On falling for an indie label’s entire roster
The last time this happened to me, it came from Hush Records. The Portland-based indie dropped Laura Gibson, Shelley Short, Loch Lomond, Nick Jaina, and Norfolk and Western on me one after the other. Boom! Bap! Splat! Like a hail storm of inventive songwriting. It’s what cottoned me to the peculiar and ever-prolific music scene just two hours down the highway from here, and it was maybe three years ago.
Since then – despite consistent evidence to the contrary from Red House, Bloodshot, Rounder, Lost Highway, etc. – I’ve somehow come up with this crazy idea that labels really aren’t where it’s at anymore. Even as SubPop and Hardly Art carry the torch right here in my own backyard. Perhaps it’s because I find my music from such strange and farflung sources these days, rarely taking only the word of all the kind and awesome label reps I’ve come to know well via email. Even when a trusted label rep (not an oxymoron in this genre) insists I’m going to love something, I immediately turn to the Googles and see what I can turn up before making the decision to even listen. It’s weird and backwards, but that’s the world we live in.
So it’s notable that today I’ve gotten lost in the sonic spiral of Dead Oceans Records. I don’t think I’ve ever received a single press release from these guys, nor a review copy seeking coverage. But I wandered into a Bowerbirds set at SXSW and loved it. I’ve heard the interminable buzz surrounding Akron/Family, have always loved John Vanderslice. Recently, through some strange wormhole the likes of which I can’t even recall much less explain, I wound up on Citay’s MySpace page for a good half-day of listening to the handful of songs there on a loop. Friday, I hooked myself hard on Phosphorescent, and today I’m stuck on the Tallest Man on Earth. I think that constitutes somewhat of a serial killing, if you will (I’ve been watching Dexter), of good music.
Because I’m in a “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” mood today, I’ll (more or less) stop with the words and give you some videos so you know what I’m talking about:
TALLEST MAN ON EARTH
This guy reminds me of early Dan Bern somehow, though he doesn’t quite possess Bern’s trademark snark and sarcasm (both quite difficult to pull off in song). I think it’s just the aesthetic of raspy-voiced wit. This guy’s lyrics flow so easily into poetry that a line like “In that land there’s a winter / in that winter is a day / in that day there’s a moment when it all goes your way” drops so easy, you almost miss how great it is. I’d almost think that was a shame if everything about the songs didn’t stir me so hard. Here he is live on KEXP:
Matthew Houck isn’t the world’s greatest singer, but then who needs that all the time? Quiet, sad, rainy, and all full of fog, Houck’s songs break my heart. I don’t even think all of them are that sad. They’re no Bon Iver. But there’s something passionately resigned about them. Something like the songs are sitting back in the truck watching the whole dirty thing go down. Something David Bazan-ish. Something even occasionally Neil Young-y…if you’re a comparison shopper.
I’m not usually a fan of this aesthetic – there’s no silence in these songs. It’s like someone just tossed a blanket of pedal tones over the whole thing, burying the song back behind a constant electric guitar din. But there’s something about Citay I love. I haven’t figured out what, precisely. It’s industrial and metallic, cold and wet, like walking past dead winter trees toward the canal, bundled and broke. It’s probably great if you’re on something. It’s also not really Americana, but if I like it, there are probably others out there who will too.
I’m still having a hard time accepting that this band isn’t from Portland. They could move to Portland tomorrow and do quite well for themselves in that town. I don’t know what else to say about that, other than I mean that as a compliment.
There’s more than that, of course, but how many videos can one post possibly hold? (Actual answer: probably far more than four.) You can explore their full roster for yourself if you so desire. Or just tell me what you’re listening to that I need to hear…