Your Friday Fix – Happy Birthday, Sub Pop

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?


8 responses to “Your Friday Fix – Happy Birthday, Sub Pop

  1. SUB POP RULES!!!!

    And you rock for knowing it’s their 20th.

  2. My favorite Sub Pop record didn’t make your list: The Vaselines’ Way of the Vaselines.

  3. Hard to par down from so many great choices, Linda.

    It felt like my version of “Sophie’s Choice.”

  4. Ahhh this post is fantastic. I love sub pop and you picked five amazing albums to feature!

  5. Pingback: hipsterette » Linktastic: Weekend Reads and Pretty Things

  6. In my own religion of music, Sam Beam (and Kevin Drew) is clearly Hippie Jesus.

    Awesome homage to Sub Pop, they really have no qualms in nurturing anyone talented, regardless of “marketability.”

  7. Anytime you want to do some music preaching, Cassette Shelf, consider a guest spot at my church anytime.

  8. Yes. I agree with you.
    Somethimes we forgot what the basics.

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