STEVE STOECKEL The Power of And CD (Big Stir)
Debut solo album from Spongetones vocalist/bassist Steve Stoeckel, comprising 15 songs, most below the three-minute mark. Laura Lynn is punchy 60s-tinged pop with mod and Merseybeat tendencies, beefed up with a chuggy powerpop rhythm. Birds is really beautiful acoustic-based pop that reminds me at times of The Orchids (especially Long Drawn Sunday Night which uses a very similar guitar melody) and also The Harvest Ministers. The Emerald Sea is musically and lyrically Irish-inspired, with an inventive pairing of penny whistle and intense rock guitar. Why is a duet with Irene Peña, combining sweet catchy pop with elements of country. Heather Gray has a distinctive sense of melody that recalls Lal Waterson, combined at times with hints of The Beatles circa Eleanor Rigby. The album closes with Whistling Past Graveyards, a dark, spiky pop-rock number with proggy twists and turns. Steve Stoeckel explores a wide variety of styles on this album, though nothing ever sounds out of place. Well worth checking out. Visit www.bigstirrecords.com
CHRIS CHURCH Radio Transient CD (Big Stir)
In many ways, this latest album from Chris Church has much in common with commercial 1980s pop and soft rock, though the songs have an originality that sets them apart from the bland homogeneous side of much mainstream music. GCRT sets forceful quickfire vocals to an atmospheric liquid arrangement peppered with the spacey whirrs and burbles of vintage synths. I Don't Wanna Dance With Me has a songwriting style that puts me in mind of Tim Jones, who with his bands Somebody Famous, Body Full of Stars, and The Rabbit's Hat, made music that was very accessible and radio friendly yet infused with an underground spirit. One More Chance to Get Over You is gutsy pop-rock adorned with chiming 12-string. Gotta Go, Gotta Ramble is hugely catchy pop with multifaceted twists and turns, taking in more of that ultra-jangly 12-string guitar, and synths that range from twinkling ethereality to an insistent rhythmic pulse, while extra depth and texture is provided by backing vocals from Lindsay Murray of Gretchen's Wheel. Flip is really strong pop-rock with an inventive musical setting in which the guitar chimes and the synths swirl, whoosh and pulsate, alongside a textured vocal arrangement featuring Chris and Lindsay's intertwined voices. A really impressive album that has the potential to appeal to a huge audience while maintaining the free-thinking, sometimes almost outright quirky, inventiveness more often associated with niche underground artists. Get it at www.bigstirrecords.com
THE HIGSONS Run Me Down: The Complete 2Tone Recordings LP (Sartorial)
2Tone is a byword for a particular brand of punked-up ska, but around 1982 the label started broadening its output to include other genres. One of the signings from this era were post-punk funk pioneers The Higsons, who included amongst them Charlie 'Switch' Higson, who would later go on to be an actor, author and TV scriptwriter, and Terry Edwards, prolific solo artist and session musician who is also in the Near Jazz Experience alongside Higsons drummer Simon Charterton. This LP compiles all The Higsons' material released on the 2Tone label, in a limited edition of 500 copies released on Record Store Day, 22nd April 2023. Ylang Ylang features wild parping brass and funky rhythms combined with a post-punk angularity; Run Me Down adds a pop aspect to the spiky funk sound with the addition of keyboards and luxurious layered female backing vocals; and Put the Punk Back into Funk does exactly that with its pairing of shouty vocals, political lyrics and scratchy noise with a lopsided funk rhythm and melodic brass instrumental section. Available in record shops, distributed by Cargo. More info at www.facebook.com/higsons
TRACE IMPRINT Golitha Falls aka Serotonin LP/DL (self-released)
Trace Imprint is a project of multi-instrumentalist Jon Chinn who has previously recorded as Darkships and Jonathon Heron, and worked with the likes of Trappist Afterland, Astralasia, and the Mushroom Project. Here Jon plays a wide array of instruments, accompanied by Dan Gunning on percussion. This album, which is inspired by two years of immersion within the landscape of Cornwall's Golitha Falls nature reserve, comprises extracts from the soundtrack to an accompanying film. The original LP entitled Golitha Falls was released in Spring 2021 but then kind of shelved. A new edition, retitled Serotonin, has recently been made available. The original LP has a printed sleeve, while the Serotonin edition has hand-glued cover art with limited designs that change after every five to ten copies. Both versions can be found on Bandcamp.
