Archive for October, 2009
Joe over at The Blackened Air has just posted an excellent UK post-rock mix all of his own, which includes tracks by important UKPR precursors like Dif Juz and Talk Talk. Go get it!
Well, that’s about it for Post-Rocktoberfest 2009. As a number of wiseacres have pointed out, Post-Rocktoberfest should really be in November but what are you gonna do?
Perhaps, by the time Post-Rocktoberfest 2010 comes rolling around, The Five E.P.s by Disco Inferno will finally be commercially available. Here’s hoping.
P.S. For more post-rockin’ content, don’t forget to visit The UK Post-Rock Group.
Dave Callahan was a member of second-division Creation records band The Wolfounds. Getting its initial break by featuring on the NME’s era-defining C86 compilation, this group started out playing fairly standard UK indie but grew progressively more experimental throughout its career.
After The Wolfhounds broke up, Callahan made a pretty definitive statement of intent by calling his next band Moonshake, after the Can song. Moonshake teamed Callahan with an American guitarist and vocalist called Margaret Fiedler (later of Laika), as well as a kick-ass rhythm section that could have given the Can boys a run for their money.
Naturally, Moonshake’s 1991 debut E.P. came out on Creation. Good as it is, First gives little indication that Moonshake would ever amount to more than The Wolfhounds had. The influence of the band’s label mates My Bloody Valentine looms large, although – to be fair – the sampledelic “Gravity” and Fielder’s folky “Coward” are markedly more impressive than anything the post-MBV shoegaze scene was churning out at the time.
Seeing the way things were going, Callahan ended Moonshake’s relationship with Creation and latched on to the post-rock-friendly Too Pure label (also the early home of Stereolab and Seefeel). The band also began developing a much starker, more aggressive sound on its second 12″, Second Hand Clothes.
“Second Hand Clothes” itself might just be the most extraordinary UK post-rock track of all. Nothing on this song feels quite normal (the ludicrously deep bass, the mangled guitars, Callahan’s off-key, nasal vocal) but it asserts itself with an astonishing force. On the B-side, “Drop in the Ocean” really gives that rhythm section the work-out it deserves.
The band’s debut LP – Eva Luna – expands on the formula established by Second Hand Clothes. It opens with the magnificently vitriolic “City Poison” and doesn’t let up for its entire duration. Notably, the use of sampling becomes more sophisticated and Fiedler really starts to assert herself as a songwriter, particularly on “Beautiful Pigeon”, which was the lead track on the band’s next E.P.
The Beautiful Pigeon 12″ was followed (in 1993) by a mini album called Big Good Angel. On tracks like “Two Trains”, the magic is still there but on gets the sense that Moonshake’s focus was beginning to weaken. Callahan and Fiedler seemed to agree that they should pursue a more sample-based direction but their aesthetic priorities seemed to be at odds.
Fiedler left to form Laika, wrapping here songs around liquid grooves that weren’t a million miles from the emerging trip-hop sound. Callahan continued the Moonshake project, making the band’s sound increasingly angular and unforgiving. There’s a lot to recommend Fiedler and Callahan’s post Big Good Angel Work (particularly the excellent first Laika album Silver Apples of the Moon) but it conspicuously lacks the wild-eyed sense of self-belief apparent on Eva Luna.
In 1993, Ian Masters left Pale Saints, the Leeds-based, 4AD-signed band he had led since 1987, apparently to pursue a more left-field musical direction. It’s also tempting to suspect that the rest of the Pale Saints had grown tired of Masters’ antics – which included peppering interviews with ludicrous fibs and disrupting the nice pop songs his band-mates were trying to write by transposing the tunes into weird time signatures.
Whatever the case, Masters’ next move was to team up with Chris Trout of the suitably eccentric A.C. Temple, forming Spoonfed Hybrid. The duo released just one full-length album, on 4AD’s post-rock-centric subsidiary Guernica (plus a couple of 7″ singles).
The music on this self-titled album is more serene than Pale Saints’ angst-ridden shoegaze rock. It falls squarely into the “new age post-punk” sound pioneered by The Durutti Column and developed by 4AD bands like Dif Juz. Fans of Kate Bush will also find much to love in Spoonfed Hybrid’s chintzy synth sounds and winsome vocals.
