Discover: Mexican Summer

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 10.08.13 in Spotlights

Mexican Summer: Five Years

Various Artists

[In celebration of Mexican Summer's fifth anniversary, eMusic is proud to offer a free Mexican Summer sampler, featuring tracks from Autre Ne Veut, the Fresh & Onlys, and more.]

Though they eventually became home to festival-status acts like Best Coast, Kurt Vile and Light Asylum, when they began five years ago, the interests of the Mexican Summer label were decidedly cult. An imprint of the mainstream indie label Kemado, the closest thing on their roster to a marquee act was the woozy Swedish psych act Dungen. In fact, they actually didn’t even have a roster. The label was founded to give a leg-up to young bands that founder and Kemado employee Keith Abrahamsson liked, but who weren’t quite ready for a proper label deal. The label’s first three albums are the perfect summary of their helter-skelter aesthetic: that Dungen album, an album by dead-eyed drone-rockers Headdress and an EP from Chicago black metal band Nachtmystium. And while they’ve evened out as the years have gone on, a quick glance at their recent spate of releases reveals a label still focused on the fringes.

To celebrate that avant-garde spirit, the label is hosting a two-day five-year-anniversary celebration with a lineup that rivals the most inventive summer festival: Spiritualized (with Oneida’s Kid Millions on drums), Ariel Pink, the Fresh & Onlys and No Joy showcase Mexican Summer’s more traditional impulses, while Happy Jawbone Family Band, Home Blitz and a rare set by ’70s psych-folk enchantress Linda Perhacs are evidence of its continued inventiveness. On the advent of this anniversary — and in celebration of the label’s continued dedication to roaming the borders of indie rock — eMusic’s editor-in-chief talked with Abrahamsson about the label’s earliest days and 11 of the label’s character-defining releases.

On the early days:

All of us are pretty rabid music fans and buyers, and I just saw it as a way to develop artists in a different way and put music out with a little less hassle. A lot of the labels I was buying records from, people were just putting singles out, or doing a 12″ — things that felt a little bit looser or more free-wheeling. That was inspiring to me — I felt like we could do that. I came up with a name, it’s the name of a Marissa Nadler song, and I had three records that I knew we were gonna put out. It just started that way. We initially started as a record club, kind of modeled after Sub Pop and Matador, who were doing singles series, but that quickly bottomed out logistically. After about three or four months, we decided we needed to just be a label. And there weren’t crazy expectations, it was just, “We’re gonna put some records out.” We had been working with Dungen already, and they had some material, so they were like “We’ll do a 12″ with you guys.” So I was like, “Rad, that’ll be our first release.”

On signing Best Coast:

I was introduced to the project by a buddy of mine who was managing them at the time. I actually declined at first, just because our schedule was so crazy. I was like, “I really don’t know how we’re going to fit this in — we have so much slated in the next half a year. I don’t know that it’s possible.” But he was really adamant about it, he was like, “We wanna do this really quick. The record’s already done, we wanna have it out in two months.” It was on such an accelerated timetable, which is what ultimately made me feel like we could do it — it wasn’t going to be this long, drawn-out, ramped-up thing. At that point, it all hinged on me having a phone call with Bethany — because we hadn’t hung out in person. It was like, “You’ve got to talk to Bethany and you’ve got to hit it off.” So we talked, and it was totally easy, because she’s really great, and then it was like, “OK, we should meet.” They weren’t in the country — they were touring in Europe. So I flew to Stockholm to meet them. I saw them play and hung out with them and they were totally awesome, and that was it. That sealed the deal.

On establishing their aesthetic:

It kind of felt like it came pretty quick. We did a Marissa Nadler reissue, we did an Ariel Pink single and we did Tallest Man on Earth and a Kurt Vile LP. By that time, we were starting to get into a rhythm. It felt good — it felt like an aesthetic was forming. I don’t like to define it too much. We put out records that we love by people that we love to work with. Those are the criteria.

The Young, Voyagers of Legend

This one is probably among my top three, if not my favorite record that we’ve ever put out. The Young are from Austin and they were making pop-punk records out there for a while. They ended up on Matador’s Casual Victim Pile comp, and the song they had on there was a game-changer [for them]. I was like, “Holy shit. This is not the same band.” That’s when I contacted them and was like, “What are you guys doing? Are you under contract with anyone?” And they were like, “No, man, we’re just doing whatever.” So we started working together. I’m really thankful that I heard that song — I think the record that they made for us is amazing.

Dimples, “Heaven Blotted Regions” b/w “Can Feel You Out There”

This is another one of the under-heralded releases in our catalog, and another one of my personal favorites. Dimples put a record out in 2010 called Council Bluffs on a label called Holy Smoke. It totally melted me. It was just crazy classic-rock freak-outs. I felt like it fell somewhere between the Stones and the Stooges. The main guy sounded like Axl Rose sometimes — really scratchy, fucked-up vocals — and then other times he sang in this real weird baritone, like Captain Beefheart. It was a really bizarre record and really amazing. I asked him to do a single with us and he was super into it. It’s one of the most damaged, beautiful singles we’ve ever done.

