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Show 137: Sub Pop history with Jonathan Poneman, reviews of Beck and Fleet Foxes
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1 There has perhaps been no bigger news story this summer than the fuel crisis. But, while we’re all affected by rising gas prices on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget the impact on the music industry. As Sound Opinions has been discussing for years, the music business model is transitioning to put more emphasis on touring and less on album sales. This becomes hard, though, when a band can’t even afford to get into its van and on the road. Jim and Greg talk to Beth Tacular, a member of the North Carolina band Bowerbirds, about the challenges independent musicians are facing this summer.
2 Sub Pop Records, the label that made “grunge” a household word, is turning 20. Since its inception the small Seattle outfit has exploded internationally, giving music fans a dose of the Northwest punk sound with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. Now Sub Pop is home to indie phenoms the Shins and the Postal Service, as well as comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. Jim and Greg speak with Jonathan Poneman, who started the label in 1988 with former fanziner Bruce Pavitt. Poneman explains that there was so much great rock in that area at the time that they were compelled to document it. But their ambitions didn’t stop there. Poneman discusses Pavitt’s assertion that the most vital culture happens outside the big media centers. This kind of big thinking paved the way for the breakout of regional music scenes and the idea that indie bands can be as big as major label ones.
3 To celebrate Sub Pop’s anniversary Jim and Greg both pick their favorite tracks from the label. Greg starts with a song by the Afghan Whigs. He explains that the tradition of signing non-Northwest bands began with the Whigs. They started out as a faux-grunge band but became more distinctive when they brought in elements of soul. You can hear that in the track “Miles Iz Dead” off the album Congregation.
Jim also wanted to pick a song that showcased the diversity of Sub Pop. It’s more than just a grunge label. Jim looks to Cardinal, a band that represents much of what’s happening in the indie world today. The duo gave birth to orchestral pop, and one of its members Eric Matthews, put out a terrific debut on Sub Pop in 1995 called It’s Heavy In Here. Jim chooses to play that album’s opener, “Fanfare.”
4 Modern Guilt is the 10th album from post-modern poster boy Beck. Beck has always gone for adventurous producers, and this time he’s paired with DJ Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley. Greg thinks this is the most exciting “sounding” Beck record in years, but believes the innovative production is masking some poor songwriting. He only hears half a great record and gives Modern Guilt a Burn It. Jim is surprised to hear this because he has finally learned to stop worrying and love the Beck, “weirdo” that he may be. Jim loves the unlikely combination of sounds and the soulful writing and gives the record a Buy It.
5 The latest band to break out on the Sub Pop label is Fleet Foxes. While they haven’t reached Nirvana or Shins status, Jim and Greg agree that this is a band to watch. Fleet Foxes belongs to the “freak folk” music club, but Jim much prefers their deeper, more convincing sound. He loves their beautiful harmonies and melodies and is impressed by their deep influences, especially considering how young their members are. Greg agrees, adding that the sound is entirely their own, full of untraditional arrangements and dense atmosphere. Both critics give Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut a Buy It.
Songs Featured in Show #137
Wilson Pickett, “Land of 1000 Dances,” The Exciting Wilson Pickett, 1966
The Kinks, “A Gallon of Gas,” Low Budget, 1979
Bowerbirds, “In Our Talons,” Hymns for a Dark Horse, 2007
Soundgarden, "Hunted Down," Screaming Life/Fopp, 1990
Green River, "This Town," Rehab Doll/Dry As a Bone, 1987
Mudhoney, "Touch Me I'm Sick," Touch Me I'm Sick, 1988
Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nevermind, 1991
Mudhoney, "Mudride," Superfuzz Bigmuff, 1988
The Shins, "Kissing the Lipless," Chutes Too Narrow, 2003
Sebadoh, "Brand New Love, " The Freed Weed, 1990
Tad, "Jack Pepsi," 8-Way Santa, 1991
Afghan Whigs, "Retarded," Retarded, 1990
L7, "Shove," Smell the Magic, 1991
The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights," Give Up, 2003
Nirvana, "About a Girl," Bleach, 1989
Wolf Parade, "The Grey Estates," At Mount Zoomer, 2008
The Afghan Whigs, "Miles Iz Ded," Turn on the Water, 1992
Eric Matthews, "Fanfare," It's Heavy in Here, 1995
Beck, “Youthless,” Modern Guilt, 2008
Beck, “Walls” Modern Guilt, 2008
Beck, “Replica,” Modern Guilt, 2008
Fleet Foxes, “White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes, 2008
Fleet Foxes, “Your Protector,” Fleet Foxes, 2008
Fleet Foxes, “Meadowlarks,” Fleet Foxes, 2008
Air France, “Collapsing at Your Doorstep,” No Way Down, 2008
The Nerves, "Hanging on the Telephone," Nerves, 1976
The Clash, "I'm So Bored With The USA," The Clash, 1977
The Talking Heads, "Don't Worry About the Government," Talking Heads: 77, 1977
The Blasters, "American Music," American Music, 1980
Bruce Springsteen, "Land of Hope and Dreams," Live in New York City, 2001