UNCLE WIGGLY: Non-Stuff (LP, Hemiola HEM 7, ?)

Uncle Wiggly - Non-Stuff

The lot of a small-time reviewer is an odd one. I reached merely moderate levels of coverage and/or influence with a series of fanzines – and an associated cassette tape label – back in the early/mid 1990s, selling fanzines to people around the world and maintaining an enjoyable and rich amount of postal-based correspondence with huge numbers of people. However, you’d think I was single-handedly running NME based on the longevity of mailing lists on which I seem to have found myself; only after several moves of house have the postal submissions for reviews been stopped, and I still receive emails asking for demos to be listened to.

Back when review submissions took the form of actual, physical discs and cassettes, it was a rare treat to accidentally stumble onto somebody’s press list and to receive wares from labels I actually wanted to hear. Hemiola was one such label – a Leeds-based emporium that released great things by bands including Fly Ashtray, Cha-Cha Cohen, Eggs, Unrest, Dymaxion and Kenny Process Team. These may not all be familiar names, but they’re all good bands that are worth looking up. Uncle Wiggly are too; an (I think) New York band that combine slacker-esque indie rock with odd hints of Krautrock repetition and experiment, all wrapped up into a fuzzy melodic ball. Here’s side A of Non-Stuff, with the lead track ‘Kakaphonic’ elegantly summing up the feel of the album:

Some facts about Uncle Wiggly according to Wikipedia and Discogs: They released records on the marvellous Shimmy-Disc and Teenbeat labels. Non-Stuff was only ever released in this format, even though “many consider this to be their finest work, deftly combining their art-rock influences with some killer pop tunes”. The band has not played together since 2000. Band member James Kavoussi played in Fly Ashtray before Uncle Wiggly existed; and continues to play in Fly Ashtray to this day.

No credit is given for the album sleeve design – with its understated typography (including, in my opinion, a pretty ugly typeface for the band name) and somewhat sinister cut & paste photographic montage. The back cover shows a distorted, TV interference-like image, which is credited to Tonya Smay. If it’s the same person I just found on LinkedIn, she has a massive amount of experience in digital art and animation, including working on a Kanye West video and the “Yahoo 2014 Logo Rebrand Animation”!

HOOD: Silent ’88 (LP, Slumberland SLR 59, 1996)

Hood - Silent '88

Hood always felt very much like an English band – specifically, Northern English. Their songs had a gritty, blurred, romantic, hopeful and bleak combination of things going on. For a while, it seemed like they were on their way to becoming a bit of a Big Deal; Silent ’88 represents their ‘let’s break America’ album, in as much that it was released on the always excellent Slumberland Records. They went on to sign to Domino, play All Tomorrow’s Parties, gather a growing amount of positive vibes from around the globe before… fading away. How appropriate for a band that felt like they were documenting thoughts and memories, rather than contributing to an overall grand plan either within their own minds or within a wider context.

Slumberland, by the way, are a great American label, having released hundreds of records with a discography that stretches way back to the late 1980s. They’ve released Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, Stereolab, Lilys, Boyracer, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Crystal Stilts and, well, endless lists’ worth of good stuff. They were always plugged into the rich underground world of pop-influenced independent music; and in fact they still are, as they remain active to this day. Their priorities were often right; for example, the rear sleeve of Silent ’88 includes the message “thanks for buying this record on vinyl”. There are treats within, as the sleeve not only includes the album, but also an A4 photocopied insert and a four-track 33rpm 7″ single.

There’s no credit given for the sleeve or insert artwork, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re at least in part due to Hood mainmen (and brothers) Chris and Richard Adams. Throughout their career Hood’s artwork maintained a strong feeling of mystery and a conscious air of DIY – from the hand-coloured artwork of early releases to their last, which still used the familiar Hood logo, photographs taken by band members, and hand-scrawled/typed track listings and notations. That hand-scrawled writing was in the familiar handwriting of Richard Adams, who was an active participant in the vibrant 1990s fanzine/letter-writing/tape-and-record-exchanging scene and from whom I received many letters.

Some great song titles on this album, by the way: “Trust me, I’m A Stomach”; “Delusions Of Worthlessness”; “Smash Your Head On The Cubist Jazz”; “Being Beaten Up”.

