FAO#30: 16 Horsepower, The Raincoats & Teenage Fanclub

With seemingly as many new records hitting music store shelves as reissue or retrospective produce in recent times, keeping up with both streams of relentless output can be pretty damn exhausting for completionist connoisseurs with diverse tastes.  There’s simply no breather from it all anymore, particularly in this year’s post-summer release schedule surge.  Hence, the need for this column to once again excavate a few archival wares from the avalanche and wrap them up in one ostensibly tidy if unthematic bundle.

16 Horsepower – Yours Truly (Glitterhouse Records, 2CD/double-vinyl/digital)

16 Horsepower - Yours Truly

Led by the grandson of a preacher man (David Eugene Edwards), 16 Horsepower’s dense canon – gathered through a 1992-2005 existence – has certainly been gently crying-out for a distilled anthology.  Seeped in Deep South imagery and spiritually-slanted prose, Edwards’ songs for 16HP were never easy to assimilate, particularly when channelled through his untamed tones and high-tension group delivery.  But through compiling 12 fan-chosen EP and album tracks alongside 13 b-sides/rarities – that are split respectively across two discs – with Yours Truly Germany’s Glitterhouse label has shone less intimidating new light on 16HP’s highly-spirited and bold career.

Crudely speaking, 16HP scavenged spilled seeds from the classic early-’80s line-up of The Gun Club, Nick Cave’s pre-Tender Prey gothic scene-setting and the desert-baked heavy rock of Thin White Rope, before sowing them across fields of raw blues, hillbilly country, Appalachian folk and twangy cow-punk.  With the ‘best of’ disc slanted heavily towards extracts from the band’s inaugural years – somewhat disbelievingly on major label A&M – it’s clear that 16HP peaked quickly on embryonic energy.  Hence, fledgling ‘hits’ like the biblical banjo-fired “Black Soul Choir,” the tremulous “American Wheeze,” the searing apocalyptic “For Heaven’s Sake” and the magnificent slide-driven “Haw” burn with the greatest fire and brimstone drama.  That said, extracts from the latter-years still hold merit, particularly when switching intensity for intimacy, with the atmospheric Your Funeral… My Trial-indebted “Hutterite Mile” and the aching acoustic shimmering of “Strawfoot” being particular stand-outs.  Although the second CD’s miscellaneous offcuts are perhaps only of real interest and reward to the loyal fans who helped to select tracks for the first CD, there are some nuggets to be found; such as a more rustic radio session version of “Black Soul Choir,” a murky slow-mo rebuild of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” a prowling twisted rewiring of Rainer Ptacek’s “De-Railed!” and less oppressive demo recordings of “Cinder Alley” and “Poor Mouth.”

Overall, this is a highly creditable collection that positively reawakens the recorded legacy of a brave and uncompromising band that might too easily have been forgotten about or lazily-filed in the Americana annals.

The Raincoats – Odyshape (We Three Records, CD/vinyl/digital)

The Raincoats - Odyshape

When it comes to focussing in on the actual original recorded work of The Raincoats, historical obstacles have often proven to be a distraction.  With the band’s original albums floating in and out of print for the last 30+ years, The Raincoats’ biography is better known via references to Rough Trade’s late-‘70s/early-‘80s hippie-punk years, as a footnote in the Nirvana story due to Kurt Cobain’s smitten fandom and through the indelible direct/indirect impact on everyone from Throwing Muses and PJ Harvey to Sleater-Kinney and Scout Niblett.  Thankfully though, now that the band has apparently secured self-releasing control of its back catalogue, the core musical tale is finally being re-told more directly, albeit in piecemeal chapters.  So following on then from the 2009 reissue of the eponymous 1979 debut, out again comes possibly The Raincoats’ most obtuse yet influential long-player, Odyshape. 

