Friday, August 18, 2017

A Penny Change From Two Pound Coins: Emily and Pacific

Ah, I well remember buying Creation’s “Doing It For The Kids” compilation LP: and the fact that as a schoolboy, the £1.99 price tag (as the sticker says, "for the price of a 7” single”) was absolutely crucial, as I could only sate my appetite for new records by sticking strictly to discounts.

For me and a few of my mates the record opened a door into the label roster (this was Creation phase two, post-Pastels though with a few other fanzine favourites, like the Jasmine Minks and Primal Scream, still hanging on for dear life). But while my friends clustered around the heavy hitters of the House of Love or My Bloody Valentine, I couldn't help but be intrigued by some of the other artists then on board Alan McGee’s good ship. These included the ‘house band’, Biff Bang Pow! - whose “She Paints” here began a slow burning journey of discovering their (somewhat patchy, but at their best incredibly under-rated) discography - and of course the Razorcuts, a band we've always loved, and who scenesters oft forget managed two-long players for the self-styled “President” after being poached from the Subway Organization. The irascible Ron Rom, when reviewing this comp for Sounds, spent much of his word count rubbishing the Razors’ contribution (the admittedly uber-effete “Brighter Now”), which could perhaps have been better deployed bigging up other bands who needed attention.

I seemed to be the only boy in town who liked Emily’s contribution, “Reflect On Rye”. The vocal was moody and lugubrious, almost comically so, although joining the dots I realised this was the same band whose “The Old Stone Bridge” flexi I’d once borrowed from a classmate and committed to C90. But this time, I felt I detected first glimmerings of magic; this two minutes & ten seconds of sheer yearning, underpinned by a breezy, organic guitar strum, fitted perfectly with my teenage sense of outsiderness.

In the months that followed, when we should probably have been revising or something, we discovered a little more about Emily (remember, these were pre-internet days). The LP only gave the songwriting credit to one Oliver Jackson. We found out they were Welsh, and had once been called See Emily Play. It also transpired that the song was taken from a 12” EP on Creation called “Irony”, which also included a re-recorded version of “Old Stone Bridge”. But once we tracked down “Irony” the standout song for me was “Mad Dogs” which, unlike those, was uptempo and bright, a song that I think indie kids would have gone ga-ga for had Guy Chadwick penned it; and that deep, sonorous voice worked wonders for me again. I read now that “Mad Dogs” is seen as badly produced, and not optimally played (the drummer gets particular stick in this regard), but to this day I can’t find any fault with it.

By the time we’d completed these researches, it seemed that Emily had apparently been dropped by Creation. But, happily, there would be more to discover. We stumbled across their next outing, “Stumble”, a 7” on the fairly legendary Esurient label. On any level, it was a step up: beginning as low, almost eavesdropped rumblings of vocal and folksy strum, it gradually flowered into a darkly jangling pop song, gaining momentum and instrumentation: drums, piano, flute, then a sudden and dizzying saxophone, the effect of which on us was not so far from the way that Sarah Curtis’ violin used to take King Of The Slums to the next level. Yet somehow Emily remained subtle and enigmatic, as well as urgent and primal. On the B-side were two more accomplished numbers, the knowing post-Smiths dreamabout “Rachel” and “Boxing Day Blues”, a gorgeous, laidback, classically-tinged ballad that now brings to mind two of the truly great bands that would follow them, Blueboy and Hood. This time the songs are credited simply to Emily, although the ‘guest’ musicians (Gian, Anna and Steve) get shout-outs too.

At this point the opposite happened of what should have happened. Instead of being hailed and feted, Emily simply fell off the radar. And that seemed to be all, as was the wont for so many bands who had skirted with the plugholes of indie obscurity. But then, a year or so later again, we found ourselves reading a ravishing fanzine review (I think in Far Out and Fishy ‘zine) of what was apparently a whole, utterly-out-of-the-blue new Emily release. It was a terrifically written piece, as always, describing an avant-garde and sprawling sounding LP called “Rub Al Khali” issued by a fledgling and super-obscure imprint called Everlasting and it made the record sound strange, exotic, deeply flawed and yet unmissable. Trouble was, it may as well only have been released on the Moon. No record shop had it, no friends owned it, and as years and then decades passed, nobody ever re-issued it. I remained grimly determined, but realistically was prepared to accept that *hearing* the damn blighter just might never happen.

25 years on, and not for the first time, Firestation Records of Berlin came to my rescue. Not only does their double-CD “A Retrospective” deliver a first digital outing for this lost gem of an album but it packages it up with a host of unreleased Emily demos and outtakes (plus, by way of no small bonus, the tracks from the Esurient EP).

And ‘tis a sign of Chris Fish’s talents that “Rub Al Khali” is everything we expected it to be from his write-up a cool quarter of a century ago. Seven tracks ranged louchely over an hour of unhurriedly unfolding indie / folk / rock / jazz / soul, “Rub” is the proverbial lighthouse in the desert, an expansive, ambitious and at times impossibly fabulous suite of semi-improvised torch songs. On highlights “Foxy” (which we could easily imagine as part of the late, great Guru’s “Jazzmatazz” series) and the soulful, white hot “48 Today” an out-of-this-world female vocal adds yet another layer of atmosphere; on “Americana” the amplifiers throb to ‘60s-nodding paroxysms of electrified riffs and guitar bliss; on the closing, 13½-minute “Allah”, all senses converge to be tingled as Emily’s new age stylings positively encircle, *captivate* the listener. Those that decry this as ‘prog’ miss every point in the book: long songs alone do not a prog record make, and artists from Misty In Roots to Amayenge over the years have amply proved how a ten-minute song can feel as light as a feather if the attitude and quality are right. As many of their contemporaries limped on, adopting shufflebeats and insisting there'd always been a dance element to their music, Emily were free and clear, in a field of their own. And with the benefit of hindsight, it feels right that they couldn’t, didn’t try to follow what is probably their masterpiece.

In contrast, the rest of “A Retrospective” is inconsistent, to say the least: copyright matters having presumably done for the inclusion of “Irony” (although the four tracks from that do appear on Creation Soup volume five) the other high points (and, to be fair, they are very high) are provided by the jazzy showmanship of the delectable “Waiting For A Letter” and the single that should have been, “Merri-Go-Round” (which, incidentally, features some amazing drumming – our love for “Mad Dogs” notwithstanding, they had long dispensed with the original drummer by now). What remain are largely lo-fi acoustic demos, and though a few (“New One”) scream with unrealised potential, most are inchoate offcuts, perhaps left to fester in the attic for good reason.

There is, however, no excuse for any of us missing out on “Stumble” or “Rub Al Khali” for a second time, so please don’t sleep on this one.

* * * * *

Also appearing on side two of “Doing It For The Kids” were an unheralded outfit from Brighton called Pacific, who doled up a ditty called “Jetstream”. This was a rather genteel affair, all ocean spray and xylophone, yet the use of a sample from a House of Commons debate on the sinking of the Belgrano hinted at darker textures. “Jetstream” felt harder to love than “Reflect On Rye”, but yet the plaintive vocal and crystalline beauty of the thing compelled us to investigate further (again, the lone credit to “Pacific” on the centre label didn’t get us off to a flyer with our research).

Eventually we learned that the track was culled from a 12” EP called “Sea Of Sand”, which kicked off with a brace of great, if grown-up songs called “Barnoon Hill” and “I Wonder” that, like Emily in their later incarnations, were unafraid to co-opt strings and brass; although Pacific sounded much more controlled and clinical than Emily, especially when they added spoken word and sequencer into the mix. And there was a sense of almost permanent wistfulness: it sounded like the vocal was ever on the point of breaking into tears, whilst many of the lyrical themes didn’t feel far off “Reflect On Rye”. Again, all this was manna to me then (er, and now). And you can relive my teenage years (sort of) by downloading “Barnoon Hill” for free, here.

“Sea Of Sand” was followed by another 12” single called “Shrift”, which came in a gorgeous sleeve and saw Pacific up the gears with a sequencer-led, almost New Orderish number and for our money, minor classic which - over eight minutes - mingled bubbling synth lines with touches of brass, strings and woodwind and a desperate, naked, Orchids-style vocal; yet on the flip Pacific went for two ambient, lowkey, neoclassical instrumental pieces. The sleeve credited a name this time – “DENNISS” – which also appeared on the sleeve when Creation bundled the two EPs onto a single CD (also adding the shorter 7” version of “Shrift”) and called it “Inference”. This time the spoken-word artist and guest violin player got namechecked too, but there the trail ran cold.

Again, we were left in the dark for more than 20 years, until the indefatigable Roque decided to do an interview online with the singer from a mega-unknown south coast 80s indiepop combo called the Doris Days. That man, one Dennis Wheatley, confirmed that the Doris Days’ disappearance coincided with the birth of Pacific, the band’s reincarnation when they signed to Creation. And that far from disappearing from view after “Inference”, Pacific’s singer/songwriter remained very active in the music industry (albeit that we would not really hear his rather touching vocals again). This was not before Pacific had been paid to do some recordings for EMI which, it seems, came to naught.

As part of a duo called Atlas with Tony Newland, Dennis released a couple of 12”s on Pandephonium in the early ‘90s, “Noontide” and “Compass Error”. The former even featured a ‘Pacific’ remix. The latter, later remixed by Menace and Fluke amongst others, is a quite brilliant slab of acid house-influenced techno that, ironically, Alan McGee would probably love to have courted around the time Creation released its blissed-out “Keeping The Faith - A Creation Dance Compilation". (Plus, the sampled intro to "Compass Error (East)" reminds us of the Michael Heseltine 'vocal' used all the way back on "Jetstream"...) A later single, “Beauty”, would emerge on the Jackpot label, a version of which would later appear on a John Digweed album.

In the 2000s, working with Nina Miranda, Dennis released a clutch of records as – appropriately – Shrift, with an album, “Lost In A Moment” and a remix EP. This duo were marginally closer to the coffee table – downtempo/electronica with ghostly vocals, but the songs still shuffle around pristinely, and there are some insanely pretty strings that flutter around the mix.

