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

ALBUM REVIEWS

VARIOUS The Quietened Journey CD (A Year in the Country)
A Year in the Country's latest themed compilation explores abandoned transport systems, from Roman roads to the rusted remains of railways closed by Beeching in the 1960s. Pulselovers' mix of vintage electronica and psychedelia motors along like a train with its driving rhythm and steam engine sounds. Sproatly Smith make brooding, mournful psych-folk inspired by the story of Charlotte Brian, who was killed when run down by a train in the 19th century. The Séance provide a beautiful harpsichord and viola piece punctuated by the ghostly sounds of long-lost freight trains. Grey Malkin (ex-The Hare and the Moon)'s current project Widow's Weeds set ecstatic choral vocals and birdsong-like flute (courtesy of Kitchen Cynics' Alan Davidson) to a motorik rhythm and echoing train whistle sounds. The Heartwood Institute's shimmering analogue electronics evoke a speedy yet relaxing train journey. Field Lines Cartographer provides a glacial, woozy soundscape both calming and beautiful. Grey Frequency's piece is a stark, evocative blend of piano, washes of electronic sound, and field recordings from a derelict train station. More abstract experimental sounds are represented by Depatterning's feverish swishes and swirls, slicing metallic noise and mechanistic bumps and rumbles, A Year in the Country's brooding cinematic ambience, Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztykowski's eerie mix of drones, bells and field recordings, and the frankly terrifying Howlround piece full of destruction, explosion and fury. Available at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

RIGHT HAND LEFT HAND Zone Rouge CD/LP/Download (Bubblewrap)
Third album from Cardiff post-rock duo Right Hand Left Hand, in which looped and layered guitars and drums paint bleak sound-pictures illustrating the harm humans have done to the Earth and to fellow humans. Each track is inspired by an act of atrocity, be it war, species extinction, genocide, or environmental pollution, committed at various points during history at various locations around the world. The music here is much more melodic than I'd expected based on its thematic background, though it certainly gets the message of human brutality across during its most harsh, chaotic and unsettling moments. Mirny is almost symphonic in scope, with soaring melodies and glacial atmospherics against an urgent, unstoppable rhythm. Floreana features a pensive guitar melody swathed in brooding soundscaping, then introduces a jabbing, stabbing synth line that wouldn't sound out of place in a 1980s dance number, juxtaposed with cinematic post-rock guitars and spacey retrofuturistic electronics. Terra Nullius begins as a meditative piece with folky undercurrents, before giving way to a sweeping post-rock atmosphere. The second part of the album tends towards harsher sounds and best illustrates the album's theme. White Sands is an angular, choppy, unsettling piece built around nightmarish noise collisions. Oradour-sur-Glane is bleak, mechanistic and brutal, drawing from elements of post-rock, prog, metal, experimental noise and electronica. Kola starts out as an uptempo yet gentle piece suffused with melancholic beauty, before introducing a relentless, on-edge rhythm, chaotic guitar noise and hallucinatory soundscaping. Chacabuco combines the full-on intensity of metal with a bleak, gothic atmosphere, overlaid with the fierce, impassioned vocals of guest singer Taliesyn Kallstrom. Find out more at www.bubblewrapcollective.co.uk

