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

ALBUM REVIEWS

MARK AND THE CLOUDS Cumulus (Mega Dodo)
Following their 2014 debut album Blue Skies Opening, Mark and the Clouds return with the follow-up, Cumulus, which is available on 180 gram vinyl, CD, download, or limited edition double CD. The single CD and download include four bonus tracks not on the LP, while the double CD also includes a recording of Mark and the Clouds' 2014 appearance at Games for May. On Her Bike is an effective combination of 60s pop whimsy and intense powerpop and psych-rock. Road, Mud and Cold is mellow country-rock with nice use of brass. You're So Cold is retro rock with an authentically vintage feel. I'm Stopping Here is melancholic 60s-ish folk balladry. Baby, You're Just a Liar is raw and sleazy garage rock. The Lady Was a Freak is a hard-hitting track with a chugga-chugga rhythm, incorporating elements of powerpop and 60s rock. Take My Sky is sophisticated retro pop reminiscent of late-period Beatles. Evil Fairies is psych-folk with darkly fantastical lyrics. An impressive vintage style album, well worth checking out. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

THE BRAINIAC 5 Journey to X (Reckless)
Originally formed in the mid 1970s, The Brainiac 5 reformed in 2012, releasing the 10" EP Space is the Place a year later, followed by the retrospective album When Silence Was Sound, covering their output from 1977 to 1980, and then an album of new material, Exploding Universe, in 2015. They also appeared on Cherry Red's Another Splash of Colour box set of 1980s psychedelia. Now they return with their latest album Journey to X, its bizarre surrealist cover art featuring a shoe-shaped ship packed with Heath Robinson-esque wheels and pulleys, fishing rods, a giant nail, and a curved metal object that those familiar with Scandinavian archaeology will recognise as a Bronze Age lur.
Epic 12+ minute track The Human Scapegoat combines the dark and on-edge mood of post-punk, seriously heavy noise-rock riffage, African kalimba music, intense psych-rock, and lyrics drawn from ancient Mesopotamian poetry, the Old Norse Hávamál, and Sir James George Frazer's theories on sacrificial kings. Laura Riding is an ode to Robert Graves' muse, set to an angular mix of punk, smoky and sleazy jazz-blues, and psych-rock. At Noon is a jangly number somewhere between 1980s indie-pop and 1960s US folk-rock, with lyrics based on a poem by Elizabeth Jennings.
The World Inside introduces guest vocalist/lyricist Jessie Pie, the piece beginning as a laid-back blend of country, blues, jazz and psychedelia, before flying off at manic, improvisational noise-rock and psychedelic punk tangents. Some Things is punky psychedelic powerpop, harking back to The Brainiac 5's earlier sound, and also somewhat reminiscent of The Bevis Frond. Kill It is another long multi-part piece taking in punk rock 'n' roll, psychedelia both intense and hypnotic, and a few angular and experimental moments. A highly free-thinking album, taking bits of existing genres and transforming them into something new. Available on CD, LP or download; find out more at www.brainiac5.co.uk

JACK ELLISTER Roots Conference LP (Fruits de Mer/Friends of the Fish)
Jack Ellister's latest album, out on limited purple or black vinyl on Fruits de Mer's Friends of the Fish sublabel, is comprised entirely of cover versions. There's the stripped-down country of Yellow Roads (adapted from Jackson C. Frank's Yellow Walls) and the hushed psych-folk of Mark Fry's Song for Wilde, and there's the psych-pop tracks such as The Beatles' Dear Prudence with its effective use of church bell-like accompaniment, and The Open Mind's Magic Potion, an authentically 60s-sounding rendition with jangly and hazy moments. Steve Vai's Sisters isn't the heavy rock guitar pyrotechnics I thought it might have been based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the original artist's output, but a delicate, minimalistic piece with a slight jazzy touch. Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma is completely reinvented as bizarre spacey experimentation, while Flying, originally by The Fool, sounds like 1960s pop combined with late 80s/early 90s electronic dance music. Far from being a standard covers album, Jack Ellister brings much that is new and inventive into his interpretations of these songs. Find out more at www.jackellister.com and www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

RUTH'S REFRIGERATOR Suddenly a Disfigured Head Parachuted CD (Cordelia)
A welcome reissue of this long unavailable album by Ruth's Refrigerator, who included amongst them Ruth Miller (PO!, The Creams), Alan Jenkins (The Deep Freeze Mice, The Chrysanthemums, The Creams), Blodwyn P. Teabag (The Creams), and Robyn Gibson (The Ammonites, The Creams, Immediate, and now The Junipers). She Lies in State is brilliant jangly indiepop written by Ruth, a must for PO! fans. Alan's Refrigerator is an instrumental piece with a surfy twang. Picasso's Problem is DIY pop with a punky chug. Mind the Paprika, Joe is quirky underground pop with a guest appearance from The Deep Freeze Mice's Sherree Lawrence on organ. Robyn Hitchcock's Innocent Boy is performed in indiepop style. Hello Anne of Green Poplars is off-kilter pop-rock with a surreal sense of humour. The album proper ends with Fish in the Air/Birds in the Sea, an epic 10+ minutes of quirky psych-pop with experimental elements. This extended reissue also includes six extra tracks: a couple of instrumentals with a distinct absurdist streak are followed by alternative versions of two album tracks (Hello Anne and The Red Queen), the spiky post-punk of I Am Big Chief Radio Luxembourg, and a cover of The Zombies' She's Not There. An important album that bridges the gap between indiepop and the more eccentric sounds of Alan Jenkins' other bands. Find out more at www.cordeliarecords.co.uk

ANDY B Coming Home CDR (Pastime)
Home recorded album by indiepop songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy B (also of The Thought Clouds and National Pastime), featuring tracks that also appeared on his recent batch of EPs alongside some songs that are exclusive to this album. The melancholic, world-weary indiepop Andy B is most known for is represented here in songs like Your Chance Has Come and Gone and The Waiting Game, but this album also reveals the noisier side of Andy's output. There's the rollicking, fuzzy noisepop of Still Cold Outside, the noisy powerpop of In the Firing Line, and the chug-along punk-pop with a melancholic edge that is Messengers Passing Through. Falling to the Ground is dark noisepop which laments the degeneration of a once beloved home town, whilst The Little Things is atmospheric noisepop in which Andy's shoegaze influence comes to the fore. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

RUBEN VINE & MICHAEL JAYSTON The Life and Times of an Imaginary Rock Star (Articles of Faith)
A lavish package released for Record Store Day (Saturday 22nd April 2017), on double vinyl LP, CD, or download, accompanied by a 28 page comic illustrated by Francisco Maldonado and Oscar Blanco. The album features the apparently unlikely pairing of underground musician Ruben Vine and well-known actor Michael Jayston, known for his role in Shakespeare productions, historical dramas, soaps, sitcoms and Doctor Who. What we have here is a sort of allegorical punk rock opera, with Ruben Vine's heavy-hitting music punctuated by scene-setting narrations from Michael Jayston. The music draws largely from punk, metal, classic rock, and hard-edged alternative rock, whilst taking on board ideas from beyond the rock sphere and also combining rock subgenres in a creative manner. Swallowed by the Mainstream blends lazy, hazy psych-rock with choppy post-punk riffage. Gossips employs strings and piano for a sophisticated artistic touch. The Journey is another string-led piece, most akin to chamber pop, featuring a catchy chorus alongside a pro-underground, pro-free thought manifesto narrated by Michael Jayston. Modern Lament sets punky vocals to an inventive orchestrated arrangement. The theme of the album and its accompanying artwork celebrates underground creativity over mainstream blandness. The story is set in a dystopian world populated by 'junkie consumers' who blindly follow the messages pumped out by the cathode ray tubes that double as their own heads. It is the job of the underground heroes, led by Ruben Vine himself, to combat the morass of banality, violence, prejudice, greed and environmental destruction that is the norm among these people. Ruben Vine urges creative people to take control of their own destiny by embracing the DIY philosophy, as an antidote to the corporate music industry dictating people's tastes. Find out more at www.rubenvine.com

