THE WOODBINE & IVY BAND Sleep On Sleeping On CD (Static Caravan)
Second album from this Manchester folk collective, following on from their self-titled debut on Folk Police back in 2011. Whilst the first album drew mainly from traditional folk source material, this new one also includes new compositions and a handful of covers that originate from both within and outside of the folk scene. The musical arrangements here also look far beyond the traditional folk idiom for inspiration. The title track combines folk and jazz (with Miles Davis being named as a specific influence) with a country-ish twang and shimmering psychedelic effects. Arm a Nation is a perfect synthesis of UK and US-style folk-rock, augmented by Hammond organ, triumphant horns and bubbling vintage synth. They do a powerful version of White Hare, adding a touch of raw blues-rock to this traditional Northern English song, creating an end result that is, in the band's own words, "more swamp than moor". Minstrel and the King, originally performed by Heron, is extended here to almost nine minutes in length, in which piano-driven folk-rock with an authentic vintage flavour is combined with a psychedelic jazz instrumental section that melts into a gentle, medieval-tinged guitar piece, the musical themes shifting in the manner of a dream. In Rebel Soldier, plaintive piano and weeping pedal steel provide a fitting backdrop for this bleak illustration of the horrors of war. This superbly creative reinterpretation of folk music, packaged within striking cover art by Dom Cooper, is limited to 500 copies and available from www.staticcaravan.org
JONATHAN TARPLEE Attachment Theories CD (self-released)
An impressive self-released album by singer-songwriter Jonathan Tarplee. Several tracks take US folk and folk-rock as their starting point, with songs like There She Moves and Galleries having shades of Neil Young. Flamingos is jaunty alt-folk based around acoustic guitar and banjo, and Beachcombing is a positive, optimistic acoustic folk-pop song with cymbal replicating the sound of waves. There's also a bonus track from Jonathan's band The Blue Yellows, No Tobacco No Jesus, which uses a hugely catchy, upbeat folk-rock arrangement with African and South American hints to hit home a serious lyrical message about erosion of culture and destruction of homes around the world. Jonathan Tarplee is a talented artist whose powerful, passionate vocal style is a perfect match for the songs' strong melodies. He ought to be more well known than he is. Find out more at jonathantarplee.bandcamp.com and www.blueyellows.co.uk
CLAUDIO CATALDI Soundtracks 3" CDR (self-released)
This latest release from Claudio Cataldi includes painstakingly handmade artwork comprising a hand stamped sleeve made from parchment, sewn together by hand. I always appreciate these personal touches, when artists go the extra mile to create a complete work of art with their releases. The album is made up of 13 short instrumentals; the title suggests Claudio had incidental film music in mind and the pieces would certainly work if used for this purpose. The music is primarily acoustic and transcends genre; there are hints of the more subdued, melancholic variety of indiepop, psych-folk, modern classical, dreampop, alt-country - but on the whole, genre classifications are meaningless in the context of this album. The music is evocative, bringing up imagery in the mind of the sort of films the pieces could be from. Reading #2 is eerie and chilling, perfect for a psychological thriller; Haiku is retro-futuristic, like a vintage sci-fi movie; BD Theme and Ropes and Strings suggest a story set in a small, sleepy American town. Well worth checking out. Limited to just 50 copies and available from claudiocataldi.bandcamp.com
RODNEY CROMWELL Age of Anxiety CD (Happy Robots)
Rodney Cromwell is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formerly of Saloon and Arthur & Martha, who is also joined here by Alice Hubley (Cosines, ex-Arthur & Martha), Alison Cresswell, and Adrian Taylor, whilst baby Benedict Cresswell lends his gurgling sounds to the instrumental Baby Robot. Combining vintage-style electronica with a bedroom pop sensibility, the music comes across like how Kraftwerk might sound if they were an indiepop band. Barry Was An Arms Dealer features robotic vocals and a chugging motorik rhythm as the setting for a delightfully off-kilter lyrical wit. You Will Struggle is a fizzing DIY disco-pop number. The Blue Cloud manages to make a song about fear, depression and pain sound fun with its robotic vocals, relentless disco beat and swirly vintage synth sounds. Fenchurch Street is a hazy and dreamlike synthpop song about falling in love with an Essex girl. Black Dog is an electronic indiepop song with an arrangement so jaunty that you forget it's an ode to depression. Despite the lyrics often veering towards gloom and despair, the music itself is heaps of fun and a real breath of fresh air. Available from
FLAT ED Clapped Out LP (Alphatester)
Limited edition vinyl album from singer-songwriter Flat Ed, compiling tracks recorded in between other projects, from 1997 to 2013. Flat Ed has explored an eclectic variety of music over the years, combining different styles in a creative manner. 24 Hours is off-centre alt-folk with psych undercurrents. Then there's the glitchy electronica of Cool Hassle. Funny is laid-back and sophisticated piano-led balladry with vocal harmonies. Late Autumn Walk combines folk, electronica and psych with atmospheric effects. In Any Bottle is an inventive psych track incorporating percussive experimental aspects. Growing Crows is janglepop meets US-style folk-rock, really great stuff. Upstairs to Bed is underground hip-hop with an eclectic experimental touch. A brilliant album from a highly talented artist with a healthy disregard for genre boundaries, who's unafraid to innovate. The cover art, which incorporates the artist's name and album title into the branding of a derelict Art Deco cinema is also well worth a look. Visit flated.bandcamp.com/album/clapped-out
THE SOUND OF THE SHIRES forthcoming album
The Sound of the Shires is Flat Ed's current project, also featuring songwriter and vocalist Patrick Bailham. I have an advance CDR of their as yet unreleased and currently untitled album, which has an emphasis on sunny, positive retro pop with a psychedelic edge. England's Beauty begins as a surreal, experimental dream sequence incorporating samples of all manner of things regarded as quintessentially English, from Jerusalem played on church organ to the eccentric invented language of Stanley Unwin. Then sitar and tablas kick in, highlighting the multicultural nature of modern England whilst also nodding towards the use of Indian instruments during the heyday of English psychedelia. Then the song itself begins, summery, laid-back psych-pop with multi-part vocal harmonies, and lyrics that touch on the paganism and supernatural folklore hidden within the English landscape, with proclamations like "The Old Man of Wilmington is a shaman" and place names like Devil's Dyke.
Lilting Mellotron and choppy guitar are combined in Andrew Loog Oldham, a homage to pop culture icons from the 1960s onwards, namechecking the likes of Andy Warhol and Alan McGee alongside the eponymous Rolling Stones manager. Cover Versions is a prime slice of summery janglepop with lyrics that cast an appropriately cynical eye towards those in the world of music who sacrifice true creativity in favour of profiteering: "Cover versions pay the bills/But hey! Does it cleanse your soul?" It's the kind of pure jangly pop that always brings a smile to my face - really, really great stuff.
