BARRA Eternal Magus CD (English Garden)
I'm familiar with around half of this material as it was released in slightly different versions (but the differences are very subtle) as a tape on Music & Elsewhere a few years ago. What I didn't know though is that the band consists of ex-members of Big Country and Spizz Energi, as well as Alan Wishart, the brother of Runrig's Peter Wishart, and Peter Wishart himself also appears as guest keyboardist on one track. The M&E tape was withdrawn some time in the 90s so it's great news that the songs are now available again, and on a wider scale than before. I was a huge fan of their tape and the enthusiasm I had for the songs has endured. The music is excellent sophisticated folk-rock, often with Pagan and mystical-inspired lyrics, as well as the impressive voice of Tracey-Anne Sparkes. But if you're not normally into folk-rock, don't be put off as there's a lot of power in this music, it's more rockish than folky.
As well as the material I was already aware of, there are 8 other tracks, four of which are by their previous band Kingfishers Catch Fire. Badda and both versions of Seafever are more lo-fi than the other tracks, complete with tapehiss. This is a shame, but it's still good to hear this Barra material that I was previously unaware of, tapehiss or not. Kingfishers Catch Fire are less folky than Barra on the whole, more of an 80s rock thing (they were around in the 80s) but there is still an atmospheric quality to their music so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb alongside the Barra tracks. Also there is a Pagan-inspired track, Power of Three, which lyrically fits right in with the Pagan, magical and mystical Barra songs like Green Man, Gnosis and Eternal Magus. A truly superb album - highly recommended. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE MORRIGAN Hidden Agenda CD (English Garden)
Following Colin Masson's excellent prog-folk-rock solo album Isle of Eight (reviewed last issue as part of a Hi-Note Music feature), he returns with his band The Morrigan. The 'prog-folk-rock' description also fits this album well; the material is largely traditional but with heavy, symphonic prog arrangements. Swallow's Tail is a jig played on the flute and recorder rather than the usual fiddle. In The End is written by the band, and the song itself is more melodic rock than folk, but the track does also include the traditional, Celtic sounding, woodwind instrumental Tristan's Lament as well as the prog touches. Next up is an arrangement of Praetorius' Volta and Susato's Basse Danse played on recorder and heavy guitar. The sea shanty South Australia is mixed with a suitably traditional-sounding instrumental of Masson's, Roaring Forties.
A Night To Remember is about 10 minutes long and is written by the band. It appears to be about the sinking of the Titanic, although the name of the ship isn't mentioned. The first part of the track has a folkish melody and is sung by Cathy Alexander. Then there's some heavy prog instrumentation, and then male vocals come in and it's a rock song with a choppy rhythm. This part of the song continues, interspersed with some almost choral-style male and female vocals, until the Morse code style prog guitar at the end. Very dramatic stuff. Next, the jig Slieve Russell is given a fairly dark rock treatment and this leads into another traditional instrumental The March Hare which includes a sleazy-sounding guitar riff in the background and a jazzy guitar solo near the end. The Other is a lyrically dark song written by Cathy Alexander, which seems to be about multiple personality disorder or perhaps schizophrenia? Then there's a brilliant arrangement of the traditional Joe Cooley's Reel, and finally Cathy Alexander sings the traditional folk song The Parting Glass.
Packaged in some fantastic artwork by Colin Masson who is a very talented visual artist as well as musician. This is an utterly amazing album, I'm very keen to hear more from this band. email@example.com
VARIOUS Projekt: Gothic CD (Projekt)
When I first started exploring underground music, I never much looked into gothic music as 'goth' to me meant 80s mainstream goth bands that held little or no appeal to me, and I was expecting more of the same. However, I soon learnt that although some of the underground goth bands are heavily influenced by famous 80s goth, there are also subgenres within the gothic scene that have very little in common with the sort of music generally thought to be goth. The part of the gothic scene that I feel mostly drawn to is the dark folk with medieval and classical tinges, and the ethereal pop that sounds identical to the sort of music which in the 90s was associated more with indiepop kids than goths. I still find it hard to categorise these kinds of music as goth. The dark atmosphere is there, but stylistically there is no similarity whatsoever between these bands and the sort of music originally called goth in the 80s. Projekt specialises in both of these subgenres and beyond, and there's some really superb songs on this compilation, which incidentally comes packaged in beautiful faerie artwork. I would recommend checking this out even if you thought you didn't like gothic music as a lot of it completely blows away the stereotypes of what goth is popularly thought to be.
Audra probably come the closest to the sort of music that is immediately recognisable as goth, their track has deep male vocals, a driving bassline and a doomy synth. Voltaire's track is called When You're Evil, but instead of doing the irony-free 'evil' thing you might expect from a more stereotypical goth band, this has tongue-in-cheek lyrics and has the overall feel of a vaudeville song. There is also a strong classical influence in the style of violin playing. This Ascension's Mysterium is pure beauty - a superb medieval style song with female vocals set to rock instrumentation. The words are in Latin and the ones I understand suggest it might be a hymn. Black Tape For A Blue Girl do rather good dark folk with lead female vocals and male backing vocals, woodwind, percussion and (I think) mandolin. Attrition's track surprised me, I thought they were one of those heavy synth based bands for some reason, but this is more of a folkish thing which also puts me in mind of operetta, but darker. The lead vocalist is male, with a very 'gothic' deep voice, but there are also operatic backing vocals from a female singer.
