The Drag City Newsletter - May 18, 2011

posted May 18th, 2011


Music — we love ya! But geez...why can’t we say that about the law? Or dentistry? Why can’t we find the joys and rhythms that we do in our precious LPs and CDs and books about LPs and CDs in those seemingly bloodless but highly lucrative callings that the world cannot do without (until they find a way to share them on the internet)? If there be future generations who live on after Saturday, this will be a mystery for them to ponder. Or perhaps there won’t be any mystery at all. They’ll know that for a couple of decades there, we threw records and other things into the ring because people loved everything about them in a way they loved few other things. It’s been a saving grace in times when there wasn’t much else there to save us, and it’s also been a cherry on top of sweet tits in time of much fatness. And it is what it essentially always was in these changing times, when only the decimal points in the bottom line have changed. Whatever, we’re back among you for the 258th month in a row, with new records and a bunch of the same old ones that have made the name Drag City for the past little speck of time in the corner of the all-seeing eye of things. Perspective, yo! And gratitude. Damn. Ain’t that a bitch?


In case you haven’t been following our mini-adventures with all the fervor with which they’ve been lived, it’s been a busy year here in the underground kingdom we call the bunker. All five of our walls are stacked to the ceiling with new music and the periscope is up, seeking new crafts on the horizon that may be carrying something we like. And 2011, she’s been good to us We’ve had new albums from Sic Alps, Monotonix, Six Organs of Admittance, Baby Dee, Bill Callahan and High Llamas, plus vault-raiding excursions with Death, Gary Higgins and Ed Askew. We’ve put out a pair of 10”singles from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, a single single of the 7”variety from Cliffie Swan’s Sophia Knapp, a record-store day 7”single with High Llamas and a digital (and therefore, sizeless) single for the benefit of afflicted people in Japan with Carol Kleyn. Just last month, we debuted our line of audio books with Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Slow Fade (as read by Will Oldham). Plus we’ve had two releases from Streamline this year. Meanwhile, it’s only May, and May’s got another batch in new, from-the-vault and single categories. Their names: Bachelorette, Mickey Newbury and Ty Segall. If you haven’t yet, check ‘em out.

So who says we’re done? Oh right, we did. Damn these meds! What will they make our independently functioning (and fully editable) mind write next?


It’s a modern world, just like always — and today, singers everywhere find it incumbent upon themselves to find a context for what they’re singing about. This is problematic, because what if you’re just singing your diary out loud? You’re your own context if you’re singing about “relationships,”and making “breakup records.”It’s helps to know what you’re about, but seldom have we encountered a singer whose conceptualization is so complete, yet so ingenuous, as Bachelorette. With a name like that, it’s pretty clear the girl must be singing about “I and Thou”types of things, and more likely as not, the losing end of such transactions. Hence the “bachelorette”side of things. That’s only the tip of the ice floe, though. Annabel “Bachelorette”Alpers is a bit of a technophile — hence album titles like Isolation Loops and My Electric Family. It would be too done just to sing songs from a bachelorette’s perspective, and Annabel doesn’t. Instead, space and science allegories have been the lyrical craft in which she has set her controls for the heart of the matter, matched with a combination of acoustic and synthetic sonics and draped over classic post-invasion psychedelic pop songwriting. The songs have hooks that save you from drifting through endless bottomless space. The hooks sink into your heart, pinging and panging you with remorse and regret and crushing you, zero-gravity style, with love and longing. It’s all achieved with assurance and aplomb — and on her new self-titled album, Bachelorette, with eleven new songs that extend her allegorical reach almost back to the brink of pure naturalism. The sci-fi of ”Grow Old With Me”and ”The Last Boat’s Leaving” has such direct humanity—but then, Bachelorette always has had these qualities and it’s part of why we love her — and Bachelorette is one of the great pop records of the year.


As we have said repeatedly — and we don’t have to, really — you know — the history of music is out there for you kids, sitting in bins (on the internet) just waiting to be discovered. Stores are full of the stuff, all you have to do is go get it and discover it and groove to it and tell your friends and make a tape and smoke a J (no, we don’t know who this J is) and save music! It’s just that simple. But seriously, the awesome records we don’t know about seem to be greater than the ones we number in our collection. Every day brings a new discovery. So get out there and discover something. Find your very own Syd Barrett, your own kind of Fred Neil, your secret special hot Cass Elliot-like crush that you spin when everything just doesn’t make sense anymore. Or, if you’d prefer going on a recommendation, why not check out Mickey Newbury? Not only are a handful of his records in various kinds of used bins (folk, country, male vocal), but we’ve got a cracker of a set of reissues that’ll introduce to you to some of the best music that Mickey or anybody ever made. It’s all available right now in what we call An American Trilogy, a four-CD box set featuring Mickey’s incredible incandescent albums Looks Like Rain, ’Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help The Child, plus another disc called Better Days that rounds up a bunch of stray demos and alternate mixes plus a radio session from the years 1969-1973, when these records were originally recorded and released. Mickey wrote hit songs for all kinds of singers (but particularly country singers) back then. When he recorded his songs for himself, he did so with personal care, shining on the darkness within his own soul; finding sounds and spaces for them that nobody else would even think to look for. Is it any wonder that the damn things didn’t catch on with the buying and charting public? No! But this means they were uniquely beautiful, and that’s at least part of what’s made them endure and live on in our ears and the ears of many people like us and people who aren’t even like us at all. We’re beyond psyched because these records have never come out on CD before using their master tapes as a source — and not only that, but we’ve also done LP reissues off those masters that sound as extraordinary as the original LPs must have sounded when they were new — if not even better. And the sound is only part of the story — the rest of it comes in 100 pages of CD booklet goodness, and of course in the grooves of the vinyl __and the threads of aluminum that makes up those compact discs. Come around to Mickey Newbury, people. Your soul is ailing — and Mickey’s got something for what ails it.


