THE DRAG CITY MOTHERFUCKING NEWSLETTER! FIRST TIME IN MONTHS EDITION
posted December 9th, 2011
Gloorrgghhhhrrrgghh! Air! We knew had to come up for air – if not for ourselves, then at the very least to let you know that we’re still here! That’s what makes us Drag City – not that we need to tell you, o ye of great faithful, the nature of our identity, we just like shouting it into the night sky – we’re not just a company that puts out LPs, CDs, DVDs, books and magazines and yes, sometimes just a t-shirt, we’re also committed to bringing you a trip behind the emerald curtain so that you can, via this monthly newsletter, see the wizard as it were – and in doing so, become even more attached to the highways and byways (and bi-curious ways) that lead to Drag City!!! Do you hear us, universe?!? Now you, o ole old faithful, you’ve noticed and you’re not alone: electronic bags of letters and postcards are all echoing the reminder to us: Drag City, get a mother-freakin’ newsletter out! We know, we know! Nobody knows better than us…and yet, it is still shocking to see that the last one was at the end of August. That’s rough. But we’ve been busy – not just with the usual records and occasional t-shirt business, but with the business of moving the business. Oh, don’t worry – it’s not a response to the feeble economy, the shrinking record business and the scourge of the digital file. No, we’re not squeezing ourselves back into the closet from whence we came – with the CD overstock we have on hand, it’d have to be one hell of a walk-in closet anyway. Nah, we’ve moved into bigger digs – a building that can truly house this City! And the shit’s deluxe too. There’s offices for everyone of course, but because we’re concerned about keeping that communal feeling, the whole pad’s outfitted with these vintage-style brass speaking tubes. You just slide up a panel in the wall and aim your voice down the bell and presto! Even those of us removed by as much as a flight (from justice (or her sister)) can hear as if we were all in the same room. Of course, that’s just the slightest of the modifications we specified. Now, for example, when we have one of those dark “numbers” meetings:
“Sales down by another fifteen percent this quarter, sir!”
“Well, I never saw much future in that pajama jean business anyway – such a shameful idea to begin with…”
“No sir, I refer to digital music sales.”
“What?!? You’re fired, Jeeves!”
….we can at least hold it in our very own steam bath and take the bad with the good oxidizing vapor, to replenish our flagging, sagging spirit. (And don't worry about Jeeves -- he's both imaginary and on a generous Trust Fund, on his way to Brooklyn to compete with us, so he'll be fine. That's the most truthful fictitious sentence ever written!) Oh yeah, we have to be all about that. And green as fuck too, we are! Next to the building, we’ve got a whole lawn of wheat grass, and whenever the frenetic pace of sales drives us down, we just pluck a handful and chew it like the Indian cow-gods intended – have you ever seen an animal use a juicer in nature? – that brings us right back up again. And yeah, there’s a pool. This is Chicago however, so we couldn’t put it outside – the basement is our very own natatorium. Especially when it rains. Or burritos for lunch help the staff “strike oil” in our “charming vintage” plumbing system. If you’re beginning to think that we’ve gone a bit overboard, maybe you don’t understand Drag City after all. This is our building and we have to dig it! It ain’t like the pool’s guitar-shaped or anything – just standard Olympic size – perfect to do laps! Laps are just one of the things that help us think of fresh marketing tactics for, let’s say, the intriguing new 200 Years record from two of our fantastic artists playing together again for the first time in a new band – more about THAT in a minute or two here.
But as you can see, with all the construction going on and the wheat grass grinding between jaws that never sleep and the drilling of holes into coconuts and getting used to these big, empty offices we’ve got now that echo so eerily when we shout aloud…well, it’s about all we can do to not keep shouting all day long. Which leaves us behind, goddam it! Behind! And that’s not entirely conducive to much of anything, you know?
…not that you’d know from our newsletter output! Ka-zing! Shit. But seriously kids – can’t you feel your author’s guilt at having abandoned you? Can’t you almost taste the anguish? Can you feel the blame reversing itself and heading back in your direction? How could you vibe your author out with those destructive expectatory vibes? Why did you want to delay the newsletter any longer? Don’t you have enough fabulously epic life-changing newsletters in your life already?