BRINSLEY SCHWARZ It's All Over Now (Mega Dodo)
Recorded in 1974 but unreleased for decades, this long-lost album by Brinsley Schwarz (the master tape of which shockingly almost ended up in a dumpster before being rescued from the studio by the band's guitarist Ian Gomm), is now available on Mega Dodo as limited orange or black vinyl, very limited cassette, and CD. We Can Mess Around is a catchy number that blends country rock with a pop sensibility. As Lovers Do is smooth, orchestrated pop harking back to the early 1960s. Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song) is vintage soul with soaring vocal harmonies and strings. Do The Cod is a lively rock 'n' roll instrumental. Everybody is a brilliant mix of hard-hitting garage rock and catchy 60s-ish pop, taking a brief and unexpected diversion into jazz territory with the sax solo. Give Me Back My Love is ultramelodic 60s-style pop beefed up with a more intense rock guitar style. Whilst often regarded as part of the Pub Rock scene, Brinsley Schwarz have a far more sophisticated and ambitious sound than may be expected from the Pub Rock tag. This is a polished album full of catchy tunes that ought to have been massive hits. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

THE KITCHEN CYNICS/MICAH P. HINSON/WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY/TISSØ LAKE Song, By Toad Split 12" Series volume 6 LP (Song, By Toad)
Song, By Toad is an Edinburgh-based independent label which evolved out of a blog of the same name, and also runs its own warehouse recording space, where the four artists/bands here recorded their tracks. There are three tracks each from the Willard Grant Conspiracy and Micah P. Hinson, who probably need no introduction for most readers, and Scottish underground bands Tissø Lake, who are new to me, and the Kitchen Cynics, who are a long-running project I've been a supporter of since the 1990s. The album is nicely presented, with a full colour inner sleeve with photos of the bands in the recording studio, and is pressed on orange heavyweight vinyl and also comes with a download code.
Willard Grant Conspiracy appear with Light a Candle, an atmospheric viola and cello-led instrumental with shades of Americana and neoclassical but ultimately transcending genre. They also contribute The Only Child, folk with a dark and brooding atmosphere, and Love You Apart, bleak and twisted folk. The Only Child in particular is superb and has left me curious to hear more from them (the band have a long history but this is actually the first time I've knowingly heard them). Tissø Lake's When Work is Done is hushed violin and guitar-based songwriting; there's hints of Nick Drake at times, but rather more cinematic and off-centre. The Mist on the Lake is a folky, film score-like instrumental, whilst I Am Like a Lake sets half-spoken vocals to an arrangement that comes across like a mix of folk and lo-fi American indie rock.
Micah P. Hinson appears with three slices of spare, fractured Americana, including a cover of Phil Ochs' Changes. The main highlights of the album for me come from the Kitchen Cynics, who appear with new versions of three songs that previously appeared on self-released CDRs. Venus on a Buckie is inspired by Scottish folk ballads, and set to a hypnotic psych-folk arrangement. The Place You Hid is stripped-down psych-folk-rock with a lyrical wit. Francis Masson, Botanist is told from the perspective of the title character and accompanied by minimal yet effects-laden electric guitar. Available at www.songbytoad.com

ASTRALASIA Oceania double LP (Fruits de Mer)
Following on from 2014's Wind on Water, long-running festival band Astralasia return to Fruits de Mer with their new double album Oceania. Alooland is an ambient piece incorporating chilled-out psychedelic aspects, soothing drones and nature sounds. Ghosts Inbetween combines a kind of laid-back electronic jazz with busy dance beats and psychedelic elements. Kaleidoscope is shimmering electronic psychedelia with additional aspects of prog, spacerock and ambient. North Star brings in sax and acoustic guitar for a flowing and meditative contemporary jazz piece. Ishdan is electronic psychedelia with a Middle Eastern influenced melody. Mushroom Heartbeat intersperses heady electronic sections with passages of semi-abstract, improvisational piano, bridging the gap between neoclassical and jazz. The album ends with the epic 22 minute track Time & Tide Eternal, in which the ambient aspects take on a darker and more experimental character, whilst other parts of the piece have a meditative feel, drawing from world musics and the natural environment. The album seamlessly pulls together elements of various disparate genres to create a cohesive whole, and makes for a relaxing and enjoyable listening experience. More info at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

KRIS GIETKOWSKI Songs from the First Album by Egg LP (Fruits de Mer/Strange Fish)
Out on Fruits de Mer's Strange Fish offshoot is this collection of Egg covers by Polish multi-instrumentalist Kris Gietkowski, pressed on two-colour vinyl resembling a giant poached egg! There are seven instrumental tracks here, including While Growing My Hair, eccentric prog with a bouncy rhythm and a vaguely classical melody; I Will Be Absorbed, mellow prog-jazz; The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous, frenetic prog with folk and jazz tinges, reminiscent at times of Caravan's more off-centre moments; and Movement 1, Grieg goes prog, with retro organ. The LP sold out on pre-order, so Fruits de Mer have also issued a 3 CD set entitled Three of a Kind, which features the Egg covers album with different mixes of the first three tracks as bonus tracks, plus two extra albums of Atomic Rooster and Crazy World of Arthur Brown covers, which will be sold initially at Fruits de Mer's 2017 gigs/festivals. For more information visit www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

THE INSEKTLIFE CYCLE Vivid Dreams Parade CD (Mega Dodo)
The Insektlife Cycle are an instrumental band from the Philippines. Whilst their members' musical roots are in doom and death metal bands, The Insektlife Cycle themselves fit more comfortably within the psych and prog scenes, as well as having much to appeal to fans of post-rock and shoegaze. Unicycle Monologue mixes the angular rhythms of prog with heavy psych-rock. Electric Sadness and Forbidden Earth Dance blend post-rock with the dreamlike atmospheric effects of shoegaze and the twisty-turny characteristics of prog. Tristful Ecstasy is mellow, late 60s-ish psych-rock combined with elements of funk-rock, prog, and spacey atmospherics. Neonderthal is a mixture of choppy indie-rock, swirling hypnotic psychedelia and full-on shoegaze noise. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

FRET! Through the Wound the Light Comes In CD (Cruel Nature)
Fret! are a seriously noisy three-piece from Newcastle upon Tyne. The album's cover art, giving a sinister edge to those cutesy big-eyed cartoon portraits popular in the 1970s, sets the scene for the sort of warped, chaotic sounds on offer here. DK puts the ROCK! back into post-rock, with a brutal noise factor to rival any punk or metal band. Freeman combines an Americana-ish melody with a blackened, twisted atmosphere and an intense, impassioned vocal delivery from Cath Tyler. Attune features a dark, folk-tinged melody set to choppy, thrashy guitar noise. Judders is raw underground rock topped with a fierce shriek. Another of their tracks is called Hillbilly, but hoedown music this ain't. What you get instead is grinding noise-rock with plenty of angular twists and turns. A riotous, exhilarating album - available at fretband.bandcamp.com

