Sound Opinions explores Sub Pop Records

Sub Pop Records & Opinions on Beck and Fleet Foxes

In honor of Sub Pop Record's 20th anniversary, Jim and Greg speak with co-founder Jonathan Poneman and play their favorite tracks from the venerated Seattle label. Then stay tuned for their reviews of the latest album from Beck and the debut record from current Sub Pop artist Fleet Foxes.

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Music News

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.


Sub Pop Records

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.

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."

reviewModern Guilt (Deluxe Version)Modern Guilt available on iTunes

Beck Modern Guilt

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.

reviewFleet FoxesFleet Foxes available on iTunes

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes

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, their self-titled debut, a Buy It.


Featured Songs

  1. Wilson Pickett, Land of 1000 Dances, The Exciting Wilson Pickett, Atlantic, 1966
  2. The Kinks, A Gallon of Gas, Low Budget, Arista, 1979
  3. Bowerbirds, In Our Talons, Hymns for a Dark Horse, Burly Time, 2007
  4. Soundgarden, Hunted Down, Screaming Life/Fopp, Sub Pop, 1990
  5. Green River, This Town, Rehab Doll/Dry As a Bone, Sub Pop, 1987
  6. Mudhoney, Touch Me I'm Sick, Touch Me I'm Sick, Sub Pop, 1988
  7. Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nevermind, Sub Pop, 1991
  8. Mudhoney, Mudride, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Sub Pop, 1988
  9. The Shins, Kissing the Lipless, Chutes Too Narrow, Sub Pop, 2003
  10. Sebadoh, Brand New Love, The Freed Weed, Homestead, 1990
  11. Tad, Jack Pepsi, 8-Way Santa, Sub Pop, 1991
  12. Afghan Whigs, Retarded, Up In It, Sub Pop, 1990
  13. L7, Shove, Smell the Magic, Sub Pop, 1991
  14. The Postal Service, Such Great Heights, Give Up, Sub Pop, 2003
  15. Nirvana, About a Girl, Bleach, Sub Pop, 1989
  16. Wolf Parade, The Grey Estates, At Mount Zoomer, Sub Pop, 2008
  17. The Afghan Whigs, Miles Iz Ded, Turn on the Water, Sub Pop, 1992
  18. Eric Matthews, Fanfare, It's Heavy in Here, Sub Pop, 1995
  19. Beck, Youthless, Modern Guilt, DGC, 2008
  20. Beck, Walls, Modern Guilt, DGC, 2008
  21. Beck, Replica, Modern Guilt, DGC, 2008
  22. Fleet Foxes, White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes, Sub Pop, 2008
  23. Fleet Foxes, Your Protector, Fleet Foxes, Sub Pop, 2008
  24. Fleet Foxes, Meadowlarks, Fleet Foxes, Sub Pop, 2008
  25. Air France, Collapsing at Your Doorstep, No Way Down, Sincerely Yours, 2008
  26. The Nerves, Hanging on the Telephone, The Nerves, Nerves, 1976
  27. The Clash, I'm So Bored With The USA, The Clash, n/a, 1977
  28. The Talking Heads, Don't Worry About the Government, Talking Heads: 77, CBS, 1977
  29. The Blasters, American Music, American Music, SHOUT!, 1980

Footnotes Beth Tacular The Bowerbirds Sub Pop Records The history of Sub Pop Records The Afghan Whigs perform“Miles Iz Dead”live Cardinal Eric Matthews Its Heavy In Here DJ Danger Mouse Gnarls Barkley's Greg reviews Modern Guilt Fleet Foxes Freak folk