CTR picks our top 22 PIX releases from 22 years of Plan-It-X Records

Steve O - July 20, 2016

Earlier this year the news broke that, after twenty-two years, Plan-It-X Records was calling it a day. Label co-founder Chris Clavin sites the difficulties in running a physical label in these digital times and the financial struggles involved, while also stating that “Plan-it-X is no longer needed.” Now I’m sure that last claim could be debated, but what is unanimous is that it is indeed a sad fact that Plan-It-X is throwing in the towel. Over those twenty-two years, Plan-It-X released over a hundred great records, played a large role in introducing folk punk to the world, had its own festival that raised money for charity, and perhaps most importantly, served as a communal network and aid to innumerable punks and bands. And so here, in the twenty-second and last year of Plan-It-X, and about a month before Plan-It-X Fest (as of this writing), we gather to recollect on those twenty-two years. Much like the passing of Gordie Howe brought beautiful recollections and tales of his hockey prowess and high character; we have chosen here to celebrate the achievements of Plan-It-X Records instead of mourning its retirement. We collectively determined our twenty-two favorite Plan-It-X releases, in honor of twenty-two years of the label, using a pretty legit and mathematical process. In what follows below, we tell you why these twenty-two records stand out and why Plan-It-X Records means so much to us. We all have fond memories of these bands; discovering them, telling our friends about them, seeing them play live. It’s purely speculative fiction to say this still would have happened without Plan-It-X. The fact is that Plan-It-X had a knack for being involved with sincere musicians, who were dedicated to the DIY ethic and made music with a positive and important message. So without further ado (and any more inane rambling), here it is. Change the Rotation’s twenty-two favorite releases, from twenty-two years of Plan-It-X Records!

Here, Not There

22) Heathers – Here, Not There

I can’t help but say that this one seems perfect to me. The pace and intensity is amazing. Even when things are soft, even when things are slow, it is impossible to not be swept into the rhythms and intensity of everything happening. On top of that, we have amazing rhythm guitar work. On top of that, we have the part that most people notice right away: Duo vocals! And beautiful/catchy melodies! And harmonies! And wise/relatable lyricism! Heathers represents so much of what folk music can be while not shying away from the pop elements that keep their songs in your head. Also: What else sounds like this!? God damn!! How is this only two people and one guitar?? — Dave Anians

Chis Clavin Waxahatchee split

21) Chris Clavin/Waxahatchee – Split

There are plenty of reasons to listen to this split cassette if you haven’t already. Hear early Waxahatchee recordings, from before any of her full-length albums came out. Waxahatchee recently reissued the five songs from this split as Early Recordings on Merge Records. This document will now ostensibly be in the hands of a wider audience, and deservedly so. Songs like “Home Game” should be heard by Waxahatchee’s newer fans. Hopefully listeners do their homework and track down the Chris Clavin half of this split as well. It features early acoustic versions of songs from All We Got Is Each Other. These sparse recordings reveal the skeletons beneath the lush, polished album tracks. So, for each artist, this release involves a little peak behind the curtain. — Phil Collins

Front Seat Solidarity

20) This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb – Front Seat Solidarity

Front Seat Solidarity is full of the galloping electric folk punk that This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb does so well throughout their discography. The opening guitar licks of “This is What I Want” are as good an introduction to this band as any. Songs like “Trains and Cops” lean fairly heavily into outlaw country territory, but the punk edge to the music never disappears. Rymodee’s vocal delivery fits squarely into the folk punk genre. The band’s cover of the traditional protest song “We Shall Not Be Moved” near the end of the album is an equal homage to the punk and folk lineages from which this music derives. Vocals from bassist Terry Johnson offer a balance on “The Argument” and take the lead on “Body Count.” Overall, Front Seat Solidarity hits all the marks when the This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb mood strikes. — PC

