posted October 17th, 2016


“…woke up this morning, feeling ‘round for my shoes. Said FUCK today – I got the fuck today blues.” Is that how your sad song goes? Cause of too many struggles etcetera? Then let’s flash forward instead, say to the 50th or so anniversary of our here and now. We roll down to the park, us seniors, with flags waving gently in our hands, in honor of an independence day that for us, came and went a long time ago. But as the songs at our annual picnic are played, the years melt away and we are regrooved in the spirit of our youth. This is the moment we’ve always fought for, and it’s not just us we’ve been fighting for either. Some of it is left out there for the taking, for the children of tomorrow to use in their hear and now. If we can cause one future mind to awake to the rhyme and rhythm that we’re presently pushing uphill with near Sisyphean focus, well….from a cost-benefit perspective, it still probably won’t have been worth it. Yet we play it forward anyway, blowing what passes as a secret into the mists of tomorrow, for the kids there to do with what they may. This is what we do today for. Welcome back to it!


And so it was, and is, and shall be. We bid you a (weirdly) cheery hello from capitalism central – a(mf)ka Drag City Records! Yes. We arrange for the manufacture of things that we want you to buy! Like LPs, CDs, cassettes, DVDs, books and sometimes just a t-shirt! We solicit business locally, nationally, and internationally! We believe in trade that’s fair! And perhaps that makes us some kind of duck here in the 2016 – a sitting one or a lame one, we’ll let history decide. Whatever, we grew out of ugly –ling status long ago, so regardless of the present sitch, we’re an adult duck and we can handle the truth. We’ll give as good as we get - and when we’re given as good as the enigmatic bunch called Chivalrous Amoekons gave us with their Fanatic VoyageLP/CS, well damn! We may stand a chance of actually changing things around here. If you’re like us, you’re tired of the kind of change that’s usually on sale – the kind that, once the dust has settled, reads as “more of the same”. We don’t see how sweeping actions provoke sweeping reactions that last – true change is a more incremental thing. Hearts and minds don’t fall in one era-defining tumble. Take for instance, The Mekons. For decades (and decades) now, their music has espoused rebellion as a way of being, identifying on some level as protest. Whether typed as punk, agitpop, alt-country or simply “rock and roll” (remember?), the fruit at the bottom of their oft-bitter parfait is equal parts cockeyed cynicism and deranged optimism, as they stare with delight and horror at the ragged pitching of our man-made craft, lost at sea and going down with all hands on deck for several thousand years in a row now! Then this raw combo of equal parts literate and imbecilic is offered as social music, for dancing and revelry. Chivalrous Amoekons have clearly absorbed the Mekons’ heady home-brew with satisfaction;  Fanatic Voyage rambles and rampages through 10-to-12 songs (the CS and DL forms come with two extra tracks) from throughout The Mekons’ extensive discography. It’s a ball and a blast to hear the voices of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Emmett (The Cairo Gang) Kelly and Angel Olsen locate themselves in these songs. It’s a pleasure as well to relate to you that the proceeds from this record go to The Roots of Music, a New Orleans non-profit dedicated to music education. So it’s not just benefiting you every time you put it on! That’s something different for you – when you play music you wan to hear, listen for yourself and for the world around you as well. Wouldn’t that be fanatic?


