Published Sep 30, 2014In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Slumberland Records, the label has chosen to revisit and reissue one of its most prized possessions: the long-deleted first two albums by San Francisco indie pop darlings the Aislers Set. Timing it perfectly, Suicide Squeeze joined in to do the same with their final album.
Whereas their twee peers like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura went on to find large audiences, the Aislers Set were somewhat undervalued and overlooked in their six-year run. Formed by Amy Linton originally as a four-track solo project, she eventually grew it into a full band, featuring another occasional singer/songwriter, Wyatt Cusick.
Their 1998 debut album, Terrible Things Happen, picks up where Linton left off with previous band Henry's Dress. Of course, that band's fuzz-pedal-hugging noise is a little more domesticated, as she elected for a more subdued level of distortion, with plenty of reverb and slower pacing for her demure voice. With nods to '60s pop (the Who's Mod style, Love's paisley-collared tinges, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound), and the nosier side of C86, the album presented a template for a whole new generation to ape a decade later.
Second album The Last Match (2000) found Linton opening the songs up to collaboration. There is definitely more of a band feel; as a group, they bring more cohesion to the songs, from the iridescent combination of guitar jangle and bleeding organ on "Hit the Snow" to the buoyant jamming on "Balloon Song." But it's the contribution of Cusick as a second singer that gives the album its most charming dynamic. On "Chicago New York" and "Lonely Side of Town," vocal comparisons between Cusick and B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch are undeniable, extending even further to his preference for a hushed baroque pop composition.
For their 2003 swan song, How I Learned To Write Backwards, the Aislers Set continued to evolve. With Linton retaining control of vocals, she steered the band more towards the precious and immaculate sounds of girl groups like the Shangri-Las and the Crystals. As discord within the band grew, so did the music's sadness and dour minimalism on songs like "Sara's Song" and "Unfinished Paintings." But with the thrashing noise pop of "The Train #2" and a line like "two fingers in the air, two fingers up your ass" ("Emotional Levy"), Linton obviously experienced some kind of catharsis.
With some reunion gigs underway and a singles/rarities compilation expected in early 2015, these three reissues demonstrate just how much the Aislers Set would have thrived had they just started out. No matter what happens from here on (new album, perhaps?), at least they have a chance to find the audience and praise that missed them the first time around. (Slumberland/Suicide Squeeze)