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

SINGLE REVIEWS

NATIONAL PASTIME Don't Let It Get Away CD (Pastime)
Retro indiepoppers National Pastime return with their first release in over two years. This 4 track EP shows two sides to this band, due in large part to the differing personnel appearing on the tracks. Two of the songs feature multi-instrumentalist Andy Botterill, also known from the band Falling Trees and solo project Andy B, who (on this release at least) favours a ramshackle C86 style of indiepop. The other two tracks feature Matthew North of Secrets for September, who adds a more sophisticated touch to the sound, incorporating piano, orchestral-style and ethereal synths, and laid-back retro-rock guitar. National Pastime cite the Television Personalities, Primal Scream (presumably very early Primal Scream, when they still sounded like an indiepop band), and the Sarah label among their influences, and their music is worth checking out if you're a fan of the classic era of indiepop. The EP is available as a CD from pastimerecords.webs.com or download from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

SECRETS FOR SEPTEMBER Letting Go and Live CD (Pastime)
Pastime Records is mostly known for old-school indiepop bands such as The Morrisons, National Pastime, and Falling Trees. Secrets for September have a connection with the latter two bands as their guitarist Matthew North has performed and recorded with both National Pastime and Falling Trees, providing a more rockish addition to their usual indiepop sound. This CD comprises a studio track Letting Go, which is also available as a download from Bandcamp, Amazon and iTunes, and four live tracks exclusive to the CD. Letting Go is reminiscent of the more sophisticated end of 80s indiepop, with additional touches of vintage rock, a more effective combination than you may expect. The live material (with the exception of the live version of Letting Go) leaves behind the indiepop influences in favour of a rockier, though no less melodic sound which straddles the boundaries between prog, psych and folk-rock. The musicianship is of a very high standard, and it's no surprise then that Secrets for September have supported a number of established bands and artists, including Arthur Brown, Groundhogs, Curved Air, The Magic Band, and Balaam and the Angel, as well as Julianne Regan of All About Eve contributing vocals to one of their earlier recordings. The CD is available from the band's website, www.secretsforseptember.co.uk. Label info at pastimerecords.webs.com

PERU Archie's Luck is In 7" (Archdeacon of Pop)
There's been a huge resurgence of interest in 80s and early 90s indiepop in recent years, with a lot of the original bands reforming. Peru are one such band who would be a familiar name to followers of the early 90s indiepop underground, known for their split 7" with Mary Queen of Scots on Waaaaaah!/Bring on Bull, and appearances on countless fanzine-fuelled compilation tapes. Despite a hiatus of well over a decade, and the fact that only one of the original members remains in this new incarnation of Peru (namely Brian Price), the band still manage to continue pretty much where they left off, with two fantastic new recordings which are firmly in the spirit of the classic indiepop scene. Archie's Luck is In is a jangly, catchy song blending carefree and melancholic moods. Love's Young Dreamer Strikes Again is a new version of one of Peru's older and more obviously melancholic (but no less catchy) songs. They've added a string section, which works really well with the overall feel of the song. This is among the most exciting new indiepop releases I've heard in recent times and is without a doubt up there with all the best material to come out on Sarah Records and like-minded labels back in the heyday of indiepop. Hopefully there will be much more to come from this band in future. More info at archdeaconofpoprecords.bandcamp.com and www.facebook.com/peruband

THE FLATMATES You Held My Heart 7" (Archdeacon of Pop/Local Underground/The Subway Organization)
The Flatmates are an important name from the 1980s indiepop scene, who have returned with a new lineup which includes Brian Price of Peru, Lisa Bouvier, and Verity Longley, along with original members Martin Whitehead and Rocker. The two songs here combine a classic melodic pop sensibility with the noisy aggression of punk. These are strong, well-crafted tunes that stay in the head, and the songs are a lot of fun to listen to. Archdeacon of Pop looks to be an exciting new label if its first two releases are anything to go by, and I look forward to seeing what they will bring out next. More info at archdeaconofpoprecords.bandcamp.com and www.localunderground.co.uk

ANDY B Daisy Smiles CD (Pastime)
NATIONAL PASTIME Don't Forget Me CD (Pastime)
NATIONAL PASTIME Judge a Book CD (Pastime)

