E GONE All the Suns of the Earth LP (Sunrise Ocean Bender)
The latest release from Sunrise Ocean Bender, available as limited edition white vinyl in an embossed, varnished gatefold sleeve, is the work of Swedish solo artist Daniel Westerlund who records as E Gone. The music is refreshingly eclectic; electronica, Indian-influenced music, surf, and Sixteen Horsepower-esque Americana are all effortlessly combined, and that's just the first track! Then in The Drug Behind the Drug we get atmospheric drones, chimes and electronic burblings making for an inventive variation on ambient music. The Poor of Heart is a stripped-down acoustic piece inspired by US folk music.
Blind Tribe combines hard-edged rock and electronics with tablas and a slightly folky riff, lurching dizzyingly from one speaker to the other. Traveler, You Will Sing is a bleak and emotional banjo-based track recalling Appalachian folk and the aforementioned Sixteen Horsepower. Hazel Motes at the Plastic Vortex begins as psychedelic folk with brooding ambient drones, putting me in mind of In Gowan Ring. Part way through the track, the ambient side is brought to the forefront, with futuristic electronic drones, backwards guitar, and sci-fi bleepage producing a mindbending listening experience. You Will Sing is a melodic and relaxing post-rock instrumental, whilst Fever Child manages to bridge the chasm between post-rock and folk.
The album is so diverse it sounds more like a compilation than the work of one artist, but for those of us for whom the music itself is more important than its classification, there is a lot to like here. What with this and the recent two-part album by The Movements, Sunrise Ocean Bender is shaping up to be a definite label to watch out for. Visit www.sunriseoceanbender.com
STONE BREATH Children of Hum CD (Hand/Eye)
Stone Breath are one of the pioneering bands of the psych-folk revival, who have been making their bleak, dark and esoteric brand of underground folk music since well before everyone else caught on to this genre, and they still remain one of the very best bands of their type (along with the other pioneering underground psych-folk project In Gowan Ring). For this album they have stripped their line-up down to a two-piece comprising Timothy and Prydwyn.
The Dead Keep This is as eerie as its title, a sparse harp and whistle arrangement providing a backdrop for evocative, poetic lyrics. The Winding Way is a beautiful psych-folk song; its lyrics express the need for freedom to do your own thing in a poetic, metaphorical style that avoids the all-too-obvious "Hey look at me, I'm such a rebel" stuff that songs with this subject matter can find themselves veering towards. There is music here with a medieval feel (Brother Blood, Sister Moon) and music that draws from Middle Eastern motifs (All This and Alice).
In addition to the main album, there are six bonus tracks featuring various line-ups. Some tracks are Timothy solo, whilst Prydwyn, Sarada, Don Belch, and Brooke Elizabeth appear on others. Song to the Folding Leaves is an astonishing combination of influences from traditional Indian music and US folk, with vocals that recall Buddhist chanting. Starlight Sight effectively combines banjo with eerie, otherworldly whistle. There's an excellent banjo-led version of the traditional song The Famous Flower of Serving Men. Love in the Devil's Tongue is a deeply moving traditional-style ballad inspired by the 1772 occult novel The Devil in Love by Jacques Cazotte, sung by Sarada and set to a beautiful combination of classical guitar, harmonium and harpsichord. Dark Veils Part is an intense, brooding example of dark folk.
Another superb album from Stone Breath; more info at www.darkhollerarts.com and www.stonebreath.org
SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS The Slow Cyclone CD (The Hip Replacement)
Cardiff psychedelic outfit the Soft Hearted Scientists have opted for a homemade approach on this, their sixth album, which was recorded at three different home studios. The album is presented as a four part song cycle, each part comprising six sections which range from brief incidental interludes to full length songs. The main emphasis is on psych-folk and dreamlike harmony pop songs with strong tunes and an engagingly off-centre atmosphere. Synths, which rarely feature to such an extent in this genre, are employed creatively on the album, adding to the Soft Hearted Scientists' distinctive style. The lyrics often seem whimsical and eccentric on the surface yet conceal topics of deeper gravity.
The tracks that make up Part 1 are loosely connected via a seaside theme: Flying Horses is a grim and bombastic take on carousel music, You There Standing in the Shadows calls the listener to "come and join us in the sunshine", and Hermit Crab appears to be using seaside imagery as an extended metaphor for avaricious thinking. Elsewhere on the album there's the ambitious and artistic psych-pop track The Ups and the Downs, which features beautiful vocal harmonies alongside quirky humorous lyrics referencing Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, and Alexander the Great as a "genocidal mummy's boy". This piece has a mega-catchy tune and is perhaps the main highlight of the album - although picking out highlights is not to say the other tracks are all that far behind. The Slow Cyclone is an atmospheric instrumental combining synthesised cello with whooshing sound effects. Dark Departments envisages painful deaths for Nazis and tabloid hacks, set to a mix of acoustic rock riffage and retro organ. The Unknown Tide is experimental psych-folk with droning electronics, Indian style percussion, and chantlike vocals.
This is a really fantastic album, full of top quality, well crafted songs, from a band who deserve to be far more well known than they are. Further info at www.softheartedscientists.com
SENDELICA Live at Crabstock CD (Friends of the Fish)
Friends of the Fish is a new offshoot of Fruits de Mer, in which bands linked to the label can release their own records and get them promoted by FDM. Sendelica organised and headlined Fruits de Mer's Crabstock festival in Cardigan, Wales, back in April this year. Their performance was recorded and is now due for release on 24th September on CD, coloured vinyl, and download. Sendelica play instrumental psych-rock, ranging from the heavy intensity of Standing on the Edge, to mindbending jam sessions like Manhole of the Universe. They break the mould with their use of jazz sax, which works surprisingly well with the psychedelic genre. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buddha is an effective mix of psych-rock, jazz, and Middle Eastern tinged melodies. Motorik Jam is heavy, noisy spacerock with theremin, combined with free-flowing and melodious jazz, which acquires an increasingly ecstatic intensity towards the end of the piece. A very impressive album. Available from sendelica.bandcamp.com
THE DOWLING POOLE Bleak Strategies LP (Sugarbush)
The Dowling Poole comprises Willie Dowling (formerly of Jackdaw4, Honeycrack, and The Wildhearts) and Jon Poole (Cardiacs, Wildhearts, God Damn Whores). Their album Bleak Strategies was originally released as a CD and download on 369 Music, and has now been picked up by Sugarbush for a limited edition LP release on heavyweight audiophile-quality vinyl. As well as the limited black vinyl edition, there is also an even more limited green vinyl edition of just 100 copies.
The album begins with the ambitious pop gem The Sun is Mine, a song with a complex, ever-changing structure, soaring vocal harmonies, and subtle, understated electronics that give this otherwise quite retro song a modern twist. A Kiss on the Ocean combines a staccato, punkish rhythm with a strong catchy tune, big, atmospheric harmony vocals including an ELO-ish "ooh-la-la-la" section, and effective use of piano that sounds almost baroque in its melody. Hey Stranger has a laid-back classic rock vibe, combined with bombastic classical horns, whimsical psych-pop harpsichord, and lush and sunny vocal harmonies. Saving it All for a Saturday is delightfully quirky prog-pop with jerky, lurching accompaniment reminiscent of Jon Poole's previous band Cardiacs. Empires, Buildings and Acquisitions is a creative mix of Blur, Schnauser, music hall, and country, whilst Where the Memories Falter recalls XTC. Twilight Subplot is superb psych-prog-pop with floaty ambient synth; a big ambitious sound that completely envelops the listener.
The production values of the album hark back to those late 60s and 70s albums that pushed the capabilities of studio recording to the limit; there's a fullness and attention to detail here that's rarely heard in modern music, and especially not among underground bands who tend towards a no-frills attitude to production. The songwriting and musicianship are of a similarly high standard, as is to be expected of musicians with this much experience behind them. Whilst recalling various classic rock, prog, psych and intelligent pop music from the past, these sounds are combined in such a way that shows a great deal of innovation and creativity. Highly recommended - available from www.sugarbushrecords.com
THE GREEK THEATRE Lost Out At Sea LP (Sugarbush)
The Greek Theatre are a Swedish duo comprising Sven Fröberg and Fredrik Persson, plus various guest musicians. Their debut album Lost Out At Sea was originally released in 2013 as a CD and download on Truce Records, which I believe is their own label, and now sees a vinyl release from Sugarbush Records, available on black vinyl (limited to 300 copies) or yellow vinyl (limited to 100 copies), both heavyweight audiophile pressings. The cover art has been reworked to include a swirly, ocean wave style font that I feel says much more about the music than did the stencil font used on the original CD. The cover picture now also appears within an antique style gilded picture frame, hinting that the music here is going to be something profound, special, and important.
The album has a sunny and laid-back 60s Californian vibe. There's the Byrds-ish folk-rock of Even You Will Find a Home My Son, the pedal steel-driven country-rock of Close in my Arms, and the use of Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies in Overprotection Doesn't Work. Frozen Highway has shades of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and features guest electric piano from Ken Stringfellow, who I'm guessing is the same Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, REM, Big Star, etc. Hold On and Sail Away share the same mellow, dreamlike and atmospheric feeling, and are best listened to together as one long epic track divided by an interlude of ocean sounds. Piano, clarinet, flute and sax are employed here for a lush, sophisticated sound. The album ends with Stupid Constapleton, an upbeat track with soaring flute and distinctive vibrato vocals, which is all too brief at just over one minute long.
