For the last five years, and since their first compilation release, Of National Importance Records (ONI) has continuously released some of the best music to come out of Barnsley in the last thirty years. It’s name, in itself, is the definition of home grown quality music during a time when certain figureheads on the scene say it has never been better. This month, ONI release their second full length compilation, ‘Misophonic Minds; Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture’, and it comes off of the back of the label’s biggest release to date, The Black Lamps’ eponymous debut album, which received unanimous rave reviews and had copies bought from all over the world. Not bad for a small label in a small town. This new compilation could well be ONI’s only release this year as label owner Joe takes a lengthy hiatus (read an interview with Joe here). If so, what a way to go. Nineteen tracks of the best in local music, including a number of ONI regulars and alumni alongside new names to be associated with the label. Of these nineteen are fifteen exclusive tracks including possibly the last ever recording from The Exhibition and a debut outing from Tender Firs. Aside from those bands commonly associated with the label, the prospect of a compilation allows ONI to showcase some of the acts where some kind of musical kinship is felt, when the cruelty of time and money does not allowed the label to pursue more intense musical relationships. Of those acts are acoustic, folk, heavy psyche and a variety to instrumentalists, all add to the musical pallete whose DNA is found mid-80s Post Punk and early 90s Shoegaze. Of the new acts featured here, three of the best around. Folk duo Garforth & Myers (messers Rory and Adam) mix the sounds of 60s US folk with the magic and mysticism of Nick Drake. Their gentle vocals are complimented by those of backing vocalists Emma Johnstone and Susie Martin (both former Imoko Set vocalists). It’s a fantastic sneak preview of their long await second album, which will prove that they are one of Yorkshire’s most talented, yet still unknown folk acts. Del Scott Miller, the songwriter behind the now defunct Mynas, is one of the best songwriters, lyricists and guitarists the town has to offer. His recent acoustic EPs have featured sax and lots of percussion, but here on one of his most tender moments, we have sorrowful cello and organ helping him along. Richard Kitson, an already popular folk/blues musician, strays from the path and stands out as being of a different hue to the rest on this album. On his Can’t Help Myself, Kitson plays the reluctantly optimistic troubadour, offering a lighter tone. While The Exhibition’s Peter Dand offers a stark yet beautiful acoustic ballad called White Feather, which, if this is a sign of what’s to come from ‘solo’ Pete, then we need not worry about the lack of band.
A new addition to the ONI fold is Sarah-Jane; the only artist here I had never heard of before. On what sounds like a live recording, Tell Me is a naked and honest performance, where both vocal and guitar arrangements are simple, yet emotionally captivating and all the better for the space Sarah-Jane allows herself. Reminiscent of the earliest Jewel recordings too. Five instrumental tracks appear throughout the album, offering variety, depth and boundless experimentation. First up is heavy psychedeic duo rama zu (formely of Ivory Tusks) who open proceedings with a short piece of free flowing, mellow ambience, with rolling bass, electronic drones and subtle percussion. The second, eight tracks in, is slice of cinematic drone, aptly titled Asynch Drone #3 and produced by Lyndon Scarfe – he of Black Lamps fame and many other extracurricular electronica, drone and remix projects. This sci-fi lullaby is the kind of dreamscape I really dig, reminding me of soundtracks to Blade Runner, Heat and Interstellar. Fantastic. Witches Sabbath by Bruja – a newcomer to ONI – is a doom-lite, bluesy number whose grunge inspired rock is a surprise for those who thought they knew what to expect from ONI Records, and entirely welcome to the roster too. Immediately following and featuring former members of Cocean are Explorers Society. Their track Hourglass Eye is a piano and E-Bow drenched piece which recalls Death Cab For Cutie and Explosions In The Sky at their most sedate. The final instrumental is by Charlie North, who also appeared on the first ONI compilation five years ago. Time Will Tell is electronia spiced by a hint of New Age World Beat, complete with monastic vocals. Because of this album’s lengthy nineteen tracks, these five instrumental works break up the compilation nicely, allowing for a quite unique and often surprising listening experience. Another new name in the ONI ranks is Heavy Suns (formerly Yellow Elevators). They supply the kind of road worthy psychadelia they have always been known for dealing in – souped up Eastern rhythms and the kind of swagger that is representative of Barnsley’s very healthy Psyche Indie scene. Their track Relapse is not quite the same melancholic vane as the rest of this album, and actually has quite an up-beat summer festival vibe to it. After taking nearly ten years to supply that debut album, The Black Lamps offering in an exclusive remix of Colour 8, which decorated with fairground twinkles and the sounds of clouds and jet streams rushing by. Guitars are pushed to the side in order to highlight the precision perfect rhythm section. Black Lamp vocalist Liam Stewart supplies a solo track which isn’t too far removed from the band’s own track, which considering how varied Liam’s back catalogue is, we’re quite lucky. You Are Everything is a euphoric and hypnotic upbeat indie pop song, with a restrained and almost chanted vocal from Liam. So far, so good. A real fine example of Barnsley music. However, Misophonic Minds is at its best when ONI showcase those acts that it has worked with and grown with over a number of years. A number of acts new of ONI appear. Aztec Doll‘s Through Out Veins is agitated rhythms and Warpaint at their most disco. Vocalist Roxy is commanding and sultry in equal measure. Label owner Joe claims that McCarthy Vigil ‘s Queen Second, Money First is ‘the best pop song you’ll hear all summer outside of Radio1’. It is indeed the Vigil at their poppiest and most brief. Reminds me a little of Modest Mouse, Grandaddy and most of all Arcade Fire. The Exhibition‘s Pete Dand has already appeared, here is fronts was we are told could be their last ever recording as a band together. In the last year and half, the band has really hit their stride and at perfected their sound totally. All At Sea at the beating rhythm of the ocean, and guitars twinkling like star fish. It’s magestic – like Joy Division playing Suede’s Stay Together. Here the band sound optimistic and full of ideas and you wonder why the hell are they calling it a day. Here’s an answer; the first of my three highlights. Film is The Exhibition’s Joel and Murray in the first of a project which may or may not feature a changing roll call of guest vocalists. Here it is Aztec Doll’s Roxy and Hayley. A song of two halves, hypnotic and glacial, with Hayley’s shamanic chants juxtaposed with Roxy’s angelic swoon. Then attacked by a barrage of riffing and noodling that could have ripped right out of Paranoid Android. Despite these highpoints, my favorite moments here were a real pleasant surprise; both being supplied by former members of ONI alumni Imoko Set. First is Tender Firs and their debut recording ‘Sinister’. Three of its members are ONI veterans, recording and releasing music as the long-gone Imoko Set. Gone is the angular indie pop you though you knew. Here, the ghostlike Susie Martin accompanies the most naked and raw vocal performance from Jamie Briggs yet. He recalls Tim Wheeler, James Dean Bradfield and Roddy Woomble, but backed by the almost mournful synth and funeral beat, he appears vulnerable and ethereal. A haunting and beautiful highlight. Closing the album is This Is The Language by Diskettes Fore Minor. Originally recorded by Imoko Set and opening ONI’s first compilation in 2010, this track was reworked by the band’s Jamie and Susie during the period in-between Imoko and new band Tender Firs. Stripped back, slowed down and maybe a sign of a more introspective and darker sound. Jamie takes a back seat here, providing just a very subtle backing vocal. Susie carried the emotional weight perfectly, and the raw instrumentation break the heart in the right places. If anything, it ends too suddenly and too soon. This, along with Tender Firs is the reason you should stand by Of National Importance Records. These are songs that stand up there alongside the nation’s best. I hate writing reviews this long, running the risk of losing a reader midway. I’d much rather condense things down, but with 19 tracks, all deserving of a sentence of two, it has to be done. Misophonic Minds really is a glimpse into the kind of musical quality you can expect to find in this town; brimming with talent, ideas and experimentation that is little talked about. Misophonic Minds: Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture is available to download now from the Of National Importance Records bandcamp page. Read an interview with Of National Importance Records label owner Joe here. Read an interview with Tender Firs members Jamie and Ian here. http://ofnationalimportancerecords.co.uk/ https://www.facebook.com/ofnationalimportancerecords https://soundcloud.com/ofnationalimportance