In spite of its seeming adherence to a DIY mindset based upon the punk ethos of a decade before, legendary late 80s/early 90s label Sarah Records was never known for being a label that released a lot of “punk” records. Instead, they favored a more intelligent, wistful, and softer sound, albeit several of their bands favored an indie rock amateurism that could proved to be either charming or annoying. There were exceptions, of course; action painting! proving to be one of the delightful exceptions. Formed in the south of England by Andy Hitchcock, their tenure was brief––three singles and out––and released but one single after leaving the fold. Trial Cuts (1989–1995) reintroduces the band with a mostly comprehensive collection of singles, demos, radio recordings, and other rare cuts.
Their debut for the label, “These Things Happen,” appeared in 1990, and initially it seems the band was willing to go along with the sonic aesthetic the label had cultivated. As the first track on the compilation, it does start things off nicely, but as one proceeds through the rest of the collection, upon returning to it, it’s hard not to notice something about the song feels off. It sounds great––and it got a lot of positive press upon release––yet it simply sounds a bit too earnest, as if it’s trying way too hard to fit in. It’s as awkward as the first Beatles photo sessions where they transition from long hair and leather to professionally–trimmed hairdos and suits and ties–you can absolutely tell that in their hearts they know this is not who they are. Apparently, the band must have felt that something was off as well, as they split up shortly after its release, seemingly destined to be another one–and–done Sarah band.
Thankfully, they weren’t.
They would return in 1993 with two new singles. The first, “Classical Music,” offered a stunningly fresh new take on their sound. They were rougher, louder, and much more aggressive; many things you could call their music, but “twee” wasn’t one of them. Good thing, too; this was something quite exciting and promising, a racket not unlike labelmates Boyracer‘s “crash pop” punk, and one that definitely stood out from the monotony and misery that the label traded in. Their next single, “Mustard Gas,” appeared not too long after, and only doubled down on the aggressiveness; the A-Side was a straightforward rocker about a break up, while “Art Student” is an angry rant while “Collapsing Cloud” is slightly more melodic and equally as angry. You could not have asked for a better final statement; it offered nonstop punches, a fitting ending to their tenure on the about to be shuttered label, and though they would release one more single two years later with “Laying the Lodger,” they were all but done, not officially breaking up, simply moving on their way to other things.
Although Trial Cuts tells a story, it is not a finished story; this release was compiled in conjunction with a reunion tour this summer, one that found the band not only revived and fresh, but often stealing the show; supposedly a new album is in the works, and that’s a good thing, too. Until then, this Collection is a nice scrapbook of the first but not final chapter of a band that deserves to be something more then obscure.