Murfreesboro-based label Kimberly Dawn celebrates the limitations of the three-inch CD 

Small but Fierce

Small but Fierce

You've probably heard someone mention at some point how people aren't buying CDs like they once were. In this world of external hard drives, synced iPhones and MP3-playing dildos (it's called the OhMiPod — seriously), the role of compact discs has become increasingly that of a stop-gap — a transitional medium that's used more for storage than playback. A lot of listeners have stopped committing shelf space to the music they like. The ones who do, collectors or what have you, are less and less likely to devote that space to CDs, too. But what if they took up less space?

That's what Murfreesboro resident Frank Baugh is offering. His ultra-niche record label Kimberly Dawn has issued 31 records in a little over a year, each on limited-run, hand-packaged 3-inch CD-Rs. If it's been a while since you've seen a CD, most of them measure 5 inches in diameter. "The main thing that initially drew me to them was their inherent limitations," explains Baugh of his preoccupation with the 3-inch. "The maximum length of audio on these ranges from 22 to 24 minutes, and that to me is the perfect length for an EP — just enough to make a statement, but brief enough to leave the listener wanting more."

And that's about the extent of any arguments one could possibly make for the medium's practicality. For one, they can't be played on any old CD player. The Kimberly Dawn blog even warns against trying to play these releases in slot-loading players, but also explains that "special music needs a special player." (They do work on tray or spindle CD players.) In this way, the 3-inch CD niche is pretty similar to the cassette niche. Tapes have been an underground noise staple in some capacity or another for quite some time now, and since most people have probably long since off-loaded their tape players, what better way to share what many would find to be an inaccessible album than on a medium that many no longer have the access to hear? Baugh has tapped into that same idea with a little extra nudge of novelty.

But novelty alone wouldn't make Kimberly Dawn noteworthy. The benchmark of any good niche label is a strong identity and specialized knowledge. Baugh's got that with moody, atmospheric music, and he's cast his net wide. There are unsettling and ominous sounds from upstate New York (Fossils From the Sun), pulsing French minimalism (Calypso Borealis), schizophrenic freak-outs from Baltimore (Sensible Nectar) and Thai field recordings by former Poet Named Revolver singer and guitarist Steve Molyneux. Closer to home, the label offered up Annimal Skkulls, the debut release from Ttotals. Guitarist and vocalist Brian Miles constitutes half of the Ttotals duo, and this band is just the latest in a long line of criminally underrated psych-rock bands he's started. Then there's Baugh's own fantastic, shimmering guitar ambience in Sparkling Wide Pressure.

Kimberly Dawn has tapped into a network of bedroom artists that would otherwise fall through the cracks, and skimming through its catalog uncovers a number of releases with the words "sold out" written at the end of their descriptions. And Baugh's got a full plate of new stuff for the rest of the year, including releases from rhythmic and droney Argentine psych-rockers My3Yeah and Italian lo-fi peddlers Froe Char.

"Sometimes a release comes about by an artist finding me and sending me a demo that I'm blown away by," Baugh says. "I enjoy sounds that transport you into the artist's own head space in some way."

Thus far, the label is one of Nashville's best-kept secrets, and anything bearing the Kimberly Dawn mark of approval warrants a listen, even if it also requires the right kind of CD player.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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