The scene is set by Sweet Morning, a brief snippet of incidental music based around hypnotic electronics and processed birdsong and dog barks. Invocation features an Eastern-informed melody and tabla rhythms underscored by glacial drones, while fretless bass lends a contemporary jazz undercurrent to the piece. Procession to Succession blends elements of prog, psych, ambient and more into a cohesive whole, with intricate and often intense guitar soloing, tablas, jazzy bass, calming drones and pulsing electronics. Canopy Communication treads a similar path to the hauntological sound-artists featured on A Year in the Country's themed compilations, with its dark-hued analogue synth melody and squelching background electronics; birdsong has never sounded this sinister. As the Light Returns, We Radiate Colours is the gloriously psychedelic title of a multifaceted piece that takes folk as its starting point. An intricate folky guitar melody is accompanied at various points by softly evocative drones, pealing glockenspiel, jazzy fretless bass, whirring spacey electronics and tribal percussion, the overall vibe being something like a more English-sounding version of the experimental folk-jazz that comes out of the Nordic countries.
The music here travels across genre boundaries with ease, defying categorisation into a single narrow style. As well as the LP which this review relates to, there is also a download with bonus material including spoken word (one of the narrators being Maxine Peake), images and music from the film. All variants of the album are available at traceimprint.bandcamp.com
NICK ASTON Limone Sul Garda CDR
As well as being in Mystic Village alongside former Sea Urchin Robert Cooksey, Nick Aston also makes solo recordings in film soundtrack style. This album was originally intended for release on Robert's label Bobby Bongo Records in 2019, but there's some uncertainty over whether or not it will actually come out, as Nick has made newer music since that may end up being released instead. This review therefore simply serves as an introduction to this artist and an announcement that he has music recorded that may be released in future, if not this particular album.
Italian Incidental is centred around a hypnotically repeating harpsichord melody underlined by gently swelling drones. Theme Two features dramatic, intense use of harpsichord and organ. The Fourth Horizon is the album's six minute centrepiece, beginning as a neoclassical piano piece ornamented by 1970s cinematic organ, gentle in tone though building up to some big dramatic crescendos. The piece takes an effectively unexpected turn with its incorporation of disco and funk aspects swathed in an ethereal shimmer. Incident! is an unsettling piece with a dissonant melody accompanied by rumbling electronics; I can see the film veering off down a surreal horror route at this point. Line is mellow and melancholic all at once, based around plaintive harpsichord and piano alongside soaring flute and meandering retro organ. In Endtitle, twinkling celesta soars above a contemplative piano melody, creating a dreamlike ethereality.
These are hugely impressive compositions and it would be a great shame if they were never released. See also this review for more info on Nick Aston's work with Mystic Village.
ANGUS McOG Cirrus CD/LP/DL (Gare du Nord)
You might expect a band named after the Irish mythical figure Aengus mac Óg to play Celtic folk, but these Italians led by Antonio Tavoni actually make a mature brand of pop that takes in an eclectic variety of influences and makes them their own. The album opens with the title track, Radiohead-meets-Coldplay songwriting set to sophisticated cinematic orchestration. Lou is grown-up indie pop with an Americana heart, arranged with shimmering Fender Rhodes piano, jangly guitar and an extended psychedelic outro. Chances is piano-driven folk-tinged pop that packs more of a punch than that description suggests, incorporating mariachi trumpet, background vocalisations that recall Laurie Anderson's O Superman, and an intense early 70s-ish rock guitar solo which leads to the song's abrupt end. Sirens is formed around an icy drone backbone, overlaid by piano, military drums, and Nick Drake-esque acoustic guitar. The hypnotic, ethereal organ intro that opens Communist Party Party is in keeping with the rest of the album, but as the song develops, it begins to sound like a completely different band. It's punchy, catchy powerpop 'n' roll, which segues into a twangy, Western movie-ish interlude then onto driving noisy guitar riffage and ending with bursts of wailing brass. Find out more via linktr.ee/angusmcog
THE CHURCH The Hypnogogue CD/LP (Easy Action)
The Church is a band I've heard of for many years but never knowingly heard until now. They've been variously tagged as rock, psych, goth and prog, and at the same time, jangly indie pop bands often get compared to them. I'd been curious to hear them for that last reason, but with such a vast back catalogue dating back to 1980, it was impossible to know where to begin. The band started out on major labels, but as mainstream music became increasingly bland and homogeneous, there was less room for creative bands like The Church in that world anymore, so they moved to a variety of independent labels, the latest being Easy Action, who have released their 26th album The Hypnogogue.