And in 2004, Dennis contributed a remix in his own name to Paul Haig and Billy Mackenzie’s “Give Me Time”, which came out on One Little Indian and even features guest MCing from Buzz B. The original “Give Me Time” is beautiful , soulful and harrowing: the remix is sparse, atmospheric and spacey, with the late Mackenzie’s voice taking on a new plaintiveness. We’re rather pleased, given that it’s a collaboration between at least four different artists that we’d admired over the years, even if we would probably never discovered its existence had Roque not decided to chase down the remaining Doris Days.

* * * * *

All of which goes to show that there was quite a lot to discover under the surface, however unassuming our first encounter with these bands. Surely David Cavanagh’s (unfairly maligned) magnum opus on Creation Records might have mentioned either band, at least in passing, in its 584 pages? No, not even a footnote. 

in love with these times, in spite of these times top 10 Emily tunes: Stumble. Mad Dogs. Foxy. Merri-Go-Round. Reflect On Rye. 48 Today. Boxing Day Blues. Allah. Waiting For A Letter. Americana.

in love with these times, in spite of these times top 10 Pacific / Dennis Wheatley tunes: Shrift. Barnoon Hill. Give Me Time.  I Wonder. Another Day (the Doris Days). Jetstream. Plus any 3 of the several hundred million mixes of "Compass Error"!

We also contemplate the legacy of Creation Records (and a few of its other unsung heroes) here.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

ILWTT.76-84 "Positive, Political and Too Good To Be True": UK Roots, Reggae & Related

Every so often we get a bit taken over by UK reggae, and spend many weeks knee-deep in the archives, trying to piece together as much homegrown roots output as we can find from that fertile period when it seemed impossible for any band playing this stuff to put a foot wrong.

This double-CD set we burned as a treat for ourselves therefore sees us break from fantasy label compilations in order to put together a playlist which we really think showcases the sheer beauty and strength of many British releases of what, in retrospect, feels a golden era. The usual rules applied though – no more than one track per combo!

If we'd stuck to a single disc, by the way, it might not have comprised that many numbers, given the propensity of producers from that era to max out on somewhat dubtastic 12” extended mixes: between them, the longest four songs on this add up to about three-quarters of an hour. The disc titles aside (they seemed fitting) we’ve steered clear of the reggae-style tunes and dubs which the Clash or the Ruts or the Slits or SLF or even Killing Joke turned their hands to: not because we don’t dig them, but because this exercise was about leaving our old comfort zones behind and embarking upon a proper voyage of discovery. It’s that voyage that we wanted to share.

It is not always easy to source this material, especially if you are a total amateur like me, picking up a lone dusty slice of vinyl in a secondhand shop every few months. So we’ve tried to indicate below where we’ve sourced stuff from. However, for the ‘bigger’ artists there are still reasonably widely available back catalogues. And, relatively recently, some absolutely *essential* work has been done by Bristol Archive Records and Reggae Archive Records, curating the Bristol and Midlands scenes of the time and bringing them vividly back to life. We’re far from the only ones, I suspect, who are profoundly grateful to them, and as you’ll see our list owes a fair bit to their labours. 

* * * * *

Disc one: Kick It Over

X-O-Dus "English Black Boys"

Now we’ve raved about this before, the sublime extended-mix of this tune from Mancunians X-O-Dus, released on Factory Records (as we remarked then, it’s kind of Dennis Bovell channels Martin Hannett). When they sing, plaintively yet disbelievingly, about those who are seeking their repatriation, it still sounds incredibly raw and harrowing. You can pick this up on 12” in Soho for about £30, or – if you’re not an oligarch of some kind - try and pick up LTM’s fairly comprehensive X-O-Dus compilation album for a more competitive price.

Aswad "Pressure"

If you only know them for their sundrenched 1980s number one single, “Don’t Turn Around”, don’t panic: west London’s Aswad have a highly impressive back catalogue which is 1000% less cheesy, and which between ’76 and ’82 is well-nigh unimpeachable. Unlike a couple of the other tunes they recorded for their landmark first John Peel Session in 1976, this song would not end up on their superb, horn-flecked 1981 breakthrough album, "New Chapter". However, it’s worth trying to find the Aswad BBC Sessions CD in order to hear it. Don’t forget – as we nearly did - that there was also a brilliant self-titled LP in between those first Peel Sessions and “New Chapter”: songs like the magnificent “I A Rebel Soul” and “It’s Not Our Wish” never get old, as they sound the beating heart of Ladbroke Grove.

Black Symbol “Trouble Trouble”

Led by the legendary Fatman, Birmingham’s incredibly soulful Black Symbol collective released a few singles in day, but may be chiefly recognised now for having been at the heart of the second city’s roots scene, in Handsworth. Indeed, in what turns out to have been a far-sighted move for posterity as well as a severely magnanimous gesture at the time, it was they who organised and paid for a host of other local musicians to record songs for two “Handsworth Explosion” compilation LPs in the early 1980s, which were released originally on Black Symbol’s own label and have now been combined on a single Reggae Archive compilation. Much more on those later.

Linton Kwesi Johnson "Bass Culture"

The finest performance poet we can remember on record, thanks in no small part to Dennis Bovell's bright, brass-fuelled arrangements and the way that LKJ's stentorian monotone drops in over the bass, in the vein of Prince Far-I's deliciously deadpan lilt. Much as we admire Benjamin Zephaniah (q.v.) there is no doubt that Johnson was not only a truth-teller supreme, but also the master of dub poetry: he should also, by rights, be a ‘national treasure’ now. Pleasingly, there are a host of LKJ albums still widely available on CD.

Eclipse “Blood Fi Dem”

More fire. Unearthed by Reggae Archive, this fabulous song was once a 7” A-side on Birmingham indie 021 Records, and now appears on Reggae Archive’s wider Midlands compilation, “The Midlands Roots Explosion” (a sister record of sorts to the three “Bristol Reggae Explosions” which is accurately if lengthily subtitled “Rastafari, Revolution and Repatriation: Roots Reggae from the Jamaican Diaspora in the English Midlands 1976 – 1984”). A strangely minimalist sleeve design too, like Factory on a tight budget. This was Eclipse’s third single, and also appeared on their lone album (now re-issued on Reggae Archive’s Eclipse CD, “Corrupted Society”).

Black Slate "Amigo"

A UK top ten hit, which is quite an achievement for a record that was neither a novelty tune nor a catchy chorus stapled to a reggae hook, but actually a fairly sincere paean to Jah (albeit a danceable one – even the European discotheques succumbed). The album of the same name is eminently trackdownable.

Black Beard "Cut After Cut"

Matumbi's Dennis Bovell would soon became the go-to man for pretty much everything, including mixing the Slits, LKJ and X-O-Dus, but this is from his incarnation as instrumental king on the very British dub outing "Strictly Dub Wize", which suggested he might be a match for the Jamaican masters. You can find the reissued Virgin CD if you look hard enough.

UB40 "Madam Medusa"

There are all sorts of reasons to be sceptical about what UB40 became, and their near-neighbours Steel Pulse clearly weren't very impressed, judging by BBC4's seriously ace "Reggae Britannia" documentary, but UB40’s "Signing Off" LP in 1980, with its big hit singles, is actually not bad at all. The music feels a little anaemic (especially the voice, the annoying tinny keyboards and the most crucial component of all, the bassline), but the songs are actually quite refined. None more so than their anti-Maggie rant, "Madam Medusa", which does the wider UK roots trick of marrying head-noddingly mellow music with vitriolic sentiment, and stretches the band's better traits over thirteen (gulp!) minutes.

Truths & Rights “New Language”

One feels that we ought to have heard rather more than a brace of tunes on the Handsworth Explosions from the now rather below-radar T&R syndicate, but both of their tracks are neatly clanging, echo-laden soliloquies which should be devoured by roots rockers and steppers alike.

The Cimarons "Willin'"

From UK veterans the Cimarons came this bass-heavy tie-in with the Rock Against Racism movement, which became a staple of their gigs in the later 1970s when the popular fight against the National Front – fought hand in hand with many of punk rock’s leading lights - was in the ascendancy. It fades in a bit bizarrely and extremely slowly, so much so that you are very likely to think that your speakers or headphones have given up the ghost, but once you can hear it, “Willin’” morphs into a rewarding listen. We often find ourselves seguing it into Steel Pulse’s “Jah Pickney – R.A.R”, for hopefully obvious reasons.

Musical Youth “Political”

Yes, them! This was on their first 7”, released on 021 records back in the days when they were labelmates with the Au Pairs and about to be picked up by John Peel (older readers will recall that within a year or so they were Number One in the ‘real’ charts). This line-up, when Frederick Waite snr was still on lead vocals as ‘token grown-up’, is the same one that recorded their first Radio One session for John Peel. “Political” is a captivating plea for employment - “We don’t want to be treated like pawns on a chess board / We want work” – that has very little in common with “Pass The Dutchie”, the song that would catapult them to fame, but I can guarantee you will not regret investigating it for a second.

Smiley Culture “Police Officer” (this is the 7” version, with the Reprobates’ “Participation Two” on the other side)

His sad (and, yes, “police related”) death inspired a great musical tribute from Joseph Cotton, and a truly atrocious one from Emily Capell, but his handful of cheeky chappy hit singles on Fashion Records in the 1980s – especially “Police Officer”, a true story about how Smiley evaded arrest after being flagged down under the infamous ‘sus’ law - filled us with happiness even then, and certainly do the same now. Annoyingly, however, it seems impossible to get hold of any of Smiley’s ‘product’ without scouring those secondhand racks – thankfully we’ve now sourced the 12s of this, his biggest hit, plus the great “Schooltime Chronicle” and “Cockney Translation”. A much-missed, and much underrated performer, Smiley came through the Saxon Sound System with Tippa Irie (another of our faves, and a later Fashion labelmate) back in the day.

