AfterpartyAngel – “Death Presence” 10″ (2020)

Created as part of a digital art exhibition, AfterpartyAngel’s four-song EP Death Presence is dark dream-pop, dripping in synths and otherworldly female vocals. The somber mood and languid singing fit perfectly in 2020, giving it a hint of claustrophobia and a fluidity that makes everything blend together, much like the days and weeks in this COVID nightmare we find ourselves living in. “In Love” manages to break free a bit with some faster tempo, albeit briefly, before giving way to the soulful closer “Sexy Death Presence”.

There’s a bit of info about the record and exhibit HERE. I learned of it because Reykjavik’s Smekkleysa Plötubúð posted about it on Facebook, so I ended up ordering my copy from Iceland because I couldn’t find a Bandcamp page for them… which was due to not realizing that the band’s name was one word and not two. So the good news is you, faithful reader, can go give Death Presence a listen HERE, as well as order one of these red vinyl beauties before all 200 copies are gone.

“Tour Support Reimagined” Compilation (2019)

I should have written about this record last year. If I had, it might have finished on year-end Top 5 list. So why didn’t I? Well, I preordered as soon as I learned about it, primarily due to its association with Dream Wife (more on that below). I got the digital download immediately and played the hell out of it, but figured I’d write about it after the vinyl arrived. A friend got his copy sometime around October, but nothing for me outside a confirmation that it shipped. So I waited. And waited. And then sent some emails via Bandcamp that went unanswered. And for months it sat at the top of my list of things I ordered but hadn’t arrived yet. While everything else got crossed off, there it sat. I was about to cross it off and give up a month or so ago, but figured I’d try one more email… and I got a response immediately! The person who wrote me back asked for a few pieces of info and said they’d ship one out to me. With the COVID new world order international shipping is taking a lot longer than normal, but four weeks later my yellow vinyl, signed copy of Tour Support Reimagined arrived from the UK.

I was fortunate enough to interview Dream Wife’s Rakel Mjöll back in 2018 for an article that was published the following year in Reykjavik On Stage magazine (a shortened version of which can be read online HERE) and during our conversation she talked about the band’s work with Girls Rock and their call for female-identifying and non-binary artists to support their tour. Seven of these artists appear on Tour Support Reimagined, their music remixed by Dream Wife guitarist Alice Go. In fact the recordings used were from live performances associated with the tour, making it all that much cooler. The overall style is very pop oriented, though the styles vary considerably. I’m hesitant to identify favorites – you just need to puck this up and give it a listen yourself.

The digital download for Tour Support Reimagined is available for purchase on Bandcamp HERE. I believe the vinyl was limited to 250 signed and numbered copies, which include a zine. My copy, however, while signed, is not numbered and didn’t come with the zine, so I’m not sure if because I got this sort of after-the-fact and this was what was on hand, or if there was a second non-numbered pressing. Regardless, this is a great collection of songs and well worth the effort to track down.

Strypes – “The Difference” (1986)

This is another of the 1980s Seattle-area records I picked up a few weeks back from Hi-Voltage Records. Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, the Strypes had a decently long career as a popular touring band throughout the 1980s, apparently particularly notable for their fanbase in Asia. The Difference was their only full-length record, one the band self-released in 1986 after having put out three 7″ singles during the first half of the decade.

The Difference reveals a band that is quite tight – the songs are cleanly recorded and everyone clearly knows their place. Much of the material has that mid-80s pop-rock sound about it, that absorption of new wave into the mainstream. That being said, they do have some edgier moments, most notably on “Dead Stop”. Holly and I were talking the other day about whether one can listen to an album for the first time and identify “the hit”, and “Dead Stop” is actually an example of this – I latched onto that jam immediately the first time I heard it, and when I subsequently did some research learned that it was originally released as a single-sided 7″ the year before and was the only one of their prior singles that Strypes included on The Difference, so clearly they thought it was great and recognized the need to put it on the album. I don’t share this to imply that I’m some kind of music savant, because I’m clearly not. But it does support the idea that a better-than-average song is quite often immediately recognizable as such.

