Who Are These Guys?

Saddle Creek, the Omaha, Nebraska, label that is home to Cursive, Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, the Good Life, the Faint, and Rilo Kiley, recently celebrated its 50th release by compiling a double-CD sampler of its bands, each of whom contribute a previously released song and a new song.

Saddle Creek 50 comes on the heels of a year of blinding media attention for the small-town collective. In response to Bright Eyes' sprawling folk epic Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, which has sold approximately an indie-impressive 75,000 copies to date; the explosive social commentary of Desaparecidos' Read Music Speak Spanish (it's Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst's other band); the Faint's no-wave Danse Macabre; Cursive's The Ugly Organ; and the Kid A-ish Black Out by the Good Life (Tim Kasher of Cursive's other band; Saddle Creek is a cross-breeding ground), media outlets like Time, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and virtually every other pop-music commentator of any import attempted to dissect the Omaha phenomenon.

"We try not to think about it too much," label head Robb Nansel says. "It's good for the bands and the label as far as I can tell, and I definitely think the bands deserve the attention, so I don't have any regrets at this point."

This microscopic focus and the quality of music being produced by Saddle Creek's artists begs the question of whether the small company, which just last year moved into a "real" office, can hold onto the bands that have propelled it.

"That was a big concern a year or so ago," Cursive's Kasher recalls, "that if bands leave [for major labels] then Saddle Creek would fall apart. But I think that Saddle Creek has really established itself by now and is its own entity even without Bright Eyes or the Faint or Cursive."

"I'd like to think that we would withstand it without a hitch," Nansel says. "It would certainly be a bit of a bummer and go against the whole idea, but if a band came to the conclusion that they could benefit more from a major, I would certainly support their decision."

For the time being, it is a moot point. Kasher and Nansel believe the media spotlight has strengthened the music scene in Omaha. "At least on the side of music awareness, it's really made it a spot. Every touring band stops in Omaha now," Kasher says.

"Some people have moved here," Nansel adds, "but I think at this point everything has still been pretty positive; we've gained some great musicians and God knows Omaha can use some more culture-minded youngsters."

Oberst, who is the label's hottest property and whose absence would create the biggest vacuum, already has a publishing deal with Sony that provided some precious lucre (minimally, it should be noted -- enough to buy him a modest house in Omaha), and seems weary of the attention he's receiving. He sings "So I'm making a deal with the devils of fame, sayin' let me walk away, please,'" on the new Bright Eyes track "One Foot in Front of the Other."

Saddle Creek 50 also contains songs from the Now It's Overhead, Son, Ambulance, Azure Ray, Sorry About Dresden, and Mayday, as well as an amusing collection of 45 brief films that appeared on in 2002.

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Brendan Joel Kelley