Archives for posts with tag: Sarah Records

While we are back in the world of shoegaze… one of the best – and least known – UK shoegaze era bands is Secret Shine. They were released on their Bristol hometown independent label, Sarah Records, which was perhaps better known at the time (inaccurately) as a ‘twee pop’ label. Secret Shine are still releasing classic shoegaze pop in their distinctive style today, 30 years after they started. Here’s their track “Lost in the Middle”, another highlight of the recent essential compilation of contemporary recordings from Sarah Records associated/ derived bands called “Under the Bridge”:

The perfect pairing of the voices of Kathryn Smith (vocals and keyboards) and Jamie Gingell (bass and vocals) with the sonic miasma of guitar from Dean and Scott Purnell provides the basis for this gloriously melodic song with deliberately ambiguous lyrics, they say, as a meditation of sorts “about total absorption in, or totally letting go in, an experience.”

My introduction to Secret Shine came 30 years ago via their track “Take Me Slowly” on a another various artists compilation “Birth of the True” which was released on tiny Liverpool independent label Sugarfrost in 1992. “Take Me Slowly” from that compilation is one of the great obscure classics of early 90s shoegaze.

Secret Shine don’t just release their best music on various artists compilation albums though. As well as their first album on Sarah Records in 1993 there have been further albums released this century. A CD compilation of Secret Shine’s Sarah Records releases (two singles, the “Untouched” album and “Greater Than God” EP) called “After Years” released on US “modern shoegaze” label Clairecords in 2003 which is worth tracking down, although everything on that (and more) is available from Secret Shine on Bandcamp.

The music on the “Under The Bridge” compilation – released on Skep Wax Records, a label set up by Sarah alumni Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap and now The Catenary Wires) – retains all the essential elements of what made the Sarah Records catalogue so important in the 90s. As the Skep Wax website explains:

Time has moved on, but this coterie of ex-labelmates is making music that is as pure and as idealistic as ever.  Every track on Under The Bridge is a pop gem. Some are punk rock, some are indiepop, others are dreamy swirls of fuzz.  Some are gentle, some are some are full of rage, but all of them are defiantly sensitive, literate and full of DIY spirit.  The bands on this compilation are flattered, maybe, that people spend serious money bidding for 7” singles of their old songs.  But they are far more excited about the music they are creating today.

Travel Through Midnight” is the opening track from an intriguing compilation of bands who released records on Sarah Records in the 1990s or – in the case of The Luxembourg Signal here – have evolved from Sarah Records bands. The compilation is called “Under the Bridge” and is released on 1 March 2022 on Skep Wax Records.

The Luxembourg Signal include four members of Aberdeen (a band from Los Angeles) who released two EPs on Sarah Records, based in Bristol, UK, in 1994. One of the Luxembourg Signal/ Aberdeen members – Beth Arzy – is also in Jetstream Pony who also have a track on the compilation.

”Travel Through Midnight”, sung by Betsy Moyer, takes inspiration from a Russian fairy tale ‘midnight’ demon, reflecting a sense of travelling great distances, each place being at midnight, and never reaching the light of day. There’s a parallel in that fairytale with the ‘midnight’ of the never ending pandemic, where the hope of coming out into ‘daylight’ is dashed by another wave, and the only certainty is uncertainty. Sounds ominous when thought of like that, sorry. It’s a shimmering melancholic dream-pop song so best not to dwell on possible meanings and just enjoy the glorious music, which is ultimately what’s going to help many of us get through this moment in time.

This extract from the press release provides a concise summary of what the compilation is about, and who is involved:

A compilation of new songs. An essential album for all fans of Sarah Records. Bristol’s Sarah Records was a defiantly independent record label. Feted by many – if hated by some – it has been increasingly recognised as a seminal label which, during its short lifetime in the 1990s, created a whole scene around itself. While the label has long since closed its doors, and eschews re-releases, the bands on Sarah – or at least their members – have kept on creating perfect pop music. Under The Bridge is an extraordinary reunion, showcasing new material by fourteen of them. Many are British, but others hail from as far afield as Sydney, Victoria, California and Arizona. There are some names you’ll recognise: The Orchids, The Wake, Even As We Speak, Secret Shine, Boyracer, St Christopher. In many cases, their line-ups are relatively unchanged. Then, there are newer groups, where different line-ups have evolved: Jetstream Pony and The Luxembourg Signal (both ex-Aberdeen), The Catenary Wires and Tufthunter (both ex Heavenly), Soundwire (ex-The Sweetest Ache), Leaf Mosaic (ex-Sugargliders), Sepiasound (ex-Blueboy) and Useless Users (ex-Action Painting/Secret Shine).

For anyone interested in going to down an Aberdeen (the band) rabbit hole, Aberdeen also appear on the excellent “Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions” album along with 14 Iced Bears, and The June Brides.

