Category Archives: Indie Rock Punk Noise

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

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

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.

BOYRACER: More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate (LP, A Turntable Friend TURN 20, 1994)

Boyracer - More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate

This is a great album and one that I listened to very regularly soon after its release. I was a big fan of Boyracer in the 1990s, as they bridged a gap between the indie-pop and the noisy weirdo music that I was simultaneously listening to a lot of at the time. They were more on the indie-pop side of things, but not afraid to veer into odd feedback or song structures on a whim, and this resulted in no end of catchy-yet-strange songs. This record is vibrant clear red vinyl, and the sleeve also contains an A4 photocopied insert that includes, as so many records did at the time, the actual postal address of one of the band – no PO Box number or faceless URL here.

That postal address was a house on Spofforth Hill in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, which was also the street you’ll see in contact addresses on early Hood records. Hood, who towards the late 1990s got signed to Domino and for a brief period were ‘almost a big thing’, were very closely allied to Boyracer – as well as members living opposite eachother on Spofforth Hill, for a time they shared and swapped band members and appeared jointly on no end of compilation records and tapes (including several that I released myself). For a time I wished I lived on Spofforth Hill, to be part of what seemed like a very vibrant mini-scene centred around a single street: I was in touch by letter with members of both Hood and Boyracer for some years, and between them they furnished me with a lot of musical knowledge in the form of mixtapes, recommendations and through their own music.

A Turntable Friend was an indie-pop record label based in Germany, who were a bit of a ‘German Sarah records’ – indeed, Boyracer released records on Sarah as well as A Turntable Friend. There’s a good discography of everything released by the label on the TweeNet website, which also includes a not-comprehensive-but-not-bad list of Boyracer releases.

The inner sleeve of my copy of More Songs About Frustration And Self-Hate is signed by Stewart and Nicola of the band. This makes me happy today, as it did on the day the record arrived after my purchasing it directly from that house on Spofforth Hill.

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.

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.

SHELLAC OF NORTH AMERICA: Excellent Italian Greyhound (LP, Touch And Go TG303, 2007)

Shellac Of North America - Excellent Italian Greyhound

I think this is the first Shellac record that I’ve mentioned on here. I’m calling them Shellac Of North America for this post because that’s how they specifically seem to refer to themselves on this record: on previous albums the ‘Of North America’ part has seemed more of a strapline, but on this one, it forms part of the band name as it’s presented on the sleeve. It seems important to get this correct because the band – or rather Steve Albini, the driving force behind Shellac and a notoriously exacting individual – would no doubt think it a vital detail.

As with all Shellac releases, the packaging for Excellent Italian Greyhound is exquisite. Inside the polythene outer bag (sealed shut with a printed sticker that I carefully cut through with a scalpel), the gatefold sleeve is wrapped within an outer dust jacket that shows illustrations by Jay Ryan (a member of the excellent band Dianogah). The gatefold sleeve itself shows photographs of, indeed, the Excellent Italian Greyhound of the album’s title, sat atop a pile of brightly-coloured fruit, and this sleeve contains a printed inner sleeve that finally reveals the record itself, pressed on super-thick vinyl. The only part of the package that seems an afterthought, or an element to not have been given ultimate care and attention, is a CD copy of the album, thrown into the gatefold as a blank, unprinted disc. That seems to suggest the weight that Shellac/Albini place on vinyl’s precedence over CD.

The album’s opening song, ‘The End Of Radio’, builds slowly as simple bass chords underpin Albini’s flat-yet-powerful words. I first heard this song when I saw Shellac playing live at, I think, Koko in London. What was already a very exciting gig to attend (as, based on previous Shellac gigs, I knew I was not only in for some perfectly-presented music but also a super-entertaining performance) was made more special by the support band being Lords, whose guitarist Chris I am a friend of. ‘The End Of Radio’ seemed like a soundcheck at first – if you know the song, you’ll understand why – before exploding into life after several quiet, building minutes.

I met Steve Albini once at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, when Shellac were curating the event. After an alcohol-heavy day a friend and I were in the bar and she spotted Albini at a nearby table. It was often remarked in the past that I look somewhat like Albini, so my friend took it upon herself to pick me up, drag me to his table and introduce me with a “Hi Steve! This is Simon. He looks like you!” before retreating and leaving me to fend for myself. I handled the awkward occasion as elegantly as I could muster – slurring something like “Thissh is a really excshellent weekend, thanksshh so much…”. To his credit, Albini didn’t deliver a cutting putdown as he so often does with hecklers at gigs; he shook my hand, said thank you and left me to wobble off to continue my festival experience.

