THE END OF THE ROAD
2013 is winding down; we’re all closer to the finish, but just like you know who, we can’t stop, and even now, as the journalists of the country lazily echo each other’s best-of-the-year lists, Drag City has fresh new releases out (and fresh old ones too! – anatomically correct ed.), and each one of them reflect the odd drifts of the year we will one day understand in a way we can’t possibly now. There’s another jewel from the vaults of Isis Aquarian and the Source Family, a burst of female energy from Aquariana, along with a reissue of the flaming first Howling Hex album, All-Night Fox. And new records from Hollywood Dream Trip and Fuchs/Heemann/Van Luijk on Streamline. And another on Millon Dollar Performances of pee-mancipation rock from the prominent (yet still closeted) rock veterans known as The Yellow River Boys.
See, everywhere we look, we see new music. It’s coming at us from all directions - and we want to be a part of it. But for now, for just a minute, it’s over. This is our last chance to do the only thing we know how to do. To put out the greatest records you’re likely to ever hear. Today. In 2013. And so, buy these records and reflect back with us on a year like any other year. A year where we took twelve shots at the brass ring. That’s why we get out of bed in the morning – to win whatever year we’re living in that day. Isn’t that sad? And for every record we release, how many infants and kittens die unfairly? Don’t even go there. Go with us instead, into a world of mighty visions cast upon the rocks. But some visions thrive in the rocks! This is the natural fact that gives Drag City the impetus to go forward.
If you haven’t noticed, the times, they are still a-changing. Sure, the ruins of the rock and roll century are still dotting the landscape, but they won’t last forever. Just as the power centers of ancient Rome are now a home for stray cats and tourists, so too will the great achievements of the King of Rock and Roll, Prince of Wails, Godfather of Soul, Fab Four, Glimmer Twins, Lizard King, Pinball Wizard, Night Tripper, Originator, Man in Black, Lightnin', Pops, Fats, Boss, Mighty Joe, Sir Douglas, Silver Fox, Dr. Hook, Captain Fantastic, God of Thunder, Screamin' Jay, Trombone Shorty, Grandmaster Funk, Mr. Excitement, Motor City Madman, Thin White Duke, Skydog, Scratch,Hurricane, Hambone, Piano Man, Material Girl, Big Daddy, Big Boi, Big Joe Turner, Notorious B.I.G., Little Willie, Little Walter, Brother Dave, Ramblin’ Jack, Killer, Duck, Tiny, Iceman, Biff, Chubby, Buddy, Blue, Ace, Reverend, Geezer, Skunk, Smokey, Tubby, Muddy, Ratso, Dimebag, Pearl, Captain Trips, Mothers, Ringo, Big Baby Jesus and all the rest fade into the encroaching night of time. Labels like ours are just trying to forestall the inevitable with the incredible.
Yes, we hate history! Don’t you? If you don’t, then clearly you haven’t yet realized that it’s written by an extremely unreliable class of people – men and women with fixed ideas and agendas, and then remembered according to the so-called gospels that issue forth from their word-processors! Like The Shaggs asked, “What Are Parents?” The answer they didn’t provide us with is, we’ll never know! Shit, our parents don’t even really know who they are, and if they tried to tell us, it wouldn’t come out right. Old myths of heroes and victims passed down subconsciously from their old, weird parents like worn out hand-me-downs. Tales of men and supermen and their Stepford wives. This is just what happens to your mind, kids. Take it from us – Drag City has been around the block once or twice in our golden decade (actually, 25 years – assisted-care facility ed.), and after we’d gotten once around, we’d already forgotten exactly where it started! Instead of a vital, living memory in our minds, we had these odd, sepia-tinted still photos in place of moments we have to take on faith ever really occurred! And the records. Thank Creator (i.e., Lord Humongous) for the records. So when we tell you what the year of 2013 was like, it’s like a game of chicken! What’s gonna jump first? The facts or the visions? Read on, and see if you can help us separate fact from frisson.