Buyers of the new this month will surely want to have the new 7”record from Ty Segall, a little slice called ”I Can’t Feel It.” This, the first Drag City release for Ty, is a poppy number with a bit of color in it for everyone, stomping together with a singalong chorus that will have you too can’t-feeling-it. But really, this is just the beginning of the new chapter in the musical life of Ty Segall. ”I Can’t Feel It” is off the forthcoming album Goodbye Bread, slated for release on June 21st. And this record is killer! Ty Segall fans have fruitfully multiplied over the few short years since his solo debut in 2008 and they expect Ty to challenge them with a noisy combination of hip-grinding rock and psychedelic haze every time out. He hasn’t disappointed yet. Goodbye Bread takes off from the space of his last album, Melted (which was released one brief and eternal year ago) and continues to rocket both outward and inward, showing us another side of Ty Segall — but, and get this, without sacrificing any of his moves. Everything is modified and the magnifying glass is out in force on Goodbye Bread, finding the rock in the details and detailing the melodies in classically catchy manner. Everybody wins with Goodbye Bread. That’s right, even the losers get lucky with this one.


Over the past couple of years, we’ve talked about Lights. Not the kind you can see, but the kind you hear. Sounds cool, right? Well, forget about it. The girls from south of the Canadian border who dared to call themselves Lights too (but not Lights 2, which I guess might have worked...) - Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder — face the world today under the new, confusion-free name Cliffie Swan. Well, mostly confusion-free. But we’ll allow the mystery of the name to live for another day or two. Today’s all about telling you that Cliffie Swan’s debut album, Memories Come True, is on the June 19th release schedule. And much has changed beyond “just the name, folks!”since Rites (by Lights) came out in summer 2009, besides the typical personnel shifts (and the exit of the once ubiquitous Wizard Smoke!). Sophia took leave of Brooklyn, where the girls had been situated for several years previously, for the wide-open spaces of the American southwest. Their sound had previously hinted at a NYC-LA latter-day jet set, but instead of confirming this, the songs of Memories Come True are instead located in a nameless destination — between places, as it were. Musically based in pop-trio (as opposed to power-trio) performances, themes are loss and dislocation. This is the sound and vision of Cliffie Swan (and PS, there is no one named either “Cliffie”or “Swan”on this record — at least not outside the boudoir, hubba hubba hey — file under ‘C’!).


As we mentioned earlier, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy has been on a tear this year — a ten-inch tear (ugh, bad imagery). Way back in February, he and The Cairo Gang put out the single ”Island Brothers,” which in addition to being a strikingly deluxe record for a single (complete with full-color insert and also full-color everything), also served (and serves!) as a benefit record for Haiti, to help facilitate access to clean water. All our sisters and brothers need clean water. Then way back in April, Bonny was back in the company of Matt Sweeney, his Superwolf brother, with two hot new songs, one featuring lyrics by Sweeney and music by Bonny and the other vice-versa. This was (and is!) ”Must Be Blind,” also out there in the same deluxe format as ”Island Brothers.” Now guess what? Coming on June 19th, we’ve got a new 10”single from Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy! “There Is No God”will provide fans and foes with plenty of grist for their dirty (and un-dirty) little mills, but guess what? Not only is ”There Is No God,” a saucy (yet earnest) number that will get tongues a-waggin’, but it is also another Bonny benefit 10”single, this time in support of our dying oceans, and the lives that depend on them. You may be secretly wishing you didn’t have to hear any more “Save The _____”wails (in which case we’ll see in you hell), but look at it this way: buying a benefit record called ”There Is No God” is its own reward, especially for someone as blackhearted as you! Plus, money goes back to the waterways, which face it, if the water goes, so do we. And if that happens, you won’t be around to hate the world anymore! Kind a catch-22, isn’t it? Don’t answer that.


