Archives for category: International Pop Underground

It’s been two years since PopLib came across hyper-active Gallic garage-pop ensemble Juniore in the form of their inscrutable “Ah Bah D’Accord” single. Failure to pay attention in the intervening two years mean it’s only now their 2020 album “UN DEUX TROIS” has appeared on the PopLib radar. Here’s “Grave” from the album:

“Grave” (as in “serious”) gives a good sense of Juniore’s intoxicating combination of dark brooding French yé-yé styled 60s garage/ surf pop with a coolly dismissive vocals and a Gainsbourg-inspired palette of vibrant musical arrangements and general Gallic grooviness. The album packs in a lot of stylistic shifts and combinations of familiar 60s pop styles with more adventurous and unconventional ideas.

Juniore are guitarist/ vocalist Anna Jean, drummer Swanny Elzingre and bassist/ etc. Samy Osta. “UN DEUX TROIS” is available on LP and with postal rates from the EU to the rest of the world still very reasonable, buying the LP won’t break the bank.

Last month PopLib went off on a Dystopian music theme. Or, to be more precise, soundtracks associated with escape from Dystopia. The first post mentioned Grangemouth’s oil refinery and petrochemical plant with flare-offs lighting up twilight journeys in Scotland as a personal visual reference for “Dystopia” with the added paradox of being the town Cocteau Twins grew up in, developing their extraordinary musical imaginations, before escaping in the 1980s.

The quest for soundtracks for an escape from Dystopia lead logically to curiosity about Robin Guthrie’s current musical whereabouts, and whether he had a presence on Bandcamp. By happy coincidence he released his first new music in years last month (the EP “Mockingbird Love”) and is set release his first full length album in 9 years very soon, from which “Les Amourettes” here comes:

“Les Amourettes” is from “Pearldiving”, Guthrie’s first full length instrumental album since “Fortune” in 2012. Guthrie has released several albums in the years following the 1998 break-up of Cocteau Twins, most notably collaborations with American minimalist composer Harold Budd, who had collaborated in 1985 with Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, and Simon Raymonde on the album “The Moon And The Melodies“.

“Les Amourettes” is instantly recognisable as the music of Robin Guthrie. Over 40 years of experience coaxing extraordinary time-stretched sounds from guitar and effect pedals has refined the shimmering depth and atmosphere of his music. His association with Budd has perhaps also focused him on making more from less.

“Pearldiving” is released on Guthrie’s Soleil Après Minuit label on 12 November 2021. A significant chunk of Guthrie’s post Cocteau’s releases are available on his Bandcamp, including the collaborations with Harold Budd, so dive in and float in the sea of tranquility…

Dystopia is not the exclusive domain of the cold-wave electronic music and dark post-punk scenes. Even the indie-pop nation that gave us “C86” has come to realise the state of Dystopia that is the modern world. Swansea Sound – representing the ghosts of indie-pop past, present, and future, reflect on the state of the nation in 2021 on their upcoming album. The opening track is the nostalgic scene-setter “Rock N Roll Void”:

“Rock N Roll Void” opens Swansea Sound’s album “Live at the Rum Puncheon” which is neither live, nor recorded at the Rum Puncheon (a notorious pub in Swansea, closed down decades ago).

It is a kind of concept album of sorts, with‘Rock N Roll Void’ setting up the story with a reflection on the naïve optimism of the songwriter’s entry into the world of pop “to make sure you haven’t forgotten The Kinks, The Ramones and the brief explosion of noise pollution that was C86 pop.”

Swansea Sound – described as “the funny, angry, gleeful and savage past, present and future of indie” – are vocalists Hue Williams (The Pooh Sticks) and Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, The Pooh Sticks, The Catenary Wires), guitars, and bassist Rob Pursey (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, The Catenary Wires), and drummer Ian Button (Thrashing Doves, Death in Vegas).

Anyone who recalls the heyday of The Pooh Sticks will remember their cheerful and melodic buzz-saw power-pop cartoon indiepunk, with lyrics that poked fun at the scene the band was part of. Swansea Sound update that recipe, taking a savagely/ depressingly funny and acidic look at the state of indie pop today, including the unsustainable reality of streaming where musicians earn thousands of “likes” or “followers” but not enough money to pay the rent.

“Live at the Rum Puncheon” is released on a variety of formats on 19 November on the following Indie Labels of the World
LP, CD: Skep Wax Records (UK, Europe); HHBTM Records (North America).
CASSETTE: Lavender Sweep Records (UK, Europe); Austin Town Hall Records (North America); Shiny Happy Records (Indonesia). 