I heard Mors Syphilitica on a now-deleted Middle Pillar compilation, and was really impressed with their track; their song here is just as impressive - excellent dark folk with mandolin and hints of a Middle Eastern influence. (Incidentally, their website has a link to a Steeleye Span fan site - now that's good taste!) The Lycia track features a repeated sinister atmospheric sound effect, heavy guitar, electronic drums and a typically goth-style male vocal. A bit too much on the doom-laden side for me, this one, but it's the only track here I'm not keen on. Mira do dreampop, and very well do they do it too. Thanatos' track features a throaty male vocal and doomy synth, but is not stereotypical goth as it is acoustic guitar driven and also includes some spacey bleeps. Human Drama's track is a sophisticated piano-led ballad with a strong classical influence.
In the 90s there was Love Spirals Downwards, who had an excellent dreampop single called Sideways Forest. Ryan Lum is now in the similarly named Lovespirals, whose track here is also dreampop but predominantly acoustic rather than with the atmospheric noise of Sideways Forest. Unto Ashes provide a stripped-down and slowed-down version of Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper, which is dramatically different from the original. They have changed the melody slightly in parts, for example in the chorus they spread the word 'fly' over three syllables in very much the same style as The Sea Urchins/Delta's James Roberts (I don't mean The Sea Urchins or Delta covered this song - just that James Roberts has a tendency to use that technique in his songwriting).
Lots of totally amazing songs here - and it's available at a budget price. Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
MORS SYPHILITICA Feather & Fate CD (Projekt)
With the Projekt CDs I have, I've noticed a pattern and that is they steer clear of stereotypically 'gothic' artwork. No black backgrounds and Old German/Old English fonts here! This particular CD's cover seems to draw its inspiration from a blend of tattoo art and Victorian poster art - a strange mixture, but it works.
You might expect a band with such a gruesome name to be heavy and brutal sounding, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Mors Syphilitica are a husband and wife duo, consisting of Lisa Hammer on vocals and Eric Hammer on all instruments. Their sound is much less minimal than you would expect of a two-piece, they sound like a full band. The songs are melodic, not quite rock but not quite pop, and they achieve a sound that is simultaneously atmospheric and powerful. Across the album there are elements of classical, folk, Middle Eastern and dark music (I'm loath to use the word 'goth' in this case as it only serves to confuse by reminding people of 80s bands like The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and The Mission, who Mors Syphilitica have zero in common with). All in all, a collection of songs that are far more beautiful and moving than the band's moniker suggests. Superb. Info from email@example.com
THE LACKLOVES Star City Baby CD (Rainbow Quartz)
Second album from The Lackloves, who feature amongst them ex-members of The Blow Pops. It's their first album for Rainbow Quartz, a label you can trust to release great powerpop and psych-pop. The Lackloves usually play 60s influenced janglepop, but this album also includes some more 70s-ish powerpop, the occasional hint of psychedelia, and even some journeying into 50s ballad territory. It's very retro and you're sure to hear hints of most of the main 60s bands in their sound, but these bands are an inspiration rather than a source of material to pinch - there is a difference. This album contains a whole stack of really infectious pop, there's not one duff track on here. This band are a fine addition to the Rainbow Quartz roster. firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW RADIANT STORM KING Winter's Kill CD (Rainbow Quartz)
Although Rainbow Quartz is mostly known for powerpop, psych-pop and janglepop, they also release music from bands whose take on pop is more varied (ie Gallygows) or angular (ie Fraff). Both these adjectives are also valid for New Radiant Storm King - whilst Winter's Kill is basically an indiepop/indierock album, it spans a number of different styles within these genres. In the Spirit of Distance starts off the album, fooling you into expecting NRSK to be a typically Rainbow Quartz jangle/psych-pop band, but most of the tracks that follow are rather different from other bands on the label. There's off-centre indierock, atmospheric indiepop, songs with changey bits and pop with experimental elements, as well as Montague Terrace which returns to the jangly/psychey/powerpop style but with an off-kilter touch to parts of the song. Most Rainbow Quartz bands are strongly influenced by the 60s, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly who NRSK's influences are. If they have any influences at all, I can safely say they're not 60s bands. But despite NRSK's willingness to experiment with their music, this doesn't make them any less melodic. They make good tuneful songs with interesting and different ideas. email@example.com
DREADNAUGHT The American Standard CD (Red Fez)
Dreadnaught describe themselves as 'progabilly' and whilst there are hints of hillbilly music (especially in the folky fiddle that crops up on occasions) it's primarily a prog thing. But don't run away - this isn't the pompous sort of prog but the bizarre sort with angular rhythms and time changes. Remember the quirky prog band Mad Uncle Jane? The wackier bits of Dreadnaught's sound remind me of them. You can hear similar jerky rhythms in the music of Gag, except Dreadnaught are more melodic and also more sophisticated. Another difference between Dreadnaught and those bands is that the former also include elements of jazz and baroque in their sound, as well as the aforementioned rootsy influence. It's not every day you'll hear a band like this, that's for sure! Highly recommended for those who like exciting and different music. firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN LORENZO The Sea Is A Map CD (Bearos)
Contians six new tracks alongside the material from their first three vinyl-only singles. San Lorenzo are often categorised as post-rock, and whilst the quieter/janglier bits of their instrumental music fit this description, I'd say the noisier bits are actually closer to rock itself - or indierock at least. Also, unlike many post-rock bands, a lot of San Lorenzo material has vocals. Tricks on Skis and Polaroid are basically dark and/or melancholic indiepop with added noisy instrumental parts and a slightly off-centre feel. Before They Made the City is similar but more upbeat. Ocean begins with a quirky prog instrumental piece and then turns into off-kilter indierock. The lyrics are meaningful - first they attack mass production and fast food, then they talk about the kid with the books getting bullied but he has knowledge so will grow up to make more of himself than the bullies. We Got Mysticism includes fast, rhythmic drumming, shouty vocals and noisy/melodic guitars. One segment of the guitar playing is reminiscent of traditional Spanish music. Firefly is dark acoustic indiepop. Mirror Witch mixes melodic instrumentation with spoken/shouted vocals, then sung vocals and noisy guitar come in later. Giant's Heart mixes minimal and full-band instrumentation and spoken and sung vocals. Risk It is just over one minute long and includes proggy and noisy guitars and ranted, hardcore-ish vocals. Costs £7 (inc p+p in UK, add £1 p+p elsewhere) from Bearos Records, PO Box 7179, Birmingham B29 6RA. Payment to A Farmer.