Opening track Ascendence sees the band at their most proggy, with bombastic drums, dramatic sweeping guitar atmospherics, and changeable song structure, coupled with the dark edginess of goth. Flickering Lights is sophisticated and cinematic, featuring piano shrouded in a glacial, ethereal noisescape. The Hypnogogue is heady gothic psychedelia with swirling riffage over sharp guitar noise and chugging bass. My personal favourites on this album include the hazy, dark-edged neo-psychedelia of C'est la Vie, the folk-tinged Albert Ross, and the magnificent pealing jangle pop of Aerodrome. Available at easyaction.co.uk
VARIOUS Elemental Child: The Words and Music of Marc Bolan double LP/CD (Easy Action)
Easy Action Records celebrate the work of the late Marc Bolan with this extensive compilation album, sold in aid of the Light of Love Foundation to make a bore hole for clean water at the Marc Bolan School of Music in Sierra Leone, the project set up by Marc's partner Gloria Jones. There's a highly eclectic mix of artists here, from pop to hard rock and much, much more besides, but the music is held together cohesively by the thread of Marc Bolan's songwriting. The songs range from Marc's early solo material through to Tyrannosaurus Rex and then on to T. Rex. The LP is nicely presented, on double orange vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with colourful psychedelic art. Several of the songs are exclusive to this compilation. The album is also available on double CD with different artwork and a few extra tracks.
The LP begins with Sylvie Vartan's French version of Beyond the Rising Sun, Il Faut Trouver Son Coin De Ciel, orchestrated pop with light airy flute and vocal harmonies, a recording that dates back to 1966. Andy Ellison, Marc's bandmate from John's Children, joins up with Boz Boorer for a version of Third Degree with an authentic 60s-style beat sound. Swervedriver contribute an indie rock version of Chateau in Virginia Waters. Witchwood's Child Star is sweeping, swirling psychedelia taking in a heavy folk-rock instrumental section. Classically trained singer Catherine Lambert's version of Wind Cheetah features a beautiful orchestrated arrangement centred around classical guitar and cello. Tarwater's Visit is a hypnotic piece with post-rock and soundtrack inclinations.
Chris Connelly and the Liquid Gang provide some off-kilter, atmospheric psychedelia with their version of Cat Black (The Wizard's Hat). Burn it to the Ground combine metal with dancey electronics in their hard-hitting version of one of the most famous T. Rex songs, Children of the Revolution. Automatic Shoes' Lofty Skies is pure psych-folk beauty. Speedtwinn provide a country-rock Spaceball Ricochet, and The Polecats a rockabilly Jeepster. Rachel Stamp give us a wild rendition of Calling All Destroyers, from the heavier end of glam rock. Schwefel provide an inventive version of Visions of Domino, based around a relentless electronic pulse, samples, heavy guitar and untamed sax soloing.
The album shows those only casually acquainted with the music of Marc Bolan that there was far more to his work than just the big glam hits like Get it On, while also exposing a varied selection of talented current artists to a wider audience. Available at easyaction.co.uk
ELLI DE MON Pagan Blues CD/LP (Area Pirata)
If you think blues-rock is a dull, plodding, cliched genre, this is an album that will make you think again. Elli de Mon, a true one-woman band who plays all instruments on this album, takes blues as a starting point for her almighty noise, a raw, unrestrained sound that's just as influenced by garage punk as blues. There's the intense vocal howl and thrashed-out riffage of I Can See You; the bleak, gothic folk-blues of Star; Ticking, with its heavy riffs, wailing feedback and forceful vocals over a clock-like rhythmic backdrop; and Siren's Call, which takes blues down an Eastern route with its mystical chanting, swirling sitar, and raga-like guitar solo swathed in distortion. A powerful, exciting listen, taking blues far outside the narrow confines of genre purism. Well worth checking out. Visit www.areapirata.com
CLAUDIO CATALDI The Age of Nova CD/DL (self-released)
Claudio Cataldi's new album The Age of Nova was recorded over a 7 year period in various locations across the UK, Australia and Italy, and makes for an eclectic yet cohesive listen. The Welcome Party could be described as neoclassical post-rock, featuring a Hood-like guitar melody alongside a sophisticated string arrangement courtesy of Aldo Ammirata. I'm Out of Tune is 60s-informed psychedelia with swirling organ, liquid guitar soloing and joyous 'ooh-ooh' vocals. Godless is raw gothic blues, with a grimy guitar sound and the intense distorted vocals of guest singer Ian Bonnar of In Every Dream a Nightmare Waits. House of Noise is mellow, drawn-out neo-psych swathed in fuzzed-out atmospherics and snippets of heady backwards guitar. The Wooden House is a very lovely instrumental just over one minute long, pairing delicate ukulele strumming with the sophistication of cello and piano. Northern River Park is an astonishingly beautiful acoustic track somewhere between contemporary folk and the more contemplative side of indie pop. Mention must also be made of the impressive swirling colourful psychedelia of Dale Simpson's sleeve art. CD copies will be available exclusively in the goodie bags given out at the 19th Dream of Dr Sardonicus festival, though the album can also be downloaded at claudiocataldi.bandcamp.com
MARGERY DAW & KITCHEN CYNICS No Bigger Fools CD (Aaraas Platemakar)
This album was originally released on streaming services by Shambotic Recordings, and has now been made available on CD by new Norwegian label Aaraas Platemakar, in a digipak featuring the trademark Kitchen Cynics collage art. The long-running and prolific psych-folk project Kitchen Cynics has teamed up here with an artist with the nursery rhyme-inspired moniker of Margery Daw, who plays a similarly eclectic mix of instruments as Alan Cynic, and expands the eclecticism with the range of voices she uses here, from the refined RP recitation of Bullfinches to the brash Cockney music hall of The Ghost of Marie Lloyd on the X7. The music covers a similar territory to Alan's solo Kitchen Cynics work, putting an experimental, psychedelic spin on folk music, along with bizarre sound-art pieces that go all out with the experimentation. Lyrics draw from the beauty of nature, as well as the weird and gruesome sides of Aberdeen history.
Betty Hadden's Hand features a delicate harp melody and floaty, whirling theremin as backdrop for a tale inspired by an early 20th century murder victim whose arm was found floating in Aberdeen harbour. In Bullfinches, Margery reads out an assortment of facts about the titular birds and how they have been viewed across eras and cultures, from Henry VIII to Shinto, over a gentle, airy folk accompaniment. Calotype pairs an authentic-sounding traditional-style folk melody with spacey experimentalism. The Ghost of Marie Lloyd on the X7 imagines the music hall star coming back to haunt a local bus route, with Margery belting out a medley of music hall classics over a suitably ghostly soundscape taking in an ethereal, otherworldly mixture of dancing flute, humming singing bowl and clanging xylophone. It's a surreal listen and a lot of fun. Pigeon Devotion is a kind of experimental homemade opera inspired by pigeon calls, accompanied by woozy bowed bass and electronic drones. The CD is limited to 50 copies, available at aaraasplatemakar.bandcamp.com
DAVEY WOODWARD & THE WINTER ORPHANS Mystic Science LP (Old Bad Habits / Last Night From Glasgow)
Davey Woodward, formerly of The Brilliant Corners and The Experimental Pop Band and also of Karen, returns with the third album from his other current band, Davey Woodward and the Winter Orphans. The music here is a kind of alternative pop that combines a sense of sophistication with a raw, dark edge, drawing from a range of genres from the deep thinking, emotional indie pop of Hell to the grimy blues-rock of Call Me Satan. I didn't find the album as immediate as the music of Karen or The Brilliant Corners, but sticking with it, it's a real grower, with some truly superb tracks within.
After Midnight is a snapshot of a Christmas day with all its highs and lows, and is probably the only song to come out of the indie pop milieu to feature lyre, an original touch that I really appreciate. The punk-folk protest song Nationalists takes a sharp skewer to the rapidly shifting and increasingly polarised political landscape. Confetti brings in influences from all over to create a sound that escapes categorisation into a single genre yet manages to sound cohesive. Bleak lyrics ("They're rioting in the streets / And the police beat you to a pulp / [...] / Our liberty was taken / In a flash") are set to a country-tinged melody backed by a hazily juddering guitar sound, cornet evoking the mood of a smoky late night jazz club, and bongos adding extra texture.
Available on eco vinyl, with evocative cover art featuring a masked, tattooed woman shrouded in cotton-candy smoke, plus printed inner sleeve with lyrics, from oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com or shop.lastnightfromglasgow.com
DAVID CW BRIGGS The Armchair Traveller CDR (Folk Archive)
The very prolific homemade recording artist David CW Briggs returns with new album The Armchair Traveller, the title track of which travels across garage-blues and atmospheric pop, with raw throaty guitar work and a punky assertiveness to the vocals. Slanted Sunlight Through a Grid of Trees is a psych-folk instrumental evoking the beauty of nature through a late-afternoon haze. Neighbour Hood Watch is lo-fi hometaper pop with a Syd Barrett-like eccentricity. A DCWB album wouldn't be a DCWB album without an extended epic track, and this album's example, That's It for the Long One, is an absolute corker. Beginning as classic psych-pop, the piece melds into an elongated instrumental combining spacey ambience, pealing jangle and a sitar-like twang. The piece exceeds 12 and a half minutes, yet never outstays its welcome. Available as a CDR limited to just 15 copies, or download, at davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
ZEUK Minutes Two CDR (Folk Archive)
Second installment of Zeuk's Minutes series, consisting of eclectic lo-fi songs less than a minute long. Among the 23 micro-songs on offer here are the rich, heady, gothic psychedelia of Ascent, the eccentric psych-pop of Fungus, the homemade folk of The Herd (They Move When They Move) with its spooky, airy flute and rattling found sounds, the medieval-tinged electric folk of Daisy, the ultra-lo-fi outsider pop of That Dog, and the angular improvisational weirdness of Violent Vinyl. The CD is limited to 25 copies, and comes with a free badge with Zeuk's Crow Spanner logo. Downloads are also available. Visit davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
THE VAXTONES Never Ending Story LP (Old Bad Habits)
The Vaxtones are a new Greek band consisting of members of several other bands, including amongst others The Last Drive, Scopitone, Xaxakes, and Maximum High. The title track is strongly melodic pop with cheery ba-ba-bas, an absolute must for fans of the classic indiepop sound. Never Understand is fun catchy pop with Buzzcocks/Undertones bite, that even includes a punky children's choir. The lyrics praise some celebs (Jamie Vardy, Marvin Gaye, Ru Paul etc) but hate "that guy in Coldplay". The Things We Never Learned is swingin' vocal jazz infused with a happy-go-lucky, sun-and-sandcastles indiepop spirit. The surfy twang of Sha-la-la reappears in Don't Tie Me Down alongside soul and 60s pop. I Could Be Dancing is a pure pop thrill, its chorus echoing Dreaming by Blondie. I Cannot Write a Happy Song opens with a woozy, late night jazz intro, giving way to a choppy, post-punk funk sound that brings to mind some of the work of Terry Edwards. This is a great, ultra-melodic album that will surely appeal to fans of C86-era bands like Talulah Gosh, The Flatmates or The Primitives, while simultaneously looking far beyond that scene for inspiration, with songs that put an indiepop spin on genres such as soul, jazz and surf. Limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, with printed inner sleeve with lyrics and free Vaxtones sticker. Available at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com
SWARME OF BEESE Fruits of the Golden Land LP/CD/DL (Backwoods Modern Recordings)
Second album from this superb Texan folk outfit consisting of vocalists/guitarists Stephen Canner and Lynne Adele, violin/viola player Stefan Keydel (also of Dreihasenbild), and guest multi-instrumentalist Mark Addison. The album sounds steeped in history, as if 19th century folk musicians were brought back to life and catapulted into the psychedelic era. Like the folk ballad tradition of old, the lyrics are of equal importance to the music, telling vivid stories rich with evocative, poetic imagery.