Three CD EPs in Pastime Records' Six of the Best series, which comprises tracks only previously available on now out of stock albums. The first two of these EPs are completely new to me as they are from albums I don't have, whilst Judge a Book comes from National Pastime's recent album All Our Yesterdays. Andy B is the solo project of Andy Botterill of National Pastime, who plays everything except drums on the Daisy Smiles EP; drums are provided by another Andy, Andy Ward. All three EPs are produced by yet another Andy, Andy Fonda, formerly of The June Brides. Andys Botterill and Ward are joined in National Pastime by vocalist Andrew Padfield, so yet another Andy, albeit in non-abbreviated form. Both Andy B and National Pastime are rooted within the classic indiepop style, citing such influences as Television Personalities, Belle & Sebastian, early Primal Scream, Sarah Records, and the C86 scene.
Andy B's EP starts off with Through My Fingers, a melancholic indiepop song with shades of both The Field Mice and the TVPs. Let's Talk About It Later Baby is a slightly harder-edged track that nods towards the heavier end of mod and late 60s rock, whilst still retaining the indiepop spirit. Water Under The Bridge is a delicate and sentimental indiepop track; apart from the brief unexpected full band section around two minutes in, it is minimally arranged around guitar and piano. Daisy Smiles is a proud father's ode to his baby daughter, set to an arrangement that bears all the hallmarks of old-style indiepop. The song illustrates the changing demographics within the indiepop scene; whilst originally associated largely with youngsters in their teens and early 20s, the genre's participants are now often older people with families, and it's only right that indiepop should move forward to reflect these changes in the musicians' lives. Indiepop has been unfairly criticised enough by know-nothing journalists as an infantile, twee genre performed by adults pretending to be children in order to escape from the real world; whilst bands like this undoubtedly do exist within the scene, they are a minority, and it is songs like Daisy Smiles that show there is far more to indiepop than lazy journos would have you believe.
National Pastime's Don't Forget Me has the core members joined by Simon Bishop (aka Simon Goalpost of Thrilled Skinny) and Kal George. The cover photograph of a wintry town is provided by Phil Wilson of The June Brides. Don't Forget Me and The Girl With the Long Brown Hair are among my favourite tracks from this band, combining punchy, uptempo music with melancholic moods in classic indiepop style. Bad News Story is a darker, angstier track that straddles the boundaries between indiepop and indierock. Consolation Prize is very fine jangly indiepop, another of my favourite tracks on this EP.
The Judge a Book EP continues with the jangly, retro indiepop sound. There's some nice 'ba-ba-ba' backing vocals on the title track, and a bittersweet, memorable chorus in All of My Life. My Star Has Fallen is another favourite of mine, really top quality melancholic indiepop in the vein of The Field Mice. The CDs can be ordered from pastimerecords.webs.com, or downloaded from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

ANDY B Cursed CD (Pastime)
This EP features four remixes of tracks from Andy's latest album Those Were The Days. Whereas the album versions had a straightforward guitar-oriented sound, these new versions are fleshed out with additional keyboards and extra guitar parts. Cursed incorporates retro organ, whilst the other three tracks bring in synthesised strings, adding an atmospheric effect. This fuller sound works well with these particular songs, and the soaring mock-orchestral synth sound could be seen to take some of the edge off the songs' inherent melancholy. It's hard to pick which versions are my favourite as both arrangement styles are effective in their own way. Andy B plays melancholic, melodic, retro jangly indiepop inspired by Sarah Records and other 1980s indie music; fans of this style would do well to check out his music. More info at Pastime Records as above.

NATIONAL PASTIME Goldsworthy Gurney CD (Pastime)
Four new tracks from indiepop band National Pastime. The core line-up of Andrew Padfield, Andy Botterill and Andy Ward is joined by Kal George, Simon Bish (aka Simon Goalpost of Thrilled Skinny), and Matt Stead (A Fine Day for Sailing and Banana & Louie). Goldsworthy Gurney was a 19th century inventor, who invented among other things the steam powered car. National Pastime consider him something of an unsung hero, and this bouncy indiepop track does much to educate the listener about his actual achievements. Also included here are three other tracks firmly rooted within the classic 80s indiepop style. All the Times incorporates soaring synthesised strings, Careless Talk features bleak, pessimistic lyrics and a forceful noisepop section near the end, and No Guarantee juxtaposes a sunny melody and handclaps with poignant lyrics about a couple whose relationship was all too brief. Further info at Pastime Records as above.

STRANGE TURN Pink Litmus Paper Shirt 7" (Mega Dodo)
Debut single from Strange Turn, which features members of The Honey Pot, including Crystal Jacqueline who is also known for her solo material out on Mega Dodo and Fruits de Mer. The single is on pink vinyl, the first 100 copies coming with a full colour poster and postcard. Pink Litmus Paper Shirt is a strongly 60s-influenced psych-pop track, featuring impassioned and soulful backing vocals from Crystal Jacqueline. Elevator Operator is an intense freakbeat version of a Gene Clark song, again with an authentically 60s flavour. A very promising debut; I look forward to hearing future offerings from this band. The single is available from megadodo.bandcamp.com; more info at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

ANDY B If I Don't Try CD (Pastime)
EP of five songs, repackaged from previous releases which I believe are no longer available. Coma, also recorded by Andy's band National Pastime, features bleak observational lyrics delivered in a deadpan style, the song given a sophisticated touch from the addition of flute and piano. Life's a Disease hides its despair within a bouncy indiepop arrangement. New World is melancholic indiepop with a glimmer of hope shining through. Days Pass Me By is more of the melancholic indiepop we've come to expect from Andy B, but this time also featuring psych-folk-esque flute and violin. Further info at pastimerecords.webs.com and pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

A FINE DAY FOR SAILING Little Places CD (Vollwert)
A Fine Day For Sailing is the other band of Matthew Stead of Banana and Louie, whose Alphabet Soup LP I enthused about last issue. Little Places is superb retro indiepop with bittersweet lyrics, a bouncy, catchy melody, male and female vocals, and the very effective addition of trumpet, which gives a feel of triumph and celebration to the song. Me and the Girl has an introspective, autobiographical nature, very well crafted with touches of wry humour and philosophy. Musically it is another excellent indiepop track, this time incorporating woozy retro-futuristic synth, which is unusual for this genre but works really well. A Fine Day For Sailing take all the classic hallmarks of old-school indiepop and combine them with an inventive and forward-looking musical approach, with great success. Fantastic stuff! Unfortunately the Vollwert-Records website seems to have disappeared, but you can find more info on A Fine Day For Sailing at www.afinedayforsailing.com

