Audio Remasterer: Nick Watson.
Photographers: Mark Flunder; Tim White ; Gordon Kaye; Richard Sena; Gavin Durant.
As one of the first on the scene for what would be dubbed the C-86 movement, Brighton, England's 14 Iced Bears emerged in 1985 with a scrappy, jangling guitar rock sound, a precursor to twee that was often also referred to as "shambling," a term coined by legendary DJ John Peel to sum up the rough-hewn presentation and generally un-slick vibe of the C-86 bands. Decidedly after punk but before indie rock, 14 Iced Bears fit perfectly into the limbo of C-86, producing two albums and multiple singles in their seven-year existence. Hold on Inside compiles all of their studio recordings from those early days, moving backwards from their 1991 farewell album Wonder to their earliest singles. Starting at the end, 14 Iced Bears sound more in line with the shoegaze sounds that were cropping up in the late '80s and early '90s, trading in some of their shambling pop for a more psychedelic-leaning sound throughout the Wonder material. Tracks like the woozy "Love on a Sugar Mountain" and "Smooth in the Sun" never get quite as blissed-out or buried in effects as Slowdive or Chapterhouse, but bear heavy similarities to Ride's janglier, psychy songs. Expanded jams like "Eyes" and "Red Now" get into more mind-expanding free-form territory, but keep a pop sensibility at their core. As the compilation travels further back, the differences in the band's phases of sound become more stark. Even 1989's "Beautiful Child" is more straightforward and Beatles-informed than the band would sound even a few years later, and going back to the earliest singles reveals a far punkier outfit. Tracks like "Unhappy Days," "Balloon Song," and first single "Inside" rank alongside the best early work of the Wedding Present, Shop Assistants, Close Lobsters, and other seminal C-86 bands as classics of the fuzzy, lo-fi genre. 14 Iced Bears are one of the lesser-known names of their already insanely obscure scene, rarely mentioned in the same breath as bands as humbly revered as the Pastels and the Television Personalities. Listening to both their early shambling pop and later gooey shoegaze material shows how silently influential they were on bands who followed shortly afterward like Black Tambourine and the Aislers Set, let alone the wave of lo-fi indie pop that came in the late 2000s with Crystal Stilts, the Vivian Girls, and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. For those enamored with indie pop from any era, and especially those keen on C-86 and its continuing legacy, Hold on Inside is essential listening. Even as they stray from their pop beginnings into more abstract sounds, the powerful songwriting and ever-morphing production result in a wealth of largely buried gems. ~ Fred Thomas