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


One of my favourite labels around right now is Sugarbush Records, a label that can be trusted to release great melodic guitar-based music that's informed by the past yet relevant for the present, including but not limited to janglepop, powerpop, psych-pop, and American-style folk-rock. There have been seven new releases on Sugarbush since I last wrote about the label, starting with DUNCAN MAITLAND's Lullabies for the 21st Century, which is beautifully packaged with swirling Art Nouveau-inspired flowers and butterflies, and pressed on translucent purple vinyl. Duncan is also known for his work with Picture House and Pugwash, and is accompanied here by twenty guest musicians including members of XTC, Pugwash, and The Divine Comedy. Your Century is authentically vintage-style harmony pop with "ooooh-la-la-la" vocals. Terry the Toad is retro pop with swirling 70s synth adding a prog touch. Crash Position is airy and dreamlike harmony pop with shades of The Beach Boys, or a more recent reference, Peter Lacey, whilst Up To You is in a similar vein to ELO. Handbirds is gentle psych-pop with nostalgic lyrics and soaring vocal harmonies, really lovely stuff. Horror Stories is a fantastic mix of retro harmony pop and harder-edged psych-rock, with a well-crafted, inventive arrangement. The laid-back songwriting of Supermarket Dream is finely orchestrated with cello, upright bass, flute and piano, as well as retro-futuristic synth and gently strummed acoustic guitar. Insect Under the Stone is a kind of psychedelic take on the jazz crooner style, accompanied by jazzy bass, electric piano, and trumpet intertwined with bubbling vintage synth, alongside a jaunty psych-pop chorus. A truly superb album with a real instant classic feel.

THE DOWLING POOLE comprises Willie Dowling (Jackdaw4, Honeycrack, Wildhearts) and Jon Poole (Cardiacs, Wildhearts). A while ago Sugarbush put out the vinyl version of their Bleak Strategies album, and now they are back on Sugarbush with the follow-up, One Hyde Park. Rebecca Receiving is a really catchy mix of pop, prog, and a sense of English eccentricity, coming across like a cross between XTC, Cardiacs and Blur. Vox Pops sets a song that recalls a mix of The Beatles and The Lucky Bishops to an arrangement that brings together harpsichord, fairground organ and joyous harmony vocals. Adam and Eve is a kind of prog-pop-rap with a quirky lurching rhythm and lyrics that critique religion with comedy. Hope and Glory is ambitious, ultra-melodic prog-pop with soaring Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. Bring Back the Glow is mellow, soul-tinged harmony pop reminiscent of Peter Lacey. The Garden is a fine slice of bendy, quirky prog-pop with shades of Caravan and Cardiacs. Whatever is an Eastern-tinged number recalling psychedelic-era Beatles. A well-crafted album that combines a pop sensibility with a free-thinking, adventurous spirit.

ORGONE BOX is the solo project of Rick Corcoran (ex-Silent Blue, Green Tambourines, Orange). Following the now sold out Centaur album, Sugarbush have released a further Orgone Box album entitled Lorne Park Tapes, which comprises 4-track demos recorded in the early 1990s, many of them previously unreleased. The LP has purple swirly artwork, and black and white photos and sleeve notes on the back like you'd get with 1960s albums. Rick Corcoran writes "For better or worse we didn't pay much notice to what was current or hip" - always a good sign when bands have such an attitude; you know the music is going to be genuine and not just an attempt to cash in on some shallow trend. The songs here were recorded when Rick and his collaborators were listening to the entire output of The Beatles along with American guitar music eg Cheap Trick, The Bangles, and Tom Petty, all of whom proved influential in the making of the album. Bastard Angel Two includes songwriting that comes across like a mix of The Beatles and Big Star, set to an arrangement that blends a powerpop chug with lashings of jangle. In the Right Hands is American-influenced guitar pop with a Bangles-ish melody. Hello Wonderland is like a homemade Beatles, whilst Star opts for a vintage-style melodic rock approach, with clanging guitar noise offset by soaring vocal harmonies. Just Like a Woman Should Be is Beatles meets American folk-rock, its melody and strength shining through the lo-tech garage recording. Barbican is dreamlike and luxurious, with keyboard orchestration providing an almost ambient effect, alongside aspects reminiscent of psychedelic-era Beatles. Last Ride on the Jets begins with found sounds and samples, giving way to an energetic and uplifting powerpop number. The album is a perfect synthesis of Beatlesque sounds and American janglepop, powerpop and folk-rock, the raw DIY recording adding to its charm.

8x8 is a US/Ukrainian duo comprising Lane Steinberg (ex-Wall of Orchids) and Alexander Khodchenko. They initially found each other on Myspace and soon embarked on a transatlantic recording project, the songs taking shape as the musicians emailed each other their own contributions to the recordings. A prolific output ensued, work beginning on the second album without a break from the first, and a third album is currently underway. Sugarbush have released the vinyl version of 8x8's second album, Azalea's Room, which is pressed on red vinyl and features beautiful cover art based on paintings by Alexander Khodchenko. Ice Wings is luxurious, dreamlike pop combining influences from Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney in a very similar way to Peter Lacey. Azalea's Room combines swirling psychedelic pop with harder-edged rock and powerpop aspects. Laws of Attraction is mellow and sophisticated sunshine pop with strings, woodwind, glockenspiel, and vocal harmonies. I'm a Werewolf, Baby effectively blends powerpop, electronic rhythms, piano balladry and airy sunshine pop, its lyrics telling a story straight out of a kitsch horror B-movie. The Tie In is great summery pop with jaunty piano riffage. Dr Winkler's Hands is brilliant, super-melodic baroque pop with harpsichord, strings, handclaps, and a mix of jangly and powerpoppy guitars, featuring that kind of observational, biographical lyrical style that is generally considered very English, only transported into an American setting and detailing a retiring obstetrician's last day at work. Not a topic you come across every day, and Lane Steinberg is probably right in thinking it the first song ever written about such a character! Vindauga - I know that word, it's Old Norse for window. Here it's the title of a superb, inventive pop song in which 8x8 introduce elements of 80s synthpop, folk, and dark, reverby atmospherics alongside the classic harmony pop style that seems more typical of the band. All in all, this is a stylish, luxurious pop album recommended for fans of The Beach Boys, psychedelic Beatles, 1980s melodic rock and powerpop, as well as current like-minded artists such as Peter Lacey.

PUGWASH's 1999 album Almond Tea, or to give it its full title, Almond Tea As Served by Pugwash, now has a long-awaited vinyl release courtesy of Sugarbush Records, with both brown and green vinyl versions available, both on the usual heavyweight audiophile-quality vinyl this label is known for. Finer Things in Life is orchestrated balladry coming across like a mix of ELO and The Beatles. Shine On Norvell Jefferson blends jaunty sepia-tinted psych-pop with tinges of American folk-rock. Nearly the Same as Before is 60s pop with a country twang, wrapped up in a psychedelic haze. Kings and Queens is superb retro pop-rock balancing strong melody and choppy riffage. There's also the intense psychedelic powerpop of Two Wrongs and Obvious, the Crosby Stills & Nash-ish Getting Me Down Again, and the brilliant summery janglepop of Could It Be the Same, and they even include a hidden bonus track with a nostalgic 1920s jazz feel, that makes me think of a more pop version of The Temperance Seven. Almond Tea is a truly fantastic album of classic melodic pop. Whilst having shades of various bands from the past, Pugwash have the talent to avoid the obvious derivative cliches. Sugarbush have plans to release a further Pugwash album in the autumn, which is really great news!

Jeff Kelly's long-running project THE GREEN PAJAMAS returns to Sugarbush with a translucent mint green vinyl version of the previously download-only album If You Knew What I Dreamed, which features new live-in-studio recordings of songs from Jeff Kelly's solo albums and vintage Green Pajamas albums, as well as two new songs. There's the folk-tinged powerpop of Claire's Knee and I Wait By the River, and there's a nicely understated and delicately orchestrated version of one of my all-time favourite Green Pajamas songs, Planet Love, the original version of which appeared on the 1999 Woronzow album Seven Fathoms Down and Falling. Emma is Crying is excellent psych-folk, both dreamlike and swathed in eerie melancholy. If You Knew What I Dreamed is a powerpop murder ballad, whilst Panda in the Rain is beautiful orchestrated pop that's poetic and moving. Susanne brings together crunching powerpop guitars and swirling psychedelic electronics; a heady and intense piece. A brilliant album with a good mix of The Green Pajamas' powerpop and folkier material, that is very much recommended for newcomers to this band and existing fans alike. I believe Sugarbush has plans for another Green Pajamas album in a few months' time - also great news!

The latest release on Sugarbush Records is THE JUNIPERS' third album and second for Sugarbush, Red Bouquet Fair. Their previous album Paint the Ground sold out of its first pressing in just weeks, and the recent second pressing is also close to selling out. This new album, which is limited to 250 copies on red vinyl and 235 on black, is sure to sell just as quickly, so be sure to get your orders in fast! The album starts with the title track, a whimsical and dreamlike instrumental, and then on to Follow Loretta, a slice of piano-led harmony pop somewhere between The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Dig Me Up is punchy pop with 60s psychedelic undercurrents. Burning Pages is brilliant psych-pop with lashings of swirling Mellotron and harmony vocals. Esmeranda is bouncy, catchy pop with jangly guitar and harpsichord, really great stuff! Here Come the Winds is excellent psych-pop with an ambitious, luxurious arrangement featuring sitar, orchestration and vocal harmonies - quite possibly one of the best examples of this kind of song recorded since the 1960s! Like a Merry Go Round is positive and optimistic janglepop that's sure to appeal to indiepop fans and 60s pop fans alike. The Fisherman combines folky touches with mellow, dreamlike psych-pop. Summer Queen is luxurious folk-tinged psych-pop with plenty of Mellotron and soaring vocal harmonies. This is a really fantastic album of well-crafted 1960s-style psychedelic pop, that's an absolute must for anyone who appreciates this genre.

All these and more can be purchased at www.sugarbushrecords.com


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Text Kim Harten, 2016.