Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Night-People (2009)

Iowa City-based label Night-People mostly puts out an extremely fine selection of cassettes, but some releases see light on vinyl. The LPs are worth picking up not only for the sweet jams but also for label dude, visual artist and screen-print maestro Shawn Reed’s always excellent handcrafted artwork. This center label for the dreamy Madison, WI duo Peaking Lights’ album “Imaginary Falcons” is a just a teeny tiny taste.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Roulette (1966)

Once I had a dream where I was a really brilliant oud player- like, just wailing. I woke up so jazzed and certain of my musical destiny that I marched on down to Lark in the Morning in San Francisco, took one of them puppies off the wall, and started to play. Now, anyone with sense can predict what happened next (i.e., I merely added to the horrible, horrible racket of Fisherman's Wharf tourists "jamming" tunelessly on mbiras and digeridoos), but sometimes you just gotta follow those dream feelings, man. Anyway: oud. It ain't got no frets. It's hard to play.

You'd never guess how hard when listening to Armenian-American oud virtuoso John Berberian, of course. This record comes before the electrified psychedelic sounds of Middle Eastern Rock, and is more "traditional," but still truly rockin' in the non-genre sense. The Record Fiend blog has a nice post about the contents.

I just picked this up at one of Boulder, Colorado's newest purveyors of LPs, Absolute Vinyl, which is more than making up for the closing of Bart's CD Cellar (Bart himself has a new "Music Shack" that I still need to check out). Feelin' pretty lucky about the vinyl scene here in this little college town- for now, at least! As soon as I saw that Roulette label (a classic, I'm told), I knew I had to share it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

private press (1991?)

"The Manson Family Sings The Songs of Charles Manson"

An LP recorded in 1970 by the family sans the man himself (“Clem” handles the vocals and guitar, aided by reverb-washed Manson-chick backing vocals and “Gypsy” on violin). Really beautiful and chilling stuff, aside from all attendant associations.

This is a white vinyl issue with no label or date information. The etches in the run-out grooves read “YGGDRASSIL FOR NINE DAYS” on the A side and “SCORPIAN BACKWARDS” on side B. There’s a sticker with the date May 29 1991 on the inside of the sleeve of my copy, and I think I'll just run with 1991 as the release year till someone corrects me. The information I do have about the session is from a 1997 double CD, “The Family Jams,” released on the Transparency label; the first CD consists of the recordings that appear on this LP.

I thought the label designs here nicely reflected the enigmatic nature of the LP’s provenance.

Pax (1951)

So I’ve figured out in the course of picking my favorite label designs that the combo of gold or silver ink and matte gem tones gets me every time. A former owner has written the key of the tunes in pencil here, too- I really hope it’s because they were playing along.

Albert Ayler was, of course, highly influenced by New Orleans brass band music. The Eureka Brass Band plays these dirges and stomps in such a raw, immediate, loose and soulful way that it’s easy to draw a connecting line to Ayler’s folk blues free jazz.

Oh man, I love this record, it’s the best (read: least slick) recording of New Orleans funeral music I’ve come across. I just realized that it isn’t clear from the album title or the cover or center label that the titular “Parade” is a funeral procession- maybe the Pax thought it’d be best for sales to bury the music's purpose in the liner notes? Ah well, a funeral parade is what it is- and what a way to go, too.

Apple (1973)

Classic Apple logo+ Yoko face = awesome. This album is one of my absolute all-time faves.

“Astral identity! Wow!” “Something else, right?” “Right!”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ESP-Disk (1973)

The above is not the actual center label art of the record I'm talking about.

Let me explain.

For a while I was picking up sea shanty LPs whenever I came across them. Cover art and overall visual themes of those records are, almost uniformly, obviously nautical, but I originally plucked this LP from the bins of (the recently defunct) Bart’s in Boulder, CO on the basis of cover art which I figured signified psychedelia of some sort. Instead I was happy to have stumbled across more shanty recordings, and on ESP to boot. These versions are rendered by the British folksinger more commonly credited as Louis Killen.

