SONIC YOUTH: Helen Lundeberg (7″, SY-0001)

Sonic Youth - Helen Lundeberg

This is the first 7″ record that my random number generator – the website I use to decide which record from my collection to write about – has pointed me towards. That’s a little intentional, as until very recent times my 7″ records were in no order whatsoever, and it would’ve been tricky to track down any specific one. However! I spent a couple of weekend days a little while ago organising them into alphabetical order and, naturally, life now feels much more intentional and relaxed.

This seems to be only the second Sonic Youth record I’ve written about here, which is somewhat surprising, as their records occupy quite a hefty chunk of my collection overall. Quite an odd record, this one: I think it was released by the band, but I can’t remember. It doesn’t state a label, or indeed a release date, on either its sleeve, its labels, or the insert included within the sleeve. Discogs tells me it was released in May 2006. I will have almost definitely bought it as soon as it was released, such was my approach to any new Sonic Youth release; I think it was ordered online and delivered mail order.

Not a great deal to say about the sleeve design; the front and back are almost identical, except for in the positioning of the letters. One side has ‘SONI / C YO / UTH’, the other has ‘SONI / CYOU / TH’. Dull stuff. A stencil font (the font is actually called Stencil, as well as being ‘a stencil font’), black on white, no nonsense. It’s a relatively commonplace design, although not entirely unpleasant.

The insert seems to have been cut to its square shape with a rusty butter knife – it’s all rough-edged and crappy-feeling. It shows nothing more than the lyrics for the two songs on the record (‘Helen Lundeberg’ and ‘Eyeliner’), presented in plain old Verdana, black on white, no nonsense.

A weird record, a weird release. So little effort seems to have been put into the physical presentation of these two songs. The songs are fine – latter-period Sonic Youth; i.e. melodic and nothing like as freaked, spaced, or zoned out as in their earlier days.

VERVE: She’s A Superstar (12″, Hut HUTT 16, 1992)

Verve - She's A Superstar

That’s Verve, of course, not The Verve, as they became, slightly later in their career. I can’t quite remember why they changed their name, but it may have been to do with potential mixups with the Verve record label…? I think they were also known as The Verve UK  in America: it must be pretty painful to have to lessen the coolness of your one-word band name when market forces come into play.

Anyway. What a band! This 12″ is from the sweet spot for this band before Richard Ashcroft decided to sing and sing and sing all over every second of every track. ‘She’s A Superstar’, along with other singles from around this time, and the album A Storm In Heaven, was for me some of the best music around. It dovetailed perfectly with the chemically-altered/chemically-enhanced sound of shoegaze that was sweeping the world at the time. Dreamy, tense, soulful music.

Around the time of this record’s release I saw Verve supporting Smashing Pumpkins in, I think, Wolverhampton. Smashing Pumpkins were fine, pretty enjoyable – even despite Billy Corgan deciding to end the set with a fifteen-minute solo poetry reading – and Verve were outstanding. The enjoyment was doubled because the band I was in at the time used to include a cover of Verve’s ‘Slide Away’ in our set – as did, presumably, roughly 1,000 up-and-coming-but-never-really-going-anywhere bands of the time.

The artwork on this record is proper Hipgnosis-style conceptual ambition: bearing in mind that in 1993 digital retouching would have been much more expensive and difficult than now, I’d love to know how this sleeve was put together. The band look on, Pink Floyd Live In Pompeii-style, as multicoloured waterfalls swoop over the band’s name, spelt out in (real?) neon. It’s a Brian Cannon / Microdot design; Brian Cannon was responsible for much of the tripped-out look of Verve’s output and, in later times, went on to craft the record sleeves of Oasis, which I have no doubt played a huge part in that band’s success and image. There’s a Microdot archive of sorts here. I think Oasis supported Verve in their early days – not, unfortunately, on any Verve gigs that I saw.