Various There And Back Again Lane
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Sarah Records last hurrah and ultimate swansong, a compilation of 21 singles from various label artists – stands as an immensely important, immensely influential piece of work. Listening to it now, you’re amazed by its sheer prescience. Tastes in alt-rock may have changed considerably in the twenty years since, with many opting for warped laptop-pop soul and nostalgia-tinted psych these days, but something like Brooklyn label Captured Tracks owes its entire career to the success and influence of Sarah. By and large, the music is as bracing as the punk explosion about a decade earlier. In fact, the Sarah bands weren’t nearly as twee as you might have been led to believe. “I don’t have to be cute,” rails Heavenly’s Amelia Fletcher on Atta Girl, which might have disappointed listeners under the impression all the women affiliated with Sarah were adorable, bob-haired ingénues. “Can’t you concentrate on something other than me?” she protests; by the end of it, Fletcher is triumphantly yelling “Fuck you, no way.” The music behind it all is equally potent, a storming barrage of rollicking intensity, something like riot-grrrl’s British cousin. The lyrics on Blueboy’s impossibly beautiful The Joy of Living do their share in betraying the myth that the Sarah artists were anodyne romantics. It’s hard to say for certain but they appear to depict an awkward one-nighter: “We find a room, a chance to explore the things we both need”; “How did I get in this mess?”; “It’s not love, but I’m not choosy”; “Getting drunk with the public who think they know me but very few really do”; “I’ll never fall in love”; “I just want to kiss you in new places”. The rest of the song is magical, graced with the strains of a lone cello and a sparkling chorus. If you were still in any doubt that the Sarah bands were all anorak-wearing naïfs, there’s even a song entitled She Sleeps Around, the piano ballad from Sarah stalwart Harvey Williams. Sometimes, there are one or two moments when you might find yourself agreeing with the detractors. There are points on There and Back Again Lane the songwriting here simply shines: formed from the ashes of the Field Mice, Northern Picture Library – another Sarah band with a twee, dubious moniker – are represented here by the lush Paris, boasting a gorgeous melody swept along by the sweetest of harmonies and a snaking bassline that shifts and ambles along to its own groove; it is perhaps the best tune on the entire compilation. Boyracer’s He Gets Me So Hard is a blast of provincial English grunge-punk that serves as a reminder that not all Sarah bands were aloof wallflowers. At its best, There and Back Again Lane offers a stunning display of wilfully idiosyncratic bands, fiercer than previously suggested. The Field Mice’s Sensitive rattles along with a distinct flavour of New Order albeit shrouded behind a curtain of fuzz not far off from twee shoegazers. Secret Shine’s Temporal sounds like it was recorded in a wind tunnel, its four minutes punctuated by crashing guitars and gushes of reverb-drenched ambience. Elsewhere, the album shows that Sarah could produce the odd curveball. Even As We Speak’s Drown is an unusual thump that knits together the flanging, raging guitar assault of harsher Sarah fare with weird wah-wah riffs, St. Christopher’s excellent, shimmering All Of a Tremble, an ebullient tune draped in the trappings of dreamy echo and tremolo guitars; the guitar solo on the Sea Urchins’ Pristine Christine could’ve been played on a Rickenbacker wafting into the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man. There and Back Again Lane won’t get a commemorative twentieth anniversary release – that undoes the ethos of Sarah and their staunch belief in not ripping people off by selling them back something they may already have on a different format – even if it deserves to, but that unwillingness to concede to the capitalist practices of major labels shows the extent of Sarah’s integrity. And that’s the thing that’s usually forgotten when ink is spilt about Sarah. The greatest shame of all is that the hackneyed narrative tethered to the legacy of Sarah Records obscures the music the label produced. Thankfully, their musical legacy is sure to stand the test of time.