One has to ask that nagging question: How can there possibly be so many good bands in one little Midwestern town? What's interesting is that, finally, the Saddle Creek label is not just limiting its band roster to Omaha--and sometimes Athens--anymore. What's even more interesting is when Omaha kids release records on different labels; it seems somehow disloyal, as if the musician stood outside the Saddle Creek offices and stuck his tongue out in a raspberry, yelling, "Screw you and your pretentious records! I'm going to another label!"
I'm sure Denver Dalley didn't scream or make rude noises with his mouth, but the guitarist for Saddle Creek poster boy Conor Oberst's rock band, Desaparecidos, did commit the other sin: He released his solo EP on Jade Tree. The project, called Statistics, is hardly a Saddle Creek-sounding effort; instead of dissonant vocals and fiery, guitar-fueled anthems about capitalism and urban sprawl, Statistics opts for spacey, electronic love songs. The five-song, self-titled EP is beautifully produced and imagined, but the songs aren't particularly memorable; one can't help but get the feeling that any decent guitar player with the right machines could put out a flashy EP. Denver Dalley just has the good luck of being from Omaha and knowing the right people. One has to wonder if Jade Tree would have even considered releasing this EP were it not for Dalley's Desaparecidos connection and Omaha mailing address.
Another Saddle Creek affiliate, Sorry About Dresden, released their second Saddle Creek full-length a couple months back, and where Dalley's songs lack sticking power, Sorry About Dresden's are coated in glue. The thing about Saddle Creek bands is that they're usually just kind of OK. Good songs, not great production, somewhat sketchy musicianship--the records usually have the potential to be great, which is what keeps people interested. And now, that potential is beginning to be realized. Sorry About Dresden's Let It Rest, rocks in all the right ways: songs about loving and leaving and letting it all go, to the beat of the electric guitar.
In this case, the band's relation to the Saddle Creek group is both familial (vocalist and guitarist Matt Oberst is Conor's brother) and irrelevant: Sorry About Dresden are good enough to be successful even without the Omaha connection. Their form of dissonant vocals and fiery, guitar-fueled anthems is classic indie rock a la Superchunk, with a Nebraska twist. It's fitting, then, that the members of Sorry About Dresden are actually based in Chapel Hill, N.C., the indie rock it-town of 10 years ago, and work not only with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis but Superchunk and Slint producer Brian Paulson. Let It Rest is fast and focused, with a fuck-it-all-let's-rock-and-roll attitude; "Beds and Lawns" kicks the record off with the kind of hook that even the most world-weary fish couldn't help but bite, and it's only bettered by the lyrics: "We both might get pneumonia!" cries either Oberst or other vocalist/guitarist Eric Roehing.
Cursive's latest effort, The Ugly Organ, is also an improvement over past releases, brimming with realized potential, less guitar noise and more focus on melody. As is always the case with Cursive records, The Ugly Organ is blatantly autobiographical; singer and guitarist Tim Kasher suffered a collapsed lung mid-tour last year. So the record is somewhat conceptual, although Kasher seems to be apprehensive about what that concept actually is: organs as body parts and instruments and the relations between the two seems to be the top contender. Nonetheless, The Ugly Organ utilizes the Saddle Creek orchestral team and sounds pretty much like how Bright Eyes sounds these days, sans the Weltschmerz; the Saddle Creek "sound" is breathing well within Cursive's chest cavity.
Which makes the musical and geographical differences of label mates like Sorry About Dresden and another recent addition, Los Angeles's Rilo Kiley (slated to perform at Solar Culture on Aug. 12), all the more important: When a label develops a "sound," it immediately becomes difficult for that label to grow and maintain credibility. Saddle Creek is wise to branch out of Omaha, and it's wise for Omaha musicians to branch out of Saddle Creek.