Is The Difference dated? Sure, to some extent. I mean, while there are still bands making 80s style hard rock and metal, poppier fare tends to move on without a lot of looking back. Strypes did a reunion concert as recently as 2014, and given the opportunity to see them live in the future I’d certainly consider going.

Brian & Zan – “Pump Your Body” (1983)

What first caught my eye was the jacket.  No, it wasn’t the silver griffin, nor was it the bright pink Sounds price tag from 1983 ($4.99!).  It was the hand-written note by someone in thick silver pen:  “Brian + Zan (This Is Fierce + You Should Own It!)”.  Three things stick out here:

  • This mystery writer describes the “Pump Your Body” 12″ as “fierce”, which is pretty high praise and a somewhat unusual word to use
  • They are letting me know that I should own this record
  • They believe both of the top bullet points so strongly that they close with an exclamation point

Fierce!  You should own it!  Alright, whoever you are, stop yelling at me!  I’ll buy it!

This 12″ has two versions of “Pump Your Body”, both of which are dance floor ready.  Snappy high end, funky bass, and Zan’s R&B style vocals lock this pretty firmly into the 1980s.  The longer club version on the B side is my preference, focusing more on the music than on the vocals and bringing the funk.

I of course can’t help but wonder who wrote this message on the cover and when.  I doubt it was anyone at Silver Platters where I bought it – they would normally use a post-it if they wanted to make you aware of something.  Was it someone at NYC’s Sounds back in 1983 when this first hit the store?  Or perhaps at a used shop later on, or maybe a dealer who sells at flea markets?  Was this just intended as hype, or did the righter seriously dig this jam?  I have to assume the latter since they used the word “fierce”.  Unfortunately I’ll never know.

Gruppo Sportivo – “Vinylly!” (2019)

I first discovered the pop joy that is Gruppo Sportivo in, of all places, some random dude’s garage not far from my house. I was dropping off my car for an oil change and saw a sandwich board set up outside a neighborhood advertising records for sale. So after I got the car back I snaked through the neighborhood and eventually found the place, the garage completely slammed with records (and a thick layer of dust). Seems the guy used to own a store or something and still had all of this stuff. Now if I’m being honest it was mostly junk – the same old used rock records you can find anywhere, in generally marginal condition, and most of it overpriced. Even the one record I decided to buy, Gruppo Sportivo’s Mistakes, was probably too much, but I wanted to come away with something and it seemed interesting enough. And it was – Holly and I both enjoyed it, and we’ve kept our eyes peeled for Sportivo record ever since.

Needless to say we were quite excited to see a new Gruppo Sportivo comp on the Record Store Day 2019 list, and even more so when we found a copy at Seattle’s Silver Platters. Vinylly! is a 2 X LP on yellow vinyl in a sturdy, brightly colored gatefold in a numbered limited edition of 500 copies. My guess is that most copies ended up in the band’s native Netherlands – that’s where almost all of the copies for sale on Discogs originate, plus the liner notes are in Dutch (OK, I’m guessing here… they’re not in English, and I can also eliminate French and Spanish…). I can’t speak to the band’s popularity in the English speaking world, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned them to anyone here in the US and gotten anything but a blank stare in return. Their loss.

Vinylly! consists of 29 songs from the band’s 1979-1991 period (Gruppo Sportivo is still active, their most recent album being 2018s Great). At the most basic level their music is pop, though infused with elements of rock, ska, new wave, and even a bit of funk. High points include “My Old Coritina” and a cover of Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”. Sure, some of the songs are a bit dated – pop seldom holds up as well as rock, but it’s still a lot of fun. Gruppo Sportivo have released roughly a dozen comps over the decades and I can’t tell you how Vinylly! compares to the others, though it is the first to come out on vinyl since Greatest Hats in 1984.

At $30+ there are certainly less expensive entry points into the band’s music. Shoot, if you’re patient you might be able to pick up their first seven albums, which cover the time period of this comp, for roughly that price. But if you’re a vinyl junkie like me this is the perfect way to take a deep dive into the Gruppo Sportivo catalog.