Iganda “Slow Down”

This skilful, soothing yet modernist platter – it’s propelled along by a single booming bassline and punctuated by shards of ambient noise and vocal manipulation - comes from the flip of the very first 021 Records 7”, cased in a sleeve that looks more like a Ron Johnson record than anything this relaxingly powerful. So we’re rather hoping that Reggae Archive will be able to deliver the A-side, “Mark Of Slavery” (and the A-side of that Musical Youth single!) on a future Midlands Explosion volume… We’re also beginning to surmise that 021, named after the Birmingham dialling code at the time, is one of the best ‘lost’ labels ever.

Steel Pulse "Prodigal Son"

There is an amazing Top Of The Pops episode from 1978, frequently shown on BBC4, which starts with Buzzcocks doing "Love You More". You think it surely can't top that, but hey presto then you see Steel Pulse, performing their sole UK top 40 hit "Prodigal Son", from their seminal “Handsworth Revolution” album. “Prodigal Son”, which was also the first song on their first John Peel session earlier in the year, was the epitome of how roots could sound punchy and immediate, as well as being delectably laid-back. Mind you, as their albums go I think we may even prefer “Tribute To The Martyrs”, the follow-up to “Handsworth Revolution”, if that’s allowed. Steel Pulse were, over the course of those two long-players at least, the business.

A good overview, covering those LPs and more, is the new-ish Island compilation CD “Prodigal Sons”. Mind you, note that “The Midlands Roots Explosion”, if you somehow hadn’t already decided to buy it, features the rather gorgeous vocal and instrumental tracks from Steel Pulse’s very rare 1976 debut 7” on Concrete Jungle, “Kibudu-Mansatta-Abuku”: you won’t find *that* on many of their ‘greatest hits’.

Disc two: Justice Tonight

Mystic Foundation “Handsworth”

Secreted near the end of Handsworth Explosion volume two is this humdinger of a track from another glittering discovery, Mystic Foundation, decrying the ‘sus’ laws but celebrating “life in the ghetto”: it feels almost like a hymn of civil pride. In the aftermath of the Handsworth riots, the song is also very matter-of-fact about violent retaliation against racism. The Foundation were evidently a versatile bunch, as the three songs they have across the recent Reggae Archive re-releases are all rather different, yet equally accomplished.

Matumbi "Bluebeat & Ska"

The general view seems to be that Matumbi, formed in London, were the second largely UK-based reggae act, after the Cimarons but before Black Slate. They even had a dalliance with the UK top 40, with “Point Of View”. This infectious and melodic single, “Bluebeat & Ska”, while less heavy on the low frequencies than some of their ouevre, is incredibly pretty and affecting. Listening to it now, I'm always wanting to substitute its lyrics with, "whatever happened to / UK roots reggae..." An easy way in to Matumbi is probably their “Empire Road” ‘best of’.

Benjamin Zephaniah “Stop The War”

Inspirational as he’s undoubtedly been as a poet and statesman for his home city, we hadn’t found ourselves really tumbling for our Ben’s forays into music, even his first (and therefore presumably best) album “Rasta”, which we tracked down over the internet for a few quid. However, the sterling work of Reggae Archive means we now have his contributions to the two Black Symbol-curated Handsworth compilation LPs, “Unite Handsworth” and “Stop The War”, which are both *much* more like it. The war in question, in case you wondered, is the cold war, but as well as castigating Russia and the USA this is a much wider plea against nuclear proliferation.

Reggae Regular “Where Is Jah?”

A soulful, solid, seven from ’77 from Reggae Regular aka the Regulars aka the Reggae Regulars, now findable on i-Tunes via one of the Greensleeves compilations. In particular, this boasts some incredibly pretty ‘plinky plonk’ piano. The band apparently formed in south London, although for some reason I had always assumed they were from the Midlands…

Lion Youth "Three Million On The Dole"

It is not easy to find out too much about Lion Youth, whose "Love Comes And Goes" LP suggested him to be a tender crooner of lovers' rock, loosely in the style of Gregory Isaacs' "In Person". However, his "Rat A Cut Bottle" and "Three Million" singles and dubs, on the preposterously but fabulously named Virgo Stomach, are a little different, not to say very special. There is no mystery, however, as to what Lion Youth is railing against with this single: again though, there is a little mournful magic amidst the "doleful", sober tones. Should you want a vinyl copy of this and don’t want to get your fingers burned like we did, it’s worth noting that Juno Records (whom we'd highly recommend for techno and bass stuff too) have a re-issue of the 12” available for far less than you’d be charged on Berwick Street for a scratched-to-smithereens original.

Talisman "Dole Age (12” mix)"

Ten minutes of top-notch West Country roots. Bristol's marvellous Talisman released only two singles, all four tracks on which are exceptional. "Dole Age", released as a double A-side with the should-have-been-a-big-hit "Free Speech”, is a fully-realised, easy-paced rumination about poverty and boredom that then flits into a slinky dub section which also suggests they were not too fond of Mrs T ("Mrs Thatcher is a criminal... just get the woman out"). Little wonder it was an NME single of the week. There’s a Talisman compilation on Bristol Archive Records, also called “Dole Age”, which collects their singles and more, as well as making them labelmates with the Cortinas and er, Nautical William.

Zephaniah “The Music Business”

Firstly, this lot are nothing to do with Benjamin Zephaniah, as far as I can tell: they were “a band from Birmingham”, in the words of Mighty Mighty. This track, from vol. 1 of the Handsworth Explosion, is a lyrical precursor of Napalm’s “Enemy Of The Music Business” and Thrilled Skinny’s “Musik Biz Slime”: sentiment-wise, anyway. What it has that *they* don’t have is a beautiful, easy feel and a closing coda of blissed-out dub (also featuring a woodblock, a creaking door, and those things they always had in school music rooms where you scrape a wooden stick over some grooves). We prefer this even to the seemingly more feted “Free Man”, the group’s contribution to the Midlands Explosion comp.

Black Roots "Juvenile Delinquent"

Many of the bands on here got radio sessions, play and praise from John Peel, including their Bristolian contemporaries Talisman, but Black Roots were certainly amongst his favourites, and right at the centre of their city’s reggae scene. The “Juvenile Delinquent” single preys on those regular themes of disaffection, alienation and unemployment: again, the dubbier last minute or so is particularly thrilling. Black Roots hailed from the St.Paul’s area of Bristol, and it’s no coincidence that many of the groups mentioned in this post came from neighbourhoods that witnessed riots in the early 1980s: the lyrics amply demonstrate the poverty, tension and sheer frustration that was rampant in these ghettoised parts of inner cities at the time. NB Bristol Archive Records have a *truckload* of Black Roots re-issues on tap.

Capital Letters “Unemployed”

Flying the flag for unglamorous (even by West Midlands standards) Wolverhampton, Capital Letters threatened to get somewhere around the time of their “Headline News” album, and had a crossover-ish hit with “Smoking My Ganja”, which feels a bit like a novelty single in the face of some of their deeper outings. This song from the album shows them in more reflective mood: it’s mellow, if tinged with a melancholy that borders on desperation. Like “Juvenile Delinquent”, it’s also about the dangers and sadnesses of sheer boredom.

Sceptre “Living On Strong”

You may have worked out by now that the chances are, if you haven’t heard of a band on this list before, they were (a) from Handsworth – a neighbourhood which has somewhat bulldozed its way into our recent affections - and (b) bloody brilliant. Although the female-vocal led “Ancestors Calling”, the first song on the first Black Symbol Presents comp, has rightly accumulated plaudits, we love to give this one a spin too as it picks up on those quintessential themes of Armagideon and stopping the ‘fussing and fighting’. There's now a Sceptre CD on Reggae Archive, memorably called "Essence Of Redemption Ina Dif'rent Styley", which we're frankly going to have to purchase as soon as we've finished typing.

Poet & The Roots “Man Free (For Darcus Howe)”

An early pseudonym for Linton Kwesi Johnson (yes, and with Dennis Bovell at the studio controls), Poet & the Roots released a tremendous if claustrophobic one-off album on Virgin, “Dread Beat an’ Blood”, from which this is taken, a record which directly and uncompromisingly addressed the injustices being inflicted on the black community in our capital city at that time. It’s also renowned as the album (well, one of them) that predicted the Brixton riots.

Black Knight “Feeling”

Black Knight (yep – of Handsworth) came across as a little too gooey and lovelorn on their first Handsworth Explosion contribution, “Let’s Make Up”, but this one more than makes amends as it contemplates what might make the youth turn to crime. It’s also the final tune on the second and last Explosion. We’re going to get in trouble for saying this, but these Handsworth Explosion sets remind us a little of the Subway or even Airspace vinyl LP comps that helped define a (Bristol-centred) indie-pop scene later in the 1980s. But’s not going too far, we think, to see them as a loose equivalent…

Misty In Roots "Poor And Needy"

We’re determined this fantasy compilation finishes as strongly as humanly possible. So… 

Oh, Misty. If like us you only “properly” realized their worth in the 21st century, it seems ridiculously hard to find their stuff, unless you’re willing to pay sky-high prices… but over the last few years we have at least tracked down a clutch of the 12”s issued on their own People Unite label (People Unite Musicians’ Collective, to give it its full name), which we adore despite the fact that they hop, skip and jump, and the bass sounds like a foghorn through our stereo… 

Less "agit" than some of their contemporaries, Misty remain perhaps the greatest of the UK roots bands, and certainly, along with Steel Pulse, those most closely identified with the punk / roots crossover of the time. Indeed, between them Steel Pulse and Misty recorded 14 Peel Sessions, which made them the darlings of plenty a late night radio listener, casting their spell way beyond a narrow ‘roots’ audience. If you don’t fancy shelling out hundreds of pounds for various long-deleted CDs your best bet is to see if you can still find their “Roots Controller” set from 2001-ish, which includes a limited and fairly random bonus selection of their 1978-1983 outings (our favourite may be the sublime “Ireation”) but doesn’t have any of their wondrous singles (this eleven minute 12” A side marathon of “Poor And Needy”, the magical “Peace & Love”, the sparkling double-header of “Wandering Wanderer”/”Cry Out For Peace” or the remarkably jaunty Peel Session favourite “Own Them, Control Them”).