VARIOUS The Restless Field CD (A Year in the Country)
The latest in A Year in the Country's series of themed compilations, this one taking its inspiration from the wars, conflicts, strikes, protests and mass trespass events that have occurred in Britain over the centuries. As to be expected from the album's theme, the music here tends towards the bleak, and whilst the genres found on here are many, the shared theme and the dark aesthetics common to all pieces here give a cohesive feel to the album. Vic Mars' Mortimer's Cross builds up tension in a manner very like incidental cinematic music, while the use of recorder and music box gives a nod towards eerie psych-folk. Bare Bones have links with The Straw Bear Band and The Owl Service, and tread a similar road to Stone Breath with the combination of medieval music and raw and dark Appalachian-inspired folk based around banjo and droning fiddle. Assembled Minds provide an electronic, beat-driven instrumental made with analogue synths; it could almost be called a dance track yet its cold, dark and somewhat experimental nature sets it apart from your average dance music by many, many miles. Listening Center's whirring and chugging vintage synths conjure up images of a dystopian sci-fi movie from the 1970s. Pulselovers accompany a strong electronic melody with an effective mix of hypnotic pulsing chugging rhythm, spacey whirrs, atmospheric drones, and nature sounds.
Sproatly Smith appear with a dark, experimental, ethereal psych-folk piece, largely instrumental aside from wordless vocals. Polypores make tense, ominous, soundtrack-like electronic music. Time Attendant's piece mixes melodic analogue synth music with grinding, glitchy noise and mechanical, abstract percussion. The label's in-house music project, also called A Year in the Country, provides a semi-abstract piece hinting at film sound effects and incidental music, its atmosphere tense and fractured. David Colohan of United Bible Studies contributes a minimalistic neoclassical piece based on twin interweaving woodwind instruments; the mood is mournful yet with a glint of hope. You will also find the harsh electronic soundscaping of Field Lines Cartographer, and the plaintive ambient music of Grey Frequency, Endurance, and Depatterning. The album follows the same visual format as its predecessors, with a great deal of care and effort having gone into its handmade packaging. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

ANDY B Night Comes Down CDR (Pastime)
The prolific Andy B returns with a new album which compiles tracks from his recent Catch My Breath and The Fast Lane EPs along with five new tracks which have also been released simultaneously as the EP A Numbers Game. The general feel of this album is noisy and dark, with Andy's shoegaze and post-punk influences brought in alongside the reflective, melancholic indiepop he is most known for. Night Comes Down features bleak and menacing guitar noise alongside a bouncy piano riff and retro keyboard ornamentation. Not in This Lifetime is old-school melancholic indiepop with an effective juxtaposition of fuzz guitar and synthesised strings. Later Than You Think is retro fuzz-pop with that pensive, wistful atmosphere that characterises much of Andy's songwriting. Days Pass Me By is plaintive strummy bedroom pop fleshed out with synth orchestration and piano. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

7SHADES Bursting CD (Snafu Recordings)
7shades include amongst others Neil Spragg (Omnia Opera, Sir Real, Mocca), and were formed to pay tribute to the music of Tim Smith and Cardiacs. They are however a tribute band with a difference - you won't find cover versions here but original music that aims (and succeeds!) to capture the spirit of Cardiacs' innovative and seminal prog-punk-psych-pop. In Milky Train, bombastic choral and orchestral music collides with angular, jerky, choppy-changey prog-punk. Marking Time is a fine slice of eccentric pop with whirring, clanging rhythms. Nudey Prod Games combines playground rhymes with an altogether darker lyrical theme, set to gleefully absurdist, spacey, proggy art-rock. Spring's Sordid Show has feverish and woozy experimental music giving way to huge, intense prog rock riffage. Hello Sailor begins with a torrent of impish, maniacal laughter, before launching into an exciting melange of punk and experimental psychedelia. Renard is excellent quirky yet sophisticated pop with folk, psych and prog touches. Perfect Storm is less frenetic than much else here, opting instead for a shimmering, ethereal psych arrangement. Prog has a reputation in some quarters as a pompous genre that takes itself far too seriously, but 7shades, like Cardiacs before them, show that prog can be fun, and can have just as much punk spirit as the most subversive of punk bands. Anyone who misses Cardiacs, or who favours adventurous, genre-hopping music in general, really ought to check out this album. Find out more at www.7shades.me.uk

VARIOUS Kopf Musik triple CD (Fruits de Mer)
Bumper triple album compiling almost all the covers of German psychedelia Fruits de Mer has put out since the label was launched in 2008. Much of the material originally appeared on the Head Music double album, whilst other tracks come from other FdM compilations such as Shrunken Head Music, Roqueting Through Space, and Krautrock Sensation. The CDs will initially be sold at FdM's gigs and festivals throughout 2017, with the remainder being made more generally available via the FdM website.
Just a few of the tracks on offer here: Palace of Swords' version of Lila Engel by Neu!, pairing hypnotic electronic music with mantra-like repeated vocals. Dead Sea Apes provide a spacey, floaty version of Kraftwerk's Rückstoß Gondoliere, in which flowing psychedelic guitar is accompanied by swelling ambient drones. Vibravoid's Nearby Shiras, originally by Kalacakra, is an atmospheric, Eastern-tinged piece. Zenith: Unto the Stars appear with a version of Popul Vuh's Mantra II, in which a dark folky melody is accompanied by ambient drones and atmospheric electronics. Temple Music cover Neu!'s Negativland, a kind of post-punk psychedelic jam session in which squalling guitar noise and cosmic electronics come together over a chugging hypnotic rhythm. Language of Light's version of Mushroom by Can is an inventive, darkly psychedelic slice of experimental rock. Anla Courtis reinvents Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express as an intense, slicing noise piece.
Jay Tausig's version of Amon Duul II's Surrounded by the Stars blends heavy-hitting rock with shimmering, spacey effects and Middle Eastern influences. Black Tempest appear with a version of Tangerine Dream's Rubycon part 1, in which the mechanical chug of vintage synths appears alongside spacey and somewhat eerie ambient music. Vespero perform Faust's J'ai Mal aux Dents, angular rock ornamented by whooshing analogue synths and flowing psychedelic guitar work. Frobisher Neck provide a version of Isi by Neu!, in which a gentle melody is set to a hypnotic mix of motorik chug, lilting Mellotron and airy ambient elements. Starship Memory by Ax Genrich and Sunhair is actually an original track, but it fits in well alongside the cover versions, drawing from a similar set of influences. This track was only otherwise available on a promo CD from the 14th Dream of Dr Sardonicus festival; if you missed out on that event you have another chance to hear this chilled-out, hypnotic, ambient psych piece here. Final track is The Bevis Frond covering Electric Sandwich's China, a 36+ minute epic psych-rock instrumental originally filling one whole side of the Sideways LP, with plenty of the intense, fluid and intricate guitar work The Bevis Frond is known for. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

CRYSTAL JACQUELINE Await the Queen CD/double LP (Mega Dodo)
Crystal Jacqueline has released several singles and albums on Mega Dodo and Fruits de Mer since 2010, both solo and with her band The Honey Pot. She returns to Mega Dodo with this limited edition double LP (available only by mailorder from Mega Dodo, Heyday Mail Order, or Clear Spot), which is also available more widely on CD or download. Your Bartered Bride is strongly tuneful psychedelic pop-rock. Yesterlove is classy balladry with a brooding atmosphere. Ivy is ethereal psych-folk. Akhbar is very lovely folk-pop with Middle Eastern influences and spacey psychedelic effects. Rubies My Heart is excellent; a well crafted piece bringing together aspects of 1970s pop and rock with a dreamlike psychedelic feel. Breathe is one of the more forceful and dark tracks here but still maintains that ethereal psychedelic mood that pervades the album as a whole. Spanish Horses is an inventive track that effectively blends a strong pop tune with discordant noise, folky fiddle, distinctive percussion, and psychedelic effects. Await the Queen has a multi-part structure that is freeform and experimental whilst still being song-based, its most intense moments having the feel of a feverish dream. Some very beautiful songs here; find out more at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

RENEE LODEWIJCKX & ABSENT MUSIC Chez Renee CD & DVD (EE Tapes)
In 1988, Renee Lodewijckx made the erotic art video Chez Renee, with accompanying performances, drawings and paintings. Her intention was to go beyond 'cheap eroticism' with a direct, intrusive approach intended to overwhelm and disarm the spectator. Instead of being the object, Renee looks back at the audience, her glance the object. The soundtrack for the film and performances, made by Renee Lodewijckx and Absent Music, was originally released as a limited edition cassette. It has since been remixed and remastered and is now available on CD with accompanying DVD and oversized booklet in a 7" single style plastic outer sleeve. The booklet contains film stills, paintings, and background information on the Chez Renee project's history.
The five pieces here are presented in the form of one long track. Intro is a minimal synth instrumental based around a repeated riff, the mood mellow yet with a dark undertone. Meer blends thunderstorm sounds, synth drones, and sparse guitar with Renee's narration. Lente, Grasse begins as a fine slice of experimental jazz combining electronic drones with wailing sax, and managing to sound laid-back and intense all at once. Then the theme shifts, taking in atmospheric nature sounds, thumping electronic drums and minimal guitar along with a gentle drone as backdrop for Renee's folk-tinged vocals. Ik Houd Mijn Adem In is superb experimental folk, with medieval and ethnic inspired guitar melodies over a floaty electronic backing. Dawn to Dusk is DIY synthpop with a soothing, ethereal atmosphere. The album is experimental yet strongly melodic, incorporating elements of ambient, synthpop, folk and jazz for an inventive result. Available at www.eetapes.be

THE MOTHERS EARTH EXPERIMENT s/t (Swordfish)
Debut album from eclectic West Midlands outfit The Mothers Earth Experiment. They believe that artistic freedom has become feared within the music industry, and are making a laudable attempt to combat this stagnation with their inventive brand of contemporary progressive music. Talos blends vintage style psych-rock with modern electronica, taking in elements of prog, funk and jazz along the way and incorporating strong, expressive vocals. Quietus is soaring, sophisticated and anthemic, its accompaniment combining choppy prog rhythms with jazz and world music influences and dreamlike ethereal moments. Elbow Room shifts seamlessly from genre to genre, the post-rock-esque intro giving way to mellow psychedelic jazz, lurching twisty-turny prog, atmospheric electronica and flowing psych-rock, all topped off with Mark Roberts' powerful, soulful vocals. Mono No Aware is an innovative musical journey, its starting point an evocative experimental piece informed by world music and drone. As the piece develops further, the listener is transported through a heady concoction of blisteringly heavy rock and progressive jazz. Cool Down Mama spreads the band's ecological message via an impressive and intense psych-funk-rock track incorporating proggy touches and tribal-style chanting and drumming. An excellent album, available on limited edition multicoloured splatter vinyl as well as CD and download. Find out more at www.themothersearthexperiment.com and www.swordfishrecords.co.uk

MORDECAI SMYTH Sticky Tape and Rust CD (Mega Dodo)
Uniquely packaged debut album from Mordecai Smyth, comprising a faux-vinyl black CD within a rusty tin held together with sticky tape! (A vinyl version is also available with different artwork, as well as a download version). Mr Hitchcock is an ode to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, in the form of mod/freakbeat with an eccentric sense of humour. Herbert Frowsy is psych-pop with lilting Mellotron and baroque flourishes, having shades of Sgt Pepper-era Beatles and early Pink Floyd. Almost Murder Ballad is bouncy, orchestrated, off-centre pop with well-crafted, darkly humorous lyrics that had me laughing out loud: "I put arsenic in your soup/But you were still OK/You liked your soup that way/I stabbed you in the chest/You had a Kevlar vest..." Here I Stand is a fine slice of baroque psych-pop with nice use of Mellotron, piano and woodwind. Georgina Jones puts a psychedelic spin on 1950s-ish rock 'n' roll, with plenty of wild psych guitar and retro organ. A fun album, focusing on melodic yet off-kilter pop with a lyrical wit and a genuine love of 1960s music. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

PATTERN LANGUAGE Total Squaresville (Happy Robots)
Pattern Language is the new project of Chris Frain, whose musical background includes stints in both indiepop and prog rock bands. In 2013 he chanced upon the BBC4 documentary Synth Britannia, which rekindled his interest in the synthesizer, and led to him embarking on a new career as a solo electronic musician. His debut mini-album under the Pattern Language moniker is out now on Happy Robots as a digital download available through all the main platforms. The album is all-instrumental and draws equally from the cosmic and motorik sounds of the 1970s German synth pioneers as it does from Frain's childhood synthpop heroes from the early 1980s. By the Time We Get There pairs a Kraftwerk-esque rhythmic chug with spacey whirrs and bleeps. Deeply Recessed Windows has an evocative, film soundtrack quality. The Castellers combines the more adventurous side of early 80s synthpop with the kind of electronic sound effects you'd find in a vintage sci-fi movie. A Pattern Language is superb vintage-inspired instrumental synthpop based around a relentless, driving disco beat. A must for fans of retro-futurism and early synthpop; find out more at www.happyrobots.co.uk

ANDY B The Acoustic Album CDR (Pastime)
Andy B has been super-busy lately, what with the EPs and albums reviewed earlier this issue, this acoustic album, and two other albums released since which I will be reviewing in due course. Here Andy presents ten new acoustic recordings of songs familiar from his earlier releases. The acoustic format is a good fit for Andy's thoughtful and melancholic songs. Rather than being accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, the songs are fleshed out with a selection of instruments, the dreamlike keyboard sounds and reverb effects providing an extra layer of atmosphere that leads me to categorise many of the songs as 'acoustic dreampop'. There is also much here to appeal to fans of the more pensive and melancholic side of Sarah Records' output. Andy has also released two taster EPs, Worth the Wait and Something New, each of which features three songs from this album. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

RICHARD BONE Age of Falconry CD (Mega Dodo)
Richard Bone has a long history in music, creating scores for experimental theatre companies before forming the band Bone in the late 1970s then joining new-wavers Shox Lumania in 1981. Later he went solo and released a large number of records on Survival, his own label Quirkworks, and other labels. He has now switched to Mega Dodo for the newly released album Age of Falconry, which covers a broad range of creative electronic compositions.
Queensberry Wilde is inventive electronic music taking in elements of classical, New Age and folk. Let Us Prey is chilling, abstract experimental music with a dystopian sci-fi film soundtrack feel. A Shooting Star Was I is a soothing piece combining lilting electric piano with cosmic electronica. Urgent Curious has relaxing drones and bells giving way to laid-back dance beats and a Middle Eastern inspired melody. Banyan Days merges filmic, neoclassical elements with mechanical whirrs and woozy, glitchy effects. Winged Persia is a gently thrumming ambient piece with elements of vintage style spacey electronica. Apotheosis juxtaposes tense, menacing drones with floaty, cosmic atmospherics. Find out more at www.mega-dodo.co.uk and www.richardbone.com

