Various Artists - South Specific 2020 [Brain Booster Music - 2020]Originally appearing back in the year 1980, South Specific was a compilation focusing on the more independent side of the music scene in the Uk costal City Portsmouth. The original release brought together the work of eight projects from the city; including early recordings from those masters of quirky (off) world music and Avant pop Renaldo And The Loaf. Here we have a three-disc reissue of the compilation - taking in the original album, plus bonus tracks from the time- and two discs worth of new material taking in modern acts from the City, as well as new tracks from those involved in the original compilation.
The three CD's come presented in an eight-panel fold-out mini gatefold- this an arty and well laid out affair. On its front cover is a line drawn picture of a man with laptop on his lap & earphones on his head- this is set over a blocked photo collage of shingle, sea and sky- with the Portsmouth city skyline in the middle. In the first inside flaps, we get the same line drawn man tired-up with tape on one side, and broken free & standing up on the other side- with more photo collaging. Inside we get pictures of the bands from the original release- comp introduction text from the original release & 2020. There’s also a glossy twenty-page booklet- featuring a write up about the compilation, band pictures/ details. All in all a nicely presented affair- which with a price tag of £15.00 is not bad, and even better all the profits from its sale are going to Tonic- a Portsmouth based charity that helps with music & arts for people suffering from mental health issues.
Before I get into the contents of this three discs collection- I need to preface my review, by saying I became aware of this comp due to the involvement of Renaldo And The Loaf( RATL). So with that in mind, and what we normally cover on M[m], I’m coming into this looking for more experimental/ quirky focused material. And largely most of what’s here sits in the more approachable/ formal song structured side of things- be it new wave or post-punk focused on the first disc, or more genre varied though largely rock-pop focus on the second disc. So the lion share of what’s here largely sits outside both my normal sonic tastes/ likes- so if I’m a little sniffy/not particularly excited by what’s here, this is largely down to the angle I’m coming from. But certainly as a snapshot of two points in Portsmouth musical history- this is most worthy- just don’t expect oodles of odd-ness & bizarre sonic fare, if you are going to pick this up due to the RATL connection. All that said the third disc certainly does dip it’s toe in weird waters, before returning to more run-of-the-mill fare.
So (finally) moving onto the discs themselves- disc one is entitled 1980. and this features twenty-five tracks and seventy-three minutes of music. And this is made up of seventeen tracks from the original comp, and eight tracks from the same period that sadly had to be left of the original comp. The eight original acts each get two-to-three tracks apiece- and these are played after each other, so the whole thing has an almost ‘battle of the bands’ vibe. We kick off with Attic, and their two tracks- and I guess you’d say this is jerking & snapping Post-punk with keyboard/ electronic edges. Next, we have two RATL tracks- and this is the band at their most primal, we have darting/ wonky singsong warbling vocals, waving lo-fi horn work, and cut-up percussion of "A Medical Man". Then we have pitch shifting vibes, off-key horn, and odd chanted vocals of “Bail Wine”. Through to the jerky & of key guitar twang/ vibe, meets sing-song off-colour nursery rhyme vibe of “Scottish Shuffle”- and it’s certainly great to hear the band at this embryotic point.
As we move through this first disc we go from the upbeat & buoyant post-punk of Dance Attack(X), which has a rather female backing edged Undertones feel to it. And there’s the sing/ song pop-punk of The Frames. Moving onto the bonus tracks, and each of these bands only gets a track apiece- these go from the bish bash drums & chugging guitar punk of The Media, onto the bonding-bass strummed clean guitar & waving female vocals Clair. Finishing off with the darting bass, strutting guitar lines, lead male vocal 'n' cheerleader backing vocals, and subtle/ weedy electronics of Zebra Zone.
Disc two is entitled 2020- and here we get thirteen tracks and an hours worth of music- most of the projects here are new, with a few of the new recordings from those involved with the 1980’s comp. Each band/ project gets one to three tracks each, and to be perfectly honest this whole disc was a bit too run-of-the-mill for me, with only one or two tracks doing anything for me. We go from the moody indie guitar pop of Race Car Hearts, onto churning ‘n’ tangling modern blues-rock of Positrons, through to sub-Paul Weller rock ballad vibes of Mooch. The only few tracks that stood out to me where Curl’s “Just Like Me” which brought together tock-tocking Cure like guitar/ bass/ beats, with flighty-yet-sinister female vocals & waving orchestrate swells. Or the playful high tuned strumming guitar and tight rhyming spoken word male of vocals Louie Snacks “Boast The Most”.
Lastly, we of course have the third disc- this takes in twenty tracks, sixty-eight minutes of music, and the first part of the disc stands as my highlight of this set. We kick-off with three tracks from Kid Scaramouche- and these go from the jaunting & slight creepy Persian organ-meets-twanging spy guitars, and the Russian dance rhythm of the instrumental track “Il Boretto”. Onto bouncing 'n' springing bass lines, snapping-to-combing beats, and quirky tale-telling vocals of “The Chesil Beach”. Next, we have two new tracks from Renaldo And The Loaf- first, there’s “Blue Mountain Goat”- with its blend of classic jaunting ‘n’ jigging RATL groove, scathing-to-playful throat singing touched vocals, and slick delta blues licks. Next, there’s “Now Then” which finds a rolling ‘n’ jiving groove, watery percussive touches, simmering backwards guitar tones, and sudden creepy-to- dramatic instrumental breaks. Two great new tracks, which have made me even keener for a new RATL album.
Sadly after this, the disc largely returns similar material to the second disc, i.e rather run-of-mill rock-pop, singer-songwriter fare, and more meaty-through approachable guitar-based music.
In finishing I think what you get out of this three-disc set & how much you enjoy it- is down to what you’re expecting/ wanting. If you’re looking for a sonic statement on some of Portsmouth’s more indie-focused, though largely formal/ approachable fare- forty years apart, this will certainly fit your need. But if you're expecting more RATL like material, or genre quirky experimental fare from the City, I think you’ll be disappointed. The three-disc set can be brought directly from here ,and there's also a UK only collector’s edition in the works featuring: the triple CD, T-shirt, five badges, four postcards and a double-sided art print that’s limited to 100 copies, which will sell for £30 incl P&P. Roger Batty