Weird at My School: The Journal of Popular Noise

By DJ El Toro

My mom is a dental hygienist. As a consequence, sugary breakfast cereals were not permitted in our home. Ever. Going without Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops was no big deal because I didn’t know what I was missing. No, what cheesed me about this stance was I never got to collect the “Free Toy Inside!” It was bad enough I lived in the house that dispensed raisins and nickels on Halloween; this only solidified my outsider status. To this day, I vividly remember wind-up miniature cars and other trinkets sold with cereals I never tasted because I envied these novelties so powerfully on the playground.

30+ years later, pre-sweetened cereals still aren’t a staple of my diet. But that fixation with limited editions remains unshakeable. If anything, it’s more tenacious than when I was 10. If you only press up a few hundred copies of a record, and make a little fuss about its scarcity, odds are I’ll buy it. Immediately. Simply because I can’t stand the idea of not owning one.

The latest issue of The Journal of Popular Noise is a no-brainer, then. This Brooklyn digest comes in a limited edition of 300 (I got #47). The packaging is letter pressed in hot pink, on pristine white cardstock, that unfolds to reveal three 7-inch records and accompanying text. It rather looks like a giant version of one of those paper fortune “cootie protectors” crafty kids make, if you used a page of The Wire or an old Fluxus program, instead of notebook paper covered in felt tip marker, as the raw materials.

A “semi-annual audio magazine inspired by the traditions of pop music, printed periodicals, and the delight of a finely crafted artifact,” the latest issue of The Journal of Popular Noise showcases three disparate Seattle artists: Climax Golden Twins, PWFRL POWER, and Linda & Ron’s Dad. The through line? All the acts are asked to create original musical materials following the same editorial guidelines, which are included in the packaging as a series of illustrations and instructions. For instance, Track 3 “should be composed of a continuous, non-repeating sound event.”

Now, I am not one of those obsessive collectors who buys records, then immediately files them away in a sealed plastic bag and never touches or plays them again. On the other hand, I spent four-plus years studying classical music, with a concentration on anything remotely avant garde. So I was reluctant to see just how closely the participating artists followed the Journal‘s directions. That’s too much like homework. I reckon they must’ve, since even casually I noticed certain recurring structural elements in the works of all three. Luckily, even without knowing the back-story, they make for good listening.

Climax Golden Twins start out peddling psychedelic guitar drones, and conclude with a creepy zombie voice threatening to eat your brains. PWRFL POWER delivers a handful of Kazu’s succinct, quirky indie pop songs (“Tiger Song,” “Half-Yogurt Time”), a couple in multiple versions that add fuzz pedal and other surprise elements. My personal favorites, Linda & Ron’s Dad, fashion found sounds into an homage to David Bowie, with snippets of radio call-ins and other ephemera undercut with obfuscated snippets from “Fame,” “The Laughing Gnome,” and other Bowie classics. There was also one brief passage that recalled Entroducing-era DJ Shadow, which is probably inevitable given the medium.

Will I listen to this issue of The Journal of Popular Noise all the time? No. (Although I suspect Linda & Ron’s Dad will pop up in my show this week.) But I can sleep soundly knowing I own it. And in that regard, it was money well spent. Not that I have tons of discretionary income to be shelling out for esoteric records. But I figure these madcap expenditures are balanced out by what I save on dentist’s visits. Thanks, Mom! Yes, I remembered to floss.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.

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