Mar 8, 2017

RhoDeo 1710 Aetix


Today's artists are cacophonous and anarchic, imbued with an insular irony, and inspired equally by punk primitivism and Krautrock experimentalism, they pioneered a hyperintelligent yet unforgivingly amateurish approach to music-making that sounds now like a blueprint for all the aspiring art-school noisemakers that came in their wake. Always marginal, the band seemed to have operated with a sublime indifference to any potential audience they might have had, which makes them a contrarian’s dream, the perfect band to listen to in order to indulge one’s masochism and sullen anti-social tendencies at the same time, all without surrendering the cachet attached to being into something obscure that’s not overtly silly. Because their records have been relatively hard to track down, the band acquired a path-breaking reputation  .........N'Joy

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Noisy and experimental, Britain's Swell Maps experienced little commercial success during the course of their chaotic career, but in hindsight they stand as one of the pivotal acts of the new wave: not only was the group an acknowledged inspiration to the likes of Sonic Youth and Pavement, but their alumni -- most notably brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks -- continued on as key players in the underground music community.

Although Sudden (vocals/guitar) and Soundtracks (piano/drums) formed the first incarnation of the Swell Maps (named after the charts used by surfers to gauge wave intensities) as far back as 1972, the group did not begin to truly take shape until 1976, when the siblings enlisted bassist Jowe Head and guitarist Richard Earl. In the spirit of punk's D.I.Y. mentality, they formed their own label, Rather Records, and issued their debut single -- the brief, jarring "Read About Seymour" -- in the early weeks of 1978. Local media support soon won the Swell Maps a distribution pact with Rough Trade, but they did not resurface until over a year later with the single "Dresden Style."

In mid-1979, the band released its full-length debut, A Trip to Marineville, a crazy quilt of punk energy and Krautrock-influenced clatter. After the release of the speaker-shredding single "Let's Build a Car," the group recorded one final studio LP, Jane from Occupied Europe, before breaking up. A series of outtakes and singles collections -- 1981's Whatever Happens Next, 1982's Collision Time, and 1987's Train Out of It -- followed, while the members followed their own career paths: Sudden formed the Jacobites, Soundtracks joined Crime and the City Solution, and Head played with the Television Personalities. All later enjoyed solo careers as well.

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Swell Maps' debut album was a scattershot affair, ranging from blistering three-chord punk to free-form noise experiments, that was intriguing, yet frequently incoherent. Released in 1979, the band’s first full-length album, A Trip to Marineville is the slightly more accessible of the two, but not because it has all that many hooks or melodies or anything like that. Swell Maps approach to songwriting involves pounding out a riff or chord progression over and over again—on chunky, thickly distorted guitars or on a piano—while unexpected noises and abstruse, sullenly intoned vocals are layered on top. Borrowing much from the loosely structured jams of Can, this strategy would ultimately be adopted by bands like Flipper and the Germs. Impenetrable at first, songs quickly grow on you, if only through their sheer repetition, their relentless momentum.

On the cover is a photo of a house on fire, very appropriate to how the album opens, with well-orchestrated burst of three short, explosive tracks that run together seamlessly: the sneering “H.S. Art”, which repeatedly asks “Do you believe in art?” with such scorn that it’s clear you don’t if you have to stop and ask; the metacritique of “Another Song”, which seems to question its own right to exist as it co-opts pop-song formula, and the concise, incisive “Vertical Slum”. The rest of the album eschews such tight focus, and progressively becomes more difficult listening. Songs that begin with crisp, throbbing riffs and well-layered guitars—“Midget Submarines” and “Harmony in Your Bathroom”—have endings that stretch out and devolve into chaos. And the instrumentals mount up as well, starting with the innocuous piano and found noise fragment “Don’t Throw Ashtrays at Me!” and moving through the drifting, meditative “Gunboats” and climaxing with “Adventures into Basketry”, a spontaneous eight-minute noise fest that sounds like a spastic drum circle conducted during an air raid. A Trip to Marineville is featured in The Guardian's list "1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die".

