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albums - july 2013


   
 

Nick Hudson - A Day Without Comfort

"The world is falling apart and we are all bad atoms/I will never be a boy, but I do love you/The sky may blacken with a blanket full of doubt/I will never answer questions, I will never be a girl/But I do love you, but I do love you"

('Bad Atoms')

There's a lot of falling on Nick Hudson's 2011 album A Day Without Comfort, an intriguing collection of songs that deal with tortured themes of alienation and despair, but often in a darkly surreal way. Although the UK-based singer-songwriter had been busy working on a number of other projects, this one was basically the follow-up to My Antique Son album recorded the previous year with his band The Academy Of Sun. Hudson is classically-trained, but his music is very eclectic, embracing elements of folk and progressive rock along with more experimental elements.

A Day Without Comfort is a solo-driven effort, reflecting on the life of a close friend who he describes as a radical struggling to situate himself in contemporary British society. Songs operate on different levels, but predominantly they inhabit dark places with the same ghostlike quality Antony And The Johnson's displayed on their classic 2005 work I Am A Bird Now. Like Antony Hegarty, Hudson also sweetens the pill by giving his songs a pop sheen.

'Murmur' introduces the album's chief protagonist: “A child fell out of the womb/Because there was no room/For him to grow inside/Or to hitch a ride/And when he hits the floor/The gutter wouldn't feed/Like she had before/And he cried out in need”.
This piano ballad ends with the carol 'Silent Night', and frosty winter references run throughout the album.

Hudson's music is complex and demands a lot from the listener, but it's the main reason for the music's enduring appeal. 'Sunday Boarding House' with its funeral organ has a lot in common with Julian Cope's psychedelia, but Hudson embellishes the song with some beautiful choral singing. 'Birth Guilt Of The Misconceived' also floats around ghostlike with its eerie harmonics and trance rhythms. It reminds me a lot of Can, or the experimental work of David Bowie and Brian Eno on the Low album.

Most of A Day Without Comfort really does sound like a solo effort, Hudson accompanying himself on just a piano or guitar. Deconstructing songs like this adds a stark and haunting quality to his singing. On 'Something Falling Slowly', the vocal is meant to sound awkward as he hurriedly recounts the way his friend died. His falsetto on the oddly beautiful 'Merry Dance' again affects a rather bleak image of a Christmas carol. The overwhelming sense you get is of a soul in torment as he deals with the overwhelming sense of loss.

'Gnosis' blends powerful imagery of swastikas and crucifixes, competing ideologies, but somehow ends with the church bells of a funeral. The religious theme continues with 'Quantum Lock' and its Eastern/Orthodox chanting and shamanic noises, a bit like Matt Elliott's recent work exploring his Eastern European ancestry on the Drinking, Failing and Howling Songs series released between 2005 and 2008. On his previous album, he set William Blake's poem 'London' to music, while at the end of this one 'The Vessel Of Eternal Youth' he waxes on about “Poetry borne of forever chasing reason”. His songs are full of these sort of scattered references, so he's like some wandering troubadour or modern-day Jaques Brel, as he declares “Time's orphan cannot scold the vessel.”.

While most of the production on A Day Without Comfort is sparse and minimal, the album ends differently, with the grandiose and prog-rock infused 'Subterranean, Eyeless'. Its twangy guitar and swirling atmospherics clearly owe something to Radiohead, and the whole piece ends rather sweetly in birdsong.

Nick Hudson is an original talent, and A Day Without Comfort represents what must have been a difficult personal journey for the artist to make. His latest album this year Letters To The Dead also sees him exorcising ghosts and communicating with the spirit world. While he uses a more experimental and atmospheric approach to his composition on that one, Hudson's pop sensibilities win out on this earlier solo release. A Day Without Comfort gleams a little by letting a few cracks of light shine through its dark soul.