Past releases from Sugarbush Records have shown the label to be a dependable source for exceptional quality vintage-inspired music, and this very fine album by The Greek Theatre is similarly impressive. Get it before it sells out! www.sugarbushrecords.com
GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY You Are Here CD (Pink Hedgehog)
Brand new album from Garfields Birthday, in which core members Simon and Shane Felton are joined by Alan Strawbridge of Schnauser and The Lucky Bishops. Garfields Birthday go for a homemade approach with this album, returning to the spirit of their early days in the cassette scene. The musical emphasis of this album is powerpop with a psychedelic edge. There's the whimsical and fantastical Magic Bike, about a flying bicycle; the ode to cross-dressing, Fancy Dress, with its cheery and catchy ba-ba-ba chorus; and Radio, which observes quite rightly "Every time I turn on the radio, I hear the same old songs and the same old shows". A few songs are coming from more of a late 60s US folk-rock direction, such as the bittersweet biographical vignette Rheinhold Paisley, and Water (It Looks Like Rain), a laid-back, psych-tinged folk-rock track with celebratory lyrics finding the positive in things that seem negative on the surface. Also included here is the delicate acoustic guitar and piano based ballad Oxford, a romantic and nostalgic piece. Well crafted songs with strong tunes are what Garfields Birthday are all about, and there are plenty of those on this excellent album. Available as a download or limited edition CD at garfieldsbirthday.bandcamp.com. More info at www.pinkhedgehog.com
SKY PICNIC Her Dawn Wardrobe CD (Mega Dodo)
Third album from New York band Sky Picnic, released on CD as well as grey vinyl LP limited to 100 copies, with sticker and poster. Essentially a psych-rock band, they also take on board elements of the less cheery end of underground pop, jazz undertones, and folk. I See You Saw sets a dreampop-like tune to a mix of flowing psych-rock guitar work and jazz-tinged drumming. Lady of the Moon is an atmospheric psych-folk track, very lovely stuff. Ode To... is ethereal dark folk combined with an intriguing collage of found sounds. Most of a Box of Winter is a psych-rock instrumental, getting the balance of heavy intensity and melody just right. Her Dawn Wardrobe returns to the dark psych-folk sound, with the effective addition of birdsong and traffic noise in the background, whilst Earl Grey brings both main sides of Sky Picnic's sound together by adding piercing psych-rock guitar to a stark, melancholic underground folk track, plus the extended instrumental section introduces prog elements. There's an impressive, engaging combination of sounds on this album, that makes me curious to investigate Sky Picnic's previous output. This new album is available as of 13th October from megadodo.bandcamp.com. Additional information at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
THE PRIMITIVES Spin-o-Rama CD (Elefant)
This band have a long and interesting history. Starting out as an indiepop band putting out their own records, they were later signed by RCA, acquiring a more polished sound and releasing chart hits including the very famous song Crash. Having returned to the indiepop scene, they are now signed to Elefant, one of the longest running labels with a specific focus on this genre, having been founded in 1989 and releasing a constant stream of indiepop and noisepop records ever since. This new album from The Primitives is released on 13th October and is available as a digipak CD, clear green vinyl LP (limited to 750 copies), or download.
The title track was recently released as a single and sold out pretty much instantly. It's such an infectious song that it's easy to see why. The fuzz and chug of punk are combined with harmonious janglepop with an astonishingly catchy tune. Hidden in the Shadows puts me in mind of Blondie (who incidentally were my first ever favourite band, at the age of three!) Wednesday World has a 60s psych-pop vibe. Follow the Sun Down combines aspects of mod, freakbeat and 60s girl groups, whilst adding a slight experimental edge with the background sound effects. Petals is tuneful punky pop somewhere between The Shop Assistants and Helen Love. Working Isn't Working is a protest against mind-numbing jobs run by authoritarian bosses, set to a bouncy 60s-ish pop tune accompanied by forceful fuzz guitar and soaring orchestration.
Forget all the stereotypes about bands who have been around on and off since the 80s running out of ideas. This album has a strength and freshness about it that blows such stereotypes completely out of the water. Lots of really great, catchy and uplifting songs here - an absolute must! Available from www.elefantuk.com in the UK, or from the label's Spanish headquarters at www.elefant.com
HUMAN FLESH The 35th Human Attempt CD (EE Tapes)
EE Tapes was founded in 1987 as a tape label; nowadays they release CDs and vinyl, but they kept the 'Tapes' moniker. The overall emphasis of EE Tapes at the moment is reissues of mostly 1980s material by electronic, ambient and experimental projects. This CD, limited to 500 copies, includes all the tracks from the original 1985 LP The 35th Human Attempt, originally released by Belgian label Insane Music, plus an extensive collection of bonus tracks taken from compilation LPs released by labels from Italy, Germany, France, UK, Japan and Belgium, spanning the years 1983 to 1991.
The gory band name suggests some sort of brutal extreme noise or death metal or something of that ilk; fortunately (for me at least) they do not have this sort of sound at all, but an inventive form of experimental music combining electronic beats, atmospheric soundscaping, vocal recitations, cut-up samples, and use of melody across an assortment of genres, eg the psychedelic folk-rock and jazz of Five Minutes Before Death, the experimental opera of Les Souvenirs sont le Cancer de la Mémoire, and the synthpop of Revolts. There are several vocalists appearing on the album, speaking a variety of languages including German, Japanese and Armenian as well as English, and there is even a track that features invented words. Not understanding the lyrics is no barrier from enjoying the compositions as they are atmospheric and the voice can be seen on these occasions as more of an instrument or sound effect than a device for carrying ideas. Melodic pieces appear alongside others that are more of an aural art, sound collage thing. The overall sound is challenging yet engaging. I've been hearing quite a lot of really good experimental music lately and this is another one to add to the list. Available from www.eetapes.be
M.E.S.S.Y. & FRIENDS Anthology 1988-2013 CD (EE Tapes)
Limited edition compilation CD of 350 copies, bringing together various projects of M.E.S.S.Y. who records solo work under that name and also appears with the bands Electric Friends Society, Selfs Without Shells, M.E.S.S.Y. & Friends (a collaboration with a variety of familiar names from the experimental hometaping scene, such as M. Nomized and Konstruktivists), M.E.S.S.Y. Goes Insane (also starring Alain Neffe of the Insane Music label, Human Flesh, Pseudo Code, BeNe GeSSeRiT), and Angels of Swing. The music here spans angular post-punk/art-rock, experimental electronic gothic music, warped and dark psychedelia, and purely experimental abstract composition, all united by M.E.S.S.Y.'s distinctive vocal delivery.
Selfs Without Shells' And the Body Moves combines a hypnotic repetitive rhythm with fierce, dramatic vocals. M.E.S.S.Y.'s Killing Vocal Chords is a sort of abstract art music, whilst L'été is dark DIY synthpop. Selfs Without Shells' Visions of the Dark features meandering psychedelic instrumentation, with M.E.S.S.Y.'s impassioned vocal style giving a dark edge to the song. M.E.S.S.Y. & Friends' Sceneries Like Paintings has M.E.S.S.Y. reciting a poem over an ethereal, medieval-tinged ambient piece by M. Nomized. M.E.S.S.Y. Goes Insane's Exceptionally Brave combines abstract poetry and neoclassical music. M.E.S.S.Y. & Friends' Feed Me is engagingly bizarre avant garde music with vocal effects that give M.E.S.S.Y.'s voice a supernatural quality - the sort of voice you may expect to be used by elfin or demonic characters in a fantasy film. M.E.S.S.Y.'s Lost in Nowhere is a bleak, ominous gothic synth piece with pained, dramatic vocals.
A bizarre and often dark collection of avant garde art music, this is a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen. Available from www.eetapes.be
PSEUDO CODE The Radio's On CD (EE Tapes)
Pseudo Code is one of a number of projects of Alain Neffe (Insane Music, BeNe GeSSeRiT, Human Flesh, etc). The Radio's On was a concept begun in the early 1980s but shelved. EE Tapes have now made this long hidden material available in a limited edition digipak CD. The music here is a kind of experimental electronica featuring vocals from Xavier S., which vary between recitations, frenetic rants, and a singing style that is deliberately monotonous and dissonant to match the mechanical and often abstract quality of the music. Longer tracks up to 11 minutes in length are punctuated by shorter pieces including the four versions of the title track that appear at intervals throughout the album. Whilst there are melodic aspects to be heard here, the emphasis is on rhythm, atmosphere and experimentation. The album as a whole is best approached as an avant garde aural art project than music in any traditional sense. It's a sound that's likely to push most listeners well out of their comfort zone. That said, Pseudo Code are not averse to exploring more overtly melodic forms of music on occasions. Interlude Triste et Lent combines aspects of ambient, neoclassical, maybe a hint of prog, and a touch of medievalesque folk in the melodic motifs; it's atmospheric yet tuneful, relaxing yet with a hint of foreboding. Funky Ma Non Troppo is an art-rock track, offsetting discordant synth and angry vocals with flowing melodic rock guitar courtesy of Daniel Malempré, which was added to the track some years later in 1988. Tracks like Liar are a whole other animal entirely: crazed ranting and harsh, nightmarish sound sculpturing, definitely not for the faint hearted! Available from www.eetapes.be
NOVANTA Best-Selling Dreams tape (Seashell)
Novanta is the work of Manfredi Lamartina, formerly of indie-rock band Moque. There are guest appearances on the album from other musicians including Claudio Cataldi, whose album Homing Season I reviewed a few months back. Novanta means 'ninety', the name chosen as a tribute to the Nineties music Manfredi loves, whether shoegaze, post-rock, slowcore (if memory serves, this was a journalistic repackaging of the style that would have simply been called melancholic indiepop a few years previously), indie-rock, or the form of electronica embraced by the indie scene, which Manfredi terms 'indietronica'. Some of these genres appear in Novanta's music in their original forms, whilst others are combined in a personal and creative manner.