TWINK s/t CD & picture book (Dyspepsidisc)
Not to be confused with the more well-established Twink (ie John Alder), Mike Langlie, whose project this is, had not heard of him when he came up with the name. This project is based around toy piano, and Mike chose the name as it sounds like the noise made by that instrument. A whole host of other unusual instrumentation appears on here, including gongs, homemade drums, hurdy-gurdy, musical saw, see 'n' say, squeaky toys, etc. Many of the tracks are accompanied by electronic beats.
Mike was previously in electronic and gothic bands, and both of these styles are in evidence here. Some tracks are a sort of experimental, but tuneful, electronica, but there is a dark undercurrent running through some tracks such as Moongirl, Sand and Fire, Sourpuss and The Edge of Darkness, which feature a sinister sounding synth, and Night Sway which includes some eerie sounds created by the musical saw. Shy Violet and The Nearest Star are close to classical territory with cello and flute (on the former) and violin and viola (on the latter) but Twink must be the first artist to create classical style music featuring toy piano!
All the stuff here is melodic, but there are particular tracks where the tunes are more at the forefront than elsewhere. Catnip is especially catchy and sounds like a bizarre cross between children's music and prog rock - excellent stuff! Whoop-De-Doodle also reminds me of children's songs from the 60s or 70s; Hoppity Jones sounds like something from an old cartoon but with added modern synthetic beats; Indian Summer is an atmospheric but melodic track featuring cello and autoharp; Thumbelina has a music box feel about it; Dance of the Fireflies is played on organ, toy piano, wood whistle and various improvised percussion instruments and sounds like 60s easy listening with occasional hints of Middle Eastern and tribal music; Box of Bones has the dark sound that the title suggests, but isn't all doom and gloom as it incorporates elements of Spanish and Middle Eastern music and spacey stuff.
A brilliant album that has lots of different, innovative ideas but also doesn't skimp on the melodies. Comes packaged in a booklet of incredibly twee artwork also by Mike Langlie, which tells the story of a rabbit and his toy piano. Yes, it's twee, but it brought a smile to my face rather than a grimace. Contact email@example.com
THE CUBBY CREATURES Who Remembers Kathy Barra? CD (Rodent)
Kathy Barra was a girl who was picked on at school because her name sounded like 'capybara', the world's largest rodent. The Cubby Creatures were ready to record this song and discovered a label called Rodent Records located nearby. Both band and label agreed that a collaboration would be a good idea and this is the result. There are five songs listed on the cover but I make it six, and there's also some spoken word interludes. The lead track and Knitting Bee are slightly quirky pop with lighthearted lyrics and more than a hint of the 60s. Has a lot in common with Elephant 6 bands. They also add a dramatic atmosphere to their music with the use of orchestral instruments. Diseases is a kind of psych-pop with Mediterranean and classical hints. The next track listed on the cover is called Samy, but I'm not sure which of the next two tracks that title belongs to - could be a short song with repeated lyrics and a strong Indian influence in the instrumental backing, or it could be an instrumental mixing classical, Eastern European folk, easy listening and a touch of psychedelia. Bean (Is Just A Super Rodent) is quirk-pop with a classical touch. Contact Brian from the band - firstname.lastname@example.org
DOGSTAR POETS Off Planet CD (Aftermath)
Offshoot of Jade Warrior, making prog rock with experimental elements. The songs themselves are generally straightforward, contrasting with the instrumentation which is very bizarre at times (especially on Burining Bridges). As well as out-and-out experimentation and prog, they also have influences of Indian music, folk, spacerock, classical and blues, which makes for a pretty innovative listening experience! Fare Thee Well includes hammer dulcimer, which is very effective. Aftermath is part of the
Hi-Note Music company - contact them at email@example.com
THE RABBIT'S HAT BBC & Related Acoustic Sessions CD (English Garden)
On this CD, The Rabbit's Hat are a two-piece consisting of Terri-B (vocals and percussion) and Tim Jones (vocals and acoustic guitar). They've chosen a good selection of tracks, most of my favourite Rabbit's Hat songs are included here, alongside some I've not heard before. Tim Jones and Terri-B are very talented songwriters; the tunes are well-defined and memorable, and the lyrics are meaningful and often they have a political/social message. The theme of ecology comes up quite frequently, alongside songs that deal with hypocritical politicians (Lie Again) and fundamentalist/extremist religion (Church). "What gives you the right to say we're wrong/To say that yours can be the only way/If there is a god he loves us all" they sing in the latter, and they are so, so right.
Their message is basically 'Start caring for the earth and for each other; don't hate people because they are of a different religion to you; don't hide behind hypocrisy and false promises'. Some will find all this a little idealistic, and it's true that a large amount of people are full of hatred and lies and are hardly gonna change just by listening to a song, but I do think The Rabbit's Hat have some admirable ideas and the world certainly would be a better place if people ditched their negative attitudes.
