The folks at Piñata Records never fail to inspire us. This has been a quiet year for the Twin Cities’ best record label, who released a staggering series of successful singles and LPs last year. Their two full length albums this year have been awesome: Black Diet‘s return showed more depth, range and complexity than their debut (our review is here), and way back in chilly January the label released New Noir by Mystery Date, which is the most strangely compelling mixture of power pop, new wave and good old fashioned punk rock we’ve heard in years. We are weirdly addicted to both albums, as we have been to everything this retro-fueled, forward-looking label has released.

a2449712753_16And now, after telling us they would never release another 7-inch single, they’ve outdone themselves by snaring another band which fits smartly into their distinctive roster. The rockabilly reared, punk perfected quartet L’Assassins have established a passionate following over the past couple years, but their recordings have been sparsely split over singles and EPs. Each has earned rave reviews, and the band is sure to find even more fans the more people hear them. We think this new single, “Fire of Love,” is their best yet.

The band is a perfect fit for Piñata Records, who have consistently found local bands with a strong retro base and fresh ideas. L’Assassins longest release, the Lovin’ on the Run EP put out by Big Action Records in 2013 (here), pulls together all the variety of vintage and contemporary influences they’ve cited in interviews: rockabilly like Wanda Jackson and Buddy Holly, killer psychobilly like the Cramps and Minneapolis’ own current music culture, in which the band is revered as a live favorite.

It’s hard to separate the band’s sultry aesthetic from their music, given the relationship between the “pin up girl” look and rockabilly’s historic role as an outsider music. In one interview, guitarist Monet Wong points to Thee Headcoats as an influence, “keeping music alive from the previous generation, [while] adding your own twist and of course doing originals too,” before acknowledging “there’s not a lot of female examples to point to.” Women were an anomaly in much of the rock and roll influencing bands like L’Assassins, more likely to objects of affection or anger than the ones offering the expression.

L’Assassins are sure to build a bigger following with rockabilly and punk rock fans as quickly as with young women who want to be inspired by more bands like Thee Headcoats. One thing we’re especially excited for is the video for “Fire of Love” to be released soon. There’s a preview on Youtube, which has hints of Tickle Torture creepiness, but also classic L’Assassins sexiness. If their epic video for “Backstreet Bomp” directed by Tyler Jensen is any indication, “Fire of Love” is probably going to be the best video of the year.

It’s disappointing, though not surprising, when reviews of the band focus more the women’s appearance than their performance: for instance, in a review for Razorcake, the always classy Rev Norb describes L’Assassins as “hot girls with nice hair and guns” long before he mentions their music. It’s pretty clear the quartet welcomes the attention if it gets their music a fair listen, and they’re actually backing up the oft-mentioned attitude with even meaner music. Seriously, listen Lovin’ on the Run, and don’t Monet Wong’s sweet guitar riffs in “Be My Dog” or our favorite track, the inventive, invective “Creep.” L’Assassins are so good the band would easily clobber the competition in a blind listening test.

They certainly impressed the Suburbs’ Chan Poling, who wrote “Fire of Love” with L’Assassins in mind. He and new bandmate Steve Price (who had joined the Suburbs for 2013’s surprise album Si Sauvage) produced the session for the new Piñata single, and Poling sat in on L’Assassin’s blazing original b-side, “Liar,” which might be our favorite song by the band to date. We absolutely love the addition of the organ, which calls to mind their new labelmates, Narco States, as well as a history of sweet keyboards on Minnesota garage rock records. Lead singer Tea Simpson never sounded better than on these two new tracks, and the guitar riffs and solos are explosive. Both new tracks are so well-produced they burst out of the speakers here at Hymie’s, and we’re glad nobody complains when we play the stereo entirely too loud.


The release show for “Fire of Love” is this Friday at Lee’s Liquor Lounge. Also performing will be Chicago’s Krank Dandys and Black Widows. The always awesome Travis Ramin will be spinning garage records in between sets. Details, on the facebook, here.

Addendum: The Video!!!

It was posted on Youtube this morning, between the time we posted our excitement over the single and the time we returned from a business meeting (yes, even record stores have business meetings — they’re just more fun than the ones we had in our old jobs). This is the 10th (!) video of L’Assassins written and directed by Tyler Jensen and producer Sasha Landskov, and it lives up to all our expectations! They all have a short film — Kill Kill Kill! Bang Bang Bang! — which will be featured in the Minnesota Underground Film Festival next month.

Morticia released a 7″ single (“Zombie Love” b/w “You Scare Me to Death”) and an LP (Mortal Fear) in 1987. Their last album, 13 Nightmares, was released five years later, and earned a Minnesota Music Award for Best Metal Album. All three albums they released before disbanding in 1994 were on local label Channel 83 Records. In 2005 an Italian label collected highlights from all three on a disc, Exhumed, which was popular enough with metal fans to quickly fall out of print.

