Sub Pop

Review: Low – Ones and Sixes

What Low has accomplished over the course of their two-decade-plus career is truly astonishing.  Not only have they never come close to releasing a mediocre album, but they still sound as vibrant as ever, with their creative spark still burning bright.  Though as pioneers of the “slowcore” genre they are known for their minimalist tendencies, Low still is finding new sounds to explore and ideas to develop, which makes Ones and Sixes an excellent addition to their brilliant discography.

Ones and Sixes is an excellent summation of the different paths the band has pursued since the release of Things We Lost In The Fire.  The band alternates between the warmer milieu of their recent work (C’mon and The Invisible Way) with a dip back into the icier moods of albums like Drums and Guns. The influence of that often-overlooked album really shines through with the incorporation of electronic drums on tracks like “Congregation” and “Gentle”, the latter of which evokes a more downbeat version of With Teeth-era Nine Inch Nails.

These dark, mysterious tracks fit perfectly alongside soaring guitar-based ballads, like the dazzling “Lies”, which may have one of the most gorgeous climaxes that the band has ever recorded.  This sublime moment is immediately followed by the epic “Landslide”, which is possibly Low’s heaviest work to date.  With its heavy distortion and extended dissonant outro, it is sure to be a highlight of the group’s upcoming live show.

There are other intriguing subtle production touches on Ones and Sixes, most notably the use of some natural distortion in the recording and mixing process that gives a rawer feel to certain moments, providing a nice contrast to the otherwise pristine tone found throughout the record.  In addition to their inspired instrumental experimentation, Low once again makes great use of the harmonies of the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, with each also given their own time to shine.  Their hauntingly alluring vocals are perfect complements to the exquisitely constructed melodies, and that combination together should be more than enough to draw in new listeners.  Of course, this should come as no surprise to old fans, since Low has been consistently excellent for a number of years, but they will certainly be pleased to hear that the band has created an excellent capstone for their fine work of the past decade.

Random note: I have not seen an explanation of the title, but my guess is that “Ones and Sixes” is a reference to dice, and the minimum/maximum that one can get; therefore, the record might be seen as an exploration of highs and lows.  Just a theory.

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Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

As pleasurable as it is to listen to the soothing strains of a Beach House record, it is equally frustrating to assess their work in a critical manner.  In their eleven years together, the band has created a signature dreampop aesthetic built on a handful of recognizable fundamental elements, and has rarely deviated from that blueprint over the course of their five albums: Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals float above Alex Scally’s delicate guitar lines, and their combined melodies are layered atop minimalist keyboards and bare-bones drum beats.  But it is a fool’s errand to spend much time deconstructing the music when the results are this beautiful.

It is extremely difficult to draw out the differences between Beach House albums, except to note how the production quality has improved over time with better equipment and a bigger budget.  Aside from a few standout singles, audiences at a Beach House show would be hard-pressed to determine if a specific song came from the Devotion or Bloom era.  To the band’s credit, however, they manage to hit upon the perfect melodic combination for three songs per album, and those moments can be as close to transcendence as indie rock can get.  Any musician would kill for that kind of ratio.

Though Depression Cherry offers many of the usual delights that one has come to expect from Beach House, the album’s best moments are found in the few instances when the band subtly tweaks their standard formula.  Lead single “Sparks” is a prime example, with its use of a rougher guitar tone that gives a nice edge to the melody and complements Legrand’s breathy voice.  The same can be said with the album’s other highlights, the gorgeous “PPP” and the sublime “Days of Candy”–epic ballads that not only show that the band is still capable of inducing goosebumps, but also hint at subsequent new musical directions for the future.  The changes are modest (exploring different keyboard tones and chord structures, the addition of choral voices, and playing with the underlying compositional structure a bit), but they at least indicate a willingness to break from the usual template a bit.

Longtime fans will find that Desperation Cherry has its own particular charms, and they grow with each subsequent listen.  For the neophyte, the album is an excellent showcase for the band’s trademark melancholic synthpop, and features plenty of hooks that will draw in listeners.  In either case, the record is likely to inspire a trip into the band’s sparkling back catalog, so as to enjoy the duo’s ability to capture that beautifully melancholic spirit so well.

Review: Deaf Wish – Pain

Listening to Pain is a lot like hearing a sampler of the major underground rock movements from the late-70’s to the early-90’s; over the course of ten tracks, Deaf Wish dabbles in gloomy post-punk, aggressive hardcore, and abrasive no-wave, all in a quest to overwhelm the listener with the power of noise.  For most people, the band’s name is wonderfully apropos–the persistent onslaught of pure cacophony the group manages to generate would cause many to hope that their ears would cease functioning.  However, for that certain audience that desires that sort of grating noise, Pain has what they crave in spades.

Though Pain lacks a consistent thematic trajectory, as Deaf Wish jumps between different styles from track to track, the album certainly improves as it goes along, making it a backloaded affair.  Each member gets a stab at the mic, and the different vocal approaches help create a truly diverse record, even as they work within the narrow confines of this particular subgenre.  One song will feature an aggressive bark, another a soft coo, and yet another will have a longing drone, all with walls of guitars and drums bashing around in the background.

