BACK FROM THE SHADOWS
The world is still and quiet – did someone die? No, but that doesn’t mean we’re all not dying anyway. As March goes out like a sleeping lion on the lam, we here at the Drag City are quiet too – quietly fuming with jealousy over the three out of four weeks of the month where other records on other labels come out instead of ours. What’s up with those weeks, what’s their fucking deal? Why do they keep coming around again every month? Are they stupid? Are people stupid? Of course they are! People are stupid, why don’t they love us more? We can’t figure it out. Ah, it doesn’t matter - this last week of the month is ours. We’ve been waiting, wondering, whimpering about who got next – and now, it is well and truly Drag City time again. And so, out of the shadows, back from the past and into the present – a present you can give anyone in your family, provided they have wide-open eyes and ears and a feral sense of humor. And who in your family doesn’t, you capital-F freak, ya?
COMING TO AN URSTAN-ING]
We hate to start this section this way – not to mention a newsletter - but we can’t believe St. Patrick’s Day has already been and gone another year! Chicago has to be one of the most amazing cities in which to experience this holiday; the streets are full of citizens so glad to be Irish they’ll drink themselves stiff at the drop of a hat, scream their throats raw, bare tits and more and generally behave as if they never heard of Mardi Gras or Spring Break or any of that shit. These proud people are ripe for a fleecing and this year, we have just the faux-Irish thing for their CD player – but we didn’t get the discs in until after the whole crowd’d been hit with the hose, fell in the river o’ green and been by and large dispersed. Fuck! Fake Irish – come back!
Because if you’re just a wee bit drunk, you might just think that the burst of pure Gaelic rock we’ve got coming from Mairi Morrison & Alasdair Roberts is some Celtic shit. Not surprising, really - if you know your Celtic nations, you know that Urstan hails from just around the corner from most of ‘em. The title is, in fact, a nice little North Sea toast uttered upon the occasion that a child is born. It’s part of the Gaelic way around the Isle of Lewis, and of course Lewis is just one of the many spots around Scotland where the Gaelic is the auld traditional language of the auld traditional folks that have been there for a thousand years and more. Down the road, they speak the Queen’s English the same as we do here – which is to say, completely differently than that old biddie the Queen! Truly, Scotland sets herself apart when it comes to questions of identity. And then sets herself apart again – until you’ve got highlanders and lowlanders, islanders and mainlanders, Protestants and Catholics and then you got Celts and Gaels. And that’s where Urstan comes in – okay, end of history lesson! Did you forget you were reading about music? Well fortunately, Mairi and Alasdair brought plenty of that to the Urstan sessions; charmers with swinging Gaelic titles like “Mile Marbhphaisg air a’Ghaol” and “Hion Dail-a Horo Hi” that sing as sweet as they roll off the tongue. Mairi and Alasdair trade off on the vocals and harmonize when they’re not singing lead and are backed by an awesome band who keep things not only traditional, but also very modern sounding. It’s a spirited record that almost breaks into jazzy interplay at times but never forgets its song-based nature. Urstan is a brilliant new album that is the only Gaelic record you’ll hear this year that sounds like this. And believe it or not, that’s actually saying something.
SANDY IN THE 70s
One of the records we’re most excited about THIS WHOLE YEAR is Sandy Bull & the Rhythm Ace Live 1976! Dug up by Galactic Zoo Disk's Plastic Crimewave with a big assist from Sandy’s daughter K.C. and Hillel Resner (who recorded the show), Live 1976 catches Sandy five years after his final Vanguard LP, still rockin’ the Oud and still forging forward into new areas of his signature sound. In addition to the Rhythm Ace (which is explicated in a rather outrageously long song intro by Sandy, much to the amusement and eventual confusion of the crowd), tape tracks were employed, feeding guitar and bass into the sound system for Sandy to improvise on top of. Sandy fed off interplay, but but he couldn’t take Billy Higgins around the country with him! Blue Note needed the guy! So Sandy plays against his own musical contributions with great aplomb and the performances have a humble exoticism that conveys a marvelously worn-out everyday quality, as if Sandy was capable of conjuring the music at any given moment. And why not? The venue being the Berekley Community Center (Sandy was opening for Leo Kottke), the crowd is ripe for anything, which lends to the generally hungover morning-after- the-60s vibe. Gold!
MICKEY NEWBURY AND BILL CALLAHAN SPLIT!
