Got this end of summer letter from a fellow Philadelphian:
one time my brother charlie and i sailed to an uninhabited island off the coast of maine with some friends. that island is called louds island and it sits in the penobscot bay. we sailed there in tiny dinghy’s outfitted with tiny sails on a pretty regular basis, but on this day a storm rolled in. we had to get before the thunder and lightning started rattling our masts. we rigged up and started racing back. being novice sailers and little kids we got ahead of ourselves and flipped our two vessels.
we spent hours floating in the bay, amidst pouring rain and a violent summer storm. our ships were capsized and filled with water. we had no chance of righting them. we had to wait for help. we had to wait for someone to come by. eventually they did and towed us back to the harbor. we survived and now make dance music in philadelphia. we’d love for you to check it out our first single “ways”. i hope you liked our story.
It really hurt to read if I can be totally honest. it came at the end of what was the worst date on our tour where some of the craziest things happened; finding out a family member had been in a head-on car collision, someone in our van having a mental breakdown, the show in Austin getting cancelled due to weather, Owen Pallett’s drummer throwing out his back and having to sit the show out. Some of these things are far worse than others and I feel like a piece of shit for talking about in the same breath as music criticism but reading it after all those things came up yesterday made it feel a lot more devastating that it should have.
I don’t know, I am fairly unguarded with a lot of things like this and it really bummed me out to see him talk about something I put my whole self into for three years in such a disparaging way that invoked things like disparate levels of class, especially when my friends like Owen and the Orchid Tapes families are negatively implicated in a lot of what’s said there.
Ultimately I will try and pay it no mind, because I don’t expect a straight-white-dude critic at Pitchfork who is, above all else, notorious for being a mean-spirited writer to understand what I’m trying to do with my music, especially when I know so many other people do. I will try and turn it into an exercise of considering, but ultimately emotionally distancing myself from the effects of both criticism and praise alike. I feel like it is an all-or-nothing game with this sort of thing, and I think as both a label-operator and as someone who makes music, this is important.
I’m starting to think that Orchid Tapes / Foxes in Fiction isn’t something that I should continue trying to fit into an arena like Pitchfork. We’ve been having a lot of conversations on this tour about music writing and about what is considered objectively good in the minds of writers at places like Pitchfork, and I’m starting to see how that criteria sometimes disfavors people who are outsiders, or queers, or women or who are mentally ill; things we have tried to be inclusive about with Orchid Tapes forever. We’ve done so well because of smaller press and our amazing supporters, and I feel like maybe I tried to take too many steps forward with Ontario Gothic because I believe in it so much and am so in love with all my friend’s work on it. I’ve been thinking about this sort of stuff and how it implicates our release for a while, and I think it may be the time to do some thinking / decision-making and take a step back for the sake of maintaining what is important about the label.
The review opens with “At no point during Ontario Gothic does it sound like an album that would be subject to outside expectations, let alone hype.” and closes with “That speaks to the appeal of Orchid Tapes in the first place, a collective that stands to snag the interest of anyone invested in the concepts of “punk”, “indie”, “scene”, and “DIY””. Both of these statements miss the aim and intention of Foxes in Fiction & Orchid Tapes so grandly that the rest of the review kind of loses power on me. I’m not making or releasing music with the label I founded to satisfy expectations or play into ideas of hype, I am doing it for people who are mentally ill, who are queer, who are who are young and living in an awful small town and need a connection with music, for disenfranchised and marginalized people who have been in similar situations to me where music was able to help me though it and ultimately inspire me to start something like Foxes in Fiction or Orchid Tapes. If one person at an institution-as-website doesn’t get that, that’s fine.
Don’t forget that Cassette Store Day is coming up soon! I’m particularly looking forward to this Lo Bias Hi Noise EP. The album is a collection of unreleased 4-track demos recorded from 1983-1999, available on September 27th on Summersteps Records.
My boy Justin sent me this letter about power, the universe and his new work coming out on Atelier Ciseaux next month:
I’m writing from an office in Downers Grove, IL where I work as a marketing analyst. Taking a break from some MS Excel spreadsheets to work on this letter.
Last year, I went through this phase where I was constantly thinking about the inevitable cosmic events in the distant future. Mainly the collision of the Andromeda Galaxy with the Milky Way Galaxy and also the Sun eventually growing into a red giant and enveloping our entire planet.
