The title of this CD compilation from Andy Votel and the returning Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy), for Manchester, England's independent "non-record label" Twisted Nerve. The title seems like a silly pun and potential put-off for listeners who are unfamiliar to the T.N. catalog. The label proclaims "home-made and house proud" dedication to quirky and misfitted bands that make up the diverse genre-bending and contemporary artistry delivered to fans of intelligent and non-commercial talent.
The first in a promised series of CD compilations to come, Discount Tents is comprised of vinyl releases from T. N.'s catalogue from the past 18 months. Loving compiled and "currated" by the label owners with unapologetic confidence in their bands and the sounds they bring forth. This dedication is rare and refreshing in the world of "bling" that is deep-set in the current musical environment. The lines of what is underground and independent have been so blurred in the last 10 year it is a cool breeze blowing past the ears of listeners who hunger for "touching wood" in a stark world of computerized production of musical "talents" that have more to do with studio tricks that musicians actually creating music.
The CD itself is a simple plastic case with artwork that is created by Andy Votel of Twisted Nerve. Votel not only works with the bands, creates his own music, he does the artwork and design for the compilation. A cut paper collage of a post-blizzard bound town of homes buried to their rooftops (maybe they are discount tents?). A flame rises in the covers center with a slight glow. The graphics emit a Christmas feeling. It is a gift to those listeners looking for warmth in the torrent of coldness that is the present climate of today's music.
Little is given to sink into and educate the listener about the bands. All that is allowed is a simple listening to the tracks and their creators and the origin of the presented tracks. Simply put to the listener with no flourish. Just the basic needs and nothing to get in the way or prejudge the sounds etched in the disc. The only marketing lure is the quoted subheading under the cover title, "Compiled by Andy Votel and Badly Drawn Boy for Twisted Nerve". If you don't know much of these two talents the quote may as well be in a cryptic lost language.
The first track is a new release from the one-man band Sirconical. Icy and blippy electronics make for a listening experience in line with minimal Durrutti Column. It is a sweet and intricate track that matches the cover graphics, cold with a warm heart. Short and sweet.
Jukes, is the next band with their song, Fiery Desert. Jazzy and relaxed sans-cymbal and snare drumming it is a cafe torch song. Side project of the female vocalist Tammy Payne she sends a warm and sexy Portishead quality but lacking the acrimony and eeriness. Payne's early soul releases on the label Talkin' Loud this track is her solo work that is from her Twisted Nerve album, A Thousand Dreamers. The Portishead feel is no accident being that part of the Dreamers album was produced by Jim Barr (Portishead) and he contributes the bass playing to the song. Self admittedly influenced by the band Moonflower, ex-Moonflower guitarist Jesse Morningstar plays in Payne's back-up band, His guitar work adds subtle odd quaver. Payne's soulful voice is loose and easy and that soul pours out to the listener of this laid back track.
Acoustic note plucks start track three by Rick Tomlinson, An Hour Before Dawn. With a spontaneous and sketch like feel it is brief well done song that transitions beautifully into the next track by Aidan Smith, Basslines and Shapes. Starting like a band in a sound check a transition occurs to an intricately arranged sound with each instrument doing seemingly disparate things while mixing to a rich and enticing experience. The piano has an improvised quality. The guitar is slow and light yet has the fuzz of Robert Fripp from the Lark's Tongue In Aspic era King Crimson. It sounds like the guitar could take off into a blazing prog-rock solo at the flick of a switch. An interlude takes a turn for the discordant but regains its composure and adds a weirdly delivered dash of organ. This cut is an intelligent and enjoyable listen.
Meat Raffle from virtuoso guitarist Neil Smith's band, The Liftmen, is the fifth selection. Fast and quirky solo guitar and rhythm strums and quick drumming make a nervy and jumpy sound. Female vocals with a distinct English accent mesh to make a sound that summon a cross between Thinking Fellers Local 282 and Death By Choclate meets Th' Faith Healers. Oddly enough this song is recorded by Portishead's Jim Barr, as well as Jukes comp selection, with little in common with his signature sound. A bit of a challenging listen compared to the previous fare it is a fun track, none-the-less.
Lispector contributes a childlike banjo strumming acoustic ode to The Ice Cream Man. More like Jonathan Richman's tribute to the summer confectioner than Daniel Johnston's Casper The Friendly Ghost, it is shares with these two tracks its naive and innocent approach but is a different song. Lispector is a French female artist, now via New York, who makes her own four-track recordings of joyful songs. Young and sweet, light and breezy this gal can write a very sweet song. There is also a kinship with the aforementioned English band Death By Chocolate. This is a nice little tune that transcends the typical four-track raw "indie" sound of the nineties by being clean, clear and smart and remaining cute.
Little Miss Trinitron's contribution is called, Shigeru's Clockwork Woodpecker and comes from the album I Do Not Compute. This band is really a guy from Manchester who goes by the lone name, Stuart. His song is a combination of Atari and early video game sounds, Casio-tones, toy piano and Kraftwerk being attended by their babysitter at the Penguin Cafe. At first listening it comes across as a song that made in a kindergarten class project. On closer inspection what is revealed is a far more mature composition and production. To call it a "neat little track" would do it little justice. But alas, it REALLY is! Let's call it seriously fun.
The eight-track La Jalousie is breath of dreamy pop. The work here is a rich and textured composition despite minimal instrumentation. Quirky vocals come from the bands front-person, Luma Lane, who hails from Bedfordshire, England. Her sound conjures a little girl singing songs from the Wizard of Oz Lollipop Guild catalog. The keyboard sounds and drums are provided by Will Wilson and Darren Waite of the English/Irish trio, Oil Red O. Luma's sounds are spacey, lilting and charming. While researching who this artist is I was surprised that she had heard very little music growing up but not surprised that she heard many children's stories from her father because the her work here is like a story and sound track of a alien fairy tale.
