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

DESERT HEAT: Cat Mask At Huggie Temple (12″, MIE 020, ?)

Desert Heat - Cat Mask At Huggie Temple

MIE is a UK record label with a pretty impressive back catalogue of releases. Their early releases tended toward exquisite packaging, with no end of hand-stitched, screenprinted and hand-assembled artwork being on offer. More recently they’ve toned down the (labour-intensive) hand-finished stuff, but retain an eye for a good-looking sleeve.

This record is a 12″ in the classic sense – it plays at 45 rpm and has a track on each side. No 33 rpm is-it-really-so-long-that-I-should-call-it-an-album-even-though-it-only-has-a-couple-of-tracks worry, but also no wasted space: the tracks are good and long. The aptly-named Desert Heat recall the almost freeform, improvisational, psychedelic guitar work of (often Californian) bands from the very late 1960s and early 1970s; the music here is almost like two (vocal-free) slices of infinite groovy soloing, with an overall sense of wasted, sun-baked, heavy-lidded reflective joy. The band are actually from Dublin, but they pull this stuff off better than you might think for residents of an often rainy country. As a description on the MIE website has it: “Semi-improvised yet impossibly tight, Desert Heat can only embody the flickering mirage on the open road under the fading heat of the evening sun.”

The slightly textured card of the record sleeve is apt for the dusty music, but there’s pleasure to be had in the fact that the inside of the sleeve is smooth – it makes it easier to slide the inner sleeve, also printed on good heavy stock – in and out. Thumbs up. The photographs on the sleeves, and handwritten lettering on the record’s back, inner sleeve and labels, are credited to band member Cian Nugent (no relation to Ted Nugent, I presume); the credits also thank non-band member Richard Proffitt for ‘objects’ – meaning, I think, the odd sculptural collection of found objects pictured on the rear sleeve. Overall layout is credited to Conor Lumsden, a Dublin-based graphic designer and musician, according to Twitter. There’s no release date mentioned on the record, but I think that this came out in 2013.

Links: MIE

(And, for fun, here are the Desert Heat that did not make this record – but, instead, “one of Country’s hottest acts. Catchy melodies, passionate vocals, wailing guitars, a driving back-beat…”)

Update 23/01/14: A snippet of info via Twitter from Henry, the kind fellow behind MIE: “[the record] was released mid-13 and the band are 1/3 Irish and 2/3 US!”

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

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

THE LEGEND: 73 in 83 (7″, Creation CRE 001, 1983)

The Legend - 73 in 83

This record is notable for a number of reasons including:

  • It’s the first 7″ release on Creation Records, who of course went on to dominate and reshape the independent music scenes (feel free to argue that point among yourselves) and release records by Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain, Oasis, Jasmine Minks, The Loft, etc…
  • The Legend (often written with an exclamation mark – The Legend! – but nothing so jaunty on this record’s sleeve or labels) is Everett True aka Jerry Thackray, a fine journalist who’s been around for a long time, and who is himself notable in his own right for a number of reasons including:
    • Championing Nirvana and the Seattle/grunge scene right from the start
    • Launching the magazines Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B in the 2000s; both excellent magazines, both missed.
  •  Six – six – ‘players’ are credited on the rear sleeve, which is a surprising number if you’ve ever heard the songs. They’re certainly of their time, very sparse, worthy, student-politics-y and, well, pretty poor. Not really a repeat-player, this record, unless I’m feeling like punishing myself.
  • It comes with a free flexi! This is the good stuff, really – a two-song 33 rpm flexi featuring charmingly naive and poppy songs by Laughing Apple (featuring Alan McGee, who of course ran Creation Records and Andrew Innes, who went on to feature in Revolving Paint Dream and Primal Scream) and The Pastels.

The design of the sleeve – a vaguely agitprop-looking and not altogether unpleasant layout – is credited to Communication Blur which was also the name of a fanzine run by Alan McGee in the early 1980s and, presumably, an alter ego for McGee as graphic designer. He’s also credited as one of the ‘players’ as well as getting a production credit here. Busy fellow. Starting as he means to go on, really, as throughout the lifespan of Creation Records he was pretty heavily involved with most aspects of everything.

Update 07/01/14: Thanks to Jerry/Everett for filling me in on a bit of extra detail to do with this record! Apparently the drums and guitar on the record were both played by McGee – the songs came out of a band that Thackray/True and McGee had together for a short time – and the sleeve design was in fact by Ken Popple, the drummer on early Biff Bang Pow! releases. There are lots more True-isms to be had at his excellent blog, The Electrical Storm.

