THE EVA-4-ZAGGIN FIRST
First of what? It’s actually year twenty-four in the life of Drag City, but you gotta start a new year somewhere, we’re told. YAWN. Even if you're a late starter and a late bloomer and you just got your first pubes when you hit 40, you have to! You can't help it if you thought old women were molesting you up until then - after all, what did you know - you were in your terrible twenties when it was happening - but it turns out you were right, the women were actually in their 70s! And they were hot! But seriously, you have to start somewhere, even if being late just means everybody else is too damn early! That's what your humble newsletter scribe has to think, sending out this here Happy New Year card at the wrong end of the month, as is always the way. What the shit-damn is it about time, anyway? Marking years and days and minutes the way we do...it just ends up backing up and causing Y2K, remember how fucked that was? We're still living off canned goods from '99! Or look at the Super Bowl - the first twenty or so of ‘em fun, but now there's almost 50 of them and who can remember them all, it's just gotten MEANINGLESS! With those Roman Numerals...who can keep track? And now almost every stupid little team's gotten in - and once you've had teams named "Seahawks" and "Cardinals" involved, what's so Super about that? Is it any wonder there's only been one bird-named team to ever win a Super Bowl? NO! So what the fuck?
...ah, but first things first. Welcome to our 2013 - a work already way in progress, with all kinds of news already delivered to you and all kinds of actions underway. Here's the 411K on everything again, all at once, for what it's worth.
ANATOMY OF A KILLING
To really understand Drag City in 2013...well, how will you? You're gonna have to walk a mile in our ones and twos before you really know what our shit smells like. And we don't expect you ever will (lucky you! - bathroom-bound ed.). Yet a quick look in the rearview mirror tells us our last known whereabouts - and since short-term memory is totally OUT these days, here's a quick recap for your burnt brain pads:
Fall 2012! When not hustling, we're making like the 1890s and bustling with records in every format for every orifice we wish you had, which is plus a couple from what "God" gave us. In your stereo system, people! Stereo orifices. Naturally-selected stereo orifices - don't freak! Anyway, in the last eighteen weeks of the business year, Drag City dropped six release dates on a world only slightly prepared to deal with it. Did it help that the dates included blockbuster new albums from Six Organs of Admittance, Sic Alps, Rangda, Ty Segall and AZITA? NO! They were all amazing – yet they still feel underappreciated, so why don't you go out and get a few copies of each and blog/tweet about them, wouldja, junior? Prove us wrong KIDS! Of course, changing the world through new music but not changing it enough wasn't all that we got up to in the waning hours of good ol' last year. Drag City 2012 was/is and will ever be all about reissues - and thusly, during those great eighteen weeks, we reissued choice titles from the discographies of Carol Kleyn, Royal Trux, Woo, Tony Caro and John and Mad Music Inc. That satisfied all kinds of people who might not give Ty Segall a single (second?) contemptuous glance, you know? We also put out two Streamline titles that managed to reach beyond our outer limits, courtesy of CELER and Every Hidden Color. The rule was, if it was too much, that was just enough. We also commenced a "working relationship" with Neil Hamburger's "label" Million Dollar Productions, with a truly horrifying single that found Neil collaborating in song with Margaret Cho. Just what we hoped we'd never hear...it finally happened. Also debuted was the God? label, with a collection of barely-released material from the one-man band known as Trin Tran - on vinyl at last! Another wrong undone - mmmmm, it felt good to be right back then (in October) - and you know what? It still does, and I’m wearing my “sexy warehouse guy” Halloween costume to prove it! Singles from Scout Niblett from Ty "Singles too" Segall and splits from Woo & Nite Jewel, Sic Alps & Freakapuss, Billy F. Gibbons & Matt Sweeney and Bonny Billy were a cake iced only by one last single, the first-ever Christmas single in the history of Drag City, "Christmas Eve Can Kill You," sung by Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. And that did it! It was finally enough for us. On that ominous note of foreshadowing, we retired to our chambers to muse about what 2013 will and won't bring, and how to survive it. Decade-old canned goods won't do it this time. We'll need more than music, we concluded. It'll have to be a twenty-fourth straight year of GREAT music! Welcome to endgame.
And when we arrived back in the office on January 2nd, why, guess what was waiting for us on the doorstep? Flamin' bag of shit, what else? Damn you neighborhood crack-ho BRATS! But there was also a year’s-worth of truly GREAT music sittin' there too. Amazing music, even! And so we had the strength to continue.