Swell Maps - A Trip To Marineville (flac  355mb)

01 2:20
02 Another Song 1:43
03 Vertical Slum 1:12
04 Spitfire Parade 3:10
05 Harmony In Your Bathroom 5:26
06 Don't Throw Ashtrays At Me! 1:14
07 Midget Submarines 4:34
08 Bridge Head (Pt.9) 1:59
09 Full Moon In My Pocket 1:29
10 Blam!! 3:31
11 Full Moon (Reprise) 1:23
12 Gunboats 8:20
13 Adventuring Into Basketry 7:35
14 My Little Shops 0:45
15 Ripped & Torn 1:47
16 International Rescue 2:25
17 Loin Of The Surf 2:21
18 Shoot The Angels 0:51
19 Elephant Flowers (no.2) 1:28
20 Turn Me On Dead Man 0:30
21 Bronze & Baby Shoes 3:34
22 Nevertoseeanyotherway 1:39

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Jane from Occupied Europe is composed of many turgid instrumentals whose exhausted lack of structure suggests not spontaneity but an inspiration deficit. “Robot Machines” is a dud drum machine track and fizz and the aptly named “Big Empty Field” is some random harmonics and machine shop noises over an intricate but wearisome rhythm. “Collision with a Frogman” and “. . . Vs. the Mangrove Delta Plan” are consecutive sound-alikes that meander in search of melody without ever settling for one. All the best songs come at the end: “Secret Island”, “Whatever Happens Next . . .” and “Blenheim Shots” pick up from where Wire left off with 154 and give some sense of what that band might have sounded like if they didn’t immediately start sucking after the release of that masterwork. Adopting obscure topics from military history into blearily intoned lyrics, and melding them with menacing drones, explosive drumming and organ hooks out of nowhere, these represent the Swell Maps finest work; but it’s emblematic that these are buried at the end of an album, preceded by so many unlistenable instrumentals. Either the Swell Maps were a band that sought to demand an indulgent patience from listeners, making them earn whatever pleasure the band could offer, or they were a band that had absolutely no sense of when they were at their best, and didn’t care to think about it all that much.

Swell Maps - Jane From Occupied Europe (flac  405mb)

01 Robot Factory 2:25
02 Let's Buy A Bridge 1:54
03 Border Country 2:12
04 Cake Shop Girl 2:27
05 The Helicopter Spies 4:16
06 Big Maz In The Desert 5:07
07 Big Empty Field 3:44
08 Mining Villages 1:04
09 Collision With A Frogman 3:40
10 ... Vs. The Mangrove Delta Plan 4:23
11 Secret Island 4:33
12 Whatever Happens Next ...3:00
13 Blenheim Shots 3:40
14 A Raincoat's Room 1:43
15 The Stairs Are Like An Avalanche 3:23
16 New York 3:20

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You'll have to be a pretty major Swell Maps fan to make heads or tails, at a glance, out of which songs on this 19-track compilation you may already have. It's all over the Swell map, including four songs that have never been on CD [including "Dresden Style (City Boys)," which was on a single]; three that have never been released anywhere; three "unreleased mixes"; and a few songs that appeared on U.K. singles ("Let's Build a Car," "Real Shocks," "Read About Seymour"). It doesn't really succeed as either a representative overview compilation or a rarities disc. Approached on its own terms -- which you might want to do if this happens to be the first, or only, Swell Maps album you get -- it's decent arty punk that's too monochromatic to sustain burning interest over the course of the lengthy program. It does have a heartier sense of joie de vivre than much U.K. punk/new wave of the period, particularly in the vocals.

Swell Maps - International Rescue (flac 335mb)

01 International Rescue 2:24
02 Real Shocks 2:16
03 Let's Build A Car 3:01
04 Black Velvet 1:59
05 Ammunition Train 3:30
06 Ripped & Torn 1:47
07 Secret Island 4:35
08 Read About Seymour 1:29
09 Get Down And Get With It 1:29
10 Spitfire Parade 3:11
11 New York 3:19
12 Forest Fire 3:02
13 Winter Rainbow 3:40
14 Dresden Style (City Boys) 2:30
15 Off The Beach (Spilling Coffee) 2:23
16 One Of The Crowd 2:21
17 Vertical Slum 1:14
18 H.A.K. 1:22
19 I Really Love You 2:13
20 Hey Johnny! Where's The Chewing Gum? 1:11

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Graham said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful archive. I've been re-acquainted with some old favorites and (as in this case with Swell Maps) made some new discoveries of excellent music.

Chris said...

Dear Rho, could you please re-up this, thanks!

W. said...

Thank you for these. Though highly thought of, I never listened to Swell Maps. Now's my chance.