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

ALBUM REVIEWS

MARK AND THE CLOUDS Cumulus (Mega Dodo)
Following their 2014 debut album Blue Skies Opening, Mark and the Clouds return with the follow-up, Cumulus, which is available on 180 gram vinyl, CD, download, or limited edition double CD. The single CD and download include four bonus tracks not on the LP, while the double CD also includes a recording of Mark and the Clouds' 2014 appearance at Games for May. On Her Bike is an effective combination of 60s pop whimsy and intense powerpop and psych-rock. Road, Mud and Cold is mellow country-rock with nice use of brass. You're So Cold is retro rock with an authentically vintage feel. I'm Stopping Here is melancholic 60s-ish folk balladry. Baby, You're Just a Liar is raw and sleazy garage rock. The Lady Was a Freak is a hard-hitting track with a chugga-chugga rhythm, incorporating elements of powerpop and 60s rock. Take My Sky is sophisticated retro pop reminiscent of late-period Beatles. Evil Fairies is psych-folk with darkly fantastical lyrics. An impressive vintage style album, well worth checking out. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

THE BRAINIAC 5 Journey to X (Reckless)
Originally formed in the mid 1970s, The Brainiac 5 reformed in 2012, releasing the 10" EP Space is the Place a year later, followed by the retrospective album When Silence Was Sound, covering their output from 1977 to 1980, and then an album of new material, Exploding Universe, in 2015. They also appeared on Cherry Red's Another Splash of Colour box set of 1980s psychedelia. Now they return with their latest album Journey to X, its bizarre surrealist cover art featuring a shoe-shaped ship packed with Heath Robinson-esque wheels and pulleys, fishing rods, a giant nail, and a curved metal object that those familiar with Scandinavian archaeology will recognise as a Bronze Age lur.
Epic 12+ minute track The Human Scapegoat combines the dark and on-edge mood of post-punk, seriously heavy noise-rock riffage, African kalimba music, intense psych-rock, and lyrics drawn from ancient Mesopotamian poetry, the Old Norse Hįvamįl, and Sir James George Frazer's theories on sacrificial kings. Laura Riding is an ode to Robert Graves' muse, set to an angular mix of punk, smoky and sleazy jazz-blues, and psych-rock. At Noon is a jangly number somewhere between 1980s indie-pop and 1960s US folk-rock, with lyrics based on a poem by Elizabeth Jennings.
The World Inside introduces guest vocalist/lyricist Jessie Pie, the piece beginning as a laid-back blend of country, blues, jazz and psychedelia, before flying off at manic, improvisational noise-rock and psychedelic punk tangents. Some Things is punky psychedelic powerpop, harking back to The Brainiac 5's earlier sound, and also somewhat reminiscent of The Bevis Frond. Kill It is another long multi-part piece taking in punk rock 'n' roll, psychedelia both intense and hypnotic, and a few angular and experimental moments. A highly free-thinking album, taking bits of existing genres and transforming them into something new. Available on CD, LP or download; find out more at www.brainiac5.co.uk

JACK ELLISTER Roots Conference LP (Fruits de Mer/Friends of the Fish)
Jack Ellister's latest album, out on limited purple or black vinyl on Fruits de Mer's Friends of the Fish sublabel, is comprised entirely of cover versions. There's the stripped-down country of Yellow Roads (adapted from Jackson C. Frank's Yellow Walls) and the hushed psych-folk of Mark Fry's Song for Wilde, and there's the psych-pop tracks such as The Beatles' Dear Prudence with its effective use of church bell-like accompaniment, and The Open Mind's Magic Potion, an authentically 60s-sounding rendition with jangly and hazy moments. Steve Vai's Sisters isn't the heavy rock guitar pyrotechnics I thought it might have been based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the original artist's output, but a delicate, minimalistic piece with a slight jazzy touch. Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma is completely reinvented as bizarre spacey experimentation, while Flying, originally by The Fool, sounds like 1960s pop combined with late 80s/early 90s electronic dance music. Far from being a standard covers album, Jack Ellister brings much that is new and inventive into his interpretations of these songs. Find out more at www.jackellister.com and www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

RUTH'S REFRIGERATOR Suddenly a Disfigured Head Parachuted CD (Cordelia)
A welcome reissue of this long unavailable album by Ruth's Refrigerator, who included amongst them Ruth Miller (PO!, The Creams), Alan Jenkins (The Deep Freeze Mice, The Chrysanthemums, The Creams), Blodwyn P. Teabag (The Creams), and Robyn Gibson (The Ammonites, The Creams, Immediate, and now The Junipers). She Lies in State is brilliant jangly indiepop written by Ruth, a must for PO! fans. Alan's Refrigerator is an instrumental piece with a surfy twang. Picasso's Problem is DIY pop with a punky chug. Mind the Paprika, Joe is quirky underground pop with a guest appearance from The Deep Freeze Mice's Sherree Lawrence on organ. Robyn Hitchcock's Innocent Boy is performed in indiepop style. Hello Anne of Green Poplars is off-kilter pop-rock with a surreal sense of humour. The album proper ends with Fish in the Air/Birds in the Sea, an epic 10+ minutes of quirky psych-pop with experimental elements. This extended reissue also includes six extra tracks: a couple of instrumentals with a distinct absurdist streak are followed by alternative versions of two album tracks (Hello Anne and The Red Queen), the spiky post-punk of I Am Big Chief Radio Luxembourg, and a cover of The Zombies' She's Not There. An important album that bridges the gap between indiepop and the more eccentric sounds of Alan Jenkins' other bands. Find out more at www.cordeliarecords.co.uk

