30 years of Sub Pop in 30 seminal albums

From the NME.

Iconic label Sub Pop – home to everyone from Nirvana to Flight Of The Conchords over the years – marks its 30th anniversary in 2018.

To celebrate, let’s look at 30 essential releases from the past 30 years of the zeitgeist-informing imprint.

1. Nirvana – ‘Bleach’

How can we not start with Nirvana? Kurt Cobain might have only written the snarled lyrics on his band’s debut the night before recording when he was “pissed off”, but the attitude’s there. All the potential was intact for later, more propulsive records.

2. The Postal Service – ‘Give Up’

Nodding towards the new wave and synths of the 80s, indie supergroup The Postal Service’s ‘Give Up’ was Sub Pop’s bestselling album since Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’.

3. Father John Misty – ‘Pure Comedy’

Josh Tillman – aka Father John Misty – may be as well-known for his wry stage persona (which he self-describes as “sarcastic Michael Bublé”) as his music, but ‘Pure Comedy’ offered up not only an intriguing character study to his semi-fictionalised self but also proved that his musical output was not to be overlooked. A perfect fusion of heart-melting melody and contemplative lyricism, the record set him apart as one of the greatest modern songwriters we have.

4. Foals – ‘Total Life Forever’

The Oxford band’s second and final North American release on Sub Pop, Foals’ 2010 sophomore album remains a captivating listen to this day. From the dry-your-eyes build of ‘Spanish Sahara’ to the indie-disco frolic of ‘This Orient’, ‘Total Life Forever’ quickly projected Foals from shoe-gazing math-rockers to genuine festival headline contenders – and they’ve not looked back since.

5. CSS – ‘Cansei De Ser Sexy’

You may recognise the Brazilian-electro tunes ‘Alala’ and ‘Off The Hook’ on CSS’s ‘Cansei de Ser Sexy’ from FIFA 08. There was a time back then when Lovefoxxx and the gang seemed as if they would soundtrack all our summers.

Some cracking titles including ‘You’re Lionel Richie’ – apparently named after the exact words Stuart Braithwaite used when he bumped into the soul singer at an airport – and a more stripped-down feel mark Mogwai’s 2011 classic. It still makes a gargantuan noise but veers away from their usual post-rock, embracing synths and motorik rhythms.

7. Flight Of The Conchords – ‘Flight Of The Conchords’

So much more than a TV offshoot, Flight Of The Conchords’ debut album forensically pastiched everything from Bowie to hip-hop and saw the duo consolidate their formidable cult following. It was hilarious too.

8. Mudhoney – ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’

This delightfully titled album from Mudhoney is named after the band’s two favourite guitar effects, the Univox Super-Fuzz and Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. It’s a compilation of sorts, a snapshot of the stickier end of grunge’s golden age.

9. Fleet Foxes – ‘Fleet Foxes’

Fleet Foxes’ debut not only pooled together broad influences, blurring lines between folk, country, psychedelia and classic rock, but practically spawned a genre of its own too. While Robin Pecknold and co have taken things further with their two albums since, their 2008 self-titled LP remains their masterpiece.

10. Sleater-Kinney – ‘No Cities To Love’

For a long time, Sleater-Kinney were woefully overlooked. The trio’s members were better known for the bands they formed after the group’s untimely demise in 2006: Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss for Wild Flag and Corin Tucker for her Corin Tucker Band. After nine years away though, the influential threepiece returned with an urgent and taut album that felt like no time had passed at all.

If her 2015 album ‘We Slept At Last’ showcased her technical prowess as a songwriter, then Marika Hackman’s 2017 follow-up saw her grow as a confident and charismatic performer. Featuring London pals The Big Moon, lead single ‘Boyfriend’ was a definite highlight. The song, Hackman explained, was “payback for all those times I’ve been interrupted mid-snog by some seedy wanker asking to join in”. Brilliant.

12. The Shins – ‘Chutes Too Narrow’

Led by James Mercer, The Shins’ second effort might be dwarfed by the size of break-out debut ‘Oh, Inverted World’ – but ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ is comfortably their most complete record. Packed with lo-fi garage bangers and love-lorn ballads – Mercer’s songwriting is at it’s finest here on songs like ‘Saint Simon’ and ‘Kissing The Lipless’.

