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Zen Guerilla

Trance States in Tongues

Sub Pop

THEN: The ZG's fourth album was their first with Sub Pop. They’d already had a reputation as one of the best live bands knocking about and this long player gave them a dozen more blues, punk and fuck-you rock’n’roll tunes to blast out live. Trance delivers a slap round the face and a punch in the gut for good measure. BANG. How’d you like that shit? I like it nicely thank you.

NOW: We’ve all heard stuff like it before (Led Zep, AC/DC, Stone Temple Pilots) and since (a paired down version supplied by the Black Keys). While the sound clearly isn’t "now", it’s still pretty good now. The intensity and power of this record are immense and it’s a shame they’re no longer "active" as I’d have liked to have seen Andy Duvall drumming with my own eyes.

SUB POP SAYS: “Their sound is as genuine and as pure as Al Green’s sweat”

KILLER TRACK: Magpie

NEXT: 2000 - Damon & Naomi - With Ghost

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13th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Murder City Devils

Empty Bottles Broken Hearts

Sub Pop

THEN: Second release from the heavy Seattle sextet, adding organ chops from one-time Hole bassist Leslie Hardy on top of the bluesy guitars.

NOW: "When you're sleeping in a truck stop, when you're living in a parking lot, it's hard to pull yourself up..." MCD are a rough ride on the wrong side of the tracks, gravel-throat blues hollers, wolfman howls, Bad Seeds-style barroom rock'n'roll kicked out at speed. They sound like they're having a good time singing about their bad times. Not quite enough to transcend the confines of the genre, but still pretty proficient.

SUB POP SAYS: "Unique blend of punk rock and garage swagger"

KILLER TRACK: Hey Sailor

NEXT: 1999 - Zen Guerilla - Trance States In Tongues

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13th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pigeonhed

The Full Sentence

Sub Pop

THEN: Pigeonhed was the result of noted Seattle engineer/producer Steve Fisk collaborating with singer Shawn Smith and Soundgarden bassist Kim Thayil. Dabbling with  electronics and tape loops Pidgeonhead were an 'experimental' band, giving Sub Pop one of it's most left-field releases.

NOW: There's elements of Trip-Hop, a hint of Prince and even touches of Gospel in this hard-to-Pigeonhole album - but it still maintains an 'Alternative' tone. This still rates as a fairly left-field album and - while the meandering electro-funk of tracks like P-Street hasn't fared well - Shawn Smith's distinctive vocals add much to the atmosphere and still create several memorable tracks.

SUB POP SAYS: "Fisk and Smith contributed to some of the finest bands in the Northwest—Brad, Satchel, Pell Mell, Soundgarden, Nirvana and Beat Happening."

KILLER TRACK: For Those Gone On

NEXT: 1998 - Murder City Devils - Empty Bottles Broken Hearts

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13th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sebadoh

Harmacy

Sub Pop

THEN: Sebadoh's eighth album and their fourth for Sub Pop, saw the Massachusetts (rotating) 3 piece pick-up the succesful formula of its preceeding release, Bakesale. That 1994 smash reached the dizzy heights of number 40 in the UK albums chart, thanks largely to toning down some of the more off-the-wall ideas that marked earlier records and focusing on a more consistent sound, with more emphasis on 'songs'. Harmacy picked up that baton and as a result (and perhaps inevitably) was the band's most mature release at the time.

NOW: More mature maybe, but that's not to say the imagination and slight eccentricity that has secured Sebadoh an intensly loyal fanbase (guilty) is not present here. With songwriting duties split largely evenly between Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein, it weaves and bobs at differing pace; from the jaunty, effortless pop (Ocean / Can't Give Up) 3 chord punk (I Smell A Rat) rocking instrumentals (Sforzando! / Hillbilly 2) and painstaking love song (Willing To Wait) all held together with a tighter production than previous releases. Basically, Harmacy sits comfortably in a formidable canon of releases from these indie rock legends.

SUB POP SAYS: "Since each member of Sebadoh writes songs, their sound can be very different from one song to the next. Where once we heard three voice screaming at once, now they talk in harmony"

KILLER TRACK: Always tricky to pick a killer from the mixed bag that is a Sebadoh record, but of the nineteen here and in the interests of fairness I'll go for (Jason's) Mindreader and (Lou's) Ocean.

NEXT: 1997 - Pidgeonhed - The Full Sentence

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13th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pond

Practice of Joy Before Death

Sub Pop

THEN: Ecstatic reviews from the British Music Press (never trust those guys!) set the pace for the much anticipated Pond, who made an early attempt to move away from the plaid shirts / long hair stereotype and onto the short hair / t-shirts prototype. After their '93 debut, this second album aimed for a darker sound - before major label debut Rock Collection failed to break the band in 1997.

NOW: While Pond were a little late on the Grunge circuit, they were also a little behind the 'alt' continuation that powered through the mid-90's. Without the grandiose ideas of Smashing Pumpkins, or the crunching power of the Foo Fighters, these songs are done few favours - with the muffled production doing little to lift the appealing buried melodies out of the quagmire. Could do with a little more distance between the quiet and loud of their "quite quiet / quite loud" formula.

SUB POP SAYS: "We just wanted danceable, driving drums, and lotsa melodies and hooks, and it all seems to come out murky and thick".

KILLER TRACK: Sundial

NEXT: 1996 - Sebadoh - Harmacy

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12th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sunny Day Real Estate

Diary

Sub Pop

THEN: 1994 and Sub Pop was at the top of its game. Others such as Touch and Go, Blast First, Amphetamine Reptile, Cargo were all dishing out quality fayre, but it was the Seattle label that remained the go-to choice for hard-rocking anger and good times. So Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary caught a lot of people off-guard. Mostly it was singer Jeremy Enigk's voice, this guy sounded like he could actually sing - and it sounded like he was singing about intensly personal themes too, hence 'Diary' I suppose, this couldn't be right from the label who gave us Mudhoney, the band who sang about being drunk for 24 hours. Add to that the slightly creepy and childlike artwork of the record and it felt like Diary was a step in a new direction. Luckily, whilst making us think, it also rocked. Hard.

