I don’t know about you, but things have been hectic round these parts recently. The mountains of comics and CDs just seem to get moved around the Geek Lair, sprouting new offspring mountains, multiplying and covering all surfaces. All of which means that it must be time to string together another New Listening mix CD from the pick of the promos.

This month it all kicks off with ‘Tickets To The Fight’ from Sodastream’s Reservations (Fortuna Pop). Now I’ve always enjoyed Sodastream a lot. For the past six years (for others who tuned in from their ‘Enjoy’ debut EP it’s been closer to a decade) they’ve been one of those groups whose output has been hardly prolific but always perfectly poised. One of Australia’s best kept secrets, they are up there with the Lucksmiths as one of the country’s finest contemporary exports, and I guess it’s no surprise that there is something of the spirit of the Go-Betweens intrinsic in their sound. They’ve also always reminded me of The Sugargliders, and unless you are one of the fools who blanketed the entire Sarah roster with withering glances regardless of listening, you know that’s a fine, fine thing to be reminded of.

So I’m pleased to say then that on this, their fourth album (if we don’t count the Concerto al Barchessone Vecchio live set), it’s business as usual and pretty much more of the same. Which is not to say that there are no developments in sound or mood. For whilst Sodastream are tuned into the value of variations on the formula, this record marks a noticeable drop in mood; where soft sweet melancholia takes on a darker edge, descending at times into the sparse country-edged desolation of early Red House Painters, or the bleached slow-core winter chills of Low. There is more loss here than on any previous Sodastream record; more emptiness, desolation and brokenhearted bruises; more shrugged shoulders and head bent to the night sky. Through it all however the inescapable warmth in Karl Smith’s voice prevents things from descending into brooding self-pity. Through the hate and sorrow, hope is still here, and that’s always a reassuring thing to know.

Next up is ‘Guitar Miniature’, which is a brief interlude from the North Sea Orchestra’s eponymous debut for Oof! Records. A strange and peculiar beast it is too, being all classically trained and suffused with the spirit of mythic England’s landscapes. There are echoes of Britten and Tennyson, Vaughan Williams and Vernon Elliott (he of the Ivor The Engine theme and music for Noggin The Nog), and whilst it’s all very proficient and musically ‘pure’, I can’t help but feel it lacks a warmth and soul that, say, Rachels similarly orchestrated efforts have had in the past. Just the thing to soundtrack Guardian readers’ dinner parties, then.

Much more to my tastes is the Slides collection by Epic 45 on Make Mine Music. Like labelmates July Skies, for the past seven years Epic 45 have been quietly documenting the contemporary English rural environment in music. It’s the audio equivalent to, say, a Richard Long walk (my copy in fact came with a Polaroid taken whilst walking with July Skies’ Antony Harding) or an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture in that it’s transitory and yet concrete in the same breath; is full of fragile beauty that is both in harmony with nature and that challenges it through the use of electronics and computer technology. The titles are evocative in themselves: ‘(Re)Sculpted by Winter’, ‘Between Woodland’, ‘Roads and Paths’, ‘Looking Down a Hill’ and ‘History vs The Future’, which gives a perfect summation of where Epic 45 are coming from. Equally telling is the track ‘For Virginia Astley’, for her From Gardens Where We Feel Secure set from 1983 has been the stepping off point for many who would explore the possibilities of suburban and rural aural landscapes. And let’s not forget that Astley recorded the essential ‘Spring Is Grey’ with Vic Godard.

Epic 45 quietly capture the magic of the recording process; the mystical essence of recording as alchemy. It’s about capturing moments, of encapsulating memory into sound that creeps forward with you over the years. As such it’s unmistakably a Pop impulse, for what is Pop about if not those moments and memories? The soft touch of the morning dew on outstretched palms, the ache of lip lifted on lip, the shiver of a shoulder pressed close and a flow of warm impossibility. Epic 45 glisten like jewels on a forest floor; a treasure that I for one hold close to my heart.

Complete change of tack now with a track from the Random Portraits Of The Home Movie set by Head Like A Kite. The debut solo effort from Sushirobo guitarist and Pattern 25 label co-owner Dave Einmo, the album samples sounds from Super 8 movies that his parents shot in the late 1970s, which he then weaves into a tapestry of blips, beats, mellotrons, cellos and of course guitars. To say it’s a solo record though is to be disingenuous, for Einmo is joined by a variety of musicians from his native Seattle, including Graig Markel and Barbara Trentlage from Crooked Fingers, Sushirobo band mate Clay Martin, drummers David Weeks and Darius Minwalla (who have played with Kinski and The Posies, amongst others) and Asya of the resplendent Smoosh. It’s perhaps obviously Asya’s contribution to ‘Noisy At The Circus’ that marks it out as the track for this month’s mix, but really any of the 15 tracks would have been equally fitting.

