July 28, 2011

where i’m from when we dance we shake our shoulders

This has been a sort of OMIGODHELP week back at work, and the very depths of summer ennui have grabbed me firmly by both ankles. So I’ve only been splashing around in little pools of new music, not willing to commit until I heard the new Shabazz Palaces album Black Up (out this week on Sub Pop Records).

It’s a cerebral album from musicians that hover behind a sheet of enigma. The new project of former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler and mostly-unidentified collaborators, the album resists classifications. The Village Voice piece described the lengthy song titles spot-on as reading “like Babel fish translations.” Beats stutter and start and roll over and fade quickly. Your brain flits around while you listen, trying to find a foothold but okay with the slipperiness.

I don’t have many words for this album, and that’s good. Alls I know is that this makes me want to shake my shoulders (and other parts) when I listen.

A treatease dedicated to the Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1,000 questions, 1 answer) – Shabazz Palaces

And as an enjoyable little surface pleasure, the album also comes in a BLACK VELVET CASE flecked with shiny gold, and this makes me like it even more — like someone just gave me a really nice present.

January 14, 2011

all those little teardrops dissolve


New Sub Pop signees Mister Heavenly came billed as “doom-wop” (doo-wop and doomed love songs – yes!), and our first listen today reminds me of early, funky Beck mixed through the radio signals with some sort of staticky oldies station. Bop shoo wop.

It’s an ace collaboration between Nick Diamonds (of Islands), Honus Honus (of Man Man, who likes repetition) and Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer, which started as a one-off thing to record a 7″ and evolved into a forthcoming full-length album. Plus they sometimes play live with Michael Cera, which just makes me feel all smiley.

Mister Heavenly – Mister Heavenly
(download this and one more free song “Pineapple Girl” here)

They’re playing tonight in Chicago, that marvelous city, and Sunday at the Bowery. Yeah – bring on the weekend with this tune!

January 11, 2011

The Head and The Heart sign with Sub Pop Records

the head and the heart - conor byrne

After the ink dried way back in November, Sub Pop finally announced one of the worst kept secrets in Seattle for the past few months: they have signed The Head and The Heart, and will be digitally re-releasing their self-titled debut album on the Sub Pop label today!

If you haven’t been following my Amway-salesman-like enthusiasm for this band since summer, then you can read about why I think they are great over on the band bio I penned for Sub Pop.

The new 2011 version of the album includes a studio recording of “Rivers and Roads” (which gutted me most excellently in August, in that parking garage show) and a re-recorded version of “Sounds Like Hallelujah.” The whole album has been remastered, and will also be released on vinyl in April for Record Store Day. Sweet!

To celebrate today, the band has released a moody, acoustic, brand-new song, “No One To Let You Down” (which we saw them perform on beach cliffs at the Doe Bay Festival last summer) for free download on their website, along with “Down In The Valley,” one of the standout tracks on their album.

STREAM: No One To Let You Down – The Head and The Heart

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Free download here

sub popAnd hey, while we’re at it: let’s all reminisce about why Sub Pop Records is so damn cool in the first place, shall we?

Congrats, kids.

* – w/Dr. Dog
** – w/The Walkmen

Jan 13 – Bellingham, WA – Green Frog Acoustic Tavern
Jan 14 – Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
Jan 15 – Spokane, WA – Empyrean Coffee House
Jan 19 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
Jan 23 – Birmingham, UK – Glee Club **
Jan 24 – London, UK – The Lexington
Jan 25 – London, UK – Shepherd’s Bush Empire **
Jan 26 – Berlin, Germany – Privatclub
Jan 28 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club *
Jan 29 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club *
Jan 31 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre *
Feb 1 – Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall *
Feb 3 – Charleston, SC – Music Farm *
Feb 4 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade *
Feb 5 – Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom *
Feb 7 – Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay Theatre *
Feb 8 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel *
Feb 9 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater *
Feb 11 – Philadelphia, PA – Electric Factory *
Feb 14 – Woodstock, NY – Bearsville Theater *
Feb 15 – South Burlington, VT – Higher Ground *
Feb 17 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre *
Feb 18 – New York, NY – Terminal 5 *
Feb 19 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club *
Mar 2 – New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks **
Mar 3 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s **
Mar 4 – Austin, TX – Stubbs’ Bar-B-Q **
Mar 5 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater **
Mar 7 – Lawrence, KS – Jackpot Saloon
Mar 11 – Englewood, CO – Moe’s
Mar 13 – Albuquerque, NM – Low Spirits