Anyway, the back cover depicts, at 100% size, a pink vinyl LP labeled "Lou Killen- Sea Chanteys" with the above center label art. Why? Cause it does. That art has absolutely nothing to do with the center label art on the actual (non-pink vinyl) LP inside, which is:

Because nothing says "sea shanties" like a giant hand about to grasp an egg floating in the blackness of space.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Locust (2002)

Romance, exoticism, mystery, rose petals: E and F sides of the Sun City Girls' "300,003 Crossdressers from Beyond the Rig Veda." The album's from 1996 but was initially CD only; guess it's seeing vinyl light again at this very moment in some kind of fancy box? Triple LP and worth listening to all the way through; ethnosploitation never sounded so fine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sonambient (1979)

A beautiful example of interdisciplinary high modernism (apologies, Clement Greenberg). Harry Bertoia is best known for those chairs at mid-century design stores where the prices sure as shit aren't within my reach- which is just fine, 'cause I like my living spaces a little less than clean and spare. Anyhoo, when he wasn't creating iconic furniture, Bertoia made sculptures, a large series of which utilized materials like clusters of thin metal rods and which would be fantastic works even if they didn't also double as sound devices.

Bertoia recorded hiself "playing" his sculptures, creating expansive washes of metallic sound. He released a series of 10 LPs on his own Sonambient label, all featuring highly unified designs; I think you can see his minimalist aesthetic on clear display here. From "Belissima, Belissima, Belissima/ Nova."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Destiny Records (1972)

Though Mark Toscano is a tough act to follow, I'm excited to be contributing to Alexander's excellent blog.

My initial post is one that fills me with feelings of tenderness and sunshine. It was difficult for me to pick between this Bobby Brown record and "Prayers of a One Man Band." That center label essentially recapitulates the cover art, which is not a particularly creative center label trope, but Brown is such a charming character- on the beach with his golden pageboy, surrounded by his amazing "world music" contraption- that it almost won out.

This label's cosmic line drawing ended up as my pick, however. I think it serves as a lovely visual companion to the ouroboros-like song cycle of birth, awakening, death, and rebirth contained in the grooves.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Train Your Bird to Talk: 14 Lessons Plus Training Method (1976)

I decided to end with something simple, yet wonderful. Originally, it was the label logo that caught my eye here (Pet Records!), but then I realized how amusing and strange it was to see the “song titles” laid out like that, which is why I’m posting both sides.

Playing the record, these tracks consist of a couple of minutes of each phrase being repeated over and over again, alternating right channel/left channel each time (to provoke an extra stimulating learning experience for the bird, apparently).

This Pet Records label is also relevant to my situation this weekend, as a pet mouse we have escaped from his house and is running around loose in the apartment. As of this writing, I still haven’t succeeded in capturing the little mofo.

It’s been a fun two weeks contributing to the blog, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the labels I’ve shared. Thanks to Alexander for inviting me. I realize in retrospect that I posted a lot of wacky ones. But there were so many elegant, beautiful, stylish ones posted already, that I wanted to toss in a number of bizarro examples. Well, at least I can sensibly go out with a squeak.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lucky Dragons/Goodiepal – split 5” (2007)

This one was hard to scan. I ended up using a “backlight correction” feature in Photoshop to bring out some of the etched detail, though it’s still not as clear as I’d like it. But you get the idea! Not really much to say about this one, really. It’s a split, etched 5” record with Lucky Dragons on one side and Goodiepal (who I believe also did the pressing of the record) on the other. And what you’re seeing in these pictures is the entire record, not just the center part. There’s only a couple minutes of music on each side.

Tomorrow: my last post!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Architects Office/Jane Brakhage – Caswallon the Headhunter (1986)

One more film-related label! In my archiving job, I work on the films of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, so I couldn’t resist posting this one. This album is a collaboration between his then-wife Jane Brakhage (story) and Architects Office (music), with a cover taken from a Brakhage film (Fireloop), and a center label based on Brakhage’s characteristic signature scratched into the black leader at the end of many his films. That's probably my fingerprint on the label.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mono Pause – Peeping Through the Listen Hole (1999)

This is my friend Peter’s band, but I didn’t pick this center label out of simple, everyday nepotism. As I mentioned back on August 10, I work in a film archive, in particular on 16mm and other (as we call it) small-gauge stuff. I also have what I guess you could call a general appreciation for photochemical image-making and analog sound-making, and shoot super 8 and 16mm film too. So this center label speaks to that part of me with a generous amount of warm humor and dorky delight: the A-side is designed to look like a super 8 Kodachrome box (sadly no longer made), while the B-side is lovely 1/4” tape.