A limited edition CD-R version of ADay Without Comfort featuring a 16-page booklet with lyrics, texts and illustrations is available from www.kiddiepunk.com . The album can be streamed and downloaded from the label's website:
http://kiddiepunk.bandcamp.com/album/a-day-without-comfort

Matthew Haddrill

 

Nick Hudson - Letters To The Dead

Nick Hudson's Letters To The Dead is a modern classical recording, but one which draws on lots of musical strands. It's another eclectic mix of songs from the UK-based artist, part of a series he has named 'The Phoenix Archaeologies' which delves into the spirit world and things romantic, poetic and esoteric. A diverse set of musicians appear on album number 4 out of 5, although their contributions were brought together via the internet rather than physically meeting. Hudson financed the project through the Crowdfunder website and kept finances down by recording things acoustically at home or in unusual surroundings like churches and castles. The lo-fi approach lends the music an atmospheric and often quite eerie quality (a la musique concrete!).

Letters To The Dead is more orchestrated its predecessor, A Day Without Comfort, which Hudson recorded largely on his own in 2011. This time he is joined by members of bands like Kayo Dot, Hazel Rah and The Electric Soft Parade, but if you look at the credits on the sleeve notes he takes on most of the performing duties himself. The overall sound reminds me of the sonic experiments Mark Holis and Tim Friese-Greene made during the later Talk Talk recordings, isolating individual sounds and positioning microphones in unusual places. Indeed, Hudson warbles away a bit like Holis or Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and although his work in the past has embodied many different styles, it's the leftfield collaborations with people like David Tibet of Current 93 and Stuart Dalquist of Sunn O))) which really come to the fore on his latest work.

There's a complex narrative running throughout the recording. He revisits themes of earlier albums, like the despairing opener 'Bad Atoms' bemoaning the human condition, also on A Day Without Comfort. The three 'Letters' (to the dead) communicate loss and the need for ghosts to fill the void. They are set in the modern classical idiom, so for example, 'Letter Number One' rings out with chiming acoustic guitar, something like Mike Oldfield or John McLaughlin, but also with Baroque influences and a wonderful choral backing, while 'Letter Number Two' tinkles away on the piano, again with a choir. 'Letter Number Three' is slightly more conventional rock, soaring with electronics and ambient effects, all set to a riff similar to Radiohead's 'Scatterbrain (As Dead As Leaves)' from 2003's Hail To The Thief.

Ultimately, it's all about the sounds he's left on the recording that really distinguishes Letters From The Dead. The odd creaking noises, chimes and echoes, not to mention all the shamanistic chanting, on album highlight 'Seance' give the recording an occult-like quality, much like freak-folk artist Tara Burke aka Fursaxa, or Greg Weeks and his Espers project. With all the ghosts swirling around in his head, you have the sense Hudson was most at home on this oddly-shaped 8-minute epic, which even includes a confessional from an unworthy mother. Typically, he's interwoven many ideas and reference-points in just one song.

With the funds generated from Crowdfunder, Hudson was also able to create a film to accompany the piece (premiered at a local Brighton cinema), and Letters To The Dead was performed for the first time last November in St Mary's Church in Brighton. The artist's plan is to take the whole show out on the road this year.

The limited edition CD of Letters To The Dead can be purchased from the Bandcamp site, and a DVD and vinyl version of the album are available from Antithetic Records.

Matthew Haddrill

 

Bell X1 – Chop Chop

Flourishes of piano and brushes on the opening to 'Starlings Over Brighton Pier', all stripped back and minimalist, sound like something Radiohead might have put together on the recent King Of Limbs, and much of Irish band Bell X1's press coverage is peppered with references to other bands, like Coldplay or U2. It doesn't inspire great confidence, but Chop Chop is worth going the extra mile for, winning you over with its solid production, impassioned singing and warm folk-infused pop songs.

Emerging from the remnants of Damien Rice's original band Juniper, Bell X1 was forged from the creative partnership of singer Paul Noonan and multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty. The band's sound has steadily evolved with each major release since 2000, and their latest offering clearly owes something to producer Peter Catis, who has worked with bands like The National and Jonsi.

