30.5.11

THE CLAIM : Birth Of A Teenager 7" (1990)

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Contemporaries of The Dentists & The Prisoners, but frankly better than either, The Claim hailed from the unassuming Kent village of Cliffe to become a pivotal, if neglected, cog in the booming Medway beat scene of the mid-to-late 80s. They released a couple of LPs & a brace of EPs for a plethora of shortlived & ridiculously obscure provincial labels, of which This Pencil Was Obviously Sharpened By A Left Handed Indian Knife Thrower is probably the most renown. My favourite of their releases, possibly because of Billy Childish's exquisite linocut sleeve design, is this hard-to-find 45 on Bob Stanley's short lived Caff label. Another Medway stalwart, occasional Hangman poet Vic Templar, pops up overleaf, reading his eccentric "Mike The Bike" piece. Top notch.

The Claim were a melodic hybrid of classic early 60s Mersey guitar pop (ala The Milkshakes, etc) & the more intelligent end of C-86 "shambling" scene (comparisons with The Wolfhounds might not be unreasonable). There was still a surfeit of this kind of thing knocking about when this single emerged in 1990, though much of it - Alan McGee's oft celebrated Biff Bang Pow, for instance - sounds awfully pedestrian today. The Claim, however, still sound surprisingly prescient - thanks, no doubt, to the consistently high quality of their songwriting. God knows why they didn't make it any bigger, though the dismaying lack of a (then) crucial Peel session might've had something to do with it? If you've not come across them before, give this superior single a listen & then bag yourself a copy of the excellent Black Path compilation, released by Joe Foster's laudable Rev-Ola concession a couple of years ago. It swings, sah!

21.5.11

FACTORY STAR : Enter Castle Perilous (2011)

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As you might've already noticed, there's been a spate of uncommonly fine releases from a slew of resurgent 80s post punk acts of late. Both The Nightingales & Vic Godard's Subway Sect have released some of the best music of their careers across their last couple of LPs, while the debut album from Davey Henderson's Sexual Objects, the rather dashing Cucumber, is a must-have. Elsewhere, rumours persist that Magazine are currently back in the studio, & even übergrüpenführers The Fall recently managed to get their act together long enough to complete - after an alleged nudge or 2 from temporary benefactors Domino - their sturdiest LP in more than a decade. So I'm very pleased to report that Martin Bramah has finally picked up his guitar again &, with the stormy Mancunian Gothic of Factory Star, thrown his hat into the ring too...

Bramah, I suspect, is forever condemned to labour in the shadow of his extraordinary lineage, being both an original member of The Fall circa 1978's Live At The Witch Trails (& later as Brix Smith's replacement on 1990's latter day high water mark, Extricate), & the driving force behind The Blue Orchids, whose flawless 1980 debut, The Greatest Hit, still sounds staggeringly good. History suggests that Bramah was initially slated to be The Fall's vocalist until M.Smith's less than rudimentary guitar talents necessitated they swap roles (!), while the Orchids' celebrated tenure as Nico's backing band - during her somewhat unexpected self-imposed exile in Greater Manchester during the mid 80s - is almost too perfect/bizarre to be true. On reflection, Bramah's past glories could be considered an unfortunate stumbling block in the light of his subsequent work, a hindrance rather than a benefit. How, exactly, is he expected to top all THAT?

Factory Star formed in late 2008, Bramah recruiting Hop Man Jr. (ex-Monochrome Set) on organ & fellow ex-Fallen Steve & Paul Hanley, on bass & drums, after a fleeting false start with a few ex-Sandells. Following a year's worth of warmly received live shows (& the occasional Radio 6 session, c/o Marc Riley), wherein they drew upon recent Bramah's solo work & his noted compositions for The Fall ("Rebellious Jukebox", "Psycho Mafia", "Hilary", etc), the Hanleys departed, to be replaced by the rest of the current line-up: Chris Dutton & Tom Lewis. The Hanley-era line-up's sole recorded document is the uncharacteristically breezy "Lucybel", more a tentative salutation than a full-blown statement of intent. However, last month's debut album, the bruised & blistered Enter Castle Perilous, renders all previous Factory Star activity completely obsolete. Putting it bluntly: it's a fucking belter.