But music fans, feh! Why do they think it’s just for dancing? It’s good for that, but man (and woman, and child too, geez! – inclusive (but never intrusive) ed.) has ever desired a consort of the utmost cerebral nature with his (and her, and their – come on!) music. That’s why they sit down at them longhair recitals! That’s what makes that ol’ modern jazz so dang modern. That’s why they’re giving Dylan their plastic Pulitzer statue! Fortunately, the desire to say something that we might just have to sit still to take in regularly comes to our very own songwriting forces, and we love them for it! After all, who in the name of ever-lovin’ pop music doesn’t love a nice down-filled dose of deeply-coded breakdown set to verse? Too many of our favorites to count come in such a form (like you precious fraud Dylan!? – #AJWebermanForever ed.) – but they’re all a day older now and more, now that Tim Presley’s issued The WiNK. His White Fence records, while whimsical, weren’t that much of a walk in the park themselves (well, maybe one taken after dark), but for his solo debut, Tim strips meat from bone and waves it in the air like he just don’t care anymore! He can’t fool us – the songs are carefully constructed, even in their marvelously disheveled arrangements, and the takeaway for the listener is that Tim might actually care again, after some sort of coming apart that’s left him on the rocks for some (unspecified period of) time. Even in the midst of the dense and impressionistic lyric imagery, great drama is being spelled out morse-code style; the fractaled beats, stutting guitars and Tim’s rarely-employed lower-register delivery all make for a profoundly disorienting trip through a healing psyche as it flashes on various freak-scenes in non-sequential order (check the “Long Bow” vid for further abstractions on this allegorical suggestion). These things and more spill through the Tim Presley pop music coliander throughout The WiNK, filtered piecemeal but still packing the ultimately groovy formalist punch that his best songs do, piercing ear, mind and soul alike with a needle-sharp lure. Dates have just been announced throughout the US in January on a co-headline with Cate Le Bon (joy!), but in the meantime, have you heard The WiNK on LP/CD/CS/and DL? Really heard it?


…it’s still 2016, man (it’s a long newsletter, but not that long! – tick-tock ed.) – and what more can the world show us? Weirdness is an often-valuable element to a lot of our processes, but the events of this year have come down with a more disquieting type of weird – the kind that keeps us double-bolting the air-lock on our Ivory Bunker and checking it twice when the sun goes down. Our world is changing and it won’t ever be quite this complex again. A new simplicity is coming, and the open space around our choices seems a bit frightening – like some kind of reverse-claustrophobia that they’re going to have make a name for very soon (…. – speechless, thesaurus-clutching ed.). What place do our grand old court jesters The Howling Hex have at the table that’s coming? After all, the delicious juice they draw forth from our collective jugular is comprised of an excess of cultural choices, high contrasts (and low) and the shade to be sought and found along the paths less traveled. Frankly, given the adaptability of Neil Michael Hagerty and merry band, we’d probably be better off worrying about what’s going to happen to US and let them keep evolving to meet the winds of change that have never stopped blowing in their faces since the very beginning. Like, take their just-released single (please!): “Full Moon In Gemini” is a 7” single, with one song spread over two sides of the same record, constantly modulating itself in search of the ideal form. Guitars, drums, keys and vocals of different kinds are thrown at the theme! Chords and modes! The listener is not merely pummeled, but massaged, brought physically through the experience as a unique participant in the Howling Hex’s sonic Rorschach test! What you see there belongs to you. The rest is what’s Hex’t!


This October, Purling Hiss are back in the new music room, which probably explains why the noise floor is so high, we feel like our heads are ripping through the ceiling! Purling Hiss haven’t had a new album in two years, which is some part of forever, so we’ll forgive you if you don’t really know that they haven’t made a bad album, and also that their seven or eight records so far feature a regular variance of rock and roll approaches, ranging from jammy and blown-out low-fi to glammy and blown-up high-fi. And a bunch of stuff in between! When Purling Hiss came to Drag City, they did so on a quantum-leap of sonic leveling-up; 2013’s Water On Mars sported a unprecedentedly shiny rock sound on top of gleaming pop-song nuggetude that redefined their basement roar in a manner not only revelatory, but also begging to be underrated! Just another DIY monster getting lost in the studio, right? Nah! Our sense that the world wasn’t nearly overwhelmed ENOUGH persisted through the release of Weirdon in 2014, where the production was shaded subtly, thinning the sound to express the new songs properly, and in doing so, creating yet another inflection in the Hiss-sonics. With High Bias, as with seemingly everything else in 2016, stakes is high, and Purling Hiss are bringing the noise, railing against the man everywhere while addressing the national malaise and the divide that is setting us all against each other. Answers? Not here – but the confusion in the streets is palpable, and head Hissman Mike Polizze’s evocation of several well-chosen 80s tropes brings it all back home again – how voices from our cultural undercard (and, honestly? middlecard too! – polysci-fried ed.) are crying out for a recasting of the swiftly-tilting progressive values all around us, some wishing upon a return to something we never had in the first place, others craving the spiritual equanimity possessed by the social and financial elite and seemingly unavailable to the rest of us….the absence of all of which leads the Purling Hisses of this world feeling ganked and abused – and ready to write and play a song about it, by God! Polizze’s utter immersion in the different phases of this process, including cheerful abandon, wistful nostalgia, stoned and playful indifference and resigned-but-directed calls to (or from!) action make High Bias a great rock album of the AR (After Rock) era. Americans, we’re right around the corner from a massive turnover here, and nobody knows how it will go – but don’t forget to relieve the stress at one of the Purling US Tour 2016 dates, starting in late October and rolling up almost to Thanksgiving! Don’t let this change get by us, get High Bias – on LP/CD/CS/and DL where only the best is sold! October 14th and forward therefore.


