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


Regular readers of Aquamarine will know I count Sugarbush Records among my favourite labels; their taste in psychedelia, underground folk, and powerpop overlaps considerably with my own, and they can always be trusted to release great music in these genres. Sugarbush has released eight albums since my last feature on the label.

Dom Mariani (ex-Stems and Someloves) has previously appeared on Sugarbush with solo album Homespun Blues and Greens, and Hi Seas with The Majestic Kelp. He now returns to the label with a compilation album from his band DM3, Garage Sale Compendium, which brings together various singles, outtakes, and recordings for special projects. This is a vinyl-only LP, different from the band's earlier CD also called Garage Sale. It's a fantastic collection of powerpop songs that, despite its origins as a compilation, holds together as a complete album. Monsters is a great combination of fuzzy guitars, ultramelodic pop melody, vocal harmonies, and psychedelic touches. Before You Go features the classic powerpop chuggy driving rhythm along with a joyous pop tune with ba-ba-ba harmony vocals. There's an impassioned, riotous version of The Creation's Makin' Time that emphasises the 'Garage' in Garage Sale Compendium. Snapshots blurs the boundaries between powerpop and rock 'n' roll, while Rock and Roll Ghost is a sunny jangler that's just the thing for laid-back summer days, and How Ya Feelin' effectively brings together forceful powerpop with a soulful, Motown-esque chorus. A really uplifting album that's highly recommended for fans of strong tuneful powerpop.

Sugarbush continue their extensive GREEN PAJAMAS reissue programme with a green vinyl edition of Poison in the Russian Room, which was originally released on CD by Hidden Agenda Records in 2009. The Lonesome End of the Lake is exhilarating psych-rock, contrasting forceful riffage and heavy guitar soloing with laid-back, drawn-out vocals. Poison in the Russian Room features delicate piano ornamented by soft, airy reed organ, juxtaposed with dark, murderous lyrics. Cristina Dancing is a musically and lyrically vivid merging of psychedelia and Spanish musical motifs. Song is amazing experimental folk, setting backwards vocals to medievalesque accompaniment, segueing into the intense psychedelia of The Fairy Queen I, with its dizzying backwards effects, heavy-hitting riffs and otherworldly tinkling bells. Another version of this song appears later as The Fairy Queen II, where it is approached from an essentially powerpop perspective, following on from Open Your Eyes, a brief interlude of spooky folk and Victorian-style classical music. An album of effective musical contrasts, complete with the evocative storytelling lyrics that fans of The Green Pajamas know to expect.

Sugarbush have also released a solo album from The Green Pajamas' founder JEFF KELLY, Beneath the Stars, Above the River. This is something of a Mediterranean concept album, with songs inspired by Spain and Portugal packaged within photography taken during visits to these countries. Todo Por La Gitana is contemporary psychedelic folk balladry peppered with Spanish horns, with vivid, poetic lyrical storytelling. Moon Over Granada is classic folk-pop with psychedelic undercurrents, incorporating ringing guitars as well as sprinklings of piano that add a plaintive touch to the piece. The Lisbon Vampire transports Jeff Kelly's love of Victorian gothic literature to Portugal, with eerie contemporary folk songwriting ornamented by Mediterranean accordion. Kiss the Moon Hello is a classy, sophisticated number with shades of vintage film music and 'crooner'-era songwriting, set to strongly Spanish-inspired accompaniment. Alleys of Madrid is very lovely janglepop with US folk hints along with the Spanish influence that pervades the album; jangly guitar and vocal harmonies augmented by flugelhorn provide an atmosphere that is cheery yet with a melancholic undercurrent.