Ah, January of 2013, in the wake of the great storm! We emerged from our underworld (ivory) bunker to find scorched earth all around us. People without money, retailers without any motivation to go forward. The machines had triumphed; it was Amazon’s world and we were just visiting, and since they didn’t have any time to see us, would we please leave? But not so fast: January had been tagged (no hash) as a return to acoustic values kind of month, since nothing gets yer mind off storms so much as the sound of man strumming his acoustic instruments and calling in the traditions of old to his fellows. Alasdair Roberts was our torch-bearer, and he carried it magnificently with what many regarded as his best album to date, A Wonder Working Stone. Sure, some prefer Farewell Sorrow and we have a special place in our heart for Spoils, but yes, this is an epic for these days that truly has to be heard, all four sides, in order to be truly experienced. Then the world is a better, and wider place in which to live, one filled with wonder and fascination and the rich contradictions of hated history! Fittingly, this was paired with a reissue from the golden days of hippie country rock, Chris Darrow’s Artist Proof – itself a recollection of the resonances of America in the Days Before the hippie revolution. Of course, it was a reflection dressed in the new clothes of the time, but a deeply soulful and accomplished look, and a collection of exceptional country-rock tunes. Many tried this tack during the early 1970s, some with less of a personal investment in the music they were making, and some got grossly rich off it (we’re looking at you Eagles – accent on ‘gross’!), but few did it better than Chris Darrow. Now that January is coming around again, these records are once again providing sweet salve for us after all the shit that went down this year. What a world!
Also on this tip was the February release from Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – What the Brothers Sang, their tribute to the Everly Brothers that was clearly so amazing that it got Billy Joe Armstrong through rehab and gave him some thoughts about new directions upon getting out - like making an Everly Brothers cover record duetting with Norah Jones. Well played, BJ! We shall assume the proof is in the pudding. What the Brothers Sang was naturally a beguiling and thought-provoking tour through the backroads of the Everlys, but almost as significantly, it was the first Bonnie-related release to come out on cassette since 1995’s Viva Last Blues! Didn’t we mention the times were a-changin’, by gum?
So, yeah – saving the world, one acoustic geetar string at a time. Picking our friends picking our seat and grinning. UGH. Time to flip the script, so we reached into our quill and pulled out a toxic little something called The Best of The Howling Hex. This release brought Neil Michael Hagerty’s New Border Sound back from the country of the rural Southwest, and lined it up with a whole band of brothers in the big town of Denver, where ol’ NMH now makes his home. The new Howling Hex band really came together and they belt it out on this album, which takes its name from feeling like the best, rather than collecting highlights from previous catalog. If only all Best-ofs were so bold! This band was so shit-hot that they were tabbed to come with Neil to New York (as if! Brooklyn, more like) to accompany him on a journey through Twin Infinitives, his epoch-shattering 1990 work with Royal Trux) in front of a live audience. It was quite a night, leaving us questioning doing any acoustic music ever again. Perhaps post-industrial pop was the way to go? Had we lost our way in the years since 1990? Thus, we headed into pre-spring with rocks in our head, and no clear answers.
KEEPING THINGS LIGHT (YET ELECTRIC AND SOMEWHAT ORCHESTRAL)
March was declared heaviest month ever (by us) and we proved it by releasing not one heavy record, but four! Variety was the key: one double LP and one single album, plus a 12”EP and a 7” single! Heavy, done four ways. Massive-sized was the only option for Ensemble Pearl – Stephen O’Malley’s project with Atsuo, Kurihara and Bill Herzog featured long, deep pieces that sounded like a symphony – and still do, even when we’re not listing. Shit’s eternal. Though Ensemble Pearl haven’t yet played live – and aren’t likely to, being spread across continents and hemispheres as they are, we chose to do a high-quality silkscreen poster of the album’s inner spread which turned out to be one of the most underrated items we posted this year! Even though it’s pretty much Christmas already (as in: who the fuck cares anyway?), we’re ready for a flood of enthusiasm on the Ensemble Pearl poster – better late than never! Now that the great graphic arts publisher/webstore Picturebox is closing down, somebody needs to supply great-looking wall-hangings (not to mention all their amazing books and comics) to the mini-masses! Also rocking with the kind of arcana radiating from Ensemble Pearl’s heart is OM; in the wake of 2012’s sky-shattering opus Advaitic Songs and the worldwide touring that has continued almost to this very minute, they’ve too busy to assemble the next OMslaught on the corrupt worldwide vibrational matrix – Job knows we need it! Fortunately, this was in the plan, and the “Addis Dubplate” 12” single was the first fruit from Alpha & Omega’s remixes of a couple core Advaitic Songs songs, delivering heaviness in a way only previously implied by OM, now bouncing with dubby essence! There was more where that came from a couple months down the line, but meantime, we had more rock, with Purling Hiss straining at the bit, ready to rock out in a way no-one had previously heard from them! Water On Mars definitely pulled back of hiss to reveal the metallic lattice beneath, with cords of guitars overlaid to make the power-trio bombast of the band really shine. Mike Polizze’s way with a tune is also a big part of Water On Mars, and they hit the road and played shows opening for all kinds of freaks throughout the year, bringing the Hiss sound to many more heads. Now there’s plans for another album already underway - Hiss-sters, start your lighters! Last on not least on the rock front, we had a little 7” record called “Saturday,” from Baltimore’s own Dope Body – just a little something other than Natural History to sell at shows. “Saturday” has a way harsher edge than the album, and we like it that way; contrast is good. This motley lot are also at work on a new album, so…hooray, 2014! But nobody knew that back in March. See what I mean about history? Three months into 2013 and our narrative is already hopelessly perveted!
