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

ALBUM REVIEWS

GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY Typically Stereo CD/Download (Pink Hedgehog)
SIMON FELTON The Cost of Living CD/Download (Pink Hedgehog)

Highly underrated jangle/powerpoppers Garfields Birthday celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2020. Their first couple of years were dedicated to home recording, but from 1997 onwards they took their music into the studio, and the new compilation Typically Stereo selects 23 tracks from across their 23 year history of studio recording, including alternative mixes and previously unreleased tracks, all remastered for this release.
Thick Ear is harmony-laden janglepop tinged with US folk-rock. Ambulance is crunchy powerpop adorned with joyous ba-ba-bas. Eye to Eye is a prime example of 90s noisepop, with rumbling bass and distorted vocals, its chorus soaring and anthemic yet infused with bleakness and melancholy. We Know Your Name is an absolute classic of bright jangly pop, which I count among my all-time favourite songs of this genre. Molly's Eyes distills the best bits of 90s above-ground indie music into one song, the main part of the track coming across like a cross between Ride and Teenage Fanclub, while also taking a stomping detour with tinges of Blur. Sugar Pop is as addictive and uplifting as the title suggests. Punch and Judy Man is super-catchy, Beach Boys-referencing summer pop. Cambridge is gentle and dreamlike, with shades of 60s folk-pop and ornamented with a lavish string arrangement. Cool Your Jets is top-notch powerpop, heartily recommended for fans of the powerpop output of labels like Sugarbush or Big Stir. These are just a few of the fantastic songs on offer here. In short, Garfields Birthday are unsung heroes of guitar pop. Their music sits comfortably alongside indiepop, janglepop and powerpop bands, yet they seem to be rarely mentioned by fans of these genres. Let's hope this great compilation changes that.
Garfields Birthday's Simon Felton has also released a number of solo albums. His latest, The Cost of Living, is home recorded yet far from lo-fi, and favours a largely synth-based approach. Drowned in Sound is effervescent early 80s synthpop with an indiepop heart, which would sound right at home on Happy Robots Records. Casualty Ward is melancholic observational pop underpinned by a knotwork of snaking piano and augmented by bursts of spiky noise guitar and fizzing synth. Butter Fingers is sentimental, wistful keyboard-led pop that could easily have been a chart hit in the days when the charts still had room for music with depth. Uninspired Child is classic guitar pop juxtaposing strummy jangle and atmospheric distortion, underscored by a bouncy drum rhythm and topped off with smooth vocal harmonies. Both albums here are highly recommended and available at www.pinkhedgehog.com

ARREST! CHARLIE TIPPER Red LP/Download (Old Bad Habits Label)
Latest album from Bristol band Arrest! Charlie Tipper, who include members of The Flatmates, Beatnik Filmstars, The Groove Farm and Rorschach, and were formerly known as The Charlie Tipper Experiment and The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. The LP is pressed on heavyweight red and black marbled vinyl, with artwork by Ian Jay (ex-Half Man Half Biscuit), and a printed inner sleeve with lyrics. The music here is often noisy pop with roots in the 1980s underground, which travels into other territories with the original and effective addition of instruments from outside the usual guitars-and-drums format that's the norm for this genre. The lyrics deal with relevant contemporary issues, such as the need to keep social media-fuelled negativity and stupidity out of your life (Bubble) and a forceful attack on those who misuse the important value of free speech to spread hatred and fear (Freedom of Speech), the latter song an effective meeting of searing noisepop and something more psychedelic with its hypnotic repetition and whooshing cosmic synths. Hurt is deeply melancholic pop, inventively overlaid with mournful cornet and the spacey whirrs of an analogue synth. Poets is fuzzy buzzy noisepop with an ultramelodic, harmony-driven chorus, combining the spirit of the C86 era with contemporary commentary on gentrification. Don't Leave Me Alone is thoughtful, personal pop, with an inventive arrangement taking in cornet, retro organ and synthesised strings. A recommended listen for those who love 80s indie pop while also appreciating forward-looking musical innovation. Available in limited numbers at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com

TERRY EDWARDS Very Terry Edwards triple CD box set (Sartorial)
TERRY EDWARDS Stop Trying to Sell Me Back My Past (vol 1) double LP (Sartorial)

Terry Edwards celebrates his 60th birthday with the career-spanning triple album Very Terry Edwards, featuring 60 tracks recorded across 40 years. There are solo tracks along with his early work with The Higsons and collaborations with countless other artists, the music covering almost every imaginable genre. Blues, tango, jazz and classical appear alongside punk, noise and experimentation, as well as the alternative pop sounds that are more often covered in Aquamarine. There's the jerky, angular, funk-infused post-punk of The Higsons, the woozy electronic pop of kNIFE & FORk, and the dreamy ethereal indie pop of Lush. The Wolfhounds' My Legendary Childhood is punchy 80s indie pop overlaid with joyous bursts of trumpet and wailing sax. Stuart A. Staples' Say Something Now juxtaposes dark, melancholic songwriting with skronking sax. 18 Wheeler's Stay combines sunny powerpop with the atmospheric haze of shoegaze and a luxurious string arrangement. The Nightingales with Vic Godard's Commercial Suicide Man is spiky, twisty-turny underground pop with a punk spirit. Snuff offer a melodic punk-pop song and a horn-driven surf instrumental. Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern's Art and Design brings together chug-along DIY pop and banjo-led folk, with something of a punk snarl to the vocals. Entirely different from everything else mentioned above is The Havering Youth Orchestra, with their rousing, dramatic performance of Sibelius' Finlandia. Truly something for most tastes on this album.
Also available is Stop Trying to Sell Me Back My Past (vol 1), compiling the EPs of cover versions Terry Edwards recorded in the 1990s, including the Cure covers EP intended for release in 1994 that never actually surfaced at the time. There's a trumpet-led version of The Jesus and Mary Chain's Never Understand, the guitar feedback of the original replaced by squalling sax, and a ska reinvention of The Fall's Totally Wired, with Terry accompanied by members of Madness and Serious Drinking. Three Miles Davis pieces get the noise treatment, with inspiration from fast and furious punk and speed metal, while The Clash's Version City goes funk, The Cure's In Between Days features thrashy punky elements alongside Motown influences, and The Damned's New Rose is played by a classical string quartet. Find out more at www.terryedwards.co.uk

KEVIN HEARD Welcome to Wickerworld CD (self-released)
Kevin Heard has a long history in music, having been in various bands since the 1970s, including amongst others The Carpettes and Somebody Famous. More recently he has released solo material via Stone Premonitions. For his latest project, recorded during the Covid-19 lockdown, he has turned his attention to the works of other artists, recording a series of acoustic-based cover versions. Three CDs of covers have been released, with Welcome to Wickerworld the first in the series. Tim Jones at Stone Premonitions mastered this album, but it is actually self-released by Kevin and made available for free.
There's a very lovely acoustic version of The Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, while Tears For Fears' Mad World is completely reinvented as gentle, melancholic, acoustic contemporary folk with a subtle psychedelic undercurrent. The traditional folk song Scarborough Fair appears here, with nice use of harmony vocals in keeping with the version by Simon and Garfunkel. The folk staple John Barleycorn, as performed by the likes of Martin Carthy, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, the John Renbourn Group, and underground stalwart Steve Andrews, was also famously recorded by Traffic as John Barleycorn Must Die, and it is this latter version Kevin Heard has used as a starting point for his own rendition. Acoustic guitar and mandolin are effectively combined here with atmospheric washes of psych-tinged electric guitar - a must for fans of all the classic 70s folk-rock bands. Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' is cleverly rewritten with Covid-themed lyrics, offering a stark reminder to the cynical and the complacent of the real threat this virus poses.
Contact www.facebook.com/kevinheard.music for a free copy of the album. For more info on previous Kevin Heard albums on the Stone Premonitions label, contact www.facebook.com/stonepremonitionsUK

THE CONSPIRACY Apple Zapple CD/Download (self-released)
The Conspiracy are a long-running underground outfit known for their musical eclecticism. Starting out in the DIY tapes scene in the late 80s, they later moved on to the Pink Lemon and Jarmusic labels where they became labelmates of artists like Martin Newell, Captain Sensible, R Stevie Moore, and Alan Jenkins' various bands including The Creams and The Deep Freeze Mice. Their latest album Apple Zapple is self-released, though the band seek a label for future recordings. Quite astonishing that they don't currently have a label behind them, as this album includes some of their strongest material yet. The album opens with the title track, in which stream-of-consciousness word-associations are forcefully recited over a vigorous mix of electronic dance music and heavy psych-rock. Magnolia is an effective blend of goth, punk and pop, with brooding post-punk verses adorned with chiming arpeggios giving way to full-on punk aggression in the chorus. The Race is spiky, energetic pop-rock, with a driving, chugging powerpop rhythm juxtaposed with heady, meandering psychedelic guitar soloing. Rapunzel is angry punk-infused noisepop, with a thudding rhythm and slicing guitar as backdrop for lyrics of resentment and rage; definitely no fairytale! Mahler is dark, woozy pop, with atmospheric use of slide guitar and sustained, swelling keyboard sounds. All these are top tracks but my absolute favourite is Sound of One, a melodic pop exploration of introversion, much in the style of classic late 80s/early 90s indiepop, with the jangly guitar sound that I so love. This album and selected back catalogue available at theconspiracy2.bandcamp.com

