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


VARIOUS The Quietened Journey CD (A Year in the Country)
A Year in the Country's latest themed compilation explores abandoned transport systems, from Roman roads to the rusted remains of railways closed by Beeching in the 1960s. Pulselovers' mix of vintage electronica and psychedelia motors along like a train with its driving rhythm and steam engine sounds. Sproatly Smith make brooding, mournful psych-folk inspired by the story of Charlotte Brian, who was killed when run down by a train in the 19th century. The Séance provide a beautiful harpsichord and viola piece punctuated by the ghostly sounds of long-lost freight trains. Grey Malkin (ex-The Hare and the Moon)'s current project Widow's Weeds set ecstatic choral vocals and birdsong-like flute (courtesy of Kitchen Cynics' Alan Davidson) to a motorik rhythm and echoing train whistle sounds. The Heartwood Institute's shimmering analogue electronics evoke a speedy yet relaxing train journey. Field Lines Cartographer provides a glacial, woozy soundscape both calming and beautiful. Grey Frequency's piece is a stark, evocative blend of piano, washes of electronic sound, and field recordings from a derelict train station. More abstract experimental sounds are represented by Depatterning's feverish swishes and swirls, slicing metallic noise and mechanistic bumps and rumbles, A Year in the Country's brooding cinematic ambience, Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztykowski's eerie mix of drones, bells and field recordings, and the frankly terrifying Howlround piece full of destruction, explosion and fury. Available at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

RIGHT HAND LEFT HAND Zone Rouge CD/LP/Download (Bubblewrap)
Third album from Cardiff post-rock duo Right Hand Left Hand, in which looped and layered guitars and drums paint bleak sound-pictures illustrating the harm humans have done to the Earth and to fellow humans. Each track is inspired by an act of atrocity, be it war, species extinction, genocide, or environmental pollution, committed at various points during history at various locations around the world. The music here is much more melodic than I'd expected based on its thematic background, though it certainly gets the message of human brutality across during its most harsh, chaotic and unsettling moments. Mirny is almost symphonic in scope, with soaring melodies and glacial atmospherics against an urgent, unstoppable rhythm. Floreana features a pensive guitar melody swathed in brooding soundscaping, then introduces a jabbing, stabbing synth line that wouldn't sound out of place in a 1980s dance number, juxtaposed with cinematic post-rock guitars and spacey retrofuturistic electronics. Terra Nullius begins as a meditative piece with folky undercurrents, before giving way to a sweeping post-rock atmosphere. The second part of the album tends towards harsher sounds and best illustrates the album's theme. White Sands is an angular, choppy, unsettling piece built around nightmarish noise collisions. Oradour-sur-Glane is bleak, mechanistic and brutal, drawing from elements of post-rock, prog, metal, experimental noise and electronica. Kola starts out as an uptempo yet gentle piece suffused with melancholic beauty, before introducing a relentless, on-edge rhythm, chaotic guitar noise and hallucinatory soundscaping. Chacabuco combines the full-on intensity of metal with a bleak, gothic atmosphere, overlaid with the fierce, impassioned vocals of guest singer Taliesyn Kallstrom. Find out more at www.bubblewrapcollective.co.uk

RÚNAHILD Seidfylgjur CD (Grimfrost)
I count Rúnahild among my favourite artists, and have been following her work since her previous project Eliwagar. Her work has evolved considerably over the years; whilst still rooted in the spirituality of pre-Christian Northern Europe, the martial imagery of Viking Age warriors, battles and male gods such as Odin and Tyr as found in the earlier Eliwagar material is no longer a part of the music Rúnahild is making today. Nowadays she is tapping into something much more primal, shamanistic and intuitive, inspired by the feminine magical arts of the seidkona. Following several albums on her own Nordafolk label, Rúnahild has now signed to Grimfrost Records, the musical offshoot of Grimfrost which deals in such things as Viking reenactment equipment and historical jewellery replicas. The CD is packaged in a fold-out wallet with booklet full of mist-shrouded Norwegian nature scenery, the ethereal beauty of which is a perfect match for the music contained within.
Dísablót features ecstatic chanting layered over atmospheric sounds created by bullroarer and singing bowl. Myrkríða is darkly beautiful medieval-tinged folk, arranged with a combination of ringing lyre and heady percussion that recalls Dead Can Dance, and vocal accompaniment that shares some stylistic similarities with both Native American chants and Sámi joik. Ferden til Brunnen opens with soft chanting and the calls of an owl, before giving way to an authentically historical-sounding folk ballad akin to the traditional Norwegian songs on albums such as Kalenda Maya's Norse Ballads and Trio Mediaeval's Folk Songs. Rúnahild is joined by Gustav Holberg of Folket Bortafor Nordavinden on Vardlokkur, a primal, intense, ritualistic piece led by guttural and screamy throat singing. Urseid ingeniously brings together shamanistic chants and rhythms with medieval folk melodies, in a way that is deeply moving and soul-stirring.
Those who understand what is meant by song titles such as Dísablót, Vardlokkur, or Urseid will feel spiritually nourished by this album. Even if the lyrical inspiration behind the album means nothing to you, it can still be enjoyed on a purely musical level, and has much to recommend to fans of the ethereal medieval- and world music-informed sounds of Dead Can Dance, the current crop of bands envisaging how ancient Nordic music may have sounded, such as Wardruna, Nytt Land or Heilung, and the dark folk/neofolk scene in general. It's a jaw-droppingly beautiful album with some of Rúnahild's finest moments yet. Available at runahild.com or grimfrost.com

THE SPEED OF SOUND 30th Anniversary Scoop: 1989-2019 CD (BE Records Manchester)
12 track compilation celebrating The Speed of Sound's 30th anniversary. The album is only available on CD - no download or stream options - and collects material that has never before been available on CD format. I Don't Want Your Attentions kicks out at sexual harassment in the workplace within a spiky indiepop setting. Shut All the Clubs combines the aggression of punk with post-punk drama and angularity. The single version of Maid of the Grey balances spooky gothic tendencies with off-centre psych-pop. Nightmare is an inventive slice of dark-edged, surreal psychedelia. I Wanna Feel Good is a snarly blast of 60s-style garage rock. An eclectic band who pull together various forms of alternative music from the post-punk era - spiky angularity, gothic darkness, and the poppier sounds that would evolve into indiepop - whilst having just as much enthusiasm for the psych, mod and garage of the 1960s, and combine these varied influences to form a distinctive sound of their own. More info at thespeedofsounduk.blogspot.com

EDWARD ABBIATI Beat the Night CD/LP/Download (Harbour Song)
Debut solo album from Edward Abbiati (Lowlands, The ACC), featuring guest appearances from the likes of Mike 'Slo-Mo' Brenner (Magnolia Electric Co, Marah) and Joey Huffman (Georgia Satellites, Soul Asylum), and released on M G Boulter's Harbour Song label. I Got Hurt is introspective Americana ornamented with sighing lap steel and a beautiful, sophisticated string arrangement. Judgement Day #2 is dark, raw and honest roots-rock. 45 is world-weary and regretful, with an effective blend of acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel and piano providing the melancholic and moving accompaniment. I Can't Tell Ya is a stripped-down acoustic number with delicate fingerpicked guitar and doleful harmonica. Find out more at lowlandsband.com

KITCHEN CYNICS Sans Seraphim CDR/Download (Les Enfants du Paradiddle)
Kitchen Cynics is the recording project of super-prolific psych-folk and experimental musician Alan Davidson, who has released over 100 albums since the late 1980s and shows no sign of running out of creative ideas. He is a true musical storyteller whose songs weave vivid tales of nature and supernature, history, fantasy and memory. There's the darkly psychedelic murder ballad Jinkabout Mill; the combination of folk and electronic surrealism in Hoodie Craw (2020 version); and Witch Lover which approaches spooky folklore with a sense of humour. The dreamlike ambience of Our Light fills the head with sound-pictures of forests, birdsong and starlight; Watching Bleep and Booster, Aged 8 opts for a retrofuturistic experimental approach with sci-fi whirrs and bleeps; and The Quarrymen sets spoken word to airy woodwind and dizzying tape manipulation. The album ends with the aptly titled Contrasts, in which medievalesque folk beauty is evocatively interwoven with field recordings, from gentle nature sounds to boisterous overheard banter. Available at kitchencynics.bandcamp.com

PEDALJETS Twist the Lens CD/LP/Download (Electric Moth)
Kansas City's Pedaljets have existed on and off since 1984; until now they've escaped my attention, and if this album is anything to go by, it looks like I've been missing out. The band bring together super-melodic pop with the spikier sounds of alt-rock and post-punk. Placid City Girl is superb ringing janglepop with a strong sense of melody and harmony, calling to mind a mixture of REM and The Byrds. Loved a Stone is essentially powerpop, pairing a punked-up driving rhythm with a strong melody, while atmospheric electronic undercurrents make the song stand out from the powerpop crowd. Transfer is Done combines the edginess of alt-rock with the melody and harmony of The Byrds; in addition I'm hearing shades of Grandaddy and the highly underrated 90s band Subaqwa. This is Sepsis has a post-punk dissonance and snarl, shot through with tense riffage straight out of a vintage spy movie. One Away is a melding of 60s pop melody with rock 'n' roll attitude. Sleepy Girl is lazy hazy pop with tinges of The Beatles and 60s psychedelia viewed through a contemporary alt-rock lens. Some real gems on this album. Find out more at www.thepedaljets.com

