MORDECAI SMYTH The Mayor of Toytown is Dead LP/CD (Mega Dodo)
The title of this album is no doubt a reference to Mordecai Smyth's moving away from the eccentric 60s-influenced 'Toytown' psych-pop of past recordings and heading in a more prog-influenced direction. Billywitch has a pop heart, yet is informed by the more accessible side of prog. The River of Sleep is dark and dramatic, straddling the boundaries between prog and gothic rock, with occasional tinges of jazz and psychedelia adding to the heady atmosphere. Heading Back West is country-rock viewed through an English psychedelic lens. A Knife and a Key is inventive prog-pop, inspired one moment by a blend of flamenco, bossa nova and mariachi, before drifting into gentle pastoral classical music then lurching towards twisty-turny prog rock. Happy is bouncy quirky pop with prog stylings. Dissent into Chaos is angular, spiky, early 80s-ish electropop interspersed with a variety of instrumental parts from atmospheric prog to intense noise-rock. The cover of Caravan's Golf Girl is much in keeping with the rest of the album, combining a pop sensibility with psychedelic quirkiness and prog angularity. A free-thinking, innovative mix of styles which will come as a surprise to anyone expecting the album to follow on in the same vein as Mordecai Smyth's debut album Sticky Tape and Rust. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
VARIOUS The Quietened Cosmologists CD (A Year in the Country)
Continuing A Year in the Country's themed compilation series, The Quietened Cosmologists is inspired by discarded or unrealised space exploration projects, and "the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten". The album includes the vintage sci-fi bleeps and ominous drones of Field Lines Cartographer, Pulselovers' disorienting yet strangely reassuring cinematic drone piece, Magpahi's beautiful combination of medieval folk and retro-futurism with a dark edge, Vic Mars with an ethereal instrumental that could be described as electronic classical music, Unit One's semi-abstract bleeps, drones and chugs creating a dystopian sci-fi mood, A Year in the Country's dark, beat-driven electronica with its pummelling rhythms and menacing drones, Keith Seatman's space-pop instrumental combining off-centre retro-futurism with a sense of fun, Listening Center's woozy, dizzying and nightmarish experimental music, and David Colohan's brooding, film score-esque piece combining classical and folk motifs. As always with this series, this is an impressive snapshot of current music broadly categorisable as experimental, its
homemade packaging having a personal touch and a keen eye for detail, and its shared theme giving it the cohesive feel of a complete album rather than a random collection of tracks. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
KOSMONAUT Misfits on the Horizon (The Porterfield Recording Company)
Kosmonaut consists of members of three bands who were familiar names in the indiepop world around the time I started getting to know about this music. Anyone with a long-held interest in this genre will surely recognise Stephen Maughan from Bulldozer Crash, Malcolm (Mala) Reay from The Gravy Train, and Geoff Suggett from The Lavender Faction. Kosmonaut have released music on Matinee Recordings in the past, and now they are back with this album which is the debut release on new label The Porterfield Recording Company. The limited edition CD sold out pretty much immediately, but a download version is still available via Bandcamp. Silver Star is great powerpop combining strong melody and sunny jangle with gutsy guitar noise; puts me in mind at times of Teenage Fanclub. Losing Friends is brilliant indiepop in the best late 80s/early 90s style, that takes me right back to my early explorations of labels like Sarah, A Turntable Friend, and Summershine. Winter Sun is light and airy pop with swirling electronics. Canada is brooding electropop with roots in the early 1980s, swathing a hypnotic groove within a darkly atmospheric swirl. Debbie Harry's Smile is fuzzy buzzy noisepop with an infectious enthusiasm. Not So Clever Now puts an off-kilter spin on old-school indiepop with its mix of chiming and chainsaw guitars and ethereal keyboard. Rise Again blends soulful retro rock with fierce yet atmospheric guitar noise. Your Day in the Sun is an innovative mix of vintage-style indiepop with ambient drones and shuffly electronic beats. A really amazing, uplifting album that appeals equally to my love of classic indiepop and my appreciation of inventive musical eclecticism. Very highly recommended! Available at kosmonaut01.bandcamp.com, with further info at www.facebook.com/kosmonaut.uk
THE BRAINIAC 5 We're Ready! CD/download (Reckless)
The Brainiac 5 have been on a roll since reforming in 2013. Just a few months after their recent Journey to X album and not that long after its predecessor Exploding Universe comes this latest album in which all-new material appears alongside reworked versions of a couple of older tracks. Drinking Song is a punchy mix of punk, ska, underground pop, and psych-rock. The Holy Tangible is brilliant stuff, bringing together classic melodic psych-rock with a punk energy and atmospheric undercurrents. Wave begins with raw American-style folk and twisted blues, giving way to thrashy powerpop punctuated by psych instrumental sections from intense to mellow and back again, including some atmospheric use of flute, marimba, and experimental sound effects. She's Free is thrilling psych-punk-ska with guest vocals from Jessie Pie, whose powerful, soulful voice works well with this intense song which long time followers of The Brainiac 5 will recognise as a reworking of Trotsky from their 1978 EP Mushy Doubt. Night Games is another song from The Brainiac 5's past, but one which has not been recorded until now. Purportedly dictated by Jimi Hendrix via a ouija board conversation, it blends retro funk-rock with the band's trademark psychedelic punk approach. Space is the Place originally appeared on The Brainiac 5's comeback EP from 2013; a new version rounds off the current album with its perfect balance of strong melody and intense psych-rock and punk aspects. Exciting, powerful music from a continually impressive band. Visit www.brainiac5.co.uk
RICHARD WARREN Disentangled LP/download (Hudson)
Richard Warren has a diverse and prolific musical background, having been involved in various bands since the mid 1990s, including Echoboy, Kings of the South Seas, Spiritualized, Starsailor, and most recently Jon Boden's band The Remnant Kings. He has also released four solo albums since 2010, of which Disentangled is the latest. Rooted in the country idiom, the album features such songs as Last Breath (country-rock with a smoky bar-room atmosphere), Simplify (woozy alt-country), and several other songs for which Lauren Laverne's "weirded out Johnny Cash" comparison is apt. For me though, Richard Warren really shines when he goes one further with the experimentation, psychedelia and eclecticism. Only Always combines raw-edged American-style psych-folk-rock with gentle piano, the repeated minimalistic lyrics creating a mantra-like atmosphere. Silvertown is a psych-folk-rock instrumental that's chilled-out yet with a menacing edge, the lo-tech DIY-sounding drum machine adding an extra layer of quirk factor. Disentangled is a raw electric blues/US folk instrumental blending the nicely hypnotic with a certain sharpness. Withered Tree has wobbly drones and military drums setting the scene for a piece I can only describe as 'fever-dream folk-rock'. Find out more at www.facebook.com/RWarrenMusic and www.hudsonrecords.co.uk
THE DELTA BELL Hold Fast the Fire LP/download (Random Acts of Vinyl)
The Delta Bell are a Brighton band headed up by songwriter/musician Kate Gerrard. The music here is beautiful and sophisticated, having equal appeal for fans of country and indiepop. Berlin combines country, classic jangly indiepop, and cinematic strings. Little Girl Lost is bleak yet bright, pairing jangle with a spaghetti western twang, and having an overall vibe that comes across rather like how Sixteen Horsepower might sound if they were led by paired female vocalists. Modern City is poppy country with an arrangement that brings together the chug and guts of powerpop with retro keyboards. Golden is really moving folk-rock with very lovely use of strings, piano and vocal harmonies. Ride Out begins with a minimalistic Hammond organ and vocal intro setting the scene for a melancholic, world-weary mix of country and jangly indiepop. An excellent album from a band I'm keen to hear more from. Visit www.randomactsofvinyl.co.uk and thedeltabell.co.uk
ANDY B Fantasy World CDR (Pastime)
Another new album from one of the most prolific underground artists there is! Coming mostly from the noisier side of Andy B's output, the album includes such songs as Lose Myself In You (thrashy noisepop), Leaving Town (1980s-style indiepop with a nice juxtaposition of noisy guitars and synthesised strings), Why Can't You See? (melancholic sentiments swathed in shoegaze-ish atmospheric noise), Get Out of My Hair (bouncy, catchy pop with a sort of indiefied mod touch), and Communication Breakdown (dark and slightly angular, with roots in the post-punk era). 4 songs from the album have also been released as the taster EP Lose Myself In You. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
VARIOUS All the Merry Year Round CD (A Year in the Country)
The latest in A Year in the Country's themed compilation series, this time focusing on the associations and connections between traditional folklore and pop-cultural or media-driven folklore; those ideas that have their roots in television and film yet have a similarly ritualistic nature to older forms of folklore, and in acquiring new layers of meaning as time goes by, take on a significance that goes beyond mere entertainment. United Bible Studies' Towards the Black Sun is an inventive, artistic piece loosely classifiable as dark psych-folk, whilst interpreting this genre in a way that is entirely their own. Poetic, evocative lyrics paint a vivid picture of an apocalyptic dystopia, accompanied by woozy, hypnotic drones and beats. Circle/Temple is Dom Cooper of The Owl Service, whose Rigel Over Flag Fen is a fine slice of dreamlike minimalistic electronica. Magpahi contributes a sophisticated blend of medieval-esque folk, classical piano, and analogue electronics. Cosmic Neighbourhood appear with a trance-inducing mixture of electronic minimalism, spacey sound effects and mantra-like repeated vocals. Field Lines Cartographer provides a driving, pulsing analogue synth piece with an menacing atmosphere.
