The Drag City Newsletter!!!!!!!!!!! November 2013

posted November 19th, 2013


Yas! The hellidays is coming! But even more impending than the annual Chrimble/ Hanukah/Kwanza ass-kiss of evil, Thanksgiving is coming! At least to us ‘Mericans – but isn’t our formerly great society still the prototype for rising market communities all around the world? Which means that no matter what turkey you believe in, that Black Friday is a “thing” for you and yours? Thus, yas – it is back to black for everyone. And Drag City is loaded up to be your multi-denominational Santa this time, with a double round: pre- and post­-BFF (Black Friday Frenzy, duh you very much!) releases, for your early and late shoppers. We all know that everyone likes their new stuff in absolute NEWEST form right? No two-week old shit for us, old man! So once again, whore-like, we the capitalists of Drag City descend to the fray. But we do it with goods and services representing the one and only horde of Drag City artists as only we would choose to do so. Have Magik Markers over for Thanksgiving? Check! Mick Turner to ring in Al Hijra? Na’am, as-Salaam Alaikum! Aquariana arriving during Las Posadas? Sí, por supuesto. The Howling Hex underneath the menorah tree? Oy, absotively! We’re prepared for any and all possible outcomes in the modern diversity in the same way we’ve always been ready: one record at a time.


It’s Surrender To the Fantasy time! If you are unaware of the growing cult of Magik Markers, then it’s time for us to shuffle the deck and deal you in. Their spells have been few and far between over the past few years, but this new album finds them landing back among us with a tremendous explosion of manna. With the “Ice Skater” single and now this album release issued here in the 2013, their energy is on the RISE, and to that end, Magik Markers are currently touring in Europe, with club dates on the continent punctuated with appearances at the BB Mix Festival in Paris and ATP’s End of an Era, pt 1 (of near infinite parts, we have to expect) before the band returns to America to play more shows in the new year. That’s the easy part; Magik Markers played hundreds of shows before they ever wrote a song. Playing night after night with simply what the audience and the room give to them is part of the original appeal of Magik Markers. Something came out of nothing (or, let’s be fair, something) every fucking time. Surrender To the Fantasy rings still with that wild energy, but in the service of second-phase MMMagik songwriters in tha house! These kids started making their improvs into songs a couple albums back and now there’s no stopping them. On this new album, there’s tunes grafted onto bone-fragging frugs here and there, but there’s also tunes qua tunes that even roller-skating children may yet appreciate (okay, really weird, not-quite-gothy children, roller-skating with books of 20th century verse in their (very) hip pockets)! The Markers unstring ballads, dirges and rockers alike with the witched-out melodies from Elisa Ambrogio and the odd countermelody from Pete Nolan, all atop a load of out-guitar, tumble drums and a sealant of bass from newest member (and longtime sage/elder/guru) John Shaw. If you’re smart and you have open eyes, you’ve seen it already on the two videos sharing and preparing us for the album with their quintessential takes on “Bonfire,” and “Mirrorless.” And if you’re really smart, you’ll hie to the mailorder page for a shot at one of the Magik Markers bundles, which package together like formats of their previous album Balf Quarry (now back on LP!) with the new one. Or what about the USB? True fans of Magik Markers won’t know how to live with the solid-(yet-imitation-)gold USB drive that contains not only the music and the graphics and lyrics for the album, but also many extra sounds and images. Buy two and bury one in your neighbor’s backyard – future generations will need to know about this fabulously already-defunct format! But most of all, get everything for the music, becuz Surrender To the Fantasy beams a full-spectrum of colors and a deeper depth than previous Markers, without sacrificing the feral dream-questing of their young and spontaneous days (up your ass). It’s all part of the Fantasy, y’all. If you value your lifepoints, surrender!\


