Monday, 26 May 2008

Seaside factory traders

Pope Joan
Hot Water, Lines And Rickety Machines
One Inch Badge Records

I’ve been listening to this album for months and my relationship with it is as restless and the music. At first it seemed like an awkward listen, like none of the parts were sitting properly, or where I expected them to. It was easy to take a breather from it and rethink my approach – all I had to do was to remember the Vile Imbeciles and how threateningly wrong that sounded on the first few spins. It’s a rare thing to find an album like this, in an age where we supposedly reject anything that isn’t immediately gratifying – at least, that’s what the culture pages of the papers would have us think (I have a whole response to that on the way; so much of the I-Gen discourse is completely irrelevant to me, yet I’m told it is how I behave? No, I reply is coming). There is something –a whole lot in fact – in Hot Water…that keeps calling me back to it, despite my initial reservations.

Pope Joan deal in that 80s throbbing factory trade of jerky rhythms and propulsive, syncopated beats whilst scrawling jittery lines of heavily effected guitar over the top. Two tracks stand out from this overarching form; both ‘Boxes’ and ‘The Same As When You Asked Me The Last Time’ add soaringly melodic harmonies, like gentle peaks over clouds, into the jagged riffing, but where the leap in ‘Boxes’ is jammed in abruptly, the lift in ‘The Same…’ swells up and runs out in a smoother, more naturally assured fashion. It has the time to though; it’s near five minute length making it over twice that of the surrounding tunes. Most of the songs come in around two minutes, with the final ‘Pocket Change’ dissolving into a long four minute industrial ambient stew. One of the key’s to me unlocking this record was realizing how compact the songs were, and how many ideas were crammed into them – these songs could easily be slowed down to reveal a whole new world of shades and shadows that aren’t readily apparent. Some of Tom’s guitar work is similar to Nick Zinner’s, especially in the slanted shimmer of ‘An Alternate Route to the End’, which has a very Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ballad aura about it. ‘Pocket Change’ too, has a slithery, zippy line like fluorescent fish darting through the gaps of the rhythm section and if it was stuck out front on it’s own it’s the kind of riff that audiences could be singing back at the stage – "ZEOW! ZEOW!!"

This is not background music in the slightest, it is too demanding on the attention for that. No bad thing. I am appreciating an album that has me work for my rewards.


A ghost in a blizzard

Lonely Ghosts
Don’t Get Lost Or Hurt EP
One Inch Badge Records

Tom Denney’s solo project should shortly be finding itself eclipsing the reputation of his parent-band Help She Can’t Swim. Live, with core OIB label-mates on guitar duties, Denney cuts an imposing figure of potent talent, a whirlwind of energy, his onstage manic blur seemingly teetering on the edge of extreme mental and physical exhaustion from the first song. This EP peaks into the same wild eyed hysteria of the live performances, sweat visibly dripping out of scrunched up eyes and snarling mouth, the lively bounce and off-the-wall kinesis convincingly translated onto CD.

Serving as a sweet teaser for the full album due out in August with a few songs previewing the full length, the rest of the eight tracks here are unique to this record. It’s not too much of a stretch to say they are unique full stop. After hearing he was going solo, this is what I’d expected Dev’s Lightspeed Champion to be turning out after Test Icicles imploded. But don’t let that give you the wrong impression. Lonely Ghosts is definitely not Emo like he has a black fringe and dodgy record collection. Certainly, these songs are wrenched out of Tom like his life depended on it, filling a space very much in the realm of the emotional, but closer to the space and pressure of My Bloody Valentine than the specious pressures of My Chemical Romance. The tracks of this EP are neatly built on increasingly intense layers of guitars alternating between poignant torch and blazing dancefloor, backed by a drum machine which evocatively disappears for the melancholic, but for the most part is a blistering pulse, or constantly threatening it. There is nothing overwrought here, just a direct and fully fuelled individual allowing himself to be overcome by a lot of shit. Fortunately for us, his shit is our milk.

Lyrically, Tom casts a bleak eye over the desperation inherent in attaining and maintaining modern beauty in ‘So Young So Beautiful’, weighs up the preferable affects between crippling un-quenched lust and shallowly sated desire in ‘Happy Lovers – Friends Forever’ (I think…it’s either that, or the idea that certain people could be better platonic friends once they’ve had sex, just because it’s something friends can (and should?) do sometimes). Those two are the tunes with the most monster club-centric beats, rhythms cased in dynamic walls of chewy guitars that rip up the speakers with a churning momentum. Songs like 'Plough Through', 'It’s Time To Wake Up' and 'Maybe You Can Save Me' build up into near-tear-jerkers of intensity but start of quietly, delicately, like they are exploring your emotional depths before deciding how far to push you. Me? I’m no easy push-over, but this floored me.