Light Changes is slow, melancholic indiepop with piano and woozy, fuzzy atmospheric noise. Windows is a serious and emotional shoegaze track. Worthless Whirls takes the atmospheric noise, glacial guitar sound, and breathy drawn-out vocals that are pure early 90s shoegaze and combines those with electronic beats that add a forward-thinking twist to the shoegaze sound. Novanta Song is post-rock meets electronica, with the shimmering atmospherics of dreampop. 2young2die combines indie-rock with experimental electronica.
The album clearly gains its inspiration from the past, but there is enough willingness to play around with the various genres Novanta is inspired by in order to create something other than a simple rehash. Available on cassette or digital download; visit seashellrecords.bandcamp.com and www.seashell-records.com for more info.
WILL Z. 12 Visions CD (Open Your Eyes)
Latest album from Belgian musician Will Z., also of Cosmic Trip Machine, with guest appearances from other members of Cosmic Trip Machine and Book of AM. The album draws lyrical inspiration from various forms of mysticism and occultism, including the work of Basil Valentine, who is described in the sleeve notes as "allegedly an alchemist monk", and Baudelaire's identification of Satan with Hermes Trismegistus. The end result is described by Will Z. as a "Hermetic-Satanic-Christian schizophrenic project". The album is divided into a "white side" and a "black side", reflecting the Christian-alchemical and Satanic inspirations, and also comes with eight bonus tracks of demos and outtakes.
The Road is dark psych-folk with additional influences from spacerock, ambient, medieval and baroque. Salamander is laid-back and hypnotic psych-rock with sitar. Diamond Planet is mellow psych-folk with 'wobbly' vocal effects. The Great Alchemist combines psych-pop whimsy with spacerock synths and a dramatic atmosphere. Travelin' is an epic track over seven minutes long, beginning as a dreamlike, meandering psych-folk piece incorporating sitar, flute, Spanish guitar, and choral-style backing vocals, transforming towards the end into an experimental piece with drones, atmospheric vintage synth effects and chantlike vocalisations. Three Sisters is a traditional-inspired folk song with a psychedelic twist. S. Love Song juxtaposes dramatic, horror movie-esque neoclassical music with floaty ambient sounds and a folky piano melody. Hermetic Spell is an extended, eight minute atmospheric soundscape with spacerock and experimental aspects and spoken vocals.
The bonus tracks I believe are exclusive to the CD and do not appear on the download or LP versions. Vision #1 is an earlier version of The Road, which adds hints of jazz but is otherwise far less multifaceted than the final version. Free Frog mixes quirky psych-pop with jazz and blues, accompanied by retro organ and mindbending synth sounds. Night of Sin nods towards American folk-rock. Raga is exactly what its title suggests, an Indian-influenced instrumental piece with sitar and tablas. Reincarnation Knell is a piano instrumental incorporating funereal church bells and soaring synthesised orchestration that carries with it a sense of optimism and positivity. The piece perfectly illustrates in music the notion of a new life after death.
The music here is really creative, the eclectic elements given a sense of coherence via the psychedelic atmosphere that pervades the album. Well worth checking out. A download edition is available at willz.bandcamp.com - this page also provides links for purchasing the CD edition or the vinyl version on the 69 Watt label.
VARIOUS Friends of the Fish: A First Collection CD (Fruits de Mer)
Compilation of tracks from artists associated with Fruits de Mer which were released by other labels. The CD is not available to buy, but is given away free to Fruits de Mer club members (the club does not have a formal membership policy, but you're considered a club member if you buy FdM releases on a regular basis direct from the label or from Heyday Mail Order). Freebies like this are a good reason to become a regular FdM customer, as they are not being made available anywhere else.
The CD features tracks from recent albums by Soft Hearted Scientists, Hi Fiction Science, and Sendelica, an Icarus Peel song from the recent Barnburner EP, and a track from Schnauser's Where Business Meets Fashion album, all of which have been reviewed elsewhere in Aquamarine. There is also plenty of material here that's new to me.
The Bevis Frond's Big Hole is a blues-rock track taken from the bonus material on the recent Miasma reissue. Stay are a band who owe as much to the Baggy and Britpop scenes as they do to anything psychedelic; their track here sounds like a more spacey and electronicy version of The Charlatans. Nick Nicely appears with an inventive psych-pop track incorporating harpsichord, a reggae-ish bassline, a touch of brass, and a hazy dreamlike atmosphere. Sidewalk Society contribute an atmospheric spacerock instrumental, whilst Astralasia appear with a chilled-out electronic piece. Three Minute Tease and Vibravoid both provide great psych-rock tracks that make me keen to hear more from them. More info on Fruits de Mer at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
SCHNAUSER Protein for Everyone CD (Esoteric Antenna)
Following four previous albums on both Pink Hedgehog Records and their own label, Schnauser have now signed to Cherry Red offshoot Esoteric Antenna. The title Protein for Everyone refers to an imagined scenario from a dystopian future, in which one can obtain easy cash by selling one's body parts for processing into meat products (!), a prime example of the surreal and grotesque sense of humour Schnauser are known for. The song of that name sets lyrics like "Just one incision, a sliver of spleen/World's going crazy for cheaper protein" to a quirky mix of prog, lopsided cabaret and fairground music. Grey or Blue combines melodic psych-pop with frenetic and changeable prog sections. The Reason They're Alive is an intricate prog-folk-rock track with cleverly written, almost riddle-like, lyrics about the life cycle of bees. A rare moment of melancholy is found within Split, in which lyrics illustrating a scene from the end of a relationship are encased within a bittersweet psych-folk-pop melody and soaring, dreamlike arrangement.
Final track Disposable Outcomes is an epic piece almost 17 minutes in length, divided into separate sections with bizarre titles like Fractional Reserve Banking For Beginners, Spleen Damage - A Short Story, and Eating Eric's Pickles. This mammoth track includes amongst other things trumpet, sunny la-la-las, 1960s crime movie soundtrack-esque music, silent movie piano, funky retro-rock meets bombastic prog synth, an off-centre lyrical vignette of a couple leading a mundane lifestyle, plinky-plonky glockenspiel, and a short story that spans the gamut from absinthe-imbibing Victorian decadence to a genuinely shocking ending sprung upon the listener from out of nowhere, in which the main character of the story brings about his own death through a most bizarre act of misadventure, the details of which I will not divulge so as not to spoil the surprise! Lots of musical creativity here, and lyrics that deal with topics you just won't find anywhere else. Schnauser are a fine example of a band who blast to bits the 'po-faced' stereotype of prog rock. They show that prog can be a lot of fun and needn't take itself too seriously. The album is available from www.cherryred.co.uk
VARIOUS On New Horizons volume 1 tape (Zyng Tapes)
Zyng Tapes is a new tape label run by Rob Kirtley, formerly of The Rabbit's Hat. This tape, the label's first release, is a compilation of bands and artists associated with the Stone Premonitions collective, of which The Rabbit's Hat were a part. The fact that it is a tape shows a return to the roots of Stone Premonitions, as it too started out as a tape label back in the 1990s. The actual cassette is bright blue with a contrasting yellow label, limited to 100 copies, and the music contained within covers earlier Stone Prem classics along with more recent material.
Spirit of Neon, a current offshoot of 70s prog-punk band Neon, appear with Waddya Want, which was previously released under the band name The Global Broad Band. The song is a no-holds-barred attack on injustice, political corruption and greed. Combining the anger of punk and the intricacy of prog rock, the song is indeed in the 'Spirit of Neon'! Census of Hallucinations' Signature is a sophisticated blend of soul, blues and atmospheric prog rock, with lyrics observing the selfishness and apathy of celebrity-obsessed modern culture, summed up perfectly in the line "Whilst the bees die, we're glued to our screens".
The Rabbit's Hat's Riding the War is a classic piece of songwriting that transcends genre. Terri~B's Ravenous Radicals is a bizarre, theatrical piece featuring a surrealistic alliterative recitation set to similarly surreal synth music with baroque and jazz motifs. Krom Lek's Earth of Illusion is heavy spacerock with flute, kind of like a mix of Hawkwind, Jethro Tull and Ozric Tentacles, with a Bevis Frond-esque guitar solo. Stoned by Terri~B is a chilled-out mood piece combining elements of world music (sitar, tribal-style percussion) with floaty ambient soundscaping.
