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

ALBUM REVIEWS

VARIOUS A Dark Cabaret 2 CD (Projekt)
Second in a series of compilations showcasing the Dark Cabaret genre, a name aptly coined by Projekt founder Sam Rosenthal. Volume 1 included The Dresden Dolls' Coin Operated Boy; here Voltaire provides a hilarious parody of that song, entitled Coin Operated Goi (!!), which sets his inimitable twisted humour to a mixture of cabaret and traditional-style Jewish folk music. Humanwine set gruesome lyrics to a jaunty oompah-oompah rhythm and haphazard improvisational percussion. Black Tape for a Blue Girl's Sailor Boy combines dark folk and cabaret with an impassioned snarled vocal. The name of the band Birdeatsbaby says all you need to know about their sound - surreal, gory, and laced with a twisted dark sense of humour. Their violin and piano led music completely encapsulates the genre description 'dark cabaret'. Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys' Sea Song is an impassioned wail of a track; the melody and vocal style put me in mind of the kind of dark, visceral alt-country purveyed by Sixteen Horsepower, but the arrangement is something else entirely: a warped, accordion-led, oompah-pah, oompah-pah rhythmic take on cabaret.
Katzenjammer Kabarett have reinvented themselves as Katzkab, and appear here with an inventive mix of classical piano and strings, wild psychedelic rock guitar and angular alt-pop. Spiritual Front juxtapose dark folk, sombre synth and military drumming with a jaunty accordion and catchy chorus, with highly effective results. Unextraordinary Gentlemen are basically a classical-tinged and slightly off-centre reinvention of 80s gothic music. Jill Tracy's In Between Shades is blues combined with sophisticated pop balladry and wrapped up in a dark gothic atmosphere. Adrian H and the Wounds provide a sleazy mix of jazz and cabaret with horror film-esque lyrics delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. Attrition's track is a creepy gothic number, adding an eerie, lopsided accordion riff and intense, edgy violin. Thoushaltnot set dark yet tongue in cheek humour to a mixture of cabaret-style piano, jazzy horns and theremin.
Dark Cabaret is an inventive genre, bringing together the sombre, the sleazy and the sophisticated, in a manner that rarely takes itself too seriously. This compilation is an ideal place to begin exploring the style. More info at www.projekt.com

SORIAH WITH ASHKELON SAIN Eztica CD (Projekt)
Following the impressive Atlan album reviewed last issue, Soriah teams up again with Trance to the Sun's Ashkelon Sain for another inventive mixture of Aztec and Central Asian influences. Soriah is trained in Tuvan throat singing, and uses this vocal style to deliver lyrics in the Aztec language Nahuatl, accompanied by Aztec and Central Asian instruments as well as modern electric and electronic instruments courtesy of Ashkelon Sain.
Iix sets throaty vocals to a mix of ethnic percussion, chugging darkwave and floaty ambient music. Ticochitlehua features a whispered vocal over eerie atmospheric soundscaping. Eztica combines impassioned chanting and Tuvan throat singing with a powerful drum beat. Nica Anahuatl brings together shamanistic percussion and evocative experimental soundscaping. Ehecatl features the 'overtone' style of Tuvan throat singing, where the voice splits into two, with one of the vocal elements sounding more like a flute than what most would consider the human voice to be capable of. The voice combined with the soothing ambient backdrop makes for a truly magical mix.
Chocatiuh is an expressive blend of darkwave-meets-neoclassical guitar and the igil, a Tuvan bowed stringed instrument. Temicteopan combines zither, whispered vocals and ice-cold ambient sound effects. Omeyocan employs surreal, ethereal guitar and mystical-sounding wooden flute for a dreamlike effect. Its hypnotic atmosphere carries the mind off to another world where all is calm and peaceful. Amochantzinco combines chirping insect sounds, foreboding darkwave synth, rhythmic drumming and expressive guitar work as a backdrop for Soriah's impassioned throat singing.
An inventive combination of sounds that makes for a really engaging listening experience. Very much recommended.

EVERY SILVER LINING HAS A CLOUD s/t CD (Projekt)
ESLHAC make a sophisticated blend of post-rock, shoegazer, and neoclassical music. Against All Odds adds recited poetry courtesy of guest artist Ashley Rugge, whilst A Stolen Life combines cello and shoegazerish atmospheric noise with the music box-like tones of the glockenspiel. Such A Waste is intelligent indierock with hushed vocals and intermittent bursts of crunchy guitar noise. The Air is On Fire is a shoegazer instrumental with a massive wall of atmospheric noise, which subsides to reveal gentle glockenspiel and sophisticated neoclassical strings. The Leaden Sky combines forceful indierock with reflective cello. Where Earth Meets Sky features a gentle, almost folky, guitar melody, atmospheric soundscaping in various degrees of noisiness, and the creaking sound of a boat on the ocean, as backdrop for more of Ashley Rugge's poetry. Leaves Across the Roads begins as a plaintive guitar piece accompanied by the hum of traffic. Six minutes into the track, the band throw in a jolt of guitar noise and crashing cymbals, which gradually swells up to become a wall of shoegazerish noise of epic proportions. Backward is an atmospheric soundscape with a touch of neoclassical piano, ending with some hypnotic repetitive hums and clicks.
It is very good to hear a band doing something more creative with the post-rock genre, rather than rigidly sticking to the standard heard-it-all-before drone cliches. More info at www.projekt.com

ZA! Megaflow CD (Acuarela)
This is quite possibly the most bizarre album I've heard in a long while. Za! have been labelled "post-world music", but that definition doesn't even begin to describe the craziness on offer here. Calonge Terrassa, Kalon-Jah! Tewra-ssah! is a bizarre, experimental blend of traditional style African music and noisy angular underground rock. Nanavivideñaña is electronica meets punk, flying off at Dadaistic tangents. PachaMadreTierraWah #1 is a crazed prog-punk-funk combo, whilst the remix of that track that follows it is a complete reinvention of the original, bringing together chilled-out blues-psych-rock, jazz, electronica and noise-rock. Mesoflow combines traditional style Spanish folk balladry, grunge, warped angular rock and jazz. Megaflow #1 is a surreal, experimental kind of electronic music. Megaflow #2 is an equally surreal concoction of free jazz, electronica, avant garde neoclassical music, prog and noise-rock. Bomboklat #1: Da Gwelda Egli is an odder-than-usual take on psych-folk-pop, with added ranting and noise. Bomboklat #2: Ina Bomboklat has a Gong-like sense of the surreal combined with the ferocity of punk. Casamance Un adds a sense of punk rebellion to traditional style African music. Casamance Deux blends convoluted prog guitar, free jazz, and the kind of ranted, chanted vocals usually associated with drunken football fans. Exaflow mixes sampled spoken vocals, modern classical piano, and screamy hardcore punk.
Za! ignore all genre boundaries, taking an assortment of styles that are normally very 'serious', and infusing them with a sense of rebellion and wackiness. Imagine a combination of world, folk, electronica, prog and jazz played by a motley collection of punks, boozed up hooligans, and surrealist artists, and it would probably sound a bit like this. www.acuareladiscos.com

VARIOUS Arctic Paradise 2012 CD & book (FIMIC)
Arctic Paradise is a long-running compilation series showcasing the best of the contemporary Finnish folk music scene. This latest edition comprises a CD and an informative hardback book with details on the artists on the compilation as well as background information on the history of various subgenres of folk music in Finland. The book is beautifully presented, in full colour, with a textured cover embossed in silver.
Frigg are a fiddler band that originated as a collaboration between members of the Järvelä family of Finland and the Larsen family of Norway. Gjermund Larsen has since left to concentrate on his other project, the Gjermund Larsen Trio, but Einar Olav Larsen is still involved in Frigg along with Antti Järvelä of JPP and Troka, and his (Antti's) cousins Alina and Esko. Four other non-related Finnish musicians complete the current lineup of Frigg. The band take their name from a Norse goddess, and the accompanying book tells us that Scandinavian culture is "very much a part of the group's identity". They are however unafraid to explore other musical territories, combining Estonian and bluegrass influences with traditional Scandinavian folk music. I've been aware of this band for a few years and their music never disappoints.
Accordionist and vocalist Maria Kalaniemi originates from the minority Swedish-speaking population of Finland. Her album Vilda Rosor (Wild Roses) comprises traditional songs from this Swedish-speaking community, and here she performs the fantastic song I Fjol (Last Year), a song I've been familiar with for some time due to hearing versions from other artists/bands, such as Gjallarhorn. Lepistö & Lehti (Markku Lepistö and Pekka Lehti) are known for their work with Värttinä as well as solo albums. Here they provide a waltz based around accordion and double bass, that combines folk and neoclassical influences. Suo are a trio comprising members of Suden Aika, Johanna Juhola Trio, and Spontaani Vire. Their song here is impassioned and evocative and makes me very eager to hear more of their music.
Piirpauke, a band that has existed in various forms since the 1970s, appear here with a Finnish polska performed on flute, African drums, and rock guitar. Sväng are a four-piece harmonica ensemble, combining Finnish and Balkan influences. They play unusual variations of the instrument, such as chordal and bass harmonicas, alongside the more familiar form, so that no other instruments are required. Wimme combines Sámi joik with jazz and electronica. Antti Paalanen provides a fantastic accordion instrumental that is both energetic and sophisticated. Nordik Tree comprises members of JPP and Swedish band Forsmark Tre, on violins and harmonium. Their music is very much folk, but also has rather a stately feel reminiscent of classical music.
Pekko Käppi plays the ancient bowed lyre known as jouhikko, but does so in a way that is far from ancient, bringing together influences from a variety of locations and genres. His piece here has the feel of American folk music, but he is said to incorporate all sorts of other styles into his other music, ranging from the music of the Khanty people to punk rock and noise. This sounds an intriguing mix - I'm very curious to hear more from this artist. Paleface provides an innovative mixture of folk music and rap. Kimmo Pohjonen with Samuli Kosminen and Kronos Quartet are responsible for quite possibly the most experimental and innovative accordion music in existence. The instrument is played in a non-traditional style, accompanied by electronic soundscaping and an evocative vocal style reminiscent of Tuvan throat singing.
The artists here are, in the most part, making an open-minded, free-thinking, innovative interpretation of folk music, that makes traditional musical forms completely relevant for the 21st century. There is some really superb material on offer here, and I intend to investigate many of these artists' output further. I believe Arctic Paradise is only available as a promotional item, not for sale to the general public, but the FIMIC website provides further information on Finnish music: www.fimic.fi

BUTTON DAVE Songs from the Sock Drawer CD (Zen Ranch)
New solo project of Dave Ledgerwood of DIY pop outfit Rivertubes. Dave Hiney from said band also puts in an appearance on three tracks with guest bass, backing vocals and didgeridoo. Flipping Flipper is homemade acoustic pop with quirky lyrics and soaring flute that gives the song a hint of early 70s psych-folk. Animal Fight is an acoustic version of US-style folk-rock, again with Ledgerwood's trademark off-kilter dark humour coming through in the lyrics. Birds and Stars is psych-folk-pop with wailing/droning didgeridoo. Watch Your Fingers is instrumental save for a bit of humming and la-la-la-ing, while Red Rage is a lo-fi strum-along with lyrics about wanting to kill your boss, and General Sherman Tree is a slightly off-centre alt-country piece. Good stuff, worth a listen - visit www.zenranch.com for more info.

