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

ALBUM REVIEWS

HANTERHIR The Saving of Cadan double CD/triple LP (Easy Action)
A huge ambitious project from Cornish band Hanterhir, spanning 2 CDs or five sides of vinyl. Lyrically inspired by Cornish myth, the music here is a unique synthesis of genres that distills practically the entire history of alternative music, from post-punk, grunge and shoegaze to psych-folk, experimental electronica and beyond, into a cohesive whole. Hello Sunshine is a multifaceted, extended piece taking in gently swelling drones, prog-folk, dark and spiky post-punk with intense squalling guitars and wailing sax, and finally a folk-tinged, glacial mix of post-rock and dreampop. Arloedthes a'n Lydn combines the ethereal atmosphere of dreampop with wild, frantic sax and forceful vocals. Hope Comes with Love begins in a style best described as pastoral retro-futurism, with gentle folk flute merging with the whirrs and whooshes of vintage synths, before introducing impassioned vocals and fierce guitars to push the track down an intense alt-rock route with a perfect balance of noise and strong melody. Darallow takes a song reminiscent of the more sophisticated side of 1980s indie pop and swathes it in a woozy, heavily reverbed atmosphere.
The Fisherman is an inventive blend of traditional-inspired folk and shoegaze; the band also scores bonus points for their creative use of sax which sounds nothing like either jazz or bland 80s pop. The Dream features the hypnotic rhythms and cosmic electronic whoosh of spacerock combined with squalling riotous guitar noise and improvisational sax, as well as bringing in a folky riff that sounds like a traditional fiddle tune, but played here on saxophone, again avoiding the styles more predictably associated with this instrument. Tales puts an innovative spin on 80s style indie pop, with clattering and whirring percussion and flowing atmospheric sax. This is How It's Always Been is an enjoyably spiky track that takes me right back to my early 1990s explorations of lo-fi noisepop labels like Fluff and Sticky, yet as usual Hanterhir give us their own unique take on the genre by incorporating some floaty, dreamlike flute. Or Without You closes the album with its seamless combination of psych-folk, psych-rock and post-rock, in which soaring flute and meandering sax share space with folky mandolin and classic psychedelic guitar work. A hugely important album from a refreshingly inventive band - find out more at hanterhir.com

SVÄNG Sväng Plays Tango CD (Galileo Music Communication)
Finnish harmonica quartet Sväng now turn their attention to tango, following their album of Sibelius compositions and several albums in which they put their own stamp on a wide assortment of genres from folk to film music. Syyspihlajan Alla tempers what seems in places like a fairly jaunty old time dance tune with a sense of melancholy and longing. Muista Minua combines a pensive melody with an ecstatic, soaring section that hints at jazz. Soi Mainikki Hiljainen, a piece by Ukrainian-born, Finnish-based composer Fridrich Bruk, is performed in a laid-back style with a drawn-out melody inspired by a singing technique known as 'dragging'. Tango Humiko is a sprightly piece that combines tango with Japanese musical motifs. Hugolle brings in some enjoyably angular and off-centre moments. Maggien Tango, dedicated to 19th century modern dance pioneer Maggie Gripenberg and all strong, independent women, is a beautiful composition that is melancholic yet self-assured and owes as much to 19th century classical music, 20th century orchestral film soundtrack, and folk, as it does to tango. Siltatanssit moves away from the melancholic minor scale pieces more usual of Finnish tango. Composed by Arto Järvelä of folk fiddle band JPP, the piece is a bright and cheerful dance tune that combines tango with shades of both country and fairground music. The band play harmonica in a style befitting a chamber ensemble, and in turn give us a fresh take on tango. Available at www.galileomusic.de

