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

PINK HEDGEHOG

Now for the promised 2nd part of this issue's Pink Hedgehog article.

Freak Circus includes amongst its membership one Adi Payne, who I suppose must be the same Adrian Payne from Garfields Birthday. They have an album out on the label called Freak Shall Inherit the Earth. Their influences are more pop-punk and alt-rock, but there is still a great deal of melody here, and there's even a touch of jangle to be heard in some of the tracks. It's fair to say Freak Circus are still a powerpop band, though slightly harder-edged than Garfields Birthday. That said, there are still times when their punk and rock influences are a little more obvious. Troubling Trainspotters for Loose Change is a raucous shouty number that bridges the gap between early American punk and UK punk (effectively two completely different styles of music, in the same way as 'folk-rock' means something different in USA and UK), with a large helping of 60s garage rock thrown in. Ten Minutes Short is an exceptionally good indierock track. I don't normally have a great deal of time for punk, and got disillusioned with much pop-punk and certain types of alt-rock as so many of the bands sounded the same, but Freak Circus have enough tunes to hold the attention, plus I appreciate their willingness to mix in influences from elsewhere (eg janglepop, garage rock), so they avoid sounding one-dimensional.

Eye is a 3 piece band that includes Simon Swarbrick (nephew of Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick, no less!) He had previously appeared as a guest musician on The Lucky Bishops' first album, and the associations with that band continue as all four members of The Lucky Bishops put in guest appearances on Eye's album Don't Sleep. Eye are not to be seen as simply a Lucky Bishops side project; their style is very different. Eye are fronted by songwriter Richard Hammond, who has a very strong, sophisticated vocal style easily in the same league as (and in many cases better than) most mainstream singers. Their music is an intelligent and emotional brand of alternative pop with the level of sophistication required to match Richard's voice. The songs have occasional psychedelic touches, as well as lush, soaring string arrangements that add extra depth and finesse. Eye have been compared to Radiohead, and whilst I can see why, they have far too much of their own creativity to really make comparisons with other artists necessary. An amazingly talented band - why aren't these guys famous?

Si Jubb has a 4 song EP called Demonstration, which I believe is download only. The songs are minimally arranged, with just Si's angry, impassioned voice and a forcefully strummed electric guitar. Previous comparisons to Billy Bragg are wholly justified, especially on State of My Union. The guitar is a bit more 'twiddly', even jazz-like, in Dear Friend of Mine, but the overall atmosphere is similar. Her Indoors is piano rather than guitar-based, juxtaposing the refined sound of this instrument with Si's angry snarl. Whilst musically speaking this is not punk, there is a definite punk spirit about the songs, and Si's vocal style would fit in easily in any punk band. Personally speaking, I've never been a fan of Billy Bragg or most punk, so can't identify with this as much as most other Pink Hedgehog releases, but there is a genuine, unpretentious and from-the-heart feel about the music which is admirable when so many other artists around these days have a shallow, fashion-driven approach.

Peter Lacey has released several albums of impressive, creative pop music on Pink Hedgehog, some of which I have reviewed in the past. Since the last Pink Hedgehog article, this prolific artist has returned with three new albums, the first of which is a CDR called Permanent Wave. This was recorded in Peter's loft, but is no minimal lo-fi affair but a very full sound complete with brass instruments as well as the usual guitars, drums and keyboards. The music is a sophisticated and mature pop sound with occasional hints of psych, folk, and Beach Boys style vocal harmonies. Peter has a professional sounding singing voice, which complements the music well. Also here is the classical/prog tinged instrumental Caravel, and the inventive multi-part piece Peter the Chanter, which takes in elements of ambient, folk-pop, psych and jazz. Lines and Squares includes some fairly 80s jazzy and rocky bits, whilst The Land, The Sea, The Sky nods a little towards 60s sunshine pop and bossa nova. There are a few moments, particularly on the latter part of the album, that are a tad too close to easy listening music and overly-slick 80s mainstream music for my personal taste - see for instance Hey Rose, which sounds like a mix of Stevie Wonder and the middle of the road kind of 80s jazz - but overall Peter Lacey is a talented artist with creative ideas. His more imaginative tracks, such as Peter the Chanter, are well worth checking out.

