Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bang Records (1966)

A good song is its own reward. If the song has a good label, that is extra value, no charge. What could be better than Neil Diamond's first single? I don't know. In fact, there is so much I don't know it's best to let Neil have the last word:

Don't know that I will
But until I can find me...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Sound of White Columns/SmartGuy Records (2008)

British artist Martin Creed takes things down to bare necessities and near dope-slap simplicity. This fine edition is a great example. A classic post-punk stomp (bah, bah, bah, bah, bah-bah, bah-bah, bah-bah-bah-bah-bah...) in a clear guitar twang driven by crisp drums with the only lyrics the song of the disaffected has ever really required. On beautiful white vinyl. Oh, and not B-side: A or AA.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cat Collectors' (1983)

The aforementioned Elodie Lauten record. Awesome label name, even better logo, and what might be a fish and a butt (but probably aren't) thrown in for good measure.

Friday, June 25, 2010

99 Records (1981)

99 Records didn't last long (1980-84), but the had a pretty damn good four years: Bush Tetras, Y-Pants, ESG, and Liquid Liquid were all on the roster at one time or another. One of the label's last releases was Glenn Branca's debut long-player, The Ascension. The cleanliness of the label's design belies the dissonance and clamor of the album, a rock-ish hybrid that hints at the massive guitar symphonies Branca would soon endeavor to compose. Side B's 99 logo is pretty nice, but we can't confirm or deny if it's present on all of the label's releases. The A side seems a little drab, if uncluttered and attractive, until one notices the old A/B switcheroo, a little bit of graphic trickery that we can't recall ever seeing on any other labels, surprisingly enough. Also worth checking out is the design on the 7" singles released by Branca's rock bands, The Static and The Theoretical girls. The Ascension is adorned with some really nice Robert Longo cover art, but that will have to be exhibited in some other blog.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rockin' Horse (1981)

Elodie Lauten is an under-appreciated composer and keyboardist who has done all sorts of exciting things over the years, but this album might be the most unique. An album of new wave songs, Orchestre Modern features not only some great song titles, but a really nice label design, with Rockin' Horse's mascot floating above a warped grid (or maybe it's a net?) in stark black and white. Other early releases of piano work (recently reissued!) were put out on a label with the charming name of Cat Collectors (we think Elodie's own) which feature a handsome little feline who might just grace this blog over the next few days...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Plastic (2008)

An uncharacteristically mellow Burning Star Core record, Challenger is just as remarkable for the art that adorns it as the music that lies in the grooves. Robert Beatty's cover art features a planet hatching some technicolor goo, and the labels mirror the yin and yang of the record, the cold darkness of space and the colorful interstellar pudding that oozes all over it. We're not sure if spaceflight these days involves some sort of astronaut Go-gurt, but I think this record proves that they should. The marketing potential is out of this world!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cinema Sound, Ltd. (1960s)

Let the marriage of yellow and purple, Cinema Sound, Ltd., and The Cannon Royal Family seduce you...

"International Fashions in Sound is an instant ticket to everywhere, produced exclusively for Cannon Royal Family International Fashions for bed and bath." (Yes...I googled said royal family and the first thing that came up was an upland cotton blanket.)

"The selections in this album provide an unusual feeling of opulence in music. They offer a colorful experience for the listener, taking him on a magic carpet for a brief visit to some of the world's most exotic places."

"This album is not for sale."

White Denim, 2004

Pay Toilets 'Wet & Wild USA/Freedom Rock' LP on opaque milk chocolate vinyl. (Yes, it's the worst brown you can imagine.) You get to pick the title of this LP. I choose Freedom Rock. These boys hail from Pittsburgh, and the Charlie's Angel on the right (Jeff Schreckengost) is the guitarist and designer of this full blast-punk package. Lead singer Jim Lingo is awarded the privilege of bearing the location of two of the most well-placed holes in record label history. John Roman rounds out the trio on drums and in a fabulous fur-lined hood. This is turning into a fashion review. Oh and the fonts...come on... White Denim's logo alone is nice, but...Coke-script? Copyright? Too good to be true.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Moers Music (1983)

