Archives for category: International Pop Underground

English ‘retro-futurist’ experimental art-pop band Broadcast’s journey through music at times evoked imaginary old children’s TV theme music and art-house movie soundtracks. What makes their music so distinctive is the sometimes familiar – yet not from this world – eclectic style of the music, with its assorted elderly synth tones and BBC Radiophonic Workshop style bleeps and noises, together with Trish Keenan’s calmly haunting singing, often of strange surreal/ absurdist lyrics.

Tragically, Singer Trish Keenan died from pneumonia early in 2011, making their odd, dreamy, timeless pop even more haunted and affecting. Since then there have been re-issues of the original albums and compilations of singles and EPs in 2015, but the announcement of three archival releases this month was a pleasant surprise. Here’s “Sixty Forty” from a 2003 BBC Maida Vale studio session:

Sixty Forty” – Broadcast’s cover of a song from Nico’s 1981 “Drama in Exile” album – was previously only available on a 2009 Warp Records compilation Warp20 (Unheard).

“The BBC Maida Vale Sessions compiles four of Broadcast’s live performances at the West London studios between October 1996 – their first session for the John Peel show the same year as their first single release – and August 2003, by which time they had released their “Haha Sound” album. It was a period that saw them devolve from a more expansive kind of eerie psychedelic pop into even more experimental electronic noise pop as the group reduced to the core duo of James Cargill and Trish Keenan. “Sixty Forty” here is perhaps an early sign of what was to come two years later on their “Tender Buttons” album.

While most of the remaining songs will be familiar from their studio releases BBC sessions always seem to bring out something fresh in bands. This album also includes a song they did not record on any subsequent studio release – “Forget Every Time”.

Broadcast release three archival albums on the 18th March 2022 via Warp Records – Microtronics – Volumes 1 & 2, Mother Is The Milky Way, and BBC Maida Vale Sessions from which “Sixty Forty” here is taken.

Travel Through Midnight” is the opening track from an intriguing compilation of bands who released records on Sarah Records in the 1990s or – in the case of The Luxembourg Signal here – have evolved from Sarah Records bands. The compilation is called “Under the Bridge” and is released on 1 March 2022 on Skep Wax Records.

The Luxembourg Signal include four members of Aberdeen (a band from Los Angeles) who released two EPs on Sarah Records, based in Bristol, UK, in 1994. One of the Luxembourg Signal/ Aberdeen members – Beth Arzy – is also in Jetstream Pony who also have a track on the compilation.

”Travel Through Midnight”, sung by Betsy Moyer, takes inspiration from a Russian fairy tale ‘midnight’ demon, reflecting a sense of travelling great distances, each place being at midnight, and never reaching the light of day. There’s a parallel in that fairytale with the ‘midnight’ of the never ending pandemic, where the hope of coming out into ‘daylight’ is dashed by another wave, and the only certainty is uncertainty. Sounds ominous when thought of like that, sorry. It’s a shimmering melancholic dream-pop song so best not to dwell on possible meanings and just enjoy the glorious music, which is ultimately what’s going to help many of us get through this moment in time.

This extract from the press release provides a concise summary of what the compilation is about, and who is involved:

A compilation of new songs. An essential album for all fans of Sarah Records. Bristol’s Sarah Records was a defiantly independent record label. Feted by many – if hated by some – it has been increasingly recognised as a seminal label which, during its short lifetime in the 1990s, created a whole scene around itself. While the label has long since closed its doors, and eschews re-releases, the bands on Sarah – or at least their members – have kept on creating perfect pop music. Under The Bridge is an extraordinary reunion, showcasing new material by fourteen of them. Many are British, but others hail from as far afield as Sydney, Victoria, California and Arizona. There are some names you’ll recognise: The Orchids, The Wake, Even As We Speak, Secret Shine, Boyracer, St Christopher. In many cases, their line-ups are relatively unchanged. Then, there are newer groups, where different line-ups have evolved: Jetstream Pony and The Luxembourg Signal (both ex-Aberdeen), The Catenary Wires and Tufthunter (both ex Heavenly), Soundwire (ex-The Sweetest Ache), Leaf Mosaic (ex-Sugargliders), Sepiasound (ex-Blueboy) and Useless Users (ex-Action Painting/Secret Shine).

