Friday, May 11, 2012

Wolfhounds "EP001" (Vollwert-Records Berlin)

It's great to welcome [the] Wolfhounds back, a band we've followed keenly since they first emerged from the Essex / East London hinterlands in the mid-80s. We're proud owners of most of their records, many purchased at Our Price after school and the rest salvaged gratefully from Record & Tape Exchange in later life.

Some of our personal very favourite Wolfies tracks remain the treblier of their early numbers (like the A-sides "Cruelty" and "Me", and "Stars In The Tarmac" from the first Pink Label comp), a side to them that was captured neatly on 1988's "Essential Wolfhounds" round-up, if sadly under-represented on their later de facto 'best of', the "Lost But Happy" Cherry Red comp. However, the band were more ambitious, and soon their vinyl outpourings had veered away from such nuggets of nu-janglist strum (including that spot on side one of C86) to concentrate on bitterer narratives, framed by more angular and daring compositions.

Witness the way that the single version of "Son Of Nothing", itself so viscerally different from that on their final Peel session, was itself turned inside-out by "Second Son" on the flip. Or just listen to the blinding "Rent Act", a late-Thatcher era shout for empowerment of those downtrodden by housing poverty, and one of the most crushing-yet-catchy indie singles you could imagine. This evolution culminated with the full force of their 1990 swansong "Attitude", an assured, coruscating and rewardingly mazy album which should have heralded some kind of breakthrough but which, if memory serves, was released to an ungrateful fanfare of relative indifference.

The twist with their 'new' CD "EP001" - sneaked out on the excellent German (but old school British-indie fetishising) boutique label Vollwert - is that it consists of three early Wolfhounds numbers never properly released but now freshly re-recorded, ready for a new-century assault of original tunes from the boys. But while the EP might thus give voice to the mewlings of young Wolfhounds, there is nothing fey, whey-faced or immature about proceedings: you wouldn't obviously recognise the combo that served up the sallow and jittery "Feeling So Strange Again", much as we love it, from the splashing, clattering confidence that's on display here.

Lead track "Skullface" is Wolfhounds as lowdown punk rock, lighting up the Rezz, sporting ripped jeans from Romford market: even the opening handclaps sound vaguely threatening before punchy guitar riffs rise from a scuffed floor to wreak symphonic menace, the song's huge hook landing it somewhere between "Jarg Armani" and the addictive refrains of yet another great Wolfies 45 that we treasure, "Anti-Midas Touch". As taut, tense, tremelo-flayed guitars combine and Callahan, in his distinctive sardonic drawl, sings about the protagonist "creeping through some fields / like a wolfhound alone", you realise that this is actually their title track, that it should probably always have been our introduction to them. The lyrics - displaced man as shadow, hiding from reality, staring back at his skeletal face in the mirror - conjure up themes of darkness, solitude and claustrophobia that could have come from "Whitechapel" (the TV series, not necessarily the place: after all, the Wolfhounds were "Disgusted, E7" rather than E1). If - if only - this were a vinyl release, then "Skullface" would be the (not-so lazy!) 'A'.

Hard on the heels of "Skullface"'s stomping vigour come the spry and caustic "6,000 Acres", briefly a part of their live set back in '86, and the equally spiky "Rats On A Raft", a song which sounds like it would happily have sat on their first LP, "Unseen Ripples From a Pebble", but was instead released in its original form on a split flexi shared with the mighty Razorcuts, another band who liked to keep you guessing on the definite article. Oh, and it's nice to see a sleeve design credit for Andy Royston, the man behind a number of past Wolfhounds covers (as well as artwork for their near-neighbours, erstwhile labelmates and fellow in love with these times, in spite of these times darlings McCarthy and Catapult).

Perhaps even these early songs serve as a demonstration as to why Wolfhounds, commercially and perhaps critically, seemed to "fall through the cracks" first time around. The EP brings to mind the febrile post-post punk guitarrrism of Ron Johnson Records (if without some of those bands' wilful cubist inclinations) at least as much as the more placid rumblings of their shambling band contemporaries: perhaps our heroes were too jagged and angry for the anorak crowd, yet too insular and knowing for a wider audience who were, by the time Wolfhounds disappeared from view, being beguiled by a motley assortment of baggy chancers and other scenesters. It also can't have helped that they were releasing records on a series of fairly short-lived labels.

So this record is much more than a historical curio. Yes, its very existence has inspired us to dust off our valued vinyl, to treat our ears to songs that embrace us like old friends, to relive the past times and haunts we associate with them. But "EP001" stands up as a barnstorming release in its own right. I make it eight Wolfhounds singles now, and can't tell you how stoked and lucky I feel to own them all. And we're as intrigued as you about what the future holds in store from them.

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