PEFKIN Celestial Navigations LP (Morc)
Pefkin is the solo project of Gayle Brogan, also of Electroscope, Barrett's Dottled Beauty, Burd Ellen, and Meadowsilver. Her 15th album in 20 years as a solo artist, Celestial Navigations, has a loose theme of Arctic exploration, and is firmly rooted in nature, with vivid aural depictions of starlight, birds, and the Aurora Borealis. The themes explored in the music are beautifully portrayed in the astonishing cover art by Alan Davidson of Kitchen Cynics and Barrett's Dottled Beauty.
The title track is ambient space pop with glacial drones, whirring analogue synths, and the ethereal beauty of Gayle's voice. Tulungusaq is airy, dreamlike experimental pop with lyrics inspired by Inuit mythology, featuring an intermingling of thumb piano, sweeping Mellotron orchestration, atmospheric violin, and perfect vocal harmonies. Numenius Borealis is a stark, brooding experimental composition with celestial choral vocals.
I Am John Rae is a beautiful psych-folk song telling the story of the eponymous Orkney-born explorer, with a traditional folk-inspired melody set to a heady arrangement incorporating violin, synth, zither, and liquid psychedelic guitar courtesy of Alan Davidson who appears as a guest musician on this track. Aurora Borealis perfectly recreates the Northern lights in music with the eerie whoosh of the Aeolian Chimes, a musical sculpture made by Orkney artist Fiona Sanderson, alongside swirling, pulsing and humming violin and synth sounds and a traditional-inspired folk melody sung in clear, pure vocal tones.
A beautifully evocative, atmospheric album from a highly original artist who sounds like no-one else. More info at www.pefkin.com and www.morctapes.com

DIANA COLLIER Ode to Riddley Walker CD/LP/Download (Rif Mountain)
Second solo album from former Owl Service and Greanvine vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Diana Collier, featuring guest appearances from members of The Owl Service, The Memory Band, Lost Harbours, and Liberez. The title track is delicate, sparse contemporary folk inspired by Russell Hoban's novel of the same name, giving way to a darkly moving, ancient-sounding interlude in which bowed banjo is played to sound like a medieval instrument alongside similarly medievalesque chanting, before returning to the song's fragile, spare beginnings. Balm has an off-centre approach to folk songwriting that recalls Lal Waterson. There's a stark, instrumentless rendition of The Bonny Hind, a bleak traditional ballad in which a couple unwittingly embark on an incestuous relationship, the woman committing suicide once it becomes apparent that they are in fact siblings. Margins is melancholic, delicate contemporary folk underscored by cymbals employed to create atmospheric sound effects that diverge far from their straightforward percussive use. Friends is a thoughtful song that calls to mind melancholic indiepop bands such as Brighter, placing this type of songwriting within a folk setting. The album ends with another traditional song, On Christmas Day It Happened So, with an evocative, cinematic arrangement built around minimalistic bass and ethereal soundscaping. A very lovely album, released in a limited edition of 50 CDs or 100 LPs - get it at folknotfolkdianacollier.bandcamp.com

STEVE PALMER Useful Histories LP/Download (Sunrise Ocean Bender/Deep Water Acres)
Minneapolis guitarist Steve Palmer's second album, co-released by Sunrise Ocean Bender and Deep Water Acres, on black vinyl or limited edition violet vinyl, plus download code. Statesboro Day is a contemporary psychedelic piece incorporating elements of post-rock, experimental sound sculpture, shoegaze atmospherics and cosmic electronica, juxtaposing hypnotic repetition and flowing improvisational elements. Squalor fills the head with multiple layers of sound, transporting American folk into a psychedelic setting alongside pulsing atmospheric effects. Thirty features a darkly beautiful American folk melody played in an intricate, fluid, psychedelic style. I Am John Titor is an extended experimental composition built around swelling drones creating a feeling of relaxation and inner warmth. Useful Histories is a fully immersive, multi-layered piece in which Steve Palmer's distinctive way of reinventing traditional-style American folk as psychedelia is effectively combined with psych-rock jamming and expressive jazz-like percussion. An inventive album that travels across the boundaries of modern psychedelia, folk, and experimental music in a manner that is eclectic yet cohesive. Available at www.sunriseoceanbender.com or www.dwacres.com

CARY GRACE Lady of Turquoise double CD (Door 13 Music)
Cary Grace is an extremely creative and talented songwriter and musician (as well as maker of handmade analogue synthesisers sold under the Wiard brand), whose work is most likely to appeal to fans of psych, prog and spacerock, while transcending all of those categories. Her latest album, the double CD Lady of Turquoise, includes not only her own talents as a multi-instrumentalist, but the work of nine other guest musicians including three members of Gong, and John Garden who has worked with Alison Moyet and Scissor Sisters. Cary is shown on the cover in an elaborate Egyptian goddess costume, holding an ankh in one hand and an hourglass in the other, seemingly to represent life and the finite nature of life.
The album opens with the gentle, meandering spacerock of Khepera at the Dawn, then there's Letterbox, a creative and effective pop/rock juxtaposition in which atmospheric and inventive alternative pop is punctuated by wild wah-wah-driven psych-outs. Into Dust's melody has the same melancholic character as much traditional folk music, though the overall feel of the song and its arrangement is anything but trad folk. Impassioned vocal delivery, military-tinged drumming, squalling psychedelic noisescaping, and a beautiful interlude of choral-style vocals and church-like bells are combined to create an impressive, innovative mix that defies overall classification. Costume Jewellery is an extended 12-minute-plus track taking in Middle Eastern and Greek traditional influences alongside a heady, hypnotic melange of intense psychedelic rock guitars, cosmic synths and atmospheric use of electric violin, with excursions into largely acoustic singer-songwriter music and filmic ambient effects along the way.
Sacrifice combines a soulful melody and vocals with snaking guitars and organ. Memory is brooding balladry incorporating a dramatic and intricate prog rock interlude. Castle of Dreams takes in a variety of moods and styles over its 11-minute-plus duration, beginning as an uptempo, strongly melodic song with a driving rhythm and powerful vocals alongside intense, feverish psychedelic guitar, giving way to a more laid-back, almost meditative style, with music that travels across the boundaries of psych and prog, with darkly atmospheric, almost gothic tendencies at times. The Land of Two Fields is an analogue synth-led instrumental coming across like a psychedelic reinterpretation of vintage soundtrack music. The title track closes the album - a strong, catchy pop-rock song with a real earworm of a chorus, propelled by a hypnotic chug and ornamented by swirling analogue synths and fluid psychedelic guitar, making for a truly mind-altering experience. Find out more at www.carygrace.com

ANDY B This Is Our Time and Other Songs Volume One and Two CDRs (Pastime)
The ultra-prolific Andy B returns with several new homemade albums, these three plus a couple more that are still in the review queue. As with Andy's other albums recently reviewed in Aquamarine, This Is Our Time is a collection of re-recorded songs from his back catalogue. Another Rainy Day is melancholic indiepop fleshed out with swirling keyboards and lively drumming from guest drummer Chris Head. I Can Read You Like a Book features wistful and nostalgic sentiments, juxtaposing melancholic verses ornamented by Brighter-ish keyboards with a jaunty bedroom pop chorus. Catch My Breath is strongly melodic indiepop with nice vocal harmonies, offsetting lyrics of sadness and regret with biting fuzzy guitar and uptempo drumming. Night Comes Down is on the spikier side of indiepop, bringing in a darker, harder edge with the addition of boisterous punkiness and gothic gloom, yet there's still a catchy chorus accompanied by retro organ and fuzzy guitar that manages to sound almost like a trumpet, lending a triumphant feel to the song.
Other Songs Volume One features a number of songs that are unfamiliar to me alongside reworkings of older material. It emphasises the noisier side of Andy B's output, with songs like Can't Move On, Cold Feet, Warning Bells, Playing Tricks and I Like Your Style, that set heart-on-sleeve lyrics to rollicking noisepop accompaniment. Your Chance Has Come and Gone takes a different approach from the rest of the album, its minimal arrangement based around acoustic guitar and tambourine emphasising the melancholic nature of the song. Other Songs Volume Two includes such songs as Leaving Town which is inspired by the classic era of indiepop and balances a certain sense of sorrow with a strong melody that stays in the head. Fantasy World looks back on a failed relationship with resentment ("Living with you was being a dead man walking / Living with you was pointless beyond reason") within an airy, wistful early 90s-style indiepop arrangement. Get Out of My Hair filters shades of 60s garage through a DIY noisepop lens. How Does It Feel sees Andy getting his own back on a school bully within a mod-tinged, retro organ driven indiepop setting. More to follow from Andy B in a few weeks; in the meantime these albums are available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

