Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Look At The Holy Grail-Like New Creation Artifact Box From Cherry Red Records

My pursuit of everything on 4AD Records was, more or less, a fad. Despite some great bands on the label, and the release of some of my favorite records -- Surfer Rosa by The Pixies, Throwing Muses, Victorialand by Cocteau Twins -- I consider my fevered search for albums on that label to be a hobby that largely has a start and end in my mind; by 1990 or so, the bloom was off that rose.

On the other hand, at some point in very early 1988, right after I got my first CD player, I started buying almost everything on Flying Nun and Creation Records thanks, largely, to hearing 2 albums for the first time: Brave Words by The Chills and Creation Purple Compilation. If one of those defined the sound of arguably the best band on that seminal New Zealand label, the other -- a collection -- gave me a crash-course into a label that seemed to be ransacking the past to draft the blueprint(s) for the future of indie-rock (called at that time "alternative", or "college rock" still).

A bit after that point in 1988, when I had paid the seemingly obscene amount of $25 to get the Creation Purple Compilation on import CD in Georgetown -- a process reflected on in this early blog post of mine -- I got the first House of Love album and I was firmly a junkie. Creation Records was the most reliable of labels I ever followed and while things might go from the jangle of early bands like Biff Bang Pow! to the mid-period bliss of My Bloody Valentine, and on to the Britpop genius of Super Furry Animals, Boo Radleys, and Oasis, whatever was on the label for a good 15 years was worthy of being heard, whatever the cost.

And how did that happen? This miraculous 5-CD box set from Cherry Red Records is here to answer that question. Contained in the marvelous Creation Artifact are the "hits-and-misses" of those early, early Creation releases. There are flops and moments of staggering beauty and brilliance and yet, overall, the box set serves as the ultimate testimonial as to why this label was so important to so many people around the world for so long.

Label boss Alan McGee (r) might have been conferring with Television Personalities whiz Dan Treacy (l), as shown in that pic, but he was also cultivating pioneers in what could only be called "noise rock" back then (Meat Whiplash), or ramshackle punkers (The Membranes), or his own lot of stuck-in-the-Sixties musicians (Biff Bang Pow!). What Creation Artifact reveals more than anything else was the sheer diversity of talent on the label in its early days; those buying this set expecting 5-CDs' worth of "Velocity Girl" by Primal Scream are in for a rude lesson; check the grim Nick Cave-isms of The Moodists to cure yourself of that idea.

Discs 1 and 2 of this give you the singles -- the "hits", as it were. These are the cuts that defined the sound of the label for a generation up until Oasis blew the doors off the thing. The jangle of stuff like "All Fall Down" by Primal Scream is here, along with the neo-psychedelia of "Flowers in the Sky" by Revolving Paint Dream, and the nearly-Mod stomp of "There Must Be a Better Life" by Alan McGee's Biff Bang Pow! or "Where the Traffic Goes" by the Jasmine Minks.

The Jasmine Minks, shown above, joined bands like The Loft in recasting Sixties influences -- and obligatory nods in the direction of the Velvet Underground -- into something that was both DIY pure and pure pop for now people. "Up the Hill and Down the Slope" is clearly aimed at the charts and it's all the better for that. In one moment, Astor and co., whether knowingly or not, were bridging what would was indie and what aimed to be catchy and -- dare I say it? -- nearly mainstream. Tuneful and punchy, the single remains one of the seminal tracks on Creation.

And what can one possibly say of the brief appearances of The Jesus and Mary Chain here? A friend played Psychocandy on cassette for me in 1987, almost a year before I got my hands on any genuine Creation product, and somehow I didn't make the connection that they were a Creation band until a bit later. Here represented by the blast of "Upside Down", a few demos, and a cover of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd-castoff "Vegetable Man", the band sound like -- at least on "Upside Down" -- like they are making music from another planet. It's hard to overstate just how noisy this was in 1984 or so. Yeah, there was punk rock being made on both sides of the Atlantic, and D.C. hardcore bands like Void were scorching the earth prior to that, but the early tunes of The Jesus and Mary Chain threw caution to the wind in the creation of entirely new music. This was largely uncharted territory until My Bloody Valentine -- another Creation band -- would come along a few years later to push things farther out.

Disc 3 of this set offers up the Alive in the Living Room compilation and a slew of other live tracks. These are the only appearances on Creation Artifact of inspirational postpunk bands The Mekons and The Three Johns, along with the only cut from The June Brides on this box (even though they were ostensibly a Creation band). Disc 3 is rounded out with demos and rarities, including the punch-in-the-face of "I Am Fisheye" by The Membranes.

The real highlight of Disc 4, the demos section of the box set, is the nearly-Bacharach-like "Everybody's Got To Grow Up Some Time" by The Jasmine Minks. Still, that track might not be nearly as memorable as the rough-around-the-edges charms of "Home" by The X-Men. Decidedly less jangle rock than 90% of the stuff on this box set, the band's tunes are little lost treasures from the pre-C86 era in UK postpunk.

Disc 5 is devoted to the BBC sessions recorded by these bands, a showcase for the skills of acts like The Loft (pictured above in a 1985 support gig for Felt). Pete Astor's skills as a songwriter are shown on tracks like "On a Tuesday", an update on late Sixties tropes featured here in a BBC session, and the more charging "Wide Open Arms", one of a few live "bonus" tracks on this final disc of Creation Artifact.

What we're hearing here on Disc 5 is the landscape of UK indie captured shortly thereafter on the canvas of the influential C86 cassette issued by the NME. Maybe the once-great music mag didn't intend to start a revolution but that tape, and its subsequent genre label derived from its name, continue to shape indie rock even now. Equal parts jangle and attitude, the bands on that cassette combined a brash DIY ethos with loads of winning melodies. That so many McGee-signed Creation bands are thought of as C86 bands says a lot about the man's dominance of UK indie in the popular imagination. Creation Artifact shows a listener exactly how that battle was won. If there are not a lot of C86 bands here in terms of the sound, then there are loads of them here in spirit.

This set from Cherry Red Records does nothing so much as force a significant reassessment of the legacy of McGee's label. Reshaping how we think of the output of the label, and what we think of as a Creation band, Creation Artifact presents both a rounded picture of this brand's output, as well as a concise overview of non-mainstream UK indie from a certain moment in time.

Poised to be seen as the most important reissue of 2015, Creation Artifact fills in the gaps in a listener's understanding of the importance of Creation Records, even a fan who thinks he knows the label thoroughly. Spanning 124 songs and more than 6 hours of music, Creation Artifact is a refresher course in what made this label so great, and a gentle reminder of the great work being done by Cherry Red these days. Important and essential, and a downright blast to listen to, the music here is the best indie rock from one of the most fertile periods in British music history. Here is a chance to hear the first flowering of a certain brand of tune-age before other acts would get signed to Creation Records and forever change things. Before Britpop and those early Oasis singles, before My Bloody Valentine invented shoegaze, and even right before C86 bands rode a wave of jangle rock into the future, Creation Records was putting out some of the bravest and most challenging music in the United Kingdom. It's all here on Creation Artifact.

Creation Artifact from Cherry Red is out on Friday but up for pre-order now. Grab yours now.