UNSANE: Unsane (LP, City Slang SLANG 015, 1991)

Unsane - Unsane

Unsane have the dubious honour of being responsible for the most unpleasant record sleeve in my collection. They would, I think, only be knocked off this grubby pedestal if one of the following scenarios came about:

  1. I owned other Unsane records – they’re notoriously gory and graphic
  2. I owned that Big Black record that came wrapped in a black outer cover, which when removed revealed a very close up, very upsetting effect-of-gunshot-to-head photograph
  3. I was more of a death/speed metal fan – those sleeves go out of their way to be parent-botheringly graphic.

Anyway, severed heads aside, this is a fearsome and excellent record, and I’m not sure why scenario number one above isn’t the case, as I really should own more Unsane records. I became aware of Unsane first through a track on a compilation tape made for me by an old postal/fanzine/music scene chum called Brian. He was one of the many people I used to exchange compilations with, and the one that yielded an interest in Unsane also included a fantastic track by Deity Guns, whose album Trans Line Appointment I’m still to get a copy of. Deity Guns were produced by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, which is why their track was of particular interest to me. Unsane were (on this album, at least) produced by Wharton Tiers, which is interesting if for no other reason than Wharton Tiers seems to have produced roughly ten million indie rock records throughout the eighties and nineties. Producers never really get their dues, do they? Maybe that’s the way they want it. Wharton Tiers has even produced some Sonic Youth records, so perhaps Lee Ranaldo picked up some hints and tips to then use in his work on that Deity Guns album. And so the production baton was passed on.

The unpleasant photograph on this album’s cover actually gets a credit on the back of the sleeve, which is odd. I would have presumed that such a photo would have been unceremoniously ripped from some kind of ‘police-sourced medical injuries and accidents’ reference book, as with so many of the sleeve images used in albums like those mentioned in scenario three above. So, well, Jens Jurgenson, good work on your photograph of a dead person (?!). I wonder what you did before and after taking this photograph? Were you a police photographer? Did you just happen across this dead person whilst out on a walk? Is it in fact not real, and did you set this scene up for the album cover?

The band Boss Hog had a bass player called Jens Jurgensen. Different spelling, but maybe it’s the same person? Indie rock is a close-knit community, after all.

THE ACTION SUITS: Fun Flies (7″, Wiiija WIJ52, 1996)

The Action Suits - Fun Flies

I picked this record up from HMV shortly after its release date. Yes, HMV. There was, dear reader, once a time when HMV stocked not only vast swathes of vinyl, but in some stores, a whole load of interesting and obscure vinyl. I seem to remember that before they moved en masse to a centrally-distributed (and therefore, more financially efficient) stock base, each store left the success and stock choice of its singles department to somebody from that store’s staff. Normally, I think, this was whoever showed the most enthusiasm for such a task.

Whoever was running Reading HMV’s singles department at the time certainly seemed very enthusiastic. I would often visit the store precisely to dig through and select new and interesting independent releases. The store also regularly (and ingeniously) bundled up not-yet-sold 7″s into ‘buy this bundle of singles for two quid’ mystery packs: three singles encased in an opaque wrapper of HMV bags and sellotape. One of these mystery packs yielded this single along with, as far as I remember, an Acetone and a Movietone single. A pretty good success rate, there.

The Action Suits are interesting as they feature Peter Bagge on drums. Peter who? Why, Peter Bagge, the guy behind the legendarily misanthropic and brilliant comic book series Hate (and much more besides). Hate was the painfully-realistic retelling of life as a plaid-shirted slacker, finding his way through relationships, music and life. If you’re not yet aware of it, I urge you to get some Hate in your life.

I can’t remember when I last visited an HMV, but I know that it certainly wasn’t the richly rewarding experience of ‘the good old days’. Sometimes I really do wonder about the pursuit of commerce above all else, especially where music and art are concerned. I understand the need for businesses to make a profit, but it always seemed that the Reading HMV of yore at least explored ways of doing that whilst maintaining some elements of creative and exploratory stock choices.

PINK FLOYD: Relics (LP, Music For Pleasure MFP 50397, ?)

I’m not sure when this record was released, and wasn’t Music For Pleasure one of those odd 1960s/1970s labels that pumped out all manner of product to fulfil whatever was currently in vogue? I’m sure I’ve seen (and, indeed, bought) lots of MFP records that would fall into the comedy/easy listening/’odd’ bracket. I have some recollection that there are interesting things afoot with this particular album, and any confirmation of these things would be appreciated:

  1. Relics has been released on another label. Hasn’t it?
  2. A different version of the sleeve exists without the pink colouring.

Ah. Duh. I just turned over the sleeve and saw a relatively large piece of text that deals with at least one of the above points:

Previously released on the Starline label (SRS 5071) under the same title

Maybe it was that release which had the slightly different cover? Should I stay awake worrying about these things?