NORDIK TREE Contradans CD (Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department Recordings)
Nordik Tree is a collaboration between Finnish musicians Arto Järvelä (JPP) and Timo Alakotila (JPP, Troka) and Swedish musician Hans Kennemark (Forsmark Tre, Bäsk). Vals til Vännen Min begins as a fiddle and harmonium piece very reminiscent of JPP, and also putting me in mind of Frigg. The piece unexpectedly changes direction about two minutes in, with the introduction of vocals in Swedish. Close to Eight is a lively fiddle tune composed by Arto Järvelä, whilst Hans Kennemark's composition Enviser is much more melancholic in tone. Palojoen Marssi, a fantastically uplifting tune by Arto Järvelä, is followed by the rather more subdued Hymn, a piece by Timo Alakotila that combines folk and classical motifs and features guest accordion from Maria Kalaniemi. Contradans is a traditional piece collected in the late 18th century or early 19th century by Erik Ulrik Spoof. Bytt Lasses Brudmarsch is another traditional piece, this time from the collection of 19th century fiddler Per Alsén, known as Hultkläppen. Nordik Tree provide a sophisticated interpretation of this piece, based on mandolin and piano. Timo Alakotila's composition Matka combines aspects of Eastern European folk music, Finnish folk music and classical music.
This superb album includes some of the most exciting, moving music I have heard in a while. Very highly recommended. More info at www.myspace.com/nordiktree

ARTO JÄRVELÄ Plays Fiddle vol 2: Cross Tuned CD (OArt)
Cross tuning, or open tuning, is the practice of tuning the fiddle in ways other than the standard one. It is in use in the folk traditions of various regions; here Arto Järvelä (of JPP and Nordik Tree) provides 16 fiddle tunes from the Finnish folk tradition, some being authentic traditional pieces found in the archives, and others being new compositions by Arto Järvelä himself in the traditional style. Everything here is performed on solo fiddle with no additional instrumentation, but the pieces are so engaging that no other instruments are required. Just a few of the fantastic tunes on offer here: Wedding March and Kissakallio Crossing (a medley of two lively and catchy marching tunes), Goose's Polska and Starc 21 (that fast and furious fiddling in the latter part of the piece has a touch of bluegrass about it), Brakepolska (a fascinating and unusual piece inspired by the sound made by train brakes!), The Bells (a hypnotically repetitive piece with a sense of bleakness and melancholy. Whilst being inspired by the folk tradition, it also sounds quite avant garde in places), and Soil is Black (a stark, melancholic song, one of only two pieces here with vocals). The album comes with extensive, informative liner notes explaining the background to the pieces played here in both Finnish and English, as well as a history of cross tuning written by Paul Tyler. More information at www.artojarvela.net.

FRIGG Grannen CD (self-released)
Fourth album from Frigg, a Finnish/Norwegian fiddle ensemble inspired by folk musics from across the Nordic countries and beyond. Their love of American folk music, which comes through strongly in their sound, has led their style to be nicknamed 'Nordgrass'! The lineup is centred around members of the Järvelä family, a renowned musical clan that also spawned the band JPP.
The album begins with Potatisvals, composed by well known folk musician Ale Möller (who grew up in Sweden, though his mother is Norwegian and his father of Danish descent. He has a long history in Swedish folk music, known for his work with the bands Filarfolket and Frifot, as well as solo material and collaborations with Swedish vocalist Lena Willemark and Norwegian fiddler Gunnar Stubseid). The piece is a lively folk waltz with a quirky and slightly chaotic section in the middle. Rajrajraj is classic Frigg, a superb quality fiddle tune with plenty of musical variety, interspersing breakneck speed sections with more introspective moments. The band's bluegrass influence is evident in Maple Cake Farm, where mandolin and cittern take the place of the more expectedly American banjo and guitar.
Grannen is a traditional piece, performed here by a whole orchestra of fiddles, plus bowed double bass which is employed in part of the track to create an atmospheric droning sound. Bussen is a soaring fiddle melody co-written by Gjermund Larsen (who has since left Frigg to concentrate on his other project the Gjermund Larsen Trio) and Magnus Samuelsson. The piece combines Nordic and American folk music motifs in classic Frigg style. Amurin Tiikeri combines American style mandolin-twanging with a big dramatic arrangement featuring drums and a brass and woodwind section. The overall sound of this track is very eclectic, with touches of jazz, prog and 60s sunshine pop. Patana Sunset/Hölökyn Kölökyn is an evocative and highly enjoyable piece that combines medieval and classical touches with traditional Finnish folk music.
I've been a fan of this band for some years now and this album is just as great as their previous offerings. Very highly recommended. www.frigg.fi

THE MORRISONS Listen to The Morrisons CD (Series Two)
Since re-forming a few years ago, 1980s indiepoppers The Morrisons have proved to be a very prolific outfit. Not only have they recently released the 3 EPs reviewed in this issue's singles section, but there's also this album, and I hear another one is due for imminent release as well.
Listen to The Morrisons includes 14 tracks of the kind of authentically mid-80s style indiepop we have come to expect from this band. You get vocal harmonies, and that classic jangly guitar sound that is one of the defining features of this genre. Some of their stuff is along similar lines to the sort of 80s indiepop typified by bands like Mighty Mighty, The Brilliant Corners, or early Orange Juice. Other tracks combine old-school indiepop with influences from 60s US folk-rock. Time Steeler is harder-edged, drawing from the heavier end of mod, with a pinch of psych.
The songs are always well-crafted, with strong tunes, and the lyrics often express deeper concerns than indiepop has a reputation for. Anyone expecting 'sunshine and lemonade' tweeness or 'boohoo, my girlfriend left me' wallowing in self pity will be surprised by songs like Cranberry Street, which deals with the grimmer realities of life from debt to death, and Amy Day, a really touching song focusing on a soldier's wife who lost her husband in the war.
A really high-quality album from a continually recommended band. More info on The Morrisons at www.freewebs.com/themorrisonsband

THE LEGENDARY TEN SECONDS Podtastic CD (The Golden Pathway)
The Legendary Ten Seconds is the other band of Ian Churchward of The Morrisons. This album also features appearances from The Morrisons' Phil Andrews and Elaine Churchward. The Legendary Ten Seconds share The Morrisons' jangly indiepop approach to a certain extent, but they add to that large helpings of traditional-style English folk music, psych-folk-rock, and Tudor-inspired melodies played in psych-rock or folk-rock style. There's also Can't Live Without You, a 60s pop meets blues number with wailing harmonica. Some of the songs are romantic and/or happy-go-lucky, but the band are also unafraid to touch on more serious issues, such as I'm So Rich, a piece of wry social commentary that aims its ire at those who are rolling in cash but too selfish to give anything more than a token few quid to charity.
Basically The Legendary Ten Seconds are updating folk music for the modern era, combining traditional musical motifs with modern lyrical concerns (such as references to modern technologies such as cars, credit cards and the internet, and colloquialisms such as 'chill out' and 'cool'), as well as musical styles with their origins in the 20th century, such as psych and indiepop. The music is eclectic yet coherent, and is very listenable. The 'Pod' bit in the title refers to podcasts; the songs here all appear to have been recorded specifically for podcasts and radio shows, and each one includes a jingle promoting the show at the end. Available from www.goldenpathway.co.uk

MARIA KALANIEMI Vilda Rosor CD (Aito)
Maria Kalaniemi "grew up in a home with two languages, Finnish and Swedish", her father speaking Finnish and her mother coming from the Swedish-speaking community of Finland. This well-respected accordionist's previous album Bellow Poetry was inspired by Finnish musical traditions such as runo-song and shepherds' music, but with Vilda Rosor she explores the Finnish-Swedish (i.e. the culture of the Swedish-speaking Finns) side of her heritage.
I Fjol is a song followers of Nordic folk music should be well acquainted with, having previously been recorded by Gjallarhorn on their debut album Ranarop: Call of the Sea Witch. Maria Kalaniemi's version nods towards American folk music with its addition of banjo and harmonica. Vårens Väna Grönska Går is a subdued and reflective ballad, its instrumental interlude bringing in some atmospheric, almost proggy electric guitar. Videpiano is an instrumental piece setting a medieval-inspired melody to expressive and intricate accordion that even veers towards jazz at times. De Rosor och de Blader is a traditional Swedish-language ballad, set to a Balkan-style arrangement. Under Fullmånen is a tango, adding a sophisticated, slightly jazz-tinged arrangement.
Magdalena på Källebro is an exquisite rendering of this traditional ballad, accompanied by distinctive and unusual acoustic guitar and evocative, almost ambient, use of the accordion. Cirkus 2 is a lively and quirky instrumental composed by Lars Hollmer, which evokes perfectly the feeling of a circus. Vilda Rosor is a beautiful song composed by Maria Kalaniemi, combining traditional ballad influences with soaring wordless vocals, setting this to a creative, artistic mixture of folk music and jazz-rock guitar. Sven i Rosengård is a traditional murder-ballad, its stark, droning string accompaniment perfectly suiting its subject matter. Jeppo is a traditional dance tune with oomph, including banjo and harmonica alongside the fiddles and accordion.
Maria Kalaniemi's accordion playing is expressive and modern, and definitely not to be confused with the sort of outdated 'oompah-pah' stuff that many people associate with the accordion. The music draws from the folk tradition whilst importing elements from elsewhere to create a sound that is fresh and new. The whole package shows a close attention to detail, the booklet featuring beautiful nature images and printed on heavy matt paper. More info at www.aitorecords.com

