GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY Typically Stereo CD/Download (Pink Hedgehog)
SIMON FELTON The Cost of Living CD/Download (Pink Hedgehog)
Highly underrated jangle/powerpoppers Garfields Birthday celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2020. Their first couple of years were dedicated to home recording, but from 1997 onwards they took their music into the studio, and the new compilation Typically Stereo selects 23 tracks from across their 23 year history of studio recording, including alternative mixes and previously unreleased tracks, all remastered for this release.
Thick Ear is harmony-laden janglepop tinged with US folk-rock. Ambulance is crunchy powerpop adorned with joyous ba-ba-bas. Eye to Eye is a prime example of 90s noisepop, with rumbling bass and distorted vocals, its chorus soaring and anthemic yet infused with bleakness and melancholy. We Know Your Name is an absolute classic of bright jangly pop, which I count among my all-time favourite songs of this genre. Molly's Eyes distills the best bits of 90s above-ground indie music into one song, the main part of the track coming across like a cross between Ride and Teenage Fanclub, while also taking a stomping detour with tinges of Blur. Sugar Pop is as addictive and uplifting as the title suggests. Punch and Judy Man is super-catchy, Beach Boys-referencing summer pop. Cambridge is gentle and dreamlike, with shades of 60s folk-pop and ornamented with a lavish string arrangement. Cool Your Jets is top-notch powerpop, heartily recommended for fans of the powerpop output of labels like Sugarbush or Big Stir. These are just a few of the fantastic songs on offer here. In short, Garfields Birthday are unsung heroes of guitar pop. Their music sits comfortably alongside indiepop, janglepop and powerpop bands, yet they seem to be rarely mentioned by fans of these genres. Let's hope this great compilation changes that.
Garfields Birthday's Simon Felton has also released a number of solo albums. His latest, The Cost of Living, is home recorded yet far from lo-fi, and favours a largely synth-based approach. Drowned in Sound is effervescent early 80s synthpop with an indiepop heart, which would sound right at home on Happy Robots Records. Casualty Ward is melancholic observational pop underpinned by a knotwork of snaking piano and augmented by bursts of spiky noise guitar and fizzing synth. Butter Fingers is sentimental, wistful keyboard-led pop that could easily have been a chart hit in the days when the charts still had room for music with depth. Uninspired Child is classic guitar pop juxtaposing strummy jangle and atmospheric distortion, underscored by a bouncy drum rhythm and topped off with smooth vocal harmonies. Both albums here are highly recommended and available at www.pinkhedgehog.com
ARREST! CHARLIE TIPPER Red LP/Download (Old Bad Habits Label)
Latest album from Bristol band Arrest! Charlie Tipper, who include members of The Flatmates, Beatnik Filmstars, The Groove Farm and Rorschach, and were formerly known as The Charlie Tipper Experiment and The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. The LP is pressed on heavyweight red and black marbled vinyl, with artwork by Ian Jay (ex-Half Man Half Biscuit), and a printed inner sleeve with lyrics. The music here is often noisy pop with roots in the 1980s underground, which travels into other territories with the original and effective addition of instruments from outside the usual guitars-and-drums format that's the norm for this genre. The lyrics deal with relevant contemporary issues, such as the need to keep social media-fuelled negativity and stupidity out of your life (Bubble) and a forceful attack on those who misuse the important value of free speech to spread hatred and fear (Freedom of Speech), the latter song an effective meeting of searing noisepop and something more psychedelic with its hypnotic repetition and whooshing cosmic synths. Hurt is deeply melancholic pop, inventively overlaid with mournful cornet and the spacey whirrs of an analogue synth. Poets is fuzzy buzzy noisepop with an ultramelodic, harmony-driven chorus, combining the spirit of the C86 era with contemporary commentary on gentrification. Don't Leave Me Alone is thoughtful, personal pop, with an inventive arrangement taking in cornet, retro organ and synthesised strings. A recommended listen for those who love 80s indie pop while also appreciating forward-looking musical innovation. Available in limited numbers at oldbadhabitslabel.bandcamp.com
TERRY EDWARDS Very Terry Edwards triple CD box set (Sartorial)
TERRY EDWARDS Stop Trying to Sell Me Back My Past (vol 1) double LP (Sartorial)
Terry Edwards celebrates his 60th birthday with the career-spanning triple album Very Terry Edwards, featuring 60 tracks recorded across 40 years. There are solo tracks along with his early work with The Higsons and collaborations with countless other artists, the music covering almost every imaginable genre. Blues, tango, jazz and classical appear alongside punk, noise and experimentation, as well as the alternative pop sounds that are more often covered in Aquamarine. There's the jerky, angular, funk-infused post-punk of The Higsons, the woozy electronic pop of kNIFE & FORk, and the dreamy ethereal indie pop of Lush. The Wolfhounds' My Legendary Childhood is punchy 80s indie pop overlaid with joyous bursts of trumpet and wailing sax. Stuart A. Staples' Say Something Now juxtaposes dark, melancholic songwriting with skronking sax. 18 Wheeler's Stay combines sunny powerpop with the atmospheric haze of shoegaze and a luxurious string arrangement. The Nightingales with Vic Godard's Commercial Suicide Man is spiky, twisty-turny underground pop with a punk spirit. Snuff offer a melodic punk-pop song and a horn-driven surf instrumental. Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern's Art and Design brings together chug-along DIY pop and banjo-led folk, with something of a punk snarl to the vocals. Entirely different from everything else mentioned above is The Havering Youth Orchestra, with their rousing, dramatic performance of Sibelius' Finlandia. Truly something for most tastes on this album.
Also available is Stop Trying to Sell Me Back My Past (vol 1), compiling the EPs of cover versions Terry Edwards recorded in the 1990s, including the Cure covers EP intended for release in 1994 that never actually surfaced at the time. There's a trumpet-led version of The Jesus and Mary Chain's Never Understand, the guitar feedback of the original replaced by squalling sax, and a ska reinvention of The Fall's Totally Wired, with Terry accompanied by members of Madness and Serious Drinking. Three Miles Davis pieces get the noise treatment, with inspiration from fast and furious punk and speed metal, while The Clash's Version City goes funk, The Cure's In Between Days features thrashy punky elements alongside Motown influences, and The Damned's New Rose is played by a classical string quartet. Find out more at www.terryedwards.co.uk
KEVIN HEARD Welcome to Wickerworld CD (self-released)
Kevin Heard has a long history in music, having been in various bands since the 1970s, including amongst others The Carpettes and Somebody Famous. More recently he has released solo material via Stone Premonitions. For his latest project, recorded during the Covid-19 lockdown, he has turned his attention to the works of other artists, recording a series of acoustic-based cover versions. Three CDs of covers have been released, with Welcome to Wickerworld the first in the series. Tim Jones at Stone Premonitions mastered this album, but it is actually self-released by Kevin and made available for free.
There's a very lovely acoustic version of The Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, while Tears For Fears' Mad World is completely reinvented as gentle, melancholic, acoustic contemporary folk with a subtle psychedelic undercurrent. The traditional folk song Scarborough Fair appears here, with nice use of harmony vocals in keeping with the version by Simon and Garfunkel. The folk staple John Barleycorn, as performed by the likes of Martin Carthy, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, the John Renbourn Group, and underground stalwart Steve Andrews, was also famously recorded by Traffic as John Barleycorn Must Die, and it is this latter version Kevin Heard has used as a starting point for his own rendition. Acoustic guitar and mandolin are effectively combined here with atmospheric washes of psych-tinged electric guitar - a must for fans of all the classic 70s folk-rock bands. Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' is cleverly rewritten with Covid-themed lyrics, offering a stark reminder to the cynical and the complacent of the real threat this virus poses.
