By Jude Noel October 11, 2021
There is a particular variety of lo-fi music — adjacent to folk with nasal voices, built around plunging power chords, who have managed to survive on the fringes of indie rock for the past three decades. He might not be established enough to justify his own genre name, but the influence of sound can be clearly felt in the dark twang of an early start. Sparkling eyes record or the warm whistle of Julia Brown be near you. While successors like these have further shaped and defined the sound, its roots go back to the birth of Shrimper Records.
Shrimper was founded in 1990 by Dennis Callaci of Upland, Calif., Although that might betray the label’s DIY ethics to put it in such formal terms. In its early days, the label was just one part of the home-made media universe that Dennis and his older brother Allen had created during their formative years.
“I had cataloged invented worlds as a child, wrote a comic strip that I drew with characters based on stuffed animals, made bogus groups and parodies of Al Jaffee on the fifth string,” he said. “The band that my brother and I formed, The Bux, had a rich history and each tape release strove to have a different sound, theme or concept.”
What sets Shrimper apart from Callaci’s previous projects is his reach. Although their own bands like Refrigerator and Paste were among the first cassette releases, the label quickly made a dent in the brothers’ garage, documenting the home-recorded indie rock that flourished in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Within two years, a Pomona Valley pantheon had formed within Shrimper’s discography. WCKR SPGT, led by singer / songwriter Joel Huschle, produced Residents-inspired surreal punk in a quick clip, while buddies Franklin Bruno and John Darnielle channeled their book lyricism into their own outlets – a jangly indie rock band Nothing painted blue and now legendary folk outfit Mountain goats, respectively.
“We were the scruffy outcasts, kids with paperbacks in our back pocket on the Omni-Trans or walking a few miles home instead of going on the school bus,” says Callaci. “When I met each of them, the four of us had the same short story to some extent. It was hard to shame, embarrass, or reduce the kind of awkward weirdo teens and twenties we were with new ammo; anything that hadn’t already been thrown at us. Check-in in our rooms or garages or bathrooms on a cemented boombox that does not provide spinal care.
Shrimper started switching to CDs and vinyl in the mid-90s with the release of the 1993s Abbreviated perversion: a collection of rare tracks from label compilations. The technological upgrade has coincided with an even further widening of the sound and geographic boundaries of the footprint. by Sebadoh Lou barlow, Yo La Tengo Dump branching and no-wave act in New York God is my co-pilot would submit East Coast albums. Meanwhile, more obscure premises like The Ah Club and Soul-junk kept the bizarre spirit alive in the Golden State.
Despite the higher production volume from 1993 to 1997, Callaci remained a staunch champion of the DIY philosophy, “signing” groups with Shrimper without contracts. Bringing music to the world, regardless of fidelity or polish, was its main mission.
“I didn’t release anything and I won’t release anything that created a need to balance, let alone make money,” says Callaci. “The label still exists because the outside world isn’t included in everything that I, and to a large extent, the rag group of artists that I’ve been allowed to release music does.”
Shrimper remains active to this day, though releases often come in sporadic bursts when Callaci has the time and resources to squeeze new material. Releases by longtime label mainstays Amps for Christ and The Secret Stars are slated for the near future, while many other members of the Shrimper family have published novels and chapbooks through Callaci’s Bamboo dart press.
While Shrimper does not have a dedicated digital storefront, dividing its available versions among a handful of distributors, a significant portion of its catalog can be purchased on Bandcamp. For those looking to trace the history of indie lo-fi rock back to its roots, here’s a guide to the label’s Bandcamp offerings.
Amps for Christ
Near the end of his seven-year tenure in the powerviolence group Man is the bastard, multi-instrumentalist Henry Barnes founded his own solo project to pursue more diverse interests. His first release under the Amps for Christ nickname, Alluvial plains, merges the electronic atonality he had explored in recent years with his long-standing love for folk music. Using a circuit-bent string organ and homemade amplifiers, Barnes craft the sound of bagpipes, weaving them into a rapid sequence of acoustic fingerpicking and distorted guitar solos. Industrial futurism and the distant past come together in Amps for Christ’s world, like the soundtrack of a Renaissance fair played through broken speakers.
