Most of you are probably scratching your heads right about now and saying “Who?” “What?” “Huh?”
2008 is Sub Pop Records’ 20th anniversary, and if you’re one of those who believes good music isn’t sponsored by Ford Trucks or a by-product of the American Idol scrap heap, then you need to celebrate this one. They’re the guys who signed Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Soundgarden – and instead of becoming some shack-house relic to grunge, they’ve managed to profit from actually fostering bands the major labels wouldn’t even touch. Thus, enabling the rest of us to shoulder a feeling of superiority to have even heard of these groups years later. In other words, they’re always ahead of the curve.
(Find yourself an original colored vinyl release from Sub Pop and fetch some serious bank Mista Collecta)
Want proof? How about acts like The Shins, Sleater-Kinney, Afghan Whigs, L7, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, The Postal Service…ah sweet Jesus, I could go on forever. Take a look at the following…and folks, this ain’t even their entire catalogue…
10 Minute Warning 5ive Style A Frames Afghan Whigs The Album Leaf All Night Radio Band of Horses The Baptist Generals Beachwood Sparks Steven Jesse Bernstein Big Chief The Black Halos Blitzen Trapper The Blue Rags Broken Girl The Brunettes Sera Cahoone The Catheters Chappaquiddick Skyline Billy Childish Chixdiggit Chris and Carla Codeine Combustible Edison Comets on Fire Constantines Cosmic Psychos David Cross CSS Damon and Naomi Davis Dead Moon Death Vessel Dntel Julie Doiron Heather Duby Dwarves Earth The Elected Elevator Through Elevator to Hell Jeremy Enigk Eric’s Trip The Evil Tambourines Fastbacks Steve Fisk Fleet Foxes Flight of The Conchords Fluid Fruit Bats Gardener Gluecifer Go! Team The Go godheadSilo Grand Archives Green Magnet School Green River The Grifters The Gutter Twins Handsome Furs The Helio Sequence The Hellacopters Holopaw Hot Hot Heat Mike Ireland Iron and Wine Jale The Jesus and Mary Chain Damien Jurado Mark Lanegan Les Thugs Jason Loewenstein Loney, Dear Looper Love as Laughter Love Battery Nebula Nirvana No Age Patton Oswalt Oxford Collapse Pernice Brothers Pigeonhed The Postal Service Radio Birdman The Rapture Red House Painters Red Red Meat Rein Sanction The Reverend Horton Heat Rogue Wave The Ruby Suns Sebadoh The Shins Six Finger Satellite Sleater-Kinney Soundgarden The Spinanes Rosie ThomasThe Vaselines The Walkabouts Wipers Wolf Parade The Yo-Yo’s Michael Yonkers Zen Guerrilla Zumpano
So in honor of Sub Pop Records, that lil’ Seattle-based outfit part of a rare cadre of record companies looking out for the Holy Trinity of music (musicians, fans, and legacy – and prove you can do this and still make money eventually), I give you:
Top Five Sub Pop Record Releases of All Times
(Why not more? Because it’s more challenging to pick a handful)
5. The Postal Service’s Give Up
It’s a fairly common and accepted occurrence when members of popular bands go off on their own musical adventures, known as the “side project,” to exert some creative autonomy and/or to explore other sound profiles. However, if that honey-on-the-side becomes a hit, tensions will often arise with the bandmate’s “first wife” – which is what indie insiders were predicting would happen when Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (surprisingly not on Sub Pop) and to a lesser extent, Jim Tamborello of Silverlake and Dntel fame came together to create Give Up under their new moniker, The Postal Service.
It didn’t happen.
What did happen is that Gibbard and Tamberello created one of the seminal records of the electronics genre, with now-classics like “Such Great Heights” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” as part of their legacy.
And while side projects have created mutiny in other bands (think Neil Schoen’s freak-out over the success of Steve Perry’s solo record, Street Talk), Death Cab and such seemed unfazed by all the hoopla.
4. Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days
(Nope, it ain’t Jesus – just Sam Beam from Iron & Wine)
For those of us into the quiet stuff known as the lo-fi subgenre of the neo folk movement (try saying that ten times fast), Sub Pop’s release of Our Endless Days felt like a homecoming because the minute you heard these songs, you felt as if they’ve always been there with you. With tracks such as “Naked As We Came,” “Love and Some Verses,” and “Cinder and Smoke,” Miami native Sam Beam not only rode the wave of the singer/songwriter revival movement, but became its golden boy – so much so that none of us cared too much when we heard his version of “Such Great Heights” (one of the most extraordinary remakes of all time) on a Skittles commercial (ok, well maybe just a little).
Sam Beam has since moved away from such sparse, acoustic doodlings (and I personally think his percussion-laden EP Woman King was one of the most powerful and underrated releases of 2005), but I still think he’s one of the best things to happen to Sub Pop in years. Keep him happy, boys…
3. Flight of the Conchords’ Eponymous Release
That’s right…FOTC built its nest at Sub Pop Records. While me and most of the free world didn’t hear about these guys until their HBO show debuted, leave it to the Sub Pop team to have found them in their native New Zealand and sign the mother fuckers first. While technically I should have cited their EP The Distant Futureas the more important release, being it earned a Grammy nod for Best Comedy album, I’m picking the full-length release this time. Not only did it put an end to shoddy-sounding bootlegs of their tour act, but it veered Sub Pop into a whole other recording genre. They have since signed on other comedic acts, but FOTC score a spot on the list for being, well, awesome.
2. Nirvana’s Bleach
In the days before the world knew about grunge or bad flannel shirts or even Seattle in a culturally relavent context, Sub Pop unleased Bleach out to the masses. And while it wouldn’t be until the release of Nevermind that the music world would implode upon itself in a Book of Revelations-apocalyptic-take-that-in-the-nads fashion, it was Bleach that started the buzz of a new movement brewing in the rain-n-caffeine drenched city of Seattle. The British press, heavily courted by the Sub Pop team to the brink of bankruptcy, started sending over its hipster minions to scope out the Seattle scene. While Nirvana would shortly afterwards transition over to Geffen Records with the release of Nevermind, Sub Pop received enough from the buy out and subsequent royalties to save itself for another day, and evolve beyond the now-often caricatured moment known as grunge.
1. The Shins’ Oh Inverted World
(Well, no one can say they earned this spot off their pretty faces)
I have never hidden my deep, deep love for The Shins – they are indeed, one of my favorites – and if you listen to their 2001 debut record, you’ll understand where the love affair began.
Believe it or not, when it was first released, many music critics tossed off Oh, Inverted World as a pleasant, yet pointless folk-pop record – with about as much substance and stylings as a well-medicated Beach Boys album. Oooooh, how wrong they were. Luckily, Zach Braff had the good sense of featuring two songs off this record for his Garden State movie soundtrack. And the rest is history.
What makes me so happy to feature The Shins in this #1 spot is that their music keeps evolving without making their “old stuff” feel like embarrasing relics. In other words…it’s all good. And I am pleased to see one of the giants of the alternative music world stick to its roots with the label that raised them.
Happy Birthday, Sub Pop. 20 more years and counting, o.k?