FEATURE: The Half Cloth Guide to K Records’ Really Big Sale
by Chad Jewett
K Records, the legendary Olympia indie label home to Beat Happening, Mirah, Chain & The Gang and more, are having what they call, a “Really Big Sale”. More specifically, just about their entire catalogue is 50% off. Though the sale has been going on for a while (so your hopes of snagging Beat Happening’s Black Candy on vinyl are a bit late), there are still some excellent albums worth checking out, especially if it means helping out a label as historic and essential as K. Here’s our list of five releases you should be adding to your cart.
A collection of singles, B-Sides, rarities, and compilation tracks, Jarred Up is a compact yet wide-ranging starting point for the Vancouver indie-rock duo. Though the band has plenty of traditional albums (they’ve been together for an inspiring thirty years), Jarred Up has the same intangible odds-and-ends mystique that you might associate with The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs or The Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady, where even the changes between the thoughtful bedroom folk of “It’s Important” and the minimalist garage rock jabs of “From The Surface” mysteriously cohere.
Fitz of Depression
Unfolding like an alternative history for rock’s post-grunge years that prized treble-forward attack instead of mid-heavy torpor and first-generation hardcore energy rather than classic rock’s self-seriousness, Swing is Fitz of Depression’s masterpiece. It’s the kind of album where a song like “My Good Name” can “borrow” the main riff of “Kick Out The Jams”, pair it with the melodicism of So-Cal pop-punk, and manage the requisite verses and choruses in under two minutes. Swing is a weird amalgam of 80s record collections and 90s revivals, seemingly melting The Misfits, Black Flag, and sludgy Pacific Northwest weirdo metal, all at once. It’s a singular sound and a singular album.
Sooner Or Later
Compiled by the Portland first-generation punk quintet with an assist from K Records founder Calvin Johnson, Sooner or Later is a collection of traditional recordings, live tracks, demos, and similar odds and ends. The album finds the band, which consisted of Kt and Kim Kincaid, Pat Baum, Jennifer Labianco, and Meg Hentges, inventing and perfecting their own version of post-punk on stylish, melodic, perfectly honed songs like “Empty My Head” and “I Don’t Belog”, tracks that recall the austere pointedness of early Wire (with an added aura of outsider-pop tunefulness), but which eschew the British band’s iciness in favor of emotional insight and poignant first-person storytelling. Sooner Or Later is a collection to get lost in, an historic dispatch from a special time and place.
Hit It Or Quit It
Washington state might just be the national capital of stylized, outré garage rock. In the 60s, you had The Sonics, whose post-Little Richard, pre-Stooges proto-punk remains definitive and thrilling, all haunted-house organs and blown out saxophones. Most recently, you can hear a distinct garage-punk flair in the hardcore provocations of The Blood Brothers on songs like the choppy “Trash Flavored Trash”. Between those two endpoints, you’ll find Girl Trouble, a mid-80s quartet who, like fellow K Records retro-futurists Beat Happening, found their aesthetic in borrowing from a past era and skewing that dug-up aura ever so slightly. Bathed in circa-1961 reverb and built around surf-rock riffs that ripple with just enough distortion to remind you that this stuff is all arriving after the initial rise of SST and Dischord, Girl Trouble’s Hit It Or Quit It is an oddball rock-and-roll classic.
Chain & The Gang
In Cool Blood
The latest release from punk provocateur Ian Svenonius (who had done similar albeit more mod-soul focused work in his previous K-sponsored band, The Make Up) and his latest outfit, Chain & The Gang, In Cool Blood is a further extension of Svenonius’ gonzo rock-and-roll universe. This time around, the singer/songwriter/author plays with stylishly rambling garage rock story-songs (“Hunting For Love”), girl-group pastiches (“Surprise Party”), and mood-heavy torch ballads (“Heavy Breathing”), all delivered with a certain hard-to-place humor. Chain & The Gang continue to be indie music’s finest purveyors of imaginative, tongue-in-cheek tours through the great rock-and-roll museum, capturing the mood and milieu of a used record store’s worth of lost sounds, all with a canny twenty-first century sensibility.