churchward@btinternet.com

MOGUL s/t CD (Wretched Recordings)
Not to be confused with the other Mogul consisting of Jonni & Candii, this Mogul have a different sound entirely, being basically an alternative rock band. Unlike some other alt-rock outfits, Mogul are certainly not one-dimensional. Learner Lover starts off fooling the listener into expecting 80s style synthpop, but then the song itself kicks in, which somehow manages to be simultaneously emotional & slightly dark as well as driving & uplifting. Limb by Limb features the sort of chugging bassline and riff that is more often associated with punk, but this song is actually sophisticated and impassioned rock. Roses is upbeat indierock with jangly and noisy sections. Somebody, Try, Front, Faded and the slightly 70s-tinged Wrap Around prove that laid-back songs can also be powerful. Play Away has real oomph; a strong rock song with hints of the 70s but updated for the 21st century. A very strong album from a band who should be - and easily could be - huge. More details from info@wretchedrecordings.co.uk

MAT DICKSON The Keeper's Log CD (Beachcomber)
The lighthouse cover art, and track titles like The Fisherman's Tune, The Mariner, Along the Coast and On the Tide, show that The Keeper's Log is basically a concept album with a seafaring theme, but as the tracks are instrumentals, the inspiration behind the album isn't immediately obvious when listening to it. The music combines folk-style melodies with elements of progressive rock and new age music, and the more rockish parts put me in mind a little of the sort of thing Colin Masson of The Morrigan was doing on his solo album Isle of Eight. Some of the less rock moments have a fairly 'easy listening' feel, but the blandness associated with that genre is avoided here due to the high level of talent and sophistication the music has. This is a very gentle, calming album, and one of high musical quality. Contact info@beachcombermusic.com

JET JOHNSON Tula CD (Errol)
6 track mini-album from Jet Johnson, which pre-dates their material on Seriously Groovy. They had a different lineup at this stage and sounded a little different from the later material, though Jet Johnson have never been a band to stick to just one style. Included here is the excellently melodic and bizarrely titled instrumental, Growing a Bearneck for Kate, which is loosely classifiable as post-rock. Sixty Days is slightly off-centre lo-fi indiepop with harmonica. Klementjev is post-rock with a waltz rhythm and hummed vocals. Paris Suits is in two parts, the first being dark lo-fi pop and the second being atmospheric instrumental post-rock. Cry Me A River is a surprising inclusion, though not that surprising when you consider the eclectic influences shown on Jet Johnson's other releases. Their cover of this famous song has got to be the only example of easy-listening-post-rock in existence! Something About the Ocean returns to the instrumental post-rock sound, having elements that are both forceful and atmospheric. Contact the label - adrian@errolrecords.co.uk

