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The Haul: Screw Compilation (with Jawbox, Candy Machine, Geek, and Velocity Girl)

Various Artists – Screw 7” – Simple Machines, 1991 – $1 (Cheap Thrills, Montreal, 10/10)

Various Artists - Screw single

I recently discussed subscription series singles as a prime temptation of 1990s independent music, but limited edition runs like Simple Machines’ Machines series also did the trick, bringing promising DC-area groups like Jawbox, Lungfish, Edsel, Nation of Ulysses, Autoclave, Tsunami, Velocity Girl, and Unrest together with a few national acts like my beloved Rodan (representing with the dominating “Darjeeling”) and Superchunk. I can’t say whether they were immediately successful—hello, I was ten at the time—but I certainly ran into high prices for certain volumes well after Simple Machines issued a compilation CD. The label followed it up with Working Holiday in 1993, a monthly series that included both familiar names like Superchunk, Jawbox, and Lungfish and new artists like Crain, the Grifters, Pitchblende, Swirlies, Versus, and Codeine. Equally hard to track down, these singles were compiled in 1994 and initially accompanied by a much sought-after live disc from their January, 1994, Working Holiday live weekend. Jason Noble from Rodan/Rachel’s MC’d the event and many of the aforementioned bands (plus Archers of Loaf!) are represented on the live disc. (I would be tempted to book a trip there if I ever gain access to a time machine.) Rodan’s contribution, “Big Things Little Things,” never got a proper studio release. Given the trouble I had tracking it down myself (trading Hum bootlegs for a cassette dub in the late 1990s) and its resolute out-of-print status, this link seems appropriate:

Download Working Holiday! Live

Back to the single at hand, however. Screw was the fourth volume of the Machines series, featuring four DC/Baltimore-area groups: the post-punk Candy Machine, the hardcore leanings of a nascent Jawbox, and the female-fronted rock of Geek and Velocity Girl. It’s safe to say that all of these bands (or members of the bands in the case of Geek) went onto do better work, but this single is an interesting time capsule in how you could easily have seen these bands share a bill back then.

Lead-off band Candy Machine doesn’t get discussed much nowadays, but I still bring out their 1996 DeSoto Records LP Tune International from time to time. Every time I go back something interesting pops up. The spoken word shuffle of “6 Months of Light” recall contemporaries June of 44’s Engine Takes to Water—as does the song’s reference to Henry Miller—and there are a few signs of aesthetic cross-pollination with Baltimore compatriots Lungfish, but there’s also Kraut-rock in the rhythms, the Fall in the delivery, Gang of Four in the strut, all of which are profoundly good things. As for Candy Machine’s contribution here, “My Old Man”—their first officially released song, if Discogs is accurate—I mostly hear a more melodic companion to Lungfish’s early records. Again, a good thing!

I previously expressed my disinterest in revisiting Jawbox’s earliest recordings, but I’ll make an exception for “Footbinder.” A noisy rocker with distorted vocals from their three-piece days (J. Robbins, Kim Coletta, and Adam Wade), “Footbinder” doesn’t represent what I love so dearly about Novelty, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, and Jawbox, but what it lacks in melody and clarity it makes up for in sheer propulsion. It’s certainly a lot easier to think of J. Robbins coming from DC hardcore with this song than the polished recordings to follow.

Geek was one of Jenny Toomey’s first bands before she joined up with housemate and Simple Machines co-proprietor Kristin Thomson for the considerably more prolific Tsunami. Geek’s catalog is limited to appearances on a few singles/compilations and a very limited cassette on Simple Machines which collected sixteen tracks. (It’s a testament to Toomey’s business acumen that she knew not to press a stack of LPs or CDs for a band that only had one tour, even though it was her band, but I’m a bit surprised this material was never reissued after Tsunami became more popular.) Geek had already appeared on the first Machines single, Wedge, alongside Lungfish, Edsel, and The Hated. Their Screw contribution, “Hemingway Shotgun,” teases a bit with an occasional dose of a tricky harmonic riff (reminiscent of Rodan and Crain), but mostly sticks with straight-ahead rock. Perhaps I missed out by overlooking Tsunami all of these years.

Velocity Girl was also in its infancy for “What You Say.” They’d switched from Bridget Cross to Sarah Shannon on vocals but still a few years off from their 1993 debut LP Copacetic. There are hints of the shoegaze tag they’d earn with that LP—specifically a tremoloed chord during the chorus that recalls My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything—but the general sound is more of melodic indie rock with friendly female vocals. It’s the most polished song here, so it’s hardly a surprise they moved up to Sub Pop.

Unless you stumble across one of these singles in the cheap bin, I highly advocate checking out the The Machines compilation, which still appears to be available through Amazon. Same goes with the Working Holiday compilation, which is still available from Dischord. These discs are time capsules of a particular era of American indie rock, but they’re worth digging up if you’re at all inclined.

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