Put together over a brief 2-week stint, band and producer have laid down a really solid sound, drawing you in with the songs right from the very beginning. Noonan's plaintiff voice sounds all at sea on the album's opener, as he imagines flying off with the birds and leaving all his troubles behind:

“Starlings over Brighton Pier, who do they follow?/Greater than the sum of each and everyone/Shifting weight from heel to toe, ducking and diving/There is a bigger thing on earth to play their part in/Take me away from this place, in a rush of spinning grace/Take me away from this placefrom the buzzing of half-remembered faces ...”

The moment's poignancy is swept aside by the more uptempo piano-driven 'Thousand Little Downers', the singer's near-falsetto voice interrupted towards the end with a curious-sounding chaotic burst of orchestration, again an inspirational Midas-like touch by the producer, before being gently delivered to torchsong 'Careful What You Wish For'. The opening 3 tracks make a nice run through the musical gears for Bell X1, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

Using analogue tape recordings of the band playing together, before transferring the whole process onto the digital format, songs sound warm, vulnerable, dare I say it, even 'emotional'! Noonan will have to defend charges of being bland, but on the album's main ballad 'Diorama', the nice bluesy quality of his voice shines through. He's sure to win people over in the same way Guy Garvey does for Elbow. Music like this stands or falls on an emotional response, so people will forgive some of its shortcomings. Admittedly, 'Feint Praise' misfires slightly towards the end, a weak Joe Cocker-esque ballad, but the the barnstorming 'the End Is Nigh' returns Chop Chop to its rightful conclusion, as Bell X1 watch the world go down singing!

The band originally from County Kildare don't want to waste time on their latest album. It seems they've made a little go a long way, with well-crafted songs and heartfelt honesty. The highpoints of Bell X1's Chop Chop along with its enduring appeal should ensure people sit up and listen.

Matthew Haddrill

Bell X1 – Chop Chop

Historically Bell X1 have had no problem producing quality. But this record trumps all others in terms of just how pristine, atmospheric and mature it sounds. It starts off Starlings over Brighton Pier, with its twinkling piano and intricate electric drumming reminiscent of Shearwater and Radiohead. Its message of escape and freedom is so clearly and unpretentiously communicated, in the song writing style that Bell X1 are so often admired for. It could be argued that perhaps their lyrics are in fact a little void of metaphor and poetry. Although track 1 is a beautiful opener, its predecessor A Thousand Little Downers includes the lines: ‘The disclaimer says it may cause death or injury’, ‘Excellent retail opportunity’ and ‘When you’re poorly, I’ll bring you flowers and grapes’. Amongst the newly acquired experimental and effective soundscapes, some of the lyrics can seem less profound.

Most of the songs include late introductions of instruments and crescendos but because most have this simple structure no song really stands out. Such is the modesty of this album that if a track were to be bold enough to do something overtly different (change timings, newer weirder instruments, animal noises etc.) it wouldn’t sit well with the album’s theme. Debatably track 5 I Will Follow You adds more oomph to the album than other middle set of songs but not in the same way that Tongue stood out in their 2003 album Music in Mouth. An aspect that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it provides plenty of opportunity to absorb their sound with comfort.

In the same way most of their songs build up near the end, it should be appreciated how they crafted their entire album to do the same. Their penultimate track Feint Praise is Chop Chop’s shortest song and is a motivating affair complete with bluesy bass and bouncy piano. And this is all to prepare for their excellent finale The End Is Nigh. Like an encore at the theatre where the cast comes back for their final bow, Bell X1, wrap it up by throwing in more sounds and urgency. In fact, as an aside, it may well be one of my favourite songs of the year if only for its effectiveness and emotion! The final line “The end is nigh, hold me, it’s coming” is a fantastic embodiment of what this album is trying to communicate. Life is out there, waiting for you. Although you may have periods of wistfulness, reminiscence and willingness to discover, as the first 7 tracks convey, the final 2 sum up that you should remember to go out and live it. Chop chop!