NOW: Little surprise that Dave Grohl called up rhythm section Nate Mendel (bass) and William Goldsmith (drums) when putting together his new project Foo Fighters in 1995, the drumming especially is awesome across the whole album. Take opener Seven for example: nearly five minutes of constant rolls and fills across a track that was a permanent fixture on many a mix-tape made around that period (to both guys and girls - evidence of the rocking and sensitive all-roundess of the group).

I hadn't listened to it for a while and seemed to remember the intensity level dropping off after Seven and In Circles, but no, the quality remains consistently high across all eleven songs. From the blistering Rounds and Shadows, surreal Grendel and Pheurton Skeurto and the epic 47 and 48. It's fair to argue that Diary was amongst the first Emo records, but don't confuse it with the cynical bullshit of today, there is far more intelligence to Diary than simply plastering on a bit of eyeliner. A classic of classics.

SUP POP SAYS: “Sunny Day’s key members have seemingly engaged in just about every rock cliché imaginable.”

KILLER TRACK: Seven

NEXT: 1995 - Pond - Practice Of Joy Before Death

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12th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Earth

Earth 2

Sub Pop

THEN: Earth's first album, Earth 2 passed over me on its initial release but I do remember its cover. The white background with tasteful typography had a quality that stood out among the other alternative bands. Not that alternative is the best word to describe Earth. There was a certain amount of interest I around Earth 2, what with having such a memorable name and also the fact that no one seemed to be able to stomach the repetitive drone.

NOW: Only three songs in length but still a long player, Earth 2 is a challenge and that really is an understatement. The songs run along at a painfully slow pace and time changes are scarce. Because of the lack of variation the Earth sound could fall under the category of background music if it was not so intimidating and intense. Yet I like this album even if I can only stomach listening to one song at a time. Earth have gone on to expand their sound and improve, thankfully into something more substantial.

KILLER TRACK: Definitely one of the first 3.

NEXT: 1994 - Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary

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12th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Monkeywrench

Clean As A Broke Dick Dog

Sub Pop

THEN: With Mudhoney in full swing, the ever-active Mark Arm and Steve Turner collaborated with Tim Keer of Poison 13 and an even more Nuggety side-project was born.

NOW: With Mark Arm having found his true voice with Mudhoney, this is a long way from Green River. Harmonica, touches of brush drums and stretched-out bluesy jams with extended instrumental sections makes for a great listen. It's a mild attempt to do something new, but not really. Like a Muhoney album without the belting killer tracks, but a bit more subtlty.

This is the side project that won't quit - with new album Gabriel's Horn out this year.

SUB POP SAYS: For fans of: Mudhoney, The Big Boys, Lubricated Goat, The Sonics, The Dicks, MC5

KILLER TRACK: Doubled Over Again

NEXT: 1993 - Earth - Earth 2

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12th Aug 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Chimpomatic vs Sub Pop

We're all about Sub Pop this week, celebrating their 20th anniversary by revisiting 21 albums from their huge back catalogue, as well as getting the inside scoop on Seattle's finest from label insider Megan Jasper. We're starting with 1988-1991 today, with Green River, Nirvana, L7 and Mudhoney -  check back all week for 1992-2008.

INTERVIEW
Sub Pop's impact on team Chimpomatic's musical background cannot be underestimated, so it was our pleasure to catch up with Sub Pop VP Megan Jasper to discuss the label's impact on music, and music's impact on Seattle. Read the full interview here.

COMPETITION
Our selected Sub Pop reviews are a hand picked list, trying to cover where the label was at down the years, but trying to avoid covering any band twice - trickier than it sounds. Think we missed something? Well, send in your 200 word review to subpop[at]chimpomatic.com by August 15th and you'll be in with a chance of winning 20 Sub Pop CDs.

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11th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

Mudhoney

Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

Sub Pop

THEN: I was definitely well aware of being late to the party on this one, and with Nirvana having blown up and Sonic Youth defecting to Geffen this somehow seemed like Mudhoney's "sell-out" album. Luckily being a sell-out in this instance meant being able to pick the album up in the outer-regions of suburban England. It was a great record though, with multiple highlights and Pokin' Around notching a place in my all-time favourites.

NOW: In context it's about as much of a sell-out as Led Zeppelin II - and takes equal standing. Many might disagree, but for me this is still Mudhoney's kick-ass high-point by a mile. More focussed that Superfuzz, but still fresher than their later efforts EGBDF seemed to pull it all together: better songs, better production and more accomplished playing. Good Enough, Let It Slide, Fuzzgun '91 and of course the still mighty, harmonica-infused frenzy of Pokin' Around.

KILLER TRACK: Pokin' Around

NEXT: 1991 - The Monkeywrench - Clean As A Broke Dick Dog

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11th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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L7

Smell The Magic

Sub Pop

THEN: Sub Pop of 1990 was a very male led and largely Seattle based affair. That L7 were made up of four girls from Los Angeles is a good marker of the uncompromising nature of this band and their debut album Smell the Magic. The quartet who were definitely more Riot Grrrl than Girl Power, earned notoriety on these shores by dropping their trousers live on The Word or going one step further at the Reading Festival by throwing a used tampon into the crowd, along with the challenge "Eat my dead uterus!"

NOW: Sound charming don't they? But such 'fuck-you' antics were very much part of the appeal of the music coming out of Sub Pop at the time. Like a reincarnation of the Punk explosion that inspired many groups in the scene, it wasn't necessarily the music that mattered most - some distorted barchords and single fingered solos would work just fine - as long as it all came with plenty of anger and attitude. Released in a year when the eyes of the alternative world were all fixed on Sub Pop, Smell The Magic can make legitimate claim to being the archetypal 'Grunge' record, with album opener Shove as anthemic as any Touch Me I'm Sick or Teen Spirit. "My neighbours say I jam too loud. SHOVE! America thinks I should be proud. HUH!"

SUB POP SAYS: “L7 are a primal rock machine.”

KILLER TRACKS: Shove. Fast And Frightening

NEXT: 1991 - Mudhoney - Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

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11th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Nirvana

Bleach

Sub Pop

THEN: Decent debut from Seattle scenesters that didn't make much of an impact until Nevermind's all-conquering success brought fans back looking for more.

