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BIG STIR RECORDS

Big Stir Records have released a few more new albums since the last time I wrote about the label. SHPLANG celebrate their 25th anniversary with the compilation album Los Grandes Excritos (1994 to 2019), featuring tracks from all four of their albums plus a selection of previously unreleased songs. This band was founded by Peter Marston (formerly of The Phlaix, The Onlys, and The Corsairs) and John Krause (better known as a visual artist and animator who has worked on over 100 episodes of The Simpsons). They make an eclectic yet cohesive brand of pop that's sure to appeal to indiepop, powerpop and 60s pop fans alike, with a sense of humour that shows they don't take themselves too seriously. The album opens with Spanish Galleons, a top quality track that puts an inventive spin on janglepop with the addition of whirring and whooshing synths. Sucker is sunny folk-pop with chiming guitar and dancing flute. No-One Knows has cheeky lyrics and a bouncy tune, seasoned with lashings of brass. There's Delacroix with its 'Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin go powerpop' sound, Tokyo Go-Go which comes across like action movie music with a Japanese twist, and Birds Go Round which sounds like a Beatles song played by a banjos-and-washboards hillbilly outfit, while Sway interweaves atmospheric twinkling and soaring synths into noisy powerpop, culminating in an impassioned, grungy noise explosion. Some real gems here from a band I'm keen to hear more from.

Anton Barbeau Presente Kenny Vs. Thrust sees the prolific, eclectic artist ANTON BARBEAU joined by his US and UK backing bands, KENNY from Sacramento and THRUST from Oxford, the latter of whom are also known as Charms Against the Evil Eye. Beautiful Bacon Dream is off-the-wall angular pop with musical twists and turns and lyrical surrealism aplenty, where spiky noise coexists with glorious vocal harmonies. Jingle Jangle, a solo track without Kenny or Thrust, was initially intended as a send-up of so-called twee pop, a genre that's evidently something of a bugbear to Anton, but has ended up as something infinitely more psychedelic. It incorporates a cascade of chiming 12-string and a swirling psychedelic guitar solo along with Anton's trademark lyrical quirkiness, and is sure to delight psych-pop fans. Elsewhere the album runs the gamut from satirical rockabilly (Clean Clothes in a Dirty Bag), to off-kilter synth-reggae (Tidy Up Yourself), via early 80s-style synthpop with a fuzzed-out psych-rock twist (Back to Balmain). There's a diverse mix of styles on show here but it's all held together by Anton's distinctive approach to songwriting, and is an absolute must for fans of Anton Barbeau and of inventive psychedelic music in general.

The Big Stir Singles Series continues, with two new editions released since my last article on the label. Five dollars from each sale of Big Stir Singles: The Fourth Wave will be donated to the Ed Asner Family Center, which offers support to people with special needs and their families, including arts, vocational, health and counselling services. Big Stir releases a digital single each week, and this installment compiles the singles from July to October 2019 onto CD, along with a one-off single from Giving Tuesday in December as well as both tracks from what I believe to be the label's sole excursion into 7" vinyl. Each of the Big Stir Singles Series compilation albums features enthusiastic liner notes from a supporter of the label, and this time it's DJ and blogger Carl Cafarelli. Single artwork appears on the cover, showing the label puts as much care into the visual presentation of their digital singles as their CD and vinyl releases.

Big Stir is all about community spirit, and much space is given here to bands on other likeminded labels alongside those from Big Stir's own roster. The vinyl 7" represented here is by sparkle*jets UK - a Big Star/Chris Bell tribute with Big Star-influenced cover art and featuring Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. The Ballad of El Goodo emphasises jangle and vocal harmonies, with Byrds-like folky leanings, while You and Your Sister is laid-back, dreamlike pop with luxurious orchestration. Broken Arrows show two very different sides of their sound in the strongly melodic pop-rock track Behind the Eight Ball and the heady, intense psychedelic jam Shroomitized. The Reflectors make classic powerpop that sounds like a genuine artefact of the late 70s or early 80s, with authentic vintage-style cover art to match. Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers combine country with raucous pop-rock in Crumb, and add a touch of rock 'n' roll in the Violent Femmes cover Add It Up. Shplang appear with Spanish Galleons, the fantastic synth-peppered janglepop track that was among my favourites from their album reviewed above, and Pickles are Fun which combines baroque pop, psychedelia and 60s singer-songwriter folk with a quirky sense of humour.

The amazing jangly psych-tinged pop of The Vapour Trails has got me super keen to hear more from them. The Hangabouts appear with the stylish & sophisticated retro pop of Who Wants Cilla?, and the quintessentially 60s observational pop of Mrs Greene, with its bouncy rhythm and harmony-laden chorus. Blake Jones and the Trike Shop's My Soft Rock Girlfriend is powerpop infused with a quirky, arty sensibility, while Disentangled goes all out with the Beach Boys harmonies. The Walker Brigade opt for a choppy-changey raucousness tempered by an exhilarating harmony-driven pop tune in Tower, and reinvent I'm Tired, a song from the Blazing Saddles soundtrack, as an effectively bizarre mix of show tune and fierce punk. More great pop-rock, janglepop and powerpop songs are contributed by Dolph Chaney, Armstrong, The Persian Leaps, and Joe Normal and the Anytown'rs. For anyone who is a fan of these overlapping pop subgenres, this compilation series is continually recommended.

Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave is so new that my copy hasn't landed here yet, but I believe its arrival is imminent, and hope to have more to say about this soon. In the meantime, the other albums reviewed here can be purchased at www.bigstirrecords.com

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