SMASH CUT! FORWARD! RIGHT FUCKING NOW!
Alright! At last! The first installment of our great white survival plan is on the street and in the press and ready to broadcast and all that shit! The second installment is in the cannon, ready to fire into the crowd. The third installment is being rendered (ugh, the smell), undergoing the unspeakable procedures that allow it to become real. And the fourth installment is just getting ready to go out to the plant...do you see the assembly line that we're prancing as fast we can on here? No wonder these newsletters are so giddy! It takes strong medicine to get through this shit. And even stronger shit to take our medicine!
LET'S GO GET STONED
Childless, the "executives" of this record company live on the sweetest shred of hope there is - the last shred! As we make our (childless) way through the world, the meaning in our lives comes from the relationships we have with the artists here at the label - and the musical children that emerge from these long-term relationships. Much like the caliphs of old, we have many wives, and each one of them has presented us with a steady stream of heirs, each of which delights and obsesses us - until the next one comes along or the diaper needs changing, whichever comes first (the next one! - coprophobic ed.). Then we appoint a back-stock nanny to the task and put our energy into the new baby. Naturally we feel gifted in choosing mates with such strong backs and birthing hips like the perpetually preggo Bill Callahan, who has given us nineteen young ones over the years - whew! At that point, it's not even about the sex, he's clearly just trying to out-populate Asia. What are we even talking about here? Well, look at young-but-daily-growing **Alasdair Roberts**, the Singing Scotsman of Drag City. Over the early Appendix Out years and into the current era of Alasdair Roberts (& Friends even!), he's given us nine little babes, all of whom smile once a day and run like the dickens when given the chance - but the apple of our eye is the 10th and latest one, A Wonder Working Stone. Ali's been a grower since 2003's solo debut Farewell Sorrow (NOW BACK IN PRINT!!!), and frankly, we can't see how it's gonna end. In the past three-ish years, he's expanded our universe in ways that can't be quantified with Spoils, Too Long In this Condition, Urstan (with Mairi Morrison) and now A Wonder Working Stone. His tunes grow continually longer and more complex (yet no less immediate), the allusions to ancient song and verse grow deeper and extend further back into known (and unknown) history and the cast of like-minded (and highly talented) musical Friends becomes more and more unwieldy before the microphones. Amidst all the love and squalor, Alasdair's high tenor remains as sweet and sour as it's been since his teenage days, while showing of course an ever-refining sense of phrasing and cadence as it cuts with joy and sorrow through the din.
Best of all, his rhymes aren't wack, as so many other of his Kingdom's singers are, like the moronic Mumford & Sons, for instance. On some days, he seems to be the only one over there singing traditional music with any sense of integrity. Ach, but what do we know? Ali's our boy and so we've got his back, even if that means ignoring every other natural-born talent in the commonwealth. So you can bet we'll be telling people about the transcendent experience of A Wonder Working Stone and it many and varied epics for a long time. At least until the next best one comes along! Knowing Alasdair, t'won't be long either.
TEARING THE PROOF OFF THE SUCKER
Drag City 2013! A brave new world! New thoughts! New releases! And...another reissue? Yeah, we'll start the year with one...see where it takes us. Here’s the thing - we're not gonna reissue something unless it feels like it's a part of our experience somehow. Chris Darrow's Artist Proof is just that sort of thing, a record that brought back memories when we put it on - and we never heard it until last summer! It's like a missing scene from our life, when we were young and the world was free, running around believing in the myth instead of the fact, playing at being cowboys and injuns, good guys and bad. We're so much better off now that we know better about these things - so how come we never feel as free as we did in the days of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy? Chris Darrow came from those times, a California dude born and bred. The American folk tradition didn't seem so far away when he was growing up, and musical expression was as much a part of his life as breathing. Rock and roll flashed briefly in his early teens, but then it went away and he went back to folk music. It was the acoustic sounds, even when rock returned and reared its head into spaces nobody had ever thought of, that kept Chris going, fueling his contributions to LA's Kaleidoscope and the sessions that Chris subsequently played with Linda Ronstadt, Leonard Cohen, Hoyt Axton, James Taylor and dozens more. The myth of the music of the open range was alive and kicking wherever Chris Darrow played his guitar. But it wasn't until 1971 that he signed his first solo deal, with Fantasy Records (CCR's label!). He gathered around the good players that he always knew how to find, and made a heartfelt 'n' record with the seams nice and crooked but nothing out of time or tune and acoustics ringing nice and clear and the toms rolling so low and sweet...ah, gosh. That The Eagles get the kind of respect they do but people don't mention Chris Darrow in the breath before that same breath, it’s a modern tragedy (or tragicomedy, if you like The Eagles). Cause people should.
