THE ALPHABET When The Sun Calls Your Name ... or, Ghost World CD (Nashinal Sound)
The Alphabet are a Detroit band that includes members of The Volebeats, The Witches and Outrageous Cherry. Their music comes under the psychedelic umbrella, comprising elements of retro pop, garage rock, raw feedback, spacey sound effects and so on. Witches Believe Us is a brilliant mix of catchy pop and spaced out guitar soloing. A Woman's Prison is everything that's psychedelic in one song - backwards guitar, sitar, even some particularly psychedelic use of harmonica. When The Sun Calls Your Name combines melodic pop with spaced out sounds, backwards drums etc in a way that feels different from other bands of this genre - perhaps partly because the song itself sounds more 80s than 60s, but they also assemble all the parts in a way that differs from how it's usually done. I Guess It's Goodbye is an effective mixture of acoustic melancholic pop and swelling, droning, spacey feedback effects. The album ends with Above the Clouds, a strongly tuneful janglepop piece with additional spacey background effects. Combining the familiar and the new, and indeed familiar elements in new ways, When The Sun Calls Your Name... is a worthy addition to any psych-pop fan's collection. Contact email@example.com
VARIOUS Get Involved double CD (Gallipoli)
Gallipoli Records is a newish label co-run by Kevyn Sibley, who some readers will remember from his tape label Does This Work? Gallipoli has much the same ethic, in that it exists to promote little known bands, with no concern for profit, but the musical emphasis has shifted a bit more to harder/heavier styles, the CDs here showcasing a variety of metal, alt-rock, 70s-styled rock, punkpop, hardcore, and tracks that seem to straddle various heavy styles - there are probably names for these subgenres known to punks and metallers, that I'm unaware of being an outsider to these scenes. This compilation is not only for fans of punk, rock and metal though, as it also features the occasional less noisy genre such as folk-pop, electronicy stuff, even indiepop! The second CD includes a couple of familiar names from the DTW? days, The Conspiracy and Shy Rights Movement, the latter in particular showing that Kevyn hasn't completely abandoned indiepop in favour of rock-oriented/noisy stuff.
A massive 45 tracks spread across two CDs will no doubt be rather daunting to those who have a phobia of obscure bands, assuming that if they haven't heard of them they can't be any good. This is of course an extremely arrogant attitude and I would suggest such people open their minds a little. Those who have a phobia of the 'pick n mix' nature of compilations will also find this package somewhat offputting, but projects like this require patience. Apart from the most genre-specific compilations, it's rare that the listener will like everything on a compilation, and Kev expects this. Projects like Get Involved are for true music fans, who have the patience to sift through the stuff that doesn't grab them and enthuse about the rest.
There are far too many tracks here for me to describe every one in detail, but these are a few highlights. Property Is Theft are not the punk or hardcore band their name suggests, but emotion-driven indierock with slightly off-centre post-punk elements. The Hicks also sounds like the name of a punk band, but they actually play 70s-influenced heavy rock, which puts me in mind of 90s Swedish band The Ellen Jamesians. Harvey make psych-tinged folk-pop that reminds me a little of The Rabbit's Hat's more mellow material. Dave is an odd name for a band but their music is pretty good - they're a female-led powerpop band. Flesh Resonance do an innovative mix of spacerock, 80s synthpop, gothic and dance music. Hooker do 70s-ish rock. Multiball are powerpop/melodic punk. The Pocket Gods do a kind of off-kilter punk (I use 'punk' very loosely) with psychedelic organ. Kaytu (not to be confused with Kaito, Cayto or Cato!) do a slightly off-centre, sophisticated brand of indierock with psychedelic undertones.
Moving on to disc 2, The Conspiracy have a great track best described as powerpop. The Lightyears do piano-led pop with sunny vocal harmonies, which somehow manages to be quite quirky but also having mainstream potential. Taxi are a brilliant Midlands band who used to be called Team Rocket; their music is energetic indierock with punkish tendencies. Freezerburn do off-centre underground rock with lots of unpredictable changes. Ian Williams does melancholic, minimalistic singer/songwriter stuff. Musically, Trike have some things in common with old-school indiepop, but with some very non-indiepop snarly vocals. Shy Rights Movement do excellent melancholic indiepop; basically a full-band version of Mark Ritchie (aka Frank Peck)'s solo stuff. Home From Home do melodic and emotional indierock. Picture Nothing are a metal band with the kind of grunting/growling vocals I so dislike, but are worth mentioning simply because they move beyond metal stereotypes by including an atmospheric piano piece at the end of their song.
Get Involved is a mixed bag for sure, but there has got to be something here for most fans of underground music, no matter what style. Contact Gallipoli Records via their website:
THE CONSPIRACY/PINEAPPLE Analogue Years 84-97 CD (Gallipoli)
The Conspiracy are a name that should be familiar to anyone following the tapes scene from the late 80s onwards; this compilation collects 11 tracks from their various 90s releases, as well as 8 songs from Pineapple which was Duncan Pope's previous band from the mid 80s. The Conspiracy's half of this CD does leave out a couple of my favourite tracks of theirs from the 90s, but they had so much material that it's hard to pick out just 11 of their best songs. Lots of their classic tracks are included here, such as Liars in Love, Where Will It Take You, Let's Go Back, Melissa's Garden, Changes, Daddy and pretty much everything else here; there's not a duff track amongst this selection. Their sound at this point was largely based around 60s pop and 70s rock, but The Conspiracy weren't (aren't) simply a retro band, due to their whole host of other eclectic influences. Where Will It Take You for example introduces a laid-back dance beat similar to the kind of beats used by trip-hop bands, a handful of psychedelic elements, and some unusual use of what sounds like synthesised oboe.
The Pineapple half of this CD is completely new to me. There are shades of The Conspiracy sound that was yet to develop, but in general Pineapple's style was much harder-edged. One side of Pineapple is essentially that of a punk band. Sometimes there's an underlying pop sensibility, though far from the polished, sanitised pop-punk that's about these days, and other times it's just raw, aggressive energy. Highlights include the spiky noisepop of Premonition, the off-kilter punk-pop of On Edge, and the Fall-like angular punk of Onomatopaeia. Some of their stuff, such as the appropriately named Racket & Din, are just too chaotic for me, but that's just my general preference for melodic music. There is also another side to Pineapple which has more of a melodic emphasis, as shown in the laid-back alternative pop of Drugs, and in Angel, a bouncy off-centre pop song recommended for fans of Ablemesh, Yeah Yeah Noh or The Keatons.
SONS OF SAMUEL VOLCANO Two Brothers CDR (3 Pin)
Three Pin Recordings looks to be a promising new label, putting out innovative music with unusual packaging (this particular cd is in a card sleeve, each copy with unique photo stuck to the front). Sons of Samuel Volcano is a project of Birmingham's Frank Cougar, making engaging experimental pop/blues/psych/who-knows-what. Let The Sun Fall combines atmospheric background sounds, minimal keyboard riffing and muffled, murmured vocals. Lavonia features acoustic guitar, beats and electronic weirdness as a backdrop for a song that's both musically and lyrically off-kilter. The Late Show is less experimental than the other tracks, basically a stripped-down form of late 60s-ish psych-rock. Although it's more conventionally song-structured and guitar-based, there's still a raw, lo-fi quality to the music. The Clown Breaks is a strange mix of weird piano plink-plonking, meandering backing singing and spoken lead vocals. Down Crow Road is a warped, experimental take on blues. Elephant combines blues/psych/rock songwriting with an odd lo-fi keyboard arrangement. GI Blues For Two is off-kilter blues again, this time accompanied by chaotic noise guitar. Endeavour is an excellent track with full band accompaniment, one of the musicians being Darren Joyce, who I assume is the same Darren Joyce from Dreams of Tall Buildings. This is very well crafted atmospheric indie music with ambient/electronic elements. Frank Cougar is an artist with genuinely original ideas - I hope to hear more from him in future. More info from firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the website at
GREG MURRAY Tymes Ten CD (Wretched)
Greg Murray is a prolific songwriter who over the last few years has released music through most of the main indiepop labels around the world, such as Shelflife, Elefant, Firestation and Bus Stop. I've always liked his songs but I have to say they're getting better and better; the more recent material has a more fleshed-out sound as opposed to the minimal lo-fi recordings that surfaced in the past. Songs this good deserve a proper studio recording with a full band; songs like this just aren't meant to be lo-fi.