June 11, 2009

New Fruit Bats! “My Unusual Friend”


Several years ago when I first heard the Fruit Bats, it was via their slice-of-pop-heaven single “When U Love Somebody.” I listened to them nonstop for a whole summer, and many friends received that song on a mixtape. Maybe even you.

So I’m mightily excited by the news from Sub Pop today that they have a new mp3 for your enjoyment off their upcoming album later this summer:

My Unusual Friend – Fruit Bats

…. or how about this lovely, burnished, backporch-sunset older tune? It’s another favorite of mine:

Slipping Through The Sensors – Fruit Bats

the-ruminant-bandThe Ruminant Band is out August 4th on Sub Pop. And while I usually don’t quote from the press release, this paragraph flawlessly sums up that quality I love about the Fruit Bats:

“In this often reflexive and world-weary era of popular music, there seems little room for unabashed wonder, or joy without suspicion. Some regrettable fear planted within each of us around the 7th grade or thereabouts still makes it hard to dance, hard to hold hands, hard to say ‘I love you,’ at least without a quick caveat or escape route at the ready. Over the course of three records, the last two on Sub Pop (2003’s Mouthfuls and 2005’s Spelled in Bones), Eric D. Johnson’s Fruit Bats have looked for ways to file down the cynical edge of modern life and found many. Using bright melodies, defiantly major-key chord structures, natural imagery mixed with the occasional blazing insight and tender observation, the Fruit Bats have never shied away from darkness, but more uncommon in this day and age, they’ve refused to shy away from light.”


FREE BONUS: This song is part of the absolutely brilliant new Sub Pop Free Summer Sampler, hosted on one of the flashiest, tackiest, worst-designed website I’ve seen since, oh, 1997.

Perhaps it is best viewed in Netscape Navigator.

2009 Sub Pop Cybersex Digital Sampler Track List
1. Vetiver – Strictly Rule
2. Handsome Furs – I’m Confused
3. Mark Sultan – Hold On
4. Red Red Meat – Gauze
5. Obits – Pine On
6. The Vaselines – Son of a Gun
7. Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
8. Iron and Wine – Belated Promise Ring
9. Tiny Vipers – Dreamer
10. Zak Sally – Why We Hide
11. Fruit Bats – My Unusual Friend
12. Pissed Jeans – False Jesii Part 2

13. Grand Archives – Silver Among the Gold
14. Flight of the Conchords – Hurt Feelings

Horse 8808


ALSO: If you know any high school seniors who love music, Sub Pop has a VERY cool college scholarship program, with one of the best URLs I’ve seen this month (read it closely).

[top photo credit Annie Beedy]

Tagged with , .
July 23, 2008

Last night :: Fleet Foxes at the Hi-Dive

I’ve finagled, bargained, wheedled, and slunk my way into some pretty tough shows over the years, but let me tell you: Denver’s Hi-Dive was no country for procrastinators last night at the Fleet Foxes show.

I’d waited too long to secure a spot to review this scruffy Seattle quintet, shortsightedly not expecting a rare total sell-out crowd at the intimate Hi-Dive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a crowd looking for spare tickets outside that venue, and it was only through a stroke of sheer last-minute luck, a guy named Kevin, and his Austrian exchange-student friend that I managed to get into this show. I was surprised but pleased at how hotly anticipated the Fleet Foxes’ Denver stop was last night — and how it lived up to the hype.

