STEREOLAB: Instant O In The Universe (3×7″, Duophonic Ultra High Frequency Disks D-UHF-D28S, ?)

Stereolab - Instant O In The Universe

Ah, look at that cover artwork – fantastic. Fine, fine work by House@Intro, the inspirational force behind all manner of great-looking records. House is graphic designer Julian House, and Intro is the The Intro Partnership, who I’d give several right arms to work for. Even if their website is completely Flash-based, which always narks me.

Loooove the Stereolab typography on the front of this three record set. It’s astounding. Masterful use of positive and negative space to eke the letterforms out of nothing, with all kind of subtle spatial reversals going on. It’s the kind of thing that looks straightforward but that is in fact a mutha to do well. This is a nice little package in general – the weight and bulk of three seven inch singles popped into a little slipcase that gives the whole thing a feel of a mini-epic; a nod to expensive and luscious multi-album box sets rendered at a small scale.

Just one gripe: the sleeves inside which each of the records is housed are printed with a solid shiny black tone, and it’s impossible not to cover them in fingerprints unless one approaches them as one might approach an original Gutenberg bible. Oh, House@Intro, why did you fail us with this one aspect of your work?

AMANDA BY NIGHT: Silvermilk EP (7″, Alienor ALIEN η, 1994)

Amanda By Night - Silvermilk EP

Another little glimpse into the most obscure of obscurities: this single came out on French indie-pop label Alienor in the nineties, presumably in a pretty low run. Alienor were one of the many labels I’d regularly buy up new releases from. Back then, the way we’d find out about new things wasn’t the instant hit of the internet, it was through the mail – whenever I sent a letter to an indie-pop contact I’d sling in a bunch of flyers for records and fanzines that other people had sent to me or asked me to pass on the word about. Everybody else did the same. I was very organised about it: a desk containing small piles of flyers which were diligently tidied up and reconfigured as new ones were added and old ones finished with.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed the catalogue number for this record is ALIEN η – these cheeky French label owners felt the need to number their releases in Greek. I was never sure why. I was neither sure why they’d package their singles in the pseudo-‘company sleeve’ artwork that they used – the simplistic layout and not-too-impressive looking pillars remained on all of their singles, with the band name and a photograph changing each time. I never really liked how they looked.

I do like, however, the see-through yellow vinyl of this record – coloured and interesting-looking vinyl always does it for me – and there’s even a little twelve-page booklet included, containing a brief interview with the (American) band reproduced in both French and English. Vive la différence, or whatever phrase would be suitable here.

By the way, if anybody recognises the movie from which this record’s front cover still is taken, I’d love to know. It looks intriguing…

ALICE COOPER: Pretties For You (LP, Warner Bros. WS 1840, 1972)

Alice Cooper - Pretties For You

I bought this album very recently on eBay after reading about it in the rather excellent Shindig magazine. It’s Alice Cooper’s debut, from back when Alice Cooper was both the singer and the band’s name, and it’s waaay different to what you might expect from having heard his much better-known later work. This is straight-up psychedelic rock music – nothing like the later, heavier stuff that Alice Cooper released, although there are some hints in here – and it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of hair in this band, as made very clear in their photos inside the gatefold sleeve. The early seventies was a very hairy time. Alice Cooper were, for this album:

  • Alice Cooper: Vocals and harmonica
  • Neal Smith: Drums and vocals
  • Dennis Dunaway: Bass guitar and vocals
  • Glen Buxton: Lead guitar
  • Mike Bruce: Rhythm guitar, vocals, piano and organ

I wonder if they still keep in touch? Glen Buxton and Mike Bruce continued working with Alice Cooper for much of the following years, the other two seem to have pretty much disappeared. Here’s a fact: Alice Cooper (the band) were initially called The Nazz, but changed their name after realising somebody else (Todd Rundgren) had already snagged the name. If you’re wondering, the name comes from a Yardbirds song, ‘The Nazz Are Blue’.

Strange cover for an album this, isn’t it? It’s a painting by a guy called Ed Beardsley. I wish that instead they’d used the photograph on the back, showing the skinny, hairy band in their finest pseudo-sci-fi gear, like they’d just wandered in off of the set of Flash Gordon.