Now I’m as much a fan of angular guitar ‘post-punk’ as anyone, but you know it can get a bit wearing to have a constant bombardment of such sounds generated by a million chancer boy bands who really have no clue. This is one of the reasons I loved the likes of The Pipettes to begin with. Their frame of reference was so much cooler, going back to the roots of Pop’n’Roll and neatly sidestepping the obvious avenues being exploited by those whose brains struggled to conceive of anything outside the terrifyingly narrow scoope of the trend du jour. So it is similarly rewarding to hear Cardiff’s The Loves, whose ‘Xs and Os’ is a terrific one minute fifty slab of rollicking good fun that blends The Monkees with The Seeds. Play it again, and again, and again, and look out for the forthcoming (and aptly titled) second album Technicolour. The Loves are a slinky, sleek (but not too sleek) conflagration from the garage underground with laser beams aimed at your heart.

There’s a similar feel to The Bicycles’ The Good, The Bad and The Cuddly album. This Toronto based troupe have been sweethearts of their home town for some time now, and rightly so, for their rambunctious noise is as righteous and raucous as it is sweet and salacious. The Bicycles are some madly infectious melange of a host of influences, from the garage punk fervour of The Sonics to the manufactured bubblegum Pop perfection of The Monkees and The Archies and with a host of other nods of reverence in between (notably to The Kinks). And if you were in any doubt as to where they were coming from, there is a cover of ‘Cuddly Toy’ to put you on the right track. Naturally I’m being hopelessly hypocritical to take the afore-mentioned ‘post-punk’ chancers to task over their fashion-led myopia of influence whilst praising The Bicycles almost as narrow field of reference, but the point is that The Bicycles reference points are so much cooler; their sound suggests a genuine infatuation with the sources rather than just play-by-numbers regurgitation of second or third hand copies. Hell, put simply, The Bicycles sound like they are having a whale of a time making records. They sound like they are investing their songs with love and devotion, excitement and unbridled enthusiasm for that magic The Lovin’ Spoonful sang about so long ago. And really, when it all boils down, isn’t that what really counts?

So how else could I have followed a song called ‘B-B-Bicycles’ by a band called The Bicycles but with a tune called ‘Bicycleride’? The fact that it’s a glorious throwaway explosion of Pop genius that sounds like a great lost Tiger Trap song is of course a marvellous bonus. Performed by the already split and fabulously titled The Never Invited To Parties, this is the kind of magnificent temporary jewel that Pop should be all about: kids thrashing their lives out for two and half minutes with lungs full of helium and hearts full of Lucozade. The fact that the band name and song title could have been beamed in from my own teenaged experience has no bearing on the matter at all… It constantly amazes me that there seem to be hordes of Swedish kids hell bent on making noises that sound like they were raised on a diet of mid 80s jangling unpop, but I’m so glad they are.

The Never Invited To Parties in fact kick off another stream of Swedish Pop on this month’s mix. Next up are After School Sports and ‘Almost Left My BF f’, which is one minute twenty of tinkling tinny keyboards and a detached, fabulously flimsy vocal. Imagine Trixie’s Big Red Motorcycle and Marine Girls playing Sarapoly on the bedroom floor and you’re close.

Altogether more muscular are The Tough Alliance, whose cover of Primal Scream’s epochal ‘Velocity Girl’ seems to me to be the perfect summation of contemporary Swedish Pop: dual infatuations with UK underground independent Pop from the mid ‘80s and disco beat electro glitter. The Tough Alliance swagger and pout like there’s no tomorrow and I have to say I love them for it. Their ‘The New School’ set is a non-stop upbeat blast that’s as infectious as it is sharp, and should by rights be in every hipster’s burgeoning collection of Scandinavian Pop sensations.

Ditto The Lovekevins, whose debut album looks like it will be out in January 07, and who have a new 7” sneaking out in November. In the meantime I have been making do with some solo tracks by band member Fredrik (slag off MySpace all you want, but it can be a source of some great underground sounds). Pick of the bunch for this mix is ‘1986’, if only for the fact that it explicitly makes that connection back to the era of the aforementioned UK independent Pop so beloved of the Swedes these days. In reality though it has more in common with Magnetic Fields circa Charm Of The Highway Strip, and that is no bad thing of course. Lyrics include references to bicycles (as you may have noted, this is a particular theme that is always guaranteed to catch my attention) and badgers, which in my mind I associate with the Jasmine Minks’ epic ‘Cold Heart’ and which I’m sure is no coincidence. If the new Lovekevins songs are even close to being this good then we are surely in for a rare treat. I for one can’t wait.

The final entry in this month’s Swedish slot comes courtesy of Fanfarlo with the lead track from their ‘Talking Backwards’ single which is out on a limited edition green vinyl 7” on Fortuna Pop on October 16th. Strictly speaking though Fanfarlo are at least partly a London entity, with the group coalescing in the city around 23 year old Swede Simon Aurell. With all the fuss over the likes of I’m From Barcelona at the moment, it’s maybe no surprise that Fanfarlo have been feted by A&R men from bigger labels, particularly since both groups appeared on the excellent How Does It Feel To Be Loved compilation (a collection that one can’t help but feel will help to define a new era of Indiepop in much the same way the NME’s C86 tape did twenty years ago – and you can take that accolade any way you deisre). Certainly Fanfarlo have a sound that would appeal to many Indiekid’s aesthetic; there are echoes of Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!… all the names the hipsters love to drop. There is also, however, a flavour of great old New Zealand / Antipodean Pop, like Straitjacket Fits, The Verlaines and The Chills, and if those references don’t get you intrigued then you have no soul, or sense.

