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.
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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”
“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.
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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.
Labels: ilwtt fantasy compilations, slumberland