At this point, acoustic, electric? Electronic? The right thing seemed to be to branch out – so with April in mind, we tossed an EP on the table from the Marquis de Tren & Bonny Billy – the first of its kind since the auld millennium, in fact! “Solemns” followed “Get On Jolly” by a mere fourteen years, kids – so don’t give up on your dreams! Mick and Bonny didn’t, and this EP continues their heavy-lidded excursions into sacred realms begun a century ago. Hence the brevity – an album of this stuff all at once would likely crack the cosmos! Also in April and also for the first time in a while was a new album from David Grubbs. It had been five years but – whaddya want? Not everybody can wait for decades like the Marquis and the ‘Prince’. Anyway, David’s always working, when he isn’t teaching and writing and raising a family, and since 2008, when he released his previous songs-and-singing album, An Optimist Notes the Dusk, he’s had other releases of various kinds on his Blue Chopsticks imprint. Call him prolific – but call your lawyer too, because The Plain Where the Palace Stood is simply arresting! David’s pop style leading back through the days of Gastr del Sol and on beyond Bastro is an intensely focused, yet inquisitive path, and The Plain Where the Palace Stood brings it all back again in its opening moments, with David’s smoke-streaked electric guitar calling all in need of transformation, and leading the way through the changes. Another welcome return! On the topic of returns, the rest of April spoke volumes. The first volume returning to bookshelves was Harmony Korine’s A Crackup at the Race Riots. Just in time to shock new fans of his cinematic exercise Spring Breakers with some horrifically twisted visions, Crackup hails from 1998, when it harmony-ized with his lurid early works like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy. Sure it was an experimental novel, but there’s an audience for that sort of thang, and it went out of print years. But now it’s back, it’s selling hand over fist, so up yours, whoever made that call! Coming in last in the returns sweepstakes of April 2013 was the Rich Ristagno release, What Would It Be Like to Be Rich? It’s hard to call it a reissue, since this 1982 album was pressed and directly placed underneath Mr. Ristagno’s bed. It got out somehow eventually and we’re glad, because otherwise what would we have put out instead that was this fucked up? Rich’s years in rock had led to a dead end when he walked into a Detroit studio and laid down these tracks with a house band that clearly knew how to play, but maybe not so much how to play with Rich. They probably didn’t get much feedback, as Rich sounds a bit introverted, but the combination of his sullen rock tunes and darkly acidic guitar solos with funk-lite backing throughout the album is actually a blessing not even in disguise! A singular experience, What Would It Be Like to Be Rich? tells us what it was like, and the answer is confusing but entertaining (history, right?), in a non-laff riot sort of way.
May came, and it was time for the second installment of the Alpha & Omega OM remixes, the “Gethsemene Dubplate.” Where “Addis” is rough and rude, “Gethsemene” has the lustrous vibe of a royal processional. Truly a powerful companion to the now-OOP “Addis Dubplate.” Also on the mini-bites tip was the Sic Alps EP “She’s On Top.” Here, three songs provided the denouement for the saga of Sic Alps, bringing them to the surface with their first-ever hi-fi production sound and three full-blown pop tracks (two rockers, one dark wall-crawler). It’s a hell of a 12” and a hell of a shame that that’s where the line was drawn for Sic Alps. More would be heard from (former) SA frontman Mike Donovan before the year was up – but in May, that was but a glimmer in our eyes, so shhh! Also in May was the soundtrack album to The Source Family documentary film, which brought to the screen the story of Father Yod and his disciples, the Source Family, whose musical antics have been a subject of their own cult for the past couple decades. The film cherry-picked great moments from records both in and out of print and was a provocative look at the life and times of Yahowha as well as the Source Family members. The movie was playing in theaters around the country and so this soundtrack album arrived just in time for all the hype – not as much hype, or sales-from hype as those that followed the A Band Called Death doc that started hitting at almost the exact same time (and hasn’t really stopped since then), but that is another, awesome story. Still, the real big record of May was Scout Niblett’s It’s Up To Emma. This followed almost three years exactly after her previous The Calcination of Scout Niblett and established new heights of raw introspection and impassioned extroversion in the catalog of Emma “Scout” Niblett. Reknowned for her bare guitar-and-vocal delivery, Scout showed her mastery not only of that form, but also of some deeply soulful chamber-pop on It’s Up To Emma. Since her songs are always so musical and Scout’s singing so commanding, this album has been a big grower this year, with Scout touring Europe and the US relentlessly to get the word across. The word back has been, awesome!
