"This is unpopular music. We are unpopular people."
Aquarius Records, the longrunning San Francisco outpost of weird and wonderful sounds, has released a fanzine collecting 50 of its Record Of The Week reviews from the 20 year lifespan of its Valencia Street store.
The shop has been sending out a weekly email covering new music releases – written by the shop’s staff, including veteran co-owner Andee Connors and The Wire contributor Jim Haynes, and often running to over 10,000 words – for over two decades. The New Arrivals newsletter has become an important document of underground, experimental and otherwise oddball music of the current era, detailing countless little-known metal bands, microedition releases and independent groups from all around the world. They’ve now collected 50 of their favourite reviews for AQ ROTW: Selected Top 50 1996-2016, a new fanzine put together by the shop.
“The very first new arrivals list was in 1995!” exclaims Andee. “So we’ve been doing the list for 21 years now, and have written something like 30,000 reviews, maybe more.” At first, the reviews might be just a pithy word or sentence, but over time, they've grown, making you wonder how they write the newsletter while still finding the time to serve customers. “The crazy thing is it’s gotten to the point where our brains seem perpetually in ‘list mode’,” he explains, “where when we hear something, we automatically begin plotting out the review in our heads. Which can drive you a little crazy.”
The span of music in Aquarius is vast, from noise, obscure black metal and rare psychedelia to modern composition and field recordings. One of the store’s notable all-time favourites is The Conet Project, Irdial’s famous box set of number stations recordings. “This is unpopular music. “We are unpopular people,” the description for AQ ROTW promises.
Given this spread of sounds, cooking up reviews of dozens of new albums every week must be a challenge? “It's one thing to say how fucking awesome a pop hook is on a nada surf record, but it's another to try to formulate the success and value of a long-form drone / power electronic / noise / field recording artist,” ponders Jim Haynes. “Opprobrium, the old Bananafish absurdities from Seymour Glass, Ed Pinsent's amazing Sound Projector and many of his writers (Jennifer Hor in particular), and the gaggle of writers at brainwashed all provide inspiration for me.”
The fanzine is limited to just 50 copies, but a reprint is supposedly in the works. “It’s hard to complain about getting to listen to so much amazing music, and then being able to write about it, and not only help folks hear this stuff, but help these artists get their music heard,” enthuses Andee. “And no, we NEVER get tired of metal.”