Having lost the services of erstwhile Slits drummer Palmolive after the first LP, the trio of Ana da Silva (vocals/guitar), Gina Birch (vocals/bass) and Vicky Aspinall (violin/vocals) regrouped and constructed Odyshape with a string of guest drummers (including Robert Wyatt) adding percussive parts almost as afterthoughts.  This is in part explains the delightfully odd free-from and non-rock flow to Odyshape, through its ego-less instrument swapping and unrestricted genre-bending structures.  Whilst its predecessor was more emblematic of DIY punk aesthetics, Odyshape reached back to the avant-garde edges of The Velvet Underground, soaked-up the multi-cultural cross-pollination of early-‘80s West London, stretched-out with the artistic liberation that the post-punk world encouraged and sonically translated radical left-wing politics into true creative democracy.  Listening with 2011 ears, Odyshape has perhaps only gained in stature for its intrepid inventiveness and otherworldly sensuality.

That’s not to say it’s become significantly more accessible however.  In fact, still only a handful of tracks – like the gorgeously serene “Shouting Out Loud” and the reggae-goes-chamber-pop of “Dancing In My Head” stay in one place long enough to feel like borderline-conventional songs.  Predominantly, Odyshape floats, twists and curls into polyrhythmic reveries (“Baby Song” and “Go Away”) or swirls in amorphous atmospherics (“Family Treet” and “Only Loved at Night”), with shared-out untutored vocals proving to be both soothing and unsettling inside the elemental stew of sounds.  Consequently, Odyshape will still take dozens of concerted spins for the previously unfamiliarised to decide whether it’s a love or hate situation.  Crucially though, its place in history is now more assured as a landmark piece of fearless collectivist imagination that few have come close to even attempting since its original appearance.

Teenage Fanclub – Deep Fried Fanclub (Fire Records, CD/digital)

Teenage Fanclub - Deep Fried Fanclub

Whilst Teenage Fanclub’s regular LP canon remains readily available, it’s arguable that it only represents around half of the band’s ongoing output properly.  The Creation Records-affiliated years alone generated a fat boxset’s worth of choice non-album material; peppered with many liberating moments of less self-conscious songwriting, more intimate arrangements, greater experimentation and a bucket-load of inspired cover versions.  Whilst Sony (current custodians of the Creation catalogue) seem stoically uninterested in clearing the rich TFC closet, the resurgent Fire Records holds no aversion to dusting down the band’s early pre-Creation rarities with a repackaged repress of Deep Fried Fanclub, a compilation originally put out in 1995 to mop-up a string of primordial singles, b-sides and rarities put to tape before and around the group’s also soon-to-reappear A Catholic Education debut long-player.

Whilst the finesse, lush harmonies and three-pronged songwriting of TFC’s later records is mainly absent, the core gift for melody and intuitive fraternalism is remarkably evident even inside these naïve, innocent and fuzzy cuts.  Whilst period de rigeur affection for The Jesus & Mary Chain coats most of the 12 tracks in proto-grunge smudginess, TFC’s distinctive Scottish warmth, humour and melancholy bleeds into proceedings throughout.  Hence, first single “Everything Flows” still chugs beautifully and raggedly with California-via-Caledonia charm, as do a scrappy alternative version of “Critical Mass,” the soaring “God Knows It’s True” and the yearning “So Far Gone.” A quartet of covers reveal the group’s deep open love for The Beatles (for an irreverent boisterous but affectionate group sing-along through “The Ballad Of John & Yoko”), Neil Young (with a take on Zuma gem “Don’t Cry No Tears”), Beat Happening (with a blistering makeover of “Bad Seed”) and, of course, Alex Chilton (with a swooning squalling sprint through “Free Again”).  Elsewhere, things are a little more hit and miss, but largely charmingly so.  Thus for “Primary Education” and “Speeeder” (sic) the amps go down in volume and a drum machine splutters up like a lost Sebadoh III outtake; the wordless “Weedbreak” weaves in ugly My Bloody Valentine feedback; and “Ghetto Blaster” has a vocal-free stab at paying homage to early-Joy Division.

Whilst ultimately Deep Fried Fanclub is not quite Hatful Of Hollow, as raids of archive juvenilia go, there is far more happy nostalgic rediscovery than cringing embarrassment inside. In short, this is a worthwhile reissue for all late-arriving Teenage Fanclub archaeologists.