We also reissued Royal Trux’s “3-Song EP” in May. People seemed to think the same about it the second time around as they did back in ’99 – which is to say, they didn’t. But this is a slice of heavy rock that turns the electro-static-shock of Accelerator on its ear, and that sounded good to us then and now too.
THE SLINGER NOT THE BONG
Summer, and the tradition of vacations in this time expanded our penchant for rock-philosophy…philosorocky. Philosorock. Philock? Phill Niblock?! Hmm, we'll get back to you once we’ve actually coined one here. Or perhaps you can get back to us with your own coins. But with our feet safely perched atop a pile of CD boxes, we pense (en francais, mes amis) a bit on the eternal appeal of the appeal of the music we and so many others have given their lives for: is it the singer – or gadzooks, the song? Or is the beauty up on in the ear of the beholder? Those of you who dabble in our industry as consumers have it easy, because your question simply ends there. For us in our perched position, though, we find that the truly important question is become, Wherefore art the point of purchase? Every year, it seems to slide farther away from the spot in the old family storefront shop where listeners encountered their new releases. Or the old aerial-driven radio contraption. Sure, AM begat FM begat last.fm; to a certain extent, it's the same emperor with fewer moving clothes. For some performers, the countertop where their sales are recorded is clearly on their back, but unlike certain know-it-all journalists of recent vintage, we don't see that as a future for our singers: as much as audiences love seeing you in your flesh, they're not immune to that thing called 'overexposure' that comes with the road that never ends. Furthermore, there's only so long even the best of us can hold out on tour. It’s ended plenty of great lives early and bored otherwise creative people senseless in the process. So while the merch table these days is often as profitable as pop's old retail shoppe, it ain't the be-all, end-all. Just an essential sales cranny in the whole English muffin of sales. Artists are still benefited by these decaying structures called the industry, for those keeping score. Internet notwithstanding, of course....
All this was just bubbles in our beer bong, and there were actually shitloads of releases to tend to, so this talk was tabled until – hmm, New Year’s Day? Well, if there aren’t any parties, anyway.
So, instead of vacationing in June, we released two non-music titles for a taste of something different, and both of them couched in glittersome SoCal milieu! Since we’d pitched The Source Family film to open-minded projectionists around the country and seen strong results, then released the soundtrack album and seen it do better than any other Source-related stuff we’ve done (like The Thought Adjusters, with its epic family jams, and Magnificence In the Memory, with lots of Father-features), it was on to the DVD! No extras, nothing to hold the public hostage with, nothing added to gouge away at them, just pure and simple and honest, the movie. In the other hand, we had a new book, also non-fiction, being the biography of filmmaker Curtis Harrington, whose experience of the Hollywood movie industry spanned seven decades. From avant-garde shorts to B films (B+, actually) to TV movies and beyond (not quite “The Love Boat” beyond, but close, if you ask us – come on, “Dynasty?”), Curtis went a lot of places and met a lot of people and film buffs are fortunate that he left this memoir behind for our crack researchers to find and bring into a releasable state. Super-fun but edifying as well, Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood gets one star from us – on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, natch. And just so we didn’t lose our chops putting out music, we debuted a new label in June – Ethereal Sequence, who took the opportunity to make a Bandcamped album from a group called Paula (related to the group called Tops) real. Thus the Relaxed Fit album came into being, pressing the mutated low-fi musing on old synth pop posings deeper than they’d ever gone before.
