All of the best records come from England.
You know you've muttered that to yourself at least once while plowing through the import racks at your local music store. When you're addicted to left-field music, it always seems like the fixes from across the pond hit the vein with a little more satisfaction than the homegrown you've become accustomed to. From the mid-'80s through the late '90s, U.K. labels like Rough Trade, 4AD and Creation could always be depended upon for frightfully (!) good music.
Although the label started by Flux of Pink Indians bassist Derek Birkett back in 1986 never had quite the same cachet as those aforementioned imprints, One Little Indian has been quietly churning out boatloads of frightfully good music for some time now. You may be familiar with one of the label's artists, a young Icelandic girl named BjÕrk. Though OLI certainly found the most success with her albums, it never seemed to occur to the label that 1) they should only release records that sounded like hers, or 2) that they could perhaps benefit from a consistent presence in the States. The first is good. The second has been recently remedied. Perhaps chastened by U.S. ventures that financially bludgeoned labels like 4AD and Rough Trade, it's only now that OLI has firmly dipped their toe into the American market with a distribution deal that finally puts a selection of their releases in U.S. record stores ... at U.S. prices.
Not surprisingly, they started with BjÕrk, issuing a slew of DVDs last summer. But where things have gotten really interesting is with a batch of releases called "Crossing the Pond." The unimaginatively titled series is introducing U.S. audiences to music both underappreciated (Flux of Pink Indians) and blatantly nostalgic (The Shamen; BjÕrk's pre-Sugarcubes artcore band K.U.K.L.). The rush that comes from hearing a track like FOPI's "Mind Fuckers Fucking Minds" nearly 20 years after the first time it beat you over the head is something indeed. The embarrassment that comes from listening to "Move Any Mountain" by The Shamen and realizing that you might have actually danced to it while wearing baggy pants is humbling.
Ironically, some of the most intriguing reissues in the batch aren't even technically OLI releases. Back in the mid-'90s, when Rough Trade was undergoing a financial crisis of some magnitude, OLI bought the seminal label, bringing OLI alumnus A.R. Kane back into the fold, as well as the equally overlooked Disco Inferno. The reissuing of incredible albums like A.R. Kane's Sixty Nine and the mindblowing D.I. Go Pop by Disco Inferno is a more-than-welcome occurrence, as these discs are among the best albums to emerge from a late-'80s/early-'90s scene that stressed progressive atmospherics against the prevailing trends of easy popcraft. These albums are quite different in sound A.R. Kane is more breathless incandescence while Disco Inferno peddled a hypnotic brew of clipped groove and proletarian post-rock. Lauded upon release as "important," they were sadly forgotten. Hopefully, these reissues will rectify that.
New artists on One Little Indian are part of the deal too Alabama 3, Sandy Dillon and ex-Sneaker Pimps vocalist Kelli Ali but when a label has been going this long with little guiding it other than an ear for quality, it's perfectly appropriate to celebrate their history. And, daft (!) title aside, the "Crossing the Pond" series does that perfectly.