Who is the Excellent Italian Greyhound? It’s Shellac drummer Todd Trainer’s pet dog Uffizi, who was once featured (with owner) on Animal Planet’s TV show Dogs 101:

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

SPACEMEN 3: Sound Of Confusion (LP, Glass GLALP 018, 1986)

Spacemen 3 - Sound Of ConfusionAh, don’t they look so young on the cover of this album? Although having said that, Sonic Boom has aged surprisingly well, and doesn’t look too much older 25 years later than he does on the front of this record. In my opinion the photograph on the back cover of Sound Of Confusion should have been the front – it’s great, showing the band staring into the middle distance whilst swathed in multicoloured psychedelic projected light. Very cool.

I like the lettering style used on the cover – it’s a slightly refined version of a very typical style that was used all over a lot of psychedelic posters from the 1960s onwards. It’s a surprisingly straightforward style to recreate: consider that each letter is made of a single square block, and then consider removing oval shapes from within, to build up the negative space that creates the letterforms. For a while, once I’d cracked the trick to quickly and easily use this style, I used it a lot on gig posters and lettering that I was doing in the early 1990s, and even felt proficient enough to paint my own Spacemen 3 t-shirt, freehand, with the band name lettering as per this record cover, and the Spacemen 3 logo that would appear on later records. Somewhere, I think, I still have this t-shirt. For a brief period I got very into painting my own t-shirts, and produced them not with the Spacemen 3 logo, but also the Huggy Bear lettering from their first single, and the Love logo featured on their albums. The Love t-shirt was so well regarded that I was commissioned at least twice to paint similar t-shirts for others!

I bought this record second hand quite some time ago. Within the sleeve is the original insert that came with the release – allowing the owner to send off for a copy of the limited ‘Live’ 12″, containing recordings from a performance at Amsterdam’s Melkweg club in 1988. As the insert puts it, the Melkweg is ‘a well known drinking and hashish club’. Whoever previously owned the record had cut off and returned the form to claim this record; I wonder who it was? Did they enjoy the record? I own a copy of the ‘Live’ 12″, which I bought separately and second hand. Who knows, maybe the person who previously owned this Sound Of Confusion also previously owned the 12″ which is now in my collection?

THE ELEMENT OF CRIME: The Things You Do For Love (7″, Soul Static Sound SOUL 2, ?)

The Element Of Crime - The Things You Do For LoveI really like this record’s packaging. A simple, cardboard sleeve, with a folded-over photocopied sheet of paper glued on, and – on the back of the sleeve – a hand-stamped Soul Static Sound logo and catalogue number. This was a second-hand purchase – from, as I remember, a record shop in Wellington, Telford called Langland Records, which used to have a small box of second-hand seven-inch singles on its counter. The shop is still there, I think, in a different and smaller location, but when I was growing up I used to enjoy visiting it regularly. It was my go-to shop for records during my formative years of getting into what was then more genuinely called ‘indie’ music – back when that term meant something, grumble grumble. It was also directly opposite my pub of choice The White Lion, and its owner would often be brought pints from across the street to make his working day more, um, relaxed.

The glued-on paper has long since become unglued – indeed, it was that way from when I purchased it. This has revealed that whoever glued it on did so using criss-cross lines, and a single square outline of glue, which is – to anybody familiar with glueing – a normally excellent technique. Perhaps they used something that wasn’t built to last, like Gloy. I always used to prefer Cow Gum, but – unfortunately – I think that’s unavailable these days. Perhaps because of the outrageously noxious fumes it would release, that would turn one’s glueing session into impromptu glue-sniffing. Actually, perhaps that is why I used to prefer it, rather than for its sticking capability.

The Element Of Crime was a UK Riot Grrl-related outfit, featuring (I think) members of Huggy Bear. Let’s see what the internet has to say. Aha! It turns out – according to this blog, at least – the band included members of not only Huggy Bear but also Linus, Blood Sausage, Skinned Teen and Sister George. Pretty cool – at least to anybody into that whole scene in the early nineties. That was a fun time, and a lot of records were released back then. It was like bands released records just for the sake of the music, or to reinforce a point they had to make, rather than with some kind of career in mind. Does that still happen?