This is sweet, soulful country-rock from the good old days of country rock, as fine and golden an example as any workingman's gilded palace of the rodeo. This is why we reissue records - to reinject something incredible back into an atmosphere that is suffering without it. So we're praising the Proof - dig it, cowboys and girls of the new century!
2013: the year that Ty Segall didn't release three albums, or even one! Well, it's early yet, so who knows - but at this moment, it appears that at least the first quarter's gonna go down without a long-player, and if you're a true Tyminator, you're feeling the strain. Fear not, Ty-pe A personalities: we have a scrap to throw in your cage. Remember that Twins track that your girlfriend likes so much, "Would You Be My Love"? Well, we've got on a 7" single for you! Of course, aside from the fact that it spins faster than the LP version and is thus ever so much more so than it ever could ever be on the album (ever), the sweet treat about the single is, what's on the B-side? Yeah! Cos what's on the B-side is a bit of acoustic waltzery called "For Those Who Weep" that demonstrates once again who Ty'd for your sins! And it's nice and intimate and grainy too - a production sound never once heard on the supersonic _Twins_ missile, not even during its penultimate moment of sudden acoustic joy and sorrow, "Gold On the Shore." So that's something fresh and satisfying for you. Chew it slowly - for who knows when you'll have more?
ONCE YOU'VE HAD THE BEST...
What can we say about The Howling Hex that's been left unsaid before? Yeah. Neil Michael Hagerty's wild west outfit doesn't attract a ton of commentary, because it's the kind of music that people have to figure out for themselves. There's no spoon-feeding - and the thing is, people are partial to spoons. They prefer them to the serrated spork-sticks that Hex records are severed with. Think about it - The Howling Hex have been around for ten years now, and their next new album will be their 8th. Neil Hagerty's work in Royal Trux is being reissued and re-lauded (and re-dilaudid) all over the place, people can't get enough - but they can't seem to get it up to break it down with the singularly uncompromising ouvre of The Howling Hex. Would it kill a writer to look past his EPK for one minute and listen to what his ears are telling him?
As with Royal Trux, The Howling Hex are inclined to not make the same record twice, and the approach has shifted from the Accelerator-inflected production overdrive of All-Night Fox to loose, back-country psychedelia a la Bull Of the Woods -era Elevators on You Can’t Beat Tomorrow to densely populated collage on 1-2-3 to fully diversified punk-pop on XI, all of this masquerading as a single style, touted as New Border Sound. In the recent trio of albums culminating in the forthcoming The Best of The Howling Hex, Hagerty has drawn more distinctly from the Norteño music ubiquitous along America’s southern border, while still restlessly altering band arrangements and songwriting approaches to get the widest possible set of effects with the fewest ostensible (ie, obvious) changes. Now based in a city again for the first time since the early days of Royal Trux (anytime before ’92, basically) and with access to a local cast of musicians, Hagerty’s Howling Hex rocks once again, but in no manner similarly to the rock of XI or All-Night Fox. Why bother, those records have been made already. Instead, The Best Of The Howling Hex expresses the joy inherent in the album’s title by upping the tempo on the border ska beats that drove both Earth Junk and Wilson Semiconductors. Meanwhile, the presence of an actual live rhythm section frees Hagerty up to dial in some seriously weird guitar tones and then solo to his own obscure ends. This is a distinctly different approach from the extended solos and layered guitar textures of Wilson Semiconductors, which as above, duh! The TBOTTH lyrics are a self-conscious assembly of cultural detritus, non-sequitur and the occasional attempted football-crowd chant, usually phrased to allow the driest possible of grins in response. The songs that front the record are concise, again in sharp response to the extended renditions of the four songs that comprised Wilson Semiconductors, but there’s a lengthy jam to close the album and a bonus secret mystery track included with the CD – again, an example of extremely dry humor as well as a continued fixation on the proud anachronism that defines rural America – always a strong undercurrent in THH discography. All in all, a typically entertaining listen; Hagerty continues to populate musical geography entirely unto himself. Whatever he leaves behind beyond this, when he is done, the proof will be of an individualist and innovator who marched determinedly to his own drum.
