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


Big Stir Records have released a few more new albums since the last time I wrote about the label. SHPLANG celebrate their 25th anniversary with the compilation album Los Grandes Excritos (1994 to 2019), featuring tracks from all four of their albums plus a selection of previously unreleased songs. This band was founded by Peter Marston (formerly of The Phlaix, The Onlys, and The Corsairs) and John Krause (better known as a visual artist and animator who has worked on over 100 episodes of The Simpsons). They make an eclectic yet cohesive brand of pop that's sure to appeal to indiepop, powerpop and 60s pop fans alike, with a sense of humour that shows they don't take themselves too seriously. The album opens with Spanish Galleons, a top quality track that puts an inventive spin on janglepop with the addition of whirring and whooshing synths. Sucker is sunny folk-pop with chiming guitar and dancing flute. No-One Knows has cheeky lyrics and a bouncy tune, seasoned with lashings of brass. There's Delacroix with its 'Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin go powerpop' sound, Tokyo Go-Go which comes across like action movie music with a Japanese twist, and Birds Go Round which sounds like a Beatles song played by a banjos-and-washboards hillbilly outfit, while Sway interweaves atmospheric twinkling and soaring synths into noisy powerpop, culminating in an impassioned, grungy noise explosion. Some real gems here from a band I'm keen to hear more from.

Anton Barbeau Presente Kenny Vs. Thrust sees the prolific, eclectic artist ANTON BARBEAU joined by his US and UK backing bands, KENNY from Sacramento and THRUST from Oxford, the latter of whom are also known as Charms Against the Evil Eye. Beautiful Bacon Dream is off-the-wall angular pop with musical twists and turns and lyrical surrealism aplenty, where spiky noise coexists with glorious vocal harmonies. Jingle Jangle, a solo track without Kenny or Thrust, was initially intended as a send-up of so-called twee pop, a genre that's evidently something of a bugbear to Anton, but has ended up as something infinitely more psychedelic. It incorporates a cascade of chiming 12-string and a swirling psychedelic guitar solo along with Anton's trademark lyrical quirkiness, and is sure to delight psych-pop fans. Elsewhere the album runs the gamut from satirical rockabilly (Clean Clothes in a Dirty Bag), to off-kilter synth-reggae (Tidy Up Yourself), via early 80s-style synthpop with a fuzzed-out psych-rock twist (Back to Balmain). There's a diverse mix of styles on show here but it's all held together by Anton's distinctive approach to songwriting, and is an absolute must for fans of Anton Barbeau and of inventive psychedelic music in general.

The Big Stir Singles Series continues, with two new editions released since my last article on the label. Five dollars from each sale of Big Stir Singles: The Fourth Wave will be donated to the Ed Asner Family Center, which offers support to people with special needs and their families, including arts, vocational, health and counselling services. Big Stir releases a digital single each week, and this installment compiles the singles from July to October 2019 onto CD, along with a one-off single from Giving Tuesday in December as well as both tracks from what I believe to be the label's sole excursion into 7" vinyl. Each of the Big Stir Singles Series compilation albums features enthusiastic liner notes from a supporter of the label, and this time it's DJ and blogger Carl Cafarelli. Single artwork appears on the cover, showing the label puts as much care into the visual presentation of their digital singles as their CD and vinyl releases.

Big Stir is all about community spirit, and much space is given here to bands on other likeminded labels alongside those from Big Stir's own roster. The vinyl 7" represented here is by sparkle*jets UK - a Big Star/Chris Bell tribute with Big Star-influenced cover art and featuring Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. The Ballad of El Goodo emphasises jangle and vocal harmonies, with Byrds-like folky leanings, while You and Your Sister is laid-back, dreamlike pop with luxurious orchestration. Broken Arrows show two very different sides of their sound in the strongly melodic pop-rock track Behind the Eight Ball and the heady, intense psychedelic jam Shroomitized. The Reflectors make classic powerpop that sounds like a genuine artefact of the late 70s or early 80s, with authentic vintage-style cover art to match. Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers combine country with raucous pop-rock in Crumb, and add a touch of rock 'n' roll in the Violent Femmes cover Add It Up. Shplang appear with Spanish Galleons, the fantastic synth-peppered janglepop track that was among my favourites from their album reviewed above, and Pickles are Fun which combines baroque pop, psychedelia and 60s singer-songwriter folk with a quirky sense of humour.

The amazing jangly psych-tinged pop of The Vapour Trails has got me super keen to hear more from them. The Hangabouts appear with the stylish & sophisticated retro pop of Who Wants Cilla?, and the quintessentially 60s observational pop of Mrs Greene, with its bouncy rhythm and harmony-laden chorus. Blake Jones and the Trike Shop's My Soft Rock Girlfriend is powerpop infused with a quirky, arty sensibility, while Disentangled goes all out with the Beach Boys harmonies. The Walker Brigade opt for a choppy-changey raucousness tempered by an exhilarating harmony-driven pop tune in Tower, and reinvent I'm Tired, a song from the Blazing Saddles soundtrack, as an effectively bizarre mix of show tune and fierce punk. More great pop-rock, janglepop and powerpop songs are contributed by Dolph Chaney, Armstrong, The Persian Leaps, and Joe Normal and the Anytown'rs. For anyone who is a fan of these overlapping pop subgenres, this compilation series is continually recommended.

Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave is so new that my copy hasn't landed here yet, but I believe its arrival is imminent, and hope to have more to say about this soon. In the meantime, the other albums reviewed here can be purchased at www.bigstirrecords.com

UPDATE: Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave, which compiles the label's digital singles from October 2019 to February 2020 onto CD, has now arrived. Cartoon cover art by Ridley Broome cleverly references some of the songs' characters, from the ditzy teen in Silly Girl to Shakespeare, Nostradamus and the Buddha. The GoAllTheWays reinvent the Descendents' Silly Girl in summery pop style with 12-string guitar and vocal harmonies. The Speed of Sound cover The Byrds' I See You, combining psychedelic folk-rock with a spiky angularity informed by the post-punk era. Blaine Campbell appears with the 'Brian Wilson gone bossa nova' Happy Faces. It's Karma It's Cool appear with the superb melodic pop of Wooden Buddha; this is a band I'm definitely keen to hear more from. The Morning Line's Nostradamus is exhilarating powerpop, placing an ultra-catchy melody within a forceful guitar-driven setting. The Forty Nineteens' Tell Me is a powerful, tuneful slice of pop 'n' roll. Through some bizarre coincidence, the bit with the 'na-na-na' lyrics bears a striking resemblance to a tune I came up with when I was a teenager, which there's no way that they could have heard as it was never released, just written as a bit of fun. This likeminded songwriting style combined with the sheer energy of the track makes it an easy song to like! Mod Hippie's Shimmering Sound lives up to its name, ethereal psych-pop ornamented by theremin and harpsichord. The Armoires, headed up by Big Stir founders Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko, push their country influences right to the forefront in Shame and Bourbon. Another great set of songs from Big Stir. The Sixth Wave is also out now; I don't yet have this one but will have more to say about it once it's arrived.

THE CORNER LAUGHERS' latest album Temescal Telegraph is out now on Big Stir Records, with amazing crochet cover art themed around the life-death-decay cycle of nature; never have rotting fishbones and decaying leaves looked so cute and cheerful! Rather than an attempt to sugarcoat death, I read this art as highlighting its normality and necessity within nature, with new life being brought forth from the old. The Calculating Boy sets a story of a mathematical savant to a swirling pop arrangement incorporating ukulele and peals of jangly guitar. Loma Alta is a beautiful folky track with a dreamy, laid-back summer atmosphere and hints of psychedelia; imagine Liege and Lief-era Fairport Convention combined with Californian sunshine pop. Goodguy Sun was written by Martin Newell, and shines some Californian sun on Newell's quintessentially English brand of observational pop. Skylarks of Britain is glorious folk-infused chamber-pop taking in woodwind and harpsichord and ending with a blisteringly intense psychedelic guitar solo. A superb album that brings together my twin passions of indiepop and electric folk into a cohesive whole. Highly recommended!

Man on the Sea is the fifth album from Canterbury's SPYGENIUS, available as a double LP, CD or download. The physical formats come with lavish gatefold packaging with psychedelic cartoon art by Joseph Champniss, including a pull-out map. Salaud Days is not a typo but a pun for those who understand French insults. It's a chiming yet biting, REM-inspired number, featuring that ultra-jangly guitar sound I so love, along with delicate, intricate piano, and ending with a snippet of Irish jig accompanied by atmospheric found sounds. Cafe Emery Hill is sprightly, addictively catchy pop adorned with vocal harmonies and taking in a highly effective fairground organ section; a really uplifting song that had me grinning from ear to ear! Dolphinarium 1986 is electric folk shot through with brooding melancholy. As a Brummie, it's great to see Spygenius paying tribute to Birmingham's New Street railway station in the form of a fantastic ultramelodic pop song of the same name, bursting with joyous 'rrrroo-too-too' vocals, mod-esque organ and chiming guitar. In A Garden is a reworking of a song by Spygenius' singer/guitarist/songwriter Peter Watts' band from the late 80s, The Murrumbidgee Whalers. In its original form, the song appeared on the B-side of Giving Way to Trains, which was more recently included on Cherry Red's indiepop box set C88, alongside my all-time favourite band The Sea Urchins and many other important bands from that era. This new version of In A Garden is sublime janglepop with an urgent, driving undercurrent as well as an extra layer of sophistication imparted by the intricate use of piano. Spite differs from the other tracks in being written and sung by bassist Ruth Rogers. In the most part, it sounds like an authentic artefact of the mid-to-late 80s indiepop scene, somewhat like a mixture of The Siddeleys and Talulah Gosh, although they also nod towards the 60s with the lilting Mellotron and Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies. This is a really amazing album of janglepop with guts, creativity and depth - highly recommended!


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