Sound in Residence is the weekly track-oriented recommendation list from Resident Sound and Lubert Das. It’s a Patreon exclusive regularly available to all Resident Sound Patreon members. But since the holiday season is coming to a close, and to thank you all for being with us for our first calendar year, we thought we’d go ahead and share the 12.25.21 Christmas installment of Sound in Residence here on Resident Sound for all see. Enjoy!
Our weekly track-oriented recommendation list. Only the good stuff! Xmas edition!
Whoa! It’s Christmas! Hopefully you haven’t torn your hair out yet. Whether you’re with family, friends, or alone, we hope your holiday season has been a fun one. And if not, well, here’s some tunes!
1. Mad Tea Party – Oh Shit it’s Christmas Time (2010)
If you somehow don’t know already know this, I don’t judge you, but now’s the time. Guaraldi’s work is beloved, and how could it not be? We all know it as ‘The Peanuts music’, but sometimes it’s great to sit back and appreciate the music by itself. From the soundtrack, I think Skating is my favorite, which is why it’s here. A close second place favorite is the instrumental version of Christmas Time is Here, but the whole album is so good. I recommend checking it out after listening to Skating. Listen to Vince Guaraldi Trio – Skating
Let’s change tracks, shall we?
3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed – The Ghost of Christmas Past (2011)
I hate to break it to you, Russel, it’s Christmas. Man, this list took a turn. I hope people don’t think I hate the holidays. But hey, this song is enjoyable year round, and since today is Christmas, I need to give you something more evergreen.
The original version is way better, so I’m sticking with it. It might be the only ‘Christmas’ song that makes you deeply consider anything, so for that reason (and because it’s such a good song) it’s making the list. Listen to Outkast – Player’s Ball (Original Version)
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Drive safe!
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Hailing from Ohio, Millicent Waffle’s Nokturnus: Excession is an exhaustive drag through an unfulfilled concept.
Excession, the second installment in the Nokturnus trilogy, is described by the artists as “[exploring] the eclectic and often nightmarish life of the peasants who walked among the mice as giants” and as an album “loosely based off of the Bubonic Plague (14th century AD).”
Over 7 tracks, the album meanders and meanders on and on. Tracks feel jammed and sporadic, yet lack any virtuosity which may otherwise convince an audience to carry on listening. As far as defending Nokturnus: Excession as an exploration of a conceptual mode involving atmosphere and aesthetics, many artists such as András Cséfalvay and Cal Folger Day have left stronger impressions in under two minutes.
Pushing thirty minutes into the album, track Black Iris features the only particularly distinct moment on the entire album, a Carl Wheezer impression, which itself becomes unfunny after about 50 seconds. To defend the album as an act of absurdist comedy on the other hand also falls short of justification. It’s an act that’s been done many times before and many times better. It’s here I’d like to enter the I Heart Noise compilation Gone In 60 Seconds into evidence, which features Down I Go’s tracks King Herod The Great and Pterodactyl.
What’s a shame is that there are moments of artistic intrigue, an under utilized potential or degree of craft which doesn’t show on Nokturnus: Excession’s first 35 minutes but appears later. Tracks such as Garden and Stone Brilliance both feature cinematic piano works which apply some level of gravitas to Millicent Waffle’s chosen subject matter.
Nokturnus: Excession shows the artistic immaturity of musicians who mistake prolific run times as equatable to notable art. What ever they go on to do as a band or as individual artists, I hope they crush any prior standards they may have had for themselves and achieve a monumental work deserving of Nokturnus: Excession’s 59 minute 43 second runtime.
The long-lost genre of tropical ersatz haunts on in the reverberations of the past. Exotica’s problematic past, a colonialist fantasy involving ‘savages’ and drenched in Orientalism, have permanently marred it. But while Exotica and its racist overtones have long given way to (what I would like to think of as) societal progress, the Hollywood-esque cinema of the mind echoes on in both eerie and campy appeal.
Post-Exotica is this very aesthetic reverberation intertwined with contemporary societal attitudes, recording techniques, and accessibility afforded to us by the internet. Post-Exotica, as an aesthetic mode within music, lacks any unifying subculture or definitive sonic palette.