PULSAR TRIO Zoo of Songs CD (T3 Records)
Pulsar Trio's music is based around an unconventional combination of instruments, namely piano, sitar and surbahar, and drums, employed to create a similarly innovative style of music perhaps best categorised as experimental world/jazz fusion. Most of the tracks are animal themed, hence the album's title, with quaintly quirky titles like Butterfly Toe, Knittery Owl, and Mink the Toad, that raise a comforting smile yet belie the seriousness and depth of the music. The CD is packaged within a 6-panel digipak that's nicely textured to give a three-dimensional, tactile quality to the dragonfly wings on the cover, an attention to detail that I really appreciate. Of Men and Mice combines neoclassical, Greek folk, Indian classical and traditional music, jazz percussion, and a touch of prog. Beginning with some hectic metallic percussion that calls to mind Terje Isungset, Tin Stag Story is a melodic modern jazz/classical hybrid, with some of the most jazzy parts being played on sitar, an unusual innovation that really works. Butterfly Toe combines uplifting Indian-tinged jazz with sprinklings of spacey electronics. Flugmodus features throbbing drones resembling the sound of a flying insect, alongside inventive percussion and a piano melody that straddles the boundaries of jazz and classical. Mink the Toad is uptempo and busy, with a slight underlying sense of foreboding. Slow Down Trude brings together arty experimental percussion, slowed-down late-night piano jazz, and sitar melodies combining experimental music with occasional introductions of Spanish-sounding musical motifs. Lots of new, original ideas on this engaging album. Find out more at www.pulsartrio.de and www.t3records.de

PLINTH Music for Smalls Lighthouse LP (Clay Pipe Music)
Originally released five years ago and commanding high prices on the collectors' market, Clay Pipe have now reissued this album in a limited edition of 500 copies on translucent sea-green vinyl. Demand for the album was again so strong that it sold out immediately, though there is still a download edition available. Plinth is the work of Michael Tanner, also of United Bible Studies, The A Lords, The Cloisters, Thalassing, and Taskerlands, and also known for the solo recordings under his own name. The music here is inspired by the story of 19th century lighthouse keepers Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, including Howell's struggle to stay sane in the isolation of Smalls Lighthouse following Griffith's death in an accident. A piece that takes its name from Smalls Lighthouse's map coordinates opens the album, in which gentle raindrops accompany the music box-like tones of a toy piano, before introducing ethereal organ and the sound of billowing waves, followed by plaintive piano filtering 19th century classical music through a woozy, dreamlike lens, and abstract cinematic music atmospherically accompanied by sounds of the sea. Dawn Reflects in the East merges ambient drones with a spine-tingling neoclassical string composition that is unsettling and beautiful all at once. Message in the Village begins with a section that recalls traditional sailors' hornpipes, yet infused with a mournful, pensive mood, before segueing into a hypnotic and slightly surreal neoclassical piano piece. The Beckoning Arm is an ominous, tension-building cinematic composition backed by the sound of rain, thunder, whipping wind and seagulls' calls, giving way to woozy drones evoking a mood that is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. Sirens closes the album with its ethereal combination of drones, mournful bells, sparse bleak piano, and chorus of unearthly female voices singing in an unknown tongue. An intelligently crafted album of eerie, dreamlike art music. Visit www.claypipemusic.co.uk

NATHAN HALL AND THE SINISTER LOCALS Tunguska Tydfil CD/LP (The Hip Replacement)
Second album from Soft Hearted Scientists' Nathan Hall's current band. Here Nathan and co have opted for an understated homemade approach, with most songs under the three minute mark. Randall and Hopkirk Revisited pairs the baroque with the retro-futuristic. Windmills on Fire is a swirly organ-led psych-pop instrumental. Tunguska Tydfil is woozy, dreamy psych-folk with surreal poetic lyrics and sprinklings of atmospheric electronics. Glacial Glare is uplifting quirky psych-pop with whirling organ and soaring woodwind. Side By Side (Glowing Guide) is very beautiful laid-back psych-pop with intriguing lyrics that seem to be about being protected by a spirit guide. Carnival of the Damned is an eccentrically gruesome story of a circus from hell, with its cannibal clowns, evil ringmaster and death-foreseeing fortune teller, set to a warped psychedelic mutation of Spanish folk music peppered with manic and unsettling electronic burblings. The Phoenix of Albany Road is very lovely baroque-psych-folk-pop, richly arranged with harpsichord and strings. Even this City Won't Last is a bleak, wistful number set to a stark piano and organ arrangement. Another winner from this talented, free-thinking songwriter. The CD is available now, with the LP set to land in just a few days. Visit nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com

