Founded in 1986 in Seattle by Bruce Pavitt, Sub Pop records became the catalyst of the Alternative Rock and Grunge scenes that exploded to recognition in the late 80s/early 90s. With bands like Nirvana, Soundarden, Mudhoney and Grunge originals Green River, they became the focus of the world in less than four years. Nirvana’s Bleach gave the label a steady income, allowing them to expand their roster, branching out to Grunge and beyond. In 1995, Warner Bros. bought up 49% of the company, allowing them to push further into the mainstream. Now hosting bands such as Beach House, The Shins, Fleet Foxes and there recent signing Goat, Sub Pop are a dominant force in the music industry.
A lot of their early records are today ignored, forgotten to time, or simply overshadowed by bigger more powerful artists. Kurt Cobain’s influence was felt for years after his departure to Geffen, Sub Pop issued a compilation of the Vaselines discography, reisussed the Wipers’ debut album Is This Real? and helped several of Kurt’s friends achieve their own ambitions. Over the course of this article, we will look back at some of Sub Pop’s finest moments.
1. Mark Lanegan – The Winding Sheet
In 1990, Screeming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan released his solo debut The Winding Sheet, an album that walks a fine line between Alternative Rock and Folk, including elements of Grunge along the way. The Winding Sheet is jam packed of excellent songs, heart-felt, edgy, yet soft. There’s a real Kurt Cobain feel at times; he even pops up with fellow Nirvana member Krist Novoselic for a cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, some four years before Kurt’s amazing unplugged version of the song. Lanegan has since had a massively prolific career, releasing a large amount of solo and collaborative albums as well as being a member of Queens of the Stone Age between 2000 and 2006.
2. Rein Sanction – Broc’s Cabin
I cannot think of a more criminally overlooked album than Rein Sanction’s Broc’s Cabin. A noisy Alternative Rock masterpiece that recalls the glory years of Dinosaur Jr., Broc’s Cabin stands out for its incredible guitar riffs that seem to bounce around your brain like an agitated flea. Everything about this album is perfect and anyone who dismisses it is seriously missing out.
3. Eric’s Trip – Love Tara
Ever wondered what My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless would sound like without all the effects? Eric’s Trip’s Love Tara may well be your answer to that. The album’s pop sensibilities are truly contemplative and the lo-fi production makes it a very personal record indeed. The similarity with My Bloody Valentine lies in melody structures, they feel very close to those of the shoegazing legends. Switching between soft and upbeat across the record, Eric’s Trip offer up some real diversity. An album for summer days in the sun and good times.
4. Pond – Pond
Before the Neo-Psychedelia of Australian band Pond, there was a different Pond. A Pond anchored in the sounds of Grunge and Alternative Rock. However, they too had a psychedelic edge that set them apart from most other bands of the time. Their self-titled debut is an excellent foray into aggressive yet catchy songs with amazing hooks and choruses. You’ll be bopping your head and singing along in now time. Pond are one of the few bands that ever reached Nirvana’s ability to blend Pop and hard hitting Rock simultaneously.
5. Earth – Pentastar: In the Style of Demons
Kurt Cobain often talked about his friend Dylan Carlson. They were very close during Kurt’s life, sharing both good and bad times. Carlson’s band Earth released an outstanding album in 1996 that stepped away from their usual Drone roots to adopt a Stoner Rock feel that is still unmatched today. Pentastar: In the Style of Demons is a truly heavy piece of music that reflects the hazy sensations associated with drug use. It’s psychedelia under a new light, a less trippy light, a more depressed light. Their rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Peace in Mississippi” is something to behold, but in all fairness they barely make a wrong move. And for a heavily instrumental based album, Pentastar really does hook you in.