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Self-Quarantining with Seven-Inches, Volume Two

Given the overwhelming success—I finished and posted it, which counts as success in my book—of my previous entry of the Social Distancing Singles Club and the arrival of six reinforcements from Reckless Records in Chicago and my recent reorganization of my seven boxes of singles and the lack of any specific plans for today or any day in the foreseeable future, I’m having another go at listening to and writing about a tall stack of seven-inch singles in one day. Today the number is twenty-five. As the saying goes, “not all heroes wear capes.” I could wear a cape right now though, I’m sure it would amuse my kids.

Emeralds / Fresh Air, Soundesign, 2009

Emeralds' Fresh Air

The Cleveland-based electronic trio Emeralds compiled quite an interesting discography, in which they put five “proper” albums (including the logical starting point for newcomers, 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here) and approximately a million supplemental releases (a closet full of cassettes, splits, EPs, and singles) more typical of a noise act. Their set-up—arpeggiated synths, analog synths, and guitar—allowed for plenty of room for exploration, with tracks ranging from concise and melodic songs (“Candy Shoppe”) to driving arpeggiated material (some of the soundtrack to Stranger Things is incredibly close to Emeralds’ territory) to drifting, pastoral soundscapes. And yet I’ve largely stuck with Emeralds’ major releases or its members’ solo works (Mark McGuire’s Get Lost and Steve Hauschildt’s Tragedy and Geometry in particular) without diving into that vast amount of additional material. This single is a toe-dip, but a promising one; the first untitled song is in the melodic vein and a superlative way to start my day, and the flip is less structured but no less inviting.

Rafael Anton Irisarri / “Hopes and Past Desires” b/w “Watching as She Reels,” Immune, 2009

Rafael Anton Irisarri's 'Hopes and Past Desires'

My initial exposure to Rafael Anton Irisarri was through a few of his collaborative ventures: in 2012 he teamed with Benoît Pioulard as Orcas, and “I Saw My Echo” was a showstopper on their self-titled debut (I need to spend more time with 2014’s Yearning), and in 2017 he worked with Julianna Barwick on Thesis 10, a four-song EP that scans very much as “Would you like to hear Julianna Barwick with processed synths behind her vocal loops?” (unsurprisingly, the answer is “yes”). I saw this single as I flipped through Reckless’s digital catalog of seven-inches and ordered both it and his 2019 album, Solastalgia (which appears to need a second pressing). The b-side of the single, “Watching as She Reels,” is particularly great; Irisarri elevates an already compelling combination of muted synths and piano with an extraordinarily affecting cello performance. As you would expect from a ten-year jump in his catalog, Solastalgia occupies a different space, somewhat reminiscent of mid-period Tim Hecker (Harmony in Ultraviolet and An Imaginary Country), but darker and more introspective.

Les Savy Fav / “Hold onto Your Genre” b/w “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin,” Monitor, 2004

Les Savy Fav's 'Hold onto Your Genre' b/w 'Meet Me in the Dollar Bin'

Les Savy Fav evaporated a year or two after their 2010 album Root for Ruin (its songs sounded better live, but don’t they all), with Seth Jabour and Syd Butler joining Girls Against Boys’ Eli Janney in the band for Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014. (You might think that having those musicians and adding Marnie Stern a few years later would make the show appointment viewing for me, but sleep wins out, time and time again.) They played a couple of shows around the beginning of 2019 and I wondered if anything new would come out of them, but so far, nothing major. Not the best time for a reunion tour, but here’s an idea: put Inches out as a 2LP set. The compilation of nine seven-inch singles originally came out in 2004 as a CD/DVD combo, and featured many of Les Savy Fav’s best songs, including the two on this particular single. It’s true that some of the singles are not hard to come by, but the ones with the best songs, like “We’ll Make a Lover Out of You,” “The Sweat Descends,” and “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin,” are not found in the dollar bin. (I was amused that the sides on my copy of this single were mislabeled, with “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin” playing as the a-side, which is how it should have been anyway.) Reissue this material, throw in the DVD if you so desire, tour when/if the world comes back to normal.