But seriously kids, as we already mentioned to you, the reason for the delay is that we moved office while also continuing putting out records and promoting them at a truly breakneck mountain-style pace, as we have all year long. Why, since the last newsletter, we’ve had fourteen releases, with another five going out the door as we speak! Plus, that doesn’t even account for all the tours we’ve had to publicize in the last three months either! One of the records was even a Bonnie “Prince” Billy record, which is always extra work while we hire skywriters and black ops publicity agents to show up at Bon Iver press conferences with shit in their pants and provoke irritated, thoughtless replies and all that good stuff. Not to mention we have a really nice rec room in the new place with darts and a pool table and organic root beer on tap…
So wahhh, right? Poor me, I work in the record business! But seriously, seasons come and seasons go, we can’t stop them, we can only hope to write about them – and if you’re reading this l’il missive (not hardly – foreshadowing ed.; also, stop calling me that – hypersensitivity-trained ed.), that means that you are the kind who are willing to pay not just to play, but to work as well for these records and what they mean. Yep, what they mean – what they really mean. Motherfucker, this is serious shit! It’s no secret that we’re not kickin’ easy listening discs here. We’re aware that the DC taste-o-meter has a range that runs from the pleasantly thorny to the strictly straight OUT, which means that anyone who trains an actual ear to one of our several hundred-plus releases with an actual eye towards understanding what they’re hearing… that takes real work, actual doing. Application, motherfucker (if that is in fact your name). As we proved when we hit you with the latest Bonny blokbuster, Wolfroy Goes To Town. More about which soon...
See? A lot to talk about. Did you think we didn’t want to talk about all this? Hell, we’ve been dying to lay words on you about all the new stuff – which at this point includes AZITA, Meg Baird, CAVE, Social Climbers, Sic Alps, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, 200 Years, Dwarr, Royal Trux, Carlos Paredes, Alan Lomax’s Scottish recordings (1951-57), Alasdair Roberts & Karine Polwart and Drew Wright, Ty Segall, The Howling Hex, Pete Shelley, Free Agents, Sally Smitt and Her Musicians and Strange Men In Sheds with Spanners! Hah! See? All those laps in the pool are definitely helping – we spun all that out in one breath! Yeah, we’ve been keeping in shape. Even though we haven’t laid the dissertation on you in awhile, we’ve been putting out little bits of news two-three times a week. Some of it's been real news too – not your standard typical Internut-style non-reportage, like: ”Look At This New Video By Band Ecch.” Or, “Listen To This:” and it’s just a song linked from some other site. Or, “Bon Iver Nominated for Four Grammies.” This shit ain't news, it’s just weak-ass Twitter fodder that has nothing to do with real music, much less news! So in addition to working on our lats and delts in the new Drag City underground penthouse gym, we’ve also been crafting bits of real news! You know what I’m talking about, you remember the stories we broke:“NEW CAVE VID! NEVERENDLESS TOUR CONTINUES!” And “BONNIE BRINGETH “QUAIL AND DUMPLINGS.” – the kind of news that keeps you up at night wondering what’s gonna happen next. That’s why you give a shit about Drag City and all the bands named above (except the ones we were making fun of, mcnatch!).
Anyway, what we’re really trying to say here is that we appreciate your sticking with us even though we haven’t found the time to drop a few thousand words about how awesome it all is on you in a single throw. We’re gonna do what we can to spill alla that shit right now. Take a deep breath – here’s the DC Fourth Quarter report for 2011, complete with all the trimmings and the (vegan) gravy and the stuffing…the works, plus a bucket (you’re gonna need it). Here’s everything we’ve been through, and what we think we’re gonna go through. Ready? Overture! Hit the lights! It all begins again right now -
TO THE EYES AND EARS OF THE LIVING
We’re here! Or as the pessimist-cum-optimist among you might put it, “We’re still here.” Yeah, that too. And in case you hadn’t thought of it because we haven’t reminded you in so long, we’ve got earthly pleasures on the menu here at Drag City. These socio-musical/cultural artifacts will edify your mind and soul, but you can’t take ‘em with you when you go. You fell for that iCloud/”what do we really own anyway” bullshit that people with more money are trying to sell you, I know. And maybe they have a point. That said, it’s often opined that the work you do on your mind and soul while walking within this earthly coil will affect the energy that pours from your body when the final day arrives. And thus buoyed by your experiences, what was once part of “you” will travel through space and time to join with the power of All That Is. In other words, even though nothing is forever, the way in which you live affects, in some small way, eternity. And ultimately, our immediate financial future. [SMILE]
Or everything goes black and you die and that’s the end. Either way, unless you’re some kind of lazy piece of shit, you’d best challenge and incite your unique inner being and eventually All That Is with a canter through the wild world of Drag City. Let’s go backwards, shall we?