Noooo! How could they? Mickey Newbury was one of the greatest influences on http://www.dragcity.com/artists/bill-callahan EVER! And he’s dead! How can they be breaking up? It isn’t fair! Oh, wait a minute, we’re just talking about a split-SINGLE here, folks! As in, 7-inch? 45rpm? And like that? So get over yourselves. Get over US for Christ’s sake – or at least for Mickey’s. Back during his career in the early 70s, Mickey put out a few records that we can’t seem to stop talking about – because of their classic-osity, first and foremost, but also 'cause we reissued the damn things! Now Mickey was ahead of his time – and who knows, maybe he’s ahead of our time too – but with the number of people we hear from who dig Looks Like Rain and ‘Frisco Mabel Joy, we expect that the music of Mickey Newbury is right on time. That’s why we set up this wild l’il 7” single with Mickey singing the title track of his album Heaven Help the Child on one side and Bill Callahan singing it on the other. Now, Heaven Help the Child is one of Mickey’s most fully-arranged albums and of course, it contains some of his most beautiful songs – but Bill’s version manages to match the richness and soul of Mickey’s while being completely Callahan-esque all the way down the line. Two great talents for the price of one little ol’/new single – and a reminder to get your Mickey Newbury LP reissues or An American Trilogy CD box out again. Don’t have them yet? Then that’s your reminder.
TO HAIR IS HUMAN…
…to give you a collaborative record from Ty Segall & White Fence, divine! The west coast scene is such a trip right now, everybody’s digging everybody and making music based on how awesome they think all the other music is – a real youth scene with everyone reacting to the wildness all around them. Then the suits step in, and start skimming the cream right off the top! That’s Drag City personified, the cigar-chomping MAN come back to life, angling to grab a little of that free gold for ourselves. Meanwhile, Ty and White Fence are in the sandbox, building castles as fast as their little hands can shape ‘em together. If they’re gone tomorrow, well, to paraphrase a famous gunslinger, castles made of sound melts into the sea. Eventually. But if we get these castles engrooved before the tide gets high, then fuck! This Hair album is gonna roll some rockers. This unhell-y union of two young freakers has produced a trippier brand of rock than Ty’s recent Goodbye Bread album, which we can only attribute to the tweaked talents of Tim “White Fence” Presley, whose Is Growing Faith album of last year was a big favorite around the Ivory Bunker. Tim’s songs take up at least half the record and he’s a wicked ax-wielder, taking more solos than Ty (whose presence was required behind the kit). The combination of the two here leads to a wild thin mercury sound in the mix with more than a touch of chocolate soup in the broth. Two great tastes that go great together, ya know? It’s like Medusa of Fantastic Four fame – this Hair is gonna kill you. But whotta way to go!
You must be living under a rock if you don’t know what’s up with Bill Callahan these days (see above! – sharp-eyed ed.) – a hard rock life, not to know what one of Drag City’s top singer-songwriters is up to! People love it when Bill gets up on stage, so impassive yet somehow sensitive, then burns the club down with his implacable songs of love and living through it. They even go back and get the old records sometimes – by his old group, Smog, you heard of them? Or him, really – even when it was Smog, it was still just Bill, with and without people playing alongside. Now you gotta be musically brain-dead if you don’t know Smog classics like Knock Knock, Julius Caesar, Dongs of Sevotion and all the rest – but how many of you have Forgotten Foundation on your shelf? It was the first Smog LP on Drag City and a real corker at that! We were sucked in by Bill’s descending falsetto lines on the title track the very first time we heard it, and years later, we can sing along with “High School Freak,” “Your Dress,” “Head of Stone,” “This Insane Cop” and others! Bill was in a madly experimental phase of his career back in 1992, and Forgotten Foundation has some of the most out-there vocals and most ripping guitar textures ever laid down in the name of Bill “Smog” Callahan! We were so sure of the success of this record, we took the unprecedented step of issuing it on CD, just to ensure that it would be around after all LPs were dead and buried. True fuckin’ story! Anyway, about five years later when Smog was blowing up, we went back and made an LP version of Forgotten Foundation that quickly sold out. And for a time, all was truly forgotten. But now that vinyl is back and Target is selling turntables and Bill Callahan is blowing up, it’s time for us once again to call the pigs to slop – er, offer the discerning consumer a chance to experience this great music on LP once again! It’s happening on April 24th, and if your local record bar has the taste and intelligence to buy direct from the mothership here, it’ll be sitting there in the store on Record Store Day, as you celebrate with all the other St. Patrick’s Day refugees – er, valued supporters of independent retail. So there. Don’t say we never did anything for you. Instead say, we put out 500 records for you (and for us too) – and one of them was the wildest Bill Callahan and Smog record ever, Forgotten Foundation.