Turpentine is the gruesome tale of a turpentine-drinking multiple murderer, briefly incorporating psychedelic vocal effects that add a surreal element to the piece. The band's musical approach, summed up by their label name Backwoods Modern Recordings, is also reflected in the lyrics here, the main character being a product of a whole other era to his cheerleader love interest and the high school boys who meet a sticky end.
Angel on Wings of Steel is a prime slice of gothic folk with harrowing lyrical realism. Bright October Day retells the famous murder ballad Omie Wise from Omie's perspective, the lyrics so poignant they moved me to tears. The piece shows a clear love and understanding of the historical folk tradition, while subtly psychedelic touches are provided by the spacey whoosh of the analogue synth.
Distant Father's authentically traditional-style melody lingers in the mind long after the record has finished, continuing to move and astonish. This is exactly the kind of song that reminds me just why I love folk music. The piece's cinematic ending, with neoclassical strings accompanied by rumbling thunder, is the perfect way to close the album.
The cover art is also worthy of mention, a reimagining by Dan Barry of a still life by 19th century artist Frances Flora Bond Palmer. You see the beauty of the fruits of nature first, then looking again you see the surreal and unnerving eyes looking back at you from within the flowers. This blend of 19th century art and strange, eerie modernity is a perfect match for the band's music. A truly excellent album, as was its 2022 predecessor Backwoods of my Mind. Visit www.swarmeofbeese.com
SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS Waltz of the Weekend CD (The Hip Replacement)
The Soft Hearted Scientists return after a seven year break with this huge 75 minute album that illustrates well their highly creative brand of psychedelic pop, which achieves a perfect balance of accessibility and quirkiness. What Grows Inside the Garden is truly flawless ultramelodic psych-pop, featuring an effective mixture of chiming guitar, spacey synth burbles, atmospheric Mellotron and more. Waltz of the Weekend is an ambitious, multi-part piece with heady verses full of swirling sitar, uplifting waltz choruses and an interlude that brings ancient Egypt to modern Wales. Rode My Bike is whimsical and wacky in the best way, with a lopsided melody overlaid with recited lyrics like a kind of psychedelic rap, slowing right down with harpsichord-arrayed beauty and back again, before morphing into Gadzooks!, a variation on the same song that juxtaposes tinkling harpsichord with bombastic rock guitar, along with a distorted underwater vocal section. The Fixer must surely be the most catchy and cheerful song ever to be written about a contract killer, riff-driven and layered with engaging electronic sound effects. Creepers and Vines is about having a hangover, and makes hangovers sound like a thing of beauty with its delicate, intricate guitar and keyboard melodies, cinematic effects and lyrics that reveal an intelligent wit. An essential album for fans of psychedelic pop. Available at softheartedscientists4.bandcamp.com
DAVID REID Shadows and Shades CD/DL (Secret Shark)
Solo instrumental album from The Contrast's David Reid. Every track here was performed on a single guitar, recorded live with no loops or overdubs, with David explaining that he uses the instrument to make a complete arrangement with all the necessary elements. The resulting fullness of the arrangements often creates an illusion of more than one musician at work, though it's David doing everything, all at once, on a single guitar. The pieces here were written as "music for imaginary movies", and carry an appropriately cinematic atmosphere. Whilst drawing inspiration from a number of genres, from folk to jazz-blues to film score, David has put his own distinctive stamp on these styles, creating a cohesive listening experience. Tulpa is tense and resonant, the guitar providing the bass and percussion parts as well as the main melody. No Words and Flying Things both have an intricate beauty, with melodies that hint at medieval madrigals. The Bright Shining Night is superb electric folk with a glorious chiming jangly sound. There's also the brooding, horror filmic Wendigo, the darkly swirling Shadows and Shades, and Corruption Blues with its aura of suspicion befitting a crime drama. Visit www.secretshark.co.uk
THE BRAINIAC FIVE Memory or Dream LP (High on the Pyg Track)
The Brainiac Five, psychedelic punks with a history stretching back to the late 70s, present their latest and possibly last ever album, featuring three out of four of the original 1970s members (Charlie Taylor, Woody, and Bert Biscoe) along with Duncan Kerr, formerly of Plummet Airlines, who joined The Brainiac Five when they reformed in 2012. Last Chance Town is juddering, jerky post-punk taking in an atmospheric interlude with kalimba, harmonica and chanting. The Ground is twisty-turny psych-punk with a funky bass line, more of that kalimba, Jew's harp, and bamboo flute played in a percussive style. The piece has a wackiness quotient high enough to appeal to fans of bands like Cardiacs, Wizards of Twiddly, or the quirkier side of Wobble Jaggle Jiggle.
