Crate-Digging: Rodan – Aviary cassette demo

(self-released, 1993)

Before I even get in to this release, let me fall all over myself and say how much I love Rodan – I’m not even kidding, I love them love them. A lot of you snarky jerks may come back with, “Why don’t you marry them?” (OK, maybe just the really immature ones), and I say to them with my nose in the air, “Because bigamy is illegal, you fool.” See? But try dissuading anyone with your mind and senses overwhelmed by “The Everyday World of Bodies,” or the one-two punch of “Bible Silver Corner” and “Shiner.” Hard to pay attention to much else.

Rodan released one single solitary album in their brief existence, having formed in 1992 and broken up by 1995. Yes, it’s that seminal post punk masterpiece Rusty, one of the defining moments of independent rock, punk, hardcore, math rock, and post rock, and one of the most Important – capital “I,” IMO – records of the past quarter century. (When you start tossing around the word century, you know you’re serious.) The band gets coolness points, beyond the great music of course, for their Louisville, Kentucky, locale, as they were contemporaries of fellow Louisvillians, and fellow sonic trailblazers, Slint. They get further coolness points for who they eventually turned into: June of 44, The Shipping News, Rachel’s, The Sonora Pine, and Tara Jane O’Neil’s solo career. That’s a fancy pedigree.

But there’s that minor irritation of the somewhat brief discography, mitigated of course by its quality, yet nevertheless slight to a perilous degree. How does a band’s legacy remain intact with so little to show? Rusty’s only got six songs (it does clock in around forty minutes), so what’s the point of discussing Rodan outside of its vacuum? Ah, well, that’s where it gets fun. The discography, the unofficial discography, is a little deeper, and a little rarer. And that’s what makes record geeks like you and me salivate, doesn’t it? The thrill of the hunt, the possibility of uncovering some lost gem, some forgotten 7-inch or compilation track that you can parade in front of your fellow nerds or pin to your psychological vest as a badge of honor. Know how there’s a caricature of the extreme Star Trek fan, ready to argue the slightest detail or call out a plot hole with such an invincible air of superiority that he (it’s always a he) is willing to do it in front of a crowd of people at a convention, and direct it at the actor most closely related to said detail? Yeah, I’m like that, but with music. So strap in, I’m gonna geek out on you.

(I also, like the lonely Star Trek aficionado, wish I had more friends to talk about this with.)

So the unofficial discography. How about the pre-Rusty cassette-only demo, Aviary? “It’s a demo,” you say, “so what?” What if I told you it had twelve tracks – twice as many as Rusty? “Alright, I’m listening,” you say. “But I bet half of the songs made Rusty.” Hey … c’mon, don’t be a dick. What if I told you that the sound quality, especially for an early 1990s cassette demo, was pretty decent? For the most part anyway. “I’ll bite. What’s the run?” Only 200 were ever made, my man. “Really. Hmm … and half the tunes didn’t make the Rusty cut, eh? And they’re from the same scene as Slint? Quarterstick records related? OK, you’re driving a hard bargain – I’m in. Write on.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence, imaginary rock snob.

Aviary is a remarkably complete set of performances, in that much of Rodan’s oeuvre exists here in a close approximation of what we’ll hear later, with a few exceptions. “The Everyday World of Bodies,” one of the most interesting and evocative and twisty post punk anthems ever laid to tape refuses to disappoint, ever. “Shiner” isn’t quite complete in its form here, but is only a few tweaks away, and yet it still pummels in its aggressiveness. “Bible Silver Corner” seems like an afterthought at the end of the tape. “Gauge” and “Jungle Jim” suffer from a lower-fidelity recording, but I’m not going to complain too much. And “Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto” barely finds Tara Jane O’Neil in an audible mode – which is OK, her singing is probably my least favorite thing about the band (and yes, minor quibble).

Oh my God, dude, get to the stuff I can’t find!

OK, jeez. Let me tell you, the non-album tracks are worth the price of admission. (Which is, what exactly?) “Shiner” cousin “Tron” appeared on the Half-Cocked soundtrack, while the excellent instrumental “Darjeeling” ended up on a Simple Machines 4-way-split 7-inch called Inclined Plane, and also featured underground darlings (back then, anyway) Tsunami, Superchunk, and Unrest. (Wish I had a copy of that one, actually.) “Milk and Melancholy” and “Exoskeleton” were released as the How the Winter Was Passed 7-inch, but neither needed to be included in the Rusty discussion. Hey, second rate for Rodan is still incredible quality. There’s a track called “Intro” and a track called “Intermission,” both found-sound experiments that barely warrant mention. So there’s barely for you.

This is the best part about obscure music – sifting through building blocks that many others just aren’t able to because of scarcity. (Although, again, I lament the Internet’s mooting of that point, and in the same breath, praise the availability of otherwise unreachable gems.) To hear Rodan, almost already fully formed, here on a demo cassette is a genuine treat. Grab whatever you can of their discography – there’s not much, and it’s not easy to find, but it’s out there…

RIYL: June of 44, Bastro, Bitch Magnet, Squirrel Bait, Slint


2 responses to “Crate-Digging: Rodan – Aviary cassette demo

  1. I’d love for there to be a proper release of this. The grainy 192kbit versions I have possess a certain (scratchy/bit noise) charm but it diminishes those shifts from tenderness to violence. Milk And Melancholy is one of my favorite Rodan songs.


  2. i hear you – would be nice to have these out there in an official capacity, at least in better quality. aviary introduced me to “darjeeling,” which i think is my big takeaway. that and the reminder of how good “the everyday world of bodies” is.

    thanks for reading!


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