Wednesday, July 31, 2019

An Awakening

To these ears, the Wake had many memorable moments during their years on Factory Records. The 1985 album 'Here Comes Everybody' should have been the Glasgow band's time to finally step out of New Order's shadow with a smash. Alas, they weren't able to shake the copycat label, and the album stalled at No. 20 on the indie chart.

A move to Sarah Records in 1989 didn't make them household names either, but nobody started up with the Bristol label with that goal in mind. What did happen, however, was a change in musical direction that would never get them confused with Bernard, Hooky and the gang ever again. From 1989, here's SARAH 21, the Wake's debut single for Matt and Clare. It doesn't get much poppier than this A-side, and many consider this the band's high-water mark. Personally, I think the flip is even better. More from the Wake next time.

Crush the Flowers

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hungry Beat Satiated

Let's make a racket. Here are Fire Engines performing at Valentinos in their hometown of Edinburgh on Aug. 9, 1981. This show was recorded by a fan and officially released in 2005 on the mostly odd but occasionally brilliant comp 'Codex Teenage Premonition.' Davy and the lads are in fine form. Sadly, it would be all over for these post-punk pioneers just a few months later, but their legacy was already being set in cement. Recordings like these, in all their lo-fi glory, continue to inspire youngsters to start bands. Here's a rousing rendition of the band's debut A-side. Turn it up. Feel the aggression.

Get Up and Use Me (Live)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Summer of Subway: Fastbacks

Here's another American band with a short-lived moment on the Subway Organization. Seattle's own Fastbacks signed with hometown label PopLlama in 1987. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Conrad Uno's label is legendary for launching the careers of local acts like the Young Fresh Fellows, the Posies, Girl Trouble and the Presidents of the United States of America, among many others. The first album to come from Fastbacks was '...And His Orchestra,' released in 1987. It has been described as poppy punk, and that would remain their sound to until they disbanded around the turn of the century.

'...And His Orchestra' was picked up by Martin Whitehead's label in '88 and released as suborg 8 for distribution in the UK. The album would spawn two Subway singles in 1989, "In The Winter" (subway 24) and "Wrong Wrong Wrong" (subway 26). There would be no such singles here in America. That would be it for Fastbacks on Subway. As the Fastbacks turned the calendar to the '90s, the band's timing would be impeccable as they would sign with a certain Seattle-based label that seemed to be gaining some traction. Yep, that one.

Here's a bit of trivia for you. Although the core of the band would remain Kurt, Lulu and Kim for decades, Fastbacks had a knack for going through drummers like socks. Many of them were famous musicians from around the Seattle music community. Even Duff McKagan, better known as the bassist for Guns N' Roses, kept the beat for a while. Here are those two A-sides from Subway. Enjoy.

In the Winter
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer of Subway: Sex Clark Five

Diving deep for the first of four straight Saturdays featuring bands from the Subway Organization that came from the other side of the pond. Sex Clark Five hailed from Huntsville, Alabama. I know what most of you are thinking.


This is what may have happened. SC5 had but one release for the Bristol label, the 1988 album 'Strum and Drum!' (SUBORG 7), which the band had already self-released in their home country a year earlier. By that time John Peel was a huge supporter and had been singing the praises of this album and preceding single "Neita Grew Up Last Night." 'Strum and Drum!' would have been a tough get in the UK (as it was in the United States, for that matter), and Subway stepped in to sell it to those legions of fans who had heard it on Peel's show. Of course, I may have it all wrong... especially that part about legions of fans. I do know Peel continued to support SC5 on his program for decades to come, and they recorded sessions for him in 1990, 1994 and 2000.

What did SC5 have in common with other Subway bands? Short songs. Fifteen of the 20 tunes on 'Strum and Drum!' clock in at under two minutes. Often, they are more like 90 seconds. Oh, and lo-fi. You won't hear the fuzz of a Shop Assistants or a Rosehips, however. This is shambolic and manic power pop. Acoustic and electric guitars clashing at the goal line like 'Bama and Clemson for the national title. In 1990, SC5 shared a 7" flexi with Pixies, and that's a pretty fair pairing of their sound at the time. Principal songwriter James Butler is equal parts silly and cerebral. You can be learning about how WWI started one minute and the bad girls in high school detention the next. I always felt like if the timing had been right SC5 would have been a nice fit as part of the Elephant 6 collective. Then again, maybe they had to march to the beat of their own drum. Bottom line: 'Strum & Drum!' is one of a kind and an album that should be remembered as more than a Subway footnote.