Contact www.facebook.com/kevinheard.music for a free copy of the album. For more info on previous Kevin Heard albums on the Stone Premonitions label, contact www.facebook.com/stonepremonitionsUK
THE CONSPIRACY Apple Zapple CD/Download (self-released)
The Conspiracy are a long-running underground outfit known for their musical eclecticism. Starting out in the DIY tapes scene in the late 80s, they later moved on to the Pink Lemon and Jarmusic labels where they became labelmates of artists like Martin Newell, Captain Sensible, R Stevie Moore, and Alan Jenkins' various bands including The Creams and The Deep Freeze Mice. Their latest album Apple Zapple is self-released, though the band seek a label for future recordings. Quite astonishing that they don't currently have a label behind them, as this album includes some of their strongest material yet. The album opens with the title track, in which stream-of-consciousness word-associations are forcefully recited over a vigorous mix of electronic dance music and heavy psych-rock. Magnolia is an effective blend of goth, punk and pop, with brooding post-punk verses adorned with chiming arpeggios giving way to full-on punk aggression in the chorus. The Race is spiky, energetic pop-rock, with a driving, chugging powerpop rhythm juxtaposed with heady, meandering psychedelic guitar soloing. Rapunzel is angry punk-infused noisepop, with a thudding rhythm and slicing guitar as backdrop for lyrics of resentment and rage; definitely no fairytale! Mahler is dark, woozy pop, with atmospheric use of slide guitar and sustained, swelling keyboard sounds. All these are top tracks but my absolute favourite is Sound of One, a melodic pop exploration of introversion, much in the style of classic late 80s/early 90s indiepop, with the jangly guitar sound that I so love. This album and selected back catalogue available at theconspiracy2.bandcamp.com
THE SPANISH AMANDA Golders Green CD (self-released)
To celebrate 20 years since the release of their album Brave New Girl, and also to thank their supporters, The Spanish Amanda have released this compilation of archival material from 1998 to 2001. Well-crafted, poetic lyrics show a laconic wit and stark, vivid realism, while the music covers a broad mix of indiepop and electronic sounds. Shao-Lin's Road combines pulsing synths, chiming guitar and deadpan lyrical recitation, the end result sounding something like an indiepop Pet Shop Boys. Gael is spiky noisepop, with guitar and piano providing an insistent juddering rhythm. Gaga Id and Gaga Yod is an instrumental piece taking in snaking, pulsating electronics, soaring flute, and guitars that range from chuggy and noisy to intensely psychedelic. Fuschal appears in its original acoustic version, delicate minimalistic indiepop that reminds me in places of early Mary Queen of Scots. Her Body Was Home is slow, atmospheric pop, combining soft acoustic guitar, dreamlike keyboards and backwards effects as backdrop for erotic lyrics that prove wrong the lazy journo stereotype that indiepop is childish and asexual. This is a fans-only CD that's not available to purchase, but the band have other CDs for sale at www.spanishamanda.com
VARIOUS The Layering CD/Download (A Year in the Country)
Described as an "audio slicing through the layers of time", this themed compilation explores the cycles of history and prehistory, the forming of land masses over millennia which are then quarried to build new infrastructure, and abandoned buildings being replaced, repurposed, or simply hidden away and claimed by nature. The CD is packaged in the label's in-house style in a foldout wallet with giclee ink art, a string-bound badge, and an info sheet with the backstory behind each track, while the album is also available for download or streaming via the usual channels. You will find eerie cinematic incidental music with drones, rumbles, analogue electronics and found sounds, as well as explorations around the darker and stranger corners of folk music, and pieces that pull both strands together into an inventive experimental whole.
The Heartwood Institute's music sounds like a sinister reinvention of early 80s TV themes, with brooding electronics and rumbling noise underscored by a hypnotic chug. Field Lines Cartographer provides a woozy, fever-dream-ish sound sculpture with dark undertones. Howlround creates a surreal, nightmarish effect with chattering and rumbling tape manipulations. Folclore Impressionista contribute a superb retrofuturist piece setting gentle acoustic guitar and dreamlike flute-effect Mellotron to a driving analogue synth rhythm; the piece has much to appeal to fans of Pram or Broadcast. Handspan have made perhaps the eeriest version of Byker Hill you'll ever hear; the piece stays true to the folk tradition with the use of squeezebox and cittern, but travels into other territories entirely with creepy found sounds and electronics, and the inventive use of coal staithe timbers as percussion. Widow's Weeds, the current band of Grey Malkin (ex-The Hare and the Moon), are joined by Ken Patterson from 1970s underground folk band Caedmon, whose eerie neoclassical cello appears alongside ghostly wordless vocals over an insistent electronic pulse. Vic Mars' piece effectively illustrates the 'layers of time' concept with its blend of 19th century pastoralism and 20th century analogue electronica. Available at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
SHORT HAIRED DOMESTIC s/t CD/LP/Download (Calcium Chloride)
Short Haired Domestic is the latest project of famed producer Tim Friese-Greene (who is perhaps best known for his work with Talk Talk, and has also worked with the likes of Catherine Wheel, Thomas Dolby and Lush, as well as his own project Heligoland) and his wife Lee Friese-Greene (formerly of Sidi Bou Said and more recently in Lemonade Sin). This self-titled album is a highly original work of avant garde pop, blending multiple genres with ease and featuring lyrics in multiple languages from Latin to Yoruba.
A Song in Japanese About Trying Things Out Before Committing is off-centre pop set to a musical backdrop combining minimal jazz piano with a busy blend of breakbeats, synth bass and noise. A Song in Bulgarian for Lovers of Gin features a quirky, angular verse that gives way to a beautiful, airy chorus with an uplifting summer atmosphere, underscored by an inventive sound sculpture that brings Latin rhythms together with beats and samples.
A Song in German Concerning Gardens and Goodbyes has the dreamlike lilt of Broadcast or their largely unsung contemporaries L'Augmentation, alongside a similar avant garde feel to Dutch experimentalists Trespassers W. The inventive arrangement features electronic beats, retro spacey synths and snippets of scratching blending naturally with accordion, flute, harp and acoustic guitar. A Song in Danish in Which There is Much Discontent is an amazing track with a huge soaring melody reminiscent in places of Cardiacs, XTC, and a smidgen of Blondie, over the multi-genre sound sculpting that this album is all about.
Despite containing identifiable ingredients ranging from jazz to hip-hop to classical to retrofuturism, and bits and pieces that call to mind other bands, these are combined in a manner that creates a unique genre of its own, the overall sound being quite unlike anything others are doing. Find out more at www.facebook.com/shorthaireddomestic
THE BRINGERS OF CHANGE Breathe CD (Falling A)
Third album from The Bringers of Change, the current project of Mark Dunn, formerly of Neon and Body Full of Stars. This is a very eclectic set of songs, broadly pop and melodic rock but influenced by a multitude of other genres. Pale Blue Dot is intelligent pop with a message of caring for the Earth and of human togetherness, echoed in the musical arrangement that brings together influences from all over. A spacey ambient intro melds into Indian-style percussion; an African-inspired vocal section is combined with intense 80s-ish rock guitar soloing; baroque touches reoccur throughout the piece. Breathe (Can't Talk Now) is an inventive mix of punchy rock and fizzing electronic pop with a strong catchy chorus, really great stuff. Last Supper Call is spiky yet melodic rock that also takes in high-octane rhythmic electronics that wouldn't sound out of place on a 1980s house track, plus whooshing spacey synth, funk influences and the intricacy of prog. Fake News sees Mark joined by Tim Jones (Neon, Somebody Famous, The Rabbit's Hat, Body Full of Stars, Census of Hallucinations etc) for this punked-up attack on media bias and spin. The album closes with the tongue-in-cheek blues rock of Can't Find the Blues, with its "if you won't leave me baby, I'll find someone who will" refrain, as well as a line where the song's character describes his voice as sounding "like Johnny Denver being run over by a train". John Simms of Clear Blue Sky contributes blistering lead guitar to this piece, while Maxine Marten from the same band provides the sultry, breathy backing vocals. Find out more at the Falling A Records website, www.barrylamb.com
TV SMITH Lockdown Holiday CD/Download (Easy Action)
TV Smith, founder of original 70s punk band The Adverts, has also been making solo albums since 1983. His latest is the Covid-themed Lockdown Holiday, in part an autobiographical account of his own experience with the virus, and in part an observational snapshot of everything else going on around him in 2020. Recorded at home during lockdown, it's a true solo recording - just TV Smith's voice and guitar - but the songs are strong enough not to need any extra embellishments. These are melodic acoustic songs, yet shot through with an angry, anti-establishment punk spirit.
The album begins with TV Smith's own infection with coronavirus in The Lucky Ones ("One sneeze in the service station/That's where my calendar ends") and ends with a spot-on depiction of Long Covid in Going Nowhere Fast ("Life's great if you can concentrate ... Got a head full of fog ..."), while Bounce Back urges us to stay positive as the crisis will come to an end. Elsewhere TV Smith casts a critical eye over the shallowness of modernity in Artificial Flowers, where everything is made of plastic and everyone is self-obsessed and incapable of thinking independently. The political songs range from the satirical humour of Send in the Clown to the biting attack on bigotry in Let's Go Back to the Good Old Days. I Surf The Second Wave is told from the perspective of the virus itself, constantly mutating and ready to pounce on the unwary. The accompanying booklet contains lyrics and background info that places the songs within their full context, the album's overall theme summed up by the slogan on the booklet cover, "Stay Safe. Think Dangerous". Visit www.tvsmith.com and www.easyaction.co.uk
VARIOUS The Quietened Dream Palace CD/Download (A Year in the Country)
A Year in the Country continue their series of themed compilations with The Quietened Dream Palace, focusing on closed down cinemas, whether derelict, converted, or demolished, as well as the lost technology associated with analogue film projection. The album was planned, and much of its content created, before the Covid pandemic, and its theme was not therefore intended to refer to the closing of cinemas during lockdown, but as Stephen from the label says, "we understand that the album will potentially, in part, have a different resonance in the new and changed landscape".
The album is all about faded memories of faded grandeur; buildings with extravagant Art Deco designs and names to match - the Ritz, the Majestic - now a shadow of what they once were, many reduced to rubble to make way for bland, faceless concrete shopping malls. There are no overtly folk-inspired pieces on this installment of the series, which this time emphasises electronic experimentation and film soundtrack-influenced music, which is appropriate given the album's theme. Much of the music here sounds shrouded in a haze, evoking distant, slightly blurred memories, with a sense of the unreal as if translating dreams into sound.
There's the wavering ambience of Field Lines Cartographer; Pulselovers' mournful piano music underscored by a soft electronic hum; and the sci-fi electronica of The Heartwood Institute. Keith Seatman combines the jaunty electronics of 70s TV themes with haunted house sound effects and fever-dream weirdness. Sproatly Smith's gently lilting music is overlaid by the rattle of film reel and the artist's grandmother's recollections of working in a cinema. The Howling is a collaboration between Robin the Fog of Howlround and Ken Hollings, their piece made up of a single sentence dizzyingly looped and layered. The Seance are Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie; they create a strong sense of unease with their eerie and mechanistic electronic piece punctuated with horror filmic sound effects. Widow's Weeds provide the only song-based track here, Celluloid Ghosts, which has much to appeal to fans of the ethereal gothic sound associated with vintage 4AD and Projekt Records, also given an eerily psychedelic touch via the use of flute contributed by Alan Davidson of the Kitchen Cynics. More info at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
JIM BASNIGHT Jokers, Idols and Misfits CD (Precedent)
Jim Basnight (with The Moberlys, The Rockinghams, and The Jim Basnight Band) pays tribute to his musical influences with this bumper 21 track covers album. There's a powerpop rendering of The Kinks' This Is Where I Belong; a heavy rocking Laser Love, originally by T-Rex, complete with thundering drums and wild guitar soloing; and the riotous garage rock of The Sonics' Cinderella, topped off with fierce, impassioned vocals. The early Byrds track You Showed Me is reinvented here in a jazz-informed style, with a bossa nova rhythm, muted trumpet and soulful backing vocals, along with effective atmospheric use of violin. The Beatles' Happiness is a Warm Gun is given a delightfully eclectic new spin, with a twisty-turny structure that takes in beautiful mellow flute, exuberant sax, and gospel-tinged backing vocals. It's You Alone was originally by The Wailers - not the famous reggae band but a rock 'n' roll outfit that pre-dated them. The song brings together jangly 60s pop, US folk, and a sense of rock 'n' roll cool, sounding something like a mix of The Byrds and Nikki Sudden. Find out more at jimbasnightmusic.com
NATHAN HALL & THE SINISTER LOCALS On the Blink CD/Download (The Hip Replacement)
Nathan Hall & the Sinister Locals had to shelve their planned fourth album, Pointing Paw, due to Covid lockdown preventing bassist Mike from visiting Nathan's studio. Instead, Nathan taught himself bass and recorded this alternative fourth album on his own (aside from two tracks which Mike appears on, which I guess must have been recorded before lockdown began). The title On the Blink pre-dates the pandemic, but Nathan found it an appropriate name for an album recorded in the disastrous year that was 2020.
The album is packed with joyous music that's a perfect way to escape during these troublesome times. There are jaunty psych-pop songs like Every Garden, with its lilting Mellotron and bouncy piano riffs, and Rabbit Rings which takes in thumping dance beats and kaleidoscopic synth whirrs alongside lyrics that raise an eyebrow at modern absurdities: "It's easier to modify a mountainside than half the fucked up habits of the modern mind". Sometimes the music veers into territories where the boundary between psych-pop and psych-folk is thin, such as When We Are No Longer Numb, which has qualities that are sure to appeal to fans of The Incredible String Band or the folkier side of Donovan.
The Orange Elephant features a Spanish-tinged tune, ostentatious military drumming, and analogue synth sounds that conjure up images of shimmering stars, accompanying lyrics that see beauty and calm in the things people often miss: "Little things like bees can drive the fear out of me". The Wrong Song distills the Covid situation into just a few words, "Gone wrong... the world's gone wrong... such strange times", intoned mantra-like over a backdrop of minimal acoustic guitar and creaky sound effects, before giving way to a fuller arrangement with retro organ, pizzicato strings and whooshing cosmic synth. As well as the songs, the album has expressive instrumental interludes dotted throughout, from the dramatic piano piece Creepy Country House After Dark to the electronic chug of March of the Tin Robot to the vintage sci-fi music of Moon Crater Melody. Great stuff as always from Nathan Hall. Get the album at nathanhallandthesinisterlocals.bandcamp.com
THE GOLD NEEDLES What's Tomorrow Ever Done For You? CD/LP/Download (Jem)
Third album from Hull band The Gold Needles, who feature among them Simon Dowson, formerly of Moloko+. It's an eclectic set of songs that pulls influences from the 60s, 70s and 80s into a cohesive whole. I Get the Pressure is spiky new wave with a highly catchy chorus that inventively adds atmospheric prog guitar and a barrage of motorik synth bleeps. Precious Times is classic jangly indiepop with nostalgic, reflective lyrics, introducing synth orchestration which sets it apart from the indiepop crowd. Dead Man's Hand sets vivid lyrics of gambling and violence to a brand of early 70s-style rock that's tinged at times with a Spaghetti Western twang. Susie is Sorted (She Doesn't Care) is uplifting pop-rock, with Kurt Reil of Jem Records labelmates The Grip Weeds contributing to the joyous vocal harmony sections. Kurt Reil also appears as drummer on the cover of The Hollies' Have You Ever Loved Somebody, which places this quintessentially 60s pop song within a meaty powerpop setting. Counting The Days, originally by The Sound, is sophisticated 80s pop with punchy yet atmospheric guitars colliding with effervescent synth. The Story of My Life combines the rugged chug of powerpop with a 70s prog meets 80s stadium rock vibe, incorporating powerful guitar soloing along with prog-esque synths. Realm of the Black Dog opens with an extended intro of cinematic synth ambience, the calm disrupted by the introduction of huge bombastic prog rock drums and guitars. The first verse kicks in, with a songwriting style that makes me think of underground stalwarts The Conspiracy, and while the song sounds less like them as it progresses, it certainly shares that band's love of musical eclecticism. It takes exceptional talent to be able to pull off a seamless combination of such disparate genres as guitar pop, prog rock, and synth music, but pull it off they do. A strong, impressive album that grows on me with each listen. Visit thegoldneedles.bandcamp.com and www.jemrecordings.com
THE DIRECT HITS The Broadway Recording Sessions CD/LP (Optic Nerve)
An album's worth of early material from 1980s mod revivalists The Direct Hits, pre-dating their debut album Blow Up on Whaam!, the label run by Television Personalities' Dan Treacy. Ride My Bicycle combines pop-psych whimsy with an exhilarating rock intensity. Too Shy is quintessentially 60s pop, with observational lyrics set to a bouncy melody lightly tinged with melancholy. Leander, by the River is ultra-melodic pop with a hard edge. Miranda Berkley is very lovely baroque pop, with keyboards emulating tinkling harpsichord and soaring strings. They pay tribute to infamous occultist Aleister Crowley in a song that asks what killed him, the brooding intro and horror filmic keyboard sound providing a sense of supernatural eeriness. A strongly recommended set of songs that's got me curious to explore more of this band's back catalogue. Kudos to Optic Nerve Recordings for bringing these fantastic tracks out of the archives. Available on CD with 16 page booklet, or blue vinyl LP with gatefold sleeve, fold-out poster and 3 art prints, from opticnerverecordings.com
CULT FIGURES Deritend CD/LP/Download (Gare du Nord)
Cult Figures are a Birmingham band with a long and interesting history. Formed in 1977, the band briefly included future Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor, while the core members Gary Jones and Jon Hodgson were joined on their 1979 debut single by members of Swell Maps. They released one more single after that but went quiet for nearly 40 years before returning with their album The 166 Ploughs a Lonely Furrow, which comprised new recordings of material written during their original 1970s incarnation. I don't have that album, but if the follow-up Deritend is anything to go by, it seems like an album I ought to hear.