Once inside the humid oven of the club, the air was saturated with their gorgeous golden harmonies and near-ethereal shimmering songs, firmly rooted in a sort of Appalachian wilderness. I wish that they’d played longer, but with only one EP and a recently released full-length to pull from, they seemed to be climbing down off the stage way sooner than I would have liked. I was reminded of a sentiment in the Pitchfork review of their album when they wrote that “[the last song] doesn’t shoo you out the door. Instead, Fleet Foxes let you linger for a few more bars, leaning forward to catch Pecknold’s last syllable as it fades into the air. They don’t seem to want the record to end any more than you will.” I felt the same way at the end of this show.

The mood in the air was at once vibrating with a sort of CSNY-tinged nostalgia while also bringing to mind obvious contemporaries like Band of Horses. I’d rank their performance as nothing short of mesmerizing, the weight of it seeming to push back against the space in the room in almost palpable ways. Fleet Foxes also apparently liked Denver so much that they decided to stay with us an extra day today (sorry, SLC!).

OH! If you want to see some real-deal gorgeous pictures from last night, please check the fabulous Laurie Scavo’s shots. Even though I usually tend to think of Fleet Foxes’ music in shades of golden, all the reds and purples that she captures in her pictures seem so fitting to how it all felt last night.

For listening, I particularly love both of these songs:

Sun Giant – Fleet Foxes
White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes are currently on tour (catch them! do it! buy in advance!), including some shows with Wilco. Their MySpace page adds a wonderful bit of their inner-monologue detail to these dates:

July 14, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

This was a lovely summer weekend of champion gyro-eating at the Greek Festival (and watching the dancers click their heels about in traditional garb), summery new Japanese-abstract print bedding, and some indoor thrashing of the Rock Band drum pads. Pretty soon I’m clearly going to be an expert; for now it would help if I could follow along with which side of the screen I was supposed to be playing to.

Summer is also bursting with juicy tunes:

Momentary Drowning
Young Coyotes
Stomp, clap, point at the map. Nod, shake, we’ll head to the lake. We’ll dive off the floating dock into the green unknown. This Denver threesome might own the copyright on summer this year.” [linesthroughlines blog] Oh, Young Coyotes, you had me at hello. This Denver collective comes to us through the deaths of a few other bands, and consists of people who like “campfires, chanting, oceans, deserts, spontaneity, and lots and lots of drums.” I like all of those things although I haven’t chanted since…Coachella. There is a charming rawness and joy that permeates this music from the opening handclaps. Young Coyotes are currently unsigned and living just up the highway, finishing their debut album. They are totally down to soundtrack my summer.

Boarded Doors
The Morning Benders
This foursome from Berkeley just announced fall tour dates with Ra Ra Riot, which means an excellent evening wherever that tour lands them. Classically-constructed and sunny, The Morning Benders make spry pop music that tries for nothing more than to be authentic and honest. This particular sampling rises and falls, marches and prowls with that vibrating surf guitar and the best bits of the British invasion. Their debut album Talking Through Tin Cans is out now on +1 Records and they are relentlessly on tour, with We Are Scientists now and Ra Ra Riot come autumn, hitting Monolith and Treasure Island in between. Heck, they can almost see Treasure Island from where they filmed this video.

Black Ghost / Black Girl
Starling Electric
The Clouded Staircase album definitely looks like something I would find in my parents’ old walnut laminate record cabinet, nestled cozily amidst the Keith Green and The Mamas and the Papas. The halcyon light on the cover and swirling cursive letters give it away. But hey, drop the needle on this album from Ann Arbor’s Starling Electric and you’ll be surprised to hear a variety of decades and moods reflected in lush and heady music that’s absolutely sublime — “a call to arms for anyone still interested in melodies, harmonies, and the power of a good pop song.” Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (of The Posies/Big Star) fell in love with this band and were early and vocal proponents. I also enjoy the picture on their MySpace of drummer John being wrapped in Robert Pollard’s loving embrace (Pollard invited them on tour with him). Clouded Staircase is out August 19th on Bar/None Records, with a record release party that night at NYC’s Mercury Lounge.