Then it was July, and everyone’s always said that you can’t sell records in July, even back when there was a record industry. Of course, this always got us to salivating like Pavlov’s cat, hoping to destroy the world with a record in July. And year after year, we’ve done it. The names of the past aren’t important. What were we telling you about history? Anyway, this year, we got the name of names and presented, for the first time on LP anywhere, Andy Kaufman! No, he’s not that dude from Albuquerque…these recordings were made in New York and Los Angeles too probably, in the late 1970s, and edited together from dozens of mini-cassettes, they represent Andy and His Grandmother, the only comedy album release by one of the 20th century’s most prescient comic voices. This was such a bomb to drop on the public that we’ve had a fucking awful time keeping the record around – both LP and CD copies have been going in and out of print constantly since July! At present, we’ve got CDs back and LPs are coming in the New Year. On the music front, we rolled out Bitchin’ Bajas’ latest work of old-school trance-and-drone, Bitchitronics. This record of location-recorded loops was released on LP and cassette only, the way they used to before CDs ruined everything, and then were killed. We just sold out of the Bitchitronics LP again, as well as the cassette so clearly the Bajas are onto something. We’ll see what Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy audiences think of them…this could be the year that Bajas break, who knows? Also on the July date were two acts of God? – the reissue of White Fence’s self-titled first album, which rocks most spiffily when compared to the more cerebral stuff on say, Family Perfume. This record’s been around on CD for a while, but it was high time for another LP, and the package-forward God? edition is clearly meeting approval – another title we keep running through like a summer sprinkler! Scraper’s the name of the other God? project – SF punks with art in their veins making head-bending beach-punk with lots of sand and salt-water grit and hallucinogenic imagery to boot. Hot stuff for the hottest months of the year – too bad the weather didn’t agree. We nearly froze to death in July around here – and we’re from Chicago, yo!
THE TY'S NOT THE LIMIT
All good things have to come to an end…and then there’s Ty Segall. He’s got some seriously deep pockets, and the amazing songs and albums keep pouring forth from them. After Twins hit last October, wrapping up a year of heavy activity, the word was, Ty was taking it slow. Then in February, he finished a new record, and in August, Sleeper was awake and running fast off our shelves! That’s slow for you, as the Segall flies. Almost all acoustic, Sleeper managed to extend the vibe of the hot-and-fast Twins tunes, taking Ty to yet another level in the process – the Tytanically expressive level! We celebrated the moment with a set of Sleeper tees, in black, white and green – just like the truth. No grey areas on these shirts. But since we’d kind of taken it easy on the music in July, we were loaded for bear (which means we were gonna kill an animal. Don’t try this at home, kids! – socially-concerned ed.), and so we took the opportunity to spray out some more short-play dubby goodness, from - you guessed it, OM’s Al Cisneros, on a solo trip, and – whaaaa?!? – Bill Callahan. Al’s “Ark Procession” 10” was a bit more droney than dubby, now that we reflect, but perhaps we’re just thinking of the Al Cisneros 12” coming in the new year that brings the bump back to the beat! Anyway, hell of a record - if we can say that about such theologically therious thtuff as Al’s music. But Bill – what the hey? In an unusual decision with regard to the advance promotion of his forthcoming Dream River, Bill asked that we only issue the "Expanding Dub" 12” single before the album. This set the inner chambers of the bunker a-buzzin’ – “Sure it’s a cool and fun dub remix on two songs from Dream River, but how’s this gonna play out?” Would nations revolt? We decided to stay tuned. Meanwhile, we kept busy with the reissue of all four of the early titles in the Venom P. Stinger catalog of the mid-to-late-80s. Are you thinking what we’re thinking? Because we’re thinking things like, About time! As well as, Well someone had to! And it turns out we were right. The scum-punk vibes of these records needs to be heard by, let’s just say, everyone. Everyone needs to know what this stuff was about. We know that everyone won’t, and that frankly, everyone might not get it, but this is essential neolithic Australian art-punk, and Meet My Friend Venom, What’s Yours Is Mine, “Walking About” and “Waiting Room” are now gracing many an open-eared collector’s shelves due to these reissues – not to mention the cleverly-titled 1986-1991 (huh? - sacrasm-immune ed.) CD compilation of all of the above. Join us in our trip back down Venomy Lane.
