Boy, what you doing standing there with your hands not in your pockets? Ain’t you glad to see us? Well stand at attention, then! Your friendly neighborhood Drag City Drone is floating way over your head, ready to blow you away at the first sign of life down there. So shake us a tailfeather please.
And – phoo – excuse the rain of crypt-rust – our outer layer’s a little dusty. But as you’ll soon see, we’ve got an insectoid world of wonder inside for you to explore, with all sorts of bands and records and things of all sizes crawling around in their own l’il ecosystems. It’s a new year full of new music and other things, and this is where you gett off.
TWELVE TIMES TWELVE
…is bigger even than you think! You know – we know you. We can feel you even when we can’t see or hear or even smell you…it’s part of our job description – creepy, right? – and therefore, we know that if you’re into one of the artists in our un-stable, when we say twelve times twelve you start thinking of the most outrageous shit, calculations totally unencumbered by mere mathematics. And you are right on that count – the actual number 144 is so pathetic compared to what twelve release dates in twenty-twelve might actually add up to for us. It could mean a new beginning! Or it could be the end. We might get married, we might end up dead. What we find every time we stop to smell the rose-records among the thorns on our Drag City weed-bushes (good luck figuring out the symbology on that one!) is that the combination of the music and we, the listener enters into the intangible; the outcome is variable depending on the person and what she or he (“us”) puts in. And in short, that’s how a year of music can change your life. We’ll tell you about all the changes – in a year, bitches! Or you can tell us (in a charming email ominously headed “DRAG CITY – WHAT HAPPENED”) . Suffice to say, the narrative will undoubtedly include the insane effects caused by the stream of new music and culture that included Black Bananas, Doug Jerebine, Sic Alps, Dirty Three, Sophia Knapp, Masaki Batoh, Bonnie Prince Billy, Mairi Morrison & Alasdair Roberts, Sandy Bull & the Rhythm Ace, Mickey Newbury (via Bill Callahan!), Ty Segall & White Fence, Tronics (via Sic Alps!), Dope Body, Father Yod and the Source Family, OM, Blues Control, and whatever names and records align to come the fuck out in the second half of the year! Don’t forget, all this doesn’t even count the Damon & Naomi with Ghost LP/CD and Groovy Records reissues we’ve just laid upon you! Or the Smog LP reissue in April! Or The Lowbrow Reader Reader book we’re gonna throw at you in May! So hang on, huh? Some shit’s coming down for sure. And by “shit,” we mean “hard-core classics in the making.” Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got to go put some hard-core classics in the toilet bowl before they seep through the hole in the seat of our jeans!
DISC ONE’S FOR YOU…
In which we meditate on that old sales-spur, “the first one’s free.” I presume you’ve heard that one…it’s a sure-fire technique. In theory, you get a free taste and it’s so fucking great that you keep coming back. Well, note that we said ‘they’ – because Drag City don’t play that! And not just because we’re the Scrooge of the rock scene (the well-meaning, thoroughly misunderstood (yet totally justified) Scrooge McDuck, that is). We’re not here to trick you. This isn’t a shell game. This is music, and music that is – gasp! – for sale. I mean, think about it: who are the noisiest people at the show, those in the back with their friends? Or the ones sitting on their hands while your favorite Drag City act (maybe even Black Bananas, even!) is basking in an oddly-earned and -deserved standing ovation? Yup, it's those freeloaders on the guest list. "Free" music has destroyed their ability to maintain aestheterections! Music has become unfun for these wretched creatures. So the releases of January aren’t free in the money sense, no. They’re free in that they’re out there – not just out among you and already for sale, but out there as in, “What the fuck was that?!?” Each and every one of the five January releases is freely approached in in an unconscious play to get past the borders of our established thinking (artist and listener alike), to exist in areas that stimulate you and your "symbolic" musical phallus alike....
A hole has blown open in your new jet-set while you’re in mid-fuckin’-flight! Now the air swirls around you, hot/then cold, everything getting sucked out, the trash along with the treasure. This is the sound of Black Bananas in their true element, floating up at the top of the planetary boundary layer (headed for the exosphere, yo!), looking down on the patterns and designs of mankind, a little jived from the thin air but still seeing how it’s all put together down below, still capable of cognition while moving at an unreal speed. Rad Times Xpress IV captures the wild ride of Jennifer Herrema and the gang formerly known as RTX. They have boogied themselves through several albums of self-generated turbulence, and in addition to the rock that they stood upon for those several unforgettable albums, they are now rolling into escape velocity. Do you know what this means? Just this: Black Bananas are capable of integrating with any music that comes into their fancy, unencumbered by limitations on any side. It shows in spades throughout Rad Times Xpress IV, where several genres are usually being explored (and exploited) at the same time throughout the course of a song – and a couple other genres appear to be coming through the radio dial intermittantly, shooting mist and fuzz into the sonics and making them that much more mysterious and delicious. Voices shout and whisper and shouts and whispers reverberate and decay with a practiced sleight of hand in the formidable tapestry of sound, where intention and chaos theory bounce impactully off each other. And the songs themselves? Riff-laden, hit-worthy bump-n-rollers raised on rock and verbalized with perfect inflections and a stream-of-consciousness intonation of selfhood by the one and only JJ Rox herself. Black Bananas have brought it all to the party this time. Get in on the Rad Times, now is definitely the right time.