SVÄNG Schladtzshe! CD (Aito)
Sväng are a four-piece harmonica ensemble from Finland, playing a variety of unusual-looking harmonicas including one with keys and another that looks like a pair of binoculars! The music challenges preconceptions of what harmonica music sounds like, combining Finnish, Romanian, Swedish and Greek folk music influences, plus their own take on tango, and the sleeve notes even name Radiohead as an inspiration on one of the tracks. Hoijakat is a brilliant folky dance tune with some effective use of bass harmonica and what I assume is that keyed harmonica, as it sounds more like an accordion than a mouth organ. Menneet is a march with a dark, foreboding atmosphere, that morphs into a bittersweet and slightly off-kilter waltz; this evocative piece would make great film music. Tango Tauko adds a distinctive and slightly quirky twist to the tango genre, its mood completely encapsulating the theme of the nervous and tipsy youngster it is inspired by. Humaljärvi is a very enjoyable polska tune. Humppa Skitsofrenia is just as its name implies, a bizarre and unstable take on the Finnish folk dance genre of humppa, flying off at all sorts of insane tangents. Waiwainen Walitan Walkiast is an adaptation of a remorse hymn from the early 1700s, its atmosphere suitably melancholic. Valossa is a Swedish-style polska, featuring the addition of some bizarre psychedelic background noises at the start of the track, all produced by harmonicas! The album shows just what a versatile instrument the harmonica actually is, and is yet another example of the inventive and forward-looking folk music to come out of Finland in recent times. More info at www.aitorecords.com

LEPISTÖ & LEHTI Radio Moskova CD (Aito)
This latest release from Aito Records is ingeniously packaged in a kind of fold-out origami sleeve shaped like an accordion, the CD itself being held in place by the folded cardboard. I appreciate these sort of details, where an album is presented as a complete package, with as much care going into the artwork as the music itself. This is the second album by Markku Lepistö and Pekka Lehti as a duo, following a number of solo albums and appearances with famed Finnish folk ensemble Värttinä. The music here is based around accordion and double bass, and like everything else I've heard from the Aito label, adds a strong sense of creativity to traditional musical forms.
The acoustic instrumentation sounds almost electronic at times in Waltz for Eino. Skrubu is a piece aptly defined by the artists as a "robust tango with tragicomic tones". It combines traditional tango influences with a chaotic quirkiness. The name Skrubu itself shows a self-deprecating sense of humour, as it is a Helsinki slang term for bad quality! Lokakuu combines jazzy double bass and folky accordion with some highly effective atmospheric sounds that the listener would be forgiven for thinking were electronic, but appear to be produced by the accordion. Radio Moskova is an Eastern European-styled accordion tune, part sprightly folk dance, part lament, inspired by Pekka Lehti's childhood listenings to Radio Moscow back in the 70s.
Kaksi is a dramatic and often frenetic piece, featuring a jabbing, rhythmic accordion riff that again sounds more like a synth. Värttinä fans will recognise this riff as Lepistö also used it on the track Synti, from Värttinä's 2006 album Miero. Artsi is solo jazz bass from Pekka Lehti. Raudanselkä uses traditional folk and arty modern classical influences, as well as a touch of jazz, to paint a sound-portrait of a blacksmith; the end result is both inventive and engaging. Vasulaisten Juhlamarssi is the only traditional piece here; a slow and stately march with religious roots, first heard by Markku Lepistö as a child when it was performed regularly by a local brass band and choir.
The album has much to appeal to folk music fans whilst encouraging innovation and a healthy disregard for genre boundaries. Info at www.aitorecords.com

SAID LIQUIDATOR Anthology 1987-1991 double CD (Eccentric Sleeve Note)
Said Liquidator were an indiepop band around during that genre's heyday. Whilst relatively unknown at the time, interest in the band has increased since one of their tracks was included on one of the Sound of Leamington Spa compilations of old-school indiepop. As a result, the band have released this retrospective double album anthology. I must mention at this point that what I was sent for review is not the entire album but a promotional sampler featuring 8 out of a total of 33 songs. I cannot therefore comment on all of Said Liquidator's material, but if the stuff here is anything to go by, the album sounds like it would be a real treat for fans of old-style indiepop. The Third Man is bouncy, upbeat and catchy - but not twee - indiepop, akin to Mighty Mighty, The Brilliant Corners, The Morrisons, or early Orange Juice, but what makes Said Liquidator's sound very different from indiepop in general is their inclusion of flute and clarinet. House in Bohemia includes strings as well as woodwind, and the song itself has a hint of The Smiths about it. It sounds like the sort of track that would have been popular at the time (1989), so it's very surprising that the band accumulated a massive 44 rejection letters from record companies. How To Smile is spiky, ramshackle and slightly off-kilter. Sole Contempt begins as a fairly laid-back number incorporating a bossa nova style rhythm and gentle flute, but then it flies off at a more unsettled tangent, with agitated yelps of "Threat!" Lovely Day is minimalistic yet cheery indiepop with soaring flute and African-influenced percussion. No Ribbons on Oak Trees expresses frustration towards the government of the time, but is no angry punk track but a gentle and subdued indiepop number with occasional slight hints of folk. Said Liquidator's sound features all the hallmarks of classic indiepop, yet adds much that is their own, particularly due to the use of instruments not normally associated with the genre. More information at www.eccentricsleevenotes.com

THE WORKHOUSE The Coldroom Sessions CD (Hungry Audio)
Third album from The Workhouse, whose music combines aspects of post-rock, post-punk, shoegaze, old style indiepop, and psychedelia. Atmospheric noise and effects are a big part of their sound, but this is definitely not noise for noise's sake, or self-indulgence with very little musical substance. The music here is strongly melodic and very well crafted. You may expect a track called Stalker to be chillingly sinister, but The Workhouse's Stalker features shimmering guitar effects as backdrop for a surprisingly sunny tune, interspersed with full-on shoegazer noise straight out of the early 90s. The Last Time I Saw The Stars is very fine old-school janglepop with atmospheric noise undercurrents. Drag Queen is a woozy, subdued dreampop instrumental. The Whistler is brilliant 80s-style jangly indiepop with ethereal dreampop effects. Seen Sometimes combines bleak post-punk with a huge shoegaze noisescape. A very enjoyable album, having much to offer fans of the various genres The Workhouse are inspired by. More info at www.hungryaudio.co.uk and www.theworkhousemusic.com

ROOT DECO Third World Planet CD (self-released) and Crystal Pool CD (Stone Premonitions)
Two new albums from this prolific retro-rock band. The music on Third World Planet begins with a basis of raw bluesy rock, adding further influences from psych, prog, and occasionally folk. As always with Root Deco, the music sounds authentically vintage, and you get the feeling that the band have a total, genuine immersion in their chosen type of music - it's not just a fashionable veneer like some revivals of retro-rock have been. A lyrical theme of freedom of thought runs through the album; there's songs with messages against conformity and social injustice, and songs about UFOs which reflect a concern that these things aren't just something out of science fiction movies. Fins and Fangs is particularly worthy of further discussion for a number of reasons. First, it includes guest guitar from Tim Jones of the Stone Premonitions musical collective, known for his work with countless bands such as The Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Neon, Census of Hallucinations, and so on. Secondly, it is the track with the most obvious folk influence, including a medieval-tinged folk-rock riff that works really well. Thirdly, you've got to admire the lyrical sentiment: the song begins with the lines "Conformity's nice, you always know just what to wear/And what to think, and whether or not to care", setting the scene for an ironic critique of 'sheep' type thinking. Snow on the Roof is 70s-ish rock with a massively catchy chorus, and Red Head Walking is a grunge-blues-rock cover of a Beat Happening track.
Last issue I reviewed a promotional taster for a planned Root Deco album entitled Champagne World. The title of this album has now changed to Crystal Pool, but all four tracks from the Sip of Champagne sampler are included here along with eight others. There's raw, intense blues-rock (Tough Night), American-style folk-rock (Dead by Morning, S.O.S. (Different Day), Nightlight), psych-rock (Big Parade), and 70s-style heavy rock (What's With You?) As well as their own material, there are covers of songs by Cream (Deserted Cities of the Heart) and Sharon McMahan (Someday We're Gonna Love Again).
Root Deco are onto their sixth album now but show no signs of running out of ideas. Their music is continually recommended for fans of old-school rock in all its forms. More info at www.rootdeco.com and www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions

BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG ZOMBIE s/t CD (Pastime)
Bright Lights Big Zombie includes former members of Exeter bands Console and A Fine Day for Sailing. Their music is a blend of atmospheric and emotional contemporary indie music and the more ragged-round-the-edges kind of indiepop from the late 80s and early 90s. Centaurus features some nicely meandering, laid-back psych guitar work. Inevitable is very much a song with two personalities; it starts off as old-style indiepop, reminding me a little of Tramway in places, then its psychedelic alter-ego puts in an appearance with its floaty, woozy, spaced-out guitar and even a sitar courtesy of producer Andy Fonda. Voices in the Dark combines influences from the quiet and noisy varieties of old-school indiepop. Snowglobe is a slightly off-kilter, ramshackle indiepop number. Complicated is contemporary indie music with a rockish kick. Decendo is an instrumental combining evocative post-rock and riotous noisepop. There's a good mix of sounds and moods here and the music never gets dull. There's lots here to delight fans of various indie subgenres and even psychedelia. Hopefully there will be much more to follow this very enjoyable debut. More info at www.myspace.com/pastimerecordings and www.myspace.com/brightlightsbigzombie

ANDY B Letters Home CD (Pastime)
Second album from indiepop singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andy B. There are songs here in the classic late 80s/early 90s indiepop style, as well as more sophisticated updates of that genre which include some effective use of violin, piano and flute. There's a kind of mod/freakbeat thing going on in So Screwed Up. Don't Tell Me It's True is melancholic indiepop that would have fit right in on Sarah Records in the early 90s. Not In This Lifetime is a great 80s-ish janglefest. Coma is a different version of a song by Andy's other project National Pastime; this recording is gutsy contemporary indie music which, unusually for this genre, also includes flute. Pastime Records has a lot of very impressive indiepop stuff going on, and fans of this genre would do well to check them out. More info at www.myspace.com/pastimerecordings and www.myspace.com/andybotterill

THE POND s/t CD (One Little Indian)
The Pond is Kathryn Williams' new project, also including former members of Fairground Attraction and The Dear Janes. Anyone expecting the music to sound like Kathryn Williams' previous recordings will be very surprised. Carved combines vintage soul, chilled-out beats, and spiky noisy guitar. Circle Round a Tree is sunny retro pop that even incorporates a touch of rap. The River combines Indian and Celtic influences with off-centre electronica. Pass Us By augments 60s-ish folky singer/songwriter stuff with a retro-futuristic synth. The Art of Doing Nothing combines brass and shimmering electronics with retro pop. Whilst Circle Round a Tree included The Pond's own playful take on rap, Bebop goes one further, featuring a guest appearance from an actual rapper (Kirsch). Hard Shoulder sets a vintage style torch song to a mixture of folky mandolin and classy brass. End of the Pier takes a song reminiscent of American folk-rock and throws in some spooky and weird mashed-up electronic sound effects. Aim is a slinky, sultry torch song reminiscent of James Bond movie themes, but not without the usual genre-blending aspects: bits of mariachi, vintage dance beats, folky accordion, and electronic burblings are also thrown in the mix. This is an intelligent and artistic album with wide appeal. There's enough classic pop and soul aspects to entertain a mainstream audience, but there's also a strong off-kilter, genre-hopping quality that is sure to delight underground music listeners. Really fantastic stuff. More info at www.indian.co.uk

LOVE AND HYMEN s/t CDR (self-released)
Love And Hymen is the latest project of Lisa Hammer, previously known for her work with Mors Syphilitica, and her solo album Dakini. Love And Hymen is something of a departure from both of those projects, but is no less impressive. The music here is basically powerpop, but with more originality than is the norm for that genre, and more willingness to incorporate aspects of other styles. Over the Moon includes some doom-laden gothic guitar, but is essentially a pop song, with a strong tune that stays in the head. Black Sheep is powerpop with the unusual addition of sitar. Tigress on a Train Moving Fast is an inventive mix of powerpop, vintage synth and atmospheric ba-ba-bas. Brother Sun has a frankly beautiful melody, the song itself sounding rather like psych-folk, but set to hard-hitting noisepop instrumentation. Mona Lisa Smile is on the darker side of dreampop. The Invisible Heart is strongly tuneful powerpop, but again with a difference: is that a melodica I hear? Monkey King sets an ethereal dreampop song to harsh noise guitar and unsettling gothic synth. Love is Not a Crime is excellent atmospheric noisepop, the song itself being along similar lines to Secret Shine during their dreampop/shoegaze incarnation, but with darker and heavier instrumentation. Finally there's the happy-go-lucky pop song Something Like Penguins, that adds brass and glockenspiel to its bouncy powerpop arrangement.
This CD isn't actually out yet; the band are still looking for a label and the songs may go through another remastering phase prior to their official release. I sincerely hope Love And Hymen find a label for this album, which is quite honestly a genuine masterpiece, loaded with strong melodies and well-crafted arrangements. Love And Hymen are a truly talented outfit that deserve a wide audience. More info at www.myspace.com/loveandhymen
EDITED TO ADD: Just had some news in from Lisa, who is now known by her new married name Lisa Stockton-Wilson. Love and Hymen have changed their name to Radiana, and are now signed to Projekt. The album has been remastered and is due for release in October 2012. Visit their Facebook page for more info: https://www.facebook.com/RadianaBand

CEWINEYE Acoustic Vibe (Citicat)
Cewineye is a duo comprising Angie and Johan Lindblad. Angie recorded some very fine demo material back in 2001 as Anji the Fay; two of those songs, Dolphins Play and Sailing with the Sun have been re-recorded for this brand new album Acoustic Vibe. Dolphins Play is a very lovely folk/pop number, the guitar on this version having quite a Spanish feel at times. In the Wink of an Eye is a different thing entirely, being harder-edged with elements of powerpop and 80s rock. Like a Bumblebee is playful retro pop. Acoustic Vibe combines romantic pop with flamenco. Golden Valley is beautiful acoustic folk-rock with atmospheric harmony vocals. Sailing with the Sun is predominantly acoustic pop with a very catchy melody. I Close My Eyes is melancholic, folk-tinged acoustic pop with more of that Spanish guitar. It seems to me that Cewineye have two distinct sounds, and ones that are likely to appeal to two completely different audiences. Some of their material seems inspired by the sort of soft rock and pop that was popular in the late 70s and 80s, and as such is a little too mainstream-influenced for my own taste. Yet Cewineye really shine on their more folky/acoustic material. Songs like Dolphins Play and Sailing with the Sun have really strong tunes that won't leave my brain days after listening to them. And fans of the now-burgeoning alternative folk scene simply cannot miss Golden Valley. For more info visit www.cewineye.com

THE MORRISONS Southern Soul CD (Pastime)
Southern Soul is the latest release from prolific old-school indiepop outfit The Morrisons. It brings together the three tracks from the CDR EP on Susy Records (see this issue's singles section for more on that) along with ten previously unreleased tracks recorded between 2005 and 2010. The Morrisons were originally around in the mid 80s, and some of the tracks here have their origins in this period. Out of the Blue and Town After Town were written in 1986/7 by the first line-up of The Morrisons, Captured in a Jar was written in the early 80s by members of The Morrisons' previous band Chapter 29, and Down to the River (from the Susy CDR) originated in another pre-Morrisons band called Jensen. Everything else here was written in the last few years, after The Morrisons re-formed, but it's all very much in the spirit of classic 80s indiepop.
You're a Fraud is bouncy, jangly indiepop straight out of that genre's heyday. The Man With Nothing Left is old-style indiepop meets American folk-rock (especially The Byrds). Captured in a Jar has a bleaker, less obviously indiepop feel than their usual material, clearly due to the fact that it was written before indiepop even existed as a genre. The band say the inspiration for this track came from Scott Walker's 60s solo albums. Town After Town is old-school indiepop in a similar style to Mighty Mighty. Dana's Diary is a melancholic song that previously appeared in a different version on The Morrisons' previous album Listen To The Morrisons.
This band's recent releases have restored my faith in indiepop, and prove that the genuine classic indiepop sound is still alive. Anyone nostalgic for real indiepop, unadulterated by commercialised so-called 'indie' music, really ought to check out The Morrisons. Visit www.freewebs.com/themorrisonsband and www.myspace.com/pastimerecordings

17 PYGMIES Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) CD (Trakwerx)
A highly original album in terms of music and packaging. The factory-pressed CDR is packaged within a translucent metallic paper sleeve, which is in turn packaged within a gold-embossed sleeve held together by a wax seal, which is in turn packaged within an outer sleeve also containing metallic confetti. The CD also comes with a miniature handmade book, The Book of Celestina Part Three, written by multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Jackson Del Rey. It's a bizarre science fiction story about a robot who feels human emotions, and is closely related to the title of the album itself. A great deal of effort has gone into this hand-assembled packaging, showing this band really care about what they do.
17 Pygmies have four band members, each playing a number of instruments, and are also joined here by 7 guest artists adding further vocals and instrumentation including oboe, cello and viola. The music is an innovative mix of spacerock, prog (I'm talking actual progressive music, not the mere excuse for self-indulgence exemplified by some of the genre's most famous representatives), folk, classical, and film soundtrack-like sound effects. Despite its avant garde aspects, it tends towards the strongly melodic, and features vocal sections from the very talented singer Meg Maryatt.
Celestina XXV has a very lovely folky melody and a dreamlike, psychedelic atmosphere. Celestina XXVII is an epic instrumental close to 10 minutes long, with much spacey electronic bleepery and odd sound effects, building up into a crescendo of dark, heavy spacerock, like a gothic version of Hawkwind. Celestina XXX sets a folk-tinged song to a mixture of ethereal drones and sophisticated orchestration. Celestina XXXI is a neoclassical piece with a waltz rhythm, based around classical guitar, cello, viola and glockenspiel. Celestina XXXIII.III is a fractured, deliberately lo-fi form of underground blues.
This is one of the most inventive albums I've heard for a while; taken as a whole it defies categorisation. The band are clearly doing their own thing outside of restrictive genre boundaries or the dictates of current fads, and this is something I really appreciate, especially when the music is this well-crafted. Available from www.trakwerx.com/label.htm

REMORA Scars Bring Hope CD (Silber)
Remora is the musical project of Brian John Mitchell who runs Silber Records. A term that has been attached to Remora's music is 'post-apocalyptic pop', which aptly encapsulates the bleak, dark, twisted sounds on offer here. Awake Arise combines brooding post-punk with spacey electronic sound effects. Let Me Die With a Coin In My Pocket is a pained, introspective song part way between janglepop, shoegaze and post-punk, with some effective atmospheric use of horns. Does the Music? features repetitive, twisted lyrics over an atmospheric drone backdrop. Nevada Smith sets warped, dark lyrics to appropriately harsh noise instrumentation. Let's Fall In Love is a piano-led piece combining Americana and DIY indiepop. Its mood is one of the most optimistic here, with its positive lyrics and sprightly glockenspiel, yet it is still shot through with that sense of darkness that basically characterises the Remora sound. Peanut Butter Cup is a bizarre lo-fi pop song made even more bizarre by the fact that its backing 'music' is the sound of a storm. We Come From the Sea is a tough one to categorise: lyrics inspired by H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos are wrapped up in a characteristically bleak melody, accompanied by an inventive musical concoction that sounds like a mix of sci-fi and cowboy movie soundtracks. Static is Motion is an experimental instrumental combining rumbling noise, woozy droning and a chiming guitar melody. The Future of Man incorporates some effective, almost neoclassical, trombone repetition into a pessimistic lo-fi pop/post-punk piece. "Wisdom's wasted on the wise/For there is no future of man/There's no hope, just decay/Creation leads solely to chaos", sings Brian in deep gothic tones, before the piece reaches an immense crescendo with its huge wall of atmospheric noise, including touches of spacey synth, and an ominous ticking sound that makes one expect an explosion right at the end of the track, but instead it just stops abruptly. The album ends with the epic 13+ minute instrumental Angel Falling Through Water, a harsh and unsettling noisescape combined with minimalistic post-rock. A deep, complex and challenging album by an artist who does not follow other people's rules. Available from www.silbermedia.com