VARIOUS From the Furthest Signals CD (A Year in the Country)
The latest in A Year in the Country's themed compilation series, taking as its inspiration films, TV and radio programmes that were made during an era before archiving was the norm, and have therefore become wholly or partly lost. The CD, as with its predecessors in the series, is accompanied by handmade packaging and ephemera, showing an attention to detail and a clear sign that the label cares about what it does and treats its releases as a complete work of art.
Circle/Temple provide a woozy, soundtrack-esque piece that drifts between dark experimental folk and vintage electronica. United Bible Studies' David Colohan's previous contributions to AYITC compilations have tended towards the neoclassical and ambient, but here he ventures into 1970s-inspired synth music, creating the theme tune to imaginary lost TV show Brass Rubbings Club. A Year in the Country provide an eerie, horror filmic piece with menacing drones and ominous gale force wind sound effects intertwined with a mournful melody. Sharron Kraus appears with a darkly off-centre experimental folk piece that manages to engage and unsettle all at once. Time Attendant contributes a sound collage made up of chilling, harsh noise, abstract sounds and samples, and folky acoustic guitar.
Sproatly Smith's The Thistle Doll is superb dark psychedelic folk evoking a bygone age, and juxtaposing innocence and scariness in the manner of a fairy tale. Its inventive arrangement combines such instruments as flamenco guitar, toy piano, theremin and violin to maximum effect. Keith Seatman's Curious Noises and Distant Voices is perfectly named, its machine-like clunks, whirrs and bleeps and faint snippets of background speech evoking the sounds one may overhear if wandering through some imaginary factory. The Hare and the Moon contribute a beautifully dark and atmospheric adaptation of the anonymous poem Man of Double Deed. They have set the words to a medieval-inspired, almost Middle Eastern melody, accompanying the song with an evocative soundscape. Pulselovers' track features gently lilting, semi-abstract electronic music punctuated by cosmic whooshes and metallic crashes and clangs. Listening Center close the album with an ambient piece that is almost otherworldly and evokes fond yet distant memories of something long lost. More about this inventive compilation project at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

TEA Everybody's Happy Sometimes CD/LP (A Turntable Friend)
Tea were Pete and Phil from the Isle of Man, assisted here by 14 guest musicians including amongst others members of the underrated 1990s band Ways of Stephen. This album was recorded back in the 90s but never released at the time as A Turntable Friend went on hiatus around the time the album was completed. (A cassette version came out in 2004 on Best Kept Secret, but this has been unavailable for a long time). A Turntable Friend is back now after its 18 year break - fantastic news for me as it was among my fave indiepop labels of the 1990s. As well as having recently released the excellent, extensive compilation album The Test of Time, which features Tea and many others and is the subject of a full-length featured review elsewhere in this issue, ATF have also picked up where they left off by releasing this lost album by Tea.
Token Happy Song is bouncy noisepop with retro-futuristic electronics. 6.30 AM combines indiepop with brooding post-punkish undercurrents and inventive use of sound effects. Hiding Place is melancholic indiepop with plaintive yet powerful harmonica, a highly effective addition to the arrangement. There Are Things is a stripped-down acoustic song ornamented by synthesized orchestration. In Yr Room is possibly the only indiepop/drum 'n' bass hybrid in existence! At the Bottom of Broadway features surreal and darkly humorous storytelling set to a cinematic backdrop. It's a Good Day is brilliant electronic indiepop, incorporating atmospheric chimes, gently swelling ambient music, cut-up samples and spacey electronic sounds to maximum effect. Anywhere But Here is a fine slice of string-driven chamber pop bookended by found sounds.
This is a truly excellent album, full of innovative touches and diverse additional influences that give Tea's brand of indiepop a new and fresh sound. Available at www.aturntablefriendrecords.com

ELECTROSCOPE Diapause CD (Curiously Euphonic)
Electroscope, the prolific duo of Gayle Brogan (Pefkin) and John Cavanagh (Phosphene), released a stack of records back in the 1990s; I bought many of them at the time but have recently been filling a few gaps in my collection. Diapause, comprising a CD with zine style booklet in plastic bag, was released in 2012 but is a new addition to my own collection and can still be purchased via Gayle's shop on Discogs. The CD consists of 17 tracks from the Electroscope archives, some taken from 7"s and compilation albums, others previously unreleased. Blowhole is spacey experimental psychedelia, a pulsating whirr running throughout. Corryvreckan is a woozy psych-folk instrumental in which clarinet meanders in and out of the lilting, accordion-like sounds of a Farfisa pianorgan. Coricancha features hushed, spoken vocals over an atmospheric, improvisational mix of clarinet, bells, clattering percussion, and retro sci-fi bleepery. Turbine replicates the sound of the eponymous machinery with a pulsating vibrato riff running throughout the piece. Syd Barrett's Rats is reinvented as minimalistic yet intense electronica, the feverish and surreal lyrics accompanied by the chugs and whirrs of a vintage Moog. The Blue You Never Knew is a dark, foreboding, melancholic drone-psych-folk piece with a lo-fi yet sophisticated approach. Touchdown is an eerily atmospheric soundscape mixed by Jim Beattie. Shifting Sands is a West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band cover, sounding like a folk song swathed in ethereal psychedelic effects and accompanied by a hypnotic chiming guitar riff. Sky Men, a Geoff Goddard cover, is gentle and delicate psych-pop with breathy vocals over drones and electronic whirrs. The album is a good place to start exploring the experimental sounds of Electroscope.

ALISON O'DONNELL Climb Sheer the Fields of Peace LP/CD (Mega Dodo)
New solo album from Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service, United Bible Studies, etc). Here she is accompanied by United Bible Studies' David Colohan and Michael Tanner, and other guest musicians including Gayle Brogan (Electroscope, Pefkin) and Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon). The album features sophisticated songwriting that is often folk-tinged yet contemporary, set to gentle, atmospheric arrangements. There are electronic pieces like the ethereal ambient Sylvia's Deadbolt and the hypnotic synth-based Hunting Down, alongside wholly or predominantly acoustic tracks. In the Snowmelt is based around gentle acoustic guitar, with fuzzy noise adding background texture. The Road We Know is excellent minimalistic folk with dual vocals from Alison and Gayle. Pathways is eerie dark folk, employing a single drum as well as trombone for extra evocative effect. The vocal delivery of Sleeping on Strange Pillows draws from soul and gospel, whilst pump organ provides a relaxing atmospheric drone backdrop. Occasionally the songs put me in mind of Kate Bush, but that has more to do with the free-thinking spirit of the songs rather than their actual sound. This is a highly inventive set of songs from this talented songwriter and musicians. Available on LP limited to 250 copies, or CD, from www.mega-dodo.co.uk

SIDEWALK SOCIETY Strange Roads: The Songs of Rolled Gold LP (Fruits de Mer)
Californian band Sidewalk Society have covered the entirety of Rolled Gold, the album of late 60s demos by The Action, which became a cult classic since its release in the 1990s. Come Around is authentically 60s sounding harmony pop with a hard-edged mod touch. Something to Say has shades of late 60s Beatles. Love is All is excellent psych-rock that successfully blends mellow, dreamlike aspects with an intense urgency. Look at the View is a great mixture of whimsical 60s pop, floaty psychedelic aspects and harder, dirtier rock elements. Follow Me has tinges of American folk in its melody, set to a raw, powerful vintage rock arrangement. In My Dream brings together Beatles-ish songwriting with Beach Boys harmonies, sunshine pop orchestration and the intensity of heavy psych-rock. An impressive album from a band with a genuine understanding and appreciation of 1960s music. Available at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