Thought for the Day #2 by The Reverend Rabbit has him narrating a parable over a filmic experimental soundscape, its message critiquing consumerism and organised religion whilst celebrating free-thinking spirituality. Art Beat by Rapoon & Census of Hallucinations is an ambient piece comprising hypnotic repetition and swelling waves of atmospheric sound. Tim Jones' Fishun' Chips simply comprises Tim singing "fish 'n' chips" over and over in an exaggerated vocal style; definitely not a song that demonstrates the height of Tim's talent as a songwriter, but it has a surrealistic comedy factor that made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions.
Finally there is Stella Polaris, who I don't recall having heard before, though if their track here is anything to go by, I would definitely like to hear more. Entitled Off With Their Heads, it shows a multifaceted approach, beginning as a floaty ambient piece before morphing into a wild, intense psych-rock track.
An eclectic mix of sounds and a good introduction to the music of Stone Premonitions; am keen to find out what Zyng Tapes will be releasing next! This tape will be available as of 6th October from www.zyngtapes.co.uk
ST CHRISTOPHER Forevermore Starts Here double CD (Cherry Red)
St Christopher are mainly known among indiepop fans for their four singles and 10" mini-LP on Sarah Records, although they actually have a much longer history, both before and after their time on Sarah, producing a prolific quantity of recordings on a variety of labels, from the early 1980s to the present. This double album contains a whopping 53 tracks, and even this doesn't cover the entirety of their output. Everything they recorded for Sarah is here, along with a selection of other material spanning the years 1984 to 2010. The album covers a variety of styles and moods, all held together by an overarching feel to the music that is unmistakably St Christopher.
Antoinette is a sophisticated keyboard-driven song drenched in reverb. If Black Was Blue features Eastern-tinged melodic motifs set to a thumping dance beat. Dive is a creative, even experimental, song with a catchy pop chorus, one of St Christopher's finest moments. Chemical King pairs a meaty guitar sound with harpsichord. The Last Laugh is classy balladry reminiscent of Scott Walker. Utopian has shades of late 60s rock bands, especially Love, although St Christopher add their own inventive twist. Burnout is energetic fuzzy powerpop. The Summer You Love is an amazingly catchy song that's taken up residence in my brain and refusing to budge. You Deserve More Than a Maybe and All of a Tremble are classic janglepop with a sophisticated touch.
Say Yes To Everything was, and still is, my absolute favourite of St Christopher's songs from the Sarah era; catchy 60s-ish pop with an original and distinctive twist courtesy of the pounding kettle drums. Listening to this song again for the first time in about 20 years brought a massive smile to my face! Wildest Dreams is another favourite of mine; it has an inventive arrangement making up a big, luxurious wall of sound, and sounds like it ought to be the theme song for some big budget movie.
Anyone with preconceived ideas about what St Christopher sound like due to their association with the indiepop scene and particularly with the oft-misunderstood Sarah label, will surely get their eyes opened with this compilation.
The album comes with a 12 page booklet featuring band photos, memorabilia pictures, and an extensive interview with St Christopher founder Glenn Melia, providing some very interesting background info on the band's history. This very important album is a must for anyone curious about this long-running yet often overlooked band. Available from www.cherryred.co.uk
DODSON AND FOGG In A Strange Slumber CD (Wisdom Twins)
Some bands take years to make an album. Not Chris Wade's prolific project Dodson and Fogg, which puts out a new album every few months and is now onto album number six. Dodson and Fogg is one of very few DIY self-released music projects that manages to enlist the assistance of big names; various musicians hailed as legends in the world of folk and psych rock have contributed to the recordings in the past, and this latest album not only features Dodson and Fogg regulars Celia Humphris (Trees) and Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service, Firefay), but a literal household name in the shape of actor Nigel Planer, who provides narration on two tracks.
The album departs from previous Dodson and Fogg recordings by being a concept album that represents a dream, "a mad journey into the sleeping mind as it drifts around from one thing to another", with death as a secondary meaning for the "strange slumber" of the title. This surreal approach allows Chris Wade and his collaborators to take the musical eclecticism that always has been an element of Dodson and Fogg's approach to a whole new level.
The Dance combines Indian and Celtic traditional influences with a psychedelic atmosphere. I'm Coming Back seamlessly combines elements of psych-folk, prog and classic rock, with an end result that is appropriately dreamlike. When You Were Young is heavy, bluesy, vintage style rock. In A Strange Slumber is mellow and atmospheric, yet with a certain darkness bubbling under. Entrepreneur in the Garden is one of the Nigel Planer narrations, full of vivid imagery and surreal humour that had me laughing out loud on several occasions. Never Be Alone is an instrumental mixing heavy rock riffage with sitar, before taking a detour down a meandering, atmospheric psychedelic route. Nigel Planer returns for the second short story, Clunes the Gravedigger, which is as macabre as it is surreal. Don't You Pass Me By is laid-back, folky, retro rock with the unusual and effective addition of zither.
The songwriting and musicianship is, as usual, of an exceptionally high standard, and there are no filler tracks, which says a lot when you consider just how prolific this band is. Dodson and Fogg are a continually recommended band who show no signs of running out of ideas any time soon. The CD is available from wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com; a download version is also available from iTunes or Bandcamp.
THE LEGENDARY TEN SECONDS Tant Le Desiree CD (Pastime)
The Legendary Ten Seconds is a folk-rock band founded by Ian Churchward, formerly of The Morrisons. This album is the second Legendary Ten Seconds album to be themed around the life of Richard III, following Loyaulté Me Lie, which was reviewed earlier this issue. As with the preceding album, the proceeds from the sale of Tant Le Desiree will be donated to the scoliosis charity SAUK. Combining medieval and traditional folk aspects with modern electric and electronic band instrumentation, the album also features narrations by author Sandra Heath Wilson, set to atmospheric and evocative musical accompaniment, which are told from the perspective of Richard III's mother. Folky instruments like mandola, mandolin, banjo and melodeon appear alongside rock guitar and an assortment of keyboards including Mellotron, Hammond and Moog, as well as a synth that does a pretty convincing impression of a harpsichord. At various points across the album I'm reminded of Philip Pickett and Richard Thompson's The Bones of All Men, Ashley Hutchings, Blackmore's Night, Steeleye Span, and the Strawbs. There's often a dramatic feel to the music, in keeping with the lyrics with their battles and rivalry. The lyrics are coming from a pro-Richard III perspective so anyone expecting a demonised portrayal a la Shakespeare will be disappointed! Well worth a listen for fans of folk-rock or those with an interest in Richard III. Available from pastimerecords.webs.com; more info on The Legendary Ten Seconds on their Facebook page.
THE SEE SEE Once, Forever and Again CD (Dell'orso)
Third album, or fourth if you count the singles and rarities compilation on Sundazed, from this brilliant psych band. 400 Miles combines US-style folk-rock with swirling atmospheric effects. Big Bad Storm is a real thing of beauty, setting an authentically 60s-ish melody to a chilled out, summery mix of jangling guitars and vocal harmonies. Mary Anne brings together a meaty rock guitar sound with more jangle and a touch of almost baroque keyboard. The Rain and the Snow adds a jazzy bass solo and mod-esque organ to the hazy, summery mix; the vocal harmonies in this song are quite frankly spectacular. Ynys Las combines country-rock with laid-back piano-based balladry, and includes the effective addition of a horn section. Jenny Said, written by Nick Power of The Coral, is sunny retro pop with plenty of jangle and harmonies. Whether you're into folk-rock, janglepop or psych, there's plenty to like here. I can't recommend this fantastic album enough! (In the shops, distributed by SRD).
AMANDA VOTTA AND THE SPECTRAL LIGHT Secrets to the Sea CDR (Reverb Worship)
Very limited CDR from this collaborative project featuring various musicians known for their work with an assortment of other bands in the experimental and dark folk genres, namely Amanda Votta (The Floating World), Neddal Ayad (The Goslings, The Does, The Desolation Singers, The Floating World, Great Attractor), Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon), and Timothy Renner (Stone Breath, Mourning Cloak, Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, Albatwitch). The band was formed as a result of Amanda Votta and Neddal Ayad's desire to make darker, noisier music than the ambient experimentation they'd been making over the last few years. Black Doom features hushed vocals over an intense wall of guitar noise. This Is How They'll Find You is spooky experimental music bringing together otherworldly vocals, including Timothy Renner's ghostly whispers, ultra-minimalistic guitar, atmospheric drones, and whooshing wind sound effects, creating an unsettling, horror film-esque listening experience. The Shepherdess and the Witch is noisy, off-centre psych rock pairing melody with dissonance. Dream at Daybreak is a hazy, atmospheric, mindbending piece with a section near the end that combines bell-like tinkling with storm noises for an ominous, haunting effect. Moonflowers is a bleaker and more experimental take on shoegaze. I Am the Moon is a chantlike song combining mysticism, eroticism and surrealism, set to a hypnotic blend of psych guitar, synth and drum machine; probably the main highlight of the album for me. Secrets to the Sea is an intense, challenging album, revealing the beauty hidden within darkness. Available from www.reverbworship.com. Band info at soundcloud.com/the_spectral_light and www.facebook.com/avandtsl
ORGONE BOX Centaur LP (Sugarbush)
Vinyl-only label Sugarbush Records is a label that can be trusted to release top-quality LPs by bands who are retro-inspired yet completely relevant for today. I've never heard a disappointing album from this label, and Centaur by Orgone Box is similarly impressive as the other Sugarbush LPs I have. Anaesthesia has a slight off-centre feel that recalls XTC. Mirrorball is a swirly psych-pop piece incorporating strings, horns and vintage synths. Ticket with No Return disguises bleak lyrics about family violence and mental instability within a bright jangly pop arrangement. Hello Central is inventive psych-pop incorporating retro-futuristic synth and robotic voice. Judy Over the Rainbow is dreamlike psych-pop concealing driving powerpop rhythms amidst the hazy atmospherics. World Revolz swathes melody and jangle within a shoegaze-esque wall of atmospheric noise and reverby female backing vocals. Bubble is super-melodic janglepop with an off-centre psychedelic twist. Atmospheric yet bursting with strong melodies, Centaur is an absolute instant classic of an album. Very highly recommended! Available from www.sugarbushrecords.com
THE CAROUSELS Love Changes Like the Seasons LP (Sugarbush)
This new album, and first vinyl appearance, from Scottish band The Carousels compiles seven new tracks along with a selection of material from their self-released back catalogue, all recorded at home on vintage equipment. Despite the fact that it is a compilation LP, it holds together as a complete album, as though all the tracks always were intended to appear together. The LP is packaged within beautiful swirly artwork by Plastique Pop, which resembles poster art from the heyday of psychedelia. The likes of Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, and Daniel Wylie are namechecked in the thanks list, giving clues as to The Carousels' own sound.