NOW: Very much the sound of a band finding their feet (oh look there they are, inside our Chuck Taylors). Intimate production makes it sound like you're in the studio with them. A lot of Bleach (Negative Creep, Paper Cuts, Swap Meet etc) feels like heavy metal being played by punks who can't solo that proficiently, but still know their way around a riff. Which in a way is what grunge was really. Most of the tracks here are a lot heavier than the quiet-LOUD-quiet template they ripped off borrowed from Pixies later. Notable for having pre-Dave Grohl era drummers Chad Channing and Dale Crover in the band - they're solid, but nowhere near as tight as Grohl - confirming long-held chimp theory that a drummer is the key for a decent band to reach real greatness. Launches straight into their "singalong with the riffs" style of song writing with Blew; Floyd The Barber's a heavy sludgeathon; About A Girl is the only song that really sounds like "Nirvana" - clean guitars until the solo etc, a pretty poppy chorus riff - it's almost like an early Beatles track.

SUB POP SAYS: "These guys are gonna get big!"

KILLER TRACK: About A Girl

NEXT: 1990 - L7 - Smell The Magic

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11th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Green River

Dry As A Bone / Rehab Doll

Sub Pop

THEN: There's no denying that Green River was a lawless guitar riot that was the start of something new. In the early 90's everybody was acting like they were into this long before Nevermind or Superfuzz, but unless you were based in the Pacific North-West it's unlikley you really heard this until long after the fact.

NOW: All the elements are here, but while it's all fine there are no real stand-out tracks. Sounds like the early band of a few guys who went on to form Mudhoney; a band that was a lawless guitar riot and the start of something new. It's also a minor footnote on the Pearl Jam biography, but there's little sonic resemblance - try Temple Of The Dog instead.

SUB POP SAYS: "Before alternative sucked"

KILLER TRACK: This Town

NEXT: 1989 - Nirvana - Bleach

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11th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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You Can't Always Get What You Want

Google doesn't always bring up the right results. Searching for a "Sub Pop" specific query brought up this (technically correct) answer...

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13th Jun 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Bella Union / Sub Pop

Hailing from Seattle, 5 piece Fleet Foxes have been causing quite a stir locally and while Sub Pop have long been Seattle's finest they thankfully they stuck to their "only sign bands from Seattle" code to snap up this band - as let's face it, that's a code that has seen more than a few happy exceptions recently (The Shins, Postal Service, Oxford Collapse, Flight of the Conchords (!?)).

Using heavy precussion, multiple vocals and a giant dollop of campfire guitar acoustics, Fleet Foxes gently rustle up an epic granduer that you often won't see coming. Everybody's talking about the Crosby, Stills & Nash sound that the band have, but it's just as valid to compare them to contempories like My Morning Jacket and label-mates Band of Horses - as all rely heavily on a powerful voice to carry the dense, sophisticated music. While there's a definite nostalgia to Fleet Foxes, it never seems like pastiche or parody - just fun, passionate music, with a depth and quality way beyond the band's slender years.

Thankfully there's a healthy dose of Young in that Crosby, Stills and Nash sound and while the hymnal harmonies might be the obvious USP here it's the rockier numbers that have grabbed my attention. The sweeping guitars of Ragged Wood build in beautiful climbing chords, while the pounding drums and keyboard provide the backing for a grand narrative on Your Protector. Thanks to more examples on the Sun Giant EP (English House and Mykonos in particular) it seems clear that this is an element that has plenty of room for development within the band.

For a debut album this is a pretty stellar release and you can only hope that things are going to get even better from this band. Fantastic.

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2nd Jun 2008 - 4 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Mudhoney

Superfuzz-Bigmuff (Deluxe Edition)

Sub Pop

Despite being named after a couple of guitar effects pedals and featuring a song that confesses/proudly proclaims that "I've been drunk for 24 hours", it's difficult not to undersell the importance of Mudhoney's debut album Superfuzz Bigmuff and it's place in the timeline of, well, of popular music really. Such grand statements probably sit uneasily with the band themselves and most definately would have when these four long-haired outcasts from Seattle recorded it nearly 20 years ago. After all, they pretty much sound drunk all over it - a mood helped no end by the distorted sludge sound of the eponymous effects pedals. But this distortion, sludge, long hair and beer, laid out over punked-up three minute songs, combined to give the world 'Grunge' - the predominant alternative music scene of the early 90s.

A couple of years before Teen Spirit was a target in the bitter sights of fellow Seattlite Kurt Cobain, Superfuzz Bigmuff (along with its label Sub Pop, formed two years earlier) announced that something was most definitely happening in America's Pacific North West.

"We wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we anna do. We wanna be free to ride...to ride our machines without being hassled from the man. And we wanna get loaded". Peter Fonda's plea in 'The Wild Angels', sampled as an intro to In 'N' Out Of Grace sums up far better than I ever could, where Mudhoney were coming from. There's no doubt this is an angry album, but whereas Cobain was to implode with that anger, Mudhoney had a sense of humour (and presumably a steady supply of ale) to balance it out and help carry them from the frustration of their surroundings.

Touch Me I'm Sick, which should always be the first name on the teamsheet for a "Grunge Album Select 11", sets the pace: "Well i've been bad. And I've been worse. And I'm a creep yeeeahhh. And I'm a jerk. Touch Me I'm Sick!". And the rest of the album plays out over this cynical, but above all beer-swilling fun, terrain. Extras on this version, re-issued to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the lengendary Sub Pop, include singles, demos, and a couple of live recordings from 1988, which as the promotion blurb states "are all remastered, or in some cases, mastered for the very first time."!

Mark, Steve, Matt and Dan: the John, Paul, George and Ringo of my early adolesence, I salute you. Now let's get loaded.

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30th May 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Song Of The Day: Volume V

Fleet Foxes have snuck in the back door and on to the Song Of The Day playlist with their track Your Protector, which channels My Morning Jacket and CSN in equal measures. Their Sun Giant EP provides a taste of what's coming from their excellent debut - which is out in a couple of weeks on Sub Pop in the US and Bella Union in the UK. What a CV.

Check Sub Pop, Myspace and Last FM for more sounds/downloads.


Links

Song Of The Day: Volume V

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16th May 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

Flight Of The Conchords

Flight Of The Conchords

Sub Pop

The novelty comedy record is a tricky path to tread. It's fun on your initial saunter, then maybe again with a friend it might still hold some of the same appeal, but soon after these initial promenades, this little path will rarely be trodden again. This can't, however, be said for Sub Pop's most genius release to date. The HBO series Flight Of The Conchords told the story of 2 musicians from New Zealand, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement who, with the (mis)guidance of their agent Murray, go to New York to try and make it big. In the all too short half hour episodes they usually treated us to a couple of songs that really had little to do with the plot but were a sheer joy to behold. Dealing with such complex themes as ATM charges, racist fruit sellers or supernatural visits from bygone era David Bowie, the songs took on a myriad of musical genres and were never short of hilarious. Knowing that the songs came first and HBO built the series around their narrative makes this album even more valid and having just completed my 27th listen it's still as sharp as ever.

Not only is the comedy album a tough gig, but to take these songs out of the context in which they were originally experienced (i.e. the elaborate fantasy settings Bret and Jermain found themselves in in their made-up rock n roll success story), really puts their audio comedy to the test. The result is a deeper appreciation of their writing. Each song is so loaded with gags that in this format one is able to marvel at nugget after nugget of well crafted comedy. Hiphoppopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros was an early favorite on the show and it retains its title here. With lines like Jemaine's "Yeah sometimes my lyrics are sexist but you lovely bitches and hoes should know I'm trying to correct this." and when, after Bret's statement, "other rappers diss me, saying my rhymes are sissy, why? Why? " Jemaine interjects, " be more constructive with your feedback," you start to marvel at how these two white Kiwis manage to totally ridicule a whole hip hop genre so charmingly. Other highlights include Jemaine, on Think About It, pondering the state of the world where slave kids are forced to make sneakers but the sneakers don't seem to get any cheaper, exclaiming at the top of his voice: "What are your overheads?" or the binary solo on the fabulous Robots. It's hard to pick a favorite but Business Time hits the spot every time. The phrase for letting your lover know when it's time to make "sweet weekly love" must soon find its way into the dictionary, and after making enough love for two... minutes what better way to end it than to tell your partner "business hours are over baby." 

The problem I've found with this isn't its lack of repeated listen appeal but its potential to ruin just about every genre of music there is. Its spot-on parodies and razor-sharp observations will serve as a kiss of death to the afore mentioned hip-hop genre, Serge Gainsbourg, Dance Hall Ragga, Kraftwerk, The Pet Shop Boys and most certainly David Bowie. Since the TV show I've found it hard to listen to the final minute of Radiohead's Down Is The New Up, due to its striking similarities to these guys. But the destruction and ridicule of pop history is a small price to pay, so I urge you all to succumb to Bret and Jemaine's "groovitational pull" and check this out.

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1st May 2008 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sub Pop +20

Sub Pop records may have been operating as the SUBTERRANEAN POP fanzine since 1979, but 1988 is the official start-date for the label so 2008 has being designated as the official 20th birthday.

The celebrations will be varied, but highlights include an fundraiser outside Seattle on July 12th & 13th, featuring bands past and present (Green River, Flight of the Conchords, Foals, Iron & Wine, Kinski, Low, Mudhoney, Pissed Jeans and more) and a series of re-releases for high profile albums from the label, starting with Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff: Deluxe Edition on My 22nd....

As noted by chimpovich, in the pre-internet days 'anything on Sub Pop' used to be a pretty solid recommendation for new music, so pull your weight and get involved.

Some Numbers:

Highest position on the Billboard 200 Albums chart #2, The Shins, Wincing the Night Away (2007)

Best-selling album 1.6 million copies, Nirvana, Bleach (1989)

Most releases by a single artist 17, Mudhoney

Number of releases through June 2008 777

Sub Pop Singles Club releases, first incarnation, 1988-1993 62

Sub Pop Singles Club releases, second incarnation, 1998-2002 47

Sub Pop Singles Club releases, third incarnation, 2008-2009 12

Singles Club members at peak of first incarnation 4,500

Grammy nominations 4

Children assigned Sub Pop Records catalog numbers 2

Percentage new releases sold by download in 2007 21

Free downloads of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” on subpop.com 11,655,300

Employees as of March 2008 27

Dogs roaming the halls of Sub Pop HQ 3

Cost in cents for 12 oz. Ranier beer in lunch room soda machine 75

Corporate charitable donations in US dollars for 2007 250,000

Highest winning online auction bid in US dollars for Nirvana “Love Buzz” single 3,451

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17th Apr 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

Ladyhawk

Shots

Jagjaguwar

I've yet to hear 'the first great album of the year' or 'the second' for that matter, so it's with a clear conscience and complete disregard for continuity that I give the first great album of the year title to Vancouver's Ladyhawk and their great album - Shots.

OK, so it's nearly April and I'm not listening to as much new music as I used to. Partly because of various grown-up commitments and partly because there's just too much new music out there. For someone who used to base his musical jumps into the unknown on an appearance in a trusted band's Thank You list (or failing that usually buying anything on Sub Pop) - the alternative music choice in 2008 can be quite overwhelming.

An old-school rock band then, with guitars bass and drums - that stand and fall by the quality of the songs rather than a quirky hook, look or attitude, is to this cynic, a 21st century blessing. In this respect, I suppose Shots shares more in common with Black Mountain, than Vampire Weekend. Little surprise perhaps, as Ladyhawk share a label with their fellow Canadians.

Recorded in an abandoned farmhouse, over a booze-fuelled two weeks, Shots is the soundtrack to one of the great parties. Rocking hard in places, edgy and introspective in others, it's a party that could spiral out of control at any minute, but one you definitely don't want to leave. Like Neil Young and his honeyslide powered On The Beach, Shots really captures the mood of its recording.

I Don't Always Know What You're Saying kicks things off and sets the mood; with a reverbed and fuzzy production that sounds exactly like it was recorded in a booze-fuelled abandoned farmhouse. S.T.H.D., Fear and Corpse Paint, maintain the tempo - dark, edgy, rocking. Before they slow it down for a couple of tracks, I'll Be Your Ashtray calls to mind yet more fellow Canadian's - Magnolia Electric Company (“I'll be your ashtray. Because I only want to feel you burning.”) whilst Faces of Death carries the melancholic air of too much whiskey.

But before getting too down, the party kicks off again with Night, You're Beautiful a self-explanatory title that could neatly sum-up Shots. You get the idea that Ladyhawk love the night - not in a whitefaced-Gothic kind of way, more that all the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll is going on after hours ( “Darkness you touch my soul. And you fill my heart. And you make me burn when we're apart”) They love the night so much, they even include a few “do-do-do” backing vocals amongst the sludge guitars.