VARIOUS A Band For All Seasons 4 CD box set (Fruits de Mer)
A couple of years ago, Fruits de Mer Records released the triple LP The Three Seasons, with covers of songs from 1966, 1967 and 1968, which I reviewed here. This sold out immediately, and the label has now issued a massively extended version, A Band For All Seasons, which now covers 1966-1969, with 61 tracks spread across 4 CDs. It features several bands who were around during the original era that the album focuses on, including some very famous ones like The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things, as well as many newer underground artists. In addition to the tracks already mentioned in my original review, these are just a few of the songs that are included on the new extended edition.
Bhopal's Flowers appear with an Indian-influenced version of Cream's I Feel Free, combining blistering psychedelic rock with laid-back, atmospheric sections based around sitar, tanpura and tablas. Spygenius contribute a jangly psych-pop medley of Traffic's Paper Sun and The Monkees' Love is Only Sleeping. Mysterious Clouds featuring Your Friend's version of Mobius Trip by HP Lovecraft is mellow psychedelia with jazz-informed drumming, echoey spacey synths, and even a touch of Erik Satie-ish piano. Moon Goose cover Faine Jade's It Ain't True, combining heavy riffage, squalling noise and forceful vocals with vocoder and retro synths. July contribute a 2016 live version of their own My Clown from 1968. Elfin Bow and Gary Lloyd's version of The Small Faces' Autumn Stone begins as sophisticated, reflective piano balladry, giving way to smouldering psych rock infused with neoclassical beauty. The Telephones do a version of The Move's I Can Hear the Grass Grow, suffused with chiming jangle. Fuchsia cover Pink Floyd's See Emily Play, with a very lovely arrangement featuring orchestration and folky touches.
Vert:X reinvent Emotions by Love as an instrumental with squalling fuzz guitar swathed in swirling, whooshing cosmic synths. Schizo Fun Addict cover the 1950s song Dedicated to the One I Love by The 5 Royales, which The Mamas & The Papas did a version of in 1967. Schizo Fun Addict's interpretation of the song is ethereal and inventive; it has a basis in dreampop while being tinged with a surfy twang, plus music box-like keyboard adding to the dreamlike effect. Nathan Hall provides a demo version of the Bee Gees cover, Please Read Me, the final version of which was released earlier by Fruits de Mer as a single by Nathan's band Soft Hearted Scientists. This demo version features strummed acoustic guitar wrapped in Indian-style drones, harpsichord and vocal harmonies. LoveyDove's version of The Flies' Gently As You Feel is uplifting, catchy pop, much like a softer, airier Teenage Fanclub.
Crystal Jacqueline Acoustic Band appear with a version of Pink Floyd's Grantchester Meadows, its almost medieval melody and vivid nature-inspired lyrics underpinned by a hypnotic rhythm, and ending with an intricate psychedelic instrumental section that paints pictures in my mind of sunlight dancing on a river. Back Street Carnival provide some baroque psych-pop whimsy in Pretty Song from 'Psych-Out', originally by The Strawberry Alarm Clock. Claudio Cataldi with Aldo Ammirata reinvent The Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat as the kind of slightly dissonant 1990s-style lo-fi indie-rock that takes me back to my days in the 90s DIY tapes scene, before ending with a brooding, cinematic cello section which adds an element of neoclassical sophistication to the piece.
The box set sold out very quickly at the label, but at the time of writing is still available from various online shops/distros. For more information visit www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

THE LOST STONED PANDAS Tune In... Turn On... Get Panda'd double LP (Fruits de Mer)
The Lost Stoned Pandas are a Sendelica offshoot that also includes current and former members of Astralasia, Curved Air and Space Ritual. Their name was inspired by a surreal panda gif found on the internet, and the tracks' running order (track one is entitled Track Seven, track two Track Four, and so on) reinforces the album's general sense of bizarreness. Track Seven - Wild Witch Black Panda Mix combines a weird abstract mix of cut-up samples and woozy spacey noise with magical ritual recitations, world music-infused floaty ambience, and a rather lovely folky melody that gradually becomes more and more psychedelic as the piece progresses. Track Four - Noah's Marc Mix opens with a soft, airy guitar and analogue synth piece combined with birdsong and cattle sounds, giving way to a violin melody that bridges the gap between folk, prog, psych, even a touch of classical at times, with gentle pastoral moments alongside moments of intricate intensity, before segueing into a section with prog guitar and whooshing spacey synths accompanied by baaing sheep.
Side three is made up of three shorter tracks that meld together to form a long piece nearly 22 minutes in length. This multi-part piece comprises Track Six - Bamboozled Mix, in which vibrant folk fiddling is underlaid with hypnotic electronic rhythms and spacey effects; Track Seven - Waltzing Me Panda Mix which revisits the melody from the earlier version of Track Seven amidst a shimmering ethereal setting; and Track Five - Yangtze Basin Mix, propelled by a throbbing electronic dance pulse, and featuring elements familiar from late 80s house, such as that effervescent synth sound that crops up here and there. Over on side four you get Track Three - Into the Hadron Kaleidoscope Mix, a multifaceted piece that drifts feverishly across abstract discordant experimentalism, electronica, prog, and improvisational psych-rock. The album combines the seriousness and virtuosity of prog with a surreal sense of fun and an exploratory disregard for genre barriers. Available at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VARIOUS The Half Time Orange CD (Fruits de Mer)
14-track compilation CD given away free to Fruits de Mer's regular customers who buy the March 2020 batch of releases. Some artists will be familiar names to followers of Fruits de Mer, while others are new to the label. The album covers a broad selection of sounds that come under the psychedelic umbrella, though the poppier side is well represented here, including a few tracks that have some element of crossover with indiepop - undoubtedly a good thing from my perspective, considering that the true underground indiepop scene from the late 80s/early 90s has great importance to me as it was what first alerted me to the existence of music outside of the charts, completely changing my life in the process.
There are three bands here who also appeared on A Band For All Seasons, contributing some of my favourite tracks to both compilations. There's the psychedelic janglepop of Bhopal's Flowers, the mellow, dreamy pop of LoveyDove, and The Telephones whose track here would sound exactly like classic 80s indiepop if it wasn't for the fluid psychedelic guitar the song is overlaid with. the black watch appear with the psych mix of Crying All the Time, from their 7" on Hypnotic Bridge Records, combining fuzzy noisepop and soaring Mellotron orchestration to create a highly atmospheric listening experience. The Lemon Clocks opt for an authentic 60s vibe with their combination of rollicking garage rock, wild psych guitar soloing and catchy pop sensibility. Man & Machine make laid-back songwriting with folky tinges, swathed in an ethereal, psychedelic shimmer. Very different from my other favourite tracks here, but still enjoyable, is Kris Gietkowski's twisty-turny prog instrumental, Providers of Enlightenment Networks, taken from his forthcoming album. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

MARK McDOWELL AND FRIENDS Breakthrough CD/LP/Download (Friends of the Fish)
Following on from Mark McDowell and Friends' excellent 2017 album Dark Weave is new album Breakthrough, out on Fruits de Mer offshoot Friends of the Fish. This is a multifaceted album with an inventive mix of styles brought together to form a cohesive whole. Wedlocked is gentle folk-pop with acoustic jangle swathed in airy synths; whilst there's a clear 1960s influence here, it also has that slightly wistful, reflective and dreamy feel that will appeal just as much to indiepop fans. Breakthrough starts off with a darkly medievalesque tune played on electric guitar and underlaid by hurdy-gurdy drones, much in keeping with the 1970s electric folk sound and leading the listener to expect something along the lines of Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention. The piece is then transformed into something else entirely with the introduction of a hypnotic bass line, cosmic analogue synths, and intense squalling psych-rock improvisation, making for a truly mind-altering listening experience. Starstreamer is a kind of cosmic raga, combining Indian influences with whirring and whooshing spacey synths, heady and heavy psychedelic guitars and hints of British and American folk. Sit 13 is an effective blend of garage rock, spacey electronics and psych-folk. First Light is very lovely summery janglepop, psychedelic and folk-tinged enough to draw comparison to the 60s West Coast sound, yet having just as much indiepop appeal for the same reasons as Wedlocked. A very creative album taking psych-folk into new territories, getting my highest recommendation. Available at markmcdowell.bandcamp.com

DAVID CW BRIGGS I Failed You CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
DAVID CW BRIGGS Neverywhere I Go CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
REGIONAL IDENTS Channelling 2 CDR/Download (Folk Archive Electronics)

Three recent releases from David CW Briggs' homemade CDR label Folk Archive. I Failed You has ten songs packaged in DCWB's trademark style of surrealist collage art. Tails Fold Away sets observational lyrics about birds, incorporating some very appealing poetic metaphors, to a combination of bouncy eccentric pop and raw psychedelic blues. I Failed You is bedroom pop with psychedelic undercurrents, balancing melancholic, world-weary sentiments with a sense of optimism. People Will Turn is off-centre pop somewhere between Syd Barrett and the Television Personalities. There are also a couple of really lovely instrumentals; the eerily beautiful psych-folk of Guitars are People and the reflective psychedelic piece Memory Lane, which calls up images in the mind of meanders through nature, of dappled light in woodland and sunlight dancing on a river.

