Graded on a Curve:
The Safe Distance,
“Songs” EP

Run by husband and wife team of Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell, The Flagstaff, AZ-based label Emotional Response flies the flag of punkish indie pop and specializes in the tried-and-true format of the 7-inch EP, with much of the focus on the projects of the operators including Hulaboy and Boyracer. Of particular interest is “Songs” by The Safe Distance, a group featuring Anderson in tandem with Crayola of the UK band Sarandon and David Nichols of Australia’s Cannanes.

Whether it spins at 45 or 33 1/3 RPM, comes enclosed in a designed sleeve or one made of plain paper, or has a large or small hole drilled in its center, there’s nothing quite like the charge inspired by a worthwhile 7-inch. ‘twas once the dominant vessel for chart hits, countless misses and a surfeit of regional obscurities, but even after the advent of the compact disc, subscriber-based singles clubs flourished, as did a few labels specifically devoted to the short form.

The trend continues with Emotional Response, a 7-inch enterprise (though a flexi-disc does lurk in its background) co-managed by a guy who as the sole constant member of Boyracer played no small role in the ‘90s singles boom, his band releasing platters through the auspices of such esteemed imprints as Slumberland and Sarah plus his own Red Square and 555 Recordings.

While certainly connected to Anderson’s prior achievements, Emotional Response doth waft a distinct aroma, combining varying degrees of punk weightiness and humor with indie pop invention and a smart approach to the combination of physical product and technological advancement; over half the discography contains supplementary downloadable material.

Along with Turrell, Anderson’s partner in life and labeldom on bass, Boyracer’s most recent lineup flaunts the return of Sarah-period guitarist Matt Green. Thusly, Boyracer’s participation in Emotional Response’s roster isn’t a bit surprising, and for that matter, neither is the appearance of Hulaboy, Anderson’s long-running collab with Eric Stoess of Hula Hoop.

“He’s Making Violent Love to Me, Mother” is Hulaboy’s 3-song 7-inch/10-song download, its title culled from the dialogue of a film inextricably linked to the Christmas season (no, I shan’t spoil it), a gesture indicating recurring referentiality; opener “Exes and Enemies” names Facebook, “The Kid Asked” cites the records of The Jesus and Mary Chain and movies by Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke and Mike Nichols, the raucous “Kids Under Stars” speaks of hearing Phil Ochs on the radio, and a pair of track titles allude to Mark E. Smith and Crispin Glover.

“Hey!” even opens with the titular sample-clip from said seasonal flick. Differing from this tendency however is Hulaboy’s briefest and best tune, “Napalm Heart.” “…ripping off the Postcard and Flying Nun back catalogue”: that’s a self-deprecating snippet from Emotional Response’s promo text, and while not necessarily off-target, “Napalm Heart” hits upon a catchy and sharp vibe reminiscent of a release by Stiff or maybe even Small Wonder. Altogether, ER 09 is a satisfying half hour.

ER 10 is Boyracer’s “Pete Shelley,” the 4-song 7-inch/6-song download pointing to a carryover of Hulaboy’s inclination for name-checking. But the comparison doesn’t really extend beyond the title-track, as surfacing instead is Anderson’s knack for lean and loud melodiousness; a highly fertile musician credited with 800 tunes (a quick glance at Discogs bears this out), the results here connect as the byproduct of an aggressive and un-fussed-over spontaneity.

Yet not tossed-off, and at times pretty savvy, “Pete Shelley” managing to bring The Wedding Present to mind, though briefly, the cut amassing less than ninety seconds as the flailing, nearly as succinct “Jump” finds Turrell stepping to the mic, and the lengthier download-only closer “Date with Doug” exudes hints of a perky Soft Boys besieged by waves of caustic amp grease. But the tip-top just might be “The Kind of Man You Really Are,” the track conceived by Anderson in response to the ugly idiocy of a neighbor. This is reputed to be Boyracer’s final effort, and if so they’ve went out like champs.

Upon consideration the most intriguing of the three EPs is ER 07, the 4-song 7-inch/10-song download “Songs” from The Safe Distance. A tri-continental supergroup, Crayola (aka Simon Williams) of British outfit Sarandon and reformed ‘80s act A Witness lends vocals and guitar, David Nichols of numerous Aussie acts including Crabstick, Huon and the frequently excellent Emotional Response alums Cannanes (and furthermore a fine scribe for Chickfactor amongst other zines and author of a book on the Go Betweens) plays drums, and Anderson dishes out the bass and organ.

Jen and Stew’s promo blurb assesses The Safe Distance as “an updated take on the quirk-pop muscular end of the C86 spectrum.” It’s an apt description; alongside thick bass, layered guitar and percussion, intermittent keyboards and a persevering bass drum thump, Crayola’s accent and delivery help situate “Hey You!” as a direct descendant of the noisier business emanating from the late-‘80s indie pop sphere.

It’s followed by the uptempo “Soap,” the number pitting incessant acoustic strum against a gnawing bass line as convulsions of electric guitar heighten the tension. And Nichols again favors the bass drum, this time to the near exclusion of the rest of the kit, his playing instigating an attractively post-punkish minimalism underscoring The Safe Distance’s stature as clever vets.

Over on the flipside, “A Bigger Splash” slows the pace and retains the string-pluck as the trio cultivates a decidedly neo-‘60s feel, the opening highlighting an appealingly loose sensibility as Nichols spreads out on his set, Anderson steps forward on the organ and Crayola drawls lethargically into the mic and gives his effects-pedal a significant workout.

Closing the vinyl portion of the program is “Sandpit,” which utilizes the elements detailed in “Soap” once more and to powerful effect. But as stated, the download offers six additional tunes, alternating noise-pop originals “Domesticated Male,” “Sasquatch” and the shambolic ‘60s allure of “Winged Man” with illuminating covers of Bogshed’s “Fat Lad Exam Failure,” Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” and a nifty reading of Adam and the Ants’ truly swank “Young Parisians.”

Totaling over 30 minutes of quality listening, like the Boyracer and Hulaboy it sports a somewhat Modish layout (all do come with colorful inserts) mildly suggesting the motif utilized for the nine monthly 45s issued way back in ’89 by The Go Team, a Pac-NW group led by Beat Happening/K Records-honcho Calvin Johnson and Bikini Killer Tobi Vail that corralled contributions from Vail’s future bandmate Billy Karren, Team Dresch’s Donna Dresch, Fecal Matter’s Kurt Cobain and wouldn’t you know it, Cannanes-man David Nichols.

The collective qualitative weight of these discs is considerable and makes a strong case for the lasting relevancy of Jen and Stew’s label (as Sleaford Mods are slotted as ER 13). But as stated, these ears dig the non-grandiose supergroup aura of The Safe Distance best of all. Folks into discs issued by Vinyl Drip and Ron Johnson will likely find “Songs” of interest.


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