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5 & Dime: Touch and Go Records

March 26, 2009

In our first edition of the 5 & Dime feature, columnist Matt Deapo chats up five seminal releases (and reissues) from Chicago’s legendary Touch and Go Records, which, unfortunately, will be scaling back its operation after nearly 30 years of service.

Bedhead – Transaction de Novo (1998)

0903bedheadOriginally released on Texan micro-label Trance Syndicate, Bedhead’s swansong perfectly executes the plan laid out in their previous efforts: Create sparse and intricate guitar pieces that sound soft but carry an emotional heft.

Although all three axmen were surely capable of strumming power chords (see “Extramundane,” which might as well be loneliness’s anthem), guitars were often strummed slowly, focusing solely on one note and reiterating a single idea until it’s permanently lulled into the back of your head.

Sheepishly layered beneath this bed of guitar were the vocals of Matt Kadane, which ruminate over the passing of time and the loss of youthful innocence so often that it borders on obsession. His heartrending lyrics carry a certain verisimilitude on “The Present,” where guitars march to some distant funeral as Kadane longs for a time that held more promise, claiming that he’d “rather be a relic than part of the present.”

This release defined the “slowcore” movement, despite the band’s reservations about being labeled.

Big Black – Songs About Fucking (1987)

0903bigblackBlindingly aggressive and shamelessly confrontational, production whiz Steve Albini started his career in music with this little Chicago band; an act so full of piss and vinegar that they decided to forego subtlety and get right to the point.

Boasting grinding guitar, guttural bass and pummeling synthesized drum beats, Albini smothered his compositions in hate, spewing angry diatribes against hypocrisy and exposing the dirt brushed under the rug in Reagan’s America.

Despite slanderous claims of misogyny and misanthropy, Albini was actually satirizing these social ills, depicting a world full of rapists, serial killers and amorality. Although it may be hard to take in large doses, it is impossibly innovative, razor sharp and, occasionally, quite humorous.

Don Caballero – American Don (2000)

0903doncabOften written off by fans of this Pittsburgh instrumental trio, American Don was the moment when Don Cab (as the devoted call ’em) finally released themselves from the trappings of conventional rock music and moved on to a higher plane.

Easing back on the head-banging freakouts of earlier releases and focusing on catchy and ambient jazz numbers, the band seems at their most open and playful. No longer are they racing for the finish line; guitarist Ian Williams masterfully lets notes linger, while Damon Che’s superb drumming ebbs and flows like the crashing of waves on the shore.

The piece de resistance is “The Peter Criss Jazz;” the moment where three arena-rock loving kids realize that free jazz and Eddie Van Halen wouldn’t make for such strange bedfellows.

Skull Kontrol – Deviate Beyond All Means of Capture EP (1999)

0903skullcontrolBorn from the ashes of several of Washington D.C.’s finest hardcore acts, Skull Kontrol existed for three short years, banged out two EPs, damaged many an eardrum and dissolved into a variety of other projects.

Yet, for a band with a 14-song catalog, limited press and absolutely no fanfare (they don’t even have a Wikipedia page), you’d be surprised how many young punks are mimicking their hyperactive blend of blues and rock ‘n roll. Unfortunately for them, few of these upstarts can accomplish in a lifetime what Skull Kontrol managed to execute in one EP.

Vocalist Chris Thompson and company deliver 17-minutes of unfettered PUNK that matches the energy and wit of The Sex Pistols with the sexual politics of Bikini Kill, leavening Thompson’s shrill vocals with sugary-sweet sing-alongs and plenty of tongue-in-cheek youthful angst.

“New Rock Critic” is the crowning achievement, playfully turning music criticism and heart-on-sleeve romances on their respective heads.

Slint – Spiderland (1991)

0903slintSimply put, this is the most important record released by Touch and Go.

Who knew at the time that these brooding, mostly instrumental songs with whispered vocals recalling Samuel Taylor Coleridge and mired in alienation would have such a lasting effect?

Nearly 20 years later, every moment of this record still feels like a revelation. It unflaggingly examines man’s existential plight, while the codeine-slow guitar riffs and lumbering bass lines permeate the room with dread.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “5 & Dime: Touch and Go“, posted with vodpodVodpod videos no longer available.more about “Slint — Spiderland“, posted with vodpod

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