Masters’ tricksy ways aren’t allowed to disrupt things too much but you can hear them lurking just around the corner on “Naturally Occurring Anchors”. It’s his choir-boy voice that dominates the mood of the album, though. In fact, it’s quite jarring when Trout steps up to the mic for “A Pocketful of Dust”.
The cult of shoegaze has done much to preserve the reputation of Masters’ first band. Quite right too – The Comforts of Madness is a near flawless album. It would be nice, though, if the folks who are keeping that particular flame burning would turn their collective attention to the more diffident – but no less impassioned – Spoonfed Hybrid.
By popular request, here’s a re-upload of this incredible live recording from Papa Sprain’s heyday. Tracklisting:
3. Flying to Vegas
4. You Are Ten Million Needles Pierce
5. I Got Stop
Get it here.
Link refreshed, 28th November 2009.
Refreshed again, 18th February, 2010. Refreshed permanently, 23rd January, 2010.
Insides was the Brighton-based duo of J.Serge Tardo and Kirsty Yates. Tardo and Yates started releasing music together in the very early ’90s as two-thirds of the band Earwig, alongside Dimitri Voulis.
Earwig’s first E.P. – Hardly – displays a distinct post-punk influence with Tardo’s scratchy guitar and Yates’ strident vocals layered atop some rather fussy drum machine beats. Melodically, the influence of the Smiths is also felt heavily throughout.
What really sets apart songs like “Blind, Stupid and Desperate” and “It’s the Waiting I Can’t Stand” is the lyric writing of Kirsty Yates. From the get-go, she had an incredible talent for arranging apparently mundane phrases into stanzas of chilling malice and almost embarrassing intimacy.
By 1992, when Earwig released its one-and-only full length LP – Under My Skin I am Laughing – the Insides sound was pretty much in place. The electronics had become more pronounced (but sparser) and the guitars more ornate.
Once again, though, it was Yates who made the real difference. She’d started to slur and lisp her way through the songs. The malice was greater but it was also more insidious – wrapped in a soft, warm blanket of sensuality.
The following year, the debut Insides album Euphoria was released on 4AD subsidiary Guernica. Voulis had left the band and the sound developed on Under My Skin had been perfected.
Euphoria is, without a doubt, Tardo and Yates’ masterpiece. It opens with the almost straightforwardly sexy “Walking in Straight Lines” lines but as the album progresses, it gets ever darker – as if the characters described in the songs are sinking deeper and deeper into viciously dysfunctional relationships.
Pretty much every song on this album is gold but “Relentless” ranks as a mid-point highlight. You are strongly urged to seek out a hard copy of Euphoria. Everybody should have one.
The year after that, Insides released an instrumental E.P. called Clearskin. Its one track – “In Search of Spaces” – brings in a noticeable Steve Reich influence. In and of itself, Clearskin is great and really quite ambitious. But coming right after the emotionally intense Euphoria, it seemed like a bit of a cop out.
After Clearskin, Insides did what all the great post-rock bands were doing at that time: they disappeared. Rather astonishingly though, they actually released a second full-length album in 2000. The ’90s may have been over by this point but you wouldn’t guess it listening to the inoffensively jazzy trip-hop of Sweet Tip.
The album has a few great tracks – notably “All Life Long” and “Nothing Could be Sweeter” – but it utterly lacks the highly individual musical inventiveness and sly lyrical intensity that made Euphoria a classic.
The last couple of compilations in this series have strayed to the margins somewhat. Firstly, they’ve concentrated – to a certain extent – on exploring the work of lesser-known bands. Secondly, they’ve focused on showing that post-rock was as much a part of some nascent indie continuum as it was a reaction to acid house and rave.
This volume gets back to the source, with tracks from many of the key UK post-rock albums. It also displays a renewed focus on post-rock’s absorption of elements from a range of sampledelic dance music genre’s and – in particular – hip-hop. So, for those of you who are new to UKPR , this is as good a place to start as any.
A sixth volume is planned, which will only feature bands that have not appeared on any of the previous volumes. In the meantime, here’s the track-listing for volume five…
1. Insides – “Bent Double”
You could comfortably put just about any song from Euphoria on a compilation like this. It’s a more-or-less perfect album and each track works beautifully in its own right. The genius of Euphoria is how it uses tight, interlocking musical cells and abstracted vocals to capture the creepiness of human intimacy. “Bent Double” does a particularly good job of this, helped along by some startling lyrical twists: “You may warm your cold hands on my stomach/And breathe warm air down my neck/But only my best friend will rub my back, hold my head/And stroke the hair out of my face when I’m being sick/Because I can’t hold my drink.”
