"Of those immortal dead": sounds of the summer

Self-absorbed World Cup anecdote: The Orchids “I Never Learn” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are): The Wolfhounds “Hands In The Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions” (A Turntable Friend): Various Artists “C89” (Cherry Red): Born To Murder The World "The Infinite Mirror Of Millennial Narcissism" (Extrinsic Recordings), and more

Um, for this month’s pic we’ve repaired to Highgate Cemetery, this time to bring you George Eliot's resting place. No real reason, other than that we've recently been reminded how "Middlemarch", however forbidding it may seem at first glance, reveals many treasures if you're patient enough.

The inscription on the base (quoting the author's own lines from "The Choir Invisible"), reads:

"Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence

Here lies the body of 
George Eliot 
Mary Ann Cross

Born 22 November 1819
Died 22 December 1880"

It's a beautiful, tranquil spot.

* * * * *

Anyway, the anecdote. In the late 1990s I worked in Monte Carlo for a while (no hotbed of indie-pop, but there were compensations). One of my supervisors, over-estimating my competence and, in particular, my command of the language, used to send me on errands like checking information at the local bureau des hypotheques. However, although she quickly learned not to give me any tasks that required fluency in French, she was an incredibly pleasant and patient person who sadly died less than a decade later, no older than I am now.

Her son, about 12 when I met him, would go on to carve out a living as a footballer: not a common career path for somebody whose parents were respectively a banker and a lawyer and – the handful of times I met him – not something I am even sure was that high on his wishlist (he seemed to prefer the tennis courts, which is where he once had a listen to my Def Jam cassette: one of my favourites at the time). Anyway, that kid’s name was Hugo and, last month, he lifted the World Cup trophy for France. I couldn't help but think of his mum: I know she would have been so proud.*

* * * * *

Not sure whether we’ve mentioned this band the Orchids before**, but they’ve provided succour aplenty over the decades and now resurface with a 7”,“I Never Learn”, on still-fabulous glamour label WIAIWYA. Typically disarming and unassuming, this one waltzes gently around you until it’s somehow created a whirlpool of guitar curves and lyrical sadnesses that carries you away completely: something about it (perhaps the roving bassline and hazy wash of synth) even nods to the Cure, or early Wake.

On the other side of the record, “Echoes (Have Hope)” ventures elsewhere, more upbeat but with dim shades of dub that throb benignly from the middle distance. The overall effect is similar to that of the gorgeous Jasmine Minks single last year, and long as veterans like these Scots legends can carry on immersing us in such understated but glorious singles, we feel we are likely to die happy after all.

As of today in love with these times, in spite of these times Orchids top 10: Thaumaturgy. Something For The Longing. What Will We Do Next? The Lost Star (“Country Music” version especially). Les Spectacles De La Foire. Peaches. You Do Something To Me. Caveman. From This Day. Hey! Sometimes! 

* * * * *

The Wolfhounds are another pet obsession of ours, some of whose recent work has been on a par with their seminal Peel-era singles and minis. Plus, they killed it at the C86 show @ 229 not that long ago. “Hands In The Till”, however, is not a newie but a nostalgia trip: the very welcome release of their three John Peel Sessions as a long-player, via the inestimable A Turntable Friend (who are on a revival tip of their own, it seems). At the time these recordings were made, between ’86 and ’88, the Wolfhounds were doing a decent impression of being the missing link between the Fall and the Go-Betweens, which is a concept that we would hope sells itself. All the recordings were marshalled by the late Dale Griffin, very much the daddy of the 1980s Peel Sesh, but none of them has previously had a proper release (Strange Fruit may have been missing a trick here).

It’s only the third set, from 1988, that we actually remember hearing on first broadcast. It made quite an impression at a time when we were largely listening to rather softer variations on the art of jangle. But all twelve songs merit a kosher release. “Boy Racers, RM1” really lifts off in Maida Vale form, whilst “Non-Specific Song” and to-be singles “Anti-Midas Touch”, “Me” and “Son Of Nothing” are singularly snarky, sarky, sparky, spiky and sardonic in true Wolfies style. And it’s a bit of a treat to get hold of “The William Randolph Hearse” at last, an excellent, slightly A Witness-y tune which we don’t think ever made it onto a Wolfhounds release at the time. The ancient C90 which housed our increasingly battered “PLAY/REC” lift of that can, at last, be retired.

