For this year’s Record Store Day, two legendary names in the Twin Cities music industry, Amphetamine Reptile Records and Treehouse Records, have teamed up to release an exclusive reissue of Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum, the debut album of iconic Minneapolis noise-rock band the Cows. This special release not only marks the 30th anniversary of the original release of Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum, but also the first time that the album will be legally available since 1987. Not only is this an opportunity to obtain what is sometimes referred to as the lost Cows album, but the new vinyl pressings themselves are hand-made works of art, specifically designed by AmRep founder, Tom Hazelmyer.
The Cows are known for being one of Minneapolis’s most legendary, and perhaps misunderstood, noise-rock bands. The band got their start in the late ’80s and continued to create their own brand of post-hardcore music until disbanding in 1998. The Cows were at the forefront of a new wave of anti-establishment, experimental rock in the Twin Cities. They managed to create a sound that incorporated the aggressive, hard-edge style of punk and embellish it with experimentation and an element of surrealist humor. Besides their distinct sound, part of what gave the Cows their lasting reputation were the raucous live performances the band soon became known for. Essentially, the Cows were a band that refused to be accommodating to the mainstream notion of what punk rock should be.
In the 11 years that the band was together, they released a total of nine studio albums. The band’s first album, Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum (1987), was released under the Treehouse Records label. Today, Treehouse Records is well known as one of the best record stores in the state, but the corner of Lyndale and 26th where the store sits has for decades been considered a staple of the Minneapolis music scene. Originally named Oar Folkjokeopus, the record store was the epicenter of the ’80s Minneapolis punk rock scene, as it was one of the very few record stores in the area that carried punk rock records at the time. Mark Trehus was the manager of Oar Folkjokepus and later bought the store in 2001 and renamed it Treehouse Records. Trehus was also running his own record label, called Treehouse Records, in the late ’80s and was the one who produced the Cows’ first LP.
“Everybody was surprised when we decided to do a Cows record,” Trehus recalled, “because what they were doing was just so off the wall and people couldn’t wrap their heads around it at first.”
After Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum, the remainder of the Cows’ albums were released under the iconic Amphetamine Reptile label. Tom Hazelmyer started AmRep in 1986 and the label soon became known for the rebellious noise rock artists, like the Cows, that it produced. According to Hazelmyer, whose label released eight of the band’s nine studio albums, the Cows were the counter-revolution to the punk movement. “They came and they scared people. [Their music] was bizarre to people,” Hazelmyer explained. “You listen to it now and there’s been a thousand bands doing that in the ensuing 30 years but in that moment in time, that was the counter-revolution to the revolution.”
Today, many of the Cows’ albums are hard to find, due in large part to the fact that their catalog is no longer in print and some of their albums, including Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum, were only ever released on vinyl. This lack of access to the Cows’ groundbreaking music, along with the coincidence that the Cows are the only band that both Treehouse Records and AmRep produced, were the motivation behind this Record Store Day collaboration.
In total only 300 copies of the Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum reissue were made, which is what adds to the exclusivity of this release. Part of the reasoning behind the relatively small quantity is that every record was hand-printed and screened by Hazelmyer, which is an incredibly laborious process. As well as hand-making the albums, Hazelmyer also designed the slightly reimagined cover. One example of a minor variation on the reissue version can be found in the distorted face featured on the front cover of the album. According to Hazelmyer, the face on the cover of the original 1987 release is of a German industrialists from WWII. When Hazelmyer was unable to track down this original image, he found the next best thing and incorporated it into his design.
The work and attention to detail that has gone into the reissuing of this Cows album is what really makes this reissue unique. To Trehus, the artistic element that Hazelmyer has incorporated into the albums is what sets them apart. “The music is being reissued, but it’s really being done artfully,” explained Trehus, “I think that they’re beautiful screens and I think that what Tom does is unique and kind of genius.”
There will be two different editions of the reissue available only in-store at Treehouse Records on Record Store Day: this coming Saturday, April 22. The standard edition has a purple splattered vinyl and features a magenta color scheme that was hand-screened directly onto the back cover. There will be only 25 numbered copies of the standard edition available on Saturday. The second edition, called the artist edition, has a different vinyl coloring of yellow and purple and has the same back cover design, but only five copies of this edition were made. Hazelmyer will be in the store on Saturday starting at 9 a.m. to hand-sign the records. There will also be CDs of the album available for only $5 to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get Taint Pluribus, Taint Unum.
This particular collaboration really is about much more than just making an iconic local band’s music accessible again. In line with the purpose of Record Store Day, this artistic reissue is in many ways an ode to vinyl and an attempt to instill through art the importance that vinyl has in music history, much like the important role both Treehouse Records and Amphetamine Reptile Records have played in Twin Cities music history.
Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.