September means finding that hidden gear inside the vehicle driving you through the rock world, and if Ty Segall in August wasn’t enough of an upshift, or keeping up with the droves of new Death fans, we have the power of a River on our side. Flippin’ Dream River, what? If you were in fact wondering, only a fool would have thought that a dub 12” would turn Bill Callahan’s fans into terrorists determined to destroy amazingly good music. Instead, they’ve turned out in droves for Dream River, as well as Apocalypse, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, Woke On a Whaleheart and a bunch of Smog records too! As well they should. Bill’s operating in rare air on Dream River, extending his streak of timelessness to more albums than we can count at the moment – because instead we need to go count how many Dream River LPs and CDs we have in stock. We should probably order more! Bill then hit the road and played a powerful run of shows, with he and the Dream band super locked-in to what they were about every night. Occupying the same space on the September new release form as Bill, Carol Kleyn’s Return of the Silkie brought to a conclusion the story of Carol Kleyn, as far as we know it. The revolutionized west-coast sunshine child toured in her VW Beetle all through the 70s, playing at Renassance Faires and on friendly street corners to keep her living outside of the sordid everydays of the so-called “real world” and to keep her going to the next town – but by the time of Return of the Silkie, she was getting ready to settle down and raise some family up in the Pac Northwest. The Laguna Beach sessions of the album featured Carol doing what she knew best – singing and playing her harp with the experience of a decade doing so on the road. This makes Return of the Silkie her most accomplished set of songs – until the next one? It’s been 30 years and change and still no word from Mrs. Carol Kleyn. But meanwhile, elsewhere in September, Magik Markers, they know how to stay busy. A mere four years after Balf Quarry, they drop – a single! What th?!? Four years, and just a single? But WHAT A SINGLE. “Ice Skater” is a track unlike anything Magik Markers have produced to this point, a shimmery skating-rink ballad, and well worth some kind of wait. On the flip, “Machines” a track entirely like any given night at the club with Magik Markers, a grinding freejam, and after four years, it’s great to hear it again. Also great was, this single was the advance notice of a new Markers album to follow in November. And closing the door on a light month – just four albums and a single, yawn, snore, snooze – are offerings from the mighty Sun Ark, returned with not just Sun Araw reissues (yay, On Patrol is back!) but also the humorously-titled The Celebrate Music Synthesizer Group album, of music that celebrates all synthesizers, all the time! Hot. Well, synth tunes are kind of cool in nature, but we humans bring the heat with our passion for them.
No time to think! Suddenly, it was October, with another fat handful of world-beaters. October’s a great month to release records (just like the other twelve! – obstinate optimist ed.), so we were pleased to have a new CAVE record for the occasion. Threace upped the ante in every possible way for CAVE-heads, pumping up the volume, and kicking out the jams, but most of all, showing us other sides of the band - including for the first time ever, the all-instrumental side of CAVE. Previous albums have always had at least one vocal track, but here there was just too much of consequence in these new jams, which this time had a mellow actual-jamminess alongside the expected ever-tightening minimal funk that is CAVE’s trademark, to allow a vocal track. Deepness! We had thought we couldn’t love more than Neverendless-ly – but Threace proved us wrong again. And everyone else too – we’ve been completely cleared out of all stock, save a spare piece here or there. So, that’s it. No more CAVE stuff. – no, just kidding! These guys could just conquer the world, and when they do, we wanna be there, with the merch. Alongside us and CAVE is that former Sic Alps frontman, remember him? We were only talking about him in this newsletter back in June, aka A HUNDRED MILLION FREAKIN’ RELEASE-YEARS AGO. Whew! So Mike Donovan hasn’t made a record since the last Sic Alps record in June – who is he again? The times, they are a-changing! It used to be about What Have You Done For Me Lately?, not Who Are You Again? I Haven’t Heard Your Name Today! Anyway, Mike’s got the antidote for these frantic, antic times, and his debut solo album Wot spreads it out like four of a kind, or a straight flush or whatever…this seemed like a good place for a poker metaphor, but we’re not card players (speak for yourself! – up-the-sleeve ed.)! Wot-Mike plays singer-songwriter in a nice traddy way, with loads of acoustics, but with a head-filling dose of acid-folk fog injected into the veins of the thing. His tunes are just as rife with hook-laden refrains as before, but here, there’s a slowly-revealed tragedy moving under the surface, like a break-up kind of vibe. Might he be talking about leaving the band behind? Or it is youth? Or it is just some strange he picked up and got hung up on and then lost? These questions run through the song cycle and like always, make the best rock records better – and Wot is one of those kinds. Like Threace, Wot’s on cassette too – so help yourself! Also on October, on vinyl only, came the Frederick Michael St. Jude album Here Am I. This is a lost-and-found artifact of the 1970s, a product of the semi-holy union between a hustling young singer and a dying regional label in the Deep South. Smelling something in his gib that they couldn’t quite identify, the label dressed Frederick Michael’s tunes to succeed, combining his odd way of discriminating with theirs, and not realizing their own failure was just around the corner, coming just weeks after the release of his album. It’s almost 40 years later, but we’re here to give Mr. St. Jude another chance. Now, if we disappear suddenly next year, then this guy deserves his reputation as a label-killer, okay? Hey, we labels can’t help it – there’s something really far out in the music of F.M. St. Jude, and it deserves to be heard! God? feels the same way about David Novick, which is why they/we put out his self-titled album out in October too, and only time will tell if he’s a St. Jude in the making – but just being a David Novick, with his vaguely homeless-with-a-van campfire sing-alongs, is a pretty compelling thing. And David’s making records NOW, and he’s young yet. There’ll be a second David Novick album in early 2014. And then?