We Are From Venice (La Serenissima mix)
The Bloody Beetroots
Italy possesses some of the best nightlife in Europe — nay, the world. So it makes me happy inside to see how duo The Bloody Beetroots are rocking those dirty dancefloors with their electronica, while moving to take over the rest of the world. Masked in a potential crosscultural salute to the Mexican luchadore (?) this duo is signed to the Dim Mak label and cranks out headspinningly filthy sounds. I’m not sure what’s going on with the masks, but at least they’re having fun. Be sure to check out the new Bloody Beetroots 8-song mini-mix over on the XLR8R podcast last week, and Los Angelenos can see them (well sort of, with the masks and all) this Saturday with N*E*R*D and labelmates MSTRKRFT & Steve Aoki.

She Does

When Fuel/Friends first mentioned this freshfaced Brooklyn quartet with a ragged retro sound, Locksley were just preparing to self-release their own album. Don’t Make Me Wait is now seeing re-release with two bonus tracks and a wider distribution through Fontana Records on August 19th. “She Does” is a screamer of a song that possesses some of the eager roughness of very early Beatles material, back when they’d still unleash those screams with a teen-angst edge. Locksley has toured with The Dandy Warhols & The Hives, and are playing now with Rooney, so you get a delightful idea of what you’re in for. Locksley will be at Denver’s Walnut Room July 22.

And sweet goodness, did you see that Sub Pop is resurrecting their epic Singles Club for a limited time? Details here. And since I don’t have to rely on allowance and babysitting income anymore, I might actually JOIN this time around!

July 3, 2008

So tired of being sexy

Brazilian band Cansei de Ser Sexy (CSS) has one of the best band names ever, for two reasons:
1) it literally means “I got tired of being sexy” (and who hasn’t?)
2) the name’s taken from something Beyonce once said to that effect. I mean, really.

Singing in both Portuguese and English, CSS weaves together shiny, syncopated electro-pop with an edge of irreverent glamour and charming naivete. The Guardian once wrote that “they sound like an unlikely, brilliantly wrong fusion of Tom Tom Club, dance culture and the Fall.”

Although CSS favors topics of pop culture and night hedonism (song titles include “Jager Yoga,” “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above,” and “Meeting Paris Hilton”), their music is not vapid. The new song below evokes a lot more Karen O than Paris H, even though they sometimes sing about the latter. And I say this with affection because my new job is in this field, but they also look like an innocent group of foreign exchange students. You practically want to help them find the library, bring them to a soccer game, or maybe take them home for Thanksgiving when the dorms close.

For your listening pleasure, three tunes: Some new hotness from their upcoming release, a smokingly sassy remix of “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” (on repeat ’round here), and their smashing efforts at remixing Swedish indie sensation Lykke Li.

Rat Is Dead (Rage) – Cansei de Ser Sexy/CSS
Music Is My Hot Hot Sex (Switch feat Mapei mix) – CSS
Little Bit (CSS remix) – Lykke Li

The new CSS album Donkey (produced in Brazil, mixed in L.A.) is out July 21 on Sub Pop.

Oh, and it’s gonna be a party with these kids out at Red Rocks. CSS is one of the penultimate acts capping off the Monolith Festival this September, playing at 9:45pm Sunday, September 14th. Come, dance.

June 13, 2008

Black Dominoes remix Fleet Foxes

Normally if you called someone a bedroom knob-tweaker they might punch you (in the neck) but for Georgia-based mixmaster Kellen Crosby –aka Black Dominoes– it would probably garner you a hug. Mr. Crosby has a knack for pushing the constraints and possibilities in songs, and does mysterious things to them. Last time we heard a Black Dominoes cut it was that Vampire Weekend remix, which eventually went from here in blogland all the way up to the BBC. Cool.