Links: Hood / Slumberland Records

VARIOUS: Impact: The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound (LP, Columbia STWO 2, 1968)

Various - Impact The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound

I have quite a number of these ‘demonstration’-type records, no end of them were released through the 1960s and 1970s to show off the worlds/galaxies/spectra/etc of new stereophonic (or, in some cases quadraphonic) capabilities of, at the time, modern music-playing equipment. Most of the ones that I own were bought in the 1990s, during a time when I – like many others – influenced by a strange combination of Britpop, kitsch and Stereolab, scoured charity shops for records that might include a glimmer or two of easy listening excitement. The hit rate is generally pretty low with these records, but what they do offer is a tiny glimpse into what may have been spinning on the stereograms of shagpile-carpeted, wooden-panelled ‘dens’ or listening rooms during a very decadent time in history.

Here’s the track listing for Impact: The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound. Your call on whether any or all of the below represent a breakthrough, or indeed something exciting:

Side One

  1. David Rose And His Orchestra: ‘The Stripper’
  2. Norrie Paramor And His Strings: ‘Soul Coaxing’
  3. Mr. Acker Bilk And The Stan Tracey Big Brass: ‘Stranger On The Shore’
  4. Pepe Jaramillo And His Latin-American Rhythm: ‘Sucu Sucu’
  5. Franck Pourcel And His Orchestra: ‘Love Is Blue’
  6. Ron Goodwin And His Orchestra: ‘Legend Of The Glass Mountain’

Side Two

  1. Joe Loss And His Orchestra: ‘Wheels’
  2. The Norman Newell Orchestra: ‘Live For Life’
  3. Basil Henriques And The Waikiki Islanders: ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’
  4. Ralph Dollimore And His Orchestra: ‘The Fool On The Hill’
  5. Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains: ‘A Man And A Woman’
  6. Jack Emblow (Accordion): ‘Ritual Fire Dance’

It seems that every Joe, Ron and Norman had their own orchestra back in the day. The tracks of note here are Mr. Acker Bilk’s swingin’, sexy and ever-so-slightly-sleazy ‘Stranger On The Shore’, the rhumbas and cha-chas of Pepe Jaramillo’s ‘Sucu Sucu’ and Joe Loss’ ‘Wheels’ respectively, and the marvellous Hawaiian gliding melodies of Basil Henrique’s reading of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.

The cover artwork bears the familiar, strident logo of Columbia sub-label Studio 2 Stereo, with the dynamic Impact text offset by the bizarrely staid and serious-looking typesetting of ‘The Breakthough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound’. No design credit is given on the sleeve, but the photograph used – which shows ‘glass fracture by shot gun pellets’, apparently, although it’s quite hard to tell – is courtesy of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a ‘British research establishment’ that in time was subsumed into the Ministry of Defence. Friends in high places, these easy listening types!

CHARLES HAYWARD: Anonymous Bash (LP, Samarbeta SBR001, 2014)

Charles Hayward - Anonymous Bash

Charles Hayward was a founding member of This Heat, who released some of the best and most inventive records of the late 1970s and early 1980s – which is saying something, as there was a lot of inventive, good stuff going on at that time. I first heard This Heat when their track ’24 Track Loop’ turned up on a compilation that I was hearing in somebody’s car; it sounded so otherworldly yet mindbendingly modern – bearing in mind that I was listening in the mid-2000s, rather than the late 1970s – that I rushed to hear more and to source This Heat records.

Anonymous Bash was released very recently by Samarbeta, and is the result of their first experimental residency programme, described thus:

The Samarbeta residency program is an innovative way to progress and encourage the production of new and adventurous music and encourages musicians to come together and collaborate. The outcome of the residency is entirely flexible, it could be a new work, an identity, a visual project, the discovery of a new instrument, a collaboration, a live show and everything in between.”

As it’s new to me – the record only arrived yesterday – I’ve yet to give it more than a quick listen; but on that first taste it appears to share the This Heat trait of exploratory rhythmic progression, of vaguely post-punk sounds occupying an awkwardly danceable stage. The players list mentioned on the release’s Bandcamp page includes mention of all kinds of exciting instrumentation including bombo drum, bata drums, feedback tape delay, flute and sax; so it augurs very well.