The Karl Hendricks Trio & Mothra / Hooked on Hobbit, Egg Yolk, 1994

The Karl Hendricks Trio / Mothra split

I have plenty of memorably strange seven-inch sleeves, but this split single marked the first time that the record was housed in a fuzzy-textured shirt with a Velcro catch. I’ll buy any vinyl I find from the dearly departed Karl Hendricks, the Pittsburgh indie rocker whose casually scorching leads and humorously confessional lyrics appear on, by my count, nine albums and nine singles, not all of which made it to vinyl. (My personal favorite, 2003’s The Jerks Win Again, was CD-only.) Hendricks also played bass for Damon Che’s Thee Speaking Canaries on The Joy of Wine and Songs for the Terrestrially Challenged, endearingly idiosyncratic and hard-hitting collisions of math-rock and Van Halen cosplay. This particular single is what the kids refer to as a “deep cut,” with Hendricks’ “Catch the Wind” chalking up as a ramshackle, buzzed tale that was smartly kept off of one of his albums. I was previously unfamiliar with Mothra, but judging by their Discogs page, the sleeve design is more in their wheelhouse, with their lone single packaged in red felt and their only full-length album coming in a CD “box.” It would’ve been nice if their sound had been related to the beloved Rodan, but instead it’s fairly nondescript, flanger-heavy indie/alternative rock from the early ’90s.

Pissed Jeans / “Sam Kinison Woman” b/w “L Word,” Sub Pop, 2010

Pissed Jeans' 'Sam Kinison Woman' b/w 'L Word'

I don’t have a great excuse for taking this long to get into Pissed Jeans (long, unbroken stare after typing that phrase), but my gateway for their sludgy, hardcore-derived rock was the band’s hysterically funny videos for “The Bar Is Low,” “Romanticize Me,” and “Bathroom Laughter.” Some bands have inventively humorous videos and dead-serious music, but Pissed Jeans thrive on the juxtaposition between the stereotypically masculine profile of their music and Matt Corvette’s lyrics, which undercut every angle of such perceived bro-posturing with self-deflating commentary and/or willful stupidity. Case in point is the b-side of this single, “The L Word,” a forceful trudge of a song with the lyrics “Love is a word I use to describe / The way I feel inside / I love this pie / I love a good surprise / I love Velvet Sky / I love the Flyers.” It ruminates on those thoughts for six minutes, although according to this informative Facebook post that dives into the song, somewhere there’s a CD-R with a version that goes on for thirteen minutes. I also ordered a copy of the band’s fourth album, Honeys. Corvette runs a monthly music blog called Yellow Green Red that is an excellent read, support your local blogger.

Zach Galifianakis & Ted Leo and the Pharmacists / “Up in Them Guts” b/w “Rock N Roll Dreams'll Come Through,” Chunklet, 2008

Zach Galifianakis / Ted Leo split single

A few years before he broke out in the mainstream with 2009’s The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis released this comedy rap song, which is somehow way, way dumber (and more enjoyable) than even the stock “My name’s So-and-So and I’m here to say / I love rap music in a major way” default. Every aspect of the song is remedial, and yet Fiona Apple appears to drop the hook in the chorus (“If you show me your fanny pack, I’ll show you my fanny”) and the list of call-outs in the outro, returning the favor of Galifianakis appearing in her video for “Not About Love.” (I return to Galifianakis and Will Oldham’s video for Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” once a year and it always delivers.) Chunklet pressed the song, along with a Best Show-related Ted Leo and the Pharmacists track, on a seven-inch in 2008, and I got the “hardcore” cover edition. Ted Leo’s song on the flip side, “Rock N Roll Dreams’ll Come True,” is an excellent, catchy dose of the power pop you’d expect from Leo, although it’s actually written by Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster and originally performed by the Gas Station Dogs on WMFU’s The Best Show. Coming after “Up in Them Guts,” it also serves as a necessary mental reset on what music usually sounds like. Fiona Apple sadly does not appear on it.

Paul Newman / ...Please Wait During the Silence, Twistworthy, 1997

Paul Newman's ...Please Wait During the Silence

Paul Newman was a primarily instrumental band from Austin with two bassists, one of whom named Paul Newman (no, not that Paul Newman), who played a mix of math- and post-rock, with occasional touches of post-hardcore and emo. This 1997 single was their first release and the liner lists their shows to date, all of which were in Texas, only one of which was at a wedding reception. They hadn’t quite found their sound yet—when I learned that a friend once dated Paul Newman of Paul Newman, I asked her if he lived in a chorus pedal factory—and “Clear Baby” goes heavy on the ’90s emo semi-screamed vocals. They released two albums on Trance Syndicate Records, both of which I have on CD somewhere, one album on My Pal God that I own on vinyl, and a final album in 2005 on Emperor Jones that I don’t recall having heard. This particular single was included on a 2001 My Pal God CD compilation of the band’s non-album work called Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package! Re-evaluate the Songs , which also featured “Way to Breathe, No-Breath,” their contribution to a great split single with the band Sonna in which they each played the same song in their respective styles. Drummer Tony Nozero also played in the band Drums and Tuba, bassist Edward Robert is also in I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, and guitarist Craig McCaffrey designed the sleeves for a ton of Kranky Records releases.