I, Mississippi, You

19) Rosa – I, Mississippi, You

I just found a thirty second youtube video of Rosa playing at PIX Fest 2006. It was their last show. That was ten years ago, jesus christ. I really don’t know much about this band except that: 1. People love them and 2. They have an amazing album. It’s really hard to find any more than that. Some bands need to make ten albums, some only need to make one. Songs about adventures and friendship sang/shouted by a group of people who sound like friends jamming in the midst of adventures and friendship. And that isn’t to say that this album doesn’t contain absolutely deep and emotionally stirring elements. There is a certain magic in the culture/atmosphere of PIX and I think that Rosa perfectly encapsulates it. — DA

Defiance, Ohio Ghost Mice split

18) Defiance, Ohio/Ghost Mice – Split

Some of my favorite Defiance, Ohio songs populate this split. “Lanterns, Denver and One Last Lament” has such a powerful shouted payoff to the determined opening buildup. Defiance, Ohio display their ability to hook the listener into an emotional ride here. The vocals on “Tanks Tanks Tanks” bite as they take down warmongers. The five songs on Defiance, Ohio’s half of the split, from the opener “Never Forget Ever,” are purposeful. They have the ring of a band on a mission. Ghost Mice turns in another solid set of tracks, keeping the bar high for their splits. “Bloomington, Indiana” describes the band’s eco-friendly, people-friendly homebase. “Boy Meets Girl” is a fun one to see the band play live. Chris Clavin’s storytelling knack gets put to good use on “Pretty Boy Floyd,” about a real bank robber who was embraced by some as a champion of the working class. — PC


17) Eric Ayotte – Wavering

For the sake of full disclosure it must be mentioned that I booked Eric a show out in DeKalb and consider him a friend, so there might be a perceived bias here. Regardless, he writes some great, earnest songs here on Wavering, with just an acoustic guitar and an emotive voice. The sad tale of “Fallujah” critiques the military from both the perspective of a soldier and an outsider, with brilliant lines like, “I am not as much a hero as those who died to reopen their school.” It’s a contemplative record, the slow pace in some songs really forces you to reflect on the message and emotion contained within. The lyrics cover both the personal and political, with heartfelt sincerity and an easy relatability (“Autobiographer,” “Sincerely”). Also included is the fascinating story of “Samuel Wilson,” better known as Uncle Sam, a touching historical ode to Ayotte’s hometown of Troy, New York. — Steve O


16) ONSIND – Anaesthesiology

If there’s a band that seems like a perfect fit on Plan-It-X, it’s Durham folk punk duo ONSIND. Mixing catchy, singalong folk with a lyrical bite and complexity similar to Propagandhi, with the Plan-It-X political correctness and a distinctive British feel (listen to those accents!) Anaesthesiology is an extremely intelligent record. Tackling the idea of prisons (“Frankland Prison Blues”), racism and the idea of national boundaries (“BA77”), and the role of religion (in the brilliantly titled “God Hates Facts”), but with a personal feel, instead of a preachy, holier-than-thou attitude. Joining “God Hates Facts” in the category of brilliant titles is opener “Pokémon City Limits,” which helps lay the foundation for the, self-admittedly loose concept of the record, which meets up with the grand closer of “Dissatisfactions,” featuring Erica Freas of RVIVR. Despite all of the politics and Britishness of the record, “Dissatisfactions” is the ultimate relatable song—reminding us all that we just have to “take it day by day (by day by day).” — SO

Mr. Gikokovich

15) The Max Levine Ensemble – Mr. Gikokovich 2000​-​2005: a Retrospective

In folk punk circles, the Max Levine Ensemble is likely better known as Spoonboy’s (or more formally known as David Combs) other band. That’s not entirely fair, as the Max Levine Ensemble definitely stand as a solid pop punk band on their own. Mr. Gikokovich 2000​-​2005: a Retrospective, is a collection of songs donated to splits or on early demos all compiled in one place. It doesn’t sound like a grouping of songs written over a span of five years, a sure mark of the inherent songwriting skill this trio has. Yeah, there’s the spots of immaturity shining through—lalala fuck you...” seems quite the juvenile line—but instead of sounding like your snotty young punks, this collection of songs is draped in a PC conscious. This is highlighted with the thoughtful lyrics of the sub-minute blazer “Fuck You I’m Not PC?” On this record’s twenty minutes, the Max Levine Ensemble are masters of the really short song. Highlights like “Pink,” “Pablo Pinkpants,” and “Hell of a Week” are less than, or barely over, a minute, but are perfect, rapid-fire pop punk anthems, with intelligent lyrics. The longer songs though, give more time for Combs and company to show off their lyrical chops. This is one of those records that you should probably listen to while reading along. Smart and funny and self-conscious, the lyrics definitely add a greater depth to the record. — SO