….there, that’s the kind of critical commentary we’re talking about. Why doesn’t anybody write shit like this about The Howling Hex? Are people too stupid or are they just dumb? Stay tuned, we'll reveal the answer next month.
FOR EVERLY AND EVERLY
So that's how Drag City got its groove back, 2013-style! All it takes is a month and then we're good to go, folks. And so thusly warmed up, we're turning around on February 19th and hitting you with Bonny's latest folly - a full-on tribute to The Everly Brothers, all sung together with one of his finest singing foils, Dawn "The Faun" McCarthy! It's called What the Brothers Sang and in order to capture the spirit of the songs as they was originally played and sung, Bonny and Dawn hit the road to Nashville, where engineer David Ferguson booked out the studio with a hot bunch of players to make it sound the best. Checking the discography on the assembled pickers is something else, but the one we keep tripping over is Bobby Wood, who played on some of those Mickey Newbury records we were so blessed to have reissued a couple years back. What! That's too much. Plus, there was room for longtime Bonnie 'Prince' Buddies like Matt Sweeney, Peter Townsend and Emmett Kelly. Together, these massed musical forces sailed on journey through some of the Everlys' uncharted waters, pulling out plumbs from some of their lesser-known works of the 60s and 70s, yet still touching on a couple solid-gold hits, like "So Sad," and "Devoted to You." If this is sounding less and less like folly and more and more like "jolly good!", well, get in line, ye cottony swabs. What the Brothers Sang is that rare album of other people's songs that exists on its own - made whole by the love and commitment of all those involved, who brought the music forward from where it was to begin anew today. As the dust begins to gather on the songbooks of the 20th century, this is a welcome contemporary reanimation of those formative modern music days. Thanks to the discerning taste and aesthetics of Dawn & Bonnie & Co, no historical battles are being simply reenacted here - these songs are presented afresh, for the people today and the century to come, with personal and powerful conviction behind them. Get ready to sing along with What the Brothers Sang!
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (AFTER THE NIGHT, BEFORE THE OTHER NIGHT)
Welcome back my friends, to the road that never ends, we're so glad you could attend - ahhh, fuckit, this isn't any Sgt Pepper shit we're running here. But what if it was? Dang. It isn't. And yet - it's still true that life in the record business is 1001 nights x 2, squared, of shows and events and overdoses - these are the tracks upon which the rock and roll train runs, and we love 'em. Plus, we read in the newspaper that a band can extend their life INFINITELY by touring (while selling something special, like t-shirts that they made themselves). So we dig it - and so you do you. It's always fun to sweat the same air that your amor de musique is sharing up there in the spotlight, ain't it? The bands, they like it too - why sit around and make music on your computer when you can load up the car and drive six hours to play for the door at a local dive? Now that's living! And we be advocating living. So if you want to be alive in America this month or the next one, you're in deep luck. Balls deep. Urethra deep, even! OM's kicking off the west-coast leg of their "Advaitic World" tour in early February, trolling up and down the west coast and even going to Arizona. Now that takes dedication! But they are doing the whole run with Sir Richard Bishop, and he has his AZ propers together, old school! So that's nice for them. Speaking of Sir Rick, he and the other boys of Rangda will be picking up right after he gets done with OM and doing the west coast themselves! ‘Bout time, Rangda - that Formerly Extinct record of yours isn't getting any newer (or less awesome! ?). Get out to Chicago before we forget to spell your dam name! Meanwhile, **Blues Control** are doing what they can to unseat Ty Segall from his position as the touringest Drag City artist circa 2012-2013, with a truly nuts run that takes them from now into mid-March, just playing every burg in America that'll have them. It's truly beautiful. Some people don't play New Mexico at all - they're playing there twice. On consecutive nights! But not Florida, that's weird. A couple years ago, the Bonnie 'Prince' proved you can do a whole week of shows down there - you just have to play them for free! Word to the wise, Blues Control. Next time! We're watching you. Salut! And Ty Segall isn't going down without a fight - he's got about three weeks that take him all around the country, still rocking it Twins style from coast to coast to coast! And Laetitia Sadier's coming over the water...no, not for another US trip, darn it - but three days in Chile, ¡hurra! There's lots more all around the world where these came from, just keep your eyes and ears out...for eternity, or at least the rest of time as we know it.
I mean, March! Yeez, it's getting late in here. March is where we predict we enter into a full sprint, energized by the work already done in the now broken-in 2013. In March we've got two different kinds of pearls to dive for: Ensemble Pearl and Purling Hiss. Now, in nature, a pearl isn't technically a rock, but the musics made by Ensemble Pearl and Purling Hiss are both powerful derivatives of rock and roll, with Ensemble Pearl shooting for the outer limits and Purling Hiss occupying the primal core. Both records (Ensemble Pearl and Water On Mars) share an absolute mastery of guitar-based sound and each use it to ultimate ends, so we're truly psyched about March. Plus OM rematerializes - or perhaps transmogrifies? - with a dubbing down of the theological vibrations from Advaitic Songs into pure 12" form - the first of two such dubplates! It's called "Addis Dubplate," can you dig it? Plus, our dope buddies from Dope Body are finally back with more of their feral rock, this time in 7" form, two tracks, no prisoners, loads o' fun. So, double album, single album, 12" single, 7" single. What, no cassettes? What kind of 2013 is - oh, right - Purling Hiss is coming out in cassette form. And we'll have a book in April and a 10" record in June - don't worry, formatties, we've got what it takes to keep your sexual hangups covered. The book, should you wonder, is from the director of Spring Breakers, Sir Harmony Korine (as the call him down at the local OTB), and it's a reissue of his salute to Hollywood, A Crackup At the Race Riots from way back in 1998, when you were born, and we were born again (but it didn't stick). Yeah, April's gonna be great! David Grubbs'll be there, with his new album The Plain Where The Palace Stood, which has lots of dark, throbbing guitar textures, but no remake of "Slake Train Coming," for gosh sakes! Well, the Squirrel Bait records are back in stock anyway, for those of you who wouldn't accept an imitation and even those who would. Our second reissue of the year hits in April as well, in the form of Rich Ristagno's What It Would Be Like to Be Rich, another one of the Thousand Rarest Records Ever Made. We just like fucking it up for people by making 500 more of their super-sparse pressing, I don't know why! Or wait, maybe I do: records shouldn't be rare, everyone should enjoy music forever, digital can go die for all we care, we got the phonograph blues. Another one to spin on the record machine only is Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & The Marquis de Tren's new EP, "Solemns." But spin only one side, because the other is embroidered, or whatever they call that process of imagizing it by scraping a drawing into it. So you get musical and visual bang for your buck from this EP, which rules. By the way, don't you just love how we put this bit o' info out here without reflecting on how it's been 13 years if it's been a day since Bonny Billy & the Marquis de Tren got their shit together on one record featuring both of 'em? Yeah, we like to play it cool, I - fuck!
You know what? There's one last thing that we meant to say earlier. One of our last releases on the sledule last year was one of the best, and of all our releases that didn't get enough love from the world (which includes all of them - five hundred and counting. Wake up, idiot-fuck-world!), this one is the one that people keep coming up to us when we're trying to hide at parties to say, Man! AZITA just keeps killing it! And we're like, Right? while scanning around for exits. But even when we're in such desperate straits, we can still agree with whoever it is that's talking at us - Year by AZITA was definitely an album of the year, and for once, we're not using wordplay to obfuscate a point. Ol' girl has made six great pop records for us - five albums and an EP - and while the previous couple, How Will You? and Disturbing the Air, are some of the most ingenious piano based "love is madness" records EVER (and believe or not, that's a fairly well-stuffed category), Year manages to remake AZITA's scorned-and-blue (and often drooling) persona into something fun that the whole family can enjoy. The songs that she made in collaboration with Brian Torrey-Scott seem to bring out the playful side of her, and once the toothpaste is out of the barn, AZITA's decorating the room with it, outlining the structure that's already there with her own flair. What's more, Year has AZITA's most diverse set of genre approaches since probably Life On the Fly, whether it's tear (of acid) in the beer (of acid) melancholy, high-flying power pop, or...dub reggae? Now we've heard it all dear AZITA - until next time. We know we can count on you to blow our mind out again.
Man, when does this newsletter end? To begin with, let's just admit that time is endless. Break the hands off the clock! There's too much information anyway! Instead of names and dates, we’ll say instead that we’re putting out records...SOON, okay? And we'll pay our bills IN THE FUTURE. Period! And it'll shine when it shines, right! That's what folks in the old country used to say. And they never got into all the hairless scrapes that people get into these days.
Who are we kidding? It’s a modern world, with modern time-keeping devices, and the clock on the monitor says it's time to go. We’ll be slipping our story to you regular like clockwork, with facts, details and precise times, getting more precise all the time. But that’s it for this one. This is how it all ends.
See you next time –
Drag City Inc