BARD OF ELY Electric Bard and other songs CDR
Compilation of recent songs from the Bard of Ely, who is perhaps better known to long term followers of the underground tapes scene by his real name Steve Andrews. Some of this material is brand new and other tracks are reworkings of his older songs. Electric Bard World Mix, featuring Catherine Duc and Exlectix, shows that whilst Steve started making a name for himself through the largely pre-internet tapes movement, he is no technology-shunner. Electronic bleeps and modem noises provide a backdrop for this quirky autobiographical song about composing music electronically and spreading it over the internet. Steve teams up with Ed Drury on For Peter And For Paul, a bizarre psychedelic poem set to an electronic experimental soundscape and tribal drumming. Laughing at Nothing is another collaboration with Ed Drury; a mystical poem with mindbending psychedelic instrumentation - excellent stuff. Ocean Sky is another visionary poem set to another of Ed Drury's instrumentals, this time combining folk, psych, experimental, techno and Spanish guitar music. 100th Monkey Versus the Beast is the final collaboration with Ed Drury, in which techno, didgeridoo and psych-rock are combined to provide a background for Steve's visions of a frightening future. These lyrics are about the negative uses technology can be put to, and the idea of a world being run by corrupt politicians. It touches on many of the themes also explored by The Rabbit's Hat. I'm enjoying these collaborations with Ed Drury; Steve's poetry is very well-crafted and conjures up vivid imagery in the mind, and Ed's music is highly innovative.
Morning Time is a delicate folk song featuring guest backing vocals and accordion from Brenda Davies and psychedelic guitar from Madi. In Mae'r Anifeiliaid Yn Cysgy, Steve teams up with Nat Shelley to produce a very creative and atmospheric mix of electronica, folk and psych with spoken vocals in Welsh. Those that know Steve's tape releases from the 90s should be aware of Real Love & Communication, but this is a new live version which begins with Steve and his Druid order reciting the Druid's Oath. The song is a stripped-down slice of 60s-ish folk which laments the hatred and violence prevalent in this day and age. Madi and Brenda Davies return for Love Is The Name and Ayla's Song, both of which are well-crafted and memorable examples of 60s-ish folk. For anyone new to the diverse, creative world of the Bard, this is a good introduction.
The latest is that he's relocated from Ely, Cardiff to Tenerife, but unfortunately I don't have his current email address. Anybody know it? He continues to promote his music over the internet though, and a search should turn up a number of download sites featuring his music.
UPDATE - I've now heard from Steve; he can be contacted via these sites - www.myspace.com/bardofely1 and www.soundclick.com/bardofely

BUSY SIGNALS Busy Beats CD (Sidewinder Sounds)
Busy Signals' Baby's First Beats was a firm favourite of mine when it was released as a limited vinyl-only edition on Earworm, so this compilation of tracks from that album and the US-only album Pretend Hits is a very welcome release. Extra points are scored for the inclusion of my two particular favourite tracks from Baby's First Beats, Headphoneworld and I'm So Slippery. Busy Signals is all the work of one man, Howard Hamilton III, who makes innovative lo-fi pop combining elements of carefree indiepop, hiphop beats & scratching, retro-futurism and a smattering of 60s lounge music. Whilst the bits that make up the music of the Busy Signals are all pretty retro, they're cut up and stuck back together again to create something new and creative. Sidewinder Sounds is an offshoot of Cherry Red - more info from infonet@cherryred.co.uk

VARIOUS A Dark Cabaret CD (Projekt)
Compilation of artists inspired by 1920s/30s cabaret, but often with added darkness and sleaze courtesy of further influences from punk, rock and goth. The Dresden Dolls' piano based and undeniably cabaret-ish Coin Operated Boy begins as a very lighthearted and humorous number. It gets more melancholic later on, but the dark mood is interspersed with a kind of slapstick circus music. Revue Noir have a big, dramatic, orchestrated song. Jill Tracy has a sleazy, jazz-inspired track with ominous violin, occasionally discordant piano and a lyrical plot that sounds straight out of a pulp novel. Katzenjammer Kabarett are part gothic rock, part cabaret, part horror movie soundtrack. With Audra's Cabaret Fortune Teller, the only obvious cabaret reference is in the title; the music itself is dark post-punk with distorted vocals and strange keyboard effects. Nicki Jaine, also of Revue Noir, has a very strong, confident, forceful voice, and her song Pretty Faces is an effective combination of acoustic pop, cabaret, jazz and blues.
Pretty Balanced's track is a dark, brooding number from the more experimental side of gothic rock. Black Tape For A Blue Girl appear here with a remix of Knock Three Times, from their recent Halo Star album. This is an amusing sendup of goth stereotypes ("Knock three times on your coffin if you want my love", "She was so cute in a why don't you get out and see the sun kinda way" etc), which shows that not everyone in the gothic scene takes themselves too seriously. The Brides do dark yet playful rock with a noticeable pinch of cabaret. Rozz Williams' Flowers is dark minimalistic rock. Thou Shalt Not are about dark humour; True Love is a tongue in cheek tale about murder, appropriately set to an ironic mix of slapstick silent movie style piano and funereal bell-pealing.
As is usual with Projekt, this album proves there is far more to gothic music than the 80s stereotypes. There's a lot of impressive stuff here and it seems the dark cabaret scene is one that's well worth exploring further. Contact question@projekt.com

