Swell Maps

  • Swell Maps
  • A Trip to Marineville (UK Rather/Rough Trade) 1979  (Mute) 1989 
  • Jane From Occupied Europe (UK Rather/Rough Trade) 1980  (Mute) 1989 
  • Whatever Happens Next... (UK Rather/Rough Trade) 1981 
  • Collision Time (UK Rather/Rough Trade) 1982 
  • Train Out of It (UK Antar) 1987 
  • Collision Time Revisited (Mute/Restless) 1989 
  • Jowe Head
  • Pincer Movement (UK Armageddon) 1981 
  • Strawberry Deutschmark (Ger. Constrictor) 1986 
  • The Jowe Head Personal Organizer (Ger. Constrictor) 1989 

In existence for most of the ’70s, England’s Swell Maps proved that a group of intelligent, fearless, versatile people can record five LPs and produce little of any lasting value. Though promising at the outset, Swell Maps (from a town outside Birmingham) succumbed to preciousness and self-indulgence with depressing speed. Significantly, however, three of the Maps’ four mainstays — Jowe Head (bass/vocals) and brothers Nikki Sudden (guitar/vocals) and Epic Soundtracks (drums/keyboards) — continued to be major figures on the international independent music scene.

A Trip to Marineville, released with a bonus four- song EP, finds our embryonic cartographers dabbling in Pistols-styled punk and more experimental noise-making, using unorthodox implements. Despite their energy and tenacious desire to produce something new, the package simply does not contain enough ideas that work. The following Jane from Occupied Europe shows the band’s confidence waxing while its will to organize wanes. Since it’s the desire to organize sound that fills the gap left when avant-gardists throw the rules away, this proved to be Swell Maps’ undoing.

By the time of the interminable two-record Whatever Happens Next, mainly a collection of homemade cassette demos dating back to 1974, Swell Maps were rambling and floundering. Collision Time consists of about half of Jane From Occupied Europe plus an assortment of singles and other album cuts. The group broke up in 1980.

Following Nikki Sudden’s success in the Jacobites, a posthumous compilation of singles and outtakes, Train Out of It, was issued. Two years later, as the group’s first two LPs were reissued, Collision Time Revisited, a 27-song retrospective of rarities, singles, album tracks and unreleased efforts (with brief adulatory liner notes from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore) appeared, putting a final cap on the Maps.

[Mark Fleischmann / Ira Robbins]

See also: Barracudas, Crime and the City Solution, Nikki Sudden