Peter’s various bands, including Mono Pause, Neung Phak, Malcolm Mooney and the Tenth Planet, and Negativland (hmmm... possibly others) are all very much worth checking out, by the way. But in particular, if you get a chance to see his group Wet Gate, don’t miss that opportunity. They’re a three-person ensemble that exclusively plays film loops on 16mm projectors to create live sound and (secondarily) image collages!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Caroliner (in this case Caroliner Rainbow Scrambled Egg Taken for a Wife) – Banknotes, Dreams, & Signatures (1994)

Another band that I thought of immediately when beginning to consider my contributions to this blog. Longtime Bay Area mystery group Caroliner has released a bunch of records since the early-mid-‘80s, every single individual one of them hand-assembled and -decorated, making each copy truly unique.

So actually, although their center labels are interesting and worthy, the outer artwork is really where it’s at. There’s usually some basic underlying printed motifs or artwork, or object inclusion, but each copy always has its own additional modification. Their live shows are intensely and inimitably visual too.

Out of the records I have of theirs (which are also difficult to store due to their unconventional shapes, sizes, and the frequent fragility of their packaging), Banknotes, Dreams, & Signatures had a particularly nice set of center labels. I had one other possibility, for which the center label had been slathered with paint during the decoration of the cover artwork, but didn’t like the design as much (even though it probably illustrates the band’s design sense better). Plus I thought the B-side here complemented the Ten Foot Faces A-side from yesterday.

By the way, the band is generally known as Caroliner, but each release also boasts a renewed take on their name, usually in the form of a long, automatic writing-esque sentence fragment (hence Caroliner Rainbow Scrambled Egg Taken for a Wife, in this example).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ten Foot Faces – Don’t Want Love 7” (1985)

Can’t even remember what these guys are like. I’ll give this a fresh listen before I put it away. But look at that label! Holy jeez. Courtesy of IPR (Independent Project Records), a label I knew from the beginning would have excellent possibilities for this blog. I had to resist posting several here over the course of my contributions.

If you’re not familiar with IPR, it’s a label started in the early '80s by Bruce Licher, musically known best for his role as founder of the excellent band Savage Republic. He also operates a letterpress printing outfit and did the majority of the IPR sleeves, center labels, and inserts on his own letterpress, which he now operates under the name Licher Art and Design. In addition to a lot of the Savage Republic stuff, the original LP release of Camper Van Beethoven’s debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, was put out by IPR with a gorgeous sleeve definitely worth seeking out.

The IPR aesthetic has the unique quality of being consistent (due to the regular use of letterpress printing), and yet incredibly diverse, with a very inventive and eclectic approach to design and text/image interaction. I mean, I like a bunch of stuff on the Sacred Bones label, and like their consistent design approach in theory, but it feels a little monotonous sometimes. IPR never feels that way to me. I don’t totally love every sleeve, but they’re always an unusual visual feast in some way or another, and many are really outstanding. I honestly don’t know how much input the bands had with Bruce in the design of their sleeves, and I would imagine he exercised quite a bit of control in this area. The original sleeve for his own band Savage Republic’s essential album Tragic Figures is simply fantastic, and he’s even done plenty of gorgeous and surprising fold-out CD sleeve constructions, including those for his less abrasive followup to SR, Scenic.

In the case of this Ten Foot Faces 7”, the outer sleeve, though nice, is pretty mild compared to some of the other IPR releases. But the center label is another story. Not only do we get the bizarre but striking band photo on the B-side, but we get a full-on zoetrope on the A-side.

I got into IPR in the mid-late ‘90s through an accidental introduction to Savage Republic, and discovered a number of the vinyl releases were actually pretty easy to find used at Amoeba in Berkeley, where I shopped most often. (This is still somewhat the case, depending on what you’re looking for, and I suppose being in California helps.) Turns out the label actually released some pretty diverse and high quality stuff, i.e. they’re not just worth picking up for the design, though that’s nearly reason alone. A number of the bands are pretty damn good, including the aforementioned few, plus Indian Bingo, Party Boys, Human Hands, The Dentists, For Against, and others. I haven’t yet heard Red Temple Spirits, but they sound like they might be interesting too. And of course, check into Savage Republic if you haven’t yet – really ragged, intense, percussion-heavy ‘80s L.A. post-punk!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Triumph of Man (as presented at the New York World’s Fair, 1964-1965, by The Travelers Insurance Companies (1964) (7”)

This was a record I just spotted at some shop (can’t remember which), and immediately had to get it. The 1964 NY World’s Fair is fairly legendary. I’ve been meaning to visit the site in for years now, where some of the crazy monuments still remain, but just haven’t gotten around to it.