For anyone interested in going to down an Aberdeen (the band) rabbit hole, Aberdeen also appear on the excellent “Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions” album along with 14 Iced Bears, and The June Brides.

Canadian duo You’ll Never Get To Heaven released an unusual and dreamy album of minimal experimental dream-pop last month. Here’s “Dust” from the album as your exploration entry point:

You’ll Never Get To Heaven is Alice Hansen and Chuck Blazevic, and “Wave Your Moonlight Hat for the Snowfall Train” is their fourth release. It’s a sparse album of minimalist dream-pop songs and instrumentals, employing melodic fretless basslines and harmonics, watery piano and marimba, hushed vocals, and a lot of tape echo delay effects. It’s an unusual but fully-formed and accessible collection of ethereal dream-state music.

The highlighted track here “Dust” reminds me in some ways of UK post-punk duo A.C. Marias around the time of their mesmerising 1986 single “Just Talk” (with it’s equally mesmerising video).

A. C. Marias (which was Angela Conway and Wire guitarist Bruce Gilbert) also used a combination of minimal repetition and dream-pop vocals to similar effect, pre-dating shoe-gaze and dream-pop and out of step with the cool harshness of much post-punk, and jangling nostalgic guitar pop of the mid 1980s.

Here’s another A.C. Maria video for “Just Talk” performed live on a TV show.

Here’s a fabulous brand new slice of 21st century post-shoegaze guitar-pop from Christchurch musician Annemarie Duff flying as T. G. Shand.

Following on from two excellent singles earlier this year – “The Ease” back in February, and “Lemony” in July – “Seats” here is the most arresting and sonically complex of the three.

It’s a little bit off kilter, in a very good way, rocking a mesmerising electro-clash of Curve-style crunchy drum-heavy layered guitar rock, clattering post-punk bass, Cocteau Twins-style liquid guitars and a hyper-melodic chorus of layered heavenly voices.

What’s ahead in 2022 from T. G. Shand? Download these songs and follow the T. G. Shand Bandcamp and you will find out directly as soon as something new is released.

It’s that time of year. December. Christmas if you are that way inclined. A holiday for some, but not all. Bandcamp has been a musical and sanity saviour for years, especially these past two pandemic-blighted years. So I couldn’t help but do a quick search for “Bandcamp Christmas Single” just to see what what pop up. I clicked on the first song that looked likely and intriguing and here we are with Brighton, UK lo-fi troubadour Peter Hoggarth’s “Rail Replacement Service Christmas Party”. Enjoy.

“Rail Replacement Service Christmas Party” has a ramshackle charm, and gets extra points for the sleigh bells throughout. After enjoying this quirky festive tale please take the opportunity to journey back through the artist’s back catalogue.

Music formats have come and gone. Some have come back again. Bandcamp feels to me like it is now a format as much as it is an online record store. Over the past century music has been distributed on shellac 78s, polyvinyl phonographic long-players (10″ and 12″ LPs) and 7″ singles, 8-track cartridges, flexi discs, cassette tapes, DAT, mini discs, compact discs, USB sticks… now on Bandcamp.

“Bandcamp downloads” are a world-changing new format for me now. It’s different to MP3 filesharing, streaming, and corporate digital music stores like iTunes. It’s a direct medium between musicians and their audience, small labels and their audience and even some larger more established independent labels too. It’s a virtual record store, a place of discovery, and it’s instant.

Bandcamp is also a great way to send friends and families the gift of music. If you are looking for some last-minute inspiration here’s 5 PopLib favourites from 2021.

  1. XR” by XR

“XR” by XR is the album I have played most in 2021. It’s just low-key perfect and I’m not really sure why I like it so much. My Bandcamp downloads are transferred onto a USB stick which I play through a network CD player through a stereo system. “XR” was released as a digital download, with no physical release formats. I really craved “XR” in a physical format so burned a CD and made a sleeve for it. “XR” was written and recorded between Melbourne and Sydney between 2019 – 2021 by Raven Mahon and Xanthe Waite, and was released in June 2021.