RÚNAHILD Seidfylgjur CD (Grimfrost)
I count Rúnahild among my favourite artists, and have been following her work since her previous project Eliwagar. Her work has evolved considerably over the years; whilst still rooted in the spirituality of pre-Christian Northern Europe, the martial imagery of Viking Age warriors, battles and male gods such as Odin and Tyr as found in the earlier Eliwagar material is no longer a part of the music Rúnahild is making today. Nowadays she is tapping into something much more primal, shamanistic and intuitive, inspired by the feminine magical arts of the seidkona. Following several albums on her own Nordafolk label, Rúnahild has now signed to Grimfrost Records, the musical offshoot of Grimfrost which deals in such things as Viking reenactment equipment and historical jewellery replicas. The CD is packaged in a fold-out wallet with booklet full of mist-shrouded Norwegian nature scenery, the ethereal beauty of which is a perfect match for the music contained within.
Dísablót features ecstatic chanting layered over atmospheric sounds created by bullroarer and singing bowl. Myrkríða is darkly beautiful medieval-tinged folk, arranged with a combination of ringing lyre and heady percussion that recalls Dead Can Dance, and vocal accompaniment that shares some stylistic similarities with both Native American chants and Sámi joik. Ferden til Brunnen opens with soft chanting and the calls of an owl, before giving way to an authentically historical-sounding folk ballad akin to the traditional Norwegian songs on albums such as Kalenda Maya's Norse Ballads and Trio Mediaeval's Folk Songs. Rúnahild is joined by Gustav Holberg of Folket Bortafor Nordavinden on Vardlokkur, a primal, intense, ritualistic piece led by guttural and screamy throat singing. Urseid ingeniously brings together shamanistic chants and rhythms with medieval folk melodies, in a way that is deeply moving and soul-stirring.
Those who understand what is meant by song titles such as Dísablót, Vardlokkur, or Urseid will feel spiritually nourished by this album. Even if the lyrical inspiration behind the album means nothing to you, it can still be enjoyed on a purely musical level, and has much to recommend to fans of the ethereal medieval- and world music-informed sounds of Dead Can Dance, the current crop of bands envisaging how ancient Nordic music may have sounded, such as Wardruna, Nytt Land or Heilung, and the dark folk/neofolk scene in general. It's a jaw-droppingly beautiful album with some of Rúnahild's finest moments yet. Available at runahild.com or grimfrost.com

THE SPEED OF SOUND 30th Anniversary Scoop: 1989-2019 CD (BE Records Manchester)
12 track compilation celebrating The Speed of Sound's 30th anniversary. The album is only available on CD - no download or stream options - and collects material that has never before been available on CD format. I Don't Want Your Attentions kicks out at sexual harassment in the workplace within a spiky indiepop setting. Shut All the Clubs combines the aggression of punk with post-punk drama and angularity. The single version of Maid of the Grey balances spooky gothic tendencies with off-centre psych-pop. Nightmare is an inventive slice of dark-edged, surreal psychedelia. I Wanna Feel Good is a snarly blast of 60s-style garage rock. An eclectic band who pull together various forms of alternative music from the post-punk era - spiky angularity, gothic darkness, and the poppier sounds that would evolve into indiepop - whilst having just as much enthusiasm for the psych, mod and garage of the 1960s, and combine these varied influences to form a distinctive sound of their own. More info at thespeedofsounduk.blogspot.com

EDWARD ABBIATI Beat the Night CD/LP/Download (Harbour Song)
Debut solo album from Edward Abbiati (Lowlands, The ACC), featuring guest appearances from the likes of Mike 'Slo-Mo' Brenner (Magnolia Electric Co, Marah) and Joey Huffman (Georgia Satellites, Soul Asylum), and released on M G Boulter's Harbour Song label. I Got Hurt is introspective Americana ornamented with sighing lap steel and a beautiful, sophisticated string arrangement. Judgement Day #2 is dark, raw and honest roots-rock. 45 is world-weary and regretful, with an effective blend of acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel and piano providing the melancholic and moving accompaniment. I Can't Tell Ya is a stripped-down acoustic number with delicate fingerpicked guitar and doleful harmonica. Find out more at lowlandsband.com

KITCHEN CYNICS Sans Seraphim CDR/Download (Les Enfants du Paradiddle)
Kitchen Cynics is the recording project of super-prolific psych-folk and experimental musician Alan Davidson, who has released over 100 albums since the late 1980s and shows no sign of running out of creative ideas. He is a true musical storyteller whose songs weave vivid tales of nature and supernature, history, fantasy and memory. There's the darkly psychedelic murder ballad Jinkabout Mill; the combination of folk and electronic surrealism in Hoodie Craw (2020 version); and Witch Lover which approaches spooky folklore with a sense of humour. The dreamlike ambience of Our Light fills the head with sound-pictures of forests, birdsong and starlight; Watching Bleep and Booster, Aged 8 opts for a retrofuturistic experimental approach with sci-fi whirrs and bleeps; and The Quarrymen sets spoken word to airy woodwind and dizzying tape manipulation. The album ends with the aptly titled Contrasts, in which medievalesque folk beauty is evocatively interwoven with field recordings, from gentle nature sounds to boisterous overheard banter. Available at kitchencynics.bandcamp.com

