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The Haul: Shannon Wright, The Forms, Don Caballero, Papa M, and Mock Orange

Receipt of trip to Reckless Records Broadway location

I first hit up Reckless Records in Chicago during the fall of my freshman year at the University of Illinois during a road trip up for some concert. Mogwai and Ganger? Dismemberment Plan and Turing Machine? Not sure which, but the former makes sense because of the store’s proximity to the Metro. I was still in the mode of bulk purchasing and I could not fathom more titles to look through or a larger dollar bin. The liners-only method of displaying titles was new to me and seemed absolutely brilliant. Between the dollar CDs and the .50 cent singles, I got countless titles that I’d only vaguely heard of, furthering my dollar-bin strategy developed at Rhino Records in New Paltz during high school. The difference was that Reckless hid singles by bands I genuinely enjoyed—the 12 Inch Records singles for Dis- and Love Cup, for example—in the unorganized bins beneath the LPs.

It essentially turned into buying music by the pound. I recall coming out of the Broadway location with a bag straining at the handles with something like ten CDs, seven seven-inches, and five LPs for around $80. A haul for the ages. I was so overwhelmingly proud of myself. Unfortunately, it became nearly impossible to go with anyone else because I wanted to be so thorough. When you live two and a half hours away and are without a car, it’s better to be somewhat deferential to your friends. It took me a few trips to learn this lesson.

This time around I had an afternoon to myself and the two main Chicago record stores (and the Winter Classic rink at Wrigley Field, which was already being dismantled and off limits). I’d done my research my searching the online Reckless catalog for pertinent titles, so I knew some of what awaited me. The main issue, however, was that my current record shopping strategy—buying new vinyl from active artists, used vinyl if it’s out of print, avoiding CDs whenever possible, not spending too much time in seven-inch bins—runs counter to my prior experiences with Reckless, hence this limited haul. Don’t worry; I reverted back to classic form at the Milwaukee location.

Shannon Wright's Perishable Goods EP

3. Shannon Wright – Perishable Goods CD – Quarterstick, 2001 – $9

Perishable Goods is an apt title for this EP. In addition to being a limited edition release in a cardboard sleeve, the musical contents are somewhat more ephemeral than Wright’s usual offerings. Highlighted by “Azalea,” a duet with Crooked Fingers/Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann, and an excellent cover of the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke,” it was the second-to-last Shannon Wright release I needed to track down (excluding Crowsdell), meaning that the single for “A Junior Hymn” (backed with a cover of The Smiths’ “Asleep”) is the lone straggler. I still need to hear the Low version of “I Started a Joke,” since Low and Wright were touring partners at one point, but I do have Faith No More’s cover to fall back on.

The Forms' Self-Titled LP

4. The Forms – The Forms LP – Threespheres, 2007 – $15

I’d checked out the Forms’ self-titled second album when it was released in 2007, in part because Built on a Weak Spot lavished such high praise on it, but my fondness for their smooth guitar melodies was tempered by Alex Tween’s penchant for repeating lines ad nauseam. Yet the album reminded me enough of Castor’s self-titled debut in both guitar tones and song structures that I kept giving it chances and ended up including the brief, elliptical “Oberlin” on my year-end mix for 2007.

I’d largely given up on getting past my block on Tween’s vocal style until two recent events changed my course. First, the group was included in a list of bands heavily indebted to Shudder to Think, which caused me to rethink their song structures and lyrics. Second, BOAWS posted a Forms cover of Billy Joel’s infamous “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from the Guilt by Association Vol. 2 compilation. Between the humming, post-punk bass line, the smart changes to vocal melodies and delivery, and the gall of the song choice, I had to give The Forms credit and another chance.

While fifteen bucks for a new single LP is a bit steep (another instance where I would’ve saved money if I’d mail-ordered it direct from Threespheres, but Somerville mail thieves have instilled me with deep-rooted caution), my decision to pick it up was validated by a listen to the album on my iPod yesterday. After getting past a few repetitive vocal phases, I finally responded to the songs like I expected when I first read BOAWS’s recommendation. Plus, a vinyl-only bonus track!