The album package itself (in its limited ‘handmade’ edition) is a joy to behold. Hand-assembled and hand-finished, it folds out three ways to reveal the record within, with the left and right opened panels holding two printed card slots into which a variety of extras have been placed. These extras are an eight-page booklet explaining the residency project; a DVD (which apparently contains some ‘making of’ footage); and a download code card. There’s a stamped slogan: “Hand Made Not Machine Made” above the unique edition number – mine is 011 of 150. The design is credited to John Powell-Jones, a Manchester-based illustrator, artist and screen printer: he’s done a fantastic job.

Links: Charles Hayward / Samarbeta / John Powell-Jones

THURSTON MOORE AND MARGARIDA GARCIA: The Rust Within Their Throats (LP, Headlights LPH21, 2014)

Thurston Moore and Margarida Garcia - The Rust Within Their Throats

Thurston Moore isn’t backwards in coming forwards when it comes to releasing records. As a die-hard Sonic Youth fan, I do what I can to keep up with the ever-expanding circle of music that surrounds both the band and its members’ diverse array of side projects and current activities; but it can be a time-consuming, confusing process. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, particularly, enjoy a seemingly never-ending schedule of record releases, across a range of labels, formats and – for want of a better word – genres.

The Rust Within Their Throats was released earlier this year, and is Moore in ‘abstract guitar experiment’ mode. In a duo with Margarida Garcia – a Lisbon-based sound artist who has also worked with Chris Corsano, Loren Connors, Alan Licht and many more – his work on this LP takes the form of two side-long pieces. Moore (on electric guitar) and Garcia (on electric double bass) create yawning, claustrophobic caverns of sound, the original instrumentation only partially recognisable beneath hefty waves of echo, feedback and stretched, detuned stringwork. It’s at time reminiscent of some of the pieces included in the SYR series of Sonic Youth records, but it feels more confident and focussed.

I became aware of this album while doing something else on the internet – as is so often the case – and it led me to Headlights Recordings, one of countless shadowy experimental record labels that have a lot of product, and that seem to always have existed as something completely outside of any semblance of a mainstream music industry.

The artwork here is not credited to a designer. It includes two black-and-white etchings (source unknown, to me at least), portraying stormy, troubled waters. These are remarkably right for the music on the record, which often sounds like the creaks and cries of a distressed ship, and the typography on the sleeve and the record’s label provides a sense of classic maturity, with centred, carefully kerned letters providing information with no small amount of understated elegance.

Links: Thurston Moore / Margarida Garcia / Headlights Recordings

EARTHLING SOCIETY: England Have My Bones (LP, Riot Season REPOSELP040, 2014)

Earthling Society - England Have My Bones

“Good old Riot Season…”, to paraphrase an old Yellow Pages television advert. “They’re not just there for the bad things in life”. They are there, though, as a relatively frequent, always reliable source of all things noisy, heavy and ‘out there’, with a previous release list that includes names like Hey Colossus, Shit And Shine, Aufgehoben and Acid Mothers Temple.

England Have My Bones is a new release from the label, and so I bought it very recently. Earthling Society was a new name to me before Riot Season began mentioning this record being in the works some time ago and, based on the record, yet another band to add to my “I’d better get to owning their other releases” list. From Fleetwood in Lancashire, they can be quite neatly summed up by a list of the acts they’ve supported in the past: Julian Cope, Damo Suzuki, White Hills, Hawkwind, Groundhogs and Blue Cheer. That’s not to encircle them with nothing more than a list of influences; on the basis of England Have My Bones they’re rather more than that. It’s a spiritually heavy-sounding album, but it’s not packed full of riffs and volume. Those things are there, but they’re packaged in a contemplative, psychedelic way that’s takes a heavy blues guitar sound in Eastern, hallucinogenic directions. The four tracks include a heavier, guitar-ier version of Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey Into Satchidananda’.

The artwork initially wrong-footed me into thinking that this would be a more typical sludge-rock/doom kind of record: the gothic script and black, ominous imagery wouldn’t be out of place if it were wrapped around such a release. It’s clever stuff, though; the image has a Northern English feel – grubby power station towers belching out smoke, and pylons silhouetted against grey skies. Its reflection both horizontally and vertically not only provides a convenient black strip for the band and album name, but also notches up the sense of mystery in the image. The rear of the sleeve is a lighter, ‘English pastoral’ scene, depicting a field and a tree – although they are drenched in thick fog. It also shows a sheela na gig-esque folk image above the track names, suggesting perhaps a connection with some arcane folk beliefs. The sleeve design is by Andrew Smith, who runs Riot Season. The package also included an A3 poster promoting the record (the sort you’d see up in a record shop), along with a few flyers for upcoming gigs featuring Riot Season acts.