As one might expect, it can be fairly easy to spot the band’s significant influences, especially that of Sonic Youth–Sarah Hardiman’s voice is such a dead ringer for Kim Gordon that when I listen to “Sex Witch” it prompts an instinctual response to chant along “spirit desire”.  Deaf Wish does benefit from the fact that few other bands digging through those same records for inspiration, setting them apart from current trends, but the group also proves that there is enough room even within these narrow styles to create something original.  There is subtlety to be found even amid all that noise.

Pain really hits its stride in its last three songs, beginning with the driving and catchy single “On”.  In an album filled with noisy freakouts, the instrumental “Dead Air” is easily the best, with its Krautrock-like bass that pushes the beat underneath walls of feedback-drenched guitars.  The real surprise is the closer “Calypso”, which manages to show a more delicate side of the band–even with its dissonant chords and melodies, the band nearly manages to make noise sound “pretty”.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 10 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend as you avoid the clusterfuck in the desert and watch the Coachella livestream…

On Wednesday, Rust Is Just Right will publish its long-awaited list of the Best Albums of 2014.  Our newer readers may wonder why we are releasing our picks so late relative to the rest of the music world, but rest assured, we will provide our very good explication along with our list next week (or you can go back into the archives and see last year’s list to see our reasons).

Next Saturday is Record Store Day, which is perfect timing for our readers, since in addition to visiting your local record shop to peruse all the special goodies on sale that day, you can pick up some of our recommendations from our Best Albums list.  Dave Grohl is serving as the Record Store Day ambassador, and Rolling Stone talks to him about the holiday and the special release that the Foo Fighters cooked up for the celebration, featuring some very, very early home recordings from Dave.

Independent labels are a significant part of Record Store Day, and one of our favorite labels that was one of the scene’s earliest successes was Seattle’s Sub Pop.  VNYL talks to Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about the early history of the label as well as some of his favorite records.  On a related note, while not directly affiliated with Sub Pop,* the supergroup Temple of the Dog came from the same Seattle scene,  and fans may be interested to note the legal battle over the master tapes of their only album.

As much as I love Pavement, I never embraced Wowee Zowee as much as some other fans (though it has grown on me a bit over the years).  So it is for the benefit of those fans that we are linking to not one but two appreciations for the album’s twentieth anniversary, one from Stereogum and the other from Consequence of Sound.  The retrospective that got my attention was for another album–last week was the twentieth anniversary of a wildly different classic, 2Pac’s Me Against the World.

For those of you who enjoyed our review of the fantastic new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, Asunder, Sweet and other Distress, I recommend checking out this old interview from last year from Self-Titled with guitarist and “leader” Efrim Menuck, which provides some welcome insight into the workings and motivations of the group.

We have talked several times before about the much-anticipated release of My Morning Jacket’s new album, and Steven Hyden of Grantland helps add to the hype with this piece.

Jello Biafra always provides a great interview, so it is probably worth your time to read what he has to say to Janky Smooth.

And finally, if you’re looking to kill some time this weekend, check out this list from the AV Club of bands that broke up as soon as they hit it big.  You have enough time to listen to their entire discographies in a single weekend!

*Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron were however at one point signed with Sub Pop with their main gig in Soundgarden, so an indirect connection does exist.

Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 6 Edition)

Some #longreads for the moments you refrain from laughter due to serious newscasters using the phrase “Pineapple Express”

We’re really excited for the release next week of Father John Misty’s new album, I Love You Honeybear–his debut, Fear Fun, was a pleasant surprise and the man put on one entertaining live show.  To help prepare you for the new record, be sure to read the profiles on Josh Tillman on Grantland and Pitchfork.

There are few reasons to care about the Grammys no matter what year it is, but the fact that Beck’s Morning Phase was nominated for Album of the Year and as a result will perform with Chris Martin on Sunday’s telecast might spur us to watch.  However, the awards did provide the L.A. Times with the opportunity to talk to Beck and discuss how he feels now that he’s no longer the young buck but an elder statesman for these shows.

If you’ve ever listened to a Sub Pop album from its early days, chances are you listened to an album recorded by Jack Endino.  He was the man behind the boards for a number of the heavyweights of the grunge era, and has continued to record numerous awesome indie bands since then.  Noisey caught up with the former Skin Yard drummer for an interview.

Everybody has been talking about the recent leak of the settlement between Sam Smith and Tom Petty over the similarities between “Stay With Me” and “Won’t Back Down”, and that prompted the AV Club to take a look at other instances of musical “borrowing.”  The first part of the Inventory was released today, so be sure to check on Monday for a few more examples.