This sort of chunky vintage text has gotten a lot of use in recent years, but here's the real McCoy, released in 1983 when, we assume, this look was probably cutting edge. The cover of this lp, a largely forgotten early 80's missive from guitar composer Rhys Chatham, is even more reminiscent of early digital technology, the sort of design that the youth of today seem to go gaga for. Oddly enough, there's not really much of an electronic influence on the music here, but that makes the content of this record a bit more timeless than its label. The text around the outer edge of the label is a nice addition, offering a little bit of order, but even more activity on a crowded canvas.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Metropol (Vielklang), 1989

After dabbling in Die Artze, In Extremo, Yo La Tengo (?!), Nina Hagen, the remix of this novelty song and heaps of, Vielklang (and its subdivision Metropol) is no more. Which is a shame, because this label design is sharp and the shape of the German language only makes it looks better.
But we'll always have this: BERLIN, BERLIN
which plays over and over again at Checkpoint Charlie, seducing us into later locating and purchasing this gem.

M-M-Meine Damen und Herrn, M-M-Meine Damen und Herren, Die Mauer muss Weg!

Balkanton (1981)

We don't know much about this record, but Dobra Savova seems like a nice lady, and her folk songs from Dobrudzha sounds good to our ears. The label (we went for the anglicized version, rather than messing with the Cyrillic characters) was a state-owned enterprise, and, according to Wikipedia, their releases can still be bought in former Soviet countries. Balkanton also released John Lennon, Kate Bush and Yngwie Malmsteen records, but a perusal of their catalog has introduced us to some interesting Bulgarian record covers that may require further research. If the labels consistently look this nice, we'd be happy to add to our Balkanton collection.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tomato (1976)

We'll dispense with the Magma backstory here; suffice it to say that if you're unfamiliar with their work, it would behoove you to rectify the problem forthwith. The interesting thing here is that a band with such rich (and sometimes garish) imagery gets such a simplistic label treatment. No sign of the killer Magma logo, no alien or futuristic imagery, just a little fruit (though in New Jersey, the tomato is apparently officially considered a vegetable). The label lacks the majesty of “De Futura,” which fills the second side of this record with bombastic swagger, but we love this label all the same. If only all challenging and idiosyncratic music were adorned with a cute little friend come in from the garden...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shanachie (1985)

A bit of dissonance here, in terms of the stylistic matrimony of music and label design. The Shanachie label design reeks of Americana, with echoes of Currier and Ives in the idyllic little homestead and a cartoonish font that someone's grandfather would probably call “snappy.” That Shanachie featured early releases from Clannad and the Chieftans that may have borne this design seems odd enough, but that the American release of The Indestructible Beat of Soweto bore this label just feels downright weird. Shanachie mixed it up before and after (a platter by Robert Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders sure didn't look like this) but kept things conservative here, emblazoning one of the first domestically available documents of modern South African music with a label that'd be more appropriate on a tin of Christmas cookies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

self-released (2009)

This is from the record for the Brice McClure projection performance "VOUCHSAFE ME MORE SOUNDPICTURE- FAIN MAKE GLORIES", performed at the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, on January 15, 2009. McClure is an architect, licensed to practice in New York in 1992. He often writes elaborate notes to go along with his performances that he refers to as "obstructions" to the piece. He marks them all with his "REGISTERED ARCHITECT" stamp. We were more than pleased to open this limited edition record and find that he stamped and initialed the label too. The other side of the label simple says 5/120 in sharpie. We're not sure if all of the records have offset markings or if we lucked out and got the one pressed by a shaky hand.

Monday, June 14, 2010

RRR (1998)

Technically, this was released in 1985 on Fun World, but since only one copy was made, this reissue, put out more than a decade later, was the first time the hoi polloi could get their mitts on this 7”. Miller's label design is charmingly unassuming, and the artifacts of its handmade construction were luckily reproduced here on the RRR reissue. Since the playable content of the record is a collage of surface noise from various other platters, the decidedly lo-tech approach taken on the label seems appropriate. This release seems like a bit of a lark for Miller, who was, at this point, not long removed from the break-up of Mission of Burma. Side B features the same exact label ("This SIDE" included), and, a few bars of Bach carved directly into the vinyl. The evolving aspect of this record is that its existant noise is to be augmented by new imperfections, a la Christian Marclay's Record Without a Cover, as it is (mis)handled and played. We've not the heart to subject this to any undue punishment, however, so our copy has had little chance to evolve.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Emarcy (1954)

Give the drummer some!
Thinking back on it (it being some time in my teens), I probably came to appreciate jazz record covers a bit before I came to really like this thing called jazz - thanks in no small part to the iconic illustrations of David Stone Martin that graced the covers of 100s of classic album covers.

