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


Following last issue's bumper 6-part article on Sugarbush Records, the label has kept up its prolific output with a stack of new LPs and more on the way. First up is DOM MARIANI & THE MAJESTIC KELP's Hi Seas. At its heart it's a surf album, but one with horizons broad enough to encompass such things as laid-back summer pop, country, psychedelia and beyond. The Spider and the Sailor is twangy surf music with not just a twist but several, venturing into cinematic drama, sunny dreamy pop, and slight psychedelic undercurrents. Sliver of Gold is a reflective, pensive combination of surf, prog and pop, giving way to a cheery mix of jangly guitar, glockenspiel and tambourine. Blue Olive is a hazy summer tune based around sighing Hawaiian steel guitar punctuated by delicate piano. Whilst Hi Seas is a predominantly instrumental album, the track Hi-Seas introduces vocals. This is ethereal dreamlike summer pop, laid-back with a psychedelic swirl. There's shades of Brian Wilson in the songwriting, but so much more going on too. Song for the Boatmen, with its doleful church bells, warlike rowers' chants, and bleakly folk-tinged melody, conjures up images of Vikings out on a raid. Whilst staying within the sea theme, its inclusion here shows this album has room for far more than just visions of the sea as a fun place to surf or laze around on the beach. Freeway Ace takes in the stomp and snarl of punk alongside bright summer surf melodies. Francisco Street is bright and cheerful 60s-ish surf, really uplifting. There's nice artwork too with a stylish retro look, incorporating a swirly design suggestive of waves.

THE GRIP WEEDS' classic album House of Vibes was originally released on CD in 1994 as a joint release between Ground Up Records (USA) and Twang! Records (Germany). It now sees a well-deserved re-release on vinyl courtesy of Sugarbush. The Grip Weeds combine melodic 60s pop with meaty powerpop and blisteringly intense psychedelic rock. Tracks include the ultramelodic gutsy harmony pop Salad Days, the Byrds-go-powerpop Realize and its sitar-psych counterpart Realise, the tense and eerie psych-folk-rock Haunted, the summer janglepop Before I Close My Eyes, the hard-hitting, riff-laden garage rock with powerpop and psych undercurrents that is Someone, and Close Descending Love which features occasional hints of Sugarbush labelmates The Green Pajamas alongside Beatlesque elements. It's been great revisiting this fantastic album; Sugarbush are to be congratulated for helping to introduce it to a new audience.

More often associated with Fruits de Mer Records, SCHIZO FUN ADDICT have moved to Sugarbush for their latest album El Shoegaze Bossa Nova. The cover image has a nice reference to another important release from Sugarbush Records, The Junipers' Red Bouquet Fair, playing on a vintage turntable on the beach! As the title suggests, this album is an inventive combination of shoegaze and bossa nova; I can think of no-one else who has ever made efforts to bring those genres together. Of course, indiepop informed by bossa nova is already a thing, and this album resembles that to a certain degree, but Schizo Fun Addict are surely unique in approaching bossa nova from a specifically shoegaze angle, as well as incorporating many experiments from their own musical imagination. The 'Bossa' side is centred around sunny pop songs with bossa nova rhythms and washes of dreamy atmospheric noise, punctuated at times by the spacey whoosh of vintage synths and laid-back bursts of jazz trumpet. Over on the 'Gaze' side, we get such tracks as Voltage Alert (laid-back bossa beats combined with meandering jazzy electric piano, psychedelia, and atmospheric elements that bridge the gap between shoegaze and post-rock), Alone at Makaha (woozy pop with noisy and jangly guitars and psychedelic undertones), and Angels are Marching (drawn-out atmospheric rock with experimental, ambient, shoegaze and psychedelic aspects). An innovative album that has much to appeal to fans of indiepop, shoegaze and psychedelia alike.

Sugarbush continue their extensive TRAPPIST AFTERLAND reissue programme with two more LPs from this band. On Like a Beehive, the Hill Was Alive, Trappist Afterland founder Adam Geoffrey Cole is joined by a larger group of collaborating musicians than usual, hence the album coming out under the name Trappist Afterland Band. This album was originally self-released on CDR in 2013, followed by a limited edition vinyl reissue on Pointy Little Heads in 2017. This latest vinyl reissue on Sugarbush features a bonus track and slightly reworked cover art. The music of Trappist Afterland stands at the nexus of psych-folk and dark folk, with much influence from world musics and Christian mysticism. Come to Me features an amazing pan-Eastern arrangement taking in erhu, oud and tablas. He Opened Not His Mouth (Isaiah 53.9-12) includes percussive accompaniment based around Tibetan bells, Jew's harp, drums, drones and sleigh bells. Gardening in Lure has hurdy gurdy drones and atmospheric psychedelic electronics giving way to an intricate interplay of lute and cello. Stripes (Isaiah 53.3-9) combines a doleful traditional-style folk ballad with searingly intense psych-rock; really astonishing stuff. Beehive is a mixture of Americana, psychedelic and medieval music, accompanied by a gentle, relaxing combination of hammered dulcimer, tablas and hurdy gurdy. The bonus track exclusive to this reissue is a live version of Like a Bruised Reed, a very beautiful psych-folk piece with ecstatic medievalesque percussion and hypnotic drone accompaniment. Even if you already have an earlier pressing of this album, this new reissue is well worth getting for the addition of this track.

