I think this is my longest writeup yet. Sorry about that! Here's the music for today.
Jawbreaker, "Face Down"
During the 90s, there was a gold rush as major labels were suddenly hunting down every underground rock act they could find and trying to sign them to contracts. The major labels figured they could all find the next Nirvana or Green Day, somewhere, and the upside for the major label was obvious. Pop punk, in particular, was a hot sector after Dookie sold a billion records.
The potential for the bands was much less clear, though. It was possible that the marketing muscle of a major label might make a band far more famous than they'd otherwise be. But the truth of the matter was that the types of contracts being signed by bands were usually financially much worse than the typical contract from an independent label. Many voices in the underground tried to caution bands to think before making the leap: they might torpedo their career instead of take it to the next level. Many of the independent record labels had strong distribution, and selling a hundred thousand copies of a record through one of them might make a band far more money than a major label contract selling five or ten times that many.
Despite the cautions, the lure of fame was too much for many bands. Jawbreaker famously signed a million dollar contract with Geffen, and the outrage from the community was palpable. The (single) major label release sold several times fewer copies than their last independent record, and the band broke up shortly thereafter. And now, among some fans, there's forever a cloud around Jawbreaker's career.
This is all a crying shame, as Jawbreaker's four studio albums are all great, and well worth your time. This song, from Bivouac, gives you at least some idea of the band. Their strong songs and Blake Schwarzenbach's confessional lyrics made them one of the most memorable bands of the 90s underground. And yes, for one album, one of the most memorable on a major label.
Progressive metal band out of Norway (of course), Leprous has all the pretension and chops you expect out of any band with any kind of prog label. But I still like it - it's earnest, it's interesting, and sometimes it's fun to listen to something that takes itself seriously (even if I don't). This is from Coal, my favorite album of theirs.
Urochromes, "My Dickies"
A punk band that I frankly don't remember how I discovered, but hey, whatever. It's fun!
Death Grips, "Centuries of Damn"
We've met drummer Zach Hill a couple times (with Hella and Marnie Stern), but Death Grips seems like the most famous of the bands he's played with. They're usually described as an "experimental hip-hop band", but I'm not sure that's really accurate. Stefan Burnett (MC Ride) is mostly shouting, and the noise that Hill and keyboardist Andy Morin lay down really has much more in common with more outré electronic acts than it does with anything hip-hop. But whatever they are, they can be pretty compelling. There are times when you wonder if they're just clowns rather than daring, but as things went on, it became clear that they really knew what they were doing.
It's hard to really recommend an album - I suppose No Love Deep Web is the one to start with? But it's probably worth listening to it first, it's going to mostly not be people's cup of tea. (I don't normally flag NSFW stuff on this blog, because that's tedious, but the cover of that album is super NSFW, so be careful with those searches.)
Guided by Voices, "Superior Sector Janitor X"
Last time, I mentioned that Guided by Voices was exhausting, because they just include everything that goes through Robert Pollard's head. Here's an example: this isn't really a song, just a song fragment. But it made it onto an album!