THE WOLFHOUNDS Hands in the Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions CD/LP/Download (A Turntable Friend)
Formed in 1984 and continuing until 1990, The Wolfhounds released four albums and a bunch of singles and were among the bands featured on the seminal NME cassette C86. They reformed in 2006, performing at a London event celebrating the 20th anniversary of C86, and subsequently went on to release new material. C86 is often remembered solely for jangly indiepop, but it mustn't be forgotten that just as many of the bands on the tape were actually responsible for a raucous, bendy, angular kind of music that often gets described, quite rightly, as 'Captain Beefheart plays punk'. The Wolfhounds were somewhere between these two extremes, having more bite and angularity than the more straightforwardly poppy bands whilst being more melodic and accessible than the Ron Johnson lot. During the 1980s, The Wolfhounds recorded three John Peel sessions, all 12 songs from which are collected here. Hand in the Till brings together melodic jangle with manic yelps and a punky chug. Whale on the Beach is a spiky noisefest of an instrumental, offsetting an intricate, almost baroque melody with bursts of harsh atonal guitar noise. Disgusted E7 is a superb track which balances the classic 80s indiepop sound with a sense of sharpness and urgency. Happy Shopper is uplifting underground pop with bendy quirky convolutions and punk attitude. This album is an important artefact of independent music history. Anyone who still mistakenly believes in the largely undeserved 'twee' stereotype of bands associated with C86 really ought to listen to these raw, energetic recordings and be proven wrong. Distributed worldwide by SRD or available direct from the label at www.aturntablefriendrecords.com

SORROW Under the Yew Possessed CD/LP/Download (Night School)
The latest installment in Night School's Rose McDowall reissue programme is Under the Yew Possessed, the 1993 debut album from Sorrow, who were centred around Rose and her then husband Robert Lee. The original edition was out on Rose's own label Piski Disk and distributed by the influential neofolk, post-industrial and experimental music distributor World Serpent. This new reissue adds deluxe packaging to the CD, with redesigned cover art, an outer slipcase and an 8-page booklet with lyrics and notes from Rose about the album's history. Vinyl and digital editions are also available. Rose McDowall is unique as an artist whose recording history has spanned chart pop (Strawberry Switchblade), indiepop (guesting with The Pastels and Felt), and the dark and at times controversial world of post-industrial (Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Death in June, Coil). Sorrow pulls together all three strands of influence - pop, indiepop and dark experimental folk - into an absorbing and emotionally affecting whole.
Die is beautiful melancholic indiepop with chiming guitars, bookended by the darkly ethereal shimmer of drones and angelic wordless vocals. Forgive Me is luxurious pop full of heartfelt emotion, swathed in synth orchestration and given a folky touch from the use of accordion and violin. Songbird is another deeply moving slice of melancholic indiepop, the percussion style and the sprinklings of piano and brass hinting at the more sophisticated end of 1980s mainstream pop. Emptiness combines the luxurious harmonies of 60s girl group pop with darkly psychedelic moments. When I first heard this album I was surprised at how much indiepop (and for that matter, pop) influence it had, considering Sorrow are generally regarded as a dark folk band with roots in the post-industrial scene. However, Dew of the Sea has all the dark experimentalism I was expecting, with whispered vocals over a cinematic neoclassical backdrop that's as mind-altering as any psychedelic music, if not more so. Likewise, Loki and Evil juxtaposes nightmarish and woozy ambient-psychedelic-classical music with a choir-of-angels chorus to create an overall effect that is chillingly beautiful, and Under the Yew Possessed is melancholic, atmospheric folk set to an intense drone-based experimental soundscape. A hauntingly lovely album, eerie and at times unsettling, yet with a pop heart. Find out more at nightschoolrecords.com