Light's 'Turning' b/w 'Presence'

Light / “Turning” b/w “Presence,” Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1995

I was unfamiliar with the UK-based space-rock / drone artist Light until coming across his 1996 LP Turning at Chicago’s Dusty Groove Records a few years ago, but there were enough signifiers that it would be of interest to me (came out on Wurlitzer Jukebox, the cover looks like something from Kranky Records, related to Flying Saucer Attack) that I took a chance and picked it up, finding this single shortly after at Reckless. It’s interesting that “Turning” does not appear on the album Turning, but “Presence” is the better song anyway, reminiscent of Windy & Carl’s drones with an addition of rhythmic textures. He released two other albums and two additional singles, none of which I’m particularly compelled to track down, but would buy on the cheap if I encounter them in a discount bin.

Colin Newman / “B”+ 2, Beggars Banquet, 1980

Colin Newman's 'B' + 2

Oh to have been a fly on the wall in a meeting between Beggars Banquet and Colin Newman in 1980 when they were discussing which song to release as the single from his post-Wire solo debut, A–Z. That album is not always easy listening, a trait I suspect was quite intentional, and despite some logical choices in “& Jury” (one of my favorite songs ever), “I’ve Waited Ages,” and “Order for Order,” the album was preceded by “B,” an atonal, if weirdly catch near-instrumental track, interrupted only by wordless screams. Furthermore, it was accompanied by the bizarre video for “B,” which has costumed anti-performances. While I strongly believe the album would have gotten more commercial success if “& Jury” had been the lead single, there’s an interesting trade-off at play. “& Jury” is more straightforward than the rest of A–Z, while “B” tempers expectations for the melodic post-punk that Newman delivered in Wire, framing the album as a standoffish art-rock statement. And while the end result is somewhere in between those two poles, listeners hoping for ten more songs like “& Jury” would have been headed for disappointment. This single features two b-sides: the lurching “The Classic Remains” and “Alone on Piano,” a stripped-down rendering of the haunting track that would later appear in the movie The Silence of the Lambs.

Electro Group / “Line of Sight” b/w “All Star,” Omnibus, 2000

Electro Group's 'Line of Sight' b/w 'All Star'

I absolutely bought this single at Parasol Records because of its packaging, which slid marbled blue vinyl into a cloth bag with a button on it. I’d never seen a sleeve quite like it, and the fact that I ultimately enjoyed the music still comes a distant second to “Oh that’s the single with the cloth bag!” in my memory banks. Electro Group hailed from Sacramento and played a heavy form of American shoegaze, reminiscent of the Swirlies, All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors, Lilys’ In the Presence of Nothing, and of course My Bloody Valentine, with feminine-inflected vocals and more prominent bass than most other groups in the genre. I have their 1998 debut single, “Lifter” b/w “Green Machine,” and their 2000 debut LP, A New Pacifica, on vinyl, but was unaware that they returned in 2017 with the album Ranger. Revisiting “Line of Sight” and “Allstar” (mercifully not the Smashmouth song that haunts me), I’m gently encouraged to spend some time with those other two records in my collection and see how they developed later.

Dot Allison / “Colour Me” b/w “Tomorrow Never Comes,” Sub Pop, 1999

Dot Allison's 'Colour Me' b/w 'Tomorrow Never Comes'

I heard Dot Allison because of Arab Strap’s remix of “Message Personnel” from her 1999 solo debut Afterglow, which stretched the song out to nearly seven minutes with slide guitar and meditative vocal layering. (It was good enough to be included as a bonus track on the regular pressing.) I was unfamiliar with her past in the UK electronic group One Dove, which came up recently when their producer, noted electronic mogul Andrew Weatherall, passed away. As for her solo work, I only know Afterglow (its first two songs are included on this Sub Pop single, perhaps as a way to expand her audience) and its 2002 follow-up, We Are Science, which took a chillier, more explicitly electronic approach to the production (although Mercury Rev apparently helped produce a few tracks). “Colour Me” is closer to what I remember of Afterglow in its late-stage trip-hop trappings, while “Tomorrow Never Comes” is a sometimes compelling, sometimes off-putting combination of bland adult contemporary pop, alt-country, and folk.

Benoît Pioulard / Flocks, Blue Flea, 2009

Benoît Pioulard's Flocks

I recently picked up a different Benoît Pioulard single from Encore Records and had a conversation about the Michigan native’s catalog, which is ever-expanding and a touch overwhelming. His 2006 debut Précis was one of my favorite albums from that year, a surprisingly melodic combination of hushed folk, slow-core indie rock, and texturally rich post-rock. I initially tried keeping up with his output, but like Emeralds, there’s an a-path of major releases and a b-path of minor releases, and I found myself lagging behind by 2010’s Lasted. He keeps releasing albums, I keep hearing about them and thinking “I should check that out,” but two things typically diminish my momentum. First, the hooks of Précis don’t pop up often enough; second, I always suspect I’m missing out on the release that would properly pull me back in. Adding to this conundrum is how, when I have picked up a single like Flocks (which I fittingly got at Stormy Records a few years ago, given that it was released on Windy & Carl’s label Blue Flea), I’m happy to revisit his sound. Half of Flocks is more structured than some of his later full-lengths, with the a-side “Maginot” offering both a nice vocal melody and a neat harmonic line before its droning outro, while the b-side “Alaskan Lashes” is a formless instrumental. More of the former, please.

