Deep Elm Records, whose mail I have been getting since Independent Clauses first started in 2003, has done something entirely unprecedented with its 200+ releases: made them all pay-what-you-want. All of them. This is simply mind-boggling. 200 releases spanning almost 20 years? It’s a treasure trove of everything from raging hardcore to emo to post-rock to post-punk to dance-rock to garage-rock to indie-pop to folk-pop. If it has a guitar in it, Deep Elm has probably put it out. In honor of their 200th, as well as their generosity, here’s a list of my Top Ten Favorite Deep Elm Releases.
Good Job, Deep Elm
Honorable Mentions: She Bears’ I Found Myself Asleep, The Lions Rampant’s It’s Fun to Do Bad Things
10. So Close to Life – Moonlit Sailor. “Hope” is one of my favorite songs of all time, although not my favorite Deep Elm song (that one comes later). A great post-rock album.
9. This is Indie Rock, Vol. 2. The second compilation that I deeply loved from Deep Elm, and they do have a ton of them to keep up with. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about Deep Elm–they go all out for their artists, and that makes them one of the best in the business.
8. Sunshine in a Shot Glass – 500 Miles to Memphis. This album literally does everything I want a country-punk album to do. It could be a blueprint.
7. Why Aren’t I Home? – Athletics. I used to run to this album at a really low point in my life. The dramatic tensions between beautiful and crushing, artsy and muscly, longing and being… This was a wonderful soundtrack to those days.
6. We’ve Been Here Forever – Merkabah. Churning, roiling emo-rock: a blast from their early ’00s past displaced into the early ’10s. This album will have your fists in the air and your throat hoarse.
5. If Arsenic Fails … Try Algebra – Pop Unknown. One of the first Deep Elm releases I bought, this emo-rock gem has some strikingly beautiful songs on it.
4. Nuet – Dorena. Deep Elm has gone on a serious post-rock bender as of late. Although Lights and Motion is deservedly soaking up tons of press, Dorena’s latest album just blows my mind.
3. There Should Be More Dancing – Free Diamonds. Way on the other end of the spectrum, this spazzy dance-rock masterpiece has some of the most impressively frantic (yet hooky!) bass lines I have ever heard.
2. Mare Vitalis – The Appleseed Cast. Not entirely because it contains the literally perfect song “Fishing the Sky,” but seriously. An art-rock epic capped off by what is, for my money, the best song Deep Elm has released.
1. Deep Elm: Too Young to Die – Various. The one that started it all for me; I’ve listened to this comp backwards and forwards more times than I can remember. Absolute gold.
She Bears‘ I Found Myself Asleep is an excellent album that’s hard to pin down. The songs have the detailed, interlocking flourishes of Grizzly Bear-esque indie pop, but they are often overrun with supercharged drumming and distorted guitar. Even when this happens, the vocals remain peculiarly affected: they’re yearning, but not yelpy in the least. They’re not especially high, but they’re not especially low, either.
The vocal melodies have the long, drawn-out notes of morose singers, but the melodies aren’t the depressing ones of The Cure. The lyrics are depressing at times, but the melodies don’t sound that depressing. The songs retain instead a feeling of wide-eyed loss: an optimism that gets more muted with harsh colors of reality with every passing song. Occasional bursts of euphoria bust out of the downwardly morose proceeings: sometimes for a piano riff, sometimes for a whole song.
Grandaddy would have liked to tour with She Bears, because the bands have similar “parts murky/parts pristine” recording styles. But She Bears doesn’t sound like Grandaddy that much; it’s just the closest marker I could think of in my extensive music-listening comparatives.
In short, She Bears’ I Found Myself Asleep is totally original and thoroughly fascinating. Appropriating things found everywhere else, they’ve crafted the parts together into a batch of songs that is mesmerizing, thrilling and engrossing.
“Winter” puts a song on the back of a jaunty, saloon-style piano riff, then fills it out with maxed-out drums and big guitars. But because of the way it’s mixed, it doesn’t feel like a rock song. Instead, it’s the loudest indie-pop song in the world.
“What Morning Brings” stomps through its existence, but without the anger usually reserved for staccato riffs and thudding drums. This is definitely because of the upbeat piano and circus-style synths dancing through the tune.
“Surely This Time” features an egg shaker (or something similar) and the most desperate vocal line of the bunch. The piano and the vocals again save this from being a rock song. The theme runs throughout: She Bears is the loudest rock band in the world that I can’t listen to as a rock band. Even as “Found Myself Asleep” pounds its way through (from the very beginning!), I still chill to this. I put it on when I’m about to go to sleep.
This is no dig to the power of the album; “Planes” is emotionally gripping, while “Signals” and the intro to “The Misery of Sainthood” are beautiful. The rest of “The Misery of Sainthood” rocks out, to the envy of similar bands. “Victim of Circumstance” must have three or four distortion pedals happening at the same time.
What’s even more fascinating is that this isn’t simply a collection of tunes; if it were, this review would have been really easy to write. This review has taken forever because the songs are so perfectly meshed into each other. The peculiar mood that I explained at the beginning permeates the entirety of I Found Myself Asleep. It’s a thorough album that doesn’t disappoint in any way. I’ve never heard anything quite like She Bears, and that’s nothing but a compliment in this case. It means they occupy a space in my music library and heart that no one else can fill. Highly recommended.