Friday, 15 June 2012

Stand Up For Art Rock

Stand Up For Art Rock (Because Space Rock Is Over), 1997 (VHF Records)

This compilation has become something of a reference point for me: it got me into things I would come to love, especially Richard Youngs and Wingtip Sloat. It came at a point in my life when I was just getting into post-rock (though I hate the term now it seemed fine in the 90s) and embracing things odd/experimental/psych/drone, or “out-rock” as Depth Charge in York used to label it. The CD isn't as obscure as I first though as copies are easily available on Discogs. However, it was a promo sent only sent out to shops and I've never seen another one in real life. I bought my copy for 50p in Borderline Records in Brighton (in January 1998) simply because it contained a Flying Saucer Attack song and it was so cheap. There were two things that stood out with this comp.

First, this is the oddest promo that I've ever come across due to a combination of self-deprecating wit and bizarre interludes. The insert seemed to my 17-year-old self to be the funniest thing I'd ever read: the owner [?] of VHF mocking himself, the label's sales, and the bands. I still find it funny today: “Rake is one of those prolific bands that no one likes”; “the unsold copies [of a Rake CD] represent a financial fiasco second only to Wingtip Sloat's Chewyfoot CD”; “Dave Pearce really is a coal miner, they are not American college kids pretending to be English, and Rachel Brook is 6 feet tall, not 7”. Then there are the interludes, mainly field recordings and answer-phone messages with the expletives removed – childish and pointless but I never tire of hearing them. Perhaps the highlight is an extract from “You the man” – a tribute to the Washington Bullets, which can be seen in full here To this day it remains the only hip hop song that I own.

Second, there's the music and the reason why this compilation is a must have, especially the presence of Wingtip Sloat. The comp includes the early Sloat track “Sickle”, which didn't make it onto to the Add This To The Rhetoric compilation. It sounds like little else they've done in that it has a chorus, a catchy melody, and a lilting pastoral feel to it – I suppose “Unique Scenic Drive” on Chewyfoot is about the nearest they came to repeating this sound. I immediately became a Sloat fan on hearing it and that song became a staple for every mixtape I made for the next few years – I'd still say it's my favourite bit of Sloatery. The other Sloat track “Holiday Blowjob” made it onto If Only For The Hatchery and “apparently this song is actually about Monday Night Football”, which still makes me giggle like my teenage self. I still don't understand how Pavement got to be popular and Wingtip Sloat didn't. For proof of the genius of Sloat go to: The rest of the music is pretty good too and features FSA, Rake, Doldrums, Pelt, Double U, The Rake/Pelt Big Band, and Richard Youngs & Simon Wickham-Smith. I ended up getting into most of these things and have this comp to thank/blame for it.

I love how a speculative purchase could change the way I think about music and get me into a whole range of odd things. It all comes back to my habit of rifling through bargain bins and taking a chance on something suitably interesting – perhaps the best 50p I've ever spent.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

On housing in York: what would Lewis Mumford do?

York doesn't get much coverage in the national press for some reason – probably because it's pretty nice and not much happens here. So I was surprised to find a feature on the Guardian's Northerner blog about housing problems in the city. The posts can be found here:

I got a bit carried away in the comments section under the name Stupidpuma (how I love Don Cabellero references). Anyway, it turned into a little essay so I thought I'd put a slightly amended version on here. I'm interested in the big picture here – the general problems faced in the city and the type of solution needed. This is off the top of my head and not the product of research. I will probably produce some in-depth pieces on planning and architecture in specific parts of the city but it's important to have a eutopian vision of a possible future.

The situation in York is simple: demand outstrips supply and this inflates the price of renting across the board, though that's not to say that the cost of buying isn't prohibitive. York simply needs more housing, particularly more affordable housing and a radical solution is required. There are two key issues: firstly, the more important one of people being forced to live in unsuitable conditions and simply being unable to afford the rents anywhere in the city; secondly, there is the question of maintaining the city's identity and the problem of new developments. However, to me it seems that finding a solution of the second issue will help solve the first.

