Thursday, August 26, 2010
Young Marble Giants - Salad Days
I found this one in, of all places, Nashville, Tennessee.
I was in Nashville for the very first time for a conference back in 2002, staying at the Opryland Hotel. Back then, I had no strong affinity for country music. I don't know if you've ever been to Nashville, but if you haven't, let me let you in on a little secret - practically the ENTIRE TOWN is devoted to country music. It's everywhere, especially where I was staying - banjo music is piped nonstop through the building, the lobby features exhibits from the Grand Old Opry (stuff like Minnie Pearl's hat), and that country theme is even embedded in the décor of the place. Needless to say, after a day or so there, I was starting to freak. A little of that kind of music goes a long way for me, so being immersed in it was getting to be a bit much.
On the second day of the conference, I fled the building, desperately trying to find anywhere, anyplace that had that whole country schtick toned down even a little bit. I found myself at, of all places, Opry Mills Mall nearby - maybe not the best choice, but all that I could get to at that moment. The place was fairly generic, as far as malls go, except for, once again, the hillbilly Muzak that was apparently ubiquitous with the region. However, I saw a store in the mall that appeared to offer some salvation - the local Virgin Megastore. I practically ran there, figuring that if there was any cool music being played in Nashville, it would be in there.
And sure enough, stepping through the door was like stepping through a bubble, shutting out the countrified outside world. Stereolab was being played over the store speakers, the cashiers all had visible tattoos and/or piercings - I felt like I was back in 'civilization' again, or what I considered to be civilization . . .
I killed some time by going through Virgin's stacks (guess what was the largest section in the store . . .). I wasn't really looking for anything, but as I ran through the "Y"s in the Rock section, I recalled that one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands was a short-lived Welsh post-punk group called Young Marble Giants. Shockingly, the store had a single copy of one of the band's albums available, Salad Days. I really didn't know anything about them, but Cobain's word was good enough for me - I purchased it.
Young Marble Giants was formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1978, and was made up of brothers Stuart (on guitar and organ) and Philip Moxham (on bass) and singer Alison Stratton. Being from the comparative outback, as far as music was concerned, Young Marble Giants developed their own distinctive, stripped-down sound, far removed from anything coming out of London's post-punk scene at the time. They first appeared on a local compilation album, Is The War Over?, in October 1979, and from the strength of their contribution, were immediately signed to Rough Trade Records. Their only album on Rough Trade, Colossal Youth, was released the following February, followed by two EPs, the Final Day EP in June 1980 and the Testcard EP in March 1981. But by the time Testcard was released, Young Marble Giants had broken up.
The album Salad Days was released on obscure label Vinyl Japan (UK) Ltd. in 2000. The fifteen songs contained on this album are essentially demos and home recordings of songs that eventually ended up on the band's album and EPs. Salad Days is Young Marble Giants distilled down to their essence. The sound of these recordings are not as full as the final products would be, but their very primitive, lo-fi quality makes them more immediate and intimate. For example, of the two versions of "Brand New Life" I own on Colossal Youth and Salad Days, I prefer the latter version - the minimalism of the Salad Days version, in my opinion, strengthens the song. Usually a band's release of early demos is pretty useless, and of interest only to hard-core fans; this album is one of the few demo collections that stands toe-to-toe with the band's other recordings.
Since the breakup of Young Marble Giants in 1981, Stuart Moxham has continued making music in the indie genre, both solo and with other artists (most significantly with Barbara Manning in her 1993 release Barbara Manning Sings With The Original Artists). Alison Stratton and Philip Moxham recruited other musicians and quickly formed a jazz-influenced combo called Weekend, which released an acclaimed album, La Variete, in 1982. After Weekend disbanded in 1983, Philip Moxham moved into more mainstream alternative territory, playing bass for Everything But The Girl and The Communards.
However, in 2003, the trio reunited for a one-off radio special in Wales. Since then, they have appeared together as Young Marble Giants sporadically, most recently in 2009. There are rumors of a new album now and then, but nothing has come of that thus far.
Until that occurs, enjoy this copy of Salad Days. If you have Colossal Youth, compare the sound of the two. I believe that, like me, you'll come to appreciate and enjoy them both. Let me know what you think.
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