The significance and sheer beauty of the empire Calvin Johnson built didn't really sink in for me until I was on the cusp of my twenties, when I burned out on punk, went to college and began cultivating my slightly more sensitive side, that affected melancholic half first illuminated by Elliott Smith when I was a barely legal teen with a plastic bag full of punk patches I didn't want pinned to my person anymore.
Until the Microphones came along and flipped my lid in 2000, I'd dismissed K as the label Kurt loved, the Olympian synecdoche into which Beck dipped one foot. The few K bands I'd heard before It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water changed everything struck me as too soft, too artsy. Not enough songs about smashing the state! I hadn't yet been hipped to the importance of personal politics (college would help me get a grip on that), the sublimity of nature (my college town of Santa Cruz would help me see that) or the wonders of love (my college girlfriend would toss me screaming into that glorious pit), so I didn't have much need for what I perceived as an overly earnest and preposterously naïve stable of bands devoted to tenderness, openness, joy.
I delved into K's softer sounds seeking salves for my newfound sore spots—you haven't lived 'til you've gone fetal while listening to Tiger Trap—oblivious to the fact that there was a whole lot more to K Records than freshman-friendly wonderment and preciousness. And so while it might have been Elverum's wide-eyed paeans to sun and wind that first turned me on, forays into K's back catalog found me getting off on loud and mean sounds that tickled the moribund part of me still hungry for distortion and destruction.
Today, in honor of former WW music editor Mark Baumgarten's book about K, Love Rock Revolution, and inspired by his top-five list, which appears in this week's paper, I slogged through K's teeming history in search of the more menacing music released by the Olympia institution over the last couple of decades.
Because even though K might contain multitudes, this is a punk column, so let's get noisy.
Karp, "Dueling Banshees"
This track off the almighty Karp's first LP is just straight up evil. Charging riffage and death-haunted howls deliquesce into a frothy mess of filthy sludge and rasped maledictions. This song is almost twenty years old, which is in itself terrifying. LISTEN
Some Velvet Sidewalk, "Consequence"
The aforementioned girlfriend, the one who taught me all about love and its many splendors and splinters, also introduced me to Some Velvet Sidewalk. I do wish she had held back on schooling me so harshly in heartbreak, but wounds heal, while music never dies. Until I do, I guess, but whatever. This lovesick, squalling diatribe offers the tortured sort of commiseration that makes all the hurt worth it. Almost. Sort of. No, I'm not over it. LISTEN
Enemymine, "Dent Everything"
While I prefer Enemymine's Up Records LP, The Ice in Me, this song by Mike Kunka's post-Godheadsilo concern, off the band's sole K release, is a thing of harrowing beauty. âDent Everythingâ begins as whispery post-rock before forsaken feelings take over and push everything into pissed, hurt, bitter, bass-heavy overdrive. LISTEN
The Microphones, "Samurai Sword"
Phil Elverum went on to explore ostensibly more aggressive sounds with Mount Eerie's Wind's Poem, but I consider this song off The Glow, Pt. 2 to be the Anacortes godsend's finest moment as an agent of loudness and engineer of percussive apocalypse. LISTEN
Nucular Aminals, "Nobody's Man"
I'd be remiss not to mention one of K's active bands, for the label is still putting out quality stuff in its dotage. Although fairly mellow compared to the songs above, Nucular Aminals' âNobody's Manâ is a lo-fi creeper evoking midnight acts both sick and sinister. I'm not sure who ânobody's manâ is, but I don't want to meet him, like, ever. This tune might not rage, but it definitely menaces. LISTEN
SEE IT: Mark Baumgarten reads from Love Rock Revolution tonight, Thursday July 12, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St. 7:30 pm. An after-party (featuring covers of K Records songs) takes place tonight at Valentines, 232 SW Ankeny St. 9 pm. $3. 21+.