VARIOUS Close to the Hedge CD (Pink Hedgehog)
Compilation of mostly previously unreleased material, featuring lots of familiar names from the Pink Hedgehog label along with a few new ones. Highlights include Anton Barbeau's melodic and catchy powerpop number Magazine Street, which features a guest appearance from ex-Pretenders and Paul McCartney guitarist Robbie McIntosh; the surrealistic psych-pop of Schnauser; sophisticated yet gritty indiepop with psychedelic tinges from Mondo Jet Set; Hamfatter and Eye, both of whom contribute a lushly orchestrated pop song; the melodic harmony-pop of Cheese; Des 'n' Al's eccentric take on Thomas Morley's madrigal Mistress Mine; the gentle indiepop of Garfields Birthday; the off-centre pop of Hallelujah Bay; and the catchy, surreal and morbidly humorous pop of Triops (the song's title, Hybrid Taxidermy, says all you need to know). Available as a download from closetothehedge.bandcamp.com, or limited edition CD. More info on Pink Hedgehog Records at www.pinkhedgehog.com
TERO HYVÄLUOMA Junkyard Ball CD (Sibelius Academy/Lusti Music)
Tero Hyväluoma is a Finnish fiddler, known for his work with bands such as Frigg and Snekka, as well as being a session musician who has appeared on albums by various folk and rock outfits, including the internationally known folk-metal band Korpiklaani. Junkyard Ball is his first solo album, in which he appears with the band Frost V and various guest musicians including members of Frigg. The music combines traditional Finnish folk with additional influences from such genres as jazz, bluegrass, modern classical, Balkan folk, film soundtrack, and baroque. Highway to Iced Land is an evocative piece taking on board aspects of jazz, classical and folk. Läksin Mina Kesäyönä is a delicate, melancholic piece with female and male vocals, in which the song's traditional folk basis is augmented by a sophisticated neoclassical/film score atmosphere. Reel Psilocybe & Juottomarssi sounds part Finnish, part Balkan, with additional aspects of jazz and classical music, and successfully combines frenetic, woozy, sophisticated and solemn moments. Junkyard Ball is lively jazz-folk with a certain quirkiness around the edges. Itälahti is a laid-back, reflective piece with shades of baroque, played on piano and bouzouki. The piece then picks up speed with the introduction of fiddle, with a melody that evokes images of swimming fish or the flight of birds. There has been a lot of creative, forward thinking folk music coming out of Finland over the years, and this is another album to add to the list. Recommended to anyone who values freedom and inventiveness in music. More information at www.terohyvaluoma.com and www.lustimusic.com
SOL-DE-MUERTE There Is A Shadow CD (Prods in the Dark)
The aesthetics here have much in common with gothic and darkwave music, incorporating bleak lyrics and melodies, atmospheric electronics, neoclassical orchestration, dreampop-like ethereal moments, and occasional hints of world music, and the band would not sound out of place on a label such as Projekt. They never stick to one formula however, and many of the sounds on offer here are very much outside of usual gothic fare (as is indeed the case with the Projekt label). Let Me Show You How nods towards 60s pop and psych, before dissolving into a chaotic and abstract piano piece. Died for Love is a traditional folk song, performed here with unaccompanied vocals. The track then brings in evocative electronic drones, pastoral flute, and rattling percussive sound effects to create a highly inventive piece of experimental music. Strange Things is an eerie, ethereal song, combining the experimental and the melodic. Sentinel is a superb dark folk piece with innovative accompaniment that incorporates aspects of experimental electronica, prog rock, and neoclassical music. An inventive and sophisticated album that creates a dark atmosphere whilst operating outside of the common cliches of 'dark music'. More info at www.sol-de-muerte.co.uk and www.prodsinthedark.co.uk
CRYSTAL JACQUELINE Sun Arise CD (Mega Dodo)
Following Crystal Jacqueline's recent EP on Fruits de Mer comes this full length album of covers and new material. Sun Arise is undoubtedly not the Rolf Harris song of the same title, but an intense psych-rock piece with atmospheric, spacerockish touches. A Fairy Tale, from the Fruits de Mer EP and originally by Second Hand, is an effective mixture of freakbeat, baroque and prog. Dream I is excellent ethereal yet strongly melodic psychedelia. Alice is whimsical and dreamlike psych-pop with lyrics inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Cousin Jane, also from the Fruits de Mer EP, adds a whole new lesbian twist to this creepy incest song originally by The Troggs. Fly A Kite, from the Mary Poppins soundtrack, is reinvented here as a mixture of psychedelic whimsy and more intense proggy moments. An enjoyable album, with inventive reworkings of vintage tracks and well crafted new material. Find out more at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
HOWLING LARSONS Fool of Sound and Furry CD (Reverb Worship)
Prolific musician Alan Trench is known for his work with assorted underground folk and psych bands, such as Orchis, Twelve Thousand Days, and Temple Music. The Howling Larsons is another project of his in which he is joined by R Loftiss and various guests. There are essentially two sides to this band, a melodic underground folk side and a more soundscape-oriented side with an often unsettling and challenging atmosphere.
Air combines folky flute with chilling, nightmarish and surreal experimental music. Duane Allman's Hand has shades of Eastern traditional musics and jazz, combined with an atmosphere just as surreal as the preceding track. Sunblind features vocals from Mike Seed. Back in the early 90s he was a member of Ways of Stephen, a vastly underrated band who were broadly categorisable under the indiepop umbrella. He subsequently became a solo artist, with his music taking on a more overtly folky sound. He has since released a lot of other stuff I haven't heard, including a collaboration with pioneering psych-folk revivalists Stone Breath. Sunblind sets Mike's vocals to an atmospheric soundscape with folk, post-rock and experimental elements.
A Measure is from the more melodic side of The Howling Larsons, gentle contemporary folk augmented by swelling, droning sound effects. And Then You Are sets recited vocals to ethereal psych-folk, reminiscent in some ways of Current 93. Something on Your Mind is psych-folk with a late 60s feel. Empires and Dominions is off-centre underground folk with effective use of violin. Cold Winter Sun combines delicate, melodic underground folk with intense psych-rock, to maximum effect. Fell of Dark shows a return to the more unsettling side of the band, setting pained vocals to dissonant instrumentation. Accidental Being is an inventive mixture of Eastern European-sounding choral vocals and harsh clanging percussion, an effective juxtaposition of beauty and brutality.
More info at soundcloud.com/howlinglarsons and www.reverbworship.com
NATIONAL PASTIME All Our Yesterdays CD (Pastime)
National Pastime are an indiepop band from Exeter, whose sound harks back to the heyday of indiepop. They list the Television Personalities, Sarah Records, and (presumably early) Primal Scream among their influences, which gives a good idea of where they are coming from. Jangly guitars and summery melodies are juxtaposed with melancholic lyrics, and then there are the more overtly melancholic songs like My Star Has Fallen, which puts me in mind a little of The Field Mice, and is just the sort of song that reminds me exactly why indiepop was so important to me 20-odd years ago. Available from pastimerecords.webs.com or as a download from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS Coming of the Unicorn CD (Stone Premonitions)
Following Census of Hallucinations' recent Spirit of Yellow album which comprised reworkings of classic Stone Premonitions tracks comes this brand new album which focuses on the more overtly psychedelic side of the band's sound. Each track flows into the next without a break, providing a complete listening experience. As with the previous album, Census of Hallucinations are joined by guitarist John Simms, a veteran of the prog scene, who founded the band Clear Blue Sky who released albums on Vertigo in the 70s and are still active today.
Something That Affects All People is a mind-bending instrumental combining prog, cosmic synth effects, and dark experimental aspects. Only Time Will Tell is a song-based track that adds an atmospheric psychedelic touch to what would otherwise be a sort of reggae/synth-pop hybrid. Put the Head On effectively brings together heavy, forceful, and at times angular prog rock with ethereal spacey moments. The Unicorn is Coming adds synthesised harpsichord and flute to an atmospheric mix of prog, space and experimental music. Miracle is an intense mix of heavy 70s-ish blues-psych-rock, soul, and punk. As Within So Without (Slight Return) is a surreal, ethereal and evocative experimental soundscape.
The artwork is of a similarly high standard as the music, featuring a medieval-inspired font and an impressive stained glass-style unicorn painting by Justin Jackley. Further info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
VARIOUS Arctic Paradise 2014 CD (Music Finland)
Arctic Paradise is a series that showcases the contemporary folk music of Finland. As with the previous two volumes, it comes packaged within a very nicely presented miniature hardback book with embossed cover, which contains a general overview of Finnish folk music along with specific information on the artists included on the CD.