Records of the ‘post-exotic’ can range from exploring the sociopolitical to the existential, the atavistic to the alchemical, or simply act as a pining for ye olden days of ‘classy’ Hi-Fi bachelor pad music.
Without further hesitation, let’s explore these selected offerings from a genre even Bandcamp has yet to recognize. This is Resident Sound’s Guide to Post-Exotica…
Early Rumblings: JG Thirlwell, Steroid Maximus, and the post-Post-Punk of The 1990s
Around the mid-1990s, revived interest in Lounge, Surf, and Exotica music were in full swing. But it wasn’t all CD reissues and copies of the Swingers soundtrack. Artists like Southern Culture on The Skids and (dare I say…) Richard Cheese were creating new work upon recently old genres. So it’s not surprising we can look back to the 1990s as some of the earliest examples of Exotica music re-envisioned. And while retro acts made Exotica’s contemporary scene, no one else embodied the ‘re-envisioning’ aspect of Post-Exotica music better than JG Thirlwell.
You may not know him by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music. He’s the composer for famed adult animated shows Venture Bros and Archer (since Season 5), has worked with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nurse With Wound, Zola Jesus and more, and has released nearly a dozen full length studio albums under his most infamous project: Foetus.
That in mind, it’s not too surprising that his name (or one of dozens of pseudonyms) would show up on a list like this.
By the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, the more ‘artistically-inclined’ members of the Punk and Post-Punk movements were looking to expand past their genre’s established sonic templates. It’s around this time we see the formation of Virginia’s experimental Hardcore outfit Men’s Recovery Project, Germany’s Doom Jazz godfathers Bohren & der Club of Gore, and JG Thirlwell’s expansion into more cinematic, Big Band and Exotica influenced compositions with his project Steroid Maximus.
“…by 1990 I felt that I needed to shift gears and do something that was a little more challenging to me and that’s how I started Steroid Maximus, to create instrumental music that was cinematic and all the sources hadn’t been in my music before. … Since then, I explored doing large scale groups like an 18-piece version of Steroid Maximus which I’ve done in Europe and New York.”
The first Steroid Maximus album ¡Quilombo! was released in 1991 and breaks all conventions. There is no pastiche, only impressions of a former sonic era. The easiest way to describe ¡Quilombo! is to make comparisons to the varied works of Jerry Van Rooyen, Raymond Scott, and Robert Drasnin, though no singular example is particularly accurate. Often lauded for his more violent overtones, Thirlwell achieves work of a greater depth, utilizing the many exotic shades of darkness often overlooked for pure black.
It’s a record that needs to be heard to understand the distance a Post-Exotica record can go. So before you go, I recommend spending a little time ¡Quilombo!
Kava Kon – Virgin Lava (2016)
At times coming across more pastiche than ‘Post’, Kava Kon’s 2016 EP release Virgin Lava is a dark and divine dive into the sonic palette of Exotica music. Not letting 50+ years of audio engineering developments go to waste, Kava Kon have brought the sultry sounds of Exotica into the days of DAW.
When asked about overlooked elements in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16, Kava Kon’s Nels Truesdell said:
“A lot of the percussion done on the albums Departure Exotica and Tiki for the Atomic Age was beatboxing. For example 90% of all güiro sounds were done by my mouth. Then we processed it using EQs and compressors on the recordings to give them a more realistic tone. There are so many more examples of unconventional recording techniques used on our albums.”
Featuring two remixes of Doom Jazz icons The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Virgin Lava touches on the parallels of hyper-aestheticized niche genres, namely that of Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz.
Similarities include an exemplification of Hollywood cinematic themes, ‘extreme’ music genre traits (such as doom metal or noise) crossed with mid-century adult music genres, and nostalgia for periods outside of living memory. But while retro is inherently regressive, both Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz carry with them innovation, distinct sonic palettes, stylistic variants, and great potential.
Iosu Vakerizzo – Forbidden Island (2020)
Iosu Vakerizzo’s Forbidden Island is an excellent work of would-be film score. Hearkening back to pop Exotica’s ornamental novelty, Forbidden Island‘s use of sampling creates sonic depictions of a sea-side land while the album’s minimalist instrumentation creates eerie impressions of an outside world.