Sonna / “Kept Luminesce” b/w “Mirameko,” Static Caravan, 2000

Sonna's 'Kept Luminesce' b/w 'Mirameko'

Sonna was a Baltimore-based post-rock band, whose members included guitarist Jeremy DeVine (the proprietor of Temporary Residence Limited, the label which released most of the band’s music) and drummer Jim Redd (who later joined Tarentel). I don’t know if I first heard them from their split single with Paul Newman, on which they performed a slower, lush take on “Way to Breathe, No-Breath,” or their 1999 EP These Windows Are Pistons (the opening song of which is tremendously evocative of lightly falling snow), but I later picked up their 2001 LP We Sing Loud Sing Soft Tonight and this single. “Kept Luminesce” is halfway between a crescendo-free post-rock song and the lighter pop touches of The Sea and Cake, with the vocals residing in Sam Prekop’s restrained register as the drums shuffle briskly underneath. “Mirameko” is an instrumental with intertwined, mostly clean guitar lines, masticating on melodic phrases. It wasn’t long after I picked up and enjoyed this single that Temporary Residence included it on the 2016 non-album material compilation Keep It Together.

Jud Jud / X The Demos X, No Idea, 1997/2007

Jud Jud's X The Demos X

Two anecdotes about this single from storied a cappella hardcore duo Jud Jud: First, if you’re a new visitor to my house and you are unfamiliar with the storied a cappella hardcore duo Jud Jud (and not an elderly relative), there is exceptionally strong chance that I will play the entirety of this single before you leave. Look, that’s the deal. Second, when I moved from Massachusetts to Michigan last summer, I did that drive three times in a little over a week and a half (drove sixteen-foot rental truck, flew back, drove my car and the pets, flew back, drove my wife’s car). In order to maintain consciousness / sanity while driving, I made an extraordinarily long playlist to put on shuffle. At the time I meant to write about that experience and that playlist, but in hindsight, I was too busy driving from Massachusetts to Michigan to write about what music I listened to while driving from Massachusetts to Michigan. The biggest take-away from the playlist was clear, though. Any time that a Jud Jud song came up, it brightened my mood. Just a sheer delight to be driving through western New York and have “X Rounds of Jud Song X” come on.

Season to Risk / “Mine Eyes” b/w “Why See Straight,” Columbia, 1993

Season to Risk's 'Mine Eyes' b/w 'Why See Straight'

Allen Epley of Shiner / The Life and Times has a podcast called Third Gear Scratch in which he talks with artists (primarily musicians) about their work and lives, and one of the more interesting episodes for me was his talk with Steve Tulipana of Season to Risk. Not only because it addressed how Shiner essentially used Season to Risk as a farm team for new members (most notably Paul Malinowski and Tim Dow, but Josh Newton and Jason Gerkin also played in S2R), a point of discussion which was more cordial than expected, but also because Season to Risk is one of the more baffling acts to get a major-label deal. They are not, to say the least, listener-friendly. Their 1993 self-titled debut, on which both of these songs appear, nudges the grinding, atonal rock of The Jesus Lizard and Helmet a step closer to Headbanger’s Ball, but as much as Epley enjoyed doing the “Mine Eyes” vocal on the podcast, they are not a particularly catchy band. Their sophomore record, 1995’s In a Perfect World, is merciless and pummeling to a degree that few records in my collection match, and it’s exponentially more interesting to me than their debut. Absolute commercial suicide, though. I haven’t played Men Are Monkeys. Robots Win. or The Shattering in ages, but I recall them having at least a few shreds of melody in the mix.

Bob Mould / “Classifieds” b/w “Moving Trucks,” Creation, 1998

Bob Mould's 'Classifieds' b/w 'Moving Trucks'

I saw Bob Mould for the first time last fall when he played at The Ark in Ann Arbor, and in advance of the show, I read his autobiography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody and did a little catch-up on his more recent solo work. The book was a mostly compelling look into his upbringing, the formation of Hüsker Dü, his interpersonal disagreements with various band members, his long-term relationships, and the gradual evolution of his personality (when it happened, Bob Mould Club DJ and Electronic Artist was a surprise, but there was a build-up to it in his life). The show was solid: he played a lot of his newer solo stuff, some Hüsker Dü material, a scant few Sugar songs; his signature guitar tone was largely at odds with the vaunted acoustics of the venue; it was nice to be one of the younger audience members for once. The solo album which sourced this double a-side single was 1998’s The Last Dog and Pony Show, which at the time was promised to be his final guitar album (Narrator: “It was not”). At the time I loved Sugar’s catalog but hadn’t heard any of Mould’s prior solo work, and in hindsight, that’s probably for the best, since this was his most direct line back to Sugar at the time. These two songs, along with “New #1” and “Skintrade,” were the highlights of the album.