WALKINGSEEDS SENSORY DEPRIVATION CHAMBER QUARTET: Dwarf L.P. (LP, Glass MGLALP 037, 1989)

Walkingseeds Sensory Deprivation Chamber Quarter - Dwarf L.P.

What a name for a band… that’s how to name a group. This is a truly weird mini-album from a very odd neo-psychedelic-freakout band who later shortened their name to just Walkingseeds. I first heard of them when they had this shorter monicker, after picking up a 7″ of theirs for two reasons:

  1. It contained a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine’, which was interesting to me: easy song to cover, hard song to cover well.
  2. It was the first release on Paperhouse Records (I bought it a couple of years after release); later releases of theirs had proved to be somewhat collectible, ergo their first release must be worth a couple of million quid.

This mini-album precedes that single and I picked it up after owning the single for some years – truly bending the rules of space and time in a way that I’m sure Walkingseeds [Sensory Deprivation Chamber Quarter] would be proud of, weirdoes that they were. Don’t know much about this band, but from (what I presume to be) their photograph on the front of this record, along with the pseudo-Victoriana style of the design, I’d suggest that they were cheeky acidhead tricksters. Or had a lot of time on their hands. Or were too inventive for their own good.

Glass Records, by the way, released a lot of good music: Spacemen 3; The Perfect Disaster; The Pastels; The Red Crayola; and much more, including several thousand Jazz Butcher albums. Their records don’t tend to turn up too much these days I’ve noticed: I’d grab them whenever you get the chance.

TANK: Bedtime For Rio (LP, Earworm WORM 56, 2000)

Tank - Bedtime For Rio

Tank were producing Krautrock-tinged post-rock music waaaay before it became the hip music du jour, so them releasing this album on Earworm – a label that released a lot of that kinda stuff waaaay before it became more sellable – was something of a perfect match. I remember being very excited about this album’s release, and also the preceding 12″ released a year or two previous to it. I’d got hold of a tape by Tank a couple of years before those records emerged, which was released by Diesel Combustible, a micro-label run by a friendly chap from France with whom I used to correspond. I was a major fan of that tape, and it helped ease me deeper into the strange world of repetitive/Krautrock/post-music with its combinations of throbbing melodic circles and otherwordly atmospheres.

Colour me surprised; Tank still seem to be active – with a Myspace page and everything. That’s an ‘aha!’ moment for me and an opportunity to add some more items to my ‘buy these records at some point’ list. That list has recently been re-introduced in physical form, as this morning I remembered a small book containing notes on stuff I’d come across that need further investigation. The book is once again in operation.

And cor, Diesel Combustible were still going until recently, it seems! That’s impressive to see: most of the little labels from that 1990s mail-based underground time, mine included, ceased to be a long time ago.

VARIOUS: Pulley (7″, Simple Machines SMR 003, 1991)

Various - Pulley

A wee slab of indie rock history here, kind of… Simple Machines were an inspirational label in their early nineties heyday, pulling together underground music strands and sharing the love with unending positivity. And, at the same time, releasing countless brilliant discs featuring all kinds of bands that are now varying degrees of legendary.

Pulley is one of the original set of ‘Simple Machines’ 7″ compilations – Pulley, Wheel, etc – Simple Machines, you get it? It features Bricks, My New Boyfriend, Nation Of Ulysses and The Mommyheads. It’s pressed on vivid clear red wax. It comes with a fold-out poster and insert in its fold-out sleeve. It ticks all of the necessary indie rock/DIY boxes. What’s fascinating is reading through the inserts that come with these releases – Simple Machines not only released records, but they helped to distribute the releases of others. So back in ’91, on the back of this record, I could’ve also bought Bikini Kill’s first tape, the first Lungfish album, a compilation covering the Washington DC scene, a Tear Jerks tape, and a whole ton more. I wish I had’ve done.

I liked how Simple Machines also tried to open up the mechanics and logistics of running a record label – in their inserts they’d provide full details of how and where they got stuff pressed, where inserts were printed, and give tips on how to start and maintain your own label. As the insert here states, “The revolution begins within each of us…” Perhaps the influence of labels like this is bigger than people realise. Would today’s underground music scene be what it is if it weren’t for these pioneers? Or does the revolution still continue to take shape?