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Named after the historic home where its offices reside, Sargent House isn’t your ordinary music company. It’s a management company but also a record label — and houses a PR company (US/Them Group), a video-production site (Terroreyes TV), and, now, a licensing and music-supervision division (1656 Music).
Situated between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, Sargent House is all of these things, and its owner and founder, Cathy Pellow, isn’t your ordinary businessperson either. From her beginnings as a 20-year-old representing fashion photographers in New York, to her role as a film producer and talent-boutique owner, to creating a music-television show and commissioning videos for Island and Atlantic Records, Pellow holds an unusual pedigree for an indie-label head.
Last month ALARM presented its 50 favorite albums of 2012, an eclectic, rock-heavy selection of discs that were in steady rotation in our downtown-Chicago premises. Now, to give some love to tunes that were left out, we have our 50 (+5) favorite songs of last year — singles, B-sides, EP standouts, soundtrack cuts, and more.
Subscription-style releases have boomed lately, with the popularity of websites like Kickstarter and Quarterly Co. acting as convenient tools. In 2013, Joyful Noise Recordings joins the action with a yearlong slate of flexi-disc releases from kick-ass bands.
Another year, another torrential downpour of albums across our desks. As always, we encountered way too much amazing music, from Meshuggah to The Mars Volta, Converge, Killer Mike, P.O.S, and many more.
It may seem strange that the members of Hella have gotten poppier and poppier since the height of their impenetrability from 2005 to 2007. Long-time fans, though, will recognize a penchant for melody amid complexity that dates back to its full-length debut in 2002.
Solos is a new project from Hella guitarist and cofounder Spencer Seim and avant-folk artist / temporary Hella singer Aaron Ross. Following the overt melodies of Seim’s synth-core project sBACH, Solos is a jaunt into slightly more avant-pop territory, combining Led Zeppelin-ish acoustic rock with psych-pop and Seim’s pounding, distinctive beats.
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This February, Epic Records signed Sacramento-based aggro-rap trio Death Grips in a WTF? move that caused an industry-wide double-take. As if fearing for its own major-label life span, the trio subsequently announced two new albums to be released within the year, the first of which — The Money Store — drops today. As Death Grips’ follow-up to last year’s acclaimed mixtape Exmilitary, its first official debut finds MC Ride, Hella drummer Zach Hill, and producer Andy Morin once again crafting one of the most out-there, if not polarizing, hip-hop releases of the year.
In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.
Morrow: In the vein of Hella and other masterful duos that overachieve with layered loops and hot licks, Noxious Foxes is a pair of like-minded guitar/drums artists. The music, though technical, is rooted more in melody and groove than Hella — somewhere closer to Spencer Seim spinoffs The Advantage or sBACH if you were to further force the comparison.
Guitarist Justin Talbott pulls double duty with synths and electric pianos over the guitar loops, adding a tinge of the Blood Brothers aesthetic to the mix. (There isn’t a pair of sassy-as-fuck vocalists, however.) And the occasionally 8-bit-esque synths add to the video-game vibe that the guitars give off, making the Advantage comparison more apt, even if there are no Contra covers.
Give Marnie Stern some credit; she’s been asked the same questions about being a prominent female guitarist so many times it’s amazing she hasn’t flown off the handle. Yet the New York native, known for her furious finger-tapping guitar style, just shrugs it off with a coy smile. Stern’s shredding proficiency, however, cannot be overstated. Many will notice Stern’s giddy falsetto first, but it’s her mesmerizing finger taps that usually earn her the respect and attention of everything within an earshot. She doesn’t so much as play guitar as she does attack it, molesting the fret board with two hands like a zealous sculpture on an out-of-control pottery wheel or a Rubik’s Cube expert frantically searching for the perfect combination of rotations.
As if she was unrelenting enough, Stern has employed Hella drummer Zach Hill on her last two studio albums, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That in 2008, and Marnie Stern in 2010, both on Kill Rock Stars. Together, Hill’s thrashing and Stern’s shredding offer a brainwashing musical diet that’s virtually incomparable — thrash, shred, repeat. Recently, she took time before her two-month US tour to answer a few questions for ALARM.
What was the last thing you did where you felt like you failed, and what, if anything, did you learn from it?
I feel like I am constantly failing in so many areas of life, and that is the only thing that keeps pushing me forward to try and do better. I’ve never had things go smoothly, so I don’t know what kind of person or artist I would be if that was the case.
Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on AlarmPress.com. Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases, leaving no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.