At the Drive-In & Burning Airlines / “Catacomb” b/w “The Deluxe War Baby,” Thick, 2000

At the Drive-In / Burning Airlines split

Thick Records was a Chicago-based independent label that put out a lot of picture-disc seven-inches, typically skewing more punk than my usual tastes. I picked up a handful of these singles over the years (Edsel’s “Perched Like a Parasite” is the next one that comes to mind), but none were quite as anticipated as this Burning Airlines / At the Drive-In single from 2000. At the time, Burning Airlines had put out the front-to-back great Mission: Control!, and (if memory serves) ATDI hadn’t yet released Relationship of Command, which would follow later in the year. I was, and still am, far more interested in Burning Airlines’ “The Deluxe War Baby” than At the Drive-In’s “Catacomb,” even though the hype for ATDI at the time was overwhelming. (I remember a friend writing a glowing review of In/Casino/Out for my online magazine Signal Drench.) “The Deluxe War Baby” reappeared on 2001’s Identikit, where its vaguely country-ish lead still thrilled, while ATDI re-recorded their song as "Catacombs" as a Japanese bonus track for Relationship of Command. When At the Drive-In blew up, I assumed this single would be hard to come by in the future, but copies remain relatively inexpensive.

Füxa & Bright / “City & Metro” b/w “How I Reached Home,” Darla, 1997

Füxa & Bright split single

This split single features two aesthetically dissimilar artists from the Darla Records stable. The two-piece Füxa hails from Detroit, playing experimental, mostly electronic music that exists somewhere between Stereolab’s retro-futurism, Windy & Carl’s pastoral drones, and Spacemen 3’s narcotic psych-rock. I have a couple of other scattered releases from their considerable discography, most notably their entry into Darla’s Bliss Out series (1997’s Venoy). Their contribution here, “City and Metro,” starts off like an instrumental Stereolab outtake, and then moves into darker noise in its second half. The Emeralds of the ’90s? Bright was a guitar-rock band from Brooklyn, channeling some amount of Kraut-rock in their hypnotic approach to repetition. They also made a Bliss Out record, Blue Christian in 1997, but aside from another single of theirs that I have (which is in a blue poly sleeve, as opposed to the pink one found here), I’ve spent the most time with their 2005 swan song Bells Break Their Towers, which has a couple of extended, ten-plus-minute-long tracks that leaned into their best tendencies. Their leader, Mark Dwinell, is now a member of the Kranky Records band Forma, whom I had already meant to check out and now will actually check out.

Shannon Wright / “A Tin Crown for the Social Bash” b/w “You're the Cup,” All City Hobo, 1998

Shannon Wright's 'A Tin Crown for the Social Bash

I finally got to see Shannon Wright perform a few years ago when she opened up for Shellac in Providence. Her tours, along with her vinyl releases, primarily occur in Europe these days, and I’m not sure if that trend started before or after her 2004 collaborative record with French musician / composer Yann Tiersen, but it’s a shame American audiences don’t appreciate her more. Her evolution from the nondescript indie rock of her ’90s band Crowsdell (I have a few of their releases and they’ve never registered) to the slightly askew acoustic compositions of her earliest solo days (which include these songs) to the increasingly intense and experimental Days of Tacit and Dyed in the Wool to the alternately thrashing and delicate Over the Sun was a tremendous arc, and I would be making a huge mistake to dismiss her more recent work as less essential. (One of my record store regrets is passing on the original vinyl pressing of 2007’s Let in the Light in a store in Milan, in hindsight that was the obvious place to get it.) Last year I picked up a copy of her solo debut Flightsafety on vinyl and two thoughts prevailed from a recent spin: first, the opening “Floor Pile” remains astounding, one of her best songs; second, hearing the word “quarantine” repeating a ton in “Captain of Quarantine” has taken a decidedly different resonance.