Here’s the description of his newest remix, of a song originally by those shimmery SubPop signees Fleet Foxes:

Black Dominoes lets the soft echoes of the fivesome outside to play; the throttling back of some of the original drums only creates more space for soft whirrs and 909 whispers. The added hand drums in the beginning and end of the track interweave with the electronic elements of the song; the juxtaposition is not unlike eating a piece of foreign-grown organic produce on a busy street corner. Give it a shot if you would relish the idea of Feist or Animal Collective having a campout underneath the Brooklyn Bridge with the members of ESG or Cybotron.

Got that?

White Winter Hymnal (Black Dominoes remix) – Fleet Foxes

February 20, 2007

Hype! (“Everybody loves us, everybody loves our town”)

Somehow, someway, I made it all the way to my 27th year of life without ever seeing the fantastic documentary of the meteoric rise of all things Seattle, Hype! — and this from an admittedly huge fan of what was called “the Seattle sound.” I remember wanting to attend a screening when Hype! first came out in 1996, but the club must have been 18+ or something, because I ended up not going — and in the days before Netflix, never noticed it at a local video store. I finally watched it recently and very heartily enjoyed the experience.

Hype! is a wonderful music documentary by Doug Pray (Scratch), and highly recommended for anyone of my variety of musical come-uppance. I started high school in the fall of 1993, so I guess I missed the very beginnings of the explosion of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, but I caught up just as fast as I could (I had to go through my junior high Bel Biv Devoe phase, unfortunately).

Since I was young and somewhat naive, I never realized a lot of the background of music in the ’80s in Seattle. A point is made to lay the foundation for the film that Seattle was definitively not a cultural hotspot in the early 1980s:

Bands never used to come here . . . they’d go as far as San Francisco and then not come all the way up to Seattle ‘cuz it wasn’t worth it to play just one show.” — Nils Bernstein, Sub Pop

Well, Seattle was really lame, specifically in the early ’80s; it was like a million second cities. It had a fake Talking Heads, Pere Ubu, Killing Joke, all the fake Ramones you could shake a stick at, and, you know, people from Bellevue singing with English accents.” — Steve Fisk, record producer

That’s what made the explosion in the early ’90s all the more surprising to Seattleites, fueled largely by the Sub Pop record label. Bruce Pavitt started Sub Pop in 1979 as a cassette fanzine network where he’d make and distribute a zine along with compilation tapes of local bands. Pavitt teamed with Jonathan Poneman in 1986 to co-found the Sub Pop label with the goal of taking the sounds of their city beyond the confines of the region, with the hopes of allowing their musicians the freedom to quit their day jobs and take to the road, making it viable for them to get their music out there.

I loved a quote in the film from British record producer Martin Rushent, which captures the essence of the music scene at the time that Seattle started letting the raw rock fly: “When you’ve been through periods where you’ve had keyboard players with 50,000 lbs of kit on stage and 82 keyboards and 95 samplers, you know, after a while you just go, ‘Hang on. This is like eating too much food at one sitting; there’s too much sound, there’s too many colors, it’s all got poncey and posey. Let’s go see some bands where they just bash it out.” That ‘bashing it out’ is precisely what started to emerge from Sub Pop and other independent releases from Seattle.

In 1988, an article in the UK publication Melody Maker focused on the new sounds coming out of Seattle, and essentially wove together a story that created the myth of the city as an “explosion of subculture.” Journalists everywhere began writing about “the new Liverpool,” and what was happening in the Pacific Northwest. The NY Times article Seattle Rock: Out Of The Woods and Into The Wild (by David Browne) posited, “This fall, the record industry went in search of the Seattle sound and returned with four rock bands whose only common trait seems to be inordinately long hair.”