Polypores' Meridian is an atmospheric vintage electronic piece in multiple parts, its first section combining a repeated oboe riff with throbbing drones and spacey effects, followed by a section based around a plaintive minimalistic melody, and finally a gentle, relaxing drone. A Year in the Country's Tradition and Modernity is cinematic experimental electronica with a feeling of foreboding. Sproatly Smith's Moons (Part 1) is beautifully dark, with haunting wordless vocals and ghostly whispers over whirring and pulsating vintage synths, clattering metallic percussion and swirling psychedelic organ. Pulselovers' Tales of Jack is melodic and beat-driven electronica that somehow manages to acquire an otherworldly sheen even while eschewing overt experimentalism. The Hare and the Moon collaborate with The Owl Service's Jo Lepine for I'll Bid My Heart Be Still, combining medieval-style balladry with ominous cinematic effects and blistering psychedelic guitar. Time Attendant's In a Strange Stillness is filmic sound art with a feeling of surrealism and tension. The Seance comprises Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie; their Chetwynd Haze is a nightmarish cinematic instrumental that is as engaging as it is unsettling.
The album has the same meticulously hand-assembled packaging as previous compilations in the series, and can be ordered at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
SIMON FELTON Topsy Turvy CD/download (Pink Hedgehog)
The latest homemade - but definitely not lo-fi! - solo album from Garfields Birthday's Simon Felton. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a dark-edged, psych-tinged piece blending powerpop with late 60s American folk-rock. Out of Time is sophisticated classic pop with jazzy undercurrents and smooth vocal harmonies. In the Garden is superb orchestrated harmony pop with tinges of folk and psychedelia. Your Place or Mine is great powerpop balancing a gutsy chug with strong melody and vocal harmonies. Smile for the Camera is an enjoyable synthesis of 80s-style indiepop and 60s harmony pop. The Garfields Birthday song You Should Know Better By Now is revisited here, opening with a creative mix of strings and sound manipulation which gives way to another fine slice of jangly harmony pop. The Measure of All Things is light and airy pop with nice use of orchestration, taking on a darker tone as it segues into a forceful poetry performance by Stephen Kalinich, the poet and lyricist best known for his collaborations with The Beach Boys. A classy album that successfully blends Simon's roots in indiepop and powerpop with more overtly sophisticated influences such as jazz and orchestral music. Find out more at www.pinkhedgehog.com
NATHAN HALL & THE SINISTER LOCALS Effigies double CD (The Hip Replacement)
Debut album from Soft Hearted Scientists frontman Nathan Hall's new project. The 2 CD set comprises the main album plus a bonus disc of home demo versions of the album tracks. Plant Your Flag is swirling, colourful pop with orchestrated and spacey bits, its "neutralise the doom and gloom" refrain an apt description of what the song actually does. The Unholy Ghost blends eccentric whimsy with nightmarish angularity. Stained Glass Girl paints a vivid picture of a fantasy world populated by vampire squid and phantom wolves, set to an inventive multi-part arrangement. Spider Skin is kaleidoscopic psych-pop employing a hectic fairground atmosphere to satirise those "busy bees" who Nathan sums up in the press release as believing "never coming to a standstill is a badge of honour". Your Name in Flames is luxuriously arranged, with theremin and spacey vintage synths lending a dramatic sci-fi film score feel to the piece. This is a superb psych-pop album pairing sumptious arrangements with a lyrical wit. The demo album has a more stripped-down acoustic emphasis, and offers an enjoyable insight into the songs' origins. The album is available at nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com
JUHA KUJANPÄÄ Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa / To Where My Wings Will Take Me CD (Eclipse Music)
Third part of an instrumental album trilogy from Finnish composer Juha Kujanpää, who is joined here by an 8-piece backing band including three members of Frigg. Vuorikiipeilija (Mountaineer) is a huge cinematic piece over 10 minutes in length, incorporating influences from folk, prog and orchestral music. Kumina (Caraway) is an intricate, swirling folk-rock piece drawing from Eastern European and Greek folk motifs. Aurora is a beautiful piece taking on board elements of film score, prog, folk and country, but ultimately defying genre classification. Matkalaulu (Travel Song) is an excellent Finnish folk fiddle piece incorporated into a folk-rock setting, really amazing stuff. Hirvitalon Valssi (Waltz from the Moose House) is an inventive and effective synthesis of folk waltz, orchestral vintage movie soundtracks, circus music, and laid-back jazz. Finnish and Greek folk music are combined with prog rock in the fluttering and soaring piece aptly named Perhostanssi (Butterfly Dance). An excellent album with top class musicianship and creative musical ideas, its eclectic sources of inspiration brought together into a cohesive whole. Highly recommended. Visit www.eclipse-music.net and www.juhakujanpaa.com
SENDELICA The Cromlech Chronicles II LP (Fruits de Mer)
Sendelica returned to the Mwnci studio located next to an ancient cromlech for a second recording session, following the 2015 recordings released as the first Cromlech Chronicles album. This prolific band are often categorised as spacerock; whilst this is not inaccurate, Sendelica have always taken on board an eclectic set of influences, their previous releases combining genres such as ambient and jazz with spacerock, and with their cover versions they have put their own stamp on material from artists as diverse and unexpected as Donna Summer and Scott Walker. The Cromlech Chronicles II is different again, leaving aside their spacerock influence entirely in favour of an experimental soundscape approach with similarly diverse influences. There are two side-long tracks heading towards twenty minutes apiece, the core band being expanded with the addition of several guest musicians bringing in a wide range of world music instruments, cello, and more. Ripples of the Megaliths is a calming mix of neoclassical music, gently throbbing ambient drones, atmospheric bells and gongs, mellow yet experimental jazz, and Sanskrit chanting. Even Though My Mouth is Silent is a cinematic ambient soundscape combining gentle drones with improvised cello, woodwind and percussion, along with heavily processed wordless vocals adding extra layers of atmosphere, and the chanted lyrics from Cheryl Beer appearing near the end of the piece. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com and sendelica.bandcamp.com
MARC ELSTON I'll Build A Better Castle CD (self-released)
This solo album from Marc Elston (Bulldozer Crash, The Liberty Ship, Johnny Domino, Franklin's Kite) explores a number of sounds and moods whilst remaining true to the spirit of classic indiepop. There's the punchy title track, the airy Head in the Clouds, and the wistful Three Speeds. The Great Outdoors is uplifting and catchy with ringing guitars and lyrics that celebrate the thrill of nature. I Was Lost is bouncy janglepop that reminds me of Mighty Mighty. Idle Talk is sophisticated 1980s-style guitar pop with shades of early Aztec Camera. Wake Up is bedroom electropop setting a strong melody to the chugs and whirrs of 1980s keyboards. I'm Glad I'm Not You swathes jangle and la-la-las in an ethereal haze. An outstanding indiepop album from a talented artist with a strong understanding and love of this genre. Highly recommended. Available at marcelston.bandcamp.com
EASY Magic Seed LP/CD (A Turntable Friend)
EASY A Heartbeat From Eternity LP/CD (A Turntable Friend)
Magic Seed, the critically acclaimed debut album from Swedish band Easy, was originally released 27 years ago on Blast First, leading to UK indie chart placings and European tours with the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, The House of Love, and Lush. The recently revived A Turntable Friend label - one of the best sources for indiepop/noisepop in the 1990s - has now released a remastered edition of Magic Seed on lavishly packaged gatefold vinyl that comes with an extra CD with 6 bonus tracks. A CD version with all 16 tracks is also available. He Brings the Honey is an amazing track bringing together bright jangle, searing noise and a shuffling drum rhythm to maximum effect. Cloud Chamber is a classic of early 90s indiepop, pairing a strong catchy melody with gritty noise and a nicely atmospheric instrumental section near the end. Horoscope combines tuneful pop with a hypnotic, ethereal arrangement. Pleasure Cruise begins as a melodic song and ends as a chaotic noise onslaught that reminds you the band were previously on Blast First. Magic Seed has a laid-back summer afternoon feel with that jangly sound I so love. Bonus tracks include the fuzzy, buzzy Apples for You, the powerful and uplifting noisepop of Snake Charmer, Daniel Miller's remix of Horoscope which brings the song's ethereal aspects even further to the forefront, and a swirling atmospheric demo track, Come Find the Horses.