NORTHERN VALENTINE Fin de Siècle CD (Silber)
The first thing that grabs you about this album is its striking cover art, a painting by Michelle A. Perez, in which birds pick flowers out of an animal carcass. The image juxtaposes life and death, beauty and decay, in a way that really makes you think. The music of Northern Valentine is improvisational drone music. In the wrong hands, such a style can deteriorate into mere self-indulgence, or can otherwise sound cliched - a massive piece of irony when you consider that this genre started off as experimental! I've found that drone is a genre that requires real talent to be able to pull it off, likewise improvisation in general. Fortunately Northern Valentine have that talent. This is very beautiful ambient music that is simultaneously relaxing and engaging. It has a film soundtrack feel about it, but is no mere 'background music'; it requires the listener's full attention. There is more melody here than is the norm with drone music, and the band's use of keyboards (including piano) and violin as well as guitars sets them apart from the bulk of this often very samey genre. The title track is particularly worthy of mention for its highly effective combination of swelling soundscape and neoclassical piano. The White Mountains is a little different from the rest of the album, though it does not sound at all out of place. It's a melodic guitar instrumental, hypnotically repetitive, with an atmosphere that hints at psych-folk. This is combined with soothing ambient drones to create a work of great beauty. It's fair to say that this is one of the most impressive and creative drone albums I've ever heard. Available from www.silbermedia.com

STONE BREATH The Night Birds Psalm ... and Other Songs We Sung Beneath the Silver Web CD (Hand/Eye)
The Night Birds Psalm is one of two new releases from this excellent underground folk band. The title track is a superb banjo and flute led piece with a traditional-inspired melody. Page 43 Upon the Wind is an inventive track made up of several parts and taking in aspects of English, American and Greek folk, with psychedelic undercurrents. Walking Sam sets chilling lyrics to mindbending acoustic psychedelia: "Who's the man who's gonna drink your whiskey?/Walking Sam/[...]/Who's the man who's gonna drink your blood?/Walking Sam". Weaving the Mothshroud combines a traditional-style folk tune with esoteric lyrics and hypnotic acoustic accompaniment. The Snow-White Ghost-White Stag brings together harp and ethnic percussion in a way that is highly creative and very beautiful. One Good Eye is part dark folk, part alt-country, with truly poetic lyrics. To Sleep With Skeletons is a (possibly autobiographical) song about a boy who hears the voices of the dead, set to music that conjures up a vision of loping animated skeletons, rattling bones and wailing ghosts. Finally there is the elongated, meandering, dirgelike, and hauntingly atmospheric Mothwing Sacred Heart. This is a genuinely spectacular album, full of creative musical ideas and lyrics that quite honestly put the famous poets and lyricists to shame. Available from www.darkhollerarts.com

STONE BREATH Who Is Listening? CDR (Hand/Eye)
Who Is Listening? is a mail-order only CDR mini-album, released as a companion piece to The Night Birds Psalm, sharing musical and lyrical themes with that album. The Dream of My Brother's Father is based around two female and one male voice and sparse acoustic arrangement. Its lyrics are both mystical and touching. Call the Fallen Wood, Touch the Cold Bones features banjo work that recalls Sixteen Horsepower, combined with drawn-out, subtly melodic chanting. Red Lion Sacred Heart is closely related to Mothwing Sacred Heart from The Night Birds Psalm. Melodic and lyrical motifs from that song are revisited here, along with a reappearance of the character of Walking Sam, whose eponymous track can also be found on The Night Birds Psalm. Coffin Sound is a kind of bleak alt-country with grimly evocative lyrics and some effective use of banjo and harmonium. Thunder Runs Through Me is an all too brief psych-folk piece with atmospheric drones and mantra-like vocals. Leaves About Our Feet, We Reached for the Moon is very beautiful and strongly melodic psych-folk with twin male and female vocals. Sixteen Hooves sets apocalyptic imagery to hypnotic psychedelic accompaniment. It is well worth making the effort to order this CD from the label at www.darkhollerarts.com

CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS Dragonian Days CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Census of Hallucinations are a prog rock band whose music has room for both harsh angularity and flowing psychedelic aspects. The lyrics are a vehicle for The Reverend Rabbit's wry social commentary. Uncompromising attacks on authoritarianism, greed, war, and banal pop-culture are delivered in a manic vocal style, over a variety of musical backdrops ranging from dissonant pieces that jump around at tangents to the spacerock brilliance of Age of Light. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions

17 PYGMIES Celestina CD (Trakwerx)
17 PYGMIES CII: Second Son CD (Trakwerx)
Earlier this issue I reviewed CIII: Even Celestina Gets the Blues, the third part in 17 Pygmies' sci-fi concept album trilogy. Since then I have received the first two parts, both of which come with the same elaborate handmade packaging. The first CD, Celestina, starts with Celestina I, an instrumental that combines spacerock, psych and Middle Eastern tinged melodic motifs. Celestina II is part post-rock, part dreampop, part film soundtrack style music. Celestina III combines relaxing synth sounds with grandiose neoclassical music. Celestina IV is a hypnotic blend of spacerock and shoegaze. Celestina V is a drone/improvisation/psych-rock piece with minimalistic wordless vocals. Celestina VIII combines ferocious, metalish guitar noise with experimental and ethereal aspects. Celestina X is an experimental, spacey ambient track that gradually develops into a vintage sci-fi soundtrack style piece with dark and ominous sounding synth. The album ends with Celestina XI, an atmospheric psychedelic instrumental that incorporates a section inspired by Spanish folk music.
The second instalment of the trilogy, Second Son, includes eleven tracks, taking in aspects of neoclassical music, experimental music, spacerock, classy and serious pop music, prog, and film score inspired music. It's a sophisticated, well-crafted sound that shows the musicians' considerable talent. This band have a very creative, artistic approach, bringing all manner of disparate genres together into one coherent whole. Their music is very much recommended to anyone open minded about music. Available from www.trakwerx.com/label.htm

ANDY B Love Songs in a Different Key CD (Pastime)
This new album from Andy B is firmly rooted within the late 80s/early 90s indiepop scene. Most songs here genuinely sound like they were recorded during that era (Jangly guitars? Check! Introspective, heart-on-sleeve lyrics? Check!) Others approach the genre from a slightly different angle, whether due to the addition of flute and violin, or the lyrics of songs like Life's a Disease, which show a pessimistic and cynical world-weariness much stronger than the kind of melancholy that is the norm for indiepop. On the whole, the album contains all the key factors of old-school indiepop, including a soft spot for twee imagery: check out the cuddling teddy bear couple on the cover. It's a sweet picture and it made me smile. Visit www.myspace.com/pastimerecordings and www.myspace.com/andybotterill

SPROATLY SMITH The Minstrel's Grave CD (Folk Police)
Third album from experimental folk band Sproatly Smith, following two very limited edition releases. My Mother Said combines delicate psych-folk with the clicks and whirrs of industrial machinery. The Mermaid of Marden sets a melodic song with melancholic tones to some very inventive instrumentation including woodwind and this eerie wailing sound that I think may be produced by a musical saw or possibly a theremin. Song for Annie Needham is an instrumental piece based around glockenspiel, guitar and found sounds. It conjures up scenes of a quaint, old fashioned village, whilst also having a distinct oddness about it. Blackthorn Winter is a really superb song in much the same spirit as early 70s psych-folk. It draws from traditional themes whilst adding a whole array of unusual instruments and improvisational effects. Silver Threads Among the Gold brings together various samples of vintage music - unaccompanied folksong, early 20th century popular song, jazz - over a backdrop of tinkling glockenspiel and strange found sounds. The Fabled Hare/Isobel Goudie is a medley of songs by Maddy Prior and Alex Harvey, connected by lyrical theme. Here they are set to a collage of inventive musical exploration. The Blue Flame combines traditional influences with evocative psychedelic effects. O Death is dark and strange psych-folk with dissonant and unsettling instrumentation. Elysium is a bizarre experimental piece comprising samples, percussion and all manner of weirdness. It's the sound of a dream gone horribly wrong. It then flies off at a completely unexpected tangent, morphing into a heavy rock guitar solo.
I've heard a number of underground bands who use experimentation and improvisation to cover up a lack of actual musical ability. That form of experimentation generally sounds thrown together and has a definite whiff of 'weirdness for weirdness's sake' about it. Not so with Sproatly Smith, who have come up with a work of genius with this highly creative album. Traditional folk themes and psychedelia are combined with ideas from their own imagination to create a sound that is original and engaging. More info at www.folkpolicerecordings.com

SKITTLE ALLEY Just A Kiss CDR (Dufflecoat)
8-song mini-album from retro jangly indiepop band Skittle Alley. Their sound owes a lot to the early to mid-period output of Sarah Records. The Field Mice seem to be a particularly big influence, followed perhaps by Another Sunny Day, whilst The End reminds me a little of Brighter. However, Skittle Alley also add some other bits not generally associated with old-school indiepop, such as the instrumental part of Sunray, that sounds like a sort of Mediterranean tinged spacerock. They also incorporate some atmospheric spacey bits at the end of Supernova. In general though, Skittle Alley are primarily inspired by classic indiepop, and their music is easily as good as any of the well respected names from that genre. I loved this sort of music back in the early 90s and it warms my heart to know it is still being made - especially when it's this great. Available from www.dufflecoatrecords.com