Next is Songs for Nathan, TRAPPIST AFTERLAND's collaborative album with MOONGAZING HARE, originally released as a download-only benefit album for The Active Listener blog's Nathan Ford during his illness, and to show appreciation for Nathan's strong support for underground music. Thanks to Sugarbush Records, the album now gets a much needed reissue on vinyl, which includes three bonus tracks not included on the original release. The album brings together a selection of songs by Trappist Afterland (both solo recordings by Adam Geoffrey Cole and full band recordings) and David Folkmann Drost's project Moongazing Hare, including covers of each other's songs, and covers of material by artists as diverse as Coil, Lal Waterson, Syd Barrett, and The Mountain Goats. Moongazing Hare open the album with a beautifully eerie psych-folk rendition of Lal Waterson's Fine Horseman, atmospherically arranged with ethereal drones alongside gentle piano and guitar. Many artists have covered this song over the years but Moongazing Hare's version is quite honestly one of the best I've heard. Trappist Afterland transforms Coil's Restless Day into a medieval-troubadour-plays-psych-folk piece in which a hypnotically strummed guitar is accompanied by lashings of hurdy-gurdy and backwards guitar. Moongazing Hare contributes a darkly atmospheric version of Trappist Afterland's Stars of the Wraith, with engaging thrumming and whirring effects.

1 John 4 16 was originally by The Mountain Goats. This band, while having since gone on to bigger things, started out as prolific contributors to the early 1990s underground cassette scene. They were lo-fi at its most literal, recording their songs on a boombox. Much to my later regret, I didn't pay as much attention to their early compilation tape appearances as I should have, and never bought any of their early singles or albums. I forget if it was the ultra-lo-fi boombox recording quality that put me off, or whether I just wasn't ready for John Darnielle's songwriting style, or maybe a bit of both, but I soon realised my mistake when hearing some of The Mountain Goats' later output on 4AD, some years after those albums came out. They had reinvented themselves as a highly accomplished outfit, effortlessly and seamlessly combining elements of American folk, indie rock, and sophisticated orchestration into a cohesive whole, and I realised I had made a grave mistake in presumptiously disregarding these albums at the time of their release. Here Moongazing Hare appear with an excellent interpretation of this song, swathing gentle Americana in a warm electronic drone. Trappist Afterland's Traps of Gold is thoughtful and melancholic, with atmospheric backwards guitar interwoven with folky mandolin. Moongazing Hare's Your Drink is hushed, understated Americana ornamented with soaring psychedelic effects. These are just a few of the superb songs on this album. I already count Trappist Afterland among my favourite bands, but this has been my first introduction to Moongazing Hare. I will definitely be keeping my eyes and ears out for more from this band.

To order these albums and previous ones, visit www.sugarbushrecords.com

UPDATE: Since writing the above I have received two more new releases from Sugarbush Records, the first of these being NICK PIUNTI's Temporary High, a joint release with the now relaunched US label Jem Records, which was originally founded in the 1970s and released music by a wide range of both mainstream and cult artists over the space of nearly two decades. Temporary High is Nick's third album for Sugarbush, following 2013's 13 In My Head and 2015's Beyond the Static. This is a great album, packed full of strong melodic songs that combine elements of powerpop, vintage rock, the gutsier side of janglepop, and occasionally hints of country. There's the biting, chugging powerpop of the title track, and the chiming guitars and catchy anthemic chorus of the aptly named Contagious. You Invented Hell has shades of Tom Petty and sounds like an authentic vintage classic. Headphones puts an innovative spin on US folk-tinged powerpop, introducing shuffly beats and an orchestral arrangement for maximum effect. A superb album from start to finish.

THE GREEN PAJAMAS were formed in 1984 and have a prolific back catalogue spread across many labels including Camera Obscura, Woronzow, Bomp, Get Hip, Green Monkey, Hidden Agenda, and most recently Sugarbush. Since 2015, Sugarbush have released vinyl versions of five of their albums, the latest being a reissue of the 1997 classic Strung Behind the Sun. This deluxe expanded edition comprises two LPs including all the tracks from the original CD version plus the material from the 1998 outtakes EP Strung Out, packaged within a gatefold sleeve with archive photographs and informative sleeve notes by Ptolemaic Terrascope founder Phil McMullen, a long time supporter of The Green Pajamas. Dr. Dragonfly is superb 60s-ish psych-pop with a luxurious textured arrangement taking in jangly guitar, sitar, vocal harmonies, heady backwards effects and more. Tomorrow Will Bring Rain is darkly sophisticated pop with jazzy bass and piano. In Song for Andrew and Paul / The Brain I Realize, traditional-style folk gives way to a song that combines Beatlesque moments with raw, spiky and angular underground rock. Secret Day pulls together aspects of American folk, baroque, and psych-pop into an impressive whole. Tumbledown Tess is amazing psychedelic folk-pop pairing a lolloping concertina rhythm with dizzying backwards effects. Scarlet Song, from which the album's title comes, is a 7-minute psychedelic pop epic with Eastern tinges and an instrumental section that takes the song into heavier, rockier territory. The outtakes are of as high a standard as the main album: Non E Gran Causa is a great rendition of a traditional Renaissance-era tune, all too brief at just under a minute long, whilst Song for Tess is a strong catchy slice of US folk-rock, adding an extra sophisticated dimension from its use of piano and violin. Sugarbush Records also have plans to reissue more previously CD-only Green Pajamas albums on vinyl; great news!


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Text Kim Harten, 2018.