Drifting Back is a jangly song that recalls The Byrds as well as The Springfields (I mean of course the Velvet Crush-associated band on Sarah Records, not the 60s band of the same name). Deep Mid Winter adds lashings of country-ish slide guitar and fiddle to a song otherwise reminiscent of Cosmic Rough Riders or Teenage Fanclub. Never Know What Love Is is country-rock with vigorous barn dance-esque fiddle. Down the Line is an acoustic song with an authentic 60s country feel. Call Along the Coast is a sunny pop song built around a driving bassline; a must for fans of Velvet Crush or Teenage Fanclub. Sound of My Own combines US-style folk-rock, janglepop and psych. Marianne is catchy 60s-ish janglepop - really brilliant.
There's a strong country influence to this album, and while country isn't usually my cup of tea, The Carousels manage to pull it off. The country elements are offset by the equally strong janglepop influence, in such a way that I feel this is a country-inspired album that even non-country fans will really appreciate. I for one enjoyed the album a great deal and would be interested to hear more from this band. The album is limited edition, with an even more limited pressing of 100 copies on purple vinyl. Available from www.sugarbushrecords.com
CHRIS RICHARDS AND THE SUBTRACTIONS A Smattering of Mystery and Sound LP (Sugarbush)
Vinyl-only album from Detroit powerpop band Chris Richards and the Subtractions, which compiles tracks from their earlier CD albums along with two brand new songs. The core trio are joined by a number of guest artists including Nick Piunti, an acclaimed powerpop artist in his own right, whose solo album 13 In My Head was released earlier this year on Sugarbush Records. The songs here span a time period of 12 years and were recorded at three different studios, but they have been carefully chosen so that they form a coherent album. As with the Carousels album reviewed above, if you didn't know this was a compilation, it would not be immediately obvious. Chris Richards and the Subtractions are at the more melodic end of powerpop, being just as much about jangle and perfectly executed vocal harmonies as they are about chugging, driving rhythms. They also diversify into laid-back country-rock in She's Just Falling Out Of Love, and add psychedelic undercurrents to Don't Forget About Love, but in general the album is pure powerpop, and well worth checking out if you enjoy the music of bands like Velvet Crush, The Pursuit of Happiness, or any number of powerpop-oriented outfits on the Rainbow Quartz label. Limited to just 200 black vinyl copies and 100 yellow vinyl copies, available from www.sugarbushrecords.com
VARIOUS Postcards from the Deep 10x flexi/CD box set (Fruits de Mer)
What with the revivals of vinyl and cassettes, it was only inevitable that flexi discs would also make a comeback. These floppy plastic singles were a commonplace occurrence in the 1980s and early 1990s. Underground music fans will remember them as a cheap alternative to solid vinyl, put out by DIY fanzine-powered labels. In the mainstream world, their purpose was generally as promotional freebies, affixed to everything from magazine covers to cereal packets. As technologies changed, the flexi fell out of favour, and I for one haven't seen a new flexi for what must be about 20 years. Fruits de Mer are about to change this with their extravagant Postcards from the Deep project, which comprises 10 square flexis, 10 7" sized postcards, a poster, and a CD within a clam box. What I have here is an advance promo CD of the flexi recordings; the CD that comes with the finished release includes some of the same material as a higher audio quality alternative to the flexis, which as those who remember flexis will recall were a somewhat lo-fi format, whilst other artists took the liberty to extend their tracks, or add vocals to an instrumental. I don't have the material from the CD, so this review will only focus on the tracks due to appear on the flexis.
All tracks here are cover versions of late 60s and early 70s material, ranging from songs by well known names like The Pretty Things to more obscure bands like Dragonfly, a band from the Netherlands who made just the one single, and South African band The Hippies. The Luck of Eden Hall cover Count Five's Psychotic Reaction as raw garage rock combined with spacerock. The Crawlin' Hex, a new band of Fred Laird from Earthling Society, appear with a version of Calico Wall's I'm A Living Sickness, a dark and atmospheric piece in which gothic rock meets surf meets psychedelia. The Thanes' version of The Pretty Things' LSD combines a crunching, distorted guitar sound with sitar, retro organ, and wailing harmonica. Schizo Fun Addict's Take a Heart, originally by The Sorrows, is off-centre psychedelic blues with lashings of spaced out electronic bleepage. Crystal Jacqueline appears with You Just Gotta Know My Mind, originally written by Donovan for Dana Gillespie. It's a pop song at heart, but swathed in psychedelic effects and intense psych guitar work. Astralasia's version of Brainticket (originally by Brainticket of course) is a kind of warped psychedelic jazz. And finally, Icarus Peel provides a mindbending psych-rock version of The Avengers' Theme.
Whilst the tracks here are all coming from different musical directions, they are united by a raw, psychedelic intensity that gives a cohesive feeling to the whole project. Available 22nd November for £27 (because flexis are not cheap to manufacture anymore!), limited to 700 copies worldwide. www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
VARIOUS A Momentary Lapse of Vinyl double CD (Fruits de Mer)
Exclusive freebie for members of the Fruits de Mer members' club, consisting of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett covers, most of which have never been released elsewhere. There's eerie, minimalistic psych-folk from Ilona V; atmospheric indie-rock with psychedelic undercurrents from Claudio Cataldi; James McKeown with an atmospheric and spacey version of Dominoes; Sproatly Smith with a laid-back, folky version of Late Night, which is very lovely; The Chemistry Set with a remastered version of their 1987 recording of See Emily Play, performed in a sort of psychedelic indiepop style; heavy and angular prog rock from Vespero; hypnotic spacerock with Middle Eastern and Medieval tinges from The Magic Mushroom Band; quirky and whimsical psych-pop from Todd Dillingham and Golly McCry; Octopus Syng's version of Flaming, in which eccentric psych-pop with glockenspiel is combined with a harder, rockier edge and lashings of atmospheric effects; Jack Ellister's artistic version of Matilda Mother, which combines vintage synths, piano, jazz aspects, storm sound effects, and vigorous, almost shamanistic drumming; atmospheric soundscaping from I Am Voyager 1; country-tinged psych-rock from Jay Tausig; a relaxing, yet at times unsettling, ambient piece from Rob Gould, incorporating abstract neoclassical touches and film soundtrack-esque elements; atmospheric yet intense psych-rock from Sendelica; Crystal Jacqueline's superb psych-folk version of Grantchester Meadows; a sophisticated violin and piano-led version of Stay by The Portraits; electronic experimentation from Vibravoid, and much more besides. The artists are putting their own stamp on the music, and the sheer diversity of the sounds on offer here means this compilation will appeal to more than just hardcore Pink Floyd fans. Further details at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
SPIRIT OF NEON Waddya Want? cassette (ZyNg Tapes)
Spirit of Neon are a new incarnation of 70s band Neon, featuring Tim Jones and Paddi from the original line-up, plus Terri-B (The Rabbit's Hat, Census of Hallucinations) and Dave Hendry (Census of Hallucinations, Ohead). As with all ZyNg releases, the tape is presented with considerable attention to detail, this one being a purple cassette with contrasting green label, with lyric insert and hand numbered glossy full colour inlay card featuring the hellish painting The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel. The tape is limited to 100 copies. Whilst Spirit of Neon is a new band name, many of the tracks here have appeared before under different guises including The Global Broad Band, Stone Premonitions 2010, and Census of Hallucinations.
The lyrics are no holds barred; Tim Jones tells it as he sees it, with no desire to wrap the listener up in cotton wool. There's a lot of swearing and other aggressive speech; anyone who is easily offended WILL NOT like this tape. Hypocritical politicians, war, greed, vapid celebs, corporate media, racism ... all these and more come under fire, whilst peace, love and free thought are celebrated and encouraged. As with Neon, the aggression of punk is combined with a prog-esque intricacy and angularity. Added to this are aspects of blues and hard rock. It may be angry, punky music but there are strong tunes too; the chorus of In the Image, sung by Terri-B, is a tough one to prise from the brain. Exclusive to this release is the track-by-track summary at the end of each side, in which Tim gives background info on the music and lyrics, accompanied by beats and atmospheric soundscaping, these bonus tracks providing a further insight into the band's philosophy.
