In the spirit of year end lists (and tis the season for that by the looks of every major/minor music publication out there), we decided to turn the concept on its head and poll our own staff on what we released this year to see what came out on top and bottom. We used a rudimentary model for determining the placements, wherein we asked everyone here to list the 10 releases we made in 2011 in descending order, with 1 being the favorite and 10 being the least favorite. The lowest scoring title is #1, and so on. And then, because top tens usually lack any real comment, we all chipped in a few hundred words (or so) about our favorites.
Here’s to an even greater 2011.
Don’t let Antena’s place on this list lull you to sleep. Numero 002LP reissues our own reissue and outdoes the previous work of this bygone baby Numero on all fronts. Content: We’ve added tracks our original CD never got near. Beauty: Bigger, bolder pictures—and more of them. Authenticity: One of these two LPs replicates to a micron Antena’s gorgeous debut mini-LP, track-for-track and in (newly corrected) order. Weight: It feels good in your hands, just like it will on your shelf. The best thing, though, is that our Camino Del Sol 2.0 Turbo Luxury Sport presents everything good about Antena in bite-sized sides, allowing you to tour the exotic locales and odd Euro-travelogue concerns—in little chunks of twisty road at a time—of a band that never really did any one thing for very long. Get in.—Judson Picco
Ah, the sound of a distant era’s winter… I wasn’t lucky enough to experience this gem firsthand, as it was peeled from the unreleased reel-to-reel tape loaned to us by Capsoul songwriter Dean Francis. I had to listen to the transfer. But from the very opening four-part harmony of the haunting and otherworldly “Endlessly” to the not-yet-fleshed-out arrangement and stark reality of “No Longer,” I knew that these two sides HAD to be committed to wax. A rush and a push and some 24 months later, we have catalog number ES-012. A real eye-opener—and certainly one of the more sublime moments in the catalog.—Chris Johnson
EBB, as we call it around here, takes spot #08, but it wins hands down in a category I just made up: Most Fun Had During The Creation Of. As you split the plastic wrap on this little guy, there’s no way you can foresee that you’ll be listening to a stellar, Numero-obsessed Shoes remix album … while reading lovingly composed catalog text about a slew of shocking little records that could not, should not, and, in fact, did not ever exist. The process of making this fake-out catalog insert was a record-dork free-for-all, and it grew exponentially more elaborate with every entry. By the second or third attempt, those Photoshopped covers were blowing minds, I’m telling you. Having the label misspelled as Numbero made me laugh too, I mean I’d rather have the label called that than the “NUMERO UNO” we get from every single person over 60 years of age who’s ever been within eight feet of our merch table.—Judson Picco
Catherine Howe’s What a Beautiful Place is—and I use this term sparingly—a magical release. It transports you to a mysterious time and place, across a rolling ocean, yet it is also takes you to a field that somehow feels like home too. Rustic and lush, Howe’s pastoral tales have finally wandered their way back to vinyl this year, where they first rested and where always felt right. Packaged to replicate the very rare original album, Numero 012LP adds additional warm fuzziness to the feeling of the music, engrossing you in the experience. Our bonus 45 with the initial release also gave the world Howe’s amazing “Let’s Keep it Quiet Now,” making the three years of vinyl anticipation that much more rewarding. We’ve re-revived What a Beautiful Place—and it is a surpassingly beautiful thing.—Jon Land
With the possible exception of Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr‘s Virgil Johnson, no Numero artist has made me stand up and yell “Holy shit!” like Linda Bruner. A cunning drifter with a grifted Southern accent, Bruner did short time in Rockford, IL psych-Beatles group Pisces before falling off the edge of the Earth. Left behind was a single 7″ reel of songs recorded for a friend before she likely abandoned them both. Linda Bruner is the kind of late-60s/early-70s artist that, had she been discovered by someone like John Hammond, would have been in direct competition with Janis Joplin. This is white-girl soul by a woman-child who cooked her dope with tears, creating an alternate dark-matter universe around every note. Her covers of “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Rainy Night In Georgia” are damn-near definitive. Personally, it’s Numero #1 for me this year. And it’s been a pretty fucking great year.—Tom Lunt
Growing up as a latchkey kid with an old CRT television and some bunny ears in my bedroom, I had ample time for after-school marathons of public television and Too Close For Comfort reruns. This is how I first remember seeing the work of Al Jarnow, whose iconic films taught me (and an entire generation) about how the universe works, featured on beloved TV shows like 3-2-1 Contact and Sesame Street. Three years ago, Al’s son Jesse sent me some YouTube clips from a few of his dad’s films, thinking (correctly) that they’d be up my proverbial cinematic alley. Instantly, tectonic plates colliding with one another in “Cosmic Clock” and the stop-motion tour de force of “Facial Recognition” transported me back to my childhood bedroom and gave rise to a million questions. Among them:
How did he make these elaborate animations and stop-motion films?