The site HipWax described the pop Exotica of the 1950s as “[filling] a niche curiously left open by Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, and other related music. It is the mood music of place, but no place familiar. …One conjures a torrential rain in the tropics, a jungle safari, or the desert at night. And that is precisely the stuff of exotica: an odd combination of the soothing and stimulating, like nature itself.”
The Post-Exotica work of Iosu Vakerizzo delivers both the stimulating and soothing effect given to us by 1950s Exotica, while building off of its predecessor with the possibilities afforded by Dark Ambient music.
Resident Sound’s first view into the world of Post-Exotica was a review of Iosu Vakerizzo’s previous album The Temple. If you like Forbidden Island, we highly recommend checking out his other work here.
Strange Cousin – Knifes And Smothers (2021)
Released in February of 2021 by American music artist Strange Cousin, the single Knifes And Smothers and its b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he are a dual approach to Post-Exotica’s sonic possibilities. The titular Knifes And Smothers is a melancholic Dark Ambient work consisting of reversed piano chords and news coverage of an unsolved 1997 homicide. Countering Knifes And Smothers is b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he, a pummeling cinematic horror show of double kick triplets and wailing horn sections. Real ‘run through the jungle’ energy, an unsettling churning sensation.
German Army – Animals Remember Human (2020)
Animals Remember Human is one of five releases in the year 2020 by the hyper-prolific project Germany Army. GeAr, as they’re sometimes known, is the musique concrete project of Peter Kris and collaborator Norm Heston.
Inspired by the works of Paulo Freire and Sydney Possuelo, the Post-Exotica work of GeAr confronts the colonialist lens of 1950s pop Exotica which we are well familiar with.
When asked about the name German Army in an interview with Stereo Embers Magazine, Peter Kris said:
“I figured it was perfect because one can’t help but notice that at the time there seemed to be a rise in intolerance across the globe. I thought it would be a good name to take and use to actually document language and cultural extinction. Further, I wanted to critique all nationalism and focus on the actions of U.S. imperialism. You could just not bother to pay attention to the name or the message, but if you do, it is very clearly one of anti-imperialism, pro-ecology and for the cultural preservation of those disappeared or who presently have a vanishing language, culture, flora and fauna.”
If Post-Exotica were ever to develop into a fully fledged school of work, we ought to expect the hauntological humanitarian attitudes set forth by German Army to become prototypical.
Chick Vekters – Silicon Island (2021)
Perhaps now the go-to medium of escapist fantasy, video games allow us to fully immerse ourselves in a foreign world. What’s more exotic than that?
Using the retro video game aesthetic genre of Chiptune, Chick Vekters’s 2021 release Silicon Island is rightfully self-described as “an eclectic cocktail of aural adventures!” Heavily rooted in the Chiptune’s 8-bit sound, Silicon Island still delivers the escapist fantasy of island adventure, albeit just a wee bit pixelated.
With songs like Bionic Garden, Neon Forest, and Cathode Ray Reef, Silicon Island plays to the spirit of 1950s pop Exotica, while moving past Exotica’s colonialist past.
A E S T H E T I C S: Post-Exotica, Vaporwave and Aesthetic Niches
‘Post-Exotica’ is a term that has made brief appearances in the Vaporwave world over the past decade, but is Vaporwave the missing link to the development of Post-Exotica?
Vaporwave itself is a genre heavily invested in aesthetic offshoots. From iconic aesthetic-concept albums such as Frasierwave, to the more or less visual genre Simpsonswave. While built across the internet as opposed to regionally, Vaporwave, unlike Post-Exotica has managed to establish a shared set of artifacts, sonic and aesthetic identifiers, and language norms (albeit meme oriented) associated with subcultures.
Both the ability to retrofetishize and simultaneously criticize glory days of existing power structures are traits of both genres, but as a dual mode only particularly integral to Vaporwave.
Vaporwave has shown us that both the micro-genre and aesthetic genre is a place of sonic exploration, even if just as a brief layover on an artist’s greater developmental journey. Will Post-Exotica ever bridge this gap and become a fully fledged subculture and genre? Only time will tell.
Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.
Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.
Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side
Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.
Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room
From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…
Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio
What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.
Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow
Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.
Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)
The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.
Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day
Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway.
These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls
These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.
Mario Batkovic – Quatere
It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.
Eddie Noack – Psycho
Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?
I will refrain from calling it one of the worst records I’ve ever heard only 30 seconds in.
Perhaps high on the fumes of possibility, Eponymous is a slathering of 80s cheese processed through the band’s take on new wave hard rock. It’s got keytar, out of place sax licks, masturbatory guitar noodling, cowbell, and a bunch of other stuff we gave up on as a culture 30 years ago. With even the slightest air of authority, anyone could convince me that Eponymous was an avant garde novelty record, made this way entirely on purpose. The unbridled audaciousness of Bronx Irish Catholics goes past respect, past disdain to a new level of respect.
There’s almost too much to bite off to even begin a rundown of individual songs. Eponymous is litany of crimes against the arts. Typically championed on this site, artistic exploration should be balanced with doing at least a few things well. Instead, Bronx Irish Catholics fails to claim merit in any of the directions they’re pulled towards.
Both presenting and sounding like Julee Cruise on PCP, Irish Bronx Catholics consisted of core members LaRaine Warfield (vocals, synthesizers) and John Jansen (synthesizers, vocals), along with a slew of session musicians. To give credit or fault to either member would be nearly impossible, as all points of instrumentation blend into one unattainable slurry of sound. While the tonal qualities of the instruments work fine together, the composition is so busy with inconsequential instrumentation that it all means nothing.
LaRaine Warfield’s barked vocals are possibly the only memorable part on the album. But even Warfield’s performance as a powerful front person isn’t utilized well. As the instrumentation flounders on, Warfield is left exposed to criticism. While the lyrics are still a point of contention, LaRaine Warfield’s vocals are at least delivered with bold confidence.
Be it hard rock, new wave, ballad, synthpop or even the broad yet recognizable ‘rock n roll’, no one angle is played well enough to warrant a sense of accomplishment.
Closing track Ulster Defense is a surprisingly good turn of events for anyone having held out long enough. It’s stripped of most bells and whistles, with exception to Warfield’s gated reverb vocals. Distorted guitar overlays a heavy undercurrent of pummeling drum machine gallops. A quasi-psychedelic cacophony of vocals twist and melt from their barked origins. Ulster Defense could have easily worked on a split 7” with Alien Sex Fiend or even Paul Barker-era Ministry.
Perhaps they really were high on the fumes of possibility. At their most raw, Bronx Irish Catholics not only make-do but make something quite enjoyable. It pains me to think of the overwhelming facility granted to beginner musicians in today’s digital era. It’s clear we aren’t pushing the artistic limits of our newly granted facilities but obsessing over and creating a smorgasbord of inevitably dated ‘must have’ sounds.
Cut the crap. Learn to set healthy artistic limitations and remember: don’t get high on your own supply.
It was a song, then a hit, then a meme, and now a variant of that meme can be bought for 2 pounds online.
Now backed by fast pounding techno rhythms and a high-hat that sounds like Spongebob’s shoe, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s already hyper-sexual lyrical delivery is pushed to it’s cartoonish climax (no pun intended).
Seriously though, the Asquith techno remix of WAP is cartoonish, and almost not worth mentioning if it wasn’t for how absurd it is. But maybe that’s what it takes in today’s day and age to achieve independent success. Aside from those backed heavily by the industry (and even then), what success now isn’t a child of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s 1988 book The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)?
To varying degrees, there is a level of humor preinstalled in absurdity, albeit sometimes morbid. Released in 2008, Igorrr’s Moisissure is a complex mix of glitched-out neoclassical, death metal, breakbeats and 1920s/30s pop music. Above all else, Moisissure is an electronic musique concrete hybrid; a grotesque showcase of eccentric source material and contrasting influences. Haunting layers of piano, pitched and digitally shredded drums, and the circling sound of flies will leave you feeling like you’re in a German expressionist Crash Bandicoot level.
