Flipsides & Otherwise: FAO #2

faoScrewing with this column’s formula already, this time around we have a more indirect look at the world of non-album obscurities, as three distinctively different rarities compilations go beneath this scribe’s critical scalpel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The For Carnation – Promised Works (Touch & Go)

Although Slint spawned a sea of sonic descendants after 1991’s seminal Spiderland LP – both directly (via guitarist David Pajo’s work with Tortoise and Aerial/Papa M) and indirectly (through disciples like Mogwai, Chavez, Explosions In The Sky, ad infinitum) – no-one has really had the courage to extend upon frontman Brian McMahan’s almost-peerless lyrical/vocal/atmospheric presence. Except for the man himself that is, who sporadically released records as the head of The For Carnation between 1995 and 2000 – a loose collective that featured past/present members of Slint and Tortoise, as well as stray Louisville musicians. Whilst 2000’s full-length eponymous affair has remained in print on Touch & Go, the group’s two earlier and arguably more defining EPs for Matador – 1995’s Fight Songs and 1996’s Marshmallows – have been painfully missing from existence. Reissued again (after the obscure Runt label compiled them in 1997), Promised Works reassuringly returns the formative entries in McMahan’s slim post-Slint catalogue back to record stores. Slintheads who found the aforementioned long-player from 2000 sorely lacking in range and dynamic will undoubtedly be pleased to (re)discover that these fledgling For Carnation cuts are far more diverse and purposeful. The three terrific instrumental pieces – namely the twangy “How I Beat The Devil”, the unsettling bass/guitar mangling “I Wear The Gold” and the slow-grinding “Preparing To Receive You” – are all stirringly compelling. Elsewhere, deathless electric-guitar-and-voice minimalism proves to be both claustrophobically chilling (“Grace Beneath The Pines”) and plaintively pretty (“On The Swing”). The sparse yet sweet pipe-organ-driven ballad “Imyr, Marshmallow” is the biggest – and indeed uncharacteristically romantic – curveball for the unconverted/converted alike. Aside from these unexpected measures, the slow-mo spookiness of “Winter Lair” and “Salo” acts as a clearer bridge between what came before and after, for McMahan’s overlooked and work-shy talents. A more than justified reprint all told, though a few marks should definitely be knocked-off for not appending the utterly sublime “Alfredo’s Welcome”, from 1997’s What’s Up Matador label sampler.

Visit: www.touchandgorecords.com

 

Clinic – Funf (Domino)

With Clinic’s four ‘official’ studio albums having been plagued by the law of diminishing returns, opting for a temporary – or even permanent – cessation in new activities on the back of an archival clearance initiative, seems like a shrewd side-step for the momentum-losing Liverpudlians. With the band’s reputation for strong EPs preceding them, dredging-up all the non-album tracks could be a greater face-saver than the group’s regulation surgical masks. Frustratingly however, for an operation so big on anti-cliché (or at least anti-other-people’s-clichés), Funffalls for the corny ‘make things flow as if it were a normal record’ obscurities compiling cop-out. There’s a whole raft of exclusions (notably the coruscating fan-favourite “Cutting The Grass”) from the annoying non-chronological sequenced selection, that only clocks in at a measly 29 or so minutes. Pretty much every extracurricular Clinic cut could easily have been squeezed in for a blistering warts ‘n’ all blow-out for the quartet’s demented driving organs, Germanic vocal-phrasing, strychnine guitars and cavernous Spector-ish drums, had not selfish stubbornness been jammed in the way. Putting semi-geriatric completionist gripes aside though, Funf turns out to be, against such odds, the best Clinic collection since 2000’s Internal Wrangler. Whilst Clinic’s idiom has always been about rawness and minimalism, the band can actually be rabidly eclectic when the combined imagination is put to work; as it resolutely is, for the bulk of these erstwhile flipsides. Thus, you can find (deep breath); a mangled vocal-less homage to Pet Sounds (“The Majestic”), hunks of delirious garage-rockabilly (“Nicht” and “Magic Boots”), a fuzz-rock polka (“Dissolution; The Dream of Bartholomew”), serrated surf instrumentals (“The Scythe” and “You Can’t Hurt You Anymore”), blatant Suicide eulogising (“The Castle”) and eerie Krautrock-meets-Lord of The Rings cross-breeding (“Christmas”), all in the space of just 12 jagged nuggets. So, even though the prescribed-dose may seem overly-frugal, Funf certainly still contains a lethal-dose of aurally-administered medication.

Visit: www.clinicvoot.org

 

James Yorkston – Roaring The Gospel (Domino)

For all the inherent sincerity and talent invested in Scots folk revivalist James Yorkston, it’s been hard to find one solid and representative body of recordings between his three ‘proper’ albums to date. This can partly be attributed to Yorkston’s weakness for slightly staid productive values, as well as an inability to translate the rough-hued geniality of his live shows into a sustained audience-free sitting. However, the overarching reason may have a lot more to do with Yorkston squirreling-away a glut of his more organically-fashioned and inventive wares on to a hyper-productive plethora of vinyl-only singles/EPs, compilation contributions and DIY CDRs. In fact, by this stage, there’s probably almost as much Yorkston material floating around on ‘unofficial’ channels as there is on his easily-obtainable ‘mainstream’ trio of LPs on Domino. Thankfully though, Yorkston and his primary label patrons have seen sense enough to scoop-up a soupcon of such output into Yorkston’s most endearing and necessary long-playing dispatch to date. As with Clinic’s Funf, this gathering does have its glaring omissions (the spine-tingling strings-version of “6:30 Is Just Way Too Early” and the captivating “Catching Eyes” for starters) and it could so easily have been a double or triple disc compendium, but somehow the 12 well-picked songs supply a finely-balanced bounty of lo-to-mid-fi treasures. Jewels amongst the jewels include; the lovely jug band-like whimsy of “Blue Madonnas”, the jazzy “Are You Coming Home Tonight?”, the original ‘n’ warmer “Moving Up Country, Roaring The Gospel”, a serene take on Tim Buckley’s “Song To Siren”, the King Creosote-backed “Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk”, the folk-pop trotting of “Sleep Is The Jewel” and the exceptional Gastr Del Sol-indebted experimentalism of “The Long Toun”. Where Yorkston’s muse will take him from here is unclear, but he’d certainly be well-advised to carry-over this anthology’s spirit of ingenuity, playfulness and honesty on to his next regular studio engagement.

Visit: www.jamesyorkston.co.uk