Life Works vol 2 has a mood considerably bleaker than everything else here; atmospheric, minimal music forms the backdrop for a song that tells the life story of an intelligent but troubled man, before exploding into a riotous noisefest best described as psychedelic punk. It's harrowing stuff, and provides a real jolt coming after all the lighthearted summertime pop that precedes it. Finally there's Judy Fly, a laid-back and bittersweet psych-folk-pop piece that's really moving. This album is really something special; hopefully they will release it soon as it needs to be heard. In the meantime visit soundcloud.com/thesoundoftheshires
ESKO JÄRVELÄ EPIC MALE BAND Rye Groove CD (self-released)
Esko Järvelä, of the famous Järvelä family of fiddlers from Kaustinen, Finland, is also known for his work with various Finnish folk bands including Frigg, JPP, Tsuumi Sound System, and Baltic Crossing. Here he is joined by a band of guitarists and a drummer coming from a variety of musical backgrounds including folk, country rock, tango and free jazz, to create a style that has been variously described as Finnish Fiddle Rock and Progressive Hard Folk. The album starts off with the fast, frenetic Whip, then there's Bo Diddley, in which schottische and blues-rock are seamlessly combined. Rose on the Wallpaper begins as a pretty fiddle tune swathed in ethereal effects; more forceful electric guitar is introduced at times, showing that even when making more laid-back pieces such as this, the Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band are not afraid to rock out. Kabob Ostrobothnia sets a Middle Eastern-inspired melody to a heavy prog-meets-psych rock arrangement. Sheriff, originally performed by Prusikoukku, is jaunty folk-rock with quirky lyrics in French, interlaced with intense prog sections. Sweet Reel, another comparatively laid-back piece, brings together a dreamlike and somewhat melancholic melody with busy drumming and soaring strings. The Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band's powerful electrified approach to folk is exciting and infectious. Highly recommended, especially if you enjoy the Nordic/American folk fusion of Frigg, Hoven Droven's hard rocking approach to Nordic folk, or forward looking electric folk in general. More info at www.epicmaleband.com
SHARRON KRAUS Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers LP (Clay Pipe Music)
Sharron Kraus's latest album, a vinyl-only LP limited to 500 copies, takes its inspiration from the Welsh legends and folktales contained within the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. The music nods towards the folk tradition, whilst ultimately transcending it. The songwriting is contemporary, and whilst the harp, recorder and dulcimer arrangements are evocative of the medieval era when the tales from the Mabinogion were written down, the overall feel is not one of aping the past, but of using the past as a starting point for creative innovation. The tales span the gamut of human emotion, and Sharron's lyrics and music perfectly capture the feelings of regret, loss, longing, exile, treachery, and exertion of will contained within the stories, whilst the magical content of some tales is aptly rendered into music via the use of otherworldly arrangements. A fine album of melancholic beauty, this is guaranteed to sell out fast, so get your orders in quick as of the 18th May at www.claypipemusic.co.uk
TELLING THE BEES Steer by the Stars CD (Black Thrustle)
Latest album from Telling the Bees, which as with their previous two albums comes packaged in superb quality intricate cover art by Rima Staines, of a standard to match the music contained within. Telling the Bees make an impressive variety of folk music that is informed by historical tradition yet not averse to musical eclecticism and a forward-looking approach. A Puppeteer Came to Town combines Balkan folk, classical, and theatre music. Oxford May Song is traditional-inspired English folk, the chorus in particular sounding just like an authentic traditional piece both melodically and lyrically, whilst cello adds a classical twist to the overall sound. Windflower almost sounds like a pop song, though it is inventively arranged with sophisticated folk and classical aspects. The Oxberg March is a traditional Swedish piece I first heard on Prototyp by Hedningarna/Garmarna offshoot Hurdy Gurdy. I expect Telling the Bees are also familiar with this recording as they have listed Hedningarna in the 'Artists We Also Like' section on their Facebook page. In Telling the Bees' version, the piece is rendered as a bagpipe tune underscored by a hypnotically repetitive string arrangement. The sombre political protest song I Fear These Tory Radicals is followed by the ecstatic celebration of freedom that is The Scholar Gypsy, before the album ends with the title track, a laid-back song with undulating electric piano adding an ethereal, dreamlike mood. Another excellent album by this continually recommended band. More info at www.tellingthebees.co.uk
THE LAST HOUR Deadline CD (Seventh Crow/The White Room)
Out on CD from Seventh Crow Records and download from The White Room Netlabel is the new album from The Last Hour, the current project of Roberto Del Vecchio (Les Jumeaux Discordants, ex-Gothica). The music is described as 'post-cold dark wave', and is made up of dark atmospheric songs set to electronic instrumentation resembling a gloomier version of 1980s synthpop. In Heartbeat, a dark-edged disco groove is ornamented by synthesised orchestration. Deep Blue Space is an instrumental that successfully combines repetitive rhythmic electronica with brooding neoclassical touches. Deadline is a pop song, yet one that sounds like it belongs in a post-apocalyptic horror movie. Winning, originally by The Sound, is repackaged here in an electronic style that makes it fit in seamlessly alongside The Last Hour's own material. Utopia is more guitar based than everything else here, having a very beautiful ethereal sound that comes across like dreampop interspersed with minimal acoustic sections. The music here shows that pop tunes and upbeat synth arrangements can not only coexist with bleak, cold atmospheres, but these two opposites can in fact be perfect partners. Cold wave and associated genres aren't something I've explored in much depth, but if the other bands are this good, it looks like I may be missing out. CD available at seventhcrowrecords.bandcamp.com/album/deadline; band info at thelasthour.bandcamp.com
ANTON BARBEAU Antronica CD (Idiot Records)
Anton Barbeau goes electronic for his latest solo album. He explores Kraftwerk, DIY disco pop, and psych-rock in Clubbing in Berlin, whilst Magic Duck sets quirky novelty lyrics to vintage synth music. Dust Beneath My Wings previously appeared in another form on the debut self-titled album by Anton's band Three Minute Tease; it's the off-centre take on retro pop familiar of Anton Barbeau, but this time minimally arranged with electric piano, drum machine, and a touch of banjo near the end. Ginger Space Fade is a mesmeric, repetitive piece combining instrumental psych-folk, birdsong samples, and whooshing spacey electronic sounds. Psychedelic Mynde of Moses is an electronic remake of a song Anton previously released on a 7" EP on Fruits de Mer Records, this time featuring burbling and shimmering electronics. Another Three Minute Tease track, the massively catchy Thanks for Lifting My Leg, appears here as electronic powerpop. The final track listed on the sleeve, Trouble was Born, is a quirky DIY electronic country song. But you don't just get the ten tracks listed on the sleeve; there are two bonus tracks, namely Droan 1, in which Anton ventures into experimental ambient drone territory, and Hmmm In G, which combines the humming suggested by the title with Hare Krishna chanting. The electronic emphasis may be a new direction for Anton Barbeau, but the strong tunes and off-kilter lyrical approach that typify Anton's music are still present and correct. A great album, well worth checking out. Visit www.antonbarbeau.com
THREE MINUTE TEASE Bite the Hand CD (Idiot Records)
Second album from Three Minute Tease, the band Anton Barbeau formed with Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor of The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians. The album also features guest appearances from various other musicians and vocalists, most notably The Bevis Frond's Nick Saloman. Drinking Horn is a jaunty, then lazy-hazy, psych-pop song about evolution, with the sort of lyrical wit that could only come from the mind of Anton Barbeau. MTV Song is an effectively off-the-wall mix of powerpop, 1980s heavy metal riffage, Mellotron, cheery la-la-las, and an angelic choir. A bizarre concoction for sure, but it works. When I Was 46 in the Year 13 is catchy off-centre pop that makes two years ago sound futuristic. Tie My Laces sets a 1960s Californian folk-rock-esque melody to a laid-back and sophisticated mix of piano, trumpet and cello. Coffee that Makes the Man Go Mad is lopsided folk-baroque-psych-pop with an on-edge, manic mood suggestive of the effects of caffeine. Tell Me combines laid-back and dreamlike pop with Nick Saloman's powerful and intricate psych guitar work. Other tracks here tend to fall into the powerpop category, but thanks to Anton Barbeau's inimitable songwriting skills, the songs completely avoid the formulaic structure that genre sometimes suffers from. Another top quality set of songs from Anton Barbeau and his associates; find out more at www.threeminutetease.com
THE SELFISH CALES Throw Your Watch to the Water CD (self-released)
Second album from this paisley-clad Italian band, with artwork to match their shirts. They play an accomplished and ambitious variety of melodic psychedelia, crossing over on occasions into mod, sunshine pop, and prog. Sulphureous Haze recalls psychedelic-era Beatles at times, but harder-edged, and with enough Hammond organ to keep the mods happy. Peacock Girl combines a smooth, film soundtrack-esque atmosphere with hazy, laid-back psych-rock. Colours of the Mind has a polished, 1970s-ish laid-back rock sound, whilst "ba-ba-ba-dee-da" backing vocals, Rhodes piano, and Latin American style rhythms add a sunshine pop touch. Empathy is another track with a sophisticated 1970s rock flavour, quite proggy in places. Some Warm Trails returns to the sunshine pop style, incorporating aspects of bossa nova and soaring wordless backing vocals. Imaginary Journey is one of the most psychedelic tracks here, with drawn-out vocals, lashings of sitar, and woozy effects. In the most part, this doesn't sound like an underground album. The Selfish Cales have the sort of commercial but credible sound that comes across like some classic rock band from the late 1960s or early 1970s. The album will no doubt appeal to anyone who digs the more polished side of vintage psychedelia. Find out more at www.theselfishcales.com
