This record – as a package – is a little thing of beauty. Some aspects of it that appeal to me are:
- The sleeve: it’s a type of standard seven inch single inner sleeve, elevated to the status of The Cover by way of some really nice, what look to be hand-stamped (or perhaps screen-printed) pieces of lettering and illustration. Very simple, very cost-effective, and very successful.
- The record itself: it’s one-sided. Physically, I mean – not musically. I really like the odd surprise of a one-sided record – flipping it over to see, well, nothing. It’s cool how alien that looks when you’re so used to the appearance of grooves on a slice of vinyl. Ever tried to play the smooth side of a one-sided record? The stylus freaks out, skips all over the place and then flings itself to safety.
- The insert that comes with the record: it includes details of this record’s original price, and that of the other releases on Four Letter Words at the time. The most expensive item is a fanzine plus flexi combination, which cost just two dollars including postage. As is confirmed by text on the insert, this is ‘budget pop’.
Four Letter Words records was run by a guy called Maz, who Wikipedia tells me was in the Mummies. I never knew this before now. It’s a surprising clash of cultures – on one side the indie-pop, hand-finished recording scene you see represented here; on the other, a garage punk band who dressed in tattered bandages and were somewhat legendary. I guess it’s all punk rock, DIY, independent thinking, though, isn’t it? Allen Clapp had been friends with Maz since the early 1980s; they grew up together in California. Isn’t that nice? This record was released in the very early 1990s, as I recall, but as is the case with so many indie-pop releases, it’s difficult to track down an exact release date.
For fun, I thought I’d look up how much it’d cost today to release a one-sided seven inch record – let’s say, in an edition of 300 copies, which is what I imagine the scale of this Allen Clapp release to have been. But, you know what? I can’t find a single place on the internet that seems to offer this as a service. Maybe I’ve found a gap in Google? Maybe there’s just too much music now, and nobody feels they could adequately represent themselves on just a single side of seven inch vinyl?
What a great cover design. Totally meaningless, seemingly unconnected to anything, but bold and striking enough to make me ponder at length about how and why some bird-headed warriors on horseback are representative of Federation X, this record, the songs on this record, or something related to one or more of those things. Nice bit of screen-printing, too, which has left a faint odour of fresh ink that remains to this day.
Federation X I knew nothing about at the time of purchasing this. I decided to do so at the same time as getting a bunch of stuff from the Wäntage USA label, some years ago. I was overwhelmed by how great everything they released seemed to be. They were very quietly spearheading an early wave of now-more-popular American hard indie rock music, with a collection of bands that took the sludgy riffs of Melvins, mixed in Black Sabbath, peppered the results with a wry sense of humour and conspired to Rock Very Hard Indeed. Fist-pumping heavy music that it was safe to like without the need for irony or shame. For a time, I was electronical pen-pals with Josh, the guy behind Wäntage, and still drop by to say a virtual hi from time to time.
I’m often tempted to drop everything and hop on a plane to visit the Totalfest event that Josh runs annually; everything I read suggests it’s not only an amazing hoedown of bands Rocking Very Hard Indeed, but that it’s also a real community kind of festival, with beer, swimming, BBQs and good vibes. Perhaps if I did end up there one day it’d turn out to be just a hundred people watching a band in a room. Who knows. I like the idea I’ve built up of it, though.
Totalfest, and Wäntage USA itself, are based in Missoula, Montana. This interests me because as a mid-teenager I was a huge David Lynch fan, and heard him mention this place in many documentaries as the location where he grew up. If David Lynch is from there, and a cool record label is from there, it must be a great place, surely? No? Regardless, here’s what it looks like from the sky. Check out those mountains! And see how Route 90 snakes across the top of some of them!
Strange 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.