ALPS ACROSS THE WATER
England, sit down. Europe – sure, we could conceivably be talking about you – if we were primarily talking about Sic Alps tour dates here. We’re actually alluding to the latest chapter of the Sic Alps 7” trilogy – chapter four, if you’re keeping count (and clearly, we are not). As it happens, there are a whole string of European dates set for the Spring. Just in time for the “Pangea Globe” 7”EP! For this chapter, Sic Alps go to England to dig up some sweet outsider pop-punk by a little group called Tronics! If it’s this time last year, you’re probably like, Who? No, not them either. But this year, we’ve already had a couple of Tronics records reissued and back into the minds of young people with perverse tastes all around the world, hopefully! These covers were recorded before that, kids – and they reflect a deep love for the band that clearly forms a cornerstone in the octagonical construction of the Sic Alps’ sound. But why worry about it! It’s a breezy little single.
2012 INDUCTEES (SO FAR)
Here at the end of the road that never ends, we’re pleased to welcome a few new names to our merry band, Drag City’s moveable feast, the catalog that never sleeps. We can’t sleep; like the ocean-shark, we’ll die if we’re not always on the move. You may only know what’s out now, or if you’re particularly sheltered, a single prominent name such as Newsom, Jews or Billy, but for those of us behind the cardboard scenes here, the present is a prism of literally hundreds of “present” moments represented by the catalog of DC records, all of which are equally present in their own time – even when some of their times have yet to come! That’s another point: there are a myriad of distinct starting points to the provisional Drag City timeline – for instance, while we opened shop in 1989, we’ve got records that predate our existence by a year, five years, ten years and so forth. In the last couple of years, we’ve issued and reissued archived tunes, songs and music from the gloriously groovy 1960s! And so forth (and back). Don’t worry – we’re not on our way to becoming a rockabilly label. This ain't a trail of tears, it’s a walk of fame we’re on here!
And so, we welcome this year’s new releases SO FAR to press their butt-cheeks into the cement: Black Bananas, with their acclaimed funky metal debut Rad Times Xpress IV; Doug Jerebine, hailing from the year of ’69 with his long-bootlegged collection of Hend-rocks, now and forever more titled Is Jesse Harper; Damon & Naomi with Ghost, back in print on LP and now on Drag City CDs as well; The Total Groovy, a first-time ever foray into digital format for Pete Shelley’s early-80s experimental music label, four CD’s worth, and an unprecedented event in the long and release-filled history of Bonnie Prince Billy – and perhaps even the history of the music business period, a single without the A-side included, “The b-sides for ‘Time to Be Clear.’” “Time to Be Clear” is on Wolfroy Goes to Town, and there it will stay – you can’t find it on the “B-sides” 7”, not even if you play it backwards. Actually, wait a minute…
Also blazing a trail with new directions in 7” singles are Sic Alps with their buzzed-and-slurred run-on songtence called “Vedley.” Nine minutes spread over two sides and encompassing 23 song parts all melted together into a nightmarish (and unforgettably tuneful!) short-play record. Sic Alps have been pouring out with new music over the past six months, all in 7” form, but this is the single no one saw coming! Bless you, you Sic fucks.
Then there’s the triple-pronged attack-beast of February: Dirty Three, Masaki Batoh and Sophia Knapp. These three, uh…prongs (shoulda thought that one out in advance, ha! – spiteful ed.) couldn’t be a more diverse bunch if they tried. Which of course, they didn’t – for each of them, their madness is simply their method, and doing anything other than that would be crazy. In the case of Dirty Three why, after their last tour, they just went out for a pack of cigarettes – and that was seven years ago! And they never even wrote or called to say that they were okay. Doesn’t matter though – the hidden secrets of at least some of their adventures are carved into the grooves of Toward the Low Sun, a bomb-burst of a new album that presents their classic Dirty Three arrangements, from pastoral to gang rape, with performances so fresh that today’s youth would rush to their local reverse-fountain-of-youth to age them into similarly grizzled veteran-hood, but for the fact that the stupid governments of the world won’t allow these miracle pools to be installed. What’s a-matter, ain’t you ever heard of an assisted-aging OD? Ol’ Jack Kervorkian would’ve died for one of these…and yes, he was a Dirty Three fan too.
