Various Artists - Rocket Girl 20 - - Soundblab

Various Artists - Rocket Girl 20

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2019-03-01
Various Artists - Rocket Girl 20
Various Artists - Rocket Girl 20

I first became aware of Vinita Joshi about 20 years ago when I was researching my book on the Terrastock Festivals. She helped curate the third festival in London in 1998, featuring many bands whose records she released through several labels she spearheaded, including Che, Cheree, and i. About the same time, she began Rocket Girl records with a split 45 from two Terrastock performers, Silver Apples and Windy & Carl, followed by her first full-length, a Tribute To Spacemen 3, one of my favourite artists and, not coincidentally one of the very best tribute albums ever. In celebration of Rocket Girl’s 20th anniversary, Joshi has compiled one of the finest packages we’ve ever seen, featuring a 16-track CD, a collectible flexi disc featuring an outtake from Mogwai’s Every Country’s Sun album, another (standard) 7” pairing tracks from two Philadelphia artists who also performed at Terrastock 3 (Bardo Pond and The Azusa Plane), and a 70-page hardcover book recounting the label’s illustrious history. You also get a download code so you can take the 20 music tracks along for the ride, walk, run, etc!

Over the past two decades, Rocket Girl has released and/or reissued material by the cream of the international indie scene representing nearly every genre you can imagine: Television Personalities, Disco Inferno, God Is An Astronaut, Silver Apples, Low, Piano Magic, Drugstore, Peter Daltrey (British psych legends Kaleidoscope), Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, A Place To Bury Strangers, Pieter Nooton (Clan of Xymox, This Mortal Coil), Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (Luna), and many more. Most of these artists are represented across these 20 exclusive tracks (perhaps one for each celebratory year?), which begin with a special “Rocket Mix” of her first artist: Silver Apples’ electronic bleeps, bloops, and sci-fi rap ‘Susie’, originally on their 2016 release Clinging To A Dream. Mogwai’s iceberg slow outtake ‘Fight For Work’ is essential for collectors and completists of both snore-core in general and the band in particular, not least of all because it’s one of their finest offerings, right in line with the new cinematic direction their music has taken ever since they scored the gig to soundtrack Les Revenants in 2013.

Philly sludgemeisters Bardo Pond out grunge the flannel-shirted crowd at their own game, shredding speakers and eardrums with the mudfest ‘Out of Nowhere’, while jason diemilliolongtime Joshi artist,  the author, musician, and actor Kirk Lake (another Terrastock 3 veteran) boogies his way across the dancefloor with the sordid tale of ‘Go Ask Adorno’ and one of Joshi’s dearest friends, the late Jason DiEmillio’s Azusa Plane is represented by his distinctly mesmerizing ambient noise, ‘Pop World’. Canadian duo P.S. I Love You deliver their angular, skewed take on guitar pop, ‘The Sun, The Sea, And The Song’. Coldharbourstores glistening post-rock guitarscapes pop in for ‘Seven Minutes’ (actually, 6:40!) and it doesn’t get any more heartbreakingly beautiful than the gorgeous guitar rumination ‘Swallows and Swifts II’ from Anthony Harding’s July Skies project. It’s like listening to Vini Reilly’s Durruti Column on a grey rainy day and has me shortlisting his back catalogue for immediate pickup.

vinita joshi

Randall Nieman has been mesmerizing and infuriating fans and enemies alike for over 20 years with his ambient, noise, electronic dance project Füxa. Early releases are prime snore-core, but the “Congo HammerRemix” of his 2013 Rocket Girl single ‘Sun Is Shining’ does tend towards the overly repetitive (read: boring) side of his talents. No matter, the day is saved by one of my current favourite ambient, postrock snore-core acts God Is An Astronaut with the dreamy piano-driven “Quiet” version of their spacey floater ‘Reverse World’ from their 2013 Rocket Girl release Origin.

Picking up the pace, A Place To Bury Strangers combine jungle drumming with a droning, drowning dirge of a tale, ‘A Million Tears’…hide the razor blades! Cocteau robin guthrieTwins fans will need Robin Guthrie’s ‘Flicker’, a soothing, Eno-esque ambient floater with vestiges of the Twins’ glistening glissando guitars that harkens back to Victorialand and their 1986 collaboration with Harold Budd, The Moon and The Melodies. Simply sublime.

