Category Archives: 7″

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

SLUDGE NATION: Monkey On My Back (7″, Rhythm King LEFT48, 1997)

Sludge Nation - Monkey On My Back

Strange one this, as it represents a certain watershed moment in my music writing/reviewing life, rather than being a record that I have any deep affection for (or, indeed, any recollection of what it actually sounds like, beyond vague noisy pop-punk memories).

In the very early 1990s, inspired by the indie-pop scene and some very talented and creative friends of mine, I started to write fanzines which contained, as well as semi-personal ramblings on life, reviews of records, tapes and (sometimes) CDs. Initially, these reviews were purely of things that I had purchased myself, and were therefore likely to be positive and enthusiastically written. Over time, I built up a network of contacts/friends around the world and this slowly branched out into the world of PR companies, ‘professional’ music people and musicians who wanted to spread the word about their work through the fanzine network.

This meant that I began to get completely unsolicited listening materials, and don’t get me wrong, this is still exciting when it happens today. For a while, I eagerly reviewed every single thing I was sent, figuring that if somebody took the time to package up and post something to me, the least I can do in return is to listen to and write about it. This lead to a slight issue: what if I didn’t like things that I was sent? Initially, my feeling – probably influenced by the traits of the mainstream press – was to be completely honest and often humorously offhand, even rude, about records. My attitude was “if they can’t handle a bad review, they shouldn’t have sent me this in the first place”.

Over time, though, it can get wearing, being a remote critic of the work of musicians who generally weren’t U2-level stars who’d already been through the mill and developed a thick skin. A lot of these were up-and-coming, trying-to-make-it-in-this-business artists whose outlook just happened to differ from mine. After trying (and failing) to justify some negative reviews, after the musicians contacted me to pick me up on what I’d said, my attitude changed.

In the context of writing on a small scale, about small-scale musicians, I see little point in writing negative or cruel things. Not reviewing at all is preferable to writing bad things; having been of the receiving end of negative reviews, I understand now that they might be taken more seriously than a reviewer may ever realise. (We’re not talking life and death here by the way – but a negative review can really affect whether a little band gets people to buy their record or go to their gig).

So what am I saying? That all music should be tolerated, no matter if it’s (in my opinion) absolutely worthless? Well; kind of. Not saying anything is my policy these days, when faced with reviewing something that I can’t think of anything constructive or positive to say about. In my own small way, I feel like I’m adopting a ‘live and let live’ attitude that’s better for my karma, soul and general well-being.

What’s this got to do with Sludge Nation? Well, this record, despite being pressed on glorious yellow vinyl, marked a very specific turning point, when I suddenly realised that there’s more music out there than I realised, and much of it is far from what I enjoy listening to. Music PR companies fling this stuff out there with a scattershot approach – they’re not carefully hand-picking reviewers for the most part – and they won’t let up even if you resolutely ignore their advances for years. (I’ve been doing just that in some cases, yet still receive parcels addressed to a fanzine that I wound up over fifteen years ago).

If you’re going to write about music, my advice is just to write about music that you enjoy. Writing bad things about a band won’t make the world of music better; it’ll just make some people feel worse about themselves.

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.

EVEN AS WE SPEAK: One Step Forward EP (7″, Sarah SARAH 49, 1991)

Even As We Speak - One Step Forward EP

Australian band Even As We Speak were an ambitious lot, in the context of the often-lazy, often-detail-rather-than-big-picture world of indie-pop. This EP, for example, plays at 33 1/3 rpm rather than the usual (for Sarah Records, at least) 45 rpm – yet it still only contains one song per side. What does that mean? Why, that Even As We Speak were a veritable prog-rock behemoth of a band – comparatively speaking. These two songs are pretty long, pretty inventive, and include forays off in various directions (including pseudo-New Order style electronic tinges), turning them into tiny epics rather than mere simple tunes.

It was all leading up to their later Sarah album, Feral Pop Frenzy, which was – at the time, and possibly even now – outstandingly ambitious. It had seventeen songs, ran (I think) for over an hour, and was a proper ‘journey’ of an album, and one that even hinted at Concept Album status, with melodic references popping up from song to song.

At their heart, and in their overall sound, Even As We Speak were proud indie-pop badgewearers. I do remember thinking around the time of their releases, though, that they were somehow different – one of several bands at the time that hinted that whilst indie-pop, as we all know, don’t stop, there’s no reason why it can’t be experimented with and pulled in different directions. How grown up!

The photograph of saucepans on the Factory Records-design-style cover is credited as ‘Yukino’s Saucepans, by Akiko’. I wonder if that was Akiko who ran Sugarfrost Records at around the same time…?

I did a quick search on eBay for ‘feral pop frenzy’ and there’s a vinyl copy for sale at £29.99. I won’t link to it, in case the auction has ended by now, but I will link to the seller – Oscar The Cat’s Records – who is worth mentioning as they include within their product photographs a cat, presumably Oscar.

SEE MY SOUND: Hidden Depths (7″, Distraction DIST1, 2004)

See My Sound - Hidden Depths

It happens, more than I’m really happy to admit, that often when I pull out a random record to write about I have literally no idea where it came from, why I have it or what the band and/or the music sounds like. This seven-inch represents one of those times: I don’t think I bought it, I don’t recognise the band or label name, and peering at the front cover doesn’t spark any memories.

So, further investigation begins to unfold a story:

  1. As well as the record, the sleeve contains a promotional ‘one-sheet’ press release about the record, suggesting that the record was sent to me for reviewing purposes. The press release contains a few nuggets of PR hyperbole as one would hope and expect – for example “…Distraction, an events-cum-record label movement set up to offer a challenging alternative to the monotonous gutterswipe cluttering up the music ‘scene'” and “See My Sound beat out a cerebral yet sexual pulse, a hypnotic whirlpool of affected guitars, anchored by an undertow of dub bass and pounding drums”. Does that help?
  2. The sleeve also contains a handwritten note from a friend of mine that also once wrote for the Diskant website that I used to contribute to regularly. It says “Any chance you could review this 7″ for Diskant please? I’d do it myself but I can’t muster the energy/quell the vitriol”.

So that explains things – I didn’t buy this record, and it wasn’t originally meant for me, but it found its way to me in the hope of garnering a review on a website. Unfortunately, having just searched comprehensively on Diskant, it seems that I never published a review.

So, sorry, Distraction Records. Sorry, See My Sound. Perhaps the press release didn’t inspire me to put pen to paper (or, indeed, fingers to keyboard). The description of the band I’ve just come across on a Distraction Records BandCamp page is far more compelling: “Think early Public Image Ltd via Explosions in the Sky with a touch of Godspeed and Arab Strap”. I don’t write for Diskant any more, though, so it’s all too late.

THE BACHELOR PAD/BABY LEMONADE: Girl Of Your Dreams/Jiffy Neckwear Creation (7″, Sha-la-la BA BA BA-BA BA 003, 1987)

The Bachelor Pad/Baby Lemonade flexi

I’ve called this a 7″ in the title up there, but the flexi itself isn’t actually seven inches in diameter like a ‘real’ seven-inch single – it’s slightly smaller, perhaps 6″ in diameter? I’ve refrained from calling it a 6″ though, despite having such a category set up on here, because it’s packaged in a typical wraparound sleeve, the likes of which would house a seven inch single. So that makes sense, eh? My categorisation and pigeonholing technique is unstoppable!

I have several of the Sha-la-la flexis, but none were bought at the time of release and so none come with whatever fanzines they were bundled with. As far as I know, they weren’t each bundled with a specific fanzine – what tended to be the case is that, say, 1,000 flexis were produced, and then batches given to a variety of fanzine folks to give away with their wares. (Indeed, back in my fanzine-writing days, several times I was pleasantly surprised by receiving in the post a batch of unexpected flexis and records, with the instruction to help spread the word by giving them away!)

Sha-la-la was, of course, a precursor to Sarah Records, and indeed many of the bands that appeared on Sha-la-la flexis went on to also release records on Sarah. In the case of this one, though, neither The Bachelor Pad or Baby Lemonade did so. Sha-la-la flexis gave one side each of their wraparound sleeves over to the two bands they featured; the image above shows The Bachelor Pad’s side, with Wilfrid Brambell pictured, he of course of Steptoe And Son and A Hard Day’s Night fame. The Baby Lemonade side is a far more typical indie-pop-wraparound-sleeve kind of image – it shows a Warhol-style repetitive image of a toy ray gun, printed in basic two-colour style.

Let’s use the magic of Google to find out an interesting fact about these two bands.

Searching for “the bachelor pad band” yields an interesting interview with the band, carried out by the Cloudberry Cake Proselytism website/fanzine, that describes some of the fanzine/music scene they were involved in at the time of this record (and before), including reference to the legendary Splash One club in Glasgow run in the early-to-mid 1980s by Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jesus & Mary Chain. It also turns up this great promo video for The Bachelor Pad’s ‘Country Pancake’:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ0lWp8zJv8]

Lovely!

“baby lemonade band” – the ‘band’ bit is required to sidestep a whole load of Syd Barrett-related results coming up – initially led me to the website of a different Baby Lemonade (this one) and, well, not much else. Anybody got interesting links and factoids to do with Baby Lemonade?

THE GOLDEN DAWN: George Hamilton’s Dead (7″, Sarah SARAH 17, 1989)

The Golden Dawn - George Hamilton's Dead

Another seven inch single on Sarah Records. I guess there’s a stronger chance of such releases being the ones that pop up as a randomly-selected choice, because there are a lot of them in my collection!

This The Golden Dawn isn’t the 1960s The Golden Dawn, of course, who released the outstanding psychedelic LP Power Plant. Perhaps I’ll talk about them on here at some point in the future – it’s all in the hands of the random number generator, as you know… This The Golden Dawn do have a bit of a psychedelic edge, I have to admit, although it’s shot through with a healthy dose of indie-pop simplicity and lightness. The Golden Dawn and 14 Iced Bears were two of the Sarah bands that I liked the most – they seemed to have a slight edge that took them beyond the most straightforward indie-pop, and in their case it took them into a somewhat 60s-tinged edge that pressed my buttons during the early ’90s. (Of course, the entire C86, indie-pop and fanzine scene had a rather healthy obsession with the 1960s – but generally it seemed to take the form of the imagery or personalities of the time, rather than directly influencing the music).