SNOW JOKE: ICY A LOT OF RECORDS TO SLIDE PAST YOU THIS YEAR!
\Winter’s coming on…time to put the shutters on the windows and get to jarring all that fruit, ma? Nope. More new releases! More reissues! We’re in the business of making connections – and these records need to find their people, or there’ll be a bunch of holiday suicides to pin on us! And you know what that means – unsold records. Not acceptable. And so – the new Magik Markers record, Surrender To the Fantasy. Wow. This is such an amazing album from a group that didn’t write a song until like six or seven years into their run. Now they’re on their third album of writing songs, and man! The songs are melted together with MM’s spontaneous combustion techniques and that makes for uniquely compelling songs! Plus, Elisa Ambrogio’s time in 200 Years has given her vocal approach another layer of nuance. After a go at duo style, Magik Markers are back to a trio, with John Shaw joining Elisa and Pete Nolan and bringing that bass back to their sound. Best record yet, no doubt about it. And in case you think we’re biased, we said that about Balf Quarry too. So there. Bleah. Plus, they just toured real fast through Europe and it was their best European tour ever. And they’re offering a deluxe version of Surrender To the Fantasy on USB, how awesome/stupid is that?!? Also amazing is Mick Turner’s new album, Don’t Tell the Driver. Not just amazing because it’s his first record in like, six years, but amazing in and of itself! First off, Mick’s calling it a rock-opera – scratch that, a post-rock opera, and he’s pulling it off! Second, for the first time ever, he’s got singing on the record. 2.5, it’s not his singing. Third, there’s enough material for a double album, and the combination of the thematic bent, the singing and the material makes for the best Mick Turner record ever! Better than Tren Phantasma, or MOTH even. Yeah! Great stuff. Mick toured around the U.S. a little bit and that was great to see him out again, doing that Mick Turner thing of his that nobody else in the world ever thought to do. And next door to the bunker, the Soccer Club Club is currently selling Mick Turner paintings and prints, which are great to see up close, you ought to give it a try! The prints are guaranteed to last at least two hundred years – that ought to take of as many generations down the line as you’d care to imagine.
For both of these records, we figured you might want to explore the catalog of Magik Markers and Mick Turner, so there were and are bundle deals going for them that if you haven’t heard about, are a great way to buy more records than the one you’re looking for. Check ‘em out –
We also got bundles going for the latest and almost last of the red-hot Royal Trux reissues. Veterans of Disorder is great on its own, but it can be even greater when you add something like Cats and Dogs or Accelerator to the package, since all the Royal Trux albums were so stridently different from each other, but staunchly uniform within their individual conceptions. Then there’s Veterans of Disorder, where every song is different from every other. Of course, there is a sonic theme of lots of hand-percussion throughout the album, but since it’s couched in such a variety of sounds, it’s hard to type on that. Veterans is fun on the ear and has a million laughs in there too, really kind of a perfect record. Back in circulation after a bunch of years, ladies and gentlemen - stand and salute, show them you appreciate them defending our freedoms! Veterans of Disorder.
Also reissued in November was Gastr del Sol’s “Mirror Repair.” Back in 1994, this record came out on the same day as Palace Songs’ “Hope” EP, and those two EPs really wreaked a lot of havoc in the world out there, turning heads and changing minds and setting the stage for the long players to come – in the case of Gastr, Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur. We’ve kept the LPs around when we could, but it’s been since the gay-ass 90s that we had “Mirror Repair” on iconic 12” vinyl. Consider that mistake corrected. Such a fun little EP – yes, we’re aware we’re still talking about Gastr del Sol, who may have just been called ‘fun’ for the first time, but “Mirror Repair” really does come and go in high fashion, causing wicked grins alongside the expected moments of reflection. And for a hat-trick of reissues as well as a second title involving Jim O’Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi’s Imitation of Life appeared for the first time in America, and the first time anywhere on LP. This record came out in Japan on CD in 2012, and it is a delight to hear it on vinyl. O’Rourke’s production and playing meld beautifully with Eiko’s songs and her multi-instrumental playing and singing, creating a pop album with more than a few touches of proggy jazz. A new classic!
Also in November, Sea Note Records in their semi-infinite semi-wisdom announced a limited-edition Ty Segall album called Gemini, made up of the Twins demos. It wasn’t that limited, we’ve seen worse, but whatever. It was kinda draggy afterwards to see people who wanted it having to pay exorbitant prices from those who’d been in line before them, so we had a chat and decided to bring it back. It’ll be around again in January.