Deritend takes its name from the industrial district of central Birmingham, the cover art depicting the area's graffitied shop fronts, grim Victorian tunnels and a gigantic pile of rubble transforming the remains of a derelict factory into something resembling a prehistoric earthwork. The tracks, written after the band re-formed, were recorded at two studios, both highly regarded in the underground music world: Toerag, the London studio favoured by punk and garage bands for its raw sound, and Woodbine Street in Leamington Spa, a studio so synonymous with 1980s indiepop that it lent the name of its location to the compilation series of vintage indiepop obscurities, The Sound of Leamington Spa.
Punk and indiepop are two of the ingredients of Cult Figures' sound, along with a touch of psychedelia, and on at least one track, a smidgen of goth. It's one of those albums that's hard to pick out favourite tracks from as everything is of a similarly high standard, but these are just a few of the very much recommended songs on offer here. Chicken Bones is spiky pop infused with a punk spirit, painting a vivid picture of inner city grime with its lyrics of drug dealers, stained fast food joints and stinking drains, while a softer, brighter counterbalance is provided by the use of 'ooh-ooh' and 'la-la-la' backing vocals. Donut Life is a brilliant ultramelodic track that sounds like a lost classic of the mid 80s indiepop scene. Lights Out has a dark edginess suggestive of goth whilst carrying with it a strong pop sensibility.
Silver Blades takes its name from the long-gone Birmingham ice rink, its first verse including some clever ice-skating-related double meanings, which then give way to violent imagery suggesting the 'silver blades' aren't just the ones found on ice skates, but also knives. Julie-Anne is anthemic melodic punk with a rock 'n' roll twang and a tuneful pop spirit, opening with an exhilarating intro full of stomping drums, thudding bass and sharp clanging guitar. Concrete and Glass features a bright jangly guitar melody paired with the airy swirl of psychedelic keyboard and guitar, providing the backdrop for a bleakly evocative narration. A strong impressive album that's well worth investigating. Available at cultfigures.bandcamp.com. Label info at garedunordrecords.co.uk
ANDY B State of Mind, Passing Through, and Songs Revisited CDRs/Downloads (Pastime)
Three more albums from the very prolific home recording artist Andy B, a multi-instrumentalist songwriter steeped in the vintage indiepop style, who has now released over 100 CDRs on his homemade label Pastime Records. State of Mind's artwork, with its closeups of that archetypal indiepop clothing item, the stripy t-shirt, gives big clues to the type of music on offer here. This album comprises newer material, which I believe was written and recorded during one of the Covid lockdowns. Don't Tell Me It's True begins with an intro somewhat reminiscent of Gentle Despite, then takes on a fuller sound incorporating retro organ, piano, and synthesised strings. Accessory features deadpan vocals over a jangly and melancholic song that shows clear inspiration from much of Sarah Records' output. No Escape is a noisier piece, combining Andy's usual melancholic songwriting style with an exhilarating noisepop arrangement propelled by powerful fuzz guitar and a stabbing organ riff.
Passing Through features a few new songs alongside reworkings of older ones. There are melancholic indiepop songs like You'd Be Doing Me a Favour and Each Year that Passes, as well as more boisterous tracks. Still Cold Outside is rollicking indiepop, noisy round the edges, but with a strong melodic emphasis, and featuring a chugging intro that calls to mind a harder-edged version of Confetti. Messengers Passing Through introduces swirling keyboards that lend an almost psychedelic effect to Andy's melancholic indiepop style, while In the Firing Line owes much to the melodic side of punk.
Next up is Songs Revisited, which as the title suggests is a collection of reworkings of songs from Andy's back catalogue. The majority are very familiar songs which Andy has recorded several times before, and as such the album works like a compilation, serving as a good introduction to his work. Most of the material here is melancholic vintage-style indiepop, though Communication Breakdown takes a somewhat different route; a dark, tense and spiky number inspired by the post-punk era. In addition to these albums, there is also a recent single, Magic Number/This Is Our Time, which sees Andy experimenting with a new vocal style with more vibrato, and featuring extra backing vocals, both developments adding a welcome new dimension to his sound. Visit pastimerecords.bandcamp.com/music and pastimerecords.webs.com
ADAM GEOFFREY COLE Fallowing CD/LP/Download (Sunstone)
Amazing new solo album from Adam Geoffrey Cole, formerly of Trappist Afterland. The music tends towards more stripped-down arrangements than Trappist, though the songs continue to show Adam's distinctive songwriting style familiar from his previous band, and cover similar themes such as total immersion within nature (Sunrise) and mystical Christianity (Pools of Christ, Orbs of Christ). Life is a Fable features an intricate acoustic guitar melody underscored by a soft, unobtrusive drone. The Saddest Man is sparse and moving, with Adam's voice accompanied solely by hurdy gurdy. Fabric of Being is the closest this album comes to Trappist Afterland, a heady, immersive psych-folk piece with Middle Eastern and medieval tinges.
I first became aware of Adam Geoffrey Cole via Trappist Afterland, and until recently had no idea of his musical history which stretches back to the 1990s. One of the bands he was in back then was indie-rock outfit Arrosa, who were signed to the big Australian label Infectious, also home to the likes of Ash, Funeral for a Friend, and Pop Will Eat Itself. On his new album, Adam presents a reworking of the Arrosa song Womb, which features brooding, introspective verses alongside an anthemic chorus whose melody brings to mind Nirvana, albeit presented in a more restrained style, free from the noise and anger of grunge. This new version transforms the song into a delicate singer-songwriter piece accompanied by acoustic guitar paired with harmonium courtesy of the album's sole guest musician, Anthony Cornish, a long time collaborator with Adam who has worked with him on Trappist Afterland albums as well as pre-Trappist material. The CD version of Fallowing, though not the vinyl, is rounded off by another revisiting of an older track, Seasick, which was co-written with Christian Bennett in 1997, and is modern songwriting set within a beautiful folk arrangement. It's such a strong, memorable piece that it's a shame that vinyl buyers will miss out on it.
This is an astounding album of contemporary folk from one of the genre's most talented artists. The album has been hailed by such varied artists as David Tibet (Current 93), Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, The Owl Service), and Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks), and it's easy to see why Adam Geoffrey Cole's music has made such an impact on them. He remains one of my very favourite current artists too, and I recommend Fallowing with absolutely no reservations. Available from trappistafterland.bandcamp.com
THE BRAINIAC 5 Another Time, Another Dimension CD/Download (Reckless)
Collection of previously unreleased material from The Brainiac 5, recorded between 1976 and 2020. The bulk of the album is focused on the band's early years in Cornwall. Spring Fever reveals their roots as a late 60s-influenced rock outfit, while I Call Your Name is a groundbreaking, perhaps completely unique, combination of 60s-style folk-rock and reggae. Jet Fighter introduces a heavier sound and shows the beginnings of the psych-punk The Brainiac 5 are best known for, with punchy punk vocals alongside wild psychedelic guitar soloing. Khazi Persona is a quirky, spiky number coming across like a more psychedelic version of the angular post-punk sounds that came along in the 80s, except this actually pre-dates most of those bands by a couple of years. I Feel Good is raucous, spirited punk with off-centre psychedelic aspects, while The Warning is characterised by heady, intense psychedelic jamming. Some of this early material can be rather lo-fi, especially the pair of very hissy live recordings from 1980 (one of which is a cover of ELO's Do Ya), though most of the time, the sound quality does not detract too much from the music.
