The old-school indiepop scene is definitely alive and kicking, and another label to add to the list of ones to watch out for is Planting Seeds. Some of the music they put out is distinctly old-school, while other stuff on the label has echoes of old style indiepop but combines this with other (quite often very diverse) influences.
I have a batch of albums and a couple of singles from the label; starting with the singles, there's a 7" by Fonda called Summer Land, which is a split release with the Top Quality label. I like this lots - Summer Land is really great melodic jangly harmony pop that has things in common with 80s twee indiepop, but with extra oomph. People and Stars is also great, an effective combination of delicate indiepop, gutsy powerpop, spacey bleeps and a psychedelic atmosphere. Would definitely like to hear more from this band.
Astropop 3 have various releases on Planting Seeds; I have 2 out of 3 of their albums, and the CD single Anything. This has 2 tracks listed on the cover but there are actually 4; following the main tracks there are two live tracks that come after a break of a few seconds. Anything is old-style janglepop with a memorable tune; Never Seen The Sun is noisy but strongly tuneful powerpop; Forget Tomorrow is piercing noisepop with shades of Boyracer, though it doesn't sound like them overall; and then the final track is an instrumental that continues directly from the previous song without a gap - this is based around a psyched-out guitar solo, and has more in common with assorted 70s rock bands than any kind of indiepop.
Astropop 3's 2nd album Eclipsing Binary Star is similarly eclectic, covering acoustic lo-fi pop (The Courage To Be Great Lies In Every One Of Us, Now And Always), cheery 60s pop (Lost In A Dream, Same Old Story), early 90s-ish fuzzpop (Fall Back Down, Starscream, Light Years Away, Agatha, I Think You Should Know), organ driven mid 80s style indiepop reminiscent of Mighty Mighty (No Time For Me), lo-fi indiepop with a slight 60s touch (So...), and dark, spacey, atmospheric noisepop with spoken vocals (Revenge). The fuzzpop side of the band often has spacey tendencies, sounding rather like a more upbeat version of dreampop. Main singer/songwriter Dan Villanueva is sometimes accompanied by singer Angelique Everett, whose sugary high-pitched vocals add a cute/twee element to the music. It's all basically indiepop on here, whilst being tremendously diverse at the same time. This album actually shows what a diverse genre indiepop is. Sceptics might say Astropop 3 need to 'decide what kind of band they want to be', but that's not how it works with real independent music. Bands play what they like, without feeling the need to fit into a tidy little pigeonhole and be easily marketed - and quite rightly so.
The latest album is Allies and Stepping Stones, which continues Astropop 3's journey through fuzzpop, woozy spacepop with an added piercing chaotic kick, old school janglepop, powerpop, and an instrumental track where spy movie soundtrack music meets fierce guitar chaos. Another excellent collection of strong melody and musical eclecticism - recommended to all who appreciate indiepop in all its diverse forms.
Sunday Smoke Kit is the band of singer/songwriter/guitarist JS Meiggs; also in the band are Dan Villanueva of Astropop 3, Neil DelParto who's involved in the running of Planting Seeds, and Mark Renfro. Their music is best described as lo-fi jangly indiepop; they also venture into 60s folk territory in The Way You Wonder, and fairly minimalistic indiepop with spacey/atmospheric touches in the title track of their mini-album Passing Shooting Stars.
Michael Barrett (The Essex Green, The Sixth Great Lake, Guppyboy) has a solo album on Planting Seeds, Couches and Carpet, complete with apt cover photos of retro sofas and carpet samples. The brand of indiepop on offer here is generally happy-go-lucky, a little bit 60s, with a healthy appreciation of tweeness and whimsy. There's also some more laid back material with psychedelic undertones, pop with tinges of non-tacky country, spaced out backwards instrumentation meets 70s spy movie music and shades of surf music (a highly effective mix, that I like a lot), atmospheric spacey experimental psych-pop with interesting and individual ideas, and an innovative mix of hip-hop and experimental psychedelia. This diverse collection is just the tracks listed on the cover - there are also 2 uncredited instrumentals which combine random piano plinking and other experimental noises. From that description, it sounds like these extra tracks might be an annoying self indulgent noise, and whilst they do stray into self indulgence at times, quite often the tracks have a feeling of drama and atmosphere and would work well as background music for arty movies.