JAIYA Firedance: Songs for Winter Solstice CD (self-released)
As the title of this album implies, and the subtitle makes clear, Canadian band Jaiya are coming from a pagan angle. They sum up their own take on paganism as 'one that recognises the power and beauty in the earth's yearly patterns without being tied to a particular religious tradition'. Jaiya are essentially a folk band with added influences from early music (which I see as having parallels and overlaps with trad folk anyway) and jazz. The jazz bits are quite often played on accordion, an interesting mix that's not often heard, but works really well.
Their songs are a mix of traditional and new compositions. Dance to Your Shadow, a traditional Hebridean song, is sung in Gaelic and English, and reminds me a lot of Capercaillie's best moments. Although Jaiya are pagan, they don't shy away from Christian music, recognising the beauty to be found in medieval Christmas chants. They begin their otherwise pagan song Yule Is Come with a fragment of one such chant, Gaudete, which was previously made famous by Steeleye Span and more recently the Mediaeval Baebes. The main song is one of their own compositions, combining a medieval-inspired melody with Celtic harp and whistle, accordion and percussion. To Drive the Cold Winter Away is a traditional 18th century song, played largely on harp, and with very formal, almost operatic vocals. Bring Us In Good Ale is an excellent drinking song from the 15th century; its melody is typical of the period and puts me in mind of Steeleye Span's classic 70s material.
Gaia's Lullaby has some lyrics in common with In the Bleak Midwinter, and could be seen as a pagan version of that song. Parts of the melody remind me a little of 90s pagan folk/prog band Legend, although the arrangement here is of course entirely folk. The Old Yeare Now Away Is Fled is traditional and has the same tune as Greensleeves. It includes some pretty impressive jazz improvisation on the accordion. Taladh Chriosta (The Christ Child's Lullaby) is of course another Christian song, though its lyrics are not explicitly so - it could easily be a lullaby sung by any mother who is in awe of her newborn child. Instead of being scornful of Christianity or avoiding it altogether, Jaiya would sooner focus on the commonalities that religion has with their own, seeing Mary as a form of the Great Mother and the newborn Jesus as 'an incarnation of the mythic winter child, who symbolizes the rebirth of light & life in the time of darkness'. The album ends with Firedance, a very beautiful track about leaving the old year behind.
A truly exceptional album - I look forward to the release of next year's Beltane album! More info from info@jaiya.ca, or visit their website www.firedance.ca

SEVEN 13 Unleashed CD (What Matters)
This band used to be called Coven 13, and had an album called Book of Shadows. I'm not entirely sure why they changed their name but suspect it could be because they wanted to be seen as more than a band that just has songs inspired by Wicca. The subject matter here goes beyond pagan/occult topics so such a pigeonhole would be misleading. Musically Seven 13 play a kind of alternative rock that's quite heavy at times, taking on board progressive and gothic influences, with a sprinkling of classical music. Gravelly vocals are combined with dramatic and sophisticated musicianship to produce a dark, theatrical listening experience. More info from seven13rep@aol.com

REYNOLDS Love Songs CD (Errol)
The title is misleading, perhaps purposefully so; due to the departure of vocalist Matt Tagney, there is no actual singing to be heard here. Reynolds have reinvented themselves as an instrumental band, and one with a sense of humour, judging by titles such as Shitloads of Fuck All, Like Texas (But Wet) and Reynolds Bloody Reynolds. But like the title of the album, such things can mislead. This is not tongue-in-cheek music but pretty serious sounding experimental rock. There's elements of post-rock and lo-fi alt-rock in their sound but it's generally a more dark and brooding listening experience than those genres often are, and the atmospheric quality is heightened by the addition of violin and cello which give a kind of dark neoclassical feel. Yunga throws some chaotic improvisational jazz into the mix, along with heavy rock riffage. Occasionally the music can be a little too repetitive and atonal, but the overall atmospheric moods and forward-thinking creative ideas on the album make up for that. Contact adrian@errolrecords.co.uk