Well established and internationally known band Värttinä contribute a lively folk-pop piece from their latest album Utu, which I can highly recommend. Wind on Wind are a seven-piece, all-female band playing traditional wind instruments. They have an engaging and energetic sound with a mood-altering intensity that is really quite remarkable. Arto Järvelä is mostly known as a founder member of the long-running fiddle ensemble JPP; more recent projects of his include the Helsinki Mandoliners and the Finnish/Swedish collaboration Nordik Tree. Here he joins up with Finnish-American duo Kaivama, for this expressive and sophisticated fiddle and guitar instrumental. Kardemimmit are four young women born as recently as the 1990s. They may be young but have an incredible level of talent to rival that of more well established musicians. Here they perform a Finnish adaptation of a traditional Hungarian song, which has a frenetic yet beautiful sound.
Juuri & Juuri are a duo comprising Emilia Lajunen and Eero Grundström, the latter of whom is also from the harmonica quartet Sväng, and has also played in Maria Kalaniemi's Vilda Rosor band. Here they play a lively and catchy fiddle and harmonium tune, which is really great. Ulla Pirttijärvi appears with a solo yoik, the traditional singing of the Sámi people. The unaccompanied nature of the piece shows just how powerful her voice is. Frigg appear with an excellent track in which uptempo bluegrass-inspired music appears alongside slow, reflective, almost classical-sounding sections. They are a fantastic band - be sure to check out their recent Polka V album, and indeed their earlier material.
Saaga Ensemble is something of a Finnish folk supergroup, featuring members of such bands as Värttinä, Frigg, Vilma Timonen Quartet, Tsuumi Sound System, Johanna Juhola Trio, and Rajaton. They appear with a very beautiful song which is atmospheric, sophisticated and highly melodic, incorporating aspects of jazz, neoclassical, and avant garde music alongside folk. Tsuumi Sound System appear here themselves with a piece that effortlessly combines aspects of folk, jazz and classical music, in a way that sounds completely natural and avoids coming across like a self-conscious exercise in genre hopping. Johanna Juhola provides an energetic and eclectic mixture of tango, folk and jazz, with occasional excursions into a more reflective, almost classical territory, and even some bits of electronic music.
Vilddas bring together a number of elements not usually heard together, such as yoik, clarinet, and jouhikko (Finnish bowed lyre), in a way that works really well. The jouhikko is played by Pekko Käppi, who also appears here with a solo track which is a kind of raw-edged alt-country with a distinctively Finnish twist courtesy of the jouhikko and Finnish lyrics.
This album is, I believe, only available as a promotional item, rather than being available for sale to the general public, but anyone interested in finding out more about contemporary Finnish folk music can get more info at www.musicfinland.fi
THE LEGENDARY TEN SECONDS Loyaulté Me Lie CD (Pastime)
The Legendary Ten Seconds is a medieval-inspired folk-rock project founded by Ian Churchward of The Morrisons (who incidentally are now called Session 75, following a recent lineup change). This is a Richard III concept album, the initial inspiration for which was the discovery of the king's grave in a car park in Leicester in 2012. It has received the official backing of the Richard III Societies of America and of NSW, and proceeds from its sale will be donated to a scoliosis charity (research carried out on Richard III's bones showed that he suffered with this condition).
The music, whilst clearly categorisable as folk-rock, avoids sticking to any sort of pre-made formula. The band put their own stamp on the sound by combining diverse elements in a seamless fashion that completely bypasses the kind of incoherent hotchpotch that sometimes arises when bands try to be too eclectic. The end result is an effective blend of UK-style electric folk and US-style folk-rock, that also incorporates bits and pieces that hint at indiepop, prog, and on a couple of brief occasions, surf. Brass instruments, mandolin, flute, recorder, and possibly synthesised but realistic-sounding harpsichord appear alongside the usual band instruments, providing an extra sense of fullness and historicity to the sound. As well as song-based tracks relating to the life of Richard III and the discovery of his grave, there are a handful of instrumentals that set melodies in the style of early music to folk-rock arrangements, in a way that is broadly similar to Philip Pickett and Richard Thompson's The Bones of All Men. This very enjoyable album is available for download from CDBaby, Amazon, or iTunes, or the CD can be purchased from pastimerecords.webs.com
SAAGA ENSEMBLE Polku CD (Sibelius Academy Folk Music Recordings)
Saaga Ensemble comprises members of a number of well known bands from the world of Finnish folk music, including Vilma Timonen Quartet, Frigg, Värttinä, Tsuumi Sound System, Suo, Johanna Juhola Trio, Rajaton and others. The music seamlessly combines folk and pop, with occasional influences from other genres such as jazz. I'm reminded at times of the less frenetic side of Värttinä in tracks like Ihon Alle, while Kreuzbergin Puolikas Kuu is an effective and atmospheric combination of folk, neoclassical, jazz and avant garde music, Kielikeito combines melancholic beauty with choppy rhythms and soaring violin, Varjele is a pop ballad with country hints and sophisticated and atmospheric instrumentation, and Kiitollisuuta is light and airy folk-pop with delicate sprinklings of piano. A sophisticated album that retains a strong sense of musical cohesion whilst drawing from eclectic sources. More info at www.saagaensemble.com
ARTO JÄRVELÄ & KAIVAMA s/t CD (OArt)
Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä (also of JPP, Nordik Tree, and other bands) joins up with Finnish-American duo Kaivama for this brilliant album of largely instrumental folk music based around fiddles, guitar and mandolin. Hoppavalssi is a lively tune reminiscent of JPP or Frigg. Ukon Ja Akan Riita is a traditional piece with almost baroque-sounding melodic motifs. Blooming Prairie combines bluegrass, Finnish folk, and contemporary classical music, incorporating piano and some atmospheric use of harmonium. Volte af Grelsson is a melody with hypnotic, ecstatic qualities, played on the esseharpa, a keyed fiddle related to the Swedish nyckelharpa. Norman Borlaug Polka is a great, strong, catchy tune, veering off on occasions down an off-kilter, unpredictable route. Hilsen fra Finnskog is a twisty, turny piece with melancholic undertones. Whilst the music on this album draws mainly from the Finnish folk tradition, I also hear a handful of tracks that appear to incorporate influences from Swedish folk music and occasionally Norwegian. This is one of the most consistently enjoyable folk albums I've heard for a while; every track is a winner, and I very highly recommend it. More info at www.artojarvela.net
ARTO & ANTTI JÄRVELÄ Os Fera Liluli CD (OArt)
Arto and Antti Järvelä are cousins, from the famous Järvelä family of fiddlers from Kaustinen, Finland, a family which has musical roots going back centuries. Arto is known for solo work as well as playing with JPP, Nordik Tree, Kaivama, and other well-known folk musicians such as Maria Kalaniemi. Antti is a member of Frigg, JPP, Troka, Kings of Polka, and Baltic Crossing. As a duo, they have recorded this album of mainly traditional folk tunes, with a handful of traditional-inspired tracks written by Arto. The pieces are played on fiddles and guitars, and are drawn mainly from the Ostrobothnian musical tradition, though the cousins are unafraid to take on musical influences from further afield, as heard particularly in Quincha Mejorada, which was composed in Peru and inspired by South American waltzes. Onnentoivotuspolska is a piece played at Ostrobothnian weddings, the melody of which demonstrates the overlap between folk and baroque. Myötämäen Marssi is a wedding march composed by Arto Järvelä, having hints of American folk music. Rantasauna & Kesäkuu is a medley of two lively polkas, incorporating a brief jazz interlude. Reinon Knäpsäys is an uplifting traditional piece with pizzicato fiddle. Another very enjoyable album to come from this highly talented musical family. More info at www.artojarvela.net
ANDY B Those Were The Days CD (Pastime)
New solo album from Andy B, aka Andy Botterill of National Pastime, Falling Trees, and The Thought Clouds. Andy's music has its roots in the 1980s indie scene, with Sarah Records, C86, Television Personalities, and early Primal Scream being listed among his influences. With this fourth album, Andy has opted for an entirely guitar-oriented sound, without the additional keyboards, backing vocals, flute or violin used on previous recordings. Many of the tracks here are from the more melancholic, subdued, and introspective side of indiepop as typified by a large proportion of the bands on Sarah, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Let Me Out Soon is a punchier song with powerpop and melodic punk aspects. Difficult Girl is a rollicking, ramshackle track recalling the TVPs, the archetypal C86 sound, or what the Fat Tulips may have sounded like if they had a male singer. Worth the Wait is as jangly as the melancholic material here, though its mood is more uplifting. Those Were The Days is a nostalgic janglepop song in which Andy reminisces over youthful experiences. The picture printed on the CD, of a teddy bear clutching a glass of whisky, is quite appropriate - the teddy bear symbolising the cute and innocent aspects of indiepop that journalists just love to deride, the whisky symbolising the more adult side of the genre that all too often gets brushed under the carpet by music commentators.