The space between 1980 and 2019 was seemingly a quiet one, though The Brainiac 5 were not completely inactive during this period. 1995's Pain in a Bowl is bizarre experimental psych-rock with tinges of funk and free jazz, with Charlie Taylor's vocals and guitar accompanied by the avant garde percussion of one Bongo Albert. The band's current era is represented by the heavy psych-rock Sludge, the surreal reinvention of blues that is Never Say Never, and the very original Our Devils, which starts with a basis in ska, while also taking in heavy psychedelic guitar work, some almost South American-sounding flute, and some of the most mindbending Jew's harp you'll ever hear. An important history lesson, showing the highly eclectic and often pioneering nature of this band. Info at www.brainiac5.co.uk
TA TOY BOY Endless Life LP/Download (Make Me Happy)
Second album from Greek band Ta Toy Boy, out on a label best known for indiepop, though this ventures far beyond the norms of that genre. New Day Same Life takes indiepop jangle and early 80s synthpop sophistication and wraps it all up in an airy shimmer, fading out with retrofuturistic sci-fi bleeps. Dark Fantasy is effervescent pop with a choppy punk backbone. Sad Boys is melancholic pop swathed in ethereal, woozy synth sounds. Disco in Heaven is a stylish piece taking its cues from 70s disco and funk, bookended with tinges of spy movie drama. Underground Love is an uplifting number combining punchy noisepop with ethereal effects, and straying at times into psychedelic rock territory. Space Bond looks to film music for inspiration; as the title suggests, you get shades of the James Bond theme combined with the bleeps and burbles of vintage sci-fi. An exhilarating listening experience which looks simultaneously to the past and the future, sounding big and ambitious while retaining an underground integrity. Available on white vinyl or download from tatoyboy.bandcamp.com or make-me-happy.bandcamp.com
VARIOUS Head Rush triple LP and CD (Fruits de Mer)
A massive compilation set featuring over three hours of music influenced by the groundbreaking psychedelic rock and synth music that originated in 1970s Germany, tagged by the British press as 'Krautrock', a term loathed by some as an ethnic slur and embraced by others for its literal meaning of 'herb rock'. This compilation is centred around the motorik rhythm associated with bands like Can and Kraftwerk, bringing together quite a diverse range of genres that utilise this rhythmic style, ranging from ambient/experimental soundscapes to heavy spacerock.
Silver Vials' track is flowing, swirling psychedelia propelled by the hypnotic chug of the motorik beat. Das Blaue Palais' piece features an atmospheric, Middle Eastern tinged melody over an intense blend of fizzing synths and mechanistic chugging rhythm. David Oakes' contribution is a darkly cinematic instrumental, again with a Middle Eastern touch to the melody, combining analogue synths and noise guitar along with an insistent electronic pulse. Sonic Trip Project combine floaty ambient sounds with the motorik rhythm. Oslo Tapes appear with an intense experimental soundscape with the hypnotic repetition that's key to this compilation.
Son of Ohm provide an extended piece nearly 13 minutes long, featuring spacey synth burblings over a busy backdrop juxtaposing choppy and flowing melodies. Alber Jupiter accompany an uptempo, uplifting tune with squalling guitar noise and spacey synths, an exhilarating piece and one of my favourites here. Psychic Lemon's Jam 5 is an extended jam session taking in wild psychedelic guitar soloing, clanging noise and mechanical sounds. Audio Cologne Project throw in a reggae-inspired bass line alongside the psychedelic, motorik, and vintage synth elements. Taras Bulba appear with a two part piece with the telling title of Vuh. Part one is full of cinematic drama, with sinister analogue synth whirrs, huge crashing cymbals and wordless chanting, while part two combines meditative vintage synth music with world fusion and aspects of more recent dance music as heard in the effervescent rhythm and soulful vocalisations.
Icarus Peel's track covers a lot of ground across almost 15 minutes, some of it very far from the other territories explored on this album. It begins as a melancholic, reflective piece with a pastoral, somewhat folky sound, along with a bright, chiming guitar melody that has far more in common with late 80s British indiepop than 70s German psychedelia, and wouldn't sound out of place in a Field Mice or perhaps Brighter song. The piece briefly morphs into laid-back psychedelic country, then a more intense and spacey psychedelic rock sound that sits more comfortably alongside everything else here. Sub-bass rumbles, dancey beats, and dark experimental soundscaping all put in an appearance later in the track. A very diverse and inventive piece that's another of my favourites on this compilation.
It appears this has sold out at the label, though third party sellers still have it at the time of writing (try Discogs or ebay). Visit www.fruitsdemerrecords.com for info on currently available releases.
KEVIN HEARD The Second Wave and Survivors CDRs (self-released)
Second and third parts of Kevin Heard's covers album series recorded during Covid lockdown. As with the first album Welcome to Wickerworld (reviewed above), these are true solo albums, with all instruments and production by Kevin. Kevin Heard's musical history is in underground bands like The Carpettes and Somebody Famous, and some of his previous solo work was released by Stone Premonitions, but here he looks to very much above-ground sources for inspiration. The cover versions here have a general emphasis on 1960s and 70s singer-songwriters, folk and folk-rock, as well as a smattering of vintage pop, and a few unexpected surprises like Green Day, Muse and Coldplay, making for a highly eclectic mixture.
On The Second Wave, there's a driving, powerful version of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl, the strong melody accompanied by throaty guitar and thumping drums. The version of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock combines bright, delicate folk with intense psychedelic rock - a great version that I might even prefer to the original! Green Day are one of the bands who catapulted punk-pop into the mainstream in the 1990s with songs like Basket Case, though they took on a more sophisticated alt-rock sound later on, and it's a song from this period that Kevin covers, Boulevard of Dreams, which he effectively reinvents as airy electronic pop with a nicely melancholic atmosphere.
There's a minimalistic acoustic recording of the 1982 Crosby Stills & Nash medley Daylight Again/Find the Cost of Freedom, with traditional folk-style melodies played on acoustic guitar and mandolin, the darkly psychedelic atmosphere having much to appeal to fans of bands like Trappist Afterland, Stone Breath or In Gowan Ring. There's a nice minimal acoustic version of Wond'ring Aloud by Jethro Tull, which sounds much like how the original would sound if the orchestral arrangement was stripped away. Kevin also delves into traditional folk, with an acoustic recording of The Parting Glass, a farewell song popular in Scotland and Ireland, this version taking its cues from the one by Irish singer Freddie White.
Survivors features a couple of songs credited to James Taylor, though I understand his versions are themselves covers; the nicely laid-back and atmospheric Wichita Lineman and the rousing, moving Seminole Wind. There are similarly great versions of REM's The One I Love, complete with chiming guitar and impassioned vocal harmonies, The Who's The Seeker, hard-hitting and exhilarating with intense guitar work, and Jackson Browne's Crow on the Cradle, musically and lyrically dark folk with haunting use of recorder. Whilst I'm not much of a fan of Chris Isaak or Elton John, Kevin does some inspired stuff with their songs, introducing chiming jangle and woozy atmospherics into Wicked Game and searing psychedelic guitar and spacey synth into Sixty Years On.
The choice of material here highlights how the mainstream music industry actually backed some talented artists in past decades, totally unlike the current charts where originality and musical diversity is hard to come by. Kevin does justice to these past classics with his high quality multi-instrumental skills. He is making the albums available for free, find out more at www.facebook.com/kevinheard.music
ELLI DE MON Countin' the Blues CD/LP/DL (Area Pirata)
Italian multi-instrumentalist Elli de Mon pays tribute to the blueswomen of the 1920s. Blues isn't a genre I normally listen to, and I hadn't expected this album to be my cup of tea, but Elli is doing some inventive things with these songs, the following tracks being particular highlights. Downhearted Blues, originally by Alberta Hunter, is raw, intense electric blues, pairing impassioned vocals with a throaty, dirty guitar sound. Lucille Bogan's Shave 'Em Dry has maximum raunch factor; it's hard to believe a song like this was written nearly 100 years ago. Elli de Mon provides an appropriately in-yer-face version, with fierce, distorted wailing over a punchy arrangement that veers pretty close to metal. Dope Head Blues, by Victoria Spivey, is reinterpreted as languid, hypnotic psychedelia layered with drones, sitar and chanting. Elizabeth Cotten's Freight Train is perhaps the most famous song here and certainly the one I'm most familiar with, though I first encountered it via a rather unorthodox route, the cute and playful buzzsaw pop version by early 90s indiepoppers Strawberry Story. Elli de Mon's acoustic version is sweet, wistful folk-pop with breathy vocals interspersed with a pensive, wordless hum. Available at www.areapirata.com
THE HAWKS Obviously 5 Believers CD/LP (Seventeen)
This album excavates long-hidden recordings by this late 70s/early 80s band whose members went on to play important roles within the Birmingham music scene and beyond. They included Stephen Duffy and Simon Colley who had previously been part of a pre-fame Duran Duran; Duffy of course went on to have a successful solo career as Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy, as well as forming The Lilac Time, while Colley went on to be in several relatively more obscure bands such as The Sunshine Club. Dave Kusworth, who sadly passed away in 2020, was known for his work with Nikki Sudden under the Jacobites moniker, as well as his other bands such as the Bounty Hunters and the Tenderhooks. Dave Twist had also been in bands with Kusworth, and is currently in Black Bombers who have a handful of records out on the Easy Action label.