The songs work well in this stripped down style and there are a couple that I actually prefer in this format (Riding the War and Ephemeral Fire). This release confirms how talented these songwriters are - the songs still stand up on their own two feet when the electric full band instrumentation is taken away. This is definitely not a band that has to rely on studio effects and gimmickry. I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes music! firstname.lastname@example.org
KING BATHMAT Son of a Nun CDR
All the work of one person, John Bassett, although it sounds like a full band. The music is basically powerful and melodic indierock, although Bassett is unafraid to explore other territories usually considered to be a no-no amongst the indierock crowd, namely prog-rock, psych and folk-rock. This can only be applauded, I have a lot of respect for people who follow their heart instead of following fashion; people who do their own thing instead of trying hard to fit into a particular musical scene. King of the Fairies is an especially surprising track for an alt-rock band; it's Celtic-flavoured prog-folk-rock, a bit like a more indie-ish version of The Morrigan. A highly recommended album for people who are open-minded about music. Contact email@example.com
PATRICK PORTER Reverb Saved My Life CD (Camera Obscura)
Patrick Porter was 18 when he recorded this, but whatever you do, don't assume youth=amateurishness. And just to be absolutely clear, I mean 'amateurish' here in its more modern sense, ie 'no good', rather than its original meaning of doing something out of love and not money. Patrick is another solo artist who sounds like a full band. He plays all the instruments himself, and with skill to rival that of much older musicians. His music is generally indierock with psychedelic undertones - that's modern psychedelia rather than the 60s sort. Much of this is likely to appeal to people into the shoegazer scene as there's lots of tracks which are atmospheric, almost dreamlike, but Patrick's songs aren't as noisy as most bands from that genre. Moths on the Dashboard goes for a more minimal feel; a kind of dark, atmospheric indiepop. St Louis is psych-folk that puts me in mind a bit of Lifesmyth (incidentally, I notice from the Camera Obscura site that they will soon be releasing a Lifesmyth album). This is an excellent album that's sure to please fans of psychedelia and indie music alike. Would like to hear more from this artist! Contact Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org and the label at email@example.com
SVETILEN From East To West CD (IV Telecom)
Svetilen perform traditional Russian music, which by the sound of it is from the Medieval era. Much of the material is based on Christian symbolism, but even if you're not Christian - or for that matter, don't speak Russian - it's perfectly possible to appreciate the beauty in this music. Some songs are choral, some have solo vocals and some are a mixture of the two. A few tracks feature accompaniment from psaltery and wheel lyre. There's often that melancholic tone to the songs, that you frequently hear in Medieval and Renaissance music. A superb album, highly recommended for anyone into traditional folk, Medieval or Renaissance music. Even fans of that dark folk music popular amongst goths are likely to go for this, even though I doubt very much that the band deliberately set out to appeal to the goth crowd - they just play traditional music that happens to sound melodically dark. Excellent stuff, I can't get enough of music like this! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
TADPOLES Use With Headphones Late At Night CD (Bakery)
Best of compilation covering their existence between 1990 and 2000. Includes tracks from their three studio albums on Bakery, the Know Your Ghosts EP and four previously unreleased alternate mixes of songs from the Whirlaway album (a joint release with Camera Obscura). Tadpoles sound like a cross between psych-rock, spacerock, shoegazing and non-shoegazey noisepop, plus elements of blues (The Ride), country (in the instrumental bit at the end of Nazareth) and experimental (Judas, This is Jesus). If you're unfamiliar with Tadpoles, this is a good place to start. Many of my favourite tracks of theirs are included - Nazareth, Know Your Ghosts, Jaded Jean, Crash of the Bug, Whirlaway, Firecracker, Sunrise Ocean Bender and Smile If You've Crossed Over, all of which combine psychedelic/spacey atmospheres and strong melodies to great effect. email@example.com
VARIOUS Journeys Without Maps: A Tribute to The Lord of the Rings CD (Bearos)
Bearos boss Alan Farmer was obsessed with Tolkien in his youth during the 1970s, and when asking bands whether they were also Tolkien fans and whether they'd like to contribute to this CD, he got a massive response. The tracks here are all specially written for this compilation and are mostly experimental or post-rock in some shape or form. Dreams of Tall Buildings, featuring Justin Wiggan formerly of Subaqwa, contribute a dark experimental piece. Former Creation artists The Telescopes return after a 6 year break, sounding very unlike I remember them sounding. This is atmospheric experimental music to begin with, then it turns into a psychedelic electronic instrumental with a few bits of spoken word. Midlands band Solway Fifth do quirky instrumental prog-punk. Owen Tromans (ex-San Lorenzo) does a sort of instrumental indiepop meets post-rock which includes woodwind alongside the usual instruments. More dark experimentalism next from Baragon Flag.
Lash Frenzy consist of Kat Bjelland, members of her current band Catastrophy Wife and members of Midlands stoner-rock band Sally. Their track is basically experimental noise with some additional hardcore style unintelligible shouting. Way too heavy for me, and at over 10 minutes, it's way too long. It's a relief to hear the next track, by Og's Bunkadoo Band, which starts off being the sort of prog-folk you may expect to hear on a Lord of the Rings inspired compilation, but then it turns into a mixture of instrumental noisepop and post-rock, with a very brief prog section somewhere in the middle. The track changes moods/melodies frequently thoughout. Very good stuff, I'm keen to hear more from this band.
Kluster B do weird experimentation which sounds like a groaning voice fed through some kind of electronic processor. Too odd and too repetitive. Simon Fox of Grover appears with a piano based piece that's atmospheric but also tuneful. The trouble with much atmospheric instrumental music is it leaves out the melody, but Simon Fox shows how it should be done. The name of the next band doesn't bode very well - Dept Noise X Terror - but their track isn't as bad as I'd expected. It's industrial music I guess, interspersed with what sounds like it's probably snippets of dialogue from the film. Reavers contribute another piece of tuneless repetitive experimentation. Rodney Cromwell are an offshoot of Saloon, and as you'd expect if you're familiar with that band, they make good tuneful electronic stuff made with old synths. There's even one of those pre-programmed drum beats you get on 80s Casios on here. J Foundation's track begins as experimental bleepery but once it gets going it's actually OK, quite spacerockish and there's a slight bluesy hint as well.
Much of the experimental stuff here just sounds dull and self-indulgent to these ears - too much emphasis on 'atmosphere' or noise or weirdness and not enough on melody. I'm sure Tolkien would turn in his grave if he heard the row made by some of his fans. It's not all bad though - the more melodic artists like Solway Fifth, Owen Tromans, Simon Fox, Rodney Cromwell and especially Og's Bunkadoo Band are worth checking out, and The Telescopes, Dept Noise X Terror and J Foundation also have their good points. I'm a little disappointed with DOTB though - their track here is like incidental film music, plenty of atmosphere but very little tune. Whilst it's definitely not the worst track here, I can safely say DOTB have done much more appealing stuff than this, so if you don't like their track, don't be put off the band altogether.
Comes with five interchangeable inserts designed by Alan Farmer and Justin Wiggan. Some of the artwork is inspired by the actual novel but other pictures are based around puns, such as the rings of Saturn, a boxing medal and a bunch of flashy diamond jewellery that looks like it's out of the Argos catalogue. Costs £7 (£8 outside UK), payment to A Farmer, from Bearos Records, PO Box 7179, Birmingham B29 6RA.
VARIOUS No Apathy/Dim Apathi CD (Dockrad)
Compilation of Welsh bands/artists, many of whom are in the electronic field, but there's lots of variety. Taffia feature amongst them Steve Andrews aka Bard of Ely, and their track is a folky protest song of Steve's set to dance music. Dau Cefn do laid back psychedelic electronica; Erban Poets are soul/hip-hop; Skep do quirky synthpop; MC Mabon is a dance artist whose track here has shades of Mint Royale; Pep Le Pew are hip-hop; Badon do a brilliant mixture of indiepop and dance music with lots of changey bits; Bench do off-centre, jazzy, soul-tinged pop and Metahead do house music. The next part of the album is less dance-based. Westgate Street contribute a tuneful piano piece; V is a female singer/songwriter playing excellent haunting pop; Teflon Monkey does lo-fi pop; Orgôn is Siôn Orgôn from RocketGoldStar, who contributes a sleazy lo-fi jazz song with spacey and experimental bits; Frank Naughton is also from RocketGoldStar and again plays dark, experimental jazz and Nia Morgan has an excellent pop/folk song. Something for most music fans on here - my particular favourites are Taffia, Badon, V, Nia Morgan, Teflon Monkey and Westgate Street. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
THE NIGHTINGALES Pissed And Potless: The Definitive Nightingales Collection CD (Cherry Red)
19 track best of album from this 80s post-punk band. Quirky titles like Idiot Strength, Use Your Loaf, Cakehole, Crafty Fag, It's A Cracker and What A Carry On are suggestive of the sort of angular, ramshackle noisiness that's on offer here. This isn't all about being off-kilter and discordant and stringing together a bunch of notes that don't normally go together though - The Nightingales are more melodic than many angular noisy bands and there's no ranty vocals. But whilst they may be more melodic than other bands of their type, some of the lyrics here are semi-sung, almost spoken. These are not shouty, jarring songs though. Give 'Em Time must be one of the few songs to actually feature a joke in the lyrics (When is a bus not a bus? When it turns into a street!) Significantly, the track following this is called Joking Apart ... just a coincidence that this came next or was this track order chosen on purpose? Insurance introduces a viola which gives the song rather a dark feel. What A Carry On features some distinctive singing with exaggerated vibrato, and there's more exaggerated/all over the place vocals in Comfort and Joy, adding to the off-centre sound this band has. Down in the Dumps is a crazed version of country music. Final track Coincidence has a more well-defined tune and is less obviously 'weird' than everything else here. It's the closest The Nightingales get to indiepop, and it also features some folk meets baroque violin. email@example.com
AEROSPACE The Bright Idea Called Soul CD (Summersound)
The name of the label pretty much sums up Aerospace's sound. They play summery, jangly, late 80s/early 90s style indiepop that's often twee, but not cringingly so. There's also a melancholic side to the band, as heard on songs like The Only Things We Share. If you don't think 'WOW!!!' when listening to this, I guess you just can't have a heart. There might be a preponderance of prog/psych rock reviews in this issue so far, but I still have a soft spot for this sort of old-school janglepop; after all, it was this kind of music that got me into the underground scene to start with. A superb album - indiepop fans can't miss this. Summersound is now part of Labrador Records - contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Band info from email@example.com
THE MELODY UNIT Choose Your Own Adventure CD (Hidden Agenda)
Excellent dreampop band who mix psychedelia, spacerock and shoegazing with pure melodic pop. The music is atmospheric but they get the balance of atmosphere and tunes just right. There are lots of really moving, ultra-melodic songs on here and I'm keen to hear more from this band. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hidden Agenda is an offshoot of Parasol - email email@example.com for further info.