Also available is a three track taster for the album, featuring Let Me Out Soon, Those Were The Days, and one of the more despondent-sounding tracks, I Can See Right Through You. The CDs are available from pastimerecords.webs.com or can be downloaded at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
TEMPLES Sun Structures CD (Heavenly)
Here's an example of how strange things can happen. Temples are a band who record at home, and their primary influence is psychedelia, a genre that has flourished on an underground level but hasn't in the most part been properly mainstream in the decades following its invention in the 1960s. Despite all this, this Kettering 4-piece have received massive press attention, their album reaching number 7 in the UK album charts, and have acquired a number of famous fans, including Noel Gallagher, Johnny Marr, and Suede. I pay little attention to the mainstream music scene, not out of any 'indie snob' mentality but simply because the amount of bands with mainstream appeal that I actually like probably doesn't exceed single figures. As a result, all this hype surrounding Temples would probably have passed me by, and I might not even have heard of them if it wasn't for a recommendation from an online friend who tends to have similar taste in music as myself, and as such I take his recommendations seriously. I'm very glad I got this album as it is genuinely deserving of all the hype.
Shelter Song is a strongly 60s-influenced song with atmospheric psychedelic undertones. Sun Structures is very fine melodic psych-rock, shades of Kula Shaker at times, but more ethereal and mindbending. The Golden Throne combines 60s pop with dreamlike vintage synth. Keep in the Dark features distinctive thumping rhythmic drumming, harp, and more of that ethereal retro synth to maximum effect. Colours to Life wraps a strong, anthemic melody in swirly, floaty effects. A Question Isn't Answered features an unusual and effective combination of handclaps, ambient droning and wordless vocals, before launching into a prime slice of driving psych-rock. Sand Dance is superb psych-rock with Middle Eastern melodic motifs and spacey ambient effects. Fragment's Light is a delicate acoustic track that views early music, classical guitar music, and traditional folk through a psychedelic lens. A truly excellent album! More info at www.templestheband.com and www.heavenlyrecordings.com
PETER LACEY Last Leaf CD (Pink Hedgehog)
New album from prolific songwriter and musician Peter Lacey. The Woodwind combines classic pop songwriting with folky touches and dreamlike atmospheric moments. Sunrise Ride is a nicely hypnotic psych-pop song with vocal harmonies and a memorable tune. Right as Rain is gentle folk-pop with occasional accents of synth and glockenspiel. Harvest Moon is excellent retro pop with nature-mystical lyrics, jazzy touches, and some very effective and sophisticated use of flute and clarinet. Seven Hills to Hangleton is a brilliant folk/prog/spacerock blend, bringing together guitar, violin, flute, accordion, percussion, and mesmeric spacey synth; a very ambitious and creative piece. He is Sleeping sets bleak lyrics to a sparse guitar arrangement, briefly augmented by a bombastic faux-orchestral synth section. Woodwind (Reprise) is a filmic neoclassical piece where unsettling dissonance and feverish delirium meet ethereal beauty. Peter Lacey is a very talented songwriter, doing much with the tried and tested formats of pop, rock and folk that is original and inventive and breathes new life into these genres. The CD version is limited to just 100 copies and can be ordered from www.pinkhedgehog.com; there is also a download available at Amazon.
AALTO Ikaro CD (Uulu)
I was hugely impressed by Aalto's previous album Tuulilabyrintit, and had been eagerly awaiting the follow-up from this highly inventive Finnish world-fusion band. Once again, Aalto definitely do not disappoint. Ikaro begins with some starkly simple instrumentation comprising just the one note repeated over and over in a hypnotically rhythmic fashion. Shamanistic chanting is then introduced, starting off quiet then building up to an ecstatic, celebratory crescendo. The music also gains more fullness and complexity as the piece progresses, bringing in didgeridoo and improvisational jazz clarinet, and the vocals taking on the character of Tuvan-style throat singing.
Vapahtaja has shades of Finnish, Greek and Balkan folk musics, combined with elements of jazz, experimental, and psych-rock. Heijastumia brings together folk, psych and jazz in a very original manner, incorporating bass clarinet, sitar, throat singing and multi-part vocal harmonies. Kastepisaroita II features a rock riff played on the traditional Tuvan stringed instrument doshpuluur, alongside sitar, clarinet, kantele and drums, creating an astonishingly innovative folk/psych sound. Metsätaloushöömei evokes a sense of raw, primal spirituality with its effective blend of Tuvan throat singing, shamanistic chanting, incantatory recitation, and hypnotically repetitive instrumentation based around banjo, guitar, bass clarinet and percussion. Kuun Tytär is a delicate, ethereal contemporary folk piece with effective use of didgeridoo, clarinet, kantele and droning sitar; the mood changes a few minutes in when the vocals take on an impassioned, ecstatic tone and the clarinet develops a wilder, more improvisatory character.
Aalto really are absolutely amazing. I don't know of any other band making music quite like them. I highly recommend this album and its predecessor to anyone who values open-mindedness in music. More info at soundcloud.com/etnoaalto and uulu.fi/en
SCHNAUSER Where Business Meets Fashion CD (Bitter Buttons)
Following their Kill All Humans and The Sound of Meat albums on Pink Hedgehog comes this latest album from prog-psych-pop outfit Schnauser. Showers of Blood pairs comedically gory lyrics with complex twisty-turny prog and a melodic pop sensibility. Walking Stick and Cat has that sort of 'English eccentric' vibe common among 60s psych-pop bands, coupled with a certain sense of prog bombast. Vaguely Disturbed is an effectively eclectic track which intersperses both mariachi horns and delicate folk-inspired music accompanied by strings into an angular and changeable combination of 60s-ish pop, psych, and prog. Hangdog is a bizarre mix of tango and proggy convolutions. I Would is a kind of pop that is both off-kilter and sophisticated, which morphs into an instrumental piece combining neoclassical cello and violin with jazz drums. Schnauser have a knack of making songs out of the most unexpected topics, and Waterloo Teeth perhaps exemplifies this songwriting technique, exploring as it does the 19th century practice of making dentures from teeth extracted from the corpses of soldiers killed in battle.
There are bits and pieces across the album that put me in mind of Caravan, Cardiacs, and a proggier version of Alan Strawbridge's previous band The Lucky Bishops, but that is not to say that Schnauser are anything remotely resembling a mere rehash of sounds from the past. There is much about their style that is uniquely theirs. Schnauser are surely one of the most inventive bands around at the moment. More info at www.schnauser.co.uk
CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS The Nine CD (Stone Premonitions)
Third part of a trilogy of albums from Census of Hallucinations, which also included 2013's Spirit of Yellow, comprising new interpretations of classic songs from the Stone Premonitions catalogue, and Coming of the Unicorn, which emphasised CoH's more overtly psychedelic side. As with the preceding albums in the trilogy, long time members of the Stone Premonitions collective are joined by John Simms and Maxine Marten of Clear Blue Sky, a band with a long history in the prog scene, who released albums on Vertigo in the early 70s and are still active today.
There's always been a sociopolitical aspect to Stone Premonitions, with lyrics that critique greed and consumerism, environmental destruction, totalitarianism, violence, and banality forced upon the population by the mass media, and call for peace, spirituality and independent thinking. The common theme behind this latest album is found within the lyrics, which explore themes such as these in a way that pulls no punches and fully intends to jolt the listener out of a sense of complacency. The songs are set to a variety of musical backdrops which take on board an eclectic mixture of influences whilst retaining a sense of coherence.
Signature combines a soul-influenced melody with rock-oriented accompaniment. The Emperor is a mesmeric spacerock piece. Delivering the Goods is a kind of angular experimental rock. Cold as Trout is classic rock with an inventive twist, incorporating aspects of psych, prog, jazz and ambient. Timelessness is experimental rock with proggy and ethereal elements. The Crunch is hard-hitting heavy rock effectively juxtaposed with ambient and experimental sounds. A Most Remarkable Number features a recitation on the symbolism of the number nine, set to a creative and darkly atmospheric instrumental piece.
