The Telescopes – Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 (Cherry Red Records)


The Telescopes 1992 album, given the quizzical title of #Untitled Second, has now been reissued on CD three times since 2004, but Cherry Red finally gets it right with Splashdown. I’m not going to review most of the music on Splashdown because I’ve already covered a good portion of it here and here, but I will tell you briefly that #Untitled Second is a unique chapter of Creation Records’ story, featuring a becalmed, almost pastoral, take on shoegaze and experimental indie. I will also tell you that, even with so much of it available on other archival releases, Splashdown is a revelation for Telescopes fans. The remastering is great, Jon Dale’s liner notes are informative, and there’s more than a full disc of non-album tracks from the band’s two-year stay on Creation. The extra songs are, for the most part, easy to find on other Telescopes’ releases (my favorites are “Precious Little”, “Soul Full Of Tears” and “Sleepwalk”, all some of the best and most tuneful psychedelic music of the era), but there’s a few key songs I hadn’t heard before. Included in those are a reverential cover of “Candy Says” which falls right in the band’s narcotic wheelhouse, a cover of The Who’s “The Good’s Gone” which slows the original’s tempo down to an uncomfortable crawl, and versions of four songs from #Untitled Second recorded for a 1991 Peel Session. The Peel Session tracks are fascinating proof of how well the band translated the highly-experimental sonic atmospheres from the album (which included sounds from sugar being poured into lemonade, wind up cars…etc.) to a more immediate recording environment. Splashdown is the long-awaited final word on The Telescopes from this period, and an essential purchase.

The Telescopes – # Untitled Second (Bomp Records)


 

Every shoegaze fan should own The Telescopes second album, yet it isn’t quite what you expect from the band, who replaced most of the JAMC/Sonic Youth-inspired noise from previous releases with quieter songs. This new approach didn’t weaken The ‘Scopes though, as the enigmatically titled # Untitled Second reaches the same psychedelic heights, and has a more timeless introspective feel to it – think Darklands, or The Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album. The complex arrangements – executed by a seven-person version of the band, along with outside musicians – are surprisingly accomplished, and Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doran’s harmonies never sounded better.

So, if the album is great (and it is), why can’t I fully recommend this CD? Well, it was already reissued by Rev-ola Records back in 2004, with different bonus tracks (admittedly the three on this version are better, including a sitar-led instrumental version of non-album single “The Sleepwalk”), slightly better remastering and insightful liner notes by Creation Records exec Joe Foster. For example, did you know that the fizzing noise during the first verse of “Spaceships” was achieved by recording the sound of sugar being poured into lemonade? Well, if you got the Bomp version you wouldn’t, since there’s no liner notes. While this is a great album, and I’m glad to have the three new bonus tracks, would it have been so hard for Bomp to include all the non-album material, spring for better remastering, and get some liner notes to make this the definitive version? Until someone makes this happen, I guess this will have to do.

The Telescopes – Taste (Bomp Records)


Bomp’s Telescopes reissue campaign continues with Taste, the group’s 1989 debut full-length. Before getting into the music, I have to take Bomp to task on the shoddy quality of this release, which has no liner notes, clumsy over-sized cardboard packaging, and what sounds to these ears like worse sound quality than their own 2003 Telescopes compilation As Approved By The Committee, which shares many tracks with Taste. Now let’s get into the music. The ‘scopes are usually lumped together with shoegaze bands, based mostly on their records for shoegaze-friendly Creation Records in the early-1990s, but Taste is an altogether different, and far wilder, sound than their later bliss-outs. It starts off innocently enough with the VU-esque “And Let Me Drift Away”, but that song’s calm is quickly blasted away by noisy, violent and primitive tracks “I Fall, She Screams”, “Threadbare”, and “There Is No Floor”, all influenced by Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3, but more abrasive and with, quite frankly, dodgier lyrics. OK, so the band’s best work was still to come, but this can’t be ignored thanks to “The Perfect Needle”, one of the best British singles of the late-1980s. If you haven’t heard it before, do something about that.

Tracklisting:

  1. And Let Me Drift Away
  2. I Fall, She Screams
  3. Oil Seed Rape
  4. Violence
  5. Threadbare
  6. The Perfect Needle
  7. There Is No Floor
  8. Anticipating Nowhere
  9. Please, Before You Go
  10. Suffercation
  11. Silent Water
  12. Suicide

The Telescopes – Singles Compilation (Mind Expansion Records)


The Telescopes don’t get the critical praise of peers My Bloody Valentine, Ride, or Slowdive, which is a shame because they could be just as good – a point illustrated by this compilation of singles from the band’s 1989-1991 peak. During this period they were instrumental in bridging the gap between the feedback-laced narco-rock of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 to the more blissful noise of the UK shoegazing scene. It’s pretty amazing to hear how great and relevant these songs still sound in 2008 – their influence dripping all over current bands like A Place To Bury Strangers, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Black Angels. The band’s discography from this era is messy, with several tracks that appear on multiple releases, but this comp covers the best stuff and is recommended as the starting point for Telescopes newbies. Even if you’ve picked up their reissued albums and the Approved By The Committee compilation there’s still a few hard-to-find gems here like the absolutely awesome “Precious Little” and “You Can Not Be Sure”. Highly recommended.