THE SPANISH AMANDA Golders Green CD (self-released)
To celebrate 20 years since the release of their album Brave New Girl, and also to thank their supporters, The Spanish Amanda have released this compilation of archival material from 1998 to 2001. Well-crafted, poetic lyrics show a laconic wit and stark, vivid realism, while the music covers a broad mix of indiepop and electronic sounds. Shao-Lin's Road combines pulsing synths, chiming guitar and deadpan lyrical recitation, the end result sounding something like an indiepop Pet Shop Boys. Gael is spiky noisepop, with guitar and piano providing an insistent juddering rhythm. Gaga Id and Gaga Yod is an instrumental piece taking in snaking, pulsating electronics, soaring flute, and guitars that range from chuggy and noisy to intensely psychedelic. Fuschal appears in its original acoustic version, delicate minimalistic indiepop that reminds me in places of early Mary Queen of Scots. Her Body Was Home is slow, atmospheric pop, combining soft acoustic guitar, dreamlike keyboards and backwards effects as backdrop for erotic lyrics that prove wrong the lazy journo stereotype that indiepop is childish and asexual. This is a fans-only CD that's not available to purchase, but the band have other CDs for sale at www.spanishamanda.com

VARIOUS The Layering CD/Download (A Year in the Country)
Described as an "audio slicing through the layers of time", this themed compilation explores the cycles of history and prehistory, the forming of land masses over millennia which are then quarried to build new infrastructure, and abandoned buildings being replaced, repurposed, or simply hidden away and claimed by nature. The CD is packaged in the label's in-house style in a foldout wallet with giclee ink art, a string-bound badge, and an info sheet with the backstory behind each track, while the album is also available for download or streaming via the usual channels. You will find eerie cinematic incidental music with drones, rumbles, analogue electronics and found sounds, as well as explorations around the darker and stranger corners of folk music, and pieces that pull both strands together into an inventive experimental whole.
The Heartwood Institute's music sounds like a sinister reinvention of early 80s TV themes, with brooding electronics and rumbling noise underscored by a hypnotic chug. Field Lines Cartographer provides a woozy, fever-dream-ish sound sculpture with dark undertones. Howlround creates a surreal, nightmarish effect with chattering and rumbling tape manipulations. Folclore Impressionista contribute a superb retrofuturist piece setting gentle acoustic guitar and dreamlike flute-effect Mellotron to a driving analogue synth rhythm; the piece has much to appeal to fans of Pram or Broadcast. Handspan have made perhaps the eeriest version of Byker Hill you'll ever hear; the piece stays true to the folk tradition with the use of squeezebox and cittern, but travels into other territories entirely with creepy found sounds and electronics, and the inventive use of coal staithe timbers as percussion. Widow's Weeds, the current band of Grey Malkin (ex-The Hare and the Moon), are joined by Ken Patterson from 1970s underground folk band Caedmon, whose eerie neoclassical cello appears alongside ghostly wordless vocals over an insistent electronic pulse. Vic Mars' piece effectively illustrates the 'layers of time' concept with its blend of 19th century pastoralism and 20th century analogue electronica. Available at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

SHORT HAIRED DOMESTIC s/t CD/LP/Download (Calcium Chloride)
Short Haired Domestic is the latest project of famed producer Tim Friese-Greene (who is perhaps best known for his work with Talk Talk, and has also worked with the likes of Catherine Wheel, Thomas Dolby and Lush, as well as his own project Heligoland) and his wife Lee Friese-Greene (formerly of Sidi Bou Said and more recently in Lemonade Sin). This self-titled album is a highly original work of avant garde pop, blending multiple genres with ease and featuring lyrics in multiple languages from Latin to Yoruba.
A Song in Japanese About Trying Things Out Before Committing is off-centre pop set to a musical backdrop combining minimal jazz piano with a busy blend of breakbeats, synth bass and noise. A Song in Bulgarian for Lovers of Gin features a quirky, angular verse that gives way to a beautiful, airy chorus with an uplifting summer atmosphere, underscored by an inventive sound sculpture that brings Latin rhythms together with beats and samples. A Song in German Concerning Gardens and Goodbyes has the dreamlike lilt of Broadcast or their largely unsung contemporaries L'Augmentation, alongside a similar avant garde feel to Dutch experimentalists Trespassers W. The inventive arrangement features electronic beats, retro spacey synths and snippets of scratching blending naturally with accordion, flute, harp and acoustic guitar. A Song in Danish in Which There is Much Discontent is an amazing track with a huge soaring melody reminiscent in places of Cardiacs, XTC, and a smidgen of Blondie, over the multi-genre sound sculpting that this album is all about.
Despite containing identifiable ingredients ranging from jazz to hip-hop to classical to retrofuturism, and bits and pieces that call to mind other bands, these are combined in a manner that creates a unique genre of its own, the overall sound being quite unlike anything others are doing. Find out more at www.facebook.com/shorthaireddomestic

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