East Village 'Drop Out (30th Anniversary)' LP
An autumnal treasure, East Village’s Drop Out has spent the past thirty years finding new ears to bewitch and new hearts to melt. The only album from this British four-piece, recorded and released in the early nineties, it’s long been considered one of the hidden jewels of its time, and is talked of with hushed reverence by people who know. Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne once called it “an elegy for a particular brand of eighties guitar music, sweet minor chords and Dylanesque lyrics”, which captures what makes it so special; in summarising its era, though, it also effortlessly transcends it.
Like all great guitar gangs, East Village fell together as a four-piece; having relocated from High Wycombe to London in mid ‘80s, brothers Martin and Paul Kelly on bass and guitar, set on forming a group together, were joined by John Wood (guitar) and Spencer Smith (drums). Wood and the Kellys shared writing and vocal duties; it was an ideal combination, and one of the many charms of East Village is their various song writing voices, a tip of the hat, seemingly, to the 60s folk-rock groups who influenced them.
Originally influenced by garage-rock and freakbeat, the band eventually came through via the same scene as groups like Felt, The Go-Betweens, The Weather Prophets, and Primal Scream. They’d formed as Episode Four, releasing an EP, Strike Up Matches, in 1986, which has gone on to become one of most sought after releases of the C86 era. Their first two singles as East Village, ‘Cubans In The Bluefields’ (1987) and ‘Back Between Places’ (1988), were released on Jeff Barrett’s Sub Aqua label.
When it came time to record Drop Out, East Village found a supporter in Bob Stanley, who bankrolled the album sessions until Barrett re-signed the band to his new imprint Heavenly Recordings in 1990. The album that took shape is dusky, heartfelt, lamplit, full of chiming minor chords, close harmonies, rattling organs, all buoyed by a rhythm section that moves as one, steady and elegant. There’s melancholy here, certainly, on songs like ‘What Kind Of Friend Is This’, but also pleasure and freedom, on ‘When I Wake Tomorrow’ and ‘Silver Train’. The group were obsessed with Dylan’s Eat The Document at the time, and the album’s rich with references to the film; Drop Out’s character is also somehow close to the thin wild mercury sound of Blonde On Blonde, and the lambent light of the Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers.
In one of life’s gentler surprises, ‘Silver Train’ became an unexpected radio hit in Australia when released there as a single in 1993. The story of East Village seems marked by such unexpected turns and surprising events. None was more surprising for their fans at the time, though, than their onstage split in 1991, leaving an unreleased album in the can. Encouraged by Jeff Barrett the band revisited the tapes two years on and while mixing the album for its posthumous release in 1993 invited Debsey Wykes (Dolly Mixture, Coming Up Roses, Saint Etienne, Birdie) to sing the quietly devastating album closer, “Everybody Knows”, a perfect, sad-eyed sign-off.
Listening now to Drop Out, its timelessness is clear. It could have been recorded by young folk-pop hopefuls in the late sixties, taking their shot at the big time; but it could just as easily have been recorded yesterday, by a group that’s both reverent to music’s past, but forward looking in spirit and temperament. It’s that kind of album. Drop Out’s pop poetry is fully formed, with a singular charm that takes in wistfulness, romance, and good times, and a clutch of deeply moving songs that are overflowing with melody and gracefulness. It’s pretty much everything you’d want from a guitar pop record.
It's also an album that’s slowly accrued its own legend. From its stunning cover art, photographed by Juergen Teller originally for a Katherine Hammett campaign, to the ten perfectly formed songs within, Drop Out’s significance in the scheme of things is such that, a decade ago, it was given a rare 10/10 rating in Uncut magazine, who called the album “the lost classic of its era”. Drop Out comes round every decade or so, each edition introducing new fans to its understated beauty, and this latest reissue is its most elegant and deluxe yet.
The 30th anniversary edition of Drop Out lands in two formats: an LP with tip-on style jacket and four-page insert, designed to partner with the 2019 vinyl reissue of their singles and rarities compilation, Hot Rod Hotel; and a double CD, featuring an extra disc compiling the group’s early singles and alternative versions. This CD edition previously has only been available in Japan, though it now features a new, superior mix of their second single, ‘Back Between Places’. Both feature new, typically eloquent liner notes from writer Jon Savage.
The members of East Village have all gone on to do inspired things: Martin Kelly joined Jeff Barrett at Heavenly and has managed label mainstays Saint Etienne since 1993; Paul Kelly formed Birdie with Debsey Wykes, and is now a renowned film director and graphic designer; both Paul and Spencer Smith played in Saint Etienne’s live band; John Wood moved to China to teach, and released a lovely, understated folk album, Quiet Storm, in Japan in 2006. But with the hazy perfection of Drop Out, they’ve all already etched their names in the firmament.
Catalogue number: HVNLP3X