And so began the fever for all things Seattle. The town became a mecca for bands looking to get heard and signed. Newly-formed bands were getting record contracts with only a week of live shows under their belt, just by virtue of being there.

One of the best cultural snapshots in the entire film is a shot of a sedate ride down an escalator in a department store. Piped in over the speakers is a tinny Muzak-synth version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and the mannequins are all shown in their $180 “grunge wear.” It made me remember just how stupid and out-of-hand it all got once it was leeched onto by the fashionistas. Jeff Ament is quoted as saying, “More than anything else, I just think it’s funny. We wear long johns cuz it’s f*ckin’ cold!” (I’ll cop to wearing flannels pretty much my entire freshman year of high school. And Docs. And thermal shirts . . . okay, okay!)

The Supersuckers talk a bit about the excitement of the do-it yourself ethic in Seattle at the time, which I found inspiring: “That was the whole lesson we learned when we moved up here – just do it. We saw other bands no different than us just putting out records, zines –you know– a radio show, their own label, plus live shows.” That sounds to me a bit like the music scene at this very moment, with music blogs replacing the word-of-mouth of zines, MySpace streaming everyone and their gramma’s band on-demand, eMusic sales skyrocketing, and live shows like Daytrotter disseminating independent music faster than ever before.

The film’s got a very interesting (and humorously lo-tech) segment with Seattle musician Leighton Beezer, who constructed a computer program charting the inbred Seattle “family tree” for bands – linking musicians throughout a spiderweb network. It’s almost like ‘Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ through shared band members: Screaming Trees –> Nirvana –> The Melvins –> Mudhoney –> Green River –> Mother Love Bone –> Pearl Jam. Hours of endless entertainment in exploring those connections.

In addition to roiling, raw, cathartic live performances by everyone from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to The Gits and The Posies, the film also includes the first ever live performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with Nirvana in a tiny club. It gave me the chills, with the grainy home video, the alternate lyrics, but that undefinable quality that always made it a great song.

When I was watching Hype, it struck me as sort of a companion piece to one of my favorite movies Singles, which was conceived by Cameron Crowe as a love letter to the city, but also served to glamourize the whole “scene” to a whole generation of wide-eyed teenagers (like me). Hype! is firmly based in reality of the era, while Singles is admittedly fictionalized, scripted, and styled, but they both document an era. I remember wanting to live there soooo bad (I almost went to college in Seattle), imagining in my subconscious that, you know, I’d be sitting outside my apartment building and Chris Cornell would walk by and nod at my new stereo system, or Jeff Ament would pop his head in the basement of my building and ask me to move my car. Ha.

Surprisingly, Pearl Jam’s role in the film was muted. Ed Vedder gives a reflective interview (sitting next to his ex-wife Beth Liebling, in an uncredited appearance) on fame and hype during a time when he was still very much struggling with it publicly, and is shown jamming on the drums with Hovercraft (a side band that he’s toured with). I loved the very ending of the film, which shows Pearl Jam conducting their rad Self-Pollution Radio program in their Seattle studios. A few of their friends are shown stopping by (Mark Arm, Kim Warnick from The Fastbacks, Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees, Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, and Krist Novoselic from Nirvana), and the lyrics from the song shown here are a most fitting way to end the film:

“Small my table, sits just two
Got so crowded, I can’t make room
Ohh, where did they come from? Stormed my room!
And you dare say it belongs to you . . . to you . . .
This is not for you!
. . . Never was for you!”

Not For You (live on Self-Pollution Radio) – Pearl Jam

Here’s some more music documenting the sounds of that era, from tunes featured in the film. The full soundtrack to Hype! is also available on Sub Pop Records.

K Street (live) – The Fastbacks
Definite Door – The Posies
Touch Me I’m Sick (live) – Mudhoney
Negative Creep – Nirvana
The River Rise – Mark Lanegan
Low Beat – Young Fresh Fellows
Throwaway (live) – The Posies

Hype! also features a clip of Soundgarden performing this killer song off Badmotorfinger, in a bendy, sweaty, screaming performance with those notes being nailed by Chris Cornell. I saw Soundgarden in 1996 at the Henry J. Kaiser in Oakland, and it remains one of the best shows I’ve seen.

With My Good Eye Closed (live in 1996) – Soundgarden

And this is purely a bonus track from me; Green River is the now-defunct Seattle band of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney.

Queen Bitch (David Bowie cover) – Green River

Ultimately, it’s interesting to see how disparate and unique all the bands were that were lumped together under the headline “Seattle sound” when no one sound really ever existed. Hype! does a fine and entertaining job dissecting these years in American musical history. Director Doug Pray has made a convert of me to his productions; his next project is a film called Surfwise (about the life of Malibu surfer Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz) and I have a feeling it will include some choice tunes. Bring it on, Doug!

August 25, 2006

Sub Pop Singles Club retrospective

From November 1988 through December 1993, and then again from April 1998 until its final permanent (*) demise in February 2002, the Sub Pop Singles Club (of the famed Seattle independent record label) offered its subscribers some awesomely rare gems on a monthly basis by mail.

If you were musically aware enough to be a member of the Sub Pop Singles Club, you would have gotten a 7″ record every month with two or three songs from someone on Sub Pop’s roster, which has hosted some of my all-time favorite bands. I remember once on a college-scouting trip to Seattle how I sought out the Sub Pop record store and stood there feeling like I was in my own personal Mecca. Picture the sound of angels singing, like in the movies, with me shrouded in golden light, surrounded on all sides by Polaroid pictures of the patron saints of rock. It was a high point of my teen existence, and I went home loaded with great music (some of it possibly on cassette tapes).

I found this eloquent description on The Ratio of the allure of the Sub Pop Singles Club. It encapsulates why this was such a cool concept and why I wanted to write about it today:

“The concept of the Singles Club occupies an exalted position in my imagination, an altar at which I often pause to reflect on its multifarious beneficences.

…To the music snob, it promises to fulfill the fantasy of being repeatedly introduced to completely mindblowing songs by completely unknown bands.

To the parcel enthusiast whose aesthetic sensibility is entirely bound up in the impractical, it assures the sublime and elegant monthly delivery of a brown cardboard sleeve in which is concealed a 7″ disc of coloured vinyl that must be spun at 45 RPM and demands that its listener get up from his or her seat every two minutes to flip it over.

A 7″ from a singles club is the antithesis of a CD bought at HMV or an iTunes download. It is tactile, scarce, secret, and beautiful.”

To give you a sense of the offerings from the Singles Club, the first three 7″s were Nirvana, Mudhoney & Sonic Youth, and The Flaming Lips. Yep, and it all progressed up-and-up from there, with some of the final offerings being from groups like Death Cab For Cutie, Modest Mouse and The White Stripes. In retrospect, I don’t know why I never joined this club (maybe because I was 9 when the club started? and then a poor high school student for the second round? or maybe I didn’t have a record player?), but here are some examples of the cool 7″s that I would now have if I had been a member from the beginning:

Update 11/12/06: COMPLETE ZIP FILE re-upped

Nirvana-Love-Buzz---Origi-10820NOVEMBER 1988
Love Buzz – Nirvana
Big Cheese – Nirvana

Sonic Youth Touch Me I'm SickDECEMBER 1998
Touch Me I’m Sick – Sonic Youth covering Mudhoney
Halloween – Mudhoney covering Sonic Youth

Flaming Lips strychnineJANUARY 1989
Strychnine / What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding – The Flaming Lips