Peter Lacey's collaboration with Stephen J Kalinich, South Downs Way, was released as a very limited edition CDR (now sold out) and download (still available). I don't have the full album so can't comment on every track, but did receive a 5 track promo sampler. I Know Roads is a very fine classic pop song with a strong, memorable tune. Its accompaniment occasionally comes across as a bit too smooth and 80s for my taste, but the atmospheric and rockish bits in this track work better in my view, and the song itself is very beautiful - so much so that I can push aside the highly polished 80s feel that comes through at times. In 27 Young Men, Stephen Kalinich recites a grim tale of the horrors of violence over a mix of 80s-ish synth music and rock guitar soloing. The Rose and the Weed also features Kalinich's recited vocals, this time combined with atmospheric soundscape music with slight Indian touches. This Is The Time For Laughing comes across as two different songs melded together; the Kalinich part is a kind of blues/soul/soft rock thing that's really too middle of the road for me, but the Lacey part that's interspersed with it shows signs of a Beach Boys influence and some effective chiming synth reminiscent of music boxes or icecream wagons. He Loves Her (More Than She Will Ever Know) combines poetry and Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies with piano and synth backing music.

Peter Lacey's latest album is the recently released Behind the Scenes. He is an artist of two extremes; at his best he is responsible for some very creative musical ideas, but his music occasionally suffers due to too much influence from middle of the road/commercial artists. Of course, those with more mainstream musical tastes would probably have the opposite opinion. So on this album, you get quirky fairground music, atmospheric bits, happy go lucky summery pop, rock guitar soloing with psychedelic undertones, folky touches, and classical instruments, but also things like rather too slick 80s style sax, bits that sound influenced by early 80s artists such as Sade, and the sort of synth sound associated with 80s slow dancing pop songs. Effectively then, it's the bits that sound like 80s mainstream music that impress me far less than everything else here. Psychedelic Tie is one of my favourite tracks on this album - no overly smooth 80s-ness at all here, just lighthearted retro pop and wild psychedelic rock guitar. Cast My Own Shadow is a very listenable introspective number with a folk sensibility and some very nice chamber-pop touches from the orchestral instruments. The title track Behind the Scenes could also be described in similar terms. Claire Obscure is also very fine chamber-pop with a melancholic air. The playful fairground music style interlude that puts in appearances in the first and last tracks also works very well. So whilst the album has moments that are a tad too 80s for me, there are also some very enjoyable songs to be found here.

Mondo Jet Set is the current band of James Laming (ex-Marlowe and Garfields Birthday) and Mark Robins (ex-Marlowe). They have two albums on Pink Hedgehog, the first being Henry After A Nightlife. I believe the limited edition CDR version of this has now sold out, but there is a download available via iTunes. The music here is a mix of old-style jangly indiepop and the sort of swirling, drawn-out, atmospheric noisiness associated with dreampop, but also with an added powerpop punch that prevents the ethereal elements of their sound being so ethereal that they float off into space. A superb album that combines the best bits of various indie subgenres.

