SUSAN JAMES Sea Glass LP (Sunstone)
Susan James has been releasing music since 1990, mostly on her own label and in the country-pop or modern folk idioms. For her latest album Sea Glass, originally self-released on CD in 2015 and now reissued on vinyl through Sunstone, she has teamed up with co-arranger Sean O'Hagan (Microdisney, High Llamas, Stereolab) and a whole mini-orchestra of guest musicians on strings, brass, woodwind and more, to create a style of music aptly described as California Hybrid. Susan has most definitely outdone herself with this album, which is jaw-droppingly amazing and sounds like a genuine lost classic of the late 1960s. The country aspect of her earlier recordings has been replaced with luxurious orchestrated pop, tinged at times with psych and folk, that needs to be heard to be fully appreciated.
Poseidon's Daughter is multifaceted, sophisticated, harmony-driven psychedelic folk-pop. Awful Lot is soft, airy, sunny pop with retro keyboards alongside sweeping orchestration. The Invisible Mrs Lee is a new song exclusive to this reissue; 60s-inspired pop-psych, lushly arranged with bouncing, lilting Wurlitzer organ, brass orchestration and vocal harmonies. Sea Glass is deeply moving psych-folk, of immense melancholic beauty. Truth or Consequence is amazingly catchy summer pop with soaring vocal harmonies recalling The Free Design, or if The Beach Boys were The Beach Girls! Tell Me Cosmo is perhaps the most overtly psychedelic track here, in which bright sunny pop is accompanied by a driving hypnotic bass line, lilting Mellotron, cosmic sci-fi bleeps and soaring flute, the different sections of the track segueing into one another in the manner of a dream.
This new LP edition is on beautiful deep aquamarine vinyl, with reworked vintage-style cover art by Alan Outram, which even has creases built into the design to give the feel of a frequently-revisited long-time favourite. A full colour insert on heavy card is also included, with notes from Sean O'Hagan and Sunstone boss Sie Norfolk, in DIY handwritten collage style. It's still early days for this album but it has already created quite a buzz, including a 5-star review in Shindig!, and deservedly so. This album really is something special. Whilst the music has roots in the 1960s, Susan James' considerable originality and talent makes this something far more than just a simple retro pastiche. Without a doubt, this album is destined to be hailed as a true classic. Limited to 300 copies - get it while you still can at www.sunstonerecords.co.uk
VARIOUS The 16th Dream of Dr Sardonicus double LP (Fruits de Mer)
Live recordings from 2018's 16th Dream of Dr Sardonicus festival at the Cellar Bar in Cardigan are now captured on four sides of coloured vinyl in gatefold sleeve. The festival celebrates a broad range of music that falls under the psychedelic umbrella, with familiar Fruits de Mer names like Stay and Sendelica alongside a good mix of long-established and newer artists, the best known being Nik Turner.
Elfin Bow appears with a stripped-down solo version of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where the Time Goes, which she had previously released in lavish orchestral form on her debut 7" for Fruits de Mer. She follows this with Grimshaw and the Finger Claw, an amazing traditional folk-inspired song oozing with eeriness and melancholy. This is my favourite song on this live LP and it's got me very keen to hear the original studio version. I Am Voyager 1 set a folk-tinged song to a hypnotic psych-rock arrangement. Stay cover Buffalo Springfield's Rock 'n' Roll Woman, with lashings of retro organ and wild psychedelic guitar. Consterdine make instrumental spacerock with experimental and prog elements. Fellowship of Hallucinatory Voyagers' piece begins as meandering, floaty psychedelic instrumental music with birdsong samples providing a nice pastoral effect, before taking on a rockier sound that juxtaposes forceful guitars and clanging percussion with soaring flute.
The Alain Pire Experience make hard-hitting late 60s-influenced rock with wild guitar soloing and trippy lyrics.
Sendelica's BS is a heavy psych instrumental starting with a basis in 1970s hard rock and adding in flowing sax with an often improvisational character. The Fertility Cult are coming from a similar direction as Sendelica with their mix of heavy vintage rock, wild improvisational sax, and elements that resemble an eerie sci-fi film score. Nik Turner's New Space Ritual round off the album with two tracks of intense spacerock setting recited lyrics to a heady mix of heavy guitars, improvisational sax, and whirring, fizzing and whooshing analogue synths. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
ASTRALASIA A Different Kettle of Fish double LP (Fruits de Mer)
Psych/dance/ambient pioneers Astralasia, formed in 1990 by Marc Swordfish, have in recent years released two double albums on Fruits de Mer, as well as providing remixes and reinventions of other FdM bands' tracks for limited edition releases on the label. A selection of tracks from these special editions, bonus CDs, and other limited releases has now been compiled on this new double LP alongside a handful of new reworkings exclusive to this album. Johnny's Little Brainticket (Lounge Mix) combines intense organ and guitar jamming with dance beats; Sargasso Sea is a relaxing, floaty ambient piece incorporating neoclassical piano; the remix of The Chemistry Set's Love or Confusion brings together sitar, tablas, psych-folk guitar and dancey electronics; Shamanic Waterfall is atmospheric ambient psychedelia; and Timothy Leary Forever is a remix of The Chemistry Set's Legend of a Mind, superb 60s-influenced psych-pop with chiming guitar, sitar and tablas, alongside echoey samples of Timothy Leary's speech and dreamlike ambient electronics. Available at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
ANDREAS ARNOLD Odisea CD (Galileo/Bayla)
RASGUEO Echo CD (Galileo)
ESPOO BIG BAND Espoo Suite CD (Galileo)
Three new releases from world music label Galileo. Andreas Arnold creates a natural, seamless combination of jazz and flamenco on his third album Odisea. There's the gentle Cai-BK, and the busy, frenetic Alas al Alma. Alikianos is a meditative and contemplative violin-led piece with a sophisticated folk-jazz feel akin to some of the music on the ECM label. Tangos Arabe introduces Arabic chanting alongside intricate electric guitar and flamenco guitar and woozy psychedelic backwards effects.
Rasgueo's Echo features the compositions of flamenco guitarist Nikos Tsiachris, whose solo album Alcance I reviewed last issue. He is joined here on trumpet and flugelhorn by Martin Auer, with drums and bass from Diego Piñera and Martin Lillich respectively, creating an overall sound which again combines jazz and flamenco, but in a different way to Andreas Arnold. Guajiras de Graciela is a multifaceted piece that begins with a soft, gentle guitar intro that will surely remind indiepop fans of Blueboy, a band who were of course just as informed by jazz and classical as indiepop. Flamenco touches, intense improvisational drumming and soaring brass make up other parts of the track. Dreieck combines a plaintive sense of longing with an angular dissonance, while Ilusiones brings in a dreamlike quality. The album is rounded off with a performance of the classical piece Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, reinvented as arty jazz-flamenco with an eclectic approach, in which frenetic dissonance coexists with melodic beauty.
Espoo Big Band were also featured in last issue's article on the Galileo label; they return with their latest album Espoo Suite, a tribute to their home city of Espoo in Finland, using free-associative composing to bring forward the spirit of the city. Quiet Flows the Aspen River has room for slowly meandering sections and frenetic improvisations. Igor's Lament has a vintage film soundtrack feel, combining classical and jazz into a big, dramatic sound with a bold rhythmic backbone. Moonshine Chase continues in the film score vein, sounding like music from a 1960s action movie. Finale takes in abstract noise-rock, prog, and avant-garde improvisation alongside more traditional big band jazz. Despite its title, Finale isn't actually the album's final track - that is Espoo Blues, a rip-roaring jazz-blues extravaganza complete with crowd noise and fireworks, that even seems to be nodding towards Ravel's Boléro at one point and circus music at another. Jazz is a broad church - more of an umbrella term than a single genre - and Espoo Big Band do much to illustrate that fact. Find out more at www.galileo-mc.de
GAVIN JOHN BAKER Songs for My Wife CDR (Folk Archive)
Prolific songwriter & musician Gavin John Baker, also known for his recent collaborations with David CW Briggs and previous work with Jet Johnson, Billy Mahonie, Höglin Baker, Meets Guitar and more, returns with this new solo album. Gavin plays all instruments here except drums which are contributed by his son Albert who is just 9 years old and something of a musical prodigy. Plod Song is noisy powerpop along similar lines to early Teenage Fanclub. This Night is very lovely jangly indiepop. Lights Up is dark, on-edge noisepop with an innovative rhythmic, almost electronic sounding use of guitar, evoking an image of flickering lights. Song for My Wife is alt-country with jangly and noisy moments. One How You Go is an effective mix of folk-rock, psych and noisepop. An engaging album with much to recommend to fans of noisepop, janglepop and Americana alike. Available on CDR limited to just 17 copies, or digital download, from davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
KITCHEN CYNICS Robin & His Friends: Circuit-Bent Nursery Rhymes CDR (Les Enfants du Paradiddle)
This latest homemade CDR from Alan Davidson's prolific psych-folk project Kitchen Cynics includes eight musical adaptations of nursery rhymes, featuring extra verses and new tunes. The sleeve features Alan's trademark collage art, combining Victorian whimsy with surrealism. Nursery rhymes may be aimed at children, but for many of these rhymes, there is nothing twee or innocent about them. Just as with fairy tales and folk ballads, they can be violent and gruesome, or darkly supernatural, and the versions here are often in that spirit. Jenny Wren Got Sick is both airy and eerie, with a traditional folk-inspired tune wrapped in a hazy psychedelic cloud. Witch Transformation Rhyme is Isobel Gowdie's shapeshifting spell, set to a darkly beautiful and authentically traditional-sounding melody, creating a deeply moving listening experience. The Robin & the Wren is musically and lyrically melancholic, with ethereal, dreamlike echoey accompaniment. Robin Gets Lost in the Dark Rhymes is the most overtly experimental piece here with its brooding, dissonant rumbles and semi-abstract sound effects. A highly creative album that's eerily beautiful and very much recommended. Available at kitchencynics.bandcamp.com
ANTON BARBEAU Berliner Grotesk CD (Pink Hedgehog / Beehive)
Anton Barbeau's latest album was recorded at various locations across Germany, USA and UK, and is mostly Anton solo, except for three tracks that each feature a guest musician, namely Morris Windsor (The Soft Boys, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians) on drums, multimedia artist and Beehive label owner Julia VBH on vocals, and Paul Kuchenbuch on trumpet. The album opens with the lopsided oompah cabaret of the title track, and also includes a cover of The Beatles' Love Me Do, reinvented as one part reggae, one part early 80s synthpop. Down Weird Dog is an amusing tale of the pros and cons of dog ownership, Anton's wit exemplified in lyrics like "You might be god in a backwards way, but you're a little too forward with my leg today". The humour of the song is offset by its melancholic arrangement, pairing stark piano with spacey vintage synth. The Gruff Exterminator is psychedelic synthpop setting surreal humour to a hugely catchy melody. don'tforgettogetyourfingerwet is infectious summery powerpop with a quirky edge, incorporating an extravagant synth solo that lends a prog touch to the piece. Final song Boxcat Blues features a pensive, melancholic melody and piano arrangement combined with ethereal electronics and contrasted with Anton's absurdist, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Poppy and catchy yet with a sense of the bizarre, the album is available in the UK from www.pinkhedgehog.com and in USA from beehivesound.com
ARTHUR & MARTHA Adjustments CD (Happy Robots)
Arthur & Martha was the project of Adam Cresswell (aka Rodney Cromwell, and formerly of Saloon) and Alice Hubley (Alice Hubble/Mass Datura), who used toy electronics, old keyboards and cheap drum machines to create a style of music that has been described as "cutie krautrock" or "tweetronica". Following their debut (and sole) album Navigation, Arthur & Martha had plans for a remix album, but this was shelved, Adam and Alice concentrating instead on their solo projects. Some years later, they discovered just how popular Navigation was among their fans. Buoyed up by the new exposure the album had started getting, they decided to reform for a final show in March 2019 and finish their remix album. The album, Adjustments, features remixes from the band's original period alongside more recent ones, remixers including Happy Robots-associated acts alongside those from other labels, such as Ghost Box/Proper Songs' Hong Kong in the 60s and Polytechnic Youth's Gabe Knox.
Autovia (Gabe Knox Remix) is melancholic minor-chord indiepop wrapped in a shimmer of spacey synths, with motorik chug and vocoder lending a Kraftwerk-esque feel to the piece. Kasparov (Katsen's One Chip Samba Remix) combines the classic indiepop sound from the Sarah Records era with bleepy vintage electronics straight out of a retro video game. Vallorian appears in two very different forms, first remixed by Tears Run Rings, a great slice of soaring atmospheric shoegaze, and then by Hong Kong in the 60s who reinvent it as synth-driven samba! Navigation (Pattern Language Remix) is kind of like a mix of Heavenly and The Field Mice set to retro synthpop with an experimental edge. Ultra-Alliance (Alice Hubble Remix) combines gentle synth-woodwind with booming percussion. Japanese Kiss (Rodney Cromwell Remix) is space-age indiepop with vocoder and effervescent electronics.
Hologram Teen (aka Morgane Lhote, ex-Stereolab) remixes Follow the Path, bursting with cut-up samples, riffs and beats, much like a more woozy and experimental version of late-80s house. This City Life (Brutalist Architecture in the Sun Remix) combines dreamlike arpeggios, a bleak early 80s synth riff, and thumping dance beats to maximum effect. Autovia 2 (Monster Bobby Remix) pairs eerie wordless chanting with mechanistic rhythms, resulting in an innovative and engaging brand of experimental electronica. A great album of electronic indiepop, bringing together elements of Sarah Records, Kraftwerk, 80s synthpop, dance music and retro-futurism into a cohesive whole. Available at www.happyrobots.co.uk
VARIOUS The Watchers CD (A Year in the Country)
The latest installment in A Year in the Country's themed compilation series takes as its inspiration the ancient oak, ash and yew trees that have lived for hundreds of years (even thousands in the case of yews) here in Britain. The album's title refers to these venerable trees' role as observers of the changing times and the events that have shaped history throughout the centuries. In common with past compilations in the series, The Watchers shows how folk, electronica and abstract experimental music can act as different paths up the same mountain as it were, using these different musical forms to express the same spirit of an idea.
It's about time the Kitchen Cynics contributed to one of these compilations, and here we have a collaboration between the Kitchen Cynics and Widow's Weeds (ex-The Hare and the Moon), a prime slice of eerie experimental folk, bringing together authentically traditional-style folk song, soaring woodwind, evocative drones and classical violin. In-house project A Year in the Country contrasts a busy electronic buzz with a gentle ambient hum, using sound to highlight the differences between humans' and trees' basic ways of being, the former with their excitability and constant activity and the latter who "have been quietly doing the self-same for nearly all of time". Sproatly Smith's Watching You is told from the perspective of a tree, lamenting humans' destructive lack of regard for the environment within a beautiful and inventive psych-folk setting.
Howlround's piece is shaped from field recordings made at an ancient oak believed to be more than 800 years old, the final result eerie and brooding with the feel of incidental music from a chilling movie. Elsewhere on the album, Field Lines Cartographer's electronic shimmer evokes images of falling leaves; Vic Mars makes electronic neoclassical music with dreamlike, filmic aspects; Pulselovers contribute a synth and guitar instrumental shot through with pulsating arpeggios; and Depatterning provide a woozy and arresting mix of electronic noise-effects and found sounds.
The CD is packaged in the label's signature style, in two different handcrafted editions. For those who prefer digital, the album is also available through the usual download and streaming platforms. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
FEVERDREAMT Melantant CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
Prolific musician Alexander Leonard Donat has appeared in these pages before with his other projects Fir Cone Children, WHOLE, and Vlimmer. He returns with another solo project, Feverdreamt, whose album Melantant is packaged in the hand-assembled style expected from Blackjack Illuminist, with real photographs glued onto a foldout card wallet. The album is a soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic story of humans rediscovering a desolate Earth three hundred years after destroying the planet and colonising another world. The music is experimental yet song-based, with an unsettling mood, featuring lyrics sung in an imaginary language to create an extra layer of mystery. Xhanta is bleak experimental electronica swathed in icily atmospheric guitar noise. Saije Daije is brooding, ethereal darkwave incorporating plaintive chanting and eerie neoclassical tinges. Se Dun Se Dun is soaring yet mournful experimental pop held up by a relentless electronic throb wrapped in glacial guitar effects. Fjellé is a gothic folk chant backed by sombre piano and dulcimer, having shades of Dead Can Dance. À Yun features cheery la-la-las contrasting sharply with woozy, feverish and spooky electronica. Fon Teyn La includes neomedieval chanting set to a backdrop of underwater electronics and slicing noise. A chilling and atmospheric album with a great deal of musical innovation - available at blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com
HANTERHIR Songs We Learned in Cornish and Our Hour CDs/Downloads (Easy Action)
2018 saw the release of Hanterhir's critically acclaimed epic triple album The Saving of Cadan. Whilst this was many people's - including my own - introduction to Hanterhir, the band have actually been around since 2009. Material from their self-released back catalogue has now been rescued from obscurity by Easy Action Records, who have issued two new anthologies of recordings from across the band's ten year existence.