And what better way to round all that off than with an eleven minute epic. Ghost Blues is in no hurry to get anywhere, and even lulls you into thinking that they've succumbed to a bit of self-indulgence. Then, around the 6 minute mark, the band let out a mighty Primal Scream; a call round a campfire for a higher spirit to take them home, probably a call to the Pagan God of Awesome Parties - whose number, without doubt, is in Ladyhawk's favourites.

A. Great. Album.

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25th Mar 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Foals

Antidotes

Transgressive Records/ Sub Pop

It's The Cure meets Battles! quite good, wonder what the Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio) version was like though...

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7th Jan 2008 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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iTunes Plus For Less

Seemingly rattled by Amazon's entry into the DRM-free music market, iTunes have reduced the price of their iTunes Plus tracks from 99p to 79p - in line with the DRM price, but still encoded at 256kbps in DRM-free AAC. They've also brought a bunch of indie labels on board - including Beggars and Sub Pop, so newer releases like Cease To Begin and the entire Oxford Collapse catalogue are available in the improved format.

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17th Oct 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

Iron & Wine

The Shepherd's Dog

Sub Pop

The wind of change rarely blows through the lonely, mid-west town of Iron & Wine and when it does it's a soft, gentle breeze that leaves as quickly and as quietly as it approached. This has never been a bad thing as there has always been more than enough warmth to feed off in this barren land. But with The Shepherd's Dog the wind is picking up, ever so slightly, and as it passes through it leaves behind a renewed freshness. Following on from 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days and the fantastic Woman King EP in 2005, The Shepherd's Dog is the third full length and it's their best yet.

Sam Beams first two albums have been musically pretty stark often featuring his whispered vocals over delicate finger picking resulting in miles upon miles of intriguing yet desolate land, but after the hugely successful collaborative mini album with Calexico, In The Reins, and the subsequent tour, Beam's sound has progressed into Technicolor with a full band arrangement providing welcome sustenance to his flawless songwriting.

The sparse landscape from which this band has coaxed some of the most heart-aching sounds of recent times is looking more lush than ever here and is certainly starting to bear fruit. Beams vocals are as breathy and soft as ever but the instrumentation that accompanies his tales is dripping with texture and the sheer variety of tools, from lap steel to washes of strings, provides a richness not seen before. Beams vocals maintain their fragile characteristics but seem to contract to intimate closeness then expand to great washes of tone allowing the progressive musical arrangements to take the foreground.

The album is meticulously structured with each song flowing seamlessly into the other. Carousel is the musical equivalent of a babbling brook gently flowing through rocky land as Beams vocals, drenched in effects, trickle softly over delicately plucked guitar. Then as if a damn had broken its banks way up stream the river starts to pour forth with growing pace as we move into one of the albums many highlights House By The Sea. Deep bass and intricate guitar provide the complex backdrop for Beam and sister to harmonize. Innocent Blues shuffles along at a blissfully lazy pace with some unexpected banjo brilliance looming to the forefront which bleeds in to the reggae infused Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd's Dog). This acts as the centre piece to the album. At nearly 5 minutes in length it too shuffles into view with effortless simplicity and mid way through takes a short breather before launching into a glorious instrumental home straight. It's richness in sound is almost too much to fathom and marks a definite turning point for this band.

And the same can be said for the record as a whole. It maintains a firm link to the albums of the past with their soft and often bleak outlook but punctuates this with innovative musical arrangements that have their view firmly set on the road ahead. Resurrection Fern has Beams voice sounding so smoother than ever and the fragile steel guitar that soars behind it is simply glorious. The albums structure delivers its final genius blow on the closing track. Flightless Bird, American Mouth has a devastating air of conclusion and is a perfect way to end this record. It begins as fragile as a newly hatched bird then slowly takes flight and off it soars on a soft breeze of sadness and finality. It takes a few plays for this album to seep in but when it does you wont want to stray too far from its warmth.

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30th Sep 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Band of Horses

Cease To Begin

Sub Pop

2005's Everything All Of The Time was a surprise hit for me, coming from the back of the pack like a young Steve Cram to stream ahead and take gold. The gift that kept on giving, it seemed to just get better and better with the most obvious high point The Funeral quickly matched by several other classic tracks.

After the success of that album things seemingly fell apart from the band, with co-founder Mat Brooke departing to form a new band Grand Archives - leaving Ben Bridwell to continue under the Band of Horses name with a completely overhauled squad for album number two.

May's UK visit soon put to bed any doubts about the band's future, with Bridwell's beefed-up foot-stomping style taking centre stage for one of my gig's of the year. New songs like Lamb Of The Lam and Ode To LRC sounded great - for once, rather than lulling the crowd between the well-known 'hits' it actually really got the gig going. Cease To Begin quickly became a most-anticipated-of-007 release.

That early accolade became a mixed blessing, as while the foot-stomping style provides many of the album's high points - the departure of second songwriter Brooke may also be responsible for some of the albums shortcomings. While it is an album packed full of great songs and no duds, there somehow seems to be less variation between songs and the highs are possibly not quite as memorable.

Bottom line: Is There A Ghost?, Ode To The LRC, Marry Song, Cigarettes, Wedding Bands, Window Blues - all awesome. A great second album from a band that are only going to get better. And they rock live.

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26th Sep 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Kinski

Down Below It's Chaos

Sub Pop

Like a hit-man's shot to the head, silenced through a pillow, Kinski's third album hits the target with muffled ferocity. Deep, wooly guitars rumble and thunder their way through this album sometimes accompanied by minimal vocals or simple melody but often just push forward with pounding drums as their only guide.

I would like to say that opening track Crybaby Blowout was the song that accompanied a certain 'special move' in the game Mortal Kombat where, on tapping a secret sequence of buttons your character shouted CRYBABY BLOWOUT! and rapid-fire-sucker-punched your opponent in the gut for 3.48 minutes. Sadly, it's not - but you get the gist of the awesome power with which this album opens.