But also simultaneously thinking about the search for finding other habitable planets in the “Goldilocks Zone” of another star system. I definitely support the search for other planets like Earth. But at the same time I wonder, what are the odds that conditions are just right? Seems bleak.
I wrote “Cosmic Was” because I kept having this nightmare. We send a ship out to explore one of these habitable planets in the “Goldilocks Zone”. When we land, we find nothing a but landscapes made of roaches. Mountains or dunes of them slowly moving across the crust. Consuming, reproducing, and dying. And that’s it. That’s the whole planet.
So then I’d wake up with this new awareness. Yeah space IS the place. But currently Earth, though it’s only here for a limited amount of time, is also kind of the place.
I wrote this essay while freelancing for Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger between 2005 and 2008; near as I can tell, they never published it. I came across it today while writing about Philly band Cassavetes, who shares its name with a song on the record, and thought I’d post it around these parts. Enjoy.
Historians of 90s rock tend to fawn over Fugazi’s strident independent ethic moreso than its actual music, and it makes sense why.
Even the most committed listener would admit it’s easier to admire a hard-held commitment to anti-corporate, fan-friendly business practices than an inscrutable stylistic mishmash of thrash, arty noise, funk, reggae, Flavor Flav-styled vocal interjections, and a general penchant for being – aw hell, let’s just say it – weird.
Which is what D.C. linchpin Ian McKaye became upon leaving the rigid repression of Minor Threat’s bare-knuckled punk. He and his newfound bandmates’ – in both the short-lived Embrace and the more prolific Fugazi – indulged their assorted musical interests in ways that invited non-descript adjectives like “angular,” or the all-telling “post” prefix (in Fugazi’s case, “post-hardcore”)…both of which are rock writer code for “FREAK.ING.WEIRD.”
Not to say that folks didn’t understand the band. Heads rolled to the slippery dirty groove of “Waiting Room” when it played on 120 Minutes, and hooks like “ONE!TWO!THREE!REPEATER!” had fists flying in the air. Those who heard, knew they were privy to something great. But by the time In On The Killtaker came out in 1993, the media had given up on crystallizing that greatness into much more than “yeah, these are the guys who won’t charge more than $5 a show.” A shame, since that’s the point where Fugazi got really interesting.
Here in Grand Rapids there are not many folks doing electronic music, or even implementing electronics into their tunes. Hearing friends doing something interesting within a town full of punk rockers is very refreshing. FILMLOOM is a duo experimenting in a percussion-heavy electronic pop tunes, finishing up their debut record now, releasing early November. Definitely need to give their new single a listen, it’s lovely.
I’ve spent the last two summers in southeast Alaska, in a town called Sitka, situated on a series of islands in the Pacific. There are about 9,000 people who live here - worlds away from my life in New York City (I’m fond of saying that there are more bands in Brooklyn than there are people here). I’ve come to Alaska through the Sitka Fellows Program - a new residency program. Essentially it means that I’m here to live simply and to play the guitar and to sing into the ocean.
In no particular order, here are the things I’ve learned to cherish here:
-the long, lazy arc of the sun as it rises and sets, staying up in the sky past well past 10pm
-the ever-uncanny, screaming calls of ravens in the woods and in parking lots
-the deep, happy, living smell of wet spruce trees
-swimming in cold ocean water with the silhouette of a volcano in the distance
-swimming near the airport runway and under planes as they take off
-the quiet persistence of thousands of fish making their way upstream
-the constant movement of water, in the waves and in the tides and in the sky
-a small, icy waterfall nestled deep in the woods - I’ve stood under it and hollered for joy
It’s very beautiful here, laughably so at times. But what’s more is that there is time and space to do things. Time to walk miles and miles into the woods and up mountains. Big, empty rooms that I fill with sound. Time to talk on the phone with my friends. An abundance of space in which to consider my tiny body against the sea, the mountains, the starry veil of heaven.
Writing and playing music here is so easy. It just flows. In New York, I do my work in spite of the world - in spite of rent, in spite of student loans, in spite of the loud fun of bars gently calling me out into the night. Here, in Alaska, due to some potent combo of well being and natural awe, the words and tones just are. My voice and my guitar astonish me with their clarity. And when I sing,