I was already obsessed with private-press records when Sinecure published its lavish 2013 coffee-table book Enjoy the Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992. I’d long loved punks for creating their own infrastructure outside the commercial-first spaces of quote-unquote legitimate pop musicians. So I was primed to fall for this entirely different universe of artists, who’d created and released records completely outside the music business, with little regard for how or even if the public might receive them—sometimes these artists’ potential audiences were no bigger than their circles of friends.
The world of private-press records might as well be infinite. It’s not held together by a community, an aesthetic, or a lineage. Collectors have retroactively canonized some of these treasures, which were (at best) little loved when they came out—the 2006 record guide The Acid Archives, edited by Swedish psych fanatic Patrick Lundborg, is one of the best-known surveys of American and Canadian private-press releases. I’ve also enjoyed combing through the archives of the blog run by Sacramento record store Waxidermy, and I’m hardly the only one. Around 2009, the site introduced Light in the Attic label founder Matt Sullivan to the work of folkie Jim Sullivan (no relation), whose 1969 LP, U.F.O., was reissued by Light in the Attic in 2011.
At some point in the past six years, I found a 2010 post on the blog Mutant Sounds about Undesirable Elements, a 1985 album by D.C. singer-songwriter Dale Jenkins. The music hasn’t left my mind since. Jenkins’s strange take on punk—demure, rangy, spiked with electronics, driven by drum machines—doesn’t seem connected to the sonics of D.C.’s scene at the time, but it overlaps a little with its spirit. I assume Jenkins knew something about that scene: later in the 1980s, he would play in the punk band All White Jury, and according to a February 1990 report in Maxmimum Rocknroll, in fall 1989 they’d shared the bill at the fifth-annual Alternatives Festival with Moss Icon and a surprise Fugazi set.
For a long time I listened to Jenkins mostly via YouTube rips. A couple years ago, on a video for his frazzled, herky-jerky ripper “Non-Surgical Lobotomy,” an account I hadn’t seen before responded to a comment from a friend of Jenkins’s. The account was linked to Spanish reissue label Guerssen, so I messaged the label, curious if a reissue were in the works—and the answer was yes! (I was invited to write the liner notes but declined.) Guerssen worked with Chicago-based label Got Kinda Lost, run by Jeremy Cargill, on a new version of the album retitled Undesirable Element (presumably because its bonus tracks make it a somewhat different release). The reissue dropped last week, and it’s all up on Bandcamp. I’ve delighted in the better grasp of Jenkins’s work the expanded album offers—and “Non-Surgical Lobotomy” is still as oddly electrifying as when I first heard it. v
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