There's some people who don't believe that anyone makes vinyl records at all these days, never mind those little remnants of an older pop cultural era, the 7" single. I'm not surprised either, because finding the buggers, even in some supposedly 'independant' stores these days can be tough. There's usually a box snuck away in a corner someplace gathering dust, and the store assistants are as surprised as you are when you find it. Whatever, it's definitely true to say that there are those who are still passionate about keeping the 7" format alive, and it's also probably true to say that there are more of these people in the USA than anywhere else, but maybe that's a question of geography, i dunno. It's also true to say that most people who buy these 7" records buy them through the mail... although some of us just rely on lovely people sending them as trades for fanzines, tapes, or gee, even a few nice words. Anyway, here's a few nice(ish) words on some of the 7" artefacts that have landed in the Tangents Post box over the past few months...
First off a batch from Drive-In Records, which I seem to have collected from various sources; first of which is by California's Autocollants, who do the breezy gentle indiepop sound well; they have bass lines that saunter down autumn avenues, rather like the early Wake records, and a trumpet that comes over all melancholy and bitter sweet, kind of like Church Grims on downers. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Around this you have a voice that moves in a familiar indiepop manner, in other words, a murmur in the spring breeze with all the cool warmth that entails. Sometimes they turn up the pace and the distortion, but I suggest that this is Not A Good Idea, for it makes them sound like the Rosehips or something which they really shouldn't ever want to. Recommended for three of the five tracks, so I guess that's a scraped 'B' pass. Will do better if they stick to the slower approach in future.
Next up is a novel idea; a double 7" split single with two songs by each band, each bands' version on opposite sides... it's The Steinbecks versus Buddha On The Moon. So who wins? '2-Star Motel' is written by Australia's (I'm presuming this here) Steinbecks, and is sweet pop in the vein of compatriots Go-Betweens or Sugargliders. It sashays along nicely enough, but it's their American cousins Buddha On The Moon who do it sweeter on the flip by slowing it down, stripping it to a barer sound and stretching it with a sonic swirl to end. One nil to Buddha. So then it's Buddha's own tune, 'How Near or How Far', which is pure Red House Painters' 'Take Me Out', which is fine I guess, the trouble being that this doesn't move in any way that the RHP song doesn't. It ends with the same sonic swirl as their take on the Steinbecks tune. Do they have another idea? I do sincerely hope so, because part of me wants to like this sound more than I quite do now. So how do the Steinbecks fare by comparison? Well just as Buddha slowed their tune up, they inject a bit of pace into the Buddha tune and transport it from melancholic navel searching to an evocation of a lighter sadness, a sadness that is more human, less melodramatic. The equaliser no less.
So it's away wins for both groups, a replay next year (?) and apologies all round for the soccer references.
On to The Imaginary Friend, and oh dear... This I can't even listen to all the way through. It's the vocal. Very 'nice' female folksy sound, a good diction and no soul, no emotion. Dull dull dull. The flip side to this is a Robert Scott tune, which helps, but even so, this vocal totally ruins it. Robert Scott, as you hip dudes will know, is a member of New Zealand's The Bats, although this particular song was performed originally by The Magick Heads. I'd just much rather hear Robert sing it himself though. I did however like the pencil that came with the record.... probably because it doesn't sing.
More Buddha On The Moon now, this time on the Wurlitzer Jukebox label. More doomed romantic visions, more slo-mo pace, backwards guitars and reverb. Acoustic to the fore on the flip, so it still sounds like Red House Painters, but less tragic and tortured in the vocal department, which is either good or bad, depending on your point of view. Tonight I'm beginning to think it's rather a good thing. Nice sleeve too.
So to Orange Cake Mix and the newly (perfectly formed) Tinseltones records, which is based in Kilmarnock, Scotland, and which means you need to send letters of sympathy and wads of cash to enable them (okay, him, it's a solo effort) to move. I'm not a Kilmarnock fan. I am, however a Jim Rao fan. I have to say I've always preferred his more electronic excursions as Zenith 33, but the Orange Cake Mix tunes have always passed muster too. So this is an OCM event, but this time featuring Verna Brock of Beanpole on backing vocals and flute. Flutes are a Good Idea. The recordings were done by mailing tapes between Connecticut and California, and maybe that distance is what makes it work, I dunno. It's a neat story anyway. Best tune here is '37 Shades Of Blue', if only for the flute, but all three tracks are great in a driftaway pop manner. But you love Orange Cake Mix anyway, so you already knew that.
Next in line, two new releases by the always beautiful Grimsey records, a record label that will / does demand the same kind of adoration as the much maligned Sarah or the original Postcard. Always impeccably packed, always with a great ear for a pop tune across a range of emotions. Pop, pure and simple. So here we get a 7" by Le Mans, who sing in Spanish (well being from Spain they would, wouldn't they), so I've no idea what they are singing about, but I'd wager it's something close to tragic brittle songs about broken loves, broken promises, or the way the sunlight flits across his shirt. (Well 'un rayo de sol' isn't hard to translate, is it?) You want music? Brittle guitar shuffles that remind me of Fantastic Something. If they weren't Greek and they sang Spanish and not English. Or something. Lovely trumpet again.
Ninotchka are stars. On 'I've Got Wings' they sound like Phil Spector is producing them (it's actually the ubiquitous Bryan Hanna), they play Pop as that reference might suggest, and they have lines about holding hands and having wings. Hey, they soar. Naturally. And then on the flip, with 'Green Dream (goodnight Scott Walker)', they come on all minimal electronics and swooning vocal and strings (by the Sena Thompson Strings). Luscious. The sound of summer come early.
Poundsign# are from San Francisco (well their mailing address is, so I make that assumption, as you do...), and they are a group I instantly liked from their 'Something Cool' appearance. This single on Fantastic isn't so instantly likeable as that outing, but 'The Almondy Many' is nevertheless fine music for dusk. Sunsets over the deserted gas works. Trying to fly from the church steeple. And guitars that are as red as the vinyl.
Do Ohio play Space-Rock? No of course not. They play rock with spaces, although the oddly titled 'arm up! Point at venus!' track might suggest otherwise, unless that's irony... Whatever, this is persistent, minimal, electronic rock that breathes. Which is what you'd expect from an outfit that features ex-Madison Electric players, quite frankly. And on the excellently titled Peloton records too.
© Alistair Fitchett. April 1997.