The Drag City Newsletter/January 25, 2011

posted January 25th, 2011


Happy Next Year! There’s nothing really new about a new year, you know — we have a randomness with these sorts of delineations in our human world, with borders and time zones drawn over the face of the planet and a calendar grid superimposed over the endless and unknowable march of time. And yet — and this is the magic of our all-pervasive human way of life — these seemingly meaningless designations do eventually create a “vibe,” if you will; a feeling that we associate with these times and places. And so, welcome to 2011, another blank slate that will be what we make it.


This is what we live for! We’re here to make it! We elect to spike the lemonade because we want to infuse something from our consciousness with something from yours. Our method of choice involves a third party whose thoughts and words have been inscribed into vinyl or metal discs or ink-jetted onto paper or celluloid or whatever inspires them — we take their vision, mass-produce it and sell it to you. In this fashion, diverse groups of people are involved, none of whom have to talk to each other, if they so wish, but they’re all loving something and sharing it! This is working on so many levels, our heads are a l’il light at present. We’ll get over it...but will you?!?


Sure, there are haters too. But what’s worse are the people who just don’t know what’s going on. They don’t pay attention to labels, lineups, discographies, facts and figures of any kind. It’s like they’ve got their own lives to lead and our reasonably-to-high-priced entertainments are just distractions to them. How dare they! Don’t they know that our CDs and LPs will more than likely occupy a whole layer of undigested earth once this misbegotten civilization eats it? This means that the alien anthropologists of the future will regard our work as a significant sociological find, while you and your family photos and your flash drives of personal pornography will be so much digital dust. So listen to me!


There, we’ve met it head on: the new year, same as the old year! The only thing different is all the music and books and DVDs and the occasional t-shirt, so sweet and delightful and scary and awful and funny and new. Sure, you bought all those things last year - but you didn’t hear and see and wear everything we’re got to sell you this year last year, I’ll tell you what! This is all new stuff. And it is necessary. You see, every month, just as we’ve tried to do for the past twenty-odd years, we’re coming at you with a handful of entertainments that will either release or subdue the essential part of you that daily life has either suppressed or inflamed. Whatever needs to be done with your mind-and-soul-type innards, we’re gonna facilitate the doing thereof with our new and reissued shit-salves and oink-ments!

And yes, we have new and “reissued” releases this month!


It’s January, which our western calendars tell us is a start, and we like to start fast, which is why we lined up three rock-based full-lengths, because nothing says “fast” like rock-based music, and nothing says serious like “full-lengths,” and besides which, we’ve heard that good things come in threes. The sales week has concluded and now our new records are among you. So how do you like the world now? Now, you’ve got more music and album jacket art from Death, Monotonix and Sic Alps out there with you! Isn’t it amazing? Because if it isn’t, you’ve definitely got to get your nerve-endings worked on, they might just be totally fucked!


Remember the year punk broke? Yeah, all the way back in 2009! In February of that year, you heard ...For the Whole World to See, the long-lost-and-finally-found tapes from the African-American power-trio of three brothers who called themselves Death, all recorded in Detroit circa 1975. Suddenly, punk rock had new life. As the year went by, the media became alerted to this amazing revision of punk ‘n roll history and before long, after long years of being relegated to mere hairstyle status, punk was a full-fledged movement again! Oh, and with Death in the canon, it was a more muscular, funk-informed punk rock this time - and once again, it was up to the people to carry the flag. As for Death, the two surviving Hackney brothers stepped forward and claimed their mantle with a series of sold-out shows around the country (though not the west coast - don’t miss the dates coming up in SF and LA! -ed.) and a strong run of song placements all around the cable-verse. Now, a quick two years later, Death are back and they’ve got more archival tapes for their fans. The tapes that make up Spiritual - Mental - Physical are more of the practice-room variety, with less polish but a ton of the kind of oomph young people conjure up behind closed doors. Over the course of six full-length songs, Death sort through their various rock and roll options, trying familiar chord changes as they come to grips with the personality that burned so brightly another year or so later when they recorded their world-changing (but-soon-to-be-lost) album tracks. On Spiritual - Mental - Physical, the fun and the fury are displayed with adolescent verve and a stripped-down grittiness that comes from no overdubs and no second takes and probably not much in the way of microphones either. The early days of Death! Come and get ‘em.


