Monday, July 02, 2007

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

For those of you who lived through the 90s you may remember that it was a remarkable time for music. If you think that's hyperbole or nostalgia I will remind you that 90s were a time when someone like Lou Barlow could have a side project that was little more than a tribute to the Sliver Apples score a top 40 hit. The 90s were also the last time when the market for 7 inch records was viable and healthy and 1000s of bands took advantage releasing 45s on their own imprint or (if they were lucky) getting an indie label to press it up and distribute it for them. It was the perfect way to introduce a band to the listener: 2 or 3 of the band's best blasts in a small, attractive and affordable package. The bubble burst on this market around the same time that the mainstream alt rock boom went bust and the insidious beasts known as post-grunge (in the mainstream) and emo (in the underground) rose to prominence. Bands are still releasing 7 inches today but in lesser numbers. Why waste the money on making a material item that you then have to go through the process of getting into hands of the public when you can just throw a couple of MP3s on your website (or myspace page) and potentially have the entire world able to hear your work? It's certainly more convenient and economically sound. I won't say which approach I consider better but speaking as someone who is a collector by nature I do miss the ability to possess an actual object as a memento. But that's neither here nor there.

Unfortunately, this era has yet to be documented in any kind of meaningful way. (Hell, I'm still waiting for Rhino to release their inevitable alt rock hits of the 90s compilations.) Certainly, a few labels and artists have released retrospectives of their own 7 inch releases but there's been nothing in the way of a "Pebbles" or "Killed by Death" style collection for 90s indie 45s. So being the semi-ambitious fellow that I am, I took it upon myself to right this wrong. But being the somewhat lazy fellow that I am, I decided, much like the hypothetical band I described above, that pressing up and distributing records would be too much of an undertaking and that converting 7 inches to MP3s and posting them seemed like the more practical thing to do. (Not to mention having to track down all the bands and pay them. I could release a comp as a bootleg and bypass this step but I'm the above board, straight and narrow type.)

Thus, this feature will be something of a piecemeal compilation. I'll provide you with the track and a little background info and you can go ahead and assemble you own comp if you'd like once there are enough cuts posted to fill a CD. Or you can just take it as it comes. That's really up to you. What's up to me is providing you with quality. Though not the kind of quality that one would file under "sound." This was the lo-fi era after all. So all that surface noise you hear from the vinyl to MP3 is there for ambience. Ambience or the fact that I can't figure out how to make them sound any better.

(Note: If any of the artists responsible for these songs object to them being freely available please get in touch and I will delete them without hesitation. I'm not here to tell you that you should be giving your music away though you should consider that maybe demand for those 50 copies left in your mom's basement will suddenly and sharply increase. Another note: The claim that no one else is documenting this era is not entirely true as the good folks at Static Party have been posting cuts from 90s 45s for some time. However, their focus is entirely on the garage punk genre and while some overlap is possible and even likely this feature should be a bit broader in scope. But do go and pay them a visit, will you?)

Sammy "Babe Come Down"
It's fitting that the first installment of "This Moment in Slack History" would start with a very slack track indeed. When I picked up this 45 from Sammy (released on Steve Shelly's Smells Like Records label) I would've sworn that it was Pavement working under a pseudonym. Just listen to it and tell me it's not a perfect slice of "Slanted and Enchanted" era Malkmus and co at their lackadaisical apex. But no, Sammy was indeed their own entity and even put out an album on DGC in 96 or so. They get a big fat zero for originality but one has to admire the craftsmanship of their sonic forgery. They put so much care into imitating the singular sloppiness of the originators that you may have to conclude that they expended more effort into sounding like Pavement than Pavement did themselves. Yes, it's borderline embarrassing but for the couple of minutes this track is playing you probably won't care.

Play or Download Sammy "Babe Come Down"

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