Here’s their take on ‘Journey Into Satchidananda’:

And for reference, here’s the Alice Coltrane version:

SEAWEED: Deertrap (7″, K IPU 16, 1990)

Seaweed - Deertrap

The K label, and in particular its International Pop Underground series, are an item on my mental ‘over time, I’ll collect all of these records’ list. It’s not a hugely pressing task, it’s more that in the occasional quiet eBay/Discogs-searching moment I may stumble across a bargain or two and decide to go for it.

So, this Seaweed 7″, along with another International Pop Underground record (Beck’s ‘It’s All In Your Mind’) found their way to me over the past couple of weeks. Seaweed are a hazy memory of a name, and listening to ‘Deertrap’ take me right back to the early ’90s boom of indie rock. It’s typical of the time at which hardcore music was morphed and sculpted into something different, something poppier but no less noisy. Just a little slower, I guess. Out of this time came the grunge ‘thing’, spearheaded by Nirvana’s world-conquering popularity. It was a fervent and inspirational time that also – in no small part due to the passion and dedication of labels like K – spun out Riot Grrl and a new wave of networked independent music-making that was exciting and endlessly productive.

I didn’t know (or couldn’t remember) a whole lot about Seaweed before writing this. So, Wikipedia to the rescue. They disbanded in 2000, but reformed in 2007 and continue to this day. In the past they toured with Green Day, Superchunk and Bad Religion. They had a song on the Clerks soundtrack. Good stuff. The K label’s International Pop Underground series started in 1987, and that too continues to this day (although it’s been quiet for the last couple of years), with over 130 volumes so far. According to the K website’s page about ‘Deertrap’, this record was “recorded in their first flush of youthful enthusiasm before they recorded their first album and went on to grunge-era stardom.”

There’s very little on the sleeve to hint at who created the artwork for the record. The only credit provided at all is to producer Dan Pelton. It’s not the most exciting record sleeve, and the kerning of ‘Seaweed’ leaves a little to be desired, but the graceful sweep of the shape on the front isn’t unpleasant, and the black-and-white-Xerox feel of it has a certain punk charm.

Links: Seaweed on MySpace / K

YUKI TSUJII: I’m Rubbish But I Love You (7″, Blank Editions The Solo Series 006, 2014)

Yuki Tsujii - I'm Rubbish But I Love You

Reading about a record that’s a limited edition, has handmade elements to its packaging, and that is somehow unique as an artefact, is always a way to find my interest piqued. So, my first record from Blank Editions, but the sixth in their ‘The Solo Series’ of releases that has also included records by Charles Boyer, Joseph Coward, Douglas Hart, Thurston Moore and Ted Milton, was meant to find its way to me soon after I read about it.

Yuki Tsujii is a member of ‘Japanese four-piece acid punk band’ (thanks, Wikipedia) and on this 7″ record gives us two parts of ‘I’m Rubbish But I Love You’, an organic drone piece/field recording construction that sounds equally pleasant at 33 or 45 rpm. At 45 – which I think is the correct speed – it’s a concise, shimmering piece, somewhat akin to Library Tapes being played on the other side of a forest; at 33, it’s additionally eerie and (obviously) more lingering.

The packaging – presumably the work of David Santiago Blanco, one of the two people behind Blank Editions, who is also a designer – is a combination of ‘pro’ and handmade. Professionally-printed labels on the record, a printed wraparound tracing paper image on the sleeve coexist with a photocopied additional wraparound and a hand-stamped envelope which purportedly contains a leaf taken from a Hackney park. (I’m not sure about the latter; I didn’t open the envelope yet).