Easy reformed following the 20th anniversary of Magic Seed, and are back with an album of all-new material, A Heartbeat From Eternity. Some tracks hark back to the band's roots, for example the noisepop of For Beauty and It's OK to Cry, the airy, dreamlike indiepop of Swimming with the Beast, the hazy, hypnotic leftfield pop of A Picture (I've Got Mine), and the chiming janglepop of The Reincarnated, whilst others see Easy adding further facets to their sound: I Can Tell You Why is noisepop with a Motown twist, Song to Remember is riff-laden retro rock filtered through a noisepop lens, and Ask the Sky is sparkling electropop, really uplifting with a catchy chorus. The albums are distributed worldwide by SRD, or available direct from www.aturntablefriendrecords.com
TRAPPIST AFTERLAND Se(VII)en LP (Sunstone)
The seventh album from Adam Geoffrey Cole's Gnostic folk project Trappist Afterland is the most lavishly presented yet, peach vinyl within a full colour inner sleeve within a gatefold sleeve, really nice visual presentation here. The music is, needless to say, no less impressive. The Blood in the Wood is dark-edged, hypnotic, psychedelic folk with the swelling, pulsing drone of the tanpura, impassioned vocals, and atmospheric violin. Burning Bushes combines traditional folk influences with mind expanding, swirling effects. Song for Sundog is a beautiful, touching memorial for Adam's dog Syd, lushly arranged with oud, violin and Eastern percussion, and ending with a spoken word section from the Kitchen Cynics' Alan Davidson. Stickboy is more sparsely arranged yet retains the dreamlike atmosphere of the rest of the album, interweaving harmonium and flute among the acoustic guitars. Trace Your Root is beautifully atmospheric, combining lilting Mellotron with Eastern folk instruments. Forest Mass features evocative nature-mystical lyrical imagery swathed in a heady arrangement combining psych-folk with ambient and experimental aspects. This Clock Tick Tock is Trappist's most psychedelic moment yet, with Mellotron alongside an intriguing whirring effect like otherworldly birdsong. A truly amazing album from this highly recommended band and label. I can see it becoming a long term favourite of mine, it really is that superb. Get it at www.sunstonerecords.co.uk
ANDY B Catch My Breath and It Will Never Be The Same CDRs (Pastime)
Prolific DIY musician Andy B returns with another two new albums. Don't be fooled by the twee cuddly toy animals on the cover of Catch My Breath - you won't find happy-go-lucky innocence here. Let It Go is noisy and on-edge with lyrics of confusion, nostalgia and melancholia. Silly Boy is an angular, loping, punkish number. My Turn Now is an energetic mod/garage-tinged noisepop song about getting revenge on a school bully. Andy also revisits and reinvents a handful of older tracks, such as the stripped-down acoustic reworking of Let's Talk About It Later Baby. Latest album It Will Never Be The Same focuses on the wistful and pensive side of Andy's output, with heart-on-sleeve lyrics of regret, emotional pain, world-weariness and a need for escape set to melancholic music inspired by late 80s/early 90s indiepop. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com
MISERABLE LES Gulp CD (Miserable Records)
An impressive album of modern folk, with high quality musicianship and intelligent, poetic lyrics with a quirky wit. There are songs about the guy who uses social media to brag and create a false persona (Facebook John), creepy crawlies and their power to scare (Spider), and the hangover so bad you never want to drink again (Unhappy Hour). Cul-de-sac sets observational vignettes about the inhabitants of a close, who range from the unusual to the outright criminal, to an arrangement that recalls folk greats such as Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch. Hey Nonny Nonsense, despite its jokey and self-deprecating title, is actually a far from nonsensical instrumental combining medieval-esque English folk with American folk motifs. Loop-de-Loop is a bluesy ode to loop pedals with laugh-out-loud lyrics. Well crafted stuff from an artist I hope to hear more from. Proceeds go to Prostate Cancer UK. Find out more at www.facebook.com/miserableles54
GREEN SEAGULL Scarlet Fever LP/CD (Mega Dodo)
Debut album from this impressive retro band. Not Like You and Me combines 60s-ish jangly harmony pop with big dramatic proggy flourishes. (I Used to Dream in) Black and White is really amazing jangly folk-pop. Shrubbery Road is whimsical observational psych-pop interspersed with a rock 'n' roll swagger. Scraggly Old Tramp brings together a catchy pop chorus, swirling vintage organ and garage rock bite. Lay My Head is superb baroque pop with soaring vocal harmonies. Girls are Coming Into Town is super-melodic psychedelic janglepop. This is a band who are completely in tune with the spirit of the late 1960s, with a vintage image to match their music, and fantastic sleeve art akin to 1960s psychedelic posters. Across the album I'm reminded at times of various 60s bands - The Moody Blues, The Zombies, The Animals, The Kinks, the Small Faces, The Beatles, The Byrds - but rather than coming across like a simple pastiche, Green Seagull's music deserves to be appreciated on its own merits, inspired by the past but infused with considerable creativity and talent of their own. Well worth checking out - available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
GAVIN JOHN BAKER Night in the Open CDR (Folk Archive)
Latest solo album from prolific artist Gavin John Baker (Billy Mahonie, Jet Johnson, The Baker Boys, Höglin Baker, Meets Guitar, Sightseers, etc). Originally from England and now based in Norway, Gavin is joined here by two Norwegian guest drummers, Kenneth Bæver Bjerke and Svein Olav Eriksen. The similarly prolific English DIY recording artist David CW Briggs also joins Gavin on two tracks as guest guitarist. Summer Layabout is janglepop tinged with American folk. Night Spent in the Open is hazy and woozy indie-rock with lyrics about booze, sex and UFO watching. Traitor's Gate is slow and stripped down lo-fi songcraft with psychedelic aspects. Clay Man sets a US folk-influenced melody to sinuous psych guitar. Hiding Under Leaves puts a psychedelic spin on classic jangly indiepop to maximum effect. Fortune is brilliant folk-rock with intricate guitar work and touches of psychedelia. Reading the Runes is laid-back yet catchy hometaper folk set to a mix of shimmering post-rock and intense, mindbending psych-rock. A great homemade album bringing together elements of psych, folk, indie-rock and -pop, lo-fi hometaper music and post-rock into a cohesive whole. Visit folkarchiverecords.bigcartel.com and gavinjohnbaker.bandcamp.com
BRADFORD Thirty Years of Shouting Quietly double LP/CD (A Turntable Friend)
Bradford are often remembered in connection with Morrissey, who championed the band in the 1980s and went on to cover their song Skin Storm in 1991. They deserve, however, to be remembered in their own right, and A Turntable Friend has made a welcome effort to introduce them to a new audience with this expanded reissue of their Shouting Quietly album which also includes tracks from their other releases as well as some previously unreleased material. The album is available as a 30-track double CD or a 21-track double LP limited to 500 copies, which includes a download code for all 30 tracks from the CD edition. Both formats come with gatefold packaging and extensive liner notes by music journalist, blogger and club DJ Fergal Kinney, who aptly sums up Bradford's sound as "tough but sensitive and literate". The music here is melodic, intelligent and sophisticated guitar pop written from the perspective of disaffected and alienated working class youth living under Thatcherism. The lyrics, printed in the accompanying booklet, are poetic and meaningful, and drawn from real experience not dogmatic sloganeering.