Lou Barlow’s acoustic sentridoh
Lost coins (with even more coins)
Although Dinosaur Jr. Most often associated with the virtuoso guitar solos and drawl of singer J. Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow has perhaps had the most lasting impact on indie rock as a whole. “Poledo,”His solo contribution to the years 1987 You live all over me, is directly responsible for shaping the aesthetics of Shrimper’s collage.
“’Poledo’ changed my life,” says Callaci. “It sounded like the music my brother and I recorded. It was not abstract, academic concrete music. There was a vulnerability and a language that I recognized, and it still gives me goosebumps every time I hear the song.
Callaci sent Barlow some of his own tapes in the early 90s, which led to the launch of Barlow’s Sentridoh project, a vehicle for his improvised house recordings. Wasted parts compiles the strangest entries from his prolific discography, which includes spoken poetry, scary song skits and brief instrumental experiences. “Raise the Bells”, which falls into the latter category, may be the album’s most notable entry due to its inclusion in the 1995 Larry Clark film. CHILDREN.
To listen Wasted parts in its entirety, one has the impression of reading the margins of a high school composition book. Set to powerful chords, Barlow’s whispered lyricism is excruciatingly open and at times absurd. If you’re the nosy type, Barlow’s Sentridoh cannon can be found in your wheelhouse.
After leaving the noise-rock collective Truman water in 1994, Glen Galloway of San Diego took the name Glen Galaxy and embarked on his own musical adventure, Soul-junk. The project’s initial efforts put portions of the Bible into the decay of indie rock and free jazz, which responded to what it describes as a divine call. Although they were going to explore surreal hip-hop in the early 2000s, their 1994 second album (and Shrimper’s last release before signing with Homestead Records) is not that different from the work Built to overthrow and Modest mouse were coming out around the same time, fueled by a tense, high-pitched guitar and screaming voices. However, it is the dissonant instrumental breaks, which refer to Coltrane and Captain Beefheart, which are the most rewarding of 1951‘s 21 tracks; a small wave of ideas that Galloway would soon pursue.
Songs for the new year
Simon joyneris best known as one of the compatriots of Nebraska Conor Oberst ‘s primary influences, a distinction that can undermine the singular nature of his own work. Although Songs for the new year, co-published by Shrimper and Sing, Eunuchs! in 1996, looks a lot like Dylan and Cohen, one cannot be mistaken about the ghostly presence of Joyner on a track. He embodies introspection itself, reducing both his voice and his sparse instrumentation to skeletal forms in the sound field. Every song here is creaky and hollow, suggesting decomposition. The string organ running through “When Shall the Sun Rise Again” moans as Joyner weaves the tale of an apocalyptic flood. Even on New Year’s Day, his outlook remains bleak.
Nothing painted blue
Taste the flavor
Nothing painted blueFranklin Bruno’s sixth and final album is also their most accomplished work: a true studio show that shows Franklin Bruno’s impressive songwriting skills and fully realizes his more eccentric impulses. While wacky indie pop tunes like “Jessica’s Got a Problem” and “Cornstarch” may remind listeners of REM and They could be giants, the sinuous basslines and jazzy chords on songs like “Self-Contained” and “Striver” reveal a penchant for the weirdness of early SST records buried just below the surface. “Human Shield”, with its sultry synths and its structure of songs in parentheses, offers an alternate universe in which the Minutemen have become twee. The seven-minute centerpiece “Take Your Own Advice” is Taste the flavors the most original entry, however: an autobiographical piece about embracing academia that ends with a comfortable jam session.
Ready to flourish
Ready to flourish is an outlier in the Shrimper catalog: a return loaded with new wave pop synths in the vein of Choir boy Where Nothing wild. The Austin, TX quartet is conducted by Nate Shade, whose theatrical voice bounces off angular guitar riffs like a superball. Sparkling keys and stable bass parts can sometimes remind Power, corruption and lies, corn Very yes becomes sumptuous where New Order has gone minimal, layering rich vocal harmonies and reverberated brass behind each verse.
Although 2021 Stable swing marks Megan Siebe’s debut album as a solo artist, she enters the arena with two decades of experience as a cellist and arranger under her belt, and it shows. The Nebraska singer-songwriter’s debut album is a luxurious take on alternative country, awash in steel strings and guitars. Stable swing has similarities with recent work by Waxahatchee, although it’s more immersive: a patchwork quilt of cozy comfort and manageable gloom that you could easily waste an evening wrapped inside.