Boy's Life & Giants Chair / “Worn Thin” b/w “Ever Present,” HitIt!, 1995

Boy's Life / Giants Chair

This split single is a battle of the “Is there an apostrophe in this name or what?” bands, and the fact that Boys Life appear on this single as “Boy’s Life” and as “Boys Life” on all of their other official releases causes me no small amount of consternation. They win the battle, not through the apostrophe-insertion trickery, but by virtue of “Worn Thin” possessing greater dynamic range than Giants Chair’s “Ever Present.” (Important note: the Shiner song on Starless is called “Giant’s Chair,” with an apostrophe.) Their command of the transitions between intense, tricky Midwestern rock and cavernous empty space is the most striking aspect of their 1996 LP Departures and Landfalls (reissued on vinyl by Topshelf in 2015), and you get enough of a taste of it here. “Ever Present” is a solid, gear-churning Giants Chair song, just not quite up to the nod-inducing “Single File Accident” from 1996’s Purity and Control. Giants Chair got back together in the last few years and put out Prefabylon last year, which I will listen to at some point, I swear.

Girls Against Boys & Stanton-Miranda / “She's Lost Control” b/w “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Virgin, 1995

Girls Against Boys / Stanton

I heard Girls Against Boys’ cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” in roughly the same time-frame as the original, having picked up both A Means to an End: The Music of Joy Division (the tribute compilation on which both sides of this single appear) and Permanent (Joy Division’s 1995 greatest-hits compilation) midway through high school. As far as applying your own aesthetic to a cover, GVSB’s “She’s Lost Control” is a triumph, beefing up the clicking rhythm section of the original with the group’s signature two-bass assault and Alexis Fleisig’s pummeling drums. (Said it before, will say it again: he’s one of the most underrated drummers.) I won’t deny that it loses some of the haunting resonance of the original, but it’s a different take. Stanton-Miranda’s cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is less successful, as her smoothly melodic vocals disarm the composition of its tension. I recently saw Stanton-Miranda’s name in the credits for Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (The Feelies play a high school reunion!) and learned that she also had a tiny part in The Silence of the Lambs.

The One Up Downstairs / The One Up Downstairs, Polyvinyl, 2009

The One Up Downstairs

I was unaware of this pre-American Football band when I lived in Champaign from 1999 through 2005, learning of it when Polyvinyl unearthed these recordings in 2009. Mike Kinsella and Steve Lamos’s involvement are less interesting to me than the other half of the group, David and Allen Johnson, who then formed Very Secretary with former Braid drummer Roy Ewing and violinist Rachael Dietkus (both of whom were also in the short-lived Days in December with Castor’s Jeff Garber). Given all this crossover, the existence of another scrambling of familiar names did not come as much of a surprise to me, nor did the actual music. It sounds like a halfway point between the mannered indie rock of Very Secretary’s 1999 debut Best Possible Souvenir and the carefully arranged emo of American Football. It’s not as good as either of those bands, but hey, it exists. Mike Kinsella only singing while David Johnson played guitar is interesting, however, since after Very Secretary broke up, I heard that Johnson no longer wanted to sing, and instead wanted to bring a different singer (supposedly Compound Red’s Greg Steffke) into the group.

The Most Secret Method / Blue, Self-Released, 1996

The Most Secret Method's Blue

The Most Secret Method were one of DC’s best-kept secrets, with their debut LP, 1998’s Get Lovely (issued by Slowdime), ranking among the finest albums from that era of the scene. They put out a second album in 2002 called Our Success and called it quits, leaving drummer Ryan Nelson to join plenty of other bands. Deep breath: He was in Beauty Pill for a while and contributed the ecstatic title track to the You Are Right to Be Afraid EP [now his wife, Erin Nelson, is in Beauty Pill]; he formed Soccer Team with Melissa Quinley, and their 2015 album Real Lessons in Cynicism was quietly wonderful; he was in the Kalamazoo band Minutes, who pressed too few copies of their fire-spitting records; he was in Routineers, who released one CD and I’ve never heard of them before this instant. As evidenced by the cover of this single and most of his other bands’ albums, he’s also a striking visual artist. They self-released this debut seven-inch, and while they improved considerably by Get Lovely, there’s still plenty here on both the driving DC post-punk song “Blue” and the bass-led instrumental “Perfect Plan” to keep listeners’ attention.

Rex / “All” b/w “Nayramadin Orgil,” Southern, 1995

Rex's 'All' b/w 'Nayramadin Orgil'

Another mid-’90s indie band that has fallen out of the discourse, Rex was an interesting combination of various trends of that time: slow-core (they featured Codeine’s drummer Doug Scharin), Oldham-esque indie folk/country (particularly in their instrumentation), and post-rock. They released three full-length albums, one EP, and three singles, but I first and foremost remember them for the lead track on their 1995 self-titled debut LP. “Nothing Is Most Honourable Than You” is a back-porch dirge with rickety production, a devastating cello line, wounded vocals, and a still-surprising guitar solo. I would be lying if I said anything else in their catalog meant as much to me as that song, even their second album, 1997’s C, which is better written, better performed, and better produced. This single also came out in 1995, and I don’t know if it preceded the album or not, but there’s a greater degree of clarity to the recordings here. Both songs are nice if somewhat inconsequential, “All” is a pleasant, late-night ode, while “Nayramadin Orgil” is an instrumental that eventually features a mouth harp.

