Happy 20th Birthday To Deep Elm!

deepelmrecords

Deep Elm records is celebrating their 20th anniversary. I wanted to take some time to talk about it. I’m 30 years old, so Deep Elm was already making moves when I was a kid. To put this all into context, I was 10 years old when they started, and 12 years old when the first Emo Diaries came out. Deep Elm has been a label for as long as I can remember. It is also a label that has been hugely important to me.

Brandtson’s Trying To Figure Each Other Out was probably the first Deep Elm record I ever heard. Admittedly, it was already a few years old by the time I heard it. My first exposure to the label was via one of those free samplers you got at shows. I got my hands on a copy of Sound Spirit Fury Fire (Deep Elm Sampler Vol. 3) at a show, and was introduced to a whole bunch of bands that I still listen to now. Camber, Pop Unknown. Brandtson, Benton Falls, and Planes Mistaken For Stars were all represented. They are also bands that get regular spins over a decade later. It was, and this is going to sound cheesy, a life changing compilation. It was my first major step into independent music. It was a lifeline to a vital scene that has been hugely important to me.

I use this phrase a lot, but authenticity matters. It does now, and it did back in 2001/2002. I was, by all accounts, a giant poseur back then. I listened to punk rock, but I didn’t really understand it. I may or may not have owned a Good Charlotte cd. I wanted desperately to fit in with the cool kids in bands that went to my high school. I never did, I was a fat kid with a mohawk and a Rancid t-shirt. I went to local emo and punk shows, but didn’t get it. I hadn’t really figured out how to use my bullshit detector. Deep Elm provided a path for me to walk down.

The records they put out were, and are, the definition of authentic. Genre didn’t matter, it was all about heart. It still is. I remember listening to Desert City Soundtrack for the first time. I remember the feeling I got when I first listened to Latterman on the way home from Tower Records. I remember the first time I heard Camber’s “Improbable Upside.”

I remember the first time I got an email from them. Not a form email or whatever, but an actual email. It was maybe a year or two into me doing this blog. I was just some dude who was running a blog on, at the time, Blogger. To get any level of acknowledgment from Deep Elm was huge. It motivated me to give a shit. I’m definitely still just a low level blogger at best. I’m not breaking bands, I’m not a taste maker. I talk about bands I like. I review records that I think are good. Even then, I was still important enough to get in contact with. That means a lot.

I hope Deep Elm is around for another 20 years. There is a shitty kid like me just discovering independent music, and this label has a hell of a lot to show them.

Deep Elm Records

PS: Deep Elm has their entire discography as Name Your Price. Go get a bunch of stuff.

PPS: That stream of Sound Spirit Fury Fire is missing some songs that appeared on the CD. Bummer.

REVIEW: Accents – “Tall Tales”

accentstalltalesFuck a sophomore slump, folks. This new Accents full length is better than the last. Accents have gone from a duo to a quintet. The addition of members really expanded what they are capable of doing. Having three additional full members has added more depth and color to what the band is doing. It’s a remarkable growth in a short span of time. Tall Tales is really a stronger record for it.

While the three new members did appear on the previous full length in one capacity or another, it’s a whole different thing here. Mainly because they are expanding the overall feeling of the whole record, versus a few songs. The addition on Lauren Alexander is the most noticeable change to me. She and TJ Foster work well with each others voices, and having more of her is not a bad thing.

Beyond the new additions, there is a lot to like. The band still writes great hooks and big choruses. They have maintained their indie rock / indie folk sound that worked so well on the previous full length. This record has taken the things they did well, and just refined it. The production is spot on again. The record is sequenced almost perfectly this time. All the rises and falls hit right where they should. Each part of the record is strong, versus being front heavy.

There is a lot more diversity to the record as well. “Los Angeles” is the closest to a straight up folk song the band has made yet. “I Wasn’t Looking For You” is a driving, uptempo rock song. “Sore Eyes,” the closer, builds to a great conclusion for the record. There are great mellow, folk influenced songs. There are high energy indie rock songs. Most noticeably, there are great vocal harmonies throughout.

Long story short, Tall Tales is a document of how great a band can get in a relatively short span of time. This record is a keeper.

Accents
Deep Elm
BandCamp / Buy It

Digging Through the Compilation Shelf.

compgridCompilations were a fucking way of life. They were the best route to find new bands. They were around long before the internet was THE INTERNET. They were around long before Spotify, BandCamp, SoundCloud, and other services made it easy to “try before you buy.” They’re things that don’t really happen anymore. One part is because of the internet. Another is the overall decline of brick and mortar record stores. They’re not financially viable to manufacture and distribute anymore, and it’s kind of bummer.