THE JOY OF HEX
This week, we wrap up our 2011 year with a couple little Christmas miracles: a new Howling Hex album and the reissue of an entire label called Groovy! Here’s what’s so miraculous about all that. One, Wilson Semiconductors by The Howling Hex. At this point in time, Royal Trux and Pussy Galore (and Weird War, even!) vocalist/ax-man/conceptual shell-game specialist Neil Michael Hagerty has withdrawn deeper into his mountain-time think-cave than he did back in the good old extroverted hey-days of yo-ho-yore. But you know what? His output hasn’t qualitatively slacked a bit. He continues to explore, trash, repackage and deliver new musical pastures in search of the essence of appeal, a quality seldom defined – and in fact, a quantity in rock and roll that is almost beyond words. With every record, he approaches his prey in a manner unique to that prey. Case in point: Wilson Semiconductors. Yes, The Howling Hex have made minimalist records in the past, and Hagerty’s solo debut was a one-man show with a country-ish redolence wafting around it. But the stripped qualities of Wilson Semiconductors are unique to its production. Which brings us to Fact/miracle #1: it’s been three years since the last Howling Hex album, inviting a premonition of “the end” among Hex-heads scattered in their isolated cultural cells/munition dumps around the globe. Of course they’d think that, these people are classically paranoid! The simple and non-miraculous fact is, Neil and the Howling Hex spent the last couple years putting their all into the audiobook release of Victory Chimp, a Book, so despite this longest of gaps in a prolific career, there wasn’t ever any doubt there’d be another Hex record. Still, three years – pretty impressive! Fact/miracle #2: despite the lack of doubt, the album almost didn’t happen anyway, because the band designated as Howling Hex didn’t make it, the session fell through and had to be rescheduled at least a thousand miles away from the original recording date and after such a long break, time was deemed to be of the essence. In the end, only Neil showed up at the studio – but he was ready to work, and Wilson Semiconductors is a clean, powerful extension of his ethos – bass, guitars and vocals are laid down in a logical manner that belies their unlikely formation. Acid leads over norteño beats against a black (velvet) backdrop – it doesn’t seem like it should work, but as the rhythm sinks in and the counter-rhythms establish themselves on top, as guitars bite and voices wail, as the songs extend past the six- and seven-minute mark, the appeal is as hypnotic and danceable as it is worth studying. It’s intuitive, polished and unpredictable rock and roll that exists unto itself - and you know what? The next one will be completely different but equally committed to whatever it is on whatever level the commitment is most required. The Hagerty/Hex phenomenon is pretty great, and also pretty great that this process, after so many years in action, is still lost on most people. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy – “if you build it exactly like you want it, elusive yet awesome – people still fear change.” Like so many other things in history and sports movies, this will make sense later – but even then, not to everyone. This is something for the chosen few. Sooner or later, these freaks will have to show their faces in order to get inside this thing, plus one. It’s those people, and their plus ones, for whom we are waiting. The Howling Hex's Wilson Semiconductors is among the prizes for those who get though.
SOMETHING GROOVY THIS WAY COMES
Christmas Miracle #2 – the return of Pete Shelley’s Groovy Records! Within this miracle lies the minor miracle of “how something can return that you didn’t even know was gone or ever existed.” Of course, that doesn't go for all of you. Like our very own yin Jim O’Rourke, who dealt away his prized original Groovys when stockpiling cash for his emigration to Japan. He’s excited to get these for a mere sawbuck (yes, we sell our records to our artists! We know they’re set with cash and if they want more cash, the records gotta be bought! If you can’t understand that, then get in line with everyone else who doesn’t think music needs to be paid for, but simply appreciated instead. Record sales: the catch-22 of the 21st century) and for another mere sawbuck; you can add your name to his and the other weirdos who’ve drunk from the Groovy oasis while wandering though the desert of typical, boring record releases and music in general. There’s nothing like Groovy water for the parched open ear.
The story (yes Virginia, there is a story) is this: back in the formative days of punk rock everywhere, the people considering this new iteration of rock and roll were people with the aforementioned open ears. And some of them were even German! Bands like Can and Faust and Neu, and then there were people who heard those records and realized that there was something new happening under the sun and that they had to be involved too. How this led to the buzzsaw qualities of punk rock is a chapter of the story for another time – but for our purposes, one of these free thinkers caught between prog and a hard place was Manchester UK’s own Pete Shelley, an esthete and admirer of unusual music albums – the type of records we might file under ‘experimental’ or ‘electronic’ these days. Pete even formed his own electronic music society back in college, the better to play those Walter Carlos records (or, God help us – Tomita?) along with Kraftwerk and the Fripp/Eno album and the other things that were out there. He made his own electronic music with an oscillator he’d acquired, but as time passed, the beating drum of the coming punk rock drew him into a band called Buzzcocks, and it was here that he made his name with all those great singles that charged up the British charts and made him a cult hero in America. You know those songs – “What Do I Get?,” “Ever Fallen In Love,” “Just Lust,” “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” - you singing along yet? You should be - the man was a pioneering songwriter in the (eventual) highly lucrative field of pop punk music! Anyway, even while enjoying his success, he and his associates outside the band were still admiring all the great weird records out there, and then going and making recordings that could stand up next to those records. This was Groovy! There was a sudden outpouring of sounds; in 1980 alone, three albums were released on the label. But when Buzzcocks broke up in early ’81, everything dissolved and reformed in new ways again, leaving Groovy a sudden relic of its all-too-brief time. Now, for hopefully a less-brief time, these records are back on black – vinyl first, with CDs right around the corner.