Jumprope's album Suitcase and Umbrella proves that sophisticated pop and twee pop can happily coexist, and can be effectively combined within the same song - along with elements of noisepop and a certain amount of quirk factor. They are able to make the traditionally dull and bland 'easy listening' genre sound exciting and uplifting; perhaps because they have such an interesting take on it, combining lounge music with other ideas of their own. An impressive album from a band I'd like to hear more from.
Leeds-based Dakota Suite's This River Only Brings Poison album is out on Planting Seeds, comprising 13 main tracks and 5 bonus tracks (despite only 4 being listed on the cover). The music is laid-back, containing elements of melancholic indiepop, alt-country, horns, spacey moods, neo-classicism, psychedelic undertones, jazz, Indian percussion, and possibly other bits that aren't as immediately obvious. Let's Share Wounds features some guitar work that reminds me of some of Delta's early laid-back material, and also some parts that remind me of Lifesmyth, but overall the song is nothing like either of those bands. Verdriet is an eerie, slightly disconcerting accordion and piano instrumental. One For The Shoeshine Man is an unusual mix of jazz, neoclassical piano and Indian style drumming. Although the various elements contained within the music are eclectic, the overall sound is coherent. Dakota Suite manage to integrate the assorted influences into a style that's distinctly theirs, unlike some other bands with diverse influences, whose albums sound more like various artist compilations.
Alex Sharkey (Brighter/Hal/Fosca) has a new band, Pinkie, who have 2 cds on Planting Seeds. The first of these is the 7 track mini-album My Little Experiment. Alex says the idea behind Pinkie was that he 'wanted to create something simple, fragile, yet entirely genuine ... songs created purely for my own benefit, and if others liked them, they were welcome to come along for the ride'. A good philosophy, and an apt description of the music. With Pinkie, Alex has left behind the electropop sound of his later projects; yeah, there's a synth in this but it's not the main focus. This delicate, melancholic, jangly indiepop is authentically like the indiepop of 15 or so years ago; I wonder if it's the case that those who were involved in the scene the first time around are more able to produce a convincing replica than those that weren't. There are LOTS of reminders of Brighter in the sound of Pinkie, and as someone who rated that band highly, I'm very impressed with this album. To call this music twee would be a gross misunderstanding; these are beautiful and moving songs that are sure to deeply effect anyone with a heart.
Pinkie's latest, the full length album Sharon Fussy, is just as impressive. It's superb old-style indiepop that would have fit right in on Sarah, with shades of Brighter and also The Field Mice, who Alex names as an influence. This is perhaps a slightly less melancholic album, with the inclusion of more upbeat and optimistic tracks such as the excellent Long Live Dreams and Shelly Anne - but to contrast with tracks like this, there is for example the musically and lyrically dark and brooding Just Pretend. Piano and synthesised orchestration abound on this album, providing an air of sophistication which hints at the smooth, classy side of 60s pop. There are also some instrumental tracks which are atmospheric yet strongly melodic; the vintage Hokey Cokey sampling of Don't Forget To Sing; and the evocative seagull and traffic sounds that open and close the album. So whilst this album contains echoes of the previous one, it also builds upon it, going far beyond the 'simple, fragile' sound Alex originally envisioned for the band. Highly recommended.
For those unsure where to start, Planting Seeds have a good taster of their label in the shape of the Indie Pop Dance Party compilation. This CD has tracks from the Michael Barrett, Astropop 3 (Eclipsing Binary Star), Sunday Smoke Kit, Pinkie (My Little Experiment), Fonda and Jumprope releases reviewed above, along with tracks from Skywave, The Tamborines, Rockets Red Glare, Dakota and Mary Kate O'Neal, taken from releases I don't have. In addition to everything I've said above, Skywave do happy-go-lucky 60s-tinged janglepop; Dakota's track is from the Jesus & Mary Chain tribute on Planting Seeds - Deep One Perfect Morning delivered in a jangly country-tinged pop style with husky female vocals; The Tamborines do brilliant mid-80s-ish jangly indiepop - would definitely like to hear more from this band; Mary Kate O'Neal's track is Pleasant Valley Sunday from Planting Seeds' Monkees tribute, which is in the 60s pop spirit of the original; and Rockets Red Glare do a kind of slightly quirky psych-pop with unusual ideas, which makes me keen to hear more from them. Recommended for anyone new to the label.
