Though officially released in 2016 on RPM, this two-disc set collecting a remarkably broad range of female-driven UK DIY acts saw a vinyl reissue in 2017. While the majority of the bands collected here may not be household names to anyone but ardent collectors of British indie music, the likes of the Marine Girls, Strawberry Switchblade, Dolly Mixture, the Delmonas, and Vivien Goldman should ring a few bells. What makes this compilation so fantastic, however, isn’t its obscurity factor, but rather its all-encompassing approach to curation. Seemingly every conceivable trend happening (or about to happen) in the British punk and post-punk underground of the 1980s is accounted for here: from mod revival, garage rock, and twee to dubby funk-punk, dancefloor electro-pop, and classic new wave. Sharon Signs to Cherry Red serves as an important if somewhat frustrating reminder that women artists were (and are) essential and equal contributors at every stage of rock history, but it’s also a really great collection of music. NK
Under the umbrella of Almost Ready Records, Mighty Mouth is one of the few diggers who keeps on digging for a glam, post-punk past that has been long-forgotten, but indubitably repeated. Past rock bottom, you’re going to find paydirt in places like Baton Rouge, where no one could possible imagine a band like Zoomers existing in the ’80s. But there were extremely passionate patches in the space-time continuum. Boys in tight suits and short haircuts who ignored the world around them and did their best to emulate the far-off sounds to which they were drawn. The Modern Lovers, Television, Richard Hell, the Velvets, all seem to find a focus on Exist. Those in the know will know that there was a particular frequency to which Zoomers were attuned, one that also infiltrated bands like Simply Saucer and Debris, bands who got those transmissions and altered them just slightly enough to create something completely foreign and new. Zoomers create a fury of riffs and pop hooks, but angled them with enough degrees to carve out their own separate edge when it was all said and done. KJE
While punk’s DIY approach may have been the great democratizer, the introduction of affordable (and portable) synthesizers in the late ’70s leveled the playing field even further. With the introduction of these music machines, you didn’t need to even remember the fingering for those three guitar chords, you simply had to know which keys to press. Despite its geographical isolation, Australia was not immune to these innovations, and as in the rest of the world, Australians began experimenting with these new musical tools. On two slabs of vinyl, Closed Circuits collects two dozen of those artists, most of them blips in the history of modern music. (I had only heard of Models and Primitive Calculators.) But that only makes the album all the more fascinating, especially when the disparate cuts range between to electro-pop gleam, post-punk austerity, and Cabaret Voltaire-like deconstructionism. It’s a reminder of the endless possibilities that existed and continue to exist. SS
Flying Nun’s relatively recent partnership with the Captured Tracks label has made a host of great offerings from the venerable New Zealand label’s back catalog available Stateside. If the name Look Blue Go Purple isn’t quite as familiar as The Chills, The Clean, or The Bats, make no mistake, it’s certainly not because of the all-female quintet’s stellar songwriting and singular take on kiwi pop, which stands just as tall alongside those aforementioned heavy hitters. Still Bewitched collects the band’s three mid-80s EPs for the label and adds some live tracks, offering an essential introduction to the enchanting take on classic Dunedin strum that makes LBGP such an overlooked gem of band. NK
While Pere Ubu is frequently celebrated for its string of brilliant singles released in the mid-70s, the band has gone through a never-ending evolution that has resulted in a myriad of sonic results. For me, the trio of records collected in this boxset—Raygun Suitcase (1985), Pennsylvania (1998), and St. Arkansas (2002)—represent as fruitful a period in the band’s existence as those early years. After several records that could be described as Ubu’s pop period, Raygun was the first album in some time to exhibit some of the hallmarks of the group’s early records while still remaining completely foward-thinking. On Pennsylvania, which saw the return of original guitarist Tome Herman, and to a lesser extent, St. Arkansas, leader David Thomas navigates the human psyche like an interstate, each song a stop on his existential road map. Available on both LP and CD, Drive, He Said represents the first time these records have been pressed to vinyl. They come supplemented with Back Roads, an EP of unreleased tracks, live cuts, and remixes. This is the third such boxset Pere Ubu has released, but with new albums like this year’s excellent 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, though the band’s legacy is secure, they certainly aren’t ones to rest on it. SS
Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969–1973
Light in the Attic Records