More recently, Mondo Jet Set's album Girl Action was released. This is available as an ingenious black CD meant to replicate vinyl - it even has imitation grooves! There is less emphasis on janglepop on this album, and the dreampop and powerpop elements have disappeared altogether, being replaced with a much more electronic sound. Spacey bleepage, retro-futuristic and just plain retro synths, homemade disco-pop, and various forms of experimentation are the main components of their new sound, along with elements of the more intelligent and creative side of indie music (bits here and there reminded me a little of Grandaddy, others Radiohead). But Please Remember is an elongated, 8 minutes plus track that begins as an inventive instrumental with spacey bleeps and synthesised choir, before metamorphosing into slow, melancholic indiepop with retro synth. It's A Lie is excellent upbeat DIY synthpop. Rain Upon Grey Etc and To Mary Jane introduce some sophisticated, non-outdated jazz into the mix, adding an air of brooding sadness that works really well with the songs' overall atmosphere. Poor Claire is a subdued, introspective song with minimal guitar and piano, plus the effective inclusion of a strings solo. Let's Be Sad combines intelligent indie music and early 90s-ish dancey pop. Love Theme From Girl Action combines classic movie soundtrack music with a Hawaiian twang. A band clearly able to think for themselves, who are injecting some real creativity into the world of indiepop. I can highly recommend both of their albums.

Sideshows and Fairytales by The Steve Wilson Band is an album of mature and professional sounding retro pop, with occasional diversions into such styles as country, soft rock, blues and jazz. The music is well executed and often quite catchy, but ultimately derived from very familiar influences. A few of the bands/artists The Steve Wilson Band seem to be drawing from, whether consciously or not, include The Beach Boys, The Beatles, the Eagles, perhaps even a touch of Elton John, and there seems to be shades of Dire Straits in Everything's Out Of Tune. Wave Goodbye is rather like an 80s slow-dancing number with an appropriately 80s-ish sax solo. There are a number of bands I like who are inspired by famous bands from the past, who can get away with it due to presenting the music in a raw, unpolished fashion, or otherwise combining these influences with elements of other genres. The Steve Wilson Band, however, go for a more polished and strictly commercially-oriented approach that doesn't really suit the tastes of people into underground music. That said, the album does have some moments that are surprisingly impressive. Looking For An Idiot is upbeat jangle/harmony pop with incisive lyrics. Grind combines elements of indiepop and noisepop and is far less mainstream-inspired than most other tracks here. Sting In Her Tail is classic old-style jangly indiepop with vocal harmonies and a strong, catchy tune. I do like these three tracks a great deal. As with Peter Lacey, Steve Wilson is clearly an artist with wide tastes in music and is influenced by styles from the mainstream as well as those that are more underground-friendly. My tastes being what they are, I personally prefer the latter, but the diversity of music on offer here suggests there will be songs on this album to appeal to a wide range of people.

Roger Tarry has an album entitled Last Time I Was There. Originally scheduled for release on Billydog Records (his own label?), the album was soon picked up by Pink Hedgehog. An earlier EP of his, It's Not You, was played by Steve Lamacq on Radio 1, attracting the attention of Sony Pictures TV who used the lead track for their TV series Dawson's Creek. Roger Tarry collaborated with Keith James for his Songs of Nick Drake tour, as well as performing a Nick Drake cover for a film. The fact that Roger is clearly a fan of Nick Drake gives a clue of what to expect from his own music. To directly compare Roger Tarry to Nick Drake would be overly simplistic and sometimes completely inaccurate, but it is fair to say that the overall mood and feel of many of Roger's songs is likely to appeal to anyone who appreciates the music of Nick Drake. Roger makes introspective, melancholic music of great beauty, which will sometimes add a touch of cello, piano and/or drums to Roger's voice and guitar. He also has some more fleshed-out, full band tracks such as Just Like Oceans, which is nothing remotely like Nick Drake but more of an indiepop thing. Little Bird has elements of the less commercialised side of country music. Whilst selected tracks are easily defined in terms of style, on the whole Roger Tarry's music transcends genre. It's not indiepop, regular pop, or folk - just well crafted and emotional music. For a taster of Roger Tarry's music, Dandyland have selected three tracks from this album for the Driving Song EP. This came to me via Pink Hedgehog so may also be available from them.

