Groovy packaging on this record. I’m a big fan of the use of transaparency and opacity effects in design, especially when it’s used to mess with your mind a little bit. Not sure that it’ll come out in the photograph, but the sleeve contains a clear insert with green lettering. This lettering is arranged with every other word reversed, every other word capitalised, and a few letters reversed out. The sum total of all of this is the simultaneous creation of three messages:
- The reversed words spell out one message.
- The capitalised words spell out another, different message.
- The reversed out letters combined spell out the band name.
It’s an acrostic, typographic slice of genius, I tell you. But I’m not going to tell you what the first two messages are – track down a copy and work it out for yourself! It’s all carried out in such a way that’s incredibly subtle, and when combined with the semi-opaque vinyl it creates a great look. Clear or semi-opaque vinyl is always great – and it’s made better with some interesting stuff wrapped around it.
I once played a gig supporting Calvados Beam Trio, at the now-closed Jug Of Ale in Moseley, Birmingham. I don’t remember many specifics but I’m pretty sure that they were incredibly good, and were very accomplished musicians. I do remember the crowd; they were rabid enthusiasts who certainly loved to interact with the artists. I wouldn’t say heckling so much as friendly banter. Friendly, yet relentless and loud. Sometimes that kind of crowd can be a lot better than a bunch of arms-crossed chin-strokers who are watching live music for appreciation at the expense of fun. The best combination is, obviously, a bit of both.
A real shame that the Jug Of Ale isn’t operational any more – I saw quite a few great gigs there. I was once supposed to see Heavenly play there (in around ’92 I think?) but they’d cancelled. I instead found myself at a nightclub called Snobs, which (based on a quick internet check) is still going. I think it was actually good fun. Who’d have thought it?
What a great cover design. Totally meaningless, seemingly unconnected to anything, but bold and striking enough to make me ponder at length about how and why some bird-headed warriors on horseback are representative of Federation X, this record, the songs on this record, or something related to one or more of those things. Nice bit of screen-printing, too, which has left a faint odour of fresh ink that remains to this day.
Federation X I knew nothing about at the time of purchasing this. I decided to do so at the same time as getting a bunch of stuff from the Wäntage USA label, some years ago. I was overwhelmed by how great everything they released seemed to be. They were very quietly spearheading an early wave of now-more-popular American hard indie rock music, with a collection of bands that took the sludgy riffs of Melvins, mixed in Black Sabbath, peppered the results with a wry sense of humour and conspired to Rock Very Hard Indeed. Fist-pumping heavy music that it was safe to like without the need for irony or shame. For a time, I was electronical pen-pals with Josh, the guy behind Wäntage, and still drop by to say a virtual hi from time to time.
I’m often tempted to drop everything and hop on a plane to visit the Totalfest event that Josh runs annually; everything I read suggests it’s not only an amazing hoedown of bands Rocking Very Hard Indeed, but that it’s also a real community kind of festival, with beer, swimming, BBQs and good vibes. Perhaps if I did end up there one day it’d turn out to be just a hundred people watching a band in a room. Who knows. I like the idea I’ve built up of it, though.
Totalfest, and Wäntage USA itself, are based in Missoula, Montana. This interests me because as a mid-teenager I was a huge David Lynch fan, and heard him mention this place in many documentaries as the location where he grew up. If David Lynch is from there, and a cool record label is from there, it must be a great place, surely? No? Regardless, here’s what it looks like from the sky. Check out those mountains! And see how Route 90 snakes across the top of some of them!
This was a charity shop purchase at some point during the 1990s. Thee Hypnotics weren’t (indeed, aren’t) a band I felt particularly desperate to hear, but at the time my thinking would have been influenced by two factors:
- This was a record released on Situation Two. That label also released the early output of The Charlatans (or The Charlatans UK if you’re reading in America). I liked the early output of The Charlatans a lot – enough to think that something released on the same label as them can’t be all bad…
- Thee Hypnotics were a band that I’d heard of, and I was under the impression that they had something of a whiff of outrageous rock’n’roll/drugged-out psychosis to them. In hindsight, they really aren’t that exciting or transcendental, but I distinctly remember that I used to mix them up with the whole Spacemen 3/Spiritualized/The Darkside axis of music.
There is other psychological stuff going on when I make a charity shop purchase. Consider, if you will, purchasing records in one of the following three situations:
- A specialist, hyper-cool independent record store that stocks only records that you want to buy.
- A high street (or Main Street if you’re reading in America) chain store that stocks some records that you want to buy.
- A charity shop that generally stocks very few at best records that you want to buy.
Each of the situations represents a slice of an overall, scientifically-sound, record-buying Venn diagram of choice and necessity:
- Choice: You’ve either got a lot to choose from, or you haven’t.
- Necessity: I came out to buy a record today, and nothing will stop this from happening.
Given those two factors, buying a record by a band I didn’t really want to hear, on the very sketchy basis of a label connection with a band I enjoyed hearing, makes complete sense, does it not? If I’d have been in situation number one above, but could only purchase one record, I’d have bought the one that I desperately craved over all others. As it was, in situation three – as in the case of this purchase – any record was better than no record.
That’s the end of today’s science. Please don’t get situation two above mixed up with Situation Two above.
This is a great record. ‘Strength’ is a little slice of girl-group/Motown-infused indie-pop that is a lot more proficient and ‘together’-sounding than pretty much anything else you might hear by Comet Gain. That might sound disparaging, but it’s not supposed to be – I really liked Comet Gain (or should that be ‘like’? – are they still going?). I first became aware of them in the early-to-mid ’90s after Huggy Bear/Cornershop/Blood Sausage and other bands, representing some of the UK support of the Riot Grrl scene, often mentioned something called Comet Gain on their sleeves, inserts, flyers and fanzines. I finally tracked down a seven inch bearing this name – which turned out to be that of a band – after some record shop searching. It wasn’t this record that I got – it was a much scrappier, wraparound sleeve/hand-pasted artwork job that I think may have been their first release. It was brilliant. Totally firing out exuberance, positivity and cool in a way that hinted at all kinds of not only indie-pop connections and parallels, but also 1960s cool, underground film-making, and a hard-to-define sense of ‘soul’.
Comet Gain played several years later – 2003, to be exact – at the annual music festival that I co-organise. They were particularly chaotic and shambolic (there was none of the Ronettes sheen of ‘Strength’ apparent during their set), but were fantastically good fun and – for me – a pleasure to see play live at last. As is so often the case with the festival, I was too much a combination of shy and busy to actually make much contact with the band and its members – and so who knows if they’re nice people or not. They seemed to be, though. I swear, if I’d been more outgoing and conversational during the 10+ years I’ve been running this festival, I’d have all kinds of cool friends to bang on about. Not that I don’t have cool friends already. But you know what I mean.
I was listening to an episode of the Sound Opinions podcast this afternoon, and during an interview with Peaches the discussion turned to how Riot Grrl, and its effects, had seemingly been completely forgotten about and overwhelmed by a whole new era of female objectification and dumb-ass pop singers with exceptionally questionable morals and or/values. (Okay, okay, they weren’t that bold in what they were saying, some of that is my own opinion). But isn’t it odd? Riot Grrl seemed to be so confidently final about making a change, but it seemed to fade away. A real shame. I hope we’re in for a similar bout of revolutionary change at some point soon – anything that debunks the idea (for example) of pole-dancing or getting hammered as a positive, empowering activity for independent modern women would have to be a good thing.