Armagideon Time

This site emerged from a primordial stew of influences, one of the most prominent being the wave of “archival” mp3 blogs which sprung up in the middle Aughts. Sites with names like Little Hits or Phoenix Hairpins or Last Days of Man on Earth would post digital rips of out-of-print vinyl obscurities alongside enough written backmatter to distinguish themselves from the pirate crowd.

Each update held the promise of a new-to-me (or known only through some tantalizing reference in an ancient ‘zine) forgotten gem, and a fair number of these finds gelled into a new pantheon of playlist-and-mix-CD-ready favorites. The songs — along with the sites that hosted them — thrilled and energized and ultimately inspired me to try my own hand at the whole music blogging thing. I charted a different course than theirs, but it wouldn’t have happened if not for the examples they set.

Although there are plenty of ripped selections from that scene that deserve to be added to my collection, only a handful have been thus far. Many of the records are darlings of the collectors’ market. Low production runs, high demand, and region-restricted distribution lead to premium asking prices, which become inflated even further by covetous souls smelling a “hot property.” Comps and reissues can provide possible end runs around that vicious cycle, but even those fall prey to absurd levels of mark-up within a few months of release.

I quit bothering to put these records on my Discogs wantlist. Even the few “cheaper” copies which do turn up for sale tend to be at least three times what I’d be willing to spend, and there’s no point on cluttering up my daily “just got listed” bulletin from the site with a bunch of non-starters (or even worse — unicorns that were sold an hour before I got a chance to check the listing). I still undertake periodic sweeps of the Discogs marketplace or eBay for them, however, typically after hearing a featured track crop up in a playlist and usually ending in disappointment.

Usually, but not always.

A couple of weeks back, something reminded me of “Strawberry Cheesecake,” released by Detroit’s Algebra Mothers in 1979. The art-damaged approximation of a Stranglers’ jam was one of my earlier mp3 blog finds and epitomized the thrill of discovering something so incredibly good yet so utterly ignored in its era. (Honestly, most American non-hardcore punk from 1977-1981 falls into that category.) I’d sniffed around for it a couple times before, but either came up empty or found the available copies priced ludicrously even by the ranges from previous sales.

This time, I noticed something different on the single’s master release page — listings for a pair of 2019 repressings. The ones for sale still ran a bit high (and came from Canada, where the shipping costs were as much as the record itself), so I googled the reissues’ label. It brought me right to their mail order store page, which had the single in-stock for a whopping six dollars.

I don’t know why anyone would release an obscure 1979 Midwest artpunk single or price it more cheaply than most other boutique labels would these days. I’m just grateful it gave my the opportunity to have my very own copy to spin.

And if they want to give the same treatment to The First Steps’ “The Beat Is Back” 7″ or The Standbys’ sole EP, I’d be much obliged.

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