Category Archives: Post-rock-type Stuff

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

-a+M: Dials (10”, Lancashire And Somerset L&S 005, ?)

-a+M: Dials

The random number generator that I use to pick a record to write about on here dumped me right at that awkward ‘pre-alphabet’ part of the list – the place where artist names start with numbers or symbols rather than a common-or-garden letter.

So, the mysteriously-named -a+M, and an equally mysterious record. This and a couple of other things from the Lancashire And Somerset label were, I think, bought at the same time, as I like the label’s style and wanted, a little while ago, to get a mini-overview of some of their releases.

I have no idea who -a+M are, the label’s website doesn’t offer much help, and it’s not the kind of name that lends itself to easy Googling. The rear sleeve does suggest that there was once a website at www.minusaplusm.co.uk, which would have been helpful (I hope), but it’s no longer in existence (unfortunately).

The record contains eight tracks of mellow acoustic guitar instrumentals, with two guitars weaving their melodies into each other in a way that hints at post-rock complexity and structure, but with a sound that feels more like experimental folk music. It’s not unpleasant at all, and it has a sonic clarity that’s refreshing and precise.

The artwork is based around a Dials concept led by the record’s title: the front and back cover shows cleaned-up and modified graphics of this fallout decay and dose guide: ‘The Commander’s Radiation Guide’, manufactured in the 1960s by a German company called Nestler. It’s been altered to include the artist name on the front, and the label name, track titles and catalogue number on the back. A 10″-sized numbered insert (mine is 264 of 300) shows two images of what I presume to be dials that were part of the inner workings of this radiation guide and calculator. It’s a really nice-looking artefact, this record; it would be great to see a limited edition of one that was packaged in a real Commander’s Radiation Guide, screwed together in the centre and mounted on a packet with date stamps and handwritten notes, as the two-dimensional sleeve suggests may have once existed.

Links: Lancashire And Somerset

THE OSCILLATION: Cable Street Sessions (12″, Cardinal Fuzz CFUL024, 2014)

The Oscillation - Cable Street Sessions

Cardinal Fuzz has become one of my favourite record labels of recent times – they seem as concerned with a high quality of finish and design on their releases as I think any label should be, and their records all spin around the axis of noisy, guitar-based psychedelic/experimental music. Win, and indeed win.

Cable Street Sessions is a new 12″ by The Oscillation, who have here four pretty intense, pretty aggressive repeato-fuzz pieces that include a cover of The Deviants’ ‘Somewhere To Go’. They’re a superb live band – I’ve put them on a couple of times before as part of the festival I co-run, and never not been impressed. They’ve also got some interesting connections – drummer Valentina Magaletti has been in about 15,000 bands in the past, and has been a name that consistently crops up as one makes one’s way around the independent music world; bass player Tom Relleen is also an excellent booking agent (one of the good guys in an industry that seems increasingly full of… not-so-good guys).

A designer isn’t credited either on the sleeve or the insert that comes with this record; although the photography on both is by Anita Awbi. It’s a fun design, with the heavily treated cover photograph psych-ed up with its repeated distorted circle motif, and typography that shifts things in a slightly gonzo/punk direction. And, of course, it’s printed onto reflective mirror board, to up the stakes in terms of shininess and can’t-take-a-photograph-without-accidentally-doing-a-selfie-ness. (It also reminds me of The Verve’s A Northern Soul album packaging, which was similarly reflective).

“Some of the heaviest and best kraut-a-delic music out there…” says the label’s website about this record. They’re not far wrong.

Links: The Oscillation / Cardinal Fuzz

HELLVETE: Ode (LP, Deep Distance DD15, 2014)

Hellvete - Ode

I’ve mentioned before how I have a few ‘go-to’ labels that I’ll tend to buy all new releases from – ones that have proved themselves enough in terms of consistency and quality to pretty much have me opening my wallet instantly upon receipt of a ‘new release’ email.

Deep Distance – an offshoot of The Great Pop Supplement – is becoming such a label. The Great Pop Supplement were in this category years ago, with a combination of great music (tending toward the post-rock, 60s-tinged or psychedelia worlds) and nice packaging; Deep Distance follow suit in terms of packaging, but seem to focus on more electronic-based music. (Or, perhaps, less guitar-based).

Hellvete is a new name to me, but according to this have released several things on a variety of labels thus far. It’s a one-man project, from the mind of Glen Steenkiste, and Ode is a two-track album, one per side, each consisting of a long, sustained, pure drone. It’s not a drone in the sense of Sunn o)))’s brutal rumbling; instead, these two tracks are exultant, bouyant and amazingly uplifting, with rich layers of slowly undulating tone providing endless forward motion. It’s a little like the final moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey have been stretched to infinity – constantly approaching a perfect point in sound, yet never quite achieving that impossible aim.

The record is pressed on crystal clear vinyl, which is befitting to the purity of the sounds it contains. No credit is provided for the charming illustrations – or treated photographs – on the front and back cover, which show lacework that places organic scenes into a complex lattice structure.

