When I decided to start this project, reviewing vinyl records and their packaging, I knew it would be limiting due to the cost of mailing physical materials, so I am always very thankful when someone chooses to send something over my way for me to write these words within this here website for you all to read my thoughts about their release. That being said, and having been a distant fan of New Zealand's own Fishrider Riders, I was pleasantly taken aback when their package arrived at our doorstep.
Now, I say "distant fan" not only as a pun due to the mileage between us, but because I truthfully did not own any of their records (until now), but have always had great respect for Fishrider Records and their contributions to the indie pop world. The Puddle, a band also from New Zealand, apparently have no shortage of prestige themselves.
This particular record Fishrider Records released for The Puddle is not a proper album, rather a double EP: Secret Holiday and Victory Blues. I almost wish The Puddle gave unique cover artwork for each EP, using each side of the jacket to represent the cover individually. Fishrider Records delivers a traditional 12inch LP package, with titles and featured artwork on the front, while credits are on the back. The insert providing additional photographs and lyrics for each song is a comfortably odd 3:4 landscape cut. I can't help by wonder if its size was driven by economics; printing two insert sheets on one tabloid size sheet of paper and cutting in half (two for one printing). I love it when positive design characteristics are actually the result a non-creative decision; it's nature's way of keeping the world balanced.
At first glance, or should I say touch, the satin / waxy finish makes you wonder what they are doing down their in New Zealand. In this post-high-gloss era of printing on the reverse side of the cardstock, satin presents an entirely welcomed veneer. The polypropylene (rather than the standard polyethylene) outter sleeve adds to this mystique. I'm always (at first glance) impressed by these crystal clear skins, but in the end, prefer the traditional (milkier / heavier) polyethylene protective layers; I find the polypropylene bags can easily tear.
Being a fan of The Puddle's music, and as mentioned before, I do desire something more with the artwork; not just craving some identity for each EP, but some explanation for how the black and white photograph of girls laying on the ground being governed by two goats ties into holidays and the blues. I don't often require this connection between cover art, album titles, or the music, but for some reason, The Puddle's cover is so strikingly offbeat, yet seemingly with purpose, there has got to be something I am missing. As I dance around my living room listening to The Puddle, studying their imagery with great effort, I struggle with no relevance, even within the photograph itself and it's featured characters.
Speaking of dancing, have you ever seen Tim Gane from Stereolab dance along as he is playing his guitar during their live shows? This is me while listening to The Puddle's track "The Vitalist." I could dance to this song for hours; singing along with George Henderson's perfectly-placed "ba-dah-bahs" and Gavin Shaw's playfully-plucked lead via acoustic guitar (at least I think that is who is doing it and how the lead was constructed). For me, "The Vitalist" is definitely the stand-out track, and will certainly be played at the discotheque on our next DJ night.
I'm a sucker for the 007-like / spy movie hook with "Decline to Fall." The lead here, played by a necessary synthesizer, adds to the 1970's aesthetic, while Alan Starrett's viola shares a uniqueness, reminding you that this ain't American. I also appreciate the Farfisa on "Hydrogen 6," Shaw's glockenspiel on The Puddle's instrumental closer, "Walrus Arabia," and the sadness of "Tender Validation," with a deep cutting Will Sargeant inspired guitar lick.
There is a looseness within The Puddle that excudes confidence and wisdom. George Henderson's vocal tone is familiar and comforting; I'm guessing Sondre Lerche was influenced by him. The eclectic instrumentation of The Puddle's lounge-pop compels you to move to section "B" of your record collection, reaching for anything Belle & Sebastian to follow. Of the two EPs, Secret Holiday makes sense on Side-A; for me, it's the hit single.