Anyhow, Travelers Insurance (which also has a connection for me, as I’m originally from Connecticut) put this little 33rpm 7” out as a home version of their exhibit, I suppose. It’s amazing enough that their portion of the Fair was called ‘The Triumph of Man’, but I like it even better taking the record as an object unto itself – this little red umbrella and the words ‘The Triumph of Man’ – beautiful. It’s also just a great, odd center label. I should digitize the audio and put it online somewhere. Alexander, when’re you gonna do a followup blog of weird, found 7”es?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eugene Chadbourne – Country Music of Southeastern Australia (1985)

One of many many classic Eugene Chadbourne albums. All of Dr. Chad’s center labels tend to be pretty nuts, but I chose this one because of the special interactivity with the center hole.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Residents – Eskimo (1979)

I figured Ralph Records/Cryptic Corp. related bands would have interesting labels, so I poked around among the stuff I have (Residents, Fred Frith, Renaldo and the Loaf, etc.) and was surprised to discover that a lot of ‘em have the same two or three center labels. I think it’s mainly because the copies of the earlier albums that I have – which may have had more unique labels in their original releases – are slightly later reissues on Ralph, and have a more uniform label design.

Eskimo was the only one I turned up that had a particularly cool one, perhaps because it seems to be an original release, but I’m not positive about that. It basically reproduces the back cover artwork of this album (one of my favorites of theirs), but I love the font and the weird constellation-like design in the sky.

One anecdotal aside about this album is that maybe 10 years ago I was watching a video of the (then) recently restored Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc at home, and it had this contemporary “Voices of Light” soundtrack accompanying it, which I REALLY disliked. It was bothering me so much that in frustration I for some reason put Eskimo on instead, and I liked it much better. (I’ve since had a chance to see the film theatrically, totally silent, and that’s pretty amazing.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Albert Ayler Trio – Spiritual Unity (1964-5)

Nothing much to say about this one. I just love how this looks, and love the album too, though Ayler's Spirits Rejoice (1965) remains my favorite. A very basic label with an excellent style sense, sharp use of ultra-clear lowercase lettering, nice color choice against the off-white background... beautiful in its simplicity and directness. ESP-Disk' releases are usually a good place to look for nice center labels (and sleeves).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Bwyd Time (1995)

The band’s wacky, somewhat regrettable name is what first got my attention, I’m pretty positive about that. I’m pretty sure I first heard of them in 1999, soon after I arrived in Rochester, NY, where I lived for not quite a year. I bought the Introducing... CD which was apparently designed by their label to introduce these ‘90s-’00s Welsh psych/pop/folk folks to an American audience. I don’t know if it worked in general, but it worked on me, at least. I totally fell in love with their music; it was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.

At age 23, I was coming back to an appreciation of good pop songwriting from an extended sojourn in experimental, prog, art rock, Krautrock, and generally listening to disagreeable stuff like Henry Cow, Eugene Chadbourne, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, and plenty of noisy other stuff. Gorky’s were heavily influenced by Kevin Ayers, Gong, Robert Wyatt and the Canterbury scene in general, combining an intuitive pop sensibility with a fair amount of experimentation and screwing around, and that was perfect. They were super young when they started, so they still had this exuberant, undisciplined quality which was charming and contagious. They came across as unpretentious and music-loving, and their songwriting and presence had an embracing, smiling quality that was quite memorable and affecting, as well as playful, inventive, and unexpected. Euros Childs had a great voice for the music, the arrangements were alternately delicate and unruly, and they frequently sang in Welsh, which was curious at the time (the much more well-known Super Furry Animals had yet to really do so at that point). John Peel was one of their big supporters, and John Cale was supposedly a fan, but they never hit it really big.

Over a very short period of time, I furiously collected all their albums and singles, which was pretty tough, since almost none of it was released stateside. There seems to still be a certain appreciation for singles – in the ‘60s pop sense – in the UK. Gorky’s released a lot of singles, often containing really great B-sides and other non-album stuff. I got to see them live a few times, which was fun, and I even got to interview them for KALX (the UC Berkeley station I DJed at from 2001-2003), which was great fun. Very nice folks. I even got them to record a station ID in Welsh, but there was too much ambient noise on the recording to make any of it usable.

