Got Me Hypnotized – Is Bliss

The Is Bliss story so far, as witnessed by Enjoy Yourself!

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Enjoy Yourself!


Nearly 2 ½ years ago Enjoy Yourself! teamed up with Is Bliss for the first time at a small venue in the bands’ hometown of Portsmouth after we were tipped off by a close friend that this was a band to look out for. We provided our trademark psychedelic oil wheel lighting that night and also a few months later, with added video projections, on the larger stage of the Wedgewood Rooms. We were immediately struck by the bands sound; even that far back the three-piece seemed accomplished with unique touches and a presence about them, that little something extra that bands need to stand out. By that time, they had released their first EP, the 5 track ‘Velvet Dreams’ on Club AC30 records. It really was a fantastic start to a recording career! ‘Morning Sun’ features brittle layers of guitar, faraway echoey vocals underpinned by a driving, in your face bassline and hyperactive drumming; all elements that defined their sound at the time. ‘Realise’ is a great showpiece for Sam Speakman’s drumming style, lots of fills, always something happening. The vocals are again dreamy, wistful and yearning as the transition is made from shoegazey psychedelia into a harder-edged rock sound. ‘Truth’ has a bassline that hits hard and for me sums up Dean Edwards’ approach – there is menace and aggression coiled up here complimenting the spiraling fuzzed up guitar sound of Jimmy Stuart, who also handles vocals for the band. Side two starts with ‘Ocean Blue’; the guitar seems to just bleed emotion and feeling, soaring vocals over what seems like a multitude of guitars leads to a crescendo and then simmers along into beautiful spangly psychedelia and always brings a smile to my face. ‘Lure’ has been a staple ending of the live set for a long time and rightly so, it’s a beautiful piece of music; it starts with a trademark Dean Edwards bassline and skittering ice cold guitar lines before exploding gloriously; poignant and slightly melancholy and then it reaches for the stars and just flies…so typical of Jimmy’s guitar playing, an outpouring of emotion in a wasted kaleidoscopic fashion… The drawn-out ending to this song just gets me every time – a timeless, cosmic wide open sound; mind- expanding as real true psychedelia used to be and should be; quite simply just a stunning track.

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2017 was a busy year for Is Bliss, starting off early with a couple of appearances at the Joiners in Southampton and a support slot at the legendary 100 Club in London that will go down as….well let’s just say not so legendary and one to put down to experience (although no fault of the band or of ours as our attempts to add some colour and verve to the place were thwarted!). Their follow up EP ‘The Honeycomb Explosion’ came out in May but before release date they blagged a guest appearance opening for The Jesus & Mary Chain in the comparatively cavernous Bournemouth O2 Academy. Despite an early start time there was a decent crowd present and those that were there took note and clearly enjoyed it. They sounded huge and expansive and seemed at ease on a larger stage, a good contingent of hardcore supporters of the band were present and made themselves known; all in all a real triumph of a night and the band were certainly buzzing after the event. As we all were in fact! Another hurdle jumped; playing big stages is not going to be an issue for Is Bliss.

The EP was another brilliant affair, another step forward; retaining their characteristic sound but building on it. Opener ‘Someone’ immediately increases the heaviness; a swaggering bass line, frantic drumming and jangly guitars seemingly picking up the transcendental feel where ‘Lure’ left off. Jimmy seems to be able to conjure these expressive guitar sounds at will. With the vocals vulnerable and bruised it’s a recognisable Is Bliss feel, never a straightforward structure, always rising and pushing skywards.

‘Alive (Baby Come On)’ starts slower, a ponderous bass, spits of colourful guitar, it builds gradually before hitting the heights with a barrage of fuzzed out guitar, vocals stretched and raw. As a single side to an EP that takes some beating! On the flip ‘Into A Dream’ is yet another change; summery sitar pop with exuberant drumming and a bouncy bass sound but still with that harder edge lurking. ‘Tomorrow’ is a percussion led dream of a track, tripped out vocals over the bongos, a real classic 60s feel. It’s certainly no straightforward rock song, the subtle elements of experimentation a taste of things to come I feel. The record closes with ‘Inner Soul’; it’s a heavenly melancholy piece of music, sheets of guitar noise and a beautiful solo hitting the spot. Overall the EP, as well as the band in general, combine shades of the 60s as well as the 90s; a head on collision between vintage psych, shoegaze and pop and all with a unique sounding take all of their own.

