Browsing Category Reissues

Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987

As a fan of jangle pop and exploratory compilations in general this deep dive into the less celebrated janglers from the American ‘80s underground is decidedly up my alley. The comp starts off a new series, Excavations, that explores some of the American impulses behind the sounds that built the basis foundation for the Captured Tracks roster. The label and Mike Sniper cite Pebbles, Soul Jazz, and Numero comps as an inspiration, and given that Mike’s history includes the compact, but excellent catalog of Radio Heartbeat, I’ve got a feeling he might someday expand this series to pick up where that short-lived, but still appreciated Numero spotlight on power pop might have gone. Though I’m just as happy to have them both run concurrent findings if the soul coffers run dry. That hope aside, this first compilation is packed with some great overlooked material that falls under the college rock tag that eventually gave way to Alternative with a bit more bravado over time.

A whole host of the bands on the tracklist here fit the bill for something like a Nuggets spotlight, though perhaps there’s a bit higher ratio skewed towards albums that pan out past the singles that Cap Tracks has pulled out to spotlight. Nicer price points too — a lot of the originals can be picked up in that magical and rapidly shrinking Discogs niche that’ll run you $8-15 for a gem. When I first found comps like Yellow Pills and Nuggets they acted as Rosetta stones for a world of niche sounds that expanded way past the stale radio fodder I found lumbering around the Midwest, and this comp has the potential to open up a whole new era to the kind of listeners like myself who were always looking for more. The comp threads its interest through vaunted labels (Homestead, Enigma) and more fringe players alike, but the sounds all tie together an ‘80s that, like Sarah and Postcard abroad, were acting in direct opposition to the more jocular zeitgeist that rose up all around them.

Packaged with a huge book of background on the artists, archival pictures and liner notes that dig into what makes each track such a worthy addition, the set is certainly worthy of the Excavations aspirations that they’re going for. If you’ve got a soft spot for the less punk strains that swam through the ‘80s underbelly then it’s hard not to be charmed by the round up here.



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Trees – Trees (50th Anniversary Edition)

Now there’s quite a subset of catalogers of the past that would relegate Trees to the cutout bin and 2nd or 3rd tier in their essential releases of the ‘70s. While the band filled a similar swath as Pentangle or, more closely Fairport Convention, to discount them as merely a photocopy is to do the band a grave disservice. Comparisons between Fairport and Trees often come at the expense of Celia Humphris, who may not have the range of Sandy Denny, but hers is a more wounded delivery and in turn gives Trees an imperfect veneer that’s to their advantage rather than their detriment. Where the band truly excels is in marrying the wan English past to (at the time) the acid-peaked present. Folding out of primrose paths, the band expands on traditional songs with a keen ear for when and how to let the psychedelic flame burn and when to let the troubadour impulse carry them further down the wooded path.

This is exactly where Humphris shines, between the knotted riffs and the hallucinogenic tension she’s the common villager to Denny’s noblewoman. The band lays beneath her a tapestry that’s alive with visceral wonder and heady twists and turns. The older tales spin out as they did among many of their peers burnt through with a Wiccan wink that pulls them from the past and into a fevered dream of medieval fantasia. The moves they practice on their debut, The Garden of Jane Delawney set the stage for the originals that would populate the follow-up On The Shore, a record that might be more familiar to some for its Hipgnosis cover than its content. The band creates an imagined trove of traditionals on the follow-up, creating a schism in history with an extended renaissance that’s feels pulled from pulp novels and opium dreams.

With this 50th anniversary collection, Earth rounds up a complete picture of the band, finally elevating them from psychedelic curio into something more deserving of a deep dive. In addition to the band’s two albums, restored and remastered, the set collects two new discs of alternate mixes, early demos, BBC session tracks and 2018 live recordings in London. No doubt there will still be plenty who will see them as only a footnote in the psych-Nuggets column, but I think this collection makes their case quite nicely.



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The Chills – Soft Bomb

Now if ever there was a shining star in The Chills’ catalog, their sophomore LP Submarine Bells is just that. The record was the band’s major label debut and it’s one of those records I honestly wish I would have found earlier in my life, having come to it quite a few years after its 1990 release. The band’s early edges were softened and their songwriting was hammered into pop perfection. While it achieved the kind of critical praise that will forever let this one swim to the surface if R.E.M. fans and Kiwipop lovers dig deeper into the bench of major label offerings from this time period, its follow-up remains slightly more elusive. I’m sad to say that as much of a fan as I am of the early singles that populate Kaleidoscope World, on into Brave Words, and Submarine Bells it took these much needed reissues of later Chills works by Fire to really let Soft Bomb spend some time on the speakers.

