Posts Tagged ‘Fire Records’

Fire Records – 25th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

If the reissue of Come’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, felt like the much-needed reappraisal of one of the 90s’ criminally underrated  – or underappreciated – bands was finally happening, then the arrival of their Peel Sessions is proof positive. It wasn’t that Come didn’t receive exposure or critical acclaim: tours supporting the likes of Dinosaur Jr at their commercial peak as they took Where You Been on the road, off the back off their widely-lauded debut album Eleven: Eleven, Come should, by rights, have been elevated to the same bracket of 90s alt-rock icons. But I guess their sound was simply too subtle and too nuanced, and too bluesy, to sit entirely comfortably with the zeitgeist. There are no instant hooks in the vein of Nirvana or RATM. In fact, there are barely any hooks, or even choruses. But the detail, the craft of the songs, the delivery of the emotional heft woven into those songs mean that Come are a band I’ve probably listened to more during the years since we left the 90s than the majority of that class of 92-94, and during this time, I’ve found myself frustrated by the fact that seemingly hardly anyone has even heard of them.

The band recorded two session for John Peel, the first in 1992 and the second in 1993, and rounding it off, perhaps a little incongruously, is the unreleased song ‘Clockface’, recorded live in Boston (that’s Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire) in 1991, and it’s rough ‘n’ ready and not the best live sound ever, but it captures the spirit and the energy, which is worth so much more than all the production in the world.

The first session comprises ‘Dead Molly’, ‘Bell’, ‘William’, and ‘Off to One Side’, all of which appear on Eleven: Eleven. Being Peel Sessions, recorded and mixed in a day, they’re rougher, more immediate versions. ‘William’ is perhaps the standout as the driving grunger of the set, a reminder of the power of which the band were capable of, particularly around the time of their debut, while ‘Off To One Side’, with its slide guitar and wonky riffery is the blusiest, and the slower-burning tune is more subtle but also less immediate.

The second sessions comprises ‘Wrong Side’, ‘Sharon vs. Karen’, ‘Mercury Falls’ and ‘City of Fun’, and while two of these would appear on sophomore album Don’t Ask, ‘Sharon vs Karen’ (a title way, way, way ahead of its time) was a feature of their love set, which appeared as a live cut on the expanded anniversary edition of Eleven:Eleven , and ‘City of Fun’ failed to make an official studio release. The sound and feel of this session is quite different, and also shows how the songwiting rapidly evolved to explore a broader palette of tone and texture as well as tempo shifts, and ‘Wrong Side’ packs it all into just under four and a half minutes. ‘Sharon vs. Karen’ brings some attack alongside some sinewy guitars as it lumbers and lurches along. ‘Mercury Falls’ is faster than the studio version, and feel both tentative and ragged, unready, yet still packs a punch, especially around the mid-section.

This is one of the many great things about Peel Sessions: bands were given free time in the studio to use as they felt fit, and many would try out new material, for better or worse. It’s most definitely for better here, and the eight session tracks are all, without exception, showcases of the magnificent guitar interplay between Chris Brokaw (Codeine) and Thalia Zedek (Live Skull); everything comes in from different angles, the tempos change not so much unexpectedly, but at key moments and turn the trajectory of the songs in an instant, and Zedek has a knack of conveying a heart-tugging melancholy with her drawling vocal and mournful guitar style. It’s not a twang, as such, more a slow bending that almost feels like tears. Pitched together with a tight and intuitive rhythm section with ‘the visceral bass and drums of Sean O’Brien and Arthur Johnson’, the sessions capture a band operating as a cohesive unit and really just hitting the mark with precision every time.

Fans will absolutely love this, as it provides an insight into their transition between first and second albums and well as capturing the live power in a studio setting. Those unfamiliar couldn’t want for a better introduction, with a set that represents the band at their finest, spanning the first two albums and, quite simply, kicking ass. Absolutely essential.

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Fire Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

“What does ‘regret’ mean?” “Well, son, a funny thing about regret is that better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done.” I have no shortage of regrets, but one is that I saw Come and thought ‘meh’. It was 1993: they were supporting Dinosaur Jr, who’s just released Where You Been?, along with Bettie Serveert in Nottingham. I’d read reviews of, but was still yet to hear Eleven: Eleven at the time. They’d been all over the press with that debut album. And I just didn’t get gripped. Maybe it was because, at seventeen, I was just so revved for the headliners I wasn’t in a place to fully appreciate the supports.

