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PINK HEDGEHOG

Pink Hedgehog Records was started back in the 90s by Simon Felton, primarily as an outlet for his own band Garfields Birthday and other local musicians. Since then the label has expanded to include a range of other artists in the indiepop, powerpop and psych-pop field, including some who have received much critical acclaim, and in the case of Hamfatter, TV appearances and chart placings. Despite this success, the label still has a strong underground spirit and differs in many ways from mainstream record companies. Since I last wrote about Pink Hedgehog, they have released a number of new CDs.

Garfields Birthday put out a couple of CDRs which acted as tasters for their album Let Them Eat Cake. The Mr Newton EP (since released as a 'proper' CD by German label Dandyland) has intriguing cover art of a man shaking hands with a grey alien. Two of the tracks were to later appear on the album, plus there is Memories Fade, which is less poppy than their usual material, nodding as it does towards early 70s rock. All three tracks from the Deaf in Venice EP are also on the album. Let Them Eat Cake is a joint release between Pink Hedgehog and Dandyland, and is a truly fine example of upbeat, cheery, ultra-melodic and catchy powerpop, ranging from the superb jangly song We Know Your Name, to the super-catchy harmony pop of Punch & Judy Man, Mystery Boy and Sugar Pop, to the gutsy Cocaine Joe, with its punk-tinged riffage. Whilst much of their stuff harks back to mid 80s indiepop, it also has a classic, timeless feel, and the band should by rights be huge. I've been playing this album a lot lately and the songs never get dull. Anyone who appreciates a good catchy tune really should check out Garfields Birthday.

Simon Felton also has some solo albums out on Pink Hedgehog, the CDRs Talking About the Weather and Symmetry, and his first 'real' album, Failing in Biology, the latter of which is also a joint release with Dandyland. As has always been the case with Pink Hedgehog, they put as much effort into the artwork of their lower profile CDR releases as they do the 'proper' albums. Talking About the Weather includes songs in the same vein as Garfields Birthday (Mother's Pride also appears on Garfields Birthday's Let Them Eat Cake under the title Bastion of Teenage), as well as more minimal and laid-back singer-songwriter tracks, some of which draw from melancholic old-school indiepop and others from 60s folk-pop. There's also Paisley Man, a quirky psych-pop number with pre-programmed synth percussion. On the whole, Symmetry is old-school indiepop pure and simple, but Simon adds the unexpected influence of trip-hop or some other electronic chillout music to My Stupid Friend.

Failing in Biology features guest appearances from Anton Barbeau and The Lucky Bishops' Alan Strawbridge. A handful of tracks here are reworked versions of songs from the two previous albums, but the arrangements are very different. This latest album has less of a lo-fi homemade feel; it has a 'bigger'/'fuller' sound and additional psych-rock and psych-pop touches that work well with the music. If you're new to Simon's solo music, I would suggest starting with this album. The previous homemade albums had rather a demoish quality at times, but this is definitely not the case with Failing in Biology. The new album also has more of a timeless feel rather than the more straightforward old-style indiepop heard on the last two.

Hamfatter are a band I promoted via my old tape label, so it's good to know that they've since gone onto bigger things. They appeared on the TV show Dragons' Den, and as a result their single Sziget made it into the UK charts. The band are also making a name for themselves elsewhere in Europe, following four European tours, and the title track of their album Girls in Graz reached number 3 in the Austrian charts.

Girls in Graz is an album of well crafted indiepop/powerpop with a certain quirk-factor, that makes use of clarinet, piano, melodica and sleigh bells alongside the more usual instruments. There's even a classical influence in the piano-based Spring Summer, along with hints of vintage musicals or operetta. The Breathing and the Lying is an off-kilter, dreamlike folk-influenced track with clarinet, guitar that has rather a mandolin or cittern-like feel, and the melodica, an instrument that always does sound like an accordion. Sounds like they may have been listening to that 'nu-folk'/'strange folk' genre that got a lot of attention in recent years, and while it's a very different sound to the rest of the album, it's a sound that suits them. Django introduces elements of jazz, blues and spacerock into the off-centre pop mix. The album finishes off with Interdental Music, an odd mix of cut-up interview pieces, and Spring Summer played backwards. The song Girls in Graz itself, which opens the album, is classic catchy powerpop with witty lyrics, a bouncy piano riff, and a guest appearance from a three piece brass ensemble - brilliant stuff, and no surprise the song has proven so popular. Although Hamfatter's sound can be quite quirky, it's not a difficult listen and they don't come across like they're trying too hard to be weird. It's basically pop, but a kind of pop that thinks outside the box.

