The Needle Drop

experimental rock

20 Years of Tzadik (Favorite Releases)

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Compiled & Written by Austen R.

Up there's the mission statement of Tzadik Records, the label founded by saxophonist, composer, and Downtown musician extraordinaire John Zorn. 2015 marks its 20th anniversary, so we thought it'd be fitting and fun to round up our favorite releases up til now.

The feature has been left up to me, TND's resident Tzadik nerd,  and what follows are the label's 20 albums I find most astounding. I've written very brief blurbs for each entry because the uninitiated should have some idea of what they're getting into, but seeing as Tzadik, to a greater extent than other imprints, embraces mystery in music, it only seems right to leave most things unsaid.

Now let's get into it (in random order):

Kayo Dot — Choirs of the Eye (2003, TZ7092)

Kicking things off with an avant-garde metal masterpiece, the debut album from Kayo Dot. I'd be remiss if I weren't to mention that frontman Toby Driver's 2005 Tzadik release In the L..L..Library Loft is also phenomenal in its own right.

Derek Bailey — Carpal Tunnel (2005, TZ7612)

Derek Bailey, arguably the cleverest guitarist of the 20th century, makes his last stand against motor neurone disease on this album. Harrowing stuff, but Bailey's resoluteness in the face of inexorable decay is ultimately uplifting.

Luc Ferrari — Cellule 75 (1998, TZ7033)

For his cheeky approach to classical composition and tape music, Luc Ferrari has always been my 20th century composer of choice. The title track here, a half-hour-long piece for piano, percussion, and field recordings, is among my favorites of his (I couldn't find a clip from Tzadik's issue anywhere, so I've linked to another version of it above).

Ni Hao! — Gorgeous (2005, TZ7259)

We don't believe in guilty pleasures at TND, but if one exists in the Tzadik catalog, it's this debut full-length from Kyoto J-pop/"cheer punk" trio Ni Hao! Come on, though – it's a blast!

Merzbow — 1930 (1998, TZ7214)

Merzbow's 1930 is a perfect point of entry into the world of harsh noise and, to my ears, contains the most profound sounds and arrangements the genre has to offer.

Frank Zappa Starter Pack


In honor of the recent release of Frank Zappa's 100th and final album Dance Me This, Anthony and I have compiled a career-spanning playlist to act as a gateway to the man's music -- or if you're already into it, a celebration. For his imaginative and lighthearted approach to composition and songwriting, as well as his mastery of rock, jazz, and classical styles, we consider Frank one of the greatest minds in 20th century music.

The above Spotify playlist is not presented in chronological order and dwells a bit on his 60's and 70's work (including a lot of material with his band The Mothers of Invention), but we find this jumpy overview to have a more interesting flow. Obvious omissions are his 1967 solo debut Lumpy Gravy, a half-hour-long musique concrète piece that is definitely worth checking out, but doesn't really suit a mix like this; and his late masterpiece Civilization Phaze III, his first posthumous release in 1993, from which I've embedded a choice cut below in the absence of a Spotify stream. Also below is Anthony's 2011 classic review for the seminal Hot Rats.

Enjoy! And remember not to take anything too seriously.