The Drag City Newsletter, May 18, 2010

posted May 18th, 2010


Welcome back to Drag City. Music is bigger than ever! We’ve got a handful of new releases set for every month of this year, and we expect that all of them will become a part of your playlist sometime soon – whether or not you buy them, bitch. But we’re not thinking about that right now. No, we’ve got a movie opening somewhere as we speak. You’ll hear about that in a minute or so, just keep reading…and we’ve got a stable full of bands touring through Europe right now, from the outhouse (Monotonix) to the opera house (Joanna Newsom and – if you’re lucky – Alasdair Roberts). Back on U.S. soil, we’ve got Bert Jansch of Scotland opening gigs for Neil Young of Canada. And you still think we’re a local label? Wake the fuck up. Meanwhile, we’re working on limited-edition, essentially privately pressed CDs and preparing the artwork for some African music releases. While we do all of this, the stereo is jamming, bringing us the sounds of the competition, each record of which we listen to carefully and analyze – which frankly, gives us the strength to go on. I mean, if we can’t carry our own among the weak shit that’s out there right now, then perhaps it’s time to go back to a less stressful way of life. Oh, and as always, we’re doing our best not to let Chicago disease infect us here in our venerable old underground bunker. As always, it’s a struggle. But there’s good news too. Read on!


If the din of white, off-white and ochre noise is filling your ears, don’t fret – that’s the sound of Rangda giving birth to itself. And now, mommy has a new little monster! The mythic Balian witch has come to roost in the hearts and souls of our very own Ben Chasny, Sir Richard Bishop and Chris Corsano – and on their debut album, False Flag, they can’t spit the venom, blood and baby limbs out of their collective maw quick enough! Rangda combines terror with dark humor(s) and also a sense of whole(y)ness (Rangda vs Barong = good vs. evil = yin and yang = get a clue, kids!) in the form of not only fingertip-shattering free jams but also faux-ritual mo(ve)ments and deep, cosmic explorations. Put that in your flag files and smoke it! But don’t not look now – Rangda are already roaming the clubs of this E(e)arth, playing a sinister snootful of shows in the UK and Belgium with a crazed dash through Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland before returning to the dark continent (America, natch!). And who knows where they’ll be before the year’s out? Truly, Rangda is a flag for all nations. Except, at press time, Canada.


From deep inside the dark, shallow hole in the planet that is Chicago emerges CAVE! Well, they’ve actually emerged already, with a brace of singles, split-singles, CD-Rs and an awesome first album. Plus, they’ve played live everywhere from here to Europe, bringing their surging rocking psychedelic prog to crowds that couldn’t help but nod their heads and jerk their legs spasmodically. What will the young people think of next? Wait, are these guys twenty or fifty? We can’t tell. Either they’re really awesome twenty-year-olds or superhuman fifty-year-olds. But don’t buy into our ageist shit – and don’t take psydes – crawl into the new CAVE. It’s an EP called “Pure Moods” and it’s pure shit! As in The Shit, that is. Just keep flipping it over and over, until you flip out – and then it’ll be time for the next CAVE show. Have you checked it out? Come out from under your Rock and gety into this CAVE. The dates are right here.


Starting this May, the music that rises from the streets of every nook and cranny of Drag City includes the sounds of Elisa Randazzo. Elisa’s an LA-based fashion designer with a couple of imprints to clothe both boys and girls well. She’s also a musician (thank God, as we’re putting out a record of hers), with tracks extending back into the 90s, and has worked with various and sundry artists including our own personal favorite, The Red Krayola. She’s also also the daughter of Teddy Randazzo, whose soul and r-n-b song credits date back to the early days of rock-n-roll and include “I’m On the Outside Looking In” and “Goin’ Out Of My Head.” But she’s also the daughter of Victoria Pike, who also wrote songs, including the garage-psych classic “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time.” So what does this make Elisa? Well, when it comes to music, she’s her own woman. Part British folk aficionado, part California girl, Elisa’s music reflects her loves and losses with depth, clarity and the requisite smoke and sizzle that comes with all psychedelic pop music. Now, psychedelic? Elisa’s jamming together two kinds of things, which requires a fusion of sorts – and if the end result is of the verse-chorus variety, then the music can potentially be called psychedelic. And when it’s as stony as Bruises & Butterflies is, then we’re definitely down with the definition. But this is 2010, and the music of Ms. Randazzo is a deep dark form of pop music that’ll sound good coming out of your internet radio or satellite radio, or God forbid, transistor radio. She’s written an album-ful of ready-to-wear catchy songs in the couple of old styles – and one stalwart of the form, Ms. Bridget St. John! – that still look good today. It’s an LA kind of hazy – like silver clouds with dark linings. Bruises & Butterflies is available now – catch it!