Matt Bull

 

The Ruts DC – Rhythm Collision Volume 2

Like The Clash, punk band The Ruts achieved the distinction of genuinely crossing over into roots reggae. The fruits of their talents can still be heard today in Ruts DC's latest release Rhythm Collision Volume 2, a collection of outstandingly-mixed dub reggae songs which show off the band's amazing versatility and pedigree with a cutting-edge producer at the helms.

The achievments of The Ruts were always going to be overshadowed by the tragic death of their singer Malcolm Owen in 1980. Arriving at that frenetic cross-section of punk and new wave in the late seventies, they seemed to have it all: Owen's rebel yell combined with Paul Fox's signature punk rock guitar backed with the tightly-sprung rhythm section of drummer Dave Ruffy and bassist John 'Segs' Jennings. In fact, Ruffy and Segs were so good, they became known as the UK's Sly and Robbie. The Ruts's seminal debut The Crack released in 1979 literally exploded onto the London scene during the time of the Southall Riots and other social unrest around Britain. The album includes stonewall punk classics 'Babylon's Burning' and 'Something That I Said', but also the less featured dub reggae song 'Jah War' which, rather like The Specials 'Ghost Town', summed up the mood of the time (and for its trouble, received a blanket ban from the media! Thank you BBC!).

They were always a more credible outfit than the so-called 'bleached reggae' of The Police or Men At Work; in fact, The Ruts toured with Jamaican ska legend Laurie Aitken, and their debut single 'In A Rut', from which they took their name, was taken up by roots band Misty In Roots to spearhead the prominent Rock Against Racism movement. Like Misty, The Ruts were another firm favourite of the late venerable John Peel. The shock of singer Owen's death from a fatal heroin overdose rocked the band, but the remaining members resolved to continue as Ruts DC (standing for 'da capo', or "from the beginning" in Italian). Sadly, they only released 2 further albums: the punk leftovers of Animal Hours in 1981 followed by the more ambitious dub reggae collection Rhythm Collision a year later, mixed by now celebrated dub producer Mad Professor.

Ruffy and Jennings became much sought after session players after the split, and generally disappeared off the radar. Despite the cacophony of re-releases as record labels tried to capitalize on The Ruts legacy, the duo always managed to keep a respectful distance. There was some speculation the punk band might re-form following a reunion gig in 2007, which featured Henry Rollins on vocals and a star-studded punk line-up of guests, but the whole event was aimed at raising money for guitarist Fox who had cancer at the time. Now the rhythm duo return with their true passion, on a release slated as Ruts DC, continuing their earlier dub reggae project with Mad Professor. Although he is still very much in the ether on Rhythm Collision Volume 2, scheduling problems meant the band finally handed the controls over to Brighton producer Mark Pelanconi aka Prince Fatty. You'd have to say, however, the end results are quite stunning.

Dub reggae is notoriously spongy, so the role of the producer in cutting a decent album is crucial. And Pelanconi doesn't disappoint, showing some really deft touches at the controls throughout the 40 or so minutes on Rhythm Collision Volume 2. Firstly, there are great dub mixes, like the opener 'One Step', which bubbles and fizzes with all the trademark echo units and bleeps; peel the effects away though, and there's basically a good marching reggae song at its core. He's gone for a more classic-sounding dub template on 'Sun & Stars', pushing a bold brass sound with its drum and heavy bass reverb, shades of Black Uhuru there, but also a nice Jerry Dammers-like organ touch and a slam-dunk 'Ghost Town'-like chant at the end. Mad Professor is still swimming around in the mix of 'Technology', although again the brass sound gives it a lovers rock vibe, but visited with more dub refinement later on. There's the inevitable nod to The Melodica King Augustus Pablo in 'Heavyweight Style', but with some spellbinding drum breaks like Topper Headon's work on The Clash's seminal 'Bankrobber'. There's also a great carnival party treat in 'Mix Up' towards the end.