How the fuck did he make a time-lapse shot of himself floating inside his studio?
How does someone whose films have been seen by tens of millions of people go virtually unrecognized for decades?
These questions and others were tackled as we painstakingly assembled our definitive DVD collection of Al’s stunning short films. Forty-five Jarnow films on the DVD accompany a short documentary about his creative process and a thick booklet filled with essays, notes on the films, and Jarnow studio ephemera. Al Jarnow’s cinematic adventures on every scale—from beach to loft to universe—can’t help but shift your perspectives on the inner workings of everything. Numero’s only stand-alone DVD stands very much on its own.—Michael Slaboch
A long time ago, I used to enjoy attending no-name suburban summer festivals, sharing bits of crispy funnel cake covered in powdered sugar with my busty high school sweetheart while we listened to burnt-out 70s one hit wonder rock acts as they struggled to eke out a 10-song set. Fast-forward to summer 2010, which I spent pushing the speedometer past 100 mph for hectic hours down long stretches of I-290 and I-88, my back seat jammed with empty audio tape boxes and 7×7 foam-core swatches as I cut off slow-lane saps to get the materials together for the release of the Boddie Acetate Box. It was the great, sweltering race to cool off Numero fans who were eager to hear the label’s newest, most-anonymous soul offerings.
The Boddie Acetate Box features three unreleased 45s pulled from acetates we unearthed during our excavation of the Boddie Recording Company. Between 1965 and 1987, Boddie gave Cleveland hopefuls an opportunity to both record and press their own recordings under one roof. Featured on these 45s are three unidentified soul groups that exemplify the kind of homegrown talent that graced the shores of Lake Erie and the greater Ohio River Valley. Lacking horn and string arrangements, the power of these sides is in their depiction of working-class musicians grinding out a meager side in search of a hit. Strong as these sounds are, the Boddie Acetate Box only offers a glance at the true diversity and obscurity of the Boddie Recording Company—pleasing, but also teasing you with the revelations bound to arrive in the comprehensive Boddie set we’ve got planned for 2011.—Zach Myers
We like to run things here at Numero much like a Hollywood studio—sequels must be bigger and badder. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, please see Bad Boys II. Good God! Born Again Funk is what might happen if Michael Bay produced a gospel compilation. The tambourines are bigger, the choir robes are longer, the preachers are preachier, and the hallelujahs are much, much louder. Disc opener “Like A Ship” was potent enough to divinely inspire Light In The Attic to partner with us on reissuing Pastor T.L. Barrett’s entire LP. We were able to share with the world Ada Richards’ magnificent achievement, “I’m Drunk & I’m Real High,” just a few weeks before her passing—just in time for her to witness her legacy permanently fixed. Although these compilations are fan favorites and have been really well received critically, the well-kept secret is that we do them because they’re a joy to put together.—Rob Sevier
We discovered the master tapes of Local Customs: Lone Star Lowlands literally coated in hurricane mud, an arguably fitting sort of neglect for a few hundred hours of teenage noodling. But these particular jam sessions occurred primarily from 1969 to 1972, refracting the nation’s cultural revolution through the Golden Triangle. The subtext of this ballsy collection might just be that even the misguided efforts of a bunch of enthusiastic kids can resonate powerfully today, if only they got recorded “then,” when everything was imbued with the energy of a changing world. When we first started taking in some of these rockers, the general reaction around the office amounted to, “These are fun… Too bad we can’t do anything with them,” which eventually evolved into, “These are really fun… And what’s wrong with that?” Local Customs: Lone Star Lowlands asks our listeners to take that weird trip with us the whole way—straight across an alternate universe’s classic rock radio station.—Rob Sevier
