The Drag City Newsletter! February 2014

posted February 18th, 2014


Nobody loves you – and what if they did? Your every admission of selfhood would be greeted with a mewling, puking retaliation intended to establish equivalency – and ultimately, supremacy – forcing you to the sidelines of your own life so as to watch the real star, your sick (sic) other. These are “relationships” –  so perhaps you'll join us then in our delight as the earth’s surface is decimated by tornados, arctic vortexes, earthquakes and high water all around? Let's thin out the herd! We’ve grown too dominant, and a reckoning's been a long time coming. In the meantime, what to do with your poor, lonely, broken heart? Who will share in the pain and ask nothing of you? The person doesn’t exist, we promise – down here in the Ivory Bunker, we look ourselves in the mirror and know we’re not the one for you, either....but look, if you will, through your spyglass. Our on the horizon there is a ship for you - the good ship Drag City, bringing cargo to your port. Cargo that doesn’t talk, it sings! Something to soothe your soul, that spins its tales and otherwise asks nothing in return. You look like you could use a friend and songs to pass the time; when our next craft docks, you’ll have your choice of new partners, don’t worry. We won’t let you be lonely for long - ship no!


Looking for new friends....why? That's so last section! Try New Bums instead! Their debut album, Voices in a Rented Room, is sweet and sensitive, hard and nasty, everything you need from your new record. New Bums play their songs on mostly acoustic guitars, making it easy to hear what they’re saying – but then they swathe their voices in reverb, making it a little harder again. What’s life if you don’t have to try, right? The other reason for the reverb is that the Bums just LURVE that addle-headed state of mind where you know your life is wrong but you don’t do much about it – and so the songs are alternatively, moments of sodden introspection that turn to sharply focused acting-out fantasies, the types of which we all need to get ourselves by. New Bums rhymes with Two Bums, which is prolly closer to the truth – the band's made up of Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn, on guitars and singing. For the record, they employed a rhythm section, but what really makes the air move is the relationship between those guitars and voices, hanging in the thick and reverberant air. For those of us who know Ben from Six Organs of Admittance and Donovan from Skygreen Leopards, New Bums is exciting for bringing them together in ways they couldn’t possibly have realized in their parent bands. This is new territory for both Bums, but also carries the whiff of their former selves. Voices in a Rented Room is out today, so make sure you haunt your local record flop, they ought to have this if they have any self-respect left. In addition to the records, you may just see New Bums themselves in or around your local shops, playing inside and out as the whim strikes them while touring the country for SIX FRIGGIN’ WEEKS in March and April. Why so long? That’s what Bums do, hit the road. And they have some pretty great music to share everywhere too. Stick out your thumb, and pull in a bum - starting now and through the spring and the rest of time, etc. 


Men of many hats! How we love ‘em. And while our friend Fred Armisen is perhaps just one book deal/gallery show shy of Renaissance Man status, he certainly seems to be nailing it in the small-screen media category. Already the co-star of the hipper-than-thou (an essential element of the DC A&R profile) Portlandia series and still well-remembered for his run on Saturday Night Live (which is weird, because his last show was months ago! How does anyone remember that?), he’s just been introduced as the bandleader for Late Night With Seth Myers, launching in just a few weeks! Cheers Fred – but from our perspective, three cheers ALSO for The Blue Jean Committee, The Fingerlings, A Taste of New York and The Bjelland Brothers! That’s just to name a few of the bands Fred has hand-picked out of the literal MILLIONS of bands who ever made a record – and why? Because their sounds were so innocent and pure, so deserving of more than the local fame they once had. Now, the time has come for them to be heard again - the Fred Armisen Presents: Local Heroes series is bringing these bands back to the ears of the people for whom they were made in the first place. Drawn from a diversity of times and places, ranging from the 1970s all the way up to present-day New York City, the Local Heroes series features one band on each side of a 7”; perfect for your DJ night, sleepover or the jukebox at your favorite watering hole. These records are the hits that never made it out of their neighborhood – but now, they’re available for all to hear. Don’t fuck this one up, Earth Mother – volume one of the series, featuring (local) chart toppers from The Blue Jean Committee and The Fingerlings is OUT NOW.


