HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS: Going Places (LP, Pye NPL 28065, 1965)

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - Going Places

Good old Herb Alpert. This is one of a number of his Tijuana Brass albums that I own, and sports what I think is a marvellous cover. What better when you’re out for a flight in your shoddily-personalised plane, flying scarf fluttering behind you (despite not actually moving), than to have a 1960s lovely perched on your wing (metaphorical and literal, I’ll warrant) serving you a drink so mysterious that the photographer has had to block it out with some aeroplane architecture?

‘Spanish Flea’ is on this album; the quintessential Alpert number. When I bought this record, along with other Alpert releases, it was in the midst of a widespread mid-1990s reawakening of interest in Easy Listening. This was caused, in part, by a weird Britpop side effect that happened at the time. I’m not sure how it came about, but Pulp’s music (and Denim, perhaps, in a smaller way) begat a whole mini-scene involving clubs like Smashing and Blow Up, contributed to a charity clothing fashion boom summed up by any night in Camden’s Good Mixer on the star-spot, and finally broke into the mainstream with Mike Flowers Pops’ cover of ‘Wonderwall’, if you remember that. Odd times.

Strange to think that this album is over forty years old. I often think such things these days with 1960s records that still sound fresh, invigorating and inventive. In fact I often think two things: (1) Cor, the people involved with this are over 40 years older than they were when they created it, and (2) if nowadays I cast my mind back to ten years ago, the music of that era seems very recent. Was that the same in 1975-1980, with the excesses of psychedelia and beat/garage music a very clear memory for what, to me, seems like a completely separate generation?

SHOP ASSISTANTS: Here It Comes (7″, Avalanche AGAP 001, 1989)

Shop Assistants - Here It ComesCan’t remember where or when I bought this record, but I do know that it was some second-hand record shop where I got excited about stumbling across it – along with another Shoppies single ‘Big E Power’ – not only ‘cos I like the band but also ‘cos the sleeve is sooo much the perfect instance of indie pop packaging. Fold-over sleeve, two-colour printing, crappy quality, it’s got it all. And – joy of joys – it even includes a free flexidisc! This kind of magic just doesn’t happen any more. Hell, the sleeve even states ‘Thanks to Stephen Pastel’!

The Shop Assistants were a great band, emerging from the mid-80s C86/indie-pop scene with all the requisite items in place. Jangly, fuzzed guitars? Check. Soft, slightly off-tune female vocals? Check. They represent a time before indie-pop grew up, and when ‘indie’ meant something rather than a style of music. Avalanche Records was, I believe, a label that grew out of a record shop – and whilst I never visited the original Edinburgh store, I’m sure I’ve been to an Avalanche in Glasgow and presume that it’s connected.  (However, this was in the late 1990s and therefore the store was rather more CD-focussed than I’d prefer…)

My tip for playing flexidiscs: place a 10p piece on either side of the central spindle hole. This’ll stop it flapping about and/or slipping around on the turntable. I’ve been doing this for so long now that my 10ps are the old-fashioned, larger ones that are now out of circulation! Happy days.

RAKE: Rake Is My Co-Pilot (LP, VHF #13, 1994)

Rake - Rake Is My Co-PilotI bought this album in the Record & Tape Exchange in Notting Hill – there have been many happy hours spent in their basement in the past, rummaging through countless cut-price records I never realised I wanted to own. Confusingly and/or embarrasingly, I bought this under the confused notion that Rake used to feature Jack Rose. I’ve since confirmed to myself that I should, in fact, have been thinking of Pelt – very similar name, you see. Or at least, they’ve both got four letters. Still, this album was released by VHF, which is generally a sign that it’s going to be a good ‘un.

The moody, hand-sprayed sleeve contains an enigmatic-looking record (not much in the way of information beyond track titles) and a VHF insert. Do you keep inserts like this that you get in records? If not, you should – come back to them after a decade or more and they’re fascinating.

Oh, and the music? Well, Rake are something of a cross between Faust, Sonic Youth and Hovercraft – all feedbacking guitars, semi-music-concrete noises and a commendable disregard for convention. What at first sounds like relatively straightforward noisy guitar rock quickly descends into abstract mayhem. The insert here reminds me that Rake were VHF labelmates with Flying Saucer Attack, and that makes sense in that they’re like that band’s older, more rock-influenced/drug-damaged brother.

CAN’T: Can’t (LP, Ultra Eczema 35, 2006)

Can't - Can'tStrange record to start on, this – it’s a weirdy free noise-type album that I bought on a whim. A while back I was signed up to the Volcanic Tongue e-mail list, meaning that I received weekly updates of new, odd and unknown records, that would be made attractive-sounding to me by the florid descriptions of their limited edition nature, special/hand-made/interesting artwork, exhortations of ‘HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION’, and so on. Anything, in fact, other than the music, which in many of these cases was often a secondary (sometimes) pleasure. I’ve stopped getting these e-mails now, as they were becoming a dangerous and expensive habit, and leaving me with a lot of records than in reality I wasn’t going to listen to more than once or twice.

Anyway, Can’t – what or who is that? It’s Jessica Rylan, according to the liner notes on the insert popped into the day-glo silkscreened sleeve that houses this record. And, hey, the liner notes are written by everybody’s favourite hipster-nonsense-talker Thurston Moore, which is a yet further reason I bought this – I’m sure my Sonic Youth obsessions will become clear here as time goes by.

(Not sure how tragic it is, buying stuff on the basis of any number of factors except the actual sound/music contained within. Is it just me that does that?)

As so often happened with these Volcanic Tongue purchases, the music on the record is pretty weird and, to many ears, ridiculous. Abstract, scratchy fluttering sounds that are pretty damned far away from traditional songwriting. I have issues with this kind of music at times: for every day I think ‘fair enough, art as music, do what you will, it’s an interesting listening experience’, I have another that I think ‘pff, this is just pissing about, it’s just making sounds with no quality control or real intellectual basis for doing so’. Can’t say I like this, but I’m glad I’ve heard it. I’m not sure why, but I am. And the sleeve is a delight.

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