Bill’s Indie Basement (12/22): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy holidays everybody. It's the end of the year -- did you see we just posted our Top 50 albums of the year? (Despite what Rough Trade thinks, listmaking is not a race.) Check back with this column next week (12/29) for the Indie Basement Best Of 2017, the lastest list of the year. This week, though, I'm playing catch-up with some box sets, reissues and compilations I never got around to writing about on BV this year. There are box sets from The Jazz Butcher and Kitchens of Distinction, a five-disc compilation of classic UK goth, a collection of post-psych/pre-prog UK rock curated by Bob and Pete of Saint Etienne, and the reissue of the album for which the term "post-rock" was coined.
Pat Fish has put out records under variations of The Jazz Butcher name since the mid-’80s, making droll, often heartfelt VU-inspired guitar pop with a rotating cast of friends, including Bauhaus/Love & Rockets bassist David J, members of The Woodentops, and Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom.
Most of his records has been entirely out of print for years and years, but Fire Records has been righting that wrong with new box set reissues. This year they released The Wasted Years which collected his studio albums on Glass Records which he made with what most fans consider the classic lineup (The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy) which included David J and guitarist Max Eider whose Wes Montgomery style really put the jazz in the Jazz Butcher. His debut, In Bath of Bacon, is a little too DIY for its own good, but when he hooked up with producer John A Rivers (Felt, Love & Rocket), things really clicked. On the three records they made together -- A Scandal in Bohemia, Sex & Travel, and Distressed Gentlefolk -- the arrangements are playful and the lyrics sometimes nutty, but usually in a politically/socially conscious way. Sex & Travel is especially good.
That lineup of the band folded, along with Glass Records (and their American label, Big Time), around 1987 and Pat signed with Creation. The Violent Years, out March 9, collects the first four Jazz Butcher records for Creation which found Pat getting just a little more serious lyrically and more into VU noise. 1988's Fischcotheque might be my favorite Jazz Butcher record of them all and includes a couple of his best-ever songs, "The Next Move Sideways," and "Suzie" (which features Sonic Boom on feedback). There's also 1989's Big Planet Scary Planet which had him re-teamed with Conspiracy producer John A Rivers, 1990's Cult of the Basement (probably his most highly regarded Creation LP), and 1991's Condition Blue which gave him the closest he ever had to a commercial alt-rock hit in the US ("Shirley MacLaine").
As glad as I am to see Pat's albums back in print, both sets feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. As was the norm back then, The Jazz Butcher released EPs and non-LP singles and some of those featured his most loved tracks. (His terrific introduction to America, Bloody Nonsense, was about half songs not on studio albums.) So old fans looking for "Drink," "JB Vs PM," "The Devil is My Friend," and the original version of "Southern Mark Smith" will be out of luck. Perhaps that will show up on on a third box set, along with the final two Creation albums. We shall see.
You can listen to The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy's A Scandal in Bohemia, below:
Saint Etienne are true crate-diggers and musical archeologists. Their deep knowledge of the obscure corners of pop fueled the early, sample-heavy records of Saint Etienne, and since the mid-'00s they've been curating excellent compilations of this stuff. That includes the Songs For series, the junkshop glam collection Velvet Tinmine, the incredibly hard-to-find Tea & Symphony (The English Baroque Sound 1967-1974), and more. If Bob Stanley's name is on it, it's probably worth owning. Their latest is called English Weather, and here's a bit of Bob's introduction:
While America may have licked its wounds at the turn of the 70s by turning to singer-songwriters, purveyors of homilies like “teach your children well”, Britain wasn’t so ready to give up the trappings of psychedelia. And while the UK counter culture may have shed its “faith in something bigger”, it wasn’t about to chuck out the mellotron. This is how the day after the 60s felt: damp, fuzzy-headed, neither optimistic nor pessimistic but more than a little lost. British bands would mirror the ennui of the new decade with a new kind of music.
Featuring 19 songs by such artists as Caravan, T2, John Cale, and Bill Fay, you'll here lots flutes, minor chords, some harpsichord and mellotron, sad strings and other music that indeed suggested a damp autumn day. While English Weather isn't on streaming services (the CD and vinyl are reasonably priced, though), some industrious person compiled all the songs available on Spotify (about 2/3rds) and you can stream that below.
