Tuesday, December 15, 2020

V/A - Strum & Thrum: A benign reimagining (1983-88)

Howdy everyone.  Before I launch into my spiel (and it's a bit of a wordy one), I just want to acknowledge that any music shared in this entry does not contain that which has recently been made available on Captured Track Records' Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987.   I don't usually do disclaimers, but I have no intention of raising concern or confusion with any associated parties.

Not long ago (mid-August to be exact), I teased the release of a much anticipated double LP compilation, specifically the one I named above that was due to drop this fall.  In fact, I just offered a couple sentences and a YouTube link, and didn't even have a proper link to send you at the time to glean more details about the album.  In the ensuing weeks and months more information on Strum & Thrum was made public, a release date for a limited edition, colored vinyl version was set for a late-October Record Store Day "drop," and currently, it's more widely available, digitally as well as on wax.  For those of you who've done your homework on Strum... (and of course, those of you who already own a copy) know what it's premise is all about.  This is Captured Tracks first foray into self-curated, genre-centric compilations, much along the lines of such veteran reissue labels as Rhino and Numero.  The subject couldn't be closer to my site's wheelhouse - college and indie rock circa those collective genre's halcyon, mid-80s era.  S&T was of particular interest to me since it overlapped so overwhelmingly with artists I've been featuring here since 2007.  The compilation features twenty-eight artists - no less than fifteen of whom I've featured on Wilfully Obscure, and have offered nothing but praise for (One Plus Two, The Windbreakers, Primitons, Bangtails, Riff Doctors, The White Sisters and Pop Art to name about half).  This was an unlikely but wholly wonderful coincidence, and I saw a great opportunity to do some cross-promotion with Captured Tracks, not to mention I felt a sincere personal investment, regardless of the fact I had absolutely no role in bringing the album to market.

A few weeks after the news broke, I emailed C/T proposing Wilfully Obscure not only do a typical feature/review of Strum & Thrum, but perhaps something more encompassing like an in-depth interview/deep dive with the parties involved in assembling such a worthy project.  A day later I received a response from C/T's press contact with a link to an advance download of the compilation.  A fine and much appreciated gesture on their part, but no response on my proposal for doing a full-fledged feature as I had hoped for.  A week or so passed and I decided to try again with the same press person, illustrating how much Strum & Thrum tied into my website, but this time, no reply whatsoever.  What was I doing or saying wrong I thought to myself?  Second to reaching out to the people who assembled the compilation, I entertained the idea of interviewing members of one or two of the artists featured on S&T, but quickly came to the conclusion their stories and observations would be limited to their own experiences, and not those of the entire movement writ large.  So I soon abandoned my idea of going "all-out," so to speak and considered scaling down my "dream" feature to one of my standard 400-word reviews.  Certainly better than nothing, right?  Truth is, at the end of the day, due to C/T's apparent disinterest in working with me, my motivation to do anything surrounding the album gradually deflated, much like the sound of trumpets on a game show accompanying a dejected contestant's inadequate spin of the wheel.  The best laid plans of mice and men... (sigh).  Ultimately I didn't do anything at all - until this week.

I have a physical copy of Strum... within two feet of the computer desk I'm situated at.  I love the track selection, adore the roster of artists involved, and think the presentation is peerless, specifically the accompanying book which is terrifically detailed with personal accounts of the bands involved and loads of rare archival photos. An absolutely phenomenal collection, and to put it in perspective, quite literally the Nuggets of my dreams.  Should you have any doubts yourself, examine the tracklist and some screenshots of the package here.  Whomever prepared this collection delved very deep, culling together a delightfully arcane array of indie DIY-ers who were responsible for some phenomenal tunes that never got their moment in the sun or on MTV, much less their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.  Arguably, R.E.M. were the outright inspirational antecedents to many if not most of the group's spotlighted on S&T, but contrary to the compilation’s extended title, there's more than just winsome, jangly chords threading their way through this music.  