And finally, if you still find yourself with some free time this weekend, check out the Albums That Never Were blog, which has painstakingly recreated some of the most famous “lost albums” of all-time, all with meticulous notes about their composition.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 23 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare to fire off the last of your “balls” jokes this weekend…

Stereogum takes a look at the 10th anniversary of the self-titled debut from LCD Soundsystem, and I can think of no better way to kick off the weekend than to play “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” at an unreasonable volume, so here you go.

Perhaps the biggest news of this week was the surprise release of Björk’s new album, with Billboard providing the behind-the-scenes response of the leak of Vulnicura.  In order to get you into the proper mindset for the new album, it might be a good idea to read the New York Times profile on Björk as well as her already-much-discussed Pitchfork interview.

We’re not fans of Mötley Crüe by any stretch of the imagination, but when we found out that Drew Magary did a profile of the band while providing a glimpse of the life of a roadie, we were intrigued.  Magary is one of our favorite writers, so we’re glad to share his GQ article along with the extras that didn’t make it into the piece.

Many of you have been humming along to the infectious “Uptown Funk” for a few weeks now, so you might be interested in how difficult it was for Mark Ronson to put the seemingly easy song together, according to this Grantland profile.

The Guardian has a great interview with Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about his early days working as a fanzine and newspaper columnist and seeing the best of the 80’s underground scene.  It’s a lot like revisiting Our Band Could Be Your Life from a Northwest perspective, as he reminisces about the early days of Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Big Black, and more.  In a related piece, The Guardian also takes a closer look at the terminally under-appreciated Portland punk legends Wipers as a part of their new celebration of cult heroes.  Hopefully more and more people go and take a look back at their classic early output.

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 28 Edition)

Some #longreads as you awaken from the Thanksgiving food coma…

We’re going to put the spotlight on Seattle this weekend, since we have multiple articles discussing the city’s place in music history.  First, Seattle Weekly talks to Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of the now-legendary independent label Sub Pop.  Next, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a profile of Dave Grohl as the Emerald City episode of his Sonic Highways is set to air.  And finally, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden talks to Loudwire about the band’s new rarities release Echo of Miles.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

We’ve been enjoying the latest album from TV on the Radio these past couple of weeks, and before we unveil our official review on Tuesday, read up on the making of the new album with profiles in both the New York Times and Consequence of Sound.

The Atlantic has an article about how the internet helped spark a revival of interest in Nick Drake, far more than he had enjoyed in his brief life and career.  While we mentioned the seminal Volkswagen ad in our “Pink Moon” Covered feature, this piece helps fill in some additional interesting details.

In the past we’ve looked at different aspects of the streaming debate, mainly focusing our attention on Spotify and their payout model.  East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys sheds some insight on another service we’ve neglected, YouTube, showing how the company pays even less to artists than its competitors.

Though he’s mainly known for the off-center comedic empire he’s built with partner Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim has had a successful side-gig as a director of music videos.  The AV Club interviews Eric for its Random Reels feature, and he sheds insights on such videos as the frightening “We Are Water” video he did for HEALTH (and cited in our Scariest Videos list) as well as the weirdly gorgeous “Wishes” video from Beach House.

And finally, Pitchfork has multiple articles worth checking out this weekend.  Be sure to read this pleasant interview with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, then check out this analysis of the importance of Top 40 radio and the significance of different genre stations.  And finally, proving that the publication actually has a sense of humor, here’s “The Most Crucial And Yet Totally Overlooked Releases of 2014 and a Pre-Emptive Guide to 2015.”

Over the Weekend (Feb. 17 Edition)

It’s a holiday weekend, so it’s a fine time to catch up on some #longreads before heading back to work tomorrow.

Pitchfork had an interview with Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about his new book of photographs documenting Nirvana’s 1989 European tour.  It’s a great first-hand account of “the calm before the storm”, before everybody had an idea what grunge was or where Seattle was even located.

A different era of Nirvana

A different era of Nirvana

The Guardian has an excellent interview with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.  It’s a wide-spanning interview, covering her early career with the band to her new work with Body/Head and other venues for her art.  The end of her marriage to Thurston Moore and the breakup of Sonic Youth are still clearly sore subjects, so don’t read this expecting juicy gossip.

Stereogum has a ranking of the Elliott Smith albums from worst to best.  I know it’s merely opinion, but let me say this: it’s just wrong (beyond the fact that there is no “worst” Elliott Smith album).  Feel free to read it anyway, because it’s always good to talk about Elliott Smith’s work.  The subject is definitely worthy of a TL;DR post later on, but here is the correct ranking, in order of increasing awesomeness:

  • 7. New Moon
  • 6. Elliott Smith
  • 5. Roman Candle
  • 4. Either/Or
  • 3. From A Basement On The Hill
  • 2. Figure 8
  • 1. XO

And finally, Beck has a new album coming out next week.  We’ll have a long review of his career so far later this week, but for those of you who don’t mind jumping the gun, NPR has a stream of Morning Phase available on their site.  Also, it’s a good reminder to note that we have a Tumblr, because apparently that’s what kids do these days, where we posted the link earlier.