The Papas

14) Spoonboy – The Papas

So fun, but with serious messages. I don’t know if you will ever find a catchier song about toxic masculinity and terrible fathers. And when songs slow down, I can’t help but solemnly nod my head along and feel like a part of something big and meaningful. This music project has some of the raddest, most musically/lyrically interesting pop punk out there, in my humble opinion, and this album is testament to that. I don’t even know if pop punk is the right term, but whatever, genres are weird. The best albums make you wonder what the fuck genres are for anyways. Thank you Spoonboy! — DA

Remnants of Storytown

13) Eric Ayotte – Remnants of Storytown

A slightly more political record than Wavering, Remnants of Storytown features Ayotte’s distinctive voice paired with some quicker songs, such as the anti-Columbian, “Throw a Brother Some Gigawatts.” Joining this history lesson is “Winter of 69,” about the murder of Fred Hampton. Then there’s powerful songs like “A Waste of Power” or “We Are What We Consume” which both cause you to reanalyze the way you stand for the things you believe in, the latter of which contains the most vociferous and harshest tones his voice takes (“I feel so fucking powerless!”). The part of me that loves road trips clicked with “Literal Metaphor” immediately. “Memorial” is a great inspiration to live your life to the fullest. The simplistic take, which uses only an acoustic guitar, gives the record a certain charm and distinguishes it from some that just try too hard. On the whole, Remnants of Storytown is filled with sincere songs highlighting a great skill for storytelling, whether the topic is political tomes, personal philosophizing, or historical stories. There are so many positive messages to take away from this record, which seems like a quintessential quality for a Plan-It-X release to have. — SO

Only God Can Judge Me

12) Andrew Jackson Jihad - Only God Can Judge Me

Not even 17 minutes long, Only God Can Judge Me falls right into the middle of the classic Andrew Jackson Jihad catalog, coming out a year after the great People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World, and a year before the equally great Can't Maintain. It covers the classic Andrew Jackson Jihad template of sad songs sung happily. Just look at songs like “Darkest Heart,” “Jesus Saves (God Hates Us All),” “Growing Up,” or “I Am So Mad At You.” They can be somewhat depressing songs, but the pace of the music and Sean Bonnette’s vocals make you overlook that. Bonnette also drops some brilliant lines, which is par for the course on any Andrew Jackson Jihad record. It’s the classic Bonnette on acoustic guitar, Ben Gallaty on upright pace lineup here, which I’ve endorsed as the superior era of Andrew Jackson Jihad elsewhere on this site. There are a couple slow downers here (I’m looking at you “Human Kittens” or “Guilt: the Song”). Otherwise, we get reminded in the most uplifting way possible that, “Growing up / really fucking sucks.” Or maybe the takeaway should instead be: “Let's be our own God, take care of ourselves and the ones that we love.” — SO

Lycka Till

11) Lycka Till – Lycka Till

The exuberant horns and vocals that inhabit Lycka Till’s music make listening to them a pure joy. I was lucky enough to see the Swedish band when they stopped at the 7th Street Space in DeKalb a handful of years ago. Their lyrics may not be in English, but these songs immediately make you want to sing along anyway. The sprightly guitar and vocal delivery sounds like a room full of people should be jumping along. The vocal hook on “Gaza” is distinct and memorable. Underlying the bouncy tempo is a certain anger. Lycka Till are a political band, taking on a mix of emotions that permeates many of Plan-It-X’s releases. — PC


