Record roundup of early 2007's Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar CDs 

Bloomington’s beloved indie label adds Dead Oceans

Bloomington is a hotbed for culture and music, so it’s no surprise that one of Indiana’s most prolific record labels is based there.

Secretly Canadian, which is neither a secret nor Canadian, has contributed to the local music scene since 1996. Jonathan Cargill, one of the founding partners in the label, says SC came about out of necessity. “There is always a demand for getting Bloomington bands on the radar,” he says, “because Bloomington, as well as Southern and Central Indiana, has an incredibly rich and fertile music scene.”

SC filled that void and helped boost Bloomington’s place on the music map.

“From the jazz and ragtime musicians of the 1910s and 1920s — popularized by Gennett Records from Richmond — to the great Indianapolis funk scene and later, the punk and new wave scene — peppered with the IU School of Music and its famous alumni, and of course the famous pop musicians, I think Indiana has always been on the musical map,” Cargill says. “It’s just that people tend to overlook it.”

In recent years, the label has become internationally recognized, especially when New York-based Antony and the Johnsons won the 2005 Mercury Prize, an award presented to the best British album of the year (Antony was born in the U.K.). The award has been presented to bands in the past such as Franz Ferdinand and Portishead.

The company extends much farther than its namesake label. The partners in the business are involved in other labels as well, creating a family of independent labels. The most prominent of these is sister label Jagjaguwar, which shares an office with Secretly Canadian.

“Around the same time Secretly Canadian was starting [mid 1996], Darius Van Arman was starting Jagjaugwar in Charlottesville, Va.,” Cargill says. “Somehow we became aware of each other, and within a year or so, Darius moved to Bloomington.”

They even run a distribution company, appropriately named Secretly Canadian Distribution (SCD). SCD consists of 17 exclusive labels, including all of the SC family, as well as other independent labels like Asthmatic Kitty and Temporary Residents.

Secretly Canadian label partners recently announced they have created a new sister label with former Misra Records manager Phil Waldorf, called Dead Oceans, which will focus on “bold and timeless recordings, not emphasizing a particular genre or scene, but instead fostering a diverse stable of sound-creators,” according to a press release.

Bands already on the label include Bishop Allen, Dirty Projectors, Evangelicals and Iran, all of which have albums coming out in 2007.

Cargill says that none of them had any experience running a label when they started SC. “We figured it out as we went along,” he says. “Sometimes we learned the hard way.”

Secretly Canadian is a do-it-yourself success story and a staple in the global indie rock scene. The following are highlights of some albums released in the past six months by SC and Jagjaguwar.

Enemy Chorus
The Earlies

(SC, 2007)

Four stars

The Earlies returns on its sophomore release with a fusion of electronic beats, “real” drum kits and various whirling, atmospheric noises and echoes, leaving the listener relaxed, yet pensive. This album will blow your house down.

Sounds like: Beck meets Ennio Morricone

Moonstation House Band
David Vandervelde

(SC, 2007)

Four stars

Retro is considered by many an unfair way to categorize any new album, but one can’t help but note the 1970s lyrical and musical influences. You’ll hear a little Elton John, a smidge of Beatles and a lot of T-Rex. Themes on this album bounce from love to death and back.

Sounds like: T-Rex coming back to do an uplifting Coca Cola-esque commercial

Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
The Besnard Lakes

(Jag, 2007)

Four stars

Filled with themes of war and plunder, this captivating album has a somewhat bipolar approach to catastrophe in a way that can’t readily be fathomed. Highlights include “Disaster” and “Because Tonight.”

Sounds like: Sigur Ros and The Flaming Lips

Woke Myself Up
Julie Doiron

(Jag, 2007)

Four stars

Julie Doiron gives us a fresh, intimate look into her life lessons in love, family and personal regrets. Mostly acoustic, the obvious standout on this album is her voice — soft, emotional and believable. You won’t just hear her song, you’ll feel it too.

Sounds like:Regina Spektor, Cat Power

Nurse & Soldier

(Jag imprint, 2007)

Three stars

Robert Thatcher (aka Bobby Matador of Oneida) and Erica Fletcher have been making music together since their teens. Joined by Oneida drummer Kid Millions and friend Jake Bailey, Nurse & Soldier makes delicate, easygoing music with an organ, guitars, drums and woodwinds.

Sounds like: Folk music backed by a tiny orchestra

Dressed Up for the Letdown
Richard Swift

(SC, 2007)

Two and a half stars

Formerly a member of Christian rock band Starflyer 59, this is Richard Swift’s sophomore solo album through Secretly Canadian. It presents a diverse array of instruments as well as musical influences, from modern folk-pop to the mellowed-out side of the Beach Boys.
Sounds like:
Brian Wilson meets Bob Dylan at church

Star Destroyer
Alex Delivery

(Jag, 2007)

Four and a half stars

Star Destroyer is a digital ride into analog outer space. This album will comfort you about our micro-digi-lectro future as you confront the echoes in your life. The desire to come aboard this Star Destroyer is inevitable — just be sure to remember at least a pencil for tapping or a synthesizer and a book on digital circuitry.

Sounds like: Beck goes back to the future

Parts & Labor

(Jag, 2007)

Three and a half stars

Catch your breath. This one hits you all at once and doesn’t give many chances for air. When given a chance, take it, because this album — with its hyper, noisy rock — will come right back to you in full force. This is definitely an album meant to be listened to straight through; the journey gets better and better.

Sounds like: Intensity

SC100 compilation
(SC, 2007)

Four stars

Now in its 11th year, Secretly Canadian is the first Indiana label to release 100 records. SC100 is here to celebrate that with 18 SC bands covering 18 songs by other SC bands. The compilation doesn’t include big names like Antony and the Johnsons or I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (they came after the 100th release), but it features a wide array of bands from the first SC releases (June Panic, Songs: Ohia, Swearing at Motorists) until this 100th release (Danielson, The Impossible Shapes), which has been in the works since 100 came around (it’s already past 150). The compilation will also be released digitally, and will include twice as many songs. An interesting morsel of info: Indy cellist Jesse Lee (Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, Pravada) plays with Marmoset on their cover of “Sky Phenomenon” by Jens Lekman on this album.

Sounds like: Highlights of the best 100 releases from Secretly Canadian

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