Their artwork, particularly on their first few singles and albums (including Bwyd Time), is all by a guy named Alan Holmes, who besides doing artwork for Gorky’s, also plays in the band Ectogram (and the little known and interesting Fflaps before that). His Gorky’s covers and labels are all in the same general style, which is a sort of pointillist neo-psychedelia which for me somehow totally fails to be as crappy as that description would normally suggest. I dig it. For the blog, I almost picked the labels for their Amber Gambler EP (one of their best releases), but instead went with their excellent LP Bwyd Time.

If you’re not familiar with these guys, and my vague descriptions sound even remotely interesting, I’d recommend Bwyd Time and the 2003 singles comp called 20 (which actually contains the entirety of Amber Gambler) as good starting points for the earlier, more unhinged stuff. The singles comp also contains their fantastic cover of Kevin Ayers’/Soft Machine’s “Why are we Sleeping?” For their gentler, folkier side, their mini-album The Blue Trees has some gorgeous stuff on it. Barafundle is also an excellent full-length, and Spanish Dance Troupe and Gorky 5 have lots of high points. I’m not as familiar with the very early or very late albums. There’s plenty of worthwhile stuff to check out. (And by the way, the ‘Mynci’ part of their name is pronounced as ‘monkey’.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Klaus Schulze – Dune (1979)

I have a handful of Klaus Schulze’s records, which are mostly on Brain Records, but apparently the label design changed in 1976 or 1977 or so, from a simpler line drawing to this more unambiguously, uh... heady variation. A variation which I find cooler. Brain was quite a label if you’re into Krautrock. They released stuff by Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia, Grobschnitt, Embryo, Popol Vuh, Guru Guru, and many others, including Klaus here.

And Klaus Schulze is also quite a guy. He was on the respective first albums of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel before going solo, and he’s released a ton of stuff of his own, not to mention running a label that released stuff in the ‘80s and ‘90s by young, up-and-coming electronic music artists. Of Klaus’s own stuff, I actually don’t really know anything later than Dune, which is from 1979, and which I haven’t listened to since I got it maybe 7 or 8 years ago. But the mid-‘70s stuff like Blackdance and Timewind I’ve listened to many times, and are really great. Sparse, minimal soundscapes and synth stuff, fairly subtle and hypnotic, quietly enveloping. Often the tracks are side-long (check out the length of the Dune side A shown above!)

I’ll share one minor anecdote here. When I first moved to LA in 2003, I listened regularly to a fantastic Sunday night radio show on KXLU called Alien Air Music (it’s still on, check it out). One night, the DJ played what I remember to be a really great track by a band I’d never heard of, called Peak, off their album Ebondazzar. I called him up and asked him about it, and he said it was a really obscure 1980 release on Klaus Schulze’s label Innovative Communication (IC for short). I could not for the life of me track down a copy of the record anywhere, so I actually got in touch with Klaus Schulze’s rep/biographer/webmaster/archivist/etc., whose name was also Klaus. Anyway, he told me to forget about it. When I pressed him, he said something to the effect of “Why can’t you just move on? We all have!” It was mildly irritating and hilarious at the same time. I tried to find the email exchange in my inbox, but I don’t seem to have saved it.


The above events occurred in 2003, before there were really insane amounts of mp3 blogs with tons of obscure, out-of-print albums available for absurdly instant download-type acquisition. I just now searched for the Peak album and found it immediately. How disappointingly boringly easy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sun Araw – Heavy Deeds (2009)

I do film restoration work at an archive in Los Angeles, and one of my co-workers is a guy named Cameron, aka Sun Araw. Sun Araw is awesome, and I recommend you not only pick up his records, but definitely check him out live when you get a chance. Anyhow, besides laying out deep, swampy slabs of tropical-flavored psych/dub jams that sound like they were recorded inside a sweltering, cramped, wood-paneled gymnasium during a blackout and a dry lightning storm, Cameron also has a unique and memorable design sense that I cotton to quite a bit. All of his records have a great look to ‘em, and I think they really connect and add some character to the experience of his sound. Of the handful of LPs I have, Heavy Deeds had the center label I wanted to share here. Included above are the A and B sides, which are similar, but complement each other nicely by their differences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet – Schlagers! (1987) (7”)

Thanks very much to Alexander for the opportunity to participate in this blog. It had me searching through just about my whole record collection, realizing that there’s a learning curve of sorts to guessing what kinds of records will have the good center labels. First and most important lesson: major labels don’t vary all that much, and are often not that interesting to begin with. At any rate, I’m going to begin my two-week stint with something slightly elaborate, and hope I don’t get booted for it.