HEDNINGARNA & CD (Border Music)
Over the last decade I have developed an immense enthusiasm for Nordic folk music. One of the first bands in this field that I ever heard was Hedningarna. Formed in the 1980s, Hedningarna are counted amongst the pioneers of the modern Swedish folk revival. Their name means 'The Heathens', and they combine traditional influences with a hard-edged, inventive and forward-looking variety of folk-rock. Their previous album, Karelia Visa, recorded with Finnish vocalists Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Anita Lehtola, came out in 1999, so this new album & has been a long time coming. I can safely say though that it has been well worth the wait.
Core members Anders Norudde and Hållbus Totte Mattsson are joined by new recruit Samuel Andersson and guest percussionist Valter Kinbom. Philemon Arthur and the Dung also appear on one track, with Philemon Arthur having contributed to the songwriting of various pieces on the album. Philemon Arthur and the Dung were originally around in the 1970s and made quirky, homemade-sounding, at times folk-tinged music with an eccentric sense of humour.
& is in some ways a continuation of the sounds Hedningarna are known for, but in other ways is a complete departure. There are the energetic and aggressive uses of hurdy gurdy, moraharpa, Swedish bagpipes, and improvised instruments, which are among Hedningarna's trademarks, but they also introduce influences from various popular modern genres in a way that is new to them.
Tjuren features rapping and dance beats. Morafjälls is an angular, warped take on the traditional Norwegian tune Nordafjells, taking in additional aspects of 1970s car chase film music along with the chaos and violence of metal. Träslöjden is a kind of off-centre alternative rock with electrified folk instruments. Hedna is a traditional-influenced melody played in vigorous electric folk style. It's one of the most overtly folky tracks here, and the closest to the sort of music Hedningarna were known for in the past.
Mycket Vill Ha Mera sets a high-speed, energetic blend of pop, ska and alt-rock to bagpipes and fiddle. Höjdaren is a brilliant traditional-style folk tune - but with some tradition-busting use of synths! Hedersmannen is an off-kilter song perhaps best described as art-rock. There are shades of early 20th century popular music and carnival music, accompanied by a lopsided waltz rhythm. Karbonader is another traditional-inspired folk tune, this time with some evocative use of wooden flute. This piece shows a less frantic side to Hedningarna's sound. Soppan begins as the kind of frenetic folk tune Hedningarna fans will be familiar with, before introducing elements of pop and rap. Men Va Fanken features manic screamy vocals over a bizarre mixture of ska, melodramatic film soundtrack style music, and folk.
This is a tough album to pin down in terms of genre. There are folk instruments here, but apart from a handful of tracks, the music itself can scarcely be classified as folk. The album is experimental in the best sense of the word, and shows a laudable defiance towards genre boundaries and conservative ways of making music. Very highly recommended! More info at www.hedningarna.net and www.border.se

BYRON METCALF FEATURING STEVE ROACH The Shaman's Heart II: The Healing Journey CD (Projekt)
A 71 minute musical piece designed to create a shamanic state of consciousness in the listener. Based around a continuous heartbeat rhythm, the music encourages the listener to "make full contact with their heart". The artists suggest that the listener uses the music within a ritual context in order to "enhance the heart's capacities for love, compassion, courage, power, and strength". The mind-body-spirit focus of the sleeve notes may cause one to expect bland or overly commercialised New Age music, but the fact that the album is out on Projekt should help to put any such fears to rest. Part ambient, part world music, the album is a heady and evocative blend of percussion, synth drones, and occasional use of didgeridoo and ocarina. The music is both relaxing and emotionally engaging, and despite its repetitive nature, it never gets dull. There are times when the synths sound cold and dark, yet overall the music is far from unsettling. It creates a warm glow within the heart and a feeling of inner strength. Leave behind all preconceptions of synthesised pan-flute and other empty New Age cliches. The Shaman's Heart II is an astonishing, truly artistic piece of sound sculpture that is more earthy, more intense, and infinitely more real than much other relaxation music could ever hope to be. Available from www.projekt.com

UNTO ASHES Burials Foretold CD (Projekt)
Superb new album from medieval and classical inspired dark folk band Unto Ashes. Pilzentanz sets verses from the 12th century Apocalypse of Golias to an authentic sounding early music-inspired dance tune based around bagpipe, hurdy gurdy and medieval percussion. She Binds Away the Night is dark neofolk with neoclassical touches from the addition of French horn. Night is Coming Soon is melancholic neofolk with beautiful ethereal female backing vocals. A dramatic classical atmosphere is provided by the incorporation of cello. Kathy's Song, originally by Apoptygma Berzerk, is here transformed into an exquisitely delicate piece of underground folk. Spring Magic is an adaptation of a Cicely Mary Barker poem, accompanied by an inventive mixture of grandiose neoclassical music, hurdy gurdy, and the music box-like tones of the glockenspiel. Fire & Ice is an apocalyptic poem by Robert Frost, set to a minimal dulcimer and guitar arrangement with operatic backing vocals. Rubine is a sophisticated neoclassical piano piece composed by Unto Ashes' vocalist and keyboardist Natalia Lincoln. Ascent & Descent is an underground folk instrumental with occasional psychedelic touches. The final track here, Running with the Devil, again shows Unto Ashes taking a song from a totally different genre and making it their own. The arrangement is an imaginative and well crafted combination of folk, medieval and classical components, and if you didn't know the song started life as an old-school metal number by Van Halen, you would never guess. Unto Ashes are a band with high class musicianship, who bring together musical and lyrical inspiration from a diverse collection of sources, creating an end result that is intelligent, sophisticated and creative. Available from www.projekt.com

PETER LACEY World's End Amateur Melodramatic Society Ball CDR (Pink Hedgehog)
Since completing this issue's article on Pink Hedgehog Records, I have received this latest release from the label, which is available as a download or limited edition CDR. This new album from prolific singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Peter Lacey is loosely based around a theatrical theme, and incorporates a wide range of eclectic musical influences. The title track is soulful, sunny, and full of that certain kind of eccentricity that is unmistakably 'English'. The song weaves a vivid narrative about the am-dram society members, whilst the music has a certain theatrical nature about it which is very fitting for the subject matter. Magic Shadow Show is an off-centre take on blues-funk-rock. First Light is a sophisticated singer-songwriter piece with subtle touches of psychedelia. Percy Cute is a jaunty song with observational, biographical lyrics. Maudlin Lane is a very fine chamber-pop piece with some exceptional use of woodwind. Miss Daisy Hawkins is a vivid biographical song about an actress, featuring a superbly well-crafted string arrangement and some dreamlike ethereal synth. Lark! is an inventive instrumental incorporating elements of powerpop, prog and jazz. At just over one minute long, it eschews the self-indulgence often associated with progressive music. The Last Pierrot is a bittersweet depiction of a seaside town actor, with sophisticated and suitably theatrical-sounding musical arrangement. This is a superb album, right up there with the best of Peter Lacey's output. There is something about the songwriting here that reminds me of Martin Newell; it has that same 'biographical vignettes from a small English town' sort of thing going on. Yet Peter Lacey also adds much to the sound that is his own, and this album fully illustrates the creativity and talent this artist is capable of. Available from www.pinkhedgehog.com

MAGOO The Continuing Adventures of... CD (Hungry Audio)
Latest release from this long-running and prolific noisepop outfit. The songs here combine bouncy pop melodies with punk energy, crunchy guitar noise and psychedelic effects. Call Out the Crash Squad! is a fast moving action movie in song form, whilst Volcanoes combines biting lyrics with intense spacey noise effects, and Force 10 From Navarone sets dark twisted lyrics to a combination of searing noisepop and a more laid-back psych-pop sound. The album is full of strong, well crafted songs in which the powerpop basis of the music is augmented with off-centre, mindbending effects. More info at www.thesickroom.co.uk/magoo and www.hungryaudio.co.uk

IN THE LABYRINTH One Trail to Heaven CD (Trail)
I first heard In The Labyrinth and their various side projects on the Vegetable Man Project compilations reviewed elsewhere in this issue. I was impressed with their sophisticated Middle Eastern-influenced prog-psych-folk-rock, so contacted the band to find out more. It transpires that In The Labyrinth have been around since the early 90s, so clearly I have been missing out by having been unaware of their music for so long! This album is a compilation of material recorded between 1993 and 2004 and released in 2011. There are tracks taken from their albums The Garden of Mysteries, Walking on Clouds, and Dryad, as well as alternative versions and unreleased tracks. The band is centred around Peter Lindahl, a multi-instrumentalist who is credited on the sleeve with 22 instruments plus voice. There are also additional instruments from Håkan Almkvist, as well as guest appearances from 10 other musicians and vocalists. As all this suggests, there is a very big, full sound going on here. The musicianship is of a very high standard, as is the artwork which depicts a fantastical landscape with almost photographic realism.
Lost in the Woods is an evocative instrumental bringing together aspects of psych-folk, prog, and Indian music. Escape from Canaan combines atmospheric electronic music with Middle Eastern influences. Moorish Rhapsody is broadly categorisable as folk-rock, adding to that North African musical influences and intricate guitar work. The Garden of Mysteries II is an effective blend of Indian music and jazz. Over the Wall sets Himalayan-themed lyrics (including Yeti references!) to a prog-folk/world-fusion musical backdrop. Muscarin Madness is a prog-psych-rock piece with quirky drug-fuelled lyrics and an unusual and creative arrangement incorporating bells, zither and castanets. Deep Saffron is instrumental prog-folk that recalls The Morrigan or Colin Masson's solo work, but with additional psychedelic and Indian influences. The Night of the Baskerville Killer sets eerie, chilling lyrics to an atmospheric, echoey psych-folk-rock arrangement. There's some effective use of flute and sitar, as well as virtuoso guitar work. The Endless City is an intense and mindbending psych-rock instrumental. Cloudburst features an ethereal mixture of angelic vocals, atmospheric electronica, and soothing chimes and babbling brook sounds.
A top quality album, recommended to anyone who is open minded about music. Further info at www.inthelabyrinth.com and www.trailrecords.net
ADDENDUM: It turns out that I had misinterpreted the motivation behind the song Muscarin Madness. It is clearly a song about hallucinogenic mushrooms, but rather than being 'drug-fuelled', it has a deeper layer of meaning that I had initially missed. Peter writes "this strange gnome sitting out in the woods has the ability to lure unwary mushroom and toadstool pickers even deeper into the forest until they've gone astray. And in reality this theme plays on the risk of picking fungi that's bearing dangerous (and even occasionally narcotic) toxins". So in effect, it is a song that advises about the potential dangers of mushroom use rather than a celebration of it. Also, the lyrics were inspired by a painting Peter made in the 70s as an illustration for an unfinished fairytale. As such, the imagery in the song is inspired by fantasy, not hallucinations. I stand corrected, and offer this addendum as a clarification :-)