The always entertaining and singleminded Dan Treacy (Television Personalities) delivers a galloping slice of toytown pop ‘All Coming Back’ which combines typically autobiographical lyrics (more of a short story, really) with a giddy, childlike fairytale melody. God, I’d love it if he could collaborate with Lawrence (Go-Kart Mozart, Felt, Denim) one of these days. The mind boggles at the possibilities, and Rocket Girl would be just the label to bring these troubled geniuses together. Just saying! Pieter Nooten came to my ears via Clan of Xymox, a New Order-inspired Dutch darkwave dance band best known for their mid-‘80s masterpieces on 4AD (their eponymous debut and Medusa). His four 21st century solo albums have graced the Rocket Girl imprint and the minimalist piano playing in an empty room ‘I Want You’ solicits tears, heartbreak, and melancholia – perfect for walking through the woods on a snowy evening.

The multitalented Welsh biographer (Leonard Cohen, Japan, Jeff Buckley, Walker Brothers), actor and musician Anthony Reynolds checks in with the synthy dance smash ’Losers Like Us Take The Bus’. Newbies into the quirky, sophisticated angular pop of Bryan Ferry and David Byrne should line up posthaste.  Jon DeRosa is jon derosaanother dear friend (of mine and Joshi’s!) and brilliant musician who’s released a varied collection of material, ranging from ambient guitarscapes (Aarktica) to countrified Americana and loner folk (Pale Horse and Rider) to deeply disturbing personal confessionals (Dark Leaves Rising) alongside albums released under his own name. ‘Golden Dawn’ is an outtake from one of the latter, his 2015 Rocket Girl album Black Halo. Scott Walker is an immediate touchstone, but DeRosa adds his own heartbreaking glow to the tearjerker, bringing a slight Julian Cope vibe to the orphan track, which we’re glad Rocket Girl found a home for!

Brian McBride is one-half of one of my favourite snore-core projects, Stars of The Lid. About a decade ago he formed Bell Gardens with Kenneth James Gibson, whose exploits and musical projects could fill an encyclopaedia! He’s released over two dozen albums under just as many aliases. Toss in about five times as many singles and EPs and you’ve got a discography to rival Acid Mothers Temple. Together, the duo make arresting chamber pop, whispered Americana folk tales and the odd AM radio mashup, as with ‘Might Be You’, which wants to be The Carpenters, Burt Bacharach, Stephen Bishop, and Maureen McGovern (and about a half dozen others I haven’t quite figured out yet) and usually succeeds!

Heading down the homestretch, White Ring sounds like a band that’s all wrong for Rocket Girl. Rightly or wrongly tagged as “witch house” (some sort of skullfuck conflagration of hip-hop, noise, industrial and electronic mash-ups, cut-ups, and backward masked heebie-jeebies…the Wiki article is fucked-up by all the editing and is virtually impenetrable, but perhaps that’s the point?), ‘Heavy’ certainly raises the skin on the back of the neck and feels like Nine Inch Nails, Faust, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Lords Of Acid locked in a room performing an updated soundtrack to The Blair Witch Project. Not quite my cup of musical hemlock, but certainly illustrating that Joshi is not averse to pushing the musical boundaries and shredding the complacency envelope.

Andrew Weatherall should be no stranger to readers of Soundblab, so I’ll just say that his ‘Cosmonautrix’ will cause dancefloor hallucinations and ’80s flashbacks to his 12” remixes that broke many a backbone trying to come to terms with his herky-jerky breakbeats and kitchen-sink, industrial kling-klang robotics. Nostalgic, but a tad tiresome at nearly eight minutes. Perhaps a Carl Stalling/Raymond Scott chaser is in order? And finally, Transient Waves creep in with the Chill Out comedown groove of their ‘D Jam’, an ambient elixir from Weatherall’s panic attack and the perfect goodnight kiss to this laudatory celebration of two decades of some of the most eclectic music from one of music’s most open-minded musical mavericks. Sure, the Ivo Watts-Russells, Tony Wilsons, Geoff Travises, Alan McGees, and Daniel Millers of the indie world get all the newsprint (note the gender), but Vinita Joshi belongs right up there with the big boys in any discussion of influential icons of the music industry.

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