2. “Lammas Fair” by Henry Parker

“Lammas Fair” is a self-released modern UK folk album which mixes a bit of tradition with some 70s electric folk influences and some more psychedelic guitar flourishes. David Kilgour (The Clean, Stephen, The Heavy Eights) posted the title track on Facebook a few months ago, liking the drop D tuning. I bought the CD through Henry Parker’s Bandcamp and have been enjoying it since. It would appeal to anyone who appreciates the best of the UK folk guitar legends (Jansch, Renbourn) and also more contemporary guitar explorers (Steve Gunn, Ben Chasny). It’s even made the UK Official Folk Albums Chart Top 40 this month, on the back of Bandcamp sales of downloads, CD and LP.

3. “Two of the Same” by Ludus

Pōneke/ Wellington electronic composer-producer Emma Bernard has been making music for 5 years under the name Ludus and with “Two of the Same”, released in March 2021, delivered one of the best NZ electronic albums of recent times, pulsing with lush, atmospheric music. The album blends more familiar minimal techno and electronic music styles with its creator’s own exploration of sounds, field recordings, tones, moods and subtle rhythms.

4. “What’s Growing” by Wurld Series

Wurld Series combine enchanting melodic song-writing, brilliant lead guitar lines, pastoral mellotron folk psychedelia, and Luke Towart’s bemused delivery of skewed elliptical philosophical lyrics for this charming homespun album of wonky Ōtautahi/ Chrsitchurch guitar pop weirdness.

5. “Dream #12” by Mess Esque, Mick Hunter, McKisko

A nocturnal album of transcendentally sparse and beautifully fractured lullabies combining the music and instruments of Mick Turner (The Dirty Three) with the lyrics and voice of Helen Franzmann (McKisko), Beautiful and strange, low-key and sleepy (mostly), while also experimental, euphoric, heavenly and moving. Perfect for these unsettled and unsettling times. Easier to listen to than describe.

Blanco Tranco hail from Melbourne. Here’s a track from their first EP “I’ve Been Dying to Tell You”, recorded between Melbourne lockdowns:

Blanco Tranco are Matt McTiernan (guitar) and Tiff Brown (vocals/keys), Mark Howell (bass guitar), and Sophie Boyden (drums). There’s a kind of post-shoegaze pop sound to the EP, a mix of 80s/90s guitar sounds with the more chiming sonic repetition approach of the likes of DIIV this century.

Standout track “Let” evokes memories of The Sundays, in part due to those gently effect-washed guitar arpeggios and song dynamics, but also due to Brown’s compelling, distinctive vocals.

Seattle jazz/ R & B/ funk/ psychedelic trio The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (DLO3) released their second album earlier this year. Here’s a track from it – “From the Streets” – that will have you wondering where the organ is in this organ trio:

Listen to this album on a good stereo and marvel at Delvon Lamarr’s left hand Hammond organ bass lines on this track. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s no organ in this organ trio on this track but that bass-line is it…

The Meters, Jimmy Smith and Booker T. & the M.G.’s are all reference points of course, but it was actually deep affection for Beastie Boys “The In Sound From Way Out” (the only Beastie Boys release I own; a collection of previously released instrumentals gathered together from ‘Check Your Head’, ‘Ill Communication’, ‘Jimmy James’ and ‘Sure Shot’, released in April 1996) that drew me to this album when I heard it playing in Relics Music store in Dunedin today.

In addition to keyboard maestro Delvon Lamarr the trio is guitarist Jimmy James (tasteful master of funk, R & B, jazz, and wild psychedelic freak out guitar) and, on this album, drummer Grant Schroff. A new drummer Dan Weiss is on the trio’s latest single, the playfully-titled “Cold As Weiss”:

There’s a couple of recent KEXP Live to Airs you can find on YouTube if you are so inclined….

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).