By 1992 The Chills as they’d existed were really gone. The rest of the band left but Martin Philipps remained as did the support of the label he’d signed to. So, in the fashion of songwriters who are hitting outside of the league they’re assigned, he embarked on an ambitious album that stands alongside quite a few other sprawling gems of the era. While albums like Game Theory’s Lolita and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade come to mind, this finds some similarities closer to home with the clever wordplay of Able Tasmans’ A Cuppa Tea And A Lie Down. Though perhaps more than any of those, Philipps sought quite actively to make this album into something greater than he’d reached for, employing Van Dyke Parks and ex dB’s Peter Holsapple to help him shape this album into a cycle of songs that fold in and out of one another with a velvet pop touch. Sometimes, though effort leaves its mark quite noticeably, also distancing it from those others.

That soft touch in Philipps’ songs may have ultimately been the album’s undoing, given that it arrived in 1992, a year known more for its embrace of abrasive indie riding the grunge wave than any tender-hearted lost souls. So would end a chapter for The Chills with Phillips writing one of his most ambitious albums, even if it occasionally got away from him a bit. There are plenty of pop moments, and its clear that while Parks only actively contributes to one track here, his inclusive approach to songwriting is felt as a guiding light. That can give Soft Bomb a bit of sea sickness switching moods from one track to the next, especially with the focused sweep of Submarine Bells still fresh in mind. Yet there are also so many true gems interspersed throughout the album that the ends justify his ambitions and in hindsight this is still prime Chills — melding the serious with the sublime. It’s nice to have both of these albums back on the shelves and hopefully now that time and distance have let the dust settle on the angst of 1992, a greater appreciation of Soft Bomb can blossom.



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Love Tractor – S/T

My first introduction to Love Tractor — one of the pillars of Athens’ ascent as an indie capital — came via their 1989 album Themes From Venus. I imagine this may have been the case for quite a few others as well. With Mitch Easter pushing them towards radio’s embrace, while also being notable for its several instrumental tracks that seemed to jolt the band away from that goal entirely, this was probably their highest profile moment. The record would prove to be their final, at least in their early stages, but that focus on an instrumental mash of jangled angles, post-punk rhythm, and a lounged fluidity had long been an anchor of their sound. The band had set themselves apart from many of the Athens peers with the exclusion of vocals, but no one can deny that their sound doesn’t bear the town’s rhythmic stamp. The band was quickly scooped up by Danny Beard’s DB records, home of their friends in Pylon and the eponymous LP followed shortly.

The LP that emerged out of their two day session came quickly, but feels like it landed fully formed. There’s something of a soundtrack quality to the record, but it’s equally at home pushing the listener to dance. They let sweat-stained grooves give way to cross-legged nodding while good natured strums succumb to caffeinated fits of guitar. Its a record that’s singular in vision — there are few others of the time that feel as loose, yet completely driven as this record. The band would mutate as they established themselves and wove vocal pop into the mix, but the debut is a moment in time that warrants returning to now and again. This reissue from Happy Happy Birthday To Me presents the record, remixed and referbished by David Barbe and Bill Berry. Plus there’s a wealth of liner notes by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, The B-52’s Kate Pierson among others.



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Razorcuts – Storyteller (Deluxe)

It was a hectic summer and I hope you’ll forgive this one slipping beneath the waves for a bit, especially since there wasn’t a lot of dust kicked up about it Stateside. Optic Nerve has done the world a huge favor in reissuing both of Razorcuts essential LPs along with extended bonus discs that cull some key singles into the mix. The band, fronted by Gregory Webster and Tim Vass alongside a rotating cast of contemporaries, exemplified the C86 jangle-pop sound that has smitten so many, yet they’re often left shy of fame in hindsight. The band issued singles on Subway Orginization, Flying Nun UK, Sha La La, Caff Corporation, and Lamia and quite a few of these bits make it onto the second LP on offer here, making this a bit of an indispensable look at the band. Included are the band’s key singles “Sorry To Embarrass You” and “Big Pink Cake” along with harder to dig up splits with The Wolfhounds and covers of The Band.

As for Storyteller itself, the album finds the band in thrall with their own sound — wistful, tender, breezy – a bit of a beacon of light in 1988. The band had worked out their kinks by this point and, while the early singles have an immediacy on display, the lineup for Storyteller finds a thread through Webster and Vass’ influences, tying up sunshine pop, ‘60s jangle from The Byrds to the Beau Brummels, and a big indie heart that places them easily in the Creation roster while never skewing twee. I’ve always been a fan of the band’s follow-up, which acted as my entry point to Razorcuts and the label has also issued this along with a second disc that scoops up the rest of the EP tracks and compilation bits that don’t make it onto the early extras here. I’d recommend them as a pair, even for the casually curious jangle-pop fan. Both records are an absolute delight and the expansion packs here make put a wealth of previously harder to nab material back on vinyl all in one place. Sadly after Mile High Towers the band would crumble and crack. Vass would go on to play with Red Chair Fadeaway, and Webster would start up The Carousel and Saturn V. Notably, though they reunited under the name Forever People in 1992 for a one-off single on Sarah Records, making their indie-pop label trip complete.



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Circulatory System – S/T

Among the crown jewels of the Elephant 6 universe (of which there are quite a few), The Circulatory System’s eponymous debut is one of the most intriguing, and with this reissue it also proves well worth re-exploring. Along Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk At Cubist Castle and Black Foliage, this LP completes a trifecta of layered, hallucinatory, free-associative psych-pop by Will Cullen Hart that captures precisely what’s so fascinating about the label and its orbiters in the first place. While ‘60s jangles have also been a hallmark of the label, its often the bands that seek to create large scale collage-pop curios that capture the imagination best. The album dovetails off of Black Foliage’s fascination with dreams, creating a disorienting world that shifts beneath the listener’s feet without warning, but never ceases to delight with its haunted music box house of mirrors approach. Meanwhile, the album acts as a landing pad for the entire Elephant 6 stable, containing performances by just about every member of the collective save for Bill Doss, with 21 contributors making their way onto the rolls.

One of the true tragedies of the album, though, was that its release in 2001 caught a moment in time that saw vinyl hit a valley and the album was issued only on CD, followed later by digital release. To remedy this, the band launched a Kickstarter last year and raised the means to finally get this gem onto double LP and we’re all luckier for that. It’s an album I’ve revisited from time to time, but it’s been a few years and sitting down again, it bears few scars of the time in which it was created — feeling forever like a dreamscape deluge of pop pinwheels and dark, forbidden corners of the mind suspended aloft from the hallmarks aughts pop. The album isn’t one that can be broken out into piecemeal parcels for casual digestion. It is, for all intents, the album format made manifest, and once the needle hits that first groove it’s almost impossible to escape from four sides of interlaced intrigue. It occurs to me that we may be in a period when the Elephant 6 has escaped a generation of listeners, so this release could well act as an inviting entry to a world built as dense as any fantastical realm newcomers may have encountered in pop culture. The record remains a fascinating piece to pick apart, wander around, and built imaginary maps within its walls. This year bears the fruit of that Kickstater campaign so I’d recommend nabbing one while they exist, who knows if it will slip away from grasp again.




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TV Eye – The Lost Studio Recordings 1977-1978

Like many, I’m sure, the death of Dave Kusworth has sent me spiraling through Jacobites’ back catalog and some solo Kusworth LPs, all wonderful examples of his idiosyncratic songwriting over the years, but the dive pulled up one I wasn’t familiar with. Dave’s first band TV Eye, which bears some deal of influence from the band that penned its namesake, has found its recorded output reissued in the last couple of years and its worth a rifle through the tracks in its own right. Kusworth and his cohorts were all still in high school when these tracks were recorded, all between 17 and 18 and while its definitely a bit rough, the band channels the snottiness of garage and the raw edge of porto-punk that came before it into something that radiates its own kind of glorious damage. The record pulls in some of that Stooges mania, but they never get that raw (who could) and more often they storm through some Voidoids/Heartbreakers territory that’s equally fun.

The comp contains five studio cuts and the rest are culled from some rehearsal sessions, which give a working mindset to their songs and inject a bit of raw edge to the collection. Its certainly not the sound that Kusworth has been associated with for the majority of his career, but along with The Hawks and Rag Doll, it make up a good trifecta of his formative years. The collection is put together well and 40 years on, these sound as sharp as they ever did. This one has appeal to the Kusworth completists, but hey for the roots of punk crowd, there’s plenty to hang onto here as well.