It wouldn’t be entirely off-base to call it a bit of a novelty album. Moisissure did in fact come from the same person who created Chicken Sonata. But perhaps a more appropriate lens to view Moisissure through is that of a modernized take on surrealism.
However you frame it, Igorrr is not for everyone nor for every occasion. But if you’re looking for something genuinely spooky with just a degree of cartoon staging, this album is for you.
For fans of: Meat Beat Manifesto, Nurse With Wound, Flying Lotus
Whether chasing ghosts or appreciating novelty, the ‘lost to time’ element of dollar-bin records can leave their songs steeped in melancholy. As vinyl continues to wade further back into the mainstream, the previously murky world of thrift vinyl collecting has been cast into the light of social media; documented and showcased for any passers by.
I recently fell in love with the Instagram account Lost RPM during the pandemic’s ever growing hours at home. Lost RPM is DJ and curator Jeffrey Harvey’s showcase of notable finds, most only known to the artists themselves and few seasoned vets of the thrift record collecting world.
To get a better idea of what drives the record thrifting mindset, I reached out to Jeffrey Harvey of The Lost RPM Podcast and Instagram account to explore their place in the record collecting scene. The following interview took place over the course of about a week via email.
Jeffrey of Lost RPM:
Hey [Lubert]! It’s Jeffrey. Good to meet you. Fire away on Q’s and I’ll try to answer as best I can!
Hey Jeffrey! Good to meet you too. Let’s get started.
You run the Instagram account Lost RPM and the coinciding Lost RPM Podcast. I see that the earliest Instagram posts at this time go back to 2015, though the focus wasn’t always on 45s, but mostly LPs. Incredible but strange records like Sister Janet Mead’s ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and Robert Pritikin’s ‘There’s A Song in My Saw’. What led to the switch to covering 45s more or less exclusively?
That’s a great question! I moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Los Angeles in 2013 to get married. I had been collecting interesting-to-me records in KC since the early 2000s, with most of my collection coming from thrift stores, junk shops, flea markets, and record store clearance bins. I was very passionate (and still am) about finding cool records that someone else has literally thrown out!
Anyway, when I arrived in LA I didn’t have any professional plans or goals per se, so that led to copious amounts of time continuing my second-hand record search. I was able to get to know the city by starting the day at a Pasadena Salvation Army and ending the day at a Van Nuys Goodwill. Along the way I’d look for LPs/45s/78s that looked interesting, were privately pressed, or unknown to me at the time.
In Kansas City 45s are everywhere. You go into any thrift store and there are at least a few stacks of 45s – even if they’re all crap. In LA I found that 45s at thrift stores are virtually non-existent. That led me to finding a lot of stuff like the Sister Janet Mead and Robert Pritikin LPs. I’d find a handful of $1 private press LPs during a day out digging, get ’em home, and spend the evening trying to figure out if they were any good or not. It helped that recreational cannabis was just starting to become legal in Southern California lol. After a year or so of SoCal second-hand record digging, I started kicking around the idea of starting a blog about my finds. That’s how The Lost RPM Instagram page came about.
Interestingly enough, my run of posting primarily 45s didn’t start until the pandemic kicked into high gear in March of 2020. I ordered a 45 on Discogs from a seller who had like 16,000+ records for sale, and casually mentioned that if he had any “not on Discogs or ungoogleable records” lying around that he wanted to get rid of, I’d buy them off him in bulk. To my surprise he said he did, and that he’d be down to sell to me. So for the past year I’ve been receiving boxes of 100 45s once or twice a month. I can’t tell you how much it helped me mentally during the pandemic, and receiving all those singles actually kickstarted the idea of The Lost RPM Podcast. That’s the entire reason my IG page has transitioned to mostly all 45s.
16,000 records is a LOT of records. I can’t imagine some of the strange stuff that seller has. 45 collecting alone has its niches from Georgia gospel to absurd novelty, Philly soul to stabs at country stardom. You seem to span the gamut. Are there any particular niches you swoon over? Any genres you’re looking to explore further?