Greed and Pleasant Land is sharp, sparkling pop with a wry wit exposing injustice and shallowness amid a mix of bright jangle, bursts of brass and Hammond organ. To Have and to Hurt features atmospheric and undulating keyboards alongside jangly and spiky guitars. Always Torn is sophisticated, soaring guitar pop with lyrics of doubt and emotional turmoil. Lust Roulette tells a tale of the futility of searching for 'the one' within dingy nightclubs, set to a jangly guitar and dreamlike keyboard accompaniment. Skin Storm, which appears here in album and single versions, is poetic, evocative and sensual. Boys will be Boys casts a critical eye over the culture of drumming machismo and hypocrisy into males since birth. Pint of Bitterness is powerful pop with a message of positivity over malice. Whilst most tracks here are rooted in the indie pop idiom, Bradford are clearly not indie purists. Radio Edna is most illustrative of this, being baroque pop wrapping a bouncy rhythm within a psychedelic swirl. This is an album of indie pop with equal room for beauty and bite, poetry and harsh realism. "Truly a lost English classic", says Fergal Kinney, and he is absolutely right. Distributed by SRD, or available direct from the label at www.aturntablefriendrecords.com
GRAY/BLISS Tilling Lurid Lullabies CD (ReverseReleaseRecords)
Gray/Bliss is mainly the work of multi-instrumentalist Nick Sapounas, who is joined by Mike La Bella, Drew Bartosik, and Henry Johns on selected tracks. Perennial Digression is psych-pop with bouncy piano and swirly guitar effects. Exitlude is a woozy instrumental with diversions into laid-back jazz territory. Reverse Release brings together lazy summer day harmony-pop with retro-futuristic aspects like vocoder and the spacey whooshes and bleeps of vintage synths. Vice of Virtue combines shades of psychedelic Beatles with an underground angularity. Blink of an Eye is great psych-pop with a bendy, off-kilter atmosphere. Aenesthesia subverts lounge music, soul and light jazz into a kind of feverish experimental pop. No More combines a strong, catchy powerpop tune with intricate psychedelic guitar work - great stuff. The band also deal in cinematic instrumentals, such as Channelling and Circadian Rhythms. This is an inventive album bringing diverse influences together to create a cohesive overall sound that's distinctive to this band. Sometimes they tap into a similar vibe to retro-futurist/soundtrack-influenced bands, sometimes there are hints of 1960s music, but overall this is a band who are very much doing their own thing outside of restrictive genre confines. Well worth investigating - visit grayblissmusic.bandcamp.com
GRANDPA EGG Underneath the Willow Tree double CD (self-released)
Grandpa Egg were formed in 2010 by multi-instrumentalist brothers Jeb and Bart Morris, and expanded their line-up the following year to include Inga Kristaponyte and Jordin Goff. Underneath the Willow Tree is their third album, recorded at assorted lo-tech locations (a mobile home park, a basement) and self-released. Whilst the album is professionally pressed, the artwork has a cut 'n' paste aesthetic in keeping with the homemade nature of the music. It is a 'storybook album' centred around a specific set of characters, and explores themes such as suicide, bullying and loneliness, but also friendship. Jungle Joe is off-kilter folk-pop with strummed banjo, organ, and vibrato vocals that put me in mind of Donovan. Moving-in Song is cheery banjo-driven folk-pop ornamented by glockenspiel and tambourine. Box of Letters is beautifully eerie psych-folk. Up and At 'Em is a sunny, ultra-catchy song that encapsulates the best bits of indiepop, American folk-rock and psych; really brilliant. I Dream of Holly is psych-folk with surreal and spooky experimental elements. Willow Tree is bouncy pop with folk and psych aspects. Sucking at the Air is lo-fi experimentation with disturbing lyrics of violent bullying. Park Bench is quirky lo-fi songcraft setting hushed vocals to toy piano, banjo, and crackly background sound effects. Fishhooks in My Brain is angular, dissonant and experimental lo-fi pop. End of My Rope is a lyrically unsettling but musically beautiful piece in two parts, taking in melancholic folk-pop and dark experimental psych-folk sections. An inventive homemade album successfully blending lo-fi experimentation with strong folk and pop tunes. Visit www.grandpaegg.com
JONATHON HERON Half Penny Ballard's CDR (Wishing Chair)
Latest album from Jonathon Heron, the alter-ego of Jon Chinn, also known for his work with Darkships and Astralasia. As usual with Wishing Chair releases, the CDR comes with nicely put together homemade packaging which treats the release as a complete art package. This album comes with a lino-cut art print of a hand holding an ivy leaf, and hand-drawn on-body CD art. On the cover, the hand and leaf image reoccurs in a surreal form, an eye within the leaf looking back at the person holding it. The 'Ballard's' of the title is not a typo for 'ballads', but a now-demolished swimming pool in Plymouth. It doesn't seem to have much bearing on the music itself, which takes much of its inspiration from the world of nature. Munderfield Hill is contemporary folk with sparse yet intricate acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Inner Revolution is minimal instrumental psych-folk centred around a lone acoustic guitar, later introducing drones for extra texture and atmosphere. Sun Dial is beautiful, hypnotic psych-folk combining acoustic guitar with soaring woodwind, djembe, and the cosmic hum of vintage synths. Jigsaws and Tall Trees features poetic, evocative lyrics against a textured musical backdrop. Snail Shell is dreamlike psych incorporating ethereal harmony vocals and atmospheric electronics. A mind-altering and moving listening experience from this talented artist. Visit www.wishingchairrecords.co.uk and jonathonheron.bandcamp.com
WINTERFYLLETH The Hallowing of Heirdom (Spinefarm/Candlelight)
Winterfylleth ('Winter Full Moon', the Anglo-Saxon name for October) started life as a black metal band and received much acclaim in the metal scene for their previous albums in this vein. Whilst they have always been inspired by traditional English folk music throughout their ten year existence, their sixth and latest album The Hallowing of Heirdom takes this influence to a whole new level, being an acoustic album that places folk right at the forefront and gains lyrical inspiration from folklore, ancient customs, history and landscape. The core line-up are joined here by guest musicians adding orchestral instruments such as strings and flute, providing an additional classical element to the album. The Shepherd is a traditional-style folk song with strongly atmospheric accompaniment combining drones, powerful and resonant multi-part vocal harmonies, a sophisticated string arrangement, and intricate guitar work. Æcerbot is inspired by the Anglo-Saxon field-blessing charm of the same name, bringing together gentle pastoral folk with celebratory harmony vocals and soaring strings. Elder Mother is an amazing, artistically arranged piece with top class musicianship effortlessly combining classical and folk motifs. The lyrics incorporate material from historic folklore linked to the elder tree, such as the legend of Mother Shipton and the Rollright Stones, and a rhyme from English folk tradition recited when cutting elder wood, which is effectively a prayer to the tree's indwelling spirit. Latch to a Grave is brooding, melancholic folk swathed in mournful strings. The album ends with the title track, another very fine orchestral folk piece with lyrics firmly rooted in the natural landscape. The song-based tracks are punctuated by instrumentals, including the medieval-influenced A Gleeman's Volt, and Embers which surrounds delicate acoustic guitar with ethereal synth sounds. In addition to the standard CD, the album is available as a double LP on yellow and black vinyl in gatefold sleeve, and a double digipak CD with 4 bonus tracks, the plaintive instrumental Across Silent Fells and alternative versions of three tracks from the main album. An incredibly well-crafted album, steeped in history. More info at www.winterfylleth.co.uk
TRENT MILLER Time Between Us CD/download (Bucketfull of Brains)
Fourth album from Italian-born and London-based songwriter Trent Miller, out on the label offshoot of long-established underground magazine Bucketfull of Brains. Time Between Us is sunny American-style folk-pop with a gritty guitar sound and an anthemic harmony-laden chorus. How Soon is Never is dark-edged and thoughtful Americana, lushly arranged with strings and piano. Moonlight Cafe is brooding, sophisticated pop swathed in ethereal electronics. Motel Rooms of Ocean Blue brings together the three contrasting musical components of smoky bar-room country, orchestral sophistication, and an underground pop sensibility. Bonfires of Navarino Road is plaintive alt-country with Rhodes piano, orchestration, and shimmering dreampop effects. After the Great Betrayal is intense, dramatic and stylish, with effective use of woozy slide guitar and soaring strings. Trent Miller is a talented artist whose brand of Americana has equal room for grit and sophistication. Find out more at www.trent-miller.com and www.bucketfullofbrains.net
VARIOUS Goldfish triple LP & 7" (Fruits de Mer)
Lavish triple gatefold album and bonus 7" released to celebrate 10 years of the vinyl-only Fruits de Mer label. Avoiding too much overlap with the FdM early years compilation Plankton (the two albums only have one track in common) or the longer tracks such as those on FdM's Strangefish sublabel, Goldfish emphasises the original aims of FdM - covers of 60s and early 70s tracks, whether acknowledged classics or hidden obscurities, and new material in a similar vein. My past reviews of Sendelica releases have highlighted their eclectic and often unexpected approach, and their track here, a cover of The Velvet Underground's Venus in Furs, shows yet another side to this band, being an excellent blend of psych-folk, laid-back retro rock, Indian percussion, and shimmering atmospheric effects. Us and Them's take on Willow's Song from the Wicker Man soundtrack is absolutely beautiful; amazing psych-folk with soaring orchestration and ethereal electronics. The Chemistry Set provide a superb slice of ultra-melodic psych-pop, Come Kiss Me, Vibrate and Smile. Hills Have Riffs' Down by the River is lo-fi psych-folk setting nature-inspired lyrics to an atmospheric, hypnotic arrangement. Soft Hearted Scientists' Caterpillar Song is an inventive, multifaceted psychedelic piece taking in aspects of folk, pop, rock and cosmic synth music. Claudio Cataldi covers The Velvet Underground's Here She Comes Now in a style that wraps DIY indiepop in an atmospheric psychedelic haze.