I bought this record a looooong time ago, perhaps in something like 1990 or 1991, I’d imagine. Gosh. Twenty years ago. Seeing the sleeve now reminds me of many hours spent hanging out at a friend’s house; a friend who was several steps ahead of me in the record collection/music appreciation stakes. He had a copy of Relics alongside comprehensive collections of David Bowie’s releases (including, most interestingly and amusingly, his very early Davy Jones/’Laughing Gnome’-type output). We’d sit around listening to records for hour upon hour, and this educated me not only in the ways of some bands (like Pink Floyd and The Beatles) that I’ve gone on to get extraordinarily into, but also widened my horizons by introducing me to the work of – to reel a few names off from memory – Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gil Scott Heron, Ravi Shankar, and many more. This wasn’t so much a piece of specific musical education; more a set of lessons in how to listen to as much and as varied music as you can, in order to fully appreciate what’s good and what’s not. And to know why.

Whenever people ask that oft-posited question ‘If you could have been at any gig ever, which one would it have been?’ my answer is almost always “Pink Floyd – UFO Club – around 1968”. I’ve said that so often now, and seen so much footage of the band from that time, that I’ve almost convinced myself of actually having been there, which is both illogical and tragic. But hey, that’s what happens when you come across a really great band.

VARIOUS: Rubble Three: Nightmares In Wonderland (LP, Bam-Caruso KIRI 026, 1986)

Various: Rubble Three: Nightmares In Wonderland

Yet another volume of Rubble, the third that’s come up for examination here (the others being Volume 6 and Volume 9). On this one, there are a couple of better-known acts (The Pretty Things and Tomorrow) amongst the usual barrage of weird and wonderful-sounding artist names:

  • The Brain
  • Focus Three
  • Bamboo Shoot
  • Wild Silk
  • Mark Wirtz
  • The Lemon Tree
  • The Koobas
  • Aquarian Age
  • The Executive
  • The Chances Are
  • Ipsissimus
  • Edwick Rumbold
  • The Penny Peeps.

One aspect that I love of the Rubble series, and the Pebbles series that came before it, are the liner notes. Each volume has a brief round-up of who each artist was, along with a discography. The latter is normally very brief; such was the nature of most of these acts. Those brief round-ups all contribute, though, to an ever-nearer-to-completion patchwork of knowledge and information about a whole strand of music that is barely even known about by the vast majority of people. And there really is nothing like accumulating information that is meaningless to all but a select few people, is there?

One day in the distant future I’ll have a complete collection of all of these 1960s psychedelia/freakbeat/garage compilations, and I can’t wait. What seems like an inexhaustible volume of music must have some limits, and I presume that such a complete collection would go some way to comprising the whole lot. I wonder if at some point there will be similar compilations of unknown music from different times? There have been such collections for the punk/post-punk era, but beyond then – as far as I’m aware – there aren’t compilations covering obscure indie-pop, unknown independent label releases, and so on. Perhaps there just isn’t any interest? Or maybe I’m just not aware of compilations that do exist?

PAVEMENT: Perfect Sound Forever (10″, Drag City DC004, 1990)

Pavement - Perfect Sound Forever

This record was something of a holy grail to me for some years, before I finally snagged a copy (for a very reasonable price, too) around five years ago on eBay. I was fully conversant with the tracks on the record for a long time in advance of my purchasing it, because of a tape made for me shortly after its release, by a guy called Adam who I used to correspond with. Adam was in a micro-indie band called The Losers, and very good they were too. They once released a split single with Action Painting! that I remember enjoying very much; not least because it came packaged within a folded sheet of stripey wallpaper. Adam made me several tapes, and one of them had the entirety of Perfect Sound Forever on it, and I loved it. Home taping was, in this instance, not killing music, but exposing it to somebody that had no idea that such music existed. Admittedly, I didn’t rush out and buy the record. I listened to this taped version over and over and over many times. But hey – you can’t have everything.

I saw Pavement play what I guess must have been a short time after the release of this record. It was at a venue called The Hummingbird in Birmingham, and they were supporting Sonic Youth along with another band called Cell. Sonic Youth, obviously, were spectacular that night: partly because they were playing songs from the recently-released Goo, partly because I was somewhat chemically altered for the evening. My memory of Pavement extends not much further than briefly meeting their original drummer, whose name escapes me, as he stalked amongst the crowd before their set, hanging out a single jigsaw piece to each audience member. Our conversation went thus (me, then him):

What’s this for?

It’s for fun.

I couldn’t argue with his logic. It was fun, and I still have that jigsaw piece somewhere.

Anyway: this 10″ record is a slab of perfection, and I consider it to be one of Pavement’s finest moments. There have, admittedly, been many fine Pavement moments, but this record encapsulates their errant shambolitude, and how it aligns perfectly with their innate sense of melody and enjoyment.

(Turntable update, for those who are following this: on Thursday evening I’m picking up a temporary replacement for my dear departed old turntable. A kind offer from my friend Mark, which is very much appreciated. So from Friday onwards, I’m back in the land of the living – the land of vinyl).