Monday, February 22, 2010

What We're Listening To - The Soft Pack's s/t

The Soft Pack's self titled kinda debut album (the first under the band's new name) is a fun 10 song, 40 minute ride, full of garagey punk guitars and mopey lyrics. It's an odd combination that works much better than you would think.

If I hadn't been hooked by the opener "C'Mon," I wouldn't have stayed for the rest. With its Dick Dale surf rock guitar opening, pushing drums, and ridiculously catchy chorus, these guys got the order right. "Move Along" and "Answer to Yourself" melds those depressing lyrics ("I don't know what shape I'm in/Living here I just can't win") with some classic punk motifs of simple guitar chords and bass.

My favorite one-two punch is "Flammable" and "Mexico," two songs that can't seem further apart. Flammable with all this bottled up quick energy, sounds like a train about to derail. Then it's back to that dreamy surf rock with Mexico, a song that almost twice as long as the one before it. It slows you down to a crawl, and it's beautiful.

In a year that so far has seen some pretty stellar releases, this is another notch on 2010's music belt.

Download for FREE The Soft Pack's "Answer To Yourself" from Amazon mp3

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Labeled - Interview with Cherub Records Head Honcho PJ Sykes

Chances are if you follow music, you probably follow a few labels. Labels tend to sign the same bands, so you know if X band is on Y label, Z band on the same label will probably sound just as fantastic.

We fell in love with Merge last year, but we've been fans of Teenbeat, Matador, Slumberland... the list goes on. And those are the biggie indies.

I wanted to take a moment and interview some friends who are doing some very cool work with their own labels. In this series Labeled, we'll chat with some smaller labels and see how they do it.

First up (and on his 30th birthday no doubt) is PJ Sykes, founder of Cherub Records, a kind of bedroom label. I met PJ and his lovely fiancee Melissa this summer at that Merge XX fest. He saved our spot near the front of the stage, where he was snapping pictures (which you can see here.)

You can check out Cherub Records stuff on their website. Most of the free stuff is gone, but if you hear something you like, drop him some cash.

The Basics

Name and age: PJ Sykes almost 30. (Ed Note: We delayed putting this up, but he's 30 as of today)

Title: I never know what to say here... Founder?

Location: Started in Lynchburg, VA moved to Richmond, VA early '00s

Years running: started officially in 2001 (with roots back to 1996)

So how did this all start? What's the genesis behind Cherub Records?
I was playing in a band called Angels VS Aliens on my friends label called Batty Records. When AVSA was breaking up I started getting interested in releasing some side projects and friends bands. Since Batty Records wasn't really my label I decided to come up with a name to put out records under. It was a very last minute thing... I think I looked around my bedroom and took a handful of words and stuck them in front of word "records". Cherub came from "Cherub Rock" a Smashing Pumpkins song. No real reason other than it sounded good at the time. The reason I started a label was so I could get press. I found it was smarter to contact press as "PJ Sykes from Cherub Records" rather than "hey talk about this band I'm in"

What's your mission/belief statement? What do you hope to accomplish?
Originally the label was all homemade CDrs with artwork that I made by hand. Most of the releases have had handmade artwork for the first batch then photo copied versions later. It started off as a way to put out some funny Kids Techno albums. Then I started to branch out. At one point I was trying to release records by bands that I liked but didn't necessarily record, or play in. Then I realized that cost a lot more money that I was willing to part with... so I did some Compilations instead. Soon after that the label basically became a place for my own music or music that I have a hand in directly.

What are some of the challenges for your label?
The main challenge for my label was been deciding what I what it to be. Now that I'm comfortable with what it's function is it's much easier to run. Many of the early challenges were getting the releases into stores, and once they were stocked... selling them. Now that I can sell them online through iTunes and other websites I don't feel the need to keep physical releases stores. All the bands on the label are projects I'm directly involved in.

What sound are you looking for? What are some bands on the horizon?
I'm into a lot of music and the "sound" of Cherub has changed as I get into different things. Working on finally getting the Graceland Grave Robbers release online. It's being mastered in February.

What are some of your favorite recent releases? What's an album youfind yourself always going back to?
My top 5 from 2009:...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead The Century Of Self
Akron/Family Set Em Wild, Set Em Free
Vic Chesnutt At The Cut
Fin Fang Foom Monomyth
Lambchop Live at XX Merge (PJ Shot the album cover for this)

I keep going back to Fugazi, Mogwai, Smashing Pumpkins (pre 2000), the first three Foo Fighters albums, My Bloody Valentine "Lovelace", The first three Trail of Dead albums, Rollins Band "Do It", Refused "Shape of Punk To Come", Joy Division, New Order (anything pre Republic)... there's more I'm sure!

Where do you see Cherub in 1 year? 5 years?
1 year - put out the rest of the A New Dawn Fades stuff that is in the "vault"
5 years- put out some one off projects with different people.

Where can I get a Cherub pressed album?
Right now the best way is to download Cherub releases from iTunes or

Who's doing the pressing? Distribution?
Still all handmade by me or downloads to your computer.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What We're Listening To - Vampire Weekend's Contra

I'm on the fence about Contra.

I've listened to it over and over and over again. And I can't quite peg it. But something is wrong with it. I dunno. Maybe attacking me first out the gate by rhyming horchata and balaclava isn't the way to get me to like you. Yes, you're smart. Don't flaunt it.

But then there are songs like California English and the Diplomat's Son, brimming with Afro Caribbean beats and funk. Don't even get me started on Cousins. That is how you make a pop song people.

But I feel like every other song puts me in a bad 80s movie. Maybe I'm asking too much.

Whatever it is, I can't stop listening to it. Buy at your own caution.