Tag Archive | "Sub Pop"

Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Joe

Maybe its middle age, perhaps a sudden hankering for nostalgia, but it’s clear the urge to revisit the 1980s is strong for Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and their former keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg, who now leads environmentalist prog rockers Shearwater.

While the focus of Okkervil River’s 1980s drenched 2013 album Silver Gymnasium was more Breakfast Club with its nostalgic, adolescent themes, Meiburg’s political and conservationist zeal sees him look to more serious inspiration, most notably Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Scary Monsters, by the sadly departed David Bowie.


Over the last decade or so Meiburg’s Shearwater has favoured drama through its songs, often about the tragedies and joy of nature, as was heard on their 2010 album The Golden Archipelago, about the conservation threat posed to the world’s fragile islands.

When they signed to Sub Pop in 2012 and released Animal Joy the same sense of political and environmental drama continued, but this had a more radio friendly sound.

This album is a natural progression on both Animal Joy and The Golden Archipelago. It’s beautifully produced and wonderfully dramatic, thanks to the addition of film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose cinema credits include Lost in Translation.

It’s also accessible, full of 1980s electronica and synths, which provides a great juxtaposition to Meiburg’s more traditional baritone and the band’s timeless subject matter, about humans’ relationship with the natural world.

There’s also an unease for Meiburg in being an American on this album. Unsurprising really for this environmentalist to be part of a country that is one of the world’s biggest polluters.

This discomfort is best shown on the album’s lead track Quiet Americans, which acts as both an implicit apology for his country’s treatment of the planet and an call to arms to make amends.

But while there’s more electronica on this album than on previous releases the band can still be safely categorised broadly as guitar pop/rock, with the riffs of Back Channels proving another highpoint. Pale Kings too is joyous guitar pop and Only Child sounds like one of Richard Thompson heavily produced 1980s albums.

Is there any filler? Filaments is almost there due to its lack of melody compared to tracks like Quiet Americans. However, its driving bass and vintage synths turn this mundane song into another highlight.

While lacking the melodies that made Rook one of 2008’s best albums, this album as a whole is sonically perhaps their best yet. Given that this is the most cinematic of their releases it is strange that they have yet to create a film soundtrack – which surely must be the next stage in Shearwater’s evolution.


by Joe Lepper


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Fruit Bats – Tripper

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Fruit Bats – Tripper

Posted on 28 July 2011 by Joe

Sub Pop’s Eric D Johnson has been building a small but steady following as well as a fine body of work since Echolocation, his 2001 debut album under his Fruit Bats moniker.

Tripper, his fifth album as Fruit Bats, is designed to be like a road trip and bring out the best of his work as a solo artist and with a full band (those he has worked with include The Shins and Vetiver).

With production by Thom Monahan, who is best known for his work with Vetiver, Devendra Banhart and the Pernice Brothers, the end result is mixed.

The full band tracks, which feature Fruit Bats regulars Sam Wagster, Ron Lewis and Graeme Gibson, end up being the best and are gathered in the first two thirds of the album. Highlights include the Pernice Brothers-esque country twang of  ‘Shivering Fawn’ and the early 1970s John Lennon sounding second track ‘So Long’, which is resplendent with harps.

Obvious single ‘You’re Too Weird’ is another great track but ‘Tangie and Ray’ is my standout, bringing out Johnson’s great rock vocals to full effect. It could have been written any time from the late 1960s onwards. It is this track more than any others where I realised who Johnson reminds me of. None other than Gaz Coombs from Supergrass. In fact the whole production on these tracks on the first two thirds of the album is reminiscent of much of Supergrass’ work. A kind of folk, country Supergrass is the end effect and one I like.

Unfortunately not all the album keeps up this high standard. By track eight ‘Banishment song’ things become more solitary for Johnson on this road trip.  The band move on leaving Johnson and Monahan in control and things become more lonely. As a result this slowest track on the album with its folk guitar intro and piano body jolts a little with the feel good vibe on the opening half. The orchestral instrumental ‘The Fen’ offers little improvement.

The jury is out on track ten ‘Wild Honey’, which is mainly Johnson, piano and subtle guitar.  I have a nagging feeling that this is a grower and may become my favourite over time.

Final track ‘Picture of a Bird’ picks things up a little. Still among the solitary tracks, but it crucially has a great, almost Van Morrison-esque hook to keep my interest.

Despite the dip towards the end this is overall a fine album showcasing Johnson’s great voice and offering a largely successful mix of folk, rock and ballads.

Given the aim is to recreate a road trip and a sense of being increasingly alone and further from home,  it is perhaps no surprise that the opening segment of his journey, full of hope and excitement, is more appealing than the final, lonely third.


by Joe Lepper


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Daniel Martin Moore – In The Cool Of The Day

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Daniel Martin Moore – In The Cool Of The Day

Posted on 17 January 2011 by Joe

Harry Crews’s novel The Gospel Singer  tells a sweaty, horrific account of an ultimately doomed religious  singer. Daniel Martin Moore’s latest album, of self-penned gospel songs and reworked traditional hymns, reminds me of The Gospel Singer in religious subject matter but lacks the edge and sense of drama that Crews so perfectly captured.

Here Martin Moore, who is signed to Sub Pop and comes from Kentucky, pays tribute to the spiritual songs he grew up with and has discovered on the way. But as Crews shows in much of his work religion is not all harps and angels. Religion can be corrupt, even abusve at times and certainly has drama. There’s no sense of anything other than a dewy eyed tribute to spiritual music on In the Cool of the Day and that is ultimately disappointing for an atheist like me. It is a further disappointment given that earlier this month  UK folk act King James so effectively managed to both pay tribute to and question spiritual music on their self titled debut album.

Martin Moore is not trying to be controversial here just pay tribute to music that inspires him and I concede to criticise this album for lacking drama and controversy is probably missing the point.  Indeed this rose tinted approach to spirituality will be In the Cool of the Day’s strength for some, but for me  it lacks the necessary depth to truly enjoy it.

Having said that Martin Moore’s beautiful  singing and genuine love of the music is undeniable. Another is that his own spiritual numbers are indistinguishable from the traditional hymns. This is a tougher gig to pull off than it sounds and deserves recognition. ‘O My Soul’ is probably the standout, written by Martin Moore but as uplifting and poignant to a modern audience as it may have been to a flock of Kentucky churchgoers from the 19th century.

But among others I struggled with are the title track. Musically its excellent, very British folk in style, like a demo from Fairport Convention’s Liege and Leif. But instead of Fairport’s songs about the real life drama of war and love, the track is simply about the garden of Eden, and doesn’t even bother to convey the real drama of that story, the expulsion of Adam and Eve.

It’s a tough ask to expect a secular audience to enjoy an album of hymns and indeed a religious audience to enjoy the work of a Sub Pop artist. He’s secured some support slots on Iron and Wine’s UK tour in 2011, a shrewd move for Martin Moore that will hopefully give him a chance to showcase his musical talent and appeal to the unbelievers out there.


by Joe Lepper


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Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg from Long Beach, California, is like so many aspiring young musicians, singing tracks into a PC, studiously learning guitar parts and immersing himself in music. You’ve seen the type, putting videos of themselves playing guitar up on Youtube. So many have talent, so many will keep plugging away until kids, a mortgage and life get in the way.

Now barely out of high school Avigdor and his band Avi Buffalo, formed with three friends,  are quite rightly on the cusp of deserved success.  The right music, the right faces, the right attitude at the right time.

Snapped up by the label Sub Pop and with a slot on Pavement’s ATP festival in the UK Avi Buffalo is now one of this year’s most talked about acts. Led by the diminutive and cherubic Avigdor and playing like they are straight out of the summer of love Avi Buffalo are a bit of folk here, a jangly guitar riff there and then some.

Their first single, ‘What’ In It For?’, which was originally released on Avi Buffalo’s Myspace site, was what attracted Sub Pop and is the undoubted highlight of the album. For those that haven’t heard it yet, it’s quite simply magical. Timeless, like tracks by Sub Pop label mates Fleet Foxes, it could have been from a Neil Young 70s album or from a mid 60s Byrds album and is one of the catchiest songs of the year.

Even though there is a hint of haste in getting out Avi Buffalo’s first album this year, with just the 10 tracks, there is far more to this debut album than one standout single and a bunch of fillers.

Among other highlights is ‘Remember Last Time’, featuring some superb guitar arrangements, which given that one of Avigdor’s heroes is Wilco’s Nels Cline is perhaps unsurprising.

While much of the album shows a band that is mature beyond their years, with references to 60s folk and psychedelia on tracks such as’ Where’s Your Dirty Mind’, it’s also childlike in places. ‘Summer Cum’ for example is lyrically pretty blunt, but still full of catchy hooks, despite appearing immature and crass.

As debuts go this is up there with the best and shows that Sub Pop is continuing to hook up some of the most interesting acts around.


by Joe Lepper


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Sub Pop Gives Away 22 Tracks For Free As Part Of Amazon Deal

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Joe

US label Sub Pop is offering a free download sampler of 22 tracks from some of its most famous artists both past and present.

The label has signed a digital licensing agreement with Amazon and to mark the deal has made the free tracks, by the likes of The Shins, Nirvana and Avi Buffalo, available on the online retailer’s website.

Here’s a tracklist of the download sampler.

1. What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Be this Way) by Wolf Parade
2. What’s In It For? by Avi Buffalo
3. Subliminal Message by Happy Birthday
4. Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout by Dum Dum Girls
5. Year’s Not Long by Male Bonding
6. I Can’t Get Beer in Me by David Cross
7. Dragon’s Song by Blitzen Trapper
8. The Ruminant Band by Fruit Bats
9. Something, Somewhere, Sometime by Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore
10. Falling from the Sun by The Album Leaf
11. Radio Kaliningrad by Handsome Furs
12. Hide it Away by Retribution Gospel Choir
13. Sex with an X by The Vaselines
14. Everyone’s Hip by Jaill
15. Pine On by Obits
16. False Jesii Part 2 by Pissed Jeans
17. Scoff (Live) by Nirvana
18. The Funeral by Band of Horses
19. New Slang by The Shins
20. Naked as We Came by Iron & Wine
21. Such Great Heights by The Postal Service
22. Too Many Dicks (on the Dancefloor) by Flight of the Conchords


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