Vinyl Vlog 295

Vinyl Vlog 295

Sunday, 07 January 2018

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Self-Contained LP by The Containers.

Having grown up and come of age in the Eighties and Nineties (here to fore known as the golden age of tape trading and indie rock), I confess with a little embarrassment and chagrin that I had never heard of The Containers prior to Manufactured Recordings’ vinyl reissue of Self-Contained arriving on my desk, and I have to say that I have no idea how such an event came to pass; this album is the sort of stuff that “indie geek” dreams are made of. From top to bottom, Self-Contained revels in the sort of “small-intoned,” tightly composed and arranged work that bands like The Vaselines, The Pastels, Half Japanese, The Raincoats and The Clean used to make merry with, yet somehow they have been unknown to me until now. How that has been possible has been something of a mystery but, after listening through both sides of this freshly-pressed presentation of the Self-Contained LP, I know I’ll be happy to sing its praises at every available opportunity henceforth.

From the second “British Rail” saunters out to open the A-side of Self-Contained, all of the elements which have historically made a UK indie masterpiece are present and accounted for: male and female vocal interplay rings brightly through both the let and right channels complete with campy melodies and chord changes, and it’s all contained within a cutesy arrangement (although there are no bicycle horns like The Vaselines had on “Son Of A Gun”) which is basically geared to get stuck in the minds of those who hear it. The song could go down in history for how cute it is and how silly too (really – this song could play as the support in a goofy railroad transport advertisement) but, in a truly delightful way, also sets the standard for the album; not one moment on this LP doesn’t chime with simplicity and perfect pop beauty.

It may be perfectly consistent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun too. The thick but crisp bass line which powers “No Man’s Land” is so well produced that listeners may be tempted to spend a week just rolling ’round between the notes in it while “Zip Zip” teeters on the brink of actually becoming a fantastic punk rock song (listeners may notice that the song’s bass line sounds familiar – upon several listens they may conclude that it was playfully lifted out of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”), and listeners will find themselves unable to resist the tease. And when the band fumbles lecherous behavior on “Rita’s Legs” and winds up with what could have been the most unlikely pop radio hit in history if only enough people had heard it, the fate of the album’s A-side is sealed; it’s just too sweet, cute and delightful to deny. Trying to turn it off before it ends would be the sort of offense that would draw serious and disparaging conclusions about the perpetrator’s character.

After listeners have flipped the album over, they’ll find more pop magic of a similar pop vintage waiting and just eat it up with the same enthusiasm as they did with the stuff on the album’s A-side.First, the band takes the obligatory turn at ska with the side-opener “Flight 11,” but then gets shockingly tense for “Sob Story.” There, The Containers totally shift gears with arpeggios and minor chords, and really set nerves to tingling when singer Stella Barker starts issuing lines like “You look so lovely when your face is contorted with pain/ I think I’m going to stamp on your feet again.” In print, it might sound impossibly twee – but it really does sound terrifying in practice, compared to everything else the album has presented to this point.

After “Sob Story,” Self-Contained‘s running gets back to more cutesy fare immediately with the “as rock-pop as the name sounds” rocker “My Turn To Win” before getting deep into low-fi territory with the indie love story demo “Tissue Paper.” While the production values dip dramatically with the entrance of “Tissue Paper” (and – spoiler alert – they never go back up again before the needle lifts at side’s end), that change is balanced well by some perfectly-wrought lyrical handling (come on – how does one Not get a little chuckle out of lines like “I almost fell in love with you/But you blew your nose and I didn’t like the sound”? If that doesn’t happen, check your pulse, Reader) and loose instrumental arrangements which allow for listeners to just curl up inside and inhabit them. That spirit keeps the sort of surf-y vibe of “Michael There’s A Fly” afloat and the warmth and sweetness of “When I Arrive” leaves a delightful and satisfying sensation in listeners’ stomachs as the side closes. On one hand, some listeners may balk at the rather awkward shift to low-fi as Self-Contained‘s B-side peters out, but others will appreciate the contracting sense of it. In a way, it almost sounds like the wheels have come off The Containers’ go-kart short of reaching the finish – but that they carry on for three more songs and walks across the finish line feels like the cutest and most lovable conclusion that one could ever hope for.

And, after having run front-to-back with the album once, listeners will know they’re not finished with Self-Contained yet – they’ll need to hear it again. Why? Simply put, the innocence so integral to each of the album’s twelve songs is also infectious; Self-Contained plays like it was made for the joy of playing and recording – not necessarily for a proper release (how else can one explain the fact the fact that the album went thirty-eight years without a formal release?). In a way, that makes it even better too – getting to finally hear this music just feels special and fun. [Bill Adams]


The Self-Contained LP is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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