TANTALUS Lumen Et Caligo CD (Headline)
First in a two part CD project (part 2 due later in 2003) from this prog rock band. They veer towards the ostentatious sort of prog far more than the eccentric sort, and can occasionally sound a bit middle of the road, but this album is better than that description sounds. They do have some innovative ideas, like mixing prog with dance music (in While There's Still Time) and I like the folk-inspired elements some of the tracks have. Harp Dance is an instrumental based around recorder, with a traditional feel, which then turns into a full-blown rock track. This then metamorphoses into Dig the Sod, another traditional folk inspired instrumental. This is excellent, and they also do another instrumental called Shhhhhh! We're Sleeping, which is a delicate piece played on two acoustic guitars; I like this a lot as well. Route Thirty Six Part Two is another instrumental track, mostly prog but with a few folk tinges. At times, this reminds me quite a lot of Colin Masson's solo album Isle of Eight, which I rate very highly. As you can see, I like Tantalus' instrumental music a lot. Although their tracks with vocals can sometimes be a bit straightforward for my taste, they do also have some more appealing elements - I'd say there were more bits I like than those I'm less keen on. As well as their own material, they do a version of Black Dream by Nicky James (ex member of The Move and early Moody Blues, who has also worked with Scott Walker, The Hollies and others), who has collaborated with the band and provides guest vocals on the yet to be released follow-up album. firstname.lastname@example.org
VARIOUS Lunch With A Bouncing Space vol II CD (A Bouncing Space)
Lenola appear with a dreampop version of The Cure's Catch; Burnside Project do an interesting, innovative mix of dance music, post-rock and lo-fi indiepop; Hunnypal are jangly old-style indiepop; Moonbabies appear with a dreampop song with experimental undertones; 99 Cent Dream do guitar/piano based indiepop that starts off subdued then introduces some louder bits later on; poppy punksters J Church contribute a demo version of their You're On Your Own; Ross and the Hellpets are indiepop, rather than the raucous garage rock their name suggests; Hydroplane do electronicy indiepop that puts me in mind of late-period Field Mice; The Silver Screen are noisepop meets indierock; The Dandelion Clocks do minimal indiepop; Shy Rights Movement do dark melancholic indiepop and The Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory appear here with an indiepop song with a slight country tinge - but definitely not the naff sort of country. A brilliant compilation with not one duff track. Not to be missed if you're a fan of indiepop and related genres. email@example.com
RIVULETS s/t CD (Chair Kickers' Union)
Based around the songwriting of Nathan Amundson, and featuring guest instrumentation from Mimi Parker & Alan Sparhawk from Low, LD Beghtol (Flare/Magnetic Fields) and Jay Kroehler (ex-Puritan), Rivulets make melancholic, minimal songs that cross contemporary folk music with the darker side of indiepop. I'm occasionally reminded of people like Nick Drake and Chuzzlewit, but these aren't entirely fair as overall comparisons as Nathan has his own songwriting style. There is some unusual instrumentation featured here, such as optigan, baritone guitar, ukulele and shruti box. Some songs have added eerie atmospheric effects, but the emphasis here is on melody, as well as the emotional lyrics. Moving, absorbing music, recommended for fans of the melancholic song. Rivulets, PO Box 1181, Gig Harbor, WA 98335-3881, USA.
DRESSY BESSY Sound Go Round CD (Track & Field)
Really brill, ultra-melodic, catchy, sugary fuzzpop. There are some 60s pop sounding elements, particularly on Oh Mi Amour, Big To Do, All These Colors (which also includes an instrumental bit at the end that's a bit like a retro-futuristic easy listening sort of thing), Flower Jargon and Fare Thee Well, but in general Dressy Bessy have more in common with 80s cutie bands. Interesting to see how the 80s bands were hated by the press and generally sniggered at except by a select handful of fans, whereas today music like this has praise heaped upon it by journalists and Dressy Bessy have even had their music featured in Hollywood movies! How times change. Still, it's about time this sort of pop was taken seriously and Dressy Bessy deserve the attention because this album is great - not a dodgy track to be heard. firstname.lastname@example.org
MOTION PICTURE A Paper Gift CD (Words On Music)
Sophisticated and often melancholic pop with strings and horns and an apparent fascination with the 1940s and 50s. Alida incorporates elements of 40s easy listening and light classical music, and is about the 40s film actress Alida Valli. 50s film actress Carroll Baker is the cover star. Songs like The First Name on the Dance Card, Twisting the Apple Stem and A Wink and Curtsy deal with the romantic behaviours and flirting techniques of a similar bygone age. Very classy, intelligent music. email@example.com
VARIOUS Nordic Roots 2 CD (NorthSide)
This compilation isn't brand new but I only bought it recently and it's so good it deserves a mention in here. I've heard lots of music I've liked a lot lately but this is definitely one of the most exciting. This is the sort of music I've wanted to play over and over again, and despite repeated listens it never gets boring. I imagine I'll be listening to this for a long time to come as well.
NorthSide is a Minneapolis based label dedicated to bringing Nordic music to an American audience (although it's possible to buy the releases here in the UK as well; various online record stores stock them and I expect shops probably also do). The bands/artists featured on this CD come from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark (there's also Swåp who include two British musicians) and play traditional or traditional-influenced music. Some of it is strictly traditional style and some is brought up to date with rock and/or electronic instrumentation.
The more straightforward traditional stuff (predominantly fiddle-based instrumentals) is inspiring enough, but there are also some truly innovative tracks here, such as those by Garmarna and Sorten Muld who mix folk music with both electronic and rock music, and Annbjørg Lien, whose track is a mixture of atmospheric electronica, chant-like vocals and a fiddle-based instrumental part that appears to be influenced as much by Irish and classical music as it is by Nordic music. And then there's Hoven Droven, who must be the world's only folk-metal band ... sounds like an absurd combination but it actually works really well, and this is coming from someone who normally hates metal! Watch out also for the supremely catchy songs by Hedningarna and Rosenberg 7, which are my joint favourites, although pretty much everything else on here is also brilliant.