ANDY B Another Day CDR (Pastime)
Multi-instrumentalist songwriter Andy B has been taking part in a mammoth recording session this year, resulting in the release of multiple albums on his own Pastime label. Here, Andy's melancholic and introspective songwriting is fleshed out with darker and noisier arrangements, as in the choppy, angular noisepop of Can't Move On, the dark and thrashy Magic Number and the bittersweet Cold Feet which combines lyrics of regret and remorse with jaunty noisepop accompaniment. We also get songs like The Least You Can Do, swathing acoustic indiepop in an ethereal keyboard arrangement, and the gentle and airy indiepop of Two People which puts me in mind of Bouquet. Andy counts the Television Personalities, the C86 scene and Sarah Records among his influences and these can all be heard to some degree on this album. Released simultaneously with this album is a two track taster single, Tomorrow is Another Day/Magic Number. Both CDs feature nice abstract watercolour paintings by Andy's daughter Daisy B. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

THE STONE TAPES Avebury CD (Hare's Breath)
Purportedly based on recordings made by a shadowy figure named George Albert Wilberforce, a researcher of sound phenomena, on his travels around historical sites throughout the British Isles. The sounds he captured are claimed to represent "the vestiges of time itself, or are proof of ghosts". The album combines these eerie sounds with a gripping drama made up of telephone conversations between Kat from the band and the Vicar of Avebury (played by A. Hayward) and the vicar's wife (played by K. Harvey), in which their reminiscences of George Wilberforce and the events that ensue become increasingly creepy. Like all good dramas, it is accompanied by a soundtrack: A Page from John Britton sets a reading about Avebury and its stones to mindbending ambient electronics and thumping dance beats, while Red Lion Interlude combines trad folk with Wilberforce's electronic voice phenomena, Faces on 19b is a chilling, horror filmic slice of noise manipulation, West Kennet Ritual is a darkly psychedelic experimental piece, Shelter in the Lychgate is a brief snippet of neoclassical piano music, and Sound 13 is made up of ominous and unsettling drones. Diverse, inventive and spooky; a supernatural thriller in aural form. Find out more at www.facebook.com/thestonetapesproject

JONATHON HERON Skylark CDR (Wishing Chair)
Jonathon Heron is an alter-ego of Jon Chinn, who releases a variety of music under different names via his Wishing Chair imprint. The other of his projects that I'm most familiar with is Darkships, who have featured in these pages a while back. Jon has also played guest lead guitar with the important psych/trance band Astralasia, and has appeared on recent releases of theirs on Fruits de Mer and Talking Elephant Records. Skylark is a bespoke handmade release; the edition I have comprises a CDR, 44-page colour photocopied booklet and hand-printed Wishing Chair logo card within a DVD case with homemade artwork, but there are also several other versions to choose from. A download edition is also available for those who prefer that format. The music takes its inspiration from Craddock Moor in South East Cornwall, as well as being "a very personal look at the marks we leave, death and our relationship with the landscape that we never really leave". The booklet includes GPS references for various places that inspired the music, so that listeners can visit in person. There are many nature photographs, as well as writings that convey a spiritual understanding of nature in an often poetic manner, with references to folklore and mythology alongside archaeology and botany.
The album is characterised in the most part by a brand of psych-folk that is delicate and contemplative yet also often celebratory, whilst detours are taken to encompass the heady and intense spacerock of Theme from 'To the Wilderness', the hypnotic mix of vintage synths and birdsong that is Skylark, the ambient psych-rock of 4 Tree Grove, the musically whimsical yet lyrically heartbreaking folk-pop of Conversation with a Pony, and the raw, thrilling, psych-tinged garage rock of Land of the Living. There are also a couple of tracks, Gold Diggings and Cut Me Down, which are unafraid to explore harsher realities such as suicide. This is a superb album, the excellent music accompanied by a complete artistic package prepared with care and attention to detail. It deserves to reach a wider audience than the very limited nature of this release will provide. It's good to know that Jonathon Heron is working on a sequel which applies a similar approach to the urban landscape. In the meantime, Skylark is available at jonathonheron.bandcamp.com

MARK McDOWELL AND FRIENDS Dark Weave CD (self-released)
Fifth album from psych-folk collective Mark McDowell and Friends. The title track opens the album with its hypnotic mix of gentle psych-folk, analogue electronics and Indian influences, whilst Look in the Dust is an amazing slice of 60s-ish garage folk-rock; Walking Back To You is a very lovely laid-back song that draws from American folk-rock whilst having the potential to appeal just as much to an indiepop audience in a similar manner as bands such as The Tyde; Celequiem is eerie folk with an experimental psychedelic edge; and Light of Love creates an epic, cinematic feel with its impressive blend of sophisticated 60s pop, folk, psych and vintage synths. Really superb stuff, highly recommended. Available at markmcdowell.bandcamp.com

REIDGRAVES Slacking on Pain (Secret Shark)
Second album from ReidGraves, a collaboration between David Reid from The Contrast and performance poet Ron Graves. Unlike the album's song-based and full band oriented predecessor Lovely as Suspicion, this new one is a more minimalistic affair that pairs Ron Graves' spoken word performances with David Reid's guitar. The poetry is grounded within gritty realism; the music varies between more melodic pieces such as The River Wear, which is folk-tinged and features the unmistakable chiming sound of the 12-string Rickenbacker, and those with a cinematic feel, much like incidental film music, with an on-edge angularity that builds up tension and accompanies well the unsettling lyrics of violence, homelessness, sickness, loneliness and loss. A well-crafted art project, available on CD or digital download - find out more at www.reidgraves.com

KEITH SEATMAN All Hold Hands and Off We Go CD (KS Audio)
Keith Seatman has been involved in music since the 1980s, with The Psylons, Seatman Separator, and Echopet, and more recently as a solo artist. All Hold Hands and Off We Go is his fifth solo album, taking in the chilling and disorienting soundtrack-esque composition A Lighthouse Might Look Long; the ethereal folktronica of Four Steps at a Time; the title track with its mix of Air-ish electronica, spacerock and eccentric psych-pop; Skipping Rope, in which a motorik chug provides the backdrop for a haunted playground song; and Boxes with Rhythms in, an experimental yet catchy combination of dark synthpop and noisy drones, featuring guest vocalist Douglas E Powell. An engaging and inventive album of experimental electronic sounds. It comes as no surprise that Keith Seatman's music has been championed by Ghost Box Records or BBC Radio 3's Late Junction; if you dig the sort of thing either of those do, this album is well worth investigating further. Available at keithseatman.bandcamp.com

GAVIN JOHN BAKER & DAVID CW BRIGGS A Meal for Two CDR (Reverb Worship)
Collaboration between two prolific underground musicians. Gavin Baker is known for his solo recordings as well as his work with Jet Johnson, Billy Mahonie, The Baker Boys, Meets Guitar, Sightseers, Höglin Baker, and more. David CW Briggs has released many solo homemade albums, a few of which were the subject of a full-page featured review in the current issue of Aquamarine. Other bands he has been involved in include Hills Have Riffs and Cove. Also appearing on A Meal for Two are Gavin's son Albert who at the age of eight is something of a drumming prodigy, and Jet Johnson's Caroline Nesbø on backing vocals.
Who Knows Where the Time Goes is not the Sandy Denny song but a very lovely mix of early 90s indiepop melancholy and late 60s psychedelic folk-rock. Stung by a Bee is a fine slice of sunny and dreamlike pop. Journey to the End of Night is chilled-out psych-folk with a gently meandering, ethereal feel. Crosby is subdued and pensive alternative pop with post-rock and psychedelic touches. Sea Legs puts a dramatic, psychedelic spin on a trad folk inspired song, combining harmonium with huge, intense psych-rock guitar. Howl of Rage is psychedelic blues with wailing harmonica. The album ends with Headphone Drone, the most experimental track here, in which hypnotic yet intense psychedelia explodes into a riotous onslaught of fierce guitar noise and chaotic percussion.
An excellent album full of songs that get the listener fully involved on an emotional level. I hope these talented artists work together on more music in future. The album is available at www.reverbworship.com; see also gavinjohnbaker.bandcamp.com, gavinbakermusic.blogspot.no, davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com, and dcwbriggs.tumblr.com