A harsher and perhaps more experimental album than the other parts of this trilogy, The Nine can at times be rather a challenging listen, though I get the feeling that that was their intention. Whilst the music can be unsettling at times, it is undeniably full of inventiveness and continues to demonstrate the talented musicianship Stone Premonitions is known for. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
MATTHEW NORTH'S DEPARTMENT FACTORY Valentine 2 CD (Pastime)
Matthew North of Secrets of September performed these eight improvised instrumental tracks live at the Exeter Picturehouse on February 13th 2014. The performance, comprised of assorted instruments multilayered using loops, as well as additional percussion from Secrets of September drummer Michael Soundy, was released on Pastime Records within 24 hours, initially as a download and now on CD. Every Dream Should Have One combines psych and folk-rock elements with some unusual and inventive additions such as synthesised choral vocals and some quite eerie-sounding glockenspiel. Rise Above and Friends Forever both begin with some guitar playing that wouldn't sound out of place in the sort of indiepop song Pastime Records is usually known for, before introducing some more intricate, rock-oriented guitar, along with synth, piano, and on the latter track, glockenspiel. Waiting for Time is an impressive psych-rock piece incorporating atmospheric spacey synth and hypnotic percussion, occasionally edging towards an ominous, gothic mood. Broken Time is based around a plaintive piano riff, the piece being given extra texture with whooshing space-age synth sounds. Sleeping is a very lovely, delicate piece that bridges the gap between melancholic indiepop and slightly off-centre psych-folk. Matthew North is a talented musician who is able to combine elements of disparate genres in a seamless and coherent fashion. Available as a download from matthewnorth.bandcamp.com or CD from pastimerecords.webs.com. Further info at www.matthewnorthmusic.co.uk
CLAUDIO CATALDI Homing Season CD (Som Non-Label)
Claudio Cataldi is an Italian songwriter committed to the DIY ethic, having released a number of albums on bedroom labels including tape labels. He is also the founder of the tape label Seashell Records. His latest release, Homing Season, is a well-crafted album that explores a variety of sounds and moods within the indiepop/noisepop spectrum and beyond. Song of Hate is underground pop full of intense emotion, swathed in ethereal, shoegazer-esque noise and featuring some effective use of cello. September Air is a fine slice of indiepop, mellow and understated. Let's Go To The Secret Place is lo-fi indierock with an ultra-melodic chorus. Take Care brings together delicate acoustic guitar and sophisticated and atmospheric viola and cello. Unconfined combines indiepop and 1960s American folk, with some nice use of glockenspiel here and there. Final is a hazy, atmospheric track taking on board aspects of psych-rock and shoegaze. A creative and enjoyable album, available from claudiocataldi.bandcamp.com
OCTOPUS SYNG Reverberating Garden Number 7 CD (Mega Dodo)
This Finnish band had a really impressive track on Fruits de Mer sublabel Regal Crabomophone's 2014 Annual, that left me wanting to hear more. Now there is this full length album from Octopus Syng, which definitely doesn't disappoint. Overall, their sound falls into the category of quirky, eccentric psych-pop. Sitar, retro organ, synth, and a recorder that sounds like a cuckoo clock are introduced at various points across the album, giving each track its own distinctive flavour. They also venture into other corners of the psychedelic world with Avant Garden, which is surreal psychedelia with proggy twists and turns, changing its mood from a dark, gothic atmosphere to a lighter, whimsical sound that recalls fairground or circus music. They also demonstrate their expertise within the psych-folk genre, with the delicate and atmospheric In the Middle of Nowhere, the wistful yet off-kilter You Are Every Poem, which combines aspects of psych-folk and psych-pop, and the bizarre, lopsided, addictively repetitive Listen to the Moths, which again diverges from straightforward psych-folk territory by incorporating jazz drumming, wild and intense psych-rock guitar, and experimental sound manipulation. A top quality album, very highly recommended. More info at megadodo.bandcamp.com and www.mega-dodo.co.uk
ANDY B Those Were The Days (Remixed) CD (Pastime)
Andy B's recent Those Were The Days album (reviewed above) has now been reissued in an alternative format with new parts including keyboards added to the arrangements, and a different running order. Let Me Out Soon nods towards punk, Difficult Girl is a rollicking, ramshackle slice of DIY indiepop, and Exit Stage Right adds bleak and angular post-punk elements and a swirly synth sound to the classic indiepop style. The rest of the album falls squarely within the melancholic side of indiepop, with world-weary, pessimistic lyrics accompanied by jangly guitars and retro-sounding keyboards. Also recently released is the Difficult Girl EP which compiles six tracks from Those Were The Days as a taster for the album. Both are available from pastimerecords.webs.com (CD) or pastimerecords.bandcamp.com (download).
LORD LITTER Still Dancin CDR (Trash Tone)
Anyone who's been around the DIY music scene for any length of time will surely have heard of Lord Litter. He's been making music since the 1970s, was a well known name in the 80s and 90s tape label scene, and has been promoting other artists' underground music for many years via his radio shows broadcast in Germany and now also California. His enthusiasm for homemade music shows no signs of waning, and he continues to issue his own home recorded music via his Trash Tone CDR label.
Still Dancin, Lord Litter's latest solo album, begins with Barego, great off-kilter piano-based pop with jazz sections and a dreamlike psych-folk diversion right at the end. The Concept features wordless harmony vocals, ukulele and assorted found sounds as the basis for a wonderfully bizarre psych-pop song. Fate is Rising is an ingenious slice of psych-folk-pop that meanders along doing its own thing, diverging down unexpected routes on the way. The Plot Kept Draggin' On combines jazz, psych-rock, sophisticated pop balladry, and a warped version of blues. The World of Loud is intelligently quirky art-pop that jumps around at strange tangents, taking on elements of a variety of genres such as blues, folk and psych, but ultimately transcending every existing style.
The vocal harmonies may invite comparisons to The Beach Boys, and the experimental psych-folk aspect may remind one of The Incredible String Band, but ultimately comparisons are pointless because Lord Litter is a true original thinker who is making music completely on his own terms. This album represents one of the most creative, inventive forms of musical expression I've heard for a while, and I highly recommend it. For extensive information on Lord Litter's musical history, visit www.lordlitter.de
META GEORGIA Cream of Tartar CDR (Trash Tone)
Meta Georgia is a collaboration between Lord Litter and songwriter Hilke Hesse. Minimally arranged with two guitars and a ukulele, the songs are of a high quality to rival that of much more famous singer-songwriters. Generally coming under the contemporary folk/singer-songwriter umbrella, the album also encompasses 60s US-style roots-rock (Light Shining), quirky underground pop that nods towards early jazz (Baby Bumble Bee), and sophisticated pop with jazzy undercurrents and soulful vocals (Leaf). Hilke Hesse has a powerful singing voice, and her lyrics encompass a variety of themes and moods ranging from the heartwarming and whimsical sweetness of Little Cat and Early Bird to the philosophical One Day. Another very impressive DIY album from Trash Tone; see Lord Litter's site above for more information.
BANANA & LOUIE Shipwrecked CD (Vollwert)
Banana & Louie's Alphabet Soup LP was among my favourite indiepop releases of recent years. This follow-up has rather a different approach; whereas Alphabet Soup was recorded in a studio with an 11-piece orchestra, Shipwrecked is a home recording, performed mainly by songwriter Matthew Stead himself (plus vocals and keyboards by Sharon Stead and drums by Andy Fonda, ex-June Brides). Whilst the indiepop meets chamber pop sound of Alphabet Soup was one of the things I most enjoyed about that album, Matthew Stead is such a talented songwriter that the songs here still sound great without the studio recording and sophisticated orchestral arrangements. Matthew's sleeve notes say Shipwrecked might be the last record he makes. I sure do hope not. I was impressed by his previous work with both Banana & Louie and A Fine Day for Sailing, and this latest release continues to show his skill at combining the classic indiepop sound with a free-thinking musical approach. I really appreciate the use of less usual instruments, eg ukulele, melodica, retro-futuristic synth, and glockenspiel, which set the songs apart from the standard indiepop formula. There are delicate acoustic songs like My Garden is You, and cheery poppy numbers like The Wall. There's the dreamlike cosmopolitan pop of Ruskin Park, and the witty and touching tale of an unrequited teenage crush on the school Scrabble enthusiast that is Sally Scrabble. A really enjoyable album, packed full of well-crafted and catchy songs - an absolute must for indiepop fans. Sadly Vollwert Records has ceased trading, but you can still get the album from the band at bananaandlouie.wordpress.com
THE SQUIRES OF THE SUBTERRAIN s/t CD (Rocket Racket)
The Squires of the Subterrain is the home recording project of multi-instrumentalist Christopher Earl, with the occasional guest appearance from other musicians. This is a top-notch album of retro pop with psychedelic undercurrents. There are strong tunes, high quality musicianship, and expressive, poetic lyrics. Brass, strings, piano, toy piano, and vocal harmonies are employed to add extra texture to the arrangements. The lyrics are intelligently penned biographical vignettes of people both ordinary and extraordinary, including an army veteran, an elderly married couple, an early 20th century female aviator, and an alcoholic who finds religion. A sense of pathos and a hyperreal, warts-and-all portrait of life comes through in many of the songs, but there is also room for whimsical escapism in the shape of Private Gherkin's Psychedelic Silly Mustache Band, a song that made me grin from ear to ear with its vivid lyrical imagery and quirky use of toy piano and brass section.
There are echoes of bands from the past at various points across the album - The Beatles and The Kinks in particular, and sometimes The Byrds - but The Squires of the Subterrain expand upon their 60s influences, adding creative ideas of their own. Jet Black Sunrise combines a 60s-ish pop sound with a sort of lopsided avant garde art music with shades of neoclassical, electronica and modern jazz. Happy Ending is a harder-edged track with intense psych/garage rock instrumentation and unpredictable time changes. Despite the bleakness of some of the lyrics, a sense of fun pervades the album, in keeping with Christopher Earl's belief that "life is good and celebrating our lives is not only important, but vital to our overall community, world, and well-being". Well worth checking out; for more info visit www.squiresofthesubterrain.com
THE RILEYS Songs to Hoover By - vol 2 CD (Cloudberry)
The Rileys were one of two bands formed following the split of 1980s indiepop band Feverfew, the other being Blueboy. Blueboy of course signed to Sarah Records and became a respected name within the 1990s indiepop scene. The Rileys released a flexi, a handful of singles and an album on a variety of labels including Elefant and A Turntable Friend, and in 1995 were set to hit the big time after signing a management and publishing deal, but the band split up a year later. Phil Ball recalls that they lost sight of the important things - friendship, and honest, passionate songs with a positive message - that held the band together, letting ego and business get in the way, leading to what Phil describes as a "sad and fatal demise".