As with most of the Sarah releases before roughly SARAH 40 or so, this record included a poster insert. It shows The Golden Dawn with a selection of high-contrast monochrome photographs, which reflect the style (and, more specifically, haircuts), that were so popular around the time because of bands like Jesus And Mary Chain and Primal Scream. At this time, all that a good band photograph needed was a couple of bowl haircuts, a paisley shirt or two, a slightly otherworldly look around the eyes and a lot of contrast.

The other insert included in the record is one of Sarah’s ‘also for sale’ lists, in the form of a long, thin, folded piece of paper. Even at the time of this record coming out, SARAHs 1 through 10, 13 and 14 had all sold out. The rest were still available, though, for the fantastic price (including postage) of just £1.70 apiece. The insert also reports that Heavenly’s ‘I Fell In Love Last Night’ was just about to be released – a record that would nicely bridge the gap between the ‘old days’ of Talulah Gosh and the new sound of Heavenly, who would become intertwined with Riot Grrrl and quite heavily influence a lot of bands and musicians.

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.

THE CAROLINE KNOW: Nail (7″, Bus Stop BUS012, 1990)

The Caroline Know - NailThis is one of a little batch of records that my Dad once bought for me. He was away on a trip in America – I forget where, New York perhaps? – and decided that I might like some records as a holiday gift. This was a most wise decision! Enterprisingly, he made his way to a record shop and asked the owner to recommend a few records based on some facts about what I was into at the time: I liked indie-pop, I liked seven inch singles, and I seemed to like those records with wraparound sleeves that came in plastic bags. The shop owner picked out around five new releases that fitted the bill and, well, it was a great gift to receive!

I know next to nothing about The Caroline Know. Based on some information gleaned from the sleeve and insert that comes with the record, let’s fire up the ol’ internet to see what we can find out:

  • The band is called The Caroline Know: Seems that they were based in Northampton, Massachusetts, although the contact addresses on the record suggest otherwise. They did live in New York; after that, Northampton. They have a MySpace page.
  • The band includes people called Stephen Rand, Les Labarge and J Loenstein: Very sadly, Stephen Rand passed away earlier this year. My condolences to his friends and family. The J stands for Jim: Jim Loenstein. Google tries to alter this name to Lowenstein.
  • According to the sleeve, the band could once be contacted by writing to 226 East 2nd Street, 4B, New York: Look, that’s here.
  • According to the insert, the band could also be contacted by writing to 102 Bedford Avenue, 2R, Brooklyn, New York: That’s here. Looks nice! I like Brooklyn. There’s a place called Turkey’s Nest Tavern on this street as well; I wonder what it’s like? According to Yelp, they do alcoholic drinks in a jumbo size, and offer an absinthe margarita!

I’ve quite a few records on the Bus Stop label, and they’re one of the labels that I’d like to gradually collect everything from. There’s a partial discography, and brief introduction to the history of the label, here.

RED CHAIR FADEAWAY/FUDGE: Never Remember/Girl Wish (7″ flexi, Waterbomb! SPLAT 002, ?)

Red Chair Fadeaway/Fudge flexiAh, the flexi. Truly the symbol of all things DIY, cheap and cheerful and not as disposable as one might think. Put a flexi in a wraparound sleeve, as in this example, and print that wraparound sleeve in a single colour, and you’ve got an archetypal indie-pop release. Waterbomb! was a fanzine, if memory served correctly, and they gave out flexis with each issue – and also, unless I imagined this, made more flexis available for other fanzines to give away as well. There’s no date on this record, but I’d position it at somewhere towards the early 1990s. That time must have seen endless charity shop raids for 1960s annuals and magazines, as no end of records like this, and fanzines of the time, featured copied images of happy, free, nouvelle vague-looking females doing their own thing. On this record, there’s one on the front, one on the back, one on the insert within and even one on the flexi itself!

There’s a lot of indie-pop heritage in this little flexi. Members of Red Chair Fadeaway also played in The Carousel, Dandelion Wine, Razorcuts, Talulah Gosh, The Cinematics, Heavenly, Marine Research, The Would-Be-Goods and Saturn V. Members of Fudge were in Engine No.9. Across the lot of ’em, they’ve probably released a hundred records at least, and yet the average fellow in the street wouldn’t have heard of any of these bands. Maybe that’s a good thing? There’s a whole secret world going on in music, all of the time. “My Secret World”, to quote the Golden Dawn…

A friend of mine recently informed me that you can still get flexis manufactured – this is great, I thought they were a thing of the past, a strange anachronism of ‘this used to all be fields’/’I remember the days before CDs’-type old-man chatter. Maybe I’ll get a flexi made… they’re pretty expensive, though!