Top Bulling For Matador
There’s a 1999 three-disc album called Everything Is Nice: The Matador Records 10th Anniversary Anthology. If you like indie, alternative bands, you ought to own that album of 43 excellent tracks by a bunch of super talented bands and musicians. If you’re a die-hard indie fan, I’m sure you probably have the Matador anthology or, at least, have heard of it. If not, here’s a sneak peek at that 12-year-old album. Artists featured on the album include indie star acts like Pavement, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power and Modest Mouse but also lesser known bands such as Chavez, Bardo Pond, Solex and Khan.
Why am I suddenly talking about Matador? Because, I think it is one independent label that has not only stood the test of time (it is 21 years old this year) but has brought us some of the best indie bands that the 1990s through to the 2000s have seen. Like most people, I don’t judge an album by its cover. But yes, I sometimes do buy an album by a new (or, at least, new to me) band because it has the Matador label.
Started in New York in its founder, Chris Lombardi’s apartment, Matador’s early big find was Pavement, the band that spawned a cult following in the 1990s and became an iconic influencer of the lo-fi movement. Pavement, fronted by Stephen Malkmus, had a splendid 10-year run till 1999 and their 1992 album, Slanted & Enchanted, was critically acclaimed by even the mainstream music press. Last month, Pavement reunited for a sold-out concert and even now any compilation of their old songs gets lapped up in no time by loyal fans.
Over the years, Matador signed on highly successful indie acts such as Sonic Youth (a band that began in 1981 and is still going strong), nineties’ lo-fi sensations, Yo La Tengo (a guitar-driven band from New Jersey) and one that I picked because of the label they are on. I’ve heard ten of the twelve albums that make up YLT’s discography and would recommend their low-key virtuosity to everyone.
It’s not as if Matador, like many other one-time indie labels, didn’t toy with the idea of selling out or merging with bigger music labels. It did at least twice but for one reason or the other those deals turned awry. Instead it focused on signing on new as well as not so new bands. Thanks to Matador, I discovered Cornelius, the Japanese DJ and musician (real name Keigo Oyamada) and a genre, a mix of jazz, pop and electro-pop, known as Shibuya-kei. I heard Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall), the American singer whose idiosyncratic, sparse style and prolific song-writing abilities earned her the epithet “a female Dylan” early in her career.
Canada’s indie stars The New Pornographers are yet another band that I heard courtesy Matador. I began with their excellent concept album, Twin Cinema, and then went back and acquired their first two (Mass Romantic and Electric Version) followed by their more recent ones (Challengers and Together). It’s like that with artists who record on Matador. You discover one album. Like it a lot and then go back and buy the entire discography. Take Belle and Sebastian, the Glaswegian band. A couple of their albums are produced by Matador but others are not. But it takes just one listen to If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996), which was on Matador, to fall for the band and go for all of their releases.
I’m still discovering Matador’s roster of artists. Last month I found (quite belatedly because they’re a band that started in 1999) Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, an excellent American punk rock outfit, and I rediscovered Mission of Burma, another American indie band that seemed to have folded in the early 1980s only to be reunited and re-launched by Matador in the 2000s.
I keep tracking releases by Matador and, probably, will keep doing so as long as it’s around, in the hope that the label will continue to be a huge harvest of good music for me.
Three to Tango
- Top 10 Matador albums: Check out these stars on the album that’s kept alive and fiercely indie.
- Toadcast #129: A playlist of songs by artists ranging from Perfume Genius and Cate Le Bon to Richard Hawley and Communist Daughter. Fun, really.
- Best of June 2010: Mp3 website Obscure Sound’s playlist for June 2010’s best new music. You can get the links on the web version of this column