It’s interesting, when I was in high school I was pretty chubby. I tried to cover up my self-consciousness about my weight with being the class clown. Being the class clown led me to becoming friends with all types of people in my school. Punk rockers, jocks, cheerleaders, art kids, outsiders, and even teachers. I didn’t really have a specific friend group or click that I was a part of, and as crazy as it sounds I honestly feel like that experience somehow translated into my record collecting. I don’t really seek out one specific genre, I just like what connects with me. I actually believe that in most cases records are meant to find me, rather than the other way around.
Case in point: I was at a Salvation Army in the LA area a few years back. I had just found a handful of really cool LPs, and as I was exiting the store on a digging-score high, I saw two Asian gentlemen loading up a cart with records to donate. I walked up to them, told them I collect, and asked if they wanted to sell to me instead. I think I paid $15 for a few boxes of LPs, 78s, and 45s. I had no idea what was in the boxes. I didn’t even care. I just knew if something needed to find me, it would. Most of the stuff ended up being useless to me (and was even donated back to the Salvation Army from whence it came lol), but one of the few items I kept from that haul ended up being this amazing, unknown, and seemingly one-of-a-kind 1960s Hong Kong pop 7″ EP that may or may not be from a feature film. I can’t find any info on it. All I know is that there’s a track on the disc that absolutely floors me. It sounds like it was recorded in an opium den, and I’ve never heard anything like it since. What are the odds of all the factors coming together in that scenario for that record to find me? I have to think they’re pretty astronomical. I cherish that 7″ EP and the fact that it found me! I’ve attached a pic of the release and mp3 of the track if you want to check it out.
As far as stuff I swoon over, that would definitely be 1950s/60s American outsider teenage ballads. It’s total time capsule stuff. I have a 45 by a group called “Jonathan with Orchestra” that is a perfect example of waaaaaay outsider teenage balladry. It’s called “Cheryl” and it’s one of the most amazing & endearing things I’ve ever heard. The kid (presumably Jonathan) can’t even sing. His voice cracks heavily throughout the recording, and there’s even some amateur saxophone playing involved. It’s all so innocent and primitively debauched at the same time. It’s like something you’d hear at a high school prom in 1957, if the prom was held at an insane asylum. I’ve actually found a fair share of primitive, obscure, outsider teenage singles from the 50s & 60s, and am always down to welcome more of them into my life. Again, I’ll attach a pic of the label and mp3 of that one for your consideration.
I just listened to both of these records and they’re great in their own ways. The Hong Kong record reminds me a bit of the bossa nova influence on easy-listening pop records. Really high quality writing and production. But this Jonathan record, well it sounds like James Hurley in Twin Peaks!
Total time capsule stuff, for real. So, is Jonathan With Orchestra what you’d call a “real people” record? It’s a term you’ve used before in the Lost RPM Podcast liner notes, but it’s also a term heard throughout music collecting circles. What is implied by this, and how do they differ from other records of their era?
You have a good ear! I didn’t include this above, but the Hong Kong track actually seems to be a take on the Afro-Cuban song “Tabú” or “Taboo” that Arthur Lyman made famous with his easy listening exotica of the late 50s/early 60s. Google it and you’ll hear the same exact melody!
Yes, the Jonathan with Orchestra single would be a prime example of a “real people record.” The term comes from legendary private press record collector Paul Major, who has found more amazing records than I could ever dream of. He stated in a interview with Vice Magazine in 2017 that “Real People popped into my head as a catch-all phrase to cover vastly different styles of music resulting from driven persons creating highly personal sounds that were able to capture their uniqueness as human beings… Their true personalities are captured, I feel like I am inside their brains when I hear them. It is an elastic term but the key thing about Real People is that the person is impossible to separate from the art.”
That last part kills me, and is so eloquently said! The person being impossible to separate from the art really is the essence of real people or outsider music. The overt self expression, highly personal nature, and unintentional urgent spirit of the recordings are what give them their charm. This, in my opinion, is what separates the real people records of various decades from other records of their era. Also to Paul’s point, you almost always feel like you’re “inside the brain” of the “artist” when listening to a real people record. I know I feel that way when listening to the Jonathan record 🙂
Also, I use quotations on the term artist there because many of the people who recorded this stuff probably didn’t even see themselves as artists at the time!
It may be safe (or arrogant) to say that a lot of these artists had hopes or intentions of reaching some kind of audience or commercial success, either by luck or imitating commercially successful performers. At what point does a record leave ‘the arts’ and enter a more entertainment/media content standing? Does commercialism take away from the sort of human or ‘genuine’ artistic element in a work?
I think it’s safe to say the majority of these artists had some sort of hopes or aspirations of stardom. It’s also probably safe to say there were a large contingent of record industry hucksters promising these artists the world and not delivering. Have you heard of, or researched the tax scam record labels of the 1970s & 80s? That’s a whole other topic in itself!
As far as commercialism taking away from the genuine or human artistic element in a recorded work, I don’t really subscribe to that idea. I love Donovan. Like really love him. His laid-back brand of psychedelic hippie-folk is about as commercial as it gets for the 1960s. I also feel like he’s super genuine sounding, and about as human as it gets. I challenge anyone to listen to “Sand and Foam” from the Sunshine Superman album and not be moved. But then again music – as with most art – is totally subjective.
I do love me some Donovan records. The push and pull of commercialism and its effect on art is a dichotomy that’s seemingly in a constant state of implosion, so any attempt to draw a line in the sand may be in vain. But tax scam record labels? I need to look into that! I know there was some mafia involvement with smaller soul labels in the North East around that time, but this is news to me. Speaking of labels, The Lost RPM Podcast really opens up your collection to the world by streaming some select cuts. Are you ever concerned about copyright hawks? Or does a lot of the music fall into the public domain by way of abandonment?
Yeah when it comes to tax scam records the Stonewall self-titled LP on Tiger Lily is a nice one to start with. My buddy Lance from Permanent Records here in LA was the first to do an officially licensed reissue with the surviving members of the band. It’s pretty killer!
As far as copyright concerns go, I would say that I’m a pretty under-the-radar operation at this point who caters to a very niche market. I just love sharing lost and overlooked music with people. Now if this interview were to run in like Vanity Fair or something then I might have some second thoughts about copyright stuff lol, but man most of the records I dig on are pretty obscure. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t make any money off The Lost RPM doesn’t really have me concerned. If someone wants me to take something down or cease and desist with something, I have no problem doing that.
There are some labels out there that work at restoring and sharing old records from the 1910s and later on, as well as other ‘lost to time’ records from the later 1900s that have gained new audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have ever had. Would you ever consider starting up your own label, be it physical releases, or free digital downloads and re-releasing or creating compilations of some of these really obscure records? Or is that something you’d like to stay out of?
You’re not doing a good job at alleviating my fear that this will run in Vanity Fair hahaha.
Just kidding, but yeah I’ve had people tell me I should start a small label or release a comp, and I’m totally into the latter idea! I don’t think I have the time or energy to undertake a reissue label project, but I’d love to curate a 12 song compilation LP or something similar. That would be fun.
My blog posting is more of a ‘vanity affair’. Okay okay! Last question before I wrap things up. You collect all types of records with storied pasts. Usually we focus on the stories behind the record coming to be, but never the stories of the specific copies themselves. As a fan I have to ask; The Richard Ramirez 45. I gotta know what happened there.
Well I appreciate that you are a fan, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me to talk outsider records. You’ve asked some very thought provoking questions, and I’ve really enjoyed our back-and-forth.
I’m sorry to have to break it to you though that the story behind the “Richard Ramirez” 45 is not really that interesting. I drove to Corona, CA the other week to pick up a box of 45s. The guy who sold them to me said they “belonged to his uncle.” I came home, sorted them out, and noticed the name Richard Ramirez written on a “Dick Clark All-Time Hits” EP. My wife and I had just watched the Night Stalker doc on Netflix, and I thought it was weird. I took a pic and posted it to the ‘gram. That’s it. That’s the story. Do you think it could have been him?
Oof! It may be a stretch, but it’s a spooky thought. It would definitely take a better sleuth than I to figure that out.
Alright, then. Thank you so much for your time! Run what you brung! Let folks know where they can find you!