Every now and then we as a collective listening public need a nudge to work our way back towards the distorted genius of Michael Yonkers. It’s come in waves over the last couple of decades, perhaps making up for the string of unfortunate events that led to his once promising start falling apart. Though a sad story, its worth noting for the record. As a Minneapolis youth Yonkers started Michael & The Mumbles to play dances around his hometown and, as the ‘60s sometimes offered up, wound up netting himself a deal for Sire . This would be ’round about the time that similarly skewed sounds were being proffered up by The Mothers of Invention, The Godz, or West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Still, a pretty great windfall for a guy steadily working a wall of noise into his sound and modding out instruments in ways that wouldn’t catch on for some time. However, the luck ended there. Somehow the deal with Sire went sour and to make matters worse Yonkers broke his back working in a warehouse a few years later leading to a lifetime of pain and limited use.
His debut, along with quite a few follow-ups would make it out in limited self-release. As the years passed, these recordings only grew in stature and stigma, leading them to eventually seep into the influence of a lucky few. That is, at least, until the late ‘90s when Get Hip included him on a collection of rarities from Dove Studios which landed in the hands of Clint Simmons from De Stijl Records. In 2002 he’d issue the Michael Yonkers Band’s Micorminiature Love and start the ball of subsequent reissues rolling through outsider houses and Sub Pop alike. Yonkers even did a few collabs with Gregory Raimo, The Blind Shake, and Plastic Crimewave Sound around this time. Yonkers issued splits with Little Claw and Crimewave as well, but in the wake of his retirement its been quiet. Enter John Dwyer to get us all fired on Yonkers all over again.
Originally planned as a Record Store Day exclusive, but shifted due to pandemic, Dwyer’s put together a collection celebrating the catalog of Yonkers. While the impulses that work their way through Yonkers’ music could easily be threaded through the stripped folk approach of OCS or the noise excavations of Oh Sees, Dwyer chose to use the moniker that most often accompanies his personal and exploratory works — Damaged Bug — for this outing. I asked John what it was that drew him to the Yonkers catalog in the first place. “I really just heard it and immediately feel in love,” he admits. “Then I dug in deeper and saw that his catalogue was pretty far out and hard to pigeon-hole (heavy, mellow and breezy, weird home brewed A Capella etc). I think we are birds of a feather. He did what he wanted with his career and his art and I’ve spent my whole life working under that flag.”
Under the cover of the Bug, Dwyer explores those many shades of Yonkers he claims drew him to Yonkers in the first place, weaving together a pretty solid primer to the innovator’s work. That volume of work would seem daunting to most, but Dwyer’s nothing if not a consummate curator. Originally the collection of covers started larger than what’s presented here. “I chose 40 to start and slowly whittled them down to about 12,” notes Dwyer. I asked if there was a conscious curation, a need to represent across eras. “I think I just got high and picked my favorites,” he admits, “and ones I thought I would be capable of actually covering and doing justice. It was a good excuse to get high and listen to Yonkers.” I asked if that meant another volume was forthcoming. Twelve out of forty leaves plenty on the cutting room floor, though it seems at present this is all we’re gonna get. Dwyer does an excellent job of exhuming the ghosts of Yonkers’ material, though, and for the uninitiated this could prove the spark that sends them tumbling down the same rabbit-hole that seems to engulf even casual Yonkers fans. As a curio, this is a treasure, but as cipher to the kingdom of Yonkers, its also invaluable.
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