Never Knows Best #2: A Comprehensive Guide to Lucky Dragons (Part 1)

10 Mar 2013 — Trey Reis

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For his second Never Knows Best column, staff writer Trey Reis decided to delve deep into the entire discography of under-appreciated LA project Lucky Dragons. The title originally suggested for this edition was "Comprehensive Guide to Every Lucky Dragons Release Ever", which would have been even more appropriate if we had had enough space for it, because really, that's what you're getting below. Due to its sheer length, we've decided to split it up into two parts, with the cut after Lucky Dragons seminal 2008 release Dream Island Laughing Language, the rest can be read over here. Except for this last LP, we have abstained from embedding any albums from bandcamp. However, if the respective release is available over there, the title line links to it.

I will begin by saying that this guide is very long, as the list of Lucky Dragons releases expands by something like four items a year. Anything I wasn’t able to order online or procure a download of from some kind blogger via a mediafire link, I did as much research as I could which sometimes only resulted in a line or so of information about the actual physical release (edition of, screenprinted, etc.).

If you don’t feel like sitting here and reading through what I have to say for every release right now, I’ll give you a spoiler: there is a rough listening order list at the very end of the second part tomorrow that you can wait for and skip ahead to if you are completely new to Lucky Dragons altogether. You can always come back here and use this guide as a reference later on.

I was first introduced to Lucky Dragons by a friend at the Rhinoceropolis in Denver. He told me he woke up and drank four cups of French press coffee and listened to two Lucky Dragons records every morning and it helped him get all jittery and psyched to start the day. I left that show with a whole mix of stuff to check out, the Lucky Dragons song "My Are Singing" from Dream Island Laughing Language tucked somewhere in the middle.

Now, after years of digging through record stores around the United States, scouring the Discogs marketplace for all of the limited edition stuff that sold out before I knew who Lucky Dragons were, and scrolling through pages of Google searches for free downloads, this is what I have found.

I hope it helps.

f_uxus 0.10 (2000)

Fuxus

Limited to only 300 7” records released by English Muffin Records in 2000, f uxus 0.10 is the very first Lucky Dragons release. Sparse and quiet, the whole 7" hints toward later Lucky Dragons techniques like the glitchy vocal samples, Sarah’s fragile a cappella melodies, and the acoustic strums turned wall of noise. It makes all of f uxus 0.10 feel like a teaser for their first full-length album, Dark Falcon, released two years later.

Dark Falcon (2002)

Dark Falcon

The first Lucky Dragons album, and probably my favorite Lucky Dragons release, Dark Falcon includes aspects of nearly every release that came afterward, beginning with field samples and moving through the glitchy, manipulated electronics of later releases and the organic folk elements that really defined albums like Dream Island Laughing Language. The impressive quality of this album is the way in which all of these elements, explored separately and, often, more in-depth on later releases, are combined on Dark Falcon to create the concise movement of a mechanical bird flying between ruined cities and thriving pastures.

Boys EP (2002)

Boys

The second really short 7” on English Muffin Records is filled to the brim with vocal samples, mostly seeming to refer back to the actual recording of this release. These samples are weaved into the kind of heavy, broken beats similar to the eerier moments of Dark Falcon.

Hawks and Sparrows (2003)

Hawks Sparrows

Hawks and Sparrows is 18 untitled tracks filled with field samples pulled from everything between semi-trucks to poor signal FM radio metal songs to marching bands, often set over simple, moving tones not entirely different from the kind of things you may hear in drone. The difference is the pace in which this album moves, touching on the normally long-winded aspects of noise and drone only briefly before getting in the car and driving to the next destination. The combination of these environmental samples and the eerie noises set atop them makes Hawks and Sparrows a comparably dark album, never spending much time in the playful campfire folk that lightens the mood on other Lucky Dragons releases.

Shh…! (2004)

Could not drum up a single bit of information about this one, and only saw it on a list of releases somewhere so I thought I’d include it for the sake of completeness.

Faults (2004)

From Discogs marketplace:

Assembled by Lucky Dragons in Portland, ORE 7/28/04.
Numbered edition of 100 copies packaged in screened paperboard envelope sleeve.

Norteñas EP (2004)

Nortenas

This EP is a strange release in the overall scheme of Lucky Dragons releases for one reason: a clear Mexican musical influence from pulled music samples; a technique used extensively by current musicians, but otherwise rarely, if ever, explored by Lucky Dragons in a style so un-effected and raw.

Bees (2005)

Could refer to a single for the song "Trenton Street Bees".

A Sewing Circle (2005)

A Sewing Circle

Forty-six tracks long and nearly an hour and a half worth of music, A Sewing Circle flows more like a sketchbook than an album, and what can you expect when you try to glue 46 separate Lucky Dragons un-songs together into a concise piece of music?

Widows (2006)

Widows

Widows is similar to Dark Falcon in a lot of ways, in the sense that it feels like more of an album than a collection of sounds like Hawks and Sparrows or A Sewing Circle. Still very glitchy in nature, the album is a bit less dreary than Dark Falcon, comparable to the brightness of Dream Island Laughing Language.

However, all of the lighter moments do arise from a kind of haze of hiss and distortion from which the entire album is rooted. In that regard, the album paints a perfect picture of the band’s change in sound between Dark Falcon and Dream Island Laughing Language. It’s definitely an essential Lucky Dragons release to check out.