13. Sunny Day Real Estate – ‘Diary’

A homegrown Seattle band, Sunny Day Real Estate made waves with debut album ‘Diary’ in 1993, eschewing prevailing grunge motifs by going for a more heart-on-sleeve style. Call it the birth of emo.

14. Washed Out – ‘Within And Without’

Ernest Greene’s chillwave outfit Washed Out released ‘Within And Without’ in 2011, and it’s fertile with sedated grooves, a hazy sunscreen dream.

15. King Tuff – ‘King Tuff’

King Tuff’s eponymous album, released in 2012, features sounds from ‘Jazijoo’ – that’s his guitar’s name. Kyle Thomas (that’s his real name) spearheaded a minor glam rock revival.

16. Pissed Jeans – ‘Hope For Men’

Pissed Jeans’ second album, released in 2007, was a crushing slab of Sub Pop-friendly noise-rock, big on laughs and buzz-cut riffs.

17. Dwarves – ‘Blood Guts & Pussy’

‘Blood Guts & Pussy’ drew as much attention for its controversial album sleeve featuring three nude models covered in animal blood – and its title – as for its music, a headlong speed-freak punk rock, with hooks.

18. Beach House – ‘Teen Dream’

For their third album, dream-pop duo Beach House held back on the reverb to make a wonderful, soaring record of straight-up – but ghostly – melodies, heartbreaking and euphoric in equal measure.

19. Tad – ‘God’s Balls’

Regarded by some as pioneers of the grunge movement, Tad released ‘God’s Ball’s in 1989. Their debut album was grinding, lurching slo-mo punk, an unlikely but powerful forerunner to a new scene.

20. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – ‘Hope Downs’ 

As joyful a debut album as you could hope for, the Melbourne quintet’s June 2018 LP proved to be well worth the wait for those who’d followed the band since their inception in 2013. Scattering guitar lines jostle for the limelight across this zippy 10-track record, marking RBCF out as an act well worth keeping your eye on.

21. Earth – ‘Earth 2’

Opening number ‘Seven Angels’ was relatively short at 15 minutes on an album that wove together three mammoth instrumental tracks of feedback-packed drone-doom. ‘Earth 2’ came out in 1993 and was an early take on post-rock.

22. Shabazz Palaces – ‘Black Up’

Interweaved with intricate lyricism, Shabazz Palaces ‘Black Up’ bust out in 2011, and was saluted by erudite critics for its dedication to progressive hip hop.

23. Chixdiggit – ‘Chixdiggit!’

Apparently named after the ‘metal’ way of writing “chicks dig it”, Canadian band Chixdiggit unleashed their debut album in 1996, bringing perky pop-punk to the Sub Pop catalogue.

24. The Vaselines – ‘The Way Of The Vaselines’

A canny move from Sub Pop, who collected everything Scots lo-fi alt-pop duo The Vaselines ever recorded for this compilation, mainly prompted by Kurt Cobain expressing his love for the band.

25. Eric’s Trip – ‘Love Tara’

Named after a track on Sonic Youth’s avant-grunge masterpiece ‘Daydream Nation’, Eric’s Trip emerged from Canada in the early 90s and put out debut ‘Love Tara’ in 1993, swamping Sub Pop with sweet lo-fi vibes.

26. Sebadoh – ‘Bubble And Scrape’

Led by ex-Dinosaur Jr man Lou Barlow, Sebadoh used their 1993 album ‘Bubble And Scrape’ to mark their sly move from lo-fi sounds to more sophisticated indie rock.

27. Green River – ‘Rehab Doll’

1988 album ‘Rehab Doll’ is Green River’s only full-length effort, but it’s more than just a curio. Vocalist Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner would go on to form Mudhoney, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard would be founder members of Pearl Jam. Truly a seminal band.

28. Soundgarden – ‘Screaming Life’

Another grunge blueprint, Soundgarden’s debut EP ‘Screaming Life’ is led by ‘Hunted Down’ – reputedly the first ever song on Sub Pop’s telephone hold music tape. So there you go.

29. Constantines – ‘Tournament Of Hearts’

30. No Age – ‘An Object’

Keepers of the lo-fi flame, No Age’s ‘An Object’ was recorded in their hometown of Los Angeles with long-time collaborator Facundo Bermudez at Gaucho’s Electronics. The results were bewildering, hypnotic and mesmerising in equal measure.

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