The title track from The Hawks' sole single from 1980, Words of Hope, is not included here, though there are ten other tracks drawn from the band's cassette archive. All the Sad Young Men has all the darkness and grime of the post-punk era, while presaging the more melancholic side of the indiepop that would emerge a few years later. Big Store crackles with urgency, featuring almost psychedelic lead guitar underscored by a punky buzz. What Can I Give? is a kaleidoscopic pop-psych swirl, shot through with the spirit of punk. Bullfighter has that slight discordance and angularity that characterised the post-punk underground, brought together with brisk strolling bass, touches of chiming jangle, and a super-catchy pop chorus. Jazz Club begins as melancholic acoustic pop, before taking in electric piano echoing the song's title, and an intense improvisational guitar solo. Something Soon pairs sweet and sentimental proto-indiepop with wailing bluesy harmonica. A highly enjoyable album from a band who were in many ways far ahead of their time. More info at facebook.com/obviously5believers
PARTY DAY Sorted! Double CD/LP (Optic Nerve)
Extensive compilation of recordings from these 1980s gothic rockers who also venture into melodic punk and alternative pop territories. The album was originally released on double CD last autumn, with a whopping 31 tracks comprising all the material from their vinyl releases plus previously unreleased songs. This format is temporarily sold out, though a re-press is due shortly. Just released is the double LP version, which includes the Glasshouse and Simplicity albums on purple and gold vinyl respectively, as well as a download code that gets you the LP tracks plus the bonus material from the CD.
Carousel is bleak, angular gothic rock, the vocals an impassioned howl. The self-titled Party Day introduces a distinctive, busily rhythmic, almost ritualistic drumming style amidst the gothic gloom. Opium Gathering is a horror filmic rumble topped off with a discordant rant. Let Us Shine comes from the darker side of punk, bristling with intense emotion summed up by lyrics like "I can take no more, is this the last straw?" Glasshouse 1982 is a much poppier affair; its bright jangly guitar melody and tambourine would have sounded right at home in the indie pop scene of a few years later. The vocals are imbued with punk attitude while retaining a strong sense of melody. The song reappears later as a reworked version from 1985 that has a somewhat fuller sound - a great song in both its forms.
I was hoping there would be more of this indie pop-esque sound, and sure enough, there's Stay in My Heart, which combines aspects of goth and pop, its chorus sounding like a darker-edged version of St Christopher. Simplicity is another stand-out track, an exhilarating mix of melodic punk and the more boisterous side of indie pop, with spiky, chugging guitars and effective use of vocal harmonies. Available at opticnerverecordings.com
BEATNIK FILMSTARS Pop Scum/Not the Worst Of... double LP (Old Bad Habits/Raving Pop Blast!)
Huge 45 track compilation on turquoise vinyl double LP from this great, mostly-noisy pop band that included former members of The Groove Farm. (You'll now find ex-Beatnik Filmstars in such bands as Arrest! Charlie Tipper, The Total Rejection, Karen, and The 12 Hour Foundation). I rated this band highly back in the 90s and bought a ton of their singles and a few albums, though they were so prolific that it was hard to keep up with everything they released, so there's a whole bunch of stuff on this album that's actually new to me, along with some old favourites.
Curious Role Model combines the angularity of The Fall with the sort of American-style alt-rock that labels like Matador and Merge were known for in the 90s; indeed Merge is one of many labels Beatnik Filmstars had records on during this time. They give the song an original twist with the use of rap-like vocals and highly effective use of brass. Bigot Sponger Haircut Policy is rollicking, off-kilter noisepop that encapsulates everything that was great about this genre in the 90s. Always Meet in a Light Grey Place is hushed pop swathed in sci-fi synth bleepery, giving way to searing punk noise chaos. Long Way to Go is fuzz- and wah-wah-drenched psych-pop featuring clarinet that soars and squalls.
Pop Girl is among the first songs I heard from Beatnik Filmstars back in the early 90s; brill psychedelic indie pop in which chiming jangle meets a swirling, fuzzy wall of noise. Apathetic English Swine features a snaking guitar riff wrapped in wailing feedback, a crazed ranting chorus, and very unusually for the noisepop genre, a guitar solo that sounds almost Middle Eastern or medieval - just one of many things that highlight the band's originality and unwillingness to conform to noisepop cliches. 13th Annual Showdown has a songwriting style that reminds me of Boyracer, brought together with a mixture of lo-fi synths and chugging, squealing and angular guitars. Skiving in Mono is nicely low-key pop augmented by 60s organ. New Boyfriend & Black Suit is a spiky noise blast built around a 60s garage backbone. The pure noise of (Beat) Clear (Beat) Clear (Beat) Clear is followed by the delicate piano-led The Old Fool, demonstrating the sheer eclecticism of this band.
The album comes with a fanzine full of memorabilia pics, press cuttings, and notes on the songs by vocalist/guitarist Arthur Andrew Jarrett. The layout, while done on computer and professionally printed, has the same anarchic cut and paste spirit as the photocopied zines of the 80s and 90s. Beatnik Filmstars were a band the press either loved or hated, with one reviewer calling them "the most underrated band in Britain" while another thinks them "the second worst band in the world"! Another praises them for their arrogance and petulance, which comes through in the notes where they proclaim their songs to be "ace", a "pop classic", or "catchy as hell", and slag off people who misunderstood their music as "tossers". This sort of arrogance makes me roll my eyes when it comes from bands with an overinflated opinion of their own talents, but Beatnik Filmstars really were great at what they did and are simply describing these songs the way they really were.
Also included in the package is a Beatnik Filmstars sticker, and if buying from Old Bad Habits, an Old Bad Habits sticker and catalogue. Available from Old Bad Habits Label of Greece or Raving Pop Blast! here in the UK.
THE YELLOW MELODIES Pleasant Dreams LP (Hurrah! / Snap!! / Discos Imprescindibles / Old Bad Habits)
The Yellow Melodies cover the Ramones' Pleasant Dreams in its entirety, complete with artwork that pays homage to the original, though the music here is far from being a straight copy of the Ramones. The Ramones always were one of the more tuneful punk bands, and The Yellow Melodies have grabbed those tunes and run with them, transforming the songs into pure pop. All's Quiet on the Eastern Front has a rattly bedroom pop feel, while It's Not My Place comes from an 80s electropop angle. The KKK Took My Baby Away takes in fizzing electronics and Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, its catchy pop presentation sharply juxtaposed with the bleak subject matter. She's A Sensation uses swirling synths and electronic beats as backdrop for ultra-melodic pop with a 1950s-tinged tune, and 7-11 is wistful pop accompanied by acoustic guitar, organ, synthesised strings, and the bell-like tones of the glockenspiel. It's a really fun album packed full of super-catchy earworms; very much recommended even if you don't consider yourself a Ramones fan. A joint release between Greek label Old Bad Habits and three Spanish labels, Hurrah!, Snap!!, and The Yellow Melodies' own label Discos Imprescindibles.
SERIOUS SAM BARRETT The Seeds of Love CD (Ya Dig?)
It's been a while since I've reviewed a traditional folk album; here's a really good one from Yorkshire folk artist Serious Sam Barrett. It's largely comprised of songs from the English Folk Dance & Song Society book The Seeds of Love, compiled by Stephen Sedley. Some are recorded with the traditional melody, while others are set to Sam's own tunes. Sam was brought up in his local folk club scene, and with this album has aimed to bring to life his experience of listening to traditional songs being performed in a "raw, warts and all style" in these clubs.
There are a handful of unaccompanied folk ballads here, as well as The Waggoner which is set to intricate acoustic guitar picking that calls to mind the work of Martin Carthy. Valentine's Day is inspired by a traditional English song but is actually Sam's own composition. The somewhat American-sounding melody and the use of banjo give the piece an Appalachian folk feel. Bonny May has everything that makes traditional folk so moving, with dark, tragic lyrics set to a beautiful, melancholic melody.
Nicely packaged in a foldout card wallet with photocopied booklet that reflects the raw, DIY nature of the music. More info at Serious Sam Barrett's Facebook page.
STEPHEN PRINCE The Shildam Hall Tapes book and The Shildam Hall Tapes: The Falling Reverse CD (A Year in the Country)
Back in 2018, A Year in the Country released the compilation album The Shildam Hall Tapes, the soundtrack to an imaginary abandoned film. Now AYITC founder Stephen Prince has returned to the Shildam Hall story with a novella and accompanying soundtrack, which can also be approached as standalone works.
