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

RAINBOW QUARTZ

Regular readers will know that Rainbow Quartz is one of my favourite labels. They can be trusted to release consistently impressive psych-pop, powerpop and related genres, that looks to the past for inspiration whilst being completely relevant to the present. Since I last wrote about Rainbow Quartz, they've released a ton of other stuff, some of which I have here.

Following their mini album on Spanish label Bip Bip, Barcelona band The Gurus release their debut album on Rainbow Quartz. A strong 60s influence pervades the whole of this self-titled album, although the band doesn't just stick to one formula; the songs vary from the kind of slightly sugary pop that was popular in the 60s, to a more gutsy, psychedelic music that's closer to rock than pop, to powerpop, to very moving, well crafted guitar pop with depth. They even mix some modern electronic music in with retro psychedelia in the riotous final track Gerdundula. Whether it's happy-go-lucky pop songs they're doing, or something with more oomph, The Gurus excel. Highly recommended for all retro pop fans.

The Winnerys are also from Spain, and have an album out on Rainbow Quartz, And... The Winnerys. This features 16 tracks of 60s influenced janglepop, with occasional nods to powerpop and mid 80s indiepop, amongst other sounds. In My Garden is a superb slice of retro pop with psych and folk hints. Breaking the Ice is great upbeat melodic harmony pop. I Tremble is excellent catchy powerpop. They venture into country rock territory on The Guy With Two Houses, which has a touch of the 'pub rock knees-up' about it; sounds like they're having fun all right, but it's certainly not representative of the band and not amongst their best songs. But they soon return to form with the next track Little Dark Cloud which is classy psych-pop with a string section. This Special Night is superb, predominantly acoustic psych & folk tinged harmony pop. Another album that's well worth a listen.

Lilys have explored a number of styles over the years, including shoegaze and electronica, but in my opinion the classic Lilys sound was that heard on their 1996 album Better Can't Make Your Life Better, which was basically a quirky take on 60s-style pop which sounded like a more eccentric version of the archetypal Rainbow Quartz sound, so it just seems so right that the band should eventually end up on Rainbow Quartz. The new album is simply called The Lilys, and comes packaged in minimalistic monochrome artwork that's both bizarre (a surreal picture of buttons chasing needles along the road) and formal (the Roman style font used for the title and track list). This album stays true to Lilys' usual behaviour of reinventing themselves with every album, as it's different again from everything I've heard from them in the past. On the one hand it does sound totally at home on Rainbow Quartz, with its mix of psych-rock, janglepop and current indiepop with oomph. On the other hand, this album is mostly less retro than most Rainbow Quartz bands. Lilys draw on past genres but are creating something very individual with this album. The Perception Room is fantastic, an effective blend of gutsy indiepop and ethereal noisescape. It's a huge wall of atmospheric sound that needs to be heard to be believed. Catherine (Let A Positive) is off-the-wall psych/indiepop, but different from that on Better Can't Make Your Life Better. Mystery School Assembly is like 80s indie music with added quirk factor and elements of meandering psychedelia. Meditations on Speed features ranting vocals and road rage car horn over a mix of psychedelic and punk-tinged instrumentation. Melusina is quite strange pop, incorporating spacerock elements. This album is a must for anyone who likes their pop on the unusual side.

Fade Back In is the third album from East Midlands band The Contrast. Those with their ears to the ground will remember Richard Mackman from underground band The Vow (later called just Vow), and if memory serves, I'm pretty sure David Reid had a band called The Imposters. Like previous offerings from The Contrast, Fade Back In has a meaty powerpop sound with occasional janglepop and psych-pop elements. A more laid-back sound can be heard on Something Tells Me, but on the whole The Contrast are all about powerful music that may be powerful but doesn't leave the tunes behind. Brilliant stuff, especially the ultra-catchy George Zipp, Your Starring Role and Flatpacked (although to be honest it's probably not completely fair to single out favourite tracks as the rest of the album isn't too far behind in terms of brilliance). Fans of melodic & memorable powerpop can't afford to miss this!

The Waxwings are a band I know next to nothing about, but based on their album Let's Make Our Descent, they're definitely a band I'd like to hear more from. They make strong, powerful songs with elements of 70s powerpop and late 60s garage rock, with a general emphasis on the latter. There's also a mellow side of the band to be heard on the acoustic song Of Late, which is very beautiful psych-pop. Yet another highly recommended album from Rainbow Quartz.