Neverywhere I Go is released under the punny, and very apt, tagline "Home Taping is Killing Muzak". There's We Sell Kites, really great sunny janglepop with a dreamlike psychedelic outro; The Waking Dream, reflective lo-fi songwriting set to delicate folky guitar, train-horn-like harmonica and subtle undercurrents of psychedelia; and Billy which incorporates samples from the film Billy Liar into psychedelic blues improvisation. Country Layne is the album's near-10-minute centrepiece, delightfully raw psych-rock balancing the atmospheric with the fierce. Forceful verses delivered with a punky snarl are offset by a chorus that soars like its 'shooting star' lyrics, accompanied by thrashy garagey guitar, stabby organ riffs and psychedelic guitar improvisation. The Psychiatrist is an instrumental combining moments of great beauty with a brooding sense of unease; there's a twisty-turniness to the piece that has an almost prog quality, while being completely devoid of the OTT pomposity that genre has been known to suffer from.

Out on Folk Archive's electronic arm is the second part of Regional Idents' Channelling, compiling twenty tracks previously issued as digital EPs. There's a mix of retro synth instrumentals inspired by theme- and incidental music from 1980s TV shows, and altogether darker experimental compositions steeped in the music/art/philosophy movement known as hauntology, having much in common with many of the music projects that appear on A Year in the Country's themed compilations. Nuclear Family has the tense atmosphere of a dystopian horror movie, its title clearly a play on words, with connotations of a family living under threat of nuclear warfare. Cold War is a sinister piece that creates a feeling of unease with its insistent militaristic riff underpinned by an urgent, on-edge buzz. The Rock Machine Turns You Off combines busy electronic beats and repetitive mechanical sounds. Maths Module and Learning Module 1 sound, as expected from the titles, like music from childrens' educational TV shows of the early 1980s, using vintage synths for the authentic retro effect. I Am You Are sets the robotic voice of a Speak & Spell to whirring, burbling electronic machinery. Dial Tone would sound at home in the background of some forward-looking science documentary of the early 1980s. Followers of the A Year in the Country compilation series will definitely find much to like here.
Each CDR is limited to just 10 copies, while downloads are also available. Visit davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com and regionalidents.bandcamp.com

STEPHEN PRINCE The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths CD (A Year in the Country)
Back in 2018, A Year in the Country released the compilation The Corn Mother, centred around an imaginary film of the same name. Since its release, AYITC founder Stephen Prince found thoughts of the film and its characters still in his mind, as though the story was unfinished. His continued imaginings resulted in the creation of The Corn Mother novella and its accompanying soundtrack, The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths. The book is made up of micro-chapters much like diary entries told from the perspective of an assortment of characters. The first part is set in the 19th century, when a nature-loving woman named Ms Jessop is accused by superstitious villagers of being a witch who cursed their crops. After her house is set alight, she wreaks revenge by poisoning the villagers with paranoia-inducing psychoactive herbs and haunting them in their sleep.
Fast forward to the 1970s and 80s, when plans are made for an ill-fated film based on the same story. Years in the making, the film reels, soundtrack tapes and promotional material end up mysteriously disappearing after the production company goes into receivership. By the 2000s, this lost movie has acquired a mythical status, and the next part of the book concerns a film buff called Andrew and his quest to uncover solid facts about this mysterious film. The final part is set in the future, when the film reel turns up in a house clearance. The ending is left deliberately up in the air, allowing the reader to imagine what happens next, and leaving the possibility open for a sequel. It's a gripping read, and cleverly told, with pop-culture references and current affairs of the time seamlessly interwoven with the fictional story.
The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths CD comprises seven tracks, each inspired by an episode in the book. The Infernal Engines evokes the sound of metal on metal, like 19th century machinery creaking into action. Night Wraiths is a chilling drone piece conjuring up the paranoia and unease experienced by the villagers poisoned by Ms Jessop's herbal concoctions. Ellen's Theme is imagined as being composed by Ellen, the character in the novella who created the film's soundtrack. Ellen is partly inspired by women such as Delia Derbyshire who play an important part in the history of electronic music, while her theme music shares a similar brooding atmosphere to Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack. They Are All Here is a sound-picture of reality unravelling in a truly creepy and startling manner.
Whilst composed as a soundtrack to accompany the novella, The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths can also be appreciated as a standalone work of experimental ambience that taps into the spirit of authentic vintage synth-based film music. Contact www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk

FEU FOLLET La Forêt Oubliée CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
PHANTOMS VS FIRE Modern Monsters I & II CD/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)

Feu Follet, the solo recording project of French artist Alban Blaising, returns with a new album based around a story of a boy who discovers a mysterious tombstone within an ancient forest, and the chilling events that ensue from this discovery. Blaising is a talented visual artist as well as a musician, whose well-crafted artwork accompanies the album in the form of a 20 page comic that illustrates the album's story with vivid intensity. The title track opens with retrofuturistic horror soundtrack music that wouldn't sound out of place on an A Year in the Country album, before giving way to an intense brand of synthpop shot through with unsettlingly atmospheric guitar noise. L'Enfant combines the pulsing rhythms of 80s synthpop with a disorienting horror-filmic atmosphere. Le Photographe pairs retro synth music with washes of darkly ethereal sound that could be classed as ambient or even a kind of electronic dreampop. La Disparition brings together eerie, wavering drones and shoegaze noise with rhythmic electronic music that's danceable and chilling all at once.
Phantoms vs Fire, the recording project of Thiago Desant of Brazil, presents the album Modern Monsters I & II, which is also centred around a story. Here we are asked "What if Macbeth had been written by H. P. Lovecraft? What if the man who would soon become king rose to be a Pharaoh through Hermeticism and chaos magick instead of killing his way to the throne of Scotland?" The monstrous screaming face on the cover sets the scene for the musical moods on offer here. My Voice is in My Sword is a brooding cinematic piece combining neoclassical and electronic elements, evoking a feverish melting away of reality peppered with snatches of rage. The Ghost Eater has a huge orchestral arrangement, with bombastic operatic vocals. Full of Scorpions in My Mind opens with parping, buzzing brass creating a sound-picture of frenzied thoughts like insects frantically dashing around the character's head, giving way to an unsettling neoclassical/dark ambient soundscape.
The Law is centred around an insistent, urgent riff accompanied by glitchy noise, taking in a complex, prog-esque keyboard interlude. Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair is darkly beautiful, opening with a folk-informed melody segueing into an epic classical piece imbued with a nightmarish sense of unease. Hermes Trismegistus features wailing scraping drones and ghostly sound effects backed up by an insistent pulsing rhythm. It Has Teeth is a raw, tense experimental soundscape almost nine minutes long, utilising abstract scrapes and clangs and glitchy electronic noise along with aspects of horror film-like neoclassical music. Well-crafted, inventive and evocative, recommended for anyone who appreciates the work of film score composers such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Philip Glass, or the darker works of Vangelis, as well as fans of the experimental noise/soundscape genre.
Both albums feature the personal touch expected of the Blackjack Illuminist label, with hand-assembled photographic artwork and hand-painted CDs. Available at blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com

ANDY B Better Times and Each Year that Passes CDRs/Downloads (Pastime)
DIY recording artist Andy B continues with his extremely prolific release schedule; here are just two of many albums he has put out over the last couple of months. Better Times emphasises Andy's noisier output, with songs like Communication Breakdown (spiky and on-edge, informed by the post-punk era), Silly Boy (rollicking noisepop with shades of 2-Tone and punk), and Let it be Quick (wistful indiepop beefed up with fuzzy noise), though there are also a couple of gentler tracks which are both very nice songs. The Least You Can Do is airy indiepop with soft guitar strumming and ethereal keyboards, and The Girl with the Long Brown Hair swathes indiepop melancholy in a swirling, dreamlike keyboard sound. There's rather a Sarah Records feel with this latter song; I'm reminded especially of Tramway at times.
Each Year that Passes sees Andy joined by drummer Chris Head. The cover has pictures of a room with a CD collection including punk bands like UK Subs and Vice Squad, but the music on the album is definitely indiepop. Your Clown is introspective and downbeat with a defiant chorus underscored by abrasive noise. What's Going On is a bittersweet song, the cheery pop tune offset by pensive feelings of doubt and distrust. The Time of Your Life opens with gentle strumming before launching into a boisterous noisepop track with forceful vocals and fuzzy guitar noise. Both albums are available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