PopLib featured The Catenary Wires‘ “Mirrorball” from a 7″ single recently. Here’s another new song, this time from their forthcoming album “Birling Gap” due in June. The Catenary Wires feature Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, once of Heavenly and Talulah Gosh. They are still crafting melodic pop songs with complex messages, as “The Overview Effect” shows:

They explain: “The overview effect is the feeling astronauts describe when they see the Earth from a huge distance.” With that effect comes the realisation how small and fragile the planet is.

The song is quietly gorgeous, Amelia Fletcher’s vocals floating on top of an repeating acoustic guitar melody and, behind that a gentle smudge of shoegaze ambience from the infinite space reverb wash of fuzzy electric guitar.  

They describe it as one of the album’s “anxious love songs, set in a fragile world.”  The fast-eroding white chalk cliffs at Birling Gap near Eastbourne on the southern coast of Britain, which give the album its name, represent impermanence, erosion and environmental change, reflected in the song’s anxious refrain “can’t things stay the same?

Birling Gap is released in the UK on Skep Wax Records on Friday 18th June 2021. It is available for pre-order via good record stores and The Catenary Wires Bandcamp. It is also available in the US on Shelflife Records. If you are in NZ/ Australia and keen to get the LP, postage from the UK is much more reasonable than from the US.

Tidal Rave FOMOWellington band Tidal Rave are back with a great new single “FOMO”:

Their EP last year had a churning claustrophobic feel, reminiscent of the dark garage rock of 1980s Christchurch band The Terminals.

“FOMO” is lighter – there’s more space around the three guitars to let the song breath – and the combination of keyboard with those three guitarists brings to mind the wry chamber pop of another 1980s/ 90s Flying Nun band The Able Tasmans, or perhaps even the Sarah Records pop of bands like Even As We Speak.

It has a distinctive Australasian feel to it. Maybe it’s the way we strum guitars down here, but it’s also in that distinctively Antipodean conversational vocal delivery and storytelling from Emmie Ellis, who takes the lead vocal here, and says of the the song “An ode for the excitable drunk who never wants to go home. Maybe based on real-life events.”   

The Wake

Bristol, UK independent label Sarah Records has put all their catalogue on line. Some Sarah Records singles and albums made it down-under to Dunedin and a few more picked up on overseas trips. But most of the extensive Sarah Records catalogue has been intriguing record collector territory until now. There’s plenty in that catalogue to discover today. The Wake were a band I missed at the time, so here’s their wonderfully savage “Britain”.

The Wake was founded in Glasgow in 1981 by Gerard McInulty (formerly of Altered Images), Steven Allen (drums) and Joe Donnelly (bass), the latter soon replaced by Bobby Gillespie, who was later asked to leave, joining the Jesus and Mary Chain briefly, before forming Primal Scream. Carolyn Allen (sister of drummer Steve Allen) also joined on keyboards, and along with McInulty still performs as part of a reformed The Wake.

I’m going to copy the info from the bandcamp page here to tell their story: “The Wake formed in Glasgow in 1981 and released their debut 7”, On Our Honeymoon, on their own Scan 45 label. The single attracted the attention of Factory Records, for whom they released four singles and two albums. Encouraged by fellow Glasgow-band The Orchids, they then signed to Sarah Records for two more singles and albums. After Sarah ended, a further album was released on LTM.” 

Legendary House Cats“Untitled (For You)” comes from a digital “Maxi Single” from The Legendary House Cats, which is the project of composer, producer, John Girgus from the LA band called Aberdeen who were released on Sarah Records in the UK.

The ‘Maxi Single’ concept was a classic 80s synth pop 12″ single with the song, plus various re-mixes. So that’s what we get here – 4 permutations of “Untitled” – “Remix”, “Instrumental” and finally “Reprise” – naturally.

It works on the level of nostalgia for 80s synth pop of course, but the lead song/ single here taken as it’s own is also a nicely unconventional club-hit-that-never-was.

“Untitled (For You)” has a winning combination of familiar elements from the music of New Order, Frazier Chorus and even The Blue Nile, to which is added in a big dash of pulled-back ambient soundscapes before each new ‘drop’ (and there are a few of those here).  See what you think… oh, & it’s free to download if you want.

Aberdeen June Brides 14 Iced BearsAberdeen are a band from Los Angeles naturally. Aberdeen from LA were released on Sarah Records, a Bristol, UK label. “Byron” was their first single for the label, back in 1994. This version of “Byron” however is from a newly-released album of KXLU radio sessions called “Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions” featuring 4 tracks each from Aberdeen, The June Brides and 14 Iced Bears.

If you are new to Aberdeen they have an extensive but hard-to-find back catalogue to explore, and also a treasure-rich Bandcamp page for the dedicated fan. The catalogue of singer Beth Arzy’s other band Trembling Blue Stars is also worth exploring.

This version of “Byron” starts with a recording of legendary and influential UK radio DJ John Peel introducing the original Sarah Records single on his show. I first heard all three bands on cassette tapes of John Peel radio shows sent to me from the UK, so the song – and its introduction – sets the scene perfectly to introduce this album here.

It’s an unexpectedly essential collection from these bands, considering the time elapsed since these songs first made their way in the world. All 3 bands deliver spirited performances and 14 Iced Bears in particular still sound like they did on their Peel Sessions recordings – a beguiling combination of the naive melodic charm of The Pastels and the fuzzy noise pop of Jesus & Mary Chain.


two white cranes_greyscale
two white cranes hail from Bristol in the south west of England. Here’s the first track from their recently released album “Radisson Blue”.

two white cranes on the album is Roxy Brennan, along with Dan Howard and Owen Williams.

PopLib has previously featured another band Roxy and Owen are in – Grubs. Grubs have an album coming out next month called “It Must Be Grubs”. Owen is also in Welsh noise-pop band Joanna Gruesome and now Roxy has joined as one of the two replacements for vocalist Alanna McArdle.

“Radisson Blue” is the second from two white cranes in a year. It is just guitar, bass, drums and voice – sometimes just guitar and voice – but it is all the more captivating for the way the air and space in the music draws in the listener to what takes on the character of a personal performance.

There’s an air of modern urban folk about songs like “I tried” and “Coach Trip” in particular. There’s also a reminder for me of the earliest singles by one of my favourite US bands in the 90s – Crowsdell – who used a similar twisting tangle of melodic guitar to weave musical strands around a distinctive voice to create mesmerising songs.

Bristol has a strong history in producing beguiling folk-influenced pop well outside the mainstream of the ‘alt.indie’ music, being the home of 1980s/1990s indie-pop big hitters Sarah Records and The Subway Organisation. This is a whole different era but there’s still a bit of that wilfully independent spirit there. Seek it out.


Sydney band Day Ravies are back with a couple of new releases in 2015. The first is a very fine 7″ single with “Hickford Wizz” and this song “Taking Time” –

The single sees the band move to a more stripped-down classic guitar-pop sound; less guitar effect pedals and textured noise and more pure indie-pop. “Taking Time” is a great slice of frenetic melodic post-punk guitar pop which would not sound out of place on the Sarah Records catalogue (although clearly a few decades out of time with that great label’s run).

There’s also a wonderful 4 track EP Called “Under the Lamp” released in March and limited to 100 cassettes (or unlimited downloads). It’s a strong collection of songs – all with a bit more dirty character and idiosyncratic exploratory touches than their more shoegaze-influenced debut 2013 album “Tussle”. There’s scuzzier grainy pop sounds and a bit of more experimental droning keyboard and DIY electronic pop, hinting a little of the likes of Stereolab via Broadcast (particularly on the brilliant title track “Under The Lamp”).

If you crave more of that Stereolab-styled motorik sound then check their fine standalone track “This Side of the Fence” as well.

I’m guessing each of these post-“Tussle” album slices is a combination of a band on a creative burst just releasing stuff as they forge their way, and also perhaps a chance to try out new approaches to music without the commitment of a 10-12 song album. It’s always thrilling to hear a favourite band confound expectations and demonstrate variety and substance, building that “what next?” anticipation.

UPDATE: We don’t have too long to wait in anticipation for that next album
Day Ravies_Liminal Zones_Sonic Masala

The Steinbecks

The Steinbecks

I was planning to have a break after a song-a-day-May for NZ Music Month. Time to catch up with a backlog of new albums. Turned out most of them were from Australian bands. It’s been years since a lot of Australian albums found their way into my collection. It started me wondering ‘do they have an Australian Music Month?’ Seems a bit unfair for NZ to have a music month and no-one else. They do – these crazy nationalistic music months are not unique to NZ – and November is Australian Music Month. So I’ll probably post a few Australian songs in June.

Anyway, here’s The Steinbecks first up with ‘We Cannot Hope to Compete With Such Colours’ from their brand new album ‘Kick To Kick’.

While I hear echoes of the Go-Betweens at times throughout the album, this particular song is eerily reminiscent of ‘Too Hot To Be Cool’ by NZ psych-pop legends The Puddle – the B-Side of their 1993 Flying Nun Records 7″ single ‘Thursday’.

The Steinbecks are from the state of Victoria. Here’s some brief background:
“The Steinbecks emerged from the ashes of The Sugargliders after the ’gliders had released ten 7” singles, including six for legendary English label Sarah Records. The Meadows brothers write emotionally honest pop songs about the world as they experience it. They record them with multi-instrumentalists Matt Sigley (Earthmen, Daytime Frequency), Joseph Bromley, and Jerry Rinse. ‘Kick to kick’ with The Steinbecks is the band’s first album since 2007’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’.