The Admiral, Albert Terrace, Penzance 1978 comes from the more melodic side of the band but is no less off-centre in its own way; superb underground pop with a punky punch, taking occasional excursions into folk and psych territory. A Blind Man's Life is another excellent slice of melodic underground pop, this time adorned with wailing blues harmonica and chiming, flowing psych-folk-rock guitar work. Swerve returns to the band's spiky, angular side, with a choppy-changey structure overlaid with punky ranting and intense guitar solos. Cry in Style is folk-pop balladry that's surprisingly conventional when compared with everything else here, though certainly not in a bad way; its inclusion here emphasises the multifaceted capabilities of this band and makes it clear that there's more to them than quirk-factor and punk energy.
An enjoyably eclectic and inventive album that grows on me with each listen. Mention must also be made of John Hurford's colourful cover art showing the band's vintage tour van travelling along a snaking lane in the Cornish countryside, watched by the Green Man and a cawing crow. A full colour lyric sheet is also included. Visit www.pygtrack.com
AVI C ENGEL (formerly CLARA ENGEL) Sanguinaria cassette (Cruel Nature)
NB: This tape was released in June this year under the artist name Clara Engel, but since its release, the artist is now known as Avi C Engel. You will find references to Engel online under both names.
The Canadian multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter presents an album of original, inventive music combining contemporary dark folk with a filmic, soundscape-inspired approach. The album takes its name from the Latin name of bloodroot, a plant with pretty flowers and toxic roots, reflecting the coexistence of beauty and darkness within the music. At the same time, the name's combination of 'sanguine' and 'aria' ties in with how making music is a deeply life-affirming experience for Engel.
Sing in Our Chains is creative, intelligent pop, ethereally arranged with washes of icy ambience. Poisonous Fruit is darkly beautiful contemporary folk, accompanied by banjo and talharpa (Northern European bowed lyre), played in a manner that combines hints of Appalachian folk with a mystical Eastern atmosphere. Deathless is an atmospheric, dreamlike folk-pop gem, with stomping percussion, shimmering guitar, and the ambient hum of the talharpa providing the perfect backdrop.
A Silver Thread is engagingly spooky folk with vivid, poetic, horror-filmic lyrics accompanied by eerily wavering talharpa and lap steel. Larvae's haunting songwriting is backed by a soundscape of ringing kalimba and swelling drones, giving way to a hushed, gentle guitar melody.
The cassette's presentation is also worthy of mention, with on-body printing that envelops the tape in a red and black mist, within a folding cruciform card case, a work of art in itself. Only a few copies of the cassette remain at the time of writing, available at the Cruel Nature Bandcamp page. The album is also available as a download or CD from Avi C Engel's Elephant Shrew Editions label at Bandcamp.
SHAW'S TRAILER PARK s/t CD/LP/DL (Swamp Song)
The sleeve's unassuming caravan pics give no clues as to the greatness of the music contained within. The emphasis of this album is a garage sound exemplified by Don't Do That, a punchy, riff-driven track that catapults 1960s garage into the 21st century. Americana is another important ingredient, with songs like Sun Device, raw, dark and psychedelic, with a Wild West twang alongside parping sax and hypnotic psych riffage, and the laid-back Americana-infused psych-rock of Restraint, with its hazy vocal effects and mellow, liquid guitar work. One of the main highlights for me is Crash Landing, the sort of chiming jangler that's guaranteed to grab my attention, coming across like the meatier side of classic indie pop meeting something more psychedelic, really superb. Find out more at www.shawstrailerpark.co.uk
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