Fast forward to 2012 when the band start talking again by email, agree to meet, and decide to reform. A split CDR EP with The Kensingtons appeared on Dufflecoat Records, which is great and well worth checking out. Hopefully there will be much more to follow from the reunited Rileys, but in the meantime we have this superb 21 track retrospective compilation album that collects a selection of tracks from their A Turntable Friend and Elefant releases, a split single and flexi and an early demo, as well as all the tracks from a planned EP which never actually materialised, and four more previously unreleased songs. The album serves as an introduction to The Rileys for those who missed out the first time around, and also includes enough rare and unreleased material for it to be a necessary purchase for existing fans.
The Rileys produced a plethora of well-crafted jangly pop songs with a positive mood and a level of catchiness impossible to prise from the brain. They also venture into more subdued and reflective territory with more downbeat numbers such as Time Will Pass, and later tracks show them beginning to incorporate a gutsy 70s-ish rock influence into their music. There are male and female vocals, both singers having a very strong vocal style. I hesitate to say The Rileys sounded mainstream, as when I use that word it's usually a sign I dislike (or am at least indifferent to) the music, which in the case of The Rileys couldn't be further from the truth. But there is something about their songs that sets them apart from the bulk of the music coming out of the indiepop scene, which was and continues to be aimed squarely at a niche market. The Rileys had definite crossover appeal, having songs with an indiepop heart yet which should quite frankly have been hits. This album is packed full of real feel-good songs, and it's releases like this that make me feel so thankful that I ever stumbled across indiepop all those years ago.
The album can be purchased from www.cloudberryrecords.com. You can also find videos from The Rileys and other bands Phil was involved in, such as Feverfew and Shelley's Children, at his YouTube channel bouncy66.
DODSON AND FOGG The Call and After the Fall CDs (Wisdom Twins)
Two recent albums from Chris Wade's prolific project Dodson and Fogg. 2013's The Call comes with great Art Nouveau meets surrealism black and white artwork by Harry Clarke, and the music is similarly impressive, as is usual with Dodson and Fogg. Chris Wade plays most of the instruments, apart from trumpet, sitar and saxophone which are provided by guest musicians Colin Jones, Ricky Romain and Chloe Herington respectively. Trees' Celia Humphris appears as guest backing vocalist on three tracks. The album contains a good variety of sounds from across the folk-rock and psych-rock spectrum and beyond, ranging from Mystery, a dreamlike psych-folk song with jazz and Indian influences, to the late 60s-styled garage/psych rock of Watch the Skies, via the jazz-tinged balladry of Windmills, the heavy psych-rock instrumental The Call, and the delicate, minimalistic, and slightly off-centre singer-songwriter piece Inside. The album features some very accomplished musicianship, the guitar solos in particular easily rivalling those of much more famous guitarists. Like a Fool includes violin, but played in an unusual psychedelic style very far from the usual folk or classical uses of this instrument.
Latest album After the Fall features mindbending surrealist artwork by Linzi Napier, with eyes growing on trees and other bizarreness. You're an Island is nicely laid-back psych-folk with sitar and violin. In Your Own Fine Way is excellent folk-rock with guest vocals from Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service). Lord Above is gritty vintage-style rock. Hiding from the Light features guest vocals from Celia Humphris, along with atmospheric use of flute, and blisteringly intense guitar soloing. After the Fall is superb psych-folk with sitar, a real thing of beauty that's bound to appeal to fans of Stone Breath, In Gowan Ring, The Incredible String Band, or Donovan's Three Kingfishers. The rest of the album is largely characterised by a late 60s-ish laid-back rock sound with varying degrees of folkiness and psychedelia. As always with this band, the songwriting and musicianship are of a very high quality. Both albums are highly recommended. More info at wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com
TODD PARKER AND THE WITCHES Greetings from the Star Chamber and Martians CDRs (Bakery)
Todd Parker was a founder member of the band Tadpoles, who released a string of great psych albums throughout the 90s. His current band, Todd Parker and the Witches, have released two albums, 2010's Greetings from the Star Chamber, and latest album Martians. They are both download only, but Todd was kind enough to send me CDR versions due to my 'no downloads' review policy - thank you Todd! Todd Parker and the Witches' music is best described as modern psych-rock, combining as it does aspects of vintage psychedelia with atmospheric and experimental elements that have much in common with various contemporary alternative genres.
Starting with the first album, Chelsea Roses combines woozy, atmospheric psych-rock with heavy, almost metally, riffage. Neutrazona is an off-kilter piece that brings together bits of folk, psych, electronic beats and experimental sound effects. Rodeo Clown Blues '66 is raw, heavy blues-rock with the inventive addition of horns and spacerockish synths. Tingler is a kind of spacerock meets indie-rock thing, heavy yet atmospheric. Give it to the Elf is surrealistic psych-rock with quirky speeded-up vocal effects and bizarre lyrics that paint a vivid picture of a fantasy world populated by elves, mice, and futuristic machines that go 'zap!' Disconnect is an atmospheric track that combines meandering psychedelia with bits and pieces that nod towards post-rock and ambient. Finally there's the title track, a hypnotically repetitive, floaty, dreamlike soundscape that would fall equally comfortably into the experimental, ambient, or psychedelic categories.
Martians is largely characterised by a kind of chilled-out psych-rock that bridges the gap between the vintage and modern forms of this style. There are spacey sound effects here and there, some nice folky touches in the title track, and some eerie, off-centre things going on in Zero Sum. Uncle Martin's Broadcast is an inventive mix of metally riffage, electronic beats, samples, and disorienting sci-fi noises. Aelita is an ethereal psych-folk track with lots of original musical ideas. Conduit has a big atmospheric sound akin to Spacemen 3 or Loop or any number of bands on the Cheree label in the early 90s. Both albums are eclectic yet coherent, running the whole gamut of the psychedelic genre and even showing a willingness to incorporate influences from outside this area of music. More information at www.toddparkerandthewitches.com
A LITTLE ORCHESTRA Clocks CD (Vollwert)
A Little Orchestra are a ten-piece orchestra, who have come up with the ingenious idea of playing indiepop on classical instruments! I first became aware of them via Alphabet Soup, the album they made with Banana and Louie, which is among my favourite indiepop releases of recent years (see last issue for a review of this). Now there is Clocks, in which A Little Orchestra collaborate with a variety of indiepop singers and bands. The Permanent Way, with Darren Hayman, is an intelligently penned song-narrative about an imaginary movie, set to electric piano and orchestration. East Coast, with Gordon McIntyre of Ballboy, has a touch of folk about the songwriting. The arrangement is fairly minimalistic, based around violin and cello. Wild Beasts, with Apple Eyes, nods towards jazz, though the vocals are pure indiepop. Treacle, You Should Probably Go To Sleep, with Simon Love, is indiepop tinged with 60s American folk, combined with soaring strings and flute. Train Tracks for Wheezy, with Haiku Salut, is an instrumental piece, combining folk, jazz, indiepop and classical motifs. It takes in laid-back, dreamlike sections with the feel of a film soundtrack, along with jolly accordion and glockenspiel sections. Footprints in Snow, with Emma Winston, is a sophisticated song reminiscent of vintage theatre music. Clocks, Part 5 is an effectively repetitive instrumental that uses classical instruments to create a style of music far outside of the classical norm, its melody and rhythms conjuring up images of automated machinery from a Victorian factory. Pightle 21, with Lisa Bouvier, is a melancholic pop ballad that like everything else here fits perfectly with the orchestral accompaniment. Vollwert Records are no longer releasing new CDs, but they are selling their remaining stock via Discogs. You can also buy this album from the band at alittleorchestra.bandcamp.com. More information on A Little Orchestra at alittleorchestra.wordpress.com
TIM CHAPLIN Broken So Bad LP (Bleeding Gold)
This LP is pressed on amazing green tie-dye effect vinyl, a work of art in itself. Buying the LP also gets you a free download code; the download version contains all the tracks from the LP plus 10 bonus tracks. The download version is also available on its own. I don't have the download material, so this review only refers to the LP. The music here expands upon Tim Chaplin's background in indiepop to encompass psych and folk influences, all brought together in a free-thinking, creative way.
