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
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