Flipsides & Otherwise: FAO #3

faoWith the musical format wars raging ferociously between bands, fans, record labels and the Internet, it seems like all curious forms of physical artefacts are sticking their heads gingerly but defiantly above the parapets. With this latest FAO instalment, we look at three attempts to bravely resuscitate the undervalued and ego-less ‘split-single’. Lest we forget that such couplings have a true historical importance to the alt. rock world. From ‘Mudhoney b/w Sonic Youth’ on Sub Pop and ‘Nirvana b/w The Jesus Lizard’ on Touch & Go, through the multi-artist EPs of Fierce Panda Records and on to the great (but sadly defunct) subscribers-only 7” with Devil In The Woods magazine, the humble split-single has generously delivered a vast canon of obscure gems and bogeyed oddities. The question is, does this below set of split-singles help or hinder the cause to keep shortform cross-band affairs away from the dustbin of nostalgia, especially when cover versions are involved?

 

 

Tanya Donelly / Luff – Heart of Gold b/w Tell Me Why (American Laundromat Records)

This lovingly-packaged slice of semi-transparent gold plastic comes as a taster for the Cinnamon Girl – Women Artists Cover Neil Young charity compilation, due out in October of this year. Pitting an established Amerindie-heroine (Tanya Donelly) against a barely-known Brooklyn all-girl trio (Luff) is a pretty unfair fight and the ensuing results are certainly predictable. Donelly’s deliciously gooey vocal cords make for a comfortable conduit for “Heart of Gold”, in much the same way that they did for Gram Parsons’s “Hot Burrito #2” during her Belly days. At the rear, Donelly’s band (including husband Dean Fisher and ace Boston producer Paul Q. Kolderie) deserve much credit for imposing a swooning accordion-driven spin – strangely reminiscent of prime-time 10,000 Maniacs – upon the original’s dour strum and harmonica-wheezing. Overwhelmed by a confident and resurgent elder stateswoman, Luff’s fuzzy and well-intentioned cover of “Tell Me Why” sounds like somewhat lumbering and dated in comparison, recalling erstwhile Breeders-wannabes Magnapop with its meandering though not hateful murkiness. To really have made this communal slab of the crackly stuff leap from ‘definitely-worth-finding’ to ‘must-hunt-down-now’ status, the substitution of Luff’s “Tell Me Why” with Kristin Hersh’s much-anticipated rendering of “Like A Hurricane” (also cut for the same upcoming tribute collection) would have been just the ticket, especially for veteran Throwing Muses followers. All in all though, as charity singles go, this generously gives back as much it receives as well as hinting at further delights to come on its parent compendium.

Visit: www.alr-music.com

 

The Monincs / Zinade – Girl On A Swing b/w Soon (Duophonic)

Okay, so this isn’t strictly a segregated dual-band 7”, given that both sides feature similar configurations of Laetitia ‘Stereolab’ Sadier’s Monade and Chicago art-rockers The Zincs, tackling two songs originally by British psychedelic-pastoralist Kevin Ayers. From the two tracks that nuzzle against the stylus, “Girl On A Swing” – with chief Zinc Jim Elkington’s lean tones to the fore, Sadier’s distinctive Gallic harmonies draped all around him and a balmy brass-led bossanova groove to guide them both along – is certainly the keeper from this soon-to-be-rare record. Even with the well-chosen vocal roles repeated though, the flipside of “Soon” is a little weaker in contrast, with Elkington sounding a little out-of-place in an overly-clever and kitsch cabaret-like setting that smacks of a neat idea overstretched beyond its one-song reach. Still, for fans of both bands – and of course Stereolab – this is another highly-desirable item to add to the already-heaving shelves and hard-drives of non-album rarities.

Visit: www.duophonic.co.uk

 

Vera November / Jens Lekman / Taken By Trees / Joel Gibb – Four Songs By Arthur Russell (Rough Trade Records)

Those overly-obsessed with Rough Trade’s convoluted discography – both before and after the label’s early-‘90s collapse – should certainly be conversant with the contrary avant-garde wares of the dear departed Arthur Russell. With a diverse canon that took in both classical compositions and leftfield disco, Russell was certainly a musician’s musician, with a heroically obscure vision that is/was inspiring to other artists, even if casual listeners failed to grasp his importance. Consequently, his unexploited catalogue is well-poised for the reinterpretation process, as this impressive 4-song/4-artist tribute CDEP attests. Vera November (AKA Verity Susman of Electrelane) provides a strong opening introduction by tackling the bittersweet “Our Last Night Together”. With her plaintive rolling piano lines wrapping-up her slender choirgirl tones, Susman taps into a rich melancholic seam that sustains itself for the remaining three tracks. Swedish pop-experimentalist Jens Lekman deconstructs the plaintive devotional paean of “A Little Lost” with a distinctly non-rock combination of his wispy vocal and a kalimba. Fellow Swede Victoria Bergsman (former chanteuse of The Concretes) makes over “Make 1, 2” under her new Taken By Trees alias, with a lovely lo-fi blur of guitar, clarinet and her child-like tones. However, it’s Hidden Cameras ringleader Joel Gibb who steals the EP’s heart and soul with his transcendental acoustic take on Russell’s previously electro “That’s Us / Wild Combination”. Together, these four unfamiliar songs exhale with a fresh collective breath, that provides a sweetly enticing road into the overlooked work of a genuinely eccentric pioneer.

Visit: www.roughtraderecords.com