Thursday, February 9, 2012

Swell Maps 'A Trip to Marineville' & 'Jane Occupied Europe' Reissues

The brothers known as Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks had been playing music together in their hometown of Solihull, Birmingham for several years before Jowe Head and Richard Earl joined the fold in 1976. That was on the cusp of the punk and d.i.y. explosion that radically changed the British music scene, and Swell Maps took full form; they released two albums, a handful of singles and then called it quits by the mid-'80s. Like so many other great bands of the era, Swell Maps went largely unnoticed outside of their own little scene, but their music has had a long-lasting impact on the shape of the underground; although the group's debut 7" "Read About Seymour" (released on their own imprint, Rather Records) got them signed to Rough Trade, it seems only in hindsight that Swell Maps' pivotal role in the birth of post-punk has been recognized. An amalgam of labels over the years have endeavored to keep the band's two studio albums, A Trip to Marineville and Jane from Occupied Europe, in circulation, and Secretly Canadian has now issued these top-quality vinyl versions to go along with their CD releases from a few years back.

Following a second single, 1979's A Trip to Marineville was made shortly after a live session for John Peel, recorded at WMRS Studios along with new band members David Barrington and John Cockrill. This album debuted Swell Maps' own take on T. Rex-inspired rock crossed with punk and touched by Krautrock's experimentalism, creating something ballistic and innovative. "Do you believe in art?" Nikki Sudden asks atonally in opener "H.S. Art" apace with clattering rhythms, crunchy guitars and ramshackle piano -- this track puts the 'raw' in 'raucous.' My personal highlight, however, is "Spitfire Parade," which delivers a heady rush from feverish guitars and pummeling rhythms anchored by a low rubbery bass, pushing to the edge before plaintively imploding. Breaking away from the archetypal guitar, drums and bass arrangement, toy saxophones, xylophones and harmonicas are incorporated into the album, and A Trip to Marineville certainly marked a shift in underground music. A no-brainer for anyone with a soft-spot for post-punk, this reissue features the original track listing along with a bonus 7" of "Loin of the Surf" that came with the original LP release.

Released a year later, Jane from Occupied Europe was the ambitious second and final album for Swell Maps. Krautrock acts as a connecting thread between both records, but Jane separates itself by delving into noisier industrial sounds. This is best shown on "Big Maz in the Desert," a warped instrumental number with crooked guitars, curious scratching and cawing effects alongside forthright drumming cemented at the core. And sure enough, this album has rockier moments too; "Border Country" and "The Helicopter Spies" feature familiar strident guitars, unmannered vocals and rattled rhythms. Jane from Occupied Europe shows a band not satisfied with just creating a new sound but testing the limits of it, so it's easy to understand why Sonic Youth, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. have all sung Swell Maps praises.

It has been more than two decades since these albums have been available in vinyl format, but with the LPs finally back on the shelves and featuring original artwork, track listings and bonus material, you won't find a better time to pick up this pair of absolutely essential records than right now.
(written for edited by Other Music)

Copies available:
US Other Music
UK Norman Records


  1. I hate to be that guy but spanish indie label Munster records re-released those in 2005. Gatefold, liner notes, double vinyl...
    It´s excellent news anyway!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Don't hate being that person! I missed a trick - thanks for the nice words