Jesus…so according to us: this holiday season, you will be shattered, by modern underground rock that takes no one for a fool. That’s how Drag City breaks you down. But then we gotta rebuild you, right? That’s when Mick’s up. Mick Turner, that is – Dirty Three guitar player, former scum-punker extraordinaire (see Venom P. Stinger if you doubt us, dick!), paint-boxing gallery artist (any Dirty Three album cover will show you why), Bonnie ‘Prince’ collaborator (“Get On Jolly” and “Solemns” under the nom-de-strum Marquis de Tren) and yeah, solo artiste in the realm of forward-reachin’ guitar-based music. He’s been turning in records every few years since 1997’s Tren Phantasma, all of them based around his limpid guitar melodies and loop-based constructions redolent of nature-scapes, such as the deep and strangely silent world of the ocean. Pitching like sails in the wind, twirling like the anemones of the deep, Mick’s songs touch unspoken parts in us and depart again like moments of time, expressed as ambient music played like low-key free jazz. And they’ve always taken the form of instrumental music – until now. Don’t Tell the Driver is Mick’s latest opus, and the first in five years (those still in the narco-thrall of Blue Trees may not realize all the time that’s passed…run to the mirror, look! Mick makes latter-day Rips of us all) – and after all this time, it’ll be great to hear his soothing tropes yet again…but what is this? Don’t Tell the Driver is next-phase Mick Turner, capitalizing on the thematic headwaters his music always churns up anyway to present a full-on rock opera – and yeah, with occasional vocals! Because it can’t be a rock opera without vocals, Jesus Christ Superstar proved that. Although you can have instrumental songs and stretches, like Tommy’s “Underture.” Mm, it feels so good to have a rock opera among us again – and just like all the greats, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, but there’s definitely some hand-wringing – and Mick’s taken the opportunity to lay down some particularly muscley Turner grooves, raging and rocking just like any great rock opera band would, could and should! All of this, along with a cast of Aussie guest-stars, makes Don’t Tell the Driver the most powerful and fascinating of Mick’s albums. Don’t miss Don’t Tell the Driver – the moments chronicled within may save - or, better yet!, soothe, your ever-rockin’ souls.


From another moment in time and a spot in our very own vault comes the latest reup in Drag City’s reindoctrination campaign for Royal Trux. Travelling at much the same speed that the original albums were released, we have methodically brought back the catalog, so that these newfangled kids who enjoy seeing an old group reunite and play one of their old classics can experience another fun part of those old records – waiting for the next one to come out! And indeed, the thank you letters have been deafening. Anyway, we’re now ten years into the story and onto one of the records that many Trux fans recall as a favorite: Veterans of Disorder. In case you haven’t been paying attention (because why would you read words that you asked to be sent to your inbox, right subscribers? – pleasantly sarcastic ed.), Royal Trux were above all, a rock and roll band – but a band determined to cover as many bases as possible (and if you thought there were only three bases, and only one home plate, shame on your imagination-challenged mind, human!). They were inclined to present their records with a distinctly different cast each time around, which allowed them to go from post-Fugs absurdist garage band of their debut to the impenetrable post-industrial haze of Twin Infinitives to acoustic junky space-blues on untitled to Cats and Dogs’ groovy grungies, Thank You’s shiny pop and pristine songcraft, Sweet Sixteen all-American prog-damage, Accelerator’s distorto r’n’b singalongs to…well, what was Veterans of Disorder? Following their distinctly uncool (as perceptions at the time ran) major-label stint, and the return to (chaotic) form on Accelerator (and the ensuing “3-Song EP”), Veterans was phase two of their underground reclamation project, playfully running the gamut of a little bit of everything they could do, to show an ultimate allegiance to no one (which everyone underground would identify with, right?). Instead of having all their songs embody a whole, no two tunes sounded alike and side two presented a trio of numbers that were as wildly out as anything they’d done, while not necessarily repeating any prior stances. It was a quite a read, and it still exhilarates after all these years – chock full of rock and rhythm and hilarious lyrical tropes and ripostes, all presented with the composure – glossy finish, even! – of a major label band. As the 90s drew to a close, Veterans of Disorder was to be the next-to-last album from Royal Trux, still at the top of their game after an outrageous road of twists and turns. We’ve been listening to the test-pressing around here and we’re convinced it sounds TONS better than the original ever did! So if you were born in 1990 or whatever, lucky you! Ah to be young and hear Royal Trux for the first time. Graybeards, burnouts and tin CEOs: after this, you have two more chances (including “The Radio Video EP,” woo!) to recapture the feeling once more.


November reigns! In addition to newbies from Magik Markers and Mick Turner, plus the Royal Trux VOD reissue, we’ve also got a slice of life from Japan of 2012. Well, an Imitation of Life, actually. That’s the name of the third album from Eiko Ishibashi, a singer, songwriter and player who has gained notoriety within the Japanese music scene for her challenging commercial pop music. This is her first album to be released in the US and the first of her records to be released on LP at all – but really, her sound, and the production touch given to the record by Jim O’Rourke, is well-suited to vinyl, with old-fashioned acoustics and range-spanning dynamics that ring out naturally from the grooves. Eiko has been playing music for some years now; mostly piano, but drums and vibes and flute as well, and on Imitation of Life, she showcases her first song written on guitar. Clearly, young Eiko’s still growing, and three albums in, the song cycle that is Imitation of Life is super-sophisticated. She was a player before a writer, playing sessions and improvising with a number of avant talents, as might be indicated by the tight and adverturesome interplay within the band, supporting and extending her deceptively simple melodies with counter-movements and rhythms. Written almost as two mini-suites (seven extended songs), Imitation of Life flips naturally, communicating a speculative fiction narrative along the way that will edify anyone who’s ready to get past the charms of the singing and playing. Fortunately, the lyric sheet comes in both Japanese and English, and the expression of the album is fronted with perfect harmony by the sleeve artwork. For all of us down here in the Ivory Bunker, a surprising and lovely album from Eiko Ishibashi


Who says there aren’t any second acts in show biz? Tapes are back, just like LPs before them; two formats that by all reckoning were straight-dead in the water. Cassettes REALLY should have been dead, because unlike LPs, they sound worse than other formats, with their 1/16th-inch tape communicating its narrow dynamics in a fallibly mechanical fashion, rolling between two spindles over a tape head. And yet, that’s the magic: tape! In this digital age, the warmth of cassettes is clear a breath of, if not fresh air, then at least air. And so, we have tapes and tapes and more tapes this year – let’s see, new releases from Purling Hiss, Bitchin Bajas, Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Mike Donovan, Ty Segall and CAVE are all featured on the cassette format, and you know what? While not nearly as full dynamically as an album or even a (shudder) CD, they have a reductive way of making things sound really groovy, with less equaling more once again, hooray! Given that we stopped making tapes after Viva Last Blues shipped gold and returned platinum on cassette back in 1995, there’s some catching up to do if we want to corner the truck-driver market. And we do, and who better to do so than our resident sensualist, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy? This month, we’re bringing three of his varied classics out on cassette: Lie Down In the Light, Superwolf (with Matt Sweeney) and The Wonder Show Of the World (with The Cairo Gang). Can other sure highway classics like Ease Down the Road, I See a Darkness and Arise Therefore be far behind? Only your response to this first lot, alongside of the mercurial moods of the ‘Prince’, not to mention our own half-fucked approach to what in this case appears to be able to be categorized as business! So get taped up, and wait for the next windfall. Even if you don’t listen to them today, they’re small which means they can fit in your fallout shelter, time capsule or jumpsuit pocket once you’ve slipped into the suspended animation chamber. Doubtless, the world will be a different place in a hundred years - but chances are, when you emerge again, cassettes will be back! Like the cockroaches of our rock and roll culture, they will have survived when even St. Jobs’ hard drives and the internet have gone the way of the dodo. On your mark, cassette, go! 


Last and definitely not least in the cold November release schedule is the return to vinyl of Gastr del Sol’s game-changing “Mirror Repair” EP, released nineteen years ago this month. Gastr had already done two LPs, and the second one we’d released (Crookt Crackt or Fly was the first - remember?), and we’d been following David Grubbs from band to band since back in Squirrel Bait, but as alluded above, “Mirror Repair” presented something different, something that made Gastr more compelling going forward and something, we dare say that influenced new music being made for the next era. It’s likely that Jim O’Rourke’s place in the band was becoming less defined, which led to a greater expansiveness in the arrangements. The walls kept blowing out for Gastr over the course of the next couple of years, making their albums Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur can’t-miss classics to this day. Meanwhile, “Mirror Repair” quietly went out of print by ’98 – because, as the logic went, EPs were going out of style (EPs are back! – cassette-crazy ed.). But that’s just not fair; the best EPs are as powerful as any full album, and in the case of “Mirror Repair,” we felt that we were in tune with another new step in music, something that Royal Trux seemed unable (or more likely unwilling) to attempt; something that wasn’t in the realm of the Palace Brothers; something not offered by Silver Jews or Smog. It was a great moment of possibility during the season that we sold “Mirror Repair” to stores, and that was an encounter that’s informed everything we’ve done since. So fuck YOUR needs – buy “Mirror Repair” because of what it meant to us. Plus, it has that great Albert Oehlen painting on the cover! And “Eight Corners,” whotta classic.


It’s a natural fact that there’s something better than a record, and that’s TWO records! Make it two records for, well, not the price of one, but certainly less than the price of two, and goddam, we have a bundle or two for you to check out. Currently up for your attention are bundles exploring the back catalog with purchase of the new ones from Magik Markers, Mick Turner, Royal Trux and even Curtis Harrington! Check all this out (bundles are available in both LP and CD formats!) and order soon, since December’s on the wind and time’s-a-wastin’. And speaking of going Christmas ape, be sure to factor our new release s extolled below into your budget-busting decisions.


Man! It’s been go-go-go in the Ivory Bunker That Never Sleeps lately. With Ty Segall and Bill Callahan hitting the world with their great songs and heavy meanings in August and September, and then CAVE and Mike Donovan turning in two kinds of dance music as well as a plethora of extra moods in October, plus the explosion of worldwide Death for the world to see all year long, we’ve been dancing as fast as we think we can, we think we can! So imagine how cool we feel about having another date in December, usually a month reserved for counting up the leftover stock in the warehouse and sending out some dirty joke as a holiday greeting. Very cool; we’re very cool to the idea. But then again, the records for December 17th are gonna make for a great crop of last-minute releases before 2013 strikes a well-deserved midnight. Check it out –

We start with Aquariana, another issuance from the vaults of The Source Family, who became known to a lot more people this year due to the release of The Source Family documentary film. However, even if the film hadn’t come out, it was fully the intention of Source Family archivist Isis Aquarian to release Aquariana’s music in 2013, to get some of the strong SF female energy into the world after the male-oriented archival issues of recent years (The Thought Adjusters, Magnificence In the Memory). Well, December 17th – we’re making it right under the wire, but numbers are numbers, and the Aquariana LP and digital download release will equal 2013 for eternity. The songs Aquariana recorded at the Father House in 1973 were intended to be released the following year, but the decisions and actions of Father Yod led the Family into several transitional years culminating in his passing over while they were living in Hawaii in 1975. And in the transitions that followed, the music of his lovely bride and mother of his son was…not lost, but not released over. Now in December, her devotional purity will be available for all to share, in an album-length set of songs recorded mostly solo, sung at the piano. Like Father before her, Aquariana has since passed, so the photos of her and Yod (father and son) that Isis has maintained in the archive recall a time of other lives – and suggest other lives for the rest of our earthbound survivors.  

Also on the reissue tip in December is The Howling Hex’s 2005 All-Night Fox album. This was originally released on CD only, and we’re chuffed as fuck to be putting it on LP at long last. Neil Hagerty’s visions for The Howling Hex are as difficult as any transmissions from the future would be for contemporary ears, but now that we’re eight years removed, All-Night Fox has achieved its status as an all-time record. Following three albums of populist rock and roll under the name Neil Michael Hagerty, The Howling Hex was launched with a trio of limited-edition LPs that obliquely spanned the underbelly of music, culture and Proustian recall. These records have been collected in reedited and abridged form on the 1-2-3 CD. With all dust blown from the tubes, All-Night Fox inaugurated a new era for The Howling Hex: the "New Border Sound" approach was undertaken, trading takes on contemporary Mexican rhythms such as Nortena for the old, abused R ‘n B tropes. In addition to this rhythmic shift, the hard-panned production featured several singers, draped in sharply-contrasting layers of reverb. The effect was cartoonish and fun, reminiscent of the trial put upon listening ears back in Royal Trux’s Accelerator days. But there the comparison ended and has never been made since, as The Howling Hex have forged their own path, to the delight and disgust of discerning and “discerning” listeners, respectively. Now, let the needle sort it out for you! All-Night Fox is finally on LP. 

It wouldn’t be a proper date without some material from our friends at one of the distributed labels – and since it’s Christmastime, we’ve got records from T'REE of those labels. Blue Chopsticks come firth with their second-ever vinyl release (what? no cassette? – trend-spotting ed.), a 10” of solo guitar performances from David Grubbs entitled "The Borough of Broken Umbrellas." On the Streamline side of the street, an LP from Hollywood Dream Trip, the newly-formed duo of Christoph Heemann and Celer’s Will Long entitled Would You Like to Know More? plus an LP from the trio of Heemann, Limpe Fuchs and Timo Von Lujik entitled Macchia Forest. Last and maybe most, as far as the Billboard Charts go (which is really what we're all about) is a discharge from the highly commercial minds at Hollywood's own Million Dollar Productions! This time, they think they've found the answer, and that answer is The Yellow River Boys! Urnial St. Station is a classic rock album with Skynerdian heft and Mellencampish girth - plus a twist! One of the top band on the classic rock circuit has finally spoken out in faor of the hitherto-only-whispered about "urine scene." Check out the first single, "Hot Piss" - and spill your preference with pride, pee friends!

So, in order to see 2013 out the right way, you should definitely get all these before your Christmas break and then listen to nothing but them for the whole time you’re off. Don’t go outside or answer the phone or email or anything! It’ll be just like the end of Dead Ringers, except without the drugs. Or with the drugs – we’re not judging you here, okay?


So that’s the end of the year, and true to form, most of our artists will retreat to their domestic lean-tos and wait out the accursed peace-on-earth season before starting again to get their own piece on earth in the new year. There’s early aught-fourteen shows booked all over the place, from Neil Hamburger in Texas to Mike Donovan in Germany (more dates comin'!) to the anxiously-awaited Bill Callahan "Dreams Over Europe" tour. And of course, that’s only the beginning, and we’ve got records planned for every month through May too, so so far so good. But we’re not talking about that yet! Your short-attention spans (and ours!) require that we come back next month to talk about the one after that.

And really, that’s no problem at all. Nice talking, gang!

Rian Murphy
Drag City Inc.