Wolfhounds – Hands in the Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions

London’s Wolfhounds are among the most inexplicably overlooked bands of the late 1980s. When they are remembered, it’s often for a fairly uncharacteristic single included on the legendary C86 compilation, a free cassette distributed along with England’s New Musical Express. But rather than the shambling jangle pop permeating the British scene at the time, Wolfhounds delivered something akin to an uneasy alliance between the Wedding Present and the angry, abrasive Pop Group.

Amazingly, this collection of sessions the band recorded for John Peel’s radio program is the first Wolfhounds music to see formal US release. And like a lot of Peel recordings it captures them in a very favorable light – with a professional sound economical enough to dispense with undue embellishments. Much of its material originated in the period surrounding their 1987 full-length debut Unseen Ripples from a Pebble, a decent album hampered by tinny production and an ill-advised attempt to soften Wolfhounds’ edges to fit the prevailing tastes of the era.

There’s no such issue with these takes. Leader David Callahan’s guitar positively crackles, and the mix emphasizes some almost Television-level interplay with guitarist Andy Golding. There’s scant difference between these arrangements and the “proper” versions – besides, singles like “The Anti-Midas Touch” are simply unfuckwithable – but it’s fascinating to hear how Callahan subverts the resolution of chord progressions on tracks like “Me” to inject a more discordant tone, hinting at the darker detour the band would take a few years later. Another standout, “Disgusted, E7,” offers the set’s most relaxed tempo and an almost smooth jazz guitar riff without sacrificing any of the quintet’s seething tension.

For my money Wolfhounds’ high water mark remains sophomore outing Bright and Guilty. Two of its tracks appear here, and “Non-Specific Song” in particular ups the ante from the studio album with additional Daydream Nation-grade guitar squall layered onto a frenetic pop tune. Hands in the Till’s sinister title track was also apparently retrofitted into “Characterhouse” for that 1989 album.

Callahan soldiered on in the ’90s with the occasionally brilliant Moonshake, then in 2012 reconvened the Wolfhounds (deigning to add a “the” this time), who have released two more albums since. Of those, the aptly titled Middle Aged Freaks is worth checking out.

Hands in the Till is an excellent entry portal to the worthwhile Wolfhounds catalog, offering superior takes of several of the band’s most approachable songs and in retrospect, foreshadowing the directions in which Callahan and crew were headed. And with 30 years’ distance, I have to admit a few more similarities to C86 than I realized.

Hands in the Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions