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


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.


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