Mainstreet, Earth! The sidewalk is littered with tents. Behind them, shops come and go, telegraphing their identities through an increasingly opaque show window. Music in the air, sirens in the middle distance. People walking the streets look down into their hand-held devices for news, information and entertainment. Around them are cars and buses and traffic lights – a day in the life not unlike what used to be. But a system is on the brink! The Axis is perpetually out of alignment, eternal in its desire to regain equilibrium. Revving forth from the ventricles of America’s apnea-ravaged heart and brain, Motor Earth is a musical vehicle with which to drive to safety. The road ain’t always pretty. There’s some scorched earth out there. Some detritus by the side of the highway. But with a means to an end in sight and the good old tools of the rock and roll era – guitars, bass, synthetic percussion, vocal cords and the faders and dials of the mixing desk – Axis: Sova are finding the good in this world, which is usually buried in the belly of the bad! It’s messy work excavating it, but Motor Earth fires over nine electric, eccentric burners to locate spots of pressure and release. If you’re looking to shed some worrisome weight on your mind, Axis: Sova will engage you in a highly active process! Out now, on GOD? records and tapes.


Did Obama just mention colonizing Mars? Nobody's said shit about that since Bush did it right back in 2001! And then the events of THIS planet became more pressing…Well, that’s that. This year is officially completely out of hand. But all things must pass, right? And just as we predicted, the events of this year will pass into history in another couple of handfuls of days. We said so! It was us! Now, will the weirdness end? What, are you nutty? NO – but it may take another form. We’ve got one more date to deal you before whatever this is becomes whatever is gonna be, and it adequately sums up the mishmash of disparacy in the air – and how, even as we watch the absolutely WORST of mankind on parade every day, there’s still not only great possibility, but shit that’s becoming real right now.  


Cory Hanson’s solo debut is one of the things happening that allows us to think that the final generations of this burning and chaotic sphere will indeed offer some of the finest young things that history will ever see – and not just due to the looming Ragnarok (that’s the actual Ragnarok, and not Thor:Ragnarok, which we’re very much looking forward to! – save-me-an-aisle-seat ed.). Cory is of course the singer from Wand, whose solo album you’ve doubtlessly been clamoring for all these….wait, it’s only been 26 months since the FIRST TIME we ever even heard of Wand! Holy shit, that’s some fast-tracking – but, when you lay ears on The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, it’ll all become clear. Cory’s songs stand in stark contrast to the all-or-everything hive-mind of Wand, and the austere nature of the arrangement – Cory on acoustic, with sparing rhythmic accompaniment and a careful use of string quartet – lends weight to the straightforward narratives wove into the songs. Tales of apartments being torn apart; walking in nature; escape from a sealed bag; people fornicating and drowning as mom floats in space….wait a minute! While individual items are in and of themselves straightforward, once they begin to accumulate on top of each other, a surreal, deeply disturbed feeling begins to permeate. Terrible things are happening here – but dry-eyed Cory details savagery and seeming non-sequitur with compassion and perseverence, as the strings color the space around the songs him with inflections from phases of pop music, all of which evokes the mission style of his homeland, the sunny (yet-shadowy) south of California. The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo is a profound departure from the world of Wand, and, fully-formed, it takes its place in the firmament of orchestrally-lit pop albums, it’s earth-bound issues allowed to take flight as music. On November 11th, people of all nations who require some kind of healing are free to welcome The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo into their quietest places.


