What Do You Call That Noise?

We seem to be spoilt for choice with salvage projects, so I apologise for harping on. But it cannot be said enough times: context is everything. Now I may not be in a position to write about sleevenotes, but let's consider aesthetics and apostrophes, trends and traditions.

The Rough Trade Shops sets that Mute have been making available are establishing a tradition of their own. The trend is to collect a seemingly arbitrary selection of the startlingly obvious, the patently absurd, and the unbelievably wonderful, with plenty of worthless ballast, within a very broad church where the ancient and modern mix together haphazardly.

The Post Punk set keeps up appearances. Let's be generous and celebrate the fact that it collates some of the greatest music ever recorded. Any CD that features the Bush Tetras, Raincoats, 23 Skidoo, The Fall, YMGs, Essential Logic, Au Pairs, Magazine, ESG, Pigbag, Pop Group, Maximum Joy, Shockheaded Peters, and my lost loves the Mo-Dettes, is more than essential. And, yes, the set does raise innumerable quibbles and questions, but that is really neither here nor there.

What, however, I suspect the set will be most remembered for are the spectacularly irreverent and iconoclastic sleevenotes. I love them because they make me want to wring the guy's neck and make him choke on his circle-A crass stupidity. You can just imagine him watching over and over the episode of Only Fools And Horses where Rodney wears a UK Decay t-shirt while a bonfire of rare Fall 7's burns on the hearth.

It's worth mentioning also the appalling abuse and misuse of apostrophes in the sleevenotes, which is something of a tradition in itself. Perhaps it's a post-punk protest? In particular Wire's Colin Newman's contribution is very poor. He may know his dots and dashes, but the editors have let him down on the apostrophe front. Ah! Wire were always meant to be the intellectual end of the punk explosion. Perhaps Jimmy Pursey and his Hersham Boys were the bright ones after all? Certainly on Mark Perry's Sniffin' Glue compilation Sham 69's 'I Don't Wanna' sounds more vital than Wire's tired '12XU'.

What I hope is that this Post Punk set proves to be a jumping-off point. A good direction to jump is towards the erm essential Essential Logic Fanfare In The Garden set on Kill Rock Stars. A couple of years back KRS put out the amazing LiliPUT/Kleenex compilation, and I begged them to arrange similar collections from Essential Logic and Delta 5. Well, we're getting there!

Much as I love Laura's songs, the Logic set ain't perfect. Illogically it omits my favourite Logic song 'Eugene'! But it's still got some of the most inventive and invigorating skewed pop ever created by a bunch of kids. And aesthetically speaking it's fine, due to Kim Gordon's involvement. By the way, I love that story of Kim denouncing the Strokes for not being aware of DNA! You can just imagine the conversation can't you? And the withering look the punk queen will have given them! Quite right too!

Anyway KRS maintain tradition by having Greil Marcus do the sleevenotes, which is fitting as he wrote some great things about Laura and Essential Logic back in the day. And Greil being a professional we have no need to worry about apostrophes. Speaking of the holy Greil, I was listening last night to the Raincoats' Kitchen Tapes (on ROIR) for which he also provided liner notes. Listening to the Raincoats and Laura Logic, it's striking how much of an impact was made on these brave and gifted young women as they created unique scratchy and wise pop by the whole reggae thing. Maybe it's stating the obvious, but it's an important link, and one that kept them away from ever creating orthodox rock.

And I suppose I have grown up taking that link for granted, as though that's the way a lot of pop should be. This could perhaps explain why I still cannot get enough of fruits of the reggae salvage industry which flourishes still. For example, the various off-shoots of Adrian Sherwood's On-U outfit are experiencing a real boom at the moment.

Now traditionally the On-U reggae salvage experts are great at their aesthetics, and Maximum Pressure's fourth release, Dancehall Techniques, is well up to the high standards of the others. It's a collection of Winston Riley productions from the 1986-1991 period, and again is a wonderfully uplifting taste of the digital and dancehall sounds from a time I am shamefully ignorant of. Steve Barker provides the venerable sleevenotes, so we are in safe hands there.

Back on the more traditional Pressure Sounds there is the Decibel collection of Dennis Bovell recordings (with the emphasis on the dub), with the implicit connections to the Post Punk broad church. Lovely as it is, Jeb Loy Nichols has a few apostrophe catastrophes in the sleevenotes, which is rather unfortunate but there you go.

Adrian Sherwood's own new salvage outlet is Sound Boy, and the first release is the awesome Junior Delgado collection, Original Guerilla Music, the great JA Recordings. If you like your reggae with plenty of gravity and spirituality and foreboding and clout, then this is unmissable. John Masouri's sleevenotes are suitably scholarly and illuminating in case you wondered.

The trump card, however, has been played by Honest Jons. They follow up the lovely Watch How The People Dancing collection with a Cedric Im Brooks & the Light of Saba set in equally inventive and impractical packaging. Actually it set me thinking of Mo'Wax long before I noticed Will Bankhead's name among the credits. Well, if you have ever tapped a toe to the Skatalites, Count Ossie, the JBs, Fela, Sun Ra, early Kool & the Gang, Oneness of Juju, Pharoah Sanders, then this is a record to cherish.

In the meantime, there is plenty to ponder about the label name, Honest Jons, and the appropriate use of apostrophes. Unlike Colin Newman though, if they continue with the tradition of putting out aesthetically perfect compilations like this, they can do whatever they want with their apostrophes!

© 2003 John Carney