Also out on the Fortuna Pop label is a new single by The Butterflies Of Love. I can’t believe it’s been eight years since they first appeared with ‘Rob A Bank’. Man, how time flies. I remember hearing about the group first through the Belle and Sebastian ‘Sinister’ mailing list and instantly loving the facts that one, they sounded nothing like B&S and that two, they sounded exactly like B&S. By which I mean that they managed to conjure something of the spirit of those times, which for me were inevitably tied up with the songs of Stuart Murdoch, and in the same moment being something entirely different. I loved the fact that they sounded skinny and sexy. I loved how they reminded me of when I first heard Pavement, which was on a beach in Troon; a totally unexpected pleasure to be sure. For a while it looked like the world might agree about The Butterflies of Love. Melody Maker said they were the best new band in America and had them as one of the top ten bands to watch out for in the new millennium. Which only goes to show… I mean, how quaint it seems to be remembering such things now: a new millennium, Melody Maker… You blink and the world slips away from you. Weird. But now The Butterflies of Love are back with a new album scheduled for an early 2007 release and ‘Orbit Around You’ ready to storm the singles charts. Well, we can dream. They still sound skinny and sexy; a strange troupe of psychedelic explorers making a noise that nods back and forwards to the likes of Rain Parade and Green On Red, or to the aforementioned Pavement and Sebadoh. All of which means they still sound terrific. It’s good to have them back.

Now I know very little about The Positions aside from the fact that they had a rather lovely track called ‘Summer Nights’ which made it onto an August mix, that they hail from Washington DC and that they have an album called Bliss! out on the yesboyicecream label. I also know that Bliss! is an aptly titled album, for it is full of effervescent Pop gems that sparkle like C’s eyes in the autumnal sun. There are blasts of all kinds of splendid reference points too, from Dexys to The Crystals to Beulah to Language of Flowers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also remind me very strongly of fellow DC dwellers Velocity Girl (and not just because former Velocity Girl member Archie Moore was on production duties), which is no bad thing of course. For the younger readers, Velocity Girl were a fabulous supercharged sherbert Pop act of the ‘90s who had a handful of terrific singles on Slumberland and made three albums for Sub Pop that demonstrated that label’s move beyond the oh so prevalent grunge with which they became infamous. The Positions are ones to watch for sure, and Bliss! deserves to be right up there in all indiepop lovers end of year charts.

H Bird meanwhile hail from somewhere near the sun, and their ‘Pink Lights and Champagne’ has been available as a free download from Dogbox records for a good few weeks now. It’s a gorgeous synthesiser led piece recorded with Ian Catt of St Etienne and Field Mice fame, and that really ought to give you a clue as to what it sounds like. Throw in the fact that Kate Dornan of Fosca and Scarlet’s Well is the voice and hey, I hope you can guess it sounds pretty special. It reminds me of dancing the night away in darkened rooms at the start of the ’90s to groups like Golden, dreaming of glamour and stolen kisses. That, and catching the last bus home, blinking through an alcohol mist and feeling the ghosts of beautiful fingers entwined.

I get something of the same feelings from listening to The Damon Lessons, the debut album from Arcata, California based The Ian Fays who end this month’s mix with the delectable ‘It's Okay To Use The F-Word In A Break-Up Song’. It’s a sense of seeing a series of pasts come strolling up the garden path; of watching a whole bank of screens play back snatches of memory from forty years. Like seeing five-minute infatuations and afternoon obsessions drift in and out of my mind, gently cajoling and teasing. By which I mean they look like everything I ever fell in love with. In one photo we see just socks and shoes and it reminds me of a shot we used in an age-old fanzine called Fire Raisers. It was illustrating a story about 1980’s indie fashionistas as I recall. Not that I’m suggesting Ian Fays are fashionistas, or if I am, that it’s a bad thing. Too many groups pay no attention to the fact that they are a group and as a result look terrible. And you can moan all you want about it being the music that matters, but you’d be wrong of course. So if we were going on image alone it would be tempting to group the Ian Fays in with the likes of The Pipettes or the Chalets. Musically however, they are altogether more brittle and precious. Gently strummed and plucked guitars, eerie strings and child like glockenspiels float in the mix whilst a disembodied voice drifts around weaving ribbons of bloodied beauty. At times it recalls early acoustic Throwing Muses or Kristin Hersh’s solo efforts, or Joanna Newsom without the harp and the hippy tendencies. Darkness never looked (or sounded) so pretty.

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett