Column 46: Public Eyesore Records; metal, blues, pop tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:21 pm October 13, 2005

I did not make it to Sleater-Kinney last night. In addition to smashing my toe yesterday morning, Built to Spill just took too much out of me the night before. Anyone who did go, give us a quick review on the webboard, will you?

This week’s column again was slated to be a feature story in The Reader, but the paper again cut my word-count limit down to 400 — not nearly enough. I could either cut it myself or make it a column. The story was born out of a discussion I had with musician Lonnie Methe after his band, Mancini’s Angels, played a gig at O’Leaver’s last May. Methe, who was about to move to Austin, said that the local media all but ignored a thriving experimental scene that was making waves internationally. He pointed to Public Eyesore Records as an example. One of the goals in writing this piece was to better understand the so-called “sound art” scene, its recordings and their appeal to, well, anyone. The results are below. I’ll likely post an extended version of this article online in the next few days in the “Interviews” section.

Column 46 — Omaha’s Other Record Label
Public Eyesore could be an earsore to some
Sure, everyone knows about Saddle Creek Records, but did you know that there’s another record label right here in river city that produces CDs that are distributed all over the globe by bands that tour all over the globe to fans all over the globe?
Public Eyesore Records has been thriving right under your nose for the past seven years. How could such an enterprise exist without your knowledge? Probably because most — if not all — of the bands on the label’s roster are known only by the tiniest of audiences who listen, collect, perform and enjoy a genre of music that’s been referred to as “avant-garde,” “minimalist” or “experimental.” In fact, your typical FM radio listener probably wouldn’t consider it “music” at all.
“I call it music,” said Public Eyesore owner Bryan Day, who operates the label out of his midtown apartment. “I might call it ‘sound art’ or something like that. Referring to it as ‘experimental noise’ is naïve terminology since there are so many subgenres within it.”
As research for this article, Day sent a care package that included a handful of CD-Rs in colorful cardboard sleeves, jewel-cased CDs and some vinyl. Among them:
Monotract, Pagu. Released in 2002, the LP contains rhythms beneath layers of electronic noise/static/squawks that sound like messages received from outer space. Amidst the chaos are tracks like “Birao de Lao,” a pleasant tone poem lightly sewn together with clicks that fall on a beat.

Jad Fair and Jason Willett, Superfine (May 2003). Known as the frontman of the underground punk band Half Japanese, this solo collaboration between Fair and HJ band mate Willett is almost commercial sounding. Fair’s solo work has been released on such labels as Kill Rock Stars, Jagjaguwar and Matador, but this is still an oddity in the Public Eyesore tradition. Fair and Willett play a variety of instruments, pick out weird melodies and blend it with shrieks and comic vocals. The 20-song “enhanced” CD also includes 155 mp3 tracks for more than five hours of additional music.

Blue Collar, Lovely Hazel. Released this year, the trio plays trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, percussion and “sings.” Opening track “48/1” sounds like boiler pipes moaning in an old building or someone moving furniture in the apartment upstairs. The bleeping horns have an improvisational feel and often build to a noisy conclusion. Along with Superfine, it’s among the label’s best sellers.

Jorge Casto, Sin Titulo #2. The 2001 CD-R contains pulsing noises like faraway satellites that slowly mutate into ambient tones over its single 44-minute track. Atmospheric and somewhat soothing, it has no discernible melody.

Jesse Krakow, Oceans in the Sun. Krakow is a member of Fast and Bulbous, a Captain Beefheart-influenced avant-prog band. The 2004 CD-R opens with “Tree for Me,” a track that features beatbox, organ and Krakow actually singing a melody.

Onnyk, Private Idioms. The 2001 CD-R contains two live sessions recorded in October 1995 and January 1997 in Morioka, Japan, that sound like stringed-instrument improvisation but could be confused with random noodling. The band includes Day’s wife, Yoko Sato.

Naturaliste, A Clamor Half Heard. The Omaha-based ensemble has included among its members Lonnie Methe, Simon Joyner, Chris Deden, Charles Lareau, Chris Fischer and Day himself. This 2001 CD-R is a wall of noise, distortion, pure nihilism that’s both grating and disturbing.

Day admits that to the untrained or unwilling ear, some of his label’s music will sound like noise. He markets his catalog nationally via magazine ads and the Internet (his website is, but he’s never focused on Omaha, though his discs are available at The Antiquarium record store.

“There’ such a small market for this kind of stuff to begin with,” he said. “It’s something where if you’re naïve to the whole scene you can’t appreciate it as much as if you’re actually a part of it. It’s difficult to get into unless you’re doing something with experimental sound.”

Despite the limited audience, Public Eyesore has released 14 recordings so far this year and is on target to release his 100th catalog item by year-end. CD releases have 1,000 to 2,000-copy runs. CD-R releases are painstakingly hand-produced in lots of 250 — a process that Day said he’s dropping because of the manual labor required to cut and assemble the sleeves.

The work doesn’t end there. Day also books tours for his bands in the U.S., Europe and Asia. “The tours are much more successful in Europe,” he said. “Japan has a big scene as well, and there are some places on the coasts of the US where you can tour successfully.”

That said, his own band, Paper Mache — which he describes as “definitely not as loud as Naturaliste and easier to understand” — is taking off on a two-week tour of the US heartland later this month, including gigs in Iowa, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Tennessee and Missouri. “It should be interesting,” he said. “You never know who’s going to show up.”

Tonight’s festivities: One Percent is hosting a metal show down at Sokol Underground with Norma Jean and Darkest Hour ($12, 9 p.m.), while uptown at The Scottish Rites Hall One Percent is hosting New York blues-hammer guitarist Joe Bonamassa ($25, 8 p.m.). Just as compelling is The Ointments (Reagan Roeder, Kyle Harvey, Landon Hedges) and Lifeafter Laserdisque at The Spotlight Club at 120th and Blondo. ($?, 10 p.m.).

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