MARTIN NEWELL Radio Autumn Attic CD (Cherry Red)
Martin Newell's The Greatest Living Englishman is amongst my all time favourite albums, and the follow-up The Off-White Album isn't too far behind in terms of greatness, so this is an album I was keen to hear. I'm pleased to say that most of the material here is of a similarly high standard to the other Martin Newell albums I'm familiar with. Newell is perhaps better known as a poet, and the lyrics here are certainly poetic. But his brand of poetry is not to be seen as a pompous artform irrelevant for the average person. The lyrics are intelligently crafted, though far from pretentious or alienating, as they deal with scenarios that are realistic, if a little dark at times. Musically, Newell still owes a lot to the 60s; there are nods to assorted mod bands, pop-psych, 60s folk and The Beach Boys (those ba-ba-bas in The Duchess of Leylandia just wouldn't exist if it wasn't for The Beach Boys). The music often appears lighthearted on the surface, but the upbeat mood has a tendency to mask pessimistic or sleazy lyrical scenarios which have a grounding in harsh reality.
The Wicked Witch is brilliant folk-psych-pop which uses nursery rhyme references to conceal the far more ominous subject matter of alcoholism and unemployment. A Woman and Some Whisky is inspired by some early 20th century genre, perhaps cabaret or music hall, and sounds dramatic yet tongue in cheek. World of the Stars is a sleazefest, both melodically and lyrically speaking, with its lurid cast of whores and drunks. Because She's Driftwood is a tale of an unconventional, almost otherworldly woman, set to a piece of laid-back jazz-blues with a dark atmosphere. Sailing To America is a downtempo number with vivid imagery about a childhood fantasy game involving an improvised boat; an evocative picture of the days when children had to use their imagination and find their own entertainment, as opposed to being plonked in front of the TV all day. The Beer Elves begins with a bit of fooling around in the shape of a spoof ad for 'WD-Naughty: Intimate Lubricant'. The song proper combines tongue in cheek humour with early 20th century easy listening music. Prende Mi is musically and lyrically faux-Italian. Newell strings together a bunch of apparently random Italian words, and I understand just enough to know that it's meant to be an absurdly humorous song. The last part of the album consists of Newell reading from his glam rock autobiography, This Little Ziggy, which is crammed full of crude yet highly intelligent humour, and it had me laughing out loud on several occasions.
Whilst I'd still recommend that the first place to start for those new to Martin Newell is The Greatest Living Englishman - there are really too many joke songs on Radio Autumn Attic for it to be an absolutely perfect album - I would still recommend Radio... to fans of Newell. The best material here is certainly up there with his classic tracks. It's also well worth having as an introduction to the hilarious This Little Ziggy, a book that I heartily recommend to all Martin Newell fans, and which is entertaining enough even if you know nothing about him. Contact the label: infonet@cherryred.co.uk