Michael Angelo, “Sorcerer’s Delight” b/w “Nubian Queen”

I ran another label called Anthology for a little while. It was a reissue label, and we only did digital reissues. I came in touch with Michael through that label because we did his first record, which was this kind out outsider, private press thing. That was a really well respected record in certain circles. He had a much lesser-known follow-up record called Sorcerer’s Delight. He actually tracked both records at the same time. So he had this second record, and I don’t really know that it was ever issued. The two songs on this single came from that record. They were the moments that I thought needed to be heard for sure, and I thought they’d make a killer single.

Lansing-Dreiden, The Incomplete Triangle

This one goes back to the Kemado days, back to about 2002 or 2003 — that’s when we first put out The Incomplete Triangle. We went on to do an EP with them, and then we did The Dividing Islands in 2007, which ended up being their last record. We never issued those records on vinyl, so it felt really fitting to give them their just due and get them out on LP, which is why we reissued them on Mexican Summer. This band made some of my favorite records. Really underrated — or maybe rated in the right way by the right people. People in bands seem to get this band more than people who are just music buyers.

The Fresh & Onlys, Long Slow Dance

I’m a huge fan of this band. I loved the earlier records they’d done. I think [frontman] Tim [Cohen] is probably one of the most gifted songwriters of our generation. They’d kind of hopped around labels a lot, but they wanted to find a home. They wanted to be planted somewhere. We just kind of talked and it felt like a really nice fit. Long Slow Dance is one of the most underrated records both in our catalog and in the band’s catalog. It was a reinvention of their sound, and I think it was time for them to do that — they couldn’t just go out and make another Play it Strange, even though that was an amazing record. Maybe this is the kind of thing where it will catch up with them in the future, and people will look back on this record as the one that stands out the most in their catalog. For me, it’s got some of their most memorable material.

No Joy, Wait to Pleasure

We first found out about No Joy from a blog. It’s a funny story — there are actually two other ways I could have come in contact with them. One of them was through Bethany [Cosentino], who had been really vocal about them. The second is that they had actually sent me their demo tape, and I just never got it. In a way, it was serendipitous that we came together. We’ve been with them since the beginning. They had tapes that they were bringing around with them on their very first tour, but we did their first 7″, then we did Ghost Blonde and now Wait to Pleasure. They’re just amazing people. The new album is not only a huge compliment to their songcraft, but also to Jorge Elbrecht, who produced the record. He really got the best out of them. They really work well together.

Happy Jawbone Family Band, Happy Jawbone Family Band [to be released Oct. 15]

We first did a retrospective of this band’s stuff back in January. This is one of those bands where you have to really dig to even find them. They’ve been around for years putting records out. They’ve done a lot of self-released stuff. They’re from Brattleboro and they worked with a label called Feeding Tube out there. Talk about prolific — these dudes just write non-stop. They have a ton of records. We knew we wanted to work with them, but we were like, “How do we rein all this material in and make it digestible to people? How do we introduce them to people, because they’ve been working from within this bubble for so long?” We ended up cherry-picking a bunch of jams that they’d put out over the years, and that’s what ended up becoming the record.

Ariel Pink and Jorge Albrecht, “Hang on to Life” b/w “No Real Friend”

This was a dream come true, to be honest with you. I’ve known Jorge for so many years and I’ve worked with him in so many capacities. We came together, maybe a year ago, and decided we were going to start doing this singles series with him. I already knew Ariel from working with him before. Jorge knew him as well, and we knew Ariel was a fan of Jorge’s work, so we were like, “Maybe he’ll wanna do a single.” Jorge reached out to Ariel, and he was super into it. So Ariel came to the studio and they tracked four songs over the course of one day and mixed them the next day. It was just a total creative avalanche.

Travis Bretzer, Making Love

Travis is a 23-year-old kid from Edmonton that we came across, and we just fell in love with his jams. It’s a very Stiff Records kind of vibe — really classic, borderline power-poppy stuff. But it’s also really troubadour-y, like the way Nick Lowe was. He’s just getting his start. We just did a new single that came out last week, and he’s writing for a record that’s going to be done soon.

Connan Mockasin, Caramel [to be released Nov. 19]

I came to his music as a fan. The record he did in 2010 was a favorite of mine. He works with Erol Alkan, who runs the Fantasy label in the UK, and we started to talk to them about working together. We’ve been talking to them for almost a year — this has been a long time in the works. He self-recorded this record in a Tokyo hotel room over the course of a month. It sounds like listening to a Prince record underwater. It’s amazing. I knew I was on to something with this guy, because there’s a song on his first record called “Megumi the Milky Way” that my oldest son, who is five, was obsessed with for months.

Quilt, Held in Splendor [to be released in January 2014]

We did their first record in 2011. It was really beautiful, pastoral folk stuff, with these freewheeling harmonies — kind of a ’60s San Francisco thing. But they did this new record with Jarvis from Woods and it’s going to be a game-changer of a record for them I think. It’s taken a leap from the formula that they had and made it feel real “now.” Jarvis just really got their aesthetic.