ANDY B Coming Home CDR (Pastime)
Home recorded album by indiepop songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy B (also of The Thought Clouds and National Pastime), featuring tracks that also appeared on his recent batch of EPs alongside some songs that are exclusive to this album. The melancholic, world-weary indiepop Andy B is most known for is represented here in songs like Your Chance Has Come and Gone and The Waiting Game, but this album also reveals the noisier side of Andy's output. There's the rollicking, fuzzy noisepop of Still Cold Outside, the noisy powerpop of In the Firing Line, and the chug-along punk-pop with a melancholic edge that is Messengers Passing Through. Falling to the Ground is dark noisepop which laments the degeneration of a once beloved home town, whilst The Little Things is atmospheric noisepop in which Andy's shoegaze influence comes to the fore. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

RUBEN VINE & MICHAEL JAYSTON The Life and Times of an Imaginary Rock Star (Articles of Faith)
A lavish package released for Record Store Day (Saturday 22nd April 2017), on double vinyl LP, CD, or download, accompanied by a 28 page comic illustrated by Francisco Maldonado and Oscar Blanco. The album features the apparently unlikely pairing of underground musician Ruben Vine and well-known actor Michael Jayston, known for his role in Shakespeare productions, historical dramas, soaps, sitcoms and Doctor Who. What we have here is a sort of allegorical punk rock opera, with Ruben Vine's heavy-hitting music punctuated by scene-setting narrations from Michael Jayston. The music draws largely from punk, metal, classic rock, and hard-edged alternative rock, whilst taking on board ideas from beyond the rock sphere and also combining rock subgenres in a creative manner. Swallowed by the Mainstream blends lazy, hazy psych-rock with choppy post-punk riffage. Gossips employs strings and piano for a sophisticated artistic touch. The Journey is another string-led piece, most akin to chamber pop, featuring a catchy chorus alongside a pro-underground, pro-free thought manifesto narrated by Michael Jayston. Modern Lament sets punky vocals to an inventive orchestrated arrangement. The theme of the album and its accompanying artwork celebrates underground creativity over mainstream blandness. The story is set in a dystopian world populated by 'junkie consumers' who blindly follow the messages pumped out by the cathode ray tubes that double as their own heads. It is the job of the underground heroes, led by Ruben Vine himself, to combat the morass of banality, violence, prejudice, greed and environmental destruction that is the norm among these people. Ruben Vine urges creative people to take control of their own destiny by embracing the DIY philosophy, as an antidote to the corporate music industry dictating people's tastes. Find out more at www.rubenvine.com

BRINSLEY SCHWARZ It's All Over Now (Mega Dodo)
Recorded in 1974 but unreleased for decades, this long-lost album by Brinsley Schwarz (the master tape of which shockingly almost ended up in a dumpster before being rescued from the studio by the band's guitarist Ian Gomm), is now available on Mega Dodo as limited orange or black vinyl, very limited cassette, and CD. We Can Mess Around is a catchy number that blends country rock with a pop sensibility. As Lovers Do is smooth, orchestrated pop harking back to the early 1960s. Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song) is vintage soul with soaring vocal harmonies and strings. Do The Cod is a lively rock 'n' roll instrumental. Everybody is a brilliant mix of hard-hitting garage rock and catchy 60s-ish pop, taking a brief and unexpected diversion into jazz territory with the sax solo. Give Me Back My Love is ultramelodic 60s-style pop beefed up with a more intense rock guitar style. Whilst often regarded as part of the Pub Rock scene, Brinsley Schwarz have a far more sophisticated and ambitious sound than may be expected from the Pub Rock tag. This is a polished album full of catchy tunes that ought to have been massive hits. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

THE KITCHEN CYNICS/MICAH P. HINSON/WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY/TISSŲ LAKE Song, By Toad Split 12" Series volume 6 LP (Song, By Toad)
Song, By Toad is an Edinburgh-based independent label which evolved out of a blog of the same name, and also runs its own warehouse recording space, where the four artists/bands here recorded their tracks. There are three tracks each from the Willard Grant Conspiracy and Micah P. Hinson, who probably need no introduction for most readers, and Scottish underground bands Tissų Lake, who are new to me, and the Kitchen Cynics, who are a long-running project I've been a supporter of since the 1990s. The album is nicely presented, with a full colour inner sleeve with photos of the bands in the recording studio, and is pressed on orange heavyweight vinyl and also comes with a download code.
Willard Grant Conspiracy appear with Light a Candle, an atmospheric viola and cello-led instrumental with shades of Americana and neoclassical but ultimately transcending genre. They also contribute The Only Child, folk with a dark and brooding atmosphere, and Love You Apart, bleak and twisted folk. The Only Child in particular is superb and has left me curious to hear more from them (the band have a long history but this is actually the first time I've knowingly heard them). Tissų Lake's When Work is Done is hushed violin and guitar-based songwriting; there's hints of Nick Drake at times, but rather more cinematic and off-centre. The Mist on the Lake is a folky, film score-like instrumental, whilst I Am Like a Lake sets half-spoken vocals to an arrangement that comes across like a mix of folk and lo-fi American indie rock.
Micah P. Hinson appears with three slices of spare, fractured Americana, including a cover of Phil Ochs' Changes. The main highlights of the album for me come from the Kitchen Cynics, who appear with new versions of three songs that previously appeared on self-released CDRs. Venus on a Buckie is inspired by Scottish folk ballads, and set to a hypnotic psych-folk arrangement. The Place You Hid is stripped-down psych-folk-rock with a lyrical wit. Francis Masson, Botanist is told from the perspective of the title character and accompanied by minimal yet effects-laden electric guitar. Available at www.songbytoad.com

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