In The Truth, a melodic indiepop song is accompanied by a mixture of fuzzy noise and swirly psychedelic effects, the different elements combined in an innovative manner. Jemma with a J is an ingenious mix of indiepop and psych-folk, pairing accordion with backwards guitar and other psychedelic sounds to provide a backdrop for a laid-back acoustic song that fits just as well, melodically speaking, in the 60s American folk category as it does within indiepop. Sarah Jane's is delicate and melancholic indiepop based around acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. Flicker and Die is another starkly melancholic indiepop track, but this time fleshed out with woozy atmospheric soundscaping, and even incorporating a psych-rock guitar solo right at the end. Good as Gold is a sparse acoustic track partway between indiepop and American-style folk. Dim Stars is raw DIY indiepop set to an instrumental backing both ethereal and off-centre, and interspersed with fractured bursts of noise. The noisepop track Daisy Chain Fridays, previously featured on a cassette-only EP (reviewed in this issue's singles section), is also featured here for those without a tape deck.
This is a great album of homemade creativity, with as much care put into the presentation as the music, making the whole package a complete work of art. More info at timchaplin.bandcamp.com and www.bleedinggoldrecords.com
FACTORY KIDS Cried Off CD (Powertool)
Factory Kids is a collaboration between Tim Chaplin and Christina Marie. This album compiles tracks taken from various albums and singles on the Powertool, Tara, Odd Box, and 17 Seconds labels, as well as a track previously issued as a free download. The songs begin with a basis in DIY indiepop, adding extra texture from a mix of atmospheric sound effects, piercing noise, off-centre electronics, and psychedelic aspects. Love Destroys Everything is an effective mix of glitchy electronica and woozy ethereal soundscaping, whilst She and He combines off-kilter DIY pop with psych-rock, and New York After Midnight pt 1 sets hushed vocals to understated synth drones, a floaty and relaxing piece that bridges the gap between ambient and dreampop. There's a strange, dissonant interpretation of electronic pop in Not Enough, whereas They Used To Call Me Baby opts for a homemade noisepop meets US folk-rock approach, and Valentine is a beautifully atmospheric song featuring piano which is heavily processed to give an almost music box-like effect. Perhaps the noisiest track here is Miss Monkey Moo, an intense and riotous slice of garage rock. A diverse and creative collection of homemade music, available from www.powertoolrecords.co.nz. Tim Chaplin can be contacted via timchaplin.bandcamp.com
THE JUNIPERS Paint the Ground LP (Sugarbush)
Very limited vinyl version of The Junipers' second album, previously only available as a download. 100 copies were pressed on orange vinyl, which sold out within days. There were also 200 black vinyl copies made, of which only a very small number remain (the last I heard was that Sugarbush Records only had around 30 copies left in stock). The Junipers began as a duo plus several guest musicians; they have now expanded their line-up to a 7-piece, which includes amongst others new singer/guitarist Robyn Gibson, formerly of The Ammonites, The Creams, and Immediate. Sugarbush Records specialise in audiophile pressings on 140 gram vinyl; this really does do justice to The Junipers' full, expansive sound. The album is a synthesis of US-style folk-rock, UK-style electric folk, and psych-pop, incorporating jangly guitars, multi-textured vocal harmonies, swirly vintage synth and organ, flute, and even zither. It's a laid-back, dreamlike sound yet also very strongly melodic. The music is really positive and uplifting, true musical sunlight. A real feel-good album that I can't recommend enough! There are no plans to re-press this fantastic album, so get your orders in quick at www.sugarbushrecords.com
COSMIC ROUGH RIDERS Panorama LP (Sugarbush)
A very welcome vinyl reissue of Cosmic Rough Riders' long since unavailable album Panorama. It's a limited edition release, with 300 copies on black vinyl and 100 on blue, and as with all Sugarbush records is an audiophile pressing on 140 gram vinyl. The blue vinyl is a bright translucent blue, which looks great! Ultra-melodic janglepop with vocal harmonies is what Cosmic Rough Riders are mostly about, though there is plenty of musical variety across the album. Brothers Gather Round ventures into folk-rock territory, The Gun Isn't Loaded incorporates violin and Indian-influenced musical motifs, and The Value of Life adds a touch of psych-rock. A number of tracks add mandolin to the classic jangle/harmony-pop sound, an unusual and effective touch. Cosmic Rough Riders' sound contains echoes of The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub, Velvet Crush, and Ric Menck and Paul Chastain's pre-Velvet Crush band Choo Choo Train, along with a touch of Beach Boys in the vocal harmonies, though to dismiss them as mere copyists would be missing the point entirely. The band use their own musical talent to build upon sounds from the past, adding much that is their own. This album is a true classic, which hasn't aged at all since its original release in 2000. Alan McGee signed Cosmic Rough Riders to his post-Creation label Poptones on the strength of this album, and it's easy to see why. Get your copy before it sells out, from www.sugarbushrecords.com
HI FICTION SCIENCE Curious Yellow CD (Esoteric Antenna)
Hi Fiction Science comprises former members of Suncoil Sect and Fuzz Against Junk. Guitarist James McKeown is also known for his solo work released by Fruits de Mer and Reverb Worship. Following their self-titled debut album on own label Negative Drive and a 7" on Fruits de Mer, Hi Fiction Science have signed to Cherry Red offshoot Esoteric Antenna. Curious Yellow, their first release on this label, is a truly amazing synthesis of late 60s/early 70s-style electric folk, psychedelia, and electronica. Think Trees, Liege and Lief era Fairport, Pentangle, or any number of bands on the Erewhon History of UK Underground Folk-Rock compilation albums, combined with vintage electronica and ambient music; as bizarre as that description may sound, it really is a winning formula. Elsewhere they introduce elements of angular art-rock and intense psychedelic guitar work (Vapour), wordless vocal and electronic soundscaping (Komorebi), and in Curious Yellow they set a medievalesque song to mesmerisingly repetitive psychedelic instrumentation. This is a really exceptional album from a band I will definitely be looking out for more from in future. Available from www.cherryred.co.uk
MARE DI DIRAC Tupilaq CD (Greytone)
Mare di Dirac are an experimental band from Italy, whose album Tupilaq takes its inspiration from a concept found in Greenlandic shamanism. Drones, metallic sounds, ritualistic chants, free jazz sax, bleak and eerie use of double bass, didgeridoo, percussion instruments like bells, gongs and cymbals, and sound effects that conjure up images of loose stones falling down a cliff, or a volcano erupting, form the basis for the inventive sound-sculpturing on offer here. Cold, dark and mechanical sounds appear alongside sounds of warmth, vibrant nature, and primal spirituality. It's an abstract album, better seen as a work of aural art rather than music in any traditional sense, but Mare di Dirac show that music (I use that word very loosely) doesn't necessarily need to be melodic in order to be worthwhile. The pieces here are engaging, mood-altering and atmospheric, and put together in a manner that is genuinely artistic. I enjoyed this album a great deal. More info at
UMBRA SUM Aún No Has Demostrado Nada CD (Acuarela)
Umbra Sum is the solo project of Ed Sánchez-Gómez, originally from Costa Rica and now based in Chicago. This creative, genre-transcending mini-album brings together aspects of all sorts of styles from psych-folk to shoegaze in a way that makes it impossible to pigeonhole - and all the better for it. Años Como Flores is a delightful mixture of sunny melodies and vocal harmonies, ukulele, handclaps, glockenspiel, and whooshing ethereal effects. Nuestro Imposible is an inventive piece setting a folky song with a medievalesque melody to an effective mixture of jaunty percussion, cheery glockenspiel, woozy shoegaze effects and psych-jazz flute. ¿Quién Dijo Miedo? shares the subdued, melancholic and off-centre feel of early Hood, combined with touches of jazz and South American folk music. Aún No Has Demostrado Nada is a multi-part piece that seamlessly joins harsh metallic noisescaping, melodic and atmospheric noisepop, prog-psych-folk, lo-fi introspective pop, and droning/pulsing ambient music. An intelligent, artistic album, recommended for musical free thinkers. More info at
ORIGAMI ARKTIKA Absolut Gehör CD (Silber)
I loved this band's Vardøgr album from a few years back, so was excited to receive the latest album from this experimental folk band from Norway. Norwegian folk music is among my very favourite music genres, and I also appreciate the work of artists who are musically innovative and add creative new ideas to existing styles of music. The music of Origami Arktika is therefore especially appealing to me due to its combination of traditional Norwegian folk and artistic musical exploration. Ro og Hamle is one of their own compositions, more experimental than folk, combining subtle, repetitive melodies with found sounds and improvisations. The drones and percussion make for a mood-altering, hypnotic listening experience. Bryggja te Jol sets a traditional folk song to a combination of drones and squalling feedback. Háttalykill comprises skaldic poetry attributed to Earl Rögnvaldr and Hallr Þórarinsson, performed in a chanted style over a collection of rumbling, buzzing and clonking sound effects. Folkestadvisa sets a traditional folk song to minimalistic droning. Tora Liti is excellent psych-folk with an experimental edge. Det Syng for Storegut is an epic piece 11 minutes long, combining jazz, psych-rock, bleak and harsh ambient droning, chanted poetry, and found sounds in an effective and creative manner. Whilst I'm reviewing a CD version, I believe this format is only available for promotional purposes. The actual release is a download from Silber Records or LP on Killer Records. More information at
