Yesterday was Sub Pop’s 25th birthday. In some respects, it’s hard to believe it’s only been 25 years. By way of comparison, Saddle Creek Records will turn 20 this year, and as far as my cultural awareness is concerned, Saddle Creek still seems like a relatively new entity, while Sub Pop feels like it’s been with us since Biblical times.
That’s partly because the history of indie rock and the history of Sub Pop are inextricably connected; the genre as we know it literally would not exist without the label. (It’s probably not crazy to suggest that without Sub Pop, Saddle Creek and labels of its ilk would never have been born.) It’s also because Sub Pop’s legacy is so impossibly multifaceted: The label is immediately associated with grunge, of course, but it has also been the home and launching pad of seminal works — vital debuts and/or classic albums, not late-career vanity projects — from Wolf Parade, the Shins, Afghan Whigs, Fleet Foxes, Sunny Day Real Estate, Sebadoh, Band Of Horses, the Postal Service … And even that really just scratches the surface. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but it’s maybe not something you think about all the time, and now’s not a bad time to give it some thought.
Mudhoney was one of the label’s most significant signings. History has mostly erased this ages-old detritus by now, but before Nevermind, Mudhoney was widely considered to be the band most likely to break out of the Seattle scene. For a variety of reasons, Mudhoney wound up left behind by not only Nirvana, but Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam (and to a lesser extent, poseurs like Candlebox). That’s probably because some of the same things that made Mudhoney exciting to locals — they were hip, detached, sly, self-effacing — caused them to fly over the heads of radio programmers and mainstream listeners who had embraced grunge largely because it at least appeared to be (and very often was indeed) bombastic, emotional music. None of this is to say Mudhoney are the victims of some criminal cultural oversight, just that their presence in Seattle and specifically at Sub Pop, in its early stages, was vital. In many ways, they helped to give the city, the scene, and the label an identity before international media were able to do so.
Anyway, it’s kind of fitting that Mudhoney are releasing a new video today, the day after Sub Pop’s 25th. “I Like It Small” will appear on the band’s forthcoming ninth album, Vanishing Point, their sixth for Sub Pop (their middle three were released by Reprise, a result of the major-label boom that scooped up every Seattle band in the post-Nevermind landscape). As far as I can tell, the song is a comment on the band’s limited commercial viability. That kind of meta commentary has been a force in Mudhoney’s arsenal since “Overblown,” their snide contribution to 1992’s scene-defining Singles soundtrack (whose 20th anniversary I wrote about at length last year). But beyond the well-trod-yet-timeless subject matter, Mudhoney’s music still sounds urgent and invigorated, considerably more so than the new material being released by any of the bands with whom Mudhoney was associated two decades ago (and counting). They still look pretty great, too. Watch.