Ripe on the Vine
Two New Albums from Family Vineyard
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Having spent about 51% of my existence in Ohio, I’m not about to cast aspersions on the next state to the left, Indiana. That said, it’s not often that you hear about contemporary sounds worth hearing from John Cougar Mellancamp’s old stomping grounds. So it was a nice surprise when we heard from Family Vineyard, a label operating out of Lafayette, Indiana that’s quietly put out 80 some releases since 1999.

The first of these is the self-titled debut of Apache Dropout, a three-piece from Bloomington, Indiana that features former members of John Wilkes Booze and Hot Fighter #1. The album is a scorcher, the kind of diesel-fueled garage noise full of ashen guitar riffs and fuzz. The trio at once channels ’60s classics like the Sonics and Velvet Underground with a little of the spook grease of the Cramps and the like. Sonny Alexandre winds such spirits into his yowling of lines like, “Why must I be a teenager?” (“Teenager”) and the enigmatic references to LSD and whatnot in “Sam Phillips Rising.” Phillips isn’t the only person name-checked, though they don’t actually get around to singing about the notorious Swedish tastemaker and curator in “God Bless You Johan Kugelberg.” No matter, the album is better without such haughty subject matter and is indeed at its best when combing over the rough terrain of “Run Peacock Run” and “White Out Man.” I’m not sure what “polishing” engineer and former Zero Boy Paul Mahern performed, as the production values are just as gritty as the material, but the record never suffers for it. In fact, it only makes the record sound like it was pulled from some crypt or grave years after being laid to tape to stand with the best from a forgotten era.

Also seemingly of another era, but in a much different vein, is guitarist Chris Forsyth, who has released his third album, Paranoid Cat, on Family Vineyard. Forsyth’s music sits at a distinctive intersection of blues, psych and folk. Think somewhere between John Fahey and Alan Licht and you begin to get the idea. For Paranoid Cat, he collaborated with pianist Hans Chew and pedal steel player Marc Orleans (of D. Charles Speer & Helix), Koen Holtkamp (of Mountains) and several others. The result is an album that organically unfolds in divergent directions. The first half of the album is essentially the title track, a three-part piece that fluctuates between the meandering six-string extrapolations of the first part, the rockist jams of the second section, and the white noise of the final movement. It’s heady stuff, no doubt, but there is also something equally visceral, as Forsyth has as much guts and brains. “New Pharmacist Boogie” emphasizes the instinctual component of the record, while “Front Street Drone” and “Anniversary Day” seem to rely just as much on the theoretical. Forsyth does a good job of towing the line between the two mindsets, though, keeping the album from running amok in one direction or the other.