WEEP Alate CD (Projekt)
Weep is the latest project of Doc Hammer, formerly of Mors Syphilitica and Requiem in White. The CD comes in a smart cardboard wallet printed to look like an antique book. The music combines influences from 1980s indierock and synthpop, setting Doc's harsh, almost punky vocal tones to strong, memorable melodies. Halved Heart is part post-punk, part shoegaze, part vintage synthpop. Lies Like Prayers is brilliant old-school indierock with effective use of synths and distinctive rhythmic percussion. There is a cover of Bauhaus' The Passion of Lovers here, performed in a raw gothic rock meets alt-country style, topped off with intense and edgy punkish vocals. Away to Nothing is a powerful 80s-inspired alternative rock track, making use of a catchy synth riff. Can't Be True incorporates grandiose neoclassical touches and a dark, gothic atmosphere. This impressive album is packed full of strong, well-crafted songs that are of equal appeal to those from the goth subculture and fans of 80s indie music. Available from www.projekt.com

JOHN ORSI A Room for the Night CD (It's Twilight Time)
Since completing this issue's article on It's Twilight Time, I received this latest release from the label - a solo mini-album by John Orsi, percussionist and composer with Knitting By Twilight and Incandescent Sky. There are six tracks here, spontaneously composed, combining John's skilful and creative percussion style with found sounds (speech, aircraft, mechanical equipment, etc) and keyboard melodies which encompass neoclassical, movie soundtrack, world fusion (there's a few bits here and there that sound inspired by Middle Eastern and Far Eastern traditional musics), intense discordant experimentation, and ambient. There is an improvisational quality to this music, but it is intelligently done and not just a lot of noise for the sheer sake of it. There is some very inventive, individual and open minded musical exploration going on here. Available at www.itstwilightmusic.com

FALLING TREES The Memories that Hold Us Together CD (Pastime)
Debut album from Exeter-based retro indie band Falling Trees, who include amongst their number Andy Botterill and Andrew Padfield, also of the band National Pastime. Andy Botterill also records solo material as Andy B, as well as running the Pastime label. As with several other Pastime CDs, this album was engineered by Andy Fonda of The June Brides. Falling Trees play a classic 80s-inspired brand of indie music, which sounds authentically of that era and easily in the same league as any of the well-regarded bands from the first wave of indiepop. The music is guitar based, but also includes some effective use of vintage-sounding keyboards. There are punchy songs and jangly songs, every one a winner. The more reflective side of the band can be heard in tracks like Youth Club Disco, a piece of autobiographical nostalgia that namechecks various bands from the late 80s/early 90s indie scene, such as the Pale Saints and Ride. And then there are edgier numbers like Trick of the Light, the lyrics of which describe a deep melancholy in terms that are pretty harrowing. A superb album, in which emotions are laid bare against a backdrop of vintage indie music. It's a must for anyone nostalgic for the heyday of indiepop. Further info at www.myspace.com/pastimerecordings
www.myspace.com/fallingtreesmusic
and pastimerecords.webs.com

DARIO ANTONETTI E LA SVOLTA PSICHEDELICA Il Rigore Esistentiale CD (La Locomotiva)
I reviewed Dario Antonetti's previous album as part of this issue's article on The Vegetable Man Project, a Syd Barrett tribute compilation series that Dario co-founded. Since then he has formed the band La Svolta Psichedelica (The Psychedelic Turning Point), who have released the 7" single Prova Adesso (see this issue's singles section for more on that) and now this new album. This is an impressive collection of songs, combining retro pop and psych-rock influences. In the most part, there is a fuller, more sophisticated, less raw vibe here than with the previous album. Of particular note are the tracks that feature guest appearances from Peter Lindahl of Into the Labyrinth, who fleshes the sound out even further with his virtuoso multi-instrumentalism.
There are some occasional excursions into DIY experimentalism, in the shape of Ultrapressione Prima, a repetition-based sound sculpture based around wordless vocal effects, and Ultrapressione Seconda, which is off-centre lo-fi blues. Ultrapressione Terza continues the experimental theme, using unconventional wordless chanting and inventive atmospheric instrumentation. This track also brings Peter Lindahl on board for some very sophisticated use of viola da gamba and flute. There are also a few moments when the sound deviates from the general psychedelic theme, such as Tu Ci Caschi Sempre, which is a kind of smooth, mellow pop music with added jazz influences, including some high quality sax playing courtesy of Elia Calvi.
Aside from the tracks based on wordless vocalisations, the lyrics of all songs are in Italian, but not understanding the language is no barrier to appreciating the music. A top quality album that draws on past genres whilst adding many new and creative musical ideas. Further info at www.la-locomotiva.com and www.myspace.com/darioantonetti

WALKING THE COW Monsters are Easy to Draw CD (White Birch)
A very original and exciting album, taking on board aspects of old-school indiepop, alternative folk, electronica, retro pop and psych. There are a large selection of instruments being used here, including but certainly not limited to bouzouki, electric mandolin, ukulele, and assorted synths, organs and other keyboard instruments. Summer Dress is an intelligently eccentric reinterpretation of twee indiepop. Ducks and Drakes is brilliant folk-tinged indiepop that has a really strong tune that simultaneously grabs me by the heartstrings and forces my facial expression into a wide grin. River P. is retro-futuristic pop along similar lines to Broadcast or Pram. Movin' Things is classic pop with a 60s-ish twang, dissolving into a discordant, slightly psychedelic rock instrumental. Jesus (Buy Some Porn) is alt-folk meets electronica, with lyrics best avoided by easily offended Christians. Nightknocking is off-centre indiepop incorporating the use of a typewriter as a musical instrument. Sweetheart is strange noisepop with all-over-the-place drumming. The music is off-centre and eclectic without being incoherent, and includes some original new ideas and inventive adaptations of existing genres. A fantastic album! More info at www.walkingthecow.it and whitebrecords.bandcamp.com

WERNER Oil Tries To Be Water CD (White Birch)
Here we have another excellent release from White Birch Records! Plaintive songwriting is backed by a sophisticated piano and cello arrangement in Valzer for Annie, whilst Homesleeping is introspective, melancholic indiepop given an extra layer of depth with the effective addition of piano and cello. Blue Sea of Runa introduces some 'bendy' and noisy guitar effects, as well as a very beautiful and moving harmony vocal section. Russian Sky takes a song that with a more conventional guitar-based arrangement would probably fall into the melancholic indiepop pigeonhole, but in the hands of Werner it becomes something different entirely: brooding, droning cello and evocative use of ride cymbal create a feeling more akin to the darker end of ambient or film soundtrack music. Brown Eyes is a touch less melancholic than the other tracks and makes me think of a cross between old-style indiepop and Backworld-esque neofolk. Erik is an interpretation of one of Erik Satie's Gymnopedies, incorporating guitar, cello and wordless vocals alongside the more expected piano. There is even a section towards the end based around noisy distorted guitar, that took me completely by surprise! His Beautiful Rooster is a dramatic and at times slightly discordant number that completely defies categorisation. Bonus track Oil, Water is an artistic composition incorporating aspects of ambient and classical music. There is some versatile use of cello in this piece, in which the instrument is put to frenzied and nightmarish use. This is a remarkable album, full of intelligent and well crafted music that in the most part transcends genre and sounds very unlike any other band. More info at werner.bandcamp.com and whitebrecords.bandcamp.com

BANANA AND LOUIE Alphabet Soup LP (Vollwert)
Banana and Louie is the new band of Matt from A Fine Day for Sailing. This album is available on CD, download, or reddish-pink vinyl, the latter of which looks fantastic! Banana and Louie play late 80s-style indiepop, and it's some of the most exciting music of this type that I've heard in recent times. The songs are very much in keeping with the original indiepop scene, with happy-go-lucky, catchy melodies, jangling guitars, sentimental, sweet and very much non-arrogant, non-rock-n-roll lyrics, and so on - but there is also an important difference. Banana and Louie have joined up with A Little Orchestra, who provide string and woodwind arrangements which work astonishingly well. It was surely a genius move to get them on board: the old-school indiepop meets chamber-pop idea is a winning formula, and certainly doesn't sound bland, pompous, or excessively sophisticated. This is a real feel-good album that makes me grin from ear to ear! Fans of classic indiepop simply cannot miss it! More info at bananaandlouie.wordpress.com and www.vollwert-records.de

THE DEADFLY ENSEMBLE An Instructional Guide for Aspiring Arsonists CD (Projekt)
The Deadfly Ensemble are not an easy band to pigeonhole, though the words 'dark', 'weird', and 'dramatic' spring to mind. Wild Eyed Hounds is a kind of off-centre dark rock with cello and distinctive theatrical vocals. Thirsty Girl, or, The Tale of the Storm Crow is part dark folk, part gothic rock, part synthpop, with more of that crazed, melodramatic yelping. Hammer, Anvil and Stirrups is like the soundtracks from all sorts of vintage movies - car chase action films, sci-fi, horror - all rolled into one. The Early Days of Dr. Lindsay combines traditional English and Spanish folk motifs with storm noises and the now familiar over the top dramatic vocals. Then some way into the track, it flies off at a totally unexpected tangent with thumping, energetic 80s-style synthpop and warped organ music like something out of a spoof horror movie. Lizard Tree on Fire pairs brooding cello with a pained vocal wail, before introducing a touch of ambient, some lo-tech pre-programmed synth percussion, and the cries of an angry cat. Dog vs. Postman, in B is an instrumental with gothic and neoclassical touches, which later introduces some over the top, vibrato-laden falsetto vocals. Concerning Two Lunatic Vagabonds of the Middle Ages is an angular prog-folk sort of thing with absurd, Dadaistic lyrics about codpieces, testicle hair, and a particularly gruesome recipe for a love spell. Some may find the vocal theatrics on offer here to be rather overdone, but that seems to be the whole point with this band. The album is all about excess and drama, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Available from www.projekt.com

