Touch & Go Records and Reviews of Yo La Tengo and Lupe Fiasco

This week Jim and Greg discuss the 25 year history of one of music’s best independent labels - Touch and Go Records. They’ll also review new records from Yo La Tengo and Lupe Fiasco.

Touch and Go Records
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The internet phenomenon of the year, YouTube, is again making headlines this week. Warner Music Group struck a deal to make its library of music videos available to the website. This is the first time a record company has agreed to distribute its content through a user-generated media company. Now webgoers can enjoy videos by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, and of course, everyone’s favorite sand romp video by Chris Isaak. Warner seems to be recognizing the Internet’s value in promoting artists—an attitude that stands in stark contrast to most other major labels. Of course Warner will also be monitoring its YouTube content, which leads our hosts to believe that large-scale corporatization and homogenization is not too far in the distance. What this deal means for a future LonelyGirl15 remains to be seen.

Touch and Go Records

This week Jim and Greg wanted to take a look at one of the music industry’s most important independent labels: Touch and Go Records. Touch and Go recently turned 25 and celebrated with a three-day bash at Chicago’s Hideout Block Party. Over the course of the show, you’ll hear why Jim and Greg wanted to focus on this modest Chicago label. You’ll also hear from the founder himself, Corey Rusk, and a number of the label’s artists, including Scott McCloud from Girls Against Boys, Janet Weiss from Quasi (and formerly Sleater-Kinney), Ted Leo, David Yow from Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard and recording engineer and musician Steve Albini of Big Black and Shellac fame.

Touch and Go’s founder Corey Rusk is known not just as a tastemaker with an incredible ear for talent, but also as one of the most honest businessmen in the biz. This is what separates Touch and Go from other labels, major and independent alike. Rusk’s business model, which doesn’t shy away from the Internet and which relies merely on trust and a handshake, has kept it going for 25 years, helping it to outlive its peers. Labels like Twin/Tone in Minneapolis, which launched The Replacements, SST in California which launched Black Flag and Hüsker Dü, and I.R.S. in which launched R.E.M. and The Go Go’s, all emerged in the early ‘80s after punk’s mainstream explosion and before alternative’s reign. However, Touch and Go is the only one of the bunch not only to stay in business, but to do so successfully and independently.

The best way to understand the label’s significance is to sample some of the music. You’ll hear these songs in our short-but-sweet montage of Touch and Go music:

  1. Killdozer, Hi There
  2. Girls Against Boys, Kill the Sexplayer
  3. The Dirty Three, Doris
  4. Jesus Lizard, Mouth Breather
  5. TV on the Radio, Dreams
  6. Butthole Surfers, Fast
  7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Art Star
  8. Calexico, Cruel

Touch and Go has put out a lot of music over the past quarter century, but Jim and Greg both manage to pick their single favorite T&G tracks. Greg goes first and chooses Stage 2000 by Seam. Touch and Go is often thought of as the place to go to for loud, hard-edged punk music, and that is certainly true. However, their roster is actually quite diverse, and there are a number of bands like Seam, who are making beautiful, soft, melodic music. Stage 2000 is on Greg’s favorite Seam album, The Problem With Me. That album was recorded with Chicago producer Brad Wood, best known for producing Liz Phair’s classic Exile in Guyville.

Jim’s Touch and Go pick is Kerosene by Big Black off their 1985 album Atomizer. Though Atomizer was initially released by Homestead Records, Big Black moved to Touch and Go a year later, and the label reissued the band’s entire catalog. So we’ll let Jim slide on this one—especially since no one has been as closely associated with Touch and Go as Big Black founder Steve Albini. Albini came to Chicago to study journalism at Northwestern, and Jim can hear this sensibility in his lyrics. Songs like Kerosene are essentially sensationalistic tabloid stories backed with thrashing noise-rock.

Food and Liquor Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor (5th Anniversary Edition)

After being leaked and speculated about for months, the final version of Lupe Fiasco’s debut solo album Food and Liquor was released this week. Lupe, or Wasalu Muhammed Jaco, has previously worked with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z, who executive produced this album. The first single off the album, Kick Push, is a modest hit, but both Jim and Greg think the song and the entire album deserve more attention. They love how Lupe weaves stories in such a unique way. He’s a self-professed geek ( Kick Push is about skateboarding and the album cover shows an image of the rapper floating through space with his trapper keeper) and you won’t hear any typical hip-hop fare on this record. The music digs deep for its jazz and soul samples and doesn’t depend on a plethora of cameo star producers. Both critics give Food and Liquor a Buy It.

I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass Yo La Tengo

I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

The second album up for review this week is by Hoboken’s own Yo La Tengo. I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is Yo La Tengo’s 13th album since husband and wife team Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley started the band in 1984. Their name comes from the cry of I’ve got it! that Mets infielder Elio Chacon would utter in his native tongue. Kaplan is a former rock critic himself, and his eclectic musical tastes are apparent in the music. According to Jim, the band is the epitome of good taste. He describes I Am Not Afraid of You... as a stylistic hodgepodge, but thinks each one of the 15 tracks is a winner. Greg agrees. The band was experimenting with being more subdued in the past few years, and he’s glad they’ve returned to form with tons of genre-jumping on this album. It appears we have another double Buy It.

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