Speaking of fresh and young, it’s time for our Knapp! Our one and only Sophia Knapp, that is. This fresh young face is a former Light, a once-Cliffie Swan and a now-and-future Sophia for all to see-a – and hear as well, with her solo bow Into the Waves. Since breaking in with Lights back in 2008, Sophia’s gone from art-punk to crystal pop, with nice little detours into booty-bumping back alleys and bared-breast diarya. There’s a wisp of the spiritual always in her music, whether the tinctures are of night or day. Actually, with as much transition in the lyrics of Into the Waves, we’re convinced that the psychic time of day is always either dawn or dusk. It’s not dark yet – or light – but it’s getting there. Sophia’s on a road to discovery, and it’s just about the nicest highway we’ve yet hurtled down, clean and précise, decorated nice and sparing, an inspiring path for our own mental and musical ambulations. Into the Waves is new and old all at once – soul sounds from a young old spirit.
The spirit known as Ghost hasn’t rocked us with a new opus in five years now – but head shaman Masaki Batoh has stayed busy, in a duo with Helena Espvall (their two albums are underrated psychedelic trips, people! By which I mean we have lots of nice copies here for you) and now, in a dream project where he demonstrates how to extract music directly from a human brain! Batoh’s background in medicine (Chinese medicine, you western dogs – he studies and practices acupuncture by day) has led him to wonder about the exploration of brain waves and the positive effects this might have on the brains of nervous and depressed types. That includes you, bucko – and so you might be interested in the Brain Pulse Music Machine we’re now selling. Batoh developed this as a musical way to interface with brain waves, attenuate and understand them – and then weave them, theremin-like, into your new millennial “Good Vibrations” and top the charts! We’re joking here – nobody’s gonna write another “Good Vibrations” – and the charts! I could top them with my Sphincter Pulse Music Machine, provided we release the record on an off week. Anyway, long story short, Batoh took his new inventions into the recording studios to make an album of this exploratory music – but as fate would have it, Japan was struck with the infamous Great East Earthquake while brain tracks were being laid down. In the aftermath, Batoh rethought his plan and decided that he needed to make music to heal people on a mass level, rather than one brain at a time. When the smoke had cleared, he returned to record some traditional Japanese healing jams. Brain Pulse Music juxtaposes the two radically diverse musics in a way that is very soothing, healing but also challenging to the brain. All good things – and a sign of more diversity to come in the name of Drag City and all the freaks we love to hear make music! Truly, they are shining lights of the past and the future and ALL TIME, amen.
THE MAYING GAME
Get out your magical 3-D opera glasses, because May is coming into view, and you should be the first to know of the powers and glories issuing from our portals in that month on the designated day of May 22nd. You thought that the Ty Segall & White Fence rocked ya? Well get a load of Dope Body in you, then see what you say. They are a rock band and their record Natural History is a physical experience for sure, I tell you what. Also in May is a new slab of unarchived sounds from Father Yod and the Source Family! The focus for The Thought Adjusters was to meet the energies of 2012 full on, with heavy jams featuring all the family and Father at the forefront, preaching and teaching. This means several side-long monster-jams that are guaranteed to bring you into the rhythm of the earth dance. Finally, we’ll be returning to bookshelves in May with The Lowbrow Reader Reader, an anthology collection of the long-running indie comedy zine’s great pieces. Featuring interviews with Muhammed Ali, The White Stripes, Jackie Mason, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and essays and stories from Lowbrow Reader editor Jay Ruttenberg as well as luminaries including Lee Hazlewood, Gilbert Rogin and your friend and mine, Neil Michael Hagerty. May be awesome! Live at least until then, would you?
THIS LAND IS MADE OF MUD
…we’re only here for a little while, so why not live life the best way we know how – in the company of friends and strangers as music pours into our ears, damaging their ability to hear for short- and long-term periods of time? Even if you can’t hear new music when you’re 80, you won’t need to! The memories of the music you heard before you lost your hearing will be enough for you. And even if you can’t remember, the music will float unbidden through your mind, a sweet reminder of…something, you can’t remember what. Trust us, we just just turned 80, seems like, and it’s not nearly as bad as they say.
As long as we still love music and people and the life of our minds, it doesn’t matter when we go. Good riddance anyway! Goodbye to earth and all the idiotic madness.
Fuckit, we’re not ready yet. We’ll see you next time instead.