Songs We Learned in Cornish covers tracks with Cornish lyrics, along with a handful of songs in English that take their inspiration from Cornish landscape or customs. Tekka Ha Hwekka is a unique mix of noisy alt-rock, wailing sax and dreamlike psych-folk. Om Gonfort Suite starts off as a synth-driven neoclassical prog-folk instrumental, taking on board mournful piano, found sounds and dancey electronic beats, before jolting the listener with a burst of brutal, squalling noise-rock. The Carn Marth Song is an ingenious psychedelic-folk-punk concoction with a relentless marching-band rhythm. Whatever Happened to Whitford? blends woozy MBV-esque noise with psych-folk violin meanderings. Onan Dew Tri is bouncy and catchy with a nursery rhyme or playground chant type tune set to an enjoyably bizarre mix of retro-futuristic electronics, military drums and pealing bells. A couple of songs from The Saving of Cadan that fit with the theme of this compilation are also included here as an introduction to that album.
Our Hour is just over an hour's worth of songs, mostly with English lyrics, plus a revisiting of the noisy portion of the Cornish song Omgonfort. This album brings Hanterhir's alt-rock influence to the fore, whilst seasoning the genre with the eclecticism that is a trademark of the band. Just the Way it Goes is heavy-hitting alternative rock with riotous squalling guitars. Radio Song brings together American folk-rock, jangly indiepop and driving noisepop. Better Man is raw, chuggy noisepop similar in some ways to the sort of sounds released by American labels such as Merge and Matador in the 1990s, but given an effective twist by the use of violin. Stay Down is alt-rock incorporating shoegaze, psych and folk influences. Soul Train is brooding post-punk/alt-rock with eerie dark-folk violin and experimental noise effects. Jevan combines bright jangly summer pop, meditative psych-tinged indie-folk, and airy dreampop atmospherics. Buy the albums at www.easyaction.co.uk
DAVID CW BRIGGS You're a Snow Globe Baby, I Wanna Give You a Shake CDR (Folk Archive)
New album from the very prolific hometaper David CW Briggs, combining eclectic influences under a broadly psychedelic umbrella. A Ton of Bricks is heavy-hitting vintage-style psych rock. You're a Snow Globe Baby, I Wanna Give You a Shake brings together bits of quirky lo-fi pop, Syd Barrett, wailing blues harmonica and intense psych rock guitar. Grey Light is a mellow, dreamlike song bridging the gap between 1970s electric folk and the melancholic indiepop of the early 1990s - very lovely stuff. Drop Shadow Blues Part Two is scuzzy, distorted psychedelic blues-rock. A Bunch of Fives is minimalistic off-centre pop with a homemade, lo-fi charm. Available on CDR limited to just 15 copies, or digital download. Visit davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
THE GOLD NEEDLES Through a Window CD (Jem)
Last issue I reviewed the two singles on Fruits de Mer of recently unearthed gems from early 1990s jangly indiepop band Moloko+ (not to be confused with the better known Moloko, who were around later). Nowadays, Moloko+'s Simon Dowson is vocalist/guitarist with Hull powerpop/janglepop band The Gold Needles, whose second album Through a Window is out now on relaunched US label Jem Records. This label was originally founded in the 1970s, with a wide range of both big-name and cult artists on its roster, while its new incarnation has a more specific focus on powerpop and related genres, having released albums by the likes of The Grip Weeds and Nick Piunti.
Sunset Girl is 60s-influenced jangly pop beefed up with powerpop grit - a really great, uplifting song. There's a cover of the Monkees song I'm Gonna Try, setting sunny 60s pop to a mix of Sea Urchins-esque jangle, keyboard orchestration and meaty powerpop guitar solos. Here She Goes Again is janglepop with shades of The Byrds; its dreamy, summery sound is sure to appeal equally to fans of 60s music and jangly indiepop alike. Winning a Losing Game emphasises the powerpop side of the band while also being unafraid to step outside of powerpop norms. As well as the pairing of catchy melody and punked-up guitars you'd expect from the genre, The Gold Needles also incorporate an effervescent keyboard rhythm which adds an 80s synthpop dimension to the song with effective results.
Girl You Will Be Mine is cheery retro pop with triumphant bursts of brass and harmony vocals alongside chiming jangly guitar. Another cover version follows, The Shoemaker of Leatherwear Square, originally by The Lemon Pipers. This is more overtly psychedelic than The Gold Needles' own material but just as enjoyable - a kaleidoscopic, fantastical song that sets fairytale-ish lyrics to slightly eerie and folk-tinged psych-pop. This is a truly great janglefest of an album, spanning classic 1960s sounds, powerpop, prime-period indiepop, and even vintage rock at times with some of the heavier guitar work that appears now and then. Very highly recommended. More info on The Gold Needles at their Facebook page. Label info at
JUJU Maps and Territory CD/LP/Download (Fuzz Club)
Third album from Juju, the current project of Sicilian musician Gioele Valenti (Herself, Lay Llamas). I'm in Trance features a guest appearance from Goatman of Goat; this is a powerful slice of neo-psychedelia, incorporating atmospherically distorted drawn-out vocals, African percussion and blistering psych-rock guitar. Motherfucker Core is an inventive melange of sounds; it draws from Kosmische Musik with its use of retro synth and the relentless hypnotic chug that forms its backbone, while also taking on board grinding guitar noise, sleazy psych-blues, echoes of Mediterranean folk, and heady rhythms that vary from the tribal to the technological. If You Will Fall brings psych, noise, electronic, jazz, film score and world music together into a cohesive whole. Archontes Take Control features guest saxophonist Amy Denio; dreamlike modern jazz, folk motifs, fractured spacey noise and heavy-hitting psych-rock are combined here to create an intelligent, innovative form of instrumental music that is as catchily melodic as it is avant-garde. An original, genre-transcending album - get it at fuzzclub.com
THE BLACK WATCH Magic Johnson CD/Download (Atom)
The 17th album from this long-running band led by multi-instrumentalist songwriter John Andrew Fredrick, who is joined here by various additional musicians including Rob Campanella (The Tyde, Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Scott Campbell (Acetone, Carina Round, Stevie Nicks), the latter of whom is also the album's producer. The music has a sophisticated and atmospheric sound which combines Californian powerpop and janglepop, the proto-indiepop from the post-punk era, psychedelia, dreampop, and influences from the Flying Nun label. April Fools takes a chugging powerpop rhythm and slows it right down, adding shoegazey atmospherics and mournful trumpet as backdrop for an elegant pop song with echoes of the early 1980s. Eustacia's Dream is appropriately dreamlike, with hazy reverbed guitars and airy keyboard. Me & You & Me gives jangly psychedelia a dark, foreboding edge. Oh Mary is a really moving song with a perfect combination of chiming guitar, fuzzy noise and swirling ethereal keyboard. Also included on the album are four additional tracks, collectively entitled The Paper Boats EP, where you will find a seamless combination of 1980s indiepop, dreampop ethereality, the crunchy chug of powerpop, jangly guitars, and sunny 60s-ish vocal harmonies. A really great album, very much recommended. Find out more at www.facebook.com/theblackwatchmusic,
www.johnandrewfredrick.com, and www.atomrecords.com
oG Water Birds CDR/Download (oG Musique)
oG's latest album takes inspiration from Una Woodruff's Inventorum Natura, an illustrated book that purports to be a translation of a lost manuscript by Pliny the Elder, all about fantastical animals, plants and places supposedly encountered by the Roman naturalist on his travels. The CD includes 14 tracks by multi-instrumentalist oG, accompanied by his collaborators The Dudes, plus percussion from Will Z and vocals from Alice Artaud, presented within nicely put together handmade packaging featuring art by Una Woodruff.
