Friday, August 17, 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?)

The Bartlebees "Winter in the City"
Let's hear it for German twee pop!! Twee is not usually my cup of tea (too much sugar!) but the Bartlebees pull if off better than most. Or maybe it's just more appealing to me to hear cutesy lyrics sung in broken English through thick German accents than the seemingly ubiquitous infantile vocal stylings of most indie pop. In any case, this Munich trio was quite prolific in the 90s releasing several LPs and 45s mostly on their own Little Teddy label. Most of these were only sporadically available in the US though the fine New Jersey-based label 18 Wheeler released a CD (From Path of Pain to Jewels of Glory) combining the band's first two full-lengths along with some fairly hilarious liner notes. "Winter in the City" is from a 45 featuring some lovely glued on artwork that came out on the Tout Le Monde label in 1997 or so. It's one of my favorite cuts from the Bartlebees though I have to admit I have little to no clue what they're going on about. Something about a "human blankie" and the Shroud of Turin. Um, yeah. Also be sure to check the band's ace cover of punk troubadour Patrik Fitzgerald's "Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart" available on their myspace page.

Play or Download The Bartlebees "Winter in the City"

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