Category Archives: Indie Rock Punk Noise

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.

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

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

VARIOUS: Crystallized: Celebrating 15 Years Of Rocket Recordings (2LP, Rocket Recordings LAUNCH060, 2013)

Various - Crystallized

I bought this two-album set very recently, after discovering the outstanding weirdo noise outfit Anthroprophh and taking myself on a Spotify-led journey through various releases and connected bands. After being somewhat blown away by the sounds on this compilation when listening online, I read that the physical release came on spattered clear/black vinyl and featured a die-cut sleeve, and needed no further convincing.

It’s a superb collection for anybody that’s into out-there sounds, distorted noise rock/Krautrock/space rock or, indeed, experimentalism in all its forms. Rocket Recordings have carved out a niche as a label with high standards of quality control and releases that include rather a who’s who of the recent modern (real) psychedelia scene, such as Teeth Of The Sea, Gnod, Shit & Shine, Goat and Anthroprophh (all of whom appear on Crystallized) and White Hills, Oneida and Mugstar.

The vinyl here is a joy to behold: two slices of clear space with smeared black/white spatters emanating from the centre. The artwork, too, is special: credited to Luke Insect (who has worked on a vast range of music packaging that stretches from The Prodigy to Wolf People via Young Knives), it consists of digitally-treated illustrations of intersecting shards of crystal, printed in silvery-grey and black and coming together in the held-aloft centrepiece on the sleeve’s front. The shape being held up on the cover is die-cut into the sleeve, meaning that the content of the shape’s interior can be changed at will to a selection of images across the two records’ inner sleeves. On the rear sleeve, an exact replica of the shape – nice attention to detail there – is printed as a black backdrop to the track listing. It’s a great looking artefact.

Anthroprophh, by the way, constantly remind me of the movie Anthropophagous, an unpleasant 1980 horror about “an insane, violent, and grotesque killer that slaughtered the town’s former residents”. This was one of the films to appear on the infamous 1983 ‘DPP list‘ – aka the video nasties list – created by the UK Director of Public Prosecutions as a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of rigid certification of video cassettes at the time. Since then many of the films on the list have been released with varying levels of cuts – a market still remains for avid collectors who seek out ‘pre-cert’ video cassettes of the original releases. I once collected a few of these, and subsequently gave them away to a local charity shop: visitors to that branch of Oxfam may have got an unexpected surprise while browsing the shelves…

Links: Rocket Recordings

GUMBALL: Light Shines Through (12″, Paperhouse PAPER 012 T, 1991)

Gumball - Light Shines Through

I don’t remember where I picked up this record, but I’ve a feeling it was one of those ‘randomly acquired in a record shop’ purchases – on one of those record-shopping trips where I’m not looking for anything in particular, but usually emerge with a stack of unexpected new things that I didn’t realise I was after.

This record contains meaty, organ-heavy, dumbo garage rock that’s simultaneously of the grunge era and of the endless ‘influenced by mid-60s garage punk’ era. More than that, it spins off into widdly-diddly-guitar-solo worlds a la Dinosaur Jr, as well as the lysergic freakout of ‘Saint’ and the power pop of ‘Damn! Bam!’.

Once, in the past, perhaps around the time of this record’s release, I saw Gumball play an in-store at the Rough Trade shop in London. (Which one? The one that was below Slam City Skates in, I think, Neal’s Yard). That was fun, but not as fun as seeing Trumans Water, who played a set at the same event, and who were insane, unhinged and brilliant. Before the show I attended a Gumball press conference – presumably they had an album or something due out; perhaps Special Kiss, from which a couple of tracks on this record are taken? – and it was so busy that I had to stand outside, tape recorder in hand, straining to hear what was happening. Upon returning home I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that my recording didn’t yield much more than a hissy mess with some very quiet, almost entirely unintelligible voices. That article didn’t get written. Still, thanks for the invite, whichever PR company invited me!

The illustration on this record’s cover is a bit of an Ed Hardy-by-way-of-Savage-Pencil thang, credited on the rear sleeve to Robert Parker. I’ve found this Robert Parker through Google, but I presume they are not the same person, unless he has a very diverse stylistic range.

Gumball features Don Fleming (both as musician and, on this record, producer). He’s a guy with a long, varied career in America’s indie rock underground scene, including:

  • Producing records by Sonic Youth, Hole, Teenage Fanclub (yes, they’re not American) and more
  • Being a member of Dim Stars (with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Television’s Richard Hell) as well as, for a while, Half Japanese
  • Playing in the Backbeat Band, a beat combo put together to create music for the 1994 movie Backbeat, featuring Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mike Mills (REM), Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag). Funny old situation, that. Read about the movie here.

Oh, and look: here’s Don Fleming the American football player.

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.

HELP SHE CAN’T SWIM: Suck Our Band EP (7″, Vacuous Pop VPOP06, ?)

Help She Can't Swim - Suck Our Band EP

There are few things in life quite as satisfying as a 7″ single pressed on really heavy vinyl. This EP is an example of this; a substantial and shiny frisbee of a platter that thunks pleasingly down onto a turntable and feels like it must sound better than a poorly-pressed, bendy, thin, cheap record… right?