I had no way of knowing that their second album would become one of my absolute favourites. Again, having picked up Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I wasn’t immediately enamoured. I guess it took me awhile to appreciate the album’s subtlety and emotional depth – and it has so much depth – but investing in listening properly and not holding out for the big riffery of Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr or the general sound of the class of ’93-’94 unlocks Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some of it’s about maturity, some of it’s about patience – I didn’t really dig The God Machine on the first few spins of Scenes from the Second Storey.

It was a long album, for a start. Only two of the songs are under four minutes long, and half are five or more. The structures aren’t obvious, there’s not a lot that’s straight verse / chorus / verse. It was also a bit slow, and quite country / blues. It really wasn’t the sound of the grunge zeitgeist of 1994. But one day, somehow, something clicket. Quite possibly it was by absently half-listening to it, that moment arrived in ‘String’. I have this thing, whereby a fleeting moment of a song -m a change of key, chord, a single sound, or something else otherwise minor, extraneous, will absolutely make it for me. By which I mean, I am completely obsessive about this. When a moment strikes me as ‘pivotal’ I simply have to hear it, over and over, and that will be a reason to play an entire song – on repeat. That first scrape of fingers on strings at the start of ‘My Black Ass’ on Shellac at Action Park? Yeah, that’s one such moment. That moment at 3:05 on ‘String’ in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is another. It just hits an instant of musical perfection, and it’s absolute bliss.

The song is a standout – on the CD, it’s positioned after the slow, blooding ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and picks the tempo up. The fact it arrives after a false ending or sorts and a change in direction is key, and the guitar interplay is sublime… The trouble is, explaining it in words simply doesn’t convey the impact, the way it resonates. But there it is. And now, here it is again, remastered. And it sounds great, all over again, as well as giving reason to revisit what is a remarkable and courageous album, one that represents a band committed to making the music they want to make instead of succumbing to trends or record company or peer pressure. And revisiting it only further highlights the dynamics, the tempo changes and unexpected shifts, and the way those sonic twists can instantly alter the mood, and the way the band imbue every bar with emotion. It’s so, so powerful, and all the more so for the fact it isn’t immediate. In fact, all of the things that made it ‘difficult’, that I struggled with at first, are the reasons I love it now and are the reasons it’s such a remarkable and accomplished album, and one that proved without doubt that volume is not the sole driver of intensity. Thalia Zedek’s vocal with its rich patina has a deep rasp, and carries a greater emotional than tonal range, and it’s perfectly suited to the twisting, restlessness of the songs: these are songs to lose yourself in.

The remastering is nicely done – nothing too intrusive, it just feels that bit crisper, somehow, the details clearer, and that’s nice.

The bonus disc, Wrong Sides contains an entire album’s worth of additional material, and with the exception of the demo version of ‘German Song’ (with some magnificent spiralling guitar work and if anything, this slightly less polished take, with the notable addition of clarinet and piano packs only more aching beauty), it’s not a gathering of alternative takes, radio sessions, and rehearsals, but a truly worthy assembly of contemporaneous material – B—sides, stray compilation tracks, and unreleased material, and it’s fair to say that it’s all killer.

‘Angelhead’ – a ‘String’ 12” B-side was recorded on a stop-off on tour, and is one of the most directly riff-centric grungers of the band’s career. ‘Cimarron’ is up there with the best of Come, with some crunchy guitars augmented by sweeping violin. Their cover of Swell Maps’ ‘Loin of the Surf’ is a groove-led math-rock instrumental workout, while ‘Submerge’ is chunky, crunky, dense, lumbering. This is the version that actually predates the one that appears on Eleven: Eleven, and instead came out on the German Sub Pop 12” and CD of the menacing ‘Car’ (also featured here with its warping guitars alongside B-side ‘Last Mistake’. But what matters most is that every single bonus cut here would have been worthy of the album.

With the additions as strong as the album, what the expanded version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reveals is an insight into a great – if massively underrated – band at their absolute peak.

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Fire Records – 15th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s a segment that starts around the six-minute mark on ‘Absent Friend’ where the guitars, soaked in reverb, chime and interweave, forming a delicate latticework of notes which is the very quintessence of post-rock. Hex was released in 1994. While much of the album isn’t quite post-rock as we now know it here in 2017, listening back to the debut album by the band which saw Simon Reynolds famously apply the term ‘post-rock’ (although often cited as marking the term’s coinage, this is as much-debated as what actually constitutes post-rock), it’s not hard to identify this as the definitive moment at which the tropes which define post-rock as we broadly recognise it began to coalesce.