Props to Ultimate Painting's Jack Cooper who included this on his Best of 2017 list he sent to us; I didn't know this compilation existed beforehand.
An enduring post-punk subgenre, goth has had surprisingly long (pasty) legs, and while it's mutated off into further subcategories, the sound from that core era that gave us Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and Siouxsie & The Banshees remains a popular blueprint for bands today. There have been no shortage of classic goth compilations over the years, but few have been better, overall, than Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution which came out earlier this year on Cherry Red.
Part of what makes this stand out in my mind more than, say, Rhino's 2006 compilation Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, is the specificity. It covers only UK goth from 1978 - 1986 (the "height of goth"), and it was clearly put together by a passionate someone (Richard Anderson) of the time were it could could include Adam & The Ants, and other groups you might not immediately think of. With 83 tracks across five discs, and no repeat bands (though the Bauhaus diaspora is all over it), almost all the usual suspects are here. Almost. Siouxsie, Bunnymen, Sex Gang Children or Clan of Xymox are some of the conspicuous absentees. It also tends to bypass the bands' most iconic songs -- no "Bela Lugoi's Dead" or "Temple of Love" -- which is ok. (Budget may have played a hand in both these descisions.) I was unfamiliar with at least a third of the tracks here, which resulted in some nice discoveries. If while perusing the tracklist you're asking yourself "who are Gloria Mundi and I'm Dead," the liner note provide excellent backstory on all the tracks.. If you just need the hits, may I direct you to a goth mix I made for a local bar in 2003. But if you want to know more, a lot more, this is a great deep dive into the dark arts.
You can't stream Silhouettes & Statues but, like English Weather, someone put together a Spotify playlist with all the songs they could find and you can listen to that here:
"Post-rock," the term now used to describe artists that eschew verse/chorus/verse/solo/chorus tropes in favor of loops, drones, and incorporation of jazz, dub, techno and ambient (Tortoise, Seefeel, Explosions in the Sky), was coined by Simon Reynolds in his MOJO review of Bark Psychosis' 1994 debut album Hex. If for no other reason, Hex will go down in the rock critic history books for that.
The LP was a difficult birth. The group formed in 1986 with a revolving lineup centered around Graham Sutton, and released a handful of EPs and lengthy singles. They spent a more than year making Hex but, despite being hailed as a masterpiece, the group dissolved that same year. While it drew inspiration from Talk Talk, AR Kane, Swans, Miles Davis and more, there really was no record quite like it before and its influence can still be heard today.
Long out of print, the new Fire reissue was remastered from the original tapes by Graham Sutton and the band's Stuart Hawkes. It may come with a lot of hype, but even 23 years later it lives up, still sounding magical and wondrous.
It's been a great year for classic shoegaze. We got new albums from Slowdive and Ride. Bigger than both of them, in the U.S at least, were Kitchens of Distinction who were trailblazers in a lot of different ways. Julian Swales rivaled Robin Guthrie and Kevin Shields' abilities to coax gorgeous ethereal textures out of a guitar, while bassist/singer Patrick Fitzgerald's lyrics dealt openly with gay issues at the height of the AIDS crisis. KoD's 1988 single "Prize" is a great example of both, a lovers quarrel that starts spare, like snipes, before blowing up into magisterial noise. The song would end up on their debut album, the great Love is Hell, the next year.
They signed with A&M and 1990's Strange Free World (which owed more than a little to The Sound and The Chameleons) was a huge hit on college and alt-rock radio and spawned great singles "Drive That Fast" and "Quick as Rainbows." While tastes had turned to flannel, 1992's Death of Cool was arguably even better. By the time of 1994's Cowboys and Aliens, the public had lost interest in Kitchens of Distinction's sound, and maybe the band did too. After a revamp that shortened their name to Kitchens O. D. and a single that heralded a new Pixies-ish indie rock direction, they broke up in 1996. The band reformed in 2012 and released a not-bad-at-all new LP.
While wondering why there hasn't been a Strange Free World tour yet, Watch Our Planet Circle collects everything the original incarnation of Kitchens of Distinction ever did, including non-LP singles and EP's (Like 1989's great Elephantine EP), BBC sessions and more. It's all packaged in a hardcover book with new liner notes from the band.
If you're not into compact discs, all four of their original-era albums have also been repressed on vinyl for the first time since their original release.