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

ALBUM REVIEWS

HANTERHIR The Saving of Cadan double CD/triple LP (Easy Action)
A huge ambitious project from Cornish band Hanterhir, spanning 2 CDs or five sides of vinyl. Lyrically inspired by Cornish myth, the music here is a unique synthesis of genres that distills practically the entire history of alternative music, from post-punk, grunge and shoegaze to psych-folk, experimental electronica and beyond, into a cohesive whole. Hello Sunshine is a multifaceted, extended piece taking in gently swelling drones, prog-folk, dark and spiky post-punk with intense squalling guitars and wailing sax, and finally a folk-tinged, glacial mix of post-rock and dreampop. Arloedthes a'n Lydn combines the ethereal atmosphere of dreampop with wild, frantic sax and forceful vocals. Hope Comes with Love begins in a style best described as pastoral retro-futurism, with gentle folk flute merging with the whirrs and whooshes of vintage synths, before introducing impassioned vocals and fierce guitars to push the track down an intense alt-rock route with a perfect balance of noise and strong melody. Darallow takes a song reminiscent of the more sophisticated side of 1980s indie pop and swathes it in a woozy, heavily reverbed atmosphere.
The Fisherman is an inventive blend of traditional-inspired folk and shoegaze; the band also scores bonus points for their creative use of sax which sounds nothing like either jazz or bland 80s pop. The Dream features the hypnotic rhythms and cosmic electronic whoosh of spacerock combined with squalling riotous guitar noise and improvisational sax, as well as bringing in a folky riff that sounds like a traditional fiddle tune, but played here on saxophone, again avoiding the styles more predictably associated with this instrument. Tales puts an innovative spin on 80s style indie pop, with clattering and whirring percussion and flowing atmospheric sax. This is How It's Always Been is an enjoyably spiky track that takes me right back to my early 1990s explorations of lo-fi noisepop labels like Fluff and Sticky, yet as usual Hanterhir give us their own unique take on the genre by incorporating some floaty, dreamlike flute. Or Without You closes the album with its seamless combination of psych-folk, psych-rock and post-rock, in which soaring flute and meandering sax share space with folky mandolin and classic psychedelic guitar work. A hugely important album from a refreshingly inventive band - find out more at hanterhir.com

SVÄNG Sväng Plays Tango CD (Galileo Music Communication)
Finnish harmonica quartet Sväng now turn their attention to tango, following their album of Sibelius compositions and several albums in which they put their own stamp on a wide assortment of genres from folk to film music. Syyspihlajan Alla tempers what seems in places like a fairly jaunty old time dance tune with a sense of melancholy and longing. Muista Minua combines a pensive melody with an ecstatic, soaring section that hints at jazz. Soi Mainikki Hiljainen, a piece by Ukrainian-born, Finnish-based composer Fridrich Bruk, is performed in a laid-back style with a drawn-out melody inspired by a singing technique known as 'dragging'. Tango Humiko is a sprightly piece that combines tango with Japanese musical motifs. Hugolle brings in some enjoyably angular and off-centre moments. Maggien Tango, dedicated to 19th century modern dance pioneer Maggie Gripenberg and all strong, independent women, is a beautiful composition that is melancholic yet self-assured and owes as much to 19th century classical music, 20th century orchestral film soundtrack, and folk, as it does to tango. Siltatanssit moves away from the melancholic minor scale pieces more usual of Finnish tango. Composed by Arto Järvelä of folk fiddle band JPP, the piece is a bright and cheerful dance tune that combines tango with shades of both country and fairground music. The band play harmonica in a style befitting a chamber ensemble, and in turn give us a fresh take on tango. Available at www.galileomusic.de

