Topshelf Records celebrates ten years
The San Diego label celebrates its indie rock royalty status. | topshelfrecords.bandcamp.com
Labels have a unique way of connecting us to music. Music criticism exists in partiality, subjectively gauging what is destined to be remembered as great, or what we would be better off forgetting. Label heads have the ability to curate and shape their distinctive sounds with the bands on their rosters. They create lineups of bands similar enough to make sense appearing onstage together, but unique enough to be in a category of their own. Factory, 4AD and Matador have been bringing the world some of the best in indie-rock for decades, and indie-label Topshelf Records is set to have a similar impact — most people just have not realized it yet.
Three years ago, when the emo-revival was in full swing, you would be hard pressed to disassociate Topshelf Records from the rest of the movement. They were pumping out what would soon become the cornerstones of the entire genre. Discovering this label connected me with a scene during one of the most difficult years of my life. I feel privileged to have let Topshelf Records soundtrack what it sounded like to be 19 with no direction. Here are three records to celebrate my favorite label’s 10th anniversary.
The world is a beautiful place and I will never run out of things to say about this absolute powerhouse of a band. If emo-revival was ‘90s indie rock, “Whenever, If Ever” is its “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.” Fans have since differed in their opinions about the band’s last record “Harmlessness,” released on Epitaph Records, but no one I know is able to voice dissent about their Topshelf full-length debut. It is the record that turned the heads of music critics everywhere, showing them the kind of pathos that had been occurring in DIY basement shows, undiscovered for years.
Clocking in at just over 10 minutes, there is absolutely no excuse to ignore this EP. Released in the summer of 2014, this is some of the most imaginative indie-punk out there, period. This material is unrelenting, and frantically urgent, with some of these tracks barely passing the minute and a half mark. Donovan Wolfington’s perfect blend of slacker guitar riffs and shoegaze tinged punk is borderline perfect, and I will seriously never understand why they did not blow up like their labelmates TWIABP.
One of the world’s biggest injustices in my mind was how empty The Echo was when I saw Prawn play there last year. Prawn should be as successful as emo titans Death Cab for Cutie. In fact, I frequently describe them to my friends as a sadder Death Cab with a ton of horn breaks. Seriously, anyone that knows my musical taste in any capacity knows that I have a weak spot for indie-rock with horn sections, and in this sense Prawn continued in the feeling that Arts & Crafts bands perfect in the late 2000s. “Ships” is Prawn at its height, weaving math-y guitar hooks with handclaps and trumpets, and evoking the types of feelings that emo-revival is known for.