This gem dropped--well, thudded would be more appropriate--through the door, and on the initial perusal of its contents I thought it was begging for a review. Then it hit me, the enormity of the task. This was a four-CD set, with 120 tracks spanning 20 years of a record label whose choice of releases I have generally...well, it seemed too mammoth of a job to contend with.
Then I realised that not only was this box set begging to be reviewed--it deserved one just because of the effort that must have gone into compiling and producing the end result. So, here goes!
Brief history lesson: Boss Tuneage started 20 years ago, and apart from a brief hiatus early on, has been releasing music by bands from all across the globe, from the UK to Australia, continental Europe, USA, Canada and Japan. On his quest for music that pushes his buttons, Boss Tuneage head honcho, Aston Stephens has left no stone unturned as he seeks out bands that may be relatively well-known in the world of punk and those whose fanbase may consist of two men and a dog. With the idea of documenting this quest and the results it has unearthed, Stephens has compiled a four-disc treat for fans of punk music, which, despite the number of tracks, does not feature all of the bands that the label has worked or been associated with. That was the size of the task he faced!
What you get are the following themed CDs:
- CD1: original songs by the original artists
- CD2: reissues--tracks from bands that have had, or soon will have, old releases resurrected by Boss Tuneage in some sort of expanded format
- CD3: covers--Boss Tuneage bands covering songs by other Boss Tuneage bands
- CD4: rarities relating to bands/artists who have been featured on the label
CD1 opens with the excellent Annalise, a wonderfully melodic band which gives you a feel for what it was that got the label going: punk with tunes. What follows, however, is far from generic as the CD includes bands from the more hardcore side of punk including Violent Arrest, Geriatric Unit and Four Letter Word, although the latter do display chunks of melody on their track "Unfinished Symphonies." Other bands featured include the Great St Louis, the Hard Ons, Big Drill Car, Kick Joneses, Manifesto Jukebox and the Unknown, which highlights the international flavour to what the label puts its name to.
Next up, obviously, is CD2. This features tracks from the ever-increasing retro series, which sees the label resurrect some great and/or overlooked bands from around the world. Another varied selection of bands, this includes Sofahead, HDQ, Heresy, the Stupids, Big Drill Car, Visions of Change/the Depraved, the Spermbirds, Asexuals, the Cowboy Killers and also one of the finest bands ever to come out of Wales, the Abs, who were given a double-CD release of back-catalogue, live and rare tracks back in 2008. This disc shows that as well as looking forward, Aston Stephens is more than willing to acknowledge the bands that he and many others (myself included) enjoyed as they grew up listening to punk rock. What I have found is that bands I didn't really "get" when they were first around are now making a favourable impression on me and I now enjoy listening to. It's a very impressive group of bands picked up so far and I hope this series will continue to grow.
Now this is where the whole project really grabbed me by the shoulders and got me pouring through the liner notes, with the third disc. This is the covers disc, where bands get to cover songs from other bands associated with Boss Tuneage. These alternative treatments drew me in immediately with the Hard Ons' version of TV Smith/the Adverts' "One Chord Wonder." The big surprise was that there was a cover of an Abs song ("Same Mistake Twice") by Southport--the latter have taken a great song and added their own mark to it, with a positive outcome. Other efforts of note include Section 13's take on the Spermbirds "Something to Prove," the Unknown's version of Scarper!'s "Group Think" and also Brock Prytel (from the Doughboys) doing "Fountains" by the Nils. In fact, the Nils are the most covered band on this CD with four of their songs getting covered.
The fourth and final disc draws together some of the rarities that bands on Boss Tuneage have recorded. Quite a few of these have never been released, or if they have, are long lost to collectors or stuck in attics collecting dust. However, the 31 tracks here include bands like the Stupids, Goober Patrol, Exit Condition, Phoenix Foundation and the Shitty Limits, so it's still all good stuff and well worth having as a closer to the project.
Too Many Bands... Too Much Music: Twenty Years of Boss Tuneage Records is an excellent document that records what has been achieved by an outfit still believing in and working under the DIY ethic, believing in the music it releases and is far from one-dimensional. The liner notes give details of all of the label's releases and this gives an idea of the ups and downs of running a record label which adds to the package. With a limited run of 1,000 copies, this is something that needs to be tracked down quickly and for those in the UK it only costs £10 (about $16)--how can anyone not think that is a bargain?!
I hugely admire Aston Stephens for doing what he's doing and putting so much effort into it. He's not able to sit back and rest on his laurels as he needs to look for something new, which is how I feel about music--there is always another band worth seeking out and listening to, and it's labels like Boss Tuneage that so often bring them to a wider audience.
Just as important with this being released is that the label can now concentrate on the Visions of Change/the Depraved retrospective that I am patiently (!) waiting for!