WNnG – Musings from the desk of chaz.

Matador’s Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle.
September 24, 2008, 3:24 pm
Filed under: New Music

I’m sure people have already been writing and posting about this, but I wanted to toss in my two cents anyway. Matador just got a hell of a lot better. In a time when major labels are starting to sway on the verge of crumbling, indie labels are thriving, grinning as the short and sturdy presences they’ve built stand firm. For Matador I don’t know what it was, a new employee, someone coming back to join the ranks, someone poking their head up and paying attention to what’s happening around them or just a re-realization of a passion for new music. First it was their distro that got phenomenally better and then the label itself fell right behind. Their distro started unearthing great new garage and post-punk records and 7″s from smaller DIY labels, I was able to get a lot of stuff that I normally ordered directly from the labels, in one spot. Plus some other stuff I was having trouble tracking down. Maybe they noticed people getting psyched over this stuff, who knows. Matador, Touch & Go and Sub Pop seem to be delving a little bit back into time and picking up on the bands today that have that raw, pure sound to them. There was a time when it was just all twee-ish indie rock, all at once. That was awkward.

Currently we’ve got bands like No Age and Pissed Jeans fronting the ol’ charge for Sub Pop – scuzzy with buried melody, just like old times. Even Blitzen Trapper has a genuine spin to their sound, sure it’s great 90s rehash with a little twang, but they’ve made the sound theirs. That new record is great by the way. Matador brought Times New Viking to the forefront and is now slinging at us 7″s and an upcoming full length by Canadian hardcore artsters – Fucked Up. And no, it’s not just another hype band with a bad word in the title. They’ve been kicking around DIY basements and hardcore labels for years now. Artsy, dark hardcore with cello and beautiful melodies. They’ve stretched the classic minute-or-less punk song into sprawling, Pink Floyd epics. Check ’em out. One of Matador’s brother labels, PPM, is pumping basement heroes, Abe Vigoda into the stream as well. We also saw Load Records, previously known just for the noisy, experimental stuff release an awesome album by Clockcleaner. A throwback to that classic AmRep / Touch & Go sound circa Scratch Acid.

Artists that used to be reserved for the more underground circles are seeing promising waters in the leagues one up from where they used to tread water. Bands that hung around on In the Red, Crypt, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Goner, Deranged, etc are getting drafted up to the bigger indies. It’s great. Sure those are some of my favorite smaller labels, but it’s great to see this stuff really getting out there. Presses are seeing more than 500 copies!

Unless you’re Jay Reatard…and that brings us to Matador’s Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle of 2008.

Six 7″ singles. Released exactly one month apart, each with a lower pressing than the one before it. By none other than Mr. Jay Reatard himself, king of brilliant sleaze and dark jokes. This is what Matador Records unleashed upon the rabid record collecting public…at the exact right time when vinyl sales are up and more kids are scouring for records. Record collecting is in. 7″s are the new mp3 if you’re hip enough. Especially when they’ve got a “limited pressing” label on them. Jay Reatard hit the buzz-ways and is blowing the road up behind him. A self-created and label-aided feeding frenzy was induced and the 7″s were sold out the second they were made available. #5 was immediately up on eBay for 50 bucks! Yup, a 7″ that had literally just come out that week! Brilliant. The buzz current was sent out and then the records were immediately harder to get. Demand shot up while supply shot down. A perfect planned crossing of the two paths. Like crossing the streams in GhostBusters. Dangerous. I was able to get them into the shop somehow, I think because I had ordered so many of #1, but by the time #6 came out, only one showed up on the shop’s door step. So, I pulled rank and bought it for myself. Sorry guys and gals. That’s how I pay myself. In good records. I will not eBay it though, don’t worry.