Their act was described at the time as an updated Alice Cooper with darker shades of the Damned and Sisters of Mercy, and they were the first goth metal band from the Twin Cities to establish a following. Morticia stopped playing in 1994 with a final show at First Avenue, but reunited in April 2012 to take part in the 25th anniversary celebration of KFAI’s The Root of All Evil program at the Triple Rock.

morticia singleFounding member Matt Batchelor performs these days with Black Rainbow, a Dio tribute band, and also an original band (still said to do a killer “Billion Dollar Babies”), Vicious Violet.

He also happens to live here in the best neighborhood in Minneapolis. When he came across a handful of copies of those original “Zombie Love” singles, he brought then into the shop — and our enthusiasm for the songs forged a friendship, and now we’re fortunate enough to host Morticia’s first show in years.

We have loved Halloween celebrations of all kinds for ages — Dave joined our friends Liberty and Izzy on KFAI’s Pop Shop with a ghastly playlist way back in 2011, and several years later we put together a similar playlist for a show with Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers. Last year’s Hymie’s Halloween mix was a hit, and we’ll have updated copies (as soon as we can find those pumpkin-stamped sleeves in the office!) for this year’s event.

Here’s the A side of that single that made us fall in undead love with this band.

zombie love“Zombie Love”

Morticia will reunite for a special Halloween show here at Hymie’s at 5pm. Ghouls and ghosts aren’t just welcome, they’re expected…

tour the usa with rusty draperLike Ray Charles’ more famous album, Genius Hits the Road, this 1973 record by Rusty Draper features songs set in cities around the country. In this case all of the songs are original tunes by Mack Wolfson, a songwriter who wrote for top tier performers like Sarah Vaughn (“C’est La Vie”) and Frank Sinatra (“Flowers Mean Forgiveness”) in the fifties. He was also an executive at Golden Crest Record.

On this album, Draper was asked to sing a collection of Wolfson’s songs about cities which hadn’t previously had their one tune. The liner notes point out that we’re all familiar with “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” but nobody had written about Boise, Idaho or Missoula, Montana.

Two nearby cities make it into the collection. Our neighbors are featured in “(Yall Have a Ball in) St. Paul” and Laura’s hometown is highlighted in “(Play it Largo) in Fargo.” We’re guessing, given the common theme of Wolfson’s silly songs, that Minneapolis was not included because it’s very difficult to find a rhyme for it.

yall have a ball in st paul“(Yall Have a Ball in) St. Paul”

play it largo in fargo“(Play it Largo in) Fargo”

Several other songs are fun, although they’re features in other country songs. Tulsa, Oklahoma was certainly the center of at least one song on Hank Thompson Salutes Oklahoma, another country concept album released a couple years earlier. And while “(Downsville) to Brownsville” with its honky tonk singalong, is a our favorite song on this album, it can’t compare to “The Girl from Brownsville, Texas,” a 2004 song by Jim White which is one of our favorite songs about a city any where ever.

Country music has such a wonderful tradition of songs about cities, but we suspect most songwriters found the same problem with Minneapolis which Mack Wolfson found. Anyone out there got a few good rhymes? Anybody besides this guy…?

Canned goods

canned goods“Canned Goods” by Greg Brown

We have skinned, cored, cooked and canned so many tomatoes in the past couple weeks that we’re not sure we ever want to see another one, let alone eat it. But we’re pretty sure these jars are going to make us more than a little happy in December.

canned tomatoes

Yesterday’s post shared a link to a radio program about the music of poet Langston Hughes, which we hope at least some of you enjoyed. One of the songs in that program produced by David Brent Johnson for WFIU radio was “I’ve Known Rivers,” which was the center of a 1973 live album by Gary Bartz. Its a great album and we hope you’ll hunt down a copy (our own is WARPED!) but there is also a later recording of the song based on this Bartz’s adaptation of the poem.

DSC07750Courtney Pine’s included “I’ve Known Rivers” on his classic album Modern Day Jazz Stories in 1995, which is a record we bought brand new at the best record store in Minnesota, Root Cellar Records. It has been in our collection for twenty years. The album features one of the first successful collaborations of live jazz and turntable artistry. This is particularly true of a lush track built around a sample from Stanley Clarke’s “Desert Song.” For his version of “I’ve Known Rivers” Pine enlisted singer Cassandra Wilson, but the song also includes scratching and sampling by DJ Pogo.

ive known rivers“I’ve Known Rivers” by Courtney Pine (featuring Cassandra Wilson)

With this album, the thirty-one year old British saxophonist took his music into uncharted territory, and in the ten or so albums he has made since he’s continued to explore an approach interpolations as influenced by musique concrète as by traditional jazz forms. On other albums — especially a live recording with the Jazz Warriors commemorating the bicentennial of the English Parliament’s abolition of the transatlantic slave trade — he returns to conventional jazz without electronics or overdubs, arranging in great form.

