During rock’s most volcanic era — as the worlds of regular rock, punk rock, post punk and new wave were colliding like cooties in a petri dish — one release that still managed to stick out like a sore thumb was Swell Maps’ 1979 debut, “A Trip to Marineville.”
Later heralded as inspiration for Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement, British band Swell Maps didn’t have a foot firmly on the bandwagon at the time, still happily fawning over the likes of glam-rockers T Rex and krautrockers Can, dabbling in psychedelia and generally stretching the proceedings out, at the same time that nearly every other rock band was cranking out 2-minute-something, no-nonsense ditties.
On “Gunboats,” for example, in which the influence on Thurston Moore’s guitar drone is unmistakable in Nikki Sudden’s demented playing, nothing comes close to being a chorus or refrain during the 8-minute song. There is, however, a point about three minutes in where it sounds like somebody is doing construction in the recording studio. The same thing happens on the tune with my favorite title, “Adventuring in Basketry.” And, clocking in at 18 songs, half of which would still be hard to explain why you like to your friends, “Marineville” was definitely asking a lot more of listeners than the relatively by-rote Ramones (right down to their methodical leather jackets and ripped jeans).
It’s hard for me to pick one favorite from “Marineville” to represent the band, so I chose two. “Another Song” is a great, quick, Buzzcocks-y tune that still manages to showcase the band’s prog-rock leanings (it had, after all, been performing since 1972, back when as teens, they went under the name of Sacred Mushroom).
But it’s the following song, “Vertical Slum,” which nearly goes a cappella toward the end with a nod to the Mothers of Invention, that ends up being the one I talk to myself about at the water cooler the following morning. Enjoy!