PEDALJETS Twist the Lens CD/LP/Download (Electric Moth)
Kansas City's Pedaljets have existed on and off since 1984; until now they've escaped my attention, and if this album is anything to go by, it looks like I've been missing out. The band bring together super-melodic pop with the spikier sounds of alt-rock and post-punk. Placid City Girl is superb ringing janglepop with a strong sense of melody and harmony, calling to mind a mixture of REM and The Byrds. Loved a Stone is essentially powerpop, pairing a punked-up driving rhythm with a strong melody, while atmospheric electronic undercurrents make the song stand out from the powerpop crowd. Transfer is Done combines the edginess of alt-rock with the melody and harmony of The Byrds; in addition I'm hearing shades of Grandaddy and the highly underrated 90s band Subaqwa. This is Sepsis has a post-punk dissonance and snarl, shot through with tense riffage straight out of a vintage spy movie. One Away is a melding of 60s pop melody with rock 'n' roll attitude. Sleepy Girl is lazy hazy pop with tinges of The Beatles and 60s psychedelia viewed through a contemporary alt-rock lens. Some real gems on this album. Find out more at www.thepedaljets.com

PEFKIN Celestial Navigations LP (Morc)
Pefkin is the solo project of Gayle Brogan, also of Electroscope, Barrett's Dottled Beauty, Burd Ellen, and Meadowsilver. Her 15th album in 20 years as a solo artist, Celestial Navigations, has a loose theme of Arctic exploration, and is firmly rooted in nature, with vivid aural depictions of starlight, birds, and the Aurora Borealis. The themes explored in the music are beautifully portrayed in the astonishing cover art by Alan Davidson of Kitchen Cynics and Barrett's Dottled Beauty.
The title track is ambient space pop with glacial drones, whirring analogue synths, and the ethereal beauty of Gayle's voice. Tulungusaq is airy, dreamlike experimental pop with lyrics inspired by Inuit mythology, featuring an intermingling of thumb piano, sweeping Mellotron orchestration, atmospheric violin, and perfect vocal harmonies. Numenius Borealis is a stark, brooding experimental composition with celestial choral vocals.
I Am John Rae is a beautiful psych-folk song telling the story of the eponymous Orkney-born explorer, with a traditional folk-inspired melody set to a heady arrangement incorporating violin, synth, zither, and liquid psychedelic guitar courtesy of Alan Davidson who appears as a guest musician on this track. Aurora Borealis perfectly recreates the Northern lights in music with the eerie whoosh of the Aeolian Chimes, a musical sculpture made by Orkney artist Fiona Sanderson, alongside swirling, pulsing and humming violin and synth sounds and a traditional-inspired folk melody sung in clear, pure vocal tones.
A beautifully evocative, atmospheric album from a highly original artist who sounds like no-one else. More info at www.pefkin.com and www.morctapes.com

DIANA COLLIER Ode to Riddley Walker CD/LP/Download (Rif Mountain)
Second solo album from former Owl Service and Greanvine vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Diana Collier, featuring guest appearances from members of The Owl Service, The Memory Band, Lost Harbours, and Liberez. The title track is delicate, sparse contemporary folk inspired by Russell Hoban's novel of the same name, giving way to a darkly moving, ancient-sounding interlude in which bowed banjo is played to sound like a medieval instrument alongside similarly medievalesque chanting, before returning to the song's fragile, spare beginnings. Balm has an off-centre approach to folk songwriting that recalls Lal Waterson. There's a stark, instrumentless rendition of The Bonny Hind, a bleak traditional ballad in which a couple unwittingly embark on an incestuous relationship, the woman committing suicide once it becomes apparent that they are in fact siblings. Margins is melancholic, delicate contemporary folk underscored by cymbals employed to create atmospheric sound effects that diverge far from their straightforward percussive use. Friends is a thoughtful song that calls to mind melancholic indiepop bands such as Brighter, placing this type of songwriting within a folk setting. The album ends with another traditional song, On Christmas Day It Happened So, with an evocative, cinematic arrangement built around minimalistic bass and ethereal soundscaping. A very lovely album, released in a limited edition of 50 CDs or 100 LPs - get it at folknotfolkdianacollier.bandcamp.com

