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

SINGLE REVIEWS

THE SPEED OF SOUND I'm Real 7"/download (BE Records Manchester)
The Speed of Sound have a long history in the UK underground. Formed in 1989 under the name The Blood Oranges, they were immersed in cassette culture and appeared on tapes as diverse as the indie pop compilation You Can't Be Loved Forever #2 released by Philip Ball of The Rileys and Feverfew to accompany his fanzine, and a compilation from the more experimental/eclectic Hypertonia World Enterprises label run by Jan R Bruun. The Speed of Sound have retained their firmly independent ethos under their current guise, stating that they "exist in spite of the Music Industry, rather than because of it, and speak from outside its grasping tentacles". Their latest release is in aid of The Pankhurst Trust, celebrating 100 years since UK women gained the vote, and raising awareness of issues that still have the potential to impact upon women today. I'm Real is told from the perspective of a woman who has ended up in an unhealthy relationship leaving her stifled and controlled, while I Don't Want Your Attentions addresses workplace sexual harassment. The single is limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, with a label design that cleverly combines the mod target with the purple, green and white of the Suffragette sash. I'm Real is spiky 1980s indie pop with a clanging guitar sound and an uncompromising punk attitude. I Don't Want Your Attentions also draws from the punkier end of 1980s indie pop, balancing strong melody with forceful noise; the piece is however just as much informed by hard-edged 1960s mod and also includes an intricate rock guitar solo, showing that this band have no intention of buying into restrictive rules about genre boundaries. Available at thespeedofsound.bandcamp.com as of 10th September 2018. More info on the Pankhurst Trust at www.pankhursttrust.org

THE CHEMISTRY SET Firefly 7" (Fruits de Mer)
NICK NICELY All Along the Watchtower 7" (Fruits de Mer)
ELFIN BOW & GARY LLOYD Who Knows Where the Time Goes 7" (Fruits de Mer)
TOUCH We Feel Fine 7" (Fruits de Mer)

Four new 7" singles out this December from Fruits de Mer Records. The Chemistry Set celebrate their 30th anniversary with two brand new songs exclusive to this single. Firefly is a great slice of noisy psych-pop in which a laid-back, swirling melody with Middle Eastern tinges is juxtaposed with squalling fuzz guitars. Sail Away is a soaring psych track based around jangly strummed 12-string, slide guitar, tablas and atmospheric drones, giving way to a searing guitar solo.
nick nicely completely reinvents Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower as an innovative slice of modern psychedelia which takes in atmospheric electronica, fiery guitar soloing and soulful vocals. This is paired with the experimental psych-pop track Doors of Perception, setting a strong tune to a heady mix of dreamlike atmospherics, rhythmic thrums and mindbending guitar work.
Elfin Bow, alias Elizabeth Anne Jones, is joined here by composer and producer Gary Lloyd and the Scottish Session Orchestra which comprises musicians from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The lead track on this single is a beautifully atmospheric orchestrated version of the Sandy Denny classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes, the lush cinematic strings a perfect match for Elizabeth's soaring vocals. The Wisdom is a very lovely folk-pop song ornamented with a luxurious string and brass arrangement. This is my first introduction to Elfin Bow and I'm definitely keen to hear more.
The original idea for Fruits de Mer was for it to be a 7" reissue label; this intention never went to plan at the time, but 10 years later the label has now released a single with three late 1960s tracks by Touch, two from their 1969 album on Deram, and the debut appearance on vinyl for a song intended for a 1968 single which was never released at the time. Touch made an intense hybrid of psych and prog which was pretty groundbreaking. We Feel Fine incorporates dramatic impassioned vocals, proggy twists and turns, and fiercely intense guitar soloing. Down at Circe's Place is a multifaceted piece that starts off like a meeting of vintage action movie theme music and experimental psychedelia, with an insistent piano riff accompanied by parping brass, busy percussion and wild psych guitar work. It then morphs into gentle ethereal psychedelia, before introducing scorching psych-prog guitars, choral vocals, harpsichord-like keyboard and manic drumming, this final section building up so much pressure that it practically explodes at the end. We Finally Met Today subverts the kind of rock 'n' roll typical of the era with dizzying prog convolutions, intense jazz inclinations and heavy psychedelia.
An impressive clutch of singles, all highly recommended. Available as of 31st December 2018 from www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