ELECTRIC BIRD NOISE Kind of Black CD (Silber)
Brian Lea McKenzie has been recording as Electric Bird Noise for almost twenty years, his back catalogue drawing from a variety of genres including experimental, new wave, prog and electro-pop. This latest album, the first I have heard from Electric Bird Noise, is firmly in the experimental category. The eleven tracks here, entitled simply One to Eleven, are a form of bizarre instrumental music based around repetition and jarring dissonance. Coming across like the soundtrack to a surreal psychological thriller or spooky fantasy movie, the music is unsettling yet oddly engaging, and often has a mind-altering, mesmeric quality. And as strange as the music is, it is in fact melodic, albeit based on unusual and discomfiting combinations of notes. It's a serious and challenging form of art music, akin to the more avant garde end of modern classical music, whilst also overlapping with forms of underground musical expression like drone and sound sculpture. Available from
FEEL NO OTHER s/t CD (Silber)
Feel No Other is another project of Brian Lea McKenzie (Electric Bird Noise), also featuring Claudia Gregory of Exhaust the Fox and Claudia Versus the Queen of Hearts on vocals. A melodic, song based album, this is more immediately accessible than Electric Bird Noise's latest offering. It shares the cinematic feel of Electric Bird Noise, but whereas EBN has the sound of incidental music, Feel No Other is like theme songs from epic movies. Claudia's powerful singing voice complements perfectly the creative, intelligent and sophisticated music which draws from a variety of styles from synth-pop to Americana whilst retaining a sense of coherence. Gunslinger is a song both powerful and melancholic, set to a combination of Wild West movie soundtrack and industrial percussion. Eclipse has the feel of a torch song, but minus the straightforwardly romantic subject matter, sung in a semi-operatic vocal style over a bleak, sparse synth backdrop. Svnoyi Edohi is off-centre synth-pop with unpredictable changes. A really fantastic debut from Feel No Other, comprising a highly creative form of pop music for people who think outside the box. Available from
CHVAD SB Crickets Were The Compass CD (Silber)
Chvad SB has been active in music since 1991, running Facility Records (with whom this is a split release) and playing in a number of bands such as Things Outside the Skin, Tongue Muzzle, The Qualia, and most recently joining pioneering experimental band Controlled Bleeding. This CD features thought provoking artwork by Richard Sala, of a post-apocalyptic scene populated only by a dog, whose expression looks forlorn yet hopeful. A faint glimmer of hope, a glimmer of life within a deathly landscape; a juxtaposition of bleakness and optimism that is mirrored in the music itself. Dissonant, abstract rumbles and drones and harsh mechanical and computerised sounds creating an unsettled mood are punctuated by moments of beauty, courtesy of the melodic passages played on synth, xylophone and guitar. There Isn't A Day That Goes By does away with the harshness altogether; it's a soothing ambient piece with heartbeat-like pulsing rhythms, relaxing atmospheric synth sounds and a hypnotically repetitive melody. Despite the 'difficult' nature of the music, this is actually an engaging album that demands the listener's attention. Available from
ONE THOUSAND VIOLINS Halcyon Days: Complete Recordings 1985-1987 CD (Cherry Red)
Cherry Red, the number one label for 1980s indie-pop reissues, has brought us this 21 track compilation of One Thousand Violins' entire early output, collecting material originally released on the Dreamworld, Constrictor and Report labels along with flexi and compilation tracks. Taking their name from an Orange Juice lyric, One Thousand Violins' music has much to appeal to fans of that band and other indie outfits with their origins in the 1980s, such as Mighty Mighty, The Brilliant Corners, or The Morrisons. One Thousand Violins also venture into other musical territories, such as the post-punk meets synth-pop of I Remember When Everybody Used To Ride Bikes... Now We All Drive Cars, the 60s-influenced psych-pop of Please Don't Sandblast My House and Locked Out of the Love-in, and the mixture of punchy noisepop and acerbic wit that is You Ungrateful Bastard. (Also included is an earlier, janglier version of You Ungrateful Bastard, taken from a flexi).
The chiming guitar sound and juxtaposition of chirpy melodies and melancholic sentiments that characterises the archetypal indie-pop style are here aplenty, along with an additional helping of intelligently off-centre humour and sharp observational lyrics. The album comes with a 16 page booklet with extensive history and photographs, which is well worth a look. As the subtitle shows, the compilation cuts off at 1987, so there is nothing here from the later incarnation of the band featuring singer Vince Keenan. This later line-up released the 1988 album Hey Man That's Beautiful, which features some real gems; hopefully it too will be reissued at some point. There are however plenty of other gems to be found on Halcyon Days. Cherry Red are to be congratulated for introducing these long since unavailable recordings to a new audience. Available from www.cherryred.co.uk
VARIOUS Puzzle Pieces double CD (Jigsaw)
Long running indiepop/noisepop label Jigsaw Records celebrates its fiftieth release with this double compilation album featuring a whopping 48 tracks, most of which are exclusive to this album, and some of which were previously only available on low-key releases such as self-released CDs, or cassettes on DIY tape labels. Whilst I kept abreast of the indiepop and noisepop scenes back in the 1990s, there was a time when my musical interests started to diverge from this sort of music and I began to lose touch with what was going on in the world of indiepop, a problem I have since made efforts to rectify since finding my way back to this genre. Puzzle Pieces features lots of familiar names from the 1990s underground, plus countless other bands I'd not come across before, making me realise just how out of touch I'd become.
There are really fine melodic pop songs with varying degrees of jangliness from bands like Fireflies, Peru, Artgruppe (lovely delicate pop with strings and woodwind, featuring Roy Thirlwall of The Windmills and Melodie Group), The Spinning Wheels (an early band of Dick from Lovejoy and The Snowdrops, originally released on the Teatime label back in the late 80s or early 90s), Musical Chairs, Cessna, Charms, Tripping the Light Fantastic, Dutch Elms, Caramel Snow, Punky's Dilemma, The Earth Earth (fun, quirky, spacey synthpop from Japan), Watoo Watoo (I remember this band from my days in the tapes scene, great to see they're still around), and The High Water Marks, along with noisier tracks from the likes of Boyracer (their previously unreleased song Already I Don't Want This isn't quite on the same level of ferocity as some of their earlier stuff such as their first EP on Sarah, but is still a great slice of lo-fi ramshackle noisepop), Suretoss (Jigsaw founder Chris McFarlane's own band, appearing with two tracks, one of noisy yet melodic powerpop and the other a more angsty number more akin to grunge or alt-rock), Standard Unit (mod/garage with an indiepop heart), Premise Beach (instrumental powerpop meets surf with Chris McFarlane on drums), Bulldozer Crash (with a previously unreleased noisepop demo), and Razorblade Smile (another unreleased gem from this noisepop band who were a familiar name in the 1990s fanzine underground).
The album comes with extensive sleeve notes detailing the history behind every Jigsaw release from 1 to 50. Chris was a big fan of the tapes scene back in the 90s and mentions a number of UK tape labels that left an impression on him; I'm touched to see my own label Bliss in that list! Although Puzzle Pieces is on CD, there is a real 'tape label spirit' about it in terms of both music and ethos, and features a number of bands who were no strangers to the tape label scene back in the early 90s. It's a great compilation that has introduced me to loads of bands who are new to me and who I'm keen to hear more from, as well as helping to introduce some of my old favourites from the 90s to a new audience. Highly recommended! Available from www.jigsaw-records.com
SVÄNG Karja-la CD (Galileo Music Communication)
Latest album from Finnish harmonica ensemble Sväng. Playing harmonicas in a variety of sizes, shapes and tunings, they make a traditional-inspired yet forward-looking brand of folk music that combines aspects of Finnish, Swedish and Balkan folk along with further influences from tango, blues, jazz, and Romantic music. There's the twisty-turny take on tango that is Eksyneen Tango, the stately, sophisticated wedding march Eeron ja Nedan Häämarssi, and the lively dance tunes Jeppo! and Niilon Polska. Naskon Rakija is a lopsided blues/jazz/folk piece inspired by a Greek alcoholic beverage, its lurching and spinning melody conjuring up an apt vision of drunken dizziness. Kyytiläinen is an epic piece with the feel of film music, while Impivaara is an impressive, ambitious composition influenced by Romantic composers such as Sibelius; there's even a section in it that is drawn directly from Sibelius' Karelia Suite. A really fantastic album - find out more at www.galileo-mc.de
AL ANDALUZ PROJECT Salam CD (Galileo Music Communication)
I've long been a fan of medieval ensemble Estampie, and the band Qntal which combines medieval and electronic music and features some of the same personnel. I wasn't however aware until recently that members of Estampie were also involved with a third band, Al Andaluz Project, which also includes members of Valencian ensemble L'Ham de Foc.
Al Andaluz was the name of the Arabian territory in Europe in former times, comprising present-day Spain, Portugal, and the region of southern France known as Occitania. Muslims, Jews and Christians lived peacefully alongside each other in Al Andaluz, influencing each other's music. This peaceful coexistence and cultural exchange is explored in the music of Al Andaluz Project, who perform traditional songs and songs by historical composers of all three religious traditions, ranging from specifically religious material to secular songs of love and of festivity. The album title Salam is Arabic for peace, and a dove of peace, drawn in Arabic style calligraphy, appears on the front cover, surrounded by an embossed knotwork border similar to those seen in illuminated medieval manuscripts.
A wide range of traditional instruments appear on the album, both European instruments like hurdy gurdy, crumhorn and bagpipe, and Middle Eastern instruments such as oud, saz and santur. The music has a sound both beautiful and spine-tingling. It has the potential to appeal not only to audiences of world music and early music but also fans of the alternative neo-medieval bands such as Dead Can Dance or Unto Ashes, who are also known for their combination of medieval European and Middle Eastern influences. More info at www.galileo-mc.de
FEI SCHO WeltenSprung CD (Galileo Music Communication)
Fei Scho are a Bavarian world-fusion band who combine the traditional music styles of their region with influences from Latin American and Caribbean music, jazz, rock, chamber music, and beyond. Andenjodler is an effective synthesis of Alpine yodelling, mariachi, bossa nova, and jazzy accordion. Walzer für den Frühling is a sophisticated waltz drawing mainly from chamber music, but with a distinctly Latin American flavour. Quartl is a dramatic instrumental with the feel of a film soundtrack, interspersing jazzy and Latin American melodies with staccato horns and a funky wah-wah section straight out of a 1970s action movie. Welttag des Ausmistens is a lighthearted, fun piece in which a tenor horn provides an oompah rhythm while quirky percussion clatters away like a tap dancer, and accordion and melodica provide the main melody. The whole thing puts me in mind of circus music or slapstick theatre music. Zweifach combines a calypso rhythm with Latin American-style horns, before morphing into a mix of ska-esque trumpet, twiddly rock guitar soloing, and frenetic use of drums and cymbals. Um Früh in der 8 is a slow, lurching folk-rock piece, effectively simulating the feeling of tiredness. Perchtentanz is an eerie, dramatic piece based on the mythical figures known as Perchten. It has a big, bombastic classical sound akin to epic film music, then changes direction to incorporate aspects of Bavarian old time dance music and yodelling, before returning to its original evocative, chilling sound. Fei Scho have an inventive, free thinking style, incorporating a variety of sounds and moods with equal levels of success. Available from www.galileo-mc.de
MARK & THE CLOUDS Blue Skies Opening CD (Mega Dodo)
Mark & the Clouds is the new project of Marco Magnani, formerly of Instant Flight, who is accompanied here by an eleven-piece band. This debut album is packaged within striking black and white pen art by Raffaela Bertolini, which includes a swirly drawing of a woman locked in an ecstatic erotic embrace with a guitar whilst floating on a cloud. The CD version is out now, and will be followed by a limited edition blue vinyl LP with bonus 4 song CD EP later in July. Mark & the Clouds explore a good variety of vintage-inspired sounds on this album, all with very high quality musicianship. In the Storm is great retro powerpop with psych-rock touches. You Call Me Brother is a late 60s country-rock thing. Music Disease is a strong catchy song with effective use of trumpet and trombone. Darkened River starts off as a laid-back, folky acoustic song, before building up to an intense crescendo with lots of that twangy Wild West guitar sound. Goddess of Desire is a powerful retro rock track with swirly vintage organ, really fantastic stuff. Are You Taking Time? is laid-back, lazy, hazy, summery retro pop. This is a really strong album, every track an absolute winner. If you're a fan of vintage-style music, whether rock, pop, psych or folk, you can't afford to miss this. Available from www.mega-dodo.co.uk
MATTHEW NORTH still THINKING? still DREAMING CD (Pastime)
Matthew North was a founder member of gothic rock band All Living Fear, and subsequently formed the prog/psych/folk-rock band Secrets for September and the improvised instrumental project Matthew North's Department Factory. Despite his general involvement in rock-oriented music, he clearly has as much interest in a genre often seen as the antithesis of rock, namely indiepop. There were occasional indiepop influences to be heard in the music of Secrets for September and Matthew North's Department Factory, and Matthew had also collaborated with indiepop bands Falling Trees and National Pastime, showing that defiantly DIY indiepop and sophisticated vintage-style rock can indeed be combined, and it's a combination that actually works.
Matthew North now releases his debut solo album, which begins with a cover version of Falling Trees' Something Memorable, which was recently released as a single (see this issue's single reviews page for more on this song). Also on the album is I See You, a fantastic indiepop track that also nods towards folk-rock and 60s pop. Blue Sky is a melancholic yet hopeful acoustic-based indiepop arrangement of lyrics by Andrew Racher (ex-All Living Fear). Just Can't See is acoustic rock with an excellent folky string arrangement courtesy of Stephen Potter. Still Thinking is forceful indie-rock with psychedelic effects and unusual and effective use of synthesised harpsichord. Still Waiting Part 1 is laid-back rock with intricate guitar soloing and expressive use of piano. Still Waiting Part 2 features intense, emotional vocals set to a mix of piano and spacey vintage synth, which sounds very original.
Another impressive release from Matthew North, which shows indiepop and rock are less at odds with each other as people often think. The album also features creative instrumental arrangements that go far beyond the obvious. Nice seascape cover art too! More info at pastimerecords.webs.com and www.matthewnorthmusic.co.uk.
ROBERT SUNDAY A Fly Like Thee CDR (self released)
Following two EPs on the Rif Mountain label, Robert Sunday has released his debut full length album, which comes in a hand painted and stamped sleeve featuring Robert Sunday's own artwork. I always appreciate it when releases come with this handmade touch, which makes the release a complete work of art. The album is largely inspired by the darker side of folk music, both the traditional and psychedelic forms of the genre, with lyrics often exploring bleak, gory, and sometimes surreal themes, as well as deep philosophical topics. The side of Robert Sunday's sound that views traditional style folk through a psychedelic lens has much to appeal to fans of Stone Breath, In Gowan Ring, The Incredible String Band, Gwydion, or The Owl Service. There are also a handful of songs that lie somewhat outside of folk per se, a form of understated, minimalistic songwriting based around guitar and piano, and often with a melancholic yet hopeful air. There's also the raw, stripped-down blues-rock of A Promise Lopped Off at the Knee and Early Bird. Robert Sunday is a highly talented artist who excels at both folk-inspired and more contemporary forms of songwriting; I highly recommend this album. Available from robertsunday.bandcamp.com
THE MOVEMENTS Like Elephants 1 & 2 LPs (Sunrise Ocean Bender)
Any label that names itself after a Tadpoles song must surely be worthy of investigation, and especially a label whose mission statement is to "shine a light on the sounds emanating from a thriving underground", from the perspective of "partners, artists, facilitators and most of all, as fellow obsessives". This enthusiastic and cooperative approach to underground music is something I really admire. The first release from Sunrise Ocean Bender is this two-part limited edition vinyl LP from Gothenburg, Sweden's The Movements. The band have an authentically retro sound, and at least two of the members, with their long hair and patterned vintage shirts, have an image to match. The music falls under the psych-rock umbrella whilst also drawing from 60s US folk-rock and raw garage rock.
The first album includes such tracks as Boogin', which features a mindbending extended instrumental jam session; Great Deceiver, with its effective use of retro organ and piercing guitar work; All The Lost, which comes across like a harder-edged version of Love combined with garage rock riffage; and Like Elephants 1, a masterpiece of psych-folk, interspersing delicate acoustic sections with Byrds-esque jangle.
Whilst stylistically similar to the first album in a number of respects, I think it's fair to say that the second album is, in the most part, a much darker affair than its predecessor. It also contains certain elements that seem to draw more from more recent decades than the 1960s. There's the bleak folk-rock of Six Feet Under; the brooding Icecold with its echoey piano solos; the droning, almost gothic Give It To Me; and Everybody Needs Something which combines subtle electronics with searing noise. Like Elephants 2 is darkly beautiful psych-folk with hypnotic yet ominous drones and birdsong-like flute. The mood lifts somewhat for the laid-back country-rock track Redemption; the screamy garage rock track Yesterday, Now and Forever with its wild, intense use of vintage organ; and Winter's Calling, which combines Byrds-ish songwriting with a heavier brand of psychedelia.
David Henriksson's vocal style has a level of power and intensity to rival that of much more famous rock singers, and perfectly suits the music. If The Movements were around in the late 60s they would surely have been huge. More info at www.sunriseoceanbender.com
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