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


It's always great to have the opportunity to write about Sugarbush Records, a label that can be counted on to release top quality vinyl LPs in the overlapping areas of janglepop, powerpop and psych-pop, as well as taking a few excursions into folkier and rockier territories. Multi-instrumentalist songwriter Tomas Dahl from Norway, who records as CADDY, follows his 2015 album The Better End with new LP Ten Times Four, which comes packaged in a colourful sleeve emblazoned with paisley-like swirls intermingled with images from nature. Miracle Turn is Big Star-like powerpop given a contemporary touch with the use of airy keyboards. Contagious has a huge catchy pop-rock sound that suits its title. In the Basement is gentle introspective pop pairing a softly strummed acoustic guitar with swirly ethereal effects. Avoiding Me, Avoiding You combines an ultramelodic, harmony-laden song with chuggy guitars in the classic powerpop style. Very much recommended for fans of powerpop, whether the 1970s pioneers such as Big Star or the 1990s output of bands like Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits or Velvet Crush.

Time Between Us, the fourth album from Italian-born and London-based songwriter TRENT MILLER, was originally released on CD last year by the label offshoot of long-established underground magazine Bucketfull of Brains. Sugarbush have now issued the album on vinyl. Time Between Us is sunny American-style folk-pop with a gritty guitar sound and an anthemic harmony-laden chorus. How Soon is Never is dark-edged and thoughtful Americana, lushly arranged with strings and piano. Moonlight Cafe is brooding, sophisticated pop swathed in ethereal electronics. Motel Rooms of Ocean Blue brings together the three contrasting musical components of smoky bar-room country, orchestral sophistication, and an underground pop sensibility. Bonfires of Navarino Road is plaintive alt-country with Rhodes piano, orchestration, and shimmering dreampop effects. After the Great Betrayal is intense, dramatic and stylish, with effective use of woozy slide guitar and soaring strings. Lament of the Sea is melancholic Americana, sparsely but effectively arranged with gentle guitar, piano and percussion. Trent Miller is a talented artist whose brand of Americana has equal room for grit and sophistication.

5, the 'lost' album from 1970s band HELP YOURSELF (who have links to Man, Tyla Gang, and most recently The Green Ray, who have previously released an LP on Sugarbush), first saw the light of day in 2004 when it was released on CD by Hux Records. It now gets its first release on vinyl via Sugarbush. This is a remastered edition with a redesigned cover incorporating the original artwork by Rick Griffin, who is of course well known for the sleeves he designed for the likes of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, and Man. The album comprises eight tracks recorded in 1973 and an additional three recorded in 2003/4, though it's not easy to spot which are which as the more recent tracks have an authentic 1970s sound and all the songs hold together as a complete album. Light Your Way is 1970s soft rock with a light and airy feel, featuring electric piano and a bossa nova-informed rhythm. Cowboy Song is piano-driven country-rock, the lyrics telling a vivid tale of a feud between Texas outlaws in the manner of a traditional folk ballad. Romance in a Tin is a gently meandering song in the 70s singer-songwriter vein, featuring soft acoustic guitar and atmospheric use of organ, with forceful rock guitar introduced during the chorus. The Rock is classic melodic rock reminding me of some of the music coming out of the Stone Premonitions collective, such as The Rabbit's Hat's early 1990s material. The arrangement features an ethereal keyboard drone augmented by a guitar melody that smoulders then erupts into a riotous explosion. Willow is acoustic rock with contemporary folk touches and a tinge of flamenco. Whilst much of the album has a light, laid-back nature, there are also tracks that show a heavier side to Help Yourself, in particular the hard-hitting blues-rock instrumental Monkey Wrench. Whilst I was already aware of Man and The Green Ray, I hadn't previously explored the music of Help Yourself, but 5 has got me curious to hear their other albums.

