The Drag City Newsletter/February 23, 2011

posted February 23rd, 2011


Late February and all is swell! Amidst all the thundersnow, white-outs, slush-pack, and the eventual thaws, we find ourselves in tune with the nature underneath it all — blown-out, buffeted and half-frozen, but bolstered by all the water, ready to bloom again. Hell, we’re blooming now — and not just blooming idiots. Naw, there’s gold in these here chills, you just gotta get the pick outta yer nose and get it.

That’s our trip, so whether you’re tripping it too alongside us or just dropping in, here we go again!


The earth: frozen and dark. The days: short, and hope is shorter. In Australia, they’re tanning peacefully. Fuck them! We’ve got a better answer — and it comes from within us. Well, at least one of us. Do you remember the dream of the shadow on the horizon? It’s one of nature’s rarest wood-demons, a string-bender with the eerily clear eyes. This dream is not a premonition; it’s a fresh infusion of the spirit! This dream tell us that Six Organs of Admittance is returned — and not just to our subconscious, but also to his traditional lair, that of the home recorders. After having chased the dragon of studio recording over the past few years (he’s got a few scales to show for it, ha!), Ben Chasny is back at home, isolated, alone and apparently Asleep On the Floodplain (cause that’s the name of his new album, so...). While stringing together his new sound-contraptions, he could probably blast the neighbors with some signature white-hot electrical stylings, but after the workouts he’s had with Rangda over the past year, can you blame him for picking on the acoustic instead? Not only can’t we not NOT not blame him, we’re inclined to thank him! Sweetly played on top, Asleep On the Floodplain in time descends into the thematic depths, ringing with spiritual tones and writhing amoebically under the eyelids with steadily morphing sound and color. This is not a killer record — we’re not gonna call something this beautiful by such a damaged name! No, this record wants to live inside of you — and actually, come to think of it, so do some killers, inside your flesh that they carefully peeled off your body! Hm. OK, reboot. Asleep On the Floodplain definitely does not want to store your organs in the fridge. It has a much more welcoming vibe. It’s alive in the cold hard world, aware of the sacrifices (we knew we smelled meat!) and heading for the light — and so are you! So why not travel together? In time!


It’s been a little over a year since that earthquake hit Haiti, and there have been other earthquakes since then, but the Bonny ‘Prince’ hasn’t forgotten his Island brethren. He’s got a new single out right now, and it’s a special item designed to contribute in some small way to the relief for those assailed people there. Because in the time since that disaster, there’s been a massive outbreak of cholera there and this is a direct result of not having clean water to drink. Clearly, something’s gotta give — and that’s why profits from this record will go to EDGE Outreach, an organization whose efforts are focused solely on this action for developing countries around the world — and in this case, a country assailed by destruction and disease.

So, that’s what you’re a part of when you buy ”Island Brothers,” b/w ”New Wonder” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & The Cairo Gang. Well, water you waiting for then? For those of you intent on tracking the record down as a hard product, bear in mind that this single isn’t of the 7” variety. Naw, this a big 10-inch record! And not only does it have a nice full-color cardboard jacket (all the better to advertise it to you and sell itself and thus serve the cause with its arresting photographic imagery courtesy of New York Times photographer Damon Winter), it’s also got (spoiler alert!) a full-color insert too! And on the record — music! Now that’s what got us in here to begin with. Two songs of Bonny & Cairo: one a rock and roller, the other a knee-tremblin’ ballad (enuf with the tremblers already! — ed.), and both rife with voices out of everywhere, all harmonizing in a spirit mass, on top of guitars either churning or exploring the atmosphere. Performed with Ben Boye, Van Campbell, Danny Kiely, Angel Olson (some of you enjoyed them on tour in the America last year) with special guest Rob Mazurek, they’ve got tunes of silver and gold, ready to gleam in your life and mind. That’s what’s up with the Bonnie ‘Prince’ and The ‘Cairo’ “Gang.”


