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

YUKI TSUJII: I’m Rubbish But I Love You (7″, Blank Editions The Solo Series 006, 2014)

Yuki Tsujii - I'm Rubbish But I Love You

Reading about a record that’s a limited edition, has handmade elements to its packaging, and that is somehow unique as an artefact, is always a way to find my interest piqued. So, my first record from Blank Editions, but the sixth in their ‘The Solo Series’ of releases that has also included records by Charles Boyer, Joseph Coward, Douglas Hart, Thurston Moore and Ted Milton, was meant to find its way to me soon after I read about it.

Yuki Tsujii is a member of ‘Japanese four-piece acid punk band’ (thanks, Wikipedia) and on this 7″ record gives us two parts of ‘I’m Rubbish But I Love You’, an organic drone piece/field recording construction that sounds equally pleasant at 33 or 45 rpm. At 45 – which I think is the correct speed – it’s a concise, shimmering piece, somewhat akin to Library Tapes being played on the other side of a forest; at 33, it’s additionally eerie and (obviously) more lingering.

The packaging – presumably the work of David Santiago Blanco, one of the two people behind Blank Editions, who is also a designer – is a combination of ‘pro’ and handmade. Professionally-printed labels on the record, a printed wraparound tracing paper image on the sleeve coexist with a photocopied additional wraparound and a hand-stamped envelope which purportedly contains a leaf taken from a Hackney park. (I’m not sure about the latter; I didn’t open the envelope yet).

Links: Yuki Tsujii on Facebook / Blank Editions

TALULAH GOSH: Where’s The Cougar, Matey? (12″, 53rd & 3rd AGARR 14T)

Talulah Gosh - Where's The Cougar Matey

Early on in my headlong dive into indie-pop that took place from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Talulah Gosh revealed themselves as one of the fundamentals of that whole scene. Through a fast-expanding Sarah Records back catalogue I discovered Heavenly, who were predated by Talulah Gosh; Sarah also released the Talulah Gosh collection They’ve Scoffed The Lot. This was a band that not only seemed indelibly locked in to the early days of what was variously and confusingly named indie-pop, twee, C86, cute, anorak, etc, but that sonically typified everything I liked about that music – well-crafted songs, noisy, frantically-played buzzsaw guitars, skipping drum patterns and some underlying feelings of anger, irony and humour. This record is a perfect example, with short, bittersweet songs included the excellently-named ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Thank God’.

Now I live in Oxford, even more connections have revealed themselves. Musically, Talulah Gosh were as much early ‘players’ in indie-pop as they were Oxford’s own music scene, as explained in the documentary film Anyone Can Play Guitar. Through my own meanderings through Oxford’s music scene, I now know somebody that went to school and grew up with Amelia Fletcher, I’ve seen guitar player Peter Momtchiloff countless times in countless bands (and just, generally, around), and I’ve had a bit part in a film that had singer Eithne Farry as its lead dressmaker. It’s a strange, small, funny world.

Where’s The Cougar, Matey? followed two 7″ singles on 53rd & 3rd as the extended version of third single ‘Bringing Up Baby’, the lead track on this five-song 12″. Visually, it’s rather nice – a simple multicoloured pattern design on the front and on the back,  more patterns and an overlaid monochrome photograph and sleeve notes. This kind of overlaying of imagery and colours was a common feature of indie-pop fanzines and record sleeves – it speaks of a certain DIY attitude as much as a hand-finished cut-and-paste approach to artwork. The sleeve is credited to Mathew Fletcher, Talulah Gosh’s drummer and the brother of Amelia. He very sadly took his own life in 1996: here’s a nice article by The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on that subject and on the enduring positive influence of Mathew and Talulah Gosh.

Oh, and 53rd & 3rd is named after a Ramones song. Cool. It was started in 1985 by a few people including Stephen Pastel of, er, The Pastels.

Links: Talulah Gosh on Wikipedia / 53rd & 3rd on Tweenet

LES RALLIZES DÉNUDÉS: Electric Pure Land (2LP)

Les Rallizes Dénudés - Electric Pure Land

As seems befitting for a release by the influential, yet reclusive Japanese avant-garde band” Les Rallizes Dénudés, this double album – the first from the band in my collection – provides few hints in its packaging to what it is, who released it, when it was released or what it contains. Indeed, except for a series of stylised Japanese letters on the back cover, the only text is the band and album name on the spine, in incredibly small, widely-spaced letters.

So, I don’t know what label this is on – if any – and if it has a catalogue number. I’m not sure when it was released, although it only began to appear in and on a variety of reseller catalogues and websites within the past couple of months. None of these carry any particularly insightful information, but what I can glean is that this three-side set – one of the sides of the clear vinyl double album set is blank, smooth and without music – is that it’s a document of a live recording from 1974.

If what Wikipedia says is true (and I think I’ve heard this from other sources also), the band never released anything official, and all subsequent albums and CDs that have become available are bootlegs, mostly of live recordings. I’m somewhat in awe of the fact that in today’s know-everything internet age, a band can still exist with such a shroud of mystery and wonder.

Musically, the recordings here are pretty rough, but unquestionably powerful. Clutching at mainstream straws, there may be a combination of Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Can going on here, but that doesn’t really sum up the sonic oddness in this record; more recent acts such as Mainliner, Acid Mothers Temple and Fushitsusha reveal more of a Les Rallizes Dénudés influence perhaps, in an almost wholesale embracing of feedback, and little fear in operating almost entirely outside of conventional musical rules, while retaining a meta-melodic sense of tune that’s rather compelling.

The artwork, as mentioned, is sparse, portentous and enigmatic: an eclipse on the front; those Japanese characters on the back; images of solar flares across the inner gatefold; two paper inserts showing images of mysterious chunks of (moon?) rock. Cosmic.

Volcanic Tongue (from where this record was purchased) often say things better than anybody else in their descriptions of records, so I’ll end with their description of Electric Pure Land: “When Rallizes generate this kind of insane, form-destroying/higher minded six string euphoria it feels like they are the only group on the planet, taking the sound of the guitar as a conduit for electricity to its ultimate post-psych/noise ends.”

-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

TANGERINE DREAM: Alpha Centauri / Atem (2LP, Virgin VD 2504, 1976)

Tangerine Dream: Alpha Centauri / Atem

Record companies love to repackage and resell existing product, but in the case of this double album – which compiles a couple of Tangerine Dream’s early releases (Alpha Centauri was originally out in 1971, Atem in 1973) – I don’t have a problem with it. It’s a convenient way for me to hear a couple of albums that I haven’t heard before, and the artwork and gatefold sleeve is most pleasing.

Anyway, it’s kind of a moot point, as I was only around three years of age when this record came out, and wasn’t even alive when the two albums were originally released. So it’s not as if I was compelled to complete a collection by buying multiple formats. That said, I’m pretty sure that if I happen across either Alpha Centauri or Atem in their original single-album releases, I’m likely to buy them. Such is the mindset of a collector.

I bought this record very recently, as part of a small haul of stuff found at a Sue Ryder sale. You see, the charity Sue Ryder has its headquarters quite near to where I live, and they regularly hold large-scale sales of the kind of thing that hasn’t yet made it into any of their charity shops. This includes a room full of records, and from time to time there are some gems to be had.

As it’s a new purchase, I’ve only yet listened to Alpha Centauri, and haven’t moved beyond it as it’s so good. It sounds like the more abstract, bits-between-the-bits sections of early 1970s Pink Floyd, stretched out to cosmic extremes and played using early synthesiser technology that provides rich, affecting soundspaces. I’m not sure whether the Tangerine Dream personnel were reeling from the influence of gargantuan amounts of hallucinogenic substances, or if they were floating in a drug-free new-age appreciation of space and emotion – or perhaps both? Whatever they were up to, they created some deep music here – and, as the liner notes say within the gatefold: “This album is dedicated to all people who feel obliged to space”. Gotta love the early-to-mid 1970s.

The double album’s gatefold sleeve shows the Alpha Centauri artwork on the front, and the Atem artwork on the back. However, both have been augmented with the other’s title, included in a way that’s artfully and nicely executed. Inside the gatefold, there’s a glorious photograph of a dark, shimmering landscape, right out of the journey-through-space-and-time segment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both the Alpha Centauri and the Atem artwork is credited to Monique and Edgar Froese: Froese is a member of the band; Monique is his wife. As they were married in 1974, this means that they collaborated on the artwork before marriage. Maybe the art brought them closer together? Who knows. Very sadly, Monique died in 2000. Froese, and Tangerine Dream, continue to make art and music.

Link: Tangerine Dream

BRETT NAUCKE: Seed (LP, Spectrum Spools SP 034, 2014)

Brett Naucke - Seed

Said out loud, I’m not sure if Naucke is ‘now-ker’, ‘nork’, ‘nowk’ or something else entirely. That, potentially, isn’t important.

This is a very recent purchase, I bought Seed after reading its description on the Editions Mego website – Spectrum Spools is one of their associated labels, along with Ideologic Organ, Old News and others. This is the wording, repeated on the inner sleeve of the record, that piqued my interest:

Seed was written & recorded using ritual variations of a singular patch for modular synthesizer in Chicago, IL & field recordings made in Miami, FL November 2012 – July 2013

What’s not to love about that description? Determinedly wacky synth-related shenanigans; field recordings; a cool American location; a hot American location. Win! The track ‘Luau’, available on the Editions Mego website as a sample, sounds moodily ambient, with a bit of an Aphex Twin edge perhaps, and a slow distant burn of industrial noise hovering around its edges. So it is across the eight tracks of the album – it all takes place at a slow pace, with the carefully-constructed sounds unfurling amongst one another to create an effect that’s simultaneously cloying and ‘open’-sounding. I’m not a huge aficionado of Editions Mego-type work, and so perhaps this album is dreadfully stock in context of the other releases of it and its associates – but to me this sounds quite new, rather special and like music that triggers pleasant memories whilst creating fresh ones.

The artwork (by Nina Hartmann, who I can’t seem to accurately track down online) is an abstract, vaguely organic collection of shifting forms, spanning the whole of the front and back cover. The Spectrum Spools logo – a delightful chunky circle containing the colours of the spectrum – features on the back cover, and those colours are repeated to good effect as a set of colour bars on the spine. Here’s hoping that Spectrum Spools releases all have these bars on their spines – if they do, they’ll look beautiful lined up on a record shelf. On the inner sleeve, monochrome imagery (in light green) looks to have taken aspects of the cover image and stretched and distorted them, like the images have been run through a broken fax machine. Simple? Yes. Effective? Yes.

Links: Brett Naucke (website currently down, as at 27 April 2014) / Spectrum Spools

THE HUMAN LEAGUE: Open Your Heart / Non-Stop (12″, Virgin VS453-12, 1981)

The Human League - Open Your Heart / Non-Stop

My random number generator, before picking this record for me, suggested five or six 7″ singles – problematic, as my 7″s are still not in an easy-to-handle order, meaning that I can’t quickly track down any of them in particular. Note to self: sort this out.

Anyway, to the first record picked that I can easily locate. I’ll never tire of The Human League – they bridged several musical gaps for me, from being around when I was very young (as radio/TV-based pop music), through reflecting the kind of ‘pure pop’ moments that I craved in my late teens and twenties, and ticking a variety of post-punk/electronica boxes that appeals to my more po-faced muso side.

I picked up this record at some point within the last twenty years – certainly not when it was released, but probably as a charity shop find. One issue for the record-buying completist can be a love of a more mainstream band – it’s easy to get lost in a morass of endless releases and formats; is it really necessary to track down the 7″, 12″, 12″ remix and cassette version of every old single? For me, it’s a no – such format-itis makes me realise that what I really like is collecting all of the music rather than the releases; albeit tinged with some desire to make sure I’m grabbing the music in any different versions that were released, and as its ‘original’ release, whatever that may mean.

‘Open Your Heart’ is a superb song, a fine combination of off-kilter electronics, post-punk-seriousness in the vocal style and unashamed melodic pop. ‘Non-Stop’ pushes things slightly too far in a cutesy-childrens’-TV-theme direction for my liking. Despite having a clear break between songs on the record, they’re bracketed together as a single 8 minute 15 second piece. Art, innit.

And art always seemed close to The Human League’s collective heart, in terms of their records’ packaging. Check out the white space, the careful positioning, the sparse use of colour and the typographical spacing on this record’s front cover; on the back a single line containing the bracketed word ‘Instrumentals’ is justified by spacing the left and right brackets to the edges of the measure, while the word itself is left centred. Nicely done. The band also had the whole ‘Blue’/’Red’ thing going on – their band name augmented with a colour which, according to Wikipedia, was to “to help buyers differentiate between the band’s musical styles”.

Cover design is credited to ‘Adrian and Philip’ – presumably frontman Phil(ip) Oakey along with Philip Adrian Wright (renamed as Adrian to avoid confusion?), who was the  band’s ‘Director Of Visuals’. More bands need a ‘Director Of Visuals’. There’s also a credit for ‘Layout And Co-ordination’ given to the mysterious ‘Ken (at A.S.)’. That’ll be designer Ken Ansell, then of Ansell Sadgrove, now Creative Director at London design agency Clinic. Perhaps Oakey and Wright did the conceptual bit, and Ansell gave it life?

Links: The Human League

Records, design and thoughts. Simon Minter is a freelance designer from Oxford, UK.