And it's this power that is persistently present throughout the record whether it's with driving instrumental muscle-flexing or subdued vocal melodies. The vocals play an important part with Kinski adding much needed variety to the songs but ultimately it's the purely instrumental tracks that really drive this record. Boy, Was I Mad! is a brooding slow starter that never really seems to threaten anything but then opens up into a ferocious cacophony of thrashing guitars and crashing drums while Child Had To Catch A Train is Kinski at their best, with hard riffs backed up by whirling keyboard melodies. Whenever the band tries to show a more sensitive side like on Plan, Steal, Drive the menacing undercurrents of far off trouble creep up until before you know it you're surrounded by swirls of thumping guitars.

This may all sound quite predictable and it could easily be if handled by less competent bands but you must remember, like The Terminator, this is what Kinski do, this is all they do and they absolutely will not stop until you're dead...satisfied.

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21st Aug 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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New Band of Horses Album

So the new Band of Horses album is finished and entitled Cease To Begin. It's out on October 9th through Sub Pop and hopefully we'll be reviewing it as soon as possible.

01 Is There a Ghost
02 Ode to LRC
03 No One's Gonna Love You
04 Detlef Schrempf
05 The General Specific
06 Lamb on the Lam (in the city)
07 Islands on the Coast
08 Marry Song
09 Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
10 Window Blues

This info has been lifted from Pitchfork, who have a good interview with singer Ben Bridwell discussing the annoying proliferation of non-stop filming at gigs these days - and an incident where he became visible enraged about it. While previously being guilty of it myself I try and keep my photography to a minimum these days and just enjoy the show. You're not going to forget a good one, and every single moment of anything seems to be over documented.

The recent Band of Horses show in London was plagued by such problems, as the stage at Scala is so low that it was hard to see past the cameras and see the band.

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5th Aug 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

The Postal Service

Give Up

Sub Pop

I came across this side project from Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello after reading Sub Pop's FAQ entitled " I AM MAKING A SHORT FILM FOR COLLEGE THAT IS GOING TO A SMALL FESTIVAL. I ONLY HAVE A SHOESTRING BUDGET, CAN I USE THE ENTIRE SUB POP CATALOG FOR FREE IN MY FILM? OR MAYBE JUST A FEW SONGS BY NIRVANA AND THE SHINS? PLEASE, I PROMISE I WILL THANK YOU?", to which they replied "...to acquire a license for a Sub Pop artist, excluding The Postal Service, The Shins, or Nirvana, which you aren’t going to get..."

Having previously heard whispers about both Nirvana and The Shins, but having never, ever even heard of The Postal Service I found myself instantly intrigued by the 'stay away and don't be so predictable' warning. I pretty soon found myself checking them out - and it caught me off guard. Having never heard Death Cab For Cutie (who by name alone I had assumed were as bad as Hootie and the Blowfish) or Dntel, it was not what I was expecting at all.... but I did quickly realise it was one of the highlights on Sub Pop's Songbook of Songs compilation from 2005. Status restored. I heard heard of them after all and even made a mental note to "check out that band on track 14"

Sounding like beats from in-a-good-mood-Aphex Twin crossed with the storytelling, upbeat style of Ben Folds, the first couple of tracks are superb. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight has all the beeps and squeaks in just the right places, and a building, restless energy. The energy continues into Such Great Heights, which is probably the stand-out track on the album. Not that I know for sure, as at this point I pretty consistently doze off. It's just one of those albums that works like a big glass of red wine - relaxing and easy to listen to in the best way possible. Literal, story telling lyrics over gentle pulsing beeps.... ahh. They also do a great cover of guilty pleasure Against All Odds, but unfortunately that's not on the album.

For the purpose of this review I have done a mild bit of further research, and  things do become a little less memorable towards the end of the album, without being bad - just less striking. There's a definite side-project vibe to the album, although hopefully it's success will help bulk things up with a follow up. Ben Gibbard's voice can get a little too sweet and sccahrine, and I think I just start tuning him out. I guess that's where the FAQ comes in, as there is no doubt these guys would sit very comformably on the soundtrack to a Zack Braff movie of your choice.

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26th Jul 2007 - 3 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pissed Jeans

Hope For Men

Sub Pop

Pissed Jeans is the bare chested alter ego of white collar worker Matt Korvette, who sheds the skin of his day job in Allentown (known to me only through the Billy Joel track I'm afraid) and strips off to the waist to lead his band through sweaty all-ages punk shows.

With this second album, the band have been signed up to Sub Pop - and you probably couldn't imagine a better home (er, except maybe SST or Dischord). In these days of Zach Braff co-opting the Sub Pop rosta for his feel-good movies, it's good to hear a band throwing down the kind of sludge rock sound that got the label started.

People Person could not be a more ironic title for the album opener - a relatively fast punk number that has a similar effect to being mugged. With the brutal vocal force of Black Flag-era Rollins, vocalist Matt Korvette's lyrics are hard to pin down for sure, but it's either "I am a people person", or "I'm not a people person". I'm guessing it's the latter as Pissed Jeans are definitely not here to be your friend, but if you relax and go with the flow you might just have some fun.

The album generally works at a slower, pounding pace than the opener - whether its the heavy swing of A Bad Wind or the feedback drenched atmosphere of The Jogger. Things almost seem like they might break-out of the weight of this album on the amusing anecdote I’ve Still Got You (Ice Cream) or drum led Caught Licking Leather, but fear not. Much less post-modern sounding than recent punk-sludge from the likes of The Bronx, this is coming from the genuine roots of lifelong garage banders - who are clearly fans of Black Flag or sick-coloured vinyl specialists Flipper.

If you can withstand the bettering your ears will take, you will see through the wall of noise and expose the story-telling side of this album, stretching out tales of white collar workers in the "Straight World". It's a tall order that will certainly not be to many people's tastes - but for many pre-Nirvana post-punkers it will be a breath of fresh air.

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11th Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Grand Archives

In a post almost entirely lifted from Sound Theory, check out some snaps from the very beard-orientated first show for Grand Archives in Seattle, where they have snapped up by Sub Pop. You can check out four of their tracks on MySpace.

Meanwhile, Matt Brooke's former Band (of Horses) are continuing onwards and upwards, with a show scheduled for the Scala on May 22nd - in between various festival appearances.

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18th Apr 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

Rogue Valentine

Sub Poppers Rogue Wave cover the Beatles' All You Need Is Love over at myspace hq, with the added bonus of their summery take on Pixies classic, Debaser too.