Tymes Ten includes reworked versions of older songs like Edge and Go Honey (a long term favourite of mine), alongside a number of songs that are new to me. To some extent the music is what you'd expect from an artist who normally records for indiepop labels - the guitars jangle and the mood is often melancholic and introspective - but at the same time there is an added sophistication that is not often at the forefront in this genre. Influences from powerpop, folk and rock are added to the sound; straightforward indiepop this isn't.
Dining can be described to a certain degree as powerpop, but with a darker, bleaker atmosphere than is the norm for this style. There are shades of REM and The Contrast, as well as some more atmospheric moments, for example the backing vocal section which has an almost choral effect. The Gathering combines folk and soft rock with atmospheric guitar effects and those choral style backing vocals. Seen It All, also released as a single on Wretched Recordings and reviewed last issue, is excellent jangly indiepop. Nails to the Quick is impressive melancholic pop with vocal harmonies and folky harmonica. Young is another great slice of janglepop, which starts off with a riff that sounds uncannily similar to The Sea Urchins' Pristine Christine, no less! Homemaker is excellent jangly harmony pop reminiscent at times of The Byrds and Teenage Fanclub, both of whom Greg names as influences.
A very impressive album; contact the label at email@example.com
MOTHER GOOSE Obvious Works CD (Lamplite)
Finnish noisesters Mother Goose are back with this great new album, which shows them heading in a more raw rock direction which often nods to their grunge/punk tinged earlier material, and there are also tracks here in more of a lo-fi pop style. Despite the noticeable grunge/punk influences, this is no straightforward noise album; elements of surf, rock n' roll, jazz, country and the usual Mother Goose quirk factor are all mixed in. I will often find shouty vocals rather grating, but here they work well against the melodic backdrop, to create a great energetic sound with an overall off-kilter feel. There are also some more strongly tuneful tracks here, such as My Third Eye which is basically off-centre pop with slight country tinges; Minimal Pop, a great lo-fi pop song; Small, a minimalistic lo-fi track loosely describable as alt-country; and Palace of Peace, another excellent track with shades of alt-country (again) and perhaps 60s pop. Their classic noisepop song Mondo Said is remade here as Hompu Dead.
As this is a more raw, lo-fi album than usual for Mother Goose, and contains some tracks that are a bit of a departure from their usual style, it's perhaps not the best place to start for those new to the band, but as someone who's been a fan of them for what's got to be about a decade now, I think it's great! Contact the band: firstname.lastname@example.org or the label: email@example.com
PETER ULRICH Enter the Mysterium CD (City Canyons)
Absolutely fantastic solo album from former Dead Can Dance percussionist Peter Ulrich. Like Dead Can Dance, this album is a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric mixture of folk, medieval, darkwave and world music, although these ingredients are combined in a way that is usually very different from DCD's approach. Nothing But The Way also introduces some New Age style electronics. The lyrics often explore occult themes, as in The Scryer and the Shewstone and The Witchbottle of Suffolk, the latter being a vividly dark tale set to sinister and theatrical instrumentation and sound effects. This is one of those records which takes elements of existing musical styles, some being very ancient, and combines them to create something strongly innovative. Totally recommended. Available through www.citycanyons.com
BLACK SUN ENSEMBLE Live at KXCI Volume II CDR (Slowburn)
Factory pressed CDR of live radio recordings from this impressive instrumental psychedelic band, who combine various world musics such as Spanish, Indian and Middle Eastern with elements of jazz and folk and a particularly untamed brand of psych-rock. There are sections that sound improvised, but instead of just sounding like a noisy mess, as is often the case with improvisational music, this band manage to pull it off, creating a mindbending, atmospheric musical experience. Along with the actual music, there are a series of interview segments, making this an interesting artefact for fans, as well as providing background knowledge for those new to the band. More info from www.slowburnrecords.net and www.blacksunensemble.com
INK PUDDLE COMPOUND Tantrum Seas and Dust Lanes CD (Camera Obscura)
Ink Puddle Compound is the work of solo multi-instrumentalist Brandon Siscoe. Following a number of self-released CDRs on his own label Grotto Mimosa, comes this first official release from the project, which is illustrated with Brandon's paintings. He has a distinctive, semi-abstract style, which on this release depicts naked humans, monsters or dinosaurs, and an embryo. The bizarre nature of his visual art, combining the recognisable with the abstract, is also true of the aural art created by Brandon, which has well-defined tunes, but an overall otherworldly atmosphere. The music contains many eclectic elements, such as dark and/or spacey electronica, minimal acoustic guitar music, ethereal gothic, dreampop, post-rock, strange sound effects, and the most positive, creative form of experimental music (as opposed to the pointless messy noise that often comes under that banner). It's music that creates a psychedelic atmosphere without actually being psychedelic music in the usually understood sense (except perhaps for the final track which includes some psychedelic guitar work). Definitely recommended to all who value real creativity in music. Contact the label at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TYDE Three's Co. CD (Rough Trade)
The Tyde are an absolutely brilliant band with connections to Further, Beachwood Sparks and Velvet Crush. Their two previous albums are amongst my favourites; Once was an effective synthesis of summery 60s US pop, more melancholic 80s UK indiepop and a smattering of country, and the follow-up Twice expanded on these themes with additions of rock and synthpop influences. This third album, which features guest vocals from The Thrills' Conor Deasy on one of its tracks, is packed full of sunny, but certainly not twee, powerpop, alongside more restrained numbers such as Separate Cars, which nods towards 80s and early 90s melancholic indiepop, though it's the band's own take on this genre, which avoids being a blatant copy of any bands that have gone before. Another of the more laid-back tracks here is Glassbottom Lights - classy atmospheric pop with spacey synths - whilst The Lamest Shows is a prime slice of timeless janglepop, and Ltd Appeal is laid-back late 60s/early 70s rock akin to Delta though a little poppier in places. County Line is upbeat 60s-ish pop with swirling organ and 'ooh-ba-ba-ba' backing vocals. Aloha Breeze also has a feel of the 60s about it, but is much more mellow and reintroduces the country-ish elements familiar from their earlier material. Don't Need A Leash is a well-crafted, creative example of atmospheric, spacey pop with a country twist. Then there are tracks like Too Many Kims and The Pilot, which are superb examples of uplifting powerpop. A great album that's right up there with their previous offerings; very highly recommended.
VARIOUS The Projekt Almost Free CD (Projekt)
Projekt is a label I'm always keen to hear new stuff from; they put out a consistently impressive stream of releases which continue to show that music can exist that is dark without having to resort to 80s goth cliches. For those new to Projekt, this CD is an inexpensive way to find out what they currently have to offer. It also shows the sheer variety of music that falls under categorisations such as 'gothic' and 'darkwave' - far more than may be expected. There's the highly creative electronic rock of Android Lust; Voltaire provides an entertaining mix of vaudeville and Eastern European folk music with tongue in cheek lyrics (the title Cannibal Buffet says it all); the less-than-serious mood continues on Black Tape for a Blue Girl's Knock Three Times, a song which aims its ironic humour in the direction of goth stereotypes; Unto Ashes appear here with In Memory of D'Drennan, which creatively combines gothic rock with hints of industrial music and very beautiful atmospheric choral female vocals; Autumn's Grey Solace have a dark take on dreampop, which is pure atmospheric beauty; Mira also make dreampop with a sophisticated atmosphere, not quite as dark as Autumn's Grey Solace; Dark Sanctuary make grandiose atmospheric music with classical/operatic influences; Steve Roach makes floaty, spacey, mood altering ambient music; and Fear Falls Burning have a sinister-sounding instrumental track which combines harsh guitar noise with ambient drones. More info at www.projekt.com
ANDROID LUST Devour, Rise & Take Flight CD (Projekt)
Android Lust is the solo project of Shikhee, who is making a particularly creative form of dark/heavy music. Harsh metal, 80s synthpop, techno, rock, experimental music and more are all combined and topped off with Shikhee's edgy vocals. Fierce, angry atmospheres collide violently with delicate forms of musical expression such as new age electronics (Wicked Days) and gentle guitar music and a keyboard effect that sounds almost classical (The Body). In Leah, medieval folk music is given the electronic treatment and combined with strange random clonkings and clangings. Memory Game is based around chaotic techno, whilst Thomael is a similarly chaotic mix of techno, industrial and experimental music, which is definitely not for the faint hearted. The album ends with Leave It Behind, which is mentioned in the credits but not in the main track list. This is in a very different style to everything else here, being more conventionally song-based and set to melodic guitar and synthesised strings as opposed to the harsh instrumentation that pervades the rest of the album. Bizarre, fearsome and unsettling this album may be, but it is certainly not just noise for noise's sake; it's music with a strong sense of inventiveness. More info at www.projekt.com and www.androidlust.com
RAJNA Black Tears CD (Projekt)
Retrospective compilation covering the first 6 years of the band's existence, taking songs from all their albums, a couple of rarities, and 5 new tracks exclusive to this release. The royalties are to be donated to an organisation involved with building a school for Tibetan children. The music is a heady, darkly atmospheric combination of Eastern music, ambient, classical, choral, medieval, experimental, new age relaxation music, and occasionally heavy dance beats. There is also Division Alpha's remix of Buried Philae, combining operatic vocals with sinister 80s synth, dulcimer, spoken word and bombastic drumming.