Death notice: in April, there will be a third archival trip beyond the pale, bringing back the sounds of a band ahead of their time for what is most likely the final issue of its kind. Afterlife recap: when For the Whole World to See was issued in 2009, the proto-punk sounds of Death were celebrated for their power and unique vision as well as their context – the work of three teenaged African-American brothers in mid-70s Detroit, fans of rock, but otherwise removed from any system in which their music would be heard. The story was over by 1980 when the band gave up on their vision and moved on to other musical projects – but the issue of these tracks five years ago caused such a furor that when more recordings were uncovered (this time more of a practice-space variety, rather than studio tracks), a second vintage Death album was issued, Spiritual-Mental-Physical. By then, a documentary was underway, and when A Band Called Death was released last year, the excitement of the music and the tragic aspects of the story (founding member and leader David Hackney died in 2000, before the music of Death became acknowledged) went to a whole new level. Meanwhile, another cache of tapes was uncovered – and this time, they were of the same standard as the 1975 studio sessions that made up For the Whole World to See. In fact, several of the songs on the forthcoming III are additional recordings from those sessions! Combined with further sessions in 1980 and a couple more from 1992 (which represented not only the first time the brothers had played together in over a decade but also the last time they ever would play together), the songs on III are a potent representation of the rest of Death. Leading this collection is the “North St.” single, which features an angular protest-rocker from 1980 on the A side and one of the songs from 1992, “We’re Gonna Make It” on the flip. Seventeen years after their youthful endeavor had come to nothing, David Hackney had hope for the future – and as always, his brothers Bobby and Dannis were there to bring that feeling to life. Now of course, here in the future, Death has never been stronger, even without David here to see it all come to pass. If you can’t wait until April, “North St.” is here NOW – and also in the here and now, Death has gigs throughout March, in Monterey, Toronto, Santa Ana and San Francisco. There’s more where they came from later in the year – Death is alive again, again!


Closing fast in March, we are pleased as punches to power the third chapter in the fantasy life of Dead Rider, Chills On Glass, into all the parts of your body required to absorb it. This means ear canals and brain of course – and probably eyes, as Dead Rider’s best taken in as an audio-visual proposition (see the video for “Blank Screen” if you doubt our shit!), and then some parts from yer lower 48 as well – because Chills On Glass is a sleekly studded dancer of a rock album, with synths and all manner of production laid in so thick that your listening ears, minds and bods'll have as much to deal with as possible! Don't get spooked - info overload is a simple part of the program; the multiplicity of experience and unreal resonances found therein. Shattered rock glitters within the gloss of the experience, and that....shale? is, of course, the personal oeuvre of Chicago’s own Todd Rittmann, who first made waves guitarring with the legendary wooze-n-ooze rockers (or would you prefer wheeze-core?) U.S. Maple right here on ol’ DC back in the days (thank you for not saying “daze” – let-the-past-be-the-past ed.) of the late 90s. Todd’s kept building on his inspirations, first with Singer and now with Dead Rider, to where he’s truly shattering glass ceilings, fourth walls, and come March, sales expectations with Chills On Glass, which is everywhere you want modern rock to be – the club, the gutter, the asylum and the opera-house, all in one sweeping motion! This makes them one of not just Chicago’s but THE NATION’S best live acts, and Dead Rider will prove it to one and all in late March/early April with a run of east coast, south coast and middlewest coast dates during which they won’t coast AT ALL, EVER.