King Penguin do a version of The Byrds' She Don't Care About Time in which the jangly sound of the original is combined with luxurious orchestration. Beautify Junkyards' interpretation of Nick Drake's From the Morning is gentle psych-folk with softly humming electronics alongside minimal acoustic guitar. Mark McDowell's Girls of Belvoir is excellent psych-folk in the best early 1970s style, following in the footsteps of the sort of bands featured on compilations like Erewhon's History of UK Underground Folk Rock 1968-1978 or Gather in the Mushrooms. The Honey Pot's Dr Crippen's Waiting Room, originally by The Orange Machine, features Anton Barbeau on vocals, and combines bright, cheerful psych-pop with a darkly eccentric lyrical wit. Jack Ellister's The Man with the Biochopper is a multifaceted, eccentric and intense psych piece that crams a whole album's worth of diverse sounds into one track. Sidewalk Society cover The Action's Strange Roads, which ought to appeal to fans of powerpop and late 60s psych rock alike. Astralasia combine psych, ambient, spoken word, dulcimer and wailing blues harmonica in The Desert. Superfjord do an intense and hypnotic psychedelic version of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Schizo Fun Addict reinterpret the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, shifting from spacey and ethereal to choppy and noisy and back again. An ideal introduction to Fruits de Mer - find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
MOONWEEVIL Verticle Tide LP/CD (Fruits de Mer)
Moonweevil is the solo project of Cranium Pie keyboardist Rob Appleton. Released to coincide with Fruits de Mer's 10 year celebration event at the King Arthur pub in Glastonbury, this is an LP and CD package comprising two side-long tracks on the LP and a bonus CD with those tracks and eight additional ones. The music is instrumental experimental electronica; across the album you will find a mixture of nicely wobbly electronic sounds, retro-futuristic bleepage, shimmery ambient music, ominous drones, glitchy beats, mellow spacey jazz, cinematic music, and bits that sound like a kind of warped dance music for the psychedelic crowd. More info at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
ANTON BARBEAU Antronica 2 CD (Idiot Records)
ANTON BARBEAU Natural Causes CD (Beehive/Gare du Nord)
Anton Barbeau's second volume of synthpop, Antronica 2, compiles material recorded in Sacramento between 1984 and 1987, and Berlin between 2015 and 2017. MTV Song combines synthpop with rock riffage, the lyrics putting a quirky humorous spin on the horror of someone else getting rich and famous from a song they stole from you. This Is My Song is baroque psych-pop gone electronic. Dolphins on Drugs is new age relaxation music, though its title shows Anton's impish sense of humour is still at work. Valerie's Waiting starts off as a fairly straightforward 1980s synthpop track vaguely reminiscent of Tears For Fears, before bringing in wobbly bubbly psychedelic effects and laughter snippets and military drums that wouldn't sound out of place on Sgt Pepper. Milk Churn in the Morning is swirly electronic psych-pop with bizarre surreal lyrics. There are several idiosyncratically titled instrumentals dotted about the album, with names like Juno Werkarownd, When the Toll Bell Goes Wrong, and Plonkee Trawl, the latter combining Middle Eastern-esque melodic motifs with spacey retro-futurism and psychedelic dance music. A fun album full of catchy pop tunes and wry eccentricity.
Natural Causes is Anton Barbeau's latest album, on which he is joined by various guest musicians including Robbie McIntosh who's known for his work with big names like Paul McCartney and the Pretenders, and underground heroes like The Bevis Frond's Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw. Natural Causes includes a few new versions of earlier songs, not because Anton is running out of new ideas - far from it! - but because the album's predecessor Magic Act was his first on LP, and he is treating Natural Causes like it's his second album, remaking some older songs for personal reasons and coming full circle by including a new version of the first track on his first ever CD, namely Magazine Street, a fantastic slice of janglepop. It's the Coffee that Makes the Man Go Mad is fun quirky pop with a twisty-turny song structure and a super-catchy melody. Disambiguation is catchy psych-pop pairing 12-string guitar with retro electronics. Magic Sandwiches is really uplifting pop with Anton's inimitable lyrical eccentricity. Just Passing By is intensely heavy yet strongly melodic powerpop. Down Around the Radio is top quality pop with a strong memorable tune, featuring nice use of vocal harmonies, vintage electronics and a catchy piano riff. Excellent stuff - find out more at www.antonbarbeau.com
VARIOUS Sideshows by the Seashore CD (Fruits de Mer)
Exclusive free compilation CD for Fruits de Mer club members who order the Goldfish LP & 7" set and the Permanent Clear Light 7" (both reviewed in this issue of Aquamarine). The CD features familiar names like The Chemistry Set, Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals, Blue Giant Zeta Puppies and Todd Dillingham alongside many bands who are new to Fruits de Mer. Ex-Norwegian open the compilation with some uplifting powerpop, a cover of International Feel by Todd Rundgren. The Chemistry Set provide a remix of their English eccentric tea-quaffing anthem Lovely Cuppa Tea, augmenting the quirky pop of the original version with mindbending psychedelic effects. Cranium Pie offshoot Moonweevil appears with a relaxing piece of floaty, thrumming electronica. Dear Mr Time combine whimsical psych-pop with an intense rock kick - great stuff. Fast Cars contribute a superb slice of orchestrated folk-rock. Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals appear with the multifaceted off-kilter pop song Stained Glass Girl from their Effigies album reviewed above. The Triptamynds make powerful psych-rock with wild guitar work and mindbending effects. Blue Giant Zeta Puppies reinvent The Monkees' Stepping Stone as psychedelic spacey surf rock, while Cat Frequency provide a surreal version of The Shadows' Apache. Todd Dillingham and the Slithy Tove round off the compilation with their blend of airy, summery pop and heavier psych-rock aspects. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
MISERABLE LES 7 Deadly Songs and Euphobia CDs (Miserable Records)
Earlier this issue I reviewed Miserable Les's latest album Gulp; he has since sent me his two previous albums, 7 Deadly Songs and Euphobia. 7 Deadly Songs was released in 2012, with all proceeds going to St Oswald's Hospice, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There are twelve songs here, the first seven exploring each of the Seven Deadly Sins in turn. Temptation is based around plaintive piano and strings. Someday Soon is moving and melancholic contemporary folk. Green Blues is sprightly folk-pop with a soaring chorus. Anger sets philosophical lyrics to a sophisticated arrangement with effective use of cello. Dirty Money opens with some Martin Carthy-esque guitar, leading into a country-ish song with nice use of folky mandolin. Messambryanthemum is bluesy acoustic rock with impressive intricate guitar work. Fallen Sky is thoughtful and emotional songwriting with shades of Nick Drake. Second album Euphobia is released in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. There's the country-tinged guitar pop of One More Show, and the pensive acoustic Escape to Nowhere. Karma Comedian is a contemporary folk song poking fun at those who do good deeds as they think it will earn them 'karma points' rather than acting out of the goodness of their own hearts. Mr Moffit Goes to Spain is a very fine instrumental with medieval leanings, showing the complexity of Miserable Les's guitar style. Find out more at www.facebook.com/miserableles54
US AND THEM On Shipless Ocean LP/CD/Download (Mega Dodo)
Second full-length album from Swedish psych-folk duo Us and Them. The Trees and the Sky Above is light and airy pop with folky and psychey aspects, ornamented with luxurious strings. From the Corner of My Eye is a sumptious blend of folk, vintage electronics and lush orchestration. The extended cover of Kevin Ayers' Lady Rachel is beautifully eerie and dreamlike, combining ethereal psych-folk and floaty electronica with harder-edged but still suitably laid-back psych-rock riffage. Changes and Choices is really lovely psych-folk balancing an ultramelodic pop sensibility with an otherworldly sense of experimentalism. Time is superb psych-folk with highly effective use of retro-futuristic synths and sophisticated strings. Extract from the 17th of November is perhaps the most overtly experimental track here, a cinematic soundscape that's eerie and quirky and spacey all at once. A wonderful album from start to finish, packed full of soothing and heartwarming songs. Whilst undeniably a psych-folk band, Us and Them take the genre to new places with their considerable creativity. Available 15th June 2018 on limited edition 180 gram aquamarine vinyl as well as CD or download. Find out more at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
SAGAS The Last Door CD (Deep Water)
Sagas is the solo project of guitarist Matt McDowell (not to be confused with Mark McDowell who has featured in these pages before), a prolific artist who has worked with a number of bands including Dire Wolves, Arco Flute Foundation, Psychic Frost, Sun Cycles, Hex Hollow, etc, as well as producing an extensive catalogue under the Sagas moniker, much of it being released on cassette via his own Biological Radio label. Bristlecone Blues begins as a meandering improvisational guitar piece, giving way to a psychedelic reinvention of Appalachian-style folk, shot through with washes of atmospheric noise. Aura Photos is a jaunty US folk-rock instrumental combined with intense psychedelic aspects. Permutations for Lap Steel is a sprawling atmospheric noise piece combining elements of shoegaze and post-rock with a psych-folk spirit, which then morphs into a mellow, woozy soundscape centred around lap steel, the instrument crossing a far distance from its country roots, well into psychedelic territory. The Mysteries of Mirror Lake intersperses flowing psych-folk with tension-building soundtrack-esque music and raw psychedelic blues, a pulsing Indian-style drone as its constant backdrop. The Last Door is the only track here to feature vocals. Filtering a basis in lo-fi country through an experimental underground lens, the piece augments softly strummed acoustic guitar with full-on psychedelic noise-rock and more of that woozy atmospheric lap steel. Available at www.dwacres.com
