Columbus Discount Records vs. Sub Pop
by Kevin J. Elliott

This isn’t so much a competition as much as a comparison of two different models of a re-emerging trend. You could certainly call any Termbo/BullTongue/Siltcult beloved label a “singles club,” as long as they’re pressing wanted vinyl at a consistent clip. But forgive me if I’m wrong, it was probably Sub Pop who’s responsible for launching the true “singles club,” that is a yearly subscription that guarantees the recipient a fresh piece of wax every month for 12 months—each one a surprise, each one limited, each one a perfect relic of that particular time when you arrived at the mailbox. In the beginning and in subsequent versions, Sub Pop rolled out perfect summations of the early heavyweights (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs), ushered in some future wonders (Modest Mouse, Death Cab, Unrest), and kept it local to the Pacific Northwest scene most of the time even when it hurt (Green Magnet School, Dead Moon, Big Chief). The original “singles club” went for four years; in the 7-inch slump of version two it went just as long (minus the consistency). Now, in the current environment when everyone and their brother are forging a vinyl exclusive label, Sub Pop is held to a higher standard—put out or get lost.

I’m obliged to side with the locals in this battle (though again, this isn’t Contra) and give my allegiance to Columbus Discount Records as they are the little label that could vs. a ritual of sorts already established. Like the early days of Sub Pop, they are giving their singles club all the trappings of yore: established heroes, head-scratching weirdos, and local mainstays. With their 2008–09 line-up in place, it will be hard to find a label with an ear as close to the underground as CDR.

First up for CDR are the Wisconsin-Columbus-Brooklyn transient musings of Kevin Failure and his Pink Reason (on pink vinyl no less). I’ve been suspect if there’s anything going on in the lab, as everything since his stunner bummer, Cleaning the Mirror, has been archived muck (potent muck, but archives just the same). The pairing of “3:16” with “Sweet Sinister” is no different, with the latter not even being credited to Mr. Failure but a long-lost friend. Even if these songs are some of the oldest in the PR repertoire, they are both puzzle pieces that are essential in locating the heart of darkness that pervades his most recent recordings. “3:16” is a blacked-out jam of hungover dirge rock recorded on a dope farm, probably recorded at that stated time when all the drugs were gone and the brains were tortured more than were the unforgiving souls in the room. Like I said, essential in procuring that diamond from Failure’s songwriting genius. “Sweet Sinister” is nearly conceptual in its junk-box beat and hand-clapped rhythm, precluding Jack White by some years and sounding like some cracked bluesman budding up with the 7-11 hellions that loiter near the house. I imagine what’s purported is all true as, “This is a document of the past. They all are. This one is the same, but somehow it’s different.” Regardless, CDR start their singles club with one for the ages, foreboding a year filled with documents that go beyond the format they’re placed upon.

Sub Pop meanwhile gets a pass with OM—it was obviously a decision to pander to those Sleep fans—and though I’m partial to bands that revel in 10- to 20-minute stoner ramblings and zonked jazz odysseys like OM, it doesn’t translate well to the 7-inch platter. So don’t let that Notwist bore me to tears, okay? Luckily number two (of version three) is something of a throwback even though they’re breaking a relatively new Seattle band. Unnatural Helpers harken back to that pre-grunge, manic riff and sludgy backbone that supported the area. “Dirty, Dumb, and Comical” is all one needs to return to Love Battery, Cat Butt and Bleach—a welcome surprise to stuff I need to dig into and Sub Pop needs to revive by all means necessary. I’d like to think Sub Pop is certainly conscious of this decision, and I’m intrigued if any more local gems like this one will appear in 2008. Given the tried and true uniformity in font and design, not to mention the sediment green vinyl, of this (second offering) from Sub Pop, there’s no doubt they’ll not fuck this up. That said. I’m cheering for the home team to completely buck the trend.