April 02, 2006

Sunday Night Spotlight: Sub Pop!

Yesterday we light-heartedly and quite lovingly roasted our favorite record label, but we have to admit something: this year, they've released some righteously good records. Heck, it's not really that surprising; last year was a good year for those fine Seattle mavens at Sub Pop, with great releases from Rogue Wave, Rosie Thomas, Iron & Wine, Love as Laughter, and Kinski, and hipsters in every struggling scene started to grow their beards again, no thanks to all those mellow folk-rock-hippie-stoner records they released. So let's take a little time this evening to investigate this year's Sub Pop releases, shall we?

Later this year, expect new records from The CSS, Pissed Jeans, The Brunettes, Eugene Mirman, Oxford Collapse, Dead Moon, The Baptist Generals, and much, much more!

The Elected is the side project of Rilo Kiley's Blake Sennett. Sun, Sun, Sun is the band's second record, and, much like their debut, Me First (clever title for a debut, haha), it's all about Blake. Unlike the debut, though, the band's not melding LA folk-rock with understated electronica; instead, it seems that the band's going for an organic approach--eschewing studios, favoring a more organic approach to songwriting and recording. In other words, Sun, Sun, Sun is a road record, recorded at home and on the road during Elected and Rilo Kiley tours, and, in a weird way, it has the same feel as Jackson Browne's classic Running on Empty---a record of lovely, mellow singer-songwriter fare that was recorded on the road. Sennett has a wonderfully addictive croon; it's whisper-thin, and he treads the line between sweetness and cynicism, which fits the band's music quite well, considering all of the songs seem to be about love--when, of course, the songs aren't about being away from home or missing home. The record saunters along at a leisurely pace; it's hard to really get riled up by the mellow fare offered by "Would You Come With Me," "Did Me Good," or the title track; and, well, "I'll Be Your Man" deserves to be on your mix-cd's for your next crush. Sun, Sun, Sun is a pretty, lazy record for a lazy day. (I've always wondered if Blake Sennett is any relation to Susan Sennett, best known for being married to Graham Nash--it would explain a lot about the boy's inspirations.)

Listen To: "Would You Come With Me"
Listen To: "Not Going Home"

Kelley Stoltz's Sub Pop debut, Below the Branches, is also a retro trip, but in a different way. Stoltz has a bit of a thing for the Beach Boys, but he doesn't allow his fanboy fervor to overwhelm his music. Besides, aping Brian Wilson is sooooooo 1998. No, Stoltz throws in Friends-style harmonies in a way that suggests Weezer by way of Plush. Again--not a bad thing! But more than anything, it's hard not to think of Harry Nilsson, especially on songs like "Wave Goodbye" and "Memory Collector," which sound like long-lost outtakes from The Point. Almost all of the songs on Below the Branches feature catchy piano licks, sore throat singing that makes you think Stoltz had one too many cigarettes and two too many bourbons. But even though the last part of the record is somewhat indistinguishable from the first, the record is still quite a pleasant, mellow listen.

Listen To: "Memory Collector"
Listen To: "The Sun Comes Through"

Where would Sub Pop be without Mudhoney? After all, you can't spell Mudhoney without "money." The veteran flagship band returns, and the bluesy swagger found on 2003's comeback Since We've Become Translucent is now a full-time habit. Under A Billion Suns is pretty much a blues-rock record. Yeah, they've always had a blues edge to their music, but here, they've decided to go full-throttle into that territory. But shit, Mudhoney's always done THEIR OWN THING, so who's to say that this direction isn't good for them? To top it off, they're making political commentary, such as the anti-war "It Is Us," the anti-war "Hard On for War" and the anti-war "Empty Shells!"Okay, so the band's in fine form; Mark Arm's voice is dark and mature, and the band's still damned tight, but I'm not so sure that their political opinions mixed with bluesy rock riffs makes for a totally rewarding listen. To their credit, they're not making pointed, specific comments, which is a quick-fire way to making a record that sounds dated. Political subjects can be dicey to handle, and though the album falters in that regard, Under a Billion Suns's songs follow the typical Mudhoney formula--which means only one thing: killer riffs and a sense of humor. Still, they make up for it at the end, with that wonderfuly all-out blast of rock, "Blindspots, which brings the horns and the rock, and it's classic 'honey. Even though it's not my favorite Mudhoney record, I still love this band.

Listen To: "Blindspots"

Band of Horses' debut, though, is the best of the class of 2006. Their sound is murky, swampy, and dark; there's definitely a post-Alternative Rock classic-rock sound going on here, not unlike Built to Spill or My Morning Jacket. But even though such comparisons are fair, Band of Horses' music is darker than both bands, and their sound is, at times, more reminiscent of 80s gothers Gene Loves Jezebel. Vocalist Ben Bridwell (formerly of Carissa's Wierd) has a high pitched voice that you might think sounds like Jim James, but, really, those comparisons don't really work, because James' vocal stylings don't compare to the power of Bridwell's falsetto. And, best of all, the band restrains any tendency to simply "rock out" for minutes and minutes at a time; Band of Horses reigns in those tendencies, making compact, succinct, and heavy rock moments. So, basically, there ain't no epics on Everything All The Time; in fact, songs like the opening "First Song" and the wonderfully dark "Wicked Gil" sound much, much longer than their three-minute running times. Sometimes they can rock out all joyous-like, like on "The Weed Tree" and "The Great Salt Lake;" sometimes, like on "The Funeral," they can be dark and moody, and sometimes, they can impress you with a country weeper, like "Monsters." Whatever sound they choose to use, their music could be described with one word: stoned. (If you have an unruly beard and you call a song "The Weed Party," you're daring the world to label you as stoners.) Whatever emotion they choose to emote, though, is always done quite well. If this is as close to classic rock as my generation chooses to get, so be it. I'm satisfied. Everything All the Time is one hell of a great debut; it stands up to repeat listens, it contains a number of songs that demand you to hit repeat, and, most of all, this shit is primo. Expect to see this one on a ton of best-of lists this December.

Listen To: "The Funeral"
Stream Everything All The Time here

1 comment:

Sean Padilla said...

I am particularly crunk about the next Baptist Generals album.