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


Jigsaw Records was founded in the 1990s to release indiepop, powerpop, lo-fi pop, punky pop, twee pop and indie rock. After a break in the early 2000s, the label reopened in 2010 and has released a prolific quantity of new and reissued music ever since. Just like all the labels that mean the most to me, Jigsaw has a DIY ethos that places a love of music above any desire for fame and fortune. As they say on their site, "Our goals are quite simple: release music that we like, with no regard to the rigid rules of the current indie label system. As long as it's good and fun, that's all that matters! [...] Please just remember that we're more geared towards smaller bands: bands/projects that are in it for fun and don't care much about making money are preferred; bands that are looking to be 'the next big thing' might want to look elsewhere". I have all their releases from the last year or so, far too many to fit into one article, so I will be making this a three-part feature, the follow-up articles to continue later this issue. CDs are reviewed in order of release.

First up, MUSICAL CHAIRS' compilation Retraced: 1992-1999. This very prolific band were ubiquitous in the 1990s indiepop underground, appearing on a variety of labels throughout the decade. This album brings together an extensive (32 tracks) collection of compilation tape and CD appearances, tracks from 7"s, and previously unreleased material. There's the minimalistic, strummy indiepop of Bottled Up, which I remember from their 7" on Pillarbox Red; the lo-fi indiepop song Never Say That, with its xylophone and rattly drums; the melancholic End of the Road; the fuzzy, buzzy noisepop I Can't Take It; The Beaten Path with its nice use of vocal harmonies; the really lovely, slightly folky janglepop song Dream of Tomorrow, and much more besides. Where Do All the Popkids Hide? presents a nostalgic vision of a bygone age and one I remember well. Written about a trip to London in search of indiepop, it references British Rail and Sarah Records (and was of course written when both of these still existed), and laments the invisibility of indiepop kids in London. As the sole indiepop kid (or at least I think so) in my town in the 1990s, I can well identify with this. The Light Song is a really catchy folk-styled instrumental based around accordion (or melodeon, or some other squeezebox instrument), which dates from well before it became fashionable for indie bands to draw from folk influences.

There are three cover versions here, recorded for tribute albums, only one of which actually materialised. This was the Galaxie 500 tribute on Elefant Records, which featured Musical Chairs' version of Fourth of July. Elefant had also planned a Field Mice tribute album, for which Musical Chairs recorded I Couldn't Feel Safer, but this album has sadly remained unreleased. This is an excellent version of the song, much in the spirit of the original, though Musical Chairs also put their own stamp on it. Journalists often like to paint indiepop as an asexual, even anti-sexual, genre, which shows they haven't listened closely enough to indiepop classics such as this; the erotic nature of the song may well surprise a lot of people. Southern Fields, originally by Rosemary's Children, was recorded for an El Records tribute which again remains unreleased. I'm not familiar with the original but Musical Chairs' version mixes delicate indiepop with psychedelic folk-rock touches, to great success. I'd forgotten just how great Musical Chairs actually were, but listening to their songs all these years later, it's clear they were really quite something. If you're a fan of indiepop in all its varieties, you'd be a fool to pass this one up.

BEANPOLE was the solo project of Verna Brock, also of Rocketship and Holiday Flyer. Jigsaw have released a compilation of EPs, compilation tracks and previously unreleased material by Beanpole, entitled From Blue To You. The music is twee DIY indiepop with strummy guitar and cutesy, high-pitched, almost childlike vocals, but where Beanpole differs from the majority of other homemade indiepop is the use of classical instruments like flute, clarinet, cello and piano. The sound quality is variable, with some tracks being taken from hissy tapes or scratchy vinyl, but I can't imagine this being too much of an issue as I doubt hi-fi purists would be into a band like Beanpole in the first place. The hiss and pops don't detract too much from the recordings and perhaps even add to their lo-fi charm. Highlights include the melancholic and jangly I'd Know You Anywhere; the slightly off-centre 120 Seconds; the bittersweet lo-fi pop song Hooked on You; Now I Know, with its catchy and slightly quirky use of synth in the chorus; and the fun retro pop of A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (actually a cover version of a song by the decidedly non-indiepop Neil Diamond, but Beanpole makes the song sound totally at home in the world of indiepop). Just as much fun is the other cover version here, Let It Snow. Again Beanpole takes a song from way outside of the indiepop scene and transforms it into something indiepop kids will love.

BENNETTS' Dreamkeeper EP includes 7 tracks of scrappy powerpop, bringing together aspects of 1980s indiepop with the chugging rhythms, forceful vocals and spiky noise of punk. Also on the noisier/punkier end of the indiepop spectrum are FAINTEST IDEAS, who have two retrospective compilation albums out on Jigsaw. The first, Terrific Times and Unrehearsed Crimes, compiles singles and compilation tracks originally recorded under the name Javelins; the band changed their name to Faintest Ideas on discovering another Javelins already existed. This compilation was originally released by Melodrama Records, but Jigsaw's reissue adds extra tracks. The band have a penchant for quirky titles: I Was Raised as a Polar Bear, The Anatomic Bomb, Hairy Hairy But Not So Scary, Once I Said I Was Your Pumpkin, etc. They combine pop tunes with a punk attitude, ranging from the lo-fi noisepop of Nothing Will Ever Happen, to the off-kilter fuzz/jangle and manic energy of Dexter's Got a Sinister Heart, to the angry, shouty Four Letter Word. The lyrics of Let's Kiss and Break Up talk about 'razorblades and lemonade', itself an apt metaphor for Faintest Ideas' musical style.