* * * * * 

That’s it. We *know* that we’re just scratching the surface, and we *know* that we’ve a hell of a lot to learn. We’re total ingénues in this genre. But that’s perhaps the most exciting thing, being aware that we’ve 40 years of catching up to do, and that even this deluge of stunning songsmithery, political anger and of spiritual artistry is just… the tip of the iceberg.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

ILWTT.08 "Hurt You And Kill You Inside": A Slumberland Records Compilation

Based in Oakland, Slumberland Records has been pumping out high quality releases by high quality bands for 25 years now, and we’re no more immune to their myriad charms than any other sensible human being on the planet. This is only the second of our label compilations to have any preponderance of songs released in the 21st century, which means we were able to pick over a few of our reviews of these records when they came out: we hope you’ll forgive us repeating ourselves.

Perhaps more than any other of the lists so far, this is one that reveals our personal favourites, and comes with a disclaimer that many of the label’s most hotly-touted bands and records are absent: it’s not that we don’t like them, just that we’ve built up stronger attachments to the songs below, often over many years…

And now, your starter for twenty-eight.

* * * * *

1. Hood “The Field Is Cut”

Yes, we’ve documented our love affair with Hood many times. Although Slumberland also gave a general release to Hood’s “Cabled Linear Traction” debut, we’ve reluctantly persuaded ourselves that as it originally came out on Fluff Records here in the UK, we won’t claim gems like “Norfolk” or “British Radars” for this compilation. Instead, we’ll dive straight into its follow-up, “Silent ‘88”, which we’re pretty sure was a Slumberland exclusive.

“The Field Is Cut” is a song I’ll always associate with first moving to London for work, back in ’96. I took a bedsit – well, a room – in a block halfway between Barons Court and West Kensington, and the wonders of the Piccadilly Line meant that for the first time in my life I could get from my front door to the CD racks in HMV Oxford Street in a mere half an hour, and at the time that really did feel like the main perk of City living. “Silent ‘88” was a purchase from there, and this was the first track on it. Immediately, it opened out like a butterfly into their most pristine song to date, and soon became the first track on the compilation tape I used to listen to on the way to work every morning, its opening chords for weeks on end soundtracking my first steps down Glazbury Road. Sounding with both anger and disappointment, it’s another plaintive song about Hood’s favourite topic, the cycle of days and seasons, and how rural and agricultural lives are ignored, marginalised, dismembered. There is no way in hell that it wasn’t going to be the first track on this compilation.

2. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart “Come Saturday”

A “buzzing, sherbety ripsnorter”, apparently, “sheer sheer joy”. No word of a lie, pop-pickers, because upon these grooves TPOBPAH did the “Ecstasy and Wine” thing pretty much perfectly…

“However unoriginal an observation this is, it would be dishonest not to say that the Pains of Being are still ringers for early MBV (post-terrible goth stomp, pre-"You Made Me Realise"). So if you're expecting any kind of departure from the songs that lit up last year's overlapping EPs, or their split single on Atomic Beat with the Parallelograms, you'll be firmly knocked back. But, as ever, the band manage to combine this sublime one-track fizzy guitar grogginess with lyrics that are more uplifting, deliberate and inspirational than they're often given credit for: "Come Saturday" positively rattles with the same conviction that saw them shake the foundations at the Betsey Trotwood and the Buffalo Bars…”

3. Manatee “Indecision”

We’re going for the jugular early here; classics and nothing but. As we said when we realised this was the 4th best single of a fecund 2010:

“By rights, a band monikered after the beautiful, elusive, lugubrious and sadly endangered manatee should probably sound really slow-paced, mysterious and kind of bulbously mournful, but no danger of that here: this Manatee are delightfully feral, rooted in what sounds to us a very UK-inspired indie sound, let's say the old-school tunefulness of the better C86 bands allied with the spikiness of the Weddoes' guitar stylings back then, all topped off by high in the mix wide-eyed vocals (with some rather splendid lyrics) that work *perfectly* as the song pounds away, refusing to flag, and we dance around the kitchen air-guitaring to it.”

And just to be clear: it is not often that you’ll find me air-guitaring around the kitchen. But then it’s not often that you’ll come across a song, a power-pop jewel, as bountifully barnstorming as “Indecision”.

4. Tender Trap “Do You Want A Boyfriend?”

When we did our ‘Trap recap, we held out this “heavy-hitting” “welcome return” as:

"the great leap forward, probably their best ever single, clad in a great sleeve too and housed on fresh Dulux-white vinyl. Even more than on last year's diamond-bright mmm-muscular pop gem "Fireworks", "Boyfriend" has the guitar sound *just right*: the harmonies *just so*. Indeed, when Amelia sings "heaven, perfect heaven" in the chorus, it's as if she's giving you a glimpse of that very place."

Like a fair few tracks here, this was a split release with the UK’s very own Fortuna Pop!, so we’ve had to think a little about which tracks to use for which comp (you knew there was going to have to be an FP! one too, right?)

5. Black Tambourine “Pack You Up”

The one, the only. Our twopenneths’ on this tremendous band can most lucidly be found here, but this track from their first Slumberland release (mere decades before “OneTwoThreeFour”) sees them in a kind of shoegazey mode, summoning up a sort of muscular dreampop not unlike the later Charlottes stuff. Like any other subgenre which Black Tambourine turned their mind to, they kind of nailed this one first time.

6. Honey Bunch “Mine Your Own Business”

*Massively* under-rated band alert. We came across Honey Bunch first when their Fuck Yeah! 'zine flexi with “Crooked Mile” on it made it into school one day, but didn’t actually pick up on their two Slumberland 7”s until we bought Elefant’s fairly essential retrospective of the band, “Time Trials”. “Mine Your Own Business” is still our favourite of the two, lightly tiptoeing through fields of classic guitar pop and neatly enough showing Jeffrey Underhill’s lovely voice and the band’s signature sound, with space in the music and bass high-ish in the mix. Should you fancy another Honeybunch cracker for dessert, try “Arm In Arm”, from the flip of their other Slumberland 7”.

7. The Saturday People “Slipping Through My Fingertips”

We gave the LP from which this came a kind of mixed review on the basis that although we appreciated the skill involved, it wasn’t quite our cup of tea (a few tracks aside). We then got a ridiculously nice e-mail from a member of the band, saying not to worry and how he appreciated the thought that had gone into the review. That kindness meant a huge amount (we often got less than lukewarm reactions even from bands that we thought we’d been nice to) and as it happened it helped us keep on looking out for the band too. Having said all that, this single, which preceded the album, was always one of those S. People tunes that we absolutely loved, and it powers along here with horsepower and charm.

8. Gold-Bears “In This City I’m Invincible”

Gold-Bears put their much-awaited first album, “Are You Falling In Love?” out on Slumberland, and we treasure the vinyl still. While Magic Marker single “Tally” may yet remain their zenith, and a version of it appeared on the LP, the record as a whole is a pretty solid exposition of Gold-Bears’ qualities: urgency, optimism, clever storytelling, noisy jangle. “In This City…” is short and sweet, but with its anthemic title it’s a standard-bearer of sorts for the band’s many qualities.

9. The Aislers’ Set “The Red Door”

The Aislers’ Set were a very good band, and they were around at a time when – just for a couple of years - there were very *few* very good bands, and when I for one was largely seeking a ‘way out’ of an increasingly weak “indie” scene, finding only a handful of records - like this - with the magnetism to pull me back into it. We don’t own the single mix of this song, but the version on “The Last Match” is more than enough: powerful, effervescent, charming and exciting.

10. Pants Yell! “Got To Stop”

Quite a few Slumberland acts have been (justly) celebrated by the cognoscenti: others, rather overlooked. And whether Pants Yell! would fare better with a “cooler” name might be a valid question, for their “Received Pronunciation” album is a consistent tableau of good songwriting and great storytelling. It’s winsome guitar-pop loosely in the vein of Tree Fort Angst / Saturday People, with lyrics sometimes impassioned (“Marble Staircase”), sometimes desperately sad. At times PY! tend to the quirkier (“Someone Loves You” is a cleaner take on 14 Iced Bears / Cause Co-Motion! – who both also had their own releases on Slumberland): whilst the slower and more thoughtful tracks tend toward what we now might call the Short Stories / Forest Giants songbook.

11. Gregory Webster “Promised Land”

A change of speed, a change of style. We have Mr Webster’s back big time. As we remarked when this was fired into the world:

“"Promised Land", clad in the sweetest sleeve courtesy of Daniel Novakovic's artwork, doesn't so much roll back the years as unfurl a jewel-encrusted magic carpet to transport you back to the happy memories of GW’s "My Wicked Wicked Ways" album: it's a gentle, folksome ballad, an escapist fantasy leagues away from the artful post-modern dischord that Sportique perfected. Instead, it sits comfily alongside Greg's beauteous reinterpretation of "Something's Missing" on WIAWYA's "Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool" Springsteen tribute.”

We also pointed out that we would pay good money just to hear him singing the telephone directory, and we still can’t believe there isn’t at least a double-album in that.

12. Beatnik Filmstars “National Pool Drama”

“Misplaced… misplaced… misplaced!”

You might well think so, given that the mid-90s BFs’ shake-up of Fall-ish shoutiness is not only poles apart from where the band themselves both started and ended, but also an acre or ten north of Slumberland’s usual devotion to a more harmony-addled noise-pop. While it’s true that the Filmstars’ 5-track “Pink Noize” 7” outing for Slumberland did not catch the band at their most coherent, it does catch the label at its most mischievous (“Flake” is a slow burn peppered with the melody from a notoriously phallic UK TV advert for chocolate, as also celebrated by Half Man Half Biscuit’s “Dickie Davies’ Eyes”; “50/50”, which we had the great privilege to see performed by the temporarily-reformed Filmstars last December, is chaotic crashing pop hijacked by a chorus full of numbers).