While previous album Out of the Darkness tended towards a psych-folk emphasis, Water Birds focuses mainly on oG's more experimental side. Insects Generated by Plants is a spacey ambient psych instrumental in which experimental psych-folk based around sitar and bells gives way to pulsing, whirring retro-futuristic electronica. The Pyralis is full of bizarre whirrs and boings and angular tangents leading up to a chaotic crescendo, sounding like the musical equivalent of a Heath Robinson contraption exploding. The Arimaspians lurches around like Captain Beefheart or the weirder C86 bands, the spiky guitar interwoven with Buddhist meditation bells and the rumblings and burblings of retro synths. The Gold Bee is like mellow US-style folk-rock played in outer space. The Blemmyae is a surreal mix of 1960s spy movie soundtrack, twisty-turny prog and spacey sound effects. Perytons is built around throaty riffage that harks back to the behemoths of 1970s hard rock, adding improvisational psychedelic meanderings to the mix. Hyperborean Frogs is a disorienting, feverish, semi-abstract piece in which jumping frog sounds collide with avant garde jazz undercurrents. Water Birds is gentle and ethereal, with woozy use of slide guitar and soaring angelic wordless vocals.
An eclectic, surreal, musically adventurous album; one of the most avant garde things I've covered in a while. Find out more at ogmusique.bandcamp.com
SUNDAY MORNING Four CD/LP/Download (Bronson)
Sunday Morning are an Italian band headed up by songwriter Andrea Cola. Their first incarnation existed between 1998 and 2007; after going on hiatus for a few years, they returned with a new line-up in 2015, and now release their fourth album, straightforwardly titled Four. This is primarily an Americana album, but also takes on board influences from classic pop and rock as well as some more underground sounds. If I Go is stark country-rock backed by an ambient hum. Power is great Americana-infused indie pop with an addictive melody accompanied by bright jangly riffage and a pulsating, driving rhythm. Dreamer is sophisticated retro songwriting, rather like a mix of ELO, Elton John and late-period Beatles. Lovers & Tramps is American-style folk-rock pairing sunny jangle with pensive piano. May Your Heart is minimalistic, introspective, mandolin-led Americana fleshed out with a string section. We Were Wrong seamlessly combines Americana and bedroom pop, with hushed vocals, gentle acoustic guitar and light, airy keyboard. Find out more at www.facebook.com/sundaymorningtheband and www.bronsonrecordings.com
THE BRINGERS OF CHANGE 12 CD (Falling A)
The Bringers of Change is the latest project to come out of the Stone Premonitions collective. As the Stone Premonitions label is no longer currently active, the collective now release their music via Falling A Records, a label with roots in the late 1970s DIY cassette and fanzine culture. Centred around the songwriting of Mark Dunn (Body Full of Stars), this album also features Martin Holder and Yasuko Fukuoka (Body Full of Stars, The Rabbit's Hat), and John Simms and Maxine Marten (Clear Blue Sky, Census of Hallucinations), with production and mastering by Tim Jones (The Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Census of Hallucinations).
Blue and the Flying Boy combines elements of 1980s pop, rock and post-punk, with fizzing keyboards and blistering guitar solos accompanying a dark-edged yet poppy melody. The North Country (Let's Go!) is part way between 1980s indie pop and electric folk, with a driving, catchy chorus alongside piano, brass section and woozy use of slide guitar. Land of Dreams is ethereal pop with dance, psychedelic, and world music influences. Bringers of Change draws from late 1960s American folk and folk-rock while incorporating a shuffly dance rhythm, electric piano and bluesy guitar, the lyrics carrying an important message about environmental destruction. Fools and Troubadours celebrates free-thinking, passionate outsiders forging their own path, with a particular nod towards Vincent van Gogh, within a bright, catchy guitar-pop setting. This is a really great song with a strong tune that stays in the head. House Burning Down is spiky, angular and powerful, combining punk and prog aspects with intelligent pop.
An original, impressive, genre-transcending album that seamlessly combines strong pop tunes with all manner of other influences from heavy prog rock to electronic dance music. Each song comes from a unique angle yet the album holds together as a cohesive whole. Well worth investigating. Visit the Stone Premonitions archive site, and find out more about Falling A Records at www.barrylamb.com
TENEMENT & TEMPLE s/t CD/Download (Thrum Records)
Tenement & Temple are centred around Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, who had previously been a part of 90s Glasgow band Thrum, who were among the main bands to introduce country-rock to an indie audience. Monica is also known for her solo work and her guest appearances with various other bands and artists, for example as vocalist with Belle and Sebastian on Lazy Line Painter Jane. On Tenement & Temple's debut self-titled album, Monica and Johnny are joined by Scottish-Icelandic percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir, Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson of Icelandic metal band Sólstafir, and Canadian musician Don Rooke who has worked with the likes of Cowboy Junkies and Mary Margaret O'Hara.
I Know is simply beautiful, with Monica's soaring vocals set to gentle acoustic guitar and washes of woozy ambient sound. 10 More Years combines vintage country influences with sumptious orchestration and intense rock guitar. I Only See You in the Dark has an epic cinematic feel, in which sparse acoustic guitar is swathed in glacial orchestration, and angelic choral backing vocals accompany Monica during the chorus. Where the Wild Roses Grow recalls a bygone era of country, with poetic, sentimental lyrics set to a hymnlike melody and sung in a warbling vocal style that's very lovely. The album closes with an elegant cover of Blue Moon, which breathes new life into this old standard with its melancholic, filmic beauty. Find out more at www.facebook.com/tenementandtemple
LONDON UNDERGROUND Space Edition double LP (Fruits de Mer)
SENDELICA Cromlech Chronicles IV: The Door into Summer double LP (Fruits de Mer)
Italian band London Underground trace their roots back to the 1990s prog band Standarte, and have released four albums since 1998. Fruits de Mer have released a coloured vinyl double LP, Space Edition, which comprises a reissue of their latest album Four, plus a bonus LP compiling tracks from their first three albums. Being limited to just 350 copies, this sold out immediately, so I'll keep this review brief as the album is probably hard to find now. On Four, London Underground bring together elements of prog, psych, jazz and film soundtrack into a cohesive whole. Blistering rock jams with jazzy improvisation and Hammond organ is what this album is all about, plus the occasional venture into spacier territory such as the shimmering swirl of At Home. The bonus LP features covers of tracks by Arthur Brown, Brian Auger and Jethro Tull alongside their own material, and shows London Underground's evolution from a vocal-led band in the late 60s rock tradition, to the heavier 70s-style rock of Everything is Coming to an End, before settling on the more ostentatious and at times jazz and classical-informed instrumental prog sound of their more recent tracks.
Cromlech Chronicles IV is the final part of Sendelica's Cromlech series, released as a double LP with three side-long instrumental pieces, the fourth side printed in UV full-colour ink. Each track is between 19 and 23 minutes long, with a multifaceted nature that takes in a number of styles and moods along the way. Lightstar is a late 60s West Coast psych-rock jam interwoven with flowing, mellow sax that bridges the gap between psychedelia and jazz. Saturnalia is a laid-back, hypnotic piece, perhaps best described as ambient rock, in which spacey burblings and drones appear alongside gently meandering guitar and sax melodies. Nine Miles High - Lightstar Reprise is improvisational psych-rock, offsetting thunderingly heavy guitars with soaring sax and meditative spacey synth. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
NATHAN HALL AND THE SINISTER LOCALS Scattersparks CD/Download (The Hip Replacement)
Third album from Soft Hearted Scientists offshoot Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals, cramming a massive 24 tracks into just under an hour. The album is based around original, creative psych-pop and psych-folk, with multi-layered arrangements employing a wide array of vintage keyboards, including harpsichord, Mellotron and organ, alongside guitars and percussion. The lyrics show a dry, quirky wit, and explore topics that go far beyond standard lyrical fare; Roman soldiers' ghosts, Laika the space dog, overpriced coffee, deserted fairgrounds and fake unicorns are just a few of the subjects covered here. Sunrise Sunset is beautiful psych-folk ornamented with vintage organ. Leprechaun Lattes is super-melodic psych-pop with a swirling, kaleidoscopic arrangement. Gold, Bones and Evil Thrones sounds both ominous and luxurious, bursting with tanpura drones, temple dance rhythms and chants. Stately Home is atmospherically and evocatively accompanied by the whoosh and whirr of spacey synths. Ghosts are Not as Strange as Being Alive is melancholic contemporary folk swathed in eerie retrofuturistic electronics. An inventive album, recommended to all who appreciate free-thinking music. Available at nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com
KIM THOMPSETT The Hollows CD/LP/Download (Meniscus Hump)
It's been more than ten years since Kim Thompsett's last album Songs from the Uglee Meadow, but now she returns with her long-awaited second album The Hollows, produced by Harvey Summers at Broadoak Studios. The album brings together Kim's love of nature, 1970s folk-rock, and medieval music with her own creative talents, the lyrics poetic, meaningful and moving. Snowbound is luxuriously orchestrated with strings and woodwind. Child of the Breeze is superb 1970s-inspired folk-rock combining shades of Steeleye Span, Trees and Jethro Tull with a certain psychedelic dreaminess. Strange Garden is Eastern-influenced psych-folk with tablas and tanpura alongside heady, and indeed heavy, psych-rock guitar and soaring flute, and closing with ethereal, almost gothic, chanting. Brocéliande is medievalesque French folk sounding like it was played on an enchanted harp within a faerie glade. Hollow Hill is powerful, soul-stirring folk-rock infused with an unfaltering dedication to nature. Also well worth mentioning is the beautiful and highly detailed nature-mystical artwork by Gary Williamson, in which a priestess in an antlered mask stands in a grove replete with tree spirits, sacred animals and runic carvings (I noticed 'Hollow Hill' carved on a tree in Anglo-Saxon futhorc), next to an ancient burial mound, while lyrics from opening track Moonchild's Lullaby swirl in Celtic calligraphy in the sky above. This album may have been years in the making but it's well worth the wait! Available at kimthompsett.bandcamp.com
KITCHEN CYNICS Caught Off Guard and Call of the Cuckoo CDRs (Les Enfants du Paradiddle)
Caught Off Guard is one of two new homemade CDRs from the Kitchen Cynics, Alan Davidson's very prolific psych-folk and experimental folk project which has released over 100 albums since the late 1980s. In Thread, a flute dances an eerie pirouette amid bells, drones, and the ringing sound of the lyre, the last of which is contributed by Gayle Brogan, who also plays in Barrett's Dottled Beauty with Alan. The Spaceman Shepherd is like surreal retro film soundtrack music, full of sci-fi whirrs, bleeps and shimmers. A Dipper and a Heron tells a fairytale-like story of talking birds, along with haunted, dreamlike echoey accompaniment. A Desperate Enthusiasm is a hazy, feverish soundscape, evocative and absorbing. I Pushed Christopher Under the Train! features a melody informed by historical folk balladry set to a tense, brooding experimental backdrop.
Call of the Cuckoo opens with the stark, ominous Albion Street, followed by The Oak's Daughter which pairs intense, noisy psych guitar with airy flute evoking the flight of birds. Queen of the Sea is a contemplative number set to intricate acoustic guitar and ethereal keyboards. Banks o' the Dee is a traditional folk song with a decidedly untraditional arrangement based around woozy psychedelic experimentation. Clear Rinnin' Burnie isn't traditional but sounds like it ought to be, with its historical-style lyrics and a melody that recalls Spencer the Rover. The piece's title is reflected in the experimental soundscape accompanying the song, which incorporates the sound of a running stream, recorded at Wood of Cree nature reserve by Gayle Brogan.
It's always great to hear new material from this excellent, inventive band. Albums available at kitchencynics.bandcamp.com
DANÇAS OCULTAS Dentro Desse Mar CD (Galileo)
MÍSIA Pura Vida (Banda Sonora) CD (Galileo)
YINON MUALLEM Back Home CD (Galileo)
Three new albums from world music label Galileo, this time from Portugal and the Middle East. Portuguese accordion quartet Danças Ocultas present their sea-inspired album Dentro Desse Mar, which sees them working with a number of guests. Azáfama is an excellent cinematic piece bringing together a folk dance tune with a choppy marching rhythm and the stylish piano playing of David Feldman, whose versatile style effortlessly spans classical, jazz and intelligent pop. As Viajantes is sophisticated balladry led by the rich, resonant vocals of Zélia Duncan. Caixinha de Música features the interplay of accordions with Jaques Morelenbaum's cello, providing an evocative, dramatic and somewhat melancholic sound that calls to mind silent movie soundtracks. Dessa Ilha is a genre-transcending work of beauty for which the description 'classical folk pop' comes close but doesn't really cover it. Dora Morelenbaum's soaring voice is accompanied here by an aesthetically pleasing blend of cello, accordions and electric piano. Sorriso makes me think of a sunny summer day fading into a mellow summer evening and back again, with a melodic structure that brings the sprightly and uplifting and the introspective into one cohesive whole. An impressive, intelligent album that's got me curious to hear other works from Danças Ocultas' 30 year history.
Also from Portugal is Mísia, whose album Pura Vida (Banda Sonora) explores "heaven and hell, harshness and passion, tears and rebirth". The album's basis is in the historic Portuguese genre of Fado, yet it also shows a healthy disregard for rules and genre purism, with musical accompaniment that contains considerable eclecticism and inventiveness. Rosa Negra No Meu Peito II has a minimalistic, jazz-informed setting which pairs Mísia's strong, expressive voice with bass clarinet. Ouso Dizer contrasts the ringing, resonant tones of the Portuguese guitar with the sort of electric guitar shredding more often associated with heavy metal. Os Homens Que Eu Amei incorporates strings, piano and clarinet for a sophisticated classical feel. Lágrima is a song of deep sorrow and despair, accompanied by chiming electric guitar swathed in soft reverb. Whilst I suspect this arrangement probably wasn't deliberately influenced by indiepop, those of us who are steeped in the indiepop underground will be very familiar with this kind of dreamy, melancholic sound. Destino is an effective blend of ambient and chamber music, with ethereal drones interwoven with clarinet, Portuguese guitar, violin and piano. Preludio Para el Año 3001 is a passionate, dramatic tale of reincarnation, with a supporting cast of clowns, shoeshiners and warlocks lending a surreal and playful tone to the story. The passion and surreality are both reflected in the forceful, angular arrangement that takes on board elements of jazz, music hall, and film score. Whilst Fado per se is far outside of my usual tastes in music, I appreciate Mísia's willingness to experiment, bringing influences from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries together to create an innovative musical melange.
On Back Home, Yinon Muallem blends the traditional Jewish music of his own roots with Turkish maqam music and jazz. His aim is to "stay optimistic in an uncompromising geography, the Middle East, within the dim light of peace", with music that conveys "feelings of warmth and strength along with sadness and frustration". Antalya is melancholic and sophisticated piano-led folk-pop balladry ornamented by Turkish oud and jazz flourishes. Hicaz Sirto opens with a double bass solo blending Middle Eastern influences with improvisation, giving way to the interplay of oud, piano and improvised ethnic percussion in a seamless blend of traditional Turkish music and jazz. There's a cover of Lou Reed's Perfect Day, a song Yinon admired in his youth, which he sings as a duet with Sivan Oshrat. This version brings the song's melancholy to the forefront, with effective incorporation of Turkish oud and jazzy piano. The Way of Soul has Hebrew lyrics based on a Biblical passage from Ecclesiastes. The melody draws from traditional Jewish music, whilst sharing a similar melodic structure and minor-key sadness to traditional English folk ballads. Towards the end, the piece segues seamlessly into a wordless pop vocal section with ah-ahs and na-na-nas, along with an intricate, semi-improvised organ solo that seems just as much informed by prog as jazz.
