The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Various Artists
Speedy Wunderground Year 1 Laurie Tuffrey , June 11th, 2014 12:38

Last year, Dan Carey, the much sought-after Streatham-based producer who's worked with M.I.A., Kylie Minogue, Hot Chip and Franz Ferdinand, to name just four, set up his own record label. Speedy Wunderground comes with the twist of every 7" single they release having to be recorded in just one day and mixed the next, before getting sent off to the pressing plant, in an effort to bridge the gap between performance and playback. Carey laid down the idea in a ten-point plan to loosely guide the label, where, alongside a call for no lunch breaks and a stipulation that all recordings be "a live take recorded in the dark with smoke and lazers", number eight perhaps best encases the ethos: "Speedy Wunderground records will not sit on the shelf gathering dust waiting to be released".

And true to point number nine - each year's singles getting collected in a compilation - here's volume one. By means of a statement of intent, opener 'I Go Out', a collaboration between three acts Carey had recently produced, Steve Mason, Emilíana Torrini and Toy, is pretty faultless. The track reins in the latter's more psychedelic edges in favour of something tighter, framing them in the mechanistic rigidity of Can, with Mason and Torrini trading suspicious lovers' interrogations over the first half, before "the house band" Toy rage through the second, hurtling forward ferociously with things teetering, mesmerically, just on the edge of falling apart.

The motorik vibrations spill over into the next single, Archie Bronson Outfit's 'I Was A Dead Duck'. Here, the band's rough-edged riffing and frenzied vocals get thrown into a more spacious setting, pulled out of the Swarmatron, the bonkers, custom-built analog synth that graces all the tracks on the album (point seven). Following is the label's high point to date: Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, and Toy again, reworking 'Aroos Khanom', a wedding song by the Iranian musician Amir Rassaei. What begins as a fraught but faithful cover of the original with its tinkling, childlike piano melody and high drama vocals soon switchbacks into a double-headed serpent, the bass and drums meting out a cruel head-chopper of a rhythm, Khan's voice suddenly caught in a solar storm, rearing up and away, before slowly imploding over a repeated closing mantra, "Anyone who came nearly tried, somehow, to deceive me". (An enthusiastic and accurate "great!", you'd guess from Carey, just caught as the mics fade down).

Elsewhere, Kate Tempest, the spoken word poet and playwright, eschews the constraints of the one-day turnaround on 'Hot Night Cold Spaceship', yielding up a metaphor-laden story fixating on time's passing over a simmered-down soundbed of kicks and handclaps, the Swarmatron soaring around spectrally in the background. London indie troupe Childhood's 'Pinballs' initially seems to ride the shoe-y autobahn less well than 'I Go Out', but begins to tease out a Broken Social Scene-like dreaminess which gets fully indulged after they take a deft detour at the halfway mark, when the tempo drops and the vocals channel Kevin Drew's doped, lusty urgency over louche tom ricochets.

A couple of the tracks fare slightly less well, with Scotti Brains' 'Keep Your Eyes Open Boy' an indie jam that's perhaps a bit too lightweight to justify its seven-minutes-plus length, while JUCE!'s 'Braindead' feels like a slightly dulled funk workout. Better are Carey's (or "Mr Dan"'s) dub reworks, the B-side on almost all of the singles and which get included here. Particularly good is the take on the Archie Bronson Outfit track, turning it into a fractured broiler, while 'The Bride's fringes-of-sanity delirium comes into a new focus when it gets pared down to just a swirl of crackly vocal snippets and the schizoid drumming. Toy guitarist Dominic O'Dair also remixes the track, closing the compilation with an equally ace, hyper-freaked version, which sounds like it's fed the original through a decrepit harpsichord and into a box full of ghosts.

If this compilation doesn't feel fully-formed, that's because it's not supposed to; the beauty of this label is to roll out tracks that aren't nth-degree polished, rather experiments in capturing fleeting moments of in-studio brilliance and releasing them quick sharp. The best results are where those involved have embraced the creative limitation and taken a day off from their modus operandi, seizing the chance to throw something completely unexpected onto tape, and when they hit the mark, as on 'I Go Out' and 'The Bride', we can only hope that Speedy Wunderground makes good on its name and has a swift return for year two.