So far all the tapes on this label have featured bands and artists linked to the Stone Premonitions collective, which had its own tape label back in the early 90s, but ZyNg Tapes is looking to expand its roster to include other artists. Anyone interested in appearing on future tapes or purchasing the current releases, visit www.zyngtapes.co.uk
BOGS VISIONARY ORCHESTRA Alas, Alas, Alas! CD (Awkwardcore)
HIERONYMUS BOGS Grow CD (Awkwardcore)
Bogs Visionary Orchestra is the work of A. Bogs, aka Hieronymus Bogs, and a 15 piece backing band playing a vast array of instruments associated with a similarly vast selection of musical styles. Far Off and Gone is doleful Americana with a psychedelic edge. Sorrow Working Overtime, despite its title, opts for a cheery uptempo arrangement combining bluegrass with eccentric psych-pop and abstract jazz. Some Dark Hollow is emotional indie-folk with impassioned fiddling which has at times a bluegrass character and at other times sounds more Middle Eastern. Parsippany is bleak melancholic psych-folk along the lines of In Gowan Ring or Stone Breath, though Bogs Visionary Orchestra add much that is their own to this style, the instrumental interlude bringing in South American horns, French accordion, and arthouse movie sophistication. No Consolation is an alt-folk piece with the effective juxtaposition of jaw harp and flute. Another Stain is bleak American folk, its starkly minimalistic arrangement providing a backdrop for lyrics of nothingness and decay.
Hieronymus Bogs now records as a solo artist, though he is accompanied on Grow by a 21 piece band that includes members of Bogs Visionary Orchestra. The cover art, featuring flowers sprouting from a human skull, sets the scene for the music on offer here, which shows an appreciation of the beauty to be found within darkness. The title track combines alt-country with jazz and the eerie sounds of the musical saw. Wanna Die Be A Folk Singer sets dark observational wit to a traditional-inspired folk arrangement. Dark Stranger is a beautifully spooky example of dark psych-folk. Death is Dead has an off-kilter angularity, showing an influence of outsider music. I Don't Understand is ethereal psych-folk with a Far Eastern touch, also featuring triumphant classical horns. The Foolish Ones is folk-rock with an off-centre twist. As I Walk Through the World blends jazz, Eastern European folk, and eerie experimentation.
Two great albums that add a new, creative and eclectic twist to the sound of folk and Americana. Available from www.awkwardcore.com. Further info at www.hieronymusbogs.com
ANGELINE MORRISON & THE ROWAN AMBER MILL Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening CD (Millersounds)
Underground folk outfit The Rowan Amber Mill have joined up with vocalist Angeline Morrison for this new 6-track limited edition mini-album with a seasonal theme, released via their own Millersounds label. There are delicate and ethereal versions of Silent Night and I Saw Three Ships, and a Wassail combining English and American folk traditions with an atmospheric arrangement. But lest anyone think this release is merely a Christmas gimmick, they also provide two self-penned tracks which can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Cold Winter Morning is fragile and melancholic folk-pop with evocative minimalist piano and orchestration; a very lovely piece. Sleepy Woodyard is a dreamlike instrumental with a film soundtrack feel, combining folk and neoclassical motifs for a relaxing atmosphere. I feel it's these originals that best demonstrate what The Rowan Amber Mill are capable of, and Cold Winter Morning in particular is highly recommended by me. Available from www.millersounds.co.uk
EMILY JONES & THE ROWAN AMBER MILL The Book of the Lost CD (Millersounds)
An altogether gloomier affair is The Rowan Amber Mill's previous album The Book of the Lost, a collaboration with Emily Jones, which arose from the band's love of vintage British horror movies, especially the subgenre known as 'folk horror', centred around pagan and folkloric imagery. The Book of the Lost is an ambitious project which serves as the soundtrack for a series of imaginary films with titles like Middlewitch Lake and The Marsh Thing. There's dialogue set to spooky incidental music filtering medieval, classical, sea shanties, and early experiments in electronica through a vintage horror soundtrack lens. Darkly psychedelic folk songs also make up a large part of the album; those sung by Emily Jones sound like a genuine product of the era which inspired them, whilst the ones sung by Stephen Stannard add a touch of brooding neo-folk to the mix. A real triumph, highly recommended to all who enjoy the eerier side of psych-folk. Available from www.millersounds.co.uk
CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS As Within, So Without tape (ZyNg Tapes)
Cassette compilation of Census of Hallucinations' recent material, with tracks taken from the albums Spirit of Yellow, Coming of the Unicorn and The Nine, and the EP Imagine John Lennon. As with all ZyNg tapes, the presentation is of a high quality, the package comprising a translucent fluorescent green tape and psychedelic artwork on high gloss photographic paper. The tape is limited to 100 copies and hand numbered. The music here covers a lot of ground, taking in spacerock, prog, classic melodic rock, psychedelic blues-rock, and experimental music, often with several of these styles combined within one track. There are song-based tracks, instrumentals, and narrations set to music, the latter category in particular tending towards a cynical, vitriolic, pull-no-punches tone. Census of Hallucinations are a highly creative collective of musicians with an eclectic approach, and this tape serves as an ideal introduction to the various sides of the band. Available as a tape or download from www.zyngtapes.co.uk
IN EVERY DREAM A NIGHTMARE WAITS Between the Surface and the Sun tape (Seashell)
There's more overlap between the goth and indie scenes than many would care to admit, with certain post-punk and dreampop bands being known to appeal to members of both camps. In Every Dream a Nightmare Waits have similar crossover appeal, with their combination of melancholy and dreampop-esque atmospheres. There are also sizeable contributions to their overall sound from psychedelia and dark folk, the latter of which is also considered by some to fall under the gothic umbrella. The band is the brainchild of Australian musician Ian Bonnar, also of Blood Inside the Machine and The Bored Whores. He is joined here by an assortment of guest musicians, including Claudio Cataldi who runs the Seashell label and is also known for his own music.
Transition has an atmosphere somewhere between shoegaze, goth and psychedelia, with evocative use of cello. The decidedly gothically-named The Vampire Light is a minimal and brooding track with dark folk, shoegaze and psychedelic rock aspects. Track Your Heart (Satellite) is bleak, angular gothic rock. Now and Then is minimalistic psych rock with drawn out vocals, swathed in a haunting atmosphere. Burning Man is hypnotic alt-psych-rock with shoegaze and post-rock leanings; a chug wrapped up in a swirl. Would have fitted in nicely on Cheree Records back in the early 90s. Praying for You is a bleak, melancholic acoustic song, its coldness warmed by soothing atmospheric effects and the effective addition of violin courtesy of Claudio Cataldi. Glamorama is a collaboration with Mike Cameron, whose blend of evocative electronica and neoclassical minimalism provides an effective backdrop for Ian Bonnar's vocals. Looking for a Cure is best described as electronic shoegaze, the instrumentation this time provided by Rickie Swain.
The black and white photographic artwork of the moon partially obscured by billowing clouds is a perfect visual representation of the music - dark yet with an atmospheric nature that is oddly comforting. The synthesis of dreampop, psychedelia, dark folk, electronica, and bleak gothic moods on offer here is seamless, natural and unforced, and shows a great deal of personal creativity. The album is available as a download or limited edition cassette from seashellrecords.bandcamp.com
SENDELICA Anima Mundi CD (FRG)
Hot on the heels of Sendelica's recent live album comes their new studio album Anima Mundi, available in a variety of formats in addition to CD, namely blue, black or clear vinyl LPs, download, or DVD, as well as a box set with additional memorabilia, which sold out prior to its release. The music is instrumental and combines spacerock and jazz to maximum effect. The Craeft Worker is a rhythmic yet atmospheric spacerock instrumental incorporating an ethereal jazz section, whilst the quirkily titled Master Benjamin Warned Young Albert Not to Step on the Uninsulated Air combines hard hitting riffage with space-age mechanical noises and soaring atmospheric jazz. Azoic begins with a dark experimental movie soundtrack feel before introducing chilled-out melodic psych-rock, neoclassical piano, and hints of ambient music, then the volume is cranked up again for Baalbek Stones, another intense, riff-heavy number. Searohwit is a laid-back relaxation piece incorporating ambient, jazz and psychedelic aspects, being built around an evocative whirring noise that drifts in and out of earshot. Modern jazz is a genre I normally avoid as I find it tends to fall into two main categories, either smooth to the point of blandness, or otherwise the grating improvisational sort that's totally devoid of tune. Sendelica's take on jazz completely avoids such pitfalls: there's an ethereal beauty about it which transports the mind to another world in just the same way as all the best psychedelic music does. Sendelica's combination of this form of jazz with psych and spacerock is a winning formula, recommended to all who enjoy adventurous, creative music. Available at sendelica.bandcamp.com
VARIOUS Insane 80s CD (EE Tapes)
Between 2010 and 2014, EE Tapes released a series of 7" EPs of 1980s material associated with the Insane Music label; the majority of these 7"s have since sold out. A selection of tracks from this EP series have now been compiled on the CD album Insane 80s, along with 5 bonus tracks that first appeared on DIY cassettes released by a variety of labels in UK, USA and Belgium between 1983 and 1988. There's a general emphasis on synth-based music here, with the occasional more guitar-oriented track, from artists whose approach is melodic but unafraid to experiment. There's the off-kilter DIY synthpop of Berntholer; the rhythmic and uplifting electronica of Human Dance; Kloot Per W with a bizarre genre-hopping track setting forceful vocals to a convoluted prog rhythm; Nine Circles, whose two tracks here cover both playful Casio pop and a darker, more atmospheric sound featuring analogue synth and vocoder; the dark atmospherics and unsettling angularity of Nostalgie Eternelle; the found sounds and hypnotic rhythms of Human Flesh; and many other artists who completely defy genre classification. A great compilation, illustrating the sheer creativity coming out of the 1980s tapes underground, and highlighting just how diverse underground electronic music can be. Limited to 500 copies and available from www.eetapes.be
NATHAN PARKER SMITH Not Dark Yet CD (Brooklyn Jazz Underground)
Big band jazz would normally be well off-topic for Aquamarine, but Nathan Parker Smith and the Large Ensemble are not traditional big band jazz by any stretch of the imagination, being just as influenced by prog, heavy rock, and artistic experimental music. The pieces here tend towards the twisty-turny and angular. There's a lot of improvisation on the album, but they're improvising around a melody rather than merely making the sort of incoherent din that turned me away from improvisational music for so long. A number of their tracks feature hard-hitting metally riffage, an approach that does a similar thing for jazz to what Hoven Droven's heavier material is doing for folk.