Bitumen in Melbourne Town Hall – photo by Matthew Ellery

Continuing our soundtracks for escaping Dystopia theme a bit longer… “Out of Athens” is the churning first single from the upcoming second album from Melbourne, Australia band Bitumen:

Bitumen craft their swirl of noisy futuristic industrial pop music from the shadows of dark and heavy post-punk. Their sound lives up to their name; a black viscous mixture somewhat reminiscent perhaps of the likes of Clan of Xymox, and also Skeletal Family in their Gothic majesty perhaps, if you remember (or have revisited) that far back to the 1980s.  

Their new album “Cleareye Shining” is released 26 November on Heavy Machinery Records, who say “Lyrically, Cleareye Shining sees shadowy figures in the throes of loving, lusting, plotting and fantasising. The result is 80s maximalism meets 90s industrial-electro. Robocop meets Basic Instinct. Always intense, always dramatic, and always demanding of your attention.”

Continuing the ‘escape from Dystopia’ theme of the last few posts, here’s White Flowers with the perfect and glorious anthem “Night Drive”:

White Flowers are from Preston in the UK’s industrial north west. The duo’s atmospheric shadow-world post-punk, which also manages to be part ecstatic dream-pop, is situated – sonically-speaking – in a perfect place, triangulated somewhere between the sound and music of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and Xmal Deutschland.

That mix of ecstasy, atmosphere and gloom – “monochrome psychedelia” as it is succinctly described on White Flowers’ Bandcamp – is an intoxicating combination.

Continuing the electronic music theme from the previous post Vera Vice are an experimental electronic duo from from Tallinn, Estonia, and “Down the River” here is from their 2020 album “Vera Versa”.

Vera Vice are Helen Västrik and Ave Vellesalu. They met at the Estonian Academy of Arts and started by building their first synthesizers in old cigarette boxes, before borrowing equipment from friends and teachers and continuing experimenting with sound, and now creating their music with keyboards, drum machines, analog synths, effect pedals, etc. Prior to this their music experience was singing in choirs, so their initial lack of knowledge and skills in electronic music provided them with the “idea of unsystematic freedom and possible accidental success.” 

Vera Vice’s music inhabits a liminal space somewhere between the bass-heavy dub expansiveness of Australian duo HTRK and the more dreamy pop melodicism of NZ duo Purple Pilgrims. Their voices are an equal force in their music to the icy but colourful electronic minimalism. That idea of “unsystematic freedom” and arts background may explain why their music sounds so distinct and often bypasses the conventions of the genre taking unexpected ambient diversions and creating it’s own introspective sound-world. “Vera Versa” is my first purchase from Estonian musicians – thanks to the power of Bandcamp – and is unlikely to be my last.

Many of us can’t travel far at the moment, particularly to exotic destinations in far off countries. All we have is our imaginations to travel with. Take a trip to nowhere with “This New Heaven” by Fine Place.

Dystopia is a location of the mind, although it’s usually a place our mind tries to take us away from. I’m guilty of referring to a lot of futuristic, synth based music as sounding ‘dystopian’ (as in a music that one may expect to hear in the soundtrack to some sci-fi film or ‘cyber-punk’ book about an imaginary future dystopia). But when the chorus of a song includes the word “dystopia” I’m probably on safe ground with this one.

The visual reference for my personal Dystopia is usually fuelled by ancient memories of train journeys to and from Edinburgh past the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant with flare offs lighting up misty winter evenings or nights like a scene from the Bladerunner movie. It has always struck me as incongruous that this was the setting our beloved Cocteau Twins grew up in, and developed their extraordinary musical imaginations in, before escaping from the town in the 1980s. The thing about a lot of music I think about as being ‘dystopian’ is that it is a soundtrack to travelling/ escaping from that real or imaginary dystopia, often with the distraction and/or beauty of the music providing hope of sorts or a kind of relief or escape. If every vision of Dystopia comes with a desire to escape, then every escape journey needs a soundtrack.

Scottish band Simple Minds – in their brief imperious 1980-81 phase between Empires and Dance and Sons and Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call – imagined the cool synth+guitar strange-dancing-in-baggy-pants future we could have had. But it turned out we didn’t deserve that future, so we got the one we have now. At the time their icy cool light industrial motorik funk was the perfect soundtrack to travelling through and beyond the at times dystopian landscapes of industrial Britain.