His silvery drummer logo design for the Emarcy label and trumpeter logo for Clef are, I believe, among the only instances where the truly captivating artist's work appears on a record's inner hub. In both cases they rest simply at the head of the labels. It wouldn't be unreasonable to figure the Clef logo as the more successful of the two - the detail is fine; each wrinkle in the player's jacket bringing to light the twists and turns of his physical performance but I decided to showcase the Emarcy drummer for its abstract simplicity. Gazed at from afar, it's a race car driver gripping a steering wheel, a painter holding a palette, a cook holding a plate- a veritable Rorschach of possibilities; a doodle that moves. And what a doodle!

In 2007, I had a couple nights event for my label, Locust, at the Issue Project Room. One of the artists to join in the proceedings was Tony Martin who I had gotten to know a few years earlier through the release of an archival disc of Ramon Sender's Desert Ambulance for which Tony provided all of the stunning spontaneous visual compositions (a detail of his work made up the cover art of this vinyl only release).

A day or so later, Tony asked me if I'd like to come by his Williamsburg loft where, over drinks at their kitchen table, he very casually informed me that his father was also an artist who had done a lot of commercial work for record labels half a century ago. I blurted out 'David Stone Ma...' and looked over at Tony who by now had a smirk on his face and invited me to follow him up the stairs to the top floor. The room was alive with works by DSM and works by Tony - two men who seemed not to have known each other terribly well for one reason or another (and, Tony, I could well be wrong) but whose artistic vision - however different in technique, medium, vision - shares a common bond in their appreciation of movement. There is no still life, only life.

The album in question could really have been any of a number of Emarcys on hand but I grabbed this musical traipse through Parisian jazzy vocals by The Blue Stars of France. It features the late, wonderful curled up comfy cool of the -not a drop French-Blossom Dearie (whose early Verves, Fontanas and a handful of later Daffodils are essential) in cahoots with Christine Legrand (Michel's sister), Jeanine De Waleyne, and Fats Sadi.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kapp (1970)

The last label design deployed by Kapp before being fully absorbed into MCA records-and the latter's spiritless presentation-is also my favorite. Post day-glo sherbert color bars and circles of a magnified Kapp logo give off a strange, empty warmth that seemingly defined the endless bummer of the first part of the decade like so much forgotten wallpaper. Kapp's last take.

Linda Perhacs' sublime Parallelograms is a subtle, gauzy and windswept femme psych trip that-save for one other modestly obscure title I can think of-is unmatched in the genre. But you already knew that, right?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Baidaphon (1920)

Gazelle! Gazelle in the moonlight! Moon God! Guzzle ghazal gazelle! A disc of Joussef Dahertag's breathtaking vocal ululations-one of a small stack of Arabic 10.5" 78s I have on the beautiful Beirut based Baidaphon label. Gurgle.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cook Road Recordings (1952)

With its genre bending coverage of dynamic field recorded environmental sounds (earthquakes, oceans, ionosphere!), binaural classical, folk, spoken word (including a Buckminster Fuller I have yet to see in the flesh), guitar recs by Bonfa & Montoya and, perhaps most notably today, a stunning & invaluable string of location recordings throughout the Caribbean, Cook seemed to map a trajectory not dissimilar from Moe Asch's Folkways.

On closer look, though, the whole venture seemed to be coming from a gearhead inventor's affection for sound innovation rather than the Weltanschauung of the post war Popular Front. As far as I can tell, Cook wasn't singing out, he was making the World's Fair scene and showing off his tech wares which over time included amplifiers, the "microfusion" process (see pevious post), true double grooved binaural recordings and microphones. Realizing a stronger interest in his demo discs than his machines, he proceeded to issue some 150+ lps, 10s and 45s over a 14 year period beginning in 1952 from his Stamford, Connecticut based Cook Laboratories and pressing plant.

The limited edition Cook Road Recordings series has long been a source of personal fascination. The wandering off the beaten path vibe and all that the open, unobstructed road connotes comes through on the label's tableau of windblown trees, brush and telephone line vistas . The opposing 'R' logo looks rather like it could have been an automotive emblem; the brisk hand drawn 'Road Recordings' beneath is hurried and casual. These same stock images-rendered in southwestern hued watercolor-were almost exclusively used for the series' covers as well. The liners were often laid out in a serif typewriter font - lines underlined for emphasis - that lent the series a sense of urgent dispatch like a letter from the road.

