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Staff Picks: March 11 2021

Staff Picks: Daniel

Bill Dixon: In Italy, Volume 1 12” (Soul Note)

A few weeks ago we got in copies of this album by Bill Dixon and I got excited, but nervous at the same time. To explain why, let’s go into a little backstory.

In 2017, Superior Viaduct reissued a Bill Dixon album called Intents and Purposes. We carried it at the store even though I knew nothing about Bill Dixon; Superior Viaduct’s stamp of approval was enough for me to order a few copies. I may not have thought about the record again, but a customer bought one and returned it because the vinyl had a pressing defect that made the first few minutes of each side unplayable. It sat for a long time in a pile of defective records—I have trouble figuring out what to do with these piles since it hurts me to throw away records—and one day, on a whim, I listened to it. It knocked me out.

Intents and Purposes sounds like nothing else I’ve heard… even now, when I’m a little more familiar with the record and with Dixon’s work, it is still one of the most singular records I’ve ever heard. Part of it is that it doesn’t sound like jazz at all. Dixon all but abandons conventional approaches to rhythm, melody, and harmony, but he does so differently than most of the free jazz musicians with whom he’s often mentioned. In a lot of free jazz I’ve listened to, there’s a kind of antagonism toward these established conventions, but Dixon’s attitude as a composer seems more like agnosticism. His music rarely feels like it has a center—rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic—but it’s full of rhythm, melody, and harmony, just deployed in ways that sidestep any kind of convention. It’s less like Dixon is combating these conventions, and more like he’s transcended them.

So, I love Intents and Purposes, but I’d never explored Bill Dixon’s other music or learned anything about him until In Italy, Volume 1 showed up at the store. I grabbed the record and took it home, but I was nervous to put it on. One thing I’ve learned about following jazz musicians is that you should put aside your expectations, particularly if you’re dealing with an artist who is interested in challenging expectations. I’ve heard punks talk about “departure records,” or records where a band leaves one style behind (usually a more primitive and/or extreme one) and pursues another (usually a more commercially viable and/or palatable one). This isn’t a useful way of thinking about jazz, especially for musicians who had long and restless careers. For instance, I’ve learned that I like Bill Evans’ music, but when I pick up one of his records, I might hear anything from solo piano to orchestrated avant-garde compositions to a traditional piano trio. None of these are “departures,” just different projects that reflect Evans’ interest and growth as a musician or whatever other considerations (material, emotional, economic) pulling on his music at that time.

So, I dropped the needle on In Italy, Volume 1 not knowing what I would hear, since the record came out thirteen years after Intents and Purposes, the only other Bill Dixon record I’d heard. However, just like when I first heard Intents and Purposes, I was rapt from the first moment. After “Summer Song/ One/ Morning” starts the record with a maximalist tone that’s not too far away from what I think of as free or atonal jazz, the record settles into the Bill Dixon sound that caught my ear. Researching Dixon this morning, I read one writer compare his music to the soundtracks of old Italian horror movies, and I think that’s apt. Like some of that music, Dixon’s compositions are minimal and languid, drifting along in a way that’s pensive but untroubled, and while moments can sound tense or sinister, those feelings evaporate just as quickly, drifting along to something else with a kind of Buddhist sense of acceptance.

Just like with my staff pick last week, thinking about this record has me going to Discogs to find out what else there is to hear. Unlike a lot of his peers in the free jazz world, Dixon wasn’t a prolific recording artist, devoting much of his energy to his teaching position at Bennington College in Vermont. From what I’ve read, he seemed to have a fraught relationship with the music marketplace. Early in his career he helped found the Jazz Composers Guild, essentially a trade organization for jazz musicians. He released little if any recorded music during the first half of the 70s, though recordings from that period have been compiled compiled on a 6 CD box set. Fortunately for us, he warmed to recording again by the early 80s, when he released a string of albums on the Soul Note label, of which In Italy, Volume 1 is the first, and continued releasing records until his death in 2010. I’m looking forward to exploring these records, plus Dixon’s earlier collaborations with Archie Shepp and the work he did as a sideman (including on Cecil Taylor’s 1966 Blue Note album Conquistador!).  