The records themselves? Yeah! Back in ’78 and ’79 and ‘80, Pete had been involved in a band called The Tiller Boys. Their bent was by far more of an art-damaged thing than Buzzcocks and they played a bunch of shows and eventually put out a single. A live Tiller Boys recording was used as the basis for the first Groovy release by an aggregate called Free Agents. With flyers pasted onto white sleeved-jackets and the title derived from the retail price of the album - £3.33, the Free Agents LP was a DIY curio in its day, and manages to still be one today. The already freaky live Tiller Boys stuff is juxtaposed with private freakouts and synthesizer trips, a full-spectrum of pleasantly avant activity. To follow this up, Pete reached into his private archive for a pair of the recordings he made in 1974 – two twenty-minute pieces exploring his imagination via the possibilities of an oscillator synth. This was Sky Yen – and any Buzzcocks fans who came across this document must have been almost electrically shocked by what came out of the grooves: ripping, pulsing waves of tones and distortion screaming up to peaks and whooshing down to a whisper, at times random and elsewhere staid in a raw-synthesizer kind of fashion, Sky Yen is a distractingly great listen, one that begs to be turned up to destructive levels and then bleats alarmingly to be turned back down again. Back in Free Agents territory, Hangahar is a free demonstration of a made-up language (as opposed to what? – WWII-o-phile ed.) sung in a sweetly ostentatious manner by young Sally Timms (soon to sign on for a lifetime-and-then-some stint in The Mekons) and one Lindsey Lee (also known as Lindsey Wilson of Factory Records; to date she has written several memoirs of this period under her given name, Lindsey Reade). Behind the warbling, the Groovy gang get down and help keep the madness going for an album’s length. In true Groovy fashion, Hangahar claims to be a film soundtrack, but that’s likely just something that sounded funny and weird and perfect at the time that the sleeve was being put together. This was the final original Groovy release, but once this project began rolling, it provided an opportunity to revisit a compilation of recordings that Groovy high-councilman (and Tiller Boy and Free Agent) Francis Cookson had put together some time back. These date from the same time and a couple years afterward, all recorded at Pete’s place on his home recording set-up but unheard outside of the inner circle until now. Credited to no band name, the Strange Men In Sheds with Spanners LP uses synths to set up rhythm in a much more organized fashion than previous Groovy releases, creating ad hoc small-scale dance music of a type that fellow-travelers Cabaret Voltaire would become known for. It’s an exciting conclusion to the Groovy journey. And as we have already discussed, now you can have all four of these way-out records on vinyl once again! We worked with Pete and co. to re-realize the jackets in a true-to-form manner, getting as DIY with it as we could manage. And just in time for Christmas! The fun only continues in January when we do a CD box version of the four albums, collecting each one in a little mini-jacket and including an interview with Mr. Pete Shelley hisself about the Groovy era. Called The Total Groovy, it completes the full-circle groove of the label – analog recordings of digital instruments, finally arriving in the promised land of digital! That’s just Groovy, baby!
200 YEARS AGO TODAY
Now, while we were out (on our feet, but still dancin’ to the music), early November was filled with light and darkness thanks to the low-key glow of 200 Years. What, you never heard of 200 Years? Jesus, it’s been out a month now! Shouldn’t everything that’s a month old be completely played out in today’s super-saturated internet marketplace? Ahh, but that’s the beauty of 200 Years – they have a short-attention-span-proof music that’s bound to make sense in another…hundred ninety-nine years. What, we’re gonna go for the obvious slam-dunk there? Nope. 200 Years don’t play that. And while we’re at it, enough with this veil over the collective face of the group! Ben Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio are the he- and she-wiccae behind 200 Years – and in case you’ve forgotten, the veils they normally rock behind are those of Six Organs of Admittance and Magik Markers.