Links

All You Need Is A Rogue Wave Of Mutilation

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14th Feb 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

The Shins

Wincing The Night Away

Sub Pop

Anyone not taken with the first two albums by The Shins - 'Chutes too Narrow' and 'Oh. Inverted Word' - won't find anything here to convince them otherwise. Those, on the other hand, who found them to be a refreshing breeze of Beatle-ish pop should be satisfied, as 'Wincing the Night Away' is basically more of the same 'It shouldn't work but it does' formula.

Opener, 'Sleeping Lessons' has already edged into the leading pack of my favourite Shins' songs. The band obviously feel comfortable that they have a committed fan base, so start the song off slowly; main-man James Russell Mercer singing over looping keyboard scales, before the rest of the band confidently crash in after 2 and a half minutes. First single 'Phantom Limb' sounds a bit cheesy at first, but is a grower (there's that Shins formula).

Things take a slight left turn with 'Sealegs' slowing it down and making good use of a new drum machine, the squelchy synth solo at the end gets dangerously twee however. But hey. This is The Shins. The band that Natalie Portman said would change your life, in the film ' Garden State' and if there is one thing I'm sure of in life, it's that when Natalie Portman talks to me, I listen and I listen hard.

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2nd Feb 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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New Shins

Current favourite label Sub Pop have a lavish new video out for The Shins - Phantom Limb.

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21st Dec 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

Mudhoney

Under A Billion Suns

Sub Pop

I owe a lot to Mudhoney. Listening to their self-titled 2nd album many years ago, took me away from a West Midlands world of Megacity 4/Neds Atomic Dustbin and onto a beer-fuelled journey into independent American music - a journey that has shown no sign of slowing down over the subsequent 16 years. The superfuzzed bigmuffed mayhem of tunes like 'This Gift', 'You Got It' and 'Flat Out Fucked' opened my eyes to a "Screw you we are going to get loaded" attitude that played soundtrack to much of my teen years.

But, as often happens with many of your oldest friends, you inevitably lose contact after a while. So, on the first listen to Under a Billion Suns, the first new Mudhoney material I've heard in a while, it's something of a surprise to hear a joyous brass section, working its way from the background to the fore in the opening songs 'Where Is The future?' and 'It Is Us' as well as closing the album on 'Blindspots'. Very Californian for these archetypes of the Seattle sound. It's like that old friend has turned up on your doorstep after all these years and, well, he's wearing a dress! At first, you'd perhaps be like 'Err, ok!' But once the shock subsides and you get a chance to sneak a look up that dress - bingo! There's a Big Muff, as in your face as ever. Open up that handbag and - yep! - there's some beers, so fuck it, let's party like the old days.

All those things that made you want to hang out with Mudhoney in the first place, are here. The sleazy, sludgy guitars, underrated solo work, Mark Arm's sneering vocals, Dan Peters driving drums and all the snotty attitude that made them the scourge of parents - before they presumably became parents themselves.

Whilst the sound remains the same, the band (Arm?) themselves seem to have become polticised. It's a pretty damning indictment of George Dubya, when perennial slackers and party animals Mudhoney feel the need to weigh into the debate about how much of a Chief he really is. In 'Where Is The Future?' Arm wonders what happened to the promised future of his late 60's childhood "I want a world run by giant brains, instead of small minded arrogant fools" the theme continues on the faster 'It is Us' "I've seen the enemy and It Is Us!" Muff vs. Bush! Even the war gets a look in, but with a particular Mudhoney spin on things "Hard-on for War" is pro-war in the sense that; with young men serving abroad, it's left to the dirty old men to have the pick of the young girls left behind. Whilst it's nice to hear their take on current affairs, the highlight has to be the instrumental 'A Brief Celebration Of Indifference" - a 2 minute supercharged throwback to 1990.

All in all it's a welcome return to the speakers for these Seattle legends. Whilst they may have lyrically grown up (just a bit though) the sound and energy that blew me away all those years back, is still very much in place.

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21st Nov 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Jeremy Enigk

World Waits

Reincarnate/Sony BMG

First, a bit of back story: Jeremy Enigk used to be lead singer in Seattle band Sunny Day Real Estate, whose 1994 album Diary (released on Sub Pop) is quite rightly considered something of a classic. The success of Sunny Day Real Estate's sound lay in the combination of Enigk's incredible, almost angelic, voice and a rhythm section that gave the songs a harder/darker edge. When you take into account that William Goldsmith (drums) and Nate Mendel (bass) went onto join the first incarnation of Foo Fighters, then you get an idea of the calibre of personnel.

And herein lies the problem of an Enigk solo project. Stripped of the energy and aggression that a 'band' provides, it is left to his voice to carry the songs, the music barely putting up a fight in competition. But is singing alone going to make a good album? Meatloaf has a good voice right? A bit harsh maybe.

Things start off well, Been Here Before showcases the complete range of Enigk's talents, starting slow and introspective before getting BIG, so big, that it takes a church organ to provide the song's break. In fact, what goes on pre/post organ could neatly describe what does and doesn't work on the album. The better songs are the quieter, more acoustic songs, where the music assumes a bit of character, rather than being a bit-part vehicle for 'the voice'. Canons, Damien Dreams and Dare a Smile fall into this category. The latter of which could almost be a Guided By Voices song, that is if GBV's Bob Pollard was to put down the bourbon and beers for a moment.

It's when the songs get epic that things start to go awry, City Tonight being a fine example. Not content with a dodgy synth opening, it begins with the line "Am I Late to the Kingdom of Love", before POWER drumming and guitars kick down the door and take the song home. This is Simple Minds in all their 80s glory, it's a song that conjures up an image of Richard Gere in slow-motion - probably on horseback. But Simple Minds not only had massive songs, they also head massive success, so I suppose dues should be given.

Overall, genuine good points beat potential bad (depending on where you stand on Simple Minds). It's actually quite refreshing to hear an honest album by a singer/songwriter doing what he does best, without compromise, rather than the multitude of bands around at the moment simply aching to be cool.

As for a score. I'll start with a 2 and award an extra mark for being a nice alternative to those other Golden-voiced Juggernauts, Keane and Coldplay, (at least Enigk sings like he means every word). But I'm going to have to dock half a mark for Am I Late to the Kingdom of Love. I hate Richard Gere.