The singularly spelled, Samandtheplants, song Hag Door Mountain begins like a found sample hip-hop track in the tradition of RJD2 or DJ Shadow. In seconds you are now sure that this track has little to do with any of these artists. It switches around to guitar vignettes and found sounds of birds and then goes low-fi with sounds like ukes and synths. This is another of the quirky and odd charming tracks in this compilation. It is really a simultaneous journey through layers of genres and influences. Every listen will bring up another reference in this intelligent and jaunty track. The band was named, I think, for the experiments done by Samuel McLoughlin in which he got sounds from a "bio-feedback unit" that created sounds from electrical impulses from electrical resistance of plant life. Take that cue. This is musical science that embraces artsy weirdness.
Another flawless transition into position ten from Rebelski is called Stickers on Keys from the album of the same title. The "band" is mainly Martin Rebelski who writes, performs and produces the works. As a teenager Rebelski worked in an odd and old music shop demonstrating pianos. Since the shop had few customers he entertained himself with the various keyboards and eclectic varieties of instruments. He states that his influences are as varied as his instrumental noodlings. His main influence is Steve Reich but alls sites Eno, Aphex Twin and Penguin Cafe Orchestra. He also tours as the keyboard player for the band, Doves. Stickers on Keys is one of the best tracks to be heard on the comp. A lush and simple composition that has more in common with sound tracks than pop music it is beautiful and simple but like many tracks on this it is intelligently crafted and is far more complex than it sounds.
Low-fi bass notes and guitar start off Sunday International's Hey, Hey You. Turning to a more clear production sound the performance is loose and live like. The female vocalist style is like Japan-pop and Isobel Sollenberger of Bardo Pond. The song has great grinding guitar work that clashes with the soft breathy vocals and kicks back at the drums. The track is like beauty and angst in a battle with clarity and distortion. It is another winner. I wish there was more information to be found about this band. I look forward to hearing more from these five musicians who will hopefully release more from Twisted Nerve.
The Way We Do It from London's Team LG has an electric keyboard typing percussion sound and dreamy tinkling marimba tone. The sound is like Earwig or Insides' light dreamy atmospheres led by female vocalist, Little G. Making sounds and storing them on a four-track they collage and craft and spiffy number. Comprised of a couple, Little G and Mister L, their songs are the sounds of their daily lives and tribulations made into musical art sketches. Like the label says, you are hearing their relationship and like relationships you never know what is coming next. This must be one of their more laid-back and solemn moments of malaise. It is a sincere and rough layout of a song that is brief, endearing and enjoyable.
Supreme Vagabond Craftsman's song, Central Region Maximum Sex Talk, starts out in a most jarring way and seems like it is going to break the beauty that has been exuded from all the previous tracks. Found street sounds and crashing drums ease into a fingered guitar duet and then a hip-hopping jazzy drum beating. The production is rougher than most tracks on the Discount Tents CD. The main vocals are high and rough recitation of a story and then change to a sound like a distant announcement at tube station. More vocals apply in a low quality growling and recede. An interesting listen that has a true heart rooted in pretty and experimental folk.
Contrasting the SVC's song is the eclectic and pretty intro to the Lee Vamialone song, Xavier. A pretty acoustic guitar duet starts off and is joined by xylophone with intricate handclaps fading up to join in. This all ends abruptly and segues into scratchy drum machine and guitar like the signature sound of Belle and Sebastian. The vocals enter as an amalgam of Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock with a less forceful delivery. Another pretty track. The xylophone comes back and emphasizes the vocals. Folkie styled garage keyboards enter and self-backing vocal tracks are rejoined by the handclapping of the intro. It all gels together to make a rich and filling listen. The song ends before fully satisfying and leaving room for dessert.
Finishing the compilation is Misty Dixon's Misty Disco. This is a side project of the songwriter and girlfriend of Twisted Nerve's Andy Votel, Jane Weaver. The sound is BPitch Control electronics with a more lush and intrinsic quality for the ear and emotions to latch onto. The vocals are pure. The drums are real. Druggy and dreamy the song nods to Ellen Allien and her cohorts but stands out with more heart. Anna Greenwood's vocals are far more lustful and sexy than anything coming from the BPitch label. Despite a cold undercurrent the song emits a warm glow and slowly fades off into nothing but could just continue on and that would be fine. But all good things must come to an end.
Earlier this year there was a compilation from the label Pickled Eggs called, Jar. The Winter of Our Discount Tents is a companion listen and intent. Twisted Nerve's Discount Tent's compilation, like Jar, is filled with intelligently put together songs that will never be mainstream. The songs here have too much heart and talent to connect with a mass audience. The material is just not mediocre enough for popularity. But if you are looking to hear a selection of songs that are intrinsic and will deliver something new to discover and enjoy far after the first listen, check it out. Andy Votel and Damon Gough have compiled a group of artists that are musicians. These are true artisans not the artists cited in Grammy categories like "best new 'artist". The artists on this CD are working their craft and are most likely to influence others than to go on to fame and fortune themselves. And although this is not the "next new thing" or the ground-breaking new sound we all desire to bring a fresh new revolution to the musical underground, you are guaranteed some fine and interesting songs to cozy up to and enjoy. Maybe the title should have been The Winter of Our Discounted Talents?