The Road series included numerous exceptional wild microphone recordings, often with pulpish titles & subtitles, like Tiroro-"Best Drummer in Haiti", Mexican Firecrackers (truly one of the great field recording sides of all time), The Blind Troubadour of Oaxaca: The Romantic Voice of Alonzo Cruz and His Guitar and this great slice of Delta blues by K.C. Douglas featuring his legendary song "Mercury Blues" - A Deadbeat Guitar and the Mississippi Blues: Street Corner Blues 'Bout Women And Automobiles.

Have you never dreamed of driving the length of the Americas? Hopping a boat to the neighboring islands? Over beers in a dicey East Orange blues club in the late 80s, with newly minted drivers' licenses, a friend and I used to talk at length about the possibility. It was doable, we'd both agreed. Records from this series take me back to that place. The world was accessible.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cook (1962)

Emory Cook's irreverently odd and inventive Cook records label did as much to further the science of sound as it did the sound of esoterica. This particular release does both. Sort of. The science is in the material. The esoteric is in the material's material.

Releases on his label were often marketed as audiophile but with an
enduring middle brow sense of hep, pep and wit. The label design - with it's stock logo framed in a block of red familiarity like a Life Magazine cover and a leisurely cursive 'compatible' beneath come together like so much typographical comfort food (and of course, there's little that says comfort like familiarity -save for the kind that breeds contempt). These visual cues synthesize effortlessly into a manila memo pad background and the draftsman like partial graph overlay could well have put the album in better company next to oscilloscopes, test equipment, tubes ,ham radios, transistors, electronic manuals and other tools of the tinkerer's trade than in a proper record collection. I don't think this was lost on Cook for a sec.

Microfusion was one of many patented tech advances Cook made to try to improve overall fidelity of records over the years. It involved pressing vinyl up from a powdered form rather than the heated globs of the good gunk. There's a great juxtaposition here of free floating circular particles amid the rigid lines of the graph that always suggested to me the process of taking that loose powder and molding it into shape. And it's all reinforced by the positioning of these three words: "New Microfusion Process" within the grid- tighter kerning, a touch of taut angularity. Test tube type . Serious. Science. Stuff.

A Double Barrel Blast poises two zonked failures at communication side by side. Side one's "The High Cost of Dying" is a taboo busting gag in which one 'Rocko' haggles with a real funeral director over the cost of burying a distant uncle. B
y album's end, the undertaker is sauced and exacerbated and negotiation breaks down. It's good stuff, too, that seems to have anticipated the Tube Bar tapes , the great Tom Scharpling Jerky Boys, Crank Yankers, etc. by several decades. The flip -"Listening in on Computer Conversations" is a bizarre, impossible to follow speculative docudrama featuring Cook's made up infinitely knowing ECTAR digital computer and the analog computer at "Ball laboratories" (a thinly veiled poke at Bell Labs). It starts off as an educational demo, morphs into a phone call between Ectar and Ball, breaks into a wacked pre-Residents bossa swing electro number 'Programmed for Love' before essentially disintegrating into a series of narrative bleeping and blorping electronic non sequiturs and climaxing with the two birthing a baby computer.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the liners point - several times - to the future collectability of this record - a curious bit of framing around a disc that has an awful lot to say about our own awkward fetishes, mores & rituals whether they concern death, technological innovation or the perpetual challenges of communication in general.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Free Lance (1979)

A bicycle built for eight! Simple. Carefree. Curiously suited to the label, octuplets and the music herein. Breezily swinging African tinged spiritual jazz with legendary expat pianist Bobby Few, soprano saxophonist Jo Maka and Senegalese percussionist Cheikh Tidiane Fall with a guest out vocal spot by Anedra Shockley on one cut. Recalls Don Cherry's 'brown rice' period on the title track and Dollar Brand / Abdullah Ibrahim on the Maka penned Sunflowers (not to be confused with Hubbard's "Little Sunflower"). This was the first release on the French Free Lance label.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Head (1969)

Harvey Matusow's Jew's Harp Band War Between the Fats and the Thins (Head, 1969)

Head music on the Head label. A terrific humming & vibrating psychedelic logo; this visual hubba bubba could easily have been the handiwork of Wes Wilson. War Between the Fats was one of only a handful of titles issued on UK promoter John Curd's very short lived imprint and, of course, it's a cut out (what were the money handlers at Chess/GRT thinking?).