MATTHEW NORTH'S DEPARTMENT FACTORY Valentine 3 - No More Heartbreaks CD (self-released)
Every Valentine's Day for the last three years, Matthew North has performed an improvised live set, which has been recorded and released within 24 hours. This third Valentine performance is available as a download or limited edition CD. The music is instrumental, and is multilayered using loops, to give the feel of a full band performance. There's a general psych-rock emphasis, but also plenty of eclectic surprises on offer here. Introduction combines elements of psych, experimental, post-rock, and spacerock. It Started With a Kiss is improvisational psych-rock with a hypnotically repetitive quality, featuring intense guitar work, and vintage synths adding a spacey touch. Broken Trust is a laid-back and dreamlike piece with psych-folk aspects, and even a nod towards classic jangly indiepop. The Winner is the Loser combines melodies suggestive of Wild West movie soundtracks and of folk music, with atmospheric drones and swathes of ethereal noise. Another excellent album from this creative and talented musician. Matthew North has more new solo material out soon as well as a new single by his band Secrets For September; more on these coming soon in Aquamarine. Visit www.matthewnorthmusic.co.uk
SARADA HOLT Dorothy's Ghost CDR (Reverb Worship)
Solo album from Sarada Holt of Stone Breath, featuring archival material recorded at home on 4-track in 1998-1999. The recording quality is, as you may expect from the medium used, rather lo-fi, with varying degrees of tape hiss, but the songs' dark atmospheric beauty shines through, overshadowing any limitations that come with recording on cassette. Most songs are minimally arranged, usually featuring just Sarada's voice and guitar, sometimes electric, sometimes classical, or in the case of The Snow Maiden, banjo and hand drum. The music spans dark folk tracks like Phantasmagoria in Two and The Snow Maiden, singer-songwriter pieces that transcend genre, such as At the Chimes of a City Clock, and more experimental pieces like To the Eels, a musically and lyrically idiosyncratic song with ethereal vocal effects, and Night Terrors, a nightmarish semi-abstract instrumental from the darker side of psychedelia. Whilst Sarada Holt is drawing from a diversity of musical styles, the collection holds together as a complete album, united by an eerie, brooding atmosphere. It's a must for Stone Breath fans, and anyone who enjoys dark folk in general. Kudos to Reverb Worship for making this long hidden music available to a new audience! The album is limited to just 50 copies, so won't be available for long. Order from www.reverbworship.com
DARK SINFONIA Plague Tales CDR (Reverb Worship)
Dark Sinfonia, a duo comprising William Westwater and Stephen Curran, have produced in the shape of this album a theatrical musical performance themed around the Black Death. Neo-medieval music based on synthesised wind instruments and electronic drums, along with more abstract accompaniment akin to horror movie incidental music, provides a backdrop for deep, dramatic, near-operatic vocals and actor-esque recitations, a poetic dramatisation of this gruesome historical subject matter. Tracks like A Wraith Rose, Bring Out Your Dead and The Weavers Bonny draw from nursery rhymes and riddles, highlighting the macabre origins of certain bygone children's entertainment. They take a detour away from the topic of the plague in Krampus, a song about the devilish figure from Alpine folklore, reputed to punish misbehaving children at Christmas. There are also two tracks about Prince Prospero, from Edgar Allan Poe's gothic plague story The Masque of the Red Death, the second of which, The Red Death, comes across as a gothic novelette set to unsettling horror film-esque accompaniment. Some tracks here put me in mind of the medieval-inspired side of Blacklight Braille's output, albeit with the Arthurian myth replaced by lyrics about buboes, profuse bleeding, and death stealing your soul, whilst the heavy beat-driven Hells' Executioner is best described as medieval operatic gothic rock. Overall, the image the album evokes is of a Shakespeare tragedy, or at times a dramatised gothic novel, set to music. The album comes packaged in a handmade sleeve adorned with the Grim Reaper surrounded by crows and skulls, and comes with a free sticker bearing the same image. Limited to 100 copies, available from www.reverbworship.com
CRYSTAL JACQUELINE Rainflower CD (Mega Dodo)
Second solo album from Crystal Jacqueline, also known for her work with The Honey Pot. There's more emphasis on original material here than on previous outings, with only one cover version on the LP, two on the CD. The focus is on delicate and atmospheric tracks with a magical mood. There's the beautiful, ethereal psych-folk of Winter Deep and Dress of White Lace, and the melancholic, introspective psych-pop of Water Hyacinth and Mary Waiting. Strange Bloom wraps an impassioned bluesy song in an eerie psychedelic arrangement. Rainflower is delicate folk-pop with undulating oboe creating a dreamlike atmosphere. One of the two covers is a very lovely psych-folk version of Pink Floyd's Grantchester Meadows. There are a couple of diversions into more upbeat, rockish areas, namely Daisy Chains, a psych-rock track with an authentic late 60s feel, and the Status Quo cover In My Chair, presented here as psychedelic blues-rock, which is exclusive to the CD version. Whilst I've enjoyed Crystal Jacqueline's previous releases, solo and with The Honey Pot, the new psych-folk direction this album is travelling in makes it my favourite album of hers so far. Available as of 25th May on limited edition CD or 180g vinyl LP from www.mega-dodo.co.uk
WILL Z. New Start CD (Mega Dodo)
It doesn't seem all that long since the last Will Z. album, but now this prolific artist is back with a brand new album of forward-looking, inventive psychedelic music that incorporates influences from diverse genres. Jain Devotion is a multipart piece divided into two long tracks which bookend the album. It's a mellow sound that encompasses spacey electronic music, experimental, ambient, psych-folk, flowing and laid-back psych-rock, and Eastern influences. Namo incorporates a driving bass groove into a meditative piece featuring ethereal choral-style vocal harmonies and sitar. Evil Namo is eerie ambient experimental spacerock; the soundtrack to a warped nightmare. It features a guest appearance from Gong founder Daevid Allen, who sadly passed away before the album's release. Nefle is the heaviest track here, in which psych-rock riffage is adorned with spacey atmospheric sound effects. Available on limited edition white vinyl LP or CD as of 8th June; visit www.mega-dodo.co.uk
SENDELICA/DA CAPTAIN TRIPS Psychedelic Battles Volume One (FRG/Vincebus Eruptum)
Out in May on CD from FRG Records (limited to 150 copies) or yellow vinyl LP on Vincebus Eruptum Recordings (limited to 300 copies) is this split album featuring one long track by Sendelica from Wales and three tracks from Italian band Da Captain Trips. Sendelica's Day of the Locust (Geoff Chase mix) is a 26 minute instrumental combining experimental improvisation, wild and intense psych-rock guitar work, and spacey electronics, creating a powerful end result. Da Captain Trips also make instrumental psych-rock of a style that fits in well alongside the music of Sendelica whilst retaining its own distinctiveness. Their music brings together hypnotic chugging rhythms, flowing yet forceful guitar soloing, and the retro-futuristic electronic whirr of vintage synths. Whilst Da Captain Trips' primary target audience is clearly those in the psychedelic scene, their music has certain attributes that may appeal just as much to fans of post-rock, shoegaze, or maybe even ambient. Great artwork too - swirly purple paint splatter effect, and a curly Art Nouveau-esque font. Available from sendelica.bandcamp.com or www.vincebuseruptum.it
PARADOX ONE This Fragile Peace CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Paradox One started out as the solo project of Phil Jackson, releasing four albums via the Neurosis label. Nowadays the project is a vehicle for Phil's collaborations with other musicians, and on the latest album This Fragile Peace, he has joined up with members of the Stone Premonitions collective, namely Tim Jones and Paddi of Census of Hallucinations, Neon, Body Full of Stars, and The Rabbit's Hat, and John Simms and Maxine Marten of Clear Blue Sky and Census of Hallucinations. This is an album of atmospheric prog rock with experimental aspects. The music blends heavy and ethereal elements, juxtaposing crunching metal riffage with Maxine's soaring vocals in tracks like Wheat in the Fields, and quite often the music will shift moods and themes in the manner of a dream. In Ethereal Soldier part 1, delicate, intricate, folk-tinged guitar is combined with Maxine's atmospheric vocals, while Ethereal Soldier part 3 incorporates a relaxing electronic hum and atmospheric effects. All the Way is heavy proggy blues-rock, featuring jazzy electric piano and spacey ethereal moments. There's a very lovely segment in this track in which Maxine's heavily reverbed 'choir of angels' vocal style appears alongside neoclassical piano and experimental sound manipulation. This Fragile Peace introduces elements of raw country rock and narrated vocals alongside aspects of prog, blues and experimental music. The Unknown Unknowns is a great melodic and powerful proggy spacerock piece. I'm new to Paradox One so am unsure how this album compares with previous offerings, but it's clear that the members of Clear Blue Sky and Census of Hallucinations have left their stamp on the music here, which makes this album well worth checking out if you enjoy the music of those bands. Available from www.stonepremonitionswebshop.com, with more info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
THE SEVENTH RING OF SATURN Ormythology CD (Nusrat)
