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


A Turntable Friend is a German label with roots in the 1990s indiepop scene, which returned in 2017 following an 18 year hiatus. I count this label among my favourites; it's a trustworthy source for great indiepop, as well as more eclectic sounds from bands who draw from psychedelia, post-punk and beyond. Since my last piece on the label earlier this issue, they have released three new albums.

the black watch were founded in 1988 by songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist John Andrew Fredrick. The band has had a number of line-ups over the years, with John presently being joined by Scott Campbell, Rob Campanella, Andy Creighton, Chandler Fredrick and Julie Schulte. The band has a huge back catalogue spread across various labels including Pink Hedgehog, Not Lame, ATOM, and Hypnotic Bridge. Latest album Brilliant Failures is their first release with A Turntable Friend. It's an impressive set of songs, cohesively blending elements of shoegaze, post-punk and indie pop. Julie 2 is soft dreamy pop with contemporary folk touches swathed in an ethereal shimmer. Crying All The Time! is delightfully noisy, driven by an insistent fuzzy chug and wrapped up in an airy atmosphere that nods towards shoegaze without being shoegaze per se. John Andrew Fredrick's comment "We're not quite a shoegaze band, but we're a shoegaze band" is very pertinent for this track in particular. Twisted Thinking is ultramelodic fuzz-pop, the noisy aspects reminding me of Boyracer's finest moments, while the song itself is anthemic, almost hymnal at times in its melody. Red Dwarf Star brings together dark-edged post-punk, shoegaze noise and whirring psychedelic synths. Anywhere/Everywhere gives short shrift to mob culture in which "one false step" is met with "venom" and "shrill complaints", amidst a shoegaze wall of sound reminiscent of Ride. What I Think brings to mind a noisier Smiths, its lyrics a pointed put-down of boringly arrogant braggarts. A top quality album from this continually recommended band.

THE ROOM IN THE WOOD are centred around Dave Jackson and Paul Cavanagh who previously worked together in The Room, before Dave became involved in Benny Profane and Paul with a number of bands including Ludus and Top. Their second album We're the Martians, Now casts a sarcastic eye over Mars colonisation plans, arrogant unempathic people, and flat earthers, while celebrating the natural world and the kind, loving side of humanity. The songs draw from a diverse selection of styles but hold together as a complete album. Diamond Clouds is powerful, melodic pop-rock. Blue is a darkly ethereal song best described as gothic pop. Fun of the Fair combines shades of The Doors with a spiky punk urgency. Charmed is a sophisticated, vintage-inspired number along the lines of Burt Bacharach, enveloped in sunshine pop vocal harmonies and airy flute, the arrangement contrasting sharply with the biting political lyrics. Dragonfly is beautiful, delicate and atmospheric, strongly informed by folk music, incorporating a flute melody that soars and dances in the air much like the creature of the title. The Earth is Flat (Fool's Anthem) skewers the anti-science brigade within an exhilarating, noisy post-punk setting propelled by a stomping, danceable rhythm. The Room in the Wood are one of the bands whose presence on A Turntable Friend makes me question whether the label can truly be seen as an indiepop label any more, but when the music is this inventive and well-crafted, who honestly cares if it's indiepop or not?

Swedish band EASY are perhaps best known in the UK for their debut album Magic Seed, originally released in 1990 on Blast First. This critically acclaimed album resulted in indie chart placings and support slots with the likes of The Charlatans, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The House of Love, and Lush. They subsequently put out a string of other albums on various Swedish labels, before moving to A Turntable Friend in 2017 for the reissue of Magic Seed, and the album A Heartbeat from Eternity which included a selection of tracks from their last two albums released in Sweden. A Turntable Friend has now released their latest album of all new material, Radical Innocence, which was recorded in London with well-known producer Pat Collier. There are songs in the classic indiepop style, like Day and Night with its blend of chiming guitar and airy keyboard, and the uplifting pop of Memory Loss, Revisionism and a Brighter Future, and then there are songs in which Easy reinvent indiepop with effective incorporation of influences from outside the genre. The title track inventively brings together urgent slicing noise, sombre cinematic piano, busy drumming with an almost military character, and melancholic guitar jangle that then melds into a sprawling psychedelic atmosphere. Golden Birds is a big epic track bringing together the noisiness of shoegaze and indie rock, soaring ethereal strings, and woozy, bendy sound effects. Southern Water Communities is built around a laid-back melody situated somewhere between American folk-rock and American indie rock, accompanied by chiming guitar in the best late 80s/early 90s indiepop style, underscored by smouldering noise and atmospheric, retrofuturistic keyboards. A creative album that retains all that's great about old-school indiepop while adding much that is new to this genre.

All three albums reviewed here are distributed worldwide by SRD, or can be ordered direct from the label at www.aturntablefriendrecords.com

latest album Electric Music is out now on A Turntable Friend on limited splatter yellow vinyl, limited black vinyl, CD or download. Sleeve notes by writer and comedian Stewart Lee give an overview of the band's 35 year history while delving into the philosophy behind the current album, a "state of the nation statement" filled with "existential despair". Like Driftwood is a superb pairing of melodic beauty and blistering noise, with a verse melody that would sound just as at home in a folk ballad and a chorus adorned with polyphonic harmonies, set within a whirl of choppy, squalling guitars. Song of the Afghan Shopkeeper (After Ben Judah) empathises with the experiences of a man trapped in inner city gloom, far from his family. The music is a tense and spiky rendering of Middle Eastern and Indian influences, with noise guitar alongside bulbul tarang, and a bhangra-infused riff owing much to Panjabi MC and Labh Janjua's Mundian To Bach Ke.
...And Electric Music is chaotic, lopsided noisepop with grinding guitar noise and frantic electric violin. The Roaches, a bleak vision of warmongering politicians who would "start a nuclear war/just to show you who's in charge", juxtaposes tense guitar noise with almost classical aspects, including the unusual and effective addition of bassoon, provided by guest musician Rhodri Marsden who I remember from an assortment of angular 1990s bands like The Keatons and Gag. We Don't Believe Anything brings together the music of early last century with the bizarre sounds of the future, featuring a sophisticated cabaret-esque melody that combines the darkness of a smoky barroom with the immensity of a cinematic epic, underscored by a surreal experimental soundscape that gives the piece a highly original twist. Broadly speaking, this is a noisepop album, but a noisepop album made by people who know full well there are other genres out there and who aren't afraid to use them, resulting in a final sound that is as inventive as it is intense.


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Text © Kim Harten, 2020.