12 Great Drag City Albums Now Available on Spotify

The revered Chicago indie label has finally dropped much of its catalog on streaming services. Here's a guide for where to begin.

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12 Great Drag City Albums Now Available on Spotify

Despite the conveniences of streaming services—not to mention their near total domination of the music industry—there are still gaping holes in their offerings. For most of us at Paste, the biggest one was the catalog of Chicago indie label Drag City, home to dozens of underground (and not-so-underground) American artists ranging from Pavement, Silver Jews and Smog in the 1990s to more recent albums by Joanna Newsom, Jessica Pratt and Ty Segall. For years, the only Drag City albums available on Spotify were those whose digital rights were licensed elsewhere, like the Royal Trux catalog, recently reissued by Fat Possum. Last year, the label made most of its inventory available on Apple Music, but kept a tight lid in place when it came to the other major streaming players.

That changed Sunday, when Drag City unexpectedly released a huge portion of its music on Spotify, GooglePlay and Tidal. (Asked by Paste why they finally did, a spokeswoman declined to comment.) It’s not everything. Still missing from Spotify are albums by critics of the streaming service including Joanna Newsom and Jim O’Rourke, along with several albums from Bonnie “Prince” Billie and Smog. Nevertheless, to mark the occasion we’ve picked out 12 classic Drag City albums that we recommend you check out immediately, listed in chronological order.

1. Pavement: Westing (by Musket and Sextant) (1993)

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Before Slanted & Enchanted defined an era of indie rock, Pavement were already hot among record collectors and noise fans thanks to their first three EPs. These included the band’s self-released debut, 1989’s Slay Tracks (1933-1969, and two records that were released on Drag City, 1990’s Demolition Plot J-7 and 1991’s Perfect Sound Forever. 1993’s Westing (by Musket and Sextant) collected these EPs, along with the original “Summer Babe” single and a couple of compilation tracks, on CD for the first time. These noisy, fractured pop songs remain some of the band’s most striking work, and generally hold up better today than their last couple of albums. A number of cult hits among the Pavement faithful were unavailable on Spotify until this comp went up, including “Box Elder,” “Debris Slide” and “Perfect Depth.” —Garrett Martin

2. Palace Brothers: There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You (1993)

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After dabbling in acting, Will Oldham arrived as a fully formed artist on his first album, which sounds like it was recorded on a boom box. Backed by members of Slint, Oldham introduced his creaky, lo-fi take on traditional American folk music, with one cover and 11 originals that all could’ve become standards. Standouts include catchy opener “Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings,” the psychosexual epic “Riding,” and the plaintive, monotone “(I Was Drunk at the) Pulpit.” —Garrett Martin

3. Flying Saucer Attack: Further (1995)

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Between the name and the fact that their records sound like recordings of background radiation from outer space, it’s tempting to call Flying Saucer Attack a space-rock band. And sure, at their most rocking they definitely fit that bill. Despite all the noise, though, Further is a folk record at heart, like a collection of Bert Jansch songs gorgeously sculpted out of drones and feedback. Drag City has always been home to some of the most daring and unconventional artists of any era, and Flying Saucer Attack is just more proof of that. —Garrett Martin

4. Silver Jews: American Water (1998)

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When you’re debating which Silver Jews album is the best, there’s a great argument for pretty much all of them. It’s really hard to vote against American Water, though. David Berman’s songwriting is as strong as it ever got on songs like “Random Rules,” “People” and “Blue Arrangements,” which are full of his inspired wordplay and swaddled in his melancholy mien without ever getting too precious or cloying about either. Original member Stephen Malkmus returned to sing on a few songs with Berman, and their voices complement each other as well as they did on Starlite Walker. American Water is where Berman truly came into his own as a bandleader. —Garrett Martin

5. Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers (2005)

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On his fifth release with the Silver Jews, David Berman offered unexpectedly rich layers of strings, female backup singers and rumbling electric guitars that obscure the off-the-cuff charm and disinterested buzz forming the distinctive character of his previous releases. The arrangements here are as bold and over-the-top as the previous ones were subdued and understated. The glammy “Punks in the Beerlight” rubs up against the incessantly tuneful “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed,” with Berman shedding his barstool-bard persona to spit out humorous rhetoric with startling animation. For anyone who wondered what Berman might sound like working with a full sonic palette, Tanglewood Numbers provided a definitive, satisfying answer. —Matt Fink

6. Bill Callahan: Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle (2009)

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Musical shape-shifter Bill Callahan mostly worked under the cloak of his Smog moniker until the release of 2007’s exuberant Woke on a Whaleheart. Continuing undisguised on his 2009 album, Callahan offered full, round songs of easy beauty that wax and wane around his viscous baritone. On “All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast,” electrocution punctuates the narrative progression, the song’s intimations exerting a surprising gravity. Callahan uses first-person narrators on Eagle as he often did as Smog, but here enlivened their stories with wrenching, wonderful sentiments: Protagonists divorce themselves from God, plead for painful memories to be cleaved from their consciousness and long for the return of “sweet desire and soft thoughts.” —Valentina Tapia