The story is a spooky paranormal thriller which traverses the centuries, beginning with a song written by a heartbroken 18th century woman from the Shildam Hall country mansion for her lost lover, and its discovery by her relatives in subsequent centuries who come to a sticky end seemingly as a result of uncovering the song, which contains within it a supernatural force that overpowers its listeners. Fast forward to the 1960s, when a film is being made at the mansion and a psychedelic band hired to perform its soundtrack. One of the members stumbles upon the song, inspiring him to record a psych-folk track based upon it. Once again, things get ugly, and the chain of events that ensues follows a similar pattern. In 2020, the psych-folk recording is issued commercially by a label specialising in cult film soundtracks. Will everyone who hears it suffer the same fate as those who heard the song in the past?
The accompanying album comprises seven eerie, unsettling electronic soundscapes that drone, tinkle, pulse, and slide around at surreal tangents. Day 12, Scene 2, Take 28 - Hoffman's Fall creates the feeling of slipping in and out of consciousness; An Ancient Find is abstract incidental music concealing a subtle underlying melody with ancient echoes; and Tumbling Through Time combines stormlike rumbles and crystalline drones to create a feeling of unease. Find out more at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk
ALICE HUBBLE Hexentanzplatz LP/Download (Happy Robots)
MOOD TAEG Anaphora LP/Download (Happy Robots)
Hexentanzplatz is the second solo album from Alice Hubble (formerly of Arthur & Martha, Cosines, etc), taking its name from the German mountain surrounded by magical legend, whose name translates as Witches' Dancefloor. I was expecting the music to be more eerie and folkloric based on the title, but seeing as some branches of feminism have reclaimed the figure of the witch as a strong, powerful woman, I think it likely that this is why Alice chose the name. The 'dancefloor' aspect comes through more overtly in the music however. This is a multifaceted electronic pop album that takes in both laid-back tracks and dance stompers, bookended by two evocative instrumentals. West Reservoir is glacial, crystalline neoclassicism ornamented by sparkling, cosmic synth sounds. Power Play features forceful feminist lyrics within a pounding 1980s electro-pop setting. The title track is another slice of effervescent, danceable, 80s synthpop with a strong feminist message. There's the melancholic beauty of Summer Smoke, and the retrofuturistic pop of Make Believe, that nods towards quirky vintage film music. The album closes with Gleichfalls, based around a repeating melody tinged with traditional Japanese musical motifs, evoking in addition the pitter-patter of rain, backed by a soaring synthesised string section.
Mood Taeg are an experimental electronic outfit who take their cues from 70s German kosmische bands, film score composers, and ambient music. Squirrels Dancing Among Elephants is a flowing psychedelic jam that evolves constantly throughout the piece, held up by a hypnotic rhythmic backbone. Tachistoscopic Interval mixes swirling ambience with retro soundtrack touches and snatches of found speech. Diskonkordanz is spacey psychedelic instrumental music combined with filmic, retrofuturistic synth sounds and sociopolitical commentary. Find out more at www.happyrobots.co.uk
JACK ELLISTER Lichtpyramide II CD/LP/Download (Tonzonen)
Prolific, eclectic psychedelic artist Jack Ellister presents the second part of his Lichtpyramide series, which shows him moving away from song-based material. Geneser : Sahne is a floaty, relaxing piece with a soft drone overlaid by fluttering synth sounds and chanted vocals. Polonium features an atmospheric, swirling space-prog melody accompanied by cosmic synth burbles and underpinned by a motorik chug. Genesis : Otwarcie is a calm, gentle piece taking in twinkling synth repetition, highly melodic acoustic guitar, and spoken vocals in Polish. Fragestellung features a guitar melody reminiscent of 1970s electric folk, accompanied by a series of electronic hums and snippets of spoken word. The great finale Genese : Stadt Land Fluss is an expansive electronic piece pairing hypnotic spacey repetition and meandering psychedelic moments, with the addition of drums providing more of a 'full band' sound than the preceding tracks. You'll find some very nice, calming sounds on this album. Info at www.jackellister.com and www.tonzonen.de
MALFUNCTIONED TIME MACHINES Scattered Dream Patterns CDR (Sleep FUSE)
An interesting experimental sound-art album on Reverb Worship's Sleep FUSE offshoot. Except for one track, there are no melodies to speak of, just atmospheric, filmic, rhythmic soundscaping, made up of layered sound effects that whoosh, pulse and burble, along with the sounds of running water, birdsong, flying saucer bleeps, and machines that clang, chug and hum. Sometimes strangely relaxing, other times unsettling, like the sputtering noises and swarm-of-wasps buzz in Conclusion (Post-Nightmare Confusions), and Liquid Abyss in which an uneasy throbbing rhythm and snippets of discordant melody create a feeling of tension. Well worth investigating for fans of vintage sci-fi and horror soundtracks or the more abstract compositions on the A Year in the Country compilations. Info at www.reverbworship.com
SONNY VINCENT Snake Pit Therapy CD/LP (Svart)
Sonny Vincent was a part of early New York punks Testors, and more recently formed The Limit with members of Pentagram, The Stooges and Dawnrider. He's also made a number of solo albums, the latest of which is Snake Pit Therapy, out on Finnish label Svart. Sometimes I think I'm probably not the best person to be reviewing this; the heavy rock 'n' roll of Japan Mofo and the various punkified metal tracks that sometimes call to mind Motorhead are too far outside my usual tastes for me to really do the album justice, but there are also a few other songs that stood out for me. Jangle-rocker Messed Up In Blue features a verse melody that recalls Don't Fear the Reaper, wrapped in chiming guitar and underscored by a chugging powerpop backbone. The Rain is Black Again is raw vintage-style rock that will delight fans of Dave Kusworth's various projects. Another Land is strongly melodic rock with an anthemic chorus, and closing track Forest another tuneful number that alternates between laid-back and powerful moments. Mostly an album for fans of hard rock and US-style punk, but with enough variety to pique the interest of those who prefer more melodic music. Available at www.svartrecords.com
TWO HEADED EMPEROR Deracination CD (Falling A)
THE BRINGERS OF CHANGE Love & Work CD (Falling A)
Two recent albums from Falling A Records, a label with roots in the late 1970s DIY tapes and fanzine community, and the current home of the bands from the Stone Premonitions collective. Falling A label founders Barry Lamb and Peter Ashby are also the musicians behind Two Headed Emperor, whose latest album Deracination is an inventive mixture of prog rock, post-punk and experimental music. What We All Want has a post-punk songwriting and vocal style that is both off-centre and on-edge, backed by a combination of dramatic prog organ, scuzzy noise guitar and clanging metallic sound effects. Stemwinder is twisty-turny prog shot through with the darkness and strangeness of the post-punk era, reminiscent in places of 1990s prog revival bands like The Monsoon Bassoon. Deracination begins as mellow underground prog-pop backed by the ethereal vocals of Georgia Lamb, before letting loose with raw and raucous metal riffage, proggy organ, and impassioned distorted vocals with an arty theatricality. Occasionally the music spills over into twiddly rock indulgence and excess a bit much for my taste (e.g. on Broken Vows), but is otherwise an engaging album of avant garde music with a strong underground spirit.
The Bringers of Change is the current project of Mark Dunn, formerly of Stone Premonitions band Body Full of Stars. It's mostly a solo project, though he is joined on two tracks by guest musicians, namely Yasuko Fukuoka and Stone Prem co-founder Tim Jones, both of whom were also in Body Full of Stars. This is a mature, sophisticated album, with pop and melodic rock that often harks back to the 1980s. Occasionally things can get a bit too smooth for my taste, with elements of adult-oriented 80s mainstream music, but elsewhere there are songs that pack a punch, and songs with considerable beauty and originality. Fine Pine Box's mellow piano intro may lead the listener to expect that aforementioned smoothness, but don't be fooled. The main part of the track is punchy, coming close to powerpop, and takes in a very lovely flute interlude, an inventive touch that works well. Guiding Star is a seamless blend of underground and mainstream 80s pop, with realism and bite ornamented by sparkling synths, and a strong catchy chorus that sounds like a huge 80s hit. Efforts to blend underground and mainstream styles often fall flat, but the mixture here sounds perfectly natural and really works.