So-called college/alternative/left-of(f)-the-dial rock was far more intricate than individual sonic properties, guitar tones, etc.  It was about advancements and modernizations in music itself - progressions which managed to maneuver their way through an overcrowded slipstream, in spite of an exceedingly superficial era saturated with gobs of hairspray and neon visuals, not to mention deeply entrenched, corporate-driven bottom lines.  True, combos like the Crippled Pilgrims, The Darrows, Absolute Grey and Salem 66 (all present on Strum) never got within a mile of breaching mainstream playlists. But every band that garnered a morsel of encouragement or inspiration from a dubbed copy of Murmur, or caought a grainy dispatch on some lower rung of the FM dial in the mid-80s played a role, regardless of how minor, in proving that genuinely organic, melodic and earnest musical notions could rub elbows with the fresh, cutting-edge advances of the day, often yielding something fresh and gratifying in the process.

If the purpose of this piece isn't to promote Strum & Thrum itself, what is?  Almost as soon as I was introduced to the premise of the compilation in question, it dawned on me that I've been excavating the very type of music it entails for a sizable chunk of my life, particularly in the form of essays and digital audio files I share on a weekly basis.  I couldn't help but ask, what if I had selected the S&T roster out of whole cloth?  Not as a foil to the version that officially exists, or even an attempt to outsmart/out-obscure the curators at Captured Tracks, rather just as a fun exercise in what my vision for the album might have amounted to, largely based on music that I've presented on Wilfully Obscure.  In essence, I'm presenting a parallel playlist to Strum... predominantly (though not exclusively) adhering to the same parameters divulged in it's title, consisting of like-minded American artists who released independent records in roughly the same time frame. Twenty-eight songs to be exact, matching the same amount of acts on the official record.  This is purely a celebration of the music - all that it's given me, you and the small microcosm of hearts and ears that have partaken it for four decades, two centuries/millennia and counting.  By the end of the week the goal is to provide links in the tracklist below to the original entries I've posted, although some of the download URLs will have likely expired.  I'm going to try to attend to any of broken links as well, so feel free to check back Sunday or so.  Additionally, there are songs/artists I haven't officially featured here before, some of whom I've just become acquainted with this year, and/or don't own official physical releases of.  Enjoy.

01. Beauty Constant - Ed's Anthem (1987)
02. Dreams So Real - Maybe I'll Go Today (1986)
03. The Shakers - All Tied Up (1987)
04. Buzz of Delight - Southern (1984)
05. Neon Rock Garden (NRg) - Don't Say Baboon (1986)
06. The Big Picture - Poison Town (1986)
07. Even Greenland - Another Place to Hide (1986)
08. The Libertines - Voices From the Past (1986)
09. Cordy Lon - Covering the Ground (1988)
10. The Need - Clandestine Shield (1985)
11. The Pedaljets - Sensual Cardboard Event (1986)
12. Northern Pikes - Teenland (early vers.) (1985)
13. October's Child - I Can't Stand It  (1987)
14. The Blinkies  - Waiting for April (1985)
15. The Lift - Monetary Means (1985)
16. The Bandables - Cynicism (1984)
17. The Spliffs - You Know What They'll Say (1986)
18. The Wake - Lion's Heart (1985)
19. The Reivers (Zeitgeist) - Sound And The Fury (1985)
20. Not Shakespeare - Get Well Soon (1986)
21. Jagged Rocks on the Perimeter - The Soldier And The Painter (1986)
22. Beat Feet - She's on Time (1986)
23. Other Bright Colors - Time Was (1986)
24. Cannon Heath Down - Bone of Contention (1987)
25. Turning Curious - Out Into The Light (1985)
26. Spooner - Walking With an Angel (1986)
27. U Thant - Little Chlorine (1986)
28. The Square Root of Now - Bent Around Corners (1987)



Swanditch said...

Extremely cool! Great idea of adding to a great comp, like your STGH addendum. Thank you very much!

FYI tags look a bit messed up.

Josef Kloiber said...

Thank you very much !!!

Theabs06 said...

This is awesome, thanks much!

Cobber67 said...

Wow, great idea. I love that S&T set, and I expect this will be great too.

whlightnin said...

Thank you, for this and all that you do all year long!

Bruce K. said...

