Christ, it’s taken nearly 30 years - but the first round of Felt LP reissues is here. Hope it goes without saying that all five of these lavishly/ludicrously titled albums - Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty (1982), The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories (1984), The Splendour of Fear (1984), Ignite The Seven Cannons And Set Sail For The Sun (1985) and The Seventeenth Century (formerly Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death, 1986) - demand a place in your heart. Collectively they pretty much represent the high watermark of Romanticism in independent British pop/rock. Untold hundreds of bands came up in the 80s drawing from the same kitty of influences - VU, 60s Dylan, Byrds, Modern Lovers - but few wrested those influences into something as strange and compelling and durable as Lawrence's troupe did across their ten album, ten single, ten year lifespan.
Fully remastered, pressed on heavyweight vinyl and housed in gatefold sleeves, these deluxe editions may not be the originals but they feel definitive. Choosing one to recommend above all should be hard, but in fact it’s dead easy: it can only be Crumbling. Strange Idol arguably has the stronger songs, Splendour is more mature and accomplished, but after all this time it’s still the subdued teenage psychedelia of Crumbling that makes you melt, that most vividly conjures England's eternal autumn, and takes you back to your very own LOST DOMAIN… the place from which your whole life and sense of self flows. Exaggeration? Maybe. A bit. But no one can deny that this first iteration of Lawrence’s poetic vision is also the purest...a journey into erotic/narcotic bliss which is that much more powerful for being a work of youthful imagination, rather than lived experience. The sound of becoming - WAY more interesting than the sound of having arrived.
Within moments of hearing ‘Evergreen Dazed’ again - has there ever been a better album opener? - it's obvious that Crumbling's deeper mysteries remain intact. Maurice Deebank’s celebrated stained-glass guitar gleam - no mere jangle but certainly courtly, folkish, droning, out-of-time - speaks more eloquently of suburban frustration and longing than words ever could. Lawrence’s recognition of this, as much as his own songwriting gift, is his genius - he allows Deebank the room to “sing” lead throughout.
Crumbling is also Felt’s most effortlessly avant-garde statement, with a sound and mood every bit as distinctive and sustained as, say, Unknown Pleasures'. It feels like less an album and more like one song divided into six parts, each dissolving into the next. Its arrangements are brittle and minimalist, but they open up lush, aqueous swirls of negative space. Lawrence eschews easily identifiable lyrics in favour of a blurred vocal impressionism...a near-spoken Reed/Verlaine drawl pared down to its vowels-and-sibilance essence). And Gary Ainge's drumming is inspired - all rolling toms, with (famously) no cymbals, and nary a snare in sight either...all adding to the dreamlike, cyclical, liquid-days feel of it all. Not just the best record of the week, this, but the best record we've ever stocked, probably the best record we ever will stock.
"Our real fans haven't been born yet," Lawrence used to assure his demoralised bandmates. Well...you're here now.
VRYSTAETE | LP | £17.99
The wonderful Vrystaete label (Brannten Schnure, Brunnen) strikes again with this gorgeous vinyl treatment of the invisible-til-now self-titled Bebe Fang CS release from nearly a decade ago, a longtime personal favourite of label head Martijn, who adds an extra track (‘One Ear’) to make an already singular work even better. Singular in a very literal sense because this is the only music the Dutch duo of Berber Visser and Keimpe Koldijk ever recorded, and into which they clearly poured enough pathos to endure ten years and then some - indeed there's a semi-tragic ‘lost recordings’ feel to Bebe Fang of the kind that is so often manufactured these days but feels incredibly genuine here.
Like nearly everything on Vrystaete, the ghost of Nico looms large, but Visser's hot-mic'd vocals, for all their submerged gothic intensity, admit a more soulful inflection than Christa P - and, combined with tape-hiss-shrouded, three-note basslines, the overall affect is rather trip-hop - if trip-hop owed more to the suppurating electro-acoustics and he industrial drones of Zwartjes, Lustmord and Mauve Sideshow. But as much we try to invoke the influences or references of artist who’ve gone before, Bebe Fang resist. There is no homage here. No trying to be someone else. Bebe Fang sounds like two people undressing their home studio until they’re left with just a mic and a synth and, if they could, they’d do away with them too. "When the lights go out / There is nothing to be found / Except my bones in the ground." Far from being a funeral march, this record is a resounding validation of LIFE, and stunning viewed from any/every angle. Edition of 150 in hand-screen-printed sleeves.
SPACE INVADERS ARE SMOKING GRASS
VIEWLEXX | 12" | £8.99
The Viewlexx reissue series reaches its inevitable apex with I-f's 1997 (!) proto-electroclash anthem 'Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass' - an eternal rave classic, and eternal underground POP classic, whichever way you look at it. It's joined here by its natural companion 'Playstation 2' (with that nearly as iconic, dancefloor-napalming bassline) along with the more minimal, twisted and contemporary-feeling 'Secret Desire' and the previously unreleased, severely cracked hip-hop joint 'Us And Ours And You And Yours'. Essential 12".
EYES OF A KEY
PEOPLES POTENTIAL UNLIMITED | LP | £16.99
F****d-in-the-head, brutally repetitive DIY drum-and-vocal loops from Mix-O-Rap on PPU, apparently recorded while he was in prison, using the music room's keyboards, in a concerted attempt to blend go-go, hip-hop, house and drum-bass into a "a new pattern of beats with a DJ sway".
Success? Not sure. I mean, NO. But the results are...compelling.
"I need a perfect mix sound so I used a reverb gate, small room because I was in a small room. I used my moms blankets to trap the sound waves in the room. I use a digital mic from radio shack and was rapping with a blanket over my head to trap the sound waves. I played my keys in F flat to deepen the tone. I put tom toms on it to fill the spaces with handclaps to have that snap. Then I put a reverb gate on every instrument to get the lo-fi audio sound. I mastered it with all knobs on zero. Equalizer on zero. I mastered my own sound by tweeking and listening with cheap headphones. So that's why I call myself Mix-0-Rap because I master my mix and DJ rap style with a touch go-go rapping."
Listen to the clips to judge whether this is for you, suffice to say it's a strange kick but also an addictive one. Also favourite title of the year (Eyes Of A Key, it just gets under your skin eh?), and killer artwork: not just the prison-view of the front cover but also the collage on the back: which sees M-O-R's grinning mug grafted onto photos of Obama, Paris Hilton and Cap'n Jack Sparrow. The full package.