But enough about us! 200 Years is a record that glows the more we spin it (no, it is not a glow-in-the-dark disc, the shit is black, blacker than black, okay?) – and best of all, it accesses the glow through left-handed means. Case in pint: It’s a pretty guitar record with vocals that don’t quite match up to the guitar arrangement in terms of what the straight world expects from pretty acoustic guitar recordings with vocals, and that is a straight-fucking plus. Plus, behind the guitar-vox relationship, there’s overdubs peering through fogged glass and around corners instead of hitting you over the head like a dope from straight-world Gillian Welch-ass central casting. Yeah, the straight world can shove it! 200 Years aren’t trafficking in tired old tropes of musical expression, and in (not) doing so, they manage to get nearer the bone, so to speak, with Elisa’s elliptical lyrics and her distracted, claustrophonic vocals over the top of the rich earthy mix they’ve got going here. Time passes and new definitions of beauty emerge, and then before you know what happened, you’re in love again. It’s like the frog in the boiling water. Wouldn’t you rather be in love with something new instead of some old fucking shitheel in your life? No matter what your mind thinks or expects, you’re not actually gonna be twenty forever. It’s not possible. Ask Jerry Sandusky how it worked out for him! It’s just…whether or not 200 Years actually agrees with us on the fine details of this, we hope that you can see and that they can see that they've made a record that is moving us, marionette-like, to think and feel again? You know, at this point, we're just about made out of stone – but by God, we’re almost in touch with our feminine side again – and that’s just listening to the guitar parts! That Benjamin’s a delicate flower…and Elisa’s another, really. Don’t tell ‘em we said so – they make such a show about of being hard cases. 200 Years will show you why, and show you otherwise.
ROYAL TRUX SINGLES YOU OUT
As much fun as we’ve been having making records, something’s been missing. Something we call Royal Trux. Since there’s about as much of a chance of them coming back as there is of KISS staying away, we’ve been bringing back their records one at a time in order to reintroduce their music to a world that needs to know. That’s been a truly great experience – and last month came the best part of the task so far. The Trux record that re-hit in November was the triple-album compilation box set called Singles, Live, Unreleased. This was originally put out back in 1997 when Royal Trux were scaring the shit out of record execs in high places at Virgin. Virgin, you see, was what was called a “major” label and – well, we don’t have time to get into that now. Dig out your history books if you must kids, but in the case of Singles, Live, Unreleased, all the history you need to know is what happened and didn’t happen between 1988 and 1994. That’s the period covered in the Trux box and once you’ve listened to this record, I think you’ll agree that it was the wildest time in their history, ranging from an outsider/savant approach all the way through to full-on rock and roll boogie, which was a questionable stance in 1994 (if it isn’t today) with all the stops in between being handled in an equally questionable and tripped-out fashion. The thing was, Royal Trux never let tripping out stop them from the task at hand – and when the task was putting out singles, they stepped up and made songs worthy of sitting one per side – songs that were part of the classic tradition of pop music and singles and jukeboxes and airplay and all the people pleasing and body moving that this implies. But of course, they were still Royal Trux, so you got hit singles from a truly mutant perspective. It doesn’t mean they don’t hit you, it means they hit you where you least expect it. Now that's a fuggin hit! And then you dance – to songs that changed the expectations of many of “songs'” biggest fans and most violent critics too. That’s at least part of how we got where we are today. Not just us at Drag City, but “us.” All of “us” – even a few of “them.” So if you don’t have this vital sonic bridge to Now (or is it a thick and colorful tombstone to Then?) in your library of necessary sounds, you’d better buy in! In the decimated society of the future, spurs to time-travel such as this will be invaluable in raising the new culture. Get in on the ground floor and get into it.
HAVE YOU HEARD THE ONE ABOUT WHAUR THE PIG GAED ON THE SPREE?
It might surprise you when we say it’s impossible to out-funny a Scotsman. You know? Part of it is the stone-faced reserve with which you are presented initially. Once you get in with ‘em however, the jokes start coming! As do the rounds, and…hm, are we getting into a little light racism here? Yes, but it’s okay – look at the dude on the cover of the record we’re talking about! That’s a happy guy, and he don’t care what you have to say, geddit?
Nathan Salzburg is getting a bit of press for his finger-picking these days, but here at Drag City, we know him as a track-picker, a project picker and a cherry-picker, as he offers up the best archival stuff he can put his ears on to release through Twos and Fews/Drag City. That’s the way we all came to know about Nimrod Workman, remember? And Hamper McBee and Portraits of Gnawa, all those great old recordings from around the world, making it new for us again. This time, Nathan was presented with a vast set of Alan Lomax recordings collected throughout the 1950s, when Lomax rambled far and wide through the Scottish lands both high and low, convinced that this was the birthing ground for so much of the folk music he’d dedicated his life to. Who better for Nathan to collaborate with than our very own Alasdair Roberts, whose dedication to and understanding of this music rivals and probably surpasses Lomax on a song-by-song basis? It was Alasdair’s great pleasure to spend time with the material, diminished only slightly by the knowledge that the goal was a mere single album. After all, there’s a heroic amount of material there, and the compilation presented here is but a skimming. Who knows, perhaps this will end up being a series though! If they all have names like Whar the Pig Gaed On the Spree, then we’re in, no further questions asked! For this record, Ali’s picks obviously lean towards the ballad singing that has so inspired his own singing, and given the incredible way his own records turn out, who could fault him for that? There’s a bit of variety spread throughout the album, but ultimately, the deep soul of the Scottish people is what unites these recordings and makes this album flow. It’s good holiday listening, sure – but that’s just the beginning of your life with this compilation. Get it today and let the years start working on the two of you together.