The intense and arduous work that went into Hex would ultimately lead to the band’s disintegration, and it would be a full twenty years before Graham Sutton would reconvene Bark Psychosis to deliver a second album in the form of ///Codename: Dustsucker. But one could reasonably argue that with Hex, Bark Psychosis achieved more than many bands could even aspire to over the course of ten albums.

The delicate, evocative piano of ‘The Loom’, accompanied by soft strings arguably set a certain corner of the blueprint acts like Glissando and Her Name is Calla would come to place at the centre of their sound, and the meandering melodies would subsequently be developed by the likes of Oceansize – admittedly, more neoprog than post-rock, but this only highlights the range of Hex and the far-reaching vision it demonstrates. ‘Big Shot’ boasts a strolling bass and warping, dreamy atmospherics over a rolling glockenspiel and a semi-ambient breakdown in the middle. ‘Finger Spit’ may not feature the kind of epic crescendos which characterise a lot of ‘classic’ post-millennium post-rock, but its hushed, quietly intense space clearly explores surging dynamics. The gloomy discordant brass of ‘Eyes and Smiles’ prefaces the early sound if iLiKETRAiNS. And so on.

Across the course of the seven tracks (these are long expansive compositions), Hex weaves cinematic soundscapes and wring all shades of emotion not from the lyrics and vocals, which are largely secondary, but from the music itself. It has texture and depth, and at its best, possesses a transportative, almost transcendental quality that goes beyond mere music. This, it’s fair to say, has been the ambition of the acts which have come to stand as synonymous with post-rock, disparate and different as they are, from Godspeed You! Back Emperor’s immense, surging soundscapes, to the chiming crescendo-orientated compositions of Explosions in the Sky via the twee elvin twinkles of Sigur Rós.

Hex was certainly not an album of its time. 1994 was the year of In Utero, and Live Through This, Sixteen Stone by Bush, and Weezer’s eponymous debut, as well as Dookie, Smash, and Parklife, and Definitely Maybe, His and Hers, and The Second Coming¸ as well as Dog Man Star. As grunge jostled with Britpop in a divided musical landscape, and in a year which also delivered Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, The Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, and Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Put simply, Hex did not fit. Amongst broadly contemporaneous works, it does share more commonality with The God Machine’s Scenes from the Second Storey (1992), Slowdive’s Slouvaki (1993) and Rosa Mota’s Wishful Sinking (1995) (all unappreciated at the time and still criminally underrated) than anything that could be considered zeitgeist.

Now seems an appropriate distance to re-evaluate Hex. And even now, despite so many of its tropes having been absorbed, assimilated and endlessly replicated, it sounds beyond contemporary. It possesses so much depth and range, and conveys a close, personal intensity which has absolutely nothing to do with raging volume. Within or without context, Hex is a remarkable album. Yes, it effectively spawned a genre, and yet, it still stands apart. And that’s every reason to sit back and enjoy Hex not as an influential album, but simply on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

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Fire Records – 16th April 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

London-based act Virginia Wing, who supported Hookworms on tour last year, are described as an ‘experimental psych-pop band’. Their latest EP, which follows debut album Measures of Joy, which was lauded by Loud & Quiet and The Guardian, among others, is released on 16th April.

Lead and title track ‘Rhonda’ begins with a tremulous, haunting introduction before hectic electronic drums burst in and drive the track in a very different direction. Over the course of some six and a half minutes, it whips up a duality of tones, with a hard-edged beat and ethereal vocals. Half Cocteau Twins, half Factory Floor, it’s a compelling blend of contrasting tones, simultaneously gentle and abrasive.

If ‘Sisterly Love’ threatens to meander into nothing in its floaty mellowness, the thump and grind which heralds the arrival of ‘Daughter of the Mind’ introduces a new level of darkness and an uncomfortable edge which remain when the beats peter out to be replaced by synth drones that hang in the air for what feels like an age.

With the EP’s three tracks all clocking in beyond the six-minute mark, a radio edit of ‘Rhonda’ offers a window to commercial acceptance, and although it’s very much more 6Music than R1 the hypnotic, piston-pumping rhythm hints at a vast crossover potential.

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https://virginiawingmusic.bandcamp.com/