THE GREEN RAY follow their now sold out Sugarbush album Half Sentences with latest album Five Points of Light, which features guest appearances from Howard 'Plug' Davies (The Attack) and Duncan Kerr and Wayne Worrell (The Brainiac 5). The album comes with nicely put together cover art rooted in the natural world, and a heavy textured card photographic insert. On a Sixpence is folk-tinged psychedelic rock in the 60s San Francisco style, combined with a bright, airy and optimistic pop sensibility. Small Springs is written by one of the band's original members, the late Ken Whaley, formerly of Help Yourself and Man; beautifully laid-back US-style psych-folk-rock with intricate and atmospheric musicianship. Clouds Away Tomorrow is super-melodic pop-rock, offsetting powerpop bite with a cheery, jangly chorus and soaring ethereal backing vocals. Five Points of Light is a really lovely slice of US-style folk, setting spiritual lyrics to beautifully intricate acoustic guitar and slide guitar. The Green Ray are often compared to bands such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Grateful Dead, understandable comparisons for sure, though on a personal level I've never heard anything from either of those bands that I've found quite as moving and thrilling as this. A very highly recommended psych album that takes the 1960s West Coast sound as a starting point and adds so much more.

When Seasons Change, the third album from THE GREEK THEATRE, is out now on Sugarbush. Core members Sven Fröberg and Fredrik Persson are joined by nine guest musicians providing a wide array of mostly orchestral instruments. The instrumental piece Twin Larks is full of pastoral beauty, with soaring flute evoking the flight of birds. Lawrence of Laurel Canyon is really uplifting summer pop ornamented by gently whirring analogue synths. Old Jawbone is beautiful 60s-ish psych-folk with glorious orchestral accompaniment. Bible Black Mare is laid-back West Coast-style folk-rock with shades of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, within a musical setting that balances intense psychedelia and dreamlike ethereality. Streets You Hold is informed by vintage soul, while also taking in Byrds-esque jangling 12-string and meandering psychedelia. Sail Away (Part Two) is deeply moving psych-folk, its airy arrangement incorporating clarinet, wooden flute and vocal harmonies, underscored by a soft ambient hum. Whilst there is a gentle, laid-back atmosphere to much of the album, The Greek Theatre also have a heavier side, as heard in The Post-Factual Jam, a psychedelic noise-rock instrumental that lurches dizzyingly from one speaker to the other. This is a truly amazing album, full of songs that leave me moved and exhilarated. The band have tapped into the 'vibe' of 1960s folk, folk-rock and psychedelia from both sides of the pond and used their own astonishing musical talent to create something new out of it. A VERY highly recommended album that promises to become a long-time favourite.

Sugarbush have been reissuing previously CD-only albums by THE GRIP WEEDS, starting with House of Vibes (reviewed in part one of this issue's Sugarbush feature), and now their 2004 classic Giant on the Beach is available on sand-coloured heavyweight vinyl. Astral Man is hard-hitting psych rock 'n' roll peppered with swirling spacey synths, with reincarnation-inspired lyrics: "I've got to wake up on this earth/Back where I was before my birth/I'm going round and round again until I learn". Realities has hints of psychedelic-era Beatles, but rocks harder, with heady guitar solos and lashings of wah-wah. Give Me Some Of Your Ways is US folk-rock akin to The Byrds, with slide guitar employed to create a cosmic, ethereal atmosphere. I Believe is a prime slice of ultramelodic psychedelic pop-rock incorporating a recurring Beatlesque guitar riff and vocals that become increasingly impassioned and soulful. Waiting for a Sign sets mystical lyrics to a blend of intense swirling psych guitar and Rhodes piano. Sight Unseen is one of the poppiest songs here, with a bouncy rhythm and luxurious vocal harmonies; it's comparable in some ways to The Zombies, with a hint of the folkiness of The Byrds. The band's highly talented lead guitarist Kristin Pinell takes over lead vocal duties in Closer to Love, a song that combines shades of the Bangles (powerpop-era Bangles that is, not the straightforwardly commercial pop of Eternal Flame and so on) with the mystical atmosphere of sitar-psych. I've been a huge fan of this album since its original release; great to see Sugarbush introducing it to a new audience.