You don’t have to read The New York Times to divine that New Age music is on the rise again, for perhaps the first time in history! For those of us who lived through it, this was just another execrable aspect of living in the 1980s, made tolerable only by the steady flagging of values that had birthed it during that time – the extinction of said values accounting for the eventual disappearance of the damned genre –  but for the collector-scum underbelly of the 21st century, those records and cassette tapes are the private-press classics from the halcyon far end of the hippie era. Of course, as it transpires, freed from the cultural baggage of their time, the sounds do seem to evoke head-tripping revelations on the road to deep peace – and who’s gonna argue with that? Not any longer, us. Together with Yoga Records, we’ve dotted a few of these kindsa titles back on the map – and those who’ve bought Matthew Young’s Traveler’s Advisory, the Mad Music Inc album or Woo’s It’s Cosy Inside have delighted as we have in a diversity of sounds that belie the cliché of homogeneity that once dogged our perception of the "New Age Music." Now that the cat’s out of the closet (you like pussy?), the second Woo project from DC/Yoga is bound to rub the sweet spot of a lot of dyed-in-the-wool New Age freaks, as well as the more come-lately listeners at the table. When the Past Arrives is a collection of previously unreleased Woo tracks that make no sense at all - as in, Not at all sensible why they weren’t released in the first place! When the Past Arrives this April, you can decide for yourself, and we're thinking that you too will say Woo!  When the Past Arrives is coming on LP and CD…but no cassette? What will future generations think?


No matter how hard we pour it on and how many hits we try to manufacture, it seems like the Drag City league of distributed labels is right there with us, keeping pace, knocking fast ones and curves alike out of the park! In January, GOD? put Jack Name’s Light Show into play, and it’s been kicking serious home-fi, indie-pop ass ever since. Now in February, Sun Ark’s back in the game with the latest Sun Araw album Belomancie – a double-deep trip to the raw digital heart of space, where rhythm came from, in original protean form. Simultanously month, David Grubbs leads his trio of Belfi/Grubbs/Pilia into some post-rockin’ abstractions on Dust & Mirrors courtesy of Blue Chopsticks. Seriously NOS vibes from this fine new sounds! And when March comes marching home, the seriously SF-psyched-out second album from David Novick, Your Sister’s Hand, is sure to turn some ears on their head with it's carefully hand-threaded folk-rock, while keeping our mind on our toes – as in, stay on ‘em! The kids are all rock.  


Baby, it’s cold outside - but our Dream River ain’t froze over in the least! And we’d be having a lot more fun with God if we could only keep Have Fun With God, Bill Callahan's dub version of Dream River, in stock! Or shit, any other of the Callahan Collection. ‘Tis truly the season to be Callahan right now, and clearly his luck is holding strong – while most of America’s freezing their Asspocalypse off, Bill’s out conquering Europe with a nice long tour which wraps up at the end of February with a fortnight of shows in the warm-weather nether-regions of the continent while we wrestle with another bear of a polar eclipse here in the states. Sometimes I wish we were on tour in Spain and Portugal, but it’s a lot harder to take the DC show on the road and expect to fill houses the way that our Bill does. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of people sit in front of their computers, right?

That said, there’s plenty to be grateful for here in Ice Station America, like the aforementioned New Bums and Dead Rider tours. Also happening for lots of dates is a Purling Hiss tour – and dang, that’s good news, since the last time we saw the Hiss, opening for Ty Segall in Chicago, they almost knocked us off our feet! And speaking of Ty, he’s got a Southwestern run coming up here, so maybe you could catch two birds with one stoner and see him in Vegas or some such. Or wait a couple weeks and let Bitchin Bajas provide the heat from within on a quick Midwestern sun-flare of shows. Brave the weather – because God and us knows it ain’t getting no better. This is the beginning of the end! Don’t let the deniers tell you otherwise! Whoricanes, turdnados, mudwaves and deep-plate drought are coming. Have fun with your god now, whoever she is - enjoy the pure light, while it’s still comfortable to soak it in.

Next month we forecast it’ll be comfortable again – as we’ll be couched in beds of new releases and reissues that we expect will warm your mind and body all over again. See you then - but not if you see us first! Like it says above the door, it's ambuscade or bust here at Drag City. And we intend to keep it that way.


Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

February 2014