That more than 30 years later it’s still possible to describe a band’s sound aesthetically as “C86” is a tribute to the lasting cultural impact of the humble cassette that NME released in 1986. After issuing an expanded edition of C86 in 2014, Cherry Red has taken that thread and continued to run with it. Realizing that the aesthetic captured on the original cassette has never really died, and indeed continued to thrive in the UK in the subsequent years, the label released C87 in 2016 and then followed that up with the three-disc C88 this past year. In many ways this comp is every bit as indispensable as the original C86. British music perhaps went through its greatest upheaval in decades in 1988, experiencing what would be viewed as a second Summer of Love, with rave culture kicking into full-swing fueled by acid house and Ecstacy. This compilation captures indie pop’s last hurrah before it was supplanted by not only acid house, but subsequently the hazier hues of Madchester and then shoegaze, both of which certainly couldn’t exist without the C86 sound as a precursor. In fact, acts that would figure into both the former (The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets) and the latter (Pale Saints, The House of Love), as well as acid house (The Shamen), are represented here. C88 captures the ingenuity, not to mention the richness, of the music being made and even if it’s the last in this series of extrapolations, no one should be left wanting. SS
Timing was the only thing that stopped Hüsker Dü from world domination in the ‘80s. The band predated the time when smart, noisy post-punk could sell millions on major labels, but in becoming one of the first indie rock bands to make the major label jump, they did so one album too late; it would have been interesting had the astounding Flip Your Wig not been the band’s SST swansong, but its Warner Bros. debut. This trend continued even decades after the band split up when guitarist, singer and songwriter Grant Hart passed away only six weeks before the release of Savage Young Dü, a sprawling three-CD or four-LP set showcasing the band’s primitive origins.
In addition to Everything Falls Apart and an alternate version of Land Speed Record, the set includes nearly four dozen previously unreleased live and studio offerings alongside amazing photos and liner notes. Even though it showcases the band’s nascent noise and only hints at the melody Grant, Bob Mould, and Greg Norton would soon use to become the definitive indie rock band of the ‘80s, it still shows that Hüsker Dü was nothing if not timeless. BO
Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power
Soul Jazz Records
The Soul of a Nation exhibit at the Tate Modern was one of a group of vital exhibitions providing a needed corrective to the white, mainstream narrative of modernism. This accompanying record by Soul Jazz Records gives a taste of the diverse styles serving the same fire of black art from 1968 to 1979. This fertile period found artists using popular styles of dance and ballad music without sacrificing the power of abstraction to articulate ideas that aren’t easily reduced. Kicking off with Gil Scott-Heron’s evergreen warning to not anesthetize ourselves, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the album presents an array of classics by artists as well known as Roy Ayers and Ubiquity on equal footing with those like Oneness of Juju more remembered by crate diggers. Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble’s “Malcolm X” surges in a cross between a funeral and military march with a layered, complex groove, chanting, and rising brass. Carlos Garnet’s “Mother of the Future” uses the human voice as cartilage between instrumental truth-telling: a flame-licked saxophone solo, intricate electric piano comping and stuttered percussion. Sarah Webster Fabio’s grooving spoken-word classic, “Sweet Songs,” sums up the wild hope and need for determined optimism with “I know soon the sweet songs are going to pour like rain.” Here, indeed they do. RS
In the post-Altamont, post-Manson atmosphere of the early ’70s, the disillusioned subculture was just beginning to meld psychedelia with doom. Where Darkscorch Canticles, Numero’s first foray into this period, centered on a very fantastical realm of what would become metal, Acid Nightmares finds the extreme fringes. It’s a blacklit hellscape, a reality where hard drugs and terrestrial perversions rule. The Benjamin Marra artwork—a re-imagined, dire day-glo dystopia—is worth the price alone.
As opposed to the more optimistic climes of other Numero gems like Lonesome Heroes or Ladies from the Canyon, this is a dark lysergic arena best summed up by Goliath’s Steve Peterson, who says that “drugs are the reason our band never made it. It’s as simple as that.” Of course, you’re not going to find any revelations here, no innovations you’ve never heard before. These are tracks by wayward teenagers who obsessed over Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, and Deep Purple, the colors of bruises. This is dark age psych, bands who took to occult grooves or acid. Whether existing in Amish country, like Whistler’s Mother, or elsewhere, they manufactured escapes better than the outside world. Basements were universes where minds were melting, and these are the field recordings of that scorched astral plane. KJE