There's 22 tracks on this CD, which is available at a budget price - in America it's advertised as 'cheaper than food' and over here, even though it's an import, you should still be able to get it for around a fiver. You may expect a CD of this price to skimp on packaging, but no, this has full colour artwork, jewel case (rather than just a cardboard slipcase) and 20 page booklet with info on the bands/artists. I have the other two volumes in this series on order and will definitely be keeping an eye on what this label has to offer in the future. firstname.lastname@example.org
VARIOUS Know Your Enemy CD (Archenemy)
20 track compilation, packaged in an impressive looking silvery digipak. Most of the bands here are new to me - I thought I'd heard of The Mourning After but this is a different band with the same name. There are three bands here with other releases on Archenemy - Lifestyle, Freezepop and The Texas Governor, and I do have other CDs of theirs. And whilst The Hidden Variable might not be a familiar name, Chris Ewen from the band is better known for being in Future Bible Heroes. On here you'll find various types of indiepop, both guitar-based and more electronic, as well as some tracks that would be better described as pop rather than indiepop, but are intelligent and sophisticated rather than inane throwaway music. There are also a few more rockish tracks, and even a version of To Love Somebody by Bee Gees cover band The Boy Joys!
Particularly recommended are the tracks by Lifestyle (well-crafted electropop), Rockets Burst From The Streetlamps (great old-style jangly indiepop), Freezepop (synthpop sung in Japanese), The Ghost of Tony Gold (electronic indiepop), Mistle Thrush (an indiefied version of raw blues-rock), The Mourning After (very 80s-ish synthpop - not the mod band I had heard of previously with the same name), The Hidden Variable (80s synthpop meets more recent dance music), We're All Gonna Die (indierock), Intelevision (electronic instrumental music), Bastian-Blessing (post-rock) and Mellonova (angsty indierock meets electronica), although the whole compilation is worth a listen. email@example.com
LIFESTYLE Frontier CD (Archenemy)
6 track mini-album from Lifestyle, who play old-style synthpop. If they'd have been around in the 80s I feel sure they'd have been megastars. In fact It Doesn't Mean That I Don't Love You If I Forget To Call You Back could be a huge hit even today. Although this music is really commercial, it has depth, it's not just throwaway stuff for teenyboppers. I don't usually listen to music like this but I think this band is great! They also do more guitar-based songs such as I'd Really Like To Make Out With You, which is like the more popular type of 80s guitar pop (ie not indiepop) and they do this sort of music just as well as the electronic stuff. More info from firstname.lastname@example.org
FREEZEPOP Freezepop Forever CD (Archenemy)
Now this is heaps of fun ... really catchy electropop that contains elements of cute pop and retro-futuristic kitsch, but somehow it manages to avoid sounding sickeningly sugary or naff. They create their songs using a handheld battery powered sequencer and also use a vocoder. Some great imaginative lyrics here, like in Science Genius Girl, where Liz Enthusiasm sings about cloning a member of her band, and in Robotron 2000 she sings about falling in love with a robot! Tennis Boyfriend, the song with Japanese lyrics that appeared on the Know Your Enemy compilation, is also included here. These songs had me grinning from ear to ear! Really addictive songs that demand repeated listens! This album really is a breath of fresh air, I can't recommend it enough! email@example.com
COASTAL s/t CD (Words on Music)
The Field Mice had a compilation album called Coastal and it wouldn't surprise me if that's where this band got their name from. Whilst Coastal are no Field Mice copyists, they will probably appeal to the same sort of audience as they play slow, melancholic indiepop. Coastal's brand of indiepop is not straightforward 80s jangle but a more atmospheric type, with the occasional post-rockish touch like the organ drones in Ivy. These songs are very much about creating a sombre mood, but it isn't all 'atmosphere'; melody and lyrics are just as important. firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR AGAINST Coalesced CD (Words On Music)
I first heard this band some time in the early 90s on a Shiny Sunset compilation tape, and was thoroughly impressed, but I had trouble getting hold of any of their other releases, which at the time were all out on Independent Project Records. Since then they have recorded for Rainbow Quartz, a label I've got very into over the last two or three years, and now there's this 7 track mini-album out on Words On Music. This does not disappoint, and I'm going to have to keep trying to track down some of their other stuff, based on the quality of this. Listening to this, I'm not surprised that they have also had a CD out on Rainbow Quartz, as this has the janglepop and (non-punky) powerpop elements that label is renowned for. There are also some more laid-back and atmospheric moments, but unlike some atmospheric bands, For Against don't leave the tunes behind. A well-balanced mixture of melody, atmosphere and guts that indiepop fans just can't miss. email@example.com
SPRING BOUTIQUE Sunny Day Pop Tuesday CD (Dorothy)
Great jangly old-style indiepop from the Philippines. Like a lot of pop like this, it's twee, but not cringemakingly twee. Their music is comparable to Shelflife bands, and sure enough, they have since released a CDR as part of Shelflife's limited CDR series, which contains 4 songs from this CD, remastered. Don't miss this if you like 80s style cute pop! Contact the band at firstname.lastname@example.org
CHICKLET Wanderlust CD (Satellite)
Follow-up to the excellent Lemon Chandeliers EP, reviewed in this issue's singles section. In that review I referred to the band saying that they see themselves as rock yet everyone pigeonholes them as pop. With this release they get closer to that rock sound, there are noisier guitars on here, as well as some quite rockish guitar solos. But they are still likely to appeal more to an indiepop audience than a rock one.