MIKE TAMBURO Aquarian Drifter CD (Deep Water)
Solo album from Mike Tamburo, also of Brother Ong, Psychic Frost, and Arco Flute Foundation. There are nine instrumentals on the more experimental end of post-rock, characterised by soothing drones, subtle melodies, glacial soundscaping and woozy psychedelic effects. Last Nights wraps a repeating guitar melody within ethereal effects to create a gentle and tranquil listening experience. Tundra Swan is a relaxing drone piece; the 'angelic choir' synth sound hints at New Age music while avoiding the bland sterility that genre is often guilty of. Moment or Momento features an echoey, bell-like guitar tone alongside cosmic whirrs and whooshes. Clock Watcher is a luxurious and dreamlike piece with soaring, harp-like zither. Final Days shimmers like music from a distant planet. Comes with great surreal space-themed artwork from Sunrise Ocean Bender's Kevin McFadin. Find out more at www.dwacres.com
UNITED BIBLE STUDIES The Star of the Sea Moves Today to Its Rising CD (Deep Water)
United Bible Studies are a prolific band who since their formation in 2001 have amassed a catalogue of nearly 30 releases on various labels and formats; this is their third with Deep Water. Founders David Colohan and James Rider are joined by a revolving cast of collaborators on each release, the line-up on this album including many important names from the overlapping worlds of underground folk and experimental music, including Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Electroscope, Barrett's Dottled Beauty), Alison Cotton (The Left Outsides, The Eighteenth Day of May, Saloon), Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon), Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service, Firefay), Michael Tanner (Plinth), and Richard Moult (Far Black Furlong and solo). The cover photograph of an abandoned railway reclaimed by nature sets the scene for the deeply evocative music contained within. Frontier Auras is sophisticated art music that encompasses abstract modern classical, ambient, and medieval-tinged chanting. Leumnàchan is plaintive, ethereal art-folk intertwined with dreamlike, cinematic neoclassical music and poetry. The title track is multifaceted, filmic sound art, with subtle melodies created by strings, woodwind, piano and chanting over a stark ambient backdrop and bookended by unsettling drones. The Wait is a beautiful harp composition straddling the boundaries between folk, classical and experimental, brought together with sophisticated, evocative songwriting. O Girl of the Branches is an epic piece close to 20 minutes in length, which uses heavily processed nature sounds such as the call of corvids and the crackle of twigs underfoot among its range of instruments alongside woodwind, guitar and piano. Alison O'Donnell joins the piece partway through with her powerful sung poetry. A creative and intelligent album of great depth. More info at www.dwacres.com
REDWOOD TANGO ENSEMBLE Prizefighter CD (Ears and Eyes)
Redwood Tango Ensemble is a Californian sextet led by composer and bandoneonist Charles Gorczynski, and also comprising a 4-piece string section and a pianist. Their contemporary interpretation of tango goes far beyond the boundaries of that genre to incorporate elements of chamber music, experimental composition, folk and jazz. This is multifaceted, sophisticated music that effortlessly combines the stately and the frenetic, and evokes vivid mind-images and feelings via its cinematic qualities. The closest reference point I have is the Finnish contemporary folk scene, in which bands are often equally inspired by tango and modern classical music. Anyone who enjoys the music of Lepistö & Lehti, Maria Kalaniemi & Aldargaz, Frigg or Sväng will surely find much to enjoy here. Visit www.earsandeyesrecords.com and www.redwoodtango.com
MICHAEL PLATER Mythologies CDR (Reverb Worship)
Mythologies is the second album from Australian singer/songwriter Michael Plater, originally released in 2016 and now reissued via Reverb Worship. Michael Plater plays assorted guitars on the album, including baritone and pedal steel alongside acoustic and electric, and is joined by a 10-piece band providing additional guitars, piano, organ, harmonica, accordion, violin and drums. The music here could be described as 'indie noir', bringing indie pop, dreampop and lo-fi hometaper aspects together with bleak gothic folk. The Officer's Mess draws from lo-fi indie rock and dark folk influences, with plaintive piano, strummed acoustic guitar and deep gothic vocals swathed in a dreampop haze. Pretty Maids is sprightly jangly indie pop with a punk kick and a generous helping of gothic Americana. Smoke combines indie jangle and woozy dreampop atmospherics with stark gothic elements. We Lit the Lamps is late-night indie rock 'n' roll with shades of Nikki Sudden, bringing in further aspects of Americana and sophisticated piano balladry. Old Victories is also reminiscent of Nikki Sudden in its songwriting style, whilst the accompaniment is based around a lo-fi hometaper strum-along with mournful harmonica bringing in a raw country feel. The Drunkard's Prayer evokes the slowed-down fog and slur of booze amidst an artistic and dramatic violin and accordion arrangement. Visit michaelplater.bandcamp.com and www.reverbworship.com
HAPPYORANGEBALLOON Unique CD (self-released)
Happyorangeballoon is the solo project of Italian musician Dan Romeo. Mastered by notable producer Kramer, the CD is professionally manufactured, with a pleasing sense of visual design, and looks like an album that was released by a label rather than having the homemade look of many self-released CDs. Happyorangeballoon may sound like the name of a twee indiepop band, but what you get is something altogether stranger, darker and more psychedelic. Otherworldly is eerie experimental electronic sound-sculpturing with a dystopian sci-fi feel, which wouldn't seem out of place on one of A Year in the Country's themed compilations. Driving through Las Vegas is experimental psych-rock with a hypnotic groove, veering off into dreamlike and nightmarish interludes. Sanatorium features guest vocals from Fiona Harmon, and offsets Happyorangeballoon's brand of experimental psychedelia with a soulful song with cinematic grandeur. The Theme of Moral Conscience is a nicely dreamlike piece centred around a repeated electronic harpsichord riff. Traffic Orange Jam combines seriously heavy psych-rock with experimental improvisation and horror filmic effects, before giving way to dark-edged, ethereal, prog-tinged psych-folk, then segueing into some improvisational jazz piano. Uscita Numero Due is a kind of sci-fi soundscape made up of mechanistic chugs and electronic noises. A creative experimental album that lives up to its title! More info at Facebook and Bandcamp.
VARIOUS Audio Albion CD (A Year in the Country)
This recently released installment in A Year in the Country's themed compilation series is described as a "music and field recording map of Britain which focuses on rural and edgeland areas", each musical composition incorporating sounds of place whilst using music and sound-art to further explore the history, myth and atmosphere of these locations. Staying with the well-crafted homemade presentation of previous editions in the series, the CD comes with an informative insert on heavy textured paper, in which the artists provide background information on their tracks.
Bare Bones contribute a banjo improvisation that is just as much Middle Eastern-inspired as it is Appalachian, accompanied by found sounds and wordless chanting. David Colohan of United Bible Studies combines drone, folk, neoclassical and film score in his evocative composition On Stormy Point. Grey Frequency provides a heady blend of drones, hypnotic repetition, and crackling bonfire sounds, which is eerie and psychedelic all at once. The piece explores Stapleford Hill, a place the artist finds "magical and maybe a little sinister", a feeling that is evoked perfectly in the music. Howlround make a squeaky gate sound like a real musical instrument in the eerie, otherworldly soundscape Cold Kissing. A Year in the Country's The Fields of Tumbling Ideas is a cinematic soundscape that captures well the idea of wandering minds and dreamlike reveries whilst immersed in nature.
Keith Seatman's Winter Sands is a spacey drone piece with folky and cinematic elements, shot through with a nightmarish sense of panic, inspired by Keith and his friends getting lost in a snowstorm. Magpahi sets a wordless folk song to the sound of starlings. Sproatly Smith contribute a gentle psych-folk instrumental accompanied by cathedral bells and murmuring voices. Widow's Weeds provide a stark, gothic rendition of the traditional folk song The Unquiet Grave, that completely encapsulates the spirit of folk horror. Time Attendant contributes an inventive industrial sound collage made up solely of sounds from an abandoned joiner's workshop. The Heartwood Institute's Hvin-lettir takes its name from the Old Norse name for the mountain forest Whinlatter, the piece combining spooky electronic folk with heavily processed nature sounds. Vic Mars rounds off the compilation with the undulating, ethereal electronic piece Dinedor Hill. As usual with this series, Audio Albion is a fine selection of eerie, experimental, cinematic sounds inspired by folklore and landscape. More info at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
VARIOUS A Place to Dwell: Folk Musicians Support Southend YMCA CD/Download
Diana Collier of The Owl Service and Greanvine has compiled this 13-track album of underground folk and experimental music in aid of Southend YMCA who provide support for vulnerable young people in the Southend area. The album includes a number of important names from the overlapping worlds of psych-folk, new folk, experimental folk and so on, with many of the tracks being exclusive to this compilation.