But Pelanconi's brought more than just great dub to the table. Different vocalists pop up throughout the album, and these songs tend to emphasize more mainstream elements of reggae. The 2 ballads 'Smiling Culture' (featuring dub poet Aynzli Jones and singer Rob Love from Alabama 3) and 'The Road' (with excellent German reggae singer Jessica McIntyre), are the album's melodic highlights, the former with its spoken words and story-telling very much like early Aswad records, while the latter is beautifully chanteuse-led and actually sounds more like some kind of chillout anthem than roots reggae. There are more conventional prog and rock elements, too. 'London Dub' combines a sort of Linton Kwesi Johnson poetry style with the bleached reggae of Police, while 'More Bass' contains the long proggy guitar soloing which you might find on the work of people artists like Pete Tosh and Bob Marley in the 70s.

The marching rhythms continue with 'Soldier Dub', a nod once more ot the ghost of Clash past, while 'Mighty Soldier' leans a bit more towards Jamaican Dancehall end of things, like the rocksteady rhythms of Shaggy or driven reggae of Alabama 3, the band's frontman Rob Love bringing a distinct presence throughout Rhythm Collision Volume 2.

Pelanconi's real skill is to reign the whole thing in at around 45 minutes. Somehow he's bottled all the talent without wasting a moment in the mix. It doesn't quite have all the nuttiness of the Mad Professor, but this wonderful showcase of dub reggae make Rhythm Collision Volume 2 a suitable companion to its predecessor. It may be 20 years too late for Ruts DC, but the UK's Sly and Robbie are firmly back on the sonic map!

Matthew Haddrill

 

Georgia's Horse – Weather Codes

2009 saw the release The Mammoth Sessions, the rootsy Americana debut from Texan songwriter Teresa Maldonado, who trades under the name Georgia's Horse; lonely cowgirl ballads set to musical sketches of bleak deserted landscapes. Listen carefully and you can almost hear Ry Cooder's bottleneck guitar breaking against the whispering desert winds on the intro to Wim Wenders' epic arthouse movie 'Paris, Texas' in 1984.

So no great surprise to find Maldonado's venturing further into dark country vistas on her sophomore, Fire Records (UK) have even heralded Weather Codes as: “a study in heartbreak and loneliness set amidst the backdrop of the vast landscapes of American Southwest.” The album is actually far more straightforward: a travelogue in which the Texan songstress collects her thoughts during a series of trips between Texas and Louisiana. Struggles with a relationship at the time lend a lonesome sense to the music, but there's something magical about the way the Texan songstress spins out all the vivid detail. Weather Codes is a significant release and one that underlines Maldonado's integrity as a contemporary blues songwriter.

There's a clear range of influences in both the music of Georgia's Horse and Maldonado's bluesy singing style. Much of Weather Codes is an effortless running through the gears. Opener 'Apple' has that slow drawn-out dirty blues feel about it, with its sorrowful vocals, a chain gang beaten-out rhythm and negro spiritual-like chorus; you could equally transport yourself back to the Mississippi Delta or fast-forward to one of Kate Bush's epic 80s productions. On the other hand, tumbledown piano ballads 'A Long Ride Home' or the album's closer and part-title track 'Weather Codes Part 3' stoically relate tales of heartbreak and track raw emotion, all the while passing through these innocuously mundane small-town Texan surroundings.

'Ginger' is part of a series of songs with more driving quality, the Tom Waits/Mark Ribot Raindogs era twang and sustained violin evoking the wanderlust for the open road, as Maldonado sings "The heat on these loose hills keeps the chill from gaining/sunshine is rain the sky don't stop bawling". The violin also adds a psychedelic spike to the music, something like John Cale's playing on the Velvet Underground's classic 'Venus In Furs', and the musicians she's gathered around bring the same sense out in 'Westlake', the hypnotic 'Step Throat' and 'Thistlebomb', the latter sounding like Radiohead's classic 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)'.

The Surprise highlight for me was 'The Bullet Sinks', with its minor chords and chilling atmospherics redolent of Beth Gibbons of Portishead. Maldonaro again trails her sadness just about everywhere, singing over and over again: "I'm riding down the highway always … Oh Santa, please Santa, bring me a new order to slip inside". 'Fancy' takes a slightly comic turn in its drunken bar-room banter, honky-tonk piano and a violin for wailing tears, but she leaves people in little doubt about the underlying mood on down-at-heel and slightly menacing 'The Millers'. There's a mini saga in each of these vignettes, but when she finishes with 'Weather Codes Part 2', the melancholy has been transformed into one of those odes to life you'd find on Sparklehorse's seminal 2001 album It's A Wonderful Life.

The Mammoth Sessions was clearly no flash in the pan for Georgia's Horse. The Texan songwriter's latest mainstream album is an enchanting collection of blues songs in the modern idiom. You can hear so many influences, in both the singing and instrumentation, echoes of the best work of artists like Beth Gibbons, Mazzy Star, PJ Harvey and even Billie Holiday, but on Weather Codes the essential truth is that Teresa Maldonaro has us exactly where she wants us, crying on her shoulder.

Matthew Haddrill

 

Tunng – Turbines

Tunng's music is so winsome and subtle, blink and you'd probably miss it. Mike Lindsay and his band trap warm electronic sounds inside gentle loops of folk music, so-called 'folktronica'. It's the clever-cleverness which can alienate the listener, but there's always enough real quality about their off-centred music to join the ranks of artists like Bjork or Mum, and The Beta Band, of course.

However, … And Then We Saw Land released in 2010 marked something of a departure for the band, losing founding member Sam Genders. Relying less on digital tweaking and more on a classic folk template, their last album retreated into more conventional songwriting, with some very animated playing and great interplay between the 3 main vocalists Lindsay, Becky Jacobs and Ashley Bates.

Location is a strong part of Tunng's latest album, as the band have largely been apart for 3 years. Lindsay moved to Reykjavik, Iceland, and recorded solo project Cheek Mountain Thief last year. Turbines is a concept album loosely built around around the characters of a fantasy village. The claustrophobic setting and uneasy mood which emerges throughout the 9 songs is strangely at odds with the music's subtle electronic and folk-rock fusion, but off-kilter works well for this band in what has been heralded as a sci-fi folk-rock album.

It's all very nuanced. 'Once' starts out with the gentlest of guitar phrasing, soft vocals layered with a metronomic rhythm gradually established. Turbines sounds like the music of a band coming full circle. Songs 'Trip Trap', 'Bloodlines' and 'The Village' all have that disquieteningly hypnotic feel, as we get more and more uncomfortable around the characters being described: a woman who is “sweet and sour”, dark memories unravelling in a kiss and gangs of villagers running amok. Scratch beneath the surface of this tight-knit community, exactly where Tunng would like you to go, and all is not well.

'By This' is sonically more striking, Folk-rock and celtic-sounding, with the 3 vocalists Mike Lindsay, Becky Jacobs, and Ashley Bates knocking each other down in turns, rather like dominoes. They've even textured in some steel drum sounds in the mix of percussion and electronica. 'Embers' is raw-sounding and minimalist, but probably one of the album highlights with its catchy campfire chorus.

But these aren't exactly torch songs. Experimental 'Follow Follow' takes the album in a slightly different direction, an undeniable nod towards bands like Kings Of Convenience and The Beta Band. It sounds jolly and upbeat, but the words rather incongruous and unsettling:

“Through smoke and sleight of hand/He does what he can/He gets on by on his own/Follow him on the street silent on this feet/Diamonds full on his door/The underground man/Hiding where he can/Raises his feet to the fire/Forgets as he sleeps underneath the mid-day sun/He lets his loneliness tire”

Lindsay blends in some world music on 'Far From Here', nice beats and a rich tapestry of sound which embed itself in the psyche on repeat plays. This is Tunng all over really, you have to play it several times to let it sink in. 'Heavy Rock Warning' is the space-bound (and rather mis-named!) parting shot.

So Art-Folk returns triumphantly. Lindsay and band tested out their new sound in Islington's Lexington pub at the beginning of this month, and will tour it extensively in autumn. Turbines sees Tunng emerging in a slightly different place to where they were 3 years ago, but with a subtlety of riches they cleverly leave you wanting a little bit more each time you listen.