Yeah, we’re bringing up Papa! Papa’s home! Did you Papa boner when you heard that there’s a new Papa M record? Imagine! After all these years and the tough times David Pajo’s been through lately. But there it is, in all its doomy glory. What is foreboding when the worst is behind you? We’re not sure, but Highway Songs is loaded to the teeth with it! Somehow, that’s just the sound of Papa M through the ages – 90s Papa M, 2001 Papa M and now today’s 21st Century Papa M. The secret ingredient is the aforementioned Pajo. His metal-tinged lines helped give Spiderland the color of eternity. He lent his presence to Tortoise for a couple years in order that Millions Now Living Will Never Die could live. His own Live From a Shark Cage is a goddamn masterpiece still – and “Whatever, Mortal” isn’t far behind. Papa M’s got the multi-shot built into the DNA – whether hefting the axe in the name of acoustic music, electric or electronic, there’s always an expertise and a dark shadow that guarantees a precise, yet wide-ranging musical result. Pajo will kill you eight ways to Tuesday – if he doesn’t kill himself first. Ol’ kid’s walked a dangerous line, but having survived himself and other people seemed to draw Papa M back into David’s life. Following his very public suicide attempt, he started recording these tracks – only to be interrupted by a violent collision with another vehicle while riding his motorcycle. For a minute it didn’t look good for his left leg, but once it became clear he was gonna keep it (and once they’d got all the IVs out), it was back to the studio, for some one-legged drumming and other recording in pursuit of that rarest of prey, the new Papa M album. It’s called Highway Songs and in good ol’ Papa M form, it comes pressed in 180gm vinyl and it’s got a die-cut cover. Some things never change! And some, thankfully, grow old. See you down the road apiece, Papa! Highway Songs is out the same day as the Cory Hanson album, 11/11/16.


Let us be clear – rock and roll is dead. It’s been dead 20 years. We can’t stress this enough. It was like, circa 1954-1996 or something like that. It’s complicated. But the processes that rock and roll set in motion are still going strong. Like, there’s probably still a subset of things called Rock. Guitars still make songs, and people of all kinds are still fascinated by the types of sounds you can squeeze out of those guitars – not just unpredictable sounds, but good old reliable ones too. Like distorted, reverberant sounds. They’re not played out yet. They’re still capable of elevating everything and throwing it all into a controlled chaos. Ask Major Stars. They’ve got THREE guitars in their mix. Even if they just had a single guitar, courtesy of Wayne Rogers, it would still be a searing, soaring presence. But three? SHIT. And they’ve been doing this for over a decade. We put out a couple records of this above-the-beyond combo a few years back – but our ongoing quest for another six strings of heaven has led us back to Major Stars after seven years of no Stars at all. Now that they’re back with an all-new album, we’re all in with ‘em! Motion Set comes in a luxe screen-printed sleeve, so no matter where it sits – on or off the turntable – it’s gonna move you.  Major Stars flash on in the sky once again on November 11th, with Cory Hanson and Papa M.


