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.
If you read my review of Microbunny’s 49 Swans recently, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of seasonal music. It’s not a hard and fast rule; I just find myself listening to more pop-punk in summer than I do in winter. And so, The Lions Rampant‘s It’s Fun to Do Bad Things hit me at exactly the right time. This, dear readers, is summer music.
The Lions Rampant produces a bombastic blast of rock’n’roll that’s heavy on guitars, organ, attitude and vices. With titles like “Cocaine Anne,” “Cigs and Gin” and title track “It’s Fun to Do Bad Things,” it’s very clear what lifestyle TLR lives. And for roughly forty minutes, their brand of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” is the most engaging thing going.
The band’s adrenaline-fueled mishmash works perfectly and never gets repetitive. The members appropriate Hot Hot Heat (remember them?) on “The Lights On,” with an upbeat piano riff and a melodic approach to the vocals. This is distinctive because vocalist Stuart Mackenzie spends most of his time hollering, wavering somewhere between an out-and-out yell (“I Need (Your Love)” starts off with Mackenzie yelling “Kick out the jams!”, MC5-style) and a snarling speak/sing. It fits the splashy, charging rock perfectly.
And the members know they’re awesome, which makes this set of songs even more enjoyable. “Give Me” steals Queen’s shtick, demanding that someone give him someone to love. It’s not a cover; it’s a direct challenge to Queen, apparently. Or maybe they don’t know about Queen. Or maybe they don’t even care. Yeah, who really cares? I think they’d prefer I just shut up and dance.
They don’t demand dancing on “Cigs and Gin.” That’s because they destroy pop song structures with the tune, taking stops and starts to a new level. They let Mackenzie ramble on for about half the song without any accompaniment from the band. But it’s not divisible into this half and that half; he’ll ramble for twenty seconds, then the band will crash in, then drop out twenty seconds later, only to crash in five later, and on and on. It keeps the listener on point, as there’s absolutely no way to tell what’s going to happen. A whole album of this would be frustrating, probably; but in this context, it’s hands down the best track. It rocks when the band kicks it in, and it rocks when the band isn’t stomping through. It’s easily the best rock song I’ve heard all year.
There are a half dozen more songs on this album that deserve to be talked about, but there’s not the space nor your attention span for that. Just go buy It’s Fun to Do Bad Things by the Lions Rampant. If you like sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, or bands that espouse that ideology, you will love the Lions Rampant. Highly recommended for the rock’n’rolla in you.