The Lackloves' previous album Star City Baby was packed full of supremely catchy pop gems such as Emily, Down Deep, Need To See You Tonight, Brown Eyes You and the total classic Lovin' on the Phone. I was therefore very keen to hear the follow-up album from this ex-Blow Pops band, The Beat And The Time, and I don't feel let down. Here the emphasis is on strongly melodic, gutsy powerpop which sometimes has a greater or lesser degree of janglepop or psych-pop influence. The more sentimental, 50s/early 60s style of pop that could be heard on the previous album also puts in an appearance here with If Ever I. Nowhere Near Here is more of a psych/garage rock thing. Misfits Collide is excellent harmony-laden powerpop. There are hints of country music in Never Gonna Fall. The Has Been is great jangle/harmony/powerpop. Do You Love Someone is pure powerpop with a strong melody and vocal harmonies; an excellent song. The jangly sound of I Could Be is hard to resist. The album finishes off with the laid-back balladry of Know You Now. Various songs on the previous album had the rare and powerful ability to burrow themselves into my subconscious so much that they'd go round my head while I was asleep and I'd wake up at some unearthly hour with the songs buzzing round my brain. This new album hasn't (yet?) had this much of an addictive effect, but it is nonetheless a collection of very strong pop music and is well worth checking out.

The Telepathic Butterflies follow up their Introducing... album with Songs From A Second Wave. This band will definitely not disappoint Rainbow Quartz fans, with their brand of 60s tinged melodic pop. Bangor is an excellent, well crafted song with powerpop and janglepop sections. A Passing Glance combines chugging powerpop riffage with a wild psychedelic atmosphere. One Calendar Year is catchy 60s-ish pop with an added powerpop punch. The same could be said for Angry Young Man, which also adds a few eccentric twists and turns. Big Bang! has lyrics in English and French, and an extended instrumental psych-out at the end. Another album that's well worth checking out.

Another album that was eagerly awaited around these parts was The Grip Weeds' Giant On The Beach. I was hugely impressed by their previous two albums, and I'm pleased to say that this new one continues musically in much the same spirit. Lyrically there is quite often a theme of spirituality running through the songs. Astral Man is heavy psych-rock with reincarnation-inspired lyrics: "I've got to wake up on this earth/Back where I was before my birth/I'm going round and round again until I learn". Give Me Some Of Your Ways is excellent melodic psych-pop with occasional country hints. I Believe is about pondering what's 'out there' in a spiritual sense, and features an exciting, impassioned vocal section near the end. Infinite Soul: great title, great sitar solo, great song altogether. Once Again is from the more laid-back side of psych-rock and is very beautiful, both musically and lyrically. Waiting For A Sign is overtly spiritual with its references to a discarnate spirit: "Dear departed dissipating in the sky/Back to where you started from another life/On a level I don't know/Separated or infused with the power of the soul/Hear me calling, I am waiting for a sign/Send a message to me from the other side". Sight Unseen is an excellent critique of those people who only see the world in terms of mainstream science and deny the existence of anything spiritual or intuitive, which is set to an upbeat 60s pop meets country melody. Closer to Love is probably best described as psychedelic folk-rock, and features lead vocals from the band's lead guitarist Kristin Pinell. I find it very encouraging that the lead guitarist is female; there are too few woman lead guitarists, especially in the psychedelic scene. I totally love this album. It's so moving, inspiring and uplifting, on so many levels. Quite probably the best album I've heard for some time.

Outrageous Cherry have released a number of albums on Rainbow Quartz, the latest being Our Love Will Change The World. Pretty Girls Go Insane brings together the not frequently combined elements of garage rock and brass. Detroit Blackout is instrumental psych-rock with spoken word; reminds me a little of early Delta in places. Unless is a 60s-ish pop song set to a big swirly fuzzy noisescape. You've Been Unkind mixes 60s pop, late 60s rock guitar soloing, and piano - an instrument not normally heard in this sort of music. Trouble Girl mixes powerpop with spacey bleepery and sound manipulation. The Unchanging Frequency combines laid-back pop and another huge swirly soundscape. You're A Reflection Of Infinite Chaos comes across like a powerpop song slowed right down. What Have You Invented Today? combines 60s-ish pop, psych-rock and the sort of spacey sound effects heard on Trouble Girl. Calling is an excellent slice of retro pop complete with vocal harmonies and tambourine. As much of the above suggests, Outrageous Cherry combine a lot of familiar elements in a not-so-familiar way. A great album.

