1. “Capernaum” – The Collection. The Collection always blows me away with the intricate complexity of their arrangements. It sounds as if David Wimbish has found an entire orchestra to pour his heart into here; whatever’s left over is spilled out in his deeply mournful and affected vocals. The tension between chipper music and deep sadness in the lyrics is beautiful, calling up sentiments similar to Page France and Sufjan Stevens (but way more orchestral–I know, what could be more arranged than Sufjan’s work? Just listen.)
2. “I Know You Know” – Andrew Judah. Judah is one of the most inventive arrangers I’ve come across in a long time. His songs genuinely defy notions of genre.
3. “The Dusty Air I Breathe” – Clockwork Kids. Confident performances and strong production kick this riff-driven indie-rock track up a notch. The powerful vocals here are particularly surprising.
4. “Two Ships” – Field Mouse. Every time I hear palm muting and pad synths, I think Fleetwood Mac. That comparison isn’t too far off in this mystic, dark indie-pop track.
5. “Kaleidocycle II” – Cloud Seeding. Powerful, beautiful instrumental indie-rock that doesn’t turn into post-rock or electro jams is a rare animal, so get out your safari cameras now.
6. “Banks” – Red Swingline. This complex acoustic picking and arrangement by a project that generally does progressive metal basically becomes a rolling, beautiful post-rock tune with some jazzy moments. Pretty cool.
7. “Room and Pillar” – Knife the Symphony. Cincinnati’s finest, most furious punk band is at it again, serving up brutal, dissonant punk that makes me marvel at how three people make this much noise.
8. “Song 32” – The Austerity Program. I don’t need a reader survey to know the readers here aren’t usually metalheads. BUT IF YOU ARE, The Austerity Program is pretty friggin’ impressive with the riffs here.
Who:Nonagon (Tony Aimone, Robert Gomez, John Hastie); The Austerity Program (Thad Calabrese, Justin Foley) What: Controlled Burn Records, their new artist-run label When: Formed 2013 How: The Austerity Program, formerly of sadly defunct Hydra Head Records, was looking for a label; Nonagon was looking to expand their reach. Cousins Foley and Hastie decided that their two bands could throw their hat in the ring together.
Why: Now here’s where it gets interesting. Controlled Burn Records isn’t out to move either band up to a major label or engage in any sort of careerist acts. The members of each band have jobs, families, and rooted lives that they very much enjoy. So instead of folding the bands or trying to make a poor label match work, the two bands decided to collectively make a system that worked for their needs.
“We didn’t really feel like we were a good fit for [other labels]. We have to do things in a sustainable way. We have to fit our bands into our lives in a way that may not fit with a record label that says, ‘You need to go on tour to support this record,'” said John Hastie, member of Nonagon and thereby co-founder of Controlled Burn. “Hydra Head was incredibly patient with The Austerity Program and all the restrictions that their family and jobs brought. Their situation became part of the solution.”
But they also didn’t just put up a website and call it a record label. Controlled Burn is legally incorporated as a general partnership, securing distribution for its bands, and organizing releases like Nonagon’s recent The Last Hydronaut EP. The five members of the two bands have capitalized on each of their strengths to create a division of labor that everyone benefits from. It wasn’t something that happened overnight; Hastie stressed that there were a lot of late-night phone calls trying to hammer out all of the details. In other words, this is serious, actual stuff.
Controlled Burn Records is not an organization bent on getting bands to major labels, but it’s also not a hobby project. It’s a third way: talented, passionate musicians who are seeking to increase the amount of people who enjoy their music via a non-traditional system. In an Internet era that allows worldwide exposure without having to tour your physical presence all over the world, this sort of creative end-run on traditional methods is important and vital. Many people still want a career in music; adapting some of the principles and methods of Controlled Burn can indeed help move bands along in that endeavor. But CB is also a refreshing example of how the Internet can allow a different set of goals not just to exist, but flourish.
“We made a decision a long time ago, which is we decided to keep this extremely important thing to us–this creative endeavor–we decided to keep it at arm’s length from how we earn our food,” Hastie said. “Am I a ‘hobbyist’? I’ll be a hobbyist. My output keeps getting better and better, and my happiness level has kept getting higher and higher.”
Controlled Burn–what a perfect name for the label. Nonagon and the Austerity Program are both able to keep the fires of their artistry burning, exactly under the specifications they want.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.