Loscil / Sine Studies 1, Jaz, 2013

Loscil's Sine Studies 1

Loscil is one of the few Kranky Records mainstays who has eluded my obsession. I’ve tried to get into several of his full-lengths, but found his brand of ambient to be slightly too cold, too electronic for my tastes. I saw him open for A Winged Victory for the Sullen at T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge (RIP) and enjoyed zoning out during his set but wasn’t emotionally invested like I was during AWVFTS. This single is the only Loscil release that I own, and I distinctly recall picking it up at Aquarius Records in San Francisco (RIP). It’s technically impressive—a smart pairing of deep bass notes and sine wave melodies—but my mental picture involves standing in a temperature-controlled, fluorescent-lit room, watching LED lights flicker on servers.

Mogwai Discographied Part One: Imperfect Sound Forever

I realized two things as I spun the advance leak of Mogwai’s live album, Special Moves, over and over: first, that I’d have to bite the bullet and order the deluxe 3LP+CD+DVD set; second, and more importantly, that for all of my frustrations with the band not consistently reaching its transcendent high-water marks, Mogwai is still one of my favorite groups. Sure, I’d kill for an album of peaks like “Mogwai Fear Satan,” “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong,” and “Helicon One”—or pay $60 for the limited edition of a live record containing those songs—but virtually every release in their catalog is worthy of attention.

Mogwai bristles at being designated “post-rock,” holding dear to the idea that they’re just a rock band like the Stooges or Black Sabbath, but few bands have dictated the course of post-rock as much as they have. Perhaps this angst over the genre is due to motifs they originated becoming clichés in lesser hands and then critically re-applied back to their newer work—a point which isn’t entirely off-base—but whereas other prominent post-rock bands have splintered, run out of creative energy, or dropped off my radar completely, Mogwai has persevered. Even if they disdain the genre, it doesn’t deter from their ability to write wonderful songs within it.

Unlike my Sonic Youth Discographied feature, I will cover the vast majority of Mogwai’s various singles and EPs, since they don’t have fifteen full-lengths to cover. This post starts with Ten Rapid and 4 Satin, their first two proper releases.

Mogwai's Ten Rapid

Ten Rapid: Collected Recordings 1996-1997 – Jetset, 1997

Highlights: “Helicon One,” “Helicon Two,” “Summer”

Low Points: “I Am Not Batman,” “End” is padding

Overall: Few of my favorite bands boast this flattering of an infancy.* Hum’s Fillet Show is a false start; good luck hearing any of those songs in their sporadic reunion sets. My Bloody Valentine’s early material explored gothic tendencies, not guitar bliss. Juno’s earliest demos were wisely kept under wraps, since those solo-heavy recordings would have lumped them in with countless Seattle grunge bands. Early Shudder to Think is faster, sure, but lacks any subtlety. So why is Ten Rapid worth hearing when those albums are for pure die-hards only?

The most simple answer is that their initial blueprint remained true. Each successive full-length adds more compositional depth, but the guiding principles of the band were sound at the beginning. Going back to a minimal song like “Helicon Two” or “A Place for Parks” isn’t an alienating experience like unearthing Fillet Show—they still feel like Mogwai songs. There are brief interludes of vocal slowcore, but they make sense within the surroundings, even if that approach was largely abandoned. They also had the presence of mind to turn these scattered seven-inches into a viable album, leaving behind the weakest of the lot.

Ten Rapid’s sequencing is one of its strengths, abandoning the chronological release dates of its eight previously released songs (closing track “End” is “Helicon Two” played backwards—Murder by Death did the same trick on Like the Exorcist but with More Breakdancing, back when they were called Little Joe Gould and were more influenced by Mogwai than Johnny Cash) in favor of a regular album flow. “Summer” begins with hazy foreshadowing of the song’s soaring guitars, crashing crescendos, melodic chimes, and hyperactive drumming. “New Paths to Helicon (Part Two)” strips things down to a gentle drumbeat and a wandering guitar line, with the occasional gurgle of bass beneath. “Angels vs. Aliens” twists the pummeling textures of “Summer” into a tense rhythmic knot. The ambient “I Am Not Batman” and lovely “Tuner” present Mogwai as a slowcore band more akin to Codeine and Low than Slint. (The best comparison for “Tuner” might be Pavement’s “Strings of Nashville.”) “Ithica 27 ϕ 9” finds the natural transition between the lulls of “Helicon Two” and the rage of “Summer” in its quiet-loud-quiet structure. “A Place for Parks” is a mellow jam leading into the collection’s triumphant high-point, “New Paths to Helicon (Part One).” The instrument switching is key, since Stuart Braithwaite plays the loping, melodic bass line and Damon Aitchison contributes the blurry swaths of guitar noise. What strikes me about “Helicon One” (and why it’s still a regular in Mogwai set lists) is its simplicity—everything contributes to that gradual curve upward, nothing sticks out. As such, it’s remarkably easy to get lost in the mist.

The only previously released Mogwai song not to make the cut for Ten Rapid was the b-side to the “Tuner” single, “Lower.” Its angst-driven rock and jarring transitions have false start written all over them, so you weren’t missing much.

Perhaps my fondness for Ten Rapid was contingent upon getting into Mogwai close to the ground floor. There’s less distance between the early material here and Young Team than say, 2006’s Mr. Beast. If you’re used to the polish of the later works, perhaps the lo-fi charms of “Tuner” and “Helicon Two” won’t affect you, but it amazes me how well Ten Rapid has held up to thirteen years of post-rock development and scrutiny.

* I recognize how many exceptions there are to this statement, especially from the last decade, but the 1980s and 1990s seem more populated with ragged beginnings and false starts than brilliant opening statements. Also, I'd rather continue to be interested in a group's development than gradually lose interest as they lose inspiration (See: Interpol).

Mogwai's 4 Satin EP

4 Satin EP – Jetset, 1997

Highlights: “Superheroes of BMX,” the first five minutes of “Stereodee”

Low Points: “Stereodee” sure goes on for a while

Overall: The 4 Satin EP is a confounding bit of Mogwai lore. Early pressings from Jetset Records, like the one I own, had an unintended song (“Guardians of Space”) and an alternate, lesser take on “Stereodee.” If your CD has four tracks, it’s the misprint. It’s no surprise this release was later collected along with No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) (which has its own curious history) and Mogwai EP as EP + 6. While I highly recommend tracking that compilation down to prevent any potential frustration, I’ll discuss the EPs separately.

If you have the proper version of 4 Satin, a sampled conversation and drum machine intro lead off the understated “Superheroes of BMX,” one of my favorite Mogwai songs. Two sighing keyboard chords alternate as guitar arpeggios and live drums filter into the mix. The melancholy turns tense as squalls of feedback arc over the wavering lead guitar, but the song never loses its grounding emotion. It’s a loose, rambling song, lacking the precision of their later work, but that combination of anxious noise and insistent melancholy covers up any flaws.

“Now You’re Taken” marks the group’s first collaboration with Arab Strap singer Aidan Moffat. It drifts more gingerly than most Arab Strap songs, but the general feel is the same—Moffat’s deeply accented voice ruminating over a relationship gone sour. (If you need a starting place for Arab Strap, I recommend Philophobia.) The closing lines “And I should tell you that I adore you / But I’m sure that I’d just bore you” nail the mood of this particular song. It’s not as memorable or melodic as Moffat’s other Mogwai guest appearance on Young Team’s “R U Still in 2 It,” but it’s a nice warm-up.

The thirteen-and-a-half minutes of “Stereodee” close out 4 Satin with a very long, very loud bang. The first three minutes are the melodic build-up, a compelling combination of jangly chords and churning acceleration, but then the wall of white noise hits and sticks around until the twelfth minute, when an inexplicable dance beat emerges. If you’ve seen Mogwai—or any number of comparable post-rock or noise-rock groups—picture the song at the end of their set that closes with guitars-against-amp feedback as the members gradually leave the stage. That’s “Stereodee.” It’s a lot more viscerally exciting when your fingers are jammed against your ear drums in the rock club, trying futilely to maintain your hearing for the next day. At home you can just turn it off after five or six minutes, which is what I usually end up doing.

Finally, the fuck-ups. “Guardians of Space” is a grinding rocker with a repetitive riff and garbled vocals in the background. Think of it as a dry run for Young Team’s far superior “Katrien.” The alternate take on “Stereodee” doesn’t do the song justice. It’s three minutes shorter than the proper version, lacks the proper build-up to the white noise apocalypse, and overdoses on the flanger pedal for the intro guitar riff. I can’t fathom how angry Mogwai must’ve been when they found out both of these songs were in stores.

Provided you find the right version (or just bite the bullet and get EP +6), 4 Satin’s a rather rewarding side street in the Mogwai catalog. Two of these songs will reappear later in alternate versions (“Superheroes of BMX” on Government Commissions, “Stereodee” as “Quiet Stereo Dee” on Travels with Constants), but I prefer the versions here. All three songs are worth hearing, but “Superheroes of BMX” is the keeper.