Oslo band The Jessica Fletchers are a band I've been curious to hear for some time. Recently released is their 2nd album Less Sophistication. This basically reveals them to be a mod band, but as will be seen, their music contains elements of a variety of styles, and its appeal should go far beyond the mod scene. Magic Bar is a great pop song with quirky and psychedelic elements. Get Connected is excellent, classy, orchestrated pop. Summer Holiday & Me is mod/rock with swirling organ, that's just as uplifting as a real summer holiday. How Unlucky features a really retro flute melody that reminds me of 60s & 70s TV themes. You is downbeat piano-based 60s-ish pop. Less Sophistication begins with that retro flute again, and like many of the songs on this album, it's uplifting and very retro pop with an added rock kick. Driving Song has rather a 60s soul flavour, and that flute puts in another appearance. On Our Way is another orchestrated pop song, with a strong and catchy melody (we're talking majorly catchy - catchiness to rival the best songs from The Lackloves' Star City Baby), and it's far more sophisticated than the album title suggests. This album is packed full of real feelgood music, well worth a listen. I must track down their previous album at some stage.

The Lovethugs are another Norwegian band, whose Babylon Fading album is out on Rainbow Quartz. The title track is a mixture of laid-back, almost loungey pop, and a more rockish sound; a combination you might not expect to work but it does. Close Beside Her is retro janglepop which starts off having rather a mod touch, and then becomes more psychedelic with its sitar and swirling organ. There's even a Hardanger fiddle on this track - oh yesssss!!! (I'm a huge fan of Norwegian folk music, in case you've not already guessed). Saturn Day is excellent janglepop with an almost ethereal, dreamlike quality in places. Tired Girl is a great example of swirly, jangly psych-pop, which has a superb instrumental section making use of flute and a kind of keyboard sound that's best described as 'twinkly' - reminds me of a music box. I've Heard A Rumour combines psych-rock, jangly harmony pop, and a loungey, almost jazzy keyboard section. Love Machine opens with a quirky and discordant guitar riff and develops into an off-centre mix of rock and pop with unpredictable changes. Up For Love is lighthearted 60s pop meets wild psychedelic rock. Night Time Seance is a sophisticated pop song with very vivid, descriptive lyrics and an instrumental excursion into untamed psychedelic rock territory, which also contains a few helpings of that 60s-ish flute sound also used by The Jessica Fletchers. Although The Lovethugs' influences are all very retro, they mix together a lot of disparate styles from the past, creating an overall sound that's not often heard. An impressive album, from another band I must try to track down some earlier material of.

Rainbow Quartz also have their sublabel Turquoise Mountain, which specialises in country-influenced music with an edge. Their latest release is Like Her by the Volebeats, who feature amongst them members of Outrageous Cherry and Electric Six. Their music has been described as 'Cosmic Alt-Country'; Laura Cantrell covered one of their songs on her debut LP, and this new album includes a track co-written with Ryan Adams. The band have a fairly extensive back catalogue, but I've missed out on previous releases, not having explored the alt-country scene in much depth. Country music, I am usually indifferent to or don't like at all, but quite often I'll hear non-mainstream bands doing interesting and exciting things with country. The Volebeats are one such band. Like bands on Turquoise Mountain's parent label, The Volebeats are very retro. Yet their music certainly isn't standard country or even country rock. The country influence is undeniable, but the overall sound is made less countrified by the equally undeniable 60s janglepop influence. It could be said that the Volebeats sound like a cross between the Byrds' early material and their later country-inspired songs; that wouldn't be a completely accurate description of the Volebeats, but it gives a fair idea of where they're coming from. Outside veers a bit close to regular country music for my personal taste, but the rest of the album is superb; a veritable janglefest that's highly recommended even to people that don't consider themselves fans of country music.

Some reviewers have criticised Rainbow Quartz bands for being 'derivative'. Yes, they're retro - and yes, their music does at times recall specific bands from the past. But to dismiss them as mere ripoff artists with no ideas of their own would be a grave mistake and to miss the point entirely. In reality, Rainbow Quartz is one of the best labels, if not the best label, for melodic music that is nostalgic yet thoroughly exciting and completely relevant. I can't recommend them enough! Contact rainbowqtz@aol.com or visit the website, www.rainbowquartz.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2005.