Label Me: Joyful Noise Records

(Originally on ffwdweekly.com)

Even in the age of MP3 blogs and relentless hype, there are few better arbiters of quality than the humble independent record label. Usually consisting of one or two employees, a garage full of unsold CDs and an operating budget of nowhere near enough, these labels put their time and money behind each of their acts, and discovering a new one is like tapping into a vein of pure sonic gold. Of course, if Thom Yorke is right and the entire music industry is doomed to collapse in a matter of months, that joy will be short-lived. Until then, you might as well enjoy the ride, and the Label Me series aims to help.

JOYFUL NOISE RECORDINGS

The first release from Indianapolis-based Joyful Noise Recordings was the self-titled release from label founders Karl Hofstetter and John Spencer (not to be confused with Jon Spencer). Their band, Melk the G6-49, produced a deep, occasionally impenetrable blend of fuzzed-out bass, skittering drums and general restlessness. Melk split up soon after, leaving the label in Hofstetter’s capable hands. Since then, the roster has expanded to a solid 17 acts, most of which sound almost nothing like Melk. What they do share is the band’s genre-bending spirit, and a steadfast refusal to be boring.

Where to start: If there’s one band that can put a friendly face on Joyful Noise, it’s The Delicious. This Bloomington, Indiana quartet borrows heavily from some pretty standard early ’90s influences — you’ll hear a little Pixies, some Pavement and a heaping helping of Weezer in the vocals — but infuses them with impressively complex song structures and enough unexpected touches to elevate themselves far above the usual group of slack-rockers. Its most recent full-length, The Delicious The Delicious, is hooky and energetic without relying on anything resembling a tried-and-true formula.

Berry is Joyful Noise’s other pop discovery. Its sound is more spacious, giving its tightly crafted melodies plenty of space to refract in. There’s a bit of Tim Kinsilla in the guitar work, but the keyboards, harmonies and occasional horn flourishes are more pop than post-punk.

For something a little rougher, try the one-two punch of Push-Pull and Prizzy Prizzy Please, who teamed up for 2008’s perfectly titled PPPPPEP. Push-Pull puts its own spin on early ’90s alt-rock — there’s a bit of Archers of Loaf here and a Weezer drum riff there, but then things go off the rails with a mathed-up outro and some piercing distortion. Prizzy Prizzy Please, meanwhile, somehow finds a middle ground between cock-rock and new wave, specializing in fist-pump-ready keyboard anthems.

Going deeper: Not many artists can get by with just a bass guitar, but CJ Boyd is no typical bassist. With the help of a tastefully employed loop pedal, Boyd constructs atmospheric, melodic and downright haunting pieces that take full advantage of the bass’s under-explored tonal range. Add in a touch of drone and the occasional propulsive rhythm, and you’ve got a sound that’s deep enough to drown in.

Things get a whole lot weirder with Child Bite, whose latest, The Living Breathing Summer Organ, came out on June 15. According to the band’s bio, its music starts out as jam sessions, which get chopped up and rearranged on computer, then relearned by the band as full-out songs. The results are impossible to classify, but the fact that Child Bite put out a split 7-inch with DD/MM/YYYY might put the chaos into context.

Further listening: The rest of Joyful Noise’s roster runs the gamut from sample-heavy pop weirdness (Bizzart, Jookabox) to shrieking hardcore (Racebannon) and unclassifiable rock (Stationary Odyssey, Man at Arms). Your mileage with each will vary, but there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Check out the label’s full roster at joyfulnoiserecordings.com, and be sure to download our Joyful Noise sampler.

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