As Ecclesiastes is a text of relevance to both Jews and Christians, which has also made its mark on popular culture from Shakespeare to The Byrds, this song's fusion of Eastern and Western folk and pop-cultural musical forms makes perfect sense. Close to My Heart is an ecstatic, spiritual-sounding piece led by the soaring vocals of Sivan Oshrat. A beautiful, powerful and moving album with an effective mixture of musical styles. Available at www.galileo-mc.de
VARIOUS Echoes and Reverberations CD/Download (A Year in the Country)
For the latest themed compilation on A Year in the Country, the artists draw upon film and television programmes, both real and imaginary, using field recordings from the programmes' locations. Grey Frequency's King Penda takes inspiration from the 1974 BBC play Penda's Fen, with field recordings from the Worcestershire church where some of the play's key scenes were filmed. Vintage electronics and brooding drones are combined with explosive beats created by the sound of the church door slamming shut. Pulselovers are inspired here by the late 1970s drama series Flambards; the Edwardian countryside setting is evoked perfectly by the early 20th century style classical arrangement and the field recordings of chirping birds near Sawley Hall where the series was filmed. Dom Cooper (The Owl Service, The Straw Bear Band) contributes a chilling cinematic soundscape inspired by Quatermass. The label's in-house recording project, also called A Year in the Country, makes the nightmarishly intense soundtrack to an imaginary government-commissioned public information film from 1975 warning of the dangers of playing in quarries, which as the story goes, was withdrawn due to its "unsettling and unflinching portrayal of these dangers". Sproatly Smith merge hazy dreamlike folk with eerie, ominous soundscaping in a piece inspired by the post-apocalyptic 70s TV series Survivors. The Ogham Stones by Depatterning imagines pagan carvings from County Wexford via brooding electronic experimentation incorporating surreal use of folk motifs. The collection holds together as a cohesive album with a shared aesthetic. Many of the pieces have an unsettling nature and sound believably like incidental music from vintage horror films. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
DULCE MUSE Musette CDR (Reverb Worship)
Multi-instrumentalist Katje Janisch is joined by William Kearney (Sand Snowman), Oliver Kersbergen (Sleepyard) and Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon, Widow's Weeds) on this very lovely album that combines folk, electronica, psychedelia, film score and experimentation to great effect. Blessed is a beautiful, meditative piece bringing together warm ambient drones, ethereal wordless vocals and soaring folk whistle. Musette is electronic neo-medievalism infused with a sense of foreboding via Grey Malkin's ominous, horror-filmic synth orchestration and percussion. Carnelian pairs Oliver Kersbergen's swirling psych guitar with Katje Janisch's atmospheric, otherwordly vocals. Whirligig Reverie is an evocative, cinematic blend of neoclassical and medieval music and experimental electronica, incorporating pulsing synth and kalimba, brooding cello and multi-layered angelic voices. Rainbow Lattice is a gentle, calming piece full of dreamlike ambience and neoclassical beauty, incorporating the intricate acoustic guitar of William Kearney. Original, well-crafted and deeply atmospheric music - find out more at katjejanisch.bandcamp.com and www.reverbworship.com
UNITED BIBLE STUDIES Cave Hill Ascension LP/Download (Pariah Child)
Four tracks, including two of epic length, on heavyweight red vinyl, on which United Bible Studies founder David Colohan is joined by Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service) and Dom Cooper (The Straw Bear Band, The Owl Service). Bless Us & Break Us with Mystery Upon Mystery is meditative and spiritual yet with a dark undercurrent, pairing soaring wordless choral vocals with brooding synth drones. Ritualistic percussion signals a change in direction, with gentle neoclassical piano and ethereal washes of sound giving way to choral vocal beauty and lute-like ringing strings. The Heart Lies, Over & Over interweaves powerful vocals with airy yet unsettling use of woodwind and drones. Cave Hill Ascension is a multifaceted composition made up of several movements seamlessly segueing into one another. Its opening part is an evocative, filmic, neoclassical piece conveying images of wild nature and starry skies, while the second part is characterised by a full, resonant sound somewhere between folk and art music, incorporating reverberating guitar, violin, piano, synthesised choral voice, and the expressive vocals of Alison O'Donnell. Finally, drones, synths and forceful percussion unite to create a sense of foreboding. Hope You Know is a beautifully atmospheric blend of multi-layered vocals, pensive drones and meandering woodwind. A cinematic, mood-altering and deeply creative album that spans genres and defies classification. Find out more at www.pariahchild.co.uk
ALICE HUBBLE Polarlichter LP/CD/Download (Happy Robots)
Alice Hubble (aka Alice Hubley, ex-Arthur & Martha) combines thoughtful and melancholic indiepop with influences from 1980s synthpop and the 1970s progressive synth sounds of Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream, using a wide array of vintage synthesisers and a Mellotron, plus additional guitar and drums contributed by Allo Darlin's Mikey Collins. Ruby Falls combines the airiness of 70s synth-based prog with the punchy rhythms of 80s synthpop. Goddess conceals pointed feminist commentary on the male gaze within a deceptively wistful indiepop tune wrapped in the swirls and whirrs of analogue synths. Atlantis Palm is a delicate, meditative piece in which synthesised strings and woodwind float around a Far Eastern-tinged main melody. We Are Still Alone is dreamy indiepop awash with swirling Mellotron orchestration. Kick the Habit makes me think of Magic Moments at Twilight Time with its seamless combination of synthpop, spacerock, punk attitude and saucy sense of humour. The Golden Age is a multifaceted piece that takes in minimalistic space-age bleepage, Mike Oldfield-esque pastoral meditation, and even an uptempo riff-driven section recalling modern electronic dance music. You might not expect indiepop and electro-prog to go together, and the purists of both genres would no doubt say they shouldn't, but this unusual mix of styles sounds completely natural in the hands of Alice Hubble. Another excellent album from Happy Robots Records, a label that continues to be a highly recommended source for underground electronic pop. Visit www.happyrobots.co.uk
CLEVER SQUARE s/t CD/LP/Download (Bronson)
Clever Square are an Italian band founded in 2005 by singer/guitarist Giacomo D'Attore. Following a string of albums and EPs on other labels, the first incarnation of the band came to an end in 2015, but they have now returned with a new line-up and moved to Bronson Recordings for their latest album, simply entitled Clever Square. The album gains much of its inspiration from the US indie scene. Opening with the loud-quiet-loud indie-rock of Are Glasses and Contacts Ruining Your Vision?, the album also features tracks such as Denial and the Wizards, which would fit right in on Merge Records, He Cried, She Decried, which recalls the Mountain Goats with its combination of indie aesthetics and American folk tinges, and To Spoon-Feed You, a very lovely melancholic song based around delicate piano and subtle acoustic guitar strumming with the unexpected introduction of riotous, squalling guitar noise towards the end. Avocado Phishing is uptempo indiepop with effectively busy drumming, a nice male-female chorus, and the ability to incorporate saxophone into indiepop and actually pull it off! Cringe is the most classically indiepoppy track here, airy and wistful with a bright guitar sound; if there were more American bands on Sarah Records, maybe they'd sound a little like this. Indeed, fans of one of Sarah's few US bands, East River Pipe, will no doubt find a lot to like on this album. Lots of great stuff here for fans of the American indie sound. Band info at www.facebook.com/thecleversquare; label info at www.bronsonrecordings.com
FRANC CINELLI Night Songs CD/LP/Download (Song Circle)
Franc Cinelli fuses Eastern and Western folk influences, contemporary songwriting and luxurious arrangements on his latest album Night Songs. Adventure/Love is introspective, melancholic, folk-informed songwriting which strays into dark-edged psych-folk territory at times with nice use of tablas, tambourine and woozy electronics. Stay Strange is a passionate call for honest individuality, with soulful backing vocals courtesy of Chantal Brown from the band Vodun. Fly is a delicate acoustic singer-songwriter piece with American folk and blues leanings and soaring, ethereal orchestration. Breathe is bluesy Americana given an inventive, full sound with the addition of Greek bouzouki, gospel choir vocals ranging from the resonant and impassioned to the airy and angelic, and a sophisticated and atmospheric orchestral arrangement. Rave On is orchestrated folk beauty, gentle on the surface yet carrying a powerful and ecstatic lust for life within. Whilst broadly categorisable as an Americana album, Night Songs resists falling into strict, established folk or blues formulas, and its cosmopolitan, genre-spanning influences add extra layers of originality. Find out more at www.franccinelli.com
PHANTOMS VS FIRE My Mind As Your Amusement Park CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
FEU FOLLET Le Champ des Morts CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
Two recent releases from Blackjack Illuminist, both packaged in the label's in-house style with hand-assembled photographic art. Phantoms vs Fire is the work of Thiago Desant, whose latest album My Mind As Your Amusement Park comprises ten atmospheric, cinematic tracks informed by dark ambient and neoclassical music. In Love With a Glitch is a dreamlike neoclassical piece with chiming zither set to chilling ambience and dramatic nature sounds. Arrival wouldn't sound out of place on an A Year in the Country compilation, with its combination of dark drones, analogue synths and classical flourishes. As the Ashes Touch My Skin contrasts soothing birdsong and delicate melodies with brooding undercurrents created by bleak drones and ominous pulses. The title track is an inventive pairing of glitchy noise and ethereal beauty. Pink Balloon Dog Animal Skull Hacker takes in restless, on-edge electronic music, squalling abstract noise and the sound of howling wolves. Believe in the Fire (The Chanting) sets falsetto robotic vocals to a relentless hypnotic pulse, eerie wavering sounds and harsh colliding noise. A creative album of filmic sound-art, bridging the gap between the brooding soundtrack music of Icelandic composers Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and the retrofuturism/hauntology of Ghost Box and A Year in the Country.