This second album from The Seventh Ring of Saturn is nicely packaged in a hand stamped hard card sleeve with butterfly art and a curly font that's very much in tune with my own sense of visual aesthetics. Based in Atlanta, GA, The Seventh Ring of Saturn's brand of psych-rock cohesively brings together a variety of influences with an international focus. The album features two original compositions written by the band's vocalist/guitarist Ted Selke; Burning a Hole is brilliant ultra-melodic psych-rock with garage and spacerock touches, and even a guitar solo that owes a fair bit to Grieg! A really uplifting song. Time To Fly combines a pop tune and vocal harmonies with a garage punk chug and a raw variety of psych-rock with an authentic retro vibe. The remainder of the album is made up of cover versions, most of which I would think would be obscure to the majority of music fans in English-speaking countries. Whilst these tracks are drawn from diverse sources, The Seventh Ring of Saturn put their own stamp on them, making them all sound like their own material. There are several instrumental tracks derived from Turkish and Greek songs, in which Middle Eastern and Mediterranean melodies are adapted into psych-rock arrangements with a raw garage edge, further augmented by the spacey whoosh of analogue synth. Spaceman is a wild psych-rock track originally by Danish band Hurdy Gurdy, whilst Faces, originally by TC Atlantic, sets a trad folk style melody to a mix of garage, psych-rock, spacerock, and Middle Eastern influences. I'm especially impressed by Ted Selke's own compositions and am very keen to hear more songs written by him, although the whole album is really great - powerful, genuine music, strong tunes, it's all here. Available from www.tsros.com
TIME MOTH EYE AND THE SPECTRAL LIGHT Grave Needs double CDR (Lost Grave/Crucial Blaze)
Collaborative project between Time Moth Eye (aka Timothy) and Sarada of Stone Breath, Neddal Ayad of The Goslings, Floating World, etc, Grey Malkin of The Hare and the Moon, and others. The CDs are part of a complete artistic package which also comprises a lyric booklet full of Timothy's intricate black and white artwork depicting images from wild nature, and things that are dark, surreal and gruesome yet strangely beautiful. Also included is an iron-on patch featuring the humanoid skeletal crow from the booklet cover. Grave Need is cold, blackened folk accompanied by harp and the subtle drone of a finger running around the edge of a wine glass. Poppit has a Middle Eastern feel, featuring instruments such as tamboura lyre and dumbek. A Mirror for Death introduces vocalist Jo Cosgrove; the song itself recalls traditional English folk songs, whilst banjo lends an Appalachian feel to the arrangement. A Dead Calling sets Sarada's vocals to eerie, hypnotic accompaniment that needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. Up-Hill is a mournful, Middle Eastern-inspired musical adaptation of a Christina Rossetti poem. The traditional song Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier is sung by Sarada and accompanied by ringing harp, haunted, otherworldly whistle, and military drums befitting the song's subject matter. Thisisnota Raga is an improvised instrumental in which Timothy manages to make a banjo sound Turkish or perhaps Greek, whilst a pulsating drone thrums away to produce a hypnotic listening experience. This is an album of bleak, arcane folk music with its roots in the depths of history. The songs are emotionally involving and demand the listener's complete attention. As much care, and indeed as much talent, has gone into the visual presentation as the music itself, which is something I always appreciate. Available at www.darkhollerarts.com
THE HARE AND THE MOON Wood Witch CDR (Reverb Worship)
The first, and I believe also the second, very limited editions of this latest album by The Hare and the Moon sold out pretty much immediately, but a new edition with different packaging is now available. Here the founder members are joined by nine guest musicians including Amanda Votta (Amanda Votta and the Spectral Light, The Floating World) and Tony Wakeford (Sol Invictus). This 16 track album comprises new interpretations of traditional folk songs, alongside musical adaptations of poems by John Masefield and William Blake, and a hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of the songs will be very familiar to anyone following the trad folk scene for any length of time, as they have been performed by various major folk artists in the past - Reynardine, The Wife of Usher's Well, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, Down By the Greenwood Side, The Cruel Mother - but The Hare and the Moon's interpretation of these songs is far from standard folk fare, adding a dark, eerie, sinister edge to the songs, which is arguably a more fitting match for the often violent and/or supernatural subject matter of traditional folk ballads than the kind of arrangements folkies may be more used to.
The Hare and the Moon combine folk with evocative and at times bombastic arrangements inspired by classical music and horror movie soundtracks. The vocals are swathed in echoey effects, giving the feel of being recorded in a cathedral, or perhaps more appropriately, a secret cave used to host arcane rituals. Ethnic percussion, doom laden rock guitar, and spoken word samples are employed on occasions to give extra texture and atmosphere to the songs. The Bard of Eve is a superb medieval-inspired song; Reynardine is dark ambient infused with minimalistic 20th century classical music; Cruel Henry is a murder ballad set to a chilling arrangement based around church organ and violin; and O Death combines eerie drones and chimes, sombre church bells, militaristic drumming, and a guitar part best described as 'gothic prog'. Available via www.reverbworship.com
CARLOS FORSTER Disasters CD (Acuarela)
New solo album from Carlos Forster, formerly of For Stars, and collaborator with M. Ward. The album was recorded in Carlos' basement, and features guest appearances from ten additional musicians including Tim Mooney (ex-American Music Club/Toiling Midgets), Mike Coykendall (of M. Ward's band), Bill Swan (of Beulah) and John Murry. You'll Survive is slow hushed songwriting with dreamlike ethereal accompaniment, including some atmospheric use of brass. Child on a Train features fractured experimental soundscaping giving way to a bright, sunny pop song accompanied by a woozy shoegaze arrangement. Books is a lo-fi take on the 1960s folky singer-songwriter sound. Disasters is dreampop with an off-centre, beat-driven approach. Marco combines aspects of US folk with shimmering atmospheric effects. There are also two cover versions here: Wire's Outdoor Miner is creatively arranged with shades of ambient, electronica, neoclassical and psychedelia, whilst Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, originally by The Flaming Lips, is a minimal, piano-based piece that manages to achieve an airy, floaty feel even in the absence of a dreampop-esque wall of sound. This is an inventive, artistic album, combining such disparate elements as dreampop, folk, and experimental music to maximum effect. Available at www.acuareladiscos.com
TIM LEE Headspace CD (self-released)
Tim Lee is a singer, songwriter and musician from Cheshire, who is accompanied here by a selection of guest musicians including Jonathan Tarplee, whose own album I reviewed earlier this issue. The album comprises a diverse yet cohesive set of styles and moods from across the singer-songwriter spectrum. Being You is a delicate acoustic piece interlaced with evocative string parts. Seven Lies that You Believe About Yourself is a punchy number that shows acoustic music can have bite. There's a strong tune, including a very catchy chorus, and intelligent lyrics addressed to someone who habitually puts themselves down but is selling themselves short. I like this track a lot. The Source is a touching confessional song about the transformative power of music. Little Tests introduces electric instruments for a melodic rock/powerpop sound. Masquerade is a folky track incorporating mandolin, violin and djembe. Lonely Boy isn't indiepop per se, more of a singer-songwriter thing, but it shares the subdued melancholy and jangly guitar sound of indiepop that makes that genre so important to many including myself. Tim Lee is a talented artist, and I will be keeping an eye out for more from him in future. A download version of Headspace is available at timlee.bandcamp.com. There is also a professionally duplicated CD available; contact Tim for ordering details via the 'contact' link on his Bandcamp page.
THE MOON BAND s/t CD (Wisdom Twins)
Superb debut album from Canadian psych-folk duo comprising Nicholas Tomlinson and Renée Forrester, released on Chris Wade of Dodson and Fogg's Wisdom Twins label. Comin' Back Babe is like a more stripped-down version of 60s Californian folk-rock, whilst ethereal recorder, flute and autoharp add tinges of otherworldly psych-folk to various other tracks across the album. Lazarus is a raw, country-ish traditional song, ornamented with sitar and recorder for a psychedelic effect, whilst bouzouki lends a Greek feel to the arrangement of Old Friend. The album truly sounds like a lost classic album from the late 60s or early 70s, and has the cover art to match. Renée's vocal style is spot on for vintage-style folk, the high pitch providing a delicacy to her singing and the vibrato providing strength. They've really captured the vibe of the era, with various songs recalling the likes of Trees, Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, The Incredible String Band, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, and a more recent reference, Espers. It's important to stress that while less talented artists shamelessly copy their influences, those with true creativity are able to capture the spirit of a sound without coming across as blatantly derivative, and The Moon Band undoubtedly fall into the second category. I heartily recommend this album to all aficionados of classic psych-folk, folk-rock or singer-songwriter music; it really is up there with the greats. Available from wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com
DODSON AND FOGG Warning Signs CD (Wisdom Twins)
Dodson and Fogg is the brainchild of prolific songwriter Chris Wade. This is the project's eighth album in three years, but this high volume of releases is not to be seen as a lack of quality control; rather that Chris Wade is an artist who is brimming with creativity, and frequently and consistently comes up with masses of top-notch material.
