All hail the small record label and the joy of being all gloat and no bloat. I know it can be a hand to mouth existence, with dreams of a Sony-sized budget that unlocks helicopters to gigs and penthouse suites, but whereas the majors sold their souls decades ago to chase the money they can only dream of the currency that small labels have piles of: integrity. One label with integrity to burn is Antwerp-based Belly Button Records (BBR) who release garage/lo-fi/ punk/fuzz records and co-released the eponymous Vision 3D album I reviewed for Joyzine in December 2019.
Tuff Guac’s Green and Handsome is the solo project of BBR label boss Rafael Valles Hilario. As with the majority of their releases there is a digital version as well as a high quality vinyl edition; in the case of this release a glorious guacamole-green. Rafael sings and plays everything on the album recorded most of the tracks in the morning “when I had a low crunchy voice” and there’s a louche 50s/60s vibe that conjures up weed smoking by the drugstore before jumping into your hotrod to head to beach. The album plays around with the many faces of those decades; one minute it’s channelling the skewed pop of the Velvet Underground on songs like the title track ‘Green and Hansome [sic]’, ‘Don’t Belong’ or ‘Like the Name of a Thing’ and then at other times things are slowed down to a Cowboy trot on ‘She Took a Man’ (with its splendid blues-rock solo), ‘Friskoman’ or ‘Man of the Mansion’ that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lou Reed or Modern Lovers set. But some of my favourite moments are when Rafael goes full psych-out on songs like ‘Mr. Hidden’ or the super-catchy ‘My Body’ which are splendidly chaotic with lashings of frenetic drums and swirling passages of vertiginous guitar distortion (the phrase ‘vertigo-go’ sprang to mind).
Rafael says on his Bandcamp page that “this is the most spontaneous music I can produce for the moment as it’s not made with any goals or expectations from me or somebody else” and I think that’s a great way to make music. If you pander to the popular then you might dilute your true musical self. When I heard this, and the other releases from Belly Button Records, I knew I had found my tribe.
Other releases from Belly Button Records can be found here but I am partial to the following:
Review by Paul F Cook