February isn’t just about Six Organs of Admittance and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, you populist bitch! Should their bandwagons be too crowded for you, we’ve also got music from deep underground — or at least, music that sounds like its coming from deep underground. Like this Jim O’Rourke & Christoph Heemann CD, Plastic Palace People Vol 1. Those are some environmental sounds there! The environment however, is the inner world of these two like-minded musical voyageers — and this record is a virtual history of their sonic relationship, with tapes scrapbooking in wild juxtaposition collaborations that date backward to ‘91 and forward from there again. It’s a round-trip sound-trip. On the other side of the Stream(line) is a William Basinski disc entitled A Red Score In Tile. This record was cut way back in ‘79 when The Disintegration Loops hadn’t even been germinated yet! In other words, A Red Score In Tile hails from the early waves of formalist ambient music — bits of piano, atmosphere and loops revolving over and over in a meditative fashion until finally...the record ends. And you feel great, even though you’ve been listening to CDs. Streamline rides again!


You know, every once in awhile in our perambulations outside the home bunker, we come across a record that we didn’t put out. Sometimes we even like that record! It’s good, it keeps us humble and hungry and up-to-date, so we like that we like other people’s record releases sometimes. It reminds us of days when we were young, wandering the record racks without a care or bias in the world. Uhm, we’ll get off the couch now. What this means is that we have a few titles to offer you that are exciting enough that even though we didn’t release them, we’re gonna drop some pixels here talking about them.

For instance, there’s two releases we’re selling from Sebastian Speaks (the label run by the gifted guitarist William Tyler late of Silver Jews, whose solo album is currently drawing accolades all across everywhere). They’ve got some really nifty reissue albums like the Ted Lucas album, which some have compared to the Skip Spence album. We can see that. We can see a lot of things, especially when we play this record, which is known to some know-it-alls as ”The OM Record.” Ted played in a number of semi-obscure 60s acts like The Spike Drivers and The Misty Wizards before embarking on a solo career in the 70s. He played all sorts of stringed instruments, ranging from six-and-12-string guitars to balalaika and sitar. The record’s got some songs on side one and jams on side two, all of which seem to emanate from a truly peaceful heart. The cover art was by SF-great Stanley Mouse and is one of the cleanest reproductions we’ve ever seen. Ever.

Also on Sebastian Speaks is Vernon Wray’s Wasted, one of only several records released by Link Wray’s brother in his lifetime. Much of his career in music was spent managing and recording Link and the Ray Men, during the 60s at the infamous 3-Track Shack, where Link’s incredible early-70s albums showed the world (albeit briefly) a more spiritual side of the rumbling guitar hero. Wasted dates from the same period and was released in some fashion in ‘72. It’s a laid-back country rock album than runs the gamut from lonesome to heartfelt to world-weary. A truly mellow album of with vividly real sounds of that ever-distant era.

Finally, we’ve got a single for you from the truly obscure Ether label (I mean, we can’t even find them on the internet! I mean!). They’ve chanced upon a couple of hitherto unreleased sides from Ruthann Friedman, whose Constant Companion LP stands up with yer Judees and Jonis and the other hippie songbirds of the early 70s. A couple years back, there was a compilation of unreleased Ruthann demos, but these don’t appear to come from there, they have more of a studio vibe. And they’re both great — ”White Dove” in the girl-with-a-guitar format of Constant Companion and ”Motorcycle Madness” with a rickety band backing. The picture sleeve is pretty awesome, capturing Ruthann’s witchy wonder of all those years ago. Really sweet!

You can buy ‘em all here, all now...


Meanwhile...want a glimpse inside the mothership? Picture: flames. No wait — an avalanche of rubble! No, that’s not about, the air filled with flying, flaming rubble! What we’re trying to say is that its freaking chaos around here people! Take the Sophia Knapp single (...please!). This is a record that’s been on the schedule for January, then February and now March. And hopefully we get it out there this time! We’ve said it was gonna happen, and then nothing happens instead. Apparently, the mastering on this one is a bitch. So we have meetings, point fingers, play the old blame game, make promises and ultimatums - but the next month, what happens? We’re right back at the drawing board. The production department is running around, helpless — and they’re running into the publicists who are so stressed from trying to stay ahead of the curve and promote in places the people are actually looking that they’re not looking where they’re going! And then sales comes bulling through — they’re working overtime digging through the ruck of the marketplace, looking for fresh new sales pastures while dissing everyone else in site. BLAMMO! Everyone collapses in a great big heap of narcissism, ego, insecurity and misguided commitment. Ahhhhh, Drag City!

Fortunately, the reason the mastering is so darn difficult for this l’il ol’ 7” single is because the sounds in the grooves want to be so immaculate, they challenge the cutter to render them as they were so created. Which means this is one very fine sounding single. Of course it would be - Sophia Knapp is one of the twin heads of Cliffie Swan (neé Lights) and her signature sound is something atmospheric and floaty, wispily melodic, but firmly planted atop a throbbing beat (between her laigs! yeah, check the urban dictionary on that on, Ms. Steinem). That’s what ”Nothing To Lose” is all about, a slick slow slider that is reprised in a bottom-heavy mix on the second side...god, it’s like pure exquisigance topped with some extravagant! Definitely 7” of the year.


Also in March...Man, have we got a new album for you! And no, this isn’t like every other time we say that to you. No, this time it’s about Baby Dee! And no, this isn’t like the other two times we said this about Baby Dee — because although we were right in saying so both those times, this record is entirely different, not just from all previous Dee records but also from all previous Drag City records and — wait for it — every Previous Record Of All Time.

The new Baby Dee record is called Regifted Light — and what makes it stand out again? Oh, that’s right: a man and his piano and the woman that plays it. Sure, there’s lot of men and a lot of them have a lot of pianos (or at least one), but Andrew W.K. doesn’t qualify in any way as just any man, and we don’t even feel that we have to explain that. And his piano — well, it’s a Steinway D concert grand. Again, that says it all, doesn’t it? Maybe for you and me, but all the other idiots reading this: That’s a boss fucking piano, yo! So anyway, as we all know, Andrew W.K. is a man of great, deep-seeded, wide-ranging taste and culture who knows and understands art on a visceral level. Not only was he gonna have one of the greatest pianos around, he was also gonna know exactly what to do to make that piano perform for him. And that was, have Baby Dee play that piano. You see, it’s a well-understood adage that a great player makes a great piano even greater. Among players, anyway. Something in the wrists or the fingertips or the nails, I can’t remember — but it’s definitely something about touch. Andrew knows this, so he gave his whole damn piano to Dee for her to play for awhile. And she lives like, three states away from him! Of course, as soon as she got the piano in her place and started playing it, it started playing her right back, and they made sweet music together. Before long, she had a whole suite, so to speak - definitely the suitest thing we’ve ever done. Almost like a mini-piano concerto with a few vocal numbers included for good measure! Which, what could be better? Andrew came out to record and produce the songs, and he and a few other good men supported Dee in a miniature chamber orchestra, with brass, cello, percussion and pump organ, all of which occupies the same sound-picture with the sumptuous, spacious sound of life that is the Steinway D grand as played by Dee. It’s produced with the all the pomp that Andrew W.K. is renowned for (and about 500 less of the guitars). Truly magnificent! They gifted it to us — and now we’re paying it forward. Regifted Light, y’all.


March’s dance card wouldn’t be complete without Ed Askew! Ed’s a ditty man from way back, having first made his name on the legendary ESP-disks label in the late, late 60s. His album Ask The Unicorn introduced the the Tiple into the vocabulary of rock music’s searchin’-est weirdo listeners out there, but after that shattering debut, Askew was silent for years. Well, he probably wasn’t, but there also wasn’t another label out there with the balls to make another set of his recordings a part of history! In 1984, Ed was ready to leave his music behind in exchange for a career as a painter. The recordings of Imperfiction were taped onto a cassette and released on a limited run of cassettes at that time. And that was that — until Plastic Crimewave came a-knockin’ with his Galactic Zoo Disks card, all ready to put out anything that might have scraped the cutting-room floor! And that’s how we have Imperfiction. It reminds us once again of being young and in love — or being young and in love with Daniel Johnston. Either way, it’s a great and icky feeling, and so is listening to, and singing along with Imperfiction. And singing Imperfiction in the shower. Ed’s a ditty man, like we told you, and his melodies are yearning and innocent and raw and beautiful. On vinyl for the first time: Imperfiction.


Pairing beautifully with Baby Dee (whom he opened for a year or so back) and Ed Askew (who he’s got a gig with in NYC on March 19) is Gary Higgins, (whose Red Hash record came back from the undead to rule the mid-aughts first on CD, then on vinyl and now on CD again). Gary’s new release isn’t new at all to him, but it is to us and it will be to you very soon — because ”A Dream A While Back” is a hypnotic issuance from the Higgins vaults representing for the years that led up to 1974’s Red Hash. The six acoustic demos that make up ”A Dream A While Back” have all the golden wonder and encroaching darkness that flavors that incredible album; fans of that rich sonic meal can now enjoy an aperitif! Check out the track posted to know our mind on this one; it’s a somber but sinuous melody that makes the lyrical x-ray burn on your skin just a little softer. Gary Higgins back from the past, and he’s got gifts!


It’s simple: April is insane! Insanely harmonious. There’s a shared continuity between releases that doesn’t skimp on the diversity and yet, the center holds. And it doesn’t take much to do it, not when you (they) know how. It all gets kicking with new music from Bill Callahan, an album for the ages called Apocalypse. A great new album, as real as the dirt floor under your feet, real as the sod house you grew up in. Oh, you don’t have the sweet dirt and sod in your life story? Bill might not either, but he’s gonna tell you all about it. The lad loves his tale-telling, even if it’s tattle-talin’ or tall-tellin’. Whatever makes the song rock within yuh. Also with a great new album are High Llamas, with their first opus in five years, entitled Talahomi Way. In it, the Llamas forge further into the sonic world that only they inhibit (and, God-like, fill with creatures) with a signature combination of the acoustic and the electric that glistens and shines with newness and depth. Also on the date, and for the first time in the history of Drag City, an audiobook! Not just any audiobook either — this one’s of Rudolph Wurlitzer’s criminally under-recognized 1984 masterpiece Slow Fade. And it’s not read by just anyone, either — it’s read by the Bonnie ‘Prince’ himself, Will Oldham, with a major assist from D.V. DeVincentis. And speaking of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, he’s got another single coming out on April 19, reuniting him with his Superwolf brother Matt Sweeney. Whew!


Well, according to our old almanyak, we’ve got a little thing called May coming after April — and May’s another freakin’ doozy! Even if there were more than just Mickey Newbury on the date, it would still be super-powered. We’re reissuing his “American Trilogy” of 1969-72: the albums Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help the Child, along with an additional album of unreleased recordings from the time. It’s a CD boxset and the vinyl records all out on their own and everything is coming from the original tapes and my oh my it sounds amazing. But what also sounds amazing is the new Bachelorette album, on the same date but coming from a distant galaxy far far away. But also really catchy and tuneful and soul-pleasing. It’s called Bachelorette. Bachelorette by Bachelorette — can you remember that? Ah, we’ll remind you. Also in May, look out for These Trails! That’s also the name of the band and the album — you’ve got it easy in May. This is some semi-progressive, semi-traditional Hawaiian psychedelic pop music from 1973, sure to tickle the many semi-progressive, semi-traditional young ears out there today.

And after that, by God — June! The summertime tunes! The debut of Cliffie Swan! Another audiobook, this time of a Drag City classic! And Slow Fade, the printed book. Your summer reading list — and listening list — will never be the same.

Until then, take two Drag City records and we’ll call you in the morning of next month.

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

February 2011