Altogether the two EPs make a for a totally satisfying body of work; a solid and inspirational start to a career. Everything about them is spot on; the artwork and the coloured vinyl are both of great quality and of course the songs; not a weak track in evidence.

Things went up a level at the 2017 Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Is Bliss had the job of opening proceedings in the main room at an ungodly mid-afternoon time that could easily have resulted in most people still being elsewhere. The set started well, the sound was great and the band seemed relaxed. I was stood fairly near the front and took a look behind me to see if anyone much had turned up….to my surprise the place was packed and just kept on filling up, clearly the bands reputation and the two EPs had fired the assembled imaginations and they lapped it up. The band absolutely nailed it that day and there was a buzz around after the event for what was definitely one of the stand out performances of a great weekend. I sent the band a message afterwards telling them that they’d be headlining it in 3 years, and I’ll stick to that prediction; whether it ends up being in Liverpool or not they will reach that level I’m sure.

We caught up with the band for a couple of dates in Spring 2018 in Southampton and Reading to find that they have been through some sort of metamorphosis, shedding some of the more jangly and pop touches and discovering a harder edged sound. The set starts with three tracks that haven’t yet been released, in itself a show of confidence from the band in the newer material. Overall the vocals are rougher and rawer and have an added desperation to them and there’s some good emotive screaming…Jimmy has developed a very decent anguished scream, as if he needs to exorcise some sort of demons, and I’ve always been a fan of a good scream!

The new songs (provisionally titled) ‘Fall’, ‘Say’ and one that is as yet untitled combine dreamlike crystalline multi-textured psychedelia and Armageddon-like wall of noise overload and again capture that 90s vintage/retro feel while at the same time totally destroying it! Is Bliss play with a more confident swagger these days; they are in full flow, hammering it out with intent. Jimmy as always is hunched over the effects pedals, a sound alchemist conjuring up far out epic sounding melodies and solos at will, endlessly inventive. And then, after a couple of old favourites, also played with a darker edge and a hint of suppressed fury they really change pace for ‘Rampage’ (it won’t be called this on the new album, but you’ll know it when you hear it!). It’s a pulsing throbbing heavy duty rock song; faster, darker and nastier then anything they’ve spat out before; fucked up wasted and twisted with a Stooges snarl and swagger. It invokes a past they never experienced but they’ve captured the essence of it in this furious howl of a song. ‘Lure’ follows, the other side of the band, a different kind of bliss to finish the set. Is Bliss don’t do massively long sets which might seem like an issue for a band you like a lot but I think they get it just right; they ensure that everything is top notch, it all fits together well and flows nicely and you’re always left wanting more. All the more reason to go to the next gig…

The story so far ends in August 2018 with another hometown gig. It seems traditional now for these events to descend into chaos and this one was no exception; last time we had bass guitars being thrown about and this time it’s the turn of Jimmy to go for a bit of a crowd surf and try very hard to destroy the drum kit with his guitar! There’s plenty of mayhem from the crowd throughout a slightly longer set which ends with a mutant cover version; The Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ in an unholy coupling with Spacemen 3’s ‘Revolution’.

And now we wait…for the first album. It will be with us within the next few weeks ( listen to the first track released ‘All I See Is You’ – another surprising twist and change of pace and style – on the video above). All the new songs I’ve heard live, sound like instant classics and knowing the attention to detail that the band pay to their music the recorded versions will be sublime. I have a very strong feeling it will be a legendary record, one that will be talked about for years; I fully expect it to be a daring and potent release and I’m hoping that they’ve let themselves go and allowed themselves to experiment and give their musical and songwriting talents free reign.

I’m also eagerly awaiting a lengthy tour to promote it and many more opportunities to go on the Rampage! There is a star quality to Is Bliss, embryonic at the moment but they’re coming…catch them this year and watch musical history being made…

Words: Gary Powell for Enjoy Yourself!
Photos: Dave Taylor for Enjoy Yourself!
Lights: Enjoy Yourself!

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Gary Powell

A dub & reggae obsessed punk rocker with a dark history in the goth underworld and European horror hacking through the psychedelic jungle and searching for new musical highs... Leads a secret voodoo cult in the Dorset countryside if you're ever in the area...

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