DRAG CITY TODAY!
And that brings us to December, and the end of the road we referred to earlier (in life, and this newsletter). A last chance for 2013! How will it be remembered? First off, with a reissue! Where would we be without them? This time, we’re plundering our own catalog yet again, to bring you The Howling Hex’s All-Night Fox on LP for the first time ever. We were inspired by the recent Golden Lab 3xLP of Howling Hex live recordings, reminded that their stuff only gets better with time, and since All-Night Fox never made it on LP back in 2005, here it is. And predictably, it sounds great on vinyl and BETTER than it did then. We should probably get on doing those other HH titles that didn’t come out on LP back in “the day”. Oh, those clueless aughties!
Also new in December (but still of a vintage) is Aquariana, the album by the artist of the same name. She’s the late Aquariana now, of Source Family fame, one of Father’s 13 wives and the mother of his son Yod. It’s too bad that she didn’t get to see the release of this album, recorded back in 1974, but for those who knew her as well as those who didn’t, the world is still a better place for having her pure and honest songs and singing out there for all to hear. Isis Aquarian dug deep into her archive to get the material together for this record and the finished product is one of the best Source archival releases around. For fans of the female singer-songwriter vanguard of the early 70s, and out now for the first time ever, dig Aquariana!
The rest of this year’s latest releases are from the hallowed ranks of our distributed labels. One of the longest-running is David Grubbs’ Blue Chopsticks, which of late has focused on projects of his that don’t fall into the songs-with-singing category. To that end is “Borough of Broken Umbrellas” the title of which reads like post-Sandy musings from a long-time Brooklynite, which David is. This 10” EP contains two extended solo guitar pieces, one on electric, the other acoustic. Both are careful and meditative in subtly different ways demanded by David’s relationship to the type of guitar, and together with the cover artwork, they have a fresh, new feeling in their contribution to this traditional format. From the other end of the spectrum (and maybe the other end of every spectrum we are aware of) is The Yellow River Boys’ debut album, Urinal St. Station, presented by Million Dollar Performances, sometime home to Neil Hamburger and other top acts. An all-star lineup drawn from the ranks of classic rockers still rocking, The Yellow River Boys are dedicated to freeing themselves from the stigma that has been unfairly foisted upon the piss-drinking people of the world today. It’s such an overtly PC time in history, and along with Gregg Turkington and Tim Heidecker, we support The Yellow River Boys in their statement of selfhood, which we all agree is a beautiful thing. Fortunately, the ‘Boys, whoever they are, still have their classic rock chops, and the songs of Urinal St. Station echo like the best hits of the 70s and 80s. Fans of classic rock and piss drinkers alike can raise the glass to this one! Then back across the spectrum, we find another label we’ve worked with often over the years, Christoph Heemann’s Streamline label, home to great releases from Nurse With Wound, Xhol Caravan and William Basinski, among many others actually still in print, so buy those along with these news ones! This time, Streamline presents LP releases from Hollywood Dream Trip and Fuchs/ Heemann/Van Lujik. Hollywood Dream Trip pairs Heemann with Celer’s Will Long, jamming together on some loops that have become sonically sanded into a steady windstream, making an incredible sounding platter of vinyl and a powerful debut entitled Would You Like To Know More? You know it!. Macchia Forest finds Christoph and Timo Van Lujik adding electronics and treatments to Limpe Fuchs’ acoustic sculpture, piano and vocals. It’s called Macchia Forest because all their interplay grows together to form a dense sonic brush for you to explore, in a tense, but otherwise worry-free timeless time. As always, we’re glad to have a couple Streamline records in the house, as they have their own way of fracturing our world.
So there you go. A year in the life of a year of Drag City right up to the present day. And we’ve got 2014 well sorted as well! Records large and small! Non-records too. As well as occasionally just a t-shirt. Sometimes it has to be that way.
You know how history is a lie? Well, maybe this’ll prove to you that your precious calendar is nothing more than a series of random jottings: January of so-called 2014 brings a set of slight returns masquerading as new releases. Bill Callahan’s Have Fun With God is the dub version of Dream River, now in full-album form! The Michael Lee Yonkers and Jim Woehrle & Michael Yonkers Borders of My Mind albums are straight-up reissues! And God?’s Jack Name album, Light Show probably circulated on cassette last week, you know how it is. So everything new is old again.
Time is a circle. And a hype. Fuck it.
We’ll see on the next go-round.