PUNCHING HOLES The Ghosts of Pilgrim Street LP (ZX)
Punching Holes was an early 1980s band consisting of Brian Bond (Punishment of Luxury, Zoo Bazaar), Tim Jones (Neon, Somebody Famous, The Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Census of Hallucinations, The Bringers of Change, and co-founder of the Stone Premonitions label), Norman Emerson (The Weights, Somebody Famous, Zoo Bazaar, Census of Hallucinations), Steve Cowgill (Zoo Bazaar) and Sid Smith, the music writer perhaps best known for his King Crimson biography In the Court of King Crimson. This LP, which comes packaged in a lavish heavyweight card gatefold sleeve, comprises eight songs recorded in 1980, which were rescued from a cassette tape long thought to have been lost. The sound quality of the album is a great deal better than may be expected, considering the lo-fi reputation of the cassette format.
Punching Holes had an inventive sound that brought together a quirky pop sensibility, the theatricality of prog rock, and the spiky angularity that was characteristic of the post-punk era. Bits of Romeo is choppy, manic art-rock infused with the big, epic nature of classical music. The Ghost of Danube Street combines shades of Talking Heads with chiming baroque guitar, harsh punky noise, and cinematic electronic sound effects. Life in the Zoo is off-centre pop taking in clattering noise, busy drumming and whirling fairground organ. This is a really amazing album, with creative songs that still sound fresh today. Highly recommended for fans of Punishment of Luxury and Neon in particular. Get it at burningshed.com; more info at punchingholes.co.uk

GAVIN JOHN BAKER & DAVID CW BRIGGS Sunshine Recorder CDR/Download (Folk Archive)
The latest collaborative album by Gavin John Baker and David CW Briggs, recorded partly in Norway and partly in the UK, and featuring Gavin's son Albert on drums. The music here covers a lot of ground, though the diverse influences are held together by the common thread of psychedelia that runs through the whole album. Singing Today is an epic track almost eight minutes long, merging aspects of late 60s Californian psych-folk-rock and sprawling, swirling, psychedelic post-rock. Reach to the Top of the Tree is a great psych-folk piece bringing together an authentically traditional-sounding melody with cosmic retro synths. Free the Pigs is sunny powerpop with that classic chuggy rhythm, given a retrofuturistic twist with the addition of vintage synths. Stars & Suns is laid-back, US folk-tinged hometaper pop swathed in a gentle psychedelic shimmer, giving way to a more experimental, improvisational kind of psychedelia. The Song that Told Me How I Feel is based around an off-centre psych-pop song with melancholic and surreal moments, adding some fiercely intense psych-rock guitar, the whole piece being propelled by an insistent hypnotic pulse. Clusters is a huge, intense, heady instrumental over twelve minutes long, that owes something to Gavin's background in the 1990s post-rock scene, while also taking in elements of improvisational psych-rock, the sweeping atmospheric noise of shoegaze, and gentle folky autoharp. A very creative album from these continually recommended artists. Available on CDR (limited to just 25 copies) or download at davidcwbriggs.bandcamp.com

MAYFLOWER MADAME Prepared for a Nightmare LP/CD/Download (Only Lovers)
Second album from Norwegian trio Mayflower Madame, who expand on the gothic sounds of the post-punk era with elements of shoegaze, psychedelia and noise-rock. Vultures is in the classic gothic style; it's easy to see how they've gained past comparisons to the Sisters of Mercy and shared a stage with Killing Joke. Ludwig Meidner too is firmly situated within the world of goth, with deep dramatic vocals over a heady, atmospheric backdrop. Elsewhere, Mayflower Madame continue to reveal their gothic influences but augment them with so much more. In the title track, glacial soundscaping gives way to snaking psychedelic guitars wrapped in a shoegaze haze. Sacred Core pairs a guitar melody with an almost surfy twang with seething, smouldering noise. Goldmine, perhaps the main standout track for me, opens with a fizzing synth intro that leads into an intense, feverish, darkly psychedelic whirl, its chorus underpinned by a memorably melodic, driving riff. More info at facebook.com/mayflowermadame and www.onlyloversrecords.com

VARIOUS Mark Barton's 'The Sunday Experience' CD/Download (Bearsuit)
Mark Barton was a tireless promoter of underground music, first via Losing Today magazine and then through his blog The Sunday Experience. He had a laudable lack of regard for genre purism, covering most forms of underground music on his blog over the years, and had a distinctive stream-of-consciousness writing style, rich with poetic metaphors, like a kind of psychedelic word-art. He continued blogging right up until his untimely death from lung cancer in March 2020, and will be missed by many followers of non-mainstream music.
Edinburgh label Bearsuit Records have released this eclectic compilation in tribute to Mark, with all proceeds going to Macmillan Cancer Support. The majority of the tracks are ones Mark had reviewed at The Sunday Experience, and quotes from his reviews appear in the liner notes.
The Lovely Eggs combine raucous punky noisepop with swirling psychedelia to maximum effect in Magic Onion. Schizo Fun Addict bring together raw, distorted rock 'n' roll with a barrage of pulsating, whirring analogue synth noises straight out of a vintage sci-fi movie. Kiran Leonard sets melodic songwriting to the sort of bendiness and discordance that led Mark to think, quite appropriately, of bands like Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and Trumans Water. JD Meatyard make off-centre lo-fi pop setting bleak lyrics to a mix of forcefully strummed acoustic guitar and atmospheric strings. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs provide some heavy-duty, doom-laden rock aptly summed up by Mark as an "immense sonic juggernaut", combining Motorhead-esque moments with hypnotic repetition and psychedelic influences. Further heaviness comes from Godflesh, with their ear-grindingly brutal industrial metal.
John 3:16 contribute some evocative retrofuturistic soundscaping, featuring a slightly unsettling analogue synth melody underpinned by rumbling noise. Needle Into a Bug have an interesting sound that blends neoclassical aspects with brooding cinematic drones. Isan appear with a fine slice of underground electronica, with chirping and burbling sounds alongside a lilting keyboard melody, the whole thing swathed in an ethereal psychedelic haze. Polypores contribute more electronic loveliness with the floaty, woozy sounds of Lelen. These are just a few of the tracks on the CD, and there is also a much larger digital version that comes with another album-length set of additional tracks. The album is available at Bearsuit Records' Bandcamp page.

HAROLD NONO We're Almost Home CD/Download (Bearsuit)
Harold Nono and guests employ brass, woodwind, strings, electronics and more to create inventive experimental music that ranges from cinematic neoclassical soundscaping to off-the-wall abstract pieces. Annie & Bunny Got Fast-Tracked is centred around parping, screeching brass instruments sounding like the frantic buzzing of trapped bees. I Thought I Was Driving combines atmospheric, dreamlike neoclassical music with electronic experimentation and horror filmic bombast. Let the Light In (Prince of Darkness) begins as gentle, pastoral neoclassical music underscored by a soft ambient hum, before segueing into a delicate guitar melody accompanied by space-age synths. The Fall Reprise features glacial drones that conjure up images of a barren icy landscape, combined with abstract improvisational jazz. The Gurney Trip is bizarre art music taking in slicing noise, thundering electronic drums, spacey synths and operatic vocal samples. Strange, creative and often soundtrack-esque; available at bearsuitrecords.bandcamp.com

JONNY POLONSKY Kingdom of Sleep CD/LP/Download (Ghostworks)
Sixth solo album from Chicago-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Polonsky, who has also worked with a variety of big name artists including Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Donovan. The album's title is a perfect match for the dreamlike, languorous music contained within. Ghost Like Soul sets vocoder-treated verses and a memorably melodic chorus to darkly atmospheric synth ambience akin to Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack. Take Me Home features delicate piano wrapped in an ethereal swirl, alongside distinctive breathy vocals like a growled whisper. You Turn Me On is sensual and ecstatic, its chorus adorned with soaring vocal harmonies. The airy, shimmering synth soundscaping of Aenerone continues to add a 1980s cinematic feel to the music. Jonny had got heavily into the Cocteau Twins when working on this album, and while something of that band's atmospheric nature has rubbed off onto his own music, the incorporation of film score elements as well as Jonny's own creative ideas makes for an overall sound that strikes me as pretty much unique. Inventive, intelligent music that's well worth investigating. Available at jonnypolonsky.bandcamp.com