See the Warning Signs is classic laid-back rock with folk and prog tinges. You've Got to Move On is a great mandolin-led folky track with an authentic vintage vibe. Things get heavier with Following the Man, an ode to freethinking set to a mix of raw garage chug, retro organ, and searing heavy rock guitar soloing. Everything Changes is a fine slice of psych-folk-rock featuring sitar courtesy of regular guest on Dodson and Fogg recordings, Ricky Romain. The Woman who Roamed is sophisticated piano-based retro pop featuring the effective addition of trumpet from Nick Jolly. Give It A Little More Time is a bluesy rock number with more of that intense guitar work that shows Chris Wade is surely one of the most talented guitarists around today. Your Work is Through begins as an off-centre psych-folk instrumental with proggy vintage synth, before melting into a flowing, laid-back psych-folk-rock song. This multi-part piece has plenty of musical variety and is a nicely experimental end to the album.
Chris Wade is still fairly young - all his albums were recorded while he was in his twenties - though his music has a maturity and proficiency to rival that of much more established artists. You get a real sense that he is fully steeped in classic rock, pop and folk. Dodson and Fogg's past albums have been lauded by various niche magazines and websites, but it's about time that people from beyond the underground started to take notice of this band. Available from wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com
YEAH YEAH NOH Automatically Saturday CD (Vuggum)
Some thirty years after their debut album Cutting the Heavenly Lawn of Greatness, Yeah Yeah Noh return with a brand new album! This band always were eclectic, their 1980s material spanning angular post-punk, off-kilter pop, psychedelia, and surf. Now they expand their sound even more with the addition of electronic instrumentation and further explorations of various genres across the pop spectrum and beyond. The willingness to experiment musically, familiar from Yeah Yeah Noh's earlier recordings, is still present, though overall their sound has evolved into a whole other animal. If you're expecting something lo-fi, raw and angular, you will be very surprised!
Let's Start a War combines a 1980s indie pop sound with sparkling electronics, a really strong catchy song bringing the classic and the modern together in an inventive manner. Automatically Saturday brings in Middle Eastern-tinged melodies, bubbling shimmering retro synths, and forceful noisy guitar for another fantastic innovative pop song. She Pulls the Petal from the Flower nods towards 1960s soul whilst having a firm basis in bright and sunny pop. Shooting from the Hip sets saucy innuendos to a fizzy synthpop arrangement. On the Queen's Highway is bleak post-punk accented by futuristic electronics. The Second House from the Corner revisits their 1980s classic Another Side to Mrs Quill (which appeared in Mojo magazine's Greatest Ever English Singles list in 2006), revamping it with dancey electronic beats, rumbling noise and glacial atmospheric soundscaping. Up on the Downs is a fantastic slice of slightly off-centre, super-melodic indie pop, and I would imagine must be the only song in existence to include the word 'labradoodle'.
This is a superb album with a primary focus on catchy, feel-good pop with a healthy dollop of innovation. Keep updated on Yeah Yeah Noh at their Facebook page.
SOLITUDE RAVENCROW The Wanderer Between Worlds CDR (Reverb Worship)
Limited edition album from this German band who specialise in an evocative brand of music that spans dark folk, experimentation, chilling music akin to horror movie soundtracks, shamanistic chanting, and beyond, combining bleak melodies with atmospheric, mood-altering arrangements. There are female vocals, deep gothic male vocals, and an assortment of instruments including but not limited to 12 string guitar, Irish bouzouki, accordion, keyboards, violin, cello and Jew's harp. The band are inspired by shamanic and occult themes, as well as creating songs of deep melancholy such as Caged in Minds. There are ominous, horror movie-esque pieces such as Driven Between the Worlds, Apocalyptic Angels, and the nightmarish Pact with the Devil. Another side to the band is represented by tracks like Sadness, which uses ethereal drones and wordless vocals to create a sombre yet strangely comforting mood. Waves of Destruction is a dark folk track, with possibly the bleakest use of accordion you'll ever hear. Shaman Spirit ventures deep into wild nature with its howling wolves and cawing ravens; the piece recalls Dead Can Dance with its atmospheric vocalisations and world music influences. Rite from the Ghost World is an eldritch experimental piece incorporating arcane chanting and spacious echoey effects. This album is not goth in the sense of early 1980s post-punk or mid 1980s gothic rock, but the music shares a definite gothic aesthetic, finding beauty concealed within decay and despair, and exploring hidden realms off-limits to most. Available from www.reverbworship.com
THE CONSPIRACY unreleased tracks CDR
Long-running, eclectic band The Conspiracy, a familiar name in the underground since the late 1980s, have been working on new material over the past year or so and aim to have an album's worth of new tracks recorded by late 2015. Starting out in the DIY cassette scene, they later became labelmates of artists like Andy Partridge (appearing with the band Yazbek), Martin Newell, and Captain Sensible, on the Jarmusic and Pink Lemon labels. They are currently seeking a label for their forthcoming album. I reviewed some of their new material in last issue's singles section, and now Duncan from the band has sent along another installment. The tracks here emphasise the melodic, guitar-based side of The Conspiracy, the songs straddling the boundaries between indie pop, psych, and vintage melodic rock. The Conspiracy have never been a band to stick to one style, so you also get tracks that come from a punk or electronic angle.
The Book and the Spine is a bouncy track with spoken verses and a catchy melodic chorus, combining the meatier end of indie pop with a retro rock touch. 2015 adds psych and prog elements to a song with a basis in jangly pop, excellent stuff. Locust Rain is one of The Conspiracy's punkier tracks, with jagged guitars and ranty vocals. The Pulpit is jangly pop with a slightly dark and off-centre edge, recalling the proto-indiepop sound that emerged during the post-punk era. Crow #2 is a great melodic song with inventive use of eerie psychedelic effects and background noises. We Dance is a dark and heavy take on electronic dance music. Black Pebble (Dream) stays with the electronic instrumentation but opts for a more atmospheric, laid-back sound with spoken lyrics taking the form of a guided visualisation.
The diverse nature of The Conspiracy's music makes them a tough band to pigeonhole. Most labels, even underground labels that emphasise music as more important than profit, seem to avoid bands that genre-hop to such an extent that they are impossible to market to a specific audience, but I'd like to think that The Conspiracy's indie/psych material at least will find a home on some label somewhere; this stuff is seriously good and deserves to be heard. Contact The Conspiracy via their Facebook page.
EVENING FIRES Where I've Been is Places and What I've Seen is Things LP (Sunrise Ocean Bender)
EVENING FIRES Incredible Adventures CD (Deep Water Acres)
Evening Fires release their two new albums simultaneously, the first as a limited edition black or gold vinyl LP or download on Sunrise Ocean Bender, and the second, comprising material from the same sessions that was not included on the LP for reasons of space, as a CD on their own label Deep Water Acres. Evening Fires play an inventive brand of instrumental music, which Sunrise Ocean Bender have described as "old-time rural acid rock" and "Appalachian space rock".
Where I've Been is Places... begins with Roll Away the Stones, in which a folky melody is ornamented by experimental sound effects and atmospheric psych guitar. We Cast Our Lots with the Waves is a woozy, dreamlike piece combining what could be a heavily processed accordion, harmonium, or woodwind instrument with retro-futuristic synths and experimental ambient music. Staring Down the Gullet of the Great Beyond part 1 is chilled-out yet intense spacerock with an improvisational quality. Space Mountain is an experimental piece combining spacey whooshes and bleeps with a disorienting, off-kilter atmosphere. Too Many Ravens, Not Enough Corpses is based around a plaintive violin melody, part folk, part neoclassical, set to a harshly atmospheric noisescape.
Incredible Adventures comprises four long tracks. Big Farmer Big Jesus combines post-rock with woozy psychedelic aspects and folky inclinations. There Is No Going Without Returning is a hazy, dreamlike piece bringing together elements of ambient, spacerock, and experimental sound sculpture. Unaussprechlichen Kulten is an experimental piece blending ambient music with harsh rumbling noise and found sounds. Staring Down the Gullet of the Great Beyond part 3 is melodic improvisational psych-rock with spacey touches, which manages to be simultaneously laid-back and forceful.