This Is How Fast You Go collects all the singles and compilation tracks recorded to date by Faintest Ideas under their current name, plus a selection of radio sessions and previously unreleased tracks. År 3000 is easy to categorise as punk-pop, and a number of the other tracks have a pretty straightforward noisepop sound, but the tracks that most grab my attention are the ones with a more multi-dimensional approach. This side of Faintest Ideas' sound is essentially a slightly off-kilter noisepop thing with the occasional janglier moment. They draw broadly from 1980s underground music whilst sounding like no-one in particular, and also add a few sounds from further afield, eg If I Could Write Spiteful Lyrics has subtle hints of psych-folk-rock buried amidst the frenetic, discordant noise, and The Barricades Became My Home nods towards the angsty alt-rock of the 1990s. During their finest moments, Faintest Ideas have the sort of energetic urgency and piercing noise that's shared with punk, yet they manage to avoid falling into the 'punk by numbers' trap by incorporating more angular elements and retro indiepop influences.

CHARLIE BIG TIME is the current band of Beth Arzy (formerly of Aberdeen and Trembling Blue Stars), with Matt Pendlebury and Chris Tiplady. They have a 4-song EP on Jigsaw entitled Sale or Return. A Sunday Afternoon Well Spent is classy pop with a big sound, which has the potential to appeal to fans of both the mainstream and underground manifestations of pop music. The other three tracks are well-crafted indiepop that manages to be simultaneously sophisticated and understated, and would have sounded totally at home on mid to late period Sarah Records. At times Charlie Big Time put me in mind a little of The Hit Parade's single on Sarah, and maybe a smidgen of The Harvest Ministers and of Blueboy. The Sarah similarity is not surprising when you consider Aberdeen were on Sarah, and Trembling Blue Stars grew out of one of Sarah's most popular bands, The Field Mice. An impressive EP from a band I'd like to hear more from.

SKYWRITERS was a band that included members who later went on to form The Snow Fairies. Their Skywriter Blue album compiles material recorded between 1998 and 2000. Skywriters specialise in lighthearted janglepop which is fairly twee at times but avoids crossing into unbearably sugary territory by incorporating harder-edged powerpop aspects, and other odds and ends not normally associated with twee indiepop. An Empty Golf Course, whilst having an indiepop heart worn proudly on its sleeve, also hints at psych-pop with its swirly sound and its use of retro-futuristic synth. Once a Year is an acoustic Christmas song with an alt-country-ish tune, including bits of melodica and Christmassy sleigh bells. The Last Sorry is another acoustic track, rather more melancholic than Skywriters' usual stuff, and also a much rawer lo-fi recording, but the quality of the song shines through the tapehiss. This album is a real winner, full of sunny feelgood songs that are a lot of fun to listen to. Am really glad I got to hear this one!

SCARY MONSTER have connections with Skywriters and The Snow Fairies; their album Makeout Party at Werewolf Club was originally released by Modern Soul Records (run by Carly from the band) but has been reissued on Jigsaw Records with three bonus tracks. The music still has a basis in twee-ish DIY pop, though the sound is in the most part a little more subdued. There's far less of a summery fun thing going on here, aside from the occasional more upbeat track like 99% Sure and Speak Softly which nod towards 60s pop, and the fuzzy, buzzy noisepop that is Tender Forever. Talk to Me takes on board a distinctly country-rock aspect whilst not disregarding the band's DIY fuzz-pop roots. Mostly though, the music here is a kind of understated lo-fi pop, less immediate than Skywriters but the album has its moments and is worth persevering with.

TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC are a band from Hamburg with an eclectic approach to pop music. They have an album out on Jigsaw entitled ...Is Tripping the Light Fantastic. The Lane is a positive, fun pop song that brings together aspects of 60s pop, powerpop, twee indiepop, and the harder-edged indie music that post-dated indiepop per se. Heavy Heart is summery pure pop - albeit with a surprisingly rockish guitar solo. Whilst clearly a product of the indiepop scene, it also sounds just as much like the sort of song that could have been a big hit in the 1980s. Lover Not a Fighter is an effective synthesis of synthpop and indie rock. Can't Treat Me Right is a sort of rockabilly thing combined with lively jazz piano - and is that spoons I hear? It draws from influences wholly outside of indiepop, yet its breezy, upbeat feel means it fits in just fine alongside the more strictly indie-ish tracks on the album. Pristine and Mean is an 80s-styled guitar pop song with nice male/female vocal harmonies, which again sounds like it ought to have been a hit in that decade. Neon Ant Colony is off-kilter, retro-futuristic pop with surreal electronic burblings befitting its similarly surreal title. Mirrorball is angular noisepop with post-punk inclinations and deep, theatrical vocals. Mostly Harmless is brilliant indiepop with a strong catchy tune. Tripping the Light Fantastic don't follow rules that would constrain them within one particular branch of pop music, and all the better for it. Their musical approach is refreshingly diverse and well worth checking out.

There's lots going on at Jigsaw to appeal to fans of the entire spectrum of indiepop, from twee to punky. I will have more to say about this label later in the current issue; in the meantime check out their website at www.jigsaw-records.com, where you can order their own releases plus a wide selection of other indiepop and related genres from their mailorder distro.


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