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13th Nov 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Oxford Collapse

Remember The Night Parties

Sub Pop

Recalling a time when bands were about a few college friends playing guitars in a garage, off-beat drumbeats and a guy singing (maybe even two guys signing), Brooklyn's Oxford Collapse are a refreshing blast of nostalgia for a time when being in a band was about hanging out, having a good time and playing shows for friends - probably in the garden of a college pool-party, as the title and cover art of Remember The Night Parties might suggest.

Oxford Collapse are latest signing on Seattle's legendary Sub Pop label, and it's a fitting home. I'd place these guys somewhere between 80's post-punk from the likes of The Replacements and classic-era Sub Pop bands like Mudhoney. Bands from a time before 'Alternative' was a genre on your iPod. With the multiple attack force of Michael Pace and Adam Rizer on vocals, this three man band are all rhythm and chorus with barely a lead guitar break in sight.

Following on from two albums on the New York indie label Kanine, Sub Pop roped in John Agnello for production duties (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.), and the bands first album in a top-end studio has yielded superb results. Where their previous album A Good Ground had a dilapidated, shambling charm, it was lacking some focus - and although their press release still describes the bands live shows as 'shambolic,' the issue has certainly been addressed here.

Following the gentle breaking-in of He'll Paint While We Play, Please Visit Your National Parks (mp3 here) sets the tone for a childhood summer style trip out to The Lake. Loser City ups the pace, with the most Mudhoney-esque track on the album firmly positioning the album in the Super 8 soaked memories of childhood, proclaiming "Broke your projector, incurred expense."

However, the album's best point is also it's worst - it's all rhythm and chorus with barely a lead guitar break in sight. Coming up to half way through it begins to drag slightly... but just when I started to lose interest is when it really picks up, making what would have been Side-B in the old days the preferred choice - an uncommon situation with most albums. The most successful tracks are those which sway from the standard MO - going instead for a less homogenised whole and building the sound of the songs on much more varied, simpler and punchy frameworks.

The high strung guitars, stuttering drums and wailed-verse -vs- chorus-wailing of Lady Lawyers make for an obvious college radio favourite, that ratchets up the pressure over the absurd lyrics. A string of great tracks follow, from the escapist Let's Vanish, through the military drumming of Kenny Can't Afford It, and the down-tempo hazy remembering of Forgot To Write to the sing-a-long name-checking finale of Your Volcano.

Evocative, narrative lyrics coupled with a sea of guitars build the sound of this world, and rather than just music or just lyrics it is the overall approach that creates the nostalgic mood. A world where if John Hughes was directing Oxford Collapse would definitely be playing in the punker's bar on the wrong side of the tracks - and they'd probably turn up as the band at the prom too, wearing shabby tuxedos and forcing the preppies to let themselves go.

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3rd Nov 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Band Of Horses

Everything All The Time

Sub Pop

First up, comparisons with My Morning Jacket are inevitable. On the first few listens, I had to check that Jim James himself wasn't providing the vocals on a couple of tracks. With that in mind, the chase cut to as it were, let's base the review around that knowledge. Let's suppose that MMJ had a younger brother, who hung around the practice sessions and was witness to their particular brand of genius. He's maybe thinking to himself, yeah that's pretty good - but those extended, distorted solos are a bit distracting, at times they get in the way of a nice, clean, imaginative pop song. I like the reverb on the vocals, I'll have that (It's possible that a couple of tracks were actually lifted straight from the outtakes of a MMJ session - Part One and I Go To The Barn Because I Like The could well be from At Dawn). The result is a charming, dreamy album with enough emotional weight to demand full attention. Comparable to MMJ and completely comfortable with that comparison.

Apologies, if you've never heard of My Morning Jacket. If this is the case, I can only presume it is your first visit to Chimpomatic - welcome.

Update: With the Chimp team seemingly in approval, it looks like this is going to stay the distance. I'm prepared to admit it when i'm wrong: This is not just a good album, it looks like it's going to be a classic.

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2nd Oct 2006 - 4 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Chad Vangaalen

Skelliconnection

After 2005's reissued Infiniheart Sub Pop put out the second full length from this Canadian folk/rock/synth/indie kid who also did all the album art work and - if you haven't guessed already, it's quite eclectic.

It's such a gift when you get to review a record that has obvious sources of influence, you just bang on about that and don't really have to form any of your own opinions. So when I first heard Slelliconnection I dreaded the review as I was probably going to have to do some thinking and I hate doing that. Sure it has some comparisons but none of them are obvious enough to base a review on. So I'll get them out of the way first then if there's time I will do some thinking.

Vangaalen's use of low-tech synthasisers and plinky-plonky keyboards instantly brings to mind the work of the late Grandaddy. In fact this comparison crops up a few times with Chad's voice sometimes taking on the soft, sensitive hush of Jason Lytle. It has the inventiveness of The Flaming Lips and the delicate banjo folk of Sufjan Stevens.

The main thing to remember about Skelliconnection is not to judge it until it is finished. It spans so many different genres from the heavy riffage of the opening track Flower Garden to the gentle folk of Wing Finger with some fantastic little instrumental ditties thrown in, the best one being Viking Rainbow. Rumour has it that a lot of the sounds we hear on this album come from home made instruments. This is very evident on Viking Rainbow with its primitive, clunking, synth beats and, heavy drumming and distorted melodies.

The inventiveness and shear scope of this record are definitely what make it good but they also become its undoing. After the opening three tracks the album drifts into no man's land and loses its way amid experimentation, genre hopping and lazy repetitive lyrics. It doesn't seem to specialise in anything and so is in danger of being slightly unmemorable. Thankfully it finds its direction again with the fantastic Graveyard. It's a slow building folk masterpiece that begs to go on for a lot longer than it does. It is then followed by Dead Ends, the records summit both in grandeur and intensity. Here Vangaalen really lets us have it, giving Roy Orbison a run for his money. It's almost as if THE Bruce Dickinson has instructed him to "really explore the space here". Thank god he doesn't have a cowbell.

So to sum up, this is a piece of work that is by no means perfect but demands respect. In a world where originality is hard to find artists like Chad Vangaalen are essential, and after the recent Sufjan Stevens offering its nice to hear a folk singer that's willing to grow some balls and mix things up a bit. It doesn't always work but at least he tried.

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1st Sep 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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