VLIMMER XI & XII CDs/Cassettes/Download (Blackjack Illuminist)
Alexander Leonard Donat is a prolific musician involved with a number of bands; Fir Cone Children and WHOLE have been reviewed in these pages before, and now there is this new release from his solo project Vlimmer. The two EPs come as a pair, each one highlighting a different side of the Vlimmer sound. They are released as part of an ongoing 18-part series, and are packaged in the now-familiar Blackjack Illuminist in-house style with homemade packaging incorporating real photographs, this time with an atmospheric nature-based approach. XI opens with Wärme, which despite its title of 'Warmth' evokes a gloomy gothic atmosphere with its chilly ambience and harsh industrial rhythms. Leben has a more positive sound which brings together airy shoegaze with early 80s synthpop influences. Licht is gothic pop wrapped in an ethereal swirl, combining a shoegaze wall-of-noise with ambient elements. Lösung takes the effervescent synth rhythms of mainstream 80s electropop and adds goth and shoegaze elements for a blast of icy air. Regen is a beautifully atmospheric darkwave piece with a sense of optimism shining through the melancholy. XII was devised as a more aggressive counterpoint to the airy XI, the warmth, light and life of XI juxtaposed with XII's tracks dealing with bleak and destructive concepts. There are a couple of tracks on XII that sound paradoxically positive to these ears, the uptempo synthpop of Farblosigkeit, and Asphaltdecke which offsets an insistent electronic chug with a dreampop whirl, incorporating airy choralesque backing vocals, but elsewhere on the EP, the fierce noise and unsettling atmospheres come through in full force. Krakenkombat is sharp, belligerent noise-rock with goth, shoegaze, electro and metal elements, its chainsaw guitar attack and relentless electronic throb employed for maximum heavy effect. Zerschmetterung is a heavy shoegaze noise onslaught, woozy yet biting. Atemnot sets fractured, pained songwriting to a chilling, nightmarish ambient soundscape. An inventive pair of EPs that seamlessly combine a variety of genres into a cohesive and evocative whole. Visit blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com

WEIMAR John Doe/Curse the Songs CD (Marlene's Hat) / Download (German Shepherd)
Debut single from Manchester 4-piece Weimar, who include The Speed of Sound's John Armstrong on bass, alongside Aidan Cross (vocals, rhythm guitar), Johann Kloos (lead guitar) and Anthony Edwards (drums). The single is produced by Simon 'Ding' Archer (The Fall, Pixies, etc) and is released as a digital download by German Shepherd Records and CD on the band's own label Marlene's Hat Records. The two tracks here are spiky, angular art rock; John Doe is an effective mix of choppy punky sounds, slightly psychedelic retro rock, and tinges of dark cabaret, while Curse the Songs begins with a bleak post-punk feel before gradually building up into an intense slice of jittery, rattly experimental rock with forceful punky yelps and roars, fierce slicing guitar noise, and a chorus that's as catchy as it is raucous. Great to know that Weimar are currently working on an album. Find out more at weimarbanduk.com

FIREFAY La Dame aux Chats lathe cut 7" (Sonido Polifonico)
VUKOVAR Decameron (or 10 Days of Violence) lathe cut 7" (Sonido Polifonico)

Sonido Polifonico is a label that goes to great lengths to make their releases something truly special. These highly limited (67 and 61 copies respectively) lathe cut 7"s are each wrapped in tissue paper and packaged within a cardboard box tied up with string, which also includes an envelope containing two badges and a ceramic token. The token that comes with the Firefay 7" is pierced with a hole so it can be worn as a pendant, while the one with the Vukovar 7" has a crow design moulded into it, its rustic asymmetrical shape resembling an ancient coin. The 7"s themselves are packaged in the classic underground way, in a foldover sleeve and plastic bag, with hand-stamped labels. It's so lovely to find out about a label that takes so much care with its releases, making each one a complete work of art.
Firefay's La Dame aux Chats is an elegant jazz-inflected French chanson, while Closure Tango is soaked in haunted melancholy, with Carole Bulewski's vocals backed by a chamber orchestra interwoven with eerie synth. The Vukovar single is the first I've heard from them but it's got me intrigued to hear more. Decameron (or 10 Days of Violence) sets a melancholic though infectiously catchy song to atmospheric avant garde music based around bleak vintage synth sounds, drones and noise. The Three Shades inventively brings together the upbeat and poppy with the ethereal and experimental. Vukovar take pop out of its original context to create an innovative brand of dark, experimental, yet melodic music. Get these great singles while you still can at www.sonidopolifonico.co.uk

SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS Please Read Me 7" (Fruits de Mer)
JACK ELLISTER When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease 7" (Fruits de Mer)
SENDELICA/SECRET KNOWLEDGE/THE ORB Windmill 12" (Fruits de Mer)

Soft Hearted Scientists have been on hiatus for a while, with Nathan Hall focusing on his other band Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals in the meantime. They have however returned to the studio to record a new single, which is out now on Fruits de Mer as a coloured vinyl 7". Please Read Me is a song from the Bee Gees' early days as a pop-psych outfit. The Soft Hearted Scientists version is a luxurious and uplifting blend of chiming jangle, spacey synth, piano, and vocal harmonies, backed with Moths Mistook Us for the Moon, an exclusive new track that takes a gentle, folk-tinged psych-pop song and places it within a lavish, multi-layered arrangement replete with orchestration and fizzing, whooshing synth sounds. More great stuff from this highly creative and continually recommended band.
Jack Ellister has chosen to reinterpret two songs from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, namely Roy Harper's When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease and Black Sabbath's Supernaut. Cricketer is an introspective song based around the resonant tones of a grand piano that had belonged to Jack's grandfather in Poland, while Supernaut is fierce and unrestrained, juxtaposing a catchy Far Eastern-tinged riff with rumbling, booming bass and distorted snarly vocals, the overall result best described as psychedelic heavy metal. Lesser artists might not be able to pull off such an extraordinary level of eclecticism, but with Jack Ellister, it really works. This single is also available on coloured vinyl 7", this time with a fold-out poster.
Windmill is a one-off collaboration between the prolific Fruits de Mer band Sendelica, Secret Knowledge who comprise writer Kris Needs and singer Wonder Schneider, and were known in the 1990s house/techno scene for their releases on Andrew Weatherall's label Sabres of Paradise, Heavenly, One Little Indian and other labels, and The Orb, who achieved mainstream success with their pioneering ambient house material, and as such must surely need no introduction. The EP contains four mixes of a song recorded in memory of Kris Needs' partner Helen Donlon who passed away last year. Consterdine's Floyd Mix is based around the rich contralto vocals of Wonder Schneider. The song itself is essentially soul, but the arrangement plunges it into broader eclectic territories. The guitar melody that opens the song has an ethereal and melancholic feel that would sound just as at home in a dreampop track, while gently meandering sax adds sprinklings of psychedelic jazz. Chocolate Orb Dubbed Mix features samples of Helen Donlon's speech from a psychedelic drug conference held in Ibiza in 2017, alongside mellow washes of ambient sound, piano, and slowly shuffling dance beats. Chocolate Orb Chilled Mix is woozy and atmospheric, combining elements of ambient and post-rock for a calming listening experience. Available as a limited edition coloured vinyl 12" EP, with only a handful of copies remaining at the time of writing.
Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

BURD ELLEN Chi Mi Bhuam lathe cut 7" (Sonido Polifonico)
Burd Ellen is the new project of Debbie Armour, who has previously worked with Alasdair Roberts and Alex Rex. Debbie is joined by Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Barrett's Dottled Beauty, Electroscope) and Lucy Duncan (Luki). This clear, heavyweight lathe cut 7" is packaged with the same astonishing attention to detail that characterises all releases from Sonido Polifonico, a label that goes the extra mile to make their releases complete works of art. The 7" has hand-stamped, hand-numbered labels and the classic underground wraparound sleeve in plastic bag, and furthermore comes packaged in a string-tied, hand-painted cardboard box, my copy featuring blue swirls and flecks recalling the sea. The box also contains a photographic slide, two badges in a hand-stamped envelope, and a ceramic token in a blue foil pouch. Chi Mi Bhuam is based on the first verse of a song by Mull-born and Glasgow-based bard Iain MacPhaidein, which can be found in a book of Gaelic poems and songs he had published in 1902 under the Anglicised spelling of his name, John MacFadyen. The song sets traditional-style Scottish folk to a creative experimental arrangement that pairs stark, minimalistic drones with spine-tinglingly beautiful vocal harmonies. Over on the B-side there's Chi Mi Bhuam West Mains Mix by Rev Magnetic, which transforms the piece into a feverish, dreamlike blend of ambient, experimental and neoclassical music. There is even a section which treats Debbie's voice with autotune, but far from being used in the bland, generic manner of mainstream pop, this vocal effect is instead employed to create a woozy, psychedelic atmosphere. A truly superb experimental folk single from a band I'm keen to hear more from. Limited to 99 copies, with only 13 left at the time of writing. Available at www.sonidopolifonico.co.uk

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