FRIGG Frost on Fiddles CD (Frigg)
Frost on Fiddles is the eighth album from this excellent Finnish band who combine Nordic folk music with Americana and other influences. The album includes twelve pieces that are contemporary yet rooted in tradition, and is packaged within striking artwork showing a woman in blue, possibly the goddess Frigg herself, riding in a sled pulled by stringed instruments. Esko Järvelä's Ode to Ravintola Pelimanni lends jazzy and bluesy tinges to traditional-style Finnish folk, alternating between subdued and vigorous subsections. Chris Stout's Compliments to the Bon Accord Ale House, a tribute to a Glasgow pub, draws on Celtic and Finnish folk styles alongside sophisticated jazz and classical aspects. Friggin' Polska is a boisterous, powerful polska as viewed through the lens of stadium rock. False Legenyes is an angular, choppy, dizzying fiddle piece inspired by Transylvanian folk. Kesät Kerkkolassa/Summers in Kerkkola is a swinging schottische with a positive mood reflecting its summery theme. A fine album, as is always the case with this band. Find out more at www.frigg.fi

HYVÄLUOMA GROUP Reflection CD (Lusti)
Hyväluoma Group are a Finnish five-piece led by Tero Hyväluoma, also of Frigg, Haaga Folk Machine, and Teho. Bulgarian Punishment brings together frenetic Eastern European-style folk with upbeat jazz and the twisty-turny, choppy-changey nature of prog rock, without actually being prog rock, if that makes sense. Infotron Obsession is inspired by a 1990s computer game and manages to sound electronicy even though it's played entirely on acoustic instruments such as accordion, double bass and fiddle. They combine this video game influence with sophisticated film score-esque touches and elements of jazz and folk. Scandinavian Overture combines folk and classical aspects in a way that is very lovely. Goblin Chase perfectly captures in music a trolls' hunting expedition, the lumbering rhythm of the trolls' strides brought together with a sense of speed and chaos. Hang in the Balance is a cinematic piece with a sombre, reflective tone. An impressive album from this talented outfit, showing sophistication can quite often coexist with a sense of fun. Find out more at www.terohyvaluoma.com and www.lustimusic.com

HIERONYMUS BOGS Lowlives Divine CD (Artist Abbey)
This latest solo album from Hieronymus Bogs, formerly of Bogs Visionary Orchestra, contains some of his finest moments. Endure is banjo-led folk-pop with an eccentric clatter and sense of fun that belies its philosophical depth. Seest Thou Not is sophisticated songwriting along vaguely similar lines to Scott Walker, wrapped in a dreamlike psych-folk atmosphere. Lovers is dark yet transcendental, with an ethereal psychedelic tinge; genre-wise it falls broadly under pop, though such a word seems to trivialise a song of this much depth. Wild and Free is banjo and fiddle-driven folk-rock that's simultaneously dark and celebratory, its lyrics reflecting a mystical Christianity rooted in nature. I can see fans of Sixteen Horsepower going for this one. The Only Crown is stripped-down Americana, with Bogs' deep, rich vocal tones carrying a sincere message of spiritual devotion. A sophisticated, profound album that has much to appeal to fans of dark psych-folk even though it transcends that genre in many ways. Find out more at www.hieronymusbogs.com

TINY MAGNETIC PETS Deluxe/Debris LP/download (Happy Robots)
Tiny Magnetic Pets are an electronic pop outfit from Dublin whose second album is out now on Happy Robots Records. Eschewing the modern computer-generated approach in favour of analogue electronic instruments from the 1970s, Tiny Magnetic Pets combine sparkling pure pop with an underground credibility, having the potential to appeal equally to both the independent and mainstream crowds in much the same way as bands like Saint Etienne, New Order, or Air. They count among their fans some big names in the field of electronic music, such as Rusty Egan (Visage), Andy McCluskey (OMD), and Wolfgang Flür (Kraftwerk), the latter of whom supplies guest vocals and synths on a couple of tracks on this album.
Lost My Guiding Light blends contemporary dancey pop with 70s disco and Kraftwerk influences. Semaphore/Seconds from Sleep is gutsy pop set to a mix of Kraftwerk-esque synths and indiepop jangle. Radio On is a fun mixture of contemporary pop and retro-futurism, with recited lyrics from Wolfgang Flür alongside the breezy pop vocals of Paula Gilmer. Here Comes the Noise I (Pink) sets melancholic and reflective indiepop to the whoosh of 1970s synths, while its counterpart Here Comes the Noise II (White) transforms the song into an exhilarating pop rush. Cloud Sequence is an instrumental blending the ethereal, the dancey and the motorik in an effective and enjoyable manner. They also venture into less poppy territory with Cold War Neon, a bleak, cinematic slice of retro-futurism full of Mellotron orchestration and sci-fi bleeps. The album is boundary-busting and genre-transcending whilst retaining a quintessential pop sensibility at its heart. Available at www.happyrobots.co.uk

A YEAR IN THE COUNTRY Undercurrents CD (A Year in the Country)
A Year in the Country are known for their themed various-artist compilations of experimental folk and electronica, but this time we have a full album by the label's in-house music project of the same name. The album is partly inspired by AYITC creator Stephen's move to the countryside, where he became "more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than life in the city", as well as his interest in an "otherly take on pastoralism" that pervades the overall AYITC aesthetic. 'Otherly' is the key word here; you will not find any prettied-up, romanticised, idealised visions of nature here but eerie cinematic soundscapes dripping with tension, as if setting the scene for a film in which murderous monsters lurk in hedgerows, shades of long-dead country dwellers watch over the living - and not in any kindly way either - and the indwelling spirits of lakes and turbulent rivers wreak havoc on unsuspecting humans who dare to cross their threshold. Dreamscapes of Old is a gentler but no less otherworldly piece, an ethereal mind-journey sounding like it is setting to music visions of the past obtained in a trancelike state. The album is a well-crafted piece of aural art that is often unsettling and disconcerting, evoking those sides of nature that exist beyond human morality, and furthermore, the world of supernature existing beyond humanity altogether. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

ANDY B The Time of Your Life CD (Pastime)
Another collection of songs from the very prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy B, who seems to come out with a new album every few weeks these days! Here are ten new recordings of DIY pop with the fuzz and rattle of C86 combined with the introspection and melancholy that is often associated with Sarah Records bands, along with an occasional venturing into the earlier part of the 1980s when post-punk was starting to take on a more pop flavour. You Give Yourself Away is thoughtful and honest indiepop with a spiky post-punk kick, managing to sound bouncy and on-edge at once. So Glad I Found You has some nice use of retro organ and reverbed jangly guitar. The Time Of Your Life is melodic noisepop with a dark undercurrent. Television Girl is wistful acoustic pop with minimalistic keyboard ornamentation. A nice homemade album with roots in the classic era of indiepop. Andy has other recent EPs and albums out too which will be reviewed in Aquamarine in due course; you can find these and more at pastimerecords.webs.com and pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