Released through Exeter's intriguing Occultation label - also currently home to The Wild Swans & The Distractions - Enter Castle Perilous is simply the most striking LP I've heard all year (only Crystal Stilts' & Deerhunter's latest compare). Whereas later incarnations of The Blue Orchids acquired a palpably slicker cloak of accessibility (refer to Les Temp Modernes' edition of The Sleeper for further listening), Enter Castle Perilous gleefully scratches off the veneer with a ragged "live in the studio" approach redolent of The Greatest Hit's snarling proto-Nuggets garage band sound. Reputedly, the band were booked into the studio for a couple of days with the intention of recording a mere 7" but just... kept... going.

The result? A junk sick tumult of ramshackle shanties for a doomed underclass. Bramah's vivid gobshite vernacular conjures up a ghastly twilit half-life of spilled pints, dogshit thoroughfares, piss yellow streetlights & septic love bites. Valves crackle, the vocals fracture & the Farfisa drones like a Salford Manzerak as scuffles sporadically break out in dingy pub function rooms. Fortunately, the unflinchingly grisly character sketches are shot through with just enough pitch black gallows humour to render these disheveled losers, & their desperate travails, almost endearing (the degenerate "Cheetham Bill" for instance). On this evidence, Bramah's semi-Blakeian lyrics are some of the finest to come out of Northern England since Charlie Keigher penned the first couple of King Of The Slums EPs, & they share a similarly squalid sense of disgusted semi-amusement. 10 songs, great choruses, no filler. This is a fantastic record, a bloodied, feverish masterpiece. Treat yourself & buy the bloody thing, I'm sure they'd appreciate the cash...

N.B. I'm not posting Enter Castle Perilous in full as it's brand new & readily available, but here's a sneak preview in the form of the opening (but not the best) track:



8.5.11

STARS OF THE LID : Maneuvering The Nocturnal Hum EP (1998)

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Texan duo Brian McBride & Adam Wiltzie have been creating minimal, drone-based soundscapes under the Stars Of The Lid banner since 1993, releasing their debut LP - Music For Nitrous Oxide - on Massachusetts based independent Sedimental in 1995. Inspired by Eric Satie's phonometric piano compositions, Eno's pioneering 1970s ambient experiments, Tangerine Dream's spaced-in improv & the farthest reaching explorations of Spacemen 3 & Robert Hampson's Main, Stars Of The Lid's music was initially recorded on a cheap domestic 4-track utilising heavily processed guitars, while avoiding keyboards & rhythm sections entirely.

Subsequent albums vastly expanded the scale of their synesthetic drift studies, broadening their musical palate to include undulating washes of effects laden strings, piano & horns, culminating in 2001's 2 hour long, triple disc masterpiece The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid, a triumph of hypnotic kosmische emptiness that's virtually a Zeit for the 21st century. Though lazy comparisons to Boards Of Canada abound (trust me, they've got nothing in common), to my ears The Tired Sounds Of... is more akin to an aural delineation of a Rothko canvas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it took them 6 years to complete a follow-up. If you only buy one Stars Of The Lid record, make it that one.

Though most of their back catalogue has remained steadfastly in print, 1998's Maneuvering The Nocturnal Hum EP has become almost impossible to track down. Released on London's sadly defunct Earworm label in an edition of 750 copies, each sleeve individually hand silk-screened, some of it's contents had actually been in the can since as early as 1992. Adam Wiltzie: "Side A is two old pieces crammed together in typical Lid fashion - the first 5 minutes is a piace Brian did for New York University student film superstar Dan Kem (a.k.a. Goldenboy) - the last 15 minutes is a piece that I started in '92 - it was originally slated for the Nitrous record, but didn't make the cut. The B-side is from the '96 Summer tour with Bedhead - Calgary still brings a smile to my face - everything sounded so warm & inviting, & the crowd noise seems to drone along with us...". Play loud.