Without pulling the shitty “back in my day” card, the decline of record stores and readily available physical products has been the biggest change in music that I’ve seen. I’m old enough to remember a time before file sharing, iTunes, and web commerce as a viable option for music existed. Small record labels, if they had websites at all, still lived on mailorder. You printed out a form, mailed them a money order or some shit, and waited. Oh, how you waited. It wasn’t the most conducive way to discover music. You could read liner notes, but if bands didn’t thank any other bands it was a no-go. So you turned to local record store, and their “compilation” section.

I’ve always been broke. That definitely made it hard for me to discover new bands in my teenage years. I couldn’t afford to buy albums all the time, and it had to be worth it if I was going to drop the $16 at Tower Records. So I always dug through the compilations. At around $2 a pop, they were the best things in the world. If i was curious about some new band on Lookout! Records or something, just go grab their most recent one. Same with Asian Man, Epitaph, Fat Wreck, Go Kart, Matador, Hopeless, BYO, Vagrant, Deep Elm, and so on et cetera. You’d get to hear that new band you were wondering about, and probably some unreleased song from a band you liked already. How could you go wrong?

The first compilation cd I ever bought was probably Mailorder Is Still Fun. As I touched on in another thing, Asian Man Records was my jam. I was mail ordering a bunch of records, and decided to get this compilation. As a teenage ska fan, it was the best I could have hoped for. Slow Gherkin, Less Than Jake, The Chinkees, and MU330 were all on it. Through that compilation I got introduced to Korea Girl, who I still believe to be one of the most criminally underrated indie rock bands in the world. I heard Alkaline Trio and The Broadways for the first time. 16 year old me was stoked. And that compilation was already 2 years old by the time I bought it.

It all spiraled from there. The first time I heard Camber, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Brandtson was on Deep Elm Sampler #3 (Sound Spirit Fury Fire). The first time I heard The Mr. T Experience, Bratmobile, and Common Rider was on Lookout! Freakout Episode 2. And Hopelessly Devoted To You Vol. 3 was where I first heard Dillinger Four, The Queers, and The Weakerthans (it also sparked me into buying one of my all time favorite records, Left And Leaving). Marc’s A Dick And Gar’s A Drunk: The Johann’s Face Story is where I first heard the Traitors and No Empathy. What I’m saying is that compilations were always important to me. In that spirit, I wanted to make a quick list of my favorite compilations. I’ve linked them to their respective page on Discogs. In no particular order.

Honorable mentions go to Short Music For Short People and Fat Music Volume 5: Live Fat, Die Young (both Fat Wreck Chords). The former for absolutely fucking nailing the gimmick. The latter for having one of my favorite Propagandhi songs.

If this kind of stuff had a resurgence, I’d be right there ready to go.

REVIEW: U137 – "Dreamer On The Run"

Post-rock is an interesting thing to tackle. The bands have to keep the rules of standard rock music in mind, while also trying to avoid sticking to them. It’s in that eschewing normal genre rules that allows for cinematic qualities, it helps create songs that can be sweeping in scope. U137 is a duo made up of Adam Tornblad and Oscar Gulbrandsen. These two are no strangers to this type of music, having three releases with Moonlit Sailor under their belts. To see them adding to the stable of wonderful post-rock that Deep Elm currently has makes perfect sense.

It’s hard to review this stuff as a collection of songs. The genre doesn’t lend itself well to picking out favorite songs, or fragmenting things down to “well, this part is cool.” In that regard, Dreamer On The Run is no different. The band made cohesive, engulfing record from front to back. U137 is made that work, plus they fit some great traditional indie rock flourishes in as well. The album works well as an entire piece.

Those indie rock moments are what makes this such an accessible record. You can be a total novice about this type of music and still get it. It never gets into the weirdness that some bands can. It remains very grounded, while still managing to shine. As an instrumental band, everything seems to serve double duty. Each instrument can provide the background colors, but can also carry the song in a traditional way. That said, this isn’t riffing indie rock.

I don’t want to sound like one of those nerd who talks about swirling music and sonic landscapes, but I kind of have to. “Dreamer On The Run” has a whole lot to like. It’s calm and ambient in places, it’s driving in others. Everything works, everything shines. Check it out.

