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

PINK HEDGEHOG

PINK HEDGEHOG RECORDS releases excellent melodic music - indiepop, powerpop and psych-pop. They put out CDs and professionally packaged CDRs, all of a high quality. The label is run by Simon Felton of the band Garfield's Birthday, whose Chrome Jungle CDR is out on Pink Hedgehog. You might remember this album from its previous incarnation as a cassette on Best Kept Secret. It's a compilation of demos and live tracks, including covers of Teenage Fanclub and Simon & Garfunkel songs. Both of these bands seem to be an influence on Garfield's Birthday's own material. A non-musical influence would appear to be Withnail & I, as they include clips of dialogue from this film between tracks. Garfield's Birthday are a strongly melodic band playing harmony-laden old-school indiepop, powerpop and the sort of music classed as folk in the 60s (not traditional folk). There's also the minimalistic psych-pop of Chelsea Jack. Anyone with an aversion to 'demos' should push aside their prejudices because Garfield's Birthday make well crafted music and the sound quality is definitely not inferior (except perhaps on Chelsea Jack, but that sounds to me like it's deliberately meant to be lo-fi).

Simon Felton also has a solo album, Previous, which compiles Garfield's Birthday tracks and truly solo material, none of which has ever been released before. If you like Garfield's Birthday I can highly recommend this album, as it's the kind of strongly melodic powerpop/indiepop the band are known for. Tracks like Novelty, Sugar Pop, Mystery Boy and Away From Here are supremely catchy. A lot of this stuff is of a similar style to assorted 70s powerpop bands, and if it had have been released back then I'm sure it would be (rightfully) regarded as classic today.

Junkbunny's Bump is another release that those with their ears to the ground should already be aware of, as it originally came out on US DIY label Semper Lo-fi. Junkbunny consists of Alec Cumming, Joel Bachrach and Michael J Bowman who also runs Semper Lo-fi and records solo material under the aliases MJB and Cloud. Junkbunny make strongly tuneful pop with a pretty high quirk factor - a kind of lo-fi They Might Be Giants if you will. Bump is a very fun album and a must for anyone that likes their pop a bit different from the norm.

Peter Lacey is a very prolific songwriter who has three albums out on Pink Hedgehog. The first of these is Thru A Glass Brightly, an album of sophisticated chamber pop/sunshine pop with the sort of vocal harmonies and fully textured arrangements that have attracted frequent comparisons to Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys. Peter has a very professional singing voice with vibrato in all the right places; a vocal style that's rarely heard in the underground. The Sparkle Room is excellent harmony pop that diverges into a psychedelic instrumental near the end. Ellen Street is a very original kind of orchestral pop with evocative lyrics. The Tower is a very moving acapella song with an original atmosphere. Someone with lesser creativity could make music in this style and it would just sound like dull 'easy listening' music; music with this degree of sophistication often ends up sounding bland. But this is definitely not the case with Peter Lacey, who is a very talented and creative artist. Thru A Glass Brightly is a highly impressive album, brimming with maturity and intelligence.

The next Peter Lacey album is Anderida, named after the Roman name for the forest on the east coast of England, which over the centuries has been built on, and Peter's home town is a part of this area. This album continues in the tradition of the last one; after all, there's no reason to change dramatically when what you're doing works well. There are songs here that owe a lot to The Beach Boys, but there are also songs that continue to show that Peter Lacey is an artist of great individuality and creativity. Chime In has an unsettling, almost medieval feel at times. The Silver Lady alternates between a 1930s/40s sound and a more modern kind of sophisticated pop. The title track is atmospheric with dark and experimental undercurrents.

Songs From A Loft is Peter Lacey's latest album, and also the latest release from Pink Hedgehog. Fans of his previous albums shouldn't be disappointed with this. Sandman (of the Southern Shores) is a delightfully summery slice of harmony pop. More than Wonderful is a must for Beach Boys fans. Curios is excellent imaginative chamber pop. Orient Tear is an atmospheric mix of Eastern music, new age and experimental music. River Round combines elements of ethereal psych-pop and summery harmony pop in an inventive fashion. Lo-Fi-Hi-Fly is a predominantly instrumental track with lots of psych-rock guitar soloing. Another impressive album from this truly creative artist.

The Bitter Little Cider Apples is the other band of Alan Strawbridge from The Lucky Bishops. The rest of The Lucky Bishops also appear as guests on the album Still, along with Simon Swarbrick, who is the nephew of Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick no less! The Bitter Little Cider Apples play an eclectic selection of music, from punky powerpop to slightly quirky indiepop to psych-rock, and even classical music in the intro track. Sometimes the styles appear singly and sometimes there's a mixture of styles within one track. But despite the diverse collection of genres on display here, the album is remarkably cohesive. Playground is excellent psych-tinged powerpop, reminiscent at times of Alan Strawbridge's other band, and there are also shades of The Lucky Bishops in Wants & Needs. Sad Lady is great melodic janglepop with a few slightly off-centre moments. Crocodile Head is a superbly inventive track that shows it's possible to make indiepop and not sound like every other indiepop band. Park The Car is an off-kilter mix of indiepop, powerpop and psych-rock with tongue in cheek lyrics. Punk meets brass and quirky pop in Shamefaced. Summer's Yet To Come is more evidence that guitar-based pop can indeed sound original. An impressive album.