Links: Deep Distance / Hellvete

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

KAREN NOVOTNY X / SAMANTHA GLASS: Join Hands / Near 86th (7″, Deep Distance DD16, 2013)

Karen Novotny X / Samantha Glass - Join Hands / Near 86th

There’s rather an air of mystery surrounding many aspects of this split 7″ single, pressed on white vinyl. Karen Novotny X is not an individual but a band; they take the A side and spin at 33 rpm. According to the notes on this record’s insert, their track was recorded in East London between winter 1979 and spring 1980 – whether this is actually true is another matter. This and their other releases are all quite recent, and the internet yields nothing that helps to position Karen Novotny X as anything other than a recent band. Unless a couple of different record labels have conspired to release archive recordings at around the same time; and unless nobody had heard of and written about this band before very recently; and unless somebody has taken it upon themselves to run a Facebook page for them which to all intents and purposes looks to be full of the things a currently-active band might share to promote themselves, well, I posit that they’re a band of The Now. Regardless, ‘Join Hands’ is nice, a kind of John-Carpenter-at-a-slow-disco tune that suggests a love of analogue synthesisers and spooky minimal electronica of the late 1970s.

Such aural pleasures are somewhat shared with ‘Near 86th’ by Samantha Glass, which occupies the 45 rpm B side of this record. Now, Samantha Glass isn’t exactly a person as such; it’s a pseudonym, alter ego or alternative name of somebody named Beau Deveraux, who has released cassettes and things through Deep Distance as well as other labels like Not Not Fun. The preferred jam of Glass/Deveraux is a smooth kind of hypnagogic-pop-it’s-okay-to-like – 1980s-tinged but more in terms of world-of-wonder electronic repetition than bombastic, hyper-compressed vocal tunes.

Deep Distance releases tend to come in stock label sleeves*, and this one is no different, although this is augmented by a hand-numbered insert, one side of which makes for a very mysterious mono cover image. As with many of the label’s releases, the artwork was put together by Dom Martin who runs both Deep Distance and sister label The Great Pop Supplement. The collage art used on the insert is by Ingrid Christie – this one, I think – a fine art graduate from the University of Central Lancashire who also completed two years of a science degree, including a 100% grade in mathematics. Apparently. Science + Art = Spooky Record Sleeves, it would seem.

Links: Karen Novotny X / Samantha Glass / Deep Distance

JEALOUSY MOUNTAIN DUO: No_01 (LP, Blunoise LC 05575, 2011)

Jealousy Mountain Duo - No_01

Here’s a nice example of the kindness of strangers. I wrote a very brief piece on my record label’s website about Nicoffeine and their “dystopic, potentially harmful guitar noise” after hearing one of their tracks on a Wire magazine compilation CD. Soon afterwards, a member of the band – Jörg Schneider – got in touch to say thanks and to offer me some of their records, if I wanted them.

Did I want them? Why yes, of course! Free records? Never say no to free records. So, in due course, a 12″-sized parcel was delivered, containing not only Nicoffeine’s most recent album, but also a couple of albums by Jealousy Mountain Duo, Jörg’s two-person other project.

The pithy credits on the reverse of No_01 state “Berger | Guitar” and “Schneider | Drums”. Jealousy Mountain Duo are a guitar & drums duo in the vein of Lightning Bolt, but with a far less overdriven and rampant feel. What sound rather like improvised, semi-random clean guitar squawks and repeated rhythmic motifs fuddle their way around beautifully complex and skittering drum patterns that remind me of drumming dervishes like Shoji Hano and Chris Corsano. Across the album’s eight tracks – which include the marvellously-titled ‘David Has Awesome Hair’, the album is a prolonged glimpse into Jealousy Mountain Duo’s soundworld as much as it is a collection of songs/tunes/pieces. Indeed it’s difficult to pick apart the individual tracks at times; the whole work ebbs and flows texturally whilst throwing out endlessly engaging and challenging structures and melodies.

The album is packaged in a nicely-textured card sleeve, with some elegant type (in Futura Light?) over a mysterious photograph. The artwork is by Soheyl Nassary, a member of Nicoffeine with a lot of good-looking work samples on his website.

Links: Jealousy Mountain Duo / Blunoise

EX-EASTER ISLAND HEAD: Mallet Guitars Three (LP, Low Point LP055, 2013)

Ex-Easter Island Head - Mallet Guitars Three

This is the first Ex-Easter Island Head record I’ve owned, after listening to their earlier work Mallet Guitars One and Mallet Guitars Two / Music For Moai Hava on Spotify several hundred times. It seemed like I should do my small part to help prevent the collapse of the music industry, and shell out for an actual record.

(For the record – no pun intended – I think Spotify is one of the greatest advances for the internet and the music industry of recent times. Perhaps at least a tiny amount of money per play going to a label is better than nothing at all, right? Although I’m not sure why they haven’t yet made it possible to buy physical products/’premium’ editions of streaming albums through their service, in the same way that Bandcamp have. Surely that’d be great, no?)

