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The Power of Independent Labels
Touch and Go Records' most influential releases.
There are many record labels that have been beacons throughout my lifelong music fandom, stables of carefully curated bands and sounds. Dischord, Def Jam, Sub Pop, Creation, Merge, 4AD, Def Jux, Anticon, Southern Lord, The Flenser, and Backwoodz Studioz all come to mind. Few have had the impact or staying power of Touch and Go Records though.
They do a thing over on their Instagram where they ask people what they think the most influential records from the label are. I sent one to them a few months ago, but I’m nobody, so it never rated a post (The posts are from band members of Touch and Go bands). I still wanted to share though, so…
Here are the Touch and Go releases that were most influential to me:
[Note: All record links go to the records’ Bandcamp page where you can sample and purchase the music.]
Big Black Songs About Fucking (1987): If I had to pick one, this would be it. Steve Albini’s unique sound and style, as well as his punk-literary lyricism are all here. This record’s median is all of the seedy shit your parents warned you about. I know everyone prefers Atomizer, but this is the one for me. I found it a few years after it came out, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.
Slint Spiderland (1991): I almost skipped this record as too obvious a choice, but no one can deny the influence of Slint. A post-rock hallmark and a haunting slab of guitar music, Spiderland helped spawn at least two subgenres and countless bands. I came to this one late, but a lot of other things I liked made much more sense after I found it.
The Jesus Lizard Liar (1992): I remember getting this one the day it was released. They might have better records than this, but I doubt it. I saw them on this tour at the Capitol Theatre in Olympia, Washington. Sitting on a dumpster outside (the show was sold out), I caught glimpses of David Yow and Duane Denison prowling the tiny stage area. It was perfect… One unadulterated beast of a band.
Tar Clincher (1993): I met these guys at the Cowhaus in Tallahassee, Florida on tour with Arcwelder right before this EP came out. At the merch table, singer/guitarist John Mohr asked me, “See anything you can’t live without?” They might have better records too, but this one gets in, does its job, and gets out.
New Wet Kojak s/t (1995): Ex-Soulside/Girls Against Boys frontman Scott McCloud always deserved to be much more famous than he was, and New Wet Kojak always seemed like his purest form. As much stagger as it is swagger, this record is downright sexy.
Bad Flag Man Amok (1995): This last three-song seven inch, Man Amok, marked a conceptual turn in Bad Flag’s songwriting. The change is subtle but significant enough to make one wonder what would have come next. Acts 1 and 2, “Where the Day Goes to Die” and “Good God Gone Bad,” are on the A-side. “All the Way Down” is the third act and takes up the whole B-side. It’s probably their best-known trilogy of songs. It came out after they broke up and was the only recording not released by the band themselves—or without their knowledge. As one reviewer put it, “No one should have it, and no one should be without it. That’s how controversial it is.”
The Sonora Pine II (1997): I slow danced with Tara Jane O’Neil to a Nancy Sinatra song after Rodan opened for the Grifters at the Moe in Seattle sometime in 1994. Tara was playing bass for Rodan at the time (their records belong on this list too). The Sonora Pine is what she did next, and it’s no less devastating than Rodan’s Rusty albeit in a completely different way.
Shellac 1000 Hurts (2000): Though I got the early 7” EPs (The Rude Gesture: A Pictoral History and Uranus, both released by T&G in 1993) and the full length At Action Park (1994) on vinyl as soon as they came out, this is the one I go back to most often. If you don’t get Albini’s sense of humor on this one, you probably never will.
TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain (2006): After loving their earlier releases, I remember being blown away by how good this record was. Like, how did they get even better than they already were?! The very peak of their output.
Bad Flag is Real.
No, Bad Flag never had a record on Touch and Go. No, Bad Flag never actually existed. They’re all too real though. If you like any of the bands above, you’ll recognize them. They are the subject of a short story in my forthcoming collection, Different Waves, Different Depths.
As always, thanks for reading,