Feu Follet (meaning will o' the wisp) is the solo project of Alban Blaising of Lorraine, France, whose debut album Le Champ des Morts ('The Field of the Dead') takes its name from a medieval battle site in a Lorraine forest. Local landscape and folklore provide inspiration for the lyrics, while the music successfully blends elements of 80s synthpop, darkwave, psychedelic electronica, and shoegaze into a new genre of its own. The title track brings together synth-driven elements reminiscent of New Order, a heady guitar style somewhere between gothic rock and psychedelia, dark and forceful drumming, and airy wordless vocals. La Dame des Eaux offsets bouncy 80s synthpop with dark ethereal washes of sound and whirring spacerockish analogue synths. Le Sotré has shoegaze and post-rock elements rubbing shoulders with pulsing 80s synths and treated vocals with an underwater effect. Le Queue du Loup combines the atmospheric noise of shoegaze with Tangerine Dream-esque synths and dark, gothic undercurrents. Les Terres Noires merges gentle, meditative, electronic psych-folk with the relentless pulse of the 1980s dancefloor. An innovative mix of sounds, bringing many disparate genres into a cohesive whole. Visit blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com
DAVID CW BRIGGS That What Is Hid Can Never Be Rid CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
DAVID CW BRIGGS 21st Century Hermit CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
REGIONAL IDENTS Channelling CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
Three new homemade albums on David CW Briggs' Folk Archive label. DCWB is an eclectic, creative hometaper who explores psych, blues, folk, indie-rock and -pop and beyond, from a firmly underground perspective. That What Is Hid Can Never Be Rid begins with Sunnyside, beautiful psych-folk ornamented with floaty woodwind. Green Belt Lady is outsider blues-pop punctuated with riotous squalling noise. She Drives a Mini Moke is quirky and fun psychedelic noisepop. The title track is an eerie and hypnotic slice of psych-folk beauty. The most bizarre piece is saved for last, Into the Ointment, which sets stream of consciousness recitations to angular experimental rock. "Home Taping is Thrilling Music", puns the insert, and quite rightly too!
21st Century Hermit is centred around two long tracks of that name; the sprawling 11 and a half minute psych-out of 21st Century Hermit Part 1, and its instrumental counterpart 21st Century Hermit Part 2, an organ-led psychedelic jam propelled by a relentless hypnotic chug, close to 16 minutes in length. The album also ventures into the chuggy lo-fi American-style indie-rock sound, given a distinctive twist via the use of melodica (Where Are You When You're Not In Your Body), meandering psychedelic blues (Take the Scenic Route), throbbing drones (Domestic Science), and ritualistic experimental psych-folk incorporating wooden flute, clattering percussion and zither (She Wore a Clean Sweater). The minimal yet striking cover art, featuring a picture of a clay tiger figurine and its reflection, is also worthy of mention.
Regional Idents deals in off-centre DIY electronica that fits broadly within the retrofuturist/hauntology concepts. There's the 80s TV theme-ish Teleprinter, the airy yet slightly disorienting dream sequence You Are Here, the menacing noise manipulation of The Unravelled Synthesiser, the post-apocalyptic, martial cinematic music of Simulcast, the mechanistic, futuristic Holding Bay, and the brooding ambient drones of Loss of Signal which comes across like incidental music from a dystopian sci-fi movie. Holiday '82, whilst continuing with the 1980s retro theme, comes from a somewhat different angle from the rest of the album due to its poppier sound and the introduction of vocals from David CW Briggs. This track is breezy bedroom pop, along kind of similar lines to the electronic indiepop They Go Boom!! were making in the early 90s.
CDRs are limited to just 10 copies of each album, while downloads are also available. Visit davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
VARIOUS Undulating Waters vol 3 Cassette/Download (Woodford Halse)
Third in the beautifully packaged Undulating Waters compilation tape series from Woodford Halse. The green cassette with on-body printing comes with a die-cut heavy card inlay with cigarette card-style insert; one side of the card features a 19th century engraving purporting to show a preserved mermaid under a glass dome, while the other side features a short story with an off-kilter wit that brought a smile to my face. The plastic cassette case is in turn packaged in a die-cut card slipcase with a window in the front that reveals part of the mermaid image. I always appreciate labels that go to such lengths with their visual presentation, producing a complete audio-visual art package.
Jumble Hole Clough take in quirky analogue electronica and wild psych-rock in their Surfing the Sargasso Sea. Bell Lungs' Music for Jellyfish is hypnotic, hazy experimental music that effectively conjures up images of a jellyfish moving through water. Misty Bywater makes piano-based folk with a certain sense of the uncanny, and strongly evocative of a bygone age. Slovenska Televiza approach vintage soundtrack influences with a strong sense of innovation, juxtaposing beautiful classical-tinged folk with retro sci-fi music. Widow's Weeds featuring Kitchen Cynics reinvent the traditional folk song Polly Vaughan in a heady, cinematic style with multi-layered soaring vocals, woodwind, drones and horror-filmic sound effects - amazing stuff. Keith Seatman's The Project Club throws vintage sci-fi, horror and spy movie soundtracks into a blender along with a large helping of uptempo retro pop.
Folclore Impressionista provide a busy, dramatic electronic piece inspired by 1980s TV themes, interweaving hard-hitting, authoritative documentary or news music with futuristic sci-fi sounds. The Twelve Hour Foundation contribute a strongly melodic instrumental piece from the poppier side of retrofuturism, reminiscent in places of Pram or early Broadcast. Fred und Luna bring together elements of 1980s dance music, world music and experimental electronica in their Afrotonikum. Yumah's Shadows in the Wind is innovative, haunting folk, with multiple layers of vocal loops combined with field recordings of traffic and birdsong. Emily Jones' Amber Man is superb psych-folk-pop with time changes and baroque flourishes. Simon McCorry closes the compilation with the cinematic instrumental Surface Detail Prelude, combining neoclassical strings with brooding drones and electronic whirrs.