Electrasy have a long and successful history in music, including previous record deals with MCA/Universal and Arista, and a Top 20 hit in the UK. They recorded their third album Wired For Dreaming, but on leaving Arista it seemed the album would never be released. It has however now found a home on Pink Hedgehog. As their past associations with major labels shows, Electrasy are a band with a professional and mainstream-friendly sound, yet they have enough of an alternative sensibility to successfully appeal to both audiences without any sense of compromise to their sound. Their music is a gutsy powerpop/alternative rock sort of thing that is modern and wholly relevant. The music has a strong sense of emotion behind it and the lyrics explore a number of thought-provoking themes. Million of You includes the line "Cos I've loved you in this life just like I've loved you before" - a reincarnation reference? You Don't Get It is an ironic parody of ravers, people who think they're different but aren't, and hypocritical road protesters who can't be bothered to recycle. Roll It Up is an energetic rap/alt-rock crossover; I've always been unimpressed by previous artists' efforts to combine rap with some form of rock, but this actually works really well. I'd heard of Electrasy for a long time but never felt much of a push to investigate their stuff before, I'm sorry to say. Perhaps I'd assumed they would be too mainstream sounding for my taste, based on the labels they were on in the past. But this latest album of theirs is excellent, and has made me curious to seek out some of their previous offerings.

Brand new from Pink Hedgehog is the self-titled album by The Inexperienced, a band led by Electrasy bassist Alex Meadows. As well as his involvement with Electrasy, he also has connections with artists who are even more mainstream. He has toured as backing musician for Tom Jones, as well as the Simon Cowell created act Il Divo, and played bass on Jamiroquai's Dynamite album. The Inexperienced album includes appearances from Pete Howarth (The Hollies) and Rick Fenn (10CC) amongst others. Despite Alex's associations with established music industry names, one of the specific intentions of this album was for it to have no corporate interference. The album is being promoted with slogans such as "corporate-free product, made with love" and "Music Without Industry", showing that The Inexperienced is a way for Alex, and indeed the other artists involved, to escape the sort of musical approach they are best known for.

There is still a certain amount of evidence that the musicians involved with this project have a mainstream background, especially on the first part of the album, which takes in funk-influenced pop (Note to Self), soft rock (Statesman), and reggae-tinged pop (Stay). Queen of the Toxicomen has occasional psych-rock hints, but is presented in a more polished and mainstream-style way than is usual for this genre. However things start to pick up a bit after the first four tracks. Love Is All has much more potential to appeal to an underground audience than everything that precedes it. This song is a laid-back, dreamlike, ethereal variety of alternative pop. Little Miss Big Ego is minimal acoustic indiepop. Spaced Out (Again) has elements of the sort of music called 'alternative' by the mainstream crowd (think Oasis et al), but in its favour it also incorporates a variety of moods throughout the song and plays around with bits of other genres (is that a touch of bossa nova I hear?) Swingboard Advert is quite a quirky track, mixing spoken word and various synthesised effects and rock guitar soloing. Keep On Dancing incorporates some effective use of horns and touches of funk into a song that sounds predominantly like the gutsier end of early 90s indie music. The Gratitude Waltz is a laid-back, predominantly acoustic song that is essentially indiepop. I Can't Stop This Love is bouncy retro pop with horns, vocal harmonies, and a tune that sticks in the head. This album is very different from Alex's previous band Electrasy, but like that band it has the potential to appeal to fans of both mainstream and underground music.

Unfortunately Pink Hedgehog label owner Simon has been forced to make changes to the label. The current economic climate, coupled with the increased popularity of downloads, has meant it has been hard to sell CDs of late. He is therefore selling off the remaining stock at outrageously cheap prices, and apart from a couple of new albums already in production, there will be no more CD releases. He does however intend to keep the label going in some form: "The only way I can see a future for the label and a way to release new music is to accept the changing market and adapt. [...] I'm still committed as ever, I'm doing what I can to preserve the label and make sure it has a future". It seems then that Pink Hedgehog will probably become a download-only label in the near future, but it is good to know that the label will continue to exist, if not in the same form as before. To buy Pink Hedgehog releases and find out further info on the artists, visit www.pinkhedgehog.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2010.