Not Yet is the new album from Monotonix, their third song collection since 2008, when they burst with vulgar good cheer onto the scene. Since then, they’ve taken every road possible to rock their way into listener’s hearts, playing 1001 nights a year bringing their version of the Tel Aviv sound (and smell!) around the world with the only power trio format that we can recall featuring drums-guitar-and-vocals. Along the road that never ends, they’ve taken a day or two here and there to make records that capture and recontextualize their rock music for at-home listeners. Or street-listeners, both in cars and on foot. Or, airborne-listeners, whose speed may be the perfect match for the Monotonix accompaniment. Their first record, a mini-album called ”Body Language,” featured six songs that represented their set at the time — and it was a wonderfully blown-up version of the band. Their second LP, Where Were You When It Happened? was a further trip into Monotonix, thinning the effects a little bit to expose the band beneath as well as adding organ in places and doing some heavy dirgey studio-trips as well. But the new one, Not Yet, is a straight-up rocker from start to finish. The band have sharpened their songwriting skills to a fevered tip, using all aspects of the writing and arranging to charge their songs with more energy while at the same time, cutting everything that’s unnecessary to provide an all-meat, no fat creature, capable of achievement on every level. That they did all of this (and hopefully, not more) into the tape machines of Steve Albini attests to the walloping rock impact that their finished product has. Not Yet — now!


Holy Brackage, Man-Bat! Have you seen this new video footage for the new Sic Alps? It’s like they entered the void from door behind the filmscreen and now they’re tripping along the strings of their own hearts of light-and-darkness. Fans will delight in the view, as it is exactly the way they see things while stumbling home through whatever city they think they’re in after going down the club for the latest Sic Hop. Still, these videos only trace the surface of the Sic Alps black-and-white hearts — for the fully dimensional big gulp, you’ve just got to check out Napa Asylum, their new collection of crazies and what not. If you admire a song’s ability to get in and out and hook ya in less than two minutes, boy have we got ten songs for you! And if you like the same in less than three minutes, we’ve got another nine songs for you! And if you like them just a little bit longer than that two, well what are you waiting for? There’s a double-album out there that doesn’t have your name on it! No, it has Sic Alps’ name on it, jerk! But it’s for you, it’s got that reverb the way you like it, it sounds appropriate empty and the romance is around every corner. The noir-pop of Napa Asylum will be just the taste for your mouth. Check in.


What do you think of this? Six Organs of Admittance, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & The Cairo Gang, Sophia Knapp, Jim O’Rourke/Christoph Heemann and William Basinski. Or look at it this way: one LP/CD, a 10” single, a 7” single, and two CDs. Or, how about this: a bunch of differently-sized digital downloads. No matter which way we put it, someone’s confused!

It’s the batch that makes the January batch look like just a few records (when in actuality, it’s three!). It’s a bunch that says 2011 is about diversity, dude. It’s just the record you’re looking for along with some other things. But listen man, it’s a new Six Organs of Admittance album! This new one’s gonna be great for your yoga workouts, it’s quiet and peaceful and has lots of acoustic space in the sound. Ben’s been making records at home since he was a scary little boy and he’s gotten so that the sounds really do flow together in an organic way, no matter what freaky shit they are. And while they’re freaky, they’re deep and soothing and sweetly bitter, transparently opaque. You know, Asleep On the Floodplain strikes our ears more like, “Drowsy On the Delta” — but hey, given that this is the first 600A record in a few years to come out of the mystical Chasny home-recorded trance, we’re not gonna split hairs. The music is a really complete estimation of the cover graphics, which as you can see here, are clear, weird and different looking than the last couple of Six Organs album covers. Are you ready to transcend the body again? Asleep On the Floodplain will get you all the way out of it.

