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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Swell Maps, Jane from Occupied Europe March 31, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Once upon a the in the mid-1980s I bought a Nikki Sudden album having heard at one or two removes that the Swell Maps were top. That the album was a rather drab affair, to my ears , and fixated on what seemed to be country music, is not Sudden’s fault but instead an indication of my lack of a broader musical education.

When not that long after I finally got around to listening to Swell Maps, and in particular Jane from Occupied Europe – which was released in 1980, I have to admit I was sort of puzzled as to what the musical lineage between Sudden’s later output and them actually was.

But long after it began to make some sort of sense. The music was the product of two brothers, Epic Soundtracks and the aforementioned Nikki Sudden, along with Biggles Books, Phones Sportsman, John Cockerill and Jowe Head. Sudden and Soundtracks are both dead, and perhaps that accounts for their relative lack of profile – though that said they are hugely respected. But here’s yet another band that deserved more recognition than they received. Their first album, A Trip to Marineville is well worth a listen, not least because they too had their influences and it’s fun to parse them out listening to the album, and many will know their debut single ‘Read About Seymour’ (which although released in 1978 and has all the usual punk tropes also has a spirit of inventiveness and eccentricity which sets it apart from the mainstream of that movement) – and as an aside, it’s worth noting that they had been formed as early as 1972, albeit in nascent form, and like a lot of groups of that period punk wasn’t exactly Year Zero, but more a sort of push that propelled them forward. But Jane from Occupied Europe, or The Swell Maps in ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ as it is sometimes known was special.

In a way this is textural music. It’s not that there aren’t melodies, they’re here in abundance – ‘Secret Island’ has a fine ascending guitar line – albeit monotonal, but rather like Sonic Youth [who admit to their influence] the sounds are as important, if not more so, than the melodies. And perhaps in that respect this is a perfect example of the more/most experimental side of post-punk, at least where that strand eschewed keyboards. So you get drones, you get guitars, you get some keyboard sounds and you get a sense of each song slightly or seriously falling apart.

Jane from Occupied Europe was the album where they moved fully, or more or less fully, into post-punk. And yet while this wasn’t punk, though it would hardly have sounded like it did without punk opening the door for this sort of frantic experimentation, yet it was punk.

Listen to ‘Let’s Buy A Bridge’ and it’s frantic pacing. And then compare and contrast with ‘Robot Factory’. The latter is a perfect example of their experimentation. Joy Division style beats that fade in and out set against an hissing series of tones before returning. That it opens the album is perfect, a statement of intent. Cake Shop Girl is a song that Bowie could, perhaps should have written.

The jagged thrust of tracks like ‘Border Country’ are inflected with an energy that is belied by the almost spoken vocals of the verse. But listen then to the almost atonal keyboard at 1.10 or so which arrives to change the dynamic of the song entirely. And everything is so detailed from drum fills to sounds.

So, while as noted above, while it may sound like it’s falling apart it really isn’t.

‘The Helicopter Spies’ arrives in a rush. And even though many of the songs are a little faster than mid-paced there’s an energy to them that is quite distinctive. And the hand-claps. Extra points, as always, for hand-claps.

In passing reflect on the song titles which are in and of themselves fantastic a mish mash of cultural influences from the 1950s onwards… ‘The Helicopter Spies’, ‘Let’s Buy A Bridge’, ‘Secret Island’…

Enjoy.

The Helicopter Spies

Let’s Buy A Bridge

Secret Island

Blenheim Shots/A Raincoat’s Room [best listened to in full to get a sense of how the two tracks blend into each other]

Border Country

Read about Seymour (1978)

Cake Shop Girl

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Comments»

1. kevbarring - March 31, 2012

Didn’t Nikki Sudden record some stuff here…Nikki Sudden and the lost bandits or something like that.
I think I remember some quite good junk tinged country, in particular a song about not wanting to stand in dead man shoes.
It was perhaps only released on cassette.

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sonofstan - March 31, 2012

‘The Last Bandits’ – Nikki with Simon Carmody and Johnny Fean and it was released on vinyl.

One of Nikki’s maxims which I remember liking was this: if you have next to no money left in the world – a few quid, maybe – give it away.

One of his maxims I liked less was his contention that Fender guitars are shit.

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WorldbyStorm - March 31, 2012

:)

I think that’s the album I heard and I was well puzzled by it back in the day. I bought another pure solo one of his too and was sorely puzzled by it as well.

Haven’t heard them in years, not sure I evne have them any longer. Must go looking.

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EamonnCork - March 31, 2012

I bet he never realised then that the first maxim would be adopted as economic policy by successive Irish governments.
I liked The Last Bandits album as far as I can remember, it was like the Intrepid Fox pub in Soho turned into a record. I shudder to think what it would sound like now.

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WorldbyStorm - April 1, 2012

Have to agree there :)

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kevbarring - April 1, 2012

Have it on cassette lying around somewhere. I would happily play it and update you if I had the means.

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2. Phil - April 2, 2012

I saw the Slits once, way back when, and remember thinking Ari looked incredibly young. Little did I know she was – she was a year and a bit younger than me (and I was feeling pretty grown-up just being at the gig on my own).

Similarly with this crowd – listening to A trip to Marineville I remember thinking their sound wasn’t all that different from the tapes me and my friends had made mucking about after school, and thinking that really one looked for something more than this from an recording artist working at the length of an album. (I was so much older then.) Little did I know that they were in fact kids mucking about after school. Great album in its way – very punk. Wish I’d hung on to it now.

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3. anarchaeologist - April 2, 2012

Just to hijack this (very excellent) thread, and I’ve always liked the Swell Maps, where Sudden became a sorta Carmody-copy to the power of Keef… anyway, Thomas Meinecke of FSK, who have featured in this column, is reading from his first novel (Tomboy), just translated into Englisch on Thursday afternoon next, yup, Holy Thursday, in the Dice Bar on Benburb Street in Smithfield. He’ll be spinning a few tunes that feature in the novel, lots of American feminist post-punk and disco I believe. What else would you be doing on Thursday, apart from the obvious?

It starts at about 3.00 and goes on until 5.00. Warum kann dein Mann nicht lesbisch sein?

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4. This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Kleenex/LiLiPUT | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - March 15, 2014

[…] A group(s) whose musical home would be one step away from the peerless Slits, another step away from Swell Maps, think abrasive guitars, sonic experimentation, interesting vocals and sounds… yes, a lot of […]

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