Saturday, 7 November 2015

Oliver: Bleach - Decadence/Surround [Peel Session] (29 December 1991)

Decadence originally recorded for Eclipse EP and a disc mate of Wipe It Away.

Surround would surface on Bleach's first full album, Killing Time.

*NOTE (25/3/17) - Since writing this post, the full Peel Session can now be heard on YouTube.*

When I first heard the show for 29/12/91, I was bowled over by 3 of the 4 sessions repeated on it.  Three of them were broadcast a week apart from each other in November 1991.  Nirvana and PJ Harvey found their way onto the metaphorical mixtape, though it was back to Sierra Leone for Dr. Oloh and his Milo Jazz Band.   Peel castigated himself when playing Oloh's session originally on 09/11/91 for not following through on promises he made to go back to Sierra Leone to record more music by similar groups.  His self reproach was striking to listen to, and the disappointment in himself for not carrying off what would have been a Herculean task of musical ethnography was palpable.

He could still offer support to bands closer to home though and Ipswich's Bleach found themselves sharing a programme with a band who in the wider public eye had more to do with Bleach's name
than the band themselves.  I briefly convinced myself that this was the best session of the night but re-exposure to Nirvana and Harvey's sessions see Bleach in the bronze medal position for the night.  I really like the tracks they did, but you can sense the Big Bad Wolves of Grunge clearing their throats to blow the shoegaze acts off the cultural map, while the wily PJ Harvey drives her chariot away from it all, set on her own course of action, defying categorisation but remaining utterly compelling.  It's tempting to cast the shoegaze acts with their noisy but clean guitar lines and soft vocals as the equivalent of 90s prog rockers ready to have their thunder stolen by the punk-like authenticity of the grunge acts.  It's also unfair but the moment when Salli Carson sings about threatening to "kick your feet from under you" or feeling "bittersweet and black and blue.  I'm pleased and crushed that I think of you", how many of us believe that she could metaphorically do that?  Kurt or Courtney?  Yes, I could buy that totally, but I'm not so sure here.

It's regrettable too that Bleach's best track of the night, Friends, hasn't surfaced on YouTube in any form as it's a perfect example of what I've always called the Bleach Wait.  The way that in several of their songs, they make the listener wait for the burst of release that seems prevalent in much of the best shoegaze material.  Wipe It Away did it through mixing thunderous drumming with feedback loops that seemed to be waiting to burst through the window to run down the street screaming.  Friends used dampened guitar chords before finally bursting into spectacular Technicolour freedom.

Of the two tracks that I can share, albeit in their disc versions rather than the Peel Session ones, Decadence is a fabulously clattering tune propelled on by Steve Scott's superb drumming before exploding like a million fireworks in one of those rocket ship guitar frenzies (though that could just seem true because of the director of the video going all 2001: A Space Odyessy with the visuals at the end).  Surround is a little more restrained though still with plenty of killer guitar work.  The video is shoegaze in a visual nutshell: Psychedelic swirl background and all the focus on the girl.  Note how in two years Salli cut her hair, lost the guitar and moved into a party dress.  Even in shoegaze, the pressure to conform to industry perceptions was strong.

The session also included Headless which was the last track Peel played in 1991, fact fans.

We stand poised on the brink of 1992 in this blog, and even though other more forceful bands were poised to push Bleach and others like them to the sidelines, I have everything crossed that Peel stayed loyal to them and that a copy of Friends turns up soon.

Videos courtesy of  EVEvideoproductions and everyheaven.

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