ALONG THE PAREDES ROUTE
In case you haven’t noticed, in 2011, Reissues Wuz Us. Of the fifty-freakin’-five releases we made this year (oh, my achin’ back! This day bed/negligee combo is waaaaay too comfortable!), twenty-four of them were of archival material of some kind. While that is a new Drag City record, it should be understood that all we’ve ever wanted was for records to be a mind-blowing experience (which led to the nickname “Drug City” somewhere in the 90s, and naturally we can’t remember when that was…). While finding rare and unheard things is all fine and well, that’s not the end in itself. We’re only in it for the records that personally fuck us up but good. If it’s old, okay. If it’s new, awesome. It’s just got to be great too! And being all over the place doesn’t hurt: of all the old-school shit we put back out there for the very first time this year, you could call some of it proto-punk along with outsider-folk, progressive country-pop, hippie folk, new wave, 90s underground rock, Scottish field recordings, post-punk avant-garde and Carlos Paredes. Yeah, that last one’s a category all of its own, Carlos Paredes. The two Paredes records reissued on vinyl in November represent the first records of that kind that we’ve ever done. Sure, we’ve done Six Organs of Admittance records, and Ben Chasny loves Carlos and dedicated School of the Flower to him, and yeah, we’ve done guitar records like Sir Richard Bishop’s Polytheistic Fragments and Will Oldham’s "Ode Music" and "Seafarers Music" and Mark Fosson’s The Lost Takoma Sessions, but Carlos Paredes’ music is a world apart from all that. A lot of it has to be ascribed to his choice of instrument, the Portuguese guitar – a legendarily hard instrument to play, much less master. Yet Paredes is known as a master of this instrument, as well as a writer of original songs that incorporate classical Portuguese folk music - and today, his recordings are a national treasure in Portugal. (And the Portuguese have a lot to treasure. Have you ever eaten fish there? Makes all other fish taste like it was created for a robot's crude palette! That’s definitely something they need an upgrade or a plug-in for.) The Paredes effect is ultimately not just down to man’s instrument or his skill at playing it, but the singular intensity with which the songs were played. I mean, you can hear the dude taking great drafts of breath in between guitar phrases! And those phrases! The ring of the twelve-stringed Portuguese guitar is formidable, and when the player gets around as Carlos did (and as no one might ever again) with percussive power, it’s a very penetrating experience, for which no condom is necessary. Finally! So we can take this old hat that we’ve been wearing since the late 80s off now? It be chafing.
TY SEGALL AND THE SPIDERS FROM CALI
On a release date, singles are generally offered as a garnish to the big plates that are long-playing records – but you know and I know that singles can be a full meal unto themselves. It’s been fucking cool to make more of them again over the past couple years, and the latest one, the November single release from Ty Segall is a dense set of songs that demonstrate the caloric richness of the format. It’s a 3-song 7” EP called “Spiders,” and if you thought that Ty was softening up after Goodbye Bread (you idiot), “Spiders” tells us otherwise with three songs of just around three minutes each that sport a heavy mass, low down and shufflingly heavy. THICK! Super-thick is what both “Spiders” and “Hang Glams” are, and Ty throws a chunk of thick classic our way at the end with a piercing cover of The Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red.” Too much! Playing it at 45 almost sounds right, but it’s actually a 33rpm spin, far slower than you can even imagine with your brain. You might be able to imagine it through muscle memory, but that’s asking your body to do a whole new style of imagination, and you might not be ready for that. But if you’re worried that the 7” will cause your platter to plunge through the turntable and rip out it’s guts, now you’re thinking right – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy this record. Our only question is, why haven’t you already? It’s been out for weeks now! Were you waiting for the newsletter to tell you to do so? If that is the case, we’re impressed.
WHAT DWARR WE THINKING?!?