Rajna are often compared to Dead Can Dance, and not without reason. DCD are clearly a major influence for Rajna; both bands have a dark take on world music/ancient music and use instruments such as dulcimer, and it's no coincidence that one of the tracks featured here is a cover of DCD's Cantara. However Rajna's approach strikes me as a little more abstract than DCD on many occasions, with a stronger emphasis on the ambient/overtly experimental side of things.
A recommended introduction to the creative, expressive and atmospheric music of Rajna. More details from www.projekt.com
MOLLY'S REVENGE Raise the Rafters CD (self-released)
Over the past few years I've been getting increasingly into folk music, so it's always good to be sent music in this genre, especially when it's this exciting. Molly's Revenge play Celtic folk music, traditional and traditional-style, mostly Scots and Irish tunes and the occasional Breton piece. The emphasis is on vigorous jigs, reels and bagpipe tunes, along with a handful of songs and more downtempo but no less soul-stirring instrumentals. Don't be put off by the fact that this is self-released; the quality of the musicianship is easily on the same level as any signed folk band, and the cd is professionally packaged. A first-rate album, highly recommended to all folk music fans. More info at www.mollys-revenge.com
JAIYA Beltane: Songs for the Green Time CD (self-released)
Eagerly awaited 2nd album from the excellent pagan folk band Jaiya, whose winter solstice album I enthused about last issue. For those unfamiliar with pagan terminology, this album is a celebration of the new life of spring, being named after the pagan May Eve festival of Beltane. The music continues in a similar vein to their previous album; Celtic-flavoured folk music with harp, whistle and so on, but with a distinctive twist courtesy of the unusual jazz accordion style. A couple of tracks also get inspiration from other world musics, with their use of didgeridoo and djembe. Most material here is written by the band, but they also do a version of the traditional song Summer Is A-Comin' In, and an adaptation of The Month of Maying, written in the 15th century by Thomas Morley, but here given a new melody by Lael Whitehead from the band. This tune sounds so authentic that if I didn't know it was a new composition I'd never have guessed. The song itself then turns into an instrumental folk dance tune, and both parts of the track are amazingly catchy.
Also included here are very moving pagan celebratory songs Beltane Night and Spiral Dance, the uptempo Going Away Jig, and the astonishingly beautiful and poetic expression of nature mysticism that is Speak To Me. They also have a number of tracks that seem more classical in inspiration; The Bear begins as a brooding, atmospheric neoclassical instrumental, then springs into life as a more folk-oriented tune that is celebratory in tone. The piece completely captures the feeling it was intended to: "When the snow thaws in early spring, the bear awakens from his death-like winter slumber". The Dawn Chorus has Celtic undertones and folk instruments but is first and foremost a modern classical piece of great sophistication. The final track here, Stillness, is another highly complex number for which the description 'modern opera' springs to mind due to its depth and sophistication.
Another very impressive offering from this band. More info at www.firedance.ca
JOE TURNER Between Two Seconds CD (Camera Obscura)
Joe Turner, formerly of Abunai!, returns with this album, an expanded version of the self-released Dollar Star CDR EP, featuring four new tracks alongside the original material. Joe is joined by a few guests, including members of Sunshine Fix and Olivia Tremor Control, for this impressive album which combines a diverse collection of sounds, from atmospheric instrumental spacerock to melodic powerpop and psych-rock. Coordinate Zero is fantastic, ultra-melodic psych-pop with off-centre moments. Turn Me Upside Down is a floatier, more dreamlike take on psych-pop, but don't expect this to be a lot of sound effects and experimentation trying to make up for a lack of melody, as is often the case with lesser artists. Here, the atmospheric effects coexist perfectly with the melody. Dollar Star is powerpop with jumpy rhythms, flute and far-out psychedelic guitar. Hills of Pennsylvania is again powerpop, this time with a mariachi-tinged trumpet solo. Between Two Seconds is brilliant off-kilter pop with cello. A very strong album, highly recommended. More info at www.cameraobscura.com.au
PATRICK PORTER Lisha Kill CD (Camera Obscura)
Second solo album from multi-instrumentalist Patrick Porter (also of Phineas Gage). On the front cover, a man in a troll mask kicks a broken guitar, setting the scene for the unorthodox, inventive sounds to be found within, which we are informed were made using instruments salvaged from an illegal rubbish dump on a parking lot! Understated homemade folk-pop is interwoven with bizarre sonic sculpturing, incorporating spacey, experimental and psych-rock moments and odd sound effects, often flying off at completely unexpected tangents. Despite its strangeness, the music is held together perfectly with strong tunes and sounds completely genuine, avoiding the 'trying too hard to be quirky' elements and experimentation for experimentation's sake that often pervade the works of less talented artists making off-centre music. As well as 12 of Patrick's own highly creative songs, the mood changes somewhat for one of the tracks which is a cover of a 1950s country song, A Wound Time Can't Erase. Fans of imaginative underground pop, psychedelia and experimentation really ought to check out this album! (Contact Camera Obscura as above).
BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL Remnants of a Deeper Purity double CD (Projekt)
10th anniversary reissue of this album, which comes with a bonus disc of remixes, live tracks, and new tracks that evolved out of stripped down versions of tracks from the album. The album captures the essence of the Projekt label, bringing together the various sounds Projekt is known for: dark gothic moods, ethereal washes of sound, and classical/operatic sophistication, along with elements of Middle Eastern and Spanish music, dark electronic, ambient and experimental music, resulting in a rich, complex musical creation where the various ingredients are seamlessly blended, proving that it is perfectly possible to create music from an eclectic selection of genres which does not become an incoherent hotchpotch. You Will Burn Your Wings Upon The Sun lasts for an epic 26 minutes, culminating in a sombre neoclassical composition. The title track is a melodic song of great beauty, which would perhaps be best described as 'gothic neoclassical folk'. Fitful combines ambient, modern classical and experimental elements to create a perfectly woven tapestry of atmospheric sound.
Unlike the popular perception of remixes making a whole new genre - usually dance-based - out of the original track, the tracks on the bonus disc here reshape the original material in a way that is completely in the spirit of the original material; different from it yet wholly in tune with it. Also on the bonus CD is a remix of Across A Thousand Blades, which is not a track from Remnants of a Deeper Purity and differs stylistically from the overall feel of the album, favouring a more rock approach. Visit www.projekt.com for more info.
BILLY MAHONIE Found CD (Oof!)
Compilation album of early singles from Billy Mahonie, one of several bands to include Gavin Baker amongst their lineup. Billy Mahonie make instrumental rock; they've often been lumped in with the post-rock scene and whilst there's some reasoning for that, they go beyond the stereotypes of the genre to include elements of heavy rock, prog, folk, old-school indiepop, punk, indierock, spacerock, psych-rock and a touch of jazz, melding these various elements into a coherent whole. Billy Mahonie show that complex music with diverse influences can still be melodic and enjoyable. Contact the label: email@example.com or the band: firstname.lastname@example.org
MEETS GUITAR s/t CD (Oof!)