Made sense to me to start here, because this is the first record I thought of when asked to contribute. Like most folks, I first heard Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet through The Kids in the Hall. Although it’s probably been a few years since I put one of the records on, I still consider myself a fan. There’s something so lovable about these guys.

In fact, they represent one of my biggest show-going regrets. On July 15, 1993, I decided not to attempt to get the night off of work when I was 17 and they were playing the Cattle Club in Sacramento. A year or two later, I was at the Club for another show, and happened to ask the owner/booker, Jerry Perry, if he remembered the Shadowy show, and if so, how it had gone. He said it was the best show they’d had all that year. Plus, the band had played their live-only tune “16 Encores”, which was an ever-changing collage of dozens (not just 16) of famous riffs from tons of other bands’ songs, including stuff like "All the Young Dudes", "Dueling Banjos", "Rock and Roll (part 2)", and the theme from Green Acres. Never had another chance to see them.

OK, so the reason I immediately thought of the Schlagers! single for this blog is that it’s not just a center label. It’s also a spinner thingy for a board game. The above images show you the center label of the 7”’s two sides, but these images will show a little of how it works:

By the way, their followup 7”, Explosion of Taste, was sold for a limited time as the lid of an actual Jiffy Pop stovetop popcorn package, (with record underneath the cover artwork). The B-side of that one is actually the sound of someone making stovetop popcorn.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bloopers Inc. (1955)

A light-hearted farewell from Anna and Scott!

The "Pardon My Blooper" compilations were put together by "Radio and TV Producer" Kermit Schafer from submissions made by radio and television snoopers across the country. The LP offers a lifetime membership in Kermit Schafer's Blooper Snooper Club to nosy Blooper fans, and one can assume there are still a few lifetime members out there somewhere.

The best thing about this label (and there are many great things about it) is the subtitle, "Radio & Television's Most Hilarious Boners." To think there was a time when "boner" only meant a mistake.

Since this particular set of boners was compiled in 1955, it's safe to say that we can thank the sexual revolution for synonymizing the words for "an erection" and "a blooper."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Big Block Records (1988)

When critics look back on the Chicago music scene in the 1990's, almost all the coolness is geographically consigned to Wicker Park, but it's also useful to look back on the origin stories. Whereas the Chicago punk scene in the early-1980's was largely made up of city kids, the 90's generation was seriously suburban. Liz Phair's roots were in the North Shore suburbs, clearly evidenced in her post-Matador output. Urge Overkill came together not in the city-proper, but at Northwestern University in Evanston. Even the loner mentality of Billy Corgan's early Smashing Pumpkins was more rooted in his West-Suburban upbringing than his city adulthood--evidenced in the number of 1990's suburban kids with worn copies of "Siamese Dream." Jim Ellison was fully of Addison, Illinois. His sensibility was tied to the suburbs, a place where one feels more in high school than ever again, and longing power pop tracks like "Valerie Loves Me," "Diane," and "The Very First Lie" reflected that high school moment musically and lyrically.

Jim Ellison wanted to be a rock star, and Material Issue was his vehicle to success. He started Big Block records out of his bedroom, and through tireless promotion steered Material Issue to a major label contract in the early 1990's.

For awhile they were one of Chicago's great sucess stories: signed to Mercury Records, getting airplay on MTV's "120 Minutes," and making the CMJ and Billboard Modern Rock Charts. In the midst of all this, Ellison still made office hours for aspiring high school bands in need of guidance. For a guy who loved rock and roll, music, and cars, he had a surprisingly non-existent douchebag quotient.

VH1's "Behind the Music" has oft-told the story of some hair metal group or other casually, carelessly thrown from the spotlight by the grunge movement, but hair metal was not the only casualty. Power pop was jettisoned from success, as well, and Material Issue was one clear victim of this trend. They left Mercury Records after 1994's "Freak City Soundtrack," feeling that the label had turned its back to the band. By the time their final album, 1997's "Telecommando Americano," was completed, Ellison had been dead for a year.

Ellison's suicide in 1996 was a sad confirmation of his own deep romanticism. The contents of his suicide note are still private, but Ish-drummer Mike Zelenko has implied in interviews that his death was the result of an ended love affair, rather than frustrated career ambitions. There are so many elements in this early death that carry a poetic resonance, but the perfect story hardly makes up for the loss.

This label is from the pre-Mercury days, probably pieced together in Jim Ellison's bedroom. The music is still fun but it does feel, at times, like there is a ghost in the room.