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14th Wish – I Gotta Get Rid of You

HoZac has remained one of the most consistent houses unearthing vital punk treasures these days and its in no small part due to their mining of the 1980’s catalog of David Peel’s Orange Records. Peel’s stable included some notable nuggets in among the crust, including early GG Allin, Eddie Criss with Wayne Kramer laying down guitar, and David’s own ramshackle records. This pretty much unknown single by 14th Wish. The band has pretty much zero presence in the punk history books, but this two-sider captured by Peel is a nice slice of chugging punk that’s got a bit of NYC sneer and a good hangover of Modern Lovers running through its hair of the dog delivery.

The A-side’s got a bit more grit in its gut with a fuzztone that’s practically vomiting fuzz but its tempered by not giving into the frantic tempos of the time and that sauntering bass. The vocals by Halo Peace are appropriately nihilistic/caustic and the guitar jags at the end are worth the wait. The label’s pulling some Tapeworm comparisons (I can hear that) but the cut kinda reminds me of the Twinkeyz b-side “Little Joey” with its mid-tempo stomp and finger-in-the-socket guitar shanks. The flip is a bit more staid than this one, but still a lot of fun. Haven’t seen this one knocking down any doors in 2020, but its a good piece of the puzzle in the NYC punk swarm that barreled out of control around the time.




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The Cigarettes – “The Sky’s Not Blue It’s Happy”

There’s no shortage of reissues houses that will dig into their designated corners of the forgotten landscape, but I’ve always admired Anthology for going deep in many directions at once. From surf soundtracks to soft-psych and Swedish legends, the label might not be as cohesive on the surface as others, but their dedication to quality remains a hallmark. This latest is seemingly the beginning of some digital only releases, and its marked as one of the only ones that doesn’t net a lavish physical package, though that shouldn’t reflect on the music itself. The name The Cigarettes was used before (UK punks reissued through Optic Nerve) and surely after this iteration, but this crew from Geelong is worthy of the moniker. The band had another life following the punk and post-punk trail from New York, but they split for the tail end of the ‘70s and wouldn’t reform until the ‘80s.

With few expectations heaped upon their return, the band’s Alan Wright and Mark Gove lead the charge on these recordings and its swerves away from the punk doldrums that might have clogged up their works had they stuck the path without a break. The album works an instrumental approach, slinking through a dirty neon pulse of ‘80s funk and smooth groove. There’s a plastic veneer over their playing that both dates this album instantly and yet also puts it into an odd spectrum of influence that feels reminiscent of recent bands looking to flirt with the past in unexpected ways. That ‘80s heat is all over it, but its not the FM band that we’re talking here. Think late night television, b-movie scores, and wood-paneled clubs with dismal cover charges. This is a nice retrospective from Anthology that speaks to their ability to dig up some of the best of the binned visions of the past.




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Musica Transonic – S/T

If you’re not paying attention to the output of Black Editions by now, then there’s no saving you. Getting the P.S.F. catalog back on the racks and doing so with a keen eye to detail might be the closest thing to doing divine work in the godforsaken clutches of 2020. The label has a few on the slate this summer, but for now I’m giving the necessary nod to Musica Transonic and its ineffable impact. The record brings together an unshakable trio of Japanese talent that included Nanjo Asahito (High Rise), Makoto Kawabata (Acid Mothers Temple) and Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins). I remember grabbing a CD of this quite a few years ago and the record hits like an overload to the senses, pulsing with riffs that are burnt to the very core, and a constant barrage of rhythm that shakes the very marrow from the bones. At proper volume this one should finally liquify the last of those brains that Marty McFly hollowly threatened melt so long ago. If this was in the walkman there’d have been no walking away and no going back.

While structure and riff isn’t quite what the record is about, it makes up in pure sonic assault what it lacks in memorable, head nodding fodder. Like free jazz lit on fire and shot through the atomic combine, this record is meant to be felt physically and with the reissue Black Editons have unearthed an extra dose of bonus material to fry your insides as well. The record was the next evolution after Nanjo burnt a hole in the underground consciousness with High Rise, pushing the listener to the limits and feeling like there’s more going on here than one can possibly focus on. It boasts a pre-AMT Makoto Kawabata stepping up to shred the soul with Yoshida bashing out a beat that’s more involuntary bodily harm than groove. This is peak P.S.F. and it’s packaged up all nice with some foil embossing brining the dazzling colors of the cover to life. Don’t warn your neighbors, just let Musica Transonic introduce you to them when you get it in the mail.




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