Homestead is Where the Art Is by Ryan Rodier

Homestead is Where the Art Is: 
My Top 10 Releases on Homestead Records… and then some.

I was given a task by my co-host Brant: write a piece on the top 10 releases from Homestead Records.  Sounds easy, right?  It actually turned out to be pretty daunting.

As compared to labels like Dischord, Alternative Tentacles, Touch & Go, and SST, Homestead Records sunk its hooks into me relatively late when I was well into my 20s.  I had some releases on Homestead much earlier than that like Dinosaur Jr. and then onto Sebadoh, Big Black and Naked Raygun, but for some reason Homestead Records was a bit of a sleeper for me as a label that I would deliberately seek out in and of itself. 

I have always been into stuff that is not traditional punk and hardcore (jazz, prog, noise, avant-garde), but punk and hardcore and their many offshoots have and will always be my first love.  As I grew beyond my teenage years my thirst for new music and the enjoyment of discovering new music only deepened, and I continued to expand my tastes even further.  One of the best parts of expanding my tastes and continuing down the search for new music was finding a treasure trove of incredible bands and releases on Homestead Records, and now in my 40s I would stack Homestead Records up against any of the labels I mention above (and yes, even SST).  That is why writing this piece is such an overwhelming task: its damn hard to pick only 10 releases on Homestead Records as “the” best.  So, first a bit of background on Homestead Records, then next some ground rules in order to make this a more humane exercise, and then finally a top 10 (and some extras).

Homestead Records: The Label

Put simply, Homestead Records was one the most important labels of the 1980s and 90s for underground, alternative, indie, noise and post-hardcore music.  The label was created by the music distributor Dutch East India Trading Co. who decided that, in addition to distribution, in 1983 it would also fund up-and-coming indie/underground acts, and so was born Homestead Records located in Long Island, New York.  Homestead also distributed zines including the influential Boston “Conflict” punk zine by Gerard Cosloy, who would also eventually go on to run Homestead during its heyday, sign Dinosaur Jr. among others, release the Bands that Could be God compilation on his own Conflict label, and after his time at Homestead Records in 1990 or so, also became a co-owner of Matador Records (in other words, the guy is important to the music we love, and has good taste).  As Homestead was nearing its end in the mid-90s it also branched out into some weirdo avant garde jazz releases in an attempt to re-invent itself, and finally put out its last release in 1996.  That is over 20 years ago, but those Homestead releases still have a massive influence on the music that followed, as you will read below. 

If you want to go way deeper into the Homestead history there is a great interview by Damian Abraham with Gerard Cosloy himself here at the Turned Out a Punk podcast, and there is an in-depth (and unfortunately at some points kinda ugly) article here at Magnet. 

Some Ground Rules

First, Homestead Records put out lots of releases on different formats, but I am going to keep this list to those that were released as 12” vinyl eps or lps.  No 7” or CD-only releases, just big round vinyl discs.  Maybe we can do a part two for this blog on the Homestead 7”ers at some point, but until then do yourself a favour and track some of those down.  Oh, and I don’t care if the release was licensed to Homestead – if it has “Homestead Records” on the jacket, it counts.

Second, I am only picking one release for each group.  There are a few groups on my list where I would actually put more than one of their releases on Homestead Records in my top ten, but then it would probably be closer to a top twenty.

Finally, this is not the top ten Homestead Records releases.  Rather, this is my top ten Homestead Records releases.  As an avid reader of best of or top “fill in the blank” lists I know what its like to read “the definitive” list, and this ain’t that – it’s just what I like best.

            And Now, My Top Ten…

10. Squirrel Bait “Skag Heaven” LP

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, and active from 1983-1988, these guys put out some great melodic post-hardcore that foreshadowed both grunge and emo.  In the Andrew Earles Book “Gimmie Indie Rock”, he describes Squirrel Bait as “a remarkably influential and solid melding of Hüsker Dü, Mission of Burma, Naked Raygun, and the Replacements”, which is pretty apt.  Evan Dando of the Lemonheads and Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü were fans, apparently the fine folks in Naked Raygun and Big Black recommended that Homestead release their music, and Dave Grohl still name checks them these days. Years after their breakup you heard a ton of bands coming out in the 90s that sound heavily influenced by Squirrel Bait (Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas is the Reason etc.).  “Skag Heaven” is their best release for me, with some killer noisy, anthemic punk, wall of guitars noise, insane drumming, raspy vocals, and then closing off with a cover of the Phil Ochs tune “Tape From California”.  Their self-titled LP on Homestead is also killer and contains the song “Sun God” which is a classic.  Upon their break-up the various members went on to play in a ton of different, excellent and influential bands like Bastro (David Grubbs and Clark Johnson, also on Homestead), Gastr Del Sol (David Grubbs, who also has a ton of solo records and for a moment was in Bitch Magnet and others), Slint (Brian McMahon and Britt Walford), and Big Wheel (Peter Searcy, who also has solo material).  Both of Squirrel Bait’s LPs were also re-released on Drag City so they are pretty easy to find thankfully.

9. The Nomads “Outburst” LP
Released in 1984, this Nomads record is one of a ton of great records put out by these Swedish garage rockers. Formed in 1981 they are still putting out releases as recently as 2017. This release is packed with originals and covers of the swampy garage and jangly psych variety that are soaked in fuzz, organ and just the right amount of delay, and it rocks from start to finish. For fans of the Nuggets and Pebbles series, the Scientists, the Monomen, the Cramps, the Mad Daddys, the Lyres, the Chrome Cranks, and a zillion other “the” bands from the 60s to the 90s.

8. Green River “Come on Down” 12”
You have likely heard this one before: from Seattle, Green River would eventually split up and turn into Mudhoney (Mark Arm and Steve Turner) and Mother Love Bone (Jeff Ament, Bruce Fairweather and Stone Gossard) then Pearl Jam (Jeff and Stone). With their sludgy blend of punk and metal, green River is rightly cited as one of the pioneers of grunge music. They also appear on the legendary Deep Six compilation on C/Z Records alongside Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, the U-Men, Soundgarden and the Melvins. “Come on Down” is their first record, and is one of many examples of Homestead going out on a limb to put out something new in the American underground in the mid-80s, and something that would be hugely influential. After “Come On Down”, Green River went on to release records on Sub Pop, a collection of 1984 demos were recently released on Jackpot Records, and Jackpot Records also recently re-released “Come On Down” with a bonus track.

7. Phantom Tollbooth “One-Way Conversation” LP

I could have very easily picked the “Power Toy” LP which is also on Homestead Records, but “One-Way Conversation” edges it out as my favourite Phantom Tollbooth LP – what an awesome record! Beginning in 1984 and disbanding in 1988, this New York trio played a punk-prog-jazz-thrash that was ahead of its time when it comes to noisy, mathy post-punk. Lots of complex rhythms, technical, chunky melodic bass chording, and dissonant and intricate guitarwork. There are also moments on this LP that are reminiscent of Saccharine Trust, and even sometimes of the great western Canadian math-prog-punk band the almighty Pigment Vehicle. They often take some criticism for their vocals, but it is unfounded. Dave Rick would go on to play in the Shimmy Disc bands Bongwater, B.A.L.L., King Missile and When People Were Shorter and Lived Near Water. All releases by Phantom Tollbooth are on Homestead Records (two LPs, two 12” eps, and one 7”), except for the 2003 release “Beard of Lightening” where Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices added different vocals largely to the Power Toy LP (which is interesting, but doesn’t come close to the original Phantom Tollbooth releases).

6. U-Men “Stop Spinning” 12”

Yet another band on this list that set the stage for what was to be the grunge scene a few years later. The shrieky howling noisey punk skronk and goove of these guys is hard to deny. Charlie Ryan and John Bigley went on to play in the Crows who released a record on Amphetamine Reptile Records, Jim Tillman went on to play in Love Battery, Tom Price went on to play in Gas Huffer and the Monkeywrench, and there are several other groups related to the U-Men worth checking out. All their stuff is solid action and should be checked out. This is their second ep put out in 1985 by Homestead Records, and in recognition of their legendary and hugely influential status Sub Pop collected their works on an essential box set in 2017.

5. Nice Strong Arm “Stress City” LP

These guys sometimes get written off as some sort-of Sonic Youth clone and that is totally unfair. Formed in Austin, Texas and then relocating to New York, these guys put out three LPs and two 7” singles on Homestead, and “Stress City” is the best one in my opinion. Angular, dissonant, anthemic post-punk with some goth undertones, these guys definitely deserve to be discovered more broadly. All of their releases are worth checking out and are reasonably easy to get cheap copies of since this band is so tragically overlooked.

4. Volcano Suns “Bumper Crop” LP

This one was really hard to pick since all of the Volcano Suns releases on Homestead are excellent, as are their releases on SST and Quarterstick. Volcano Suns were from Boston and formed by Misson of Burma’s drummer Peter Prescott in 1984. I could have easily went with any of the three on Homestead which in addition to “Bumper Crop” are “The Bright Orange Years” and “All-Night Lotus Party”. The two latter releases have also been re-released on Merge Records with a ton of extra tracks and treated to excellent remastering by Bob Weston who joined Volcano Suns for the “Bumper Crop” album, then joined the re-united Mission of Burma, and now plays with Steve Albini in Shellac (chances are you have a few records where Weston has had a hand in the recording process as well). The track that puts “Bumper Crop” over the top for me is “Time Off”, but the whole record is a noisy post-punk masterpiece in my opinion. It is also worth noting Volcano Suns doubled as “The Din” (with others, including Ken Chambers from Moving Targets) who were the backing band for Dredd Foole who also released a record on Homestead. Check out all of the Volcano Suns records, as well as Prescott’s subsequent bands Kustomized (whose releases are on Matador) and Minibeast, Weston’s work in Shellac, and of course anything of Mission of Burma (both early and reformed, its all good).

3. Naked Raygun “All Rise” LP

You think I should have picked “Throb Throb”, don’t you? Yeah that one is a stone cold classic, but “All Rise” is the one for me. By the time of “All Rise”, Naked Raygun were really hitting their melodic stride and this record proves it. The combination of Pezzati and Haggerty brings together an anthemic, melodic post-hardcore that is incredibly powerful, and you will be humming these tunes well after the record is over. Be sure to check out all the Raygun offshoots such as Pegboy and the Bomb, and of course all the other Raygun…Naked Raygun.

2. My Dad is Dead “The Taller You Are, the Shorter You Get” 2LP

MDID is basically Cleveland’s Mark Edwards with various combinations of drum machines and musicians. Releasing a dozen LPs and a clutch of singles, three MDID records were put out on Homestead and released in 1989 “The Taller” is the best one for me. Full of dense brit-influenced post-punk soundscapes, melancholy angst, cathartic/therapeutic lyrics, for being so prolific it has always surprised me that MDID is not more well known. This record also has many tracks that make your hair stand up – case and point: “Boundaries”. This is the only 2LP on my list and it is a cohesive piece from start to finish that does not tire as you get through to the end of side 4. Once the MDID project was shelved in 2011, Edwards went onto a new project called Secular Joy which is also worth checking out.

1. Dinosaur Jr. “Self Titled” LP

Was there any doubt? These guys have been one of my favourite bands of all time for over 20 years and this self titled release is excellent, so there was really no contest. Formed out of the hardcore band Deep Wound, this record is embryonic Dinosaur with their classic and thankfully re-united line-up of jayloumurph. This is not the best Dinosaur Jr. album, but it is great, and it is their only LP on Homestead and my favourite record on Homestead, hands down. Dinosaur Jr. also has the rare distinction of being one of the few bands that when its original line-up reunited (which was a minor miracle in and of itself), their new music did not tarnish the original classics, but rather stood tall next to the classics and continued on their legacy admirably (as a further example, see Mission of Burma). The Dinosaur Jr. albums without the full original lineup are also killer. Dinosaur Jr. would go on to release over 10 LPs and tons of singles, J Mascis would continue for a spell in the middle with his band “The Fog” (also with Mike Watt for a period), and Lou Barlow would form Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion which are both excellent, and be a lo-fi pioneer himself. This self-titled LP was also given the re-release treatment by Merge Records (thankfully a bit of a trend with Merge for Homestead Releases).

  And then some…

In addition to the releases listed above there are tons of other LPs, singles and compilations that Homestead put out which you should explore, many of which feature bands or members of bands mentioned in the above top ten (and SST and other labels mentioned above). In no particular order, you should also be digging through the bins for: Bastro, Sebadoh, Otto’s Chemical Lounge (featuring a pre-Halo of Flies Tom Hazelmyer before starting up the Amphetamine Reptile record label), Antietam, Babe the Blue Ox, Nick Cave for cripes sake!, Sonic Youth, Blunderbuss (under-appreciated and highly recommended), Bull (why aren’t you in the Gordon Zone?!), Fallstaff, Trumans Water, Bloodsport, Breaking Circus (featuring Tod Trainer of Shellac, Pete Conway of Rifle Sport, Steve Björklund of Strike Under, and Tony Pucci of Man Sized Action), Death of Samantha (c’mon!), Honor Role (killer), Live Skull, Uzi, Pony, Seam, TABLE!!!, the Dogmatics, the Reactions, the Membranes, the Micronotz, the Wombats, the Proletariat, and for compilations I would recommend the “Human Music” 2LP… Get on it! And also go see live music. R

Ryan is the co-host of the podcast You Don't Know Mojack, which is discussing the entire discography of SST Records, in order, from start to finish.  Check them out here:
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