Seen one way, Hughes’ poem is similar to Modern Day Jazz Stories, as it is regarded as one of his first mature works. He was seventeen and seeing much of the country for the first time when he wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Its narrator speaks with the concise voice which would become common in Hughes’ work and the universal tone of Walt Whitman. It is also likely influenced by Hughes’ first visit to the mighty river which divides our nation.

The poem follows our expansion from the dawn of civilization on the shores of the Euphrates River to the first time another young man travelled on the Mississippi: Abraham Lincoln was nineteen when hired as a bow hand on a flatboat which took him down the river to New Orleans. Not only his first travels outside of Kentucky, the experience left and indelible mark on him because it presented his first encounter with cruelty of slavery. He had certainly seen slaves in his boyhood, but he later attributed his abhorrence for the institution to the sight of a dockside auction in New Orleans.

As rivers became the foundation for our civilization (the very fact that we are all settled here in Minneapolis is due to the convergence of rivers) they bound us to the social contract, for otherwise our lives would be, as Thomas Hobbes wrote, “nasty, brutish and short.” Hughes celebrates the “singing” of the Mississippi because it has led Lincoln to this realization, planting the seeds of emancipation in the man who is perhaps the most praised of all men in American poetry.



The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

We have often posted about political situations without (we hope) resorting to soapbox demagoguery, because in the end our interest in this forum is to encourage enthusiasm for discovering the world through recorded sound. It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes discovering the world is an ugly process, and one is quickly found at a loss to feel otherwise reading the daily news, which so often inspires our approach to the countless archives of albums at our disposal.

In spite of this, its inspiring how often the expressions encapsulated in their grooves offers us encouragement. People have been struggling to live together since … well since we’ve been people. And we’ve likely been singing songs about one another all along as well. Sometimes one is so unmoved after reading the news at breakfast that the day could become a burden if there weren’t something to reintroduce the magic in this world (we are fortunate to have two wonderful children who do this every day). And sometimes a song from a half century in the past offers some solace.

While we have posted about police profiling in the past, we have not previously used the phrase “black lives matter,” and have not shared our opinions. People are, understandably, much more interested in what we have to say about something like our favorite local albums of the year or whether heavyweight vinyl LPs are really all they’re claimed to be. Our discomfort with the recent retort — “all lives matter” — has left us at a loss, and (as we always do) we turned to our record collection for an answer, which was found in the form of this 1967 album by Nina Simone.


backlash blues

Poet Langston Hughes wrote the lyrics to “Backlash Blues” for Simone, who recorded the song for her debut album for RCA/Victor, Nina Simone Sings the Blues. On the album she is backed by studio ringers (a pretty awesome band including Eric Gale and Bernard Purdie) instead of the musicians she worked with for most of her career. Still, RCA clearly recognized Simone’s immense potential in allowing a song like “Backlash Blues” at a time when it was likely a deal-breaker to most corporations. Simone’s albums for RCA mark a steady progression away from jazz but also some of the best whatever-it-is on album. Even her interpretations of overplayed Beatles songs are rewarding.

Hughes sent his lyrics to Simone during their correspondence late in his life. The inventive poet was in fact also a prolific songwriter, working with everyone from James P. Johnson and Kurt Weill to Duke Ellington. And we were so excited to collect his songs for you and started gathering up albums and singles and cd’s and things before we learned somebody had already done it. In fact, someone has done it exceptionally well. We encourage you to listen to David Brent Johnson’s program Hughes Blues: the Langston Hughes Songbook, produced for Indiana’s WFIU radio in 2011.

And also we encourage you to consider many proposals resulting from the “black lives matter” movement, especially the case for body cameras on law enforcement, but also the work on other issues, especially educational inequities. Here in what we truly believe is the best city in America, progress has been made in the achievement gap, but it has been slow and uncertain. If there is anything Simone expressed in her music, especially the albums she made for RCA between Sings the Blues in 1967 and It Is Finished seven years later, it is that we can do better. Right from the very beginning we can do so much better.

Sandra Colvin Roy was struck by a bus near Lake Nokomis this week and critically injured. As a member of the Minneapolis City Council, she was very kind to this little neighborhood record shop, pressing to name record store day 2010 “Hymie’s Records Day” in the City of Minneapolis because it was our first anniversary of the move from the original shop. In addition, she was — along with several other council members, especially our own Cam Gordon, always helpful in the exhausting process of navigating the bureaucracy of running a business in this otherwise awesome city.

We didn’t always agree with her (mostly when it came to football stadiums), but when do you always agree with anyone? We were sad when she retired. She had a long career caring for her corner of Minneapolis, which happened to border on East Lake Street. We weren’t even in her ward when she offered us her support after relocating our business.

And she loved her neighborhood, which is where she was when she was in an accident and struck by a bus this week. The Star Tribune reports she responded after surgery, but is still in serious condition. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sandra and her family.



« Older entries § Newer entries »

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.