B-sides 

An A&E gift guide from DIY-world

Mom always said the best gifts were handmade and from the heart. That’s great, but if your personal craftsmanship stinks like the intersection of Reserve and Mullan, Mom’s homey preference can only take you so far. Luckily Missoula’s teeming with local artists who have the touch you never did, and even Mom knows that the next best thing to something made by your own hand is something made by a friend’s.

In conjunction with the Indy’s annual gift guide issue, we’ve scoped out a few items from the local A&E world that fit the handmade criteria, DIY-style. But here’s the catch: since fine establishments like the Artist’s Shop, Shakespeare & Co., Nature Boy and countless other galleries and shops already offer items from local artisans, we’ve tried to leave their standard inventory off the list and focus on worthwhile gifts even further off the commercial trail. In other words, the suggestions below aren’t necessarily available from any traditional storefront, and that makes them all the more special, just like Mom would appreciate.

Premium Freedom Pack
Local record label Wäntage USA continues to amaze. As Josh Vanek’s baby creeps toward its 50th release, the venerable operation is offering a gift pack at such an outrageously cheap price that even the Wal-Mart smiley face is doing a double-take. The Premium Freedom Pack features seven different CDs (eight, actually, considering one is a double-disc) from the top of the Wäntage catalogue: the Lights’ recent Diamonds and Dirt; Volumen’s latest, Science Faction; No-Fi Soul Rebellion’s enhanced 2005 Lambs to the Slaughter (five songs, one music video featuring a corn dog); The Pope’s The Jazzman Cometh; Last of the Juanitas’ murky and heavy In the Dirt; Le Force’s Le Fortress; Wäntage’s epic 2004 double-disc Hits Omnibus compilation (47 bands, more than 150 minutes of music); and, fresh on the heels of their recent nostalgia-heavy appearance (our ears are still ringing), Fireballs of Freedom’s Greasy Retrospective, featuring the best of their mid-’90s work. There are even hand-silkscreened 7-inch singles included in the package and Premium Freedom gift-wrapping, to make sure the look matches the all-out sound. All this for $40 from www.wantageusa.com, which, by our math, is a discount of more than 50 percent.

Perfect for: Any friend who’s been ignorantly bemoaning the local indie-rock scene and somehow missed these outstanding releases.

Wild Things
You can already find Sarah Copoc’s gift cards at Nature Boy and hear her backup vocals with either Two Year Touqe or Helmet Tag at venues around town, but her hand-stitched creatures are harder to come by. For instance, 10 were on hand at the recent DIY Bazaar, and all sold (at prices ranging from $10-$15) by the end of the night.

Copoc’s creations are an imaginative mix of patchwork fabric and brief backstories. Take Herskal, a stuffed brown, red and white striped figure with red patches for eyes and two huge ears, one of which is adorned with a crown. Herskal’s tag reads, “I’m not the king, I wish I was.”

“I wanted to make something Milo would play with,” says Copoc, referring to her 2-year-old son. “He loves them.” Which means these characters are child-approved as well as completely original. Inquire about available inventory or commissions by calling Sarah at 542-8373.

Perfect for: Little ones.

Surreal Stocking Stuffers
The increasingly impressive bands Riddilin Que and Victory Smokes receive the award for most creative band merch currently available. In the tradition of Ex-Cocaine’s banana (with the band name simply scribbled on its peel) and Bacon & Egg’s personalized bling, RQ offers authentic fake blood and VS is peddling pillowcases.

Why? Who cares. The ideas are bizarre, funny, and make for perfect stocking stuffers. The blood is free if you purchase RQ’s new EP of “evil sounding” live recordings. Contact the trio—high-school seniors Westley Williamson and Ross Peterson and recent grad David Stickney—through www.myspace.com/riddilinque. The pillowcases ($5) are available at VS shows, such as their gig Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Elk’s Lodge.

Perfect for: Your younger sibling who religiously attends all-ages shows or is forced to shell out the extra $2 for the 18-21 cover charge to see RQ. The pillowcase works for anyone who finds Ben Miller, Michael Gill, Pat Gill and Tony Matts dreamy, or simply drool-worthy.

Introspective Offering
Courtney Blazon is one of the best pen-and-ink artists in town, and certainly the most prolific—just in the last few months Blazon has produced at least four new books, including a 30-page, full-color volume based on oddities of the natural world. The Slumgullion stalwart, whose work is sometimes available for purchase at Shakespeare & Co., has a distinct illustrative style, combining impeccably fine detail with wildly expansive subject matter. But her latest offering, Mon Petit Journal, leaves much to the imagination of the user.

The journal ($18-20) offers purchasers some sensible content (a 2007 calendar), some whimsical nudges (a back cover pocket to hold “a secret something”) and empty lined pages accented with her illustrations (trippy looking aardvarks, for example) to facilitate its primary function. A simple idea buttressed by Blazon’s inventive touch. For more information, check Shakespeare & Co. or visit www.courtneyblazon.com.

Perfect for: Your daydreaming niece, or any aspiring Arthur Rackham.

The Fallback
The T-shirt is every band’s angst-ridden calling card, the leave-behind item that acts as billboard, touchstone and artistic vision all in one. The standard bearer for local rock T-shirts is debatable, but more than a few aficionados point to Volumen’s oddly endearing robot-riding-a-unicorn illustration with the band’s name and the caption: “I’m Gay.” Sadly, this shirt is currently sold out. In its place are two offerings from local rockers, both of which take a more artistically sophisticated approach (not that Volumen’s unicorn didn’t look professional) and leave the witty taglines in band practice.

Local hardcorists The Sharktopus created a ruby red number with a penguin perched at the bottom of one side, its stomach visible in cutaway revealing a fish bone; the band name hugs the penguin’s left wing. The food-chain theme is all right (their other tee shows an alligator eating a bird), but the professional-grade graphics, courtesy of lead vocalist Byron McKoi, are what seal the deal. The shirt is available ($16) at www.myspace.com/thesharktopus, or at the band’s show Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Elk’s Lodge.

For The International Playboys, the merch game is old hat—how many different T-shirt designs have they had?—but the band’s latest creation is one of its most memorable: an archetypal cobra, its head held high, its bottom half wrapped around a martini glass in front of two guitars—all in a nod to their latest album, Cobra Blood Hangover. It’s simple, classic and hard, and we guess it will look even better with pit stains, beer spills and rips added over time. Find one at the band’s next show, which is currently unscheduled.

Perfect for: Everyone loves band tees. Even Mom.

arts@missoulanews.com

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