Nothing But Fixations
The Chicago cold keeps everyone shut in this time of the year. Employment, I’ve heard, is beginning its upward arc, but I’ve not yet been called out to start my ascent. Considering this, there’s nothing but fixations to keep me busy and warm. Some credit should be given to my unwieldy furnace, but that’s more of a curse than a blessing, to tell the truth.

Fixations. In the viewable world, I’ve been leaning on the English. The films of Mike Leigh. The stories of Glen Duncan and Alan Sillitoe. The darkness of that trio has been floodlights shone into a place that will never be mine. Thanks…er…gents.

Stereo-wise, I’ve been sticking stateside.

Sub-Pop has a long history of releasing records of historical importance. I lost my youth wandering the vaults of its early catalog. Coming of age in the early 90s, it was almost an inevitability. But somewhere along the line they seemed to drop the proverbial ball as far as I was concerned. They began releasing records that couldn’t sustain the spastic twitches of my teenage attention span.

Was it two years ago? Maybe it was slightly less that my ears started to perk up again and take notice of what Sub Pop was spitting out into the scene. Iron and Wine’s filmic minimalism. The Postal Service’s seamless melding of electronics and lovelorn lore. The contained raw power of The Constantines. Christ, they even took on Trembling Blue Stars. Suddenly there was so much to be excited about. So many new classics scaling the skyscraping heights of the Nirvanas, the Mudhoneys, the Beat Happenings.

So right now I’m fixating on Sub Pop. Again and anew. A friend recently relayed pair of new Sub Pop CDs to my foyer: All Night Radio’s Spirit Stereo Frequency and The Elected’s Me First. May she have eternal life.

All Night Radio is the duo of Dave Scher and Jimi Hey, restless Beachwood Sparks affiliates who apparently spend their free time dabbling in dope and listening to records by Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Sebadoh and, oh I dunno, Iron Butterfly. It’s an experiment in new century psych that runs the gamut from sighing, laid-back sunshine pop of “Oh, When?” to the woozy cosmic shake-up of “Fall Down 7.” At times the trip that All Night Radio guides you through breaks down in patches of barren landscape, but for the most part, it keeps moving right along; it's a pleasant jaunt of a record that makes for a peppy silence-canceller. A nice listen for laundry day.

In another example of musicians biding their main band’s downtime, The Elected is the solo effort of Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett. You know those painfully forced bummer male vocalist tracks on RK’s The Execution of All Things? That’s Mr. Sennett. Luckily, in distancing himself (somewhat, as RK members contribute to several tracks on Me First), Sennett is able to prove—and even almost outdo—himself. He takes a deep breath; the open air of solitude suits him well.

Reference points are easy: Bright Eyes (minus the manic, falling off the edge of your seat neurosis), Elliot Smith (sans the, well, not-of-this-world-anymore-ness) and Gram Parsons (ditto). The ground he treads has been tread before, sure, but he treads it in refreshing ways: lightly, innocently; plainspoken and unpretentious. Candor like a slap in the face. “If you see me down at the liquor store, don’t tell my dad. And if you see my dad down at the liquor store, don’t tell me anything at all.” (“7 September 2003”) Harmonicas and slide guitars aplenty (courtesy of the Saddle Creek studio crew), an electronic garnish (the work of Jimmy Tamborello) and those lyrics! work together to produce a timeless record that easily blankets Sennett’s main project sins. Redemption, pure and sweet.

Dear Sub Pop: with these releases, you’ve made an intriguing and classy entry into 2004. So let the fixation-fodder keep on rolling! Come summer, I want to be swimming in it.

© 2004 Michael Seidel