Alex Rex (featuring Trembling Bells' Alex Neilson and Lavinia Blackwall) provide a stripped-down take on 60s American folk-rock, which is as sophisticated as it is understated. The Old Straight Track by Cunning Folk is an ethereal, hypnotic, slightly eerie slice of psych-folk that's simply beautiful. Circle/Temple, the experimental project of The Owl Service's Dom Cooper, contributes a deeply atmospheric blend of ambient drones, harsh industrial noise, and Dead Can Dance-style chanting. Alasdair Roberts appears with The Little Collier, a traditional-style folk song written by Ewan McVicar. M G Boulter provides an acoustic singer-songwriter piece informed by American folk. Crafting for Foes contribute a darkly atmospheric psych-folk number, beautifully minimalistic with an ambient hiss and crackle providing a foreboding backdrop.
Lost Harbours are Richard Thompson (not that Richard Thompson!) and Sabine Moore, who appear with some of the spookiest gothic experimental folk you'll ever hear. brazil banks' darby is essentially a combination of post-rock, drone and electronica, yet it fits perfectly with everything else here with its eerily experimental undercurrents. Robert Sunday has a well-crafted and original approach towards the folky singer-songwriter thing; his song Romy is really impressive. Nancy Wallace provides a delicate, minimalistic song that straddles the boundaries between folk and DIY pop. Nick Pynn appears with a frenetic and off-centre fiddle piece blending forward-looking folk with classical sophistication. Kate Waterfield and Charlie Skelton contribute a very lovely traditional-inspired fiddle piece. Sharron Kraus and Friends - the friends including amongst others Fay Hield and Jon Boden - appear with a traditional-inspired song with positive lyrics about togetherness and kindness, in which Sharron sings the verses unaccompanied and the others join in as a choir for the choruses.
Well worth investigating; the album is available as a download or limited edition CD at southendymca.bandcamp.com
ICARUS PEEL'S ACID REIGN The Window on the Side of Your Head LP/CD (Mega Dodo)
Debut album from the new power trio formed by The Honey Pot's Icarus Peel. The wild and noisy jam Eel Plurr opens the album, leading on to a collection of songs that combine heavy rock oomph, virtuoso guitar work, and strongly melodic songwriting. Somewhere Far From Anywhere is heavy psych-rock with an authentic late 60s vibe. Midnight Moonlight is 60s-ish psych-rock with funky wah-wah, bluesy riffage and psychedelic vocal effects. Be Calm, Becalmed begins as a relaxing, hazy, hypnotic psych number before morphing into the heavy rock intensity that characterises the album as a whole. Let's Get It Together is an ingenious mix of Indian-influenced sitar psych and country-rock. Whilst autotune is associated in many minds with the blandest of commercial pop music, Icarus Peel subverts this mainstream pop staple to reveal its unexpectedly psychedelic qualities in Falling All Around. Recommended for fans of Jimi Hendrix, The Groundhogs, Cream, or the heavier moments of The Bevis Frond, the album is available on 180 gram yellow vinyl or CD in a tin, both of which are limited edition. Available at www.mega-dodo.co.uk
FAST CARS LAX CD/Download (Method)
Founded in Sydney in the early 1980s, Fast Cars released a string of singles before going on hiatus for some 31 years. They returned in 2015 as a long-distance online collaboration between songwriters Di Levi and Fabian Byrne, who are now based in two different continents. LAX, their debut full-length studio album, is a Los Angeles-themed song cycle, nicely packaged in a triple gatefold card sleeve. In some respects it's a synthesis of quintessentially Californian musics - punky powerpop, janglepop, psychedelia, folk-rock - yet they also go far beyond these influences to create an eclectic and inventive brand of pop that looks to the future as much as the past. Theme from LAX is dreamlike orchestral psych-pop. Take Me (To LA) combines meaty powerpop with ringing janglepop. Music Agent Man is inventive pop bringing together strong melody, post-punk angularity, and big dramatic bursts of brass. LA Alpha Girl has shades of Blondie combined with gritty punky noisepop and atmospheric psych. Buffalo Springfield's Mr Soul is given the psychedelic powerpop treatment. Crazy Good Times sounds like a bona fide early 80s pop hit, bursting with lush orchestration, fizzing retro synths, funky riffage, and bits that hark back to the early experiments with rapping and sampling. California Dawning is amazing folk-rock wrapping a strong memorable melody within a luxurious orchestral arrangement. An impressive set of songs from this highly talented outfit. Find out more at www.methodrecordsandmusic.com, www.facebook.com/FastCarsMaximumPop, and fastcars.bandcamp.com
THE ROOM IN THE WOOD s/t LP/CD/Download (A Turntable Friend)
The Room in the Wood is the new project of Paul Cavanagh and Dave Jackson, who last worked together as part of 80s post-punk band The Room. Since then Dave joined Benny Profane, Dust, and Dead Cowboys, and Paul has worked with many bands, perhaps the best known being Ludus, Top, and Gloss, and has also recorded solo work under the name Cabin in the Woods. The Room in the Wood's self-titled album is pressed on heavyweight vinyl, with lavish gatefold packaging and free download code; a CD version is also available. Greedy Stars is luxurious janglepop with soulful backing vocals. Magical Thinking combines urgent, angular post-punk with a funky groove. False Friend is stylish 1980s-ish guitar pop with bossa nova undercurrents. The dark folk track Grey Wolf Lullaby creates a foreboding atmosphere with evocative use of cymbals and cello. Sensation is bleak, gothic country-rock with a spaghetti western twang. Snowblind is lush, cinematic pop with warm, soaring backing vocals. Nothing is Real juxtaposes lyrics expressing a nihilistic view of spirituality with music that can only be described as profoundly spiritual, beginning as delicate and airy psych-folk then morphing into a more intense brand of psychedelia before slamming on the brakes to bring the song to an abrupt halt. This is an eclectic yet cohesive album, the sophisticated 1980s-style guitar-based pop at its core being expanded upon in a creative manner. Another winner from the superb A Turntable Friend label. Available at aturntablefriendrecords.bandcamp.com or aturntablefriendrecords.limitedrun.com
FUCHSIA s/t double LP (Fruits de Mer)
Last issue I reviewed Cherry Red offshoot Esoteric's CD reissue of this 1970s classic; now Fruits de Mer have released the definitive vinyl edition, which includes not only a reissue of the original album but an extra LP with early demos and new recordings, a DVD in which band founder Tony Durant discusses the album's history, a poster, and a 24-page A4 magazine. The LPs are pressed on 180 gram coloured vinyl and packaged in a gatefold sleeve with new sleeve notes from Tony Durant. Originally released in 1971, the album was a pioneering example of prog-folk, combining the off-centre intricacy of prog rock with folk-inspired melodies, sophisticated classical-influenced orchestration, and the dreamlike qualities of psychedelia. From the dramatic and angular Nothing Song to the blend of whimsical psych-pop, melancholic folk, and lushly orchestrated arrangement that is Me and My Kite (the song that gave its name to the excellent Swedish band Me and My Kites), this is a highly creative album that was around way before its time. It's easy to understand why it is now regarded as a classic.