For more info visit www.sunriseoceanbender.com and www.dwacres.com
ANDY B FEATURING SCOTT MORRISON & ISHY Magic Numbers CD (Pastime)
Fifth album from Andy B (also of National Pastime, Falling Trees, and The Thought Clouds), who is joined here by Scott Morrison (National Pastime, ex-Morrisons) and Ishy (The Real Ish Band) on backing vocals, and Andy Ward on drums. The album includes all four tracks from the recent taster EP Another Rainy Day (reviewed in this issue's singles section), plus eight more new songs. Andy B's music is in the spirit of 1980s indiepop, with The Television Personalities, early Primal Scream, The Smiths, Sarah Records, and the C86 scene being named among his influences.
The Girl with the Long Brown Hair part one is bittersweet retro indiepop, adding piano for a sophisticated touch. State of Mind is indiepop with rather a dark, on-edge mood, Ishy's super-melodic harmony vocals being employed to maximum effect. Do It Your Own Way combines subdued acoustic guitar, forceful yet melodic electric guitar, and atmospheric synth as backdrop for this celebration of individuality in the face of peer or media pressure: "Do it your own way/It doesn't matter what they say". Girl with the Long Brown Hair part two is the same song as part one, but a different recording, this version having a cheerier feel with its faster tempo. Your Clown features harmony vocals from Scott and Andy, whose vocal styles are very different from each other but work really well together. All in all, an honest and genuine indiepop album with a strong sense of melancholy and a clear appreciation of the genre's history.
Four more songs from Magic Numbers have also been excerpted for a second taster EP comprising We Can't Make It Work, This Is Our Time, State of Mind, and Girl with the Long Brown Hair part one. CDs are available from pastimerecords.webs.com. The music can also be downloaded at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
PRANA CRAFTER s/t CD (Reverb Worship)
Prana Crafter is the recording name of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist William Sol, who makes a uniquely American form of psych-folk with additional influences from rock and blues. Crown of Amethyst is laid-back US folk-rock with a hazy psychedelic atmosphere, including the effective addition of tinkling chime-like keyboard, which adds a mystical feeling to the song. Prana Crafter's Abode begins as a delicate psych-folk instrumental, before morphing into a heavier psych-rock piece with intense guitar work, then back to a gentle, dreamlike mood. Hearts in Trances is hushed Americana with fractured vocals. The Prajna Pines is a meandering and intricate psychedelic blues instrumental. To the River of Light wraps a raw bluesy song in shimmering psychedelic electronics. Descending the Jagged Mountain is an instrumental blend of prog-folk and heavy blues-rock, bookended by ethereal drones and chimes. Limited to just 50 copies, so get your orders in quick at www.reverbworship.com
DR COSMO'S TAPE LAB Beyond the Silver Sea LP (Sugarbush)
Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab is a Glasgow psych-pop project founded by Joe Kane (of The Owsley Sunshine and Beatles tribute band Them Beatles) and Stuart Kidd (BMX Bandits, The Wellgreen). This is a sci-fi concept album described in big purple letters on the back of the sleeve as "An epic journey across time and space in search of love, freedom, and the best pie, mash and liquor in the omnireality". The album is vinyl-only and limited to just 250 copies on grey vinyl, a sort of clay colour which looks great!
City and the Stars is ultra-tuneful pop with an uplifting melody and vocal harmonies and a strong 60s influence. In Lieu of Something Better is powerpop along similar lines to BMX Bandits or Teenage Fanclub. The Mirrors Reflection is sophisticated pop balladry with an expansive, psychedelic atmosphere, featuring string section and tinkling glockenspiel. Face of Another is a bouncy retro song with rock 'n' roll aspects and lyrics about face transplants. Time Enough for Love is light and airy sunshine pop with a bossa nova rhythm. Pie, Mash and Liquor is a quirky mix of Chas 'n' Dave style Cockney knees-up, reggae and psych-rock. Dr Chester's Pleasure is 60s mod meets swirly psychedelia. The Long Sleep is pure pop ornamented by shimmering atmospherics. Space Dream is a fine slice of floaty harmony pop.
The songs are punctuated by eccentric narrations set to music, telling the story of a man called Max who works at a 'sense factory', who is also the subject of the songs. The narrator is Adam Smith, who is also responsible for the surreal psychedelic artwork. This is a brilliant album, really tuneful and full of creative ideas. Sugarbush Records is a label that can be relied upon to release top quality vintage-inspired pop, and this latest release of theirs is no exception. Get it before it sells out! www.sugarbushrecords.com
BEYOND FROM WITHIN s/t (self-released CDR, or download from Detour Records)
Beyond from Within is the brainchild of songwriter/guitarist Steve Andrews, not to be confused with the Steve Andrews who was well known in the 1990s hometaping scene and has since recorded as The Bard of Ely. This Steve Andrews, of Beyond from Within, is based in Pittsburgh, PA, and is joined here by bassist Dino Pandolfo and drummer Nick Spagnolo. Beyond from Within have a vintage-inspired sound which takes two main forms, a psych/garage side represented by tracks like Love Whispers to be Free and Today, Today, and a folk-influenced side as heard on tracks like Seven Strangers (psych-pop with a folky melody), Free of Freedom (gentle psych-folk meets swirly 60s pop), and Eyewitness the Eyes of Love (a 60s folk-rock song, reminiscent of The Byrds). They also successfully combine both styles in Sidewalk Song, which starts off as a delicate acoustic song lightly ornamented with retro organ, before bursting into a blast of psych-rock intensity. Also don't miss Soul Traveler, a superb example of psychedelic folk-rock, intense yet melodic, with strong vocals and a chorus that's near-impossible to prise from the brain. Well worth investigating - visit www.beyondfromwithin.com; download available at www.detourrecords.co.uk
THE BEVIS FROND Bevis Through the Looking Glass CD/LP (Cherry Red)
Welcome reissue of this long out of print album, originally released as a limited edition double LP on Woronzow Records in 1987. The CD comes with a 12 page booklet including background information on the album and a reproduction of the spoof rare record catalogue that came with the original, which had me laughing out loud on several occasions. This is a home-recorded album, with all instruments being played by founder member Nick Saloman. The album is comprised of songs left off the previous two albums which Nick felt were too good to leave unheard; there is also a song called Alistair Jones, written and recorded in 1967 when Nick was just 14.
1970 Home Improvements is a squalling, heavy, improvisational psych-rock instrumental. Now You Know is powerpop with US-style folk-rock inclinations and psychedelic guitar work. The Shrine is an extended piece based largely on laid-back psych-rock with dark undercurrents, incorporating meandering and intense instrumental interludes and impassioned vocals - really moving stuff. Rat in a Waistcoat is blisteringly heavy rock with off the wall lyrics. In Another Year is stripped down, melancholic and melodic songcraft, a very lovely piece. Express Man is a fuzzed-out blues-rock track originally by Groundhogs. Mudman combines folky and Renaissance-era melodies with intense psych-rock. I Can't Get Into Your Scene is garage rock with a wry lyrical wit. Die Is Cast is raw bluesy rock with fierce noise guitars and distorted vocals. Alistair Jones, a rare snapshot of Nick's early songwriting, is lo-fi acoustic psych-pop with an apparent Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd influence.
The album is packed with great tracks, too good to be outtakes, making this far more than just an artefact for hardcore Bevis Frond completists only. Available at www.cherryred.co.uk
PALACE OF SWORDS La Belle Époque (2010-2014) cassette (Reverb Worship)
Limited edition cassette-only album comprising tracks from the long sold out 3" CD EPs Palace of Swords and Palace of Swords II, plus new material. The cassette is a work of art in itself, a clear plastic tape filled with silver glitter, and gold card inserts with a metallic lustre effect. Palace of Swords' music can be largely summed up as minimalistic electronic music incorporating hypnotic repetition, pulsating rhythms and atmospheric effects, but with enough creative originality to make every track sound different. Band founder Peter Lyon's love of 1980s and early 90s indie music also has an impact on the sound, bringing in aspects reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain, shoegaze bands, and post-rock. The White Goddess combines a melodic guitar instrumental with an ethereal spacey whoosh for an overall sound best described as post-rock meets shoegaze, whilst The Black Lodge Will Rise Again brings together squalling feedback and a mesmeric repetitive chug. Palace of Swords are responsible for some of the most enjoyable electronic music I've heard in a long while, and I also appreciate how the band are able to take cues from vintage indie music yet turn it into something new. The tape is limited to just 40 copies, with only a few remaining. Available from www.reverbworship.com, or the Reverb Worship ebay shop.
ERIK HOKKANEN & LUMISUDET Cool Things CD (Happy Wolf)
Finnish-American musician Erik Hokkanen joins up with Lumisudet ('Snow Wolves'), a band comprising three important names from the world of Finnish folk music - Arto Järvelä (JPP, Aldargaz, Nordik Tree, Helsinki Mandoliners, solo work, etc), Petri Hakala (Helsinki Mandoliners, Värttinä, Aldargaz, etc), and Tapani Varis (Aldargaz, Värttinä, Helsinki Mandoliners, also known for his solo album of jaw harp music). The album also features a number of guest musicians including Timo Alakotila and Mauno Järvelä of JPP, Maria Kalaniemi, Kimmo Pohjonen, and others. Despite the personnel involved with this album, Finnish folk is not a major influence on the music. A number of tracks draw heavily from jazz, swing in particular, bringing to mind artists like Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Elsewhere, the band explore bluegrass in the traditional piece Old Joe Clark and the brilliant song Wind Would Come and Blow, written by Erik Hokkanen. Zemer Atik is a traditional Israeli dance, whilst Water Song is laid-back American folky songwriting, and Lookin' For Lännen Jukka is an impassioned blues piece with fiddle and jaw harp lending a bluegrass feel to the arrangement. It's an eclectic selection of styles, but all held together by an old-timey feel and a positive, uplifting mood. More information at www.facebook.com/lumisudet
CARY GRACE Tygerland CD (Door 13 Music)
Cary Grace is a multi-talented artist who manufactures modular synthesisers via her company Wessex Analogue in addition to making an eclectic combination of psychedelic, progressive, electronic, and inventive pop music. Her latest album Tygerland is a collaboration with Steffe Sharpstrings (Planet Gong, Here & Now), John Garden (Scissor Sisters, Alison Moyet), Graham Clark (Gong), and Spencer Cullum Jr (Deadstring Brothers, Steelism). The title track is experimental spacey electronica. Cyanide is heavy, dark-edged rock with psych and prog elements and a classic vintage feel. Orange Sky is sophisticated pop with vintage synth and atmospheric echoey vocals. War Child is impassioned, bluesy retro rock. Limelight is a well-crafted synthesis of jazz, intelligent pop, prog, and atmospheric electronic music. Razorwire combines jangly guitar, ethereal effects, and the cosmic whirr of a vintage synth as backdrop for a pop song likely to appeal just as much to fans of classic indiepop and dreampop as those into psychedelic music. Into the Indigo is sophisticated, laid-back pop with a dreamlike, ethereal atmosphere, incorporating violin and slide guitar. Windsong is an extended piece just over 20 minutes in length, bringing together elements of spacerock, prog, spoken word, ambient, heavy rock, and evocative experimental music. This is an open-minded, intelligent, and highly enjoyable album from an artist I'm keen to hear more from. Available as of 13th July 2015 as a limited edition CD in a handmade gatefold sleeve, from www.carygrace.com, and download from most digital music outlets.
VARIOUS Side Effects 4 LP box set (Fruits de Mer)
Box set of 4 LPs featuring side-long cover versions of 1960s and 70s tracks by current psych and prog bands. The first LP, Sidetracks, features The Soft Bombs, whose version of Pink Floyd's Echoes takes in spacerock, ambient, prog, psych, funk-rock, and film soundtrack-esque music, and Arcade Messiah with a superb, innovative version of Aphrodite's Child's Four Horsemen, extended to almost 19 minutes in length and incorporating chiming folk-tinged sections, psych rock, floaty ambient music, electronically processed vocals, and even the sort of heavy riffage and fast drumming associated with metal.
Next up, Sideways, starting with The Bevis Frond's version of China by Electric Sandwich. An edited version of this previously appeared on Fruits de Mer's Head Music compilation, but now you can hear it in its complete form, almost 24 minutes long. Flowing guitar work with an often fierce intensity is combined with spacey atmospheric rumblings and a mesmerically repetitive bassline. Wreaths cover Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot, an effective synthesis of powerpop-ish melody, chugging rhythm, mellow psych rock, and washes of atmospheric effects akin to shoegaze.
On Sideshows, Superfjord reinvent The Byrds' CTA-102 as a mix of powerpop, spacerock and prog, the first part of the track being particularly bizarre and experimental. The whole thing sounds great and has made me keen to hear more from Superfjord. Then it's Yes' Starship Trooper covered by The Luck of Eden Hall, who incorporate some raw, fuzzy, psychedelic wildness into their version alongside the convoluted prog nature of the original. Incidentally, The Luck of Eden Hall's Gregory Curvey provides the artwork for the box set and individual LP sleeves, which also has a touch of Yes about it, especially in the choice of font.
The final LP of the set is Sidesteps, in which Julie's Haircut and Sendelica tackle a couple of tracks that you might not expect to hear on Fruits de Mer, yet which work well with the overall theme of the compilation. Julie's Haircut cover Miles Davis' Shhh/Peaceful; yes, it's jazz, but its mellow, flowing, hypnotic nature sounds equally psychedelic. Sendelica transform Donna Summer's I Feel Love into a sprawling 21 minute genre-transcending masterpiece. The first five minutes or so is an essentially experimental piece bringing together ambient, spacerock, chilled-out jazz, chimes, and electronic bleeps and whirrs, then you get what I can only describe as 'space-disco', the main melody appearing as a flowing sax tune over a driving synth bassline recognisable from the original, all this being ornamented by bubbling spacey vintage synth and psychedelic guitar work, before returning to the ambient/experimental style the piece began as. Fantastic stuff!
The box set will be available as of 21st August 2015 for £40 from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
ZX+ Don't Drink the Water CD (Play & Record)
ZX+ is the musical project of Stephen Evans, also featuring backing vocalist Mary Joanna Coogan and drummer Mark Coupe on selected tracks. The album spans the gamut of underground pop, with the ultra-melodic powerpop of The Crazies, the bouncy, quirky psych-pop of Kurtz, the introspective DIY pop of Something Real, and the spiky, punky pop of Mud and Rubble, as well as a number of tracks that bypass genre boundaries altogether, such as The Desert, which combines bleak, melancholic songwriting with a fierce noise onslaught and a country-ish twang, and The Raven, in which urgent punkiness is mixed with folky and spacey tinges. This creative, enjoyable album will be available to purchase 20th August 2015 as a CD or download. Find out more at www.facebook.com/zedexplus
BEAUTIFY JUNKYARDS The Beast Shouted Love CD (Mega Dodo)
Moving on from their early days as a covers band putting their own spin on assorted vintage tracks, Beautify Junkyards' second album The Beast Shouted Love comprises 11 new tracks composed by the band themselves. The album has a basis in gentle, ethereal folk-pop with a psychedelic atmosphere, but rather than producing a self-conscious replica of the 1960s/70s psych-folk sound, Beautify Junkyards have an original, creative approach which incorporates electronic beats, vintage synths, and experimental effects for an unusual and effective touch. Songs like Rainbow Garland and Sun Wheel Ceremony typify the band's penchant for beautiful, positive, nature-based lyrics which conjure up a vivid picture in the mind. Lake is a slightly eerie yet very lovely folk song ornamented with vintage synth. Rite of Passage is a spacey, folky, soundtracky instrumental. Valley of Wonders is dreamlike pop, sophisticatedly arranged, with fantastical lyrics. Ending the album is an untitled instrumental which is a prime slice of psychedelic electronica. Across the album there are shades of psych-folk, sunshine pop, vintage electronica, and bands like Broadcast and Pram, but on the whole Beautify Junkyards can't really be compared to other bands or even specific genres, as their sound is uniquely theirs. I wholeheartedly recommend this album! Released 14th September 2015 on CD or 180 gram LP; available from www.mega-dodo.co.uk
ROOT DECO Dark City CD (self-released)
Following their 2012 album Crystal Pool, retro rock outfit Root Deco release their latest album, which is available on CD from CD Baby or Amazon, or download from over 95 digital distribution outlets. Raw, unpretentious and authentically vintage-inspired, Root Deco draw from late 60s US folk-rock, garage rock, and heavier 1970s rock, whilst also venturing into other areas such as the bluesy rock 'n' roll of Miss Avarice and the brooding - yet very catchy - 1980s-style alt-rock of Shallowman. Root Deco often use their lyrics to address issues of social injustice. God Help the Working Class is a hard-hitting political commentary on the lack of job security for working class people, set to a sort of Celtic-tinged heavy rock, while the vintage metal-inspired Dress for Success is a biting criticism of those who choose a life of bland conformity to further their ambitions. Find out more at www.rootdeco.com
PHILIP POLK PALMER Here in the Deadlights CD (Silber)
An album of dark, smoky, cinematic music somewhere between post-punk and intelligent, sophisticated pop. Better in the Books is a smouldering, atmospheric piece bringing together aspects of Wild West movie soundtrack, goth, shoegaze, and a fractured take on 1960s easy listening music. Apparition is largely instrumental, save for ghostly wordless vocals. It incorporates more of that twangy Wild West guitar, and sounds like incidental music from a bleak and eerie movie set in the 1950s. The Call is dark dreampop with a nod to the post-punk era, in which an on-edge urgency bubbles under the woozy surface. Seeing Stars is brooding, melancholic and atmospheric underground pop. An exceptional album from an artist I'm keen to hear more from. Available at www.silbermedia.com
M IS WE s/t CDR (Silber)
7 track mini-album from M Is We, the solo project of Michael Wood, also of The Wet Teens and Something About Vampires and Sluts. The CD is packaged in a homemade sleeve made from recycled card and handwritten photocopied labels, setting the scene for the kind of DIY music on offer here. Something's Burning is post-punk, in the angular understanding of the term rather than the proto-gothic sense, with ranty distorted vocals and choppy, stop-start noise guitars. Family Reunion is distorted lo-fi noisepop. Re-Knew is darkwave with an experimental edge, incorporating harsh, dark, angular and ethereal moments. Arts and Krafts is off-kilter DIY indie-rock with effective use of electronics. Make it Through the Clouds is hypnotically repetitive experimental indie-rock. Sinking is a kind of experimental shoegaze, featuring atmospheric effects that give an underwater feel to the sound. A fine homemade release, balancing a pop sensibility with raw, angular and experimental aspects. Available from www.silbermedia.com
THE INEXPERIENCED Too Inexperienced CD (Pink Hedgehog)
Second album from The Inexperienced, brainchild of Alex Meadows, formerly a member of major label signed band Electrasy, and who has since worked with Jamiroquai and Will Young, and currently plays bass with Tom Jones. You'd think an artist with such a mainstream background would be off-topic for Aquamarine, but The Inexperienced is a project that operates completely independently from Alex's mainstream work, the albums being released via underground label Pink Hedgehog, giving Alex the opportunity to explore sounds of a more alternative nature.