Last year, all of us here and there at Drag City/Yoga Records stunned the world (okay, “stunned” the “world”) by reissuing Dwarr’s 1986 proto-metal private press opus, Animals. There are several aspects that made this such a freaky reissue: a) the sheer raw, untutored quality of the music; b) the depth of torture, suffering and spirituality evident in Dwayne Warr’s songs and vision, and c) why the hell didn’t we reissue the first Dwarr record first? That’s the good one! Well, as ever, dear shit-for-brains, we beg to differ – hell balls, we demand to differ – so to begin with: you know, the whole concept of “the good one” is kind of a McCarthyist bit of bullshit, now isn’t it? When you like the artist, they’re all the good one in the end. And there are no guilty pleasures. So with that in mind, for our second Dwarr release, we’re going back to get the first album, Starting Over. Hah! See, that’s what this was all about. Rather than make the choice that Dwarr did and begin with an album called Starting Over, we flipped the script! Times are different today, and going backwards is more of an option than ever. Even Dwayne came to think differently about it – he remixed the record a few years ago for the new ears in the world that’s coming – and of course for his own new ears. Starting Over actually has a different, less rocked-out vibe than Animals – certainly not mellow by any means – but in it’s quieter form, it manifests an air of greater dread and menace somehow. Now it’s back to sit next to Animals – Starting Over is just beginning to re-introduce you into the worlds of Dwarr.
THE WONDER SHOW OF WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN
Marching backwards through time, somewhere back in the mists of early October, we find another oddly timeless piece of Bonnyphenalia in the form of full-length album Wolfroy Goes to Town. The kid’s been on phire this year, with an incredible avalanche of singles in both 7” and 10” form (several of which have served charitable causes, check it out, a foray into the world of audio books (Rudolph Wurtlizer’s incredible Slow Fade, out in audio and book form here on the mothership, y’all!), an original soundtrack with He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered (ah what the hell – David Byrne. – Fuck! My tit-tips are on fire! Shit! I knew shouldna uttered it!), loads of other collaborations, free shows in records stores and tour dates all over the place. Plus, there’s been videos and promotions of the oddest kinds. It might be kind of late in the year for critics to be able to come around to Wolfroy Goes to Town for their best-of-2011 lists, but that’s not why it was made, of course. Which is good, because based on our listening of this album, it might not make any best-of lists until about 2015 or so! This is a very deep trip from a dude who has trafficked in some of the deepest over the years – like, it almost doesn’t seem to have songs on it! It’s like, a night of meditation, philosophy and singing in slow, deeply felt choruses, but it doesn’t ever jump out at you, preferring you to come in to it. Heavy! Having made such a hermetic album, Bonny’s naturally out there, touring, making videos and basically bringing himself and his art to us. That’s nice of him, but we can’t forget that for everything that the “Prince” does, it requires a thing of the person being done for as well. Listening is easy – but understanding? That only comes in time. And so Wolfroy Goes to Town may end up being the greatest gift of all. Check back with us in 2015 – at least!
It was “way back” in September that we released a sweet brace of new titles, the sweetest of which was Meg Baird’s Seasons on Earth LP/CD. Well, let us be clear – the tone of the record is sweet and we know Meg to be absolutely sweet, but there’s a real darkness underneath a lot of her stellar vocalizing and guitar picking. Before we get to that, it’s also sweet to have another Meg Baird record after four years of wanting another one to go with Dear Companion, her awesome solo debut. Both records seem like they want another to go with them in some sort of higher way, and both records achieve their wholeness in different ways – Dear Companion through interpretations of mostly other people’s compositions and Seasons on Earth with an uncanny inversion of that approach. As ominously alluded above, Meg gets into what I’m sure she would call “heavy shit” if she were in on our little chatty-poo here, but since she ain’t, let me tell you, ol’ girl gets DEEP, I tell you what. Metaphysical almost – but still very sexy, don’t worry. Like, Bonny “Prince” Billy sexy, you know? So now boys and girls (and boys) can all get involved in this description in the best way their gender knows how. Whew! Anyway…when Meg’s record hit all the way back on September 20th (who were we back then? I can’t remember anything at all), the world reacted like a world that had four years to not remember why it should be psyched to catch up with Meg’s chanteusery. We were all Cheshire-cat-like about it, knowing that the word would spread because how couldn’t it? If the world gives you a rough reception, make sure you throw diamonds in that rough, and since we were way ahead of that, we’re seeing as much attention today, all the way two months later (I’m going grey here!) and we expect to continue to, for many more seasons here, supply interested parties with Meg Baird’s Seasons on Earth.