Don’t walk away thinking February’s just about Six Organs of Admittance! Because that’s not the whole truth — it is, but it isn’t. Because there’s also the biggest little Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy single to date! What makes this so big? The songs are about the same length, and there’s only two, so”¦well, one thing to consider is that this single is a big 10” record! And that those two 10” sides are wrapped in big full-color photosleeve. And that inside that sleeve is a full color insert with another amazing photograph. But what really makes this record a big one is that ”Island Brothers” b/w “New Wonder” is a charity record, with the money that is made from the record earmarked for donation to the EDGE Outreach organization who are striving at present to bring water purification education to Haiti. They need it down there, where a year after the earthquake, they’re suffering from an outbreak of cholera for the first time in a century. The people of Haiti need a lot of aid, and they need a lot of clean water as well, as do we all. These two songs by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & The Cairo Gang are powerful musical testaments that will fit well on the turntables of fans, collectors and everyone else as well. And they’re for a good cause too. So get ready to help.

On the 7” tip, we’ve got Cliffie Swan (nee Lights) guitarist/vocalis Sophia Knapp coming out on her own with a song called ”Nothing to Lose” — because, of course, she doesn’t have anything to lose by making a beautiful pop song, getting a remix of it, and sinking both songs into 7” of wax. And the rest of us gain the melody and the words and the air through which they float so pretty - - sigh...

Off the label, but still in our hearts, are the outside/inside excursions of Streamline, whose expansiveness never fails to remind us that there’s a world outside of the world outside of the world we thought we were outside of. Label honcho Christoph Heeman isn’t just the owner of the shop — he’s also a sound sculptor. In the past, Streamline has released his work with Mirror, Mimir and H.N.A.S., plus recently the collaborative effort Bloomington, Indiana”¦Autumn release with Jim O’Rourke and Lee Ranaldo. Now he and Jim are back with their Plastic Palace People album — and volume one at that! These are recordings that were made over the years dating back to 1991, when Jim and Christoph first met and collaborated. Now, the sounds — “a mix of granular synthesis and concrete sounds,” have been tweaked, reworked and released, in a heavy, spooky, three-part “journey.” Also on the date is William Basinski’s A Red Score In Tile, which received a limited release on vinyl in 2003. Here, the hazy drifting loops and piano chords seem to fade in and out of shape, creating a listening experience that is at once relaxing and deeply unnerving. We can always count on you Streamline!


Yeah, we are actually talking about March already. Hell, we’re talking about June — but it’s too early to be giving you any of that yet. You’re not ready. You can’t hold it inside of you. You’ll explode, in a non-ecstatic way, So let’s just stick to the plan. March has new music from Baby Dee (produced by Andrew WK!) and tapes from the archives of Ed Askew (early 80s recordings) and Gary Higgins (early 70s). Sounds of fragility and beauty - and doubtless, a touch of madness. We know you won’t accept anything less — and even if you did, you might just do it cause you dig us. And we dig you — but again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?


You know, during all the excitement of the past couple years, with the music finally coming out and people loving it and playing shows and so on, it totally slipped Death’s mind to go out west and play for the first time ever out there. Coming at the end of February, they do just that in front of the beautiful people of Los Angeles and the people of San Francisco, too (psych!). But they’re not the only flowering travellin’ band out there early in the aught-eleven; there’s David Grubbs playing a rare and unusual couple of shows in Los Angeles. And he doesn’t get out there often either! Of course, Neil Hamburger and Monotonix are grinding away, killing them loudly with their words and music and jokes and bungholes”¦plus, over in old Europe, Alasdair Roberts and Joanna Newsom are playing some shows together, as they like to do — then Alasdair’s gonna tour his way home through the old English kingdom. And Laetitia Sadier is pulling off quite a feat — a two-week tour of Spain in early February. There’s lots more too — check the tour page once in awhile, won’t you?

So clearly, there’s a lot going on and there’s a lot we’re not telling you. As we like to say, it’s all business, but it’s all personal. And as such, it’s kind of a mess. But hey, here’s some good news - coming next time, the Drag City board game! It’s kind of like the game of Life mixed with Masterpiece; you guessed it, there are more winners than losers for a change. Hey, it’s only a game!

How’s that for a topper?

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

January 2011