THE CONSPIRACY Bric-a-Brac CDR (self-released)
The Conspiracy have a long and interesting history. Originating in the late 1980s/early 1990s tapes scene, they released a slew of musically eclectic cassettes on the majority of the tape labels extant at the time, including Music & Elsewhere and my own Bliss label. They received praise from Mark E Smith for their 1990 recording Welcome to the USA, which was based on The Fall's US 80s/90s. Later The Conspiracy began to attract the attention of vinyl and CD labels, with releases coming out on Pink Lemon, Jarmusic, and Gallipoli Records. Whilst their Pink Lemon and Jarmusic labelmates such as Martin Newell, R Stevie Moore, and Alan Jenkins' various bands (Creams, Chrysanthemums, Deep Freeze Mice, etc) continue to be regarded as underground legends, The Conspiracy have been without a record deal for a while and have managed to slip under the radar. A shame, because they have produced some classic stuff over the years.
They are currently recording new material and will have enough songs for an album later in 2014. Duncan has sent me a CD of four of these new tracks, which continue to demonstrate The Conspiracy's diverse musical approach. Bric-a-Brac is a hard-hitting punk track, noisy and angular with snarling vocals. Crow II is an excellent melodic song with eerie psychedelic effects, a very artistic piece. Predator sets harsh ranty vocals to hard-edged electronic music, kind of like dance music for metallers or punks. Safe House is heavy rock, incorporating some effective use of background sound effects. Each track basically sounds like a different band, and perhaps it's The Conspiracy's eclecticism that's keeping labels at bay - the band are not at all easily packaged or pigeonholed. Any labels open minded enough to share The Conspiracy's view that genre barriers are irrelevant can get in touch with them via their Facebook page - www.facebook.com/wearetheconspiracy

PINEAPPLE Howl at the Moon CDR (demo)
Pineapple - that's Pineapple as in grenade, not the fruit - is a punk band that includes Duncan Pope from The Conspiracy. An earlier incarnation of Pineapple had some retrospective recordings from the mid 80s released by Gallipoli Records back in 2005; the band reformed with a new line-up in 2009 and are currently looking for a label. Punk isn't usually my sort of thing - some of it is too aggressive and non-melodic for me, and then there are those bands that rigidly stick to a standard formula, making a mockery of the original rebellious idea behind punk. Pineapple are a punk band I actually enjoy listening to however. Instead of just rehashing all the punk cliches, they add much to the genre that is their own.
Werewolf is great, with a strong tune; I'd classify it more as powerpop than punk. Nailbomb is a harsher, shoutier, more strictly punk track, albeit with an angular nature that sets it apart from the stereotypical punk sound. Zero Factor is another brilliant track, an amusing attack on the X Factor, mocking its contestants for their lack of brains and talent. Whilst having a basis in punk, it also ventures into prog and ska territories and features some effective use of horns. PTS is energetic and shouty but miles away from standard punk with its creative use of time changes and proggy touches. A very enjoyable EP, recommended even if you don't normally like punk. Hopefully Pineapple will find a label, as they deserve to be heard. More info on their Facebook page (search for Pineapple Plymouth).

THE HAYWAINS Get on Board with... 7" (Cloudberry)
The Haywains were a familiar name in the late 80s/early 90s indiepop scene, whose prolific output included a whole host of massively catchy pop gems such as Kill Karaoke, Forget Me Not, Rosanna, Shine Shine Shine and more. They have returned for an 18 month reunion to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Out at the end of May is this 4 song EP of new material from The Haywains, which continues pretty much where they left off and will not disappoint fans of their earlier releases. The songs have a cheery, upbeat atmosphere, which at times masks bleaker lyrical content. They're well crafted, with very strong tunes and witty lyrics. It takes talent to make a song out of something as mundane as a local bus route, and The Haywains do just that in Badgerline Day Return. It's Time We Stopped Pretending references Bythesea Road, for those who remember their earlier song of that name that made its first appearance on a Woosh flexi in 1988. The Rebels with Good Intentions shines a ray of summer sun upon the "dull provincial town" portrayed in the lyrics, with its happy-go-lucky indiepop sound. Finally there's Let's Twist! (The Knife in my Heart), the punning title illustrating well lyricist Paul Towler's way with words. The Haywains may have had a number of years away from active involvement in indiepop, but have clearly not lost the ability to write and perform fantastic songs. This EP is very much in the spirit of The Haywains' classic tracks from 20+ years ago. I truly hope there will be much more to come from this band during their reunion. More info at www.haywains.co.uk and www.cloudberryrecords.com

TIM CHAPLIN Daisy Chain Fridays tape (Bleeding Gold)
Indiepop songwriter/musician Tim Chaplin goes back to his roots in the 1990s tapes scene with this 5-track EP released on the once commonplace, now virtually obsolete format of cassette. The format may serve to limit the release's potential audience, seeing as stereo systems hardly ever come with tape decks anymore, but for those who still have such a thing as a cassette deck, and especially those who are nostalgic for the DIY cassette culture of the 80s and 90s, this is well worth checking out. Where this tape differs from old-school DIY tapes is that it is professionally duplicated with on-body printing, rather than the home recorded tapes that made up the bulk of the releases coming out of the underground tapes scene.
The tape reveals the multifaceted nature of Tim Chaplin's music. He is equally at home making an intense brand of powerpop pairing melodic indiepop songs with piercing guitar noise, as he is playing minimal acoustic DIY indiepop, the delicate arrangements masking dark and melancholic lyrical content. Final track This One shows yet another side to Tim Chaplin, in which hushed vocals are swathed within a wild experimental/psychedelic noisescape. It's all great homemade music that takes me back to the days when I was running a tape label. More info at timchaplin.bandcamp.com and www.bleedinggoldrecords.com

ICARUS PEEL VS MORDECAI SMYTH Barnburner EP 10" (Mega Dodo)
10" coloured vinyl EP with three songs each from Icarus Peel (also of The Honey Pot) and Mordecai Smyth, both of whom provide two of their own songs plus a cover version of each other's songs. Icarus Peel's Auntie Powders Her Nose is full of that sort of 'English eccentricity' characteristic of much late 60s psych-pop, but rather than producing a straight copy of anything from the 60s, Icarus Peel combines this sound with similarly off-centre proggy twists and turns and spacerockish vintage synth. Almost Murder Ballad, originally by Mordecai Smyth, sets an off-kilter psych-pop song with dark, gruesome lyrics to a mix of heavy spacerock, prog, and jazz. The guest female singer on this track isn't credited in the accompanying press blurb, though I believe it's Icarus Peel's Honey Pot bandmate Crystal Jacqueline, to whom the next track is dedicated. Crystal Jacqueline (the song) abandons the quirky mood of the other tracks here in favour of a sound that nods towards late 60s US folk-rock. Mordecai Smyth's Out in the Stars is a strongly 60s-influenced song with psych and mod elements. Plastic People, originally by Icarus Peel, is a scathing attack on conformity, presented as a jaunty psych-pop song with Mellotron, piano and organ. Drifted Along is a sophisticated late 60s-style pop ballad, its classy accompaniment masking lyrical pain and torment. Further info at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

THE THOUGHT CLOUDS Wrong Key EP CD (Pastime)
Debut EP from The Thought Clouds, who comprise members of Astrid, National Pastime, Bright Lights Big Zombie, A Fine Day for Sailing, and Falling Trees. The CD is one of those faux-vinyl black CDs with imitation grooves, and is packaged within a hand stamped sleeve. The five tracks here show The Thought Clouds' diverse approach to indiepop. Wrong is 80s style indiepop with melancholic lyrics contrasting with a cheery tune. Find the Key is a noisier song, bleak and emotional in mood. Some Things Never Change is a live track performed solely by singer/guitarist Leo Collett, in which pessimistic lyrics are paired with sparse acoustic guitar accompaniment. Book is 80s indiepop meets 60s pop, with nice use of synthesised flute and strings. Finally there's an untitled instrumental best described as experimental indiepop, combining tuneful guitar with atmospheric sound effects and backwards drums. Available from pastimerecords.webs.com or as a download from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com or thethoughtclouds.bandcamp.com

MATTHEW NORTH Something Memorable CD (Pastime)
One track single taken from Matthew North's forthcoming album still THINKING? still DREAMING. Although it's not stated on the sleeve, Something Memorable is a cover version of a song by fellow Pastime band Falling Trees, with whom Matthew North has collaborated in the past. The first part of the song is sparsely arranged, accompanied by two guitars, and sounding like a cross between indiepop and 60s American folk-rock. I had expected it to continue this way throughout, but then there's a shift to full band accompaniment, which rocks things up in a big way. This song started out in the 1980s indiepop tradition when it first appeared as a Falling Trees song; it may be hard to imagine such a song being successfully reinvented in a rock style but it actually works. Am looking forward to hearing the album, the release of which should be imminent. For more information visit www.matthewnorthmusic.co.uk and pastimerecords.webs.com

NATIONAL PASTIME Houston EP CD (Pastime)
Prolific retro indiepop band National Pastime return with this new five-track EP. Houston seems on the surface to be a fun, escapist song about astronauts, but I get the distinct impression that its space travel failure related lyrics are actually intended as metaphors for the sort of pessimistic circumstances that more ordinary people can identify with, such as a relationship that's going nowhere. When Not If is great vintage-style indiepop with a catchy chorus and effective use of retro organ. There's also three more songs in the 80s and early 90s indiepop tradition, which are well worth a listen for fans of this genre. Available from pastimerecords.webs.com or as a download from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

RICHARD EARLS & THIERRY AUDOUSSET Older Wiser Harder vol 1 CD (self-released)
Part one of a planned three part series featuring songs by Richard Earls set to music by Thierry Audousset. The packaging is really striking and unusual, an oversized fold-out black card sleeve with bold white print. I appreciate it when artists put as much care into the presentation of their releases as they do with the music itself, producing a complete work of art that stands out from the crowd. There's a diverse collection of sounds here, united by Richard Earls' deep, rich vocals and the accomplished musicianship of Thierry Audousset. Before That Long Hot Summer is post-punk meets indie-rock. Youth and Beauty is a dramatic piece with jazz and cabaret aspects, incorporating piano, brass and woodwind alongside noisy guitar. Licence to Kill has shades of vintage soul and rock. Expressionless is a classy singer-songwriter piece based around piano and clarinet. The songs have strong melodies and poetic, personal lyrics. The CD is available for 5 worldwide, or 2.50 for the download version, from olderwiserharder.blogspot.fr

