HEY COLOSSUS: Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo (LP, MIE 018, ?)

Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

I’ve got a lot of records by Hey Colossus, they tweak my musical nodes in several ways: they’re noisy, strange, experimental, riff-heavy, repetitive and melodic. That’s a win-win-win-win-win-win combination as far as I’m concerned. They successfully pull off that trick of seeming like a mysterious, shadowy collective, that must surely exist in some kind of Satanic, drug-battered netherworld, rising above ground purely to record and to play live.

On previous records they’ve pushed things in several ways – going all-out noise, or all-out freeform weirdness, for example. Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo is, though, a majestic pinnacle of their music, nailing the sonic combination described above with clarity, power and invention. Plus, it sounds like a great lost Circle record, which is another ‘win’ to add to that list. Tim Cedar, of outstanding noise-rock behemoths Part Chimp, plays drums on this album, and channels that band’s pummelling energy into graceful slabs of rhythmic hypnotism.

A couple of recollections of seeing Hey Colossus play live:

  1. They played at the Audioscope festival, which I help to run, in 2008. Even having met them at the event, I have no recollection of who they were and what they looked like. Hence the ‘shadowy collective’ referred to above.
  2. They played at the Supersonic festival, which I do not help to run, in 2012. Despite being musically fantastic, they left a slightly sour taste in my mouth as they played some pretty unpleasant, pretty misogynistic films throughout their set.  I found it best to look at something else…

Although there is no release date mentioned on the record (liner notes are very scant, except for track titles and a few credits included on the rear sleeve’s artwork), but I’m pretty sure that it was released in 2013. The artwork is superb, showing a hookah-smoking cuckoo kitted out in Victorian smoking garb; I’ve read that the artwork is ‘by the band’. It’s a fine illustration that’s extended onto a red and yellow printed inner sleeve. A black and white outer sleeve birthing its colourful inner as the record is unsleeved is a joy to behold.

Links: Hey Colossus / MIE

MIAOW: When It All Comes Down (7″, Factory FAC 179-7, 1987)

Miaow - When It All Comes Down

I must admit, I (recently) bought this record purely because I’m a huge fan of the American band Unrest – they covered ‘When It All Comes Down’ and held a strange obsession with Miaow singer and guitarist Cath Carroll, naming a (fantastic) song for her and using a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of her as the cover image for their Perfect Teeth album. It’s a great song, and the Miaow version is jaunty, melodic and good listening – indeed, proof that Unrest’s version is a very faithful cover.

Miaow were a band from Manchester who were active in the 1980s (including contributing a track to every indie-pop fan’s primer of choice, C86) and Cath Carroll has done a lot of interesting things. Here are a few of them, plucked from a (hopefully correct) Wikipedia page:

  • She played in a band called Property Of… in the late 1970s, along with former Warsaw drummer Tony Tabac
  • She wrote for NME and City Limits
  • She married Big Black guitarist Santiago Durango
  • She’s written books about Tom Waits and Fleetwood Mac

This record, released on Factory, sports a disarming image on its sleeve; the sleevenotes don’t mention who created it, but do mention ‘Sleeve: Cath/Brian/Slim Smith’ – yet another string to Carroll’s bow, with the input of ‘Brian’, who isn’t a member of Miaow (anybody know who Brian is?) and Slim Smith, a designer with a huge catalogue of impressive work. Oh, and here’s proof that not all Factory sleeves were designed by Peter Saville!

So, some nice connections to end with: Avant-prog group Henry Cow release a 1974 album named Unrest. Avant-indie group Unrest name themselves after this album from around 1983 onwards. Avant-pop group Miaow slot somewhere in between.

(A final footnote: if the record sleeves looks a little wrinkly, well, as Milli Vanilla would say – blame it on the rain…)

Links: Miaow (on Wikipedia) / Factory Records (fan site)

SHIT AND SHINE: Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (12″, Gangsigns GS004, 2013)

Shit And Shine - Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change

Shit And Shine are an extraordinarily enigmatic, shapeshifting band. It’s difficult to tell at any point in their history so far – they’ve been going for five, ten, twenty, fifty years? – who is in the band, where they are from, who decides what they are going to release (and how), and, vitally, what they’re playing at with their music.

I’ve got a lot of their records, and they skid about from all out atonal noise to guitar-heavy drone pounding to electronic experimentalism. Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (a great record title – more on this band’s excellent titling skills later) is five tracks of relatively light-sounding rhythmic disco electronica, striated by moments of weirded-out distorted vocals, and saturated in an overall sense of Shit And Shine not being quite right in the collective head. This is in no way a criticism.

I don’t know if this record is supposed to spin at 45 or 33 – it sounds good at either speed. The sleeve is as vague and strange as the music – beyond the title and band name it shows nothing except a super-sinister photograph, although the labels include track titles, label name and catalogue number. The record and its artwork is, for a cataloguer and designer like me, equally frustrating and rewarding.

A few years ago I put the band on as part of a music festival that I run, and even though I met several members (who were all genial and accommodating), they maintained an air of mystery and oddness throughout the day. Musically, they were outstanding – multiple drummers packed onto a small stage, and around 45 minutes of relentless repetition and unbearably tense dynamics. It still remains one of the best live sets I’ve ever witnessed from any band, anywhere.

As mentioned, Shit And Shine have a propensity for brilliant and confrontational record and song titles. To wit:

  • Toilet Door Tits
  • The Biggest Cock In Christendom
  • When Extreme Dogs Go Wrong
  • Creepy Ballerina

…and so on. Who knows what these titles mean, if anything. I imagine that the band themselves don’t even know. Or maybe they do? Maybe it’s all part of a very carefully-constructed plan. Enigmatic, see.