Fog Over East is a more relaxed track combining soundscape qualities with a brooding yet paradoxically celebratory melody that recalls movie theme music. Solace begins with a subdued, pensive Rhodes piano solo, before introducing soaring and jubilant brass, woodwind and electric guitar. Build and Destroy must be the only composition in existence that incorporates woodwind that sounds like sci-fi computer noises; the same melodic motif reoccurs later in the track played on other instruments. There's a harshness and busy-ness about the piece, yet it manages to balance chaos with a pleasingly artistic approach. The artwork is also worthy of mention, being effectively minimalistic with a modern font that's easy on the eye and matches the forward-looking nature of the music.
This is an album with a refreshing level of inventiveness; it's challenging but ultimately rewarding. I would be interested to hear what else Nathan Parker Smith and his collaborators come up with in future. The album is available from www.bjurecords.com, and further info at www.nathanpsmith.com
DODSON AND FOGG And When The Light Ran Out CD (Wisdom Twins)
Latest CD from the prolific musical project Dodson and Fogg, founded by talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chris Wade. This time Chris is joined by his brother Andy, with whom he also collaborates under the band name Rexford Bedlo, playing banjo on one track. Three other tracks also feature guest musicians, namely Ricky Romain on sitar and Georgia Cooke on flute. The rest of the album is played entirely by Chris and incorporates a wide variety of instruments including wooden and metal flutes, violin, mandolin, bamboo Jew's harp, rain maker, 12 string baby harp, glockenspiel and melodica, alongside electric and acoustic guitars. It's the laid-back psych-folk-rock side of Dodson and Fogg that's at the fore on this album, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this album is actually some lost classic from the late 1960s. There's an authentically vintage vibe going on with this music, yet thanks to Chris Wade's exceptional songwriting and musicianship, it manages to sound fresh and inventive rather than simply being a slavish copy of music from the past. There are songs like We Are Going Home and I Never Want You To Go, which are very lovely acoustic-based folky tracks with a chilled-out and dreamlike atmosphere, and then there are the US-style psych-folk-rock pieces like Shine, which are easily on the same level as any of the highly lauded bands from this genre's heyday. A top quality album, on which every track is a winner. Fantastic cover art too, a cityscape in purples, blues and greens, as seen from a narrow castle window, painted by Chris' partner Linzi Napier. Available from wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com
KENTIN JIVEK/THE HARE AND THE MOON The Haunted Cabaret CDR (Reverb Worship)
I had expected this to be a kind of dark experimental folk; there is little in the way of folk here but the dark and experimental aspects are undoubtedly here in full force. This is an album with the feel of a theatrical performance or film soundtrack. Grey Malkin provides music inspired by eras ranging from vintage to antique, whilst Kentin Jivek adds recitations that suggest an actor playing several different characters, some speaking English and others French. The title track is a fairground organ piece that evokes an authentic image of a Victorian fair. It's surprisingly cheery for its title, though the listener must not allow this cheeriness to lull them into a false sense of security regarding what comes next, the rest of the album being a much more bleak and unsettling affair. The Liquorist combines dark ambient drones, brooding music akin to horror film soundtracks, and manic cackling as a backdrop for a dramatic recitation on brewing, in which the liquor being produced could just as much be a magic potion as an intoxicating beverage. In Gevaudan, Kentin Jivek's actor-esque recitation, this time in French, is set to a mix of nightmarish incidental film music and roaring monster sounds. Godhead is a mini-symphony with composition to rival that of the famous classical composers, featuring deep, sonorous vocals and eerie whispers. Petite Mort recalls early 20th century classical composition. Das Narren Schiff combines droning sitar, tinkling music box and bells, and ominous sound effects; if 'horror ambient' isn't already a genre classification, it should be in order to describe tracks like this. The first limited run of CDRs, with a selection of different covers all based on bizarre and/or otherworldly late 19th century photography, sold out within days, but a second edition with new artwork is coming soon. Available from www.reverbworship.com. Artist info at www.soundcloud.com/thehareandthemoon and www.kentinjivek.com
SKITTLE ALLEY Love Is An Action CD (Discos de Kirlian)
Skittle Alley are among my favourite indiepop bands around at the moment, so I was excited to learn of this new CD out on Spanish label Discos de Kirlian. There are 8 songs here, which in true DIY indiepop tradition were recorded at home. Skittle Alley's style of indiepop shows the band are acquainted with the music from the genre's golden age, but rather than simply rehashing the past, they have the talent to add their own individual touches that make the music sound fresh and new. The songs are built around lyrics by Richard Earls, whose Older Wiser Harder vol 1 CD with Thierry Audousset was reviewed earlier this issue, whilst the lyrics to Secret were written by Gary Sansom, who is well known to indiepop fans as the founder of Dufflecoat Records. This is bittersweet, catchy indiepop, gentle but with signs at times of a more forceful nature under the surface (as heard for example in Video on Someone Else's Phone, with its vigorous guitar solo and the driving rhythm in the chorus), and often swathing jangle within an airy and dreamlike atmosphere. The album is an absolute breath of fresh air from start to finish; it's releases like this that make me so glad to have stumbled across indiepop all those years ago, and also to know that there are bands like Skittle Alley around today with such an infectious enthusiasm for the genre. I can't recommend this enough, and hope there will be much more to come from this band in future. Visit www.discosdekirlian.com and skittlealley1.bandcamp.com
CRANIUM PIE Mechanisms Part Two double LP (Regal Crabomophone)
Out on Fruits de Mer's Regal Crabomophone offshoot is this limited edition coloured vinyl double LP sequel to Cranium Pie's debut album Mechanisms Part One. The album comprises four long tracks, each one taking up a whole side of vinyl. The music is diverse, changeable prog rock, bringing together the big, dramatic kind of prog and the quirky, off the wall sort. You get late 60s psych tinged moments, film soundtrack-esque bits, spacey burblings, laid-back bluesy rock, Hammond organ, soaring and floaty flute, spoken word samples, funk, improvisational jazz, theatrical and/or bizarre use of voice, experimental sound manipulation, and 1970s-style electronic music, the mood veering every so often from relaxing to harsh and punchy. It's an album that lurches around dizzyingly, in an apparent effort to incorporate as many styles and musical approaches as possible. Whilst it's still only February, I doubt I'll hear another album as strange as this one this coming year. Available late March from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
CRYSTAL JACQUELINE AND THE HONEY POT Electronic Memory CD (Mega Dodo)
Originally released as a double 7" EP on Fruits de Mer Records (reviewed earlier this issue in part 2 of the Fruits de Mer feature), Mega Dodo have reissued the original material from the double EP on CD, along with two new tracks, to make up this full length album. The CD is limited to 100 copies and is packaged as a box set with 12 page booklet and an assortment of memorabilia. The 15 tracks here include a mixture of original material and vintage cover versions, punctuated by surreal, fairytale-esque storytelling set to music, featuring the voice of child narrator Paige Naomi Baker. The story in question incorporates song titles from the album and is reproduced in its entirety in the accompanying booklet alongside similarly surreal psychedelic artwork. The album features covers of songs by Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Fleur de Lys, Mighty Baby, Curved Air, The Electric Prunes, and Traffic, the latter's Hole in my Shoe being exclusive to this reissue. Also included are two songs written by The Honey Pot's Icarus Peel, one of which appeared on the original vinyl release, one of which did not, and the various narrative pieces which I believe were part of the original double EP, but are new to me as they were not included on the advance promo I received, so were not mentioned in my original review for that reason. The band put their own stamp on the covers, making for a coherent listening experience that successfully combines the surrealistic whimsy of UK psych-pop with the wilder, harder-edged form of psychedelia coming from the US. Available 2nd March from www.mega-dodo.co.uk
CHESHIRE PLANE Warning: For Recreational Use Only (self-released)
Cheshire Plane is the solo project of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Martin Butterworth, who has created a British take on the late 60s West Coast rock sound. The clue's in the name Cheshire Plane: like Jefferson Airplane but from Cheshire! Another band Cheshire Plane has been compared to is The Doors, and not without reason, but rather than being a straightforward homage to vintage West Coast music, this sound is filtered through an English lens, with English lyrical references and hints of more recent British psych bands. To The Sea combines garage rock and powerpop aspects with a swirly psychedelic atmosphere. The Answer to Question 7 is an extended eight and a half minute track, starting off chilled-out then picking up speed around three minutes in, before bringing in a laid-back yet powerful psychedelic instrumental section. Dead Men Dancing is a psychedelic reinvention of sophisticated balladry and crooning. This Corner of England is folk-rock with deep, dramatic vocals and intense guitar work. The Justice Hall puts me in mind a little of The Bevis Frond, whilst How Many Times? has a similar mood to early Delta, and is one of my favourite tracks here for that very reason. Also included here are three bonus tracks taken from earlier Cheshire Plane albums, including The Seeds of Change, setting a US folk-tinged melody to a raw garage/psych rock arrangement, and the mellow, atmospheric No Way Back. Please note that this is actually a download-only release; I'm reviewing a homemade CDR copy that Martin was kind enough to send me due to my 'physical formats only' review policy. The digital version is available at cheshireplane.bandcamp.com