PERU Sent to Saltcoats 7" (Archdeacon of Pop)
Peru's previous single Archie's Luck is In was among my very favourite indiepop releases of recent times (see above for exactly how brilliant this single is). Now Peru return with this new 7" which continues to show that they are among the very best indiepop bands currently in existence. In fact, I don't think it would be wrong to say that Peru's two singles on Archdeacon of Pop place them among the best indiepop bands EVER. Sent to Saltcoats sets bleak, harrowing lyrics about broken heart-induced suicide to a bouncy, jangly, 60s-tinged pop arrangement. It shouldn't work... yet it does. Time on the Clock is another top-grade janglepop song with a strong, memorable tune that is refusing to dislodge itself from my brain, a song that's right up there with all the indiepop greats from the late 80s and early 90s. Seriously fantastic stuff! Indiepop fans - do yourselves a favour and get this single! More info at archdeaconofpoprecords.bandcamp.com and www.facebook.com/peruband

FRANNY AND ZOOEY Bottled Up & Ready To Go CDR (Dufflecoat)
Indiepop has been an international phenomenon for as long as I've been involved in the scene, but in more recent years its influence has spread even further afield. Dufflecoat Records has done much to promote overseas indiepop bands in the past, from countries as far away as Indonesia and Brazil, and now there is Franny and Zooey from the Dominican Republic. It really warms my heart to know that the music genre that changed my life in so many positive ways is now bringing so much pleasure to people from all over the world. Franny and Zooey describe themselves in the sleeve notes as "two friends in love with indiepop", and their enthusiasm for the genre really shines through in their music. There are six songs here, fast and short, the entire EP being not much longer than 10 minutes. The music is jangly with some noisy undertones at times; it's on the more twee side of indiepop but without overstepping the line into the cloying, embarrassing kind of tweeness. The band they perhaps most resemble is Talulah Gosh. Definitely worth a listen - available from www.dufflecoatrecords.com

THE STRANGE CREATURES Stargazer CDR (Dufflecoat)
Dufflecoat Records continue their exploration of overseas indiepop with this 5-song EP from The Strange Creatures, who hail from the Philippines. Citing dreampop and twee pop amongst their influences, their music is an effective blend of positive, summery indiepop and the hazy atmospherics of dreampop. Spacey synths add a shimmering ambience to the music, and there is a strength to the songs despite their sweet, pretty nature. Despite Everything is an anthemic track that sounds like it ought to be a summer hit. Epilogue/The Shire begins with a delicate piano/acoustic guitar arrangement before introducing electronic beats, atmospheric synths and shoegaze-ish noisy guitar as backdrop for twin male and female vocals. The soaring chorus, in which Steph Coojacinto spreads the word 'mystical' over nine syllables is truly beautiful and needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. Another great EP from the fantastic Dufflecoat label - visit www.dufflecoatrecords.com

THE ARCTIC FLOW January Stars CDR (Dufflecoat)
The Arctic Flow is South Carolina-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brian Hancheck, who describes his music as 'tweegaze', combining as it does the pretty melodies and melancholic lyrics of the more gentle side of indiepop with the atmospheric effects of shoegaze, whilst leaving aside the noise emphasis of the latter genre. A massively catchy riff that I'm having a tough time prising from my brain is paired with hazy reverby effects in About Her, whilst Last One for the Team sets self-deprecating lyrics to a Field Mice-esque indiepop tune, and I'd Rather Not Remember is a delicate piano-based song with pained, introspective lyrical sentiments. Whilst Brian uses the 'twee' moniker to (partially) describe his music, there is nothing happy-go-lucky or naive about The Arctic Flow. A deep sadness pervades the music, which has much to offer to fans of the more melancholic Sarah bands such as Brighter or the aforementioned Field Mice. Available from www.dufflecoatrecords.com

SIMONES Majic Ship 7" (Fruits de Mer)
Home recording artist Al Simones has self-released four albums over the space of 25 years via his Purple Phrogg label. Here, he chooses two of his favourite tracks from his back catalogue for this coloured vinyl 7", limited to 700 copies. Majic Ship journeys through psychedelic powerpop, folk-rock, and wild and heavy fuzz guitar solos over the course of just under six minutes, whilst Seize the Moment seamlessly collages aspects of folk-rock and garage rock with mindbending, heavy psych-rock instrumental sections. Previous comparisons to The Bevis Frond are completely justified; there are definite similarities in the songwriting and musicianship, although the heavy rock and folk aspects are perhaps more pronounced with Simones. An effective combination of melodic beauty and blistering intensity - available late September from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VARIOUS 7 and 7 Is 7 x 7" box set (Fruits de Mer)
Seven coloured vinyl 7" singles, on which current psych bands cover classic tracks by 1960s US psych bands, packaged in a card box with lavish artwork recalling 1960s psychedelic poster art. The Bevis Frond appear with two heavy psych-rock versions of Clear Light songs. Sand begins with exactly the same riff as The Sea Urchins' Please Don't Cry. I was unfamiliar with the Clear Light version until now but checking it out online reveals that riff is a feature of the original. Whether The Sea Urchins were directly influenced by Clear Light or whether it's a complete coincidence, I have no idea. The Higher State cover 13th Floor Elevators; Wait for My Love has a tune that recalls early to mid 60s pop, but the arrangement is much more of a rock thing with lots of heavy fuzz guitar. They also do an excellent jangly version of You Don't Know. The Chemistry Set appear with great interpretations of Love's A House is Not a Motel and Live and Let Live (the latter being their - and my - favourite Love track). These versions have just the right balance of faithfulness to the originals and adding their own twist.
Sendelica appear with a blues-rock meets spacerock version of United States of America's Hard Coming Love and an engagingly atmospheric Love Song for the Dead Che, based largely around vintage synths. King Penguin cover The Byrds' She Don't Care About Time, which combines the quintessentially Byrdsy jangly guitar sound with harpsichord and soaring synthesised string section. They also incorporate an Indian influence into 5D (Fifth Dimension) by adding sitar and tablas. The Gathering Grey add atmospheric synth effects to the folk-rock of Moby Grape. The final single in the box is a split between Black Tempest and The Seventh Ring of Saturn, appearing with versions of Nature's Way by Spirit and Cream Puff War by The Grateful Dead respectively. Available 22nd September via www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