THE UNBEARABLE HEAVINESS OF JEREBINE'
Finally! Another bootleg brought to life! And though we weren’t able to do a SMILE-type deluxe treatment on the “Jesse Harper” sessions, Doug-heads weren’t exactly looking for four discs of heavily edited remixes anyway – they just want to swing from ropes of pure rock! Of course, they’ve been doing that for years already. If this “official” version has a little more top-end on it, that’s just sweet rock gravy.
What? You never heard of this Jesse Harper? You don’t know what a Doug-head is, but you don’t mind trying? That’s the way, rock ‘n rollers – commit first, ask your silly questions later. But if it’s a story you want, the 1960s odyssey of New Zealand guitar prodigy Doug Jerebine will definitely satisfy. You see, the importance of Jerebine/Jesse Harper is that he provides yet another view to the classic rock music revolutions with recordings that preserve it all so fresh and so real-sounding! And so – young Doug Jerebine cut his teeth way out in the Kiwi hinterlands, learning ukulele and guitar during his young days. In the early 60s, he moved to Auckland, playing after school with groups such as The Embers and The Brew while absorbing the changes in rock and roll as they washed up from faraway shores one 45 at a time. These waves of change brought a head-full of ideas from the realms of jazz and the music and philosophies from India as well. By the time the first Jimi Hendrix songs hit NZ in late ‘66, Doug was already experienced – not in the ways of drugs so much, which were never of interest to him, but in the rare air of transcendental thought to which drugs were a shortcut (and still are, don’t kid yourself, fools!). By 1968, Doug had had enough of the local scene and the day-to-day drag of unenlightened life. Packing a bag, he prepared to make a pilgrimage to India, but needing to get a bit of momentum before making such an intense leap of faith, he took a detour to London first. Maybe also to check out the scene that had been so inspiring to his music over the previous years. It wasn’t his intention to create a legend – but with the help of an inspired wanna-be impresario named Dave Hartstone, Doug was convinced to write songs and record them under the name of a star that Hartstone had coined: Jesse Harper.
Jesse Harper almost happened too – but like so much of the fly-by-night world of the 1960s pop scene, the glue that held it all together was made as much of dreams as reality. Working on a shoestring, Doug used all the talent and inspiration he had to turn out a great bunch of songs with killer guitars and a great sound. The tapes that make up this album turned some heads, but when nothing clicked, Jesse Harper was cast aside, and Doug Jerebine moved on - eventually to India, where his spiritual pursuits kept him for several decades. The music of Jesse Harper survived, for years in bootleg form and now, in a new transfer from one of three acetates in existence. No remixes; this was the sound they made in ’69 and it comes plunging heavily out of the speakers today, providing a puzzle piece to an era we didn’t think had any missing. The sound of Jesse Harper connects to the dots that lead from Hendrix to Holden to Blind Faith to Blue Cheer, yet features a gritty elegance that is all its own. Doug Jerebine Is Jesse Harper is out now! – and if you haven't heard of him, or them, then your psych-rock bag isn't quite full yet.
REISSUES, RE-REISSUES, ISSUES WITHIN REISSUES…
Also part of the January onslaught are two familiar names from the Drag City catalog – Damon & Naomi with Ghost and Groovy Records. Is this a case of déjà vu? Nah, we’re just resurrecting some classy sounds – actually, re-ressurecting, really! Back in 2001, we did a vinyl version of the Damon & Naomi with Ghost album – not only was it a great record, but it also featured two of our favorite sound-makers of all times, Ghost’s Masaki Batoh and Michio Kurihara. This record was issued on CD only by one of our esteemed and estimated competitors, but since they saw no future in vinyl sales, we were asked if we’d like to give it a spin. Did we ever! Now this was before the days of the freak-folk (remember that? Gosh, the turn of the century is already so far away! Music could be so silly back then), but such overtones have always been a powerful strain in the music of not only Damon & Naomi but also Ghost. Twinned, their powers created an effervescent craft of space-folk that sounds as fresh today as it did then. And now we have it on both formats (our peers apparently bailed for other pasteurizations)! And the LP contains a 7” single of songs from that time that weren’t included on the original domestic release. Super-score! So Damon & Naomi with Ghost is back. If you recall (and if you don’t, it’s definitely time to get your head re-examined), we brought the Groovy Records catalog from beyond the brink of obscurity back in December when we made a set of LPs reanimating the 1980 releases by Free Agents, Pete Shelley and Sally Smitt and Her Musicians and then added a set of Groovy recordings that had never before seen the light of day, entitled Strange Men In Sheds With Spanners. Fun stuff in a jugular avant vein! Well, if vinyl isn’t in your bag, then please accept The Total Groovy, a little box with all four of the albums within, in four little miniature CD versions, along with a bonus interview with one of the minds behind Groovy Records, Buzzcocks’ own Pete Shelley! They’re back again, again - this time on CD, too.
MIX AND MASH WITH SIC ALPS
Ah, what a great half-year it’s been. As we’ve explained to you many times, the Roman calendar is all fine and well, and we’ll use it to get paid every time – but in and of itself, time is an elastic thing, stopping and starting…jeez, on a constant basis, really! Every release restarts the clock and that’s the beginning of a year of life and everyday is someone else’s birthday…So when it’s February 2012 and it’s been a great half-year so far, you know that year started back in August 2011, when the Sic Alps “Breadhead” 7” EP came out. And since then, it seems like it’s been one Sic Alps single after another, each one cornering a little bit of their “market,” as we so gauchely phase it in the War Room). September brought us the effervescent, iridescent “Battery Townsley” and all of a sudden, we had eight songs over the course of two non-album singles. Hot, but how to encore that? Simple, kids – kick off the “new year” (but the summer solstice of this Sic onslaught) with twenty-three more songs! That’s just the way it is on “Vedley,” a two-sided 7” trip into the depths of the Sic Alps’ rabbit hole – a short-play brain-melting collage of intros, verses, choruses and breakdowns where the cuts comes when we least expect them (…but most desire them, in our secret heart’s-mind’s-eye). Ah, it’s a brilliant record that we’d love to have join all the other Sic Alps singles in the jukeboxes of the new alternative nations of the world. Are they ready for this shit? I dunno about that. But we do know what the 7” encore to this is gonna be – and actually, we’ve already blurted about it in this very newsletter…but until we re-blurt next time, our lips are resealed.
Anyway, “Vedley” by Sic Alps completes the January mash-up that started with the absolute latest from the all-new Black Bananas, Rad Times Xpress IV, jumped back to the 1960s with Doug Jerebine is Jesse Harper, then jumped into the new millennium (of ten years ago) with the Damon & Naomi with Ghost LP/CD reissue, then put the Groovy Records reissues into a box (and a digital box at that) with The Total Groovy before spinning to a 45rpm conclusion with (yeah) Sic Alps’ “Vedley.” That’s the remix of your January recap – the circle is unbroken, don’t stop the dance!
THREE + SEVEN = D3 RELOADED
Good things come in threes, and great things in a dirty shade of three – that’s what we realized after twenty years and counting in this business, and that’s what you’re gonna realize too when February 28th rolls around as it always does (and then it’s March - screw the rest of this elitist-ass leap year crap) and brings with it the first Dirty Three record in a whole fuckload of moons, the non-ironically titled Toward the Low Sun. Back when they put out Cinder in the fall of 2006, who could have predicted we’d all be so much…older when the next record hit? Well, worse things have happened, but better too – in that Toward the Low Sun is a super blast of vintage-tasting Dirty Three, with Warren fiddling and sawing away, Mick making knots and loops out of his guitar strings and Jim fluttering hard against the traps. There’s some piano and some heavy stompers as well in addition to the kinds of elegiac tone prisms that these guys have broke a hundred thousand hearts with in their time and it all sounds great and of the now. You know, Dirty Three take us back to the days of the old Iron Horse and the cartoon heroes and villains of Snidely Whiplash and the Boris and Natasha and all that. But when they do, they make it all live all over again in front of our ears, taking us on a trip that begins and ends today. This is no reboot, okay – the Dirty Three don’t even know what that is, and they don’t care and they don’t need to. They wake up every day and put on their shoes like everyone else does – laying on their back, right? It’s with this modern kind of steel and fortitude that Toward the Low Sun was stubbornly, effortlessly constructed – and you’re gonna love it.
CATCH A (BRAIN) WAVE WITH BATOH!