One Inch Badge Records Label Profile

Brighton based record label and gig promotions collective One Inch Badge (OIB Records) put out their first release at the end of 2006, after a slow and steady build up this year they are about to come further out from the underground with a string of new signings and key releases scheduled for the next six months. Speaking to OIB mainman Alex Murray we discussed the story behind the label’s inception and where this group of intensely committed individuals plan on taking their passionate DIY label next.

“OIB came about incredibly organically” begins Alex. “Jim Morrison (of The Tumbledown Estate, not that one) and I met about eight years ago and instantly bonded over a mutual love of the Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips. We spent the next six years studying and daydreaming about starting a label. Experience wise we all came from incredibly defined areas. I'd spent nearly three years at Sony Music and two years at Southern Records so I'd got a pretty good understanding of the workings of both sectors of the music industry. Jim interned at Tru Thoughts (Successful jazz-funk-house label) and had a graphic design degree so between our business knowledge and Jim's design capabilities we were well on our way to having most bases covered. Jim and I had been friends with Tom Denney (Lonely Ghosts) for years but due to his commitments with Help She Can't Swim he didn't join us straight away. However with all the live music experience and contacts he'd gathered over the years he's proved invaluable to the label.”

Daydreaming finally became a reality in late 2006 when Alex’s friends My Device asked if they'd like to release a vinyl version of the 'Eat Lead' single they were doing for Shifty Disco. You might remember My Device winning the NME unsigned bands competition in that year – but don’t let that trick you into thinking they’re some back-pedaling schmindie outfit – they smash Melvins psychotic lunacy into a twisted party-metal power base and front it with psychedelic lyrics. Not your usual then. Starting a label is always a daunting experience, as Alex says “We had no wide scale distribution, no press team, no backing, and no hands on experience of getting a record physically made, however we did know we wanted to make the record as lavishly packaged on our budget as we possibly could. We ended up pressing the 7” on transparent purple vinyl which was white labeled on the b-side of the record and the band painstakingly stayed up all night and hand-drew a completely different image on every copy.”

Next up was the Mewgatz 'Underfelt' EP. Mewgatz is an intriguingly talented electronica artist who bases his music around scrambling the brains of old 80's keyboards and toys that he finds at carboot sales. “In true OIB fashion we decided to throw more money down the drain and press the record solely on 10” vinyl, the most expensive and equally unmarketable format around” says Alex in resolutely defiant, yet realistic terms.

The label’s next move was to begin their series of split 7”s; five records showcasing four bands per release. The first features Gay Against You (confrontational spazz-core two-piece, like Crystal Castles with a sense of humour), Munch Munch (Bristol-based polyrhythmic quantum-pop), Lonely Ghosts (palpitating electro body-shocking glam-pop) and The Tumbledown Estate (one-man avant-pop explosion). In pure fanatical record-collector style, each record came with double-side printed reversible sleeves, lyric sheet and badges of each of the bands involved. Every 7” in the series will be limited to 500 copies and is due to culminate in 2009 with an incredibly extravagant vinyl boxset and CD compilation. Alex is enthusiastic about the response to the series and the upcoming bands scheduled for the next volumes; “We've already lined up recordings by Lovvers (a punk band from the Midlands featuring members of infamous screamo post-metallers The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg), SJ Esau (intricate loopstation oddball signed to Anticon), Knyfe Hyts (the new pure rock band from Ex Models), Best Fwends (manic electro punk outfit from Texas), Half-Handed Cloud (a beautifully quirky singer-songwriter from California who was part of Danielson's band and Sufjan Steven's Illinoise band), and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (intricate emotronica artist from Chicago).”

The label’s current and almost sold out release is the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone EP titled Town Topic. A haunting, folktronic soundtrack to the first feature-length film by cult New York/Los Angeles artist Laurel Nakadate that recalls Air’s accompaniment to the Virgin Suicides. Coming up in June is an astonishing eight track mini-album of new banging electronica from Lonely Ghosts with a full album due in August, then later in the year the full-length release from Mewgatz, a mysteriously titled “OIB Records house-bag series” and finally (for now) June will see the debut release from Brighton band Pope Joan - a politically aware Fugazi influenced post-punk avant-rock four-piece.

This collection of wide ranging sounds from both sides of the Atlantic illustrates how respected their output so far has been, the diversity of music this label is willing to front and stand by, and as the defining line that relates all these bands, how entrenched in the DIY ethos One Inch Badge are. Undoubtedly the most invigoratingly experimental label in Brighton, it should not be too long before OIB become a recognizable name underscoring some of your favourite releases of the near future.


One Inch Badge Records:
Best Fwends:
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone:
Gay Against You:
Half-Handed Cloud:
Knyfe Hyts:
Lonely Ghosts:
Munch Munch:
My Device:
Pope Joan:
SJ Esau:
The Tumbledown Estate: