The Drag City Newsletter October 20, 2009

posted October 20th, 2009


Another month has passed in this crazy new millennium of ours – and it’s like a drop in the bucket for all of us on the cutting edge of new music production. Month? Try a year. Fall again? No problem. Like clockwork, we’ve assembled an excess of aural (and in one infamous case, auri/oral-visual ) d’lights to get you through the Big Three (Halloween, (T)Hanksgiving and Hkwanzuka, take your fookin’ pick) and into the world beyond. At which point, we’ll hit you with another rock-slide to help you get through President’s Day and Valentine’s Day and Susan Dey etc. We await the delighted, befuddled reactions and life-decisions you make in the wake of each and every release. Hey, send us a postcard telling us about ’em – we never hear from you anymore !


Drag City has prided itself on being a deep-catalog, long-term commitment label for most of our twenty years. But things are changing, people! In an effort to keep up with the ever-shifting-and-admittedly-perplexing demand for all things real, we’ve become old-world craftsmen of our superior physical specimens of music. Not unlike fine wine or a boil just-white-headed-enough to lance, buying our records has become an opportunity to seize in the now! Which basically means that we’re doing more limited-run pressings and the first time you see them may be the last. Far be it from us to cause a commotion (heh heh), but…Run! Run to your local supplier! Beg! Beg them to sell you the few copies they brought in! Fight! Fight for your place in front of the other guy! Kill! Kill for your right to own these limited pressings. And then please Die! Die happy knowing you did everything you were able to do in order to make this important music an important part of your important life. Has anyone, on their deathbed – or their day-bed even - ever regretted having too much awesome music in their life?

So word up. They’re not all gonna be limited like that – but how will you ever know?


We’d like to thank all of you out there in stereo-land for your as-yet unending efforts to meet the visitor – that is, Jim O’Rourke’s The Visitor! As Jim predicted, “Music is Back.” And as Drag City is hoping, “Music is Back (in Black)” (which is not meant as a judgment on race) (nor as a reference to AC/DC) (nor an intriguing combination of the two). Ever since we released The Visitor four-and-a-half weeks ago (a lifetime in today’s fickle market), more and more copies of this not-available-online album (except for the bootlegger sites, of course (yes, thank you friends, for your grassroots promotional efforts in e-and-i-spreading our new music beyond the ancient and crumbling borders of the capitalist sphere – we can now look forward to developing bases in Kiribati, Bhutan, Comoros, Svalbard, Gansu and all the other places we don’t have distribution (including both North and South Dakota!))) have gone out the door in vinyl and silly old CD format. The eggheads down in marketing are trying to figure out what “demographic” we’re selling to, those idiots (are we referring to our marketing people here? -- Touchy-feely-pussy ed.)! Who cares who these people are? As long as we keep shoveling LPs and CDs out the door to paying-to-play types, they can be eight or eighty! And frankly, we wouldn’t be surprised if they were everywhere in between. Jim’s instrumental opus is truly for kids of all ages and sexes and creeds. But only eleven religions qualify – might one be yours? Welcome The Visitor into your home soon and find out for yourself!


Even as these words are written, new releases are shipping out to selected retailers around the country and even the world! We can barely keep our hands from shaking! This must be what that Santa Claus feels on the night before Hkwanzuka, the thrill of putting something new in the water that’s gonna change what people think and see and say – that crazy old fuck! So this is what it’s like to be a Golden God…while we absorb our latest revelation, dig this unpaid advertisement.


Woah, what a time to be alive! As the 2009 winds down, we’re interested to see what comes of the mighty return of Espers, They’ve got a sweet, breezy, dark, proggish new album that’s got a little something for everyone (who likes sweet, breezy, dark and proggish new music). The last time we heard from Espers was in 2006, when their album II hit the underground like a wheel spinning sounds from all different generations, inflecting Espers’ songs with folk music, psychedelia and space rock. It was heavy – and three years later, with experiences in and out of the Espers circle such as The Valerie Project , the Meg Baird solo album , Helena Espvall ‘ s collabs with Masaki Batoh and Otto Hauser’s work with Vetiver (not to mention all of Greg Weeks’ Language of Stone productions), Espers got a brand-new leather-patchwork bag with many of their classic tricks still kicking inside. III is a deceptive record that we’re still wrapping our head around – light and non-flaky on the outside with an ambiguous after-burn, as if something unknown were being swung about without necessarily being penetrated. Espers are only humans, and they’re as alive in today’s world as anyone, so if they’re channeling the shades of paranoia, hope, hopelessness, anger and forgiveness as much as the rest of us are, then that might just explain it – but we don’t blame you if you want to hear it for yourselves. As ever, the sound of Espers is beautiful, flowering organically and with lots of color. And the III album design’s an incredibly striking thing too, lending itself to hours of staring and listening. Remember, it’s called III: if you can count – and we know you’re good at fractions (an eighth, a quarter, a half…you see where this is headed? Government regulation, that’s where) -- we’ll count on you to find it.


Starting October 20th, there’s a new Alasdair Roberts record among us. Don’t worry, those of you out there who are still working your way through his dense, rich, multilayered (mmm, sounds delish!) Spoils album from this spring, ”The Wyrd Meme” is just an EP. Hah, “just” an EP! What an aborted miscarriage of justs that sentence is! For “The Wyrd Meme” is to EPs what Spoils is to LPs – a rich (not again!) set of tunes with an elegant (and occasionally impenetrable) libretto and a wandering way of expressing itself. Four songs, twenty-five minutes and enough bright photos of the band on back to blind the light-eyed among us! Break out your etymology texts, kids – and get “Wyrd!” Wyrd.


New from the Twos and Fews group (who brought us Nimrod Workman’s I Want to Go Where Things Are Beautiful LP/CD late last year): unheard material from the vaults heading your way. The name’s Ouled Bambara: Portraits of Gnawa and it contains nearly an hour’s-worth of ritual ceremonies taped in Marrakesh in 2005. If you haven’t heard this kind of music, don’t let the word ’ritual’ get your silken black underwear in a bunch – these songs are dark and bluesy, but also possessed of a light rhythmic feel, perfect for dancing (ritual dancing, anyone?). In addition to the music, there’s thirty minutes more on the DVD, several performances captured with terrific clarity, adding great value to the music and the liner notes and photos in the CD book. A lot to Gnawa on here!


Time to mini-vinyl up, people. This month at Drag City, we’ve got a double-dose of singles for your ADD listening pleasure. Some of you have already heard the news and already ordered up your brand new Bonnie ’Prince’ Billy ”Stay” 7” record, and are happily spinning it right now and blogging about it and file-sharing it and shit. But what about the rest of you? These records don’t grow on trees, you know? But they are sliced from a log of black vinyl that is in this case, a finite vinyl log. Which means you should rush haphazardly to get your copy, without concern for the well-being of others. You know, like going to a new Batman movie or something – without the tragedy and ensuing shame, depression and investigation. And once you get to your local record hut, don’t limit your grabbing to just the Bonny single – there’s a new Bachelorette single ”Do the Circuit” that’ll grab you from the first upbeat downbeat. Just fun, fun, fun – and longing, longing, longing, the romance of which is more addictive than crack to some of us (and some of us will be headed off to rehab just as soon as we finish this newsletter). Wanna take sides? We got four of ’em here – all new, and all with a valid (needle-)point!


Once we’ve gotten our own records sorted, you might think we’d just go into auto-pilot, wouldn’t you? Nope, sorry. We’re multitaskers – and even as we’re finalizing plans, our eyes and ears (and mouths!) are still open, expecting more from the world and ready to add its bounty to our own arsenal of sounds and sights, should we feel so moved. And this month, we do. New-old stock from Christoph Heeman’s basement has been added to the Streamline catalog that Drag City has P&D’d to add an exciting new-old sound for those of you who like your space rock with lots more space and lots less rock. This may be the first time that RLW’s ever been accused of being “rock,” but come on! Some of the sounds on When freezing water stings like ice I shall breathe again will rock you – right the fuck out of your chair. Honestly though, this is electronic chamber music really, of an utterly avant kind. Most of the time things are swishing and clicking in ominous half-silence…and then, boom! Disruptions. This record’s from 1995, but RLW sounds as fresh today in our brave new world of digital composition as it did back then – which is to say, very fresh and very different. And we’ve got it on sale now!

Also on sale now is the debut album of a fellow traveler deserving of a ride from discerning listeners. We’re talking about Neal Morgan, whose drumming for Joanna Newsom over the past few years has been really amazing, very feeling playing – as it should be. Neal’s been playing the kit since he was a kid, and as drummers often do, mostly in support of other people. His own songwriter dreams are on display on the album To the Breathing World, which shares some aesthetics with his harp-playing bandleader and forms a few sensibilities all of its own. Basically, To the Breathing World is a drums-and-vocals album – wait, no, not basically: completely. Over home-recorded drum onslaughts, Neal layered vocals, creating a special kind of pop music that we can’t claim to have heard in this form previously. Available on LP and CD, To the Breathing World is an unforgettable introduction to the music of Neal Morgan.


…and thank the creator! We’re counting on you to want more. So, you want more? Okay then, we’ve got plenty of it, and all coming out just before the Thanksgiving (yes Virginia, we’re dropping the “H” gag) holiday (here in the lower 48, that is – the rest of you commies’ll have to mark time in some other way) for you to enjoy with your stockings stuffed with turkey, uh, stuffing and (Hamburger fans, help us!)…cranberry sauce!


It’s coming…it’s going to come! And on November 17th, it cummed! The DVD that changed everything is set to hit the shelves of fearless retailers near you (i.e., on Earth). That disc, in case you haven’t heard, is called Final Flesh. It’s a (supposedly) fictional tale of post-apocalyptic survival acted out by several different work-for-hire porn troupes, who’ll film your every fetish no matter what unforgivable sins you put on the page. In this case, they were asked to act out the “fetish” material of one Vernon Chatman, whose pedigree in broadcast television is marked with spurious material like Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel (both written and produced by the PFFR collective, of which he is a partner). If you’re familiar with these programs and this collective, you’ll know to approach Final Flesh with equal parts steely resolve and starry-eyed anticipation. If you’re not familiar, but pride yourself on indulging the emergent media of our time, we suggest you bring some blinders to your first screening – and be ready to press them over your eyes, ears, nuts…whatever’s being affronted, put ’em there. Until then, check out this video preview - but only after clearing the room of children and child-like adults (who says they have to grow up?).


We blew a lot of minds over the summer when we grabbed hold of three classic-but-lesser-known Bert Jansch releases from the middle ’70s, all of which were recently freed from the dungeons that held the tapes of The Famous Charisma Label for the last several decades. If you’re a North American Citizen waiting for twenty-five years for the CD issue of L.A. Turnaround, Santa Barbara Honeymoon, and A Rare Conundrum, we’re your man, man! Now when we did those CDs all those weeks ago, we promised that someday, we’d do vinyl too. And in November, it’s gonna be here! Those of you who’ve been eBraying like the devil at the moon to get your copies of L.A. Turnaround, Santa Barbara Honeymoon and A Rare Conundrum, you fucked up. Again. Now each of those records is back in a limited-edition LP pressing, sweet, fresh and new. With ace sound – and all the bonus features that made the CD reissues rule back in July. Order them now – or eBay them like a damn fool in another few years. Should eBay survive Planet X, that is.


So, is your head reeling yet? Well, it should be – we just described like, a dozen different releases or something! So get it together, this is gonna take some planning on your part. Remember, we’re not asking that much of you. We’ve got eleven release dates a year (well, thirteen this one – but what would you have us do, not release some of these amazing titles?) with two, three…maybe seven different products for you to consider. And really, after all this time we’ve spent juggling new records like some sort of indie circus clown, is your consideration really enough? The short answer is no, people. You should be buying everything we put out, every single fucking time. Honestly – why not? Like this month, for instance – you’d have to spend a mere $86 to bring it all in. You spent more than that every month on pornography (admittedly, in the ’90s). The recession is gonna be over soon, so you want to get a head start on your consumption. And you know, some months it’s only gonna be something like $40. Can’t you spend that much on yourself (and us!) to ensure your happiness?


The way for bands to make money in the future will be on the road, driving their lives away for a couple hours every evening where everything makes sense. This comes as no surprise to us – it’s how bands have made money since time immemorial. But in the future, when all “music” is free (hallelujah! But note the quotes for hidden meaning contained in this sentence), the only money for artists everywhere will be in the personal witness. In the meantime, “live” is still a different experience from the kind you buy in a store or an online store. So, while this is still unique, we’ve got all kinds of artists out there, working for a living as well as bringing new life to their studio creations. Like who? Geez, check our tour page – there’re dates happening right now for Magik Markers (over in Europe!) and Neil Hamburger (across America) and dates coming up soon for Lights (a US tour, finally!), Monotonix (Europe!), Scout Niblett (also in Europe!), Six Organs of Admittance (also in Europe! Geez, what’s up, old world? You got more of us over there than we do here), Masaki Batoh (in his native Japan), Alasdair Roberts (the Aurora Festival in Norwich UK), The Red Krayola (at London’s famed ICA), Faun Fables (the west coast…of America. Yes, we’ve got clubs here too, children of the world) Death (at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest) and Espers (US dates in support of their great new album III).To all these artists, and many more, the road is the place to be – when they’re not spending time and money in the studio, making more fantastic new creations for us to get crazy over. Don’t forget, in the time of your life, LIVE!


…whatever you can make out of it! But when we see ahead, we see a new year and new possibilities – and also new releases! There’s a bunch on board already, but only a few things we can talk about. Coming in January will be the next installment of our Royal Trux reissue series – the return of Untitled, the third album, from 1992, on both CD and LP. Also in January, The Red Krayola with Art & Language present Five American Portraits, also on LP and CD. And either then or very soon after comes the long-awaited new Scout Niblett album, her first for yours truly here. And then – whoop, we’re not at liberty to say. But it’s gonna be big, kid – very, very big!

You’ll hear it here first,

Rian Murphy Drag City Inc.