A superb compilation of highly talented and inventive artists who are able to create a cohesive theme and mood from disparate styles, utilising folk, psychedelia and film score to make music that seems to exist simultaneously in the past and the future. Highly recommended. Available from woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com
JIM BASNIGHT Not Changing CD (Precedent)
Jim Basnight has been making music since the 1970s, both solo and with The Moberlys. His latest solo album Not Changing travels across various subgenres within the melodic rock and guitar-pop fields, balancing eclecticism with a sense of cohesiveness. There's the jangly US folk-rock of Code to Live By, and the 60s-tinged, vocal harmony-driven pop of Having Fun. Best Lover in the World is catchy powerpop in the Big Star or Teenage Fanclub vein. Never Get Lost is a brilliant song on the more powerful side of janglepop, which was recently showcased by Big Stir Records as part of their digital singles series. On the heavier side, there's the raucous, squalling rock of Big Bang, and the sleazy rock 'n' roll of Making Love for a Living. The good mix of strong memorable tunes and biting rock oomph on offer here has made me curious to hear more from this talented artist. Visit www.jimbasnightmusic.com
ANDREA PANCUR Weihnukka CD (Galileo)
Following on from her Alpen Klezmer albums, Andrea Pancur now presents a synthesis of Christmas and Hanukkah traditions in her latest album Weihnukka. Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa has the feel of a 19th century hymn, set to folk-jazz accompaniment based on accordion and clarinet. Der Vinter has an experimental neoclassical setting with a bleakly evocative cinematic atmosphere. Partizaner Marsh brings together military marching music, triumphant trad jazz and forceful rock. Hirten-Doyna is glorious winter music with tinkling bells and soaring woodwind. Di Tsukunft has a big powerful sound, effectively combining such disparate sources as gothic folk with brooding drones and eerie guitar melodies, Russian-sounding male choir, and squalling improvisational sax, all topped off with Andrea's impassioned vocals. An effectively eclectic album that defies simple genre classifications. Available at www.galileo-mc.de
THE PAST TENSE Time Stands Still 7" and Across the Pond... and Back Again CD (Fruits de Mer)
14 60s covers from mod/garage/psych band The Past Tense, on a 7" EP and CD album set. This sold out immediately at the label but I'll give it a mention in case it's still available through other outlets. The band's in-depth knowledge of 1960s music is very clear in their choice of covers which come mainly from the more obscure side of that decade's musical output, along with the occasional well-known classic such as Love's 7 and 7 Is. There's a raw garagey version of one of my favourite 60s tracks, Dream On My Mind by Rupert's People, offsetting its strong, catchy pop tune with riotous fuzz guitar. The Moving Sidewalks' 99th Floor is dirty, bluesy rock 'n' roll propelled by a relentless organ riff along with wild psychedelic guitar soloing. The aforementioned 7 and 7 Is gallops along and rocks out. Elsewhere, The Past Tense put their own raw and intense garage-psych stamp on songs by The Syn, David Clayton-Thomas, The Answers, The Drag Set, The Attack, No Entry, The Afex, and more. Visit www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
ANDY B Later Than You Think, The Best You Can Do, and 21 Songs CDRs/Downloads (Pastime)
Three new albums from the very prolific home recording artist Andy B, which all revisit familiar songs from past releases on his own label Pastime Records. The first of these albums, Later Than You Think, comprises remixes of several years' worth of homemade recordings. Highlights include Lose Myself in You which pairs driving, edgy, noisy music with a catchy pop chorus; Tomorrow is Another Day which harks back to the classic era of indiepop, combining the rollicking with the melancholic; and the keyboard-driven bedroom pop of The Little Things.
This album was quickly followed by two further roundups of material from Andy's back catalogue. The Best You Can Do features 11 tracks of raw emotion. Let's Talk About It Later Baby is minimalistic, melancholic indiepop with a slight wash of airy atmosphere, while Let It Drop is a song of deep sadness, with noise guitar and atmospheric keyboards adding extra texture. There are also a few songs with a full band sound including drums, where Andy is in fact the sole musician, like the bleak and intense Why Can't You See and the noisepop song Something New, which is more musically fleshed out than some of the other tracks here though the emotions are laid just as bare.
The latest of the three albums is the longest one with 21 songs, covering various facets of Andy B's sound. There are gentle acoustic songs such as Something New, and songs with a fuller, band-style arrangement. Many of the songs display a world-weariness and pessimism that's summed up by titles like We Can't Make It Work, Breaking Up, and even Life's a Disease, though there are also songs that exhilarate, such as The Firing Line, a spiky number on the boundaries of mod and melodic punk, and Still Cold Outside, choppy, gutsy noisepop that harks back to the C86 era. Find out more at pastimerecords.webs.com and pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
FIR CONE CHILDREN Fog Surrounds Us CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
Alexander Leonard Donat is a prolific musician who releases music under a number of guises and seems to be always recording with one or another of his projects. Here he returns with a new album from Fir Cone Children, which is mostly a solo project, plus three tracks feature guest vocals from Krissy Vanderwoude. The CD is packaged in Blackjack Illuminist's in-house style with hand-assembled and hand-painted wallet and photographic cover art and inserts featuring paintings best described as 'retro-modernist'. As always with Fir Cone Children, the lyrics are drawn from the experiences of Alex's kids. You'll find tales of fantasy and play, hide-and-seek, skateboards and fireworks. The music is aptly described by Alex as 'dreampunk'. It's basically a harder version of shoegaze that manages to be airy and abrasive all at once, and carries a creative, eclectic spirit. Green Fox sounds like a collaboration between Slowdive and Boyracer with a guest appearance from Wham! I'm Free (Taking Over) is bittersweet noisepop, powerful and ecstatic, with a strong, soaring melody. Making Friends is Easy blends bendy, woozy, My Bloody Valentine-esque noise, punk energy and gentle piano pop. Into the Sea is uplifting, carefree indie pop with an innovative twist. Spider Monkey encapsulates the dreampunk concept with its raw discordant power swathed in washes of atmospheric sound. Diversion wraps fierce ranty vocals, slicing guitar noise and blast beats in a cloud of shoegaze atmospherics. Fall Asleep Not Down is a floaty fever-dream underscored by an ominous buzz. A creative, energetic album from perhaps my favourite of Alexander Leonard Donat's bands. Available at blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com
NATHALIE STERN Nerves and Skin cassette/download (Cruel Nature)
Nathalie Stern is a Swedish musician now based in Newcastle, who started out in guitar-based bands such as Candysuck and Lake Me, before exploring traditional Swedish folk and experimental music in her solo work. Her second album Nerves and Skin was almost ten years in the making, following on from 2010's Firetales. Here to Stay and Here to Belong is a darkly beautiful song informed by traditional folk, set to sinister electronic sound manipulation. Because Science combines soaring angelic vocal harmonies, plaintive trombone and harsh mechanistic noise. Then You Talk of War is deeply moving, with multi-layered, resonant, medieval-esque chanting over a stark electronic pulse. Stig in Lucia incorporates parts of a traditional Swedish song, offsetting its history-steeped, hymnlike melody with bleak retrofuturistic noise and ghostly sound effects. A superb album of dark experimental folk from an original, talented artist I hope to hear more from. The cassette version on Cruel Nature Records is pro-duplicated with on-body printing and comes with a free download code. It is limited to 75 copies, available from cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com. The album is also available on CD or limited white vinyl from nathaliesternmusic.bandcamp.com or invertedgrim-millrecordings.bandcamp.com
KITCHEN CYNICS & GREY MALKIN The Wonder Room CDR (Reverb Worship) / download (self-released)
The latest album from Alan Davidson's prolific experimental psych-folk project Kitchen Cynics is a collaboration with Grey Malkin of Widow's Weeds and formerly of The Hare and the Moon, who adds an extra layer of horror-filmic drama to Alan's already eerie musical and lyrical creations. Bright Benjamin is surreal, otherworldly psych-folk with swirling spacey synths and a cinematic sense of unease. The Singing is a vivid tale with an eerie folkloric feel, narrated over a heady, paganesque blend of pulsating drones, Celtic chanting, ethereal whistle and tribal percussion. Kilgour's Tale is a spooky and bloody story of a magician in league with the devil, with chilling, fever-dream-ish musical accompaniment. There's a dark experimental version of the traditional folk song Prince Heathen, very unlike the Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick version I'm familiar with, replete with brooding ambience and horror soundtrack effects. Our Glassy Globe is beautiful yet unsettling folk, pairing bright, ringing guitar with harsh, spiky distortion, and underscored by the woozy rumble of bowed bass. Mary the Robber Girl is a kind of Victorian female Robin Hood, her tale set to an engagingly original psychedelic soundscape. Top quality stuff from these two important names of underground folk. The CDR version on Reverb Worship was limited to just 50 copies and sold out immediately, but the album can still be downloaded at thehareandthemoon.bandcamp.com
KANKOU Kuma CD/Download (Cannery Row)
Kankou Kouyate is a singer-songwriter from Mali who is joined here by Scottish multi-instrumentalist Mark Mulholland and Parisian electronic artist Olaf Hund, plus Vincent Bucher who provides harmonica on three tracks. The end result is an eclectic, innovative combination of African and Western styles. Sigi combines folk-rock with electro beats as backdrop for Kankou's soulful vocals. Kuma is a vibrant, exciting mix of traditional-style African music, psych-rock and effervescent electronica. Bin is hypnotic, meandering psychedelic blues with impassioned vocals and evocative, cinematic use of harmonica and electronic effects. Elsewhere you'll find elements of Appalachian mountain music (Ko Da Koma), gentle acoustic folk-pop (Da), and bright, sunny janglepop (Djuguya). An inventive album that has much to recommend to fans of psychedelia, folk, and world-fusion alike. Visit www.kankou.ml and www.canneryrowrecords.com
BACK TO AQUAMARINE