STEVE PALMER Useful Histories LP/Download (Sunrise Ocean Bender/Deep Water Acres)
Minneapolis guitarist Steve Palmer's second album, co-released by Sunrise Ocean Bender and Deep Water Acres, on black vinyl or limited edition violet vinyl, plus download code. Statesboro Day is a contemporary psychedelic piece incorporating elements of post-rock, experimental sound sculpture, shoegaze atmospherics and cosmic electronica, juxtaposing hypnotic repetition and flowing improvisational elements. Squalor fills the head with multiple layers of sound, transporting American folk into a psychedelic setting alongside pulsing atmospheric effects. Thirty features a darkly beautiful American folk melody played in an intricate, fluid, psychedelic style. I Am John Titor is an extended experimental composition built around swelling drones creating a feeling of relaxation and inner warmth. Useful Histories is a fully immersive, multi-layered piece in which Steve Palmer's distinctive way of reinventing traditional-style American folk as psychedelia is effectively combined with psych-rock jamming and expressive jazz-like percussion. An inventive album that travels across the boundaries of modern psychedelia, folk, and experimental music in a manner that is eclectic yet cohesive. Available at www.sunriseoceanbender.com or www.dwacres.com

CARY GRACE Lady of Turquoise double CD (Door 13 Music)
Cary Grace is an extremely creative and talented songwriter and musician (as well as maker of handmade analogue synthesisers sold under the Wiard brand), whose work is most likely to appeal to fans of psych, prog and spacerock, while transcending all of those categories. Her latest album, the double CD Lady of Turquoise, includes not only her own talents as a multi-instrumentalist, but the work of nine other guest musicians including three members of Gong, and John Garden who has worked with Alison Moyet and Scissor Sisters. Cary is shown on the cover in an elaborate Egyptian goddess costume, holding an ankh in one hand and an hourglass in the other, seemingly to represent life and the finite nature of life.
The album opens with the gentle, meandering spacerock of Khepera at the Dawn, then there's Letterbox, a creative and effective pop/rock juxtaposition in which atmospheric and inventive alternative pop is punctuated by wild wah-wah-driven psych-outs. Into Dust's melody has the same melancholic character as much traditional folk music, though the overall feel of the song and its arrangement is anything but trad folk. Impassioned vocal delivery, military-tinged drumming, squalling psychedelic noisescaping, and a beautiful interlude of choral-style vocals and church-like bells are combined to create an impressive, innovative mix that defies overall classification. Costume Jewellery is an extended 12-minute-plus track taking in Middle Eastern and Greek traditional influences alongside a heady, hypnotic melange of intense psychedelic rock guitars, cosmic synths and atmospheric use of electric violin, with excursions into largely acoustic singer-songwriter music and filmic ambient effects along the way.
Sacrifice combines a soulful melody and vocals with snaking guitars and organ. Memory is brooding balladry incorporating a dramatic and intricate prog rock interlude. Castle of Dreams takes in a variety of moods and styles over its 11-minute-plus duration, beginning as an uptempo, strongly melodic song with a driving rhythm and powerful vocals alongside intense, feverish psychedelic guitar, giving way to a more laid-back, almost meditative style, with music that travels across the boundaries of psych and prog, with darkly atmospheric, almost gothic tendencies at times. The Land of Two Fields is an analogue synth-led instrumental coming across like a psychedelic reinterpretation of vintage soundtrack music. The title track closes the album - a strong, catchy pop-rock song with a real earworm of a chorus, propelled by a hypnotic chug and ornamented by swirling analogue synths and fluid psychedelic guitar, making for a truly mind-altering experience. Find out more at www.carygrace.com

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