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


Some more albums have arrived from Big Stir Records since the last piece I wrote on the label, starting with Pressed & Ironed by CROSSWORD SMILES, a band formed by Tom Curless (ex-Your Gracious Host and now solo) and Chip Saam (of The Hangabouts and The 46%, and host of the radio show Indie Pop Takeout). The album traverses the 80s alternative pop scene to create something new for today, a collection of songs that is eclectic yet cohesive. This Little Town is on the more sophisticated side of 80s indie pop, the string arrangement adding a touch of luxury. Parallel Lines is airy, sunny psych pop, taking in atmospheric use of Mellotron and Rhodes piano, chiming jangle, and bright summery doo-doo-doo vocals, all familiar ingredients for this genre, though Crossword Smiles bring them together in a well-crafted, distinctive style that defies cliches. Where's the Sense recalls the kind of gutsy jangle pop the Bus Stop label used to be all about, and ends with a guitar melody that wouldn't sound out of place on Sarah Records' classic compilation Shadow Factory. Lotus is a meaty pop-rock track, featuring the muscular riffage you'd expect from that style effectively juxtaposed with some less usual elements such as 80s synth and soaring backing vocals with an almost choral feel. Walk Softly is still pop but ventures into the alt-country/Americana side of things, featuring ethereal, weeping pedal steel alongside gentle acoustic guitar and intricate percussion. The Girl with a Penchant for Yellow is an original and effective combination of 60s mod elements and retrofuturistic aspects like vocoder and 80s spacey keyboards. Many of the songs here are recognisably inspired by the 1980s but combine different genres from the underground and mainstream in a new, creative way.

Next is Handclaps and Tambourines, the second album from LIBRARIANS WITH HICKEYS, the Ohio four-piece headed up by Ray Carmen, who ought to be a familiar name to anyone following the 80s/90s hometaper scene. The album is described by the label as "melodic muscular indie pop", and I'm not going to argue with that, especially on tracks like Ghost Singer, which is on the more radio-friendly side of jangle pop, with REM being a reasonable ballpark comparison. Harmony vocals are provided by The Armoires' Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome, giving the piece a big, full, classy sound. I Can't Stop Thinking About You recalls the glory days of indie pop, with shades of Choo Choo Train coming through at times. Last Days of Summer is gentle dreamlike chamber-pop with a slight psych-folk touch. They've brought Larysa Bulbenko, also of The Armoires, on board for this one, her cello adding a neoclassical sophistication to the piece that works really well. Other highlights include the innocent fun of Fairground, a song with the same childlike sense of wonder found in toytown psych-pop songs; the bright, sunny and perfectly named Can't Wait Till Summer; and the glammy powerpop of Lady Overdrive.

RICHARD ÖHRN, guitarist and songwriter from Swedish indie pop band In Deed, has released his debut solo album, Sounds in English. There's a nod to the 60s with the 'stereo' panel across the top of the cover, and the music itself takes clear inspiration from that decade too. Seal Your Move is chiming folk-tinged jangle pop akin to The Byrds, taking in flute sections for an extra touch of sunny sophistication. 5th Month Announcement is airy, atmospheric folk-pop coming across like a more psychedelic Simon & Garfunkel; a truly lovely piece. Time's Not Running Out takes the 60s pop sounds of bands like The Zombies and The Hollies and infuses them with powerpop grit, adding an extravagant guitar solo courtesy of The Posies' Ken Stringfellow. Take This Bottle is vintage-style country-rock with lashings of slide guitar, retro organ and piano, the last two instruments also employed during a shimmering cinematic interlude. Could Have Loved You More is mature, sophisticated vintage pop with a countryish marching rhythm overlaid with a huge brass arrangement straight out of a show tune, plus Spanish guitar and tinkling piano; the highly-polished approach of this piece could sound bland in less talented hands, but Richard Öhrn is creative enough to pull it off. A well-crafted collection of retro songs with a grown-up approach.

The latest album on Big Stir is All of This Will End In Tears by POPULAR CREEPS, a band from Detroit who take their name from a solo single by ex-Replacements drummer Chris Mars. Black & Blue softens the classic crunchy, punchy powerpop sound with a touch of jangle. Keep it to Myself is an effortless, seamless combination of Buzzcocks-esque pop-punk, alt-country and janglepop, closing with an elongated, flowing guitar solo. Wait Forever is hushed Americana, introducing banjo and squeezebox for an authentic folk feel. Meaty jangle-rock tracks like From the Past and Split Decision are also hugely enjoyable. The album closes with Favorite Picture, an effective pairing of gentle acoustic pop and humming, squalling feedback. A musically diverse though cohesive album centred around the sort of pop-with-oomph that the Big Stir label is renowned for.

All these and more available at www.bigstirrecords.com


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