Sub Pop

All posts tagged Sub Pop

A few months ago, I watched Whitney amble admirably through a majority of the tracks off of their debut Light Upon the Lake to a midday beer festival crowd in Columbus, OH. The album had already gotten a ton of hype from the blogosphere/Pitchfork/etc…, so it was a bit strange to see them scheduled so early in the day. In hindsight, though, it makes perfect sense.

Light Upon the Lake is the Laurel Canyon and Ventura Highway by way of Chicago’s suburbs. Whitney formed from the ashes of the Smith Westerns, and while their glammy garage racket would never be confused with, say, Flipper, there was some punk undercurrent bubbling below the surface. That’s now long gone, and it’s for the better. Whitney is, for lack of a better term, dad rock. And that’s the entire reason they’ve found such success. Maybe that’s because a majority of the Napster generation are mothers and fathers now. I can still occasionally throw on Converge and recall my teenage angst. Other days, after conference calls and investment meetings and other vaguely adultish shit, I’m glad to shut off and bliss out to, you know, pleasant music on the ride home. And that’s exactly what Whitney is: songs you can sway along to in the mid afternoon at a music festival. Sunshine rock. My girlfriend doesn’t know what the hell Best New Music means, but she’s glad when “Golden Days” comes on during a roadtrip.

Twin Peaks, on the other hand, just put out the album I feel like the Smith Westerns were always striving for. There is a slight (very slight) edge to things. But all of those distorted guitars are still playing major chords, and there’s a lot more going on around them then typical garage rock: the brass in “Cold Lips”, the Clemonsesque sax in “Keep it Together”, and the swinging piano rhythm of “Getting Better” are just a few examples. There’s enough nods to the 60’s and 70’s here to betray the fact that none of the band’s members are past college age yet.

Stereogum pretty much nailed it with this headline and the phrase “triumphantly choogle”. The internet certainly hasn’t done away with presumption. Quite the opposite, of course. But it has certainly made it possible to explore the gray areas around the Americas and the Eagles of the world with fewer repercussions than there would have been if this happened when rock and roll was saving us all (whoops!) in the mid-90’s. I, for one, am glad there are bands finally dipping their toes into these particular waters.

Give Beach House credit for one thing: They know exactly how to sound like Beach House. Depression Cherry is the fifth album from the band in about a decade, and they stay firmly in the pocket throughout its nine tracks. The formula is a simple one: Sparse drum loops, droning keys, reverby guitar leads, and one single voice over top of everything. But oh man, that voice. Victoria Legrand can belt out vocals as well as anybody. Beyond that, though, she knows how to set a mood.

It’s that abstract moodiness that lets Beach House headline festivals while still occupying the same sonic territory they started exploring as far back as 2008’s Devotion. Every guitar slide and modulated organ chord that survived the final studio cut serve to establish a sound that is as equally somber as it is triumphant. Alex Scally might be one of the most understated lead guitarists in popular music. He’s like an indie rock middle reliever: the better he does his job, the less noticeable he seems. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, and that’s one of the main reasons BH are playing Sunday main stage slots while a dozen bands emulating them are barely visible at the bottom of Coachella’s lineup poster.

Just like its predecessors Bloom and Teen DreamDepression Cherry leans on this atmosphere as a sort of third band member. In theory, it’d be easy to paste the dream-pop label on this review and call it a day. Hell, lead single “Sparks” takes that idea and pushes it about as far into shoegaze territory as Legrand and Scally have ever ventured. But there’s a smokey blanket draped over the proceedings that lends a cinematic feel to everything. Standout tracks like “Space Song”, “10:37”, “PPP”, and “Wildflower” all sound like chamber-pop on quaaludes, despite the sparse instrumentation throughout.

Repeated listens reveal a bit of experimentation. Drummer Chris Bear (of Grizzly Bear fame) adds some extra muscle to a few of the tracks, and a church choir rings in album closer “Days of Candy”. There’s small details like those throughout the album, but ultimately these songs sound like they were designed to stand alone with as little clutter as possible. Minimalism is the name of the game on Cherry, and it works more often than not. While nothing soars to the heights of Bloom‘s “Irene” (and really, not many songs do), the valleys here are still perched far above sea level.

Dum Dum Girls’ re-imagining of Lee Hazlewood’s “Think I’m Coming Down” was always the moody, epic outlier on Only in Dreams, an album of otherwise shambolic 60’s girl-group pop. That moodiness lends itself quite well to a live setting, as you’ll see when the band knocks it out of the park in the video above.
Stick with this one for a little bit, cause once all the parts come together it’s an absolute monster. Contemporary MBV playing through Slowdive’s pedal boards.
It also pleases me that I get to note a Pittsburgh tour date on two blog posts in a row. Beach House is at Mr. Smalls 8/22. Imagining that guitar tone filling up every nook and cranny of the old church has me all sorts of excited.

I still find myself being surprised when Low, quintessential slowcore vets that they are, can create such an imposing atmosphere with so few ingredients. “No Comprende” is a reminder of how effortless it seems when they make “epic” happen.

Do you like Stereolab? Atlas Sound? Atlas Sound songs where he’s mostly aping Stereolab? Does you foot start tapping when you’ve got a few PBR’s in you and the Gooskis jukebox starts rocking? Then maybe you’ll enjoy this one as much as I do.
It might not be able to compete with the band playing the song live on Letterman, but “A New Wave” getting the Bob’s Burger treatment is pretty damn good.