8. Bill Callahan: Dream River (2013)

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Bill Callahan has an uncanny ability to make you think about life. The images are vivid, the language simple, and the metaphors open to interpretation. His records seem to be made up of a million vivid scenes that combine for a compelling portrait of the human condition. As Dream River progresses, you get a sense of an underlying, almost optimistic love story, one that’s far from perfect and could be real or a dream. And the music matches the dreamlike state of the lyrics. Guitars intertwine softly with slinky bass lines. Flutes chirp like spring birds on “Javelin Unlanding” and “Summer Painter,” while percussion pitters and patters throughout. There are more jazz flourishes than country strums, which adds to the record’s dream sequences. It’s easy to get lost, especially through headphones. Callahan has used his art to make sense of the world, and in turn helps us make some sense of it, too. —Mark Lore

9. White Fence: For the Recently Found Innocent (2014)

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Borrowing, updating, deconstructing and reinventing the psychedelic and garage rock of the late ‘60s, White Fence gives the impression of a time machine gone haywire. For the Recently Found Innocent, the band’s fifth album and first proper studio recording, hits its mark and more, a fuzzy and swirling album that delivers both melodic irresistibility and the discombobulated, heady sense that a bit of something strong is about to take hold. Tim Presley grabbed liberally from Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the mod-garage of The Who, the spaced-out charm of The Kinks and the raw protopunk that helped usher that era to a close, all with his deliciously skewed presentation. The production of Ty Segall, who collaborated with White Fence on 2012’s Hair, brings to life the small details that make it more than a retread or homage. Presley has always moved to the beat of his own tripped-out drummer, exploring the kaleidoscopic rock sounds of the late ’60s with energy, creativity and an expert’s touch. —Eric Swedlund

10. Ty Segall: Manipulator (2014)

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With Manipulator, the oft-frenetic visionary slowed his cadence to a coherent, deliberate pace, trading chaotic cacophony for clarity. And instruments actually ring out with precision, which, for Ty Segall…is kinda weird. The shift was somewhat polarizing for longtime fans who fell in love with his motor-oil-soaked backwash-pop, which sounded at times like a glorious accident. Manipulator immediately sounded intentional. “Who’s Producing You?” rides on sharp snares and twisty, wet guitar noodles. Its melody sticks, but not as committed as the viscous vibes in “The Faker,” which gallops on a tumbling beat, directly to the action. Segall’s vocals lack the visceral, animalistic snarl he’d honed on previous releases, opting for a kind of sleepy indifference. With Manipulator, Segall took a chance and tidied up the raucous bedlam. He didn’t lose his edge, just squirted a little antiseptic along the jagged ridges. The hangover had lifted and he finally nodded to the light of true pop accessibility. —Beca Grimm

11. Jessica Pratt: On Your Own Love Again (2015)

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Jessica Pratt was a terminally unknown singer/songwriter from Northern California whose notoriety came only after her initial batch of home-recorded songs were some five or six years old, and she’d played only a handful of shows. All that interference, however, ought to be ignored when listening to Pratt’s second full-length record?and first for Drag City?On Your Own Love Again. At its core, the follow-up to 2012’s JP is as whimsically experimental as it is steeped and reveling in its own revivalism. Armed with little more than a guitar, some rudimentary tape-tracking recording materials and a treasure trove of inventive vocal harmonies, Pratt’s darkly ambitious compositions are fleshed out into alcoves of aural mischief, served mystical and with a kind of dark magic, vacillating as they do between optimism and pessimism.—Ryan J. Prado

12. Ty Segall: Ty Segall (2017)

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Segall offered no overarching concepts, themes or consistent styles on his 2017 record (one of our 50 Best of 2017). Instead, the nine songs here distill his many talents into his most concise album. Opener “Break a Guitar” is a ripping statement of purpose, the kind of bombs-away rock ‘n’ roll fans can always depend on Segall to unleash, regardless of which genre he’s tinkering with. The album’s secret weapon comes in the not-so-subtle touch of ordained punk saint Steve Albini, whose crisp, low-end touch forces the crushers to flatten and the gentler songs to ring bell-clear. While Albini allows the crunching tenacity of “The Only One” and combustible licks of “Freedom” to truly pummel, it’s the openhearted lead single “Orange Color Queen” that really steals the show. Ty Segall provides a neatly packaged summary for why the singer is a modern rock ‘n’ roll treasure. —Reed Strength

13. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (2018)

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In certain musical circles, the word “accessible” is a death-sentence, a Judas-esque betrayal. Or worse, a synonym for “sell-out.” For noise-punk veterans No Age, it means their best release in recent memory. With recurring choruses and a selection of guitar riffs you can actually hum, much of Snares Like a Haircut feels like a new era for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, who got their start doing time at L.A.’s the Smell, a grotty, sweat-marinated touchstone of DIY legitimacy. “Cruise Control” signals this change, as the duo turn their churning, rumbling noise into an almost hooky(!) melody, introducing the positive feeling of release that characterizes the album. “Tidal” actually gives us a recognizable chorus, with Randall chanting “Don’t you wanna go,” as they venture as far into hammy, power-chord punk as they’re ever going to. Of course, the force of their deafening roar still their most distinguishing feature. Indeed, most of the 12 tracks on Snares are motion, motion, motion, noise, noise, noise. It’s what you should put on when you don’t want to think; aggressive, enveloping, with just enough of a bite. —Madison Desler