Switzerland's BALDUIN started out as an electronic artist, but since changed direction to become one of the finest purveyors of 1960s British-style psych-pop, with two albums on Sunstone Records in this vein, Bohemian Garden being particularly superb. He has now moved to Sugarbush for his latest album Look at Me I'm You, which combines both sides of his sound, retaining the essence of 60s psychedelia while adding elements of electronica. The album is a mixture of original material and covers, ranging from very famous songs like The Kinks' Autumn Almanac to obscurities like Rainbow Eyes which I understand to be a Manfred Mann song that was never officially released. The Shadows of Your Mind brings kaleidoscopic psych-pop into the electronic age with its bouncy, 80s-ish synth rhythm. Rainbow Eyes combines the classic whimsical feel of 60s English psychedelia with swirling, dreamlike electronics. Four Elements is quirky psych-folk-pop ornamented by tablas and lilting Mellotron, reminding me in some ways of Donovan. People Without Faces, a Tages cover, is a kind of soft pop, almost like easy listening music yet subverted by an off-kilter psychedelic flavour, combining harpsichord and retro synth. Little Girl is bizarre, feverish psych-pop with booming electronic drums and ambient effects. The Tremeloes cover, Norman Stanley James St Clair, is baroque psych-pop, with biographical, kitchen sink drama-ish lyrics drenched in harpsichord. You'll also find the orchestrated, Sgt Pepper-ish Camera Obscura; Sassy Sauce which has a touch of Syd Barrett-esque quirkiness about it; and the swirly, whimsical Count the Clouds, with lyrics that show a certain childlike innocence. Finally there's The Jack, fractured, lo-fi, experimental psych-pop peppered with found sounds and all manner of weirdness. Something of a departure from Balduin's previous two albums, swapping the more authentic 1960s sound for a much more idiosyncratic approach towards 60s music. The overall result is quirky, inventive and fun.

WITCH HAZEL are something of an outlier amidst all the psych and powerpop outfits on Sugarbush, being the only band on the label to be influenced primarily by 1970s hard rock and early metal. Their Otherworldly album, originally self-released on CD and now reissued on vinyl by Sugarbush, features a naked demoness on the cover, recalling the brash sexual artwork of 70s hard rock albums like Whitesnake's Lovehunter, coupled with the fascination with the occult which characterises certain segments of the metal genre. The band themselves are pictured on the back cover, their long hair, studded wristbands and animal skull paraphernalia making it plain just what type of music they are dealing in. Whilst I don't usually take much notice of metal (except for the occasional folk-metal band), the fact that this album is on Sugarbush piqued my attention, and I'm very glad that I didn't disregard it based on my usual lack of interest in this genre.

Witch Hazel's 1970s forerunners include bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, though there's much more going on here, the album showing a creative, eclectic spirit that includes an element of psychedelia, tying the album in with the rest of the Sugarbush catalogue. The title track features heavy guitar riffage that's as twisty-turny as it is doom-laden, and a powerful vocal snarl, plus an eerie flute-led interlude that's part Jethro Tull, part ghostly movie soundtrack. Midnight Mist has its hard rock moments, but the main part of the track is a kind of gothic psychedelia, dark-edged and ethereal with a strong melodic sensibility. Meat for the Beast has an inventive approach to hard rock which incorporates some effectively forceful use of brass. Drinking for a Living is a multifaceted piece that finds room for delicate, airy psychedelia, a female vocal section that recalls an old favourite from my childhood, Blondie's Atomic, and what sounds like a ranting drunk spoiling for a fight accompanied by bar-room ivory-tinkling, alongside the energetic and powerful hard rock that's the main emphasis of this band's sound. Whilst Witch Hazel are still going to appeal mostly to old-school rockers and metalheads, their album shows a good amount of inventiveness and variety that makes it an interesting listen even for non-metalheads like myself. I'm glad I gave this one a go.

All albums here are vinyl-only and limited edition. Get them at www.sugarbushrecords.com


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