VARIOUS The Sound of Leamington Spa vols 3 & 4 CDs (Firestation)
Firestation (previously Firestation Tower), in association with the Clarendon and Bilberry labels, continue to put out their Leamington Spa compilations, in a laudable effort to expose largely forgotten 80s and early 90s indiepop bands to a new and wider audience. Across these two albums, there are a number of bands I previously knew of (Pure, The Morrisons, 1000 Violins, Snowbirds, Honeytrap, The Clouds, Candy Darlings, The Nivens, Hellfire Sermons, The Apple Moths, The Williams, The Church Grims and The Days) and a whole host of bands that escaped even my attention the first time around. Both albums come with extensive liner notes and nostalgic cover collages of fanzines and gig flyers. If you know this genre, you'll know what to expect with these comps, even if some bands aren't already familiar - lots of jangly, at times twee pop (and no, 'twee' is not an insult!), which is either summery or melancholic or a paradoxical combination of the two.
The choice of tracks works well as the bands have a lot in common; in fact the comps sound more complete and coherent albums than do some albums by one band! Even the majority of the tracks that stray from the overall theme still fit in with everything else - for instance Waving At Trains' Sylvie, which is a rock-tinged take on janglepop, but is janglepop nonetheless. C-Saim are the band on vol 3 that are most different from the others, they play a more commercial kind of guitar pop (I mean the sort of stuff that was commercial in the 80s) with a jazz influence. But even they don't sound unacceptably incongruous here due to their strong 80s sound. The same could be said for vol 4's Dislocation Dance, another jazzy and fairly mainstream sounding pop band. Explained Emma (also on vol 4) are more straightforward jazz with little or no indiepop influence, so are really the only band here who seem a little out of place. Everything else is without a doubt squarely within the old-school indiepop sound.
Great to know Start Digging My Grave Sugar is here on vol 3, this is my favourite 1000 Violins track, a real janglepop classic. Vol 3 also includes Snowbirds' Motorcycle Baby, great catchy twee la-la-la janglepop which brings back a lot of memories. Volume 4 reintroduces such classics as The Clouds' Get Out Of My Dream, Candy Darlings' That's Where Caroline Lives, The Nivens' Yesterday, Hellfire Sermons' The Best Laugh I Ever Had and The Apple Moths' Everything, along with loads of other quality old-style jangle. This series is essential listening for anyone with an interest in the indiepop movement. Contact info@firestation-records.de

MASTERS OF THE HEMISPHERE Protest A Dark Anniversary CD (Sidewinder Sounds)
Masters of the Hemisphere have all the classic ingredients for great indiepop - harmony vocals, jangly guitars, twee playful synth sounds and a strongly melodic approach; but they also break the mould by introducing less usual instruments such as cello, sax and accordion, and slightly quirky and psychedelic atmospheres. Their music is basically partway between old-school indiepop and psych-tinged 60s pop. This is a brilliant album, summery and uplifting, well worth checking out. Sidewinder Sounds is a division of Cherry Red - contact them at infonet@cherryred.co.uk

MICAWBA Linear CD (Too Far North)
The album begins with the excellent In All Her Dresses, a superbly melodic slice of indierock that reminds me of REM at times, mainly due to the vocal style. The bizarrely titled Terracotta Plant Man Ate My Biscuit is a slightly off-kilter take on pop-punk, with hints of the more melodic side of grunge. In Another Lifetime starts off as a kind of laid-back acoustic rock with violin and cello; it picks up speed about a minute and a half into the song, but retains its effective use of strings. Open Windows is an emotionally-delivered rock song with shades of the 70s. The End is another fairly laid-back number which sees the return of strings, and also includes some jangly guitar; it's probably the closest Micawba get to indiepop, but the singer's more rock-styled voice prevents the song from actually falling into that category. This album demonstrates Micawba's competence at a variety of subgenres within indierock, and whilst the music is diverse, there's a sense of uniformity due to the powerful voice of Ben Hannington. More info from Adam at Too Far North: adamofford@hotmail.com

PHONY First Love CD (Firestation)
Phony make sophisticated pop music that combines influences from 80s indiepop, 60s pop and even 70s pop/disco. If You Can't Love Yourself is a luxurious pop song combining old-school indiepop in the Mighty Mighty/Brilliant Corners/prime period Orange Juice vein with 60s organ, and synthesized strings, hi-hat and wah-wah that give the song a strong 70s feel. Way Back Home is silky soft-pop with trumpet and retro-futuristic synth. Luxury is perfectly named; a song that harks back to everything that was new, lush and sophisticated in the 70s. I Went Through Fire comes up to date, for an excursion into noisepop territory, although they do throw in some 60s organ near the end for added retro value. Tomorrow is like a cross between mod and old-school indiepop; I'm reminded at times of Mighty Mighty and The Sordid Details (or Stereogram as they were later called). Those of you who like your pop smooth, classy and retro, look no further! Info from info@firestation-records.de

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