On the title track of the upcoming album by Fine Place called “This New Heaven” there’s an echo of the kind of shimmering synth and delay guitar background sounds that made those three Simple Minds albums so evocative to me. It’s all a bit lower tech and DIY and all the better for it as the relentless beat propels the song on its journey, background sounds and eerie reverb-washed vocals in tow.

Fine Place is a duo of Frankie Rose (Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls) and Matthew Hord (Running, Pop. 1280, Brandy), based in Brooklyn, NYC. Their first album “This New Heaven” is: “nocturnal, electronic pop music that charts a way out the post-global, cyberpunk dystopian environment it was crafted in.”

While Fine Place are not from Scotland, their album is being released on Glasgow based label Night School Records, where it joins many other soundtracks to escaping your personal Dystopia which have been released on that fine label by artists like Molly Nilsson, Ela Orleans, etc. I’m a sucker for dystopian synth pop at the best of times, and this first track sounds really good, so take my pre-order money already.

Grangemouth, Scotland

Everyone’s favourite Isle of Wight pop duo Wet Leg return with a new single “Wet Dream”. You have been warned:

Wet Leg (Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers) continue their sardonically absurdist bubblegum buzz-saw pop fun. It’s fantastic intentionally quirky sweet & sour pop, and they craft clever, menacing words that burn: “what makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?”

“Wet Dream” is a welcome reminder of simpler times when the pop charts were not full of earnest careerist formula production pop stars, but had room for a bit of subversive music from leftfield celebrating the mundane aspects of everyday life with droll wit and deadpan delivery – Jilted John’s “Jilted John” and Jona Lewie’s “In the Kitchen at Parties” are a couple that come to mind.

After two quality singles it’s already clear Wet Leg are very good indeed at their distinctive kind of thrillingly off-kilter hybrid cool-but-weird art pop chart pop.

The Lodger return with a new song (single?) following the release of their impressive ‘comeback’ album “Cul De Sac of Love” which was released back in March and quickly sold out its first LP pressing. “Bewildered” here is a new standalone track – so far anyway…

Bewildered” is another very classy 3 minute slice of melodic and optimistically reflective melancholic pop, this time led by piano. It has a classic descending chorus, and a heap of subtle details in the musical arrangement. It’s a little bit Beatles (“A Day in the Life”) but with an almost Polyphonic Spree twist of unpredictability and lush inner-glow vocal harmony.

By way of a recap for anyone who missed the March post for the single “Dual Lives” which preceded the album, The Lodger – a Leeds, UK trio led by songwriter and guitarist Ben Siddall – went into a decade-long hiatus in 2010. Prior to 2010 The Lodger released a handful of much-loved singles and EPs and 3 studio albums through a variety of labels including Slumberland Records in the States.

The Lodger are masters at capturing the distilled essence of the craft of Pure Pop, an era perhaps most associated with the second half of the 1980s onwards, a period where the UK produced numerous practitioners of the Pure Pop craft like the Lightning Seeds, later period Orange Juice, and also a semi-forgotten band, Frazier Chorus, who released a beautifully melancholy single “Sloppy Heart” on the independent label 4AD before signing to Virgin Records. In fact it’s the honey-on-velvet voice of Frazier Chorus’s Tim Freeman on that song that Ben Siddal’s tone remind me of here. And his lyrics too for that matter, straight from the (sloppy) heart:

how do we get so bewildered
why do we fall apart
love isn’t complicated
we’re just not that smart

Itasca is songwriter and guitarist Kayla Cohen, who abandoned Los Angeles for New Mexico where she wrote her second album “Spring”, released at the end of 2019. Here’s “Only a Traveler”:

Coming across like a world weary Joni Mitchell channeling Nick Drake “Only a Traveler” is built on Cohen’s finger-picking guitar playing, full of subtle complexity, her introspective captivating vocals adding melancholy and mystery to create a powerful but restrained song.

The whole album “Spring” is a quiet wonder. Unhurried and restrained but bursting with surprising musical and melodic flourishes, most notably the delicate jazzy piano accompaniment of Marc Riordan (Sun Araw). “Spring” is not really folk, or country or even Americana, but seems a kind of American Cosmic Music, where the psychedelia may be dialed right back, but so often there in the minimalism of the luminous understated accompaniments and in Cohen’s exploratory songwriting.

As well as those Joni Mitchell/ Nick Drake vibes on “Only a Traveler” the rest of “Spring” at times carries ghosts of David Crosby’s “If Only I Could Remember My Name” and Ry Cooder’s “Paris, Texas” haunting atmospheric soundtrack, while also fitting alongside the music of contemporary songwriter Aiofe Nessa Frances.