10) Ghost Mice & Ramshackle Glory – Shelter

I’ve come to really love concept albums, and this release is a perfect example of why. When the songs have to be related to a certain theme, you really get a feel for what is central to a band’s sound and character. Strength in working within limitations or something like that. I truly believe that this batch of songs is both bands at their best. Folk in its storytelling, punk in its politics. To add to that, I think the best political songs are the ones that manage to be personal too, and this is exactly what I mean. It’s also just a lot of fun amidst ideas and themes that can be hard to think or talk about. — DA

Crime as Forgiven By

9) Against Me! – Crime as Forgiven By

Against Me!’s second EP includes early versions of “I Still Love You Julie” and “Walking is Still Honest,” which would end up on the band’s classic album Reinventing Axl Rose a year later. “Impact” was just as good an indicator of what was to come on the band’s upcoming full-length. Its shout-along nature and searing political lyrics have a lot in common with the qualities that made Reinventing Axl Rose special. “Burn” closes the EP out with a catchy chorus that becomes a rollicking version of itself in its final run through. — PC

Death and Hatred to Mankind

8) Ghost Mice – Death and Hatred to Mankind

This is a collection of 36 songs total, from a bunch of splits with around 7 bands spanning the history of Ghost Mice. I love every single goddamn one. I don’t know too many collections that I can say that about. You can hear and feel the years and experience and growth throughout. There is an emotion that I cannot name that hits my heart every time I hear this band. It’s something related to hope, and it’s something I am so grateful to experience. If you ever see me lost somewhere in this ridiculous world, sit me down and make me listen to this. — DA


7) ONSIND – Dissatisfactions

I would just like to go ahead and point out the lyrical brilliance of ONSIND here, noting that they use words like “Dickensian” and “prole” in song titled after a line of Grouch Marx’s. Boom! Now that your minds have been completely blown, let’s proceed with the rest of the discussion of Dissatisfactions. Starting off by attacking the constructs of gender and sexuality and running all the way through the epic, storytelling closer of “I Could Carve a Better Man Out of a Banana,” (a Vonnegut line), the vocal melodies and lead tradeoffs highlight the half hour of positive, political, and catchy folk punk. They tackle ableism and encourage you to appreciate and take advantage of your time in “If Anyone Needs Me, I’ll be in the Angry Dome,” in one of the most uplifting and encouraging singalongs you’ve ever heard. They can blast through the 90 second “That Takes Ovaries,” which critiques sexism within the punk circle, but are also skilled enough songwriters to compose the epic “Kim Kelly is Still my Friend” or the aforementioned song about carving good people out of fruit. If you thought folk punk was screaming along to power chords on an acoustic guitar, one listen to Dissatisfactions will convince that there can be some much more. — SO

God Forgive These Bastards

6) The Taxpayers – God, Forgive These Bastards

What the fuck do you even say about this album? The concept is beautiful and they absolutely nailed it. Every song is its own journey, with every line holding one more clue to the bigger picture. By the time you get to the last song, you have been put through the ringer. At this moment, they give you the heartbreaker, and all you can do is sit back in awe of a masterful piece of art. I have no idea how you make something like this, it’s unreal. — DA

All We Got is Each Other

5) Ghost Mice – All We Got Is Each Other

Ghost Mice’s third full-length covers mental health and the passing of Plan-It-X co-founder Samantha Dorsett. The lyrics are heartbreaking on “How it Sounds,” “Fuck Shit Up,” and “The Path.” The title track was written by Samantha for the band Peanucle, which also featured Chris Clavin. It ends the album on a high, hopeful note. This album is short enough that the cassette release has the whole thing on each side. Some friends and I listened to it repeatedly when it came out, while driving from an afternoon Ghost Mice show at a smoothie shop in New Lenox to a late show at an apartment in Chicago. We got to know the album pretty fast that way. It holds up four years later as one of Ghost Mice’s best releases. — PC

