Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Puddle - Secret Holiday / Victory Blues

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.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Electroscopes - Made a Mistake 7inch

I love this little record, I love everything about it.  I love the way it came to me.  I love the cover.  I love that it is on black wax.  I love the music that comes out of the speakers.  I love the bands being promoted on the promotional flyers that were included.  I love the handwriting used to label side-a. I love the 4-millimeter (not the less expensive 2-millimeter) polyethylene bag used to hold everything together.  (Wait, haven't I done that already, where I start the review with "I love..., I love... I love...?")

Okay, not that we got that over with, let's begin.

The Electroscopes "Made a Mistake" 7inch was released by German label, Firestation Records, limited to 200 copies.  It is the sole project of Paul Mansell, from Northampton, Britian; a fine young gentleman I may add.  When Paul himself heard our original copy of his record was lost somewhere in that great big pond that divides our countries, he without hesitation sent a second copy (again, limited to only 200 pressings) to ensure we were still able to get our groove on.  I have got to say, sending out promo copies of a limited release vinyl records is one thing.  Sending promos internationally is another.  But sending a replacement copy... hats off to you Paul, and superthanks for making sure this one landed safely.

I remember pulling this 7inch out for a first spin late one night.  I believe I had just returned from being out at the clubs (or you could say, "in da' clurb" if you like), and me and Mrs. Blogger were feeling pretty chill as is.  "Made a Mistake" was no mistake at all, rather cool and nostalgic; reminiscent of early Trembling Blue Stars.  I immediately dimmed the lighting to a faint glow, savored a nip of American Kentucky bourbon, and repositioned the black Ray-Ban Wayfarers I once wore only to shade the sun.  

"First Into Space, Last Down to Breakfast" on the flipside kept the party going.  It is the soundtrack for a contempo Asian bar, where conversations are comfortable, the beat keeps you feeling right, and everyone looks good.  If this song were released earlier than 2003, Sofia Coppola would have included it in Lost In Translation.  Another example of the b-side track potentially outshining it's (what's meant to be) better half.

I think Firestation Records could have gone with DJ-style white (no label) center labels for this one, perhaps lending further to the downbeat discotheque elements of the release.  However, the fact that someone literally hand wrote information on side-a only gave a cordial hit of twee / C86.  The black and white photocopied j-fold sleeve is simple, and gives all you need; done right.  The heavier polyethylene bag makes the record proud; I always appreciate it when that detailed is given attention.

The cover art is a photograph of a skyscraper; perhaps one with businesses below and a handful of condominiums on the upper floors.  There is a texture to the photograph that dates back to the 1970's, but the many television satellite dishes (or are they electroscopes) affixed to the porches greets the modern age.  Iconic, nonetheless, and well positioned, it's an appropriate image for a single.  

As for the promotional material included, I think someone knew how big of a Sarah Records fan I am.  It did not take too long for my eyes to detect the mentions of The Orchids and St. Christopher.  Thanks for the additional swag!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Clawhammer - I Think I Heard a Sound 7inch

Banjos were never my thing. Perhaps it's my palate, perhaps it's my kin. However, if you drop a funky beat and a wee-bit of fuzz-toned lead, you've got my attention... and you've got Clawhammer. Nestled in Springfield, Missouri, this quartet brings to you their self-proclaimed "most original" fusion of time-honored Ozark boogie-woogie blended by a variety of synthesized utensils.

A straightforward designed 7inch release, Wee Rock Records keeps it traditional with black vinyl and a large cut center whole (always my favorite). The indie-cute cover had me guessing wrong; I was thinking something twee for this one. Nonetheless, hand-drawn artwork with black and white and one spot color printing is always a nice simplicity.

This is Wee Rock Records' 86th release (congratulations!) for local music out of Missouri. Their catalog suggests that they started the label releasing CD-Rs, but then gravitated toward 7inch vinyl (w00t!w00t!). The focus for Wee Rock Records is on documenting their local scene (which is how it should be), so kudos to them for keeping it going since 1995!

If you've been wondering what has been developing in the Ozarks with music in the past decade, check out Wee Rock Records!

R. Stevie Moore - I Missed July 7inch

I'll never forget Sweater & Pearls' owner, Jason Dean, and his enthusiasm when he first told me about their newest release for R. Stevie Moore.  Allow me to go ahead and call myself out... I had no idea who R. Stevie Moore was at the time, but Jason was so excited and proud, I had to go along with it and be supportive.  Thankfully, that is what friends (and blogs) are for... to introduce each other to new music!  

I am going to skip the introduction of Mr. Moore and assume that if you are in my same shoes, you've already GTSed his name and are scratching you head as I was, trying to figure out how you missed this homegrown icon.  "I Missed July" was recorded in 1978, while the b-side for the 7inch release, "Traded My Heart For Your Parts," is from 1993.  The former not unlike an unreleased track from Brian Eno's 1977 album Before and After Science that didn't quite make the cut between side-a and side-b.   Moore's low-if pop qualities on both tracks are appealing, and after my own intriguing world wide web research, apparently are very influential within the indie community; I think this guy may have taught Robert Pollard a thing or two.

After Sweater & Pearls' Soccer Mom release, I was anxiously awaiting to see what they would do with the packing for their follow up.  Unfortunately I was not one of the first fifty, who received a very attractive matchbook sleeve, hand screened by artist Travis Kostell.  However, the handwritten liner notes printed on yellow lined notepad paper was a nice touch.  Sweaters & Pearls even include the music transcribed for "Traded My Heart For Your Parts" so you can play along.  

For me, the winning vote came when I pulled out the beautiful red opaque 7inch vinyl; there is just something about opaque colored vinyl that I am a sucker for.  The red truly compliments the over-saturated photo used for the cover art - a childhood photo of R. Stevie Moore, one may ask (wait, is that Elvis swimming in the pool?!).

Great forth release for the Brooklyn based label!  Keep 'em coming Mr. Dean!