ELEPHANT STONE RECORDS is co-run by Ben Vendetta, former publisher of the excellent Vendetta zine, who subsequently became publicist for Dionysus' psych-pop arm Orange Sky, and after that started the Elephant Stone label with his wife Bella. Rejecting anything deemed wussy, twee, sensitive or goofy, but embracing Rock and what they term 'drugfuzz', Elephant Stone describes itself as "a label and a state of mind where 60s Psych and 90s Shoegaze collide". One of the label's earlier releases was the Delta singles & rarities compilation Singularity. Any label that champions Delta has got to be well worth looking into, so here's a rundown of some of their other releases.
The Situation have a couple of cds on the label, starting with The Reece Nasty EP. The melody of Don't Wait For Me puts me in mind of the sort of thing to come out of the early 90s shoegazer movement, but instead of being backed by an atmospheric wall of noise, The Situation have favoured a janglepop meets retro rock arrangement with touches of psychedelia. The Best Prescription Pill Available is classic janglepop, similar to 80s bands of this genre but with more bite - largely due to the singer's confident, assertive vocal style. (Incidentally, the band are from Philadelphia, but the vocalist has a very convincing English accent). The Greatest Thing is another shoegaze/psychedelia crossover, this time also adding that lazy drumbeat characteristic of the early 90s 'baggy' scene. (What Keeps You) Keepin' On? combines the underground and commercial sides of indie music, having segments of minimalistic and slightly off-centre acoustic indiepop and bits that rock out in a way that's similar to the more mainstream side of 90s indie music. Why I Can't Relate is a riotous piece of retro rock with snotty punk vocals. Although The Situation remind me of countless 90s bands who were too mainstream for me at the time (The Stone Roses and Oasis are two that spring to mind, along with Ride who I did actually like back then), a decade later there is a retro quality to this sort of sound, so it doesn't suffer from 'mainstream overkill'. The band are able to pull off this style well and improve on it by adding psychedelic and other undergroundy bits of their own. The first two tracks are fantastic, though the whole EP has merit.
The Situation follow this up with their self-titled album, which continues in the retro vein, whilst refining their sound to remove most of the blatantly obvious influences, and developing a more diverse style overall. Amoralia adds touches of ska and a basically timeless brand of alternative rock to the band's more usual mix of psych/retro rock/90s indie sounds. Modern Dances is great raucous garage/psych rock which goes straight to the 60s for its inspiration, bypassing Britpop and other 2nd hand rehashes popular in the 90s, to create a more authentic retro sound. Vocalist Christopher Tucker loses his faux English accent for Latchkey Kids, an excellent piece of laid-back 60s-ish folk. Cherry is brilliant upbeat retro rock that features some funky riffage reminiscent of Delta's TV On. They also do the sophisticated laid-back pop thing on a few tracks, along with a selection of other raw garage rock and folky numbers, the latter category including the very beautiful and moving Photographs and Cherryade. Apart from an obvious Oasis influence on the tune (though not the arrangement) of The Migrant Living In Your Ear, it can be said that on the whole The Situation have now found their own sound - a definite good sign. It takes talent to draw from past genres without sounding derivative, and on the whole The Situation achieve this with their eponymous album.
The New Planet Trampoline is a psych band (what else would they be with a name like that?!) that includes current and former members of The Volta Sound and The Dreadful Yawns. Their album on Elephant Stone, The Curse of the New Planet Trampoline, features swirly artwork, equally swirly 60s organ, and songs with such quirky titles as Phantom Picture Taker, ESP Medallion, Fishbone Song and Fake-Ass Moon, along with a song named after a type of incense (Nag Champa). Whilst everything I've mentioned so far is pretty much typical of the psych-pop genre, The New Planet Trampoline are certainly no one-dimensional band; their album covers a lot of ground within the psychedelic category. Northwestern Woodpecker begins as a bizarre mix of punk, rock n' roll and country, accompanied by their trademark 60s-ish organ sound. After a few seconds of wobbly spacey noise, the song metamorphoses into a heavy rock guitar-solo-fest, before returning to the zany take on rockabilly/psychobilly it started off as. Nag Champa is entirely different from the track that precedes it - a spaced-out number that totally encapsulates Elephant Stone's tagline 'where 60s psych and 90s shoegaze collide'. Whirlpool Clyde is an inventive track that mixes strongly melodic psych-pop with a drumbeat reminiscent of Scottish marching bands. Skeleton Key is a kind of warped blues. The intro of Fake-Ass Moon is the kind of shimmering ambience often heard emanating from the speakers in New Age shops, but the song itself is a predominantly acoustic 60s-ish psych-folk-pop number which later brings in some clackety-clack percussion (spoons?) and spooky background sound effects to complement the ghostly lyrics. They also take in classic psych-pop and freakbeat across various tracks. A worthy addition to anyone's psych-pop collection.
San Francisco band Dora Flood have released their fifth album Highlands on Elephant Stone. The opening track Stargazing is perfectly named, combining as it does elements of spacerock and shoegazing. The second track continues in a similar laid-back, spaced-out and atmospheric vein, making me think Stargazing is an ideal name for the band's overall genre, but by the time the third track comes along, they have changed into a rather different band. Throwing Wishes has shades of early 90s indie music, the type of bands who were pretty popular but sounded (to me at least) rather more credible than the overly commercialised 'Britpop' that the more famous end of indie music had morphed into later in the decade. They combine this sound with lashings of 60s psych jangle and spacerock bleepery, and there's even a segment featuring retro-futuristic computerised vocals. Phantasm combines tuneful janglepop with a more atmospheric noise guitar sound. Two Passing Shadows combines a drawn-out, lazy drawl of a vocal with a very 60s riff and floaty atmospheric soundscaping. Where You Belong is based around an authentic-sounding retro janglepop/powerpop song, but it avoids being straight 60s copyism by adding the dreamlike atmospheric effects that are the trademark of this album. Evening on my Mind adds an electro/disco touch to the swirling, spacey arrangement of the song - an unexpected extra but one that works well. Echoes begins with an intro straight out of the old school jangly indiepop scene, though the song itself owes more to the sophisticated and serious side of 60s pop. Again it avoids being a straightforward retro number due to the lush atmospheric arrangement. Home includes a minimal keyboard and the usual ethereal effects, over which are vocals so reverbed they sound almost choral. An excellent album, containing a variety of psychedelic music that, whilst drawing inspiration from the 60s and the 90s, manages to sound fresh and non-cliched. I'm curious to hear more from this band, who it seems have done a lot more than just this album.
Daydream Nation includes members of Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Warlocks, The Tyde and Beachwood Sparks. Although the band name is lifted from a Sonic Youth album, Sonic Youth aren't an obvious influence on their actual sound. Their album Bella Vendetta, named after Elephant Stone's co-owner, owes more to assorted shoegazer and drone-rock bands and the harder-edged side of 80s indie. I can hear a probable Jesus and Mary Chain influence on tracks such as The Everlasting. They also combine shoegazerish atmospherics with acoustic indiepop on a handful of tracks. A complete departure from The Tyde and what I know of the other bands who have lent their personnel to this project, but worth a listen for those into 80s and early 90s noisepop and indierock.
Reverb's Swirl cd compiles the entire discography of this 1990s Cheltenham band who were produced by Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen, who also joined the band as guest musician on a couple of recordings. The core of the band's sound, as shown most clearly in tracks like Metamorphosis, is the fuzzy/noisyish end of old-school indiepop. Sometimes they veer fairly close to punk with their buzzing guitars and forceful, semi-ranted vocals. Despite the clear indie and punk influences, the band seem to have been largely regarded as a psychedelic band, and it is clear to see why due to the drone-rock style repetitive chug that characterises a number of their tracks, as well as the occasional psych-rock guitar solo and spaced-out atmospheric effects. A fantastic album, packed full of energetic, uplifting and catchy noisepop with an added punk kick and occasional journeying into psychedelic territory; great to see this largely forgotten band being brought to the attention of a new audience.
Smashing Orange were one of the first American bands to take inspiration from the UK shoegazer movement. Their 1991 album on Elephant Stone is a compilation of early material from their shoegaze era, the title taking its name from the year all its tracks were recorded in. They apparently reinvented themselves as more of a 60s rock band after this point, though I'm not familiar with their later material. These early tracks have all the hallmarks of early 90s shoegazing - laid-back songs with drawn-out vocals, swathed in lashings of atmospheric noise, with liberal use of wah-wah and other effects pedals. The band owe a massive debt to bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine, but let's face it, there are far worse bands to sound like. The fact that they are so good at this style means I can forgive them for having such blatantly obvious influences. And as they were actually around during the height of the shoegazing scene, the band have a certain authenticity about their sound that is often lacking from later dreampop copyists. Felt Like Nothing also introduces shades of 60s garage rock, and Any Further, It's All Over has some very psychedelic late 60s-ish guitar soloing. Seems like songs such as these must be the precursor to their later style (I must try and track down some of this band's subsequent output). Fans of atmospheric noisepop simply cannot afford to miss this excellent album.
Although Elephant Stone have put out a couple of other albums in recent months that I'm yet to hear, I discovered from browsing their Myspace blog that Elephant Stone is now a back catalogue-only label. They may put out reissues in future but there are no new releases planned for now. "When it is no fun, thankless and become a burden, time to bow out," they say. I'm sorry it's come to this for them, it will be a real shame to see the back of Elephant Stone. It was an impressive label that is to be applauded for its willingness to give exposure to great 90s bands like Reverb, Smashing Orange and of course Delta, who were sadly unknown by many. I hope they continue to dig up more underrated gems in future, albeit occasionally. More info from
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