Staff Picks: Eric

The Shivvers: S/T

I’ll keep this as short and sweet as possible. I’m tired and have had a long day, but I need to tell y’all how much I love this record. I picked up this reissue from Vinyl Conflict and it has been on my turntable ever since. From what I gather, Shivvers recorded most of these tracks in 1980 but they only saw the light of day for the first time in 2014 (I think?). This Milwaukee band sounds like a mixture of Blondie, Nikki and the Corvettes, and The Nerves (all heavy hitters if you ask me). This is a true American power pop gem, and it’s a shame they never got the spotlight they deserved 40 years ago. If there is anyone out there who has kept up with my staff picks and knows what I typically write about, you know I am a sucker for punk songs with hooks. And lemme tell ya, the hooks don’t stop on this one. Highly recommended!!

Staff Picks: Dominic

Hey there Pop Pickers, how’s it going? Another week and another Sorry State Newsletter. I am honored to be writing in such esteemed company and to have you, our loyal readers, to talk records with. As opposed to just shouting in the wind or to my cats, who rarely give a shit about which pressing of Fun House I have or whether the record playing is hip or not. To us human nerds, of course, all this matters. Hence us all being here.

I was having a bit of a bad morning today and was wondering what I would write about. Often when stressed out I find writing a shopping list hard work, let alone putting together a readable piece of prose. Some of you might still think this is unreadable and you are probably correct. However, no matter how bad the writing is, the records are good and if nothing else, I can point you towards some good shit.

This week I would like to steer you towards the magical world of Library music: records that were produced for commercial use and not generally made available to the unwashed public. If you were a TV, film, or radio producer and needed cheap, already licensed music cues for your project back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, you could go to your local Music Library Company and purchase records with music that could cover any mood or situation. Most countries with an entertainment industry had such companies but the most prolific came out of the UK, Italy, France, Germany and the US. Often the musicians playing the music and the composers who wrote it and the producers who recorded it were known names within the music world and often they were not. Just studio cats making a living. Sometimes due to Union rules etc. musicians would moonlight under pseudonyms if they were even noted on the records, but there are many cases of top talent who worked on Library records. Mostly companies pressed these records in small amounts of a few hundred copies and they typically came in generic company sleeves with the track information and not much else. Many had artwork though, or some kind of image to conjure the mood of the particular record. Typically, each track or cue would have a brief description of the type of sound and mood and might list a suggestion for its placement and break down the instrumentation used. So, if you were shooting a TV show and needed some cop car chase action music, it would be possible to pick an appropriate Library record to find the perfect soundtrack to your scene. The great thing about the music made for these records was, because they were not for commercial consumption, they didn’t have to appeal to record buyers and compromise anything they did. There is a terrific sense of freedom to these records because of this. Atmosphere and mood are the important aspects instead of trying to score a chart hit.  

During the peak years of the 1960s and 1970s companies like DeWolfe, KPM, and Chappell in the UK churned out hundreds of these albums, all with a different flavor and use in mind. Often you could hear the same tune being used in different productions. Maybe in a commercial or TV show. A good example is the music used for the 70s UK TV show The Hanged Man having the same piece of music that was used in the US for The People’s Court. Anyone who watched daytime TV in the 80s and 90s should be familiar with that one. It was recorded by Alan Tew and called The Big One and came out on a Themes music library record. Check it:

During the 1990s, as DJ culture expanded and hip-hop producers searched for fresh beats and samples, these library records became desirable and expensive. They weren’t easy to find in the first place, but once heads became hip to the fact that these records were a literal gold mine of cool sounds, the genie was out of the bottle. Prices for the most sought-after library records can run in the four figures. Luckily for us, from the late 1990s onwards, many of these lost gems have been made available for purchase by the music fan and DJ/producer on a budget. Hey, that’s where I came in.

When I first heard these records, I fell in love. They were perfect for me as a DJ looking for interesting and fresh sounds and also personally as I prefer to listen to instrumental music most of the time. Not that all Library music is instrumental, but for the most part they are. The English group The Pretty Things cut a couple of these during their prime S.F. Sorrow to Parachute years. They did some with and without vocals. If you ever see records by The Electric Banana, that’s them. I’ve seen them but could never afford originals at market price, though I have snapped up the reissues. The biggest commercial use of this material was for the film What’s Good For The Goose, a late 60s comedy the Pretties even perform in. Here’s a clip:

My favorite era for library music is the 1970s, and I particularly dig the Italian scene. Those records sound so phat and funky and have so many cool sounds on them. Again, during the late 90s and early 00s a lot of this music was getting reissued and I snapped up as many as possible. Some of these reissues now go for good money but a lot, lot less than the originals. I would recommend the labels Irma, Easy Tempo, Plastic and Crippled Dick to name four, who have all put out great compilations of 70s Italian library music. One of the first ones I bought was the series called Souno Libero (Free Sound) on La Douce/Irma Records. Across the six slabs of wax on these babies there isn’t a duff track. The cover art borrows from an original Italian record released in 1971 called Under Pompelmo by Guiliano Sorgini which is a jazz-funk bomb and will cost you at least a grand if you ever see one. On Suono Libero you get one track. Check out the drums on this beast:

If there ever was a rabbit hole to fall down that you may never return from, then Library Music is it. For lovers of instrumental music, soundtracks, jazz, and funk, these things are essential. It’s like discovering an Aladdin’s cave of treasure. Not that it is all funky and jazzy stuff. There’s plenty of psychedelic leaning stuff mixed in there and all sorts of oddities and curios with cool electronic synth music also. Not too much hardcore punk, but I could be wrong. Usman can weigh in on that. There might have been a Finnish music library that made a record to use in film scenes of punks getting together that came out on a flexi, but I doubt it.  

I’ll sign off here and leave you with another gem from Suono Libero called Shake No. 5/B by Romano Rizzati which perfectly represents the type of stuff I love about this music. Enjoy.

Love to you all and catch you next time. Ciao! - Dom

Staff Picks: Usman

I feel like people might see this record who love Anti-Cimex and decide to pass on it. That was my initial reaction. “I have all their shit—comps, discographies, whatever—I don’t need another compilation of material I already have.” I can’t stress to you how wrong I was. Lemme say that again, if you did not already buy this record, and you own a record player, buy this record. Yeah, almost all these songs appear on other releases, but they’ve never been compiled in one place like they are here. Sometimes it’s a CD only release, sometimes it’s a bootleg, but every time it’s an import. I am pretty sure this is the first ever official Anti-Cimex release in the States. Maybe you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, and don’t know about the countless Cimex releases/reissues with demos, comp tracks, EPs, etc. Well if that’s the case, then you are in luck. Aside from hearing the earliest demo sessions and reading cool bits of trivia about them, you will get to hear alternate versions of songs you already know. This compilation features songs from Raped Ass with Swedish lyrics and alternate takes on what soon became Victims of a Bombraid.

One of my favorite Cimex records is a bootleg, Gainkiller. It’s got the self-titled 12" on the A side, and the back side is all fucking ripping tracks from early demos and comps (but seemingly randomly selected?). All those tracks from the B side appear on this Complete Demos Collection LP. Earlier I said almost all these songs appear else where, but not all. That’s pretty impressive to unearth some tracks in 2021 of a band with such a worldwide following that began in the ‘80s. I’d think someone would have done it already, like years ago. The insert says there are two tracks that appeared only on very rare tapes, so the only way to have heard them was from an OG tape. One of these tracks, “Syre Eller Gas,” I had never heard before in my life. I’m pretty sure I would have recognized it if I had. But the other track, “Nutid,” I have heard, but I couldn’t place where at first. Well, that’s because it’s the first time they have released this song with the correct title. In the past it has been credited as “Eibon.” I only know this cos the insert, while it looks basic, is crammed full of information. I love it so much. Each tape session has notes and credits. A lot of this information you could look up if you put the work in. Or maybe you already know it, or maybe you just don’t care. I still think it’s cool to have it all in one place, in my hand, and made with love by a true fan. I try to only write about records that I think are “must-haves,” and this is definitely one.

Alright for the nerds, two things. 1) You can still get the limited pressing on orange vinyl from the Sonarize Records website. It comes with a poster too, direct from them. We have very few copies of the poster left at the shop, and anyone reading this is probably too late for one of those from us. And 2) I tried to take a picture of all my Cimex records this weekend cos I already knew I’d be writing about this, haha. But I felt like an asshole. So instead, I photographed my two rarest Cimex records I have. (Which ironically might be more of an asshole move?)  

If you don’t recognize the cover of Raped Ass, it is a rare pressing of 300 copies made with the original plates that was released by Really Fast Records the year after its first pressing. Of this pressing there are 150 with this alternate cover and 150 with a cover reproducing the original artwork. From my understanding, the band only printed 150 copies of the alternative sleeve cos they ran out of money. When it came time to print the other half of the covers, they had lost the artwork and ended up having to photocopy the original cover from the A-Records pressing. If you recognized the cover of Raped Ass, maybe you’re wondering now - does my copy have the Violin drawing? No, it does. not. And also no, my cover of Anarkist Attack is not cut. Alright, thanks (to the very few of you) for reading. ‘Til next time...  


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