Meets Guitar is another of Gavin Baker's projects. Past releases incorporated traditional folk alongside modern singer-songwriter music, but Gavin's folk collaborations with his father Dave Baker have now split off into a separate band called The Baker Boys (their album to be reviewed soon), leaving Meets Guitar to concentrate on Gavin's own compositions. The 13 tracks here encompass folk-tinged instrumental music, songs with 60s folk-rock and 70s rock influences, melancholic indiepop, alt-country and off-centre DIY pop - an eclectic and well-crafted collection of material, bursting with strong tunes. Contact as above.
THE BAKER BOYS Driftwood Boats CDR (Unlabel)
Very limited cd from Gavin and Dave Baker's folk project. They draw inspiration from a variety of traditions, including early (and thus non-commercialised) country music, English, Irish and Norwegian folk, and 60s psychedelic folk-rock. Much material here is traditional, and they also cover various songs by 20th century artists in the traditional style, as well as Roky Erickson and Byrds covers. Don't Let The Deal Go Down is a traditional country song that shows the obvious influence of this style on much late 60s psych-rock. Raftevoldskruna is a traditional style piece written by Arne Sølvberg - great that they've included some Norwegian material here as I'm a huge fan of Nordic folk music.
The Baker Boys is an entirely different project from Gavin's other bands, having a very old-timey, old-school trad folk/country sound; they even make the 60s stuff here sound traditional with their minimal guitar and mandolin arrangements. Indie snobs who are bothered about what's hip would probably be utterly dismayed by this album. But for those with the maturity and common sense to decide for themselves what's good music and not be dictated to by the fashion police, there is a LOT to like here. In fact every track is an absolute winner. Wholeheartedly recommended for folk music fans. Contact the label: email@example.com or the band: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNTO ASHES Songs for a Widow CD (Projekt)
Another astonishing album from this medieval influenced dark folk band. There's the dulcimer-based My Lord Is Born, with its explicitly pagan lyrics. Convivio is a passage from a Dante Alighieri text, sung in its original Italian to a Middle Eastern tinged musical arrangement. Intacta Sum is a spine-tingling Latin choral chant set to eerie synthesized church organ. The Snow Leopard is a gloomy yet strangely uplifting neoclassical piece. You Will Never Know combines the ethereal and delicate with fierce metal guitar and growling and prog influences. Dream of the Rood has no apparent connection with the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name; instead it is a piece of ambient sound manipulation combining the atmospheric with the unsettling. The Life of this World is based around a decidedly pessimistic medieval English poem, and featuring minimal dark folk instrumentation and very moving choral backing vocals. Intermezzo is simply a recording of a late 19th century gramophone record, complete with its scratchy background noise.
Drei Todesarten, sung in German in medieval folk style, is set to an eclectic mixture of doomy metal guitar, hurdy gurdy and sitar. Song for a Widow is gloomy and harsh; semi-sung, murmured vocals half-buried under a mixture of grim experimental noisescape, military drumming and brooding neo-classical melody. Occupying Force is an unnerving tale of war and dictatorship featuring a totalitarian-sounding male vocal section and military drums and bugle alongside minimal guitar and formal, almost operatic female vocals. I Am Untouched sees the return of the chant from Intacta Sum, this time combined with electronic instrumentation that is basically a darker take on dance music. One World One Sky is a transformation of the Covenant song into a medieval masterpiece with hurdy gurdy and distinctive rhythmic percussion. An excellent album, combining ancient and modern, sinister and sublime, to maximum effect. More info at www.projekt.com
PLEASE NOTE - I had been unable to update the site for around 2-3 months due to reasons way beyond my control. The web hosting company I used to be with were having serious problems and I was unable to carry out any updates. I have now moved to another hosting company, so hopefully things will be back to normal again soon. Stay tuned for more reviews shortly!
CUCKOOLAND Banga-Boom-Boom! CD (Damaged Goods)
Singles and rarities collection from 90s band Cuckooland, who combined tuneful upbeat pop with a punk attitude. Strong tunes, buzzsaw guitars, samples, 80s-ish synths and twin female vocals all come together to produce a happy-go-lucky atmosphere that often masks a more serious sociopolitical message in the lyrics, but they don't shy away from irony and humour. As well as the summery pop meets riotous punkrock of the band's signature sound, there is also Richard Jobson Dance, which is minimal janglepop with intelligent humorous lyrics about a punk who keeps reinventing himself in different subcultures. There's much about Cuckooland that's very punk, but they're not afraid to poke fun at punks' tendency to claim to hate conformity whilst conforming to the rules of their own subculture: "We said we hated uniforms but wore one just the same".
As the album progresses, there is more sign of Cuckooland experimenting with other musical genres; Pack Up Your Troubles and I Feel Fine introduce a ska influence, Maundy Maundy brings in dance/electronic elements, Rock On is 80s-ish pop with amusing references to all manner of popular songs, from Boogie Nights to Smoke on the Water, and the Steib remix of Hang 'em High is out-and-out hard-edged dance music somewhere between 80s house and industrial music, that bears little resemblance to the original version.
Brilliant catchy pop with bite - a highly recommended album without a duff track to be heard. Contact email@example.com
SHELLEY'S CHILDREN Everything CD (Damaged Goods)
Shelley's Children is the band that later metamorphosed into Cuckooland. The first part of this album consists of everything they ever released, and the second part is a collection of raw demos. In many ways this album is a clear precursor of the Cuckooland sound, with its juxtaposition of classic pop melodies and harmonies with punky buzzsaw guitar. The band seem to have been unjustly ignored by the indiepop crowd, who would certainly love their music if they heard it. Usually Shelley's Children were associated with the musical arm of the anarchist movement, and whilst there are a handful of political tracks here (like Rawfolds, about the Peasants' Revolt, and Everytown, a celebration of the ordinary working person), in the main, this album consists of happy-go-lucky summery pop songs about love and having fun, which despite that description are intelligently penned, not vapid, inane or excessively twee, and have much in common with a lot of music to come out of the mid/late 80s indiepop scene. 60s pure pop and girl group music are a clear influence on the band's sound, as illustrated by their covers of Be My Baby, I'm A Believer, Summerlove Sensation and Born Too Late. Another great album, easily on the same level as Cuckooland and well worth checking out.
Contact the band at firstname.lastname@example.org
This album and the Cuckooland cd can be ordered via www.damagedgoods.co.uk
AUTUMN'S GREY SOLACE Shades of Grey CD (Projekt)
Latest album from this prolific shoegazer band. Treasure Box is perfect dreampop topped off by the distinctive vocals of Erin Welton, whose voice comes across as part sugar-coated, part atmospheric and part powerful. Cold Sea introduces a new biting, dark rock sound not previously heard from the band. Angel of Light has Erin's sugary and ethereal vocals over a backdrop of floaty spacerock guitar instrumentation. Last Tear is from the more sombre side of dreampop and features the more forceful side of Erin's vocal style. Hidden is an upbeat, poppy number with a catchy chorus. Shades of Grey is another classic slice of dreampop with jangly as well as atmospheric guitar sounds, and the janglepop influence can also be heard in Fodderwing. In The Darkest Night introduces elements of gothic rock and occasionally puts me in mind of 90s band The Witches, who had a couple of tapes out on Music & Elsewhere. Edge of the World is floaty dreampop with soaring vocals. The Cell is a very beautiful song from the ethereal side of janglepop. The album is completed with Still, an astonishing atmospheric track with shimmering ambient guitar work. An absolute must for fans of the dreampop/shoegazer scene. www.projekt.com
ALPHA Without Some Help CD (Don't Touch)
Alpha is the electronic project of Corin Dingley, who produced James Roberts' solo album Everything You Know Is Right. James appears here along with an assortment of big names like Coldplay, Jarvis Cocker and Massive Attack. This album is a collection of tracks either remixed by Alpha or collaborations between Alpha and other artists. The tracks range from retro-futuristic electronica with experimental undertones to commercial soul/pop to tracks with massive orchestral arrangements. The tendency to combine a 'big' production sound and music with mainstream appeal with undergroundy and experimental elements is one that works well.
If James Roberts' solo album came as a surprise to anyone familiar with his former bands The Sea Urchins and Delta, then his collaboration with Alpha here will do so even more. Hope Goes Blind is a very commercial soul/pop/electronic track, very unlike anything he's done before, but as is usual with Alpha, the mainstreamness of the song is offset by the addition of rather more adventurous forms of electronica. There's strings, samples and electronic burblings underlying the song and it all sounds pretty impressive. The tune is also amazingly catchy.
I'm not familiar with the original version of Acid Casuals' Bowl Me Over, but the remix here is very innovative, packed full of strange squeaky electronic noises and what sounded for a brief moment like orchestral kettle drums. Alpha and Jarvis Cocker appear here with a cover of Jimmy Webb's This is Where I Came In - sounds very classy, with a huge orchestral arrangement. The collaboration with Wendy Stubbs is another cover, this time Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren. This combines breathy vocals with ambient and orchestral instrumentation - very inventive and impressive. Alpha's remix of Blueneck's LE:465 wraps an understated vocal in enormous swathes of ambient sound.
James Roberts appears again with Yeah So, which originally appeared on his album Everything You Know Is Right. The song itself is early 70s rock in the style of the earlier output of James' former band Delta, but arrangement-wise it brings in a whole host of electronic burblings, orchestral bits and samples, very unlike anything heard from either of James' previous bands.
More info at www.donttouchrecordings.com
THE WINNEBAGO ORCHESTRA Fifteen CD (Tuition)
The Winnebago Orchestra were formed from the ashes of Oporto, a band which included Andy Davies of The Cudgels along with Spencer Roberts. The current band have self-released a handful of CDs on their own label, also called Oporto, and now there is this new album which will hopefully be more widely available. As well as Andy Davies and Spencer Roberts, the album features vocalist Caroline Trettine (ex-Blue Aeroplanes) and an assortment of guest musicians.
Get Me combines old-style jangly indiepop with a rock kick and poetic lyrical sophistication. The old Oporto track Actor's Studio is revived here with horns and synths. Alison the Swimmer features evocative text recited over a sombre janglepop instrumental with strings. The early 90s Oporto song Midnight Blue is reinvented as late 60s-style country-psych-rock. Love is Here With Me is a fresh take on guitar-based pop; has experimental undertones and even a hint of reggae. Spinning Wheels combines an innovative version of indiepop with an apparent trad folk influence; the verses are a spoken poem that looks into the mind of a character who questions whether so-called progress really is as it seems, and distrusts authority figures, taking the law into his own hands. Four Legs is a jangly instrumental with percussion suggestive of a trotting horse. Pebbles is a jolly indiepop tune with lyrics that evoke images of a bygone seaside scene.
An album that is simultaneously old-style and free-thinking, quirky and sophisticated. More info at www.myspace.com/thewinnebagoorchestra; www.tuition-music.com; www.oportorecords.com
CAL WILLIAMS JR. Driving as a Form of Prayer CDR (self-released)
Cal Williams, who has recorded in the past under the name of My Favourite Brunette, recorded this 7 track cd at Panda Studios, Robin Hood Bay, with producer Oliver Knight, a name well known within the folk music milieu. Cal is a talented songwriter, making stripped-down and often melancholic acoustic pop, Cal's voice and guitar being accompanied at times by minimal percussion, as well as the mournful flute in Lovesongs from the Midnight Sea. The music has tinges of folk, usually in the modern sense, although the instrumental sections in Ocean Springs hint at traditional folk along with blues. A blues influence is also heard in the instrumental track erroneously titled Whither Will on the cover (that would appear to actually be the name of the song that follows it), and also the Roger Sutcliffe-penned Sutcliffe's Blues, which is undoubtedly blues but more cheery-sounding than you'd expect from that genre. Recommended to lovers of understated and introspective songwriting. Info at www.calwilliams.co.uk
THE GOBLIN MARKET Haunted CD (Camera Obscura)
The Goblin Market is a side project of Jeff Kelly and Laura Weller of the Green Pajamas, dedicated to providing a musical setting for gothic literature and Victorian art. This second album (following the Pre-Raphaelite inspired Ghostland) has Joyce Carol Oates as its inspiration. It doesn't simply set her poems to music but creates new material inspired by a selection of her work.
Crazy Rapids White is the upbeat psych-folk-rock usually associated with the Green Pajamas, but most of the rest of the album favours a rather different approach from Jeff and Laura's main band, whilst still being likely to appeal to Green Pajamas fans. The album includes a melodic brand of alternative rock with psychedelic, atmospheric and electronic elements, along with very moving psych-folk numbers and songs with dramatic moods and orchestral influences. The Model is a very creative composition, featuring mellow and ethereal soundscaping and sophisticated strings, and lasts for an epic 8 minutes.
The album is of the high quality to be expected from the personnel involved and the label it's on. More info at www.cameraobscura.com.au
FELL s/t CD (Camera Obscura)
New project of Josh Wambeke from Phineas Gage, making spaced-out lo-fi songs with post-rock and electronic influences. There are psychedelic elements aplenty, but it's modern alt-psych not the 60s sort, and is likely to appeal more to fans of spacerock, post-rock and the more adventurous side of alt-rock and indiepop than to fans of traditional psychedelic music. As well as the elongated spacey alternative music that characterises the album, there is Rusty Fields, a twangy and at times slightly atonal acoustic instrumental. Solitary Transmission begins as another instrumental, an atmospheric yet strongly melodic post-rock piece that has a 'big' sound despite its lo-fi production. Around two minutes into the song, echoey layered vocals are added for extra atmospheric effect. Interlude is a soundscape of glitchy, rhythmic and ethereal sounds, which seamlessly joins onto the following track Vacant Song which sets drawn-out, laid-back vocals to a combination of guitar instrumentation and atmospheric electronic bleepery, beats, fizzing and glitching. City Lights Flickering Off and On is a perfectly named ambient/post-rock hybrid. The final track Cause of Cancer is a delicate acoustic track with layered reverbed vocals; a very moving song that's another of my favourites here. More info at www.cameraobscura.com.au
VARIOUS Lightwaves Part II CD (Zeitkristall)
Kalinkaland offshoot Zeitkristall brings us this compilation of dreampop, neo-medieval, neoclassical, darkwave, and other styles that are less easy to pigeonhole but have an air of melancholy, sophistication, creativity and free thought. The compilation features various familiar names such as Unto Ashes, Arcana and Soul Whirling Somewhere, and is international in scope, bringing together not only artists from UK, USA, France, Sweden, Germany and Australia, but also countries we don't often get to hear music from - Ukraine, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Amber Smith are on the darker side of dreampop, with lush, sophisticated classical additions. Mediavolo do impressive ultramelodic dreampop. Medieval influenced band Unto Ashes appear with a track from their recent album Songs for a Widow. Arcana combine gothic and medieval music in a way that's reminiscent of Dead Can Dance. Ivo Sedlacek appears with a neoclassical composition with hints of Eastern European folk music. Belasco's contribution sounds part indiepop and part alternative country. Misstrip combine dreampop with off-kilter electronics. Fleur do striking ethereal pop, bringing together acoustic guitar, ambient electronics and breathy female vocals. Poets to the Beloved set atmospheric choral vocals to a backdrop of medieval/folk/world music. Louisa John Krol does sophisticated folk-pop with mandolin and strings. Soul Whirling Somewhere's track combines a melodic pop song with ambient/spacey background effects. Greenhaus do an innovative and sophisticated mix of dreampop, classical, ambient and techno. Jo Gabriel is an amazingly talented artist making creative songs driven by piano and strings, as well as her expressive vocals. There's a touch of Kate Bush about her vocal style but to compare her to Kate Bush would be overly simplistic and would do her an injustice as she is an astonishingly original artist in her own right.
The album is punctuated throughout by brief snippets of incidental music and soundscaping from the experimental project Lightwave. Lots of very talented and innovative artists to be heard here. Visit www.kalinkaland.de for more information.
