Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)



But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.


But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.


For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

30GB of Lost Cassettes From the 80s Underground

As many of you have undoubtedly heard, whether from FACTMAG.com, AJournalofMusicalThings, eTeknix, or WeAreTheMusicMakers, Archive.org has delivered yet another windfall of lost music. Hot on the heels of Attention K-Mart Shoppers, Mark Davis’ personal collection of KMart muzak cassettes, another user has uploaded a massive archive of independently released obscuro cassettes from the 1980s.

The tapes were originally digitized by noise-arch.net and donated by former CKLN-FM radio host Myke Dyer in August 2009 and includes cassettes ranging from “tape experimentation, industrial, avant-garde, indie, rock, DIY, subvertainment and auto-hypnotic materials”.

Jump on this 30GB treasure trove – it’s what all the hip vaporwave kids will be sampling in the weeks ahead.

Here’s the torrent direct from The Internet Archive.

Pile of Audio Tape Cassettes

Attention K-Mart Shoppers

This installment of Innerspace features a special look at a unique pick from The Internet Archive. Mark Davis, former K-Mart employee and dedicated crap-audio archivist rescued a stockpile of K-Mart muzak cassettes which were broadcast over the store’s PA system throughout the 80s and 90s. Davis wrote an excellent summary of the library on the collection page titled, Attention K-Mart Shoppers:

OK, I have to admit this this is a strange collection. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I worked for Kmart behind the service desk and the store played specific pre-recorded cassettes issued by corporate. This was background music, or perhaps you could call it elevator music. Anyways, I saved these tapes from the trash during this period and this video shows you my extensive, odd collection.
Until around 1992, the cassettes were rotated monthly. Then, they were replaced weekly. Finally sometime around 1993, satellite programming was introduced which eliminated the need for these tapes altogether.

The older tapes contain canned elevator music with instrumental renditions of songs. Then, the songs became completely mainstream around 1991. All of them have advertisements every few songs.

The monthly tapes are very, very, worn and rippled. That’s becuase they ran for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on auto-reverse. If you do the math assuming that each tape is 30 minutes per side, that’s over 800 passes over a tape head each month.

Finally, one tape in the collection was from the Kmart 30th anniversary celebration on 3/1/92. This was a special day at the store where employees spent all night setting up for special promotions and extra excitement. It was a real fun day, the store was packed wall to wall, and I recall that the stores were asked to play the music at a much higher volume. The tape contains oldies and all sorts of fun facts from 1962. This may have been one of the last days where Kmart was in their heyday – really!

One last thing for you techies, the stores built in the early 1970’s (such as Naperville, IL Ogden Mall Kmart #3066, Harwood Heights, IL #3503 and Bridgeview, IL #4381) originally had Altec-Lansing amplifiers with high quality speakers throughout the store. When you applied a higher quality sounding source, the audio was extremely good. Later stores had cheaper speakers and eventually the amps were switched out with different ones usually lacking bass and treble controls.

Disaffected millennials raised in the age of irony and cynicism will love these plastic corporate recordings. If you’ve any vaporwave music in your library, this is the archive for you.

Tune in and don’t miss the blue light special.

Published in: on October 15, 2015 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Days of the Lords: 1976-1997

Weekend Update: Saturday Afternoon Project

Born in ’81, I was just a few years too young for some of the best music of the 80s. This afternoon I dedicated some time to rectifying that issue.

I collected all of the genre-defining albums of the era from RateYourMusic.com and assembled a 175-hour playlist titled Days of the Lords: 1976-1997 comprising 55 artists from the period’s most prominent genres:

  • Ethereal Wave
  • New Wave
  • Dream Pop
  • Gothic Rock
  • Shoegaze
  • Post-Punk
  • Jangle Pop
  • & Noise Pop

All the major players are here.  Neoclassical darkwave and goth rock mainstays like The Cure, The Church, The Cult, Joy Division, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins.  Plus post-punk artists like The Chameleons, Cabaret Voltaire, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, Jesus & Mary Chain, Swervedriver, and Fad Gadget.

All the shoegaze giants made the list, from My Bloody Valentine to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, Soda Stereo, The Boo Radleys, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Belly, and The Catherine Wheel.  I’ve really done my best to assemble all of the artistst discographies that defined their generation’s sound from 1976-1997.

Here’s a preview of the completed list in action.  I’ve got a lot of listening to do!

Days of the Lords