If we look to what has happened within the city within the last ten years then it's been shiny new developments aimed primarily, it would seem, at young professionals. Given the cost of land and a free market then this is not surprising. The problem is that most of these developments have been poorly designed and planned – anyone who does not believe me should take a walk down Skeldergate (a couple of buildings still indicate what a beautiful street this was, although admittedly much of the damage was done over 50 years ago). Quite simply, most new developments in the city are architecturally bankrupt but this of course has been the case for the last 50 years. A city with such beautiful medieval, early modern, Georgian, and Victorian architecture needs modern architecture of the highest standard. Given York's reliance on the tourist industry, it is vital to maintain the integrity of the city.

Part of what makes York special is its size – it lacks suburban sprawl and one can easily walk to the city's edge from the centre. This means that the population density is already high – building up and building out are not viable options. There are definitely pockets of deprivation in the city and any local can tell you where these are, but of course they are not visible to the tourist, nor are they visible from the main routes in and out of the city. York's a wonderful place to visit and it's a wonderful place to live if you have the money, but as the Guardian article highlights, it's far less idyllic for those struggling to get by. I'm appalled by suggestions (in the comments section of that blog) that people should be forced to leave the city and move elsewhere. It may well be cheaper to live in Hull, Leeds, Selby, Bradford, Doncaster, or Scarborough but do people really imagine that 'economic cleansing' is justifiable? Plus how would the low-paid residents of York benefit from moving away from the city in which they work? I find it hard to believe that anyone would seriously suggest such measures. Only I don't find it that surprising given that it would seem to be government policy.

The solution I propose solution is hardly my own and relies on some neglected and misunderstood ideas about urban planning. York already boasts a garden village in New Earswick and needs to further embrace the principles of Ebenezer Howard. I would suggest a new settlement built just beyond the city's greenbelt with a good proportion of the properties being either classed affordable or social housing, but it must provide a mixture of accommodation and appeal across the economic spectrum – it also must be provided with the appropriate infrastructure to become a viable community in itself. Such a settlement should, like the city, be contained in size and I'd suggest a maximum of 30,000 in line with Howard's thinking. But it must also be a place where people chose to live and want to bring up their families – I suspect that the prospect of more space and cheaper prices will tempt plenty of people from the city itself. The design of settlement must be of the highest quality in terms of layout, architecture, and environmental impact – it should be a model for new developments. Building outside of the city would also ease congestion and a rail link must be built, or it must be situated close to existing lines.

I realise that I may be accused of hypocrisy given I'm suggesting that people will have to leave the city centre and move elsewhere. However, this solution is in no way intended to create a ghetto for those who can't afford to live in the city – rather an alternative for those who seek better living conditions or those who want a bigger house for their families. It would also allow people to remain within reach of their extended families if their roots are in the city. It may well be possible to meet some demand by building affordable housing in the city – both the 'teardrop' site near the station and Bootham Crescent are possible locations. However, I doubt these would be long-term solutions as they are very limited in size. I would propose strict limits on new building within the walls (and other limits without) and an end to the ugly and inappropriate developments that blight the city. Put simply, the population of the city cannot continue to increase continually without the integrity of the city being undermined, either through becoming a sprawling conurbation or by being overwhelmed by yet more blocks of flats.

I recognise that my suggestions involve watering down the principles of the garden city ideal, but (unfortunately) Howard's views on ownership would be derided as extreme socialis. Of course, I recognise how unlikely it is that such a project could ever come to fruition but I cannot see the situation described in the article improving unless drastic steps are taken. You have to ask yourself: what would Lewis Mumford do?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Raymond – Swelling Violins/Use Lye 7"

Raymond – Swelling Violins/Use Lye 7”, 1998[?] (First Love)

This is the first in a series of small features on obscure records that I own and know virtually nothing about.

I have no idea about how many of these 7”s were pressed – part of me thinks it can't be that obscure as I bought it in a UK record shop (Edgeworld in Brighton to be precise). My reason for doing so was that it featured Stephen Immerwahr from Codeine on bass. I naively expected this to sound like Codeine, but instead it's ramshackle lo-fi in the vein of early Pavement, Butterglory, or Wingtip Sloat. There are some impressive high-pitch yelps, which I assume is the singer backing himself, unless it's Mr Immerwahr letting himself go (though he's not credited with backing vocals). I have no idea why I like this record so much but both songs have that wonderful quality where it feels like they're going to fall apart at any moment, but somehow the band keep it together enough to get to the end – I'm a sucker for that. Swelling Violins also has a killer melody and it's just a great (albeit scuzzy) pop song that gets stuck in your head. Interestingly, the singer is listed as “J. Donovan” – it really could have been the most demented supergroup of all time but alas it wasn't that one. It's difficult to find anything about this record – no listing on Discogs and the only official recognition I can find is a reference of Codeine's website ( I assume this was the band's only release and it's a shame they did nothing else.