They’re on a roll, they’re on the run, they’re just a band doing the things that they think are fun. It’s CAVE, y’all – and they were another one of September’s dark horses, along with Meg Baird and AZITA. Were we worried putting out three records of such intense quality all at once. NAH! Unless by worried you mean, staying up all night thinking about it – but that was just out of pure excitement. We weren’t like, diarrhea worried. I mean, with three records of such diverse quality…sooner or later, these records will be known. But with CAVE, we’ve managed to sell through every format insanely fast – and this record is on three formats (aside from download, which counts at accounting time, but otherwise doesn’t count): LP, CD and wait for it…yeah – cassette. Yep, our first cassette in over fifteen years and it sells right the fuck out. Of course it does! We expect that the 8-track we do on the new Black Bananas record will also disappear like magical vanishing hotcakes. That’s what these old formats do, is never go away. Good – cause we just found a wax cylinder maker that Alasdair Roberts might be interested in…now there was a format!
Anyway, CAVE, right? NEVERENDLESS is awesome, people enjoy it very much and they say so when they go see CAVE on the NEVERENDLESS Tour that despite the title, will be ending soon (but starting again in the new year in some form or another). CAVE’s multicolored electro-juice rock is fun enough for everyone, but you have to want to like it to go out and see it before you have the fun too. That’s a little twist. Once you do that, then you’re down with these guys no matter how long they play the same chord – and believe me, more of less is better and the longer they go, the better they get! So…CAVE, man. I think I’ve put all my cards on the table here. It’s your call.
Here’s another reason we weren’t worried about September – the new album from AZITA called Disturbing the Air. Okay, so it meant we had two female singers singing their new songs in austere surroundings (to say tha freakin’ least!). Well, if you direct your ear to the heart of either record, or both of ‘em, you will get two distinctly different beats. These are radically different musics, and not two of a kind that are in cutthroat competition with each other! There’s enough listeners for all the singers out there, provided the singers and listeners get introduced to each other. Now, even though AZITA has been making music for years and years, first with Scissor Girls and then with Bride of No No, and even though AZITA’s now on her fourth solo LP (with an EP tilting her towards five proper releases), people are still getting around to her solo style, which generates from her relationship with the piano. This is vocal music with piano accompaniment and sometimes a band. Us being us, we like the way AZITA is entirely herself and no one else and we love how her records are unique statements of hers that of course at any time could become representative of some more “universal” understanding in the public eye - because we perceive that AZITA’s music has only gotten better and better with each album, from songs to singing to production and the whole bit. This is all encapsulated in her new album, Disturbing the Air (remember? “way” back up at the top of the paragraph). It’s an unspeakably beautiful record that needs to be heard to be truly encountered. So we hope that you will encounter this record, which we truly believe is one of the best records of 2011. Now what other record in this newsletter have we made that claim for? Think about it. Do something about it.
In the meantime, AZITA’s doing what she can, playing shows around America and doing some over in Europe, for excellent groups of people whose only lack is that there aren’t enough of them. If you dig challenging-yet-sweet melodies, deep emotional conviction, pure performance values and the resonance of classic chamber pop, you need AZITA.
BACK IN DRAG/2012
OK, that brings us back to your present – and our future! If you take a look at the website, you’ll note that we’re already hawking the first 2012 models – and January’s lineup indicates that the insane windfall of 2011 isn’t done windfalling just yet! It all starts with the debut of Black Bananas, the new groove machine from Royal Trux and RTX’s Jennifer Herrema. She and her gang have conjured a new twist on her out-of-focus rocksound, and it’s a double-doozy, slamming all sounds home with slinky beats, glistening details, the most out-of-it mix anyone will hear this (next) year and of course, a bag of hot-stupid tunes for you to scream along with. It is in-sane. That’s all. But not all for the date, which also includes a reissue of the Damon & Naomi with Ghost LP/CD with bonus tracks, plus a psychedelic guitar god of the 60s unearthed with the Doug Jerebine Is Jesse Harper LP. And remember Groovy Records? About a mile or so back in this neverendless newsletter? Well, January brings the CD boxset The Total Groovy, which’ll give you the four LPs we just issued in stellar digital form, plus an interview with Pete Shelley about the whole thing, all in a very Groovy box. Or wait, is that just groovy? You’ll have to wait and see. And speaking of insane, the cherry on the cowgirl is, yeah, a Sic Alps single. We’re still reeling from the pure pop-out of the “Battery Townsley”/”Cambridge Vagina” single which is rockin’ the office jukebox as we speak. But “Vedley” is a different beast – a blast of multiple Sic Alps songs rendered collage-style – a new format for singles for the first time since the “Strawberry Fields”/”Penny Lane” double-A of so long ago. No, before the newsletter began – but just a little bit..
Alright! That’s enough! Everything mentioned here is available on the website - find it! I know you can. We’ve got bands on tour too – didn’t I say we were busy? And we’re gonna stay that way. So stick around. If we get past 2012, it’ll be a good one.
Drag City Inc