Steve Wilson, formerly of Cheese and The Little Green Men, has a solo album out on Pink Hedgehog, Steppin' It Up A Notch. This was recorded with The Innocent Bystanders, who feature Robbie McIntosh of The Pretenders and Paul McCartney's backing band, and Chas Dickie from Van Der Graaf Generator, both of whom are also in Gordon Haskell's band. As to be expected from this, the music here has a very professional approach. The title track starts off with some excellent folky fiddle playing, but as I suspected, this didn't last. The rest of the song sticks to a pretty standard 'adult pop' formula. Invisible People is on the grown-up side of indie music, a good song but very familiar sounding. Whenever You Come Back is an acoustic song with cello and soprano sax. As with the previous track, the song is good but sounds very familiar, even though it includes instruments that don't normally turn up in this kind of music. Little Friend has shades of country music and 1940s popular song. Away is a vocal duet between Steve Wilson and the female singer Jess Upton, who has a very strong and quite deep voice. Their voices work well together. It starts off as an acoustic track but completely changes mood when the full electric band comes in; I like the way it does this. The song itself is a little too much on the standard pop side for me though. Your God Isn't Listening is a protest song against people who use religion to 'justify' their hatred and violence; I like the sentiment behind this song.
There's nothing really wrong with Steve Wilson's music, and I kinda like some of it, but I just felt I've heard too much music like this in the past for it to be really exciting. Also it veers dangerously close to middle of the road/easy listening territory on several occasions. Peter Lacey can get away with sophisticated mature pop music because his songs have a strong sense of inventiveness, but with Steve Wilson's music I'm left thinking I've heard similar stuff many times before. If you dig adult-oriented, middle of the road pop songs then this is a well crafted example of its genre; you can't really expect anything less than well crafted when you consider the professional musicians who are on board. But personally I prefer music with a bit more bite, and/or a more distinctive musical style.

I first heard Fireworks by Hamfatter when it was out as a self released CDR. Pink Hedgehog have now released it as a CD which will hopefully expose it to the wider audience it deserves. Hamfatter make melodic indiepop with an original approach, which is both quirky and intelligent. Bluesy Grooves is an underground-friendly and slightly off-centre take on blues/jazz/pop. We Never Know and Pyramid Song are excellent acoustic-based songs. My Name is great well-crafted pop with a dark edge. Soundcheck Saturday is a superb slice of inventive quirkiness. Another Young Brave has an unusual mix of instruments - noisy guitar, woodblocks, hand drum and harpsichord! A very innovative arrangement. You May (Take Drugs In The Day) is brilliant off-kilter piano-based pop, as is John Peel (On My Phone). Finally there's Bonus, a sophisticated neoclassical piano piece. The album has a very homemade feel about it, you can even hear the tapehiss during the quieter moments - but don't let this put you off. The songwriting and musicianship stand out from the crowd, due to their talent, sophistication and originality. Very impressive stuff.

Hot on the heels of his album King of Missouri, recorded with The Bevis Frond (and soon to be reviewed in Aquamarine as part of a Woronzow article), Anton Barbeau releases his new album Guladong on Pink Hedgehog. The sleeve art is utterly weird, a man and woman with cats' heads, if not the SAME cat's head superimposed over their real heads, with a baby doll and the bizarre slogan 'Have a baby ... for you no fee'. Something tells me this isn't gonna be run of the mill music - and it definitely isn't! What it is is fantastic off-kilter pop that is quirky yet strongly tuneful, and homemade sounding whilst avoiding an excessively lo-fi quality. There's bits of psych, country, 60s pop, lo-fi oddness, imaginative use of vocal harmonies and eccentric humour thrown in, all merging to create something very individual sounding. An amazing album, and one I expect I'll be listening to for a long time to come.

Cheese is another band that includes members of The Lucky Bishops. Their previous album Let It Brie was really great, so I was very keen to hear their new one, Enlarge Your Johnson. You'd be forgiven for expecting a band called Cheese, with albums called Let It Brie and Enlarge Your Johnson, to be some kind of wacky comedy band, but they are actually purveyors of a particularly sophisticated and intelligent brand of pop/powerpop/harmony pop. This new album has already gained praise from underground music promoters Lord Litter and Stone Premonitions; the former says it's the best pop album out of Britain since The Beatles and 10cc, and Stone Prem say it's "an absolute masterpiece, and we don't use that word lightly here. [...] Songwriting of this calibre belongs up there with the finest Beatles tunes and that is no understatement". Some people have a tendency to scoff at claims that bands, especially underground bands who no-one's ever heard of, are as good as The Beatles, assuming the reviewer must be clueless. I would advise them that the above reviewers have a long history in music and know their stuff.
Let It Brie was an impressive enough album, but Enlarge Your Johnson shows even more maturity and sophistication - and not in any bland sense either, the music is mature and sophisticated in a positive way. There's slight shades at times (and only at times) of The Beach Boys and The Beatles' more adventurous material, but despite this Cheese are DEFINITELY NOT a mere copyist band; they come across as a very talented band with their own original, individual ideas, and plenty of them. A very strong album of impressive pop music, highly recommended.

Anyone looking for high quality, original pop music should definitely get in touch with this label. More info at www.pinkhedgehog.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2005.