VARIOUS: The In-Kraut Vol. 2 (2LP, Marina MA 67, 2006)

Various - The In-Kraut Vol. 2

After many months of living with a jumbled record collection, I finally organised everything into alphabetical order over the past couple of days. (LPs, 12″s and 10″s, at least – the 7″s can wait until another time…)

Part of this process inevitably meant reminding myself of records that I forgot I owned, or that I had no previous recollection of owning. This double album is an example of the latter – I’ve got no idea when I bought it, or from where. Not that that means much, as I’ve a Swiss cheese-like memory; but the record’s date of issue (2006) means, I guess, that it entered my life at some point during the past seven-or-so years.

Compilation albums – which are, of course, in a separate section to the main A–Z stream of my newly-alphabetised collection – are interesting things. The way I listen to them tends to mean I gloss over the individual artists and musicians involved, and instead lump the whole thing together and attach a broad-brush ‘feeling’ to the record. The feeling attached to The In-Kraut Vol. 2 (at least now that I’ve given it a couple of listens to refresh my memory) is one of nostalgia for heady Easy Listening-drenched days in the mid-to-late 1990s. Obviously this record came out later, but it’s still packed full of (mainly instrumental) fuzz guitar/organ freakout/funky/library music/soundtrack/comedic/’jolly and optimistic 60s/70s attitude’ in its twenty songs.

The rather questionable compilation title at least does the trick of summing up its subtitle, ‘Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany 1967–1974’. To be honest, the source of the recordings is pretty moot, as this type of music sounds the same regardless, except for in the case of a couple of songs here with German-language lyrics which have, at least, a kind of bizarro charm.

For those that might be interested, the artists featured are:

  • Paul Nero
  • Hugo Strasser
  • Christer Bladin
  • Ambros Seelos
  • Tommy Haggard Orchestra
  • Hazy Osterwald Jet Set
  • Charly Antolini’s Power Dozen
  • James Last
  • Mary Roos
  • Klaus Weiss Orchestra
  • Hildegard Knef
  • The Dometown Gang
  • Rolf Wilhelm
  • Joy & The Hit Kids
  • Dieter Reith
  • Carlos Fendeira
  • Kai Rautenberg & Orchester Jürgen Ehlers
  • The Inner Space
  • Uli Roever
  • Hase Cäsar

Not too many well-known names in that list – for me, anyway – except for James Last, who is in fact German, despite his records routinely popping up in UK charity shops for the past couple of decades.

The artwork for the record, by Stefan Kassel, is pretty standard Easy-Listening-Compilation-Sleeve stuff, but a nice example of it – well-chosen, happy-looking female fashion photographs on a simple block colour background, plain and simple typography, and a splash of excitement in the front cover’s bottom left German flag-referencing concentric circles. It’s a gatefold sleeve, and opening it reveals an aspect of this compilation that’s rare in the field – detailed liner notes on each of the tracks it contains. Good work! The records are also pressed on white vinyl, which affords them a stylish mod sensibility.

Links: Marina

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

THE SEE SEE: Featherman (7″, The Great Pop Supplement GPS109, 2013)

The See See - Featherman

It’s been a while since I posted here – I’ve been sans turntable for a few months now (I know, it was cruel and inhuman) but I’m celebrating seeing in 2014 with a new one, which arrived today. So let’s get back to business!

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before, The Great Pop Supplement is one of a few labels whose releases I’m pretty likely to pick up as soon as they come out. Because of this I’ve got quite a few records by London’s The See See, who I imagine are one of the artists released by GPS with the highest count of ‘product’. It’s lucky that they’re good, otherwise I’d have a pile of The See See records getting in my way.

This 7″ comes packaged in a sleeve with a spine, which is always a pleasing thing – nothing wrong with giving such records a bit of bulk and presence; they deserve it. The artwork here – a fish-eye pastoral photograph thang encircled by liner notes – is repeated on both sides, meaning that the sleeve can be held and flipped around with nothing changing. It’s the text on the spine that dictates which is the front and which is the back, unless we decide to use the ‘other way round’ way of reading text on a spine, like they do (for example) in Germany. The sleeve design is by El Señor Gómez & Srta. Swallow, which I was convinced was some kind of in-joke name until a quick Google search turned up their (rather fine) websites here and here.

Musically these are three good songs for a grim, chilly winter day, like it is today. ‘Featherman’ is a slice of sun-kissed melodic guitar pop with at least one foot in late 1960s California; ‘Let Me Be The One (For You To Love)’ is a slightly more psych-tinged romp of a song with a wicked descending-note chorus; ’35 Across The Water’ is halfway between the two – eyes-of-wonderment vocals leading the lyrics around a richly tuneful slice of pop-psych with an oh-heck-now-we’re-heading-into-space outro.

Links: The See See / The Great Pop Supplement