THE PRIMITIVES Spin-O-Rama 7"/download (Elefant)
HELEN LOVE Pogo Pogo 7"/download (Elefant)
THE SCHOOL When I Fall In Love download (Elefant)

Elefant is one of the longest running indiepop labels, founded in 1989 and still going strong today. Based in Spain, the label now has a UK arm run by Liz Hunt from The School. I received their three latest singles on the same promotional CD so figured I'd review them all at the same time.
The Primitives have a long and interesting history. Starting out as an indiepop band releasing their own records, they then signed to RCA, acquiring a more polished sound, and had chart hits such as Crash. Now they are back in the indiepop scene, and their Spin-O-Rama single is due for release on 1st September as a taster for their forthcoming album of the same name. Spin-O-Rama is part jangly indiepop, part powerpop, with a strong mega-catchy tune and vocal harmonies - really brilliant stuff. The B-side does not appear on the album; this is a cover of Up So High by 60s band The What's New - retro pop with a nice ethereal jangly instrumental section at the end. I must admit to not having paid much attention to The Primitives in the past - a big mistake if this single is anything to go by. I will be investigating their back catalogue soonish!
Helen Love have a 4-song EP also out 1st September, with more of the indiepop/punk-pop/electropop/disco sounds they are known for. Pogo Pogo is a collaboration with remix producer Ricardo Autobahn, which mixes 80s-ish dancey pop, house-esque samples, 70s disco string section, and punk-pop energy. Make Up, Break Up combines a punky chorus with a bubblegum pop tune and synths and electric piano. Red Light is a fun, catchy powerpop song, and Julie's Got a New 7 Inch Single is a chug-along punk-pop song expressing the excitement that comes from buying new records. The lyrics are tongue in cheek, but vinyl fanatics who are able to laugh at themselves will surely recognise themselves in the song and laugh along with Helen Love.
The School's latest single (out now) is only available as a download from Elefant; a 7" vinyl version is being released by WIAIWYA as part of their singles club. When I Fall In Love is sweet melodic indiepop with lashings of retro organ and vocal harmonies. Just Let Me Be is classy pop with hints of 60s girl groups, featuring trumpet for an extra touch of sophistication.
Visit www.elefantuk.com if you're here in the UK, or www.elefant.com for the Spanish site.

ANDY B Company EP, Water Under the Bridge EP, Through My Fingers/I Am Ice EP CDRs (Pastime)
NATIONAL PASTIME Read Your Mind CDR (Pastime)

New batch of releases from Pastime Records, featuring previously unreleased mixes of songs from Andy B's first three studio albums, as well as National Pastime's Read Your Mind backed with three tracks previously available on their Bookmarks album. Both Andy B and National Pastime (a band which also features Andy B) are inspired by the classic era of indiepop, citing influences such as the Television Personalities, early Primal Scream, Sarah Records, and the C86 scene.
Company is melancholic indiepop with the effective addition of violin and female backing vocals courtesy of Elisabeth Bennett. This EP also features five additional tracks, including the world-weary Life's a Disease, Never Forget a Name, which offsets its inherent melancholic nature with a catchy repetitive chorus, Days Pass Me By, which incorporates flute, violin and piano along with a melody that keeps popping into my head, and So Screwed Up, which replaces the sensitive, emotional indiepop sound Andy B is normally associated with with a beefier mod/garage style.
The next EP, Water Under the Bridge, also features six tracks, highlights including the title track which recalls Brighter, and Don't Get Me Wrong, which is jangly indiepop sounding straight out of the genre's heyday.
Through My Fingers is an eight track mini-album, but it's being billed as an EP so I'm reviewing it in the singles section with the other EPs. Most of the tracks here follow in the old-school melancholic indiepop vein, an air of bitterness pervading songs like I Am Ice ("You may think I'm smooth, you may think I'm nice/But don't get too close cos I am ice [...] I'll put you down and not think twice, I am ice") and Walking Out On Me ("I'm sending your letters back, they take up too much space"). The CD also features Let's Talk About It Later, a spikier number with a really catchy chorus, I Can Read You Like a Book, in which nostalgic reminiscing is set to jangly guitar and retro keyboard, and If We Fall Out, which has shades of the TVPs.
National Pastime have much in common stylistically with Andy B, due to the band featuring him as joint songwriter and also playing guitars, piano and keyboards in a style familiar from his solo work. The songs here are however more positive in tone than solo Andy B, with lyrical inspiration coming from a trip to Lake Geneva, chilling out with some beer and nachos, and the enjoyment that comes from watching a film or listening to a fave band, rather than the bleak emotional outpourings heard in much of Andy's solo material. The CDs are available for purchase from pastimerecords.webs.com or as a download from pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