Anyway, in brief; Ex-Easter Island Head describe themselves as “A Liverpool, UK-based ensemble composing and performing music for solid-body electric guitar, percussion and other instruments.” What this means is chiming, uplifting guitar sounds that are carefully melodically arranged to reveal the spaces in between notes to the listener – resulting in beautiful, disconcerting music that often sounds like human voices in a ghostly, gamelan-like set of floating aural shapes. Over the four movements of Mallet Guitars Three – yep, these guys do movements, not songs – I’m enveloped in a kind of upper atmospheric stasis; an austere yet warm place to be that takes a darker turn by the time of the gliding, descending notes of the fourth movement. It’s excellent stuff, and the varied used of subtle, chugging rhythm binds the sound to a structure that prevents it floating away.

The front cover shows an apt duotone photograph of guitars seemingly levitating in a mysterious space, and the back keeps things simple with credits, a publishing/copyright statement and nothing more. The simplicity and starkness is interrupted by two factors:

  1. Unless my eyes deceive me, there is a very subtle repetition of the front cover’s top right grid structure across the back cover, printed almost as black on black.
  2. On a more functional level, there is more space between the ‘published’ p-in-a-circle character and the year 2013 than there is between the copyright character and its own year. I presume that this is an accident rather than by design. Side note: many fonts’ character sets don’t include that p-in-a-circle character, which can make record sleeve design a tiny bit more frustrating than it needs to be, as the designer has to create their own in a way that matches the © for that font as closely as possible.

Links: Ex-Easter Island Head / Low Point

MAHOGANY: In The Presence Of The Crepuscular (7″, Amberley AMY 6, 1999)

Mahogany - In The Presence Of The Crepuscular

A record from what was in some ways an early wave of the instrumental, semi-electronic post-rock sound that came to inform vast swathes of independent music, this Mahogany single is a real ‘prepared with love’ kind of artefact, despite being packaged in a standard 7″ sleeve:

  • The cover artwork is superb – a bit of pseudo-Bridget Riley op art that hints at pixellated imagery, semaphore and all kinds of ‘hidden codes’. It’s the sort of cover one could obsess over for hours.
  • The label, Amberley, was a one-man outfit that had a lot of time and energy put into it (I used to correspond with the guy behind the label, and can vouch for his total belief in what he was doing) – by the time of this Mahogany record’s release Amberley had also put out singles by several other great bands of the time, including A.M.P Studio, Gnac, Navigator and Lazarus Clamp.
  • The record itself is pressed on super-heavy vinyl – and that’s quite a bit more expensive to do than the ‘normal’ weight of seven inch vinyl. Why bother, one might ask? Well, it does make the record sound better. It also makes the record feel better, like a item of intrinsic value that will sit confidently and comfortably on your turntable.
  • Included within is a properly-printed, folded insert with details of Amberley’s releases – something more than a simple cut-up photocopy insert.

Hell, maybe every single released independently is by definition a ‘prepared with love’ artefact. It’s just that not all of them show it so obviously, I guess. To me, I don’t understand why somebody who’s putting in the extraordinary time and effort required to simply get a record made and out there in the world wouldn’t extend that time and effort into all of its aspects – design, presentation, quality and style. Ticking all of those boxes is, for me, as DIY/punk as it gets: so much more so than intentionally presenting things in a scrappy or rough way to create some kind of (perhaps false) idea of ‘real’-ness… Maybe it depends on the kind of music, though. For this kind of music (refined, subtle and stylish post-rock), this presentation works for me.

VARIOUS: The Twominutemen 2 (2×7″, Jonson Family JFR 009, 2003)

Various - The Twominutemen 2

This double seven inch, sixteen-track compilation, and the one that came before it (can you guess what that one was called? I’ll leave that up to your keen mind to work out), represent for me an exciting few years in independent British music. Jonson Family, the label that released the compilations, and other labels like them – including Gringo and Errol, and certainly others whose names I forget right now – were releasing the records, the Silver Rocket club in London were putting on a lot of the gigs, and people up and down the country (including an odd focus on Nottingham) were being incredibly proactive in keeping a scene going.

Maybe this stuff still goes on nowadays, but the energy and positivity of this indie/noise/post-rock scene at the time was totally inspiring. I don’t get that sense so much any more, now that everything’s conducted at lightspeed because of no end of internet-based solutions. Perhaps it was just the situation at the time – I was writing a lot for (and hanging out a lot with the people involved with) the Diskant website, going to a lot of gigs including some of the earlier All Tomorrows Parties festivals, starting up my own festival and inviting many of the bands I loved to get involved, and playing in a band that took me all over the country to play shows with tons of bands, several of whom feature on these Twominutemen compilations.

Disparaging though I may have been, sarcastically referring to ‘internet-based solutions’ above, it’s because of the internet that I know that most of the people involved in that scene at the time are still getting up to this and that, and most are involved with music one way or another. Indeed, there’s a fantastic (if rarely updated) blog called Memories Of Running A Shitty Record Label that details the trials and tribulations of Jonson Family records in a pretty hilarious fashion.

One day I’ll make an awesome compilation of the bands that were firing me up in the first half of the 2000s, and it’ll be great. It’ll include Oxes, I’m Being Good, Charlottefield, Cat On Form, Souvaris, Bilge Pump, Lapsus Linguae, Part Chimp and many, many more.