The sound of multiple zinging jew's harps hocketting amongst pixiphones, tibetan bells, mini zithers, gongs, gun shots, a toy turtle, a metronome, a toy duck and gonzo stream of consciousness narratives and slobbering buzzing vocalese makes for some wonderfully indulgent audio gluttony.

Features a young Annea Lockwood and Stan Kenton's daughter among others.

Matusow was a character- by turns a reviled turncoat to the left during the red scare, a dyed in the wool freaker and, perhaps most of all, a hustler.

I picked this up at a seriously ramshackle condemned house in Norwalk, Connecticut from a cracked junkman around '97 or so and quickly started haunting Matusow's personal website and took in acres of this obviously charismatic man's strange life through autobiographical excerpts of his unfinished book The Stringless Yo Yo. By this time, he was a Mormon in a clown suit on public access TV and making some brand of music on homemade instruments if my memory serves me right. I reached out to him about this particular zinger shortly after turning up a copy of this rec to little avail.

If you want to go down the Matusow wormhole, check out the great WFMU piece "The biggest snitch in America" and then step on over to this site to read an obituary and numerous contrabituaries by those who knew him in the flesh. The man certainly made his mark, apocryphal and otherwise.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Howard Home Recording Disc (1941)

I found this particular 8" home recorded acetate disc about 15 years ago in central Virginia. I have always been drawn to the great Deco typeface of the Howard label. Buttressed by 4 horizontal lines like the signage of a hotel marquee; the underwriter's laboratories inc. seal hangs overhead like a moon, a helium balloon, whatever ; Howard unphased by the the italic tension circling the periphery.

I can imagine a pitchman rattling off these four points in rapid, punctuated succession like some sales mantra: "Type 8C! Metal Base! Slow Burning! Home Recording Disc!".

I've seldom played this record - it's a train wreck to play back - but I have thought about it often and think of it still. It's a structural anthropologist's wet dream - private, taboo laden leisure life documented on one side and the industrious public life of commerce on the other.

Side "Dirty" (12/25/41) - a keyhole into the barely audible ribald songs, good time cussing, inebriated laughter of some Tom, Dick and Harry -in this case Jim, Wau (Wall? Hank? Hak? You tell me) and Fred. Side "Commercial" (12/26/41) - same guys doing ads for their plumbing and vacuum cleaner outfits. It's easy to take this stuff for granted in an age when this dichotomy is getting leveled day in and day out and amateur hour on the youtube stands as much of a chance of going viral and getting picked up in meta news cycles as anything else but time was...

Over the years, I've amassed a small but enjoyable collection of home recorded acetates almost always dating from the 30s and 40s- often featuring letters to loved ones, birthday wishes, mom and pop advertisements, sacred hymns of devotion, cantorial services, pop piano ditties. Powerfully ordinary.

Although my collection and appetite for these orphaned audio dispatches of the everyday has never gotten as obsessive as the visual analog featured in the great doc Other People's Pictures , I never pass up a Presto, an Audio-Disc, a Wilcox-Gay, a Lyon & Healy, a Coronet, a Duodisc, a Selmer, a Philco, a Zephyr, a Howard or any of the other myriad manufacturers who issued these recording blanks more than half a century ago. I suspect my motive comes in some measure from the desire to hear unofficial history unfold and in its unfolding, the anxious, clumsy and uncertain history of the recording process itself.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Multhipla (1982)

Among my favorite audio artifacts of the first wave of artists associated with Fluxus is Wolf Vostell's dé-coll/age issued in 1982 on Gino Di Maggio's Italian Multhipla label.

The label's chief image is the classically beguiling 'aztec' logo designed decades before by George Maciunas, rendered here in silver with a light overlay of red text atop; it's at once vacant & animated - a backwards looking pop emblem of the trickster movement that inextricably linked Vostell to Fluxus and Maciunas to Vostell (in spite of Maciunas' rejection of Vostell's dé-coll/ages). So much for unity. Long live the unity of design.

Taking its name from Vostell's magazine of the same name and the mag's call to disorganization- dé-coll/age collates happenings recorded on location from Monaco to Los Angeles between 1959 and 1981 all clocking in at around the 3 minute mark, the length of a typical pop song which these are not. Rather: a hairy, noisy, living, breathing documentary of unmounted industry prodded, poked and picked at.