The Matador 100 Project: H.P. Zinker’s …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1)
This is less of a restart for my blog than it is just something I wanted to do. See, I wanted to focus my vinyl collection beyond “that sounds good” or “this one is seminal” or “I have money in my pocket that needs to be spent.” So, I poked around a bit and decided that Matador was the label that meant most to me in the 90’s alongside maybe Sub Pop. If you know anything about these two labels, despite both being really successful to survive nearly 30 years, Sub Pop became the “most indie of all the sellouts” by being associated with grunge. Old Sub Pop records are out of the reach of someone with a meager public school teacher salary. Matador, however, released a lot of material by some pretty obscure bands. Plus, their lineup and catalog is honestly more interesting to me.
Anyway, I had this idea to collect the first 100 (maybe 200) Matador releases. Vinyl-wise, I probably own 10% of those releases already (closer to 20-25% on CD, but who listens to CD’s?). What I’m really missing is the early Matador stuff, the obscurest of the obscure. There are some well-known acts like Superchunk, Unsane, Railroad Jerk, Teenage Fanclub, etc., but most of the really early releases is completely new to me. Despite the obscurity of this material, the records are priced pretty afford-ably. I mean, that Unsane record with the decapitated guy on subway tracks and maybe the first Superchunk record are twice as much as a new release, but it’s still within my grasp.
The only place to begin was at the very start of the Matador empire. 1989’s H.P. Zinker EP …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1) is everything I wanted for this little project. It’s obscure enough. Who’s ever heard of H.P. Zinker? I hadn’t. According to Wikipedia (after I translated it from German), the record was recorded as a two-piece with a drum machine. The band formed the same year they released this record in NYC. Over time, they performed with several other bands of the day, namely Sonic Youth, Lemonheads (Dando later recorded with them), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc.
The record opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” which is kinda ominous, almost sinister. It’s bass-heavy and the singer sounds like Elmer Fudd. It’s actually a pretty good cover, fairly straight-up, but it has H.P.’s unique aesthetic without completely fucking up what is a good, classic rock song. The second track is an 8-minute, meandering slow jam. Again, despite the somewhat distracting cartoon-like vocals, it’s not a bad song which builds to a grungy crescendo.
The overall sound of the record is pure-1989 indie. It’s that tinny production with the oncoming onslaught of feedback and bass which made Nirvana rich. That said, Wharton Tiers did more to bring underground rock – particularly NYC rock – into its own come the 1990’s and this record is no different. His fingerprints are all over it, giving it more girth than similar-sounding records of the day.
“Sip of the Day” picks up the pace and ends the first side. It has some aesthetics in the guitar sound that reminds me of Dinosaur Jr. and early Pavement. The vocals aren’t nearly as Elmer Fudd as the rest, but it’s there. I’ll cease to belabor this point from here on out.
Side 2 kicks off with a fun grungy dancer in “Hurdles on my Way.” This would have been the hit. The production is somewhat cleaner and less-tinny. (Maybe all that tin is actually from the drum machine…) It’s basically just a song about a girl. So, there’s that.
“Sunshine” and “Down in the Basement” close out the EP. “Sunshine” uses the drum machine with the speed way up, sounding like some EDM then transforming into a hardcore anthem/ballad. Lots of space in this one to showcase what sounds like a shitty drum machine, but it somehow works.
This is a pretty solid first release from my favorite 90’s boutique label. It certainly points to the quality Chris Lombardi cultivated for his label and later championed by partner Gerard Cosloy. The second release was also by H.P. Zinker, so you have to assume Lombardi liked the band a lot. I’ll write about that 7″ as soon as it arrives in the mail. In the meantime, enjoy this video for “Sunshine.”