U137
Deep Elm
BandCamp
Buy It

YEAR END! – Top Labels Of The Year

Tiny Engines:
Seriously, Tiny Engines fucking killed it this year. Eight of my top ten records could very well have come exclusively from this label. In fact, check their history, Tiny Engines have not put out a bad record in their entire four year history. This label is that damn good. I look forward to all the things that come out in 2013

Deep Elm:
This year saw a great number of releases come out of the Deep Elm camp. I tend to be bummed on digital only labels, but I can’t be for Deep Elm. Back before they were digital only (and before I was a vinyl snob), a good portion of my CD collection was Deep Elm. They are home to some of my all time favorite records, and to some great up and coming bands that are going to make a big splash in independent music.

Count Your Lucky Stars:
Perfect Future, Dowsing, and Joie De Virve all put out full lengths this year. That alone puts CYLS right near the top of the list, never mind the rest of the amazing stuff they put out this year. They are also ready to come right out the gates in 2013 with a new Annabel 7″ and the debut full length from Brave Bird. This label is all quality.

REVIEW: The Dandelion War – "We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes"

It seems like the longer I do this blog, the farther I get away from what people would consider “punk.” I deal with a whole bunch of post-(insert genre) bands and records. I find most of these releases to be more interesting than a lot of other things. The Dandelion War is one such band.

We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes is a fine example of, I guess, post-rock. It is full of lush instrumentation. It is a record of space. Instead of coming at the listener, it invites the listener to get lost in the atmosphere. This is the strongest part of it. The Dandelion War provide an escape. Everyday life is full of distractions and a million things happening at once, so there is a lot to be said for getting lost in the music.

While it would be easy to pigeon hole this band as one of many genres, it doesn’t quite seem fair. There is a pop sensibility, but dream pop doesn’t quite work. There are plenty of effects, but it doesn’t get as dense as shoegaze. In the same way that Sigur Rós can mix and match, so too does this band. If you pull out your ambient rock bingo card, there is a little bit of everything involved.

All genre buzzwords aside, this album is great. Emphasis on album. While most bands are content to throw 13 potential singles together and call it a full length, The Dandelion War have clearly worked to make this a cohesive album. This might make it hard to single out a few songs as standouts, but it makes the end product so much better. Even coming in just this side of an hour, We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes never overstays it’s welcome. It is ambient, inviting, and moving.

The Dandelion War
Deep Elm
Stream/Buy It (Bandcamp)
Buy It (Physical)

REVIEW: Cari Clara – "Midnight March"

“Singer/Songwriter” is usually used to denote a very specific type of music. Generally speaking, the term was used to describe troubadour folk or acoustic type stuff. Toward the late 70s to early 80s, it also became a term describing soft rock cheese. This tends to be a double edged sword. Eric Diedrichs (the brains behind Cari Clara) very much fits in with the description of singer/songwriter, but the music doesn’t really fall under either designation. Cari Clara is one of those bands that is basically just that one guy. With this exception of some guest musicians on three tracks, this is all Eric Diedrichs.

Midnight March is an enjoyable indie rock record. Borrowing from various sources, it is also remarkably cohesive as a whole. There are a few straight forward indie rock songs, but there is certainly some post-punk and alternative in there. These different styles are melded and held together by Diedrichs’ voice. He has a great voice for this type of thing; sometimes sounding a bit like David Bazan, sometimes sounding a bit like Conor Oberst or James Mercer (sort of). That is pretty sweet, right?

There is something to be said for Eric Diedrichs’ vision. Not only was this his thing as far as vocally and instrumentally, he also produced and engineered the damn thing. That much freedom can come with a few downsides. The biggest being the lack of other voices. For example, “Greater History” jumps back and forth between straight ahead indie rock song and some creepy piano/organ thing. There is a transition between the bits, but it sounds a bit disjointed. If there had been other band members, that might have been different. Had is stayed as the former, it would be great instead of just good. I’m also a little bummed on the sequencing. There doesn’t seem to be a natural rise and fall to this record. You get stoked for a killer, full band song only to have the next song be an acoustic number. It just kind of kills the momentum of the record. This jump to extremes is especially noticeable with “Story In The Stars” and “Homage To Excess.”

But, minor quibbles aside, this is a solid record that is totally worth a listen. This is the fourth Cari Clara release on the mighty Deep Elm, each one has been better than the last. If he can continue this arc, Diedrichs could be on top.

Cari Clara
Deep Elm
Buy It / Stream It