Drug Machine – The Flaming Lips

FugaziDECEMBER 1989
Joe #1 – Fugazi

Break-In – Fugazi
Song #1 – Fugazi

L7 ShoveJANUARY 1990
Shove – L7

Packin’ A Rod – L7

Babes in ToylandMAY 1990
House – Babes In Toyland

Arriba – Babes in Toyland

Rollins BandJULY 1990
Earache My Eye – Rollins Band

“You Know Me” – Rollins Band (don’t have)

Rev Horton HeatDECEMBER 1990
Psychobilly Freakout – The Reverend Horton Heat
Baby You Know Who – The Reverend Horton Heat

Shonen KnifeAPRIL 1991
Neon Zebra – Shonen Knife
Bear Up Bison – Shonen Knife

Urge OverkillMAY 1991
(Now That’s) The Barclords – Urge Overkill

What’s This Generation – Urge Overkill

SY Alice CooperJUNE 1991
Alice Cooper Tribute
Is It My Body – Sonic Youth
(and 3 other bands/songs)

Jon SpencerDECEMBER 1992
Big Yule Log Boogie – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

My Christmas Wish – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Jesus Mary ChainAPRIL 1998
Birthday – The Jesus & Mary Chain

Hide Myself – The Jesus & Mary Chain

Modest MouseMAY 1998
Never Ending Math Equation – Modest Mouse

Workin’ on Leavin’ the Livin’ – Modest Mouse

Ron SexsmithSEPTEMBER 1998
“You Alone” – Ron Sexsmith (don’t have)
We’ll Manage – Ron Sexsmith

Get Up KidsFEBRUARY 1999
Ten Minutes – The Get Up Kids
Anne Arbour – The Get Up Kids

Bonnie Prince BillyJUNE 1999
Let’s Start A Family – Bonnie “Prince” Billy
A Whorehouse Is Any House – Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Pedro the LionJULY 1999
Song A – Pedro The Lion

Song B – Pedro The Lion

Mudhoney Butterfly StrokeNOVEMBER 1999
Butterfly Stroke – Mudhoney
Editions of You – Mudhoney

Underwater – Death Cab For Cutie
The Army Corps of Architects – Death Cab For Cutie

White StripesDECEMBER 2000
Party of Special Things To Do – The White Stripes
China Pig – The White Stripes
Ashtray Heart – The White Stripes

Bright EyesMARCH 2001
I Will Be Grateful For This Day. I Will Be Grateful For Each Day To Come – Bright Eyes
When The Curious Girl Realizes She Is Under The Glass Again – Bright Eyes

J MascisSEPTEMBER 2001
Leaving On A Jet Plane – J Mascis
Too Hard – J Mascis

Mtn GoatsNOVEMBER 2001
Jam Eater Blues – The Mountain Goats
Straight Six – The Mountain Goats
Store – The Mountain Goats

IandWMARCH 2002
Call Your Boys – Iron & Wine
Dearest Forsaken – Iron & Wine

Update: An impressively complete Sub Pop Singles Discography is available here.

Other ones I wanted to hear but couldn’t find (let me know if you can help!):
JANUARY 1991: Nirvana — “Candy” & “Molly’s Lips” (live)
MARCH 1993: Dead Moon – “Dirty Noise” & “Dark Deception”
JULY 1998: Luna - “Everybody’s Talkin’” & “Fuzzy Wuzzy (demo)”
SEPTEMBER 1998: Ron Sexsmith — “You Alone”
APRIL 1999: Beachwood Sparks — “Midsummer Daydream” & “Windows 65″
SEPT 1999: Crooked Fingers – “Atchafalayan Death March” & “Juliette”
DEC 2001: Carissa’s Wierd – “You Should Be Hated Here” & “Suedehead” (Morrissey)

At the time of this posting, there are a dwindling number of leftover singles available to purchase on the Sup Pop site. When I strike it wildly rich (and have, like, $4500 to spare), I am going to buy me the complete back catalog of these singles on eBay or something (to complement the complete set of vinyl Pearl Jam Christmas singles that I have and am most proud of).

Oh, and PS – I have a record player now. Thank goodness.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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