The Girls in Graz album featured twin vocals from Eoin O'Mahony and Emilie Martin, but following the departure of Emilie, the band are now a three-piece and the new lineup have released a further album, What Part of Hamfatter Do You Not Understand? They are joined here by guest musicians Jiggy Traer on double bass, strings four-piece The Bratlgeiger String Ensemble, and three-piece brass ensemble The Horns of Contention. The lo-tech hand-drawn artwork belies the fact that Hamfatter are serious musicians, two of the core members having studied music at Cambridge University no less.

Most tracks on What Part of Hamfatter... show a somewhat 'meatier' sound than the last album, with more of a rock influence, ranging from indierock to early 70s rock to punk, whilst other tracks are more pop. Don't expect standard rock or pop however - the band give the music their own distinctive flavour with their use of horns and strings, the occasional touch of psychedelia, and their slightly off-centre autobiographical lyrics, such as "I've got a car and I'm a man/I love Michelle and I'm a man/I'm gonna drive us all round Europe in this messed up van" from Karma, and the whole of 21st Century Sex, with its reminiscing over teenage sexual mistakes, a drug-taking landlady, wasting time on Myspace, and touring Europe, finally getting held up at gunpoint, to which Eoin remarks "my life was great". The strings add an extra sophistication, for example in How Sweet It Is, a very classy piece with a strong classical influence. Dancing Shoes begins on the sophisticated side of old-school indiepop, with strings and a slight folky touch, reminding me a little of what I seem to remember The Harvest Ministers sounded like. The song then bursts into an uptempo, almost punk number, which is totally unexpected. At Home Here is a prime slice of idiosyncratic pop/rock with more of Eoin's unmistakable lyrical style: "We like Primus/Hell yeah, we like Primus/But we're really nice guys when you see through our scary exterior", and the tongue in cheek tribute to Anton Barbeau that follows this. The final untitled track is a delightfully quirky instrumental version of Girls in Graz made with retro synths!

Next up was Hamfatter's single Do Something Stupid Tonight, taken from the above album. The title track introduces a reggae influence, along with some horns straight out of early jazz (when jazz still had tunes), but despite its eclectic influences, there's still the familiar Hamfatter quirk-pop sound to be heard here. As the band were aiming for mass exposure with this single, the word 'pissed' has been edited out, but there is no such censorship on the album version. There are also three tracks exclusive to this EP; Down Tonight (melancholic indiepop that makes use of quirky retro synth as well as sophisticated piano and orchestration), My Great-Grandfather (a reflective song with minimal piano accompaniment and an overall intellectual and artistic feel), and 21st Century (Electro Remix) (a reworking of 21st Century Sex with experimental electronic arrangement). I believe Hamfatter have another album due out imminently - this I look forward to hearing!

The Black Watch, from Los Angeles, have a 4-song EP The Innercity Garden out on Pink Hedgehog, followed by an album, The Hypnotizing Sea. On the EP, Innercity Garden combines an upbeat powerpop sound with the atmospheric noise effects of dreampop/shoegazing, whilst Dylan, Dylan, Dylan is an ode to Bob Dylan, evidently something of a hero to this band, presented as summery pop with a strong country influence. These two tracks are also on the album, but there are also two tracks exclusive to this EP. Moonlight Thru Ivy is a minimal, laid-back alt-country song, and The Teacup Song Take Two (a different version of an album track) is janglepop/powerpop. The album The Hypnotizing Sea shows the band's main sound to be a very melodic powerpop/indiepop, that often adds shoegazerish atmospheric noise and psychedelic touches. There's also Willing to Wait, a minimal strumalong with a deliberately lo-fi, 'hollow' sound; the aforementioned country-ish Dylan, Dylan, Dylan; and Another Summer Coming, an off-centre blend of old style janglepop and some sort of early 20th century popular/easy listening music. I find the band excel most when they combine indiepop with ethereal noise effects and psychedelia, a combination that works really well and is perhaps illustrated best of all on the title track, as well as Papercut. Other favourite songs of mine include The Shakespeare Song, which is very fine jangly harmony pop, and Buttercup Fairchild, great melodic noisyish indiepop.

Prolific artist Anton Barbeau has a number of albums out on Pink Hedgehog, following albums on Woronzow and other labels. Since I last wrote about Pink Hedgehog, Anton has had 3 new albums out on the label, starting with Waterbugs & Beetles, a reworked version of an album originally released in 1995. Some songs from the original version have been removed, as looking back on it, Anton considered it "a sprawling hippy of a hairdo. 19 tracks, all sorts of nonsense and trickery, I say. I was a little too in-touch with the spirit of the times, and thus I included all sorts of songs freshly written and slightly not-washed". So the hippy had a haircut, taking the total of tracks down to 16, and now Anton considers Waterbugs "a nice little pop record". I don't have the original version, so can't comment on how the album may have improved as a result of cutting various tracks out, but can comment on the fact that Waterbugs & Beetles as it is now is in the most part an excellent collection of powerpop and more laid-back psych-folk-pop with quirky humorous lyrics. Some of the humour on offer here may not be to everyone's taste, with its preoccupation with peeing, vomiting, underwear, and sex with bible bashers, but it's all a relatively harmless laugh and only a prude would find it offensive. The songs may be 15 years old but have stood the test of time and don't sound dated.