MEDIAVOLO A Secret Sound CD (Zeitkristall)
Mediavolo are unmistakably dreampop and have the floaty atmospheric effects this scene is known for, but they go beyond the boundaries of the genre, adding an extra rock kick at times and there is even a discernible prog influence to be heard on occasions (for instance in Mass Anaesthesia), along with electronic elements. Death and the City is an exceptional track that breaks out of the dreampop boundaries, becoming a very inventive example of epic atmospheric electronic pop. Misunderstanding is a superbly crafted example of upbeat atmospheric and strongly melodic noisepop. Dripping Mind combines dreampop with an edgier, more off-kilter sound complete with forceful piano playing. Hunted is a very innovative track, perhaps the only song to exist that mixes dreampop and rap, and what's more, this bizarre combination actually works! Chimera is another excellent forward-looking track combining dreampop, janglepop, electronica, forceful beats and so on. There is also a hidden bonus track, but unlike the untypical or throwaway tracks bands often use as hidden tracks, this dreampop number is strong enough to have been included as a track in its own right.
In many ways, Mediavolo are classic Projekt/4AD style dreampop, but they also add their own twists to this already existing genre. A must for dreampop/shoegazer fans, and there is also enough here to please those that appreciate musical innovation. Label contact as above.
JOHN ALEXANDER ERICSON Black Clockworks CD (Kalinkaland)
John Alexander Ericson is a Swedish songwriter based in London, formerly of the band Northern Territories. The music here is very well crafted alternative pop with a melancholic mood, using minimal instrumentation occasionally bulked up by a lo-fi drum machine or atmospheric keyboard sounds that give an almost orchestral illusion. Unlike a lot of lo-fi/minimal artists, Ericson's music shows a strong sense of sophistication, in part because of the high quality of the songwriting and musicianship and in part due to the choice of piano as main accompaniment. Great stuff! Contact the label as above.
TRESPASSERS W The Drugs We All Need CD (Somnimage)
Trespassers W are a long-running, prolific and eclectic Dutch band, whose latest project is a trilogy of concept albums based on Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll. The first part, Sex and the End of It, was reviewed last issue; they have now followed this up with the subsequent volumes starting with their Drugs album. As is usual for Trespassers W, the music is arty and experimental whilst still having a strong sense of melody and storytelling. The songs are mostly based around narrative rather than the more conventional rhyming lyrics. As well as the usual band instruments, Trespassers W introduce a whole host of additional instrumentation ranging from the slightly out of the ordinary (harmonium, trumpet, child vocalists) to the completely bizarre (bicycle pump, grain mill). The drug theme operates on a number of levels, whether it be the neurally-depressed atmosphere of songs like Eyes to Drink From, or the bizarre psychedelic lyrics of songs like Dumbo's Dream and The Merry-Go-Round, or the straightforward drug references of Coco and Igor (a song that could have easily appeared on the Sex album as well as the Drugs album) and Coffee Blues (yep, caffeine's a drug too).
Despite the exploratory and off-centre nature of the band, they generally produce material that is accessible and ultramelodic. Roadmaster Eldorado begins as a quirky upbeat pop song with nods towards punk and rock n' roll, but right at the end changes its mood entirely, becoming a plaintive acoustic number. Viva La Corrida! conjures up a vivid picture of a bullfight against a backdrop of Spanish-tinged janglepop. Things get quite a lot weirder for Coco and Igor, a bizarre atonal artrock track with spoken vocals and a strongly experimental nature. Psychedelic rock, originally a creative genre, has now developed its own set of predictable cliches, but Trespassers W inject a massive dose of inventiveness into the style with Dumbo's Dream. Make Me Sad, a Vic Godard cover, is 80s indiepop with fairground organ. I'm Not Going To Stay Here Forever begins as another overtly experimental track, with a mix of bleeping, gurgling and crashing sound effects, then some darkly psychedelic synth and guitar atmospherics and proggy guitar soloing are introduced. The Organ Grinder is a playful and wacky experimental pop song with intelligently humorous lyrics. The Merry-Go-round mixes quirky pop, hallucinatory lyrics, fierce metally riffage and a very druggy fairground organ section.
A hugely enjoyable album, sometimes uplifting, sometimes unsettling, but always bursting with creativity. More info at www.somnimage.com and www.trespassersw.nl
TRESPASSERS W The Noble Folly of Rock 'N' Roll CD (Somnimage)
Final part of Trespassers W's Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll trilogy, exploring rock 'n' roll themes and namechecking some of the main figures in 50s rock 'n' roll, but never becoming a mere replica of the vintage rock 'n' roll sound. In typical Trespassers W style they play around with all sorts of genres to create something that is uniquely them. Warped carnival music rubs shoulders with quirky takes on garage rock, country, surf, blues and punk, as well as weird underground pop, dark experimentation and psych/prog guitar soloing; quite often several genres appearing rulebreakingly together in the same song.
Roy is probably the most obviously 50s-influenced song here, featuring those guitar arpeggios that are the trademark of 50s popular music, but Trespassers W being the band they are add their own quirk factor to the arrangement. Lyrically it tells the story of a boy who appears effeminate but has a violent streak; none of the straightforward stuff about love or dancing that usually turns up in 50s music. Also rather 50s-flavoured but delivered in Trespassers W's own inimitable style is the off-kilter mix of surf and epic film music that is Belle Nuit.
Goon is amazingly original in terms of both music and lyrics; a bizarre fantastical tale set to a sophisticated mix of folk-rock, classical and theatrical music. The Mole is another highly original number combining strings, experimental jazz and off-centre pop with a weird sawing noise which must be the 'stovepipe and shutter' mentioned in the credits.
Trespassers W are one of the most inventive bands there is, and they show no signs of running out of ideas even after more than 20 years' existence. Contact the band and label as above.
NICK RIFF Magick Museum CDR (Riffdisc)
Nick Riff had a number of singles, albums and compilation appearances back in the 90s, on labels such as Delerium, Cleopatra and Sonic Swirl. This retrospective album collects 11 tracks from various out of print sources, released as a precursor to new music promised by Nick in the near future. This is a fantastic compilation, comprising great upbeat garage rock and ultramelodic psych-pop with lashings of wild psyched-out guitar soloing, and occasional excursions into spacerock bleepery, delicate psych-folk and drawn-out drone-rock. I'm really enjoying this album; there's not a duff track to be heard. Am very keen to hear Nick's more recent recordings which will hopefully be released soon. More info at www.nickriff.com
TEARWAVE s/t CD (Projekt)
Projekt expand the shoegaze/dreampop side of their roster with their latest signing Tearwave, whose debut self-titled album was released a few days ago. The band have all the hallmarks of classic dreampop - ethereal vocals over a backdrop of swirling atmospheric noise - but there's something about them that prevents their sound from being a mere rehash of old-school shoegaze. There's psychedelic and ambient undercurrents and an effective juxtaposition of light and dark, with the combination of pretty melodies and angelic vocals and a sombre, melancholy atmosphere. The lyrics are as moving as the music, for instance Lady Aurora which has a strong sense of pagan spirituality about it. Other tracks also have a profound emotional effect for very different reasons, dealing with such unsettling topics as self-harm, mental illness and suicide, themes which contrast sharply with the soaring and often uplifting musical atmospheres. The artwork is also very beautiful, consisting of some very effective digitally manipulated images of bare branches coming together to form a surreal mesh. Well worth checking out - more info at www.projekt.com
VARIOUS Small Label, Great Music CD (Firestation)
I'm unsure whether this 6 track Firestation label sampler is available to buy or whether it was only ever available for promotional purposes, but either way, this review should give a few ideas of what the label has to offer. Nice Man and the Bad Boys do energetic powerpop; Labrador make slick pop with trumpet, that incorporates elements of 80s pop and 60s lounge music; Greg Murray makes superbly crafted janglepop with more sophistication than you might expect from this genre; Ogdens make guitar pop with oomph, sounds a bit mod-tinged in places, and there's even a jazz influence in the instrumental part; Tribeca combine old-school indiepop and perky electronic pop with mainstream appeal, straddling the indie/mainstream boundary in a similar way to Saint Etienne; and The Sealevel combine convincingly 80s-style jangly indiepop with noisepop and a country-ish twang. 'Retro' and 'sophistication' seem to be keywords for Firestation Records, though all the bands express these concepts in different ways. More info at www.firestation-records.de
VARIOUS Fairy World II CD (Prikosnovenie)
I was eager to hear more from the Prikosnovenie label after having heard some of their artists on the Lightwaves Part II compilation reviewed earlier this issue. When I found this budget-priced compilation from Prikosnovenie (which includes a number of tracks unavailable elsewhere) I couldn't pass it up. It is subtitled 'a collection of delicate and spiritual musics', which is very appropriate. Much of the music here combines ancient and modern in a way that is very creative.
