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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #19

Posted: October 28th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted April 2004)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Benevolent good egg David J Stockwell gave me a pile of stuff from Narnack Records, after informing me that he had two copies of the Sonic Youth/Erase Errata split which they’ve released. I was convinced that fate had decided that I would never own that record, after ordering it direct from the label and twice being foiled by the postal system. However, nothing is free, and I was given the Narnack records and CDs on the understanding that I mention them in my column. So…

My new Narnack Records things (some new, some old)

Firstly, the Sonic Youth/Erase Errata split. It’s a seven inch on lovely white vinyl, with some kind of Mariah Carey theme running through it: “Mariah Carey is funny and everyone knows it!” as the insert states. SY’s side is great, a frenetic Kim Gordon-led burst of tension with the chaos and growling guitars which seem so rare on Sonic Youth records nowadays. It fair reaffirms my belief in them as a Great Band, so it does. EE are also pretty crazed on their side, with their reassuringly choppy guitar stabs and vocal yelps mixing it up to a stomping drumbeat and a one-step-from-collapse structure. Their song ends like the end is unexpected – and that’s in no way a criticism.

Next, a seven inch by Shesus, which is a sampler of tracks from their album Shesus Loves You… Loves You Not. Never heard of this band before; some quick web research tells me that they’re 75% female, that they’re from Dayton, Ohio, and that guitarist Michelle Bodine played with Breeders for a while. That Breeders connection is a lazy reason for my comparison of the aggressively melodic vocal harmonies and confident songwriting on this record to that slew of Breeders/Throwing Muses-type bands from various parts of the 1990s. This is very competent and very pleasant American female guitar music – make what you will of that description.

More new names to me with Rise, Rise, Rise, a CD from Parts & Labor/Tyondai Braxton. Seven tracks from Parts & Labor and three from Tyondai Braxton – the latter with P&L’s guitarist Dan Friel involved. This is all over the place in the best way, veering from weirdy soundscapes, to driving guitar pummel, to bagpipe-flavoured meandering (seriously), to cutup tape experiments. CDs like this remind me of the beauty of an alternative music scene which is entirely separate from the mainstream – not through wilful strangeness or a lack of ability or talent, but because the mainstream will never be ready for this many ideas in one go. This constantly remains on the right side of the ‘art for art’s sake’ fence and repeated listens allow you to piece the whole together.

Next: Hella! Total Bugs Bunny on Wild Bass is a seven-track CD which seems a slight aside from their usual fluttering-drums-and-guitar complexity. It retains a chaotic, deceptively freeform structure and a relentless onslaught of ‘new bits’ to every song, but more than on their albums it features electronic sounds – often in more abundance than guitars – and straightforward, almost funky at times drumming patterns. Not quite sure what to make of this. In a way I like the more traditional approach used on this CD, but it seems one step away from their truly original signature style. Traditional, by the way, in this context can obviously be read as ‘intensely fast and slightly deranged arrangements of ideas in a song-based format’. The CD also includes a great MPEG video of a live performance of the blisteringly fantastic Brown Metal, which it’s almost worth paying for alone.


Some other stuff which I feel the urge to mention

A couple of things from an American label called Traveling Talons. Like… This is a CD album by Hum & The Quick, which I’m at a bit of a loss to describe, as I’m short on reference points for this kind of thing. I’ll attempt a description: confidently odd, literate-sounding songwriter-y pieces of varying lengths, fronted by the enigmatic singer/pianist/accordion player ‘Hum’; annoyingly chirpy and incredibly proficient in both the song construction and playing. Nice stuff! Also, Beyond Blue Bells by Jonathan Donaldson & The Color Forms, which is more of the same in some respects – well written, produced and performed pieces – but with a slightly less quirky edge. The oddity is replaced with a certain vocal slickness, almost smarminess, which grates at times. Happily those times are few and far between. Special mention to the packaging on these two CDs – beautiful blue and metallic artwork presenting pleasant David Carsonish typography and some very nice photography in packages which suggest “we love these, and so should you.” I guess I do… a bit.

Lo-Tech Solutions to Hi-Tech Problems is a CD by Merchandise released on Cityscape Records (who you can read our interview with here). When there were a couple of days of sunshine last weekend, in amongst the usual drizzle and cold, this was the perfect album to listen to. Summery pop music, oh yes! This is really good – ‘up’ sounding tunes, based around the classic combo of decent songwriting/nice melody, bolstered with some subtle electronica which helps to fill out the sound and add a slightly odd edge to things. Merchandise seem to have a cheerily frank outlook on things, in the same way that the Flaming Lips do, with melancholic lyrics on remarkably good-natured-sounding songs. This falls short of becoming irritatingly twee or cutesy, and as such it’s a perfectly-pitched collection of songs to play on a warm evening whilst not worrying about things.

And that’s your lot for now

…but I’ll be back soon with more of the same, as I still have a pile of tasty-looking recordings to work my way through. For now, that’s enough.

Further Information
Narnack Records
Sonic Youth / Erase Errata
Parts & Labor / Tyondai Braxton
Traveling Talons
Hum & The Quick
Jonathan Donaldson & The Color Forms
Cityscape Records

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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