13. Sarandon “Kill Twee Pop!”

Title track from their first proper LP, a gleeful gatecrasher, post-punk vs. Ron Johnson styles and a message that we know, coming from Crayola, was pretty heartfelt. As to the album as a whole, we ventured:

“simply one of the best British bands out there at the moment, both live and on record, and this their debut album proper merely proves it, both including and building on the finery of last year's "Joe's Record" 45 as they move towards (marginally) longer, but still infinitely spiky and sprightly, numbers. It's hard to describe their sound without (a) confirming that it ain't twee pop, and (b) reeling off a list of names of our favourite 80s awkward squad bands plus perhaps 90s' outsiders like the Yummy Fur and second-phase Beatnik Filmstars, so we'll restrict ourselves to saying that if you liked any one or more of the bands on the superb "Commercially Unfriendly" compilation, this will probably be one of the most exciting records you trip across this year”

14. Faintest Ideas “Procrastination Of Every Day Tasks”

Tucked away on one of Slumberland’s “Searching For The Now” 7” series were two unbelievably good tracks from Gothenburg’s much-missed Faintest Ideas,

“two corking songs, of a quality that only the Bright Lights and Boyracer have really managed at the same velocity, and that remind you that there is no level on which the Faintest Ideas did not make brilliant *POP* music. The consensus seems to be that they are now no more, in which case we can only say that they will be very sorely missed."

which helped elevate volume 5 (shared with the wondrous Liechtenstein) to a dizzying #11 in the 2009 year-ends:

“But for us, it's this last song on the platter that deserves elevation, perfectly summing up the trajectory of this sadly-gone band with two minutes of noisy, gnawing pop that seems to cram in every emotion we've ever felt and leave us feeling somehow both churned-up and ecstatic.”

We still really, really, have a thing for this track, the perfect example of how a song can be noisy, fuzzy and chaotic yet still be absolutely, genuinely, deathlessly, beautiful, and can still, on occasion, make buds of proud tears gather in our eyes.

15. Boyracer “I Am Looking For Somewhere Else”

After that, time for a ballad: but we bet you wouldn’t guess it would be “prefects of the punk-pop perfect” (as we christened them) Boyracer supplying it. This was on the “AUL 36X” 7” and is a reminder that Boyracer’s slower, mournful songs, in this case a break-up song, could be scintillatingly moving at times. Boyracer also, of course, recorded a couple of albums for Slumberland, the best of which was the stunningly capable “We Are Made Of The Same Wood”.

16. The June Brides “A January Moon”

A split between Slumberland and the UK’s jewel-finders Occultation, we gave this love:

“picking up from some of Phil Wilson's solo work, it brings out a semi-acoustic and alt-folk tinge that resonates surprisingly well with current musical fashions. "A January Moon" gamefully employs its bounteous melodies and upbeat arrangement to create four flowing minutes which, despite its title, are redolent far more of (mid)summer (sun)shine than bleak midwinter night. The trademark June Brides strings and brass are still there, but instead of dominating for short bursts of song they're weaved in more skilfully, while Wilson's delivery provides a Webster-esque undertow of vulnerability.”

It’s really a gorgeous song, so much so that it somehow managed to push Phil Wilson’s aforesaid ever-listenable solo offerings for Slumberland from this list.

17. Amy Linton and Stewart Anderson “The Lights Are Out”

Titans of the alt-pop scene Amy and Stewart were responsible for a transatlantic four-track EP on Slumberland that twinned two new numbers with two more (including the possibly seminal “Hipsters, Scenesters and Fakers”) culled from a single on Stewart’s own 555 label. Opener “Lights”, one of the Slumberland exclusives, catches the superstar duo at their most Aislers-ish, a strawberry crush of reverb and snugly knitted melodies.

18. Linda Smith “In This”

We only knew the Baltimore songwriter and artist from her “Gorgeous Weather” 7” on the esteemed Harriet Records, but this is a blindingly fine track from her sole outing for Slumberland, one which people would have been falling over themselves for had the Softies released it.

19. The Ropers “Waiting”

Devotees of earlier Pains of Being Pure At Heart would find much to like in many of Slumberland’s nineties releases, they really would. Not just Henry’s Dress or Black Tambourine, either: the Ropers also knew how to set the vinyl alight with both indie-pop brittleness and shoegazey atmospherics, the former epitomised by first single “Waiting” and the latter by second single “I Don’t Mind”, which is unavoidably Ride-ish, but for our money has aged much better than many of the Oxford quartet’s wares. We would be the first to admit that at the time it annoyed the hell out of us when our friends eschewed Slumberland bands but adored Creation ones: yet in all honesty, if it turned out that the Ropers had been from Thames Valley instead and consequently flavour of the month in the UK inkies, I can quite imagine the young me having decided they were rubbish after all.

20. Henry’s Dress “Hey Allison”

Talking of whom... Their first single “1620” is a curio, a thick haze of sludgegaze with fragile male vocals gradually sucked into the bog, but by the time of “Hey Allison” Henry’s Dress had conquered the world with super-melodic, super-trebly super-b, sometimes Boyracer-echoing, noise-pop.

21. Whorl “Maybe It’s Better”

We are rather fond of Slumberland black sheep Whorl, and rather hope that you might fall for them too. Like quite a few other bands, we first encountered them on the Beat Happening! tribute “Fortune Cookie Prize” (their definitive version of “This Many Boyfriends Club” consisting of vocals, feedback and er, nothing else really) but their two Slumberland singles are rather special too, if somewhat aloof from the otherwise well-drilled roster. “Mind Revolution” is almost ‘Death To Trad Rock’ scene, with shouted vocals over growling riff, but “Maybe It’s Better” is slightly softer, if still wrapped up entirely in its own world.

22. Go Sailor “Long Distance”

Before Amy did the Aislers Set and Rose did Tiger Trap, there was Go Sailor. Although their Lookout compilation got its vinyl re-release on Slumberland not too long ago, there was just the one GS EP released on the label at the time: and this is the lead track from it, an example of ‘the Slumberland sound’ when it’s shorn of noise or artful playfulness, and stripped back to its pure pop heart.

23. Evans The Death “Catch A Cold”

A few found the name offputting, though they’re not the first teenage indie band from Essex with “Death” in their name – I was once in a band called Casual Death, which we thought was a great name (it worked on more than one level, and was quite bold given that casuals were a big thing in mid-Ess fashion at the time) and we were genuinely surprised when we kept getting the reaction that it made us sound like a ‘metal’ band or something, instead of the indie-pop lightweights we undoubtedly were.

Erm, it would be a shame if any pop fans really had neglected to investigate EtD on the basis of their name, especially as the mere fact that they put two 7”s out on Slumberland shows that they were favoured by those with impeccable taste. Like a fair few of the tracks here, this sounds rather better to me now than it did when it actually came out, and proves that sometimes we can error quite majorly in searching *too much* for the now.

24. Summer Cats “Your Timetable”

Only #80 in 2010 (what were we thinking, really).

“"Your Timetable" does everything right - celerity, being *doused* in fresh and welcoming feedback (cf. the way that the Legends album showed how Club 8 + feedback = better than Club 8) and sub-two minute duration - and shows not for the first time how Slumberland can really pick an 'A' side. A neat package, too, with a geometric, gently neoplasticist sleeve as minimalist as the song, bearing only the name of the band and the name of the tunes. Bravo for that, too.”

But it’s the feedback that tipped this song into complete joy, no question.

25. Brilliant Colors “Never Mine”

Terrific stuff, a little like Slumber Party channelling Cause Co-Motion!
“It took a second dip of our toes in the water before we gave Brilliant Colors their due, but the trio here deliver a dizzying sub-two minutes of straight-from '78 Girls At Our Best-ish shedazzle, a worthy sister to Summer Cats' similarly no-nonsense fuzzpop from earlier in the year on the same label. As with many ace bands of the recent moment (Cause Co-Motion, Sugarplums) we're convinced there's some early-14IBs in there too, at least in those sections where the guitars briefly attempt to collapse in on themselves. And the groovy bass run that intrudes towards the end makes you feel like grabbing the nearest trampolene and just *bouncing*.”

Again, the fact that the records suggest this was only our 76th best single of 2010 suggests to me that: (a) it was a very, very good year for singles (b) something happened in the maths that would not have surprised our secondary school maths teachers (c) we were out of our less than brilliant, tiny minds.

26. Sexy Kids “Sisters Are Forever”

Hmmm... it does rather feel like we’ve under-rated plenty of Slumberland singles in the past, simply by telling you that they were pretty good. This was our #21 in 2009:

“Slumberland going a bit crazy with the good records this year. If you remember Fertile Virgin's "Lucky Day", well this is similarly great - a from-nowhere mix of Raincoats and Girls At Our Best indie-guitaring that cavorts along very merrily indeed.” 

“Sisters” is a little Girls At Our Best (more so, perhaps, than the Brilliant Colors single, whatever we said above), a little post-punk, a little 90s-alt rock and ends up a rather convincing collage of indie-pop and new wave. Not sure whatever happened to the band, but their name (not suitable for googling while at work) might have had a hand in it…

27. Velocity Girl “My Forgotten Favorite”

It’s only obvious. It appeared on the soundtrack of Clueless, which is something of a step up, exposure-wise, from what most of our favo(u)rite songs achieve. But it still rules just as hard as anything else on the label.

28. Lognhalsmottagningen “Va e Poängen?”

A few of Slumberland’s ‘curios’ are actually amongst their greats. Lognhalsmottagningen were a Faintest Ideas / Boyracer collaboration of Swedish-language punkcore, and their ace “Oron Nasa” EP consisted of 300 7”s, released on four labels (Slumberland’s partners in crime here being 555 (inevitably), Promenade and Yellow Mica). The Slumberland version has five different sleeve colours: orange, red, yellow, lime green and purple: we got one of the lime green.