DARK MATTERS Little Black Rose double LP/download (Old Bad Habits)
This represents something of a departure for the Old Bad Habits Label, who are more often associated with noisy indie pop, and have until now only released 7" singles. Dark Matters is the latest project of Greek electronic musician Vaggelis Mourelatos (Elis M. Feeling), who is joined by six vocalists and three additional musicians to create a classy, well-crafted brand of pop that brings together three contrasting elements into a cohesive whole, namely the sort of shimmering ethereality associated with the Projekt label or the classic era of 4AD, dark cinematic electronica, and more mainstream soul and synthpop aspects. 5AM (Intro) is beautiful meditative electronic music with ethereal violin, liquid synths and spoken word against a percussive backdrop. When the Lights are Gone is mournful atmospheric pop, with plaintive piano and guitar combined with electronic instrumentation and ornamented by soaring angelic backing vocals. Exposed is forceful soul-infused electropop with a brooding 1980s synth sound that lends a darkly cinematic feel to the music. Until You Break is airy dreampop based around guitar, strings, electronics, and the strong vocals of Maria Tsevà, who has the kind of voice that's rarely heard in underground music, rivalling and perhaps exceeding that of many mainstream pop singers. She sounds perhaps classically trained in this song, though as will be seen, her voice is just as at home in pop balladry and soul songs. She appears again in the title track, with torch song-style vocals set to swirling ethereal electronic pop incorporating a flowing sax solo, and You in Black, a soulful number taking in laid-back trip-hop beats and airy atmospherics. DarkSide blends experimental electronica and neoclassical music, with a quintessentially dark 1980s synth sound shot through with a slightly unsettling electronic pulse, accompanied by brooding strings. An inventive mixture of dark atmospheric music and soulful pop, on a lavishly packaged double LP with printed inner sleeves, limited to just 125 copies. Available at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com

IT'S KARMA IT'S COOL Woke Up In Hollywood CD/Download (Kool Kat Musik)
Debut full-length album from It's Karma It's Cool, following their 6-track mini-album Hipsters and Aeroplanes. The band are led by James Styring, formerly of The Popdogs. Their music sounds in many ways quintessentially American, drawing from US powerpop, janglepop and indie rock, but in actual fact they are a UK band, from Lincoln. Their music inhabits a similar space as many of the bands on Big Stir Records, and indeed it was a Big Stir singles compilation where I first heard this band. Back in '78 sets nostalgic autobiographical lyrics to a mixture of pop-rock oomph and dreamy indie pop jangle. Wooden Buddha is a real corker, superbly well-crafted, with a multi-part song structure offering much variety to the listener. It truly sounds like a lost classic from the days when the charts still had room for strong melodic guitar pop. American Sushi is a jangle-and-harmony fest that puns the US sushi chain Sosumi with 'so sue me', and features an instrumental section pairing Hawaiian guitar with indie rock chug. New Age Eve is super-melodic pop taking in mariachi trumpet and a ska-inspired guitar style. Big Stir Records and The Armoires co-founder Rex Broome makes a guest appearance on Healer's Leap, contributing chiming 12-string guitar, while harmonica is provided by Brian Barry of The Flaming Cortinas. There's also 'ooh-la-la-la' backing vocals adding further to the uplifting atmosphere. The song is in many ways reminiscent of The Byrds. The album is packed full of very strong catchy songs, and is firmly recommended for lovers of tunes, harmonies and jangly guitars. Get it at itskarmaitscool.bandcamp.com or www.koolkatmusik.com

MOOD TAEG Exophora LP/Download (Happy Robots)
Mood Taeg, a musical project with members from Düsseldorf and Shanghai, is one of several projects to come out of the wider Mood Taeg Kollektiv, who make art in a variety of media from graffiti to video. Their debut album Exophora uses their love of 1970s German experimental and electronic music as a starting point for building a creative contemporary form of experimental electronica. 2 M. R. is an extended instrumental with swirling, mind expanding sounds underlaid with a repetitive motorik rhythm. Deictics is a sample-laden electronic soundscape having equal room for floaty, meditative atmospheres and abstract experimentalism. Corpora features analogue synth music somewhere between Kraftwerk and late 70s/early 80s TV themes, combined with sprawling, liquid psychedelia and experimental undercurrents. Moodblock is an evocative slice of experimental electronica, overlaying multiple snippets of melody to create a full, expansive, kaleidoscopic sound, in which lilting Mellotron, rhythmic bass and light tinkling piano are just a few of the components. A creative album that is experimental yet accessible, with equal appeal to fans of electronic and psychedelic music. More info at www.happyrobots.co.uk

DREAMING DAVID K & ORGANIC Mr Passive Progressive CD/Download (self-released)
David K (aka David Kovacevic, ex-Killing Joke, Cuddly Toys, Pleasurama), revisits his youth as a prog rock fan in the 1970s, taking in occasional elements of other genres along the way. He is accompanied by several other musicians including Marco Magnani (Mark and the Clouds, Instant Flight). Lost in Space is a multifaceted piece with a highly creative arrangement incorporating spacey synth bleeps and whooshes, intricate keyboard melodies, soaring flute and violin. A Prayer is a piece of great beauty, with hints of classical and medieval music as well as world music inspirations alongside the prog aspects. The keyboard melody that runs through the piece has shades of Mike Oldfield, while the powerful wordless vocalisations from Jo Devall lend something of a Dead Can Dance feel to the track, and sitar-effect guitar nods towards the Indian-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s. The Big Picture incorporates highly impressive piano-led sections with virtuoso musicianship well and truly on the classical level. It's Electric is a multi-part track with great instrumental sections alongside an equally great song whose strong catchy tune has taken root in my brain. There's big bold parts taking in organ riffage in the authentic 70s prog style, heavy 70s rock guitar, and joyous brass, intertwined with delicate laid-back sections incorporating acoustic guitar and piano. The album is clearly rooted in the 1970s progressive tradition, though the considerable talent of the artists adds a fresh inventiveness to the music. Very much recommended for fans of this genre. Visit www.dreamingdavidk.com

ANDY B Higher Ground and Travel In Hope CDRs/Downloads (Pastime)
Even under normal circumstances, Andy B is one of the most prolific artists I'm in touch with, but the Covid-19 lockdown gave him the extra time to boost his creative output even further. These are just two of a large number of albums Andy has put out over the lockdown period. Whilst his other recent albums have had an emphasis on reworking older tracks, Higher Ground consists entirely of new material Andy wrote and recorded during lockdown. The uptempo, bittersweet Faceless Town is perhaps the album's main standout track, while other favourites include Better Offer, a rollicking slice of DIY indiepop with a noisy chorus and the effective addition of retro organ, and The Magic Has Gone, an anthem for introverts who "hate the social media game", "reject every new trend" and "just want to go home", these sentiments accompanied by spiky guitars tempered by airy keyboards. Travel In Hope followed soon afterwards, with reworked versions of several tracks from Higher Ground alongside a selection of other new songs including I've Seen The Future, in which world-weary, pessimistic sentiments are placed within a dark-edged yet exhilarating noisepop setting, and Parting Ways, in which a choppy, uptempo arrangement contrasts with melancholic lyrics reflecting on the end of a relationship. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

RICHARD DAVIES & THE DISSIDENTS Human Traffic CD/Download (Bucketfull of Brains)
Richard Davies (Tiny Monroe, The Snakes, and collaborator with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock and The Only Ones' Peter Perrett) returns with new band The Dissidents, who feature among them Chris Cannon (Mega City Four, The Snakes) and Tim Emery (Last Great Dreamers, Case Hardin). This is very much an American-influenced album, featuring songs such as Human Traffic, alt-country beefed up with a rock 'n' roll snarl; Lay Me Low, a Shaker hymn from the early 19th century presented in the US folk-rock style, with a melody reminiscent of The Byrds; 21st Century Man, gritty blue-collar rock with an anthemic chorus; and Echo Road, in which bright jangle is offset by rock 'n' roll attitude and blistering guitar solos. Keep updated at www.facebook.com/richarddaviesandthedissidents

JACK ELLISTER Lichtpyramide LP/Download (Tonzonen)
Jack Ellister's latest album on German label Tonzonen will come as a surprise to those who know him primarily for his eclectic psychedelic music on Fruits de Mer Records. Moving away from the song-based approach, this new album is mostly instrumental with some spoken lyrics, and composed in an off-the-cuff, improvisational manner. Inspired by kosmische music, experimental soundscaping, and at times psych-folk, the end result is a sound that would work well as film music. Each track segues into the next to form two long multifaceted pieces, which as Jack says "create the feel of a continuous journey through various areas of a constantly changing metaphorical landscape". There's the meditative spaciness of Der Schiffer, and the eerie, surreal Szyszka. Das Weisen des Seins is hypnotically repetitive and tinged with psychedelic funk. Lichtpyramide is a meeting of retro video game music and horror film soundtrack. The main standout track for me is D.A.E.L., which journeys into psych-folk territory, with beautiful medieval-tinged guitar and mandolin melodies swathed in spacey effects; really superb. This folk aspect returns later on the album with Stand Auf, recalling a more psychedelic Bert Jansch, and Bergwanderung, in which gentle pastoral acoustic folk is juxtaposed with whooshing cosmic synth. An impressive new dimension from this already highly eclectic and continually recommended psychedelic musician. Info at www.tonzonen.de and www.jackellister.com

ANDY B Playback Volume One, Two & Three CDs/Downloads (Pastime)
The already prolific Andy B took part in a mammoth home recording session during the Covid-19 lockdown. This three part series - just a fraction of his recorded output during this period - sees Andy reinterpreting some of his favourite songs from his back catalogue. Volume One is full of bittersweet indiepop songs inspired by the genre's classic era. There's the cold, resentful I Am Ice, its chorus effectively adorned with retro organ; the bleak Let It Be Quick, with piano and synthesised strings juxtaposed with noisy guitars; and melancholic janglers such as Worth the Wait. Over on Volume Two there's Television Girl, a wistful jangly indiepop song inspired by the era of Sarah Records, and The Girl with the Long Brown Hair which reminds me specifically of Tramway in places. I Can Read You Like a Book features pensive verses with dustings of delicate piano over melancholic guitar and vocal melodies, while things get poppier and catchier during the chorus. Volume Three continues the indiepop melancholia, with titles like Life's a Disease, It's Not Gonna Work, and Twist the Knife illustrating the world-weariness and despair that pervades much of Andy's songwriting, although the dark mood lifts for Daisy Smiles, a sentimental song written by a doting father for his baby daughter. Available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

PEFKIN Gossip Among the Leaves CD and The Crows lathe cut 8" box set (Sonido Polifonico)
Sonido Polifonico are renowned for their lavish presentation that makes their releases a complete work of art. This latest release from Pefkin, the solo project of Gayle Brogan (Electroscope, Barrett's Dottled Beauty, Burd Ellen, Meadowsilver), has pushed the boat out even further, this whole package a veritable box of wonders! You get the CD album and lathe cut single plus a black velvet pouch containing two badges and a ceramic crow head by Bev Seth Ceramics, a cork-stoppered glass phial containing plant material collected in Aberdeen or Ayrshire (I got lichen), a crow feather, a page torn from a poetry book, a gig poster for Pefkin and others at Heretics' Folk Club, and a download code for the single, all packaged within a large sturdy black box, hand stamped with metallic green paint. I am truly amazed and delighted by the amount of care that has gone into this package.
Starting with the single, this is an 8" lathe cut with locked grooves, and undoubtedly the only record I own that has felt labels! Cover art by Kitchen Cynics' Alan Davidson is awe-inspiring in its sheer detail, with a crow looking down from a tree in dappled moonlight over a village with rolling hills, tilled fields, and fungi jutting from branches. The two songs here are musical adaptations of poems by John Clare, featuring vocals, violin, and the Lyra 8 and Minibrute synths. Evening Crows comprises a beautiful folk-inspired melody over eerie synth drones, whirrs and pulses and cinematic violin, while The Crow takes in ethereal angelic wordless vocals, cosmic whooshing synths, echoey poetic recitation, and electronic neoclassical music with a brooding filmic atmosphere, the locked grooves placing the ends of each track on a hypnotic endless repeat.
The CD comprises a selection of songs from Pefkin's back catalogue, including two tracks from the long sold-out singles previously issued by Sonido Polifonico alongside material from many other releases spanning Pefkin's 20 year history. Accompanying the CD is a collection of photographs of Gayle and of nature scenery, all artistically presented, plus a track list with Victorian style copperplate typeface printed on photographic paper. An accompanying double-sided A4 sheet gives background to each of the tracks. There's the eerie experimental sound-art of Debris, taking in creaking wood sounds and perhaps the most ethereal, church organ-esque sound you'll ever hear from a Vox Continental. Bright Line Brown Eye sounds retrofuturistic and medieval all at once, shot through with a menacing pulse. The Brooding Rook's Heaven recalls Pantaleimon, with a delicate lullaby-like song over lilting, thrumming, dreamlike music. Isn't It Good to be Lost in the Woods was inspired by a tonsillitis fever-dream, with atmospheric sibilant vocals alongside meandering psychedelic Farfisa. The Uncertain is a truly lovely piece of neoclassical ambience, with a repeating piano melody backed by textured ethereal sounds, including bowed bass contributed by Alan Davidson. The Last Rays of Summer is a piece of dreamlike beauty, with multilayered drones, hushed vocals and meandering melodica, closing with the cawing of rooks.
A true labour of love and a work of art to be treasured. Very limited and almost sold out immediately on pre-order; there may still be a few copies left - contact www.sonidopolifonico.co.uk

TRAPPIST AFTERLAND Seaside Ghost Tales double LP/CD/download (Sunstone)
Sunstone Records returns following a long pause, with the ninth and final album from Trappist Afterland, a deeply personal set of songs drawn from Adam Geoffrey Cole's memories of growing up in a coastal farming community in New South Wales, Australia, and his relationship with his now deceased father. In addition, the Gnostic spirituality that has always been a key part of Trappist Afterland's music continues to be threaded throughout this album. Adam plays a wide array of instruments, including mandolin, tabla, oud, flute, tanpura, dulcitar, gong and water bowl, and is joined by several other musicians including some familiar names from the folk underground, namely Alan Davidson (Kitchen Cynics, Barrett's Dottled Beauty), David Colohan (United Bible Studies), and Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon, Widow's Weeds).
Calling of the Quarters is a deeply spiritual piece in which Alan Davidson evokes the archangels over an eerie, atmospheric dronescape based around e-bowed krajappi. Paperboat includes some of the most poignant, moving lyrics I've heard in a long while, set to a blend of delicate acoustic guitar, airy Mellotron, and atmospheric bells and cymbals. The gentle acoustic folk ballad Golden Neighbourhood gives way to Closing of the Quarters, with Alan bidding farewell to the angels in this ritual closure, its accompanying drones and sound effects matching its earlier counterpart. Godbotherings (Part 4) is a perfect combination of traditional folk influences and immersive psychedelia, with echoey, glacial electric guitar and soaring flute adding extra depth and texture. In Sacred Geometry, the expressive, distinctive voice of David Colohan accompanies Adam while ethereal flute dances in the air. God is a Black Dog is a superb, strongly melodic piece that perceives the divine within nature, amidst a richly adorned, Eastern-influenced setting incorporating tanpura, sitar and harmonium along with swirling Mellotron.
Another excellent, highly recommended offering from Trappist Afterland, a band I count among my current favourites. Whilst this is due to be the final album recorded under the Trappist Afterland name, I'm pleased to know that Adam Geoffrey Cole is still making music and future recordings will appear under his own name. Seaside Ghost Tales is available on double gatefold LP limited to 200 copies, digipak CD limited to 50 copies, or download. Physical copies are already selling fast - get a copy while you still can at sunstonerecords1.bandcamp.com

VARIOUS The 17th Dream of Dr Sardonicus - Live double LP (Fruits de Mer)
VARIOUS The World is Our Lobster CD (Fruits de Mer)

First we have a double coloured vinyl LP in gatefold sleeve featuring a selection of live recordings from the three-day festival The 17th Dream of Dr Sardonicus, held at Cardigan's Cellar Bar in 2019. Sarah Birch provides some really nice contemporary folk, while Mark McDowell and Friends swathe Eastern melodies in spacey synth atmospherics, and Elfin Bow appears with a delicate piano-based rendition of the Small Faces' Autumn Stone, building up to a crescendo of soulful wordless vocals before morphing into a version of Guns N' Roses' Paradise City that is the complete antithesis of the hard rock original; this medley of covers is a surprising combination of songs that shouldn't work yet it really does. There's Sendelica's epic 17-minute pairing of heavy psych-rock and flowing sax; Three Dimensional Tanx who start with a basis in hypnotic psych-rock and add heaps of garage punk attitude, peppering the piece with retro organ and punky snarled vocals; and The Bevis Frond's superb mix of classic songwriting and blistering guitars. The album has sold out at the label but other sellers may still have copies in stock; see the Fruits de Mer website for further details.
Fruits de Mer club members who bought the summer batch of releases will also have got the free CD The World is Our Lobster, bringing together familiar FdM names with bands who are new to the label. Stay contribute some highly melodic, sitar-driven psych-pop. Vilse i Pannkakan appear with a very inventive, multifaceted prog track taking in bits that remind me of Cardiacs alongside medieval-tinged electric folk sections and the juxtaposition of classical piano and powerful rock guitars. Mark McDowell and Friends appear with the title track from their latest album Breakthrough, an amazing piece in which swirling, bubbling, hypnotic spacerock is bookended by sections of 1970s-style electric folk. James McKeown provides a gentle, calming instrumental bringing together a pastoral Englishness with retrofuturistic spacey touches. The Sugarman Band make intense, mind-expanding psych-rock featuring tanpura, organ, bongos and spacey effects alongside blistering guitar work. Visit www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

XTR HUMAN Interior CD/LP/Cassette/Download (Blackjack Illuminist/No Emb Blanc)
Second album from Berlin's Xtr Human, who put a contemporary spin on the post-punk sounds of the early 80s. Songs like With a Smile and New Dawn show shades of early New Order, while On a Greater Scale is indiepop gone gothic, with a strong pop tune accompanied by bright chiming guitar and swathed in dark atmospherics. On Miracles blends equal parts of dreamlike indiepop, intense alt-rock and swirling retro synths, topped off with deep, rich gothic vocals. Dreams is tense gothic pop with a soaring, harmonised, hymn-like chorus. Darkest Side is a spiky number with angular twists and turns, taking in an 80s bass line and those synthesised handclaps that were a big thing in 80s pop, alongside the grinding, searing noise of 21st century alt-rock. The band has a clear understanding and love of the darker side of 1980s alternative music, creating an album that is authentically rooted in the post-punk era while simultaneously providing a modern reinvigoration of this form of music. Available at blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com