As of today in love with these times, in spite of these times Wolfhounds top 10: Rent Act. The Comedians. Cruelty. Anti-Midas Touch. Magic Triggers. Divide & Fall. Stars In The Tarmac. Feeling So Strange Again. Ex-Cable Street. Me.

* * * * *

On the heels of revisiting 1986-1988, we now skip excitedly to C89, the latest in Cherry Red’s exhumations of classics, oddities and outliers from the halcyon years of the indie wars. It’s a bittersweet endeavour to listen to a huge swathe of songs that came out when you were 16, and it can be hard to listen to them again, in some cases for the first time in decades, without feeling some unexpected pangs of love, regret or even derision.

We were in the thick then of an ardent exchange of cassettes, letters, fanzines, flyers, likes and loves. And vividly remember that suddenly, the compilation tapes that indie-kids would send around the country, full of known pleasures like the Chesterf!elds or the Groove Farm, would suddenly include interlopers like the Stone Roses (featured here with the sleepy “Going Down”) or the Charlatans: we found it all a little unsettling, not really knowing where our precious underground sub-genre was heading. But, as the sleeve notes explain, this was on the cusp of the time when ‘indie’ gained a capital I and started to become something else entirely. The Roses were hardly the only band that would outgrow the cottage industry of yore.

It seems pointless that people like us will complain about aspects of C89 – you know, citing all the different songs or bands that we’d have included instead*** - given that it only exists because we all bought C86, C87 and C88 (and will buy the inevitable ‘C90’ next year). Yes, they are beginning to morph a bit into the Leamington Spa series, and if you listen to too much in one go there is a slight risk of trebly lo-fi fatigue, or even ‘death by adequate songwriter’, but as we said about the “Scared To Be Happy” Cherry Red box, these things are historical artefacts too and are frankly honour-bound to document the fact that the indie genre was fragmenting, and the quality control increasingly all over the place.

In that spirit, there are some interesting things going on even amongst the more middle-of-the-road patter of some of the lo-fi dole boys and the farfisa soul boys: the La’s “Come In Come Out” sounds more post-Ron Johnson than we could have ever imagined the La’s sounding; the Snapdragons contribution crosses late-period RJ-ism with the early seeds of shoegaze (and provides C89’s only sustained epiosode of slap-bass); and Treebound Story’s sultry “Swimming In The Heart Of Jane” (with one Richard Hawley on guitar) provides a template of sorts for Blueboy’s blissful subsequent imaginings.

And - to be fair - there are still many, many gems hidden away here. There’s a good argument – certainly in my pub mind - that it’s worth shelling out a score of English pounds just to hear pre-Golden Dawn fuzzflexi legends Christine’s Cat again, or for the rare and rarified pleasure of the Red Chair Fadeaway contribution, or for a first digital outing for Thrilled Skinny’s rambunctious but satisfyingly analogue-age “Biscuits In A Tin”. Other tracks we’re very fond of here (even excluding the Sarah ones that you’ll all have already) are typically fine songs from the Popguns, Church Grims, King Of The Slums, Korova Milkbar and Jactars (the latter a wrongly-overlooked band who also produced an excellent LP at the time); the honestly quite-glorious sprawl of the Becketts’ “The Most Beautiful Girl In Town”, which we hadn’t heard before but definitely stirs us more than the stuff of theirs we remember from the time; long-lost memory-jerkers from the Mayfields, early Sunflowers, the Prayers, the Ammonites (ooh, very Love Parade-ish), the Bardots (their signature tune “Sad Anne”), the Candy Darlings (their signature tune “That’s Where Caroline Lives”), Jane From Occupied Europe (though sadly not their signature tune “Ocean Run Dry”), Pooh Sticks (erm, not their signature tune either, because that kicked off C88), and Po!; and the comfortingly rickety jangle of Ruth Ellis Swing Band (a combo surely born to share a bad-taste flexi with James Dean Driving Experience, but whose existence proved too ephemeral even to achieve that).