* * * * *

There were any number of other records that didn’t quite make the cut, but the test of a pudding is in the eating, and we’re confident that if you play these songs, your head will be spinning in happiness and heady memories for days on end. Much respect to Slumberland Records, and for the genuine excitement that plundering their ‘back cat’ for pearls like these has given us.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

ILWTT.07 “Blastic Smile”: A Sick Weird Rough Compilation

The only time we’ve been to Frankfurt, home to super-able uber-label SWR, we ended up in a subterranean bierkeller, soundtracked by an oompah band in full lederhosen. It’s fair to say we didn’t have any great musical epiphanies that night (though we did discover that there is, perhaps surprisingly, much to be said for veggie schnitzels).

There’s little doubt that Sick Weird Rough (for its first three releases, the more prosaically named Sven Wittekind Records) has been one of *the* most rewarding labels of recent years, and although it may be pure fluke that we were there at the start – not quite sure what prompted us to first give Sven’s “Never Forget” a virtual spin – it quickly became one of those rare imprints on which every release merited forensic investigation. We don’t greatly adore the revised label moniker: on any application of the Ronseal test the original label name couldn’t be faulted, whereas to our minds the music on SWR is not really sick, weird, *or* rough: it’s starlit, well-honed, and absurdly sleek.

As we said in 2013 in relation to one of the label’s (non-imaginary) collections, "Before We Restart" (a 28-tracker lasting three and three quarter hours!):

“a crammed-to-the-gills bargain compilation… of dark and cutting-edge European techno. Remember, outwith the likes of Sarah, Ron Johnson and Matinée there can surely never have been a roster more killingly consistent than SWR’s…”

Now. Our record collection, such as it is, shuffles meekly from available space to available space, as lifetime-gathered trinkets and the needs of little people buffet it from room to room, from room to loft. But it’s there, and no magic spell or click of the finger can ‘unmake’ it, and so long as we still live to breathe the stubborn fumes of these city streets, nobody will wrest these records from our living space, and no effluxion of time could persuade us to free up the boxes and shelves for anything else, and so *all* the labels we’ve compiled to date – 555, Factory, Earache, Sarah, Subway, Creation - are easily-reeled down memories, as vivid as the touch of a dusty sleeve or the sniff of decades-old vinyl.

Yet SWR is different: for all the tunes in this list are mere computer files, clickable icons that yield clinical folds of techno, but that can’t be touched, moved, cradled or kissed. Uniquely, they are songs we’ve experienced only and completely through the shyly spartan i-pod, usually in the neon-pricked black of the journey home from work, those precious three quarter-hours when the revolving doors spin behind you and the walk northwards is a world of plenty within a private, portable listening booth.

At first this lack of context seemed disarming, if not debilitating. When we listen to songs on those other labels, we recall the shop we bought the record in, the surly glare of the shop assistant, the first listen when we got home, the scrabbling around for a free C90 so that we could tape it and stick it on the next day’s Walkman, the days spent showing the record off at school. With these tracks, the first listen is invariably wrapped up in pre-work dawn or post-work dusk, in city streets and lights, amidst pavement hubbub and the glare of shop windows. That’s not a bad thing… it’s just… different.

Oh, and of course this one was a pain to compile, a real jigsaw puzzle: we knew that we would only ever be able to fit between 8-10 tracks on, but we wanted to provide as strong and representative a selection as we reasonably could. Unconstrained by the requirements of vinyl, SWR tunes don’t just touch the old edges of the 12” played at 45, but often surge well beyond, with the singles tending to range between 8 or 9 minutes: a few a little shorter, a few some minutes longer. Anyway, let the feast begin.

* * * * *

1. Ryuji Takeuchi “Vital”

There may be some merit in starting with one of the best singles of the past several years, in any genre. Doggedly insistent and mechanistically urgent, the vitally vital fount of vitality that is “Vital”:

“builds organically, rolling drums subsumed in turn by layered strands of percussive noise, but within minutes it has completed a grim mutation into a seamless warp and weft of futurist techno, rattling synths criss-crossing darkly industrial soundscapes to create a bleak yet brisk dystopian void echoing with what sounds like a CS canister being let off at regular intervals (a sound that was de rigeur in minimal techno this yr)… "Vital" is austere, constructivist, monochromatic and brilliant, and you'll rarely find 7'43 whoosh by you so quickly.”

2. Tex-Rec “Kill The Dream”

Ahmet Meric, or Tex-Rec, flew the Bosnia-Herzegovina flag on SWR (alongside Dragan Lakic, aka Forest People) and he did so most mightily with this stunning title track from his 4-track EP, a defiantly unleashed

“smiling assassin of an EP which seduces you with rhythmic patterns as sleek and glinting as the bonnet of a newly polished Countach while at the same time moving in for the kill with dancefloor-massacring intensity… The title track proceeds to rather majestically patrol the boundary fence between moody and minimalist, sharing with "Detonator" a whizzing two-note motif and careful build… Immense.”

Alongside his crowd-wowing Darknet single “Encoding”, this is probably still our favourite Tex-Rec tune. This is probably also the time to point out that we were a little saddened by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s early exit from the last World Cup: the way they played against Argentina we were convinced that they would qualify, but after wrongly having a goal disallowed against Nigeria they didn’t react well enough, and in the end it all petered out rather. Still, they lasted longer than England.

3. Mintech “Black Mamba”

Mario Mangiapia is part of SWR’s sturdy Italian contingent down the years, alongside Frenkie V, Pe’ja, Irregular Synth and Frankyeffe, and this 2013 A-side is a real floor-filler, one of the label’s more “accessible” tunes, however unlikely it is that they’ll be rocking to it at Slim Jim’s Liquor Store next Saturday night.

“This is thrilling, heady stuff, actually quite... well, not commercial exactly, but should it "cross over" from the techno room to the main dancefloor, we wouldn't be totally surprised. We could certainly well imagine barging over a few bemused punters in our eagerness to join it there.”

4. Frenkie V “Exclude”

A few on Team SWR may be scene veterans (Andre Walter, for example, was producing in the early 1980s), but others came up on the ropes: Francesco Varchetta birthed this exhilarating single when just about still a teenager. We still like to imagine Sven listening to the final cut at label HQ for the first time and thinking, “um, where are the beats, kiddo?” as Frenkie spends the best part of a minute just messing around with the soundboard. But after that, the Neapolitan just goes for it, and “Exclude” is as provocative and refreshing now as it was on first listen:

“a hugely enjoyable instrumental frolic through the (far) left-field which after a *completely* insane beginning (more unhinged than "Riot" and "Bury" put together!) gradually recasts itself into an equally captivating hunk of somewhat gleefully obscurist techno, defying the genre's usual "layer, build and dismantle" tradition with a frankly liberating "er, what's he going to next ?" approach to song structure. The prospect of more like this from him in future is not unwelcome.”

That was all the way back in 2010, mind. So we’re a bit concerned about where our Frenkie has got to: there was a second SWR single “Rimshot”, which was good, but not as mischievous or downright enjoyable as this one (a bit like the Golden Dawn having followed “My Secret World” with “George Hamilton’s Dead”) and then, it seems, there was just a big black hole of silence (a bit like the Golden Dawn having followed “George Hamilton’s Dead” with, er, nothing). Shame.

5. Gayle San “Blastic Wifester”

I sense romance, wedding bells, the burned-out husks of single lives: for SWRs 14 and 16 respectively were Sven’s “Hubster” and Gayle’s “Blastic Wifester”, a romantic gesture up there with Stew and Jen’s “Wedding Album” picture-disc (yes, in the words of Phil Wilson, “I own it”). The “Wifester” EP also came with a widescreen remix of “Hubster”, just to make the link clear.

Possibly one of the best-titled singles in history, “Blastic Wifester” is an engaging bustle of tinselly, loose-packed techno, a ringing swarm of defiant beats from Gayle San, who grew up in Singapore but spent some time DJ-ing in London before decamping to Germany.

6. Sven Wittekind “Measure of Justice”

Sven is the house band, SWR’s Biff Bang Pow! / Flatmates, and verily

“there is nothing straightforward or workaday about the seamless way which he continues to create techno charged with just the right blend of urgency and (albeit suppressed) emotion”.

"Measure Of Justice” was a late 2013 single, as well as a highlight from the long-play joys of “Voodoo”, that showed the house band on top, top form:

“eight minutes of weighty, righteous jurisprudence… starting brazenly and cockily with a full minute of just a single repeating beat - soon unfurls itself into a gliding masterpiece of clanking and techno pointillism”

and our abiding memory of it, given our digression above, was half an hour at a bus stop in Grays’ Inn Road, post-Water Rats, listening to it again and again, letting it seep with urgency and excitement to warm our cold, chastened ears. Wonderful.

7. Pe’ja “Gilgamesh (Part 1)”

Tuff enuff stuff from Amedeo Mazzotti, who deserved better than a pizza metaphor, but unaccountably got one anyway:

“The song pivots around a repeated, scuffed and fuzzy motif… but what distinguishes it from much of the rest of Europe's minimal techno crop is Pe'ja's use of breakbeats to provide a crunching, pizza-crust edge to proceedings. Nice.”

And we’ve gone for Part 1 because… well, because Part 2 wasn’t as good. The opposite of "Shook Ones", then.

8. Michael Schwarz "Function" (Ryuji Takeuchi Remix)

We fell hard for this confection, a supplement to the Schwarzster’s “Function” / “Disfunction” double-‘A’, and ended up in a very excitable digression which checked Rothko, Twombly and – but of course - Bubblegum Splash!