There's also a swirling, atmospheric thing going on at times. Sometimes the closest description for this band is dreampop; at other times they're more powerpop. Upbeat music, happy melodies and at times rather a twee synth sound, conceal melancholic, dark lyrics. They have a very full sound for a two-piece band. This brilliant album is quite old now, but is definitely worth checking out if you've not heard it already. If Chicklet have done anything since I'd be very keen to hear it! email@example.com
THE CONTRAST Wireless Days CD (Rainbow Quartz)
Second album from The Contrast, who now feature amongst them Rich Mackman, who followers of the late 90s zine scene may remember as being from The Vow (or just Vow as they were later called). Their music falls somewhere between non-twee janglepop and non-punky powerpop. There's also Late Train which is quite a departure from their usual style, with its additional surf and rock n' roll influences. This noisier sound is interspersed with quieter sections that are best described as melancholic indiepop. Whilst the individual styles have been done before, it's pretty original to include them all in the same song. Elvis Fix is also rather different to the other songs - a mixture of laid-back 70s rock and something rather more dark, and featuring the same sort of keyboard sound Delta have used in their later recordings. This band's first album was great, but you know, I think this is even greater. Really catchy music with oomph - I've been listening to this a lot lately. Label info from firstname.lastname@example.org; band info from email@example.com
THE TEXAS GOVERNOR s/t CD (Archenemy)
The Texas Governor is a solo artist who used to be in The Elevator Drops. This is a rather diverse album, bringing together powerpop, indierock, off-centre electropop, countrified pop, actual country music and music with a blues tinge. Country and blues aren't my favourite genres as a rule, so some of this doesn't do much for me, but this album does have its fair share of redeeming tracks. Watching It All Blowing By is powerpop meets lo-fi indierock. The Submachine is a rock-style song but with non-rock, electronic instrumentation with a retro-futuristic feel. Flashing Lights can be described similarly, except it also includes noisy guitar. No Mention Of My Dreams is off-kilter lo-fi synthpop. Air Bugs is retro-futuristic electronica. This album also includes a cover of Hank Williams' So Lonesome I Could Cry - the song itself isn't my thing, but The Texas Governor gets extra points for doing an electronic version of it - rather innovative I thought. firstname.lastname@example.org
SALOON (This Is) What We Call Progress CD (Track & Field)
Indiepop, both upbeat and melancholic, synths, strings, brass and a touch of noisy guitar all come together to make an imaginative and classy sound. They explore a variety of moods on here, on tracks such as Static (laid back and quite folky at times), Girls Are The New Boys (upbeat, catchy pop, but no less sophisticated), 2500 Walden Avenue (a floaty song with easy listening hints - but banish all thoughts of the naff sort of easy listening), Across The Great Divide (dark noisepop with psychedelic and atmospheric touches) and My Everyday Silver Is Plastic (indiepop meets bleepy spacerock), but they still manage to make this sound like a complete album, not a mishmash of unrelated genres. email@example.com
MRS PILGRIMM s/t clear vinyl 10" (Hinterhoff)
It's not every day you'll hear anything quite like this. Delightfully off-centre songs based largely around cello, which is sometimes played in the conventional fashion with a bow, and sometimes the strings are plucked. Loafs Blues is dark, sleazy blues, but with a more original feel than a lot of blues-influenced music. Drop My Name is one of the stand-out tracks - very well written and memorable song with a cello part that puts me in mind of Dolly Mixture. Other notable tracks here are Slow Lips, a very original take on blues, with pretty steamy lyrics, and Mess, off-kilter pop with discordant background sounds. Lullaby is another jazz/blues influenced number, this time with some bizarre percussion that sounds like it's probably pots and pans and dustbin lids or something. Loaded is a bizarre experimental instrumental that sounds like it's from another planet. The instrumental parts of these songs often meander all over the place, but don't sound self-indulgent or unlistenable. An amazing record from an artist (and backing band) I'm very keen to hear more from. Info from firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TELEPATHIC BUTTERFLIES Introducing... CD (Rainbow Quartz)
Another brilliant album from Rainbow Quartz - can this label do no wrong? Most Rainbow Quartz bands play 60s-ish music of one form or another, or 70s-ish powerpop, or a mixture of both. The Telepathic Butterflies are no exception. Sometimes they play jangly, 60s-style psych-pop and at other times they inject some noise into the whole thing. The psychedelic influence is not just apparent in the music but also the lyrics - tracks like Mr Laughabee's Circus could be genuine 60s psych-pop songs. They also do a cover of Donovan's Epistle to Dippy, complete with cello. Expect time changes, key changes and other slightly quirky bits, but it's all done in very much a psychedelic way rather than hard-on-the-ears experimentation. Info from email@example.com
VARIOUS Awkward Volume 1 CDR (Awkward)
If you're one of those narrow minded people who scoff at the idea of a compilation of unsigned local bands, assuming it's going to be rubbish, I suggest you listen to this, it might just change your opinion. If you're looking for commercial music, you won't find anything like that here - these bands are mostly too original to get popular - but if you're after pure talent and interesting musical ideas, this compilation of Birmingham bands is just the thing. Lots of creativity and disregard for genre barriers here - check out Horse Feathers' mixture of country, surf and Spanish music; The Courtesy Group's innovative blend of dark atmosphere, post-rock, punk and off-centre indierock with added violin; the quirky psych-pop of Misty's Big Adventure; The Bee Men's bizarre and at times manic pop; and Dog Food's brill quirk-pop. Mocca's contribution is from the heavier and more psychedelic side of their repertoire and is also great. firstname.lastname@example.org
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