EMBRACE – Embrace (Dischord) LTD Green Vinyl repress.
Ian MacKaye’s group between Minor Threat and Fugazi built on the remains of the group Faith reimagined U.S. Hardcore as something emotional, personal, inward looking and critical. Yes yes it’s basically year zero emo but MCR this ain’t (no shade on the Chems). Despite all those OG Emo tags, Embrace hit much more like HXC, like a slightly more developed Minor Threat. The lyrics read a little like MacKaye’s diaries of the time, pissed off, trying to reach to the future, trying to build community. The little classic rock inflections subsumed into the HXC stew are kind of incredible. Little guitar licks, gang vocals, major chord changes bleeding into distortion. A key Dischord release back in.
DON CHERRY – Hear And Now (Real Gone Music) LP – Black Vinyl
Wow, I was NOT prepared for this. Starting off a little like some of the most spacious Miles records before bursting into a distorted guitar and pentatonic riff, it’s easily the most ROCK I’ve ever heard Cherry flex. There’s so many disparate, fun elements: Tabla drones (Classical Indian scholars please go easy if I’ve got this wrong), synthesizers, broken funk electric guitar, the omnipresent AND OMINPOTENT Wah Wah axe. Dep said that a key way to choose Don Cherry records is that anything with tapestry on it was bound to be good. Consider this peak tapestry. Very cool.
THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – Belong (Slumberland) LP – Icy Blue Vinyl
You know we love this group so it’s a nice fall into the memory hole listening to Belong again. Here the group pumped up the jams to stadium proportions with production from none other than Flood. I hope they don’t take this as a slight but the record sounds a little like a heavenly mix of Siamese-era Smashing Pumpkins and Feed Me With Your Kiss-style MBV. If you don’t think this sounds like the golden ticket WHO EVEN ARE YOU. Seriously though, the group wrote some of their best songs on this record and it’s great to have it back in stock.
Recorded at home with limited means as the mother of invention, Joanne Robertson and Irma Krook represent an approach that prioritises inspiration over painstaking detail. These are compositions recorded as the spark happens, moments of lightning or rawness that can only be documented quickly and simply.
Joanne Robertson returns with a treasure of jewels from a fertile period of recording and songwriting circa 2020. These are culled from the same sessions as Painting Stupid Girls so you know the peaking emotional heft is there but somehow Blue Car hits even harder. With a poignant sound quality that sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom in between heartbreaks, Robertson composing herself with a preternatural grace to throw out these stunning, beautiful vignettes like it was no big deal.
But each track feels like a big deal. The songs are elusive, perhaps intentionally so, gauzy in their production, wrapped in rain, the soundtrack to looking out the window at an empty street where once there were people. On Band Sit Together the guitar work is more complex than ever, acoustic this time, sparkling against the hiss of the tape. Take Me In has more complex chordings and a couple of endearing bloopers to remind us this is a real-ass person with their heart on their sleeve, somewhat. The recording style – you get these feeling these are dictaphone or voice note recordings capturing the moment Robertson has finished writing the song – is almost half the music, it adds such a massive weight of intimacy to proceedings, inviting you in beside the artist.
The melodies remind us a little of peak Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon, with the inevitable early Cat Power comparisons still relevant but really at this point Robertson is in a class of her own. Blue Car feels effortless, nothing is forced, recorded in the moment, somewhere in Glasgow deep in that regretful 2020 when communiques of human survival and connection were being laid down for us in the future to reach for. An Album Of The Year for me already.
’Military Arms’ is the debut output by Gothenburg-based sound-smith Irma Krook. Up until now primarily known as bass player & founding member of death pop vanguards Makthaverskani, Krook has composed four tracks of ethereal beauty, in the sanctity of her own home.
Krook conjures up a cavern of sweet sorrow and reverb in front of us, a portal to another dimension of epic, romantic doom and emotion, gently takes us by the hand and steps in. Krook constantly faces up to massive waves of swirling harmonies that threaten to swallow her, her vocal building upon itself into towering infernos. Underneath, the instrumentation suggests the grandeur of mid 80s Europe re-told with consumer synths and classic pre-sets. An aching fragility pervades, belying the humbleness of the recording. Rhythms are rudimentary, in total service to the crushing waves of glacial harmony, synth lines are massive, permanent, revolving and making the whole exercise an abstract take on song.
What’s undeniable is the power of Krook’s voice and handle on bittersweet melody. When the music subsides as on Military Arms we get a teasing glimpse of the lower reaches of her voice with a strident violin march defenestrated by the howling reverb. Awake, At Last has a soporific drift that reminds us of Dead Can Dance covering Molly Nilsson, the hazy synth and keyboard lines weaving a mist in front of Krook’s outsider-looking-in vocal performances. Closer A Woman’s Hand takes it down to a piano caked in reverb and Krook’s wilting falsetto that further serves to pry the last chains from the listener’s heart.
Recorded simply into her phone and laptop using what ever tools she had to hand, these performances strike hard. Naked except for the tendrils of reverb and harmony, a creeping sense of loss fighting with the utter beauty of an unstoppably pretty, gorgeous voice.