Some of the standout tracks for me include those by Anassane (a kind of African folk-pop that combines the upbeat and the ethereal), Love Sessions 2 (woodwind-driven folk with Mediterranean and medieval elements), Daemonia Nymphe (a reconstruction of Ancient Greek folk, with a strongly spiritual and celebratory nature), Irfan (amazing medieval music. Their track is a version of Stella Splendens, I know and love Qntal's version of this, and Irfan's version is just as astonishing), Moon Far Away (very moving Russian folk music), Jack or Jive (the name suggests 80s house music, which couldn't be further from the truth. Instead ambient washes of sound, delicate piano and otherworldly female vocals come together to create a kind of experimental art-folk), and Caprice (a band I can honestly say sound completely original. Their style can be loosely described as a mixture of neoclassical, electronic/techno, and atmospheric chanting, although no existing terminology can completely capture the essence of this band's sound. Their track Midnight Sun is astonishingly beautiful and moving).
As a lover of both traditional folk music and truly alternative, creative and original forms of musical expression, as well as music that touches the soul, I found very many of the tracks here to be deeply satisfying. More info at www.prikosnovenie.com
TRANCE TO THE SUN Spiders, Aether and Rain CD (Projekt)
Trance to the Sun existed between 1990 and 2001; they were a band who were considered groundbreaking in their time. It's not hard to see why, as their dark, artistic experimentation still sounds innovative today. This best-of album compiles material from throughout their existence, including an unreleased track and a rare Cocteau Twins cover (When Mama Was Moth). Singers Zoe Alexandra Wakefield, Ingrid Blue and Dawn Wagner provide vocals that vary between the airy and atmospheric and powerful wailing, delivering lyrics that are strange and vivid. The musical backdrop is a creative mix of experimental, gothic, ambient, dreampop, prog, electronic, plus a touch of psych-folk in Spider Planet and metal in Thistle Lurid. With the exceptions of the Cocteau Twins cover and the delicate, predominantly instrumental, dreampop number August Rain v. 1, this is not really strongly melodic music, but it is engaging due to its sheer intensity and its undeniably original approach. More info at www.projekt.com
ELZA MAALOUF You Are The One CD (Selfwork)
Elza Maalouf is a spiritual teacher, originally from Lebanon and now based in California. For this album she has joined up with Arab-American composer Paul Hage, to blend Eastern and Western musical motifs and to spread the lyrical message of peace, love, tolerance and finding commonalities between people that transcend politics, religion and culture. As someone with an intense dislike of bigotry and the violence borne of bigotry, I find this an admirable message.
The music is smooth and classy, sometimes uplifting and sometimes meditative, combining Middle Eastern melodies with elements of ambient, jazz and modern western pop music. The tracks feature recited vocals from Elza which are deeply touching, with their message of love, spirituality and deep philosophical thought. A very moving album, highly recommended. Contact Elza: email@example.com
GOLDOOLINS s/t CD (Earsay)
Goldoolins are an impressive folk-pop band from Israel, who get their surreal sounding moniker from the surnames of the band members (Goldbart and Doolin). The first couple of tracks on this debut album are sunny 60s pop with folky acoustic arrangements, but the band also get their inspiration from trad folk and early music, this album including a version of a 16th century song by Thomas Campion (Fain Would I Wed) and a traditional Israeli folk song (Tishan Habibi). Their song My Only Home is more melancholic than the first two tracks on the album and also harks back to traditional folk and Renaissance era melodies. I'm Doin' Something is laid-back country-rock in the late 60s style. I Know You're Not Alone draws on blues, 60s soul and girl-groups, and has a lush arrangement that nods towards big band jazz.
Twilight Queen is a superb acoustic guitar instrumental combining traditional style folk with a surreal, bendy prog twist. Most tracks here are sung in English, but they sing in Hebrew for the next track Ooh Phitome Hashavti, which is a happy-go-lucky pop song with a strong sense of the quirky and offbeat about it. I love the sound of the harpsichord, an instrument they use on Ocean Song, which is excellent classic pop. Waiting for the Rain is well crafted pop with a lavish arrangement including piano, flute and strings, and a strongly theatrical feel, sounding like something from a classic musical from some bygone decade.
A very enjoyable album that proves that it is certainly possible to bring together many diverse musical components and still produce a coherent whole. This is a band I'm very keen to hear more from.
More info at www.goldoolins.com and www.earsayrecords.com
GOLDOOLINS Songs of the Turly Crio CD (self released)
Goldoolins have released a couple more albums since the above one, starting with this, which continues with another helping of superb quality folky songs driven by acoustic guitars and with additional lashings of harpsichord, glockenspiel, accordion, strings, mandola, piano and other instruments. The music has a distinct retro vibe whilst maintaining a strong sense of originality and creativity and avoiding sounding derivative. As before, they travel outside of the usual folk-pop format with songs like Find Her, which has the feel of something from a classic musical; the Hebrew song Sheva Shanim, which is accompanied by a lavish orchestral arrangement and even adds a chaotic free jazz section towards the end; The Man He Killed, which is an adaptation of a Thomas Hardy poem, juxtaposing a dark Victorian atmosphere with celebratory horns and strings; and Country Traveler, which has the flavour of the early, not overly commercialised sort of country music (ie the good sort).
Another very impressive collection of intelligent, creative music from a band who should really be considerably more well known than they actually are. Contact them via their website www.goldoolins.com
GOLDOOLINS The World Is Somewhere Else CD (Turly Crio)
This latest album from Goldoolins is no less impressive than previous offerings. 'Nother Day combines their now familiar elements of vintage musicals and quirky psych-pop, fleshing it out with percussion and electric bass. Ah! I See Horizons returns to a more stripped down acoustic format, for 8 minutes plus of dreamlike and occasionally unsettling psych-folk with undertones of 20th century classical music. Buky, Where Art Thou? is a lighthearted and off-centre track, instrumental except for wordless vocals, mixing old-school country with instruments very untypical of country music, like marimba, horns and wildly distorted rock guitar. Yet To Come is a quirky, discordant and slowed-down take on bossanova.
Green is a brilliant song that adds jazz bass and distinctive percussion to a trad folk style melody; the jazz/folk crossover being referred to again and emphasized in their use of folk whistle with which to play snippets of experimental jazz randomness. One Shot is a creative mix of quirk-pop with jerky rhythms, harpsichord and orchestral instrumentation. Buky, Lead the Way To Highway 40 is ramshackle, makeshift country accompanied by ghostly vocals. My Song is classic piano-based folk-pop. The title track is an epic 10 and a half minutes but never drags, with its slightly off-centre, psych-tinged and orchestral reinterpretation of the trad folk style, which easily rivals any of the best material from the more adventurous side of 60s and 70s folk. An amazingly talented band who have a prolific musical output but no signs of running out of impressive creative ideas. Definitely recommended.
E T DOOLIN s/t CD (self released)
Prior to forming Goldoolins, E T Doolin was a solo artist who released this album in 2003. Although there are only two musicians here, E T Doolin himself and collaborator Amit Poznansky, the music has a more 'full band', less acoustic-oriented sound than Goldoolins and places more emphasis on the 60s pop style, usually the upbeat and summery variety, rather than the folk/Renaissance/psych/vintage musicals side. Dreaming is a bit more laid-back, a very beautiful example of 60s-inspired harmony pop. Jane is great sunny powerpop. A Lie is quite folky, but as in 60s folk-pop rather than traditional folk. Traveler, which appeared in a very different form on Goldoolins' second album as Country Traveler, appears here in an old-school country meets freakbeat style. Down Down is slightly off-centre acoustic folk-pop that begins to hint at the sort of music due to appear in the future from Goldoolins. Come On Hannah is powerpop with rock n' roll overtones. Although the quirky, psychey genre-explorations of Goldoolins have yet to develop here and the music is mostly a more straightforward kind of retro pop, it's no less well crafted and shows E T Doolin is just as talented when working with more established musical forms. Just as recommended as any of the later Goldoolins material.
KHVARENA The Spirit Rises CD (Projekt)
Truly exceptional, deeply moving Middle Eastern inspired music from members of Gor and Rajna. The primary inspiration behind the album is Zoroastrianism, the pre-Islamic religion of Persia. The band state that lyrical inspiration comes from 10th century Persian poet Firdausi; whilst he was writing in the Muslim era, his epic Shahnameh describes events surrounding legendary kings and heroes from the Zoroastrian and pre-Zoroastrian eras. The band's name Khvarena is a Zoroastrian concept, usually transliterated as 'khvarenah', meaning 'divine glory'.
The album includes 14 tracks, some instrumental, some sung in Italian and others in an ancient Persian tongue, such as the deeply spiritual Zot, and Zaraqustro, which concerns Zarathushtra's conversion of King Vishtaspa. Musically the album is predominantly based around a traditional Middle Eastern theme, with some secondary influences from medieval European music, including lots of hammered dulcimer and other authentic traditional instruments. The style is sure to delight fans of Dead Can Dance, Rajna, and perhaps also Unto Ashes. At times they sound so much like DCD that you'd be forgiven for thinking it really was them, especially in the very beautiful and moving track Nabah, which features the sort of wordless 'speaking in tongues' vocal style favoured by that band. However they expand on a theme pioneered by Dead Can Dance, adding something new and creative and reaching the same sort of heights of greatness, instead of sounding like a mere second rate ripoff.
An absolutely astonishing album; I really hope that this is not just a one-off side project as I would love to hear more from this band. www.projekt.com
THE SHARP THINGS A Moveable Feast CD (Bar/None)
Third album from New York based orchestral pop band. With 10 permanent band members, an assortment of guests and a 40 piece orchestra, this has as you'd expect a very big sound. The Jumpers combines classic pop with 19th century classical strings, vintage theatre music and light opera, whilst Through With Love is huge sophisticated pop, a bit 70s, a bit quirky, very enjoyable. An Ocean Part Deux is excellent emotional indiepop with the effective addition of strings. Storm King combines old-school indiepop with a dash of stylish 60s laid-back pop. Cruel Thing harks back to the days when soul music really did have soul. Don't Hold Out Hope is timeless sophisticated pop. Le Chose Francais is a brief excursion into accordion-based folk instrumentation. Don't U Leave Me This Way is a kind of easy listening or slow-dancing pop song, the sort of fairly mainstream number that could easily sound dull if performed by someone with less talent, but The Sharp Things manage to pull it off.
A very ambitious project, but the band easily achieve their ambition by creating such intelligent and creative music which, speaking seriously, is of a quality to rival and even outshine many songwriters and musicians considerably more famous. Very talented and with the rare ability to appeal equally to underground and mainstream music listeners. More info at www.thesharpthings.com
VOLTAIRE Ooky Spooky CD (Projekt)
Hilarious tongue in cheek dark humour, irreverent and zany, taking all the 'death and hell' goth stereotypes and making them into an album full of warped fun. Those who think goths have no sense of humour really ought to check this out. The music itself is not goth in any usually accepted sense however, combining mariachi, Eastern European folk, theatrical/cabaret music, ska, country, as well as the ironic parody of military music in Bomb New Jersey, and the duet with the Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer, Stuck With You, which takes the same sort of tone as The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's Fairytale of New York, but with the addition of Voltaire's trademark macabre humour. The lyrics are often downright rude, with references ranging from prostitution to necrophilia to bestiality to the surreal and lurid reinvention of Star Wars as gay porn that is Cantina, along with the occasional dig at organised religion, so needless to say, this album is best avoided by those of a prudish nature. It's laugh out loud stuff, very naughty but clever with it. More info at www.projekt.com
MELLOW THE BAND Bliss CD (Global Impact)
Psych band bridging the gap between the old and new interpretations of that genre, melding druggy lyrics, 60s psychpop influences and a strong sense of melody with the sort of long drawn out spaceyness and fuzz that owes more to the various indie psych, noisepop, spacerock and shoegazer scenes of the 80s and 90s than anything from the 60s.
Wonderful Life really fills up the head with its big, busy sound, lots of orchestral samples and electronicy bits going on here. The band name T-Rex amongst their influences and this is most evident in Higher Then, which is essentially glam rock with additional psychey sound effects. Velvet is laid-back psych-pop with a dreamlike atmosphere, an inventive and effective number. Shine On starts with some spacerock style droning along with some clicking, whirring sound effects, before blossoming into a strong melodic psychpop track. Teen Years is a tuneful powerpop song. Mellow starts off with spaced-out sound manipulation, then when you're least expecting it, explodes into a rap - quite possibly the only attempt to combine hip-hop with psych-pop that I have ever heard!
Although the band clearly draw on much music from the past, they also add their own creative ideas, and their fairly lo-fi underground approach sets them apart from other retro-inspired bands to have surfaced from time to time who have just been straight rip-off artists or bandwagon jumpers. More info at www.mellowtheband.com
MIRABILIS Sub Rosa CD (Projekt)
Second album from Mirabilis, who consist of members of This Ascension and The Machine in the Garden. Their music brings together both the dreampop and neomedieval sounds the Projekt label is known for, to impressive effect.
World Indifferent combines ethereal pop, sombre synth and medieval percussion. The Journey is a lullaby with hammered dulcimer, flute and atmospheric layered vocals. The Vastness sets a delicate dreampop song to brooding orchestral synths and bombastic drumming. Nature Boy is indeed the well-known eden ahbez-penned track; its near-mystical, philosophical lyrics fit well with the overall theme of the album, and the addition of the kind of beautiful echoey choral vocals that typify the 'heavenly voices' genre works really well.
The Flowers Pressed Down is an exceptional Renaissance-style a cappella number. Il Est Bel Et Bon and O Maria Mater Pia are astonishing renditions of 16th century compositions, the vocals multi-layered in choral style. Odyle introduces Middle Eastern motifs alongside distinctive percussion and chanting. Angel Eyes, an old jazz song, is stripped down to simply a solo vocal processed to sound 'hollow', like it was recorded on very primitive equipment, and includes added crackly vinyl noises in the background for extra 'authentic vintage' effect. Farce is a neoclassical, slightly theatrical song with piano and harpsichord. Sub Rosa is an evocative, atmospheric track with some very fine medieval drumming. Finally, World Indifferent appears again in remixed form with electro-goth synths, dance beats and industrial sound effects.
Lots of very beautiful material here, from a band I'm keen to hear more from. More info at www.projekt.com
THE CONSPIRACY Caged CD (Gallipoli)
Latest album from this prolific band who should be familiar names to anyone who's been following the underground scene since the late 80s/early 90s. As is often the case with The Conspiracy, this new album features re-recorded versions of their older tracks (in this case 90s classics like Black and White, Red Bird, Black Hole, and Letter to Matt) but there are also plenty of unfamiliar tracks here, meaning this isn't only an album for newbies or completists.
Flirt is a brilliant gutsy indierock track; Black and White is melodic indierock with added punk aggression; St Columba is classic janglepop with 60s/70s folk touches; Black Hole combines 70s rock riffage with snarly spoken vocals; Motives is a sort of 80s synthpop/punk crossover, but wholly unlike the 'disco punk' phenomenon popular in the mid 90s zine scene; Caged is a melancholic acoustic track complete with cello solo; Olde Wives' Tales is creative synthpop with quirky and dark undercurrents, with lyrics that question the point of superstition; and Safe is brilliant energetic melodic punk that is far superior to that of many bands that specialise in that style.
The music is eclectic but holds together coherently, their older material still sounds fresh, and the new material shows that although the band have existed for what must be almost a couple of decades, they don't fall into the all too common trap of running out of new ideas and sounding dull after a few years (or less!) This cd is full of excellent examples of classic pop and indierock with heaps of real talent, that's well deserving of a wide audience. Contact the label at firstname.lastname@example.org
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