PULSAR TRIO Zoo of Songs CD (T3 Records)
Pulsar Trio's music is based around an unconventional combination of instruments, namely piano, sitar and surbahar, and drums, employed to create a similarly innovative style of music perhaps best categorised as experimental world/jazz fusion. Most of the tracks are animal themed, hence the album's title, with quaintly quirky titles like Butterfly Toe, Knittery Owl, and Mink the Toad, that raise a comforting smile yet belie the seriousness and depth of the music. The CD is packaged within a 6-panel digipak that's nicely textured to give a three-dimensional, tactile quality to the dragonfly wings on the cover, an attention to detail that I really appreciate. Of Men and Mice combines neoclassical, Greek folk, Indian classical and traditional music, jazz percussion, and a touch of prog. Beginning with some hectic metallic percussion that calls to mind Terje Isungset, Tin Stag Story is a melodic modern jazz/classical hybrid, with some of the most jazzy parts being played on sitar, an unusual innovation that really works. Butterfly Toe combines uplifting Indian-tinged jazz with sprinklings of spacey electronics. Flugmodus features throbbing drones resembling the sound of a flying insect, alongside inventive percussion and a piano melody that straddles the boundaries of jazz and classical. Mink the Toad is uptempo and busy, with a slight underlying sense of foreboding. Slow Down Trude brings together arty experimental percussion, slowed-down late-night piano jazz, and sitar melodies combining experimental music with occasional introductions of Spanish-sounding musical motifs. Lots of new, original ideas on this engaging album. Find out more at www.pulsartrio.de and www.t3records.de

PLINTH Music for Smalls Lighthouse LP (Clay Pipe Music)
Originally released five years ago and commanding high prices on the collectors' market, Clay Pipe have now reissued this album in a limited edition of 500 copies on translucent sea-green vinyl. Demand for the album was again so strong that it sold out immediately, though there is still a download edition available. Plinth is the work of Michael Tanner, also of United Bible Studies, The A Lords, The Cloisters, Thalassing, and Taskerlands, and also known for the solo recordings under his own name. The music here is inspired by the story of 19th century lighthouse keepers Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, including Howell's struggle to stay sane in the isolation of Smalls Lighthouse following Griffith's death in an accident. A piece that takes its name from Smalls Lighthouse's map coordinates opens the album, in which gentle raindrops accompany the music box-like tones of a toy piano, before introducing ethereal organ and the sound of billowing waves, followed by plaintive piano filtering 19th century classical music through a woozy, dreamlike lens, and abstract cinematic music atmospherically accompanied by sounds of the sea. Dawn Reflects in the East merges ambient drones with a spine-tingling neoclassical string composition that is unsettling and beautiful all at once. Message in the Village begins with a section that recalls traditional sailors' hornpipes, yet infused with a mournful, pensive mood, before segueing into a hypnotic and slightly surreal neoclassical piano piece. The Beckoning Arm is an ominous, tension-building cinematic composition backed by the sound of rain, thunder, whipping wind and seagulls' calls, giving way to woozy drones evoking a mood that is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. Sirens closes the album with its ethereal combination of drones, mournful bells, sparse bleak piano, and chorus of unearthly female voices singing in an unknown tongue. An intelligently crafted album of eerie, dreamlike art music. Visit www.claypipemusic.co.uk

NATHAN HALL AND THE SINISTER LOCALS Tunguska Tydfil CD/LP (The Hip Replacement)
Second album from Soft Hearted Scientists' Nathan Hall's current band. Here Nathan and co have opted for an understated homemade approach, with most songs under the three minute mark. Randall and Hopkirk Revisited pairs the baroque with the retro-futuristic. Windmills on Fire is a swirly organ-led psych-pop instrumental. Tunguska Tydfil is woozy, dreamy psych-folk with surreal poetic lyrics and sprinklings of atmospheric electronics. Glacial Glare is uplifting quirky psych-pop with whirling organ and soaring woodwind. Side By Side (Glowing Guide) is very beautiful laid-back psych-pop with intriguing lyrics that seem to be about being protected by a spirit guide. Carnival of the Damned is an eccentrically gruesome story of a circus from hell, with its cannibal clowns, evil ringmaster and death-foreseeing fortune teller, set to a warped psychedelic mutation of Spanish folk music peppered with manic and unsettling electronic burblings. The Phoenix of Albany Road is very lovely baroque-psych-folk-pop, richly arranged with harpsichord and strings. Even this City Won't Last is a bleak, wistful number set to a stark piano and organ arrangement. Another winner from this talented, free-thinking songwriter. The CD is available now, with the LP set to land in just a few days. Visit nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com

