1. Curve - Die Like A Dog (Anxious)
"To date Curve have released three EPs on Dave Stewart's Anxious label. The first two, 'Blindfold' and 'Frozen' proved that Curve were without a doubt a very exciting proposition for the future. 'Die Like A Dog' is taken from their third EP 'Cherry' which was released in December '91 and reached the Gallup Top 40. Their debut album 'Doppelganger' will further establish Curve as one of the most important bands to have emerged out of the British independent scene in the last few years."
If I was going to pick a track from the "Cherry" EP to put on a compilation album, I'd have opted for the lead track "Clipped" and its haunting, sinister mantras. That said, track two "Die Like A Dog" is something of a favourite among many Curve fans, so it's not as unusual a choice as some of the flipsides and buried EP tracks "Indie Top 20" have opted for over the years.
Beginning with airy industrial synth noises and a growling bass line, Toni Halliday's cooing vocals soon enter the fray, then the wall of guitars, then the rattling rhythms, and frankly, it's all business as usual. By this point Curve had issued three EPs with lead tracks which promised an astonishing, possibly even classic debut LP. By the time "Doppelganger" emerged, however, none of those tracks were present, and the record sagged slightly under the weight of Dean Garcia's samey soundscapes. "Doppelganger" contains some marvellous tracks if you cherry-pick (no pun intended) the best moments for stand-alone listening, but as an LP it was sequenced somewhat questionably, and felt weighty, chrome plated and unforgiving, arguably costing the band their mainstream breakthrough moment. Creating an alternative tracklisting and running order for the LP out of other material they had recorded during the same period must surely be something of a Curve fan's hobby horse.
The NME also joked that one of the reasons "Doppelganger" sold less well than anticipated was that Toni Halliday wasn't anywhere on the cover, and the sleeve instead consisted of lots of dismembered child's dolls. It was an off-the-cuff comment which wasn't meant to be taken as a serious criticism, but there's nonetheless possibly some truth to it. Actually, just about anything would probably have been preferable to the teen-goth student art project of the final sleeve.
2. The God Machine - Home (Eve)
"The God Machine arrived in Camden from California and released their debut EP 'Purity' on Eve Recordings in November 1991. 'Home' is one of three tracks featured on the EP which has been hailed in some quarters as the finest debut of '91. Now signed to Fiction, The God Machine are an exciting prospect".
Few American bands were misguided enough to base themselves in Britain during the early nineties. Why bother when you could remain in the country where everything was happening musically? Certainly where rock music was concerned, the world's eyes were on the USA, not Britain, and anyone moving to smelly shared accommodation in Camden risked costing themselves riper global opportunities.
Hats off to San Diego's God Machine for making the trip and gracing us with their presence, then, and releasing this heaving bit of sledgehammer rock in 1991. On its re-release in 1993 it managed to tickle the Top 75, and it's possibly surprising it didn't do better still. While it's not the kind of single that floated my particular boat at the time, it's a fine piece of doomy, dark and forceful alternative rock entirely in keeping with the 1992/3 zeitgeist.
When I first bought this LP, "Home" was very much a track I preferred to skip, but my 2017 relisten has revealed a wealth of surprises. It's an absolutely unforgiving noise, like metal grinding and crashing against itself, with a nagging dominating riff which never really gets boring. There's some furious, bloody-minded drumming throughout which adds to the air of viciousness, and effects-laden vocals which make the singer sound at war with the machinery around him.
The God Machine went on to have some cult success in the UK, and are still occasionally referred to as one of the great lost rock bands of the nineties. Perhaps it would all have been different if they'd just caught a flight to Seattle instead...
3. Silverfish - Jimmy (Creation)
"Silverfish were formed in North London at the end of '88. Before signing to Creation they had released two singles, both of which received 'The Single of the Week Treatment'. In January '90 the first real Silverfish album 'Fat Axl' came out - 'The title comes from a particularly scathing NME review'. Their first 45 for Creation was the 'F***in' Drivin' Or What' EP which reached the Gallup Top 100. 'Jimmy' is taken from their January '92 'Silverfish with Scrambled Egg' EP which is indeed Silverfish at their finest".
It's easy to forget what a big deal Silverfish were for a brief period. An indie-punk outfit featuring the snarling, snapping Lesley Rankine on vocals, they were actually strangely prescient of the Riot Grrrl movement without being mentioned much when that scene briefly went overground. Rankine's chant of "Hips, Lips, Tits, Power" on the track "Big Fat Baby Pig Squeal" ended up on T-shirts and was inked across the pages of feminist fanzines, while slowly losing its original attribution as the band became an increasingly distant memory. Their single "Damn Fine Woman" also highlighted Rankine's feminist views.
Scrappy and thrashy, most of Silverfish's singles pinned you up against the wall with their force of volume and wouldn't let go until you'd listened to their ideas. They were one of the most brattish and threatening of the Camden bands, and "Jimmy" is no exception to the rule. Each moment of relative silence is a mere split second long before they begin pushing and shoving you on the shoulders again.
Their success peaked in 1992 with the "Organ Fan" LP which reached the National Top 75, but by 1993 the group had split, with Lesley Rankine later claiming that she grew to realise that spending all her life surrounded by other human beings in a group simply wouldn't work for her. The trip-hop duo Ruby were the end result of this eureka moment, and revealed a very different creative side to her work. More on them much, much, much later.
4. Leatherface - I Want The Moon (Roughneck)
"'I Want The Moon' is the second single to have been released from Leatherface's titanic 'Mush' album. It earned the band an NME single of the week in November '91. Look out for their next release which will be a ten inch EP, 'Compact & Bijou' which should be available from May onwards".
You know what Leatherface wanted, don't you? The moon on a stick! Oh, just the moon, then. OK.
Often likened (not unfairly) to a punked up version of Motorhead, Sunderland's Leatherface were apparently a thrilling and energising experience live. "I Want The Moon" gives a strong impression of that, being three minutes of high-throttle guitars, throat-shredding vocals and chugging riffola. It had been done before, and would be done again many times again until the present day, but there's no way you can fault the execution here. Leatherface sound menacing and dangerously high on adrenaline.
The group would split at the tail end of 1993, and the lead singer Frankie Stubbs now mainly focuses his time as a producer for various indie bands.
5. Midway Still - Wish (Roughneck)
"Midway Still formed at the tail end of '90 out of the ashes of a couple of anonymous grunge bands. Signed to the Roughneck Recording Co, their debut EP 'I Won't Try' received huge critical acclaim. 'Wish' is the title track from their follow up EP which also features an outstanding cover of My Bloody Valentine's 'You Made Me Realise'. Their Don Fleming produced album is set for an April release".
Midway Still sound completely melancholy here, surrounding "Wish" with a mournful blue note. It's the noise of lovelorn young hairy men stuck in smelly bedrooms surrounded by the remains of half-smoked spliffs, which had been hastily rolled on the sleeves of American grunge imports.
There's a bright poppiness to "Wish" in places too, especially in the run-up towards the instrumental break - but once again, it's staggering how damn unEnglish the group sound. Those drawled vocals, brash guitar licks and bluesy lyrics are such a solid impersonation of early nineties American alternative rock that it's hard to believe they were one of ours. If that kind of noise is your particular idea of heaven, and you haven't explored the group's catalogue before, you may find much to love.