There are still record labels out there whose cosign means something, labels whose names on the spine of a record clue you in immediately to the kind of world they're trying to build, whose logos act as a stamp of approval. For indie rock lovers, Captured Tracks is just such a label.
The Brooklyn-based label have hit their "aluminum and tin" anniversary this year. In just 10 years, they've assembled an impressive roster of indie acts, ranging from couch-surfing crooner Mac DeMarco and the dreamy Technicolor pop of Wild Nothing to rampaging grunge-punks in Naomi Punk. They've also been killing it in the reissues game, resurrecting classic British DIY groups like The Wake and The Monochrome Set, bringing cassette kingpin Martin Newell's entire discography back into print, re-releasing New Zealand jangle-pop classics from Flying Nun Records, and even putting out deluxe box sets for groups like Nebraskan post-punks For Against.
To celebrate their big 1-0, the label is doing an anniversary tour. Three of their up-and-coming acts are on the road and coming to Phoenix on Friday, October 26: singer-songwriter Lina Tullgren; warped art-rockers Drahla; and "guitarless guitar music" Auckland band Wax Chattels. They represent the label's future, so we thought it'd be fun to look back at Captured Tracks' past and highlight their "top 10." If you're looking for an introduction into the sprawling Captured Tracks discography, these 10 artists are a great place to start.
A trio of nervy, jagged punkers, Brooklyn's B Boys sound like Parquet Courts' snottier, hornier, and angrier little brothers. B Boys' Dada is one of Captured Tracks' finest offerings of contemporary post-punk. Powered by back-and-forth shouts, spiky guitar playing, and unpredictable beats, Dada is the musical equivalent of a nervous background, an album that's desperately trying to keep it together while everything inside it is coming to a boil.
In addition to putting out stellar contemporary releases, Captured Tracks is doing the Lord's work by rescuing some lost indie classics from the dollar bins of history. One such glorious resurrection is Bona Dish's The Zaragoza Tapes: 1981-1982. A jangly Hertfordshire quartet, the band came up during the dawn of the UK’s DIY indie-pop scene. Bona Dish were precursors to the twee-pop and C86 movements that would briefly sweep across the underground years later. What set the band apart from fellow DIY groups like the Television Personalities (and future DIY legends like Tallulah Gosh and Black Tambourine) was their intensity: They mixed in gothy atmospherics and tense vocals to give their songs a haunting, unsettled quality.
Hailing from the rugged land of Ontario, Canada, Chastity’s Brandon Williams switches styles like they’re T-shirts. On Death Lust, the Chastity frontman shifts from ballads to shoegaze to post-hardcore, displaying both keen pop songwriting instincts and a knack for conjuring up crushing, dense guitar riffs. Imagine a teen in the suburbs, bored out of their minds, spending their days blasting The Cure and Deftones’ White Pony in their headphones and you’ve got a sense of the kind of headspace Death Lust will put you in.
Speaking of shoegaze: You can't get much more introverted and gaze-y than the gentle dream pop of deardarkhead. A group of Anglophile rockers from New Jersey, they took their name from an Irish-language poem called “Cean Dubh Dilis” by Sir Samuel Ferguson. Captured Tracks put out a comp of their early work called Oceanside: 1991-1993 which chronicles the band's evolution from moody, Cure-esque post-punk copycats to a sound that's more lush and dreamy. While so many U.S. shoegaze groups tried (and failed) to beat My Bloody Valentine and Ride at their own game by going loud, deardarkhead eschewed tinnitus-guitars for the kind of dreamier, softer dynamic sounds that Slowdive and The Pale Saints were putting out. It’s music that wafts in and out of your ears like smoke: twisting, languorous, and ethereal.
Ah, Mac DeMarco. Never mind that he looks like every guy who's ever bummed a cigarette from you at any house show you've ever been to, because the man knows how to write a killer song. He's the savior/antichrist child prophesied by our yacht rock prophets, the mellow melody-maker who would redeem (or damn) mankind with his chill-vibes music and his smoking loosies and drinking PBRs lifestyle. Perhaps one day, when the last Parrothead has died and Jimmy Buffet is eating his cheeseburger in Paradise, the old mellow heads of the future will congregate at DeMarco shows and pound brewskis as he plays "Salad Days." And odds are good I'll be right there with them.
Anyone who's listened to The Crow soundtrack has taken a dose of Medicine. Formed in L.A. in 1990 by Savage Republic's Brad Laner, Medicine are a U.S. shoegaze band. While they're best known for appearing on everybody's favorite goth vigilante soundtrack, they also put out compelling, fuzzed-out records like Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life. And unlike some of the other entrants in Captured Tracks' Shoegaze Archives, Medicine are still active and putting out ace records like To The Happy Few.
Hailing from Barcelona, Mourn are one of the fiercest post-punk revivalists on the scene. While their songs have a monochromatic, gloomy sheen, they play them with a violent intensity that recalls '90s noise-queens like Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey. Their riffs and rhythms are sharp and barbed, cutting through their melodies like a razor blade poking out of the center of a fun-size Snickers bar. Start with their self-titled debut and work your way chronologically through the other records to hear them grow leaps and bounds from LP to LP. They've added new textures and colors to their palettes on their latest record, Sorpresa Familia, cooing sweetly on "Orange" as their guitars chime through the haze.
While a good chunk of the Captured Tracks discography is devoted to dreamy sounds, they also have room on their roster for harsher sonics. Olympia, Washington, trio Naomi Punk are grungy sludge-punks. Picture Bleach-era Nirvana on cough syrup and you've found the Naomi Punk Rosetta Stone. They play heavy, fuzzy rock that's not afraid to deconstruct itself or mess with their audience's expectations. While earlier effort Television Man finds the band kicking out some pummeling jams, their latest effort, Yellow, finds them fully embracing their experimental side, warping and twisting their vocals and instrumental sounds into weird shapes like something that's been left in a hot car for too long.
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Already a record-holder for being the most published living English poet, Martin Newell is also giving every other English songwriter a run for their money as the nation's most prolific songwriter. A tireless DIY workhorse, Newell has put out over 40 self-produced records: some under his own name, but most under The Cleaners from Venus banner. Enamored with the glory days of '60s pop, Newell blends his Kinks and Beatles love with an ear for strange sonic textures and a fuck-it-we'll-do-it-live nonchalance for production values (or editing out accidental sounds (sometimes you can hear passing cars or ducks quacking in his backyard). While Newell has produced a staggering amount of great albums (most of which are available on Captured Tracks) as The Cleaners, the best introduction to his work came out under his own name. Working with XTC's Andry Partridge as a producer, Newell's 1993 The Greatest Living Englishman is a masterpiece of DIY pop music: Witty, pastoral (with flashes of dissonance), and warm, it's a work that sounds like it exists outside of time.
If you were to take 75 percent of the Captured Tracks roster and mix it together to form a single person, you'd probably end up with Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum. Tatum's love of hazy atmospherics, dream-pop sounds, and the Eighties checks just about every box on the Captured Tracks favorite things list (with the exception of the label's love of noisy rock). But Tatum isn't a mere style biter or New Wave revivalist; He crafts compelling and contemporary sounds out of these old, discarded pop forms. There's still juice left to squeeze out of those musical oranges and lemons, and Tatum gets out every drop and mixes them into something new on records like Nocturne and Life of Pause.
CT-X: Captured Tracks 10 Year Anniversary Tour With Drahla, Lina Tullgren, Wax Chattels, and Lil Trip. 8 p.m. Friday, October 26, at Trunk Space, 1124 North Third Street; thetrunkspace.com. Tickets are $10 via Ticketfly.