Differing from the rest of the album are Complicated Umbrella Piece, a bunch of odd sound effects and answerphone recordings all mashed up in a blender; Slimy Cello Piece, which begins with a woman talking about 'slimy underwear', followed by some all-over-the-place modern classical style cello playing; the child pirate speech/experimental music combo that is Long John, which Anton admits in the sleeve notes that some may think him weird for leaving on the album; and Come Again, which is 40-odd seconds of silence followed by some brief guitar noodling and wailing. These self-indulgent oddities are only brief, and the rest of the album is so good that Anton can be forgiven for including them.

Anton Barbeau's next album for Pink Hedgehog was Drug Free!, this being new material, not a reissue. Anton's quirky sense of humour is still in evidence here, seen for instance on the inside of the cover, with its strange collage of a face with mushrooms for eyes, and the slogan "All I wanted was this stupid t-shirt and all I got was this stupid t-shirt". Anton is joined here by eighteen guest musicians and singers, some of whom are familiar names, such as Sharron Kraus and Alan Strawbridge. The music is underground pop, sometimes with psychedelic touches, and with a general sense of the off-centre about it, whether in the arrangements or the bizarre humorous lyrics. Some of the material here is more overtly psychedelic and strongly suggests the title Drug Free! is ironic. Magic Metal Apron is great upbeat psych-tinged powerpop that is wacky enough to fly off at a Little Drummer Boy tangent. In A Boat On The Sea is an 11 and a half minute track made up primarily of an extended psychedelic guitar instrumental; quite self-indulgent but with more sense of purpose than those throwaway experimental tracks on the last album.

Anton Barbeau's latest album is Plastic Guitar. He is again joined here by a selection of guests, the most familiar name being Kimberley Rew. The music here is a mix of psych-pop and powerpop; whilst still having its idiosyncrasies, it is on the whole less far-out and wacky than some of Anton's previous material, the lyrics of a number of the songs here being more serious, and even sombre (in the case of Boat Called Home, which is a song about death). The album is by no means all doom and gloom, and neither has Anton lost his sense of humour or individuality. There is some very fine off-kilter powerpop here, like Bending Like A Spoon, Plastic Guitar, and the very catchy Raino Disco ('Bout the Raino), which introduces some early 90s-ish electronicy elements alongside the usual powerpop and psychey bits. There's also Quorn Fingers, a truly bizarre track that combines a lighthearted piano riff with all manner of experimental oddness.

The press release for Schnauser's album Kill All Humans claims "They formed in Yerevan, Armenia in 2003 after a chance meeting between Jurgen and Ken during their National Service. After accidentally shooting Ken in the pelvis, Jurgen dragged his seemingly lifeless body three miles through driving rain and minefields to the local veterinary surgeons who operated immediately. They vowed to join forces as a musical team with Ken's cousin Klaus on drums and Jurgen's table tennis partner Nikolai on organ". The sheer absurdity of this claim pretty much gives it away that it's a spoof. Close examination of Anton Barbeau's Drug Free! album shows Alan 'Schnauser' Strawbridge mentioned in the credits, so I suppose Schnauser must really be a side project of Alan Strawbridge, who is best known for his main band The Lucky Bishops, an amazing psych-pop band with albums out on Woronzow (and another on Camera Obscura, which I'm yet to hear).

Kill All Humans also features guest appearances from various musicians including Marco Rossi (of excellent powerpop band Cheese - check out their two albums on Pink Hedgehog if you haven't already) and Anton Barbeau. I have a CDR of this album but believe the actual release is digital only. Listening to the album would seem to confirm my suspicions that this is really The Lucky Bishops under an alias. The songs are excellent off-centre psych/powerpop with all the trademarks of that band. The album is such classic Lucky Bishops that you have to wonder why they felt the need to release it as a low-key digital-only thing under a pseudonym. Needless to say, Lucky Bishops fans can't afford to miss this.

This article is part one of a planned two part article on Pink Hedgehog Records. Stay tuned for part two in the coming weeks. In the meantime, visit www.pinkhedgehog.com for more info on the label.

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Text Kim Harten, 2010.