SCOTT MORRISON The Cornershop EP CD (Pastime)
Scott Morrison was previously the singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist with The Morrisons. Originally formed in the 1980s, this band had a number of vinyl releases and their music was played on the John Peel show. They reformed in 2003, existing until 2013, and produced five albums during this time. Scott has been performing as a solo artist as of 2013 and this is his debut EP. He is joined on these four tracks by vocalist Ishbel Wenley and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andy Fonda, also known from The June Brides and for his production work with various other bands on the Pastime label. The Cornershop is a classic piece of strongly melodic songwriting that transcends genre. Before has a 60s folky singer-songwriter vibe, with an unusually 'busy' drumming style which works well. Looking Down from Heaven is janglepop combined with the chug of powerpop and a touch of US-style folk. A Private War is soulful folk-pop based around lyrics by Kathy Haines-Bevan. This is a really enjoyable set of songs. The vocal interplay between Scott and Ishbel on all four tracks is really something special. I'm very much looking forward to hearing more from this artist. Available from pastimerecords.webs.com; further information on Scott Morrison on his Facebook page.

THE CHEMISTRY SET Elapsed Memories 7" (Fruits de Mer)
Among the pioneers of the late 80s neo-psychedelic scene, London band The Chemistry Set were firm supporters of the underground music network, releasing several flexis and homemade tapes publicised via similarly homemade fanzines. Their talent was however recognised beyond the DIY underground; they received mainstream media recognition, placements in the indie charts and the Spanish national chart, and counted the likes of John Peel and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson among their fans. The band split in the early 90s but returned in 2008, releasing a string of albums, singles and compilation tracks which have continued to gain accolades within the underground media as well as established media outlets such as BBC Radio 6 and the Sunday Times. This latest release from The Chemistry Set is a coloured vinyl 7" limited to 700 copies, featuring two of the band's own songs along with a cover version of Jimi Hendrix's Love Or Confusion. Elapsed Memories is an ambitious and impressive piece which makes me think somehow of a more psychedelic version of Ride, combined with the feel of an epic movie theme. A Cure for the Inflicted Afflicted is a high-octane psych rock track with blistering guitar work. Love Or Confusion combines psychedelic blues with sitar, tablas, and a flute that sounds like the aural equivalent of soaring birds. Another really great release from this excellent band; available 22nd November from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

SUPERFJORD/EARTHLING SOCIETY Coltrane 7" (Fruits de Mer)
Two track 33rpm limited edition coloured vinyl 7", on which Superfjord play John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Earthling Society appear with a new mix of their version of Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda, the original version of which appeared on their recent album England Have My Bones. Whilst Fruits de Mer is not known as a jazz label, these bands reinterpret the Coltrane originals in a style that feels right at home on the label. Superfjord are a band from Finland who are a new name to me, though if this track is anything like their own material I would definitely like to hear more. Intricate and intense psych-rock is combined with shimmering atmospheric effects and spoken vocals with a positive, magical, mystical message. Earthling Society's Cosmic Joy Mix of Journey in Satchidananda is chilled out, floaty spacerock with jazz undercurrents, diverging into heavier territory about six minutes in, with the appearance of blistering guitar soloing and noise effects. The 7" will be out on 22nd November and will come with a bonus 70 minute CD of live, remixed and new material by both bands, along with an Astralasia track inspired by John Coltrane. Unfortunately the advance promo package I received did not include this material so I am unable to comment further, but the single itself is undoubtedly well worth checking out. Available from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VARIOUS Tramp Wire Stories tape (ZyNg Tapes)
Second release from ZyNg Tapes, a new tape label set up by Rob Kirtley, formerly of The Rabbit's Hat. The tape is limited to just 25 copies on red cassette, in a handmade fabric and paper cover. There's also a download version for those who prefer that format. The tape comprises two narrations set to music; first up is Daniel J. Harris' Lethal Inspections, read by Tim Jones with music by Rob Kirtley. Accompanied by a rock instrumental that is in turn atmospheric and forceful, the story is a dark dystopian fantasy concerning an experiment on prisoners; will they get a lethal injection or a placebo? On the other side of the tape we have Couch Potatoes and the Idiot's Lantern by The Reverend Rabbit, with music by Tim Jones and Paul Rose. The Idiot's Lantern of the title is the television, portrayed as a device for subduing the populace and crushing free thought. Instead of becoming a couch potato, transfixed by inane celebs on TV, the Reverend Rabbit urges the listener to rediscover the knowledge within themselves. Barcodes as a corporate tool, economic injustice, and the reduction of nutrients in the soil also come under scrutiny. Voice effects add a demonic feel to parts of the Reverend's sermon, the musical accompaniment veering from relaxing ambient music to harsh, dissonant experimentation. Not everyone will agree with the Reverend Rabbit's message, and many will feel pushed out of their comfort zone, but his uncompromising narration forces the listener to examine their own beliefs and behavioural patterns, a necessary procedure for maintaining an independent, free thinking mind. Available from www.zyngtapes.co.uk

CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS Imagine John Lennon CDR (Stone Premonitions)
New 4 track EP from Census of Hallucinations, released as a taster for their forthcoming album. In Ruins adds intense prog guitar to a bleak experimental folk piece; I use 'folk' very loosely here. The track features a guest appearance from Tim Jones and Terri~B's son James, in which he recites an eerie poem about dead trees with black skeletons, and wind blowing like an invisible smoke-breathing dragon. These evocative words fit perfectly with the song's dark and surreal atmosphere. The next couple of tracks are ethereal and surreal prog rock, in which the flowing guitar work of John Simms, also of renowned long-running band Clear Blue Sky, provides a backdrop for Tim Jones' sarcastic, uncompromising lyrics. He Who Can Manage Camels sets a philosophical narration by Tim Jones to a dramatic Eastern-tinged prog instrumental. The lyrics encourage the listener not to seek truth in organised religion but within themselves, in the here and now. The last part of the track blends James Jones' poem from the first track with a spooky, dreamlike experimental soundscape. Census of Hallucinations' last album placed emphasis on the darker and more experimental side of their sound, and this EP suggests that this is a direction they are continuing to head towards. Available from www.stonepremonitionswebshop.com. Further info on Census of Hallucinations at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions

VODKA CAMELS Another Shot @ the Title tape (self-released)
Now here's a blast from the past, on several levels. Vodka Camels were originally around in the 1990s but took a hiatus after losing their drummer. They have now returned with this new 4-song tape of home recorded material. Whilst tape labels have been making a comeback of late, they seem generally to favour a slicker approach than the tape labels of old, using pro-printed colour covers and factory-duplicated tapes. Vodka Camels' tape harks back to the tape label scene as I knew it in the 90s, the tape itself being a shop-bought Maxell C90, packaged within a photocopied inlay - a real nostalgia-fest for those who were involved in the original homemade cassette culture.
The songs here show two different sides to Vodka Camels' sound. The first two are minimalistic acoustic songs with strong, memorable tunes and powerful, emotional vocals. The next two are full band songs, a kind of post-punk/alt-rock with a dark and decadent atmosphere, synth and drum machine appearing alongside choppy, noisy guitar. All good stuff, and I'm keen to hear the next installment of Vodka Camels material promised for the new year. Contact Vodka Camels at inmxwll@yahoo.com

HALEIWA Wall of Blue Sky 7" (Sunstone)
Limited edition single from Stockholm band Haleiwa, led by songwriter Mikko Singh. There are two tracks here, starting with Wall of Blue Sky, in which a perky keyboard riff and upbeat guitar are combined with sustained keyboard notes with a glacial, dreamlike effect, as backdrop for a really lovely indiepop song with just the right balance of melancholy and hope. The song is paired with Harbour, a good match for the title track as it shares the same sad-yet-hopeful mood, and features more of that ethereal keyboard sound, which ends here in a chorus of floaty, atmospheric drones. These songs put me in mind of the sort of indiepop I cut my teeth on almost 25 years ago, especially Sarah Records bands like The Sweetest Ache, early, pre-shoegaze Secret Shine, and maybe a smidgen of Brighter, although Haleiwa are undoubtedly looking to the future just as much as the past and adding much that is their own to the classic indiepop sound. Very highly recommended single from a band I'm keen to hear more from. Available from www.sunstonerecords.co.uk - only 100 copies pressed so be quick!

PALACE OF SWORDS Echoes from a Distant Star 7" and Palace of Swords Reimagined CDR (Reverb Worship)
Palace of Swords is the work of Peter Lyon, whose experimental electronic psychedelic music is re-shaped here via a selection of remixes from various other artists, including renowned producer, musician, and Creation Records co-founder Joe Foster, and dark experimental music project The Hare and the Moon. This package comprises a white vinyl 7" with accompanying CDR that features the first track from the 7", an extended version of the second track, and three bonus tracks. Echoes from a Distant Star (Joe Foster remix) is based around a hypnotic keyboard riff, adding minimal percussion and atmospheric rumblings. It's the sound of starlight, coupled with a deep-space desolation ... simply beautiful. Ringstone Round (The Hare and the Moon remix) incorporates a riff that sounds like a passage from a folk song repeated over and over, ebbing and flowing drones, a brooding neoclassical film soundtrack-esque section (which is expanded upon in the longer version on the CD), and arcane vocal samples, creating a prime piece of cinematic electronic music. We Are the New Hyperboreans (Midwich Youth Club mix) is a mind-expanding, spacey instrumental with experimental undertones. Aesthete Cured (Smile Rhythms remix) is a highly effective synthesis of dance-oriented electronic music, guitar-based psychedelia, and experimental sound manipulation. Live at the Aberdeen Witch Trials 1597 (Future Disguises remix) sets spoken word samples to pulsating spacey electronics, with a foreboding atmosphere lurking within. This EP is by far the most exciting electronic release I've heard in a long while - I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more by Palace of Swords. Limited to just 100 copies and close to selling out already so get your orders in quickly! More info at www.reverbworship.com and Palace of Swords' Facebook page.

MARK McDOWELL Drifter EP CDR (self released)
I was keen to hear more from Mark McDowell since hearing his superb song Girls of Belvoir on Fruits de Mer offshoot Regal Crabomophone's 2014 Annual. Now there is this EP of four new songs that are just as superb. The Drifter begins as a minimal DIY psych-folk piece based around guitar and drum machine; there's a certain melancholia about this first part of the track. As the piece picks up speed, the full-on psychedelic aspects come to the fore, with intense and forceful psych guitar and ecstatic soaring flute. Bright Lights, a song about the Scottish island of St Kilda, has a traditional folk feel, augmented by evocative psychedelic sound effects. You Make Me Feel is cheery, upbeat folk-pop with an inventive arrangement that combines Brazilian-inspired beats, spacey electronics, shoegazy reverb effects, flute, and guitar soloing that recalls 60s garage rock. Love and Isolation has a 60s folky singer-songwriter vibe, combined with some very effective use of strings - a really moving piece. A top quality EP from this highly talented artist; I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from him in future. Visit reverbnation.com/markmcdowell

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