AUTUMN'S GREY SOLACE Divinian CD (Projekt)
An album of very beautiful, relaxing, ethereal music from Autumn's Grey Solace. The music is dreampop with ambient undertones, in which breathy and angelic female vocals are perfectly matched with floaty, textured, atmospheric instrumentation. Whilst the songs are all sung in modern English, some of the titles are Old English, e.g. Sáwol (soul), Meremennen (a female sea-spirit), and Écelic (eternal). There is also Síscéal, which is Irish Gaelic for fairytale. These evocative titles completely suit the beautiful and spiritual sounds on offer here. There is also a darker side to the band, as heard in Unravel, with its unsettling, stabbing guitar sound, but despite its heavier style, it is still a very fine example of dreampop, which doesn't sound out of place among the other tracks. This superb album contains some of the most moving dreampop music I've heard in a while, and I greatly recommend it to all fans of the genre. More info at www.projekt.com

VARIOUS Ornamental double CD (Projekt)
A double CD of seasonal holiday music performed by an assortment of Projekt artists and like-minded guests. There are lots of new takes on Christmas carols, secular winter songs like Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells, and the Hanukkah song Hanerot Halalu, along with new compositions with a winter theme. Being out on Projekt, you can trust the artists to put their own distinctive stamp on the old standards.
Paulina Cassidy's version of Frosty the Snowman eradicates any trace of corniness by reinventing it as a slightly dark synthpop number with spacey, psychedelic undercurrents. Jill Tracy's Coventry Carol sets husky, sultry vocals to a sophisticated piano, string and drum arrangement. It's a work of great beauty, and makes me curious to hear more of Jill Tracy's own work. Abney Park do a steampunk version of Jingle Bells. It's dramatic and eccentric and includes instruments like fiddle and ukulele. Nicki Jaine with Ego Likeness perform an elegant, sophisticated version of Little Drummer Boy, which is really quite astounding. Ashkelon Sain with The Dorian Fields transform Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire into an atmospheric blend of ambient, gothic and shoegaze, which lasts for over 8 minutes. Maroulis, Koehn and Mooney provide a dark, neoclassical interpretation of Schubert's Ave Maria. Ego Likeness return for What Child Is This?, a Christmas carol with the same tune as Greensleeves, set to a minimalistic and evocative synth backdrop. Ericah Hagle of Unto Ashes provides a multi-textured vocal version of Hanerot Halalu. Mirabilis' Wexford Carol is a beautiful choral piece based on multiple female vocals. Forrest Fang provides an astonishing psychedelic reinterpretation of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which comprises aspects of ambient, world music and spacerock. This is followed by an ambient remix of the same track, which is pretty much unrecognisable as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, but is a calming and atmospheric listen nonetheless.
Disc 2 is comprised of non-traditional pieces. Black Tape for a Blue Girl appear with a gothic/neoclassical version of Forbidden Colours, the theme from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Paulina Cassidy appears next with the second of three tracks she contributes to this compilation, the eerie yet beautiful, classical-tinged piece Snow Queen. Unto Ashes contribute an excellent neofolk track with medieval hints, King of Frost, which is of a similarly high standard to their usual material. KatzKab's My Sad Wishlist is a kind of off-centre powerpop with synths and pizzicato violins. Unextraordinary Gentlemen's Carriage Driven Horses is like 80s alt-rock with additional strings and piano. Autumn's Grey Solace's Through the Snowy Trees is superb dreampop that is no less impressive than the material on their albums. Paulina Cassidy's Angels We Have Heard is an otherworldly, atmospheric piece combining aspects of ambient, experimental and classical music. Finally, Erik Wøllo contributes a two-part instrumental entitled Crystal Bells. The first part is sophisticated synth and guitar music with elements of ambient, movie soundtrack, and a smidgen of New Age, but without the insipid connotations of that last genre. The second part is a chillingly atmospheric experimental piece; if ice and frost had a sound, it would sound like this.
Don't be put off by the fact that the compilation is themed around winter, and in the most part, specifically Christmas. Much of the music can be enjoyed at any time. It's also refreshingly free from the gimmickry and commercialism one may expect from a winter holiday compilation. Well worth checking out. Available from www.projekt.com

THE OWL SERVICE Garland Sessions CD (Stone Tape)
This is a new version of The Owl Service's debut album A Garland of Song, reworked and partially re-recorded in order to be closer to band founder Steven Collins' original vision for the album. It also includes six bonus tracks. Folk Revival (A Garland of Song) recalls Liege and Lief-era Fairport, whilst also incorporating some additional retro organ. The Rolling of the Stones was one of my favourite tracks from the original version of the album. Usually when I hear re-recorded versions of songs I'm really fond of, I feel that they never quite reach the greatness of the original, but this version is actually on a par with the earlier one. It includes some heavy guitar soloing which works surprisingly well. The Bear Ghost combines eerie supernatural lyrics with elements of psychedelia and American folk-rock. Hoodening merges Indian-style sitar music with a very English brand of psychedelic folk. A Child's Calendar is an alt-folk reinvention of this sweet and sentimental nursery song. Katie Cruel is superb folk-rock that is easily in the same league as Fairport Convention or Trees. The Two Magicians is a fantastic fiddle-driven folk-rock number sounding kind of like a cross between Tempest and early 70s Fairport. The Dorset Hanging Oak is a hypnotically repetitive instrumental combining brooding, psychedelic, experimental and noisy elements. Oxford City is a bleak murder-ballad accompanied solely by a stark, minimalistic drone.
The North Country Maid was another of my favourite tracks from the original album, and once again it retains its greatness. The song is more than ably performed by Rachel Davies over an ambitious musical backdrop comprising sitar, banjo and flute. Nancy Wallace contributes vocals to an excellent interpretation of one of my favourite Lal Waterson songs, Fine Horseman. Robin Hood and the Bold Peddlar sets harshly distorted vocals to an expectedly impressive folk-rock arrangement. I've never heard a bad version of Lyke Wake Dirge, and here's another brilliant version that's right up there with the recordings by Pentangle, Steeleye Span, and Mediaeval Baebes. Vocals (including some very effective double-tracked harmony vocals) are provided by Rebsie Fairholm, who is also known as an author and co-founder of the esoteric and literary publishing house Skylight Press. The Apple Tree Man is a modern composition inspired by traditional wassailing songs. The music is much in the same spirit as 70s folk-rock, and it includes some multi-vocal harmony work from male and female singers, which works really well. The Gardener Child recalls classic Steeleye Span, but with a more frenetic drumming style and rockier guitar soloing. Finally there is the laid-back electric folk track Flanders Shore, which is the perfect ending to the album.
Garland Sessions is really quite something. It is genuinely on the same level as all the highly-regarded folk-rock releases from the late 60s and 70s. If you are a fan of Fairport Convention (especially Liege and Lief and some of the stuff that followed it in the early 70s), Steeleye Span, Trees, or more recent folk-rock outfits such as Tempest, this album really cannot, under any circumstances, be missed. It is a great shame that Steven Collins has chosen to call it a day with The Owl Service, but his new label Stone Tape Recordings, founded on his departure from the Rif Mountain collective, is due to release music from several of his new projects shortly. Visit www.stonetaperecordings.co.uk for more information.

DODSON AND FOGG s/t CD (Wisdom Twins)
Dodson and Fogg is the brainchild of musician and author Chris Wade. Despite the DIY appearance of the release, Wade has managed to enlist some big names from the world of folk-rock and psychedelia. This release features guest backing vocals from Trees' Celia Humphris and Fairport Convention's Judy Dyble, as well as flute from Nik Turner of Hawkwind. It's an impressive album, bringing together aspects of vintage folk-rock, psych-rock and acoustic singer-songwriter music. There's an effective combination of flute and cello in Nothing At All, some nice use of birdsong in Footprints, and some surprisingly atmospheric use of accordion in The Slime, as well as top quality guitar soloing throughout the album. Where on Earth? is a very enjoyable mixture of singer-songwriter stuff and American-style folk-rock, with some evocative use of violin. Endless Sky is brilliant psych-folk-rock with flute and bongos as well as the usual impressively executed guitar work. Well worth checking out! Available at wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com
UPDATE: Just heard from Chris who explained that the DIY appearance of the CD I received was because it was a promo copy. The real version of the CD has a glossy inlay with more details and looks more professional than the version I received.

VARIOUS Brush Strokes on Canvas CD (Pastime)
This is the official showcase compilation for the South West Music Awards 2012. There are some well-established names here, like Simon Goalpost, Phil Wilson (of The June Brides), and The Morrisons, as well as many other artists who have come out of the South West England musical milieu in more recent times. The compilation shows there is a thriving indiepop scene in this part of the country. Catherine and the Owl contribute some old-school indiepop with retro synth and glockenspiel. Simon Goalpost is a name I remember from the underground scene about 20 years ago, whether solo or with Thrilled Skinny. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, his music was a sort of off-kilter DIY noisepop. These days he is playing a more sophisticated kind of indiepop, complete with touches of cello, but which still has obvious roots in the original indiepop subculture. Phil Wilson contributes some great upbeat jangly indiepop. Banana and Louie appear with a fantastic slice of orchestrated indiepop from their recent Alphabet Soup album. Raining Globe are a new name to me, but are a band I would like to hear more from. They play a well-crafted kind of indie music, that is melodic yet has bite.
Long running indiepoppers The Morrisons appear with a track that's in the tradition of 80s bands such as Mighty Mighty, The Brilliant Corners, or early Orange Juice. A Fine Day For Sailing play punchy retro indiepop with horns and chiming 60s-ish guitar. The Akibas play jangly indiepop with a strong country-rock influence. The Coffin Collectors fit broadly into the indie pigeonhole, although their influences seem to pre-date indiepop per se. There are hints of early 80s guitar-based pop and 60s pop in their sound. Console make post-rock tinged noisepop. Also in the indiepop vein are National Pastime, Bright Lights Big Zombie, Andy B, Simon Bish, Falling Trees, and Fonda. And if indiepop isn't your thing, fear not. There is also female-fronted retro-rock from Mozura and Secrets for September, whilst Count To Fire are doing a sort of alt-country/American-style folk-rock sort of thing. There's lots of really great music here, and especially so if you are a fan of the classic indiepop sound. More info at pastimerecords.webs.com

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