THE WOLFHOUNDS Hands in the Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions CD/LP/Download (A Turntable Friend)
Formed in 1984 and continuing until 1990, The Wolfhounds released four albums and a bunch of singles and were among the bands featured on the seminal NME cassette C86. They reformed in 2006, performing at a London event celebrating the 20th anniversary of C86, and subsequently went on to release new material. C86 is often remembered solely for jangly indiepop, but it mustn't be forgotten that just as many of the bands on the tape were actually responsible for a raucous, bendy, angular kind of music that often gets described, quite rightly, as 'Captain Beefheart plays punk'. The Wolfhounds were somewhere between these two extremes, having more bite and angularity than the more straightforwardly poppy bands whilst being more melodic and accessible than the Ron Johnson lot. During the 1980s, The Wolfhounds recorded three John Peel sessions, all 12 songs from which are collected here. Hand in the Till brings together melodic jangle with manic yelps and a punky chug. Whale on the Beach is a spiky noisefest of an instrumental, offsetting an intricate, almost baroque melody with bursts of harsh atonal guitar noise. Disgusted E7 is a superb track which balances the classic 80s indiepop sound with a sense of sharpness and urgency. Happy Shopper is uplifting underground pop with bendy quirky convolutions and punk attitude. This album is an important artefact of independent music history. Anyone who still mistakenly believes in the largely undeserved 'twee' stereotype of bands associated with C86 really ought to listen to these raw, energetic recordings and be proven wrong. Distributed worldwide by SRD or available direct from the label at www.aturntablefriendrecords.com

SORROW Under the Yew Possessed CD/LP/Download (Night School)
The latest installment in Night School's Rose McDowall reissue programme is Under the Yew Possessed, the 1993 debut album from Sorrow, who were centred around Rose and her then husband Robert Lee. The original edition was out on Rose's own label Piski Disk and distributed by the influential neofolk, post-industrial and experimental music distributor World Serpent. This new reissue adds deluxe packaging to the CD, with redesigned cover art, an outer slipcase and an 8-page booklet with lyrics and notes from Rose about the album's history. Vinyl and digital editions are also available. Rose McDowall is unique as an artist whose recording history has spanned chart pop (Strawberry Switchblade), indiepop (guesting with The Pastels and Felt), and the dark and at times controversial world of post-industrial (Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Death in June, Coil). Sorrow pulls together all three strands of influence - pop, indiepop and dark experimental folk - into an absorbing and emotionally affecting whole.
Die is beautiful melancholic indiepop with chiming guitars, bookended by the darkly ethereal shimmer of drones and angelic wordless vocals. Forgive Me is luxurious pop full of heartfelt emotion, swathed in synth orchestration and given a folky touch from the use of accordion and violin. Songbird is another deeply moving slice of melancholic indiepop, the percussion style and the sprinklings of piano and brass hinting at the more sophisticated end of 1980s mainstream pop. Emptiness combines the luxurious harmonies of 60s girl group pop with darkly psychedelic moments. When I first heard this album I was surprised at how much indiepop (and for that matter, pop) influence it had, considering Sorrow are generally regarded as a dark folk band with roots in the post-industrial scene. However, Dew of the Sea has all the dark experimentalism I was expecting, with whispered vocals over a cinematic neoclassical backdrop that's as mind-altering as any psychedelic music, if not more so. Likewise, Loki and Evil juxtaposes nightmarish and woozy ambient-psychedelic-classical music with a choir-of-angels chorus to create an overall effect that is chillingly beautiful, and Under the Yew Possessed is melancholic, atmospheric folk set to an intense drone-based experimental soundscape. A hauntingly lovely album, eerie and at times unsettling, yet with a pop heart. Find out more at nightschoolrecords.com

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