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Sunday, January 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Music

Barsuk Records' roster of rising acts post-Death Cab for Cutie

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you were a label, you wouldn't want to be a big, hairy, mean-spirited, greedy, major label, would you?

Wouldn't you rather be a midsized label, like Sub Pop? Maybe not, never get over that "grunge" label (label with a label).

If you were a label, you'd want to be something small, something independent, something cool, something on the rise, something people turned to in search of what is cutting edge, what is good. You'd want to be Barsuk. A nurturer; a helper. Reputation for quality.

Barsuk Records is the Northwest label born quite simply to release Death Cab for Cutie records. Long before Death Cab's recent move to the big time (i.e., Atlantic Records), Barsuk owner Josh Rosenfeld was cushioning for the blow, building a roster of high-quality, big-potential acts.

With a reputation for being artist-friendly (and, of course, the Death Cab connection), Seattle's Barsuk is home to the Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison, the renovated Nada Surf, the highly respected indie-songwriter John Vanderslice, the very on-the-rise Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, much love from the TV show "The OC" ("Music From the OC" compilations have featured Death Cab, Nada Surf and the Long Winters), and now Aqueduct.

Aqueduct is pretty much a one-man show, former Tulsa musician David Terry, now living in Seattle. Barsuk this week releases "I Sold Gold," Terry/Aqueduct's debut full-length. (Aqueduct plays the Crocodile on Jan. 27.)

CMJ New Music has given it the thumbs-up: "While it's become textbook to blame every new band flaunting drum machines and wordy liner notes on the Postal Service ... Seattle's electro-friendly Aqueduct aren't just another pigeon in that rather narrow hole. This solo-project-turned-band shakes itself of such Dntel-examinations through quirky Seattle-via-Tulsa songwriter David Terry's ever-evident love of timeless pop."

He's been called "the master of bedroom pop," and certainly knows how to create synth beats. Terry is able to match those beats with enchanting lyrics, as on the song "Growing Up GNR" ("I was only 12/Damn it all to hell/I was doing fine... /beer and Axl Rose on the radio/singing 'Sweet Child o' Mine' ").

The song is in a curious space, sometimes just this side of tongue-in-cheek, sometimes creeping into Brian Wilson romantic-pop. Last year, Barsuk released an EP from Aqueduct and now has high hopes for this full-length.

As talented as Terry/Aqueduct is, the next Barsuk-er to break big may be Sykes and her band. The honey voice of Sykes, backed by former Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher, is still getting rave notices for her 2004 Barsuk album, "Oh, My Girl."

The New York Times called it one of the overlooked gems of last year: "As her songs face desolation and mortality, a cold wind seems to blow through her voice, while her band, the Sweet Hereafter, playsin poised slow motion. There's country in the music, with brushes on the drums and pedal steel guitar wafting in from above: There's also a sighing viola and a touch of surf-guitar reverb. It's spellbound music, rapt in fatalism and sorrow."

Rolling Stone magazine called Sykes' brooding, emotionally-raw album "quiet marvels of lamentation," and "Oh, My Girl" made a handful of Top 10 of 2004 lists.

Sykes and her marvelous band — Wandscher, stand-up bass player Bill Herzog, Walkabouts violinist Anne Marie Ruljancich and drummer Kevin Warner — just left Seattle, touring as the opening band for Nebraska's Bright Eyes. After dates in Florida, Texas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, Sykes and company return home on Feb. 17, when Bright Eyes headlines at the Paramount.

Don't be surprised if Sykes is headlining at the same venue before long.

• Then again, you certainly could do worse than to be Sub Pop. Seattle's legendary label, which over the last decade has been signing relatively unknown young bands, has for the second time in a few months landed an established, highly respected band. First, Sleater-Kinney; now Low.

Over a dozen years, Minnesota's Low has become known as perhaps the best of the "slowcore" bands, playing repetitive/hypnotic songs so bass-heavy they appear poised to drop out of the bottom of your speaker.

The trio — guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk, his wife and percussionist Mimi Parker, bassist Zak Sally — get together with Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann for their first Sub Pop record, "The Great Destroyer."

"Monkey," the first and by far best song on the album, is chilling and intense in a slowly building cacophony, with the eerie chorus "tonight the monkey dies."

It's quite difficult to listen to the entire album — when "Monkey" ends, you're tempted to keep hitting the repeat button. Don't, or you'll miss powerful gems like "On the Edge Of," a Jimi-meets-Beatles gem, and the minimalist (until it explodes) "When I Go Deaf."

• Seattle's Pedro the Lion, David Bazan's low-key band, has a new EP called "Stations" — one track is "Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives" — on itunes. Bazan/Pedro will be opening for Low in February and March.

• One of the best Northwest CD's out there is also one of the hardest to get: "Light in the Attics Sampler 2.0," mixed by DJ Mr. Supreme (of the Sharpshooters duo). The disc is available only by ordering $20 or more of products at www.lightintheattic.net.

• The power-pop Seattle band Visqueen is a trio again. After acclaimed bass player Kim Warnick left (retirement!), she was recently replaced by Ronnie Barrett. The former Muffs member joins Visqueen singer Rachel Flotard and drummer Ben Hooker in time for a big tour with Neko Case and Shonen Knife.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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