Plus, the inclusion of Brian (viewed at the time as ‘the Irish Brighter’) not only furnishes an international angle of sorts but reminds us of the rumour doing the rounds back then that Setanta and Sarah were plotting - in a smoke-filled room - some kind of swap deal, by which the former signed Harvest Ministers and the latter signed Brian… but like most pub talk, like Sarah’s alleged signing of the Purple Tulips, and like Motown’s alleged signing of the Fall, that was a deal that never actually got off the ground. Perhaps the artists’ wage demands proved insufferably high.

* * * * *

We want to mention a first album from Born To Murder The World, a three-headed Cerberus of a project featuring members of Anaal Nakrath, Fukpig and Napalm Death (yes, Shane). The title - "The Infinite Mirror Of Millennial Narcissism" - captures the zeitgeist well enough, and the LP serves its function as an anger-filled, nihilistic soundtrack to our dessicated, dysfunctional society. There's a short moody intro, a veritable barrage of attack-grind, and a brief ode to a Philippine vampire, and that's really all you can ask for in 17 wildfire minutes.

As we read and watch the actions of our politicians, leaders and kinsfolk with increasing despair, sometimes even we don't think that indie-pop alone can get us over the line: and it's at these moments that this riotous haze of blastbeat-borne noise, a furnace of pure aggression, earns its place. (If  you've read this far, you might also want to check out another sound of our summer, namely Fukpig's new album, "Bastards", which also concisely encapsulates the malign spirit of the times on tunes like "Last Brexit To Nowhere" and "Let's Make Britain Hate Again").

* * * * *

Oh, and there was lots of other music to celebrate the summer of '18, but there’s really now no time, so… quick ilwtt,isott shouts also swimming their way out to:
  • Isnaj Duj’s modest yet mesmeric “Dean Clough C2” (surround-sound found sound from the Zauberflote of Halifax, up there with Nicholas Bullen or Bobby Wratten amongst our favourite field-recording exploits);
  • Shades and Killa P’s “Alarma” (Belgo-US production dream team hooking up with Stockwell-born don KP for gruff, ruff and brusque grimestep noir on Deadbeats); 
  • Deicide’s “Excommunicated” (tight prime death metal licks at a brisk tempo, pleasingly riddled with excitable but curt solos); 
  • Cindy’s “Creepin’ While Ya Sleepin” (an all too rare new EP from techno enfant terrible Cindy, this time on Ravage Digital Series and possibly peaking with the comely dancefloor strut of “Don’t Nobody Like Me Playa, Fuck ‘Em I’m A One Man Gang”); and 
  • Svalbard’s ace “It's Hard To Have Hope” on Holy Roar, an album from the Bristol band that kind of crosses early Alcest with late Alcest with Rolo Tomassi with Secret Shine and even maybe the melodic hardcore of Million Dead, and then ups the game further with its terrific lyrics, lyrics that manage to be both sensitive and hard-hitting and give the lie to some of the clichés about metal (or, in this case post-metal) bands… “Revenge Porn” turns out to be an unlikely shoegaze masterpiece.
And that, for now, is all.

*This anecdote would probably have seemed a lot more sympathetic, had its main subject not been arrested for drink-driving whilst it was being written. I also have to be honest and say that I don’t recall Hugo liking the Def Jam tape, not even Oran ‘Juice’ Jones or Warren G.
** We have. We so have.
*** Oooh… “Sensitive”, obviously. JDDE. Slab! White Town. Pretty much any of the Rain's tracks, except the one included here. McCarthy. The Weddoes & the Darling Buds (though both get extensive sleevenote props). The Felicitys. Dub Sex, maybe. The Applicants. Girl Of My Best Friend. The Rosslyns. Worth remembering too that combos like Senseless Things and Pale Saints were also doing the fanzine and comp tape rounds back then, despite their later commercial ‘successes’…

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