9. Sven Wittekind & Andy White “Bass Junkies”

There was no little competition to be the last track. Indeed we could probably have squeezed a couple more on had we not gone for this 12-minute ‘early hit’ from the boys (Sven plus compatriot Andy White, the man behind the Audiosignal label). But despite strong claims from Forest People, Virgil Enzinger (who also helped out on the “Bass Junkies” remix front) and Andre Walter (“oscillates rolling, ricocheting rhythms with jacking spring-heeled hydraulics”), we’ve gone for this, and all because:

“This is buried treasure, a 12" that takes us straight back to those days of staying up late on a schoolnight, listening to teasing techno tremors on John Peel to offset next-day lesson dread. Slowly bubbling bass from the German pair sets the scene for a couple of minutes before the tune starts to build, but it's only really around the six-minute mark that "Bass Junkies" properly springs into life, pivoting on a single, sampled operatic held note before the percussion busies itself in more traditional Wittekind style, but the track still keeps things close, more minimal than hard tech, just gently nibbling away at your ears, resolutely refusing to swing and instead keeping it metronomic, hypnotic, *close* for its blissful, subtly ever-undulating second section.”

* * * * *

On re-listening to all these songs we’re immediately struck by the clear tone and timbre of SWR’s artists: instrumental frequencies, clean-lined caresses. The track listing that *flows* in a way none of the compilations to date can quite manage. So “Black Mamba” seems like a sequel to “Kill The Dream”, irrespective of the years between their release and the many miles between their respective composers. Even Frenkie V’s mischievous, unpredictable “Exclude” (exclude what? Pupils? Draughts?) manages to sit comfortably with the longer, more carefully built-up and then gradually dismantled songs around it.

Here’s to SWR, and to many more years of their positive, empowering, art.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

ILWTT.06(66) “I’m Going To Murder All The People I Don’t Like”: A Sarah Records Compilation

Scene: a messageboard, now distant in time.
“Q. Is Track & Field the new Sarah?”
“A. no, because Sarah was a PUNK label.”
Yep, that was us. Belated thanks to “Bella” for being the only one who backed us up.
Ahem. We couldn’t leave this one any longer. Yes, it feels unnecessary in so many ways, and it’s self-defeating because not only is it so hard to leave out any group or song, but there’s the constant need to check your back when you do, such is the passion felt for this label by so many people, not least of all ourselves. And we understand that passion, whether it’s love or hate: we named our first-born after the label, after all (though I think we’d been hoping for a girl).
What we will never understand is indifference to Sarah, or the “I quite liked the music but didn’t get the politics” line, which sets new standards in missing the point. Our ‘666’ catalogue number might be tongue-in-cheek, but it definitely reflects a view amongst many we knew (egged on at the time by certain journos in the music press) that the label was in league with Satan (rather than, as a Heavenly LP title suggested, against him).
AND of course there's the rather major stumbling block that Clare and Matt themselves gave us “There And Back Again Lane”, which already does for Sarah Records exactly what we've been trying to do with this series... but having spent the majority of our lives putting together one Sarah comp or another, we can hardly walk away, hardly leave her out of this year’s fantasy of confected label compilation albums.... so, for good or ill, this is what we came up with. Please be gentle with us.
* * * * *
1. Christine’s Cat “Your Love Is...”
Not especially representative of the Sarah sound, but a dead-on marker of Sarah’s approach: a flexi, with a fanzine, and two stolen minutes of gorgeously shambling, slightly atonal twee-fuzz from a band of whom nothing more was heard, ever again...
2. The Golden Dawn “My Secret World”
Despatches from Greece over recent years mean that I am *never* now going to be able to shift (or indeed wear) any of the dozens of Golden Dawn badges that still lie untended in my cupboard (back in the day I helped my mate with his fanzine, “My Secret World”; it came with a pink GD badge and we had loads left over, even after we'd flogged most of the 'zines). A shame that ‘our’ Golden Dawn have been overtaken by events thus, as SARAH 9 was as feral as 1-8 put together, a raggedy, rickety but infectious shambling marvel. May God forgive Clare & Matt for refusing to release “No Reason Why”, though.
3. Boyracer “He Gets Me So Hard”
We’re trying, for this selection, not to duplicate tracks from “There And Back”, but have to make an exception for this, because frankly it's one of the greatest songs the label ever released, one of my favourite singles of all time.
And yet I have a strong fear that the band themselves don't really rate it; a concern that the label may not cherish it as much as some of their other babies; a memory that the person responsible for recording it didn't seem to remember it when I mentioned it to him... Agh. Still, *this* is romance, the power and the pain of relationships, the fire of great music, plus a title that apparently confounded Stewart’s mum for a while. And it's the closest Sarah got, sonically at least, to the early Mary Chain's cocktail of raw emotion and unapologetic noise.
4. Action Painting! “Mustard Gas”
Our friends hated everything on Sarah, seemingly on principle. And when we pointed them to Boyracer or Action Painting! all they did was change their line of attack, from “it's all weedy and it all sounds the same” to something not too far from the lamest criticism ever levelled at music, namely “that's not music, it's just noise”. And so it was with Action Painting!
AP!’s previous 45 “Classical Music” was great, and had the added wow factor that it was such a shock after their janglier first 7" "These Things Happen", but it's “Mustard Gas” – with its sheer, silly 1977 riffs - that still *jars* today, in a most good and holy way. Plus, the sleeve thanks the girls of both Shampoo and Bubblegum Splash! which summed up a fair percentage of our non-Sarah listening at the time.
5. Blueboy “Dirty Mags”
The last single ever released on Sarah, and despite what some might say, it was as good as any of the earlier ones. Indeed, this fairly raucous number even stood up to Blueboy’s somewhat amazing earlier run of singles that included A-side gems like “Clearer”, “Meet Johnny Rave”, “River” and “Popkiss”. We tipped our hat to Blueboy here, but it's important to know that they - and the memory of Keith Girdler - are still cherished more than words can say.
6. The Sea Urchins “Solace”
We spoke about the plunging depths of our adoration for “Solace” in our belated post for Marianthi, so shan’t repeat ourselves. Recently captured on Cherry Red’s “Scared To Get Happy” box set, this remains a cut-glass classic as far as we’re concerned, and is one of those songs that recaptures the optimism and fire of our youth without making us feel that we wasted all its opportunities.
7. Ivy “Avenge”
Norwich quartet Ivy have been largely written out of the Sarah story. A great shame, as the second of their two singles for Sarah, “Avenge”, has it all: sharp, cascading vocals from singer Spencer Harrison; an undisguised revenge lyric; one of the rockier guitar breaks to grace the label; a doggedly low-tech drum machine; a B-side named from a poem by Christina Rossetti. We honestly think that “Avenge” should have been on “There And Back Again Lane”, and it has survived the ravages of history intact.
(Point of information: Ivy suffered from being confused with the New York trio of the same name - stickered as “Ivy (NYC)” at the time, even though now it’s ‘our’ Ivy who tend to be labelled, as ”Ivy (UK)” - some of whose early tunes would not have been too out of place on Sarah. Aberdeen, for example, who cut their teeth with their own drum-machine backed singles on Sarah, ended up squarely in Ivy (er, NYC) territory by the time of songs like “Sink Or Float”).
8. Another Sunny Day “You Should All Be Murdered”
It wasn’t just our mates, come to think of it. The world and his wife kept missing the point about Sarah, often wilfully. They said it was all just soppy songs about holding hands. They ignored the songs about the poll tax, about John Major, about impending environmental catastrophe, about children = pollution (q.v.). They ignored the single about a construction worker plucking up the courage to walk into a gay bar for the first time. They ignored the song - this song - about committing mass murder, for heaven’s sake. Which was a shame, because it’s a brilliant tune, which we used to inflict on anyone who ventured within yards of our cheapo record player, and we don't quite know why it’s not unequivocally regarded as ASD’s best. The spiralling guitar parts towards the end came not long after Sarah had issued the Field Mice's “Sensitive”, with its glorious extended outro, and may have owed something to that tune's spirit.
9. Brighter “Killjoy"
We’ve not really ever tried to hide our feelings on Brighter.
But what Brighter song to include here? “So You Said”? “Christmas”? “Tinsel Heart”? “Hope Springs Eternal”? All are LEGEND, and we could spurt out endless paras of praise breaking each down into their component parts, or recording exactly where we were and what we were thinking when we first let them wash over us; but that must come another day, as for now it is all about “Killjoy”, the opening track on Brighter’s swansong “Disney” 10”, which is solid as a rock, as a huge hulking slab of granite; musically it feels clinical, clean-lined and disciplined yet lyrically it’s burgeoning with emotion; from the minute-long instrumental intro to the peerless bass-driven closing outro, this was Brighter writing their greatness into modernity.
Even the title was somehow just right, and encapsulated that frequent theme in Keris’s songs, of ‘friends’ who let you down, yet there’s a defiance and resolution to his voice here, the “this is me” that marries the personal and political as only Brighter, and in time Harper Lee, could do. Listening to “Killjoy” still makes my innards glow, my heart swell with strange pride, my eyes well up with the *happiness* that I loved this at the time and that I still love this now and it makes me want to high-five my younger self for having had, on this occasion at least, such impeccable taste.
10. Secret Shine “Loveblind”
Last time we mentioned Secret Shine was in the context of their well-worthwhile 21st century comeback, which brought back a few memories too.
Looking back, Secret Shine wanted to be MBV, we suspect, and wanted to sign to Creation (probably), but at the time we saw their respectful-sounding collage of indie-pop and shoegaze as a deliberate construct, rather than an attempt to become Bristol’s official representative on a passing bandwagon, and loved it all the more for that (loved it far more than some of the lesser bands who they were, perhaps inexplicably, trying to be).
“Loveblind” is a typical example of Secret Shine at their finest, with the skyrocketing vocals and lyrics somehow gloriously wimpy at the same time as the guitars are tense and frothing, and the sentiment seemingly romantic (“you know I love you, always will do” – or at least that’s what we’ve always assumed they’re singing). It even got pre-John Peel evening play on Radio One, as quite a few Sarah singles began to do by this time.
11. The Wake “Carbrain”
We might just have mentioned the Wake before. We love all their Sarah output, and the sheer sarkiness and narkiness of their two album outings for the label, but this pretty & poppy first single is just golden and had to be here (much as we were tempted by “Joke Shop” or “Provincial Disco”, two of the most drippingly, disconcertingly sardonic recordings ever committed to tape).
12. The Rosaries “Leaving”
Trying to find out anything at all about the Rosaries is like pulling teeth, but we are really fond of their sole Sarah 7” EP (“Forever”), the lead track of which, “Leaving” builds predictably yet engagingly from warm and soft, percussion-free chords and girl-sung sweetness through to a heady fuzz-noise denouement, co-opting male ‘answer’ vocals along the way. They also did a tune about the Rainbow II on a Sunday Records comp; but as far as we can tell, that was pretty much it. 
We don’t even know where the Rosaries hailed from: at the time we were hearing south Wales / Cardiff, which would have made them local-ish to the Garden Flat, and been consistent with the lyrical reference to Bristol Temple Meads, on the line running down through to south Wales; mind you, the fount of indiepop knowledge that is Tweenet has them down as coming from Coventry instead, which would put them in the top four bands from that city ever, some way behind Bolt-Thrower and the Specials but snapping at the heels of the Primitives.
13. Heavenly “Our Love Is Heavenly”
We’ve still only seen the Fall and Napalm Death more times than Heavenly, we reckon (and those bands have both had plenty of years to stream ahead, given that Heavenly only graced this unforgiving earth between 1989 and 1996). Back in those days, we were hamstrung by the fact that Heavenly’s records never sounded as iridescent, as fluorescent, as the same songs did at their joyous gigs; but as time passes, we realise that actually, their records still sound pretty damn amazing, especially this one, which over time has overtaken even “Atta Girl”, “Shallow”, “Trophy Girlfriend” or “C Is The Heavenly Option” to sit pretty at the peak of our (very real) affection for the band.
14. The Field Mice “Missing The Moon”
Yes, it should really be “Sensitive”, a song that changed our world (see here again, for example).
But it's not, partly because we don't want to recycle “There And Back…” too much, but also because “Missing The Moon” still works, and still means a lot. It was bold and brave and it stands up better than pretty much any other meld of alt-pop and acid house influences of the time (including the Creation dance imprint we mentioned a few posts ago) and better than some of the Field Mice’s other sonic experimentation (cough *chocolate love sex* cough). Perhaps the most courageous thing of all was not so much that the Field Mice went all sequencer-led and dancey (after all, the beauteous “A Wrong Turn And Raindrops” on the other side showed how they could still slay in a more traditionally fey way) but the fact that Sarah capitulated and put this out as a… TWELVE INCH SINGLE. At the time, that was possibly the most controversial thing that had ever happened, in the history of the world, ever.
15. Shelley “Reproduction Is Pollution”
Shelley were Tim, Dickon and Steve.
Tim was known to us in the early 1990s, before this EP came out, as “Mr. Indie” (I think this was probably because he wore indie cool, indie fringes, and indie fashions 100x better than we ever managed to) and it was very rare indeed for us to go to a Sarah gig anywhere in the south-east of England at which he wasn’t present. We seem to remember him having cut his musical teeth in Waccamole and Timbertoes, not that we ever managed to hear anything by either combo; our friends in and around the London “scene” at the time claimed to be attempting to purloin him to produce my band’s flexi, but sadly nothing came of that.
Dickon, last seen helming the chic and glamorous Fosca, first became known to us by virtue of a fanzine handed out at a Sarah Thekla gig (dotted with quotes from Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics, bizarrely), and was always precociously talented. Tim and Dickon would of course go on to form Orlando, get on the cover of Gay Times (the first copy I ever bought) and be the only good Romo band: Orlando, with heavyweight production, full arrangements, disco sensibilities and Tim’s incredible (“blimey, where did that come from?”) singing voice, were an excellent outfit, as songs like “Just For A Second”, “Don’t Kill My Rage” and “Nature’s Hated” still bear out. They should have been massive, but unaccountably weren’t.
Steve, lest we forget him, is also represented elsewhere in our record collection: he went on to feature for Shinkansen mainstays Cody, put out solo electronic outings (as Cathode) on labels including 555 and Static Caravan, and is now one half of Warm Digits.
But none of what happened later should detract or distract from Shelley’s sole EP. This lead track is a minor classic, and one of the few Sarah releases that is probably overlooked because it was on the label (late on – as SARAH 98), rather than the usual claim that bands got more attention than they would otherwise merit by virtue of appearing on a Sarah 7”. Dickon explains, in a reasoned matter-of-fact way, why we shouldn’t have children, and a lovely (if slightly muddily-recorded) weave of guitars encircle him. It’s quite a unique, almost inspirational, record.
16. The Harvest Ministers “If It Kills Me And It Will”
Really not completely sure that maudlin Irish tunesters the Harvest Ministers were all that great, despite eagerly purchasing all their Sarah stuff and their later LP on Vinyl Japan at the time, but their tenure on Sarah was well worth it just for this catchy and rollicking piano-driven popsong, a spritely if lyrically downcast wave that rolls, crashes and pirouettes as the band wrestle with, bemoan, but end up basically just having to come to terms with, ‘a Catholic education’.
17. East River Pipe "She's A Real Good Time"
A, and, for, good, I, know, me, real, she's, time, you, we.
That’s it. 12 words. What could you do with just 12 words? Well, East River Pipe can construct a complete and beautiful pop song with them, a perfect example of how adept FM Cornog was/is at using lyrical minimalism to the fullest effect.
There are not many Sarah artists whose very finest work was actually for a different label, but we still have the “Mel” LP and “Miracleland” single (both for Matt Haynes’ post-Sarah “solo project”, Shinkansen) down as East River Pipe’s absolute peak; although that's really not to say that we haven't found things to adore on every subsequent Merge album down the years, nor to suggest that we're not fond of the vast majority of FM Cornog's Sarah output, because we *so* are.
Just like “Miracleland” (which has 18 different words in its entire lyric), far from feeling cheated by the lack of variation and vocabulary in “She’s A Good Time”, you instead feel you are in the presence of rare majesty. Good slow songs, as we have said before, are perhaps the hardest thing for any artist to pull off. Good slow songs with repetitive lyrics evidence, in our view, something bordering on true genius.
18. The Orchids “Thaumaturgy”
The Orchids. We got their back here. This was the delayed 7" with the dubtastic outro, the swooning comedown after the dancier entanglements of the album that preceded it. It encapsulates their art, and their contradictions. It’s a gem. That is all.
19. The Sugargliders “Top 40 Sculpture”
Have we ever mentioned the Sugargliders before? Oh, yes we just might have. If you can’t be bothered to scroll down a few miles to read it, this is what we said regarding this tune (apologies in advance that most of it is a typical ILWTTISOTT digression):
“We vividly recall the first time we heard "Top 40 Sculpture", in our student room over Emden quad, and thinking how - somehow - the Sugargliders had managed to ascend to another level. And how, after singing "Saturdays can still provide some comfort..." they sang something that sounded like "lately Allison/carry along my goal", and *that* got us in a further tizzy because we wondered whether they were following Tramway's example andshoehorning-in a Bristol Rovers reference (yes, it sounds barking mad now, butbear in mind that Sarah Records were from Bristol, [Malcolm] Allison was Rovers' boss around that time, the Sugargliders were sports fans, and we were young and stupid...) and only when "There And Back Again Lane" came out did the sleevenotes proclaim the actual words: "Laidley - Allison - Carey - Longmire - goal!" and that was even better, a shout to North Melbourne and to another code, and that line especially makes us smile every single time, even more than the beautiful overlapping vocals, the tremendous lyrics, the *divine* trumpet sound. And though we'd have *hated* to think it then, it was right that "Top 40 Sculpture" was the last Sugargliders single, because it was probably unstoppable.”
20. 14 Iced Bears "Sure To See"
I'm getting shivers from listening to all these songs in a row, bringing back flashbacks of a boy who really was far too callow for his own good…
Yes, we’ve mentioned 14 Iced Bears before, indeed, not so long ago, but you need to understand that this song was the one that really set us on the road with them, made us realise that they were not *just* another “good band" you heard on Peel, but one who we would end up standing up for when our mates slagged them off, that we’d be on the ends of taunts for liking, that we would defend against some of the atrocious rubbish preferred by our school contemporaries (My Jealous God, ffs!)
“Sure To See” is the most delicate, quivering thing, like a shy animal being slowly awoken, and the first minute of dainty guitar lines slowly hoving into view is, to this day, absolutely magical.
21. Tramway “Technical College”
Something you may have noticed about this comp is that it starts with noisier, faster stuff and ends with some extremely laid-back ballads. We’re not sure why that happened, but on reflection we rather like the way it turned out.
This song seems to break so many rules. There’s the rather strange title, which bears no obvious resemblance to the lyric, and it’s a serenely slow, gliding, barely-punctuated piece that draws out swathes of keyboards and breathy, high-in-mix vocals. (You would not guess in a million years from this track that the one time we saw Tramway live, at the Thekla, they were rumbustious and in-yer-face wonderful, with the singer in his England top, swigging lager with a Britpop-predicting "no-one likes us, we don't care" swagger!) We’d accept it may be an acquired taste, but every word of this song is indelibly marked on my brain, and we would follow this song to the ends of the Weston sands.
* * * * *
We’ve no doubt by now that some of you will be, at best, apoplectic about the bands and songs we’ve missed out: we dearly wanted to include a number of other treasured favourites, not limited to the Hit Parade’s “Autobiography”, Even As We Speak’s “Beautiful Day”, the Sweetest Ache’s “Selfish”, the Poppyheads’ “Dreamabout”, Gentle Despite rocking out (sort of) with “Torment To Me”, Aberdeen’s “Fireworks” and St. Christopher’s “All Of A Tremble”… Perhaps we’ll treat ourselves to a volume two before the year is out.

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