STARRY SKIES Small Wonders CD/LP/DL (Foxstar)
Fourth album from this eclectic Scottish band. Spitfire Susie is upbeat, catchy powerpop, with vivid biographical lyrics telling the story of a woman who came of age in the WWII era and the influence she had on later generations. Highwater Eagle is truly exceptional folk-pop, drawing the listener in with its deeply atmospheric string arrangement. Kind Hearted People is pure sunny pop adorned with male/female vocal harmonies and that ringing jangly sound that's impossible to resist, plus the addition of a guitar solo that shows the band are unafraid to rock out. Elsewhere there's the bleak cinematic blues of Natural Way, the sweeping chamber-pop of Iris in the Underground, and I Don't Wanna Be That Kinda Guy, a full-on rocker, raw, dirty and real. A diverse collection of songs that work well together, with a bright, uplifting pop spirit pervading much of the album along with sophisticated, well-crafted arrangements. Well worth checking out. Visit www.foxstarrecords.com
RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE Strung Out on Heaven's High 1980-1982 Mini-LP (Optic Nerve)
Religious Overdose were a post-punk band formed in 1979 in Barby (near Rugby), who included amongst them Alex Novak (later of The Tempest, Attrition, and Venus Fly Trap) and Richard Formby (later of In Embrace, The Jazz Butcher, and Spectrum). This 7 track mini-album compiles the three singles they made for Glass Records between 1980 and 1982. 25 Minutes makes an entire song out of the repeated lyric "25 minutes on a train", belted out forcefully over angular riffage, the mechanical chug of a drum machine, and touches of retro organ creating woodwind-like background effects. I Said Go is off-kilter pop with a spiky, staccato instrumental melody, the brash punky verses juxtaposed with the melodic ba-da-bas and ah-ahs of the chorus. In This Century opens with an extended instrumental piece of cinematic experimentalism, centred around foreboding strings and clanging cymbals, before giving way to harshly atmospheric gothic punk with an intense yowling chorus. Girl With the Disappearing Head starts off as a kind of angular experimental pop that could be seen as a precursor to the weirder side of C86, before morphing into a psychedelic jam session overlaid with hypnotic chanting. Whilst this short-lived and comparatively obscure band are rarely mentioned in the same breath as their post-punk contemporaries such as The Fall, Joy Division or Bauhaus, they were no less innovative, and their influence can be clearly heard in the angular experimental music that emerged later in the 80s. Available at www.opticnerverecordings.com
THE WATER STRIDERS my name is EXPECTATION LP/DL (Old Bad Habits)
Debut album from this Athens band formed in 2015, who break down the boundaries between indie pop and alternative rock. House of God has distorted, wailing guitars sharing space with a catchy pop spirit, the alt-rock aspects of the song having much in common with bands like the Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins. I Never Die, my name is EXPECTATION is dark, moving, melancholic pop, beautifully accompanied by a creative blend of woozily chiming guitars, atmospherically rolling drums, electric piano, choppy fuzzy noise and washes of ethereal sound. Like an Empty Train is really great 80s-style indie pop, an absolute joy to listen to. You also get the gutsy indie pop of Love is a Friend, the heavy fuzz onslaught of The Devil Inside, and the darkly swirling atmospherics of Pictures, Creatures. Very nice presentation too, pressed on heavyweight vinyl in a beautiful shade of purple, limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, with full colour printed inner sleeve with lyrics, and band logo sticker included. Available at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com
THE REV. J. KINKAID Every Great Story Begins With a Snake 10"/DL (Old Bad Habits)
8-song mini-album from The Rev. Jonny Kinkaid, alias Jon Kent, formerly of The Groove Farm and Beatnik Filmstars and now Arrest! Charlie Tipper. He is joined here by Ruth Cochrane of The Blue Aeroplanes on bass, accordion and piano, and Tim Rippington of Beatnik Filmstars and Arrest! Charlie Tipper on fuzz guitar. The album is released on clear 10" vinyl, with impressive lino-cut artwork, and a printed inner sleeve with lyrics. And All the Animals Too is thoughtful bedroom pop pairing choppy guitar with the atmospheric hum of the accordion, which lends a cinematic, ambient feel to the piece. Masters of Chaos is minimally-arranged protest folk, in a similar vein to the folkier side of Steve Andrews, an artist who will be a familiar name to all followers of the 1990s DIY tape label scene. I've Got Soul (But I'm Too Slow) is melancholic lo-fi pop, the strummy guitar backed by tinny drum machine and tinkling, clattering found sounds. Monkey Song #3 has a swaggering tune that wouldn't sound out of place in a garage rock track, the lyrics delivered with a punky sneer. The arrangement takes in strummed acoustic guitar, bursts of fuzzed-out guitar noise, and inventively psychedelic use of accordion which makes the instrument sound more like a spacey synth, miles away from anything you might hear in trad folk. A great set of DIY songs, following in much the same spirit as the hometaper scene from back in the day, bringing together pop, folk and experimentation along with the attitude (though not the stereotypical sound) of punk. Limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, available at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com
BHOPAL'S FLOWERS Joy of the 4th LP/CD (Sound-Effect)