BIG EYES FAMILY The Disappointed Chair LP (Sonido Polifonico)
Big Eyes Family are a long-running Sheffield outfit who previously went under the names Big Eyes and The Big Eyes Family Players. This is their first release under the Big Eyes Family name. Beautifully packaged, as is the norm with Sonido Polifonico releases, the album comes in two editions, an LP with free download code, limited to 250 copies, and an ultra-limited version that comprises the LP, a lathe cut remix 7", a hand-numbered screen print by band founder James Green, a photo, two badges, a ceramic crow token by Bev Seth, and a download code; only 93 copies of this edition were made and I understand it is very close to selling out, if it hasn't already, but the LP is still available at the time of writing. This LP is the first non-lathe cut release offered by Sonido Polifonico, and comes with a printed inner sleeve with info and photos.
Sing Me Your Saddest Song is melancholic and moving indiepop that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Sarah Records, combined with additional explorations of folk, baroque psych pop, and Broadcast/Pram-style retrofuturism. I am truly astounded by the sheer beauty of this song. From the Corner of My Eye is eerie, unsettling folk-pop, with woozy, feverish use of synths and spoken word. Modern Witchery is inspired by traditional folk and ornamented with whooshing cosmic synths and beautifully haunted backing vocals. Cassini's Regret is shimmering, soaring psychedelic pop, with a beautiful melody swathed in spacey electronics - just perfect. For Grace is gentle folk-pop giving way to experimental psychedelia, the whole piece having a soft, airy ambience.
The 7" features Dean Honer's Kosmik Isolation Remix of Cassini's Regret, with electronic echo effects on the vocals and maximum retrofuturistic bleepage emphasising the spaciness of the song. Gayle Brogan (Pefkin) remixes Modern Witchery, introducing reverb-drenched vocals for a choir-of-angels effect alongside sombre violin and deep space synth experimentation. A truly superb album, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Available at www.sonidopolifonico.co.uk

BURD ELLEN Says the Never Beyond CD/LP/Download (self-released)
Burd Ellen, the duo of Debbie Armour (also known for her work with Alasdair Roberts and Green Ribbons) and Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Electroscope, Barrett's Dottled Beauty), have dedicated their latest album to exploring traditional seasonal song, both sacred and secular. This being Burd Ellen, plus the fact that they are joined on a number of tracks by Jer Reid of the Glasgow Improvisers' Orchestra, you know you are not going to be getting straightforward folk music. Whilst all but one of the songs are true to the traditional melodies and lyrics, and the two unaccompanied tracks here would sit well on a regular folk album, the arrangements of everything else here are something else entirely.
Please to See the King pairs beautiful vocal interplay with a bleak, wiry dronescape incorporating synths, violin and bowed cymbal. Coventry Carol's eerie violin and synth effects and dissonant guitar create a tense atmosphere worthy of a horror film soundtrack. Their interpretation of Cutty Wren is frankly amazing, with its effective juxtapositions of hypnotic swirling psychedelia, harsh biting guitar noise, and the ethereal dreamlike beauty of the harp melody contributed by Rachel Newton of The Shee and The Furrow Collective. Corpus Christi Carol uses the Benjamin Britten tune rather than the traditional one I'm more familiar with, adorning the song with icily shimmering drones and brooding neoclassical piano. Sans Day Carol is made up solely of the duo's vocal harmonies and illustrates the sheer beauty of their voices. Lyrically it is a carol that exemplifies what Burd Ellen have described as the "liminal space between sacred and secular", with Christianity and nature given equal focus.
The album has already received considerable acclaim, including a five-star Folk Album of the Month in The Guardian, quite some feat for a self-released album with an unorthodox musical approach. The CD sold out instantly but the other formats can be found at burdellen.bandcamp.com

ANDY B Coming Home 2020, Night Comes Down/It Will Never Be The Same 2020, Later Than You Think 2020, Singles 2020, Parting Ways CDRs/Downloads (Pastime)
DIY recording artist Andy B has been VERY busy in 2020. In addition to the albums I've already reviewed, these five albums came along in quick succession along with the slew of CDR singles which are compiled on Singles 2020. The albums see Andy revisiting and reworking many of his older tracks that are familiar from past releases. I'm drawn mainly to the noisier tracks on Coming Home 2020, which are all collaborations with drummer Chris Head. Still Cold Outside is boisterous C86 noisepop opening with a juddery staccato rhythm. Messengers Passing Through is 80s-inspired indiepop pairing melancholic and rollicking moments, having occasional shades of the Television Personalities. In the Firing Line is spiky noisepop with a punk spirit.
Night Comes Down/It Will Never Be The Same 2020 has an emphasis on the melancholy I usually associate with this artist, with highlights including It Will Never Be The Same, bittersweet indiepop with nice use of retro keyboards in the chorus; Each Year That Passes, with its wistful looking back on the past; and Night Comes Down, which buzzes with the dark energy of the post-punk era. Later Than You Think 2020, which features really nice floral photography on the cover, includes such songs as Lose Myself In You which pairs dark, noisy verses with a bright catchy chorus; Tomorrow Is Another Day which shows Andy's love of Sarah Records, with a guitar melody that makes me think of The Wake alongside the thoughtful and melancholic sounds of bands like The Field Mice; and Shed Some Light, a slow, brooding song that opens with delicate, sparse guitar strumming before introducing airy keyboards and noisyish guitar atmospherics that hint towards shoegaze without strictly being that genre.
Singles 2020 includes songs such as Faceless Town, taking bouncy 60s pop and filtering it through an 80s indiepop lens; I've Seen the Future, combining bleak, noisy post-punk elements with wistful, dreamy indiepop; the aforementioned Lose Myself In You, and a selection of overtly melancholic tracks. Parting Ways' cover art shows pictures from a vintage car museum, with a mod scooter and a cute and quirky bubble car taking pride of place. There are a couple of new tracks here: At the End of the Day sounds influenced by the more melancholic songs of Sarah bands such as Brighter, The Field Mice or Another Sunny Day, and Do It Your Own Way combines wistful, somewhat Brighter-esque moments with an unusually brash chorus adorned with forceful punk-tinged backing vocals that contrast sharply with the delicate nature of the rest of the song. Elsewhere on the album Andy presents new versions of older songs including a completely revamped, keyboard-driven Faceless Town, and a version of I've Seen the Future that takes in swirling keyboards and an almost psych-folk guitar melody underpinned by strummy acoustic guitar. All albums are available on CD at pastimerecords.webs.com or download at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com

REIDGRAVES Two Flies CD/Download (Secret Shark)
Third album from ReidGraves, a collaboration between David Reid of The Contrast and poet Ron Graves, the latter of whom sadly passed away shortly after this album was released. It's an eclectic album, with songs treading a similar pop-rock path to The Contrast alongside songs exploring a selection of other genres, the lyrics steeped in gritty realism. Fold pairs guest vocals from Aimee Reid with that chiming jangly guitar sound I so love, the overall feel of the song reminding me at times of The Green Pajamas. Solar Flare takes the form of a conversation between an atheist and a Christian, set to a luxurious synth-orchestrated arrangement awash with baroque flourishes. Anorexia Rag's jaunty ragtime influences contrast sharply with the harrowing cautionary tale contained in the lyrics. And then there's the punk poetry of Tick Tock, featuring Ron Graves' recitations over a backdrop of squalling guitars. Find out more at www.reidgraves.com

JOHN SIMMS' LIGHT TRAILS Chromatology CD (Stargaze International)
John Simms' long history in music began as a teenager with his band Clear Blue Sky, whose first album was released on Vertigo in 1971. He also worked with a number of famous musicians such as Ginger Baker and John Entwistle. With Maxine Marten, he co-ran the Hi-Note Music label, whose English Garden offshoot put out some impressive folk-rock albums by bands such as The Morrigan, Barra, and Red Chair Fadeaway, the latter of whom are also known to indiepop fans due to the involvement of Tim Vass of Razorcuts and The Forever People. John Simms now presents his debut solo album, which features guest appearances from David Hendry (Ohead), Maxine Marten (Clear Blue Sky) and Tim Jones (The Rabbit's Hat, Census of Hallucinations etc). The music spans the boundaries between prog and spacerock and has much to appeal to fans of both genres. Step into the Light features ethereal spacey synths that conjure up images of comets and twinkling stars, alongside blistering rock guitar and a sprinkling of jazz influences. Lodestar combines swirling psychedelic moments with elements of sci-fi film score and hard-hitting prog rock. Powerful finale Are We Nothing brings together heavy rock and dreamlike synth soundscaping in an inventive manner. Find out more at www.johnsimms.co.uk


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