Also coming at the end of the month – some relief for your torturted mind. By which we mean your brain – because that’s what’s really at the center of your mind, not your soul as the creationists would have you believe! You see, our own Masaki Batoh (the leader of Japan’s Ghost for the past two decades) is a devoted student of meditation and has long sought to understand the patterns of brain waves. Their pattern reflects the degree of calm and/or stress in a person’s mind. After years of study and research, Batoh has come up with a device, a box not unlike a guitar pedal, hooked up of course to a headset with diodes or whatever they are, that filters the waves and allows an interface. We will be selling this tremendous Brain Wave Box very soon – but first, the album! There are tracks of brain activity on the record, but the album plan was changed forever when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit, canceling the recording session after only a day and plunging the country into uncertainty. In the weeks following the disaster, Batoh recognized that the mood of the Japanese people was in need of healing. Even if this couldn’t happen overnight, it could happen on his record, which will last until the final earthquake draws us all under. Until then, his musical expressions of Tamazishume and Tamafuri are as requiem and revival for his people – and in the spirit of the album which already existed. Traditional instruments were used to play these traditional, ritual pieces – and they have the desired effect, causing introspection and calm. The rest is up to us! Brain Pulse Music is here to start the wave.
SOPHIA WAVES FROM THE DANCEFLOOR
Batoh isn’t the only one dealing with the physics and metaphysics of waves. February is also the month for the arrival of Sophia Knapp with her solo album debut Into the Waves. Sophia’s an alumnus of Brooklyn’s Cliffie Swan, whose records have encompassed psychedelia and punk rock and glistening pop, all of which are very important types of music to Sophia personally. However, for her solo album, she wanted to make a singer-songwriter type of record in order to showcase the personal aspects of her self in a musical context. Along the way, she worked with “Bassy” Bob Brockman, who brought his experience working with the galaxy of r’n’b stars to give her songs a poised rhythm base. Exploring experience and loss, Sophia has created a pop vocal record that reflects our time while unearthing a diary’s-worth of private imagery, all in a spiritual and pure light. Into the Waves is an honest pop album, maybe the most honest we’ll hear all year long.
DIAL B FOR BONNY
You’ve heard of double-A sided singles right? Like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” you know? Classic! Well, of course that begs us to ask – what about the double-B side singles of the world? Whether or not it’s fair, ‘A’ and ‘B’ each imply a certain value, and B generally means, as in the old motion picture bizness parlance, second-rate. So that means two sides of lesser material, with neither song being the jukebox favorite, the critic’s pick, the chart-topper. And of course, there have been many singles that have achieved that distinction without even trying over the years, and made very relaxing and pleasant listening, which is nothing to hate on. Of course, in 45rpm single mechanics, the B’s also simply the flip-side of the record, nothing more or less. Now, none of this really matters when talking about the new Bonnie Prince Billy single “The B-sides for “Time to Be Clear.” The fact is, we didn’t have enough room to put the A-side on the record, which would be a problem if “Time to be Clear” weren’t already on Wolfroy Goes to Town. Since it is, and since there are so many other reasons to buy that album, you’ll likely hear it. This single allows you to hear what backs it up. Now of course, if you’re one of these modern types who likes to buy their singles online as downloads from your webstore of choice, you’ll get that boring old experience of all three songs. It’s only when you buy the actual single that you get two B-sides with no leader in sight. It’s like a tribute single to a song that is otherwise missing in action. We’re pretty excited about what we think is a new kind of format. Coming at the end of February, you too can see and hear and feel for yourself. Or just buy it digital and don’t miss a trick, slick.
NEW AND NEWER
You’ve found us in an unusual position (no, not “the spider” – what do you think, we’re tantric experts?!). New musics? We gots ‘em! March: Mairi Morrison & Alasdair Roberts play new Gaelic classics in Urstan – a great record to dance, sing and whistle along with! April: Ty Segall & White Fence in Hair! Not the musical, dude. Plus, Sic Alps reach into the treasure chest and cover four Tronics classics, unaware that the Tronics revival is TOTALLY SET for 2012 with or without ‘em! Fortunately, it’s with ‘em. Then in May, the arrival of Dope Body to the Drag City playground. And things’ll never be the same out in the yard. Then, when June swoons into town, we’ll apply a little Blues Control to your ears, Then, well – we’re not planning after that just yet. A little matter of the WHOLE FUCKING WORLD COMING TO AN END. We’ve got a few things to do before that happens, like try and empty the damn warehouse, but after that, you know. Lots more great records, CDs, DVDs, books, freakscenes and yeah, OF COURSE sometimes just a t-shirt.
…they melt in your mind! We’re sorry about the lateness of this latest mega-message, but our digits are all too sticky from the overload of sonic treats on hand these days. At least we’re not (too) late getting the actual musical treats into your hands! If you don’t see (hear) what we mean right now, you will soon. Keep your ear to the rail, the Drag City Xpress is coming through.