Andrew Jackson Jihad Ghost Mice split

4) Andrew Jackson Jihad / Ghost Mice – Split

The fact that there are as many Ghost Mice splits on this list as Ghost Mice albums stands as a testament to the quality of the band’s shorter releases. This particular split is my overall number one pick out of all of Plan-It-X Records’ releases over the years. It has my favorite Ghost Mice song – “Cementville.” Chris Clavin’s storytelling ability shines through here as battle lines are drawn in the woods between two rival factions of kids. The rally speech midway through the song hinges on the indelible cry: “Our arrows will fly straighter.” This split also features songs from Andrew Jackson Jihad, released the same year as their essential album People Who Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World. “Little Prince,” “All the Dead Kids,” and “Unicron” are Andrew Jackson Jihad at their best in an era when they played purely acoustic folk punk. Nine years later, when either band plays a song from this split live, it is one of the show’s highlights. — PC

Live the Dream

3) Ramshackle Glory – Live the Dream

“I thought about killing my landlord, but he was pretty nice. Instead I paid my rent on time, as often as I could.” They were unexpected words, to say the least, and probably threw some people for a loop. This is exactly what made Ramshackle Glory one of the best bands with one of the best albums. So many of us have spent years living and learning with Pat and his music, and we have seen what it means to grow and develop new ways to look at the world. Live the Dream is as idealistic as it is real, and as fun as it is heartbreaking. Life is complicated, politics are complicated, people are complicated, and there’s a very solid chance we will never find the right answers to this shit. That is precisely why we need albums like this to help us through. — DA

To Risk So Much For One Damn Meal

2) The Taxpayers – To Risk So Much For One Damn Meal

To Risk So Much For One Damn Meal isn’t just the greatest folk punk album ever released, it IS folk punk. Combining elements of folk, jazz, pop punk and hardcore, To Risk So Much… sounds how I would imagine Old Crow Medicine Show would sound if they were to collaborate with Crass and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “The Windows Break” opens the album with a descending chord progression intertwined with melodic harmonica and the horn section delivering the hook, setting the tone for the album immediately. From there, the album flows seamlessly; throwing in hardcore tracks, folk tunes, and piano ballads as if they were always meant to be together. To Risk So Much… hits its highest and most memorable points with the aforementioned opener, “The Windows Break,” the sing-a-long pop punk number “Everything Is Awful,” the hardcore romp “Geodesic Prison Song,” and the Dixieland jazz stylings of “Some Kind Of Disaster Relief.” I gotta say, it was pretty tough not rambling off the entire track list right there. This album is bursting with energy and emotion, as any great punk album should be and it’s stacked with stories and imagery, as any great folk album should be. It is simultaneously gritty, visceral and beautiful. If you aren’t familiar with the folk punk genre, I’d advise you start here. Not such a bad place to start in the Plan-It-X catalogue either! — Danny Brawlins

The Debt of the Dead

1) Ghost Mice – The Debt of the Dead

Plan-It-X Records could be considered the house that Ghost Mice built. Yeah, release number one was The Ted Dancin’ Machine and Chris Clavin kept the Cheers theme going with Operation: Cliff Clavin coming next, but it’s arguable that Ghost Mice is the band most identified with Plan-It-X. 2004’s The Debt of the Dead, the first Ghost Mice Plan-It-X release laid this groundwork. Chris Clavin sings and plays acoustic guitar with Hannah Jones on violin, and occasionally adding a vocal layer, and some guests join them for a bunch of memorable songs. It’s the classic Ghost Mice record, with singalong favorites like “Figure 8” and “Up the Punks,” inspirational songs like “Hang on Kids” or “The Road Goes on Forever,” songs about friends such as “The Pines” or “Alas Babylon,” and a great cover of the Smiths “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The Debt of the Dead didn’t make it to the top of the list just because of its importance as a record. While that didn’t hurt it, ultimately the songs here are uplifting and catchy, the product of great songwriters who are quite proficient and knew exactly the type of record they were writing. The Debt of the Dead is simply composed of great songs, by great musicians and songwriters, on a great record. — SO

The insert to the The Debt of the Dead states, under the “Goal of Plan-It-X” section: “Our goal is to save the world and have fun while we do it.” While that is a very broad statement, I think it is probably safe to say, that the first part definitely has applied to some people. The second? Yeah, I think that has pretty broad applications. It’s hard not to have fun listening to any of the twenty-two records listed here. So here’s to you Plan-It-X. Thanks for twenty-two great years of music, inspiration, building communities and making friends, and having fun.