So before I begin talking about Saddle Creek Records’ latest releases, here’s a little background on your hometown record label, an outfit I’ve written about since it was founded 29 years ago.
The label’s original “crown jewels” were Omaha bands Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint. After gaining national (global?) attention in the early aughts, all three bands left the label (though The Faint wandered back for their last formal release, “Egowerk” in 2019). Other notable bands that released albums on Saddle Creek include Desaparecidos, The Good Life, Spoon, The Thermals, Rilo Kiley, Azure Ray and Eric Bachmann.
In recent years, Saddle Creek quietly continued to stoke a reputation for breaking young, important indie artists. It signed one of today’s most lauded indie acts — Big Thief — only to see them jump ship for a larger label. Saddle Creek’s current biggest names are Indigo De Souza (729,000 Spotify monthly listeners), Hand Habits (429,000 monthly listeners) and Tomberlin (386,000 listeners). None are from Omaha.
Though the label still has an office in the Slowdown complex downtown, Saddle Creek seems to be doing most — if not all — its A&R work from its Los Angeles office. The last local release on Saddle Creek was last year’s “Culxr House: Freedom Summer” collection featuring hip-hop innovators Marcey Yates and XOBIO.
So far in 2022, Saddle Creek has released seven LPs and nine singles or EPs. Among them:
Palm, “Nicks and Grazes” — Signed to the label this past July, Palm is a Philadelphia-based four-piece that’s been together for a decade. Their last LP was released in 2018 on boutique label Carpark Records. Their rep is for playing inventive art-rock, and they live up to it here. The first single, “Feathers,” opens to the din of hammer on sheet metal before breaking into a bouncing celebration of throbbing bass and guitarist Eve Alpert singing “I don’t wanna be a passenger / I don’t wanna see you calendar / Ima make it up as I go.” An invitation or a warning?
For every modern, progressive rock song there’s a dissonant noise collage, like “Suffer Dragon,” which will have you lurching for the “forward” button after 20 seconds. Hold on. It can be a rough ride, and for some, worth it. Pitchfork, the bible of indie music taste-makers, graced the album with an 8.0 rating out of 10, calling it “a totalizing vision for the band as an artistic unit, one that organically builds on everything they’ve done so far.” Saddle Creek’s next big hope?
Young Jesus, “Shepherd Head” — Also cast as an experimental outfit, the Los Angeles act that signed to Saddle Creek in 2017 has since dissolved to only its founding member, John Rossiter, on this eight-song collection of sonic meditations, some you can dance to. Rossiter’s angel coo falls somewhere between Anohni and Bon Iver on the album highlight, “Ocean,” which features guest vocals by Tomberlin. There’s nothing experimental here at all, and it’s better for it.
Disq, “Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet” — Signed to Saddle Creek in early 2019, the Wisconsin five-piece is a throwback to the indie rock the label was known for in the early aughts. On this sophomore effort, bassist Raina Bock shoulders forward as a sort of co-leader, thanks to quirky tracks like bouncy “Cujo Kiddies” that recall Wet Leg. Isaac DeBroux-Slone, meanwhile, continues to churn out steady rockers (“Meant to Be”) that remind me of Teenage Fan Club. Steady as she goes.
Tomberlin, “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” — Sarah Beth Tomberlin joined the Creek team in the summer of 2018 and fits nicely among the current wave of critically acclaimed singer/songwriters that includes Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and label mates De Souza, Adrianne Lenker and Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), who continue to dominate indie music. On her sophomore LP, Tomberlin fills out her sound despite arrangements as timid as her breathy, lonely voice, singing lyrics as personal as diary entries.
Pendant, “Harp” — Pendant, a.k.a. West Coast producer/songwriter Chris Adams, signed to Saddle Creek in June 2021 and may be its oddest recent addition. Adams started in hardcore and noise-punk but switched to electronic/shoegaze pop that sort of recalls Madchester days … sort of.
Shalom, 7-inch singles — Shalom could be the label’s next big thing. Born in Maryland, raised in South Africa, living in Brooklyn, she’s released two singles since joining Saddle Creek this year, each with a B-side cover (by Glass Animals and Hovvdy). The gold is in the originals, “DTAP” and “Agnes,” bass-driven heartbreakers created in partnership with Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, whose “Quarter-Life Crisis” album was released by Saddle Creek in 2020. Can’t wait for the full-length.
It’s an impressive list, and I didn’t even touch on the Desaparecedos and Neva Dinova reissues. As Saddle Creek heads toward its 30th year, the label continues to be a trendsetter in a business in which trendsetting is the only way to survive.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.