TIM JONES Rarities 1982-85 CDR (Stone Premonitions)
12 track compilation of 1980s material by Tim Jones, also known for his work with Neon, The Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Census of Hallucinations and various other bands, as well as being co-founder of the Stone Premonitions label. Here he is accompanied on various tracks by Kevin Heard, Martin Holder, Mark Dunn, Paul Ellis, and Nick Ketteringham. A few of these tracks previously appeared on the bumper 7 CD Stone Prem retrospective The Phoenix Tapes, but others have, as far as I know, been unavailable for some time. As expected with Tim Jones, the music here covers some diverse territory. Songs like Prisoners of the Real World and Why We Do are hard-edged yet melodic underground rock with funky and experimental aspects. The Caring sets positive, optimistic lyrics to a 1980s pop-rock arrangement with psychedelic undertones - a very strong, catchy piece. The Nightmare begins as a brooding, atmospheric piece, before changing dramatically and unexpectedly into harsh noise-rock featuring maniacal ranted narration with a dystopian sci-fi theme. The Madness is a sort of experimental electronic punk-rock that makes me think of a harsher, weirder version of Punishment of Luxury, a band Tim Jones was a member of for a while (though he didn't appear on any of their records). The Shout begins as a beautiful psych-folk piece before flying off at an angry ska-punk-spacerock tangent. From melodic romantic songs to dark scary noise - it's all here. Well worth checking out if you're curious about Tim's earlier, long since unavailable recordings. Visit www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions and www.stonepremonitionswebshop.com
KEVIN HEARD Timeline CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Compilation of multi-instrumentalist songwriter Kevin Heard's recordings spanning the years 1982 to 2007, and featuring guest appearances from Tim Jones, Neville Maddison, Vic Warrington, and Norman Emerson. The tracks here cover an eclectic musical territory, united by a strongly melodic approach. A large part of the album is inspired by folk music, though the traditional elements are expanded upon and given a highly creative reinvention. Future History II is an instrumental piece that sounds like an authentic traditional ballad tune played on spacey, futuristic synths. Tongues of Fire is folk-rock with prog hints. This Tapestry is a very lovely folk-inspired piece incorporating jangly guitar and a catchy chorus. In the 1990s, Kevin Heard's music began to take on more of an electronic/dancey emphasis, with The Stranger, which combines brooding experimental aspects with dark edged electronic dance music, and Airborne, an electronic jazz-inspired instrumental with dance beats. Elsewhere, Kevin explores various types of well-crafted and intelligent pop music, such as The Scorpion, a really brilliant psych-pop-rock song with effective use of analogue synth; the great powerpop/janglepop song Sing Songs of Love; and the laid-back and atmospheric underground pop track Prophecy, which incorporates lots of reverby jangle. Lots of really fantastic material here, especially the pop and folk tracks which are very much in keeping with my own musical tastes. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions and www.stonepremonitionswebshop.com
THE HARE AND THE MOON The Grey Malkin tape (ATSLA)
This first release from new Canadian tape label ATSLA is a reissue of The Hare and the Moon's early album The Grey Malkin, which transforms familiar traditional folk songs into music that sounds straight out of the soundtrack to some supernatural horror movie. At various points across the album, kettle drums add a touch of classical bombast, while tinkling glockenspiel and music box, and sound effects such as howling gale, church bells and clockwork machinery are employed to create an evocative eeriness. She Moves Through the Fair is performed unaccompanied, the reverb-heavy vocals giving the feel of it being sung by a disembodied spirit. Long Lankin is darkly psychedelic with its hypnotic atmospheric drones and heavy psych guitar. Crazy Man Michael features three lots of percussion, the busy and intricate rhythms suggestive of the accompaniment to an arcane ritual. After the singing stops, the piece transforms into an instrumental based around doom-laden guitar riffage and pounding kettle drums. The album is a superb example of dark psychedelic folk, and is well worth tracking down by anyone who appreciates this genre. Contact ATSLA via their
Facebook page for ordering enquiries. Band info at soundcloud.com/thehareandthemoon
THE RABBIT'S HAT/CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS More than Ashes: A Musical Tribute to the Words of Tony Morland 4x tape box set (ZyNg Tapes)
Until his untimely death in 2002, Tony Morland was a prolific lyricist whose words were set to music by The Rabbit's Hat and Census of Hallucinations. ZyNg Tapes, run by The Rabbit's Hat's bassist and backing vocalist Rob Kirtley, has now released this beautifully produced box set in memory of Tony, which is accompanied by a 28 page full colour booklet that includes Tony's handwritten and typed lyric sheets mounted on a weathered marble-effect background. Four full length cassette albums, with yellow, green, blue and orange shells, are packaged in a case specifically designed to hold 4 cassettes, with full colour inlays printed on glossy photographic paper. As always with ZyNg Tapes, the presentation and packaging is as important as the music, making each of their releases a complete work of art in itself.
The lyrics are intelligent and poetic. Songs that cast a critical eye upon corruption, greed and war appear alongside touching love songs of great beauty. The Rabbit's Hat were one of the Stone Premonitions collective's main bands during the 1990s. Their music is a sophisticated brand of classic melodic rock with an accessible quality that gives the songs the potential to appeal to a wider audience than just underground music fans, whilst retaining the integrity and originality that are essential components of underground music. Across their vast catalogue there are hints of prog, blues, soul, folk, spacerock, psych, powerpop ... even the occasional bit of experimental sound sculpture, though the main emphasis of their sound is on melodic song-based material. They manage to bring all these disparate influences together into a cohesive overall sound that is unmistakably The Rabbit's Hat.
Their music makes up the majority of this release, but the final six tracks are provided by The Rabbit's Hat's Tim Jones and Terri-B's subsequent band Census of Hallucinations. Their music follows on in a similarly eclectic spirit. There are songs that combine the intricacy of prog, the hard-edged nature of punk, and a certain off-centre quirkiness. They also explore a kind of spacey laid-back blues-rock in The Sun Is Rising, mellow folk-tinged music in To Prodigal's Guide, and an inventive mix of electronica, psych, prog and tribal rhythms in Mazed and Mystified. The set is limited to just 25 copies, so get it while you can at www.zyngtapes.co.uk
VARIOUS Strange Fruit and Veg CD (Fruits de Mer)
Exclusive compilation CD for Fruits de Mer club members, which is free to those club members who order the new Cranium Pie double LP reviewed above. There's 18 tracks here, mostly covers of 60s and 70s material, plus a handful of originals from The Telephones, Vostok, and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies. Topos Locos' (What's Happening At) The Psychiatrist, originally by Big Bird and the Steam Shovel, combines psych-pop with US-style folk-rock, with effective use of (probably synthesised) harpsichord and eerily whooshing vintage electronics. Claudio Cataldi covers The Velvet Underground's Here She Comes Now, in the form of DIY indiepop swathed in a psychedelic haze. Trojan Horse do a great version of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Ohio, with banjo and Hammond organ. The Telephones' song may be a new composition but fits in alongside everything else here due to its authentic late 60s style. Mauve La Biche featuring Cary Grace appear with Amon Duul II's Archangel Thunderbird, in which powerful vocals are combined with bizarre and spacey electronic sounds.
I first heard of The Green Telescope via Sam Knee's pictorial history of the fashions associated with 1980s indie music, A Scene In Between; they were one of only two bands in that book I hadn't previously heard of (the other being Flesh). The Green Telescope appear on this compilation with a cover of Calico Wall's I'm A Living Sickness, taken from their 1985 LP The Waking Dream. Their sound is more psychedelic than most of the other bands featured in A Scene In Between, which probably explains why they had escaped my attention - I only started exploring psychedelic music after I'd found indiepop, and some years after The Green Telescope had ceased to exist. The song here combines wailing, pained vocals with echoey organ and atmospheric guitar effects, creating an overall sound that's both intense and mindbending. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies contribute one of their own tracks, a song called Martians Don't Surf!, which as a mix of surf and spacerock is perfectly titled. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
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