The Men Who Don't Know Ice
Detention Girls
Modern Fix

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Bevy of Beth

Like the band's singles that have preceded it, Jetstream Pony's recent release of the excellent "Mitte" demo again has me obsessed with Beth Arzy's other bands. Trembling Blue Stars, the Luxembourg Signal and Lightning in a Twilight Hour have had their turns on the turntable this week, but it's Aberdeen that has pushed its way to the front of the line this time around. As much as I kneel at the altar of Sarah Records, I think Aberdeen's third single, the one they did for Sunday Records, just may be the best from the band's first go around.


One of my favorite acquisitions of the last couple of years has been the album 'Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions.' Back in 2011, Aberdeen were joined by the June Brides and 14 Iced Bears in Los Angeles for live studio recordings and an appearance on the popular radio show. Aberdeen not only went back to the Sarah days for the appearance, but they pulled out the splendid "Snapdragon" as well. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, Aberdeen hasn't released a new studio recording since. Of course, Ms. Arzy has been pretty busy.

Snapdragon (Part Time Punks Sessions)

Oh, and to whet your appetite for that eagerly anticipated Jetstream Pony album rumored to be around the bend, here is that demo that got my earworm started in the first place. Quality. Let's cross our fingers a physical copy will be a little easier to come by than the band's previous releases. I have had to make due with digital downloads so far, and that's not my usual modus operandi.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Swindon We Will Go

Some of you may recognize these two blokes above... at least I hope you do. Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers were in one of the best bands on the planet, after all. Back in 2017, they reunited under the moniker of TC&I and released a four-song EP called 'Great Aspirations.' To promote the release the fellas hit the stage together for the first time in 32 years to do a mini-residency in XTC's hometown. Fortunately, the occasion was recorded for posterity and will be released as 'Naked Flames: Live at Swindon Arts Centre' on August 9 via Burning Shed.

The 13-song album is a mix of TC&I and XTC material. Hold on to you hats! The album concludes with "Generals and Majors," "Making Plans For Nigel," "Statue Of Liberty" and "Life Begins At The Hop." Here's one from the 'Mummer' era that the duo just may have bested. Sacrilege, you say? Just listen...

OK, you should be good and ready to pre-order 'Naked Flames: Live at Swindon Arts Centre' and everything else by TC&I just about now. Have at it, friends.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Have a Mighty Mighty Fine Week

You can stop rubbing your eyes. There is new music from C86 vets Mighty Mighty set for release later this week, and the songs heard so far are good... really good. This is the song that really has my ear. Fits in quite nicely next to legendary Chapter 22 singles like "Maisonette," "Built Like a Car" and "Throwaway." Firestation Records has always carried a torch for the band and in 2012 even released 'The Betamax Tapes,' their "lost" second album recorded in 1988. Mighty Mighty is in good hands with their first release in more than 30 years. Pre-order 'Misheard Love Songs' on vinyl or CD right now!

In other news, just yesterday I shouted from the rooftops about the great work Optic Nerve Recordings is doing preserving indie-pop from the genre's golden age. Brace yourself. The label has announced their latest endeavor, and this one will have you light in the head.

In 1988, Fierce Recordings released a collection of five one-sided singles in a 7" cardboard box (etched on B-sides), with information insert and hand-drawn designs on the box and labels. I'm sure you know a couple of these songs from the Pooh Sticks well, such as "I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well" and the anthem "Indiepop Ain't Noise Pollution."

This November, Optic Nerve is bringing back the box, complete with 24-page booklet and other extras. There will be no etchings on the B-sides, however, because you get five more songs from '88, four of which are new releases. Now, I own the original 12" that collected the five A-sides, but the added bonus of these songs probably has me taking the plunge. You can pre-order now, and I suggest you do. All of those singles from the just concluded Optic Sevens series were snatched up in a heartbeat, and these undoubtedly will too.

We are all about the jangle, but we aren't always about songs from yesteryear. Check out this new two-song 7" by the pride of the West Midlands, the Proctors. Gavin and Margaret have crafted a couple of beauties that hearken to the band's early days on Sunday Records... and just in time for their appearance at Indietracks. The folks at Shelflife Records compare the B-side to the best of Bobby Wratten's Northern Picture Library. That ought to reel you in. If not, check out that lovely sleeve. Pre-order for a July 26 release.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Beautiful Bunch of Sevens

My hearty congratulations to Optic Nerve Recordings. The last single of the Optic Sevens indie-pop reissue series has been dispatched, and here is the whole kit and caboodle in all of its glory. Click on the photo above for a better look. I have subscribed to quite a few of these things through the years, but I think this one might have been the best. Each sleeve is of high-quality stock and expertly reproduced to look exactly like the original issue. The vinyl on each 7" is thick, and the colors were chosen to complement the sleeve. Every single came with a poster of either a show bill or ad, and the label even threw in a postcard, usually a photo of the band, for good measure. I grabbed the single for "What Went Wrong This Time?" to give you a better idea of what you typically received.