Something to Sing is the sort of powerpop that sounds totally at home on Pink Hedgehog. The song has hints of Teenage Fanclub, along with Pink Hedgehog in-house band Garfields Birthday. 528 Hz is prog-pop with soaring vocal harmonies, akin to The Lucky Bishops or Schnauser. Microwaving is sophisticated pop with a genre-hopping approach, with various stages of the song hinting at US folk-rock, spacey atmospheric synth music, and funk. No Yeah is old-school bluesy rock punctuated with bursts of triumphant brass. The Shorten Suite begins as a barbed critique of "dumbed down muppets" who think they're hip, and those who hang on the every word of such people, before launching into an uncompromising attack on McDonald's. Lyrically, and to some degree musically, it reminds me of something that could have come out of the Stone Premonitions collective. The album ends with Curl One Off, a creative instrumental that brings together hard-hitting retro rock, folky flute, a disco-funk beat, and spacey electronics.
Don't be put off by the fact that Alex Meadows has provided music for the likes of Tom Jones and Will Young. The music here may have the same level of accomplishment that you find in the mainstream, but there is far more genre-hopping than is the norm for commercial music, along with a refusal to kowtow to current trends, and a countercultural spirit that comes through most strongly in The Shorten Suite. Available from www.pinkhedgehog.com, as well as Bandcamp, Amazon and iTunes.
KATJE JANISCH West of Twilight CDR (Reverb Worship)
A very beautiful and highly creative album of folk-inspired music that defies straightforward categorisation. The Ancestors is ethereal experimental folk; The Dance incorporates medieval motifs; Neptune's Dream combines classical components with atmospheric folk-pop in a broadly similar way to the Russian band Caprice; The Yew Tree (Resurrection) is a meandering, ethereal revisioning of Appalachian folk with an additional hint of Nick Drake; and The Hunter and the Fairy is a flowing, ever-changing reinterpretation of the acoustic singer-songwriter style. The music has a mystical feel that is a perfect match for the mythological, pagan, occult and folkloric lyrical themes that pervade the album. The album is likely to appeal to fans of psych-folk and dark folk, though it can't be easily categorised as either as Katje Janisch has her own take on folk-inspired music. The initial inspirations for the songs may be concepts and musical forms that already existed, yet Katje has gone with those initial ideas and turned them into something pretty much unique. Her impressively wide vocal range also adds a distinctive feel to the songs. Find out more at katjejanisch.com and www.reverbworship.com
MARIO GRÖNNERT/MONDFISH In Two Seas (self-released)
Split album featuring two tracks by Mario Grönnert from Germany and three from Japanese band Mondfish. Mario Grönnert, formerly of experimental/prog band AERA, makes minimalistic ambient music based around electronic drones and subtle and delicate keyboard and piano melodies. The music is relaxing, evocative and film score-esque. ...and strange horizons is particularly beautiful, comprising meditative washes of sound and effective use of sampled wordless vocals adding extra layers of texture. These two pieces are complemented well by the Mondfish tracks, which are also ambient pieces incorporating drones and atmospheric use of piano. Euphoria adds to this an extra mind-expanding element akin to spacerock, but without the rock component, whilst Hidden Pieces combines delicate and dreamlike electronic soundscaping with an almost neoclassical aspect. This peaceful, ethereal album is available to download from mariogroennert.bandcamp.com
(NB: I am reviewing a promotional CDR copy due to my 'physical formats only' review policy, but the album is only available as a download at present).
SIMON FELTON Emotional Feedback CD (Pink Hedgehog)
This third solo album from Simon Felton of Garfields Birthday leaves behind the powerpop and psych-pop focus of previous albums in favour of a far more melancholic and introspective approach. The songs are performed almost entirely by Simon himself, aside from guest acoustic guitar on one track from Steve Wilson, and are mostly written by Simon except for a couple of contributions from his former Garfields Birthday bandmate James Laming, written a few years ago for a planned band called The Poor Claires, which never really got off the ground. The background to this album is that in an effort to put 2014 behind him, a year that was for some unspecified reason "a real stinker" for Simon, he made some computer-assisted tunes on his iPad, adding vocals and "real instruments for additional realness" to end up with the material we have here.
Audrey is very lovely folk-pop with a (computerised) orchestral arrangement, combined with elements of retro synthpop. Safe Bet sets self-deprecating lyrics ("I'm a loser, I'm a dead end") to a subdued synthpop arrangement, with nice use of vocal harmonies. Clouds is another beautiful folky pop piece augmented by piano, strings and 1980s-ish synth. Throw It All Away is melancholic indiepop with soaring vocal harmonies, piano, and acoustic guitar, the latter courtesy of Steve Wilson. Here is great jangly pop with a certain brightness masking the deep melancholy of the lyrics. This is a deeply moving and well-crafted set of songs that I recommend highly. Available on CD or free download from simonfelton.bandcamp.com. More info at www.pinkhedgehog.com
BLACK CHURCH Madeline Blue and Less You CDRs (Reverb Worship)
Black Church was the solo project of Kim Free aka Sunny Winters, which existed between 2008 and 2010, releasing a string of albums on various tape labels as well as Reverb Worship. Reverb Worship has begun reissuing Black Church's early works on CDR, with Madeline Blue and Less You being available at present. Madeline Blue is an album of atmospheric instrumentals combining electronica with the ethereal nature of dreampop and the darkness of goth. A number of the tracks come across like a more homemade, stripped down version of the sound associated with the Projekt label or vintage 4AD, whilst Remember Me Always has more of a film score feel with its synthesised orchestration, and Sunny Winters is instrumental dreampop adding a touch of meandering, slightly surreal psychedelia.
Less You introduces vocals, which add much to the music. Madeline Blue is a worthy debut for sure, but Less You represents a definite progression to Black Church's sound. It's essentially a dreampop album, but one with an idiosyncratic originality and willingness to incorporate aspects of other genres. Some Time is woozy dreampop. Yours to Miss is a beautiful ethereal song accompanied by gently pulsing electronic instrumentation. Complete Discreet is hushed, atmospheric pop with gently undulating electronic effects. Big Beat is light and airy pop with off-kilter electronic aspects. Skull Core is strummy DIY pop with a prettiness and summer sun vibe that's quite the opposite of its macabre title. Salvation Island is atmospheric and eerie with gothic inclinations. Tomorrow's Secrets Today is off-centre, surreal and dark. Again there is much here to appeal to fans of the classic Projekt/4AD ethereal sound, though Kim adds much to this style that is entirely her own. Available at www.reverbworship.com or the Reverb Worship ebay shop.
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