It’s an old story: a boy, a girl, an international wilderness to explore with their shared musical interests. If we had a dime for every time we’d heard that one, we could probably call ourselves Sub Pop Records by now. But you know us, we’ll just settle for the story, thank you very much! In this case, this is the story of Patrick Cockett and Margaret Morgan, who met on the island of Kaua’i back in the early 1970s. Communing with nature was their bag; hiking, swimming and surfing were some of their ways of doing it. The study of native Hawaiian jams was another, and soon they were writing and playing music together. When the time came to record the songs that make up These Trails, the interplay of traditional sounds had expanded from strict Hawaiian sensibilities to include South American chords, eastern instruments and some new-fangled synth as well. They released the album locally and joined characters like Linda Perhacs and Gary Higgins in the team of well-meaning-but-unconnected young people making spiritual music with what they had around them. These Trails is a darkly psychedelic folk album that stands with the best of what the early 70s had to offer. On sale June 21st!


When did Drag City really become Drag City? Duh, the first day we put out a record. And duh again, we’re still in the process of becoming Drag City, one record at a time. But really, duh, releases like the first Royal Trux record (our first release), Twin Infinitives (our third) and Victory Chimp (our first book release) were all essential pieces in the puzzle that you (and we) are trying to understand to this very day. It should come as no surprise that Neil Hagerty was a prime mover in all three of the examples listed above; indeed, his mercurial creativity, refusal to submit to pigeon holes (dirty little places...), righteous ego and DIY ingenuity are an influence in everything we do. This is why we’re so psyched to be talking about Victory Chimp again — or as the audio book version is called, Victory Chimp, A Book Presented by The Howling Hex. When it was first released, Victory Chimp seemed to be related to concepts being tossed around in Royal Trux’s massive sci-fi double-album to end all double albums of 1990, Twin Infinitives. It’s fractured narrative mixed genres gleefully, combining noir, spy novels, college-lecture tones and junk culture references into a post-Burroughsean, sub-Joycean, ur-Dickian cacophony. And that’s what the audio book does to the audio-book format, extending the possibilities of the form by multitracking streams of input and creating a riot of sound in order to communicate the multi-dimensional reach of the original text. Four discs in length, Victory Chimp, A Book plays out succinctly but for the pure mass of most individual moments, which offer the listener several channels of information for both sides of the brain. The text is artfully woven with the sonics to maintain a connection to “narrative”; Hagerty’s satiric impulses pile up in volleys of one-liners while never breaking from the flow. It’s a true new-phase work of audio-bookery, one that’s bound to be pored over in libraries in decades to come. Provided we make it that far. Victory Chimp, save us!


Speaking of audio books, Drag City’s bow into this format occurred all the way back in April, when we issued Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Slow Fade, as read by Will Oldham. We were gassed to be working with a Wurlitzer text and this one in particular, because it doesn’t seem to have registered the way it should have since its release back in the mid-80s. Perhaps it was already a bit out of time then, a tale of 70s-ish west coast excess, with side trips to India and the rural northeast of North America. Wurlitzer was reflecting on some him time in the Hollywood madhouse, particularly some of the on-set scenes he witnessed and participated in during Sam Peckinpah’s shoot of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Everyone in the book seems to be contemplating falling off the edge of the earth, but the set pieces often break down into mental slapstick routines, all of which is related with zen-like calm by the author. If you haven’t checked out the audiobook, please do, Will brings an amazing flavor to the whole thing. But if you prefer the voice inside your head when reading, we’re right there for you with Slow Fade again. Coming on June 21st, we’ll have hard- and softcover versions of the book, back in print for the first time in 25 years. There should be room on your shelf for this adventure, which as we say, has been one of the lost tomes of the counter cultural drift in America, a true repository of fading 60s vibrations. Whether you were there or not, Slow Fade is what we reckon to be essential reading.


Yeah, can you imagine? “There will be no new shows this month, people. Not next month, either. Deal with it.”Your local scene without live music: maybe this would finally get you to riot in the streets. God knows a world without war didn’t get you to shake your ass. But this would really hit home, right? No shows to go to. And none to skype, either. Only the history of sound to fall back on. And all the new music you could, uh, share, bitch. Already your unsentimental brain is working the options isn’t it? Well stop. You don’t have to. We were just funnin’. All the shows have been rescheduled. There is live music, after all. Yes, Spain — there will be a Bill Callahan show. Hell, there’ll be four. And don’t fret, Midwestern America — CAVE are still bringing a jolt of pure life energy to your town in June (and they’re bringing Quintron, too). Neil Hamburger in London for a fortnight in London, anyone? It’s still on, kids. Ty Segall over Europe, Laetitia Sadier in Germany (and then America — finally!), Sic Alps way out East, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy free again in Florida, Bill Callahan back in America, Six Organs of Admittance back in can all be yours and more. The shows aren’t cancelled. They’re happening. So go. Because do you think this can last forever?

It can’t. We’re fucked. But we’re alive today. So let’s live — and keep loving music!

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

May 2011