Merch Table Masterpieces 1: Karima Walker and Orindal Records

Iowa collectors explore movies, music, and books … physically.

Karima Walker's Hands in Our Name. Photo: Nate Logsdon/Iowa Informer

Welcome to Physical Media Blog’s new series on music and art purchased directly from artists at live events, an important source of income for many musicians which has dried up during the pandemic. If you’re able, consider buying music from musicians in your community or otherwise supporting independent music in a way that works for you until we can safely stroll up to the merch table once again, someday.

Orindal Records artists Karima Walker and Advance Base played a lovely all-ages show at the downtown Ames record store Vinyl Grind on March 18, 2017. It was a small but appreciative audience of music collectors that evening, as I recall, and after the concert I chatted with Owen Ashworth of Advance Base, who runs the Chicago-based Orindal label, about our shared loved of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

The records and tapes I purchased that evening have been in regular rotation ever since, and I was especially taken with the Tucson-based songwriter Karima Walker’s Hands in Our Names.

The album becomes the room it’s playing in. Sounds from the record merge with the setting, while everyday noises from the room simultaneously work themselves into the compositions. I’ll play this album on a loop for a day; once I’m into it, I stay there. But at the same time that the music is outward and spatial, it also sounds to me like an inner world: The lyrics are like a half-conscious train of thought, while samples and noises act as sensory perceptions influencing the verbal stream and the guitar and rhythms express the mind’s emotional dimension and dynamism. I feel as though I’m hearing a mind becoming a place, and then disappearing.

The tracks are suspended between song form and acousmatic sound, as musical vibrations give way to abstract waves and suggestive noises before songs re-emerge, usually as delicate guitar and vocal performances by Walker. She told The Le Sigh in 2017 about writing this album in the New Mexico desert. And listening to it can be like listening in the desert, where an extensive quietude far below the buzzing hum that passes for silence back in town slowly gives way to a subtle ambiance of insects, atmosphere, and oneself, as clouds glide overhead at what seems like arms’ length.

I found her live performance of this music (which, if I’m remembering correctly, also included a video projection) to be engrossing. I was eager to buy the album, which has a beautiful cover and comes in green vinyl, along with an artful insert.

“St. Ignacio” from side two of Hands in Our Names also appears on the Orindal Records Sampler Vol. 1 cassette, another favorite from the show.

I often reach for this tape because I need to hear the opening song “The Lonesome Border Pt. 1” by Dear Nora, from the 2017 reissue of Mountain Rock. I absolutely swoon over this song, which is all the sweeter for its tantalizing brevity. (Orindal is releasing a limited triple-LP box set reissue of Dear Nora’s Three States: Rarities 1997-2007 on September 18 that is on presale now.)

Hello Shark’s “Danny“ seems to emerge right out of that first track and by that point I’m already back in love with this comp. Years ago, Hello Shark played at The Space for Ames, a DIY music venue I helped establish, and his subtle performance and songwriting always stuck with me. It’s amazing how much emotional weight three little keyboard chords carry in this song. Julie Byrne’s “Holiday” and Lisa/Liza’s “Century Woods” are arresting folk songs as well. Robert Stillman’s “Time of Waves,” one of my favorite pieces on the tape, puts an ever-multiplying array of tenor saxophones in conversation until individual voices dissolve into an aqueous whole. And Nicholas Krgovich’s “Let’s Take the Car Out” intrigues with sensitive vocal delivery and keyboard playing that feel poised on the edge of R&B.

Ordinal Records Sampler Vol. 1, left, and the label’s Etiquette album by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Photos: Nate Logsdon/Iowa Informer

The tape has two Advance Base songs, “Summer Music” from the live In Bloomington LP and the achingly nostalgic “Abalone Knife/Dwight” from the Instrumentals #1 cassette. And I adore the song “White Corolla” by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (Ashworth’s project prior to Advance Base), another act I first encountered at the Space for Ames, having been introduced to Ashworth by local songwriter James Finch.

The track is from the great album Etiquette by CFTPA. It’s filled with wonderful songs like the unforgettable “Bobby Malone Moves Home“ (which I believe Finch requested at the Vinyl Grind show) with its cathartic rolling piano climax, and the lived-in, worn “Don’t They Have Payphones Wherever You Were Last Night.”

Ashworth draws complex portraits of people and we care for them. I find a lot of these songs to be very involving and stirring. Certain lyrical details suddenly show me the characters, and then they stay with me. The music really seems made to linger in memory. Patterned pop settings move to uncluttered drum machine and sampled beats that keep me nodding through the songs until the nod becomes a gesture of assent, a confirmation of these characters’ truths and worth: yep, yep, yes.

Nate Logsdon is a writer, editor, and indexer from Ames. He was a founding editor of the Ames Progressive and contributing editor at the Iowa Informer.