In celebration of Captured Tracks recent 10th anniversary, we geeked out and compiled our favourite releases to date...
Since its inception in 2008, by Mike Sniper, Captured Tracks has released a ridiculous amount of flawless albums and assembled a roster of artists the likes of which we may never live to see again. Wild Nothing, The Soft Moon, Beach Fossils, Mac DeMarco, DIIV, Craft Spells, Blouse, Naomi Punk, Chastity, Perfect Pussy, B Boys, Lina Tullgren, EZTV, Molly Burch and MOURN have all rubbed shoulders and shared rack space, and there is a new glut of artists chomping at the bit to join them, bubbling just below the surface.
To celebrate this auspicious occasion we've dug through the back catalogue and picked 10 albums that sum up everything that has made Captured Tracks an institution, rather than just a label.
We hope you enjoy the selections as much as we did going through them, and yes as we finally drew a line under this, after weeks of list making and revising, we realise we’ve probably made a mistake by omitting some albums. This list isn’t meant to be a definitive list, as the label is still going and releasing jaw-dropping music, but these are 10 albums that spoke the loudest at the time of writing, compiling and re-jiggling.
Perfect Pussy - Say Yes to Love
Opening with a visceral punch in the face ‘Say Yes to Love’ doesn’t let up for the next 23 minutes. This is down to the unrelenting nature of the music, hardcore-inspired punk with noise rock leanings, but also down to frontwoman Meredith Graves’ vocal delivery. Graves takes aim at the androcentric music industry. She almost succeeds in bringing it down too, as by the end of ‘Say Yes to Love’ you have worn down, broken and reassembled. Sadly ‘Say Yes to Love’ is the only Perfect Pussy album as they broke up in 2016, and now Graves is an MTV presenter. But they delivered the punk promise. Say everything on one flawless classic album, then break up.
Standout Track: Interference Fits
Chastity - Death Lust
When listening to ‘Death Lust’ you wonder if you’ve stepped into a parallel universe where Faith No More went hardcore, instead of alt-rock. It’s a world where leviathan-sized guitar riffs juxtapose frontman Brandon Williams’ gentle and understated vocals. It’s this combination that is at the heart of Chastity, and why ‘Death Lust’ is one of the most intriguing and captivating albums in recent years. Chastity possesses that rare trait of being an album to make one hell of a racket, but back it up with killer melodies and a deep lyrical content. This could be your new favourite band.
Standout Track: Choke
The Beets - Stay at Home
There is something about lo-fi recordings that brings a smile to the face. This smile is well and truly lodged there during the duration of The Beets second album ‘Stay at Home’. Compared to their previous album, ‘Let the Poison Out’, ‘Stay at Home’ sounds like it was recorded at Abbey Road. The highlight is when things descended to primal levels and you can’t quite make out if that is a guitar or caterwaul vocals. This is a gorgeous triumph in not caring about lyrics, playing ability and generally recording techniques.
Standout Track: Pops N Me
Widowspeak - All Yours
After two dark and broody albums, Widowspeak changed the script and lifted the shutters a bit. The light that streamed in altered their musical dynamic, allowing the songs to become more sparse, but no less powerful. At their heart Widowspeak take the traditions of folk, classic rock, country and skew it into a glorious form of Americana. Lilting vocals gently drift above the guitars and drums, as smoke drifts above an ashtray, which is hard to ignore, but like smoke even harder to grab hold of. Every song is self-contained and full of pretty melodies. It’s hard to say a bad word against it.
Standout Track: Narrows
Chris Cohen - As if Apart
On the surface ‘As if Apart’ feels like a jolly affair. Jaunty melodies play tag with warm guitar sounds. As they jog about chasing each other, you get lost in the moment. When it finishes you feel pretty good, like how you do after chatting to a friend you haven’t seen for a while. You are reminded about why you are friends in the first place, but on the way home you start to sense all isn’t right and words and phrases start to worry you a bit. By the time you are home, you’ve decided to meet your friend again. This is how ‘As if Apart’ feel. After a few more listens the melancholy starts to set in. It’s at this point that the album starts to come alive and you start to reassess what you thought it was about.
Standout Track: Memory
Blouse - Blouse
Portland’s Blouse aren’t just chasing musical nostalgia, or so they once said in an interview. Instead, they want to understand it, find out how it was made and, more importantly, find out how they can make similar music. On their exquisite self-titled debut Blouse had started to work this out. Sounding like it could have been recorded at any time in the past 30 years ‘Blouse’ features broody basslines, ethereal vocals with a hint of disdain and stark analogue synths. Its real power comes from its claustrophobic, and dystopic, production which slowly suffocates you. This is a love letter to a pre-technology world. A place where cassettes were king and Phil Oakey was God!
Standout Track: Controller
Craft Spells - Idle Labor
Craft Spells debut album ‘Idle Labor’ is a masterclass in what one person can do in a bedroom with some instruments/equipment and some clever ideas. That person is Justin Vallesteros and his musical vision was a simple one. Gently layers guitars, synths and drums until you have a swath of dreampop majesty. Sounding like a swoony New Order, but with slightly more ambiguous lyrics, ‘Idle Labor’ is 36 minutes of bedroom indie pop chic. ‘Idle Labor’s influence can still be felt today in bands like The Death of Pop, Flyying Colours and Tape Waves.
Standout Track: From the Morning Heat
Thee Oh Sees - Dog Poison
It’s hard to tell if ‘Dog Poison’ was recorded as a companion to the odds and sods ‘Zork’s Tape Brusie’ or as a proper follow up to ‘Help’. After a few listens you’d have to say it has more in common with ‘Zorks’. What is known is that ‘Dog Poison’ is a hell of a lot of fun, even if it is ragged and torn around the edges. But if it was pristine then would it be as enjoyable? The 10 songs are full of catchy melodies, fuzzy guitars, sing-a-long choruses and an unbridled, and unexpected, dollop of poppy charm. This is an album to embrace and play loud as its wonky nooks and crannies yield more than a more conventional recording would.
Standout Track: Its Nearly Over
DIIV - Oshin
Elongated instrumentation that leads into glorious verses and catchy choruses is the order of the day on DIIV’s debut long player ‘Oshin’. Going against the grain by having the music, and mainly the guitars, deliver the emotional impact of the album ‘Oshin’ is surprisingly welcoming and warming. This isn’t to say that Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals aren’t impressive or insightful, they are, but ‘Oshin’ is all about those deep guitar runs and catchy riffs. This is a rewarding album that you can easily get lost and drift away in its melodic mastery.
Standout Track: Air Conditioning
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
‘Salad Days’ sees Mac DeMarco skirting between a jovial troubadour and dejected lost soul, and sometimes in the same song. While the music is jaunty and upbeat there is an underlying melancholy that rewards repeat listens. The title track is a prime example of this. The backing track sounds like its being played through a tape deck that is slowly dying, while DeMarco tries to sing-a-long. Lyrically things are slightly darker. “Missing hippy Jon, salad days are gone. Remembering things just to tell ‘em so long”. ‘Salad Days’ remains DeMarco’s high water mark of slacker chic with an extra side of pathos.
Standout Track: Salad Days
So there you have it. This is our selection of 10 glorious albums that Captured Tracks has released in its first decade. As with all labels once you start digging you can’t really stop, and once you get past the surface level of releases you find really exciting and curious things that didn’t quite fit the brief but should get more love. Here is a selection of releases for the deep heads! So if you love lo-fi garage rock, experimental avant-garde pop and just loud fun, there should be something for you here!
Dum Dum Girls - EP (2009)
OK, ok, I know that this list was meant to be about albums, but the Dum Dum Girls 2009 EP deserves an honourable mentioned. Partly because it was the first Captured Tracks release, and it’s also a glorious exercise in lo-fi recording, scratchy guitars and exquisite vocals. Despite being only 11 minutes long it packs in a ton of clever ideas and Dee Dee Penny oozes charisma, vulnerability and power from the speakers. This EP is still as much fun in 2018 as it was in 2009. On closure inspection, this either means my musical tastes haven't progressed since then, or it’s a timeless release. I’m going with the latter…
Standout Track: Hey Sis
Naomi Punk - Yellow
‘Yellow’ feels like an alternative soundtrack to David Lynch’s cult classic ‘Eraserhead’. The recordings have a lurid dreamlike quality. Were they recorded by actual musicians or extracted from someone’s subconscious? The songs are raw and brutal. Some feel more like fragments from a loose jam, than a thought out realised song. ‘Cookie’ is a stand out track with its stumble/stop drumming, catchy riffs and neo-beat poetry lyrics. As Naomi Punk say themselves, “This is CGI Beefheart resurrected in post-production for a few scenes”.
Standout Track: Cookie
Dignan Porch - Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen
There is a ramshackle charm to Dignan Porch’s ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen’. At any given moment the whole thing feels like it’ll collapse in front of you due giddiness that the band experiences when playing. The fact it doesn’t make the songs even more glorious. The real power of ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen’ is that the wonky guitars, hazy vocals and lo-fi tinny drums make the listener think they could do this too. Form a band. Write some songs. Record them and Captured Tracks will put it out. Easy right?