So that’s where we stand now. I mentioned Fucked Up up above there and now we’re starting to see a similar stir there. When Matador picked them up, they released three 7″ versions of the song Year of the Pig. A sprawling, epic song that came out on a 12″ last year on What’s Your Rupture Records. There was the regular US version, a UK import and a Japanese import. Oh yeah, not only did those 7″s get released by Matador (which for the record, were awesomely priced at $3.98 or $4.98 a pop!), but Matador re-released the 12″ exactly how it came into the shop over a year ago, when I ordered them from What’s Your Rupture. That was also priced well below what I had previously stocked it at. I think the labels were still the same too! Not only that, but we saw a CD version of the EP that contained all the b-sides from the three 7″s they released at the same time. The collector’s market is set. And I’m in. The great thing though about Matador doing this, is that they’re keeping prices at what they should be. They could easily create the frenzy and then charge me an arm and a leg to get the releases in, but they’re not. And that’s a label putting music out for the right reasons. Prepare yourselves!

Just to catch some people up – Jay Reatard has been kicking around the Memphis garage scene for a while now. Reatard’s music is dark and apocalyptic, but obscenely catchy. He’s my age, but he’s accomplished ridiculous amounts already in the music world, he’s truly prolific. Prolific for a garage punk is not that hard though when fidelity makes no difference. This difference though is that his writing is standout.

When I was collecting stuff from his early band – the Reatards – it was stuff that they had recorded in bedrooms on boomboxes. Using boxes and buckets for drums and a guitar plugged straight into the mic input. Lo fi doesn’t even describe it. It was awesome and gratifyingly crunchy. He idolized the Oblivians (also from Memphis) and it showed. He had great teachers. Empty Records was releasing the Reatards stuff. Bad TImes also happened around this time, though a little later. I somehow was fortunate to stumble across this record a little while back in a used bin. Sympathy had put it out and I was buying anything branded with the label’s name at the time. This was a snotty, noisy, trashy supergroup consisting of Eric Oblivian, King Louie and Jay Reatard. Three of the best current garage songwriters. Don’t expect this album to blow your mind though. Do reinforce your speakers before playing. He honed his robot-like apocalyptic doom edge with the band Lost Sounds. Whose members also rank up there in current elite slayers of the garage punk genre (Alicja Trout & Rich Crook). With the Angry Angles he tightened his powerpop chops, even brought a little classic 70s UK vibe into his songwriting.

Why am I giving you a crash course in this guys history? Because it has shaped exactly what he is currently putting out. All these places and bands that he’s come from, he’s learned from them. Even though I’m only touching on the tip of the iceburg of his recorded output, elements from each have created this timeless, seamless dark sound. It’s overproduce and slick, but shit if it doesn’t work. It’s catchy, dark, scary and just plain good. Exactly what people are looking for right now. Comfort in dark places for dark times. Didn’t the Misfits hit it exactly right at exactly the right time too?

Within the month a CD and an LP that compile all the 7″s is getting released. So no matter if you missed ’em or didn’t have the 50 bucks to drop on eBay. In the Red also just released a singles collection from stuff pre-Matador on Goner, In the Red and more. If you never got around to picking up Blood Visions on In the Red as well, do so. Pick up some other stuff from the label while you’re at it. You’ll like it, promise.

The stage is set. Start watching vinyl and 7″s specifically. Matador is cued in to record collecting and providing. It’s dangerous for us now that the bigger labels have caught on. Just when we’re all running out of money to spend….


3 Comments so far
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The frustrating thing about Reatard-produced 7″‘s is that I don’t think his ultra-dynamic-compressed style sounds good on vinyl. He’s got an amazing ear for how to make modern lofi sound huge, but it works far better as a digital file. It’s really blurry on plastic.

Comment by Bendy

that’s a good point. some of the 7″s do sound a little off in translation, i definitely agree. though, i thought the “I Know a Place” 7″ on Goner sounded great. the Matador stuff does lag a little, but the songwriting is still there.

i’ll be curious to see if there’s a noticeable difference when the CD hits the shelves.

Comment by wnng

[…] got mixed feelings about this one.  I’ll defer to Chaz, who had a great post on this earlier this year:  Matador’s Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle of 2008. Six 7″ […]

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