Along with Cory Hanson and his three Wand records and solo album in the last two-plus years, we’ve got another act who can’t stay out of the recording studio to make major statements that interact with the dysfunction of the world all around them (and us (and you!): Japan’s The Silence, led by former lead-GhostMasaki Batoh. Batoh likes to traffic in heavy concepts, like the way we humans can change our minds from within – remember the brain-pulse machine and Brain Pulse Music album? Fortunately, Batoh’s conceptions are always very musical, and always centered around the psychedelic music experience, which we recognize, doesn’t make entirely clear what we mean. For us, it’s clear that psychedelic music isn’t simply a form and a style – it’s a way of contrasting different forms and styles under one (admittedly multicolored) roof. Once those contrasts and styles have been visited upon, we find ourselves the listener changed by the experience, perhaps transcending the tedium of everyday realities. The Silence are expert at the shredding together of contrasts and styles – on this, their third album since 2014, they fuse folk tunes to metal-splashed riffage, tying the honking of a baritone sax to those guitar riffs and vocal riffs, breaking down into an uptempo funk vamp, pausing for a moment of pastoral improvisation, then shuffling a bossa-nova verse before igniting a bombastic chorus. All this is captured on analog tape in real time, because it’s in the playing of these changes that The Silence are gonna rise above. Remember that they live and work and play in Japan, where in the last decade, a major earthquake caused a major nuclear waste crisis around their island nation. Contrasting the tenets of ancient, nature-based faith with the world of chaos and concern that is today, they see a great need for peace, and that begins in the head. Their second album, Hark the Silence, found deeply meditative spaces in long jams; for Nine Suns, One Morning, The Silence are reeling their expansive nature into more concise song forms – but it doesn’t mean that those songs don’t go the distance! With prog-like construction, the songs of Nine Suns, One Morning take a diverse path toward completion – much like the path we need to take to get spiritually clear, and be the kind of person that contributes to the world being a better one, while it remains. But in the case of The Silence, that path is filled with a grand collection of rock and roll instrumentation, all of it aligned to create the thrill of rock. This is Batoh’s most complete fusion of these elements since Hypnotic Underworld back in the days of Ghost – and that’s saying a lot, since that was a hit-filled high point. So don’t shield your eyes – November 11th, stare into the Suns.


Sure, we’re based in Chicago, but we like to think global! Like, coming up here – bands all around the world! Bonnie Billy and Bitchin Bajas in Japan! Plus Japan’s own The Silence in Japan! And Japan’s Eiko Ishibashi in Europe! And France’s Latietia Sadier in Europe! California’s own Tim Presley in Europe too! And LA’s Wand in Europe! Plus, Louisville-born-and-bred David Grubbs in the UK! Scotland’s Alasdair Roberts in the UK too!  And back in sweet home America (cough!): Purling Hiss! OM! PeacersTy Segall! Fred Armisen! Axis: Sova! The Cairo Gang! Everybody from everywhere is gonna be everywhere else – look for ‘em LIVE.


Yes! Music, literature, movies – and art! The holy triamvurate! Look, we don’t control the gold standard, we can’t understand the housing crisis, we not able create thousands of jobs (yet! – muhuhahaHAAA! ed.) – so how can we help? We took a look and realized that ultimately, we impact people in their lives of their mind – maybe we can get to the better world that way? Plus make some dosh (capitalism, remember?)! So we’ve got the Soccer Club Club, and for the past few years, we’ve been hosting artists there when we get a chance. We’ve done shows on Lisa Alvarado, Stephen Eichorn, Becca Mann, Laura Owens, Rita Ackermann and Art & Language, plus a few group shows too! And that’s what’s going up this week – curated by Mari Eastman is the Noise of Art Show. Sure, we’re on the outskirts of town – who says art has be rolling down Broadway? So get your damn ass on your bike (or get in the hybrid, grandpa!) and let’s see you at the opening. Cory Hanson will be in the house playing his all-new solo songs! Cooper Crain will be DJing! Refreshments will be provided by Land and Sea Dept.! And there will be other gentle, but not perfect people around you, seeking to find something beautiful in their lives. And pay at least a few hundred bucks for it. Again, not a perfect world, but that’s how we do. So sign up for the mailing list right here.

OK, we’ve done our bit for perpetuating sane thought – or at least the acceptably insane. There’s a lot of competition out there – thanks for making yours Drag City.

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

October 2016