Reptile Ranch: S/T 12" (new)



In the early-to-mid 1970’s the communities living in south central Wales’ Ebbw Valley felt a growing insecurity as the region’s coalmines began to close. Life without the mines was difficult to imagine, as they had been the lifeblood of the area for as long as most could remember. From great instability great art is often born – and such is the case when Spike, Phil John, and Simon Smith came together at a school nestled between two mines in Newbridge to form Reptile Ranch. The trio dabbled with song writing for years before escaping the Valley for the city of Cardiff. Here the band found their stride with growing influence from the burgeoning UK DIY movement. After sending a letter to Scritti Polliti’s Carol Street address the boys received a package chalk full of information on how to release their own records. They wasted no time in forming their Z Block label, and releasing their brilliant debut Don’t Give the Lifeguard a Second Chance 7”. In a smallest of small world coincidences they ran into Scritti Polliti and NME journalist Ian Penman while leaving the pressing plant with their freshly pressed, blank labeled, double A-side singles. From this chance meeting their first review was written, their relationship with Scritti Polliti was furthered, and distribution help from Rough Trade was solidified. More invigorated than ever Reptile Ranch became a staple of a new scene in Cardiff, centered at the Grassroots Café. Like-minded bands like Riotous Brothers, The New Form, and Young Marble Giants joined Reptile Ranch in playing and releasing records. Reptile Ranch built a temporary studio in the café in order to record two Z Block compilations of Cardiff bands, Rough Cuts and Is the War Over?, as well as their masterpiece, 1980’s 4-song Animal Noises 7”. Reptile Ranch’s sound is deeply original. Often lacking drums, Phil John’s bass playing does double duty as both the guiding rhythm and backbone of melody. Meanwhile Spike and Simon Smith’s guitar work are without parallel as they bob and weave through diverse sets of riffs and unique licks. Somehow the band lands in the realms of Post Punk that will excite fans of the Desperate Bicycles, Wire, and The Fall. With this release all of Reptile Ranch’s work is available on a single LP for the first time. In addition to the bands released work this record also features two unreleased live tracks and two unreleased studio tracks (one of which is from the bands improvisational alter ego Reptile Cancer). Packaged in beautiful hand-stamped jackets with paste-on photographs and includes a 6-page insert of photos, flyers, artwork, journals and memos. One time pressing of 500 copies.

Our take: Compilation LP from this Welsh band that seems to have sprung out of the early post-punk/UK-DIY movement. The diversity of music that came out of this period of creative fertility is astounding, and as you might expect if you’ve spent some time exploring this period / genre Reptile Ranch don’t sound like too many bands out there. There’s something of the approach of Young Marble Giants (who were also from Cardiff) in Reptile Ranch’s sound, but to my ear RR sound much more 60s-influenced, with noticeable threads of early Pink Floyd-esque psychedelia as well as Ray Davies from the Kinks’ slightly skewed take on pop songwriting in their sound. In other words, Reptile Ranch seemed to have little interest in the standard punk formula… I mean, there’s even a recorder on one song! Like the best music from this scene, there’s a real sense of freedom and creativity here… it’s the sound of young people expressing themselves and pushing their boundaries rather than trying to conform to an existing template. The only small qualm I have with this collection is the track listing. I’m not sure how the order of the tracks were decided, but there are some pretty wild discrepancies in fidelity, with the tracks band’s two singles bookending the collection. If it were me I might have presented the material in order of fidelity from strongest to weakest so that people annoyed by the lower-fidelity (but by no means unlistenable) live recordings could skip those tracks more easily, but who knows… I may be in the minority in that preference. I also want to note that the packaging here is gorgeous, perhaps the most period-appropriate packaging for a reissue from this era that I’ve seen. The photograph on the cover is actually a 3x5 photo print pasted to the cover and the band name is rubber-stamped next to it. If you’re a connoisseur of this era you no doubt love homespun packaging like this, but it’s rare to see it so cleanly and appropriately executed. So, if you are looking for a new band name to paint on the back of your studded vest Reptile Ranch may not be it, but if you love the unrestrained creativity of the UK-DIY scene this is a great listen.
Tags: 70s diy post-punk reissues UK yoobl