No Fly List: Notes from Sub Pop’s Airport Store, June 2015
The Sub Pop Airport Store: A World of Musical Discoveries
If you read the airport store sales clerk hiring post from last year, you’ll see that one of the primary qualifications for the job is “Knowledge of the Sub Pop catalog.” While the staff is comprised of diverse music fans with a deep appreciation for the label, let’s be real, not all of us can say we have listened to every single Sub Pop release from 1988 to today. But by working in the store, and playing lots of Sub Pop music, we are beginning to chip away at our blind-spots in the catalog and discover killer albums that are effectively ‘new-to-us.’ So, next time you’re in the store, we all might be listening to a record we’ve never heard before. Neat-o!
When I think about bands that I first heard at the Sub Pop store, I’m immediately drawn to Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. Their Sub Pop debut, Dereconstructed, came out within the first month of the store opening, and one year later I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It’s an insane, distorted, Southern punk rock record that only improves when I follow along with the lyric sheet. But in terms of an older band that I had heard of, but never listened to, it’s only since I’ve started working at the store that I’ve become familiar with the Murder City Devils. Preface: I moved to Seattle in 2007. Listening to a local institution like Murder City Devils (original run: 1996 to 2001) for the first time, in 2015, is like communing with ghosts from Seattle’s past that I never got a chance to experience first-hand. Raucous, alcohol-soaked, and bleary-eyed ghosts that get eroded by new condos every year.
I could go on-and-on with these, but let’s see what my esteemed retail colleagues have to say about music that they’ve discovered after working at the airport store. (You’ll find all these selections, and more, in a Spotify playlist down below.)
“Chad VanGaalen: My introduction to the institution that is Mr. VanGaalen was his most recent record, Shrink Dust, which I loved and listened to quite a bit since its release. Exploring the rest of his discography alerted me to the fact that he’s one of the best musicians around today; each of his 5 albums are varied in sound, excellent, and unmistakably his.”
(I can attest that Kane puts on at least one Chad VanGaalen album per shift. I have no problem with this whatsoever. –ed.)
“The Ruby Suns are a band I’m thankful to have discovered through this job. Their album Sea Lion first caught my attention with its multicultural influence (see “Tane Mahuta” and “Kenya Dig It?”) and bright joyous gang vocals (“Oh Mojave”), but it’s the album Christopher that is the closest to my heart. Singer Ryan McPhun sounds more independent (and maybe a little lonely) on this record, and his melodic sensibility and tendency towards synthesizers create a stark contrast to Sea Lion, in a good way.”
(Christopher is the leading cause of impromptu dance party outbreaks in the store. –ed.)
“While cramming for my Sub Pop interview and combing through the roster, one name eluded me. Beach House. This was a band I was well aware of, yet I had never actually listened to them! WTF!? Maybe I had read a description somewhere and thought I was too much of a ‘rocker’ for this dreamy shit! In any case, I loaded up their video for ‘Wishes’ and was absolutely mesmerized! I instantly felt as though all of my hopes and dreams were within reach! (I was gonna get this job!) And I did!”
(The lesson here: Keep those horizons open or you might miss out on your next favorite band. Also, ignore music critics who overuse meaningless words like ‘dreamy.’ –ed.)
(Only the the most hardened soulless person can deny the emotional resonance of Sade + Beachwood Sparks. –ed.)
(Javier is new here. I think this means he’s gotten really into GOAT, so much so that part of his brain is permanently warped and he can now only communicate via Emoji. –ed.)
I didn’t get a hold of Audrey or Rachel for their submissions, (presumably they spend their days ‘working’ and don’t have time for my pestering emails) but from listening to their musical choices in the store, I’m pretty sure they’ve recently gotten into Shimmering Stars (reverb-heavy pop from Hardly Art in 2011) and Male Bonding (infectious and rollicking punk-rock, with 2 albums on Sub Pop), respectively.
I would have written about the Obits (from which this blog gets its title), who captured my interest immediately with their updated punk-classic competing electric-guitar-enthusiast, layered rhythm twang-a-surf-a-billy-garage tone attack, thumpin’ bass, graphic design sensibility, and howlin’ vocals, but then they broke up (RIP Obits, may they rest in scattered pieces of newer, older bands).
So, the time is now! Something new: Daughn Gibson, who I wasn’t very familiar with. The album: Carnation. It’s striking some chords I couldn’t place right away on the first few listens. A friend immediately told me he loved the album because it reminded him of Depeche Mode, and David Sylvian’s post-Japan music direction, to which I then remembered when I first heard the lead off track (Shatter You Through) I was reminded of The Cure somehow, production wise, I suppose? So, there is a definite 1980’s noir at the core of the album.
Next, the guitar’s clanging desert-fried reverb’d bursts, and leave-you-hanging-lead, paired with the deep vocal croon, finally hit me. I was subconsciously enjoying being reminded of Simon Bonney and Rowland S. Howard’s group, Crime and the City Solution, which I think thus far the online critical response has completely missed as a great recommendation point of reference. So, Carnation is evoking and reminding me of some great music from the past, while remaining interesting listen after listen.
Also, I must mention that the backing band is great collision of minds, consisting of some major names in jazz, such as Matt Chamberlain from Bill Frisell’s Floratone (and much more) on drums, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet’s very own Skerik on saxophone, the prolific Eyvind Kang’s haunting string arrangements and performance, not to mention Milky Burgess from Master Musicians of Bukkake (and Record Store Day extravaganza super-tribute-group: Koes Barat), as well as a dash of pedal steel by Jay Kardong (known for his work with Grand Archives, Sera Cahoone). This gives me the impression that the album was assembled from sessions similar to what produced Talk Talk’s final album; improvisation, to form structure through sculptured loops and overlays. I think this is the best yet I’ve heard from Daughn Gibson, and I hope he will continue to head in this direction with open-minded jazz and rock musicians to get at sounds decades lost, refreshed.”