Kitsch 60s slumber party pictures adorn the cover of Dreaming Up the Perfect Pop, another compilation album, which brings together a mixture of previously released tracks such as Astropop 3's Lost in a Dream and Fonda's Summer Land, and tracks which I think are exclusive to this release. Other bands/artists appearing here are Marykate O'Neil (note the difference in spelling from that on the other compilation), Ashley Park, Xavier Pelleuf, The Dupont Circles, Kleenex Girl Wonder, Call & Response, The Echo Orbiter, The Heavy Blinkers, Souvenir, The Essex Green, Paula Kelley, The Snow Fairies, Winterbrief, The Mockers, The Mendoza Line, Michael Barrett, The Maybellines, Dakota Suite and Capsela. This is an excellent compilation of old style indiepop, from upbeat and summery to lo-fi minimalism to knockabout noisepop to psych-tinged & quirky to country-tinged to synth-based to twee. There's also Dakota Suite's track The Colour of Water, which I don't think qualifies as old style, or even new style, indiepop under even the widest definition of that term. It's basically jazz with post-rock touches. Despite the variation of subgenres within indiepop represented here, this compilation holds together as a complete album (except perhaps for the Dakota Suite track which just isn't indiepop and is quite a surprising thing to hear on a comp like this). The great songs just keep on coming; if you love indiepop you can't miss this.
The latest release from Planting Seeds is Linda Draper's fourth album, One Two Three Four, produced by Kramer. Linda makes a timeless music that's best described as folk-pop. The lack of drums and the acoustic emphasis give the music a stripped down, understated feel and show that you don't need a 'big' sound to sound sophisticated. Kramer's imaginative arrangements complement well Linda's talented songwriting. This impressive album is the first I've heard from Linda Draper - it looks as though I've been missing out!
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UPDATE - I've just received Planting Seeds' latest compilation Sunsets & Silhouettes. Fonda continue to ooze brilliance with their track I Can Still Hear Our Song, a superb example of catchy pop. Astropop 3 appear with a song from their old-school janglepop side. Fiel Garvie contribute some spacey, hazy dreampop with distinctive dramatic vocals. Pinkie combine dark wit and janglepop in She's Dead. Mark Gardener, formerly of Ride, appears here with an excellent solo track which has a late 60s/early 70s rock feel. Would definitely like to hear more of his solo material (in fact I would have done if I hadn't have got ripped off! I ordered a 2nd hand copy of his single on Shifty Disco from a fanzine writer about 5 years ago, but he never sent it, despite several reminders. Grrr, some people are so unreliable!) The Sixth Great Lake do 60s tinged organ-driven janglepop. Sister Vanilla includes William Reid of the Jesus & Mary Chain and his sister Linda. Their track starts off as minimal indiepop with a mid 80s feel that shows through in the lyrics as well as the music, with its namechecking of The Pastels. Towards the end, there's an instrumental part in which several different tunes are played at once, creating a strange discordant sound. Xavier Pelleuf seems to be an alias of Scott Meiggs, who I presume is the same person as JS Meiggs of Sunday Smoke Kit? Here he teams up with Alex Sharkey of Pinkie to create a song which effectively combines elements of late 60s American rock and mid 80s English indiepop.
The Voyces make authentically 60s-sounding pop. It's only really the modern production sound that gives away the fact that they aren't a genuine 60s band. Camera Obscura appear here with a live acoustic version of Books Written For Girls, which has an air of sophistication despite its understated arrangement. Good to hear more from The Asteroid No. 4, who are much more early 70s country rock than they used to be, but it's a sound that's just as impressive as their psych/powerpop sound heard on the King Richard's Collectibles album. I must try and track down some of their more recent stuff at some stage; the last thing I got was King Richard's Collectibles. Freeheat are another Jesus & Mary Chain related band, this time featuring Jim Reid. There are certainly shades of JAMC in their track Back on the Water, though there's none of the noise factor; this is janglepop with a lack of drums, giving it quite a stripped down sound. Goldrush are somewhere between alternative rock and janglepop; their song has quite a 'big', epic sound and explodes into a crescendo of noise at the end. Tracy Shedd makes impressive melancholic indiepop. The Autumn Leaves are a band I've not heard for years, good to see they're still around. As before, the 60s are a strong influence on their brand of pop. Linda Draper makes impressive folk-pop. Michael Barrett appears here with a country-tinged pop song. Dakota Suite close the album with a very laid-back, slow, minimalistic and melancholic song.
Although there is no shortage of old-school indiepop on this compilation, the amount of 60s and 70s influenced and rockish material may surprise those who had Planting Seeds down as an exclusively indiepop-based label. To be put off though is to be closed minded; good music is good music, regardless of style. Lots of really impressive stuff here, highly recommended.
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