ANTIQUE DOLL untitled CDR (self-released)
This isn't a formal release but a homemade CDR supplied to me for review purposes, compiling various singles and EPs Antique Doll have released online. Antique Doll are a trio from Sheffield, making a kind of DIY, minimalistic psych-folk that is truly lovely. Airspeak combines a strong melody with ethereal effects and an eerie atmosphere. Rockinghorse is surreal and fairytale-esque. Rimes from the Sky adds a mindbending psychedelic twist to a song that seems inspired by old-time American folk. Paint is dreamlike and ethereal with soaring vocals. Flickers brings together melancholic and thoughtful songwriting with a flamenco flourish. Hiding adds atmospheric keyboard to a song that shares a similar style to the Kitchen Cynics. An excellent set of tracks from a band who really ought to be better known in the world of psych-folk. Visit antiquedoll.bandcamp.com

TOBY TWIRL s/t LP/CD (Mega Dodo)
Toby Twirl are known for their three late 1960s singles on Decca, but no album was ever released during the time of the band's existence. Demos and showcase recordings were made, but thought to be lost, until the band's drummer John Reed rediscovered them in his attic. These have now been released by Mega Dodo, in the form of a limited edition 180 gram vinyl LP with illustrated insert and 60s-style flap-back sleeve, or CD with 8-page booklet. The songs are a mixture of originals and well-known 1960s covers like The Beatles' Baby You're a Rich Man and Something, and Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild. Side A features vocalist Dave 'Holly' Holland and has a general emphasis on bouncy, catchy pop (Something in Your Eyes) and reflective balladry with a light psychedelic shimmer (Dark Time of the Year). Side B introduces Steve Pickering on vocals and shows a shift towards a meatier rock sound with songs like Gonna Have a Good Time (Good Times), American Woman, and the aforementioned Born to be Wild, alongside a reggae-flavoured take on The Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk

GAVIN JOHN BAKER Rise with the Sun CDR (Big Pink/Reverb Worship)
Gavin John Baker is an English musician based in Norway, who has been involved in many bands including Billy Mahonie, Jet Johnson, Meets Guitar, The Baker Boys, Höglin Baker, and Sightseers. He has also made many solo records, of which this is his latest. Rise with the Sun is stark songwriting tinged with American folk and wrapped in a woozy dreamlike drone. Breaking the Fall is underground pop meets post-rock surrounded by a psychedelic haze. Didn't We Almost combines American-style psych-folk-rock with a fractured, homemade aesthetic. In In the Morning of the Day Before, squalling psych guitar and drones set the scene for this fine slice of folk-tinged underground rock that is both laid-back and intense all at once. All Through the Winter is delicate, sparse and honest DIY pop tinged with US folk. The Mask is bleak melancholy coloured with swirling psychedelic effects. The instrumental track Secondhand Columbus closes the album with its effective blend of bluesy chug, mindbending feverishness and angularity. Available as a download from www.bigpinkrecords.com or CDR from www.reverbworship.com

HÖGLIN BAKER Once Upon CD (Big Pink)
Debut album from the Anglo-Swedish duo of Gavin Baker (vocals, guitar) and Stefan Höglin (banjo), who are joined here by Gavin's father Dave Baker on mandolin. Whilst Stefan's background is in garage rock, and most of Gavin's prolific output has been with post-rock and underground pop outfits, they also have a love of folk and country music, and indeed Gavin and his father Dave have previously recorded three albums of folk/country/old-time music as The Baker Boys. Höglin Baker describe their music as 'newgrass', that is music that is not strictly bluegrass but played on bluegrass instruments. There are the more overtly country-influenced songs which will appeal to fans of alt-country/Americana/country-rock, and then there are those like Don't Talk About Work, which view melancholic hometaper pop through a bluegrass lens. The history of the duo's adopted home town of Kongsberg, Norway, is also an important part of the album. The sparse yet forceful country song The Kongsberg Riot Song tells of a 17th Century uprising of farmers over withheld pay, whilst Disaster at the Gunpowder Mill is a tragic tale of explosions in a hazardous working environment, combining shades of Neil Young with indiepop melancholy. The sorrowful feel of much of the music is not however present throughout the album; we also get the bluegrass romp Moonshine on my Mind, which is a lot of fun. A fine album that combines my twin passions of folk music and thoughtful and honest DIY pop to maximum effect. Available as a CD or download from www.bigpinkrecords.com

KITCHEN CYNICS Apardion: Songs of Aberdeen LP/CD (Fitlike)
An especially commissioned album in which Alan Davidson, who is Kitchen Cynics, pays homage to his home city of Aberdeen. Taking its name from the city's Old Norse name, the album is aesthetically presented on heavyweight granite-grey vinyl with large glossy lyric sheet and a bonus CD which includes the 8 songs from the LP plus 7 more. The songs present a chronological history of Aberdeen, from hunter-gatherers to the oil industry. The psych-folk side of the Kitchen Cynics is represented by such songs as the eerie and woozy Strandloopers, the heartbreaking Torry Ferry, and the gory Jon Justice, the latter of which is told from the viewpoint of a 16th century executioner. On the more overtly experimental side we get the dreamlike cinematic soundscape Harlaw (with a guest appearance from Pefkin/Electroscope's Gayle Brogan), and Above the Vaults, which takes in poetry, swirling surrealistic art music, and even a touch of experimental jazz. The extended CD version of Apardion adds the title track, a heady and intense piece about the raid on Aberdeen by Norse king Eysteinn, the laid-back and ethereal folk-pop The Aberdeen Minstrels, the cheery, jangly Provost Positive, and the bleak Black Hearted Beauty, in which a critical eye is cast over the greed, selfishness and shallowness borne of the less positive sides of modernity, while brooding, nightmarish sound effects whirr away with doom-laden intensity. The music here is well-crafted and poignant, showing Alan's knack of getting inside the personalities of the people he sings of, bringing their stories to life. Very highly recommended. On CD or digital download from www.fitlikerecords.com

KITCHEN CYNICS G51 CDR (Les Enfants du Paradiddle)
The inspiration for this album came from Alan's finding some 19th century carte de visite photographs of Aberdeen people in a Glasgow antique shop. Using his vivid imagination and talent for bringing historical events to life, he invented names and stories for the people in the pictures, writing songs about how they'd ended up in Glasgow and linking their stories to real events in Govan/Glasgow history. Hazel and the Sparkle Angels is amazing psychedelic folk telling the poignant story of an unmarried mother sent away to an asylum. Sandy and Jock at the Exhibition is a brilliant psych-folk song inspired by a photo of a small boy in a kilt accompanied by his grandfather; these two are transported via the imagination of Alan to the International Exhibition of Science, Industry and the Arts, held in Glasgow in 1888. Daniel Sees the Light is DIY psych-folk based around ukulele, tin whistle and a kids' keyboard from a charity shop, telling the story of a ruffian-turned-lamplighter. The last three tracks move away from characters from old photographs but stay within Govan. Doomster Hill, a prehistoric site levelled in the 1850s for shipyard expansion, is given the psych-folk storytelling treatment, while a sighting of a kingfisher at the disused graving docks was the inspiration for the next track, a swirling, dreamlike number featuring The Hare and the Moon's Grey Malkin. Final track Govan Gospel Singers is a hypnotic and atmospheric psych-folk soundscape incorporating a backwards recording of a 1960s Glasgow choir alongside overheard conversations and clanking glasses in a Govan pub. Great stuff as usual from the Kitchen Cynics; find this and more at kitchencynics.bandcamp.com

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