Hello, my friend. Thanks to your original mention I ordered Strum and Thrum. I knew of some of the bands, already loved some of the tracks, and probably could have downloaded for free what I didn't already have, but I wanted to support a fantastic project. Along the lines of what you wrote back then it seemed to be right in the wheelhouse of Willfully Obscure. It's so great.

Looking forward to your "version."

I'll take the time to thank you again for a simply fantastic site. As I have written personally the music from this site helped me through an incredibly challenging time.

One comment on Strum and Thrum (the original): The Bangtails and NOT "While Laughing"? Gawd I love that track and it is all thanks to you.

KraizeeKatt said...

Glorious!! Thank you so much! A fantastic companion to the Strum & Thrum compilation. I was hoping to hear even more artists of this genre. Thank you for sharing!!

jgmoney said...

This is awesome! Proving once again that this blog is a treasure. Thank you Spavid

Unknown said...

Nice shout out to Libertines' Voices From The Past. Bought that 7" from the band when they played at The Grand Emporium. And good to see Pedaljets on your list- those guys were (and still are) the real deal.

M White
Drummer, Bangtails

Bruce K. said...

OK, I have to comment to a drummer from the Bangtails commenting on a Libertines (US) track: Mr. M White, it was thanks to Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover that I learned about The Libertines (although I think there were mentions here). Walt of the Libertines even answered an email in a really nice way! Just a great band. And, for you, Bangtails were amazing. In my alternative world they could have been a phenom. I've played "While Laughing" over and over five or more times more than anyone should admit. Thanks.

spavid said...

I'm just getting a chance to respond to your comments now folks. Thanks again as always for the kind words. Bruce, I'm really flattered that some of the music I've distributed has helped you in some small way. I love "While Laughing" Just as much as "Patron." I'm just plain AMAZED that ANY Bangtails song wound up on that thing.

Yeah, Jack Rabid enlightened me to the Libertines as well.

M White, did the Bangtails record any of their shows, or are there any studio nuggets still in the vault?

Unknown said...

spavid- I don't think there are any studio outtakes from The Bangtails. We only recorded that one record- Hypnotic Downpour. As far as live stuff, I have a board tape on cassette from the Blue Note in Columbia MO, but it's not mixed right for release. I don't know what Archer or Mike have. The only decent live recording of The Bangtails was the set we did for Live From Lawrence, from KJHK- Five O'Clock Shadow came from that set. The complete recording may surface one day. I'd love to hear it, if it does.

Bruce K- thanks for the props.

M White

Matthew said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say I prefer this to the Captured Tracks set. Which is truly excellent but . . . maybe feels a bit same-y in a way this one doesn't? Or (more likely) feels like the product of a certain kind of revisionism, where this feels like the work of someone who was there. Either way, with yet another tip-of-the-cap for including the Libertines (a single I first heard during a summer I lived in Ohio; my housemate was absolutely obsessed with it), this is just tremendous. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Mark said...

Thanks for sharing these tracks. The liner notes to S&T are really good, insightful and entertaining. Perhaps it's not surprising that some notes were contributed by Mr. Jon Harrison, of the "Little Hits" blog. Check out his bands The What Gives and The Wilmas for more nuggets from the jangle era.

Pernt said...

I'm sorry that they never got back to you about celebrating the music/compilation in tandem with your own considerable knowledge and efforts. "Strum & Thrum" is one of the best comps I've ever purchased... the music is hitting every single sweet spot I have inside me. And your "alternate universe" sister collection is just as awesome. Over the last few days I've been overdosing on college/indie/jangle goodness of the highest caliber. Thanks so much for your review, and your curating skills.

spavid said...

Thanks for the latest round of comments folks. I guess it made sense for C/T to interview Jon Harrison as he was actually a participant in that scene.

Really appreciate the kind words Pernt. Was thinking, if the only negative thing that happened to me this year was being ignored by C/T, I'd regard myself as extremely lucky.

mercvrial said...

I used to see Not Shakespeare play in Richmond, VA during the mid/late-80s. Looked them up on Spotterflies and the name is taken by a hip-hop artist. Oh well...