ANDY B The Waiting Game CDR/Download (Pastime)
Prolific multi-instrumentalist songwriter and home recording artist Andy B revisits and reworks some of his older songs on this latest album. The heart-on-sleeve, soul-bearing melancholy that characterises much of Andy's songwriting is all present and correct, though he adds much that is new to the arrangements and has tweaked the melodies of some songs here and there. I find myself being drawn mainly to the noisy and the electronicy tracks this time around, whether it's the gutsy indie rock of Something New, the uptempo noisepop of Messengers Passing Through, and Don't Get Me Wrong which combines the classic indiepop sound with a noisy kick, or otherwise The Waiting Game and I Can See Right Through You which set melancholic sentiments to electronic pop accompaniment with lilting keyboards. Available on CDR at pastimerecords.webs.com and download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

HIERONYMUS BOGS The Plow CD (Artist Abbey)
Hieronymus Bogs' latest album, produced by Sam Snyder of Maybird, shows a new direction that immerses Bogs' Christian-mystical dark folk into a heady electronic setting. Rosalia is based around songwriting that recalls Sixteen Horsepower with its dark atmosphere and Christian message, set to a creative electronic arrangement incorporating a driving, funky bassline. Sister Death is dark folk with shimmering, ethereal minimalist electronic accompaniment - a really beautiful piece. The Lamb is the William Blake poem, here sung with rich, deep tones against a backdrop of soaring, beat-driven electronica. The Plow has a positive message, basically "life is short so fill your life with love, compassion, empathy and joy". Hildegard's Wisdom is a dramatic, almost gothic song set to music that brings together psych-rock, ambient, and retro-futurism. World My Home has a traditional folk-inspired melody and lyrics showing an appreciation for the beauty of nature accompanied by a cinematic arrangement incorporating creative and intelligently crafted electronica, funky bass and shuffling jazz drums. A highly inventive album with many elements you might not expect to be found together but which really work. Find out more at www.hieronymusbogs.com

FIR CONE CHILDREN The Straight and the Curly CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
Fourth album from Alexander Leonard Donat's project Fir Cone Children. Whilst Alexander writes the songs and plays the instruments, the Fir Cone Children themselves are Alexander's daughters, who don't actually appear on the album but are the inspirations for the songs' lyrics. They are named on the album cover as being the Fir Cone Children, because the project is based around their way of seeing the world and wouldn't exist without them. FCC started out as a solo project of Alexander Leonard Donat, but this album follows on from its predecessor No Gravity Girls in featuring guest vocals on several tracks by Krissy Vanderwoude of the band Whimsical. The CD version comes with nicely put together homemade packaging, with real photographs glued onto a foldout sleeve, and three photographic inserts including a lyric sheet, the lyrics showing a child's perspective on everything from fruit and veg refusal to beach holidays.
Fir Cone Children are a shoegaze band who also venture into a more in-yer-face version of the genre which they call "dream punk". 3D combines the woozy wall-of-noise atmospherics of shoegaze with forceful vocals and extreme metal blastbeats. On My Plate is atmospheric dreampop with the effective addition of delicate piano. Top of the Shelf combines raucous garage punk with shoegaze ethereality. Down Below is an effective synthesis of bright and cheerful indiepop melody, woozy shoegaze effects and punk energy. Beastie Girls is shouty punky noisepop with blastbeats and an angular choppy-changey song structure. The Straight and the Curly (To the Rescue!) combines breakneck speed, noisy punk with dizzying shoegaze effects. Awesomenitis! blends airy dreampop with a similarly ethereal brand of electronica. The album ends with We're Going Out, a slow and reflective piano-pop piece that picks up speed with the introduction of busy, shuffly beats. A fun album with plenty of energy, putting a new creative spin on shoegaze. Available at blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com

TEO BOY CURCIO Place / Toolatetostop CDR/Download (self-released)
I first came across Teo via his work with The Mundys back in the early 2000s. These days he's making solo recordings, and this CDR comprises two solo works originally released as downloads via Bandcamp in 2017, the Place mini-album and Toolatetostop EP. The 10 tracks here are sung in Spanish, with a brief, straight-to-the-point approach, most songs being under two minutes long. The music combines mod/garage/1960s pop influences with a raw and honest bedroom pop sensibility. The strummy and slightly noisy Nada de Nadie, Rostro Delator which gives cheery retro pop an angular edge, and La Gran Libertad which is uplifting pop with a 60s garage kick, are just a few of the songs here that are sure to appeal equally to fans of 60s music and indiepop alike. Visit teoboycurcio.bandcamp.com

LIME EYELID Week of Wonders LP (self-released)
Lime Eyelid is the solo homemade music project of San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist Josh Schultz. Recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder from the early 1990s and limited to 110 copies, the LP contains six tracks in a genre Josh describes as "loner experimental kitchen psych". The sleeve opts for an ultra-minimalist approach with very little background info; even the track titles (with one exception) are just numbers. 1 is whirring space-age music with analogue synths and theremin accompanied by booming drums and crashing cymbals. I Saw Waves is sparse hometaper songwriting with experimental soundscape accompaniment comprising doom-laden, harsh and echoey guitar noise and analogue synth bleepery. 3 is wild and intense experimental psych with doomy fuzz guitar, psych-rock riffage and massive dramatic percussion. 4 begins with the interplay of two drones, a constant hum and an intermittent pulse, before introducing subtle melody, wordless chantlike vocals, and further noisescaping that fluctuates between creating an atmosphere that is warm and comforting and one that is harsh and unsettling. 5 sounds like a 1960s spy movie soundtrack set on another planet. 6 combines melodic retro-futuristic synth music with squalling and rumbling noise and big echoey drums. An engaging and inventive experimental album; listen or download at soundcloud.com/limeyelid and buy the vinyl at Discogs.

DAVID CW BRIGGS The Man Who Mistook Himself CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
One of several new albums by prolific home recording artist David CW Briggs. The front cover features DCWB's trademark surrealist collage art (the image this time being a tall ship topped with a man's giant head), and a photocopied cut 'n' paste insert in the old school fanzine/tape label style is also included. The album is an eclectic yet cohesive mixture which spans psych, blues, bedroom pop, and experimental sound collage. I Didn't Know Who I Was Once I Cut My Hair is a sparse lo-fi hometaper strum-along with a quirky lyrical approach. Remnant of an Old Weather Front is uplifting DIY noisepop with a psychedelic 60s undercurrent. Red Room is raw lo-fi blues. A Kick in the Teeth sets Syd Barrett-esque songwriting to an arrangement that pairs spiky angularity with psychedelic wooziness. May Day Blues is a dizzying collage of found sounds, bringing together dial-up modem noises, church bells, fairground organ and much more. Limited to just 16 (!) copies on CDR, or a download version is also available. Visit davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com

KRIS GIETKOWSKI Symmetric Communication LP (Fruits de Mer/Strange Fish)
Following his sold out LP of Egg cover versions, Kris Gietkowski returns to Fruits de Mer's Strange Fish sublabel with a new LP comprising three long tracks, one being a further Egg cover (A Visit to Newport Hospital) and the others new compositions in a similar style. FX 4 combines neoclassical piano with multifaceted choppy-changey organ-based prog, ornamented at times by the whooshes and burbles of analogue synths. It's a dramatic and evocative piece that would make great film music. A Visit to Newport Hospital is instrumental prog rock, with intense virtuoso keyboard work that flows naturally from one melody to the next, bookended by heavy slabs of distorted guitar riffage. Divided by Zero is another slice of cinematic keyboard-led prog, the main melody somewhat frenetic, while the twinkling background effects and cosmic whooshes lend an ethereal feel to the piece. There's an impressive talent at work here. The album is available only on coloured vinyl from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VARIOUS The Three Seasons triple LP (Fruits de Mer)
An extensive 27-track triple LP featuring covers of material from 1966, 1967 and 1968, that groundbreaking musical era that saw the birth of psychedelia of various shades and the earliest experiments with prog. Fruits de Mer Records has become such a well respected label over the years that they have even managed to secure contributions from three important names from the actual era this album is focused on, namely The Electric Prunes, The Pretty Things and The Yardbirds! Elsewhere the album features tracks by artists who are comparatively more obscure but will be familiar to followers of Fruits de Mer, as well as a few newcomers to the label.
The Past Tense cover Magic in the Air by The Attack, combining uplifting psych-pop with a level of bite that wouldn't sound out of place in a punk setting. Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder contribute the whimsical and optimistic psych-pop song Amelia Jane, originally by Made in Sheffield. Jack Ellister appears with a version of The Zodiac:Cosmic Sounds' Aquarius, a prog track based around ethereal cosmic synths. Mark McDowell provides an amazing psych-folk version of The Small Faces' Up the Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire, combining jangly guitar, mandolin, and whirring vintage synths. The Electric Prunes cover the Love classic 7 and 7 Is, swathing impassioned bluesy vocals in a luxurious psychedelic arrangement. The Yardbirds provide a 2016 live version of their own song Think About It, heavy-hitting late 60s rock with a blistering guitar solo. King Penguin merge American folk-rock with sitar psych in their cover of White Bird by It's a Beautiful Day.
Aunt Cynthia's Cabin transform Neil Diamond's Solitary Man into a prime slice of impassioned psychedelic folk-rock. The Honey Pot do a luxurious version of Kites by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, featuring the soaring vocals of Crystal Jacqueline accompanied by a richly textured arrangement featuring harpsichord, synthesised orchestration, prog guitar, and space-age electronic effects. The traditional folk song Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, recorded by various artists over the years including Anne Briggs, Shelagh McDonald, and in 1968, Pentangle, is presented here as an eerie, brooding, partly improvisational psych-folk piece by Jay Tausig. The Green Ray contribute a great slice of psychedelic folk-rock in their version of John Martyn's Dusty. The Gold Needles' version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's The Smell of Incense is brilliant, and somewhat genre-defying, as it straddles the boundaries between indiepop jangle, brooding post-punk and atmospheric psychedelia. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VARIOUS The Quietened Mechanisms CD/Download (A Year in the Country)
A Year in the Country's latest themed compilation is inspired by derelict industry, "wander[ing] amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains". An insert is included with details on each of the tracks, many of which gain their inspiration from real places, the industrial remains within now reclaimed by nature. The Heartwood Institute combine stark cinematic music with dystopian retrofuturist electronica. Quaker's Stang provide a busy, woozy and dizzying electronic soundscape. Depatterning pair otherworldly electronics with the clash and clatter of a weaving loom. Embertides, a collaboration between members of United Bible Studies and The Hare and the Moon, combine ethereal wordless vocals, drones, nature sounds, and harsh mechanical clangs. Dom Cooper of The Owl Service and The Straw Bear Band contributes an atmospheric abstract track called Metallurgy, made entirely of the resonant sounds produced by metal objects being struck or scraped.
Howlround provides an abstract soundscape which flutters, echoes and chugs along, illustrating the sound of vintage tape recorders nearing the end of their working lives, and acting as a homage to these "tools from another era" and the bygone industry that produced them. Listening Center make melodic electronica which is reminiscent in some ways of 1970s TV themes, the main tune interwoven with arpeggios, space age bleeps and soaring electro-orchestration. Sproatly Smith appear with an eerie and dreamlike experimental folk song, the vocals backed by a heady mix of drones, acoustic guitar and heavily processed woodwind. Pulselovers' piece is inspired by an abandoned brewery, its brooding yet calming drones evoking the beauty of nature breaking through the derelict remains. The inclusion of metallophone to conjure up images of jiggling and clanking beer bottles is a nice touch. The label's in-house project, also called A Year in the Country, contributes a cinematic soundscape in which chilling, sinister and nightmarish sound effects give way to a softer, dreamlike section suggesting a bright beam of sunlight streaming through crumbling rubble.
An evocative album that effectively combines dark and strange electronics and field recordings. Held together by a common theme both topically and musically, the album makes for a complete, cohesive listening experience. Available in two carefully handcrafted CD versions, the boxed Nightfall edition and the string-bound Dawn Light edition, as well as a download available through the usual channels like Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon. More info at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

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