Far from the marketplace, in quiet corners of the cultural landscape, yesterday’s lost sounds are being reevaluated, leading them back towards the market if the music dictates it. The time came for Folke Rabe, Gary Higgins, Death, Circle X, J.T. IV and lots of others freaky just like them. Now joining these seldom-sung heroes in the racks is Jeff Eubank, with his lone lonesome work of lonely lovely genius, A Street Called Straight. Self-released in 1983, this album presented Jeff’s musical seedbed of sweet 60s-70s radio acousti-rock just a few years too late to be noticed, much less taken seriously. And yet, we wouldn’t be talking to you right now unless A Street Called Straight was a seriously great record. Hey, what’s with the past tense? Now we’ve got a brand-new pressing of his out-of-time sounds in jackets that date back to the original pressing. Get your part of the little myth and the great magic that came out of Jeff Eubank’s head way back when.


Away from the stores, in the worlds of visceral entertainment, Drag City is engaged in an all-new enterprise that may hold a few clues to our future once the “bottom” falls out of this “useless” trying-to-sell-music “gig”: “distributing” “movies!” And we won’t be the kind of distributors who get rich off our artists’ hard work – no, with our tastes, we definitely won’t be that kind of distributor. As always, we will be the kind to get rich off our own work! Drag City’s big screen debut? Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. Yes, the latest “film” from the self-styled “most hated man in art cinema.” To our jaundiced eyes, Trash Humpers appears to be a mellow reflection on semi-rural America – a place for everything and everything in its place, including the old juicers who live under the bridge and roam through the neighborhood late at night. Harmony finds plenty of beauty in this world – and then there’s the other 70 minutes of this 78-minute horrorshow horror show. But it has to be seen to be experienced (despite a profusion of copious descriptions from reviewers around the country), so check yer local listings.


…on the wall, people, on the wall! Yes, it’s about time for the Plastic man (aka Steve Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave) to be recognized in the halls of modern art. It’s all happening here at Chicago’s MCA – hometown Crimewave makes good! – from now until May 30th. They’re gonna be focusing on his “Secret History of Chicago Music” series, but who knows, maybe we’ll get to sell some copies of the new issue of Galactic Zoo Dossier over the next few weeks. And look out for the next Galactic Zoo Disks reissue - ever heard of Spur? Coming in July, you will – all thanks to Steve and his ever-(head)-expanding GZD empire.


…free, that is, of the hang-ups and put-downs that come from selling music and making money from it. No, this time, you can have Alasdair’s music and it’s not even “up to you” to decide whether to pay a dime or not for it. This particular music was born free and that’s the way it’s staying, courtesy of Ayrtime. They sponser free shows too – but the inheritance has to run out sooner or later, right? Check it all out here while you can. Meanwhile, back in the world that we’ve known, the world that employs all of us down here in the ivory bunker to serve what we love (music, kids!), we’re preparing an Alasdair Roberts record for release on June 29th that will appeal to the old-fashioned among us, and not just because you need to pay money for it. No, Too Long In This Condition is a record of traditional songs that are hundreds if not thousands of years old when all placed end-to-end. Don’t forget, our Alasdair is a man deeply impressed by the intersecting belief systems and mythologies of the world. His last album, Spoils, put forth the proposition of syncretic contemporary folk rock – and quite successfully, we might add. For Too Long In This Condition, he’s once again working with a group of like-minded contemporaries to unravel the mystery behind the immemorial inclinations of our all-too-human race. In some ways it’s Alasdair at his most traddy with fiddles, harmony singers and a rich danceable beat; at other times, he’s at his most boldly forward with arrangements that couch the songs in the modern muddle, with the eerie sound of fingernails scraping at the coffin lids of the ageless dead. It’s too much to miss! Check out a representative sample of this album on this website right now.


Who says you mellow with age? We’re twenty-one years old and we’ve never put out as much weird, freaky and “possibly offensive” stuff as over the past couple years. It’s all really a matter of definition, really: since we look at everything strictly in terms of “possibly entertaining.” Thanks to Twos & Fews, Twos & Fews, this streak is still going strong into summer 2010. See, they’ve come up with a bunch of unheard Hamper McBee material, which means that the world just got a few dozen “hell, goddam”s heavier.

Yes, I know…Hamper who? The “Cumberland Moonshiner,” Hamper McBee was born in 1931 in southeastern Tennessee. As a youth, he dug and sold medicinal roots and herbs in the mountains around Sewanee, a gig he’d picked up from his father. In his early 20s, he did a stint in the Army and served in Korea. It was after he returned that began making whiskey, the doing of which served him well throughout the rest of his life. Sure, he stayed drunk a lot of the time, went to jail for moonshining repeatedly, worked a series of dead-end jobs – but in the doing of this work, he was immersed in Appalachian traditional culture and the singing of songs that were to make the album Cumberland Moonshiner, in 1965. Then there was the living of life on the edge. When filmmaker Sol Korine came looking for Hamper in ‘78, he was full of songs, stories and good, filthy humor that reflected his wild half-century and the lives and times of his family as well, much of which was featured in Korine’s PBS program “Raw Mash,” and the album of the same name on Rounder. Hamper McBee died in 1998, leaving none of this material still in print; he’d become part of the oral tradition. But now he’s born again, with the Raw Mash material profusely expanded. Songs, stories and a load of cussing (but in a strangely gentlemanly manner) are all found within a jacket that features Hamper on the cover, in his natural environment: chained to a post inside an unnamed tavern. Fans of Americana, traditional singing and mad characters are recommended to check out The Good Old Fashioned Way on June 29th. There’s a preview track on the website as we speak – what the hell are you waiting for, goddam…


New releases from Yaala Yaala – what year is it, 2007? Back then, Yaala Yaala were the new kids on the worldbeat block, and their gritty, handheld boombox recordings from Mali were definitely “street.” Now it’s mid-’10 and we’re dealing with a world that’s heard a lot more Malian music and knows how to judge for itself what’s happening in the West African sitch. Whatever though, cause Yaala Yaala came ready to up the ante! When last heard from, they were touting the case of Yoro Sidibe, a donso ngoni artist whose ability to musically extol the virtues of all the great hunters for hours on end is legend in the Malian countryside. Even though we weren’t getting everything he was singing about (sure, we know a little Malian, and he is a delight…!), the tone-n-tenor of his raps sure got us off, as it got the fellas at YY headquarters as well. This time they’re back with a couple more donso ngoni players, and both of them protÉgÉs of Yoro Sidibe and masters in their own right. Be on the lookout for releases from Toba Seydou Traore and Abdoulaye Traore, coming June 29th!


T is for Totally (Bogus) and P is for Piss off, ATP. You want Monotonix? You can’t handle Monotonix!!! This became fact when, for the second year in a row, the scheduled Monotonix appearance was shut down after only four songs. And the band performed sitting down, too!

Look, these guys haven’t toured around the world without knowing a thing or two about drawing up short on the total destruction tip. They get things swinging nicely out of hand and…they keep them there. Nobody gets (too) hurt, nothing gets (too) broken. But everyone gets to have a completely fun time letting (almost) completely loose and experiencing a collective surge of energy while rocking along to some great rock and roll. This happens every night Monotonix play – every night except when they play ATP. Including the nightmare that is SXSW even! Couching your festival in a culture of fear is no way to put on a show, ATP – haven’t you learned that yet? And you can’t use Pavement as an excuse next year…


You know, we were adding up the numbers the other day and its official – we can officially be called “older than Sonic Youth.” With venerable types like ,Mayo ThompsonLink Text Larry Jon Wilson, Gary Higgins and Baby Dee (she’s spry on the keys, but she’s no spring chicken) all still making great music , we outweigh those alternative darlings on the age scale by a mile! I mean, Mayo was making his first records when Kim and Thurston were in high school!

So OK, what comes next? We’re elder statesmen, shower us with accolades! Well? We’re waiting…

But not holding our breath,

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.