Also, my absolute favorite Lucky Dragons song, "Snowing Circle", comes in right at the end and is a six-minute masterpiece of folktronica which sounds a bit like a Horse Stories-era Dirty Three song filtered through a mountain of effect pedals.

Heart Stopping/Drums of Passion (2006)

I was unable to locate this album, but I found a review(?) of it by Not Nof Fun's Britt Brown on Deathbomb Arc (which seems to be associated with Cassette God Reviews) as part of the author’s "Top 10 Tapes I Can Never Fucking Remember What Their Deal Is" article. It reads as follows:

I may have gotten the ‘band’ name wrong, and the label, and everything else, but that’s kinda why I included it on this list. Totally left-field C25 of Luke/Lucky Dragons and someone else (his girlfriend I assume) playing peppy, pastoral David The Gnome-style flutes in a few different modes/moods (with not a single drum – of passion or otherwise – in sight/sound!!). I think the only reason I bought this thing was cause the tape itself was all fancily handpainted in this gorgeous, intricate way and when I asked David Kramer (of Family, where I got it) what the tape sounded like he didn’t even look up from his internet surfing, he was just like, ‘Oh, I dunno… I don’t think anyone here’s even listened to it.’ Strangely, that sort of functions as a fitting description. This definitely falls into the ‘didn’t need to be documented’ genre of recordings, but hey, it’s a free country, yr allowed to play goofy flutes all day long. You can even record it for no good reason and sell it to me for five bucks. I’ll buy it.

Mini Dream Island (2006)

Mini Dream Island

Mini Dream Island seems like it should be a collection of bonus material from the album Dream Island Laughing Language, but none of the songs are actually from that album. It’s referring to a different island. This release is primarily comprised of live versions of earlier Lucky Dragons material, and remixes by a slew of other bands. The most interesting part of Mini Dream Island is the familiarity of many of the sounds placed into a live setting where they can be molded, transformed, and layered over otherwise different noises.

Future Feelings (split with Sweet Potatoes) (2006)

Future Feelings

Each of the 11 tracks on Future Feelings barely average a minute and a half long and many of the tracks don’t feel like full Lucky Dragons songs, so much as layer experimentation of old sounds either never released, or not yet fully realized to find a place on a more full-length release. But, I think this happens with splits a lot. Regardless, Future Feelings includes some of my favorite sounds from the band. "Martha’s Work", the first track off the release, is one of my most listened-to tracks, and is a really solid example of the what Lucky Dragons can accomplish on the rare occasion when they heavily incorporate vocals into their approach of soundmaking.

Very Picture Disk (2007)

Very Picture Disk

Could refer to bonus tracks released with Dream Island Laughing Language.

Layer Hater (split with Goodiepal) (2007)

Could refer to bonus tracks released with Dream Island Laughing Language.

Bleach on Bleach (split with YACHT) (2007)

Bleach

Bleach on Bleach is just about the darkest and noisiest Lucky Dragons release I found. The title, album art, and song titles seem to be references to Nirvana, and most of the samples, underneath the chops and the walls of effect pedals, are either from Nirvana’s Bleach album or chopped-up covers from other sources. Only five tracks and just under 18 minutes long, this album reaches some HEALTH-like noise levels, making for a decidedly more digital noise feel than the softer folk drone of other releases.

Speak Your Own Language (2008)

Speak Language

From the Lucky Dragons bandcamp page:

"speak your own language" collects a few recordings of lucky dragons playing a home-made string instrument with a central bridge (you might call it a "zither"). the design of the instrument, which is played by two players plucking / strumming / striking the strings on opposite sides of the bridge, is such that the actions of a player on one side of the strings effects the tone of the strings played by the other player. as one side of a string vibrates, bends, becomes tight or relaxed, the pitch of the opposite side responds in a mirror-like fashion. harmonies float around, not fixed in place, but come back to rest in a rough middle. the digital version (what you hear here) is different: automated noise-reduction software attempts to discern a "signal" from the background sound of the original recordings, substituting its own idea of music lol. vinyl 7" comes packaged with a two-sided archival print by sumi ink club.

Dream Island Laughing Language (2008)

Dream Island Language

Dream Island Laughing Language is considered to be the essential center-piece of the entire Lucky Dragons repertoire, and for good reason. Dream Island falls right in the middle of the field folk elements explored erratically on previous albums like Widows and Dark Falcon. The primary reason this is the first album people listen to when hearing Lucky Dragons is due to the accessibility of these folk elements without the glitchy electronic sweeps and interludes which previously hung over these parts of music.

In no way does this accessibility degrade the quality of the album though. It’s a bit like Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in the sense that MPP brought a huge wave of popularity to the band because of aspects of that album that, at least, vaguely resembled other aspects of modern electro-pop bands.

Dream Island Laughing Language is a great album to get into Lucky Dragons, highlighting the beauty in their noises without many of their normal factors that people consider to be non-musical (what people often call 'post-music' when referring to Lucky Dragons).

Go here for the second part of Trey Reis' essential guide to every Lucky Dragons release ever, from 2008''s Take Turns split with Ecstatic Sunshine to the most recent material, plus a comprehensive, immensely helpful 'Listening Order List' to top the piece off.