Simon Joyner – Five Lyrics

I was meant to write a piece on Simon Joyner for my friend's magazine SALT, but the feature on cult artists was delayed – in part because I never wrote the piece on Simon Joyner as a cult artist. The process of thinking about that article got me wondering about why it is I like Simon Joyner so much. None of his albums would make my all-time top twenty records, but I've taken the time to collect nearly everything he's recorded (with the exception of a couple of hard-to-find cassettes). Why did I go to this trouble? The reason why I tracked it all down is because he doesn't write bad songs – everything he's written is worth listening to. The only other songwriter I can say that about is Jason Molina. He's also a rare example of an artist who hasn't deteriorated over time – in fact, for the most part, he's improved with each LP. It's impossible to distil what is so impressive about his songwriting so all I could think to do was to pick a few examples of his brilliance.

There are many recurring characters in his songs, most notably Sara and Josephine. Maybe they're real people, maybe they're not – and even if they're real it doesn't mean the stories are true. The songs are fiction and I doubt you could really find that much about their creator if you wanted to. For one, Joyner is much lighter and more approachable in person that many of the characters that inhabit his songs, and I doubt he's suffered all the traumas they have. There's so much I could say about his songwriting but I should let some of his own words do the talking.

It's anomie
Lonely boy why don't you go see a show
It's a sure-fire cure
Pretend the drumbeat is your heart

From Double Joe, Room Temperature LP, 1993 (One Hour records; reissued by Jagjaguwar in 2005)

I can't think of any other song that uses the word “anomie”, though no doubt there are some. I had this song, along with a few others, on a mix-tape before I owned any Simon Joyner records and it was only when I got the LP with lyric sheet was it confirmed that's what he was actually singing. In fact I once asked him about it and he said that people tended to think he was singing “its enemy”, which really wouldn't make sense.

Take her to the movies Friday
Just to see Paul Newman's eyes

From Flowers On Her Birthday, The Motorcycle Accident EP, 1999 (Room Tone)

Flowers on Her Birthday is my favourite Simon Joyner song, perhaps because I'm a sentimental fool. There is nothing I can say about these words other than that they are perfect.

I had to cut out for some fresh air on the landing
But all I got was the smell of rotten fruit rising up from the alley

From Evening Song To Sally, Lost With the Lights On LP, 2004 (Jagjaguwar)

I could have chosen pretty much any line in this song as all six verses are so wonderfully crafted. However, there's something so evocative about these lines – for one they imply a stifling, claustrophobic heat without this being mentioned explicitly at all. I've always been able to picture the scene in my mind and where it takes place. The song continues “Suddenly I realised I wasn't young anymore and I was still hiding out from your daddy / I had spent so long loving you” - there's something Proustian about those lines and the realisation of the passing of time.

I was jamming my hands in my pockets
I swear I was zero at the bone

From One For the Catholic Girls, 7”, 1998 (Wurlitzer Jukebox; compiled on Beautiful Losers, Jagjaguwar, 2006)

With many of his songs there is an explicit reference to the weather or temperature – perhaps it's something to do with living in Nebraska. This captures something that I'd never even noticed before, at least not consciously: pushing your hands in your pockets as far as they'll go and then keeping on pushing even though its utterly futile – you can only break the seam or hurt your fingers. You do it because you're cold, but maybe you do it more because you're anxious or upset.

As long as it's fast I don't care if it's food

From The Simultaneous Occurrence of True Love and Nausea at a South Omaha Burger King Oct 12, 1992, Iffy cassette compilation, 1993, (Unread Records; later reissued on vinyl)

Humour is perhaps most effective when you don't expect it and it's perhaps not the quality most people associate with Simon Joyner. To a point this is a portrait of (sub)urban mundanity but he puts such cutting words in the mouths of its protagonists, including “Who do you think you are boy? H. L. Mencken?”. As ever, the devil is the detail.


Black Dogs and Yellow Birds