2. Long Fin Killie – “The Heads of Dead Surfers”
Okay, so the first half of this compilation is still quite indie-centric. Don’t worry, the hip-hop and techno-influenced stuff is coming up. For now, just enjoy the vertiginous angles and swooning gestures of Scottish avant-indie band Long Fin Killie. “The Heads of Dead Surfers” features a surprising number of hooks, bursts of free-form saxophone and a guest appearance from Mark E. Smith himself.
3. Telstar Ponies – “Lugengeschichte”
Another, Scottish indie band. Those Telstar Ponies were pretty ahead of the game in copping influences from free jazz, British folk and – on this track – the motorik pulse of prime krautrock. It all makes sense when you learn that the band was fronted by Wire magazine critic and England’s Hidden Reverse author David Keenan.
4. Disco Inferno – “Second Language”
It wouldn’t be a UK post-rock compilation without a Disco Inferno track and this one probably didn’t appear on any of the previous volumes, right? A marvellous single from the band’s Five EPs heyday, mixing the sampledelic ecstatic with the rock mundane as only Disco Inferno knew how.
5. Papa Sprain – “Cliff Tune”
For what little information exists on Papa Sprain, please refer back to this previous post. “Cliff Tune” comes from Gary McKendry and co’s Peel session and probably encapsulates their rather obtuse aesthetic better than any other song they recorded.
6. Epic45 – “A Year Without a Summer”
Surely the most recent track on this compilation by some years. Epic45 is a contemporary British indie band unafraid to site Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis as key influences. What this song really demonstrates though, is that Slowdive has become a more than acceptable influence for bands to flaunt. This must be rather baffling for the British music journalists who laughed that most unapologetically fey of all shoegaze bands out of town in the early ’90s.
7. Scorn – “Light Trap”
Here comes the hip-hop influence. This track from the Birmingham duo’s bleak master-work Evanescence has a head-nodding beat that might make you want to bust out a freestyle. Resist that urge. Apparently, ex-Scorn/Napalm Death bassist Nic Bullen – who has the vocals covered here, thank you very much – is developing a new project, which is named after this song. Good choice.
8. Seefeel – “Polyfusion”
Due to an association with the Warp-sponsored “Artificial Intelligence” scene, Seefeel managed to build a larger and more durable fan-base than most of the early post-rock bands. These fellows must also be the only first-generation post-rockers to stage a proper reformation (but surely they won’t be the last). This track is from their endlessly hypnotic debut album, Quique.
9. The Third Eye Foundation – “A Galaxy of Scars”
How has this avoided being on one of the previous volumes? The absolute high-watermark of Bristol post-rock – a sampledelic collage taking in elements of jungle, hip-hop and Nurse with Wound-style weirdness.
10. Ice – “X-1”
One of Kevin “The Bug” Martin’s many projects from the early ’90s, Ice’s underrated Bad Blood prefigured the great man’s more popular recent work by employing the services of various hip-hop emcees (though Martin is now better known for his work with reggae deejays). Here, Sebastien from the mighty New Kingdom gets busy over a groove that is lither and less lumbering than most of Martin’s work from this period.
11. Terminal Cheesecake – “Ginge le Geezer”
Terminal Cheesecake is another band that has been previously discussed on this here blog. The phrase “Pop Will Eat Itself finally getting serious” was used. Be afraid.
12. Bark Psychosis – “Absent Friend”
This thread on the UK Post-Rock Group has clearly shown that “Absent Friend” is Bark Psychosis’s most popular song. Humbling news for those of us who barely noticed it nestled in the middle of Hex. It is indeed a marvellous construction. The jazzy drums and dubby bass of the verses pointedly refuse to gel, opening up a huge gap in the song, which is sporadically filled by the cascading guitars and gushing vocals of the chorus.
You can grab any individual tracks you may want by clicking on the links above or download the whole thing from this link.
If that doesn’t work, try this one.
And here’s where you can still get some of the previous volumes: