Art is Hard Records is a small DIY label founded in 2010 in Exeter, but is now based in both London and Bristol. Run by only two people, Art Is Hard has put out releases for many bands now dominating the scene; Joanna Gruesome, Playlounge, Best Friends, The Black Tambourines, Nai Harvest, King Of Cats and Diet Cig to name just a handful. This tiny DIY operation has a roster some labels would sell their Grandmas for. Art is Hard also have a habit of releasing their content in super inventive ways, with pizza boxes, postcards, zines and gold tins as standard. I’m going to talk about a few of stand-out releases I really love in chronological order, to show what a brilliant label Art Is Hard is.
Gorgeous Bully – The Young Obese (EP)
Manchester lo-fi indie-pop gods Gorgeous Bully released their debut EP, The Young Obese through Art Is Hard in February 2012. The guitar lines could belong on an early Libertines record, but there is a lo-fi style reminiscent of bands such as Beat Happening. Super catchy guitars and vocals themselves make this record thoroughly enjoyable, and that’s without even having to mention the emotional lyrical content, dancey drums, and that oh-so-lovely distorted lo-fi production. Although the structure and rhythm of the songs are largely similar, it just seems to be impossible to get bored. The energy is constant, and is carried beautifully by the five short yet intense tracks. Also, Art Is Hard released this EP as a tape that came in a custom hand printed cigarette box (how cool is that?!).
Stand-out track: “Stamp”
Flamingods – Sun (LP)
Art Is Hard released Flamingods’s debut album, Sun back in January 2013, and it is a truly striking record. This tribal-beats based and world music-influenced, indie-dance band are simply exceptional. Psychedelic synths, dreamy guitar lines, chanting vocals and pounding percussion make for a magical listen. Flamingods take huge influence from world music, especially Middle-Eastern and African, and because of this, Sun is an album that really does take you to another place. The songs vary from flutterings synth to full sonic assaults that makes you wanna get up out your chair and dance like a hippie. If you want to listen to something extremely different and just utterly brilliant, then Flamingods are your band.
Stand-out track: “Sun”
Death of Pop – Fifths (EP)
Jumping ahead to July 2014 in Art Is Hard history, we come across Fifths, by The Death of Pop. Firstly, hats off to this band for having the coolest name in UKDIY, and secondly that this is a truly great EP. Fifths is a collection of dreamy shoegaze, pop melodies, and catchy hooks. The most killer moment of the release is the 80’s style ending to the song ‘The Key Of Three’, which transports you to a totally John Hughes-esque world. All the songs on this record excel with their layered and enveloping sound; you’ll find yourself swaying along in no time. The song Mirage from this EP was released on a clear blue flexi disk alongside a really cool 20-page zine.
Stand-out track: “The Key Of Three”
Happy Diving – Big World (LP)
In November 2014, Art Is Hard released a limited edition tape of Happy Diving’s LP, Big World. Hailing from San Francisco, Happy Diving specialise in fuzzy overdrive and face melting solos. It wouldn’t be unreasonable place this LP in the same area as bands like Joyce Manor, Title Fight and Ages; which is no bad thing. While I’m not too keen on the grungey vocal style, the powerful lo-fi crunch in the production and short song length give this record a forcefulness not to be reckoned with. Returning feedback and slightly scrappy playing give this record the live feel of a hectic basement show.
Stand-out track: “Small World”
flout – gims (LP)
Bedroom pop has made a huge emergence onto the scene these last couple of years with critically acclaimed releases for Alex G, Elvis Depressedly and even Michael Cera. gims, by New York’s flout (aka John DeRosso) is Art Is Hard’s best venture into this market. The melancholic sad pop songs are equally heart wrenching as they are catchy. flout’s lyrics conjure images of growing up, and how much that actually sucks. The acoustic guitar is jangly and the vocals are equal parts strained and very human. It is very easy to lose yourself in this excellent song writing that needs nothing but the very minimal production and layer percussion.
Stand-out track: “filiale”