Sleater-Kinney returns next week with their eight studio album, No Cities To Love. The return of S-K could not be more welcomed, and the album in no way disappoints die-hard fans or new converts.
For the second time, Sleater-Kinney are releasing an album through Sub Pop, the iconic indie label responsible for overseeing the release of music from some of the biggest names in independent music. The imminent release of No Cities To Love seemed like the perfect time to celebrate Sub Pop, with special attention going to where No Cities rests in the context of the label’s past releases.
The following is chronological list of some of the biggest names associated with Sub Pop. Please note that all songs are taken from album’s released under Sub Pop. That is why certain material from J Mascis, Nirvana and Sleater-Kinney, to name a few, was not included.
A Spotify playlist featuring all the tracks is posted below.
Nirvana “Paper Cuts”
Bleach is often the Nirvana album mentioned the least, but that has more to do with the their following two albums than revealing any shortcomings in their 1989 Sub Pop debut. “Paper Cuts” charges along with a venomous intensity, and Kurt Cobain proves to be a compelling frontman with his expressive, vulnerable, ultimately fluid vocal performance.
Mudhoney “Good Enough”
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge; 1991
Mudhoney never reached the commercial height of Nirvana, but you would never guess that listening to them today. Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge is one of the best albums from Seattle’s early 90s grunge scene, and “Good Enough” captures the urgency and flexibility of the record that makes it as potent now as it was 24 years earlier.
The Postal Service “Such Great Heights”
Give Up; 2003
Almost everyone I know gets butterflies in their stomach when looking down from a great distance. The Postal Service expertly matched that intrinsic feeling on “Such Great Heights”, a song that manifests those anxieties in useful, creative ways unlike anything we heard before.
The Shins “Things To Come”
Chutes Too Narrow; 2003
The closing track of The Shins criminally overlooked sophomore album Chutes Too Narrow is subtle and reflective even by James Mercer standards. In the context of where Sub Pop was in 2003, it also serves as the perfect antithesis to The Postal Service’s bubbly electronica.
The Great Destroyer; 2005
“Monkey” was featured on Low’s first album for Sub Pop, and serves as one of the best moments in the band’s impressive discography. The song was later covered by none other than Robert Plant, who successfully retained the original’s simmering ominous undertones.
Wolf Parade “I’ll Believe In Anything”
Apologies To The Queen Mary; 2005
Wolf Parade has sadly been on hiatus since 2011, but thankfully band members Dan Boekner and Spencer Krug have continued to release some outstanding music outside of the band. Of course, it wouldn’t have been so bad losing the collective if their music wasn’t so damn good. “I’ll Believe In Anything” is probably the band’s most well-known song, and for good reason. The song introduces us to all the hallmarks of their sound; unconventional vocals and production choices, anthemic melodies and a thrilling sense of discovery.
Band of Horses “The Funeral“
Everything All The Time; 2006
While Band Of Horses may have derailed a bit with their last album, Everything All The Time remains a definitive moment in Sub Pop’s history, and “The Funeral” a moment not many bands have been able to top. It’s truly one of the best compositions this century, and helped keep a folk-aesthetic en vogue for the next couple of years.
Iron & Wine “Boy With A Coin”
The Shepherd’s Dog; 2007
Sub Pop was at the forefront of the 00’s infatuation with acoustic-driven singer-songwriter sounds, something I’d call “Mountain Rock” if that wasn’t such a terrible name. The Shins helped usher in this sound with their first two albums, but in the years that followed the likes of Band Of Horses, Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes helped expand the sound. While Band Of Horses opted for soaring stadium rock, Iron & Wine was more concerned with operating in quieter settings.
Fleet Foxes “He Doesn’t Know Why”
Fleet Foxes; 2008
Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut is one of the best albums of this century, with gorgeous harmonies, memorable hooks and thoughtful lyrics combining in the most beautiful way imaginable. A lot of praise is directed towards “White Winter Hymnal,” and deservedly so. Yet it’s always been “He Doesn’t Know Why” that’s struck me the hardest.
The Helio Sequence “Lately”
Keep Your Eyes Ahead; 2008
The Helio Sequence does not have the recognition of many of the other artists mentioned here. But they serve as a reminder that Sub Pop is more than just its biggest acts, and that the reason for the label’s success is largely due to the work of the middle class of artists on their roster.
J Mascis “Listen To Me”
Several Shades Of Why; 2011
J Mascis is one of the more reliable artists in Sub Pop’s roster, seemingly always releasing competent, confident records. The opening track of Several Shades of Why is an acoustic number carried by Mascis’ worn, gravelly vocals.
Washed Out “Eyes Be Closed”
Within And Without; 2011
Washed Out isn’t just connected to Sleater-Kinney through a record label. S-K guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s moonlight gig, costarring in the brilliant Portlandia, features this Washed Out track as its theme music. The song accurately projects the mood of the show, which is full of characters slightly aloof, lost in their own world. That’s what happens when your life is soundtracked by “Eyes Be Closed”.
Beach House “Wild”
Beach House may have been the hardest artist to pick a song for, as they don’t really have a defining track or record. Simply everything they release is worthy of praise. But “Wild” is one of their best, up there with “Myth” and “Silver Soul” and “Norway”. The guitar work here is marvelous, assisting in the making of a Sub Pop classic.
Father John Misty “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
Fear Fun; 2012
Father John Misty’s 2012 Sub Pop debut featured one of the year’s truly great singles in “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. From that stellar guitar riff to J Tillman’s characteristically, tragically funny lyrics, “Sings” is a perfect summation of why FJM has garnered such a strong fan base with only one album under his belt.
awE naturalE; 2012
Hip-Hop is not a genre Sub Pop flirts with often, but when they do, the results are some of the more forward thinking tracks in the genre. THEESatisfaction’s 2012 debut featured the incredible “Queen$”, which is somehow better today than it was when it first dropped. For Sub Pop, THEESatisfaction marked a refreshing shift in course from their roster’s output in the 00’s, while the influential indie label helped provide this blossoming duo with a stage capable of supporting their talent.
Sleater-Kinney “Surface Envy”
No Cities To Love; 2015
We end with the inspiration for this list. Sleater-Kinney is rightfully considered one of the most important (and best) rock ‘n roll groups to premiere within the past 20 years. It is hard to challenge such a claim, especially in light of the magnificent work the group put into No Cities To Love. “Surface Envy” and “Bury Our Friends” were the album’s two prerelease singles, and while they are truly great tracks, they might not even crack my top 3 songs on the new disc. But on a record as assertive as No Cities To Love, “Envy”‘s central message, “We win, we lose / Only together do we break the rules” is as good a rallying cry as any. It could also help define what has allowed Sub Pop to endure and withstand nearly three decades of upheaval in the music industry.