Third album from this Montreal-based band headed up by multi-instrumentalist Lionel Pezzano. It's basically a concept album celebrating the gift of new life, and the joy and awe a new father feels towards his baby son. The artwork sets the scene for the music within, with cutesy cartoon flying animals and swirling rainbows, clouds and waves, suggesting music children would like, but also something distinctly psychedelic. Summertime is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Saraswati, glorious Rickenbacker-fuelled jangle pop adorned with psychedelic vocal effects and swirling sitar. Byrd of the Tree adds warbling flute and lilting Mellotron to the heady Indian-inspired psychedelia this band do so well. Walking on Rainbow is amazing psych pop with that super-jangly sound that's always such a joy to hear, within a big luxurious arrangement taking in bubbling cosmic synth, sitar, and a prominent melodic bass line. Babyphone is chirpy pop accompanied by beautiiful baroque harpsichord, sweeping Mellotron strings, and tinkling glockenspiel that creates a music box-like effect. The album closes with Alright!, a slow and gentle piece with a cosmic country touch courtesy of the ethereal use of slide guitar. A great set of songs from this excellent band, where strong pop tunes meet creative arrangements and lyrics imbued with a sense of spirituality and wonder. Label info at www.facebook.com/SoundEffectRecords
ANDY ELLISON Wall to Wall Jive double CD/DL (Easy Action)
Extensive career-spanning anthology covering Andy Ellison's work with The Silence and John's Children in the 1960s, Jet and Radio Stars in the 70s, through to more recent collaborations with Boz Boorer and Andy Lewis, John's Children II, and solo recordings from various eras. Well-known songs like Smashed Blocked appear alongside rare and unreleased material, 40 songs in all, spread across two CDs.
The first CD opens with the raw mod sounds of The Silence's Cold on Me, before moving on to a handful of John's Children tracks including Smashed Blocked which transports 1950s-style pop into the psychedelic era, and the addictively catchy pop-psych classic Come and Play With Me in the Garden. John's Children are, of course, a notable part of music history, having been managed by Simon Napier-Bell, and featuring amongst them a young Marc Bolan.
Solo recordings follow, with particular highlights including Hippy Gumbo, orchestrated psych-folk with those slightly spooky and bizarre undercurrents present in all the best examples of this genre; It's Been a Long Time, from the film Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, superb baroque psych-pop with an elaborate string and brass arrangement; and Arthur Green which combines the observational pop of the late 60s with a boisterousness that prefigures the punk sound that would emerge a decade later.
Jet were a short-lived band signed and dropped by CBS within the space of a single year (1975). I understand they were usually a glam band, but the sole track of theirs here is something else entirely - a complete reinvention of the Small Faces' Lazy Sunday, which is part jazz, part Cockney music hall number.
Radio Stars' Dirty Pictures combines a driving rock 'n' roll rhythm with punk energy and a sense of humour: "I get my kicks up in the attic / With a Kodak Instamatic". They provide some punked-up blues-rock in the shape of (I've Got Dem Old) Sex in Chains Blues (Again Mama). By the late 80s they'd started to incorporate heavy metal into their sound, as heard in Scare Me To Death.
Highlights of disc two include Cluster Bombs, shimmering, reflective pop that sounds surprisingly like an artefact of the late 80s/early 90s indiepop underground, and wouldn't sound out of place on an old-school indiepop compilation like The Sound of Leamington Spa series or one of the Cherry Red indiepop box sets. Heather Lane (with Andy Lewis) features Kinks-meets-Blur songwriting set to an eclectic, ever-changing, psychedelic arrangement taking in lilting, swirling Mellotron, wild psych guitar, Hammond organ, orchestration, jazzy flute improvisation, and bubbling cosmic synth. Disappear Across the Sky (also with Andy Lewis) is great harpsichord and sitar-driven psych-pop. One of my favourite tracks from the first CD, It's Been a Long Time, is revisited as delicate chamber-pop, minimally arranged with violin, acoustic guitar and tambourine, this version performed by Andy Ellison and Boz Boorer.
There's a wide range of styles explored here, from smooth 80s-style synthpop to punky and rocky tracks, via the psych-pop that's most in line with my own tastes. Comes with a 20-page booklet with memorabilia pics and diary entries full of rock 'n' roll hi-jinks. Available at www.easyaction.co.uk
ASH GRAY & THE BURNERS Live 55 CD/LP/DL (LuvRock)
Sheffield-based Texan songwriter Ash Gray and his band The Burners present their debut live album recorded in 2021 at Sheffield's Dorothy Pax pub, with songs drawn from Ash Gray's recent solo albums and his earlier material recorded with the High Class Family Butchers. Jeremiah combines US folk with cheery na-na-nas that lend a catchy pop feel to the piece. The Creek Don't Rise is a song that sounds convincingly like a genuine artefact from the American folk tradition, ornamented here with woozy, bendy pedal steel providing a psychedelic atmosphere. Billy is a tale of the Wild West shrouded in a cosmic shimmer. Back Alive puts the rock into country rock, with powerful vocals and intense, intricate guitar work. Other notable tracks include the brooding melancholy of Chickenwire and the bluegrass-informed numbers such as The County Line and Two Lane Blackhop. Country music doesn't always grab me, but this album ticks all the right boxes with its unpolished realness, strong melodies, and occasional forays into psychedelia. Visit www.ashgraynews.com
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