There’s no release date mentioned on this record anywhere; as far as I remember it was released in around 2004 or so (and Discogs seems to agree). Help She Can’t Swim were a breed of band that was prevalent in those early ’00s; independent, fun-loving, very colourful, noisy, accidentally fashionable, and joyously free of the weight of sarcasm, irony or self-aware po-faced-ness. Musically they were something of a mashed-up combination of Bis, Heavenly, Lightning Bolt, Nirvana and The Raincoats. At the time, the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival was at its height of yet-to-become-super-popular popularity, and Help She Can’t Swim were the type of band that would decamp en masse to Camber Sands to get drunk and listen to noisy bands. They were probably one of the many bands that staged surprise ‘chalet gigs’ – they didn’t need to be on the official line-up, they just played a gig wherever they felt like it, Summer Holiday-style.

This record was released by Vacuous Pop, an Oxford-based label who at the time were at the epicentre of Oxford’s own take on that ‘ATP music’-related scene. Run by an amazingly energetic and positive guy called Ady, Vacuous Pop released records by bands including Cat On Form (a member of whom went on to form Blood Red Shoes), The Edmund Fitzgerald (members of whom went on to form Foals) and Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies (members of whom went on to form, erm, Youthmovies). Ady also promoted some of Oxford’s best ever gigs, as well, and these created some of my fondest memories of gig-going – for a while, Oxford seemed like the centre of the nation’s musical scene, and some tiny venues played host to some incredible bands.

Ady was kind enough to commission me to produce posters for most of his gigs, and every one of them was a joy to put together. I was involved in the creation of the artwork for this Help She Can’t Swim record: not so much in the art direction, as the band provided the elements and very strong guidance as to how they wanted it to look. They supplied their images on a disc! This was sent in the post! Crazy, pre-broadband days. I was more of an artworker on this task, making their vision come to be, and handling the mundanities of getting artwork print-ready for duplication. This, and the other Vacuous Pop releases I assisted with artwork on, are proud nuggets of design work for me.

This record should be numbered (“Record number [blank space] of 500”, it says on the rear sleeve), but my copy is not numbered. Does that make it rarer than one of the numbered copies? Is it one of the 500? If so, what number should it have? Who knows. I don’t mind.

Links: Help She Can’t Swim on Wikipedia / Vacuous Pop‘s not-updated-in-an-age website

OLIMPIA SPLENDID: Nuttu Nurin (7″, Fonal FR-93, 2013)

Olimpia Splendid - Nuttu Nurin

I bought this record recently, after reading an excitable and positive review in The Wire magazine. I thought I’d go direct to the source, and so ordered it through Finnish record label Fonal’s website – I do so enjoy receiving parcels from far-flung lands in the mail.

Olimpia Splendid are, like the label of this release, from Finland. As a band, they’ve only been around for a couple of years, and this (I think) is their debut record. As musicians, though, they’ve been doing things for longer, and I enjoy reading about their previous exploits as it reminds me of the fun to be had reading about the unknown bands that existed before another unknown band. In this case, as Fonal’s website has it, Olimpia Splendid “formed the band in the Summer of 2010, having also played in the likes of Toblerones, Bananas, Snällas Blood, Hertta Lussu Ässä, Hockey Night and Kuupuu.”

Bands called Toblerones and Bananas are both okay with me. Two of those bands are actually somewhat more meaningful; I have an album by Kuupuu, released a while ago on the wondrous Time-Lag Records; and was involved in the organisation of an Oxford gig that presented Hertta Lussu Ässä along with Taurpis Tula (featuring David Keenan, who now runs the Volcanic Tongue record shop and distribution nerve centre), Virgin Eye Blood Brothers and The Thumb Quintet. It was a great gig, the likes of which I miss taking place in Oxford, and the description of my fellow promoter of Hertta Lussu Ässä staying at his house is marvellous: “Three tiny, tiny Finnish girls all lined up in a row in matching sleeping bags like peas in a pod.”

This 7″ record is really good – ramshackle, atonal-yet-tuneful-in-a-mid-period-Sonic-Youth-kind-of-way, weird for weird’s sake, and a bit screamy. There’s also a touch of The Fall in there, through a filter of faltering krautrock. For a garage band noise single, it’s got very high packaging values – a sleeve with a spine, good professional printing on decent-quality card, and it was even shrinkwrapped. (The shrinkwrapping is a little of a problem for me, though, I must admit – it’s always too difficult to get into without slightly damaging the sleeve. Damn.)

There’s no indication of who produced the artwork for the record, or indeed what exactly is going on in the photograph on the front cover. “Let’s use that photograph of somebody with a blanket over them standing in undergrowth next to a sign that says Poliisien Kesäkoti” – did that conversation actually take place? Thanks to Google Translate, I now know that Poliisien Kesäkoti is Finnish for “The Summer Home Of Police Officers”. That doesn’t really help to decode the photograph or its message. “Nuttu Nurin” means “Jacket Inside Out”. Hmm.

Here’s a video for ‘Jukka-Pekka’, one of the three songs on this record, by somebody called James Yuovinen:

Olimpia Splendid – Jukka-Pekka from Hevosburger on Vimeo.

Links: Olimpia Splendid / Fonal