Links: Yuki Tsujii on Facebook / Blank Editions

TALULAH GOSH: Where’s The Cougar, Matey? (12″, 53rd & 3rd AGARR 14T)

Talulah Gosh - Where's The Cougar Matey

Early on in my headlong dive into indie-pop that took place from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Talulah Gosh revealed themselves as one of the fundamentals of that whole scene. Through a fast-expanding Sarah Records back catalogue I discovered Heavenly, who were predated by Talulah Gosh; Sarah also released the Talulah Gosh collection They’ve Scoffed The Lot. This was a band that not only seemed indelibly locked in to the early days of what was variously and confusingly named indie-pop, twee, C86, cute, anorak, etc, but that sonically typified everything I liked about that music – well-crafted songs, noisy, frantically-played buzzsaw guitars, skipping drum patterns and some underlying feelings of anger, irony and humour. This record is a perfect example, with short, bittersweet songs included the excellently-named ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Thank God’.

Now I live in Oxford, even more connections have revealed themselves. Musically, Talulah Gosh were as much early ‘players’ in indie-pop as they were Oxford’s own music scene, as explained in the documentary film Anyone Can Play Guitar. Through my own meanderings through Oxford’s music scene, I now know somebody that went to school and grew up with Amelia Fletcher, I’ve seen guitar player Peter Momtchiloff countless times in countless bands (and just, generally, around), and I’ve had a bit part in a film that had singer Eithne Farry as its lead dressmaker. It’s a strange, small, funny world.

Where’s The Cougar, Matey? followed two 7″ singles on 53rd & 3rd as the extended version of third single ‘Bringing Up Baby’, the lead track on this five-song 12″. Visually, it’s rather nice – a simple multicoloured pattern design on the front and on the back,  more patterns and an overlaid monochrome photograph and sleeve notes. This kind of overlaying of imagery and colours was a common feature of indie-pop fanzines and record sleeves – it speaks of a certain DIY attitude as much as a hand-finished cut-and-paste approach to artwork. The sleeve is credited to Mathew Fletcher, Talulah Gosh’s drummer and the brother of Amelia. He very sadly took his own life in 1996: here’s a nice article by The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on that subject and on the enduring positive influence of Mathew and Talulah Gosh.

Oh, and 53rd & 3rd is named after a Ramones song. Cool. It was started in 1985 by a few people including Stephen Pastel of, er, The Pastels.

Links: Talulah Gosh on Wikipedia / 53rd & 3rd on Tweenet

LES RALLIZES DÉNUDÉS: Electric Pure Land (2LP)

Les Rallizes Dénudés - Electric Pure Land

As seems befitting for a release by the influential, yet reclusive Japanese avant-garde band” Les Rallizes Dénudés, this double album – the first from the band in my collection – provides few hints in its packaging to what it is, who released it, when it was released or what it contains. Indeed, except for a series of stylised Japanese letters on the back cover, the only text is the band and album name on the spine, in incredibly small, widely-spaced letters.

So, I don’t know what label this is on – if any – and if it has a catalogue number. I’m not sure when it was released, although it only began to appear in and on a variety of reseller catalogues and websites within the past couple of months. None of these carry any particularly insightful information, but what I can glean is that this three-side set – one of the sides of the clear vinyl double album set is blank, smooth and without music – is that it’s a document of a live recording from 1974.

If what Wikipedia says is true (and I think I’ve heard this from other sources also), the band never released anything official, and all subsequent albums and CDs that have become available are bootlegs, mostly of live recordings. I’m somewhat in awe of the fact that in today’s know-everything internet age, a band can still exist with such a shroud of mystery and wonder.

Musically, the recordings here are pretty rough, but unquestionably powerful. Clutching at mainstream straws, there may be a combination of Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Can going on here, but that doesn’t really sum up the sonic oddness in this record; more recent acts such as Mainliner, Acid Mothers Temple and Fushitsusha reveal more of a Les Rallizes Dénudés influence perhaps, in an almost wholesale embracing of feedback, and little fear in operating almost entirely outside of conventional musical rules, while retaining a meta-melodic sense of tune that’s rather compelling.

The artwork, as mentioned, is sparse, portentous and enigmatic: an eclipse on the front; those Japanese characters on the back; images of solar flares across the inner gatefold; two paper inserts showing images of mysterious chunks of (moon?) rock. Cosmic.

Volcanic Tongue (from where this record was purchased) often say things better than anybody else in their descriptions of records, so I’ll end with their description of Electric Pure Land: “When Rallizes generate this kind of insane, form-destroying/higher minded six string euphoria it feels like they are the only group on the planet, taking the sound of the guitar as a conduit for electricity to its ultimate post-psych/noise ends.”

Records, design and thoughts. Simon Minter is a freelance designer from Oxford, UK.