The bonus album opens with Somnambulist, an eerie and dramatic song that brings the prog rock element to the forefront. There's a 15 minute demo taken from an early acetate, comprising a medley of songs that would later appear on the album alongside some previously unheard moments. The Band appears in demo form, as well as a 2014 recording featuring Tony Durant backed by the aforementioned Me and My Kites, which gives a really lovely summery, airy pop feel to the overall psych-folk-prog sound of the song. Ragtime Brahms is a genre-hopping yet broadly psychedelic piece with rich orchestration. Fuchsia Song is superb chamber-pop with prog and medieval folk touches; this is a different version from the one on the 2013 album Fuchsia II. This album is an excellent introduction to Fuchsia, and the bonus material makes it a must-have for existing fans too. Available at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
SENDELICA Cromlech Chronicles III triple 10" LP (Fruits de Mer)
This third installment of Sendelica's Cromlech Chronicles sessions recorded at Mwnci Studios is released as a triple 10" coloured vinyl album with a 3D cover image of the cromlech on the studio's grounds. The band have expanded to a six piece for this recording, the guest musicians including Gregory Curvey of The Luck of Eden Hall. BS combines heavy-hitting 1970s-style rock with prog and psych elements and that ecstatic, flowing sax sound that won't disappoint long time fans of this band. Slow Burner is an elongated, multifaceted piece drifting from prog with mellow jazz inclinations to relaxing ambient soundscaping. 12 Shades Revisited is a chilled, hypnotic psychedelic piece with atmospheric sax improvisation and vintage synth. Teifi Marshes is gentle and ethereal, with soaring, airy sax and delicate piano. Star Flower Blossom combines shimmering glacial ambience with improvisational aspects, gradually rocking things up as the piece progresses. Lost City of Cardiza has equal room for thunderingly heavy guitars and drums and ethereal sax, the piece building up to a dizzying, breakneck crescendo. An album that pulls together many eclectic elements to create a cohesive - and broadly psychedelic - whole. Available at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
STEPHEN BAILEY Silo LP (Cardinal Fuzz)
Debut solo LP from Mt. Mountain frontman Stephen Bailey, which takes a very different approach from that of his band, swapping the heavy-duty psych-outs and drones for a softer sound that takes its cues from late 80s and early 90s indiepop, and the mid 90s era that followed in which indiepop splintered off into subgenres that got tagged as such things as 'lo-fi' or 'slowcore'. In addition, the album takes in further influences as diverse as folk, classical, and 1960s soul. Demure is ethereal pop incorporating a driving motorik rhythm. Polyester Visions is airy pop setting a 60s-tinged melody to soundtrack-esque accompaniment with nice use of gently interwoven woodwind. Josephine is classic indiepop in the best late 80s/early 90s tradition. Let's Try Love is a plaintive piano ballad with a soulful melody and soaring backing vocals. Blue Eyes is strummy vintage-style bedroom pop given an effective twist in the chorus by the ethereal use of flute. Silo is soft and dreamy pop with atmospheric wordless vocals. Take it Up sets a Motown-esque melody to a nicely off-centre DIY pop arrangement. Mr Fair is beautiful psych-folk with a homemade pop touch. The Folons is a dreamlike neoclassical piano piece. This is a very lovely album that's musically eclectic but held together by the gentle, atmospheric vibe that's heard throughout. Limited to 250 copies, available at cardinalfuzz.bigcartel.com
PRANA CRAFTER Enter the Stream LP (Cardinal Fuzz/Sunrise Ocean Bender)
Following a number of limited edition CDR and tape releases (on the Reverb Worship, Deep Water, Eiderdown, and Beyond Beyond is Beyond labels), William Sol's Prana Crafter project now makes its first appearance on vinyl with this sumptiously packaged LP, the beautiful nature-inspired cover art a perfect match for Sol's nature-mystical lyrics. The album opens with the title track, singing bowl and bubbling stream sounds giving way to a strongly melodic, well-crafted US folk track with shades of Neil Young, before ending with a beautifully ethereal psych-folk instrumental section. Moon through Fern Lattice is an improvisational instrumental combining psychedelia with experimental sound sculpturing. Mycorrhizal Brainstorm combines relaxing drones, cosmic synths and intricate psychedelic guitars. The Spell is dark-edged psych-folk with powerful, resonant guitar as backdrop for rich lyrical imagery drawing from nature, science, love and spirituality. The superb 1960s-inspired folk-rock of Old North Wind segues into Kosmic Eko, a deeply atmospheric sound exploration merging calming sound effects and drones with meandering psychedelic guitar. Pillow Moss Absorption is a hypnotic and ethereal instrumental with genuinely mind-altering qualities, combining strands of ambient, psych and folk. Final track At the Dawn filters American folk through a mellow, cosmic lens. A beautifully calm and atmospheric album, well worth investigating whether you're into US folk, ambient, experimental or psychedelic music. Unfortunately the LP sold out immediately at Cardinal Fuzz, but selected tracks can be streamed at the label's Bandcamp page. It's still in stock at Sunrise Ocean Bender at the time of writing; visit www.sunriseoceanbender.com for links to buy the album on vinyl or download.
NIGHTHAMMER Vermilion Sands CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
Folk Archive, the DIY label run by David CW Briggs, usually exists as an outlet for DCWB's own prolific output, but will occasionally release music by other artists, this one being the latest release from Tony Mountford's project Nighthammer. Vermilion Sands is an audio homage to J G Ballard, in the form of one album-length track over 40 minutes long. It's an ambient sound-art piece comprising such elements as meditative thrumming drones, resonant gongs and bells, electronic whooshes and bleeps, found sounds, processed speech samples, minimalistic electronic beats, eerie whistling, and hypnotically repeating retro-futuristic synth riffage, the layers of sound building up as the piece progresses. A creative experimental album making for a highly atmospheric, mind-altering and engaging listening experience. Available as a download or very limited CDR (50 copies only) - visit folkarchiverecords.bigcartel.com, thenighthammer.tumblr.com, and davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com
VARIOUS A Gathering of the Fish CD (Fruits de Mer)
Free compilation CD for Fruits de Mer Records' club members who buy the recently released Fuchsia and Sendelica LPs reviewed above. The album is all instrumental, and features various bands who will be familiar to followers of Fruits de Mer (like Vespero, Black Tempest, Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, and Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals), alongside a number of less familiar names. Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals contribute a multifaceted piece that seamlessly combines elements of psych-folk, airy and dreamlike orchestral music, and a chugging motorik rhythm; really well-crafted and impressive stuff. Delphini set intense psychedelic guitar and keyboard jamming to a hypnotic bassline, introducing aspects of prog and spacerock along the way. Vespero bring together ambient, jazz and spacerock, adding some unusual and effective use of violin, in their powerful 17 minute live track The Course of Abagaz. Zeitfeld (Düsseldorf Motorik Mix) by Das Blaue Palais sets psych guitar and whirring/whooshing vintage synths to the motorik chug promised in the title. Black Tempest combine ethereal and relaxing psych-folk and neoclassical aspects with whooshing and bubbling retro-futuristic synths. Blue Giant Zeta Puppies give us some nicely off-centre space-surf-lounge music in the shape of their Joe Meek cover Love Song of the Saroos. The Hoodoo Dial close the album with an extended (16 minute) jam session, blisteringly heavy psych-rock with underlying blues and funk elements. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
VARIOUS The Shildam Hall Tapes CD (A Year in the Country)
The theme for A Year in the Country's latest compilation is "reflections on an imaginary film". Imagine that in the 1960s, plans were underway for a film set on a country estate, the aristocratic cast dabbling in psychedelics, the occult, and countercultural music and fashion. Part way through the filming, the project was shelved, but a renewed interest in the film arose after
fragments resurfaced years later in amongst old film reels sold in a job lot at auction. Here, the artists have taken such imaginings as their starting point, to create the soundtrack for this "film that never was". Gavino Morretti provides a very beautiful piece merging retro electronics with atmospheric wordless vocals. Sproatly Smith's contribution takes in fractured folk meanderings, ominous electronic effects and dreamlike psychedelic experimentation. Field Lines Cartographer appears with a semi-abstract electronic piece from the darker side of retro-futurism; harsh noise colliding with dizzying, surreal electronic burblings. Vic Mars contributes a woozy neoclassical dream sequence interspersed with snippets of vintage-style electronica; very lovely and totally in keeping with the album's theme. Circle/Temple set a trad folk-inspired piano melody to atmospheric drones, accompanied here and there by ethereal wordless chants. A Year in the Country appear with a cinematic instrumental with dizzying, swirling use of vintage electronics and heavily processed autoharp producing a surreal, hazy feel much like a musical equivalent of drifting in and out of consciousness. The Heartwood Institute provide a foreboding piece of cinematic incidental music, its chilling and haunting atmosphere perfectly illustrating a seance taking part on the grounds of Shildam Hall. David Colohan contributes a filmic electronic composition built around a series of gently thrumming musical rhythms. Listening Center makes vintage electronic music combining a bygone TV theme feel with the swirl of psychedelia. Pulselovers bring together retro electronics with soaring woodwind and vigorous percussion in their airy and atmospheric contribution, The Green Leaves of Shildam Hall. An engaging collection of dark, ethereal and psychedelic experimental sounds; find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
TWO HEADED EMPEROR The Happy Medium and a Depressed Conjurer CD (Falling A)
Founded in 1977, Falling A started out as one of the pioneering labels of the DIY cassette scene, with close links to the fanzine network. The label moved into vinyl towards the end of the 1980s and after a break has now been revived as a CD label with releases from label founders Barry Lamb and Peter Ashby's projects as well as reissues and new material from bands associated with the Stone Premonitions collective, e.g. Somebody Famous, Census of Hallucinations, and the Stone Prem folks' latest project Bringers of Change. Two Headed Emperor comprises Peter Ashby and Barry Lamb, the music being inspired equally by 1970s prog and spacerock and the harsher and more experimental side of 1980s post-punk. The Happy Medium is multifaceted prog rock encompassing big dramatic moments, angular spikiness, jazzy undercurrents, and an ethereal section with ambient synths, harp and flute. In Inspired by Concrete, bendy and surreal folk gives way to harsh experimental punk rock and back again, really original stuff. The Quiet Room is experimental rock that jerks around at harsh tangents, having shades of The Fall, Cardiacs, and all those angular bands people often conveniently forget were a part of the C86 compilation. Architects of Culture blends prog, spacey retro-futurism, eccentric and spiky post-punk, and improvisational jazz. A Field of Damage has stabbing bass, squalling guitar and ranty vocals contrasting with ethereal cosmic ambience. Wabi Sabi is an experimental instrumental effectively combining complex prog guitar, metallic percussion and nature sounds. An inventive, challenging, avant garde album by artists who have continued to stay true to their underground roots. Visit www.barrylamb.com for more info on Falling A Records and the music of Barry Lamb and Peter Ashby.
BACK TO AQUAMARINE