Stephen Pastel salutes Dave Barker and his wonderful lifelong project.
When I was young I sometimes thought I could understand a record label by the premises they operated out of. I was privileged and very excited to visit a fair few in the 1980s – Whaam! Records (Dan Treacy’s bedroom in his parents’ council house – unprepared, in the moment, offering nothing and yet somehow everything); Rough Trade (surprisingly slick, very modern and pro, the epitome of upward mobility Ladbroke Grove style); Creation Records (basic, temporary, filled with a mad energy from people who didn’t seem to even notice their surroundings).
Glass Records, I just don’t know – they were one step removed, probably several. They were based in Linburn House, Kilburn High Road, it wasn’t at the time a fashionable part of London but in its favour it was close to the owner, Dave Barker’s house, had a reasonable chippy and bar in close proximity, and was also close to the tube station. The office itself was smallish and unremarkable, it could almost be anything – a private detective agency specialising in extra maritals, the best carpet cleaners in North London, or just as likely the epicentre of a pyramid scheme about to be found out. Dave and his assistant, Josh (Robert Hampson, later of Loop), bounced ideas off each other in a thick unrelenting haze of cigarette smoke. It was Josh who was the main Pastels enthusiast – we’d just been dumped by Creation and were bruised and in need of help and comfort. I remember asking Josh if Dave was into us. He was, Josh was fairly sure – not against us at least.
I don’t think Dave had ever been to see us play before signing us. Had he even heard us? Somehow, this didn’t matter – he very quickly tuned into us, let us more or less do what we wanted, and supported us financially as he could. He became an important ally, and an important friend too. I remember I immediately liked him even though I couldn’t always understand him – “oooob”, he’d preface a lot of stuff with, “yeugg” was the final word on it, Dave usually agreeing with himself. Glass often seemed to operate remotely with the very lightest of touches, so much so we sometimes couldn’t help but wonder what Dave actually did. He did quite a lot – he brought people together, introduced you to music you didn’t know about without ramming it down your face, helped with design and other ideas, never acting like he was some kind of record label genius masterminding your career.
When we were there it felt like the other main groups were The Jazz Butcher, Spacemen 3 and The Jacobites. We didn’t feel tons in common with any of them even though we could see that they were good. We felt free to do our own thing – no one hitching a ride on our style, nor us on theirs. We wanted to record with John A. Rivers in Leamington Spa – Dave was up for it. Dave had a hook-up, his distro was close by. Eventually we realised our potential with Dave’s support – that’s it in a nutshell. That’s why it was easy for me to recommend him to Teenage Fanclub when they needed someone to help them. It was perfect for them and for Dave too – they became his band, his boys, a flagship for his new label, Paperhouse. At that time we, like others, were slightly to one side, not quite available in that way.
The first thing to say about this compilation is that it covers an incredible span – forty years – with Glass Modern’s current roster and pals throwing light on different parts of the earlier catalogue. I feel very flattered that there are four Pastels covers – by Gerard Love, Richard Youngs, Snails and Jowe Head. They’re all very different and I won’t play favourites other than say that they all surprised me and I liked them all. Dave will have been especially delighted that Gerard came through for him – “ Yeup me boy…”. Gerard’s take on If I could Tell you is both sprightly and very lived in, which is probably a perfect summation of where Glass is these days.
One of the things that comes across is how odd the roster has been and is to this day. Two of the records that I really love and know through Glass are Bron Area’s The Trees And The Villages and Mayo Thompson’s Corky’s Debt To His Father. Both are represented here – Fawns Of Love remake Bron Area’s near-perfect Love Stories as a goth pop lament while Future Pilot AKA and Heather Leigh move easily into and through Mayo’s Dear Betty Baby, and BMX Bandits likewise with Horses. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a label that can so easily accommodate Deux Filles and David J and everything in between – where it feels quite normal to have label-mates singing in a thick Birmingham accent about being “The Son Of A French Nobleman, brought up in castles overlooking the Seine”. Dave Barker will always permit and encourage this sort of thing and that’s why Glass is such a great label – there has to be scope for madness but it must be presented as normal. I think this is what Dave has always done, there’s never any frothing at the mouth, just an oooob and a yeugg and even then only when needed.
Even pacing himself carefully, as is Dave’s way, forty years inevitably brings many changes. It’s hard not to listen to The Jazz Butcher covering Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth without acknowledging that none of them are here anymore – not there to drop into Linburn House to enthuse or plot or argue about who should be the label’s top priority. Dave loved all that stuff and still does. There’s always music to be made but without someone to listen to you or egg you on or indulge eccentric whims it’s a lonely pursuit. Glass has made the world a much less lonely place for many of us, has made so many great things happen, has brought so much great music to the world.
Glass Remade / Remodelled is a portal into different times but the story it tells is current. It’s ok to be off to one side, to do your own thing, to make your own world – The Wonderful World Of Glass, as Dave called one of his earlier compilations. It is a wonderful thing. Thanks Dave… yeugg.