1. Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene (Blast First)
"Err... Yeah, Umm well no I suppose".
Sharp, jagged, and with feedback leaking from its every orifice, "Freak Scene" was an utterly amazing racket to land in the UK indie charts in 1988. Unlike many previous releases by Sonic Youth or Swans or Big Black, this wasn't just a pure adrenalin rush of noise, though - rather, this had some cunning pop craftsmanship in its bones.
Rather like Pixies, Dinosaur Jr clearly had diverse pre-punk record collections, and "Freak Scene" is all the better for it. From that fantastic distorted guitar solo to the key lyric of "Don't let me fuck up will you/ cos when I need a friend it's still you", it's pure goodness, and caused a number of snotty and punk-influenced British bands to quiver in fright at what might now expected of them.
In truth, though, Dinosaur Jr never really did release a better single than this, so their audience never rose much beyond cult level. Had they managed to sustain the sheer head-rush of "Freak Scene" (and actually get along with each other) there's every possibility they'd have been as big as The Pixies.
2. The Wolfgang Press - Kansas (4AD)
"The previously unavailable video mix. A version of Kansas appears on their new LP 'Birdwood Cage'. Surely the best video of the year/ decade".
Well, so far as the video is concerned, at least we now know where Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer got the idea for Action Image Exchange from...
The Wolfgang Press had been active since 1983, and "Kansas" still has fat wobbly streaks of post-punk running through its core, from the staccato Talking Heads styled delivery of the vocals right down to the fat and fruity bassline. Given the way that such musical trends had fallen out of fashion by 1989 only to be forcefully resuscitated halfway through the last decade, elements of the track actually sound surprisingly current.
Despite the fact that "Kansas" is rather unexpectedly and agreeably funky, there's nothing happening here you would feel the urge to phone your friends about. It's nice enough, but that really is it.
3. The Shamen - You Me & Everything (Moksha)
"Adrian Mole on acid".
The last time we bumped into The Shamen, they were breaking new ground with Bam Bam's remix of "Transcendental" on Volume 6. "You Me & Everything" isn't quite a step back, but there's something incredibly treble-heavy about the production and the Acid House squelches feel somewhat tacked on. Whereas "Transcendental" sounded utterly perfect in its remixed form, this feels like a catchy indie chorus in desperate search of some decent House beats which never properly arrive. The guitars in the mix sound very smothered and gratuitous as well, only there to prove that the track definitely had its feet in both the Indie and Dance camps.
I tend to think of "You Me & Everything" as being the last uncertain moment in The Shamen's canon before their output became unbelievably confident and, as we probably said at the time, banging.
4. Ultra Vivid Scene - Mercy Seat (4AD)
"Edited version of the remix! Never before on record. A version of The Mercy Seat appears on their eponymous LP. Ultra Vivid Scene currently undertaking some dates in the US".
Blissed out, fuzzy Velvet Underground and psychedelic influences permeated through Ultra Vivid Scene's records - not unlike a rather more slickly produced Pastels, actually - but "Mercy Seat" is probably one of their most gothic and despondent sounding singles. From the clanging bell of doom which recurs throughout the track like a constant motif, to the lyrics which seem to suggest that death by the electric chair might be one way "to bring a new day", it's not a cheery proposition.
Nonetheless, the track can't help but pull through some beautiful, blissful psych noises out of the bag, and these rescue it from its otherwise faintly pretentious doominess. The ahhing female backing vocals (on the remix), chiming bells and seductive chorus allow it to rise above its unpromising beginnings, and become the usual Ultra Vivid Scene slice of slightly scuzzy prettiness.
The video for the bonafide 7" version even managed to pick up ITV "Chart Show" airplay at the time.
5. The Perfect Disaster - Time To Kill (Fire)
"The Perfect Disaster's album Up includes this single. "Up" is a musical see-saw of emotions. Lyrically, it's a deceptively simple new draft of the existentialist's handbook but rhythmically it's a filthy, swarming slab of rock 'n' roll fury. Raw power".
Indeed, with its distorted and twangy riffs, angry buzzing basslines, and drawled vocals, this is Rock and Roll in the very traditional sense of the word. A garage production and ballsy, bluesy feel predominates here, and unlike a great many other artists producing work of this nature at the time, this slouches along in an assured yet slow and lazy way.
Perfect Disaster had been around on the indie scene since 1984, and rather like The Wolfgang Press were generally regarded as being stalwarts at around this point. Their last LP "Heaven Scent" was only one year away, so by the time the Indie Top 20 series got around to covering them, they were near the end of the road.