In a year of all things Syl, how could Complete Mythology not come in at #1? Taking the better part of four years to research and compile (and wrangle), this box set represents our most elaborate work to date, and serves as a culmination of our seven years in business. When we began working on Twinight’s Lunar Rotation in 2005, our dream was to make an overarching, complete Twinight label box set, a blow-by-blow account over six discs of the label’s fitful five year run. We even had a packaging scheme sketched out. But when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to include any of their rainmaker’s hits, we had to retool and tighten up the proposed set. Even though Twinight’s Lunar Rotation was well regarded—and put a previous Twinight collection to shame—our desire to compile Syl’s work never went away. Without even a contract in hand, we continued buying little bits of ephemera, sourcing photos, and collecting overseas pressings of his records.
After dozens of interviews and two years’ worth of contract negotiations, Syl Johnson finally relented last August, and we immediately went to work. Bill Dahl was brought in to write a track-by-track account of Syl’s in-studio hijinks, while Judd Picco and myself began crafting a narrative, piecing it all together from off-the-cuff tales Syl spun out in our makeshift conference room. Going through the original Twinight transfers, we discovered a plethora of alternate versions and unreleased cuts and, coupling those with a few bits from the Federal Records archive that Tony Rounce at Ace Records turned us on to, we discovered half a disc of previously unknown masters. While several tracks suffered from DAT crunchiness, our genius mastering engineer Jeff Lipton was able to flip, chop, edit, swap, and repair the tiniest of imperfections. It would’ve been a 78-track collection had Dahl not clued us in on a rare Japanese LP with three tracks from a 1964 session at the Leaners’ studio. Tom Lunt spent the first quarter of 2010 thinking about how to turn the dozens of photos Rob Sevier turned up at Peter Wright’s storage space—along with all of our footnotes (which were eventually scrapped when the essay came in at 35,000 words)—into a compelling booklet. And when Twinight discographer Harry Young tossed a handful of other ephemeral bits in our laps, Tom found a way to squeeze those in too. With Tom up to his neck in booklet hell, we brought in our outside design councilor Jaffa to build the inner sleeves. He nailed the Federal LP in one take.
An impossible feat for just one or two or three people to accomplish, this release required the efforts of our entire staff and extended staff: from Michael Slaboch’s asset organization, marketing coordination, and ability to manage Syl to Chris Johnson’s packing and shipping of nearly every copy that left our warehouse; from Dante Carfagna’s systematic knowledge of Chicago micro-imprints to Jon Land’s web savvy to JR Robinson’s unrelenting desire to put the box in the bins of every important record store in the world. And though you won’t see a trace of them anywhere, newbie Zach Myers’ fingerprints are everywhere; he proofread, made emergency runs to our distributor’s massive warehouse in Aurora, Ill., and singlehandedly sorted out how we were going to pay the nearly 30 different copyright holders featured within. And Syl’s mug didn’t get on the cover of several prominent publications by accident: That took a scorched earth effort by Kathryn Frazier, Trevor Debrauw, Dana Meyerson, and the rest of the folks at Biz 3 Publicity. Some in the past have asked why we’re called The Numero Group and not Numero Records. Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology is the answer to that question.—Ken Shipley
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