I always get nervous when colored vinyl is involved, but the sound has been great. Optic Nerve did a fantastic job with the shipping too. Not a bent corner or crease to be found. Speaking of shipping, I had the label send them to me in batches of at least two to save on postage across the Atlantic, and it worked out beautifully. All of this is mentioned because the scuttlebutt is there might be a future Optic Sevens series. I'll let you know when I know, but trust me, indie-pop fans, you won't want to miss out.

Nobody has asked me, but here is my humble suggestion for a single I would love to see as part of a future Optic Sevens series...

The Darling Buds - If I Said

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Summer of Subway: The Charlottes

Get ready to turn it up... way up. The Charlottes were arguably the loudest of the Subway Organization's bands. Hailing from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, the female-fronted quartet released one single on the East Anglian label Molesworth Records in 1988 before joining Subway. The 'Lovehappy' LP (SUBORG 12) followed in 1989 and included "Are You Happy Now," the A-side of that Molesworth single. The album is an array of drum fills and feedback. You can also hear hints of where the band would go next, especially in the moody "Keep Me Down."

There would be one more recording for Subway, the three-song "Love In The Emptiness" single (SUBWAY27), before a move to Cherry Red. The 1990 album 'Things Come Apart' didn't do much upon release, but it is remembered now as one of the earliest albums in the shoegaze movement. Somehow, it's even louder than 'Lovehappy.' The one single from the LP, "Liar," actually got traction on college radio in America, but by then drummer Simon Scott had made a move to Slowdive. The Charlottes were no more.

Enjoy the A-side of the 'Lovehappy' album. 'Lovehappy' hasn't had a reissue since a Japanese label picked it up in '94, but Optic Nerve Recordings assembled a beautiful reissue of 'Things Come Apart' in 2013 and is still in print.

Are You Happy Now
Keep Me Down

So far in the Summer of Subway series:
Bubblegum Splash
Shop Assistants
The Soup Dragons
Rodney Allen
The Rosehips
Korova Milk Bar
The Clouds

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Summer of Subway: Bubblegum Splash

By the time you read this I'll be several days into our annual trip to the hiking trails of southern Utah, but I didn't want to leave you indie-pop fans as dry as my skin must be at this very minute. On with the series! This does mean, however, time is short. Summer is known for repeats, or reruns, as we like to call them here in America, and I'm lifting heavily from my 2016 post on our next victim in the series.

Salisbury band Bubblegum Splash were only together for a year, and their entire discography was seven songs. Although seemingly a mere footnote, however, they were on the Subway Organization, and that means Bubblegum Splash had to be something special. Label founder Martin Whitehead knew how to pick 'em. Bubblegum Splash can be described as lo-fi garage... really lo-fi... and that's the charm. Nikki, the lead singer, joined the band when the lads spotted her at a pub in a Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt. Hardly a résumé for fronting a band, but that's mid-'80s indie for you. Nikki wasn't exactly brimming with confidence, and she often sang behind a curtain during practice and turned her back on the audience at gigs. There were shows with the Pastels, Talulah Gosh, Vaselines, Darling Buds and Flatmates. Greats, one and all, and Bubblegum Splash fits in well with this lot.

I can provide six of the band's seven songs. Today's first pick is Subway 13, the "Splashdown EP," recorded at SAM Studios in Bristol on Feb. 22, 1987. You'll hear some Shop Assistants and Swell Maps in these four very very quick songs. Marty, credited as the tambourine player on the 7", recalls this set being recorded the day Andy Warhol died. This turned out to be Bubblegum Splash's 15 minutes of fame. "Splashdown" peaked at No. 15 on the indie chart.

Plastic Smile
Just Walked Away
Fast of Friends
One of Those Things

Bubblegum Splash made their recording debut earlier in the year on the label's excellent second compilation 'Surfin' in the Subway' (SUBORG 4) alongside the likes of the Chesterf!elds, the Rosehips, Groove Farm, Razorcuts and the Flatmates. A must have for any indie-pop enthusiast. "The 18:10 To Yeovil Junction" should not be confused with "Last Train to Yeovil" by the Chesterf!elds. For American readers, Yeovil is 40 miles south of Bristol. I love these two even better than the "Splashdown EP," but "Someone Said" is my personal favorite. Eighty-eight seconds of teenage angst, and what a chorus... "Just a rumor that I heard / but it's confirmed word for word / And now I think I don't want to know you." Brilliant.

Someone Said
The 18:10 To Yeovil Junction

So far in the Summer of Subway series:
Shop Assistants
The Soup Dragons
Rodney Allen
The Rosehips
Korova Milk Bar
The Clouds