Sugarbush has been reissuing a number of previously CD-only albums by THE GREEN PAJAMAS on vinyl. The latest in the series is All Clues Lead to Meagan's Bed, originally released on CD in 1998 on the Camera Obscura label. This is a double LP in lavish gatefold packaging, remastered with bonus tracks including previously unreleased material as well as the songs from a 1998 7" and two compilation appearances from the same era. Extensive sleeve notes by Michael Toland combine elements of interview and review to provide informative background info on the album. The Green Pajamas are all about top quality songcraft that straddles the boundaries of janglepop, powerpop, psychedelia and folk. Where they differ from many bands of this nature is their incorporation of gothic aesthetics. While The Green Pajamas are not a goth band by any stretch of the imagination, Jeff Kelly's songwriting is often informed by his love of gothic literature, art and film, resulting in songs with such titles as Death by Poisoning, Sweet Sorrow, Rattlesnake Kiss, Vampire Crush and The Ravenna Witch.

The Secret of Her Smile is superb classic pop with a bright melody and vocal harmonies, with powerpop and psych-rock undercurrents providing intensity and bite. The song's sunny feel conceals a darker lyrical message which becomes clear when you find out what the song's main character is doing with a knife! Death by Poisoning is a multifaceted combination of acoustic contemporary folk, intense psych-rock and tinges of Indian classical music, propelled by an insistent driving rhythm. Egyptian Snowflake combines lilting piano balladry with intricate baroque aspects and psychedelic effects; Dear Jane is an ingenious blend of delicate mandolin-led folk, airy psych-pop and brutal noise-rock; Happy Again is strong melodic pop with jubilant bursts of brass; and Waiting for the Night takes a surprising though effective detour into jazz-blues territory. There are seven bonus tracks, amongst them Vampire Crush, which combines raunchy retro rock with horror B-movie kitsch, incorporating some dramatic and impressive use of brass; The Ravenna Witch No. 2, a feverish mix of Mediterranean folk motifs, classical piano and noisy forceful rock; and an alternative mix of Just a Breath Away, one of my favourite tracks from The Green Pajamas' 1999 album Seven Fathoms Down and Falling - a genuine classic of strong catchy psych-pop. A superb album from this continually impressive band.

Insects in Amber is the latest album from TRAPPIST AFTERLAND, the Gnostic psych-folk project led by Adam Geoffrey Cole. Adam plays a vast range of instruments here, including but not limited to oud, mandolin, dulcitar, tanpura, Mellotron, harmonium and death whistle. The album also features Anthony Cornish on harmonium, violin and Mellotron, and various guest musicians also appear. I was particularly pleased to discover that Kitchen Cynics' Alan Davidson provides narration on several tracks here; Kitchen Cynics and Trappist Afterland are likeminded bands in many ways and it's great to see them work together. The album begins with Insect on a Wire, a buzzing, droning, appropriately insectlike instrumental overlaid with Alan's narration. God's Dream is Eastern-tinged folk intermingled with heady, woozy drones. God's Food is delicate acoustic folk swathed in a haze of backwards guitar, with tinkling bells adding an otherworldly effect - amazing stuff. I Will Not Ask is a Gnostic prayer written by Mar Thomas, set to a multi-layered arrangement that includes tanpura (an instrument that resembles a sitar but is used to create drones rather than melodies), darkly retrofuturistic keyboard, ethnic percussion, and spiritual narration from Alan Davidson. GodDog is a touching ode to Adam's dog Floyd, the acoustic instruments interwoven with atmospheric woodwind-like Mellotron. Bishop of Armagh, a song about Saint Patrick, opens with a hymn sung by United Bible Studies' David Colohan, giving way to heady Middle Eastern-inspired psych-folk ornamented by airy, soaring Mellotron. Heirlooms in the Mist is melodic and melancholic folk of great beauty, with mandolin, bouzouki, and drone effects I can only describe as 'crystalline'; Alan also appears here with a complex, profound mystical recitation. Another recommended album from this prolific band.

All albums reviewed here can be purchased from www.sugarbushrecords.com


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Text © Kim Harten, 2019.