He Who Is Not Yet Dead is piano balladry with an occasionally hymn-like melody, incorporating folk-rock guitar jangle and ethereal keyboards. Darkly Beautiful is great melodic rock, in which proggy twists and turns and meaty riffs are effectively blended with a pop sensibility. Closing track End of the Road features Tim Jones as guest vocalist alongside Mark Dunn; this is vigorous, cowbell-driven rock 'n' roll with a strong memorable tune, the lyrics using tongue-in-cheek humour to celebrate carrying on doing what you love despite getting older. More info on Falling A Records at www.barrylamb.com
ANDY B Waiting For You and Singles Collection 2017-2019 CDRs (Pastime)
Two recent CDRs from the very prolific home recording artist Andy B. Waiting for You is a collection of new material, much of which is in Andy's familiar melancholic indiepop style, with stark, grainy monochrome cover photography of a derelict shopping centre setting the dark mood. It's Never Been Enough swathes bleak, melancholic sentiments in a layer of fuzz, ornamented at times by delicate piano. The song reappears later in a different form under the title Wake Me When You Leave, with a choppy, spiky arrangement that works well. The Devil In Her Eyes is minimalistic indiepop with gently strummed acoustic guitar overlaid with soft, airy keyboards, sounding somewhere between Bouquet and Brighter. Don't Hold Back starts off recalling the best bits of Gentle Despite, before segueing into an end section with something of a mod/garage feel, in which catchily repeated lines are set to a strong arrangement with effective use of 60s organ, tambourine and backing vocals. Give it Up differs in tone from everything else here, leaving aside the melancholia in favour of rattly, boisterous pop with a punk spirit, similar to the Television Personalities.
Singles Collection compiles the singles released by Andy between 2017 and 2019, and works well as an introductory 'best of' for newcomers to his music. The bulk of the album comprises vintage-informed indiepop with a melancholic touch, arranged in a 'full band' style though played entirely by Andy except for one track where he is joined by guest drummer Chris Head. A few highlights include Later Than You Think, Catch My Breath, Worth the Wait, and Tomorrow is Another Day, as well as Lose Myself in You which effectively juxtaposes dark, spiky post-punk verses and bright, positive indiepop choruses. Available at pastimerecords.bandcamp.com/music and pastimerecords.webs.com
RODNEY CROMWELL Memory Box LP/Download (Happy Robots)
Rodney Cromwell is the alter-ego of Happy Robots label owner Adam Cresswell, who was previously known for his work with Saloon and Arthur & Martha. He makes homemade electronic music on vintage equipment, ranging from DIY synth-based indiepop to more mainstreamish affairs that wouldn't have sounded out of place in a 1980s disco. Intercom combines Yazoo-like keyboards with the robotic vocals and motorik rhythm of Kraftwerk. Opus Three is stomping 80s dancey pop. Memory Box is swirling, ethereal and stylish, with a vintage film soundtrack feel, having shades of 1990s retrofuturists like Pram and Broadcast. Waiting Room takes songwriting that harks back to the golden age of melancholic indiepop - think Brighter or Another Sunny Day - and effectively swathes it in icy synth atmospherics. The Department of Public Tranquillity features a juxtaposition of tinny lo-fi Casio beats and huge sci-fi synths that whoosh and soar, as backdrop for another prime slice of melancholic indiepop, this time much in the Field Mice vein. Superb stuff, available at www.happyrobots.co.uk
VARIOUS Un-Scene!: Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 CD/LP/Download (Easy Action)
A highly important and long overdue document of the early years of Birmingham's thriving underground music scene, compiled by local musician and graphic designer Dave Twist, and featuring a mix of familiar bands like Swell Maps, The Nightingales, and Au Pairs, alongside more obscure names. Dada was an early band of Duran Duran's John Taylor, but don't expect the pop polish of that band, this is post-punk at its rawest, combining punk aggression with gothic gloom, and captured in ultra-lo-fi sound on a portable cassette recorder. Nikki Sudden's Channel Steamer is slightly off-centre punky pop, taking in twangy guitar and a big triumphant sax riff, very different from his later stuff.
Fàshiön Music, Denizens, The Nightingales and Cult Figures all make spiky underground pop that takes the spirit of punk and does something much more melodic with it. The blueprint for the indiepop scene that emerged later in the 80s was laid down in the post-punk era, and Birmingham had its fair share of proto-indiepop outfits. Big Store, a massive earworm by The Hawks, who included amongst others Stephen Duffy, Dave Kusworth and Dave Twist, could be seen in this light, as could A Fistful of Seeds by The Bible Belt, another band with Dave Kusworth on guitar, which filters 60s psych and folk-rock through a lo-fi pop lens, and also the melancholic, darkly psychedelic sounds of The Nervous Kind's Five to Monday.
There's the feminist funk-punk of Fast Relief, and there's Dance who make a highly catchy and enjoyably eclectic form of punk-pop, with a tune that nods towards The Kinks' All Day and All of the Night, and throws dub and synthpop influences into the mix. Other notable tracks include the bizarre art-punk of Swell Maps' Vertical Slum and the American-influenced garage pop-rock of TV Eye's Stevie's Radio Station.
Dave Twist and comedian Stewart Lee provide sleeve notes, plus the CD booklet/LP gatefold sleeve are copiously illustrated with band photos and memorabilia pics. This album is an important history lesson, shining light on Birmingham's vibrant and often groundbreaking post-punk underground. An essential purchase without a doubt. Available at www.easyaction.co.uk
MARK McDOWELL Freedom Tapes CD/Download (self-released)
Following on from Mark McDowell's excellent Dark Weave and Breakthrough albums comes the equally excellent Freedom Tapes. Far less lo-fi than you may expect for being recorded on a battery-powered cassette recorder, the album is a perfect synthesis of psych-pop, folk and experimental soundscaping. Satisfy is punchy pop-rock swathed in an ethereal swirl. Beltane Dew is a musically and lyrically evocative pairing of laid-back acoustic folk-pop and intense spacey sound sculpturing. The Roses is a highly effective combination of US-style psychedelic folk-rock and rhythmic experimental sound effects. Let it Burn is invigorating, uptempo psych-pop underlaid with a hypnotic rhythm and interwoven with more of the spacey experimental effects that characterise this album. As well as the song-based tracks, the album includes two instrumentals showing the same high level of creativity. There's the gentle spacey ambience of Zodiasi, in which pastoral, summer-afternoon psych-folk is combined with glacial drones and deep-space whooshes, echoes and bleeps, and Dead Dimmer, which evokes an apparent bucolic idyll that's not quite what it seems on the surface. An acoustic guitar melody with echoes of traditional folk is intertwined with unsettling, horror-filmic sounds like rain storms and creaking floorboards, coming across like music from a film in which a family move to a pretty country cottage that turns out to be haunted by a demonic presence. A deeply innovative album, putting a fresh experimental spin on psych-pop and psych-folk. Highly recommended. Available at markmcdowell.bandcamp.com
FÀSHIÖN MUSIC s/t double CD/LP/DL (Easy Action)
Before changing their name to Fashiøn and signing to Arista, Birmingham's Fàshiön Music (at times called just Fàshiön) released a string of singles and an album on their own label across 1978 and 1979. Following their appearance on Easy Action's recent Un-Scene! compilation of Birmingham post-punk (reviewed above), the label now brings us an extensive double album of singles, demos and live recordings from this band. Fronted by Luke Skyscraper James, who grew up in Handsworth, Birmingham's reggae capital noted for bands such as Steel Pulse, Fàshiön Music combine the reggae influences absorbed through James' local community with punk, its more angular and experimental offshoot post-punk, and a use of electronics that prefigured the techno music that would emerge a decade or so later.
Steady Eddie Steady is reggae-punk with a dash of dark-edged synthpop, the strongly catchy tune contrasting with bleak, suicide-themed lyrics. The song appears again later on in a demo version from 1980, which effectively juxtaposes an icy, gothic horror filmic atmosphere with dub vocal effects and other reggae influences. Citinite is innovative and eclectic, taking in woozy, near-psychedelic moments, Spanish-tinged instrumental sections, and fizzing, swooshing synths that would sound equally at home in a sci-fi movie or a late 80s dance track, topped off with angular, theatrical vocals.
Wastelife is a fast, addictively melodic piece made up of equal parts reggae and punk, in which Luke Skyscraper James' vocal style switches between the two genres with ease. Silver Blades is futuristic synthpop with a punk attitude, peppered with great reggae drum rolls. Fiction Factory features dark swirling atmospherics, sci-fi synths and slicing punk noise as backdrop for an early example of British rap. The band's anthem We're the Fashion is a prime slice of bendy, spiky post-punk.
The second CD features a complete live set with versions of single tracks as well as a handful of songs from their debut album Pröduct Perfect, namely the reggae-punk Don't Touch Me, the punky snarl of Die in the West, and Big John which combines underground pop, punk, and bubbling, burbling synths. There's also a song here that appears nowhere else, Symiane, punked-up reggae with juddering vocalisations.
Fàshiön Music's early singles and demos represent some of the most effective combinations of punk and reggae I've heard, while their addition of futuristic synths surely places them in a league of their own. Eclectic, forward-looking, and in many ways pioneering, this collection is well worth a listen. Available at www.easyaction.co.uk
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