Matthew Haddrill

 

The Woodentops – Before During After (Remixes Remasters & Rarities 1982-1992)

With Rolo McGinty's Morrissey-like vocals, The Woodentops took the punk DIY aesthetic and spun it out acoustically but with a rapid-fire drumbeat, which inspired many zeitgeist DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Andrew Weatherall to remix their sound for the London club circuit. Their song 'Why Why Why' actually became an anthem in the Balearic techno scene in 1987, quite unusual for an indie rock band, and paving the way for exciting crossovers in the vibrant indie dance scene of the time. Legendary dub producer Adrian Sherwood was instrumental in steering the band in an electronic direction, and together they laid the groundwork for Madchester and the Factory-inspired British dance revolution. In the end they probably tinkered themselves to death, people enjoying themselves tend to forget about record sales, and the band fizzled out in 1992. There's been a resurgence of interest in The Woodentops recently, with a reunion concert at The Queen Elizabeth Hall on The South Bank in 2009, and artists like Noel Gallagher, Morrissey and even David Bowie acknowledging the influence of the band. London-based label One Little Indian have now released Before During After, a 3-cd anthology with re-mastered versions of the band's 2 studio albums and an extra CD with rarities and remixes.

The beginnings of the band were fairly conventional. Formed in south London in 1982 and initially centred around singer-songwriter Rolo McGinty, The Woodentops were quickly signed to the veteran indie label Rough Trade and their debut single 'Plenty' released in 1985 sounds uncannily like The Smiths' 'William, It Was Really Nothing'! This was shortly followed up with a series of well-received 12 inch singles and the release of their highly-acclaimed debut album Giant in 1986, with its frenetic songs enriched with a wide musical palette and a whole range of percussive devices. Their live shows became very celebrated, something you can hear clearly from the Balearic live album Hypno Beat Live released in 1987. 1988's Wooden Foot Cops On The Highway featured more guest musicians and a new experimental sound with harder guitars, electronics and drum programming. The band also generated a mass of outtakes and remixes before a third album could be made.

Before During After clearly works on at least 2 major levels. Firstly, it's a welcome reminder of how good their earlier material was. Songs like 'So Good Today', 'Plenty', 'Move Me' and 'It Will Come' all have that whiff of the Smiths about them, both in their execution and the vocal of McGinty. And it's almost impossible not to fall for the wistful charms of songs like 'Travelling Man', 'Love Affairs' and 'Good Thing', of course, from the band's debut Giant.

But CD3 is a real treasure, giving you some kind of idea of the band's ambition and their unexplored potential. Indie dance was never enough for The Woodentops as they handed their sound over to a multitude of producers. You can hear this particularly on songs like the rare 7-minute Arthur Baker dub mix of 'Give It Time', originally featured on the band's earlier material, but this version with a much heavier bass and dance beat. The monster 8-minute Adrian Sherwood mix of 'Why Why Why' contrasts with the slightly shorter Balearic re-edit version on the third CD, more chilled and sunkissed like an 808-State anthem. There's also the 200mph version of 'Get It On' which they served up at Glastonbury in 1987 and which captures something of the band's energy live. But more than that, you've also got some of the rarities, like the bubbling techno of 'I'd Love You Again' and 'Conehead', and the great ambient vibe of 'Children Of Today' with its twin 'Don't', all of which give you some idea of where the band were headed if another album had been made. 'Everybody' at the end seems nostalgic for the past with it's folkie intro, but quickly slips into dance mode to show the band's true colours.

So The Woodentops can count themselves as more than just a footnote of musical history, engineering a pivotal moment in the fluid music scene at the end of the 80s. They embraced the club scene and partied hard. Paul Oakenfold puts it well when he describes the response to 'Why Why Why' which became a Balearic party anthem: "It was the last record on at Amnesia, this 150 bpm version, with the crowd cheering along to it. It sounded so unique, so different. I couldn't believe they were playing this mad record by an English indie band as their last record of the night. The whole place went off."

Matthew Haddrill