Don Caballero's 2 LP

5. Don Caballero – Don Caballero 2 2LP – Touch & Go, 1995 – $13

A brief history lesson: Don Caballero started out on 1993’s For Respect with muscular, drum-centric math-rock and pushed that blueprint to its limits on 1995’s Don Caballero 2, making one of the most unrelenting, challenging documents of the genre. 1998’s What Burns Never Returns managed to be both more listenable and weirder, finding new ways to wrangle chord changes out of guitars. Ian Williams then eliminated most of the distortion and jarring guitar angles on the largely clean American Don. There’s an arc to these four records,* one that I’m grossly paraphrasing, but each record contributed something new to the group’s approach. Some of this progression is owed to member turnover, especially Williams’ transition from second guitarist to primary guitarist, but I credit Don Caballero with pushing the genre forward in that eight-year span, perhaps even bringing it to its logical conclusion.

Grabbing Don Caballero 2 was long overdue, but I hadn’t seen it on vinyl before. Beyond that, I was happy listening to my CD copy of What Burns Never Returns, since I think it strikes the best balance among the four main Don Caballero albums and their singles compilation. But 2 might be the finest document of instrumental math-rock’s extreme limits. There have been plenty of great math-rock records, but it’s essentially a genre of technical precision and balls-out aggression, both of which are pushed to the brink here.

*Yes, Damon Che “reformed” Don Caballero and released two albums with the new line-up, but neither of those albums deserves to tarnish the arc of Don Caballero MK. 1.

Papa M's Hole of Burning Alms LP

6. Papa M – Hole of the Burning Alms 2LP – Drag City, 2004 – $8

Between the two Reckless locations I had some options for a David Pajo vinyl fix, including the out-of-print LP of Aerial M and the 2LP of Live from a Shark Cage. While the former ($13) hit my collector scum nerve and “I Am Not Lonely with Cricket” from the latter ($13 used, $16 new) is a pleasant fifteen minutes of low-key guitar musings, I opted for value with the money with the 2LP singles compilationHole of Burning Alms. Of course it includes the M Is… single, which I already own, but there’s enough other material here to keep me busy and mildly interested for more than an hour. I’d stopped buying as many mellow post-rock records because I wasn’t finding enough time to listen to them for their desired purpose—background material for reading—but hopefully this album will accompany that activity in the near future.

Side note: I’d almost forgotten about Pajo’s time in Billy Corgan’s Zwan project, in which he accompanied Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney for what I imagine was a nice paycheck. According to the group’s Wikipedia page, the group’s fallout seems far more interesting than their actual music (watered-down Smashing Pumpkins), since Corgan calls the other members “dirty, filthy people who have no self-respect or class” (presumably excepting drummer Jimmy Chamberlain) and holds particular spite for Pajo, who was presumably shacking up with bassist Paz Lenchantin during their tours. He also says that Zwan will never, ever reform, which breaks the hearts of millions of fans across the globe.

Mock Orange's Nines & Sixes LP

7. Mock Orange – Nines & Sixes LP – Boiled Music, 1998 – $5

Nines & Sixes is Mock Orange’s “debut” album, i.e. the first album they’d like you to associate with their career. It’s actually their third album, after 1995’s Open Sunday and 1997’s self-titled release, but they claim that those albums were just practice. While I scoff at such revisionist history, I have to wonder how many bands in the MySpace era will be just as embarrassed by their early releases, considering the negligible cost of home recording and CD-R or MP3 distribution.

Despite owning a dollar bin CD copy (which I’d completely forgotten about), I can only vaguely recall having heard a few songs from Nines & Sixes, which sticks to poppy emo-punk of their earlier work. Those looking for the quirky, Modest Mouse/Superchunk influence from the excellent First EP and Mind Is Not Brain should start with The Record Play.