Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Off the Rack: Henry's Dress

There's a bend in the wire, I can't ring you today.

I'm sure ya'll remember Henry's Dress, they were Albuquerque's great rock hope prior to the Shins. Formed in 1993, Amy Linton and Matt Hartman effortlessly shared lead vocals and took turns playing guitar or drums, accompanied by Hayyim Sanchez on bass. Long before experimentation came to define the Duke City music scene, Henry's Dress created a cutting edge sound unlike anything else. Noisy little songs played with an appealing DIY sloppiness. Screechy feedback masking an underlining pop sensibility. A muddy mix meant that Amy's vocals (more so than Matt's) were usually buried in the din. Making it a chore to try and discern just what was being said. All this only added to the band's appeal as they banged around 'Burque for the first few months they were together.

Before their hometown could warm up to them, Henry's Dress relocated to the Bay Area following Amy Linton's acceptance to the San Francisco Art Institute. Once there, they were signed to Slumberland Records, releasing their first single “1620 b/w Stumble” in 1993. “Henry's Dress were that rare band for us - a group that we discovered through a demo tape, and then only through Amy Linton's heroic perseverance in getting a very busy Papa Slumber to listen” Papa was label manger Michael Schulman, who left Amy a phone message “Wanna do a record?” Slumberland Records started out as a collective effort formed by band members of Velocity Girl and Big Jesus Trash Can in Silver Spring, Md. Under Schulman's direction Slumberland relocated to Berkeley, Ca. in 1992.

Plenty of hoopla surrounded Henry's Dress when they signed with Slumberland, leading some in Albuquerque to believe that they would be the band to finally bust out of what was rapidly becoming a fruitful local music scene. After the move Matt offered this observation on the local scene: “When we lived in Albuquerque, most of the popular bands there were of the Amphetamine Reptile school of Jesus Lizard. But I guess we left kind of on the cusp of an expanding scene of music that began to at least loosen up and get into different kinds of things. It's been kind of interesting to see how that's evolved. Last year, I spent a good two or three months in Albuquerque, but I didn't really see much music. Some good bands there are The Drags, and this band Flake that we did a split single with.”

This set the stage for their eponymous EP release “Henry's Dress” which was well received. “This EP documents the band's middle period, branching out from their initial interests in Loop-meets-MBV pop heaviness into the more mod/punk sounds that would fuel their later efforts. Anyway you slice it, this record is a smash. The band would go even further down the mod/punk route with their subsequent album "Bust 'em Green," but this EP represents a raw, immediate document of a band finding their footing and their own unique sound. And best of all - it still sounds freaking great. Their fantabulous (sic) first ep that set a new standard for LOUD. Smashing MBV-meets-Who-flavored mod/punk/sonic pop. Perfect.” (in case you're wondering, MBV stands for My Bloody Valentine) 

Trouser Press weighed: “Henry's Dress is simple, gentle garage pop carpeted wall-to-wall with an excess of surly feedback. The easy tempo and the heavy guitar wash place the songs midway between Psychocandy, Loveless and some of the early Creation catalog, but the mass of sound often eclipses the fragile melodies. The entire effort is likable on a general drone level, but the band's real promise is barely hinted at. The full-length Bust 'Em Green is eons ahead of its predecessor, marking a much more distinct territory for Henry's Dress. The band had grown by leaps and bounds, “The feedback still lingers in places, but it's been restrained to blend rather than blanket, a progression thankfully in tandem with the band's vastly improved and thoroughly impressive pop instincts.”

Trouser Press: “Nearly every song here is a gem in its own right” Despite the critical acclaim, by the time their full length album “Bust 'Em Green” came out in 1996, Henry's Dress was on the cusp of a break up. The band's rigid adherence to the noise pop formula left them little room for progression and Amy was rapidly outgrowing her band mates... musically speaking. Henry's Dress like so many 'Burque expats before them, faded from the scene. Matt Hartman and Hayyim Sanchez moved on. Amy however, was just getting warmed up. Their quick departure from Albuquerque probably explains they're better known in San Francisco than in their hometown. Which is a shame because Amy Linton is easily one of the most talented and accomplished musicians to ever come out of the Duke City. 

Post- Henry's Dress, Amy formed The Aisler Set, a band characterized by its jangling guitars and melodic power pop song structures. Signed by Sumberland and doted over by music scribes, Amy's new project quickly rose to a level of success barely imaginable with Henry's Dress. The Aisler Set's first album “Terrible Things Happen” was released in 1998 and garnered glowing reviews from CMJ. The album's success led to a tour of Japan in 1999. Their second album “The Last Match” made it to Spin.com's Top 20 for the year 2000. declaring “Linton has cleared the cobwebs off the Pop conundrum and dolled them up in a perfect dress.” Greil Marcus at Salon.com wrote: "They make dream pop feel as easy to make as a can of soup, and as dangerous: Watch that jagged edge."

More praise followed from The New York Times, NME, Gear and Alternative Press. The Aisler Set then toured in support of Sleater Kinney and Bratmobile. A 2001 European tour resulted in an invitation to record a session for John Peel. In 2002 following an East Coast tour opening for Belle and Sebastian (Stevie Jackson was quoted as saying: "They are one of the best groups in America as far as I'm concerned") The San Francisco Chronicle included The Aislers Set in its list of “Young Artists on the Verge”.... "The Aislers Set's reinvention of '60s pop resurrects walls of garage guitars and rich, Spector-esque sound, insouciance combined with insightful lyrics. But this quintet makes the past feel contemporary, borrowing from punk and pop to create a 21st century cool sound"

As The Aisler Set ran its course, Amy collaborated with Stewart Anderson of Sumblerland label mates Boyracer (formed in Leeds, England, Anderson was the only constant member of the band. There's an iconic photo of Amy playing drums for Henry's Dress while wearing a Boyracer jersey) The lo-fi, shoegaze idie duo recorded a single in 2000 as Linton & Anderson (“The Lights are Out”) on Sumberland. They kept a low profile until 2015 when “Looking For a Stranger On The Shore” was released on Emotional Response Records. Amy now living in Brooklyn was mentioned in 2012 by the Riverfront Times (a St. Louis weekly publication) after her home was burglarized and her extensive vinyl collection was cherry picked of hundreds of her most valuable records.

While still a member of Henry's Dress, Amy Linton also played drums for Go Sailor, a Berkeley based band that included Rose Melberg (Tiger Trap & the Softies) Go Sailor released three singles and one full length compact disc (on Lookout! Records) AllMusic noted that: “The band and Melberg's songwriting are as keen as ever, and Go Sailor does nothing but deliver on the jangling four-chord structures and indie pop hooks her fans have come to expect” Two of Go Sailor's songs were later featured on the motion picture soundtrack for “But I'm a Cheerleader”a 1999 satirical comedy directed by Jamie Babbit and starring Natasha Lyonne as a high school cheerleader whose parents send her to a conversion therapy camp to cure her lesbianism. Boy Howdy!