All posts by simonminter

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.

THE SMITHS: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (12″, Rough Trade RTT 198, 1987)

The Smiths – I Started Something I Couldn't Finish

The Smiths are, for me, an odd band. I’ve got a few of their records, but I’d never really describe myself as a fan. Whenever I hear any of the vast majority of their songs, I’m reminded that I like them, and ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’, in particular, I really like. Yet still, I’d never really describe myself as a fan. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve an inkling that the root of the problem is… Morrissey.

His singing voice often threatens to slip into self-parody, and the way he carries himself has always been kind of a bother. His questionable use of the Union Jack, and more so, his vocal support of Brexit, set him out as somebody who clearly has a very different worldview to me – to put it kindly. Obsessive Smiths fans are a weird phenomenon, too, although I used to enjoy seeing Morrissey-haircutted groups of scrawny lads hanging about in town.

‘Sleeve by Morrissey’, it says on the back of this 12″, and I guess that for all his faults, at least Moz had a certain sense of style or what would now be referred to as ‘branding’. The Smiths’ record sleeves were unfailingly good things – very simple, very effective, very consistent in their approach, and a pleasing connection between sound and image.

On this cover is Avril Angers, in a still from The Family Way from 1966, which I haven’t seen but have just read about. It starred John Mills, grandfather of Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills, so there’s a six-degrees-type connection between The Smiths and Kula Shaker, if you want one. Despite it being a ‘sleeve by Morrissey’, there are also credits for Caryn Gough (layout) and Jo Slee (art co-ordination), which perhaps brings to mind an Apprentice-style scene with Morrissey sitting next to trained experts, telling them how to do their job. What fun.

According to Wikipedia, Morrissey fronted Slaughter & The Dogs in the late 1970s, which I didn’t know – and which I’m not quite sure is true? He was also a huge New York Dolls fan, which makes me warm to him. A little.

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