Jade Tree: The Essentials, the Overlooked, and the Rightfully Forgotten
The prolific label has released their entire catalog on Bandcamp. Where should you dig in? We break it down.
Wilmington, Delaware is about as boring as you can imagine it is. Although a half an hour from Philly, a couple of hours (on a good traffic day) in either direction from New York, Baltimore, and DC, and two hours from Delaware’s beaches, the place just doesn’t have a whole lot of personality. There’s a rich banker/doctor part, there’s abject poverty and crime, and there’s a good chunk of suburbia on the outskirts, which is where I was born and raised.
At some point in my adolescence, I discovered Thursday, which led to me discovering Turning Point, which led to me discovering a slew of other artists on Jade Tree Records. This is how I first heard Lifetime’s Jersey’s Best Dancers, The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good, Pedro The Lion’s It’s Hard To Find A Friend; the list goes on, and on, and on. One day, I decided to order something from the webstore, and discovered that this record label—this thing—that gave me so much of my identity during high school was situated about 5 to 10 minutes from my house.
Flash forward about ten years and Jade Tree Records is once again making waves in the punk scene. The label, which started slowing in the late aughts, is once again starting to put out new records, little by little. Label head Darren Walters penned a piece for Billboard called “Adapt or Die” explaining the label’s relative inactivity since 2007 and 2014 and the state of the independent music industry to which Jade Tree belongs. While Walters made sure to say that Jade Tree is not returning from a “hiatus” of sorts, he did say that the label’s upcoming activity will dwarf the next couple of years—and not long after, the label put the entire discography of the label on Bandcamp for $5 an LP, $4 an EP, and $2 for a single. Given Jade Tree’s expansive discography, Noisey has provided you with this primer on how to tackle it.
Jets To Brazil was as close to a not-gimmicky punk “supergroup” as we’ll ever see; in addition to Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach, the band featured former Handsome singer Jeremy Chatelain, Chris Daly of Texas Is The Reason and Shelter, and Brian Maryansky of beloved emo band the Van Pelt and less-beloved hardcore band Resurrection. Orange Rhyming Dictionary blended post-hardcore with Schwarzenbach’s oddball pop songwriting that only got better as he aged. “Sweet Avenue” is one of the best closing tracks you’ll ever hear.
From the high-energy pop that kicks off the record to the final notes of “Forget Me," Nothing Feels Good is as perfect an emo record as the 1990s ever saw. The Promise Ring, for whatever reason, has been slightly overlooked when it comes to big emo bands reuniting, but the band put out three damn good records, and this is the best of the crop.
It’s easy to look at Lifetime’s melodic hardcore masterpiece and underestimate the innovation it brought, but what Minor Threat did for straight-edge hardcore, Lifetime did for bands ranging from Saves the Day to Title Fight. Try listening to “Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show” and not getting yourself lost in the heavy love story that Ari Katz is lamenting about in his signature scratchy ass voice.
David Bazan’s indie pop may seem a little out of place on Jade Tree, but there’s a raw aggressiveness about this low-key, mostly-acoustic record that was fleshed out on later records like Control. And Bazan’s storytelling-style no doubt spawned a movement of songwriters who were influenced by that aggression and confrontational style like Into It. Over It., and also a lot of weak-ass quiet “acoustic guys” at the cool coffee shop in your town.
There has never been, nor will there probably ever be, another band like Avail. The Richmond-bred punks took a lot of different influences, both from punk music and their own Southern surroundings, and on Over The James, Tim Barry and co. wrote some of the most personal punk songs of all time (“August”) as well as “Scuffle Town," which might be the only time a punk band has written a love letter to its city and it wasn’t corny as shit.
This discography, more than any other, is responsible for “emo.” Getting the whole thing for $5 is a steal; “Little League” on its own is at least worth that much.
From Ashes Rise
Turning Point is easily one of the most underrated hardcore bands from the early 90s. Whereas a lot of bands were either experimenting with metal (Unbroken) or sticking to the Youth of Today formula, Turning Point went from being Chain of Strength East to one of the most emotionally draining hardcore bands to ever exist. The first three songs on this discography (from the band’s last split with No Escape)—“Behind This Wall,” “Thursday,” and “Anxiety Asking”—is some of the finest hardcore ever, and if you’re into the more traditional stuff, tracks 5 to 16 (the It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn LP) is the youth crew soundtrack to your bedroom mirror mosh.
When talking about political hardcore punk, Strike Anywhere, Propagandhi, and Anti-Flag inevitably come up, but Nightmares effectively forced From Ashes Rise’s way into the mix. But From Ashes Rise was a lot more than just an abstract middle finger to the government; “The Final Goodbye” took aim at religion in a way that newer hardcore bands like Crusades seem to have taken to heart.
Alkaline Trio and Hot Water Music are two of the best punk bands of all time, and this split is overlooked all-too-often in the realm of their huge discographies. “God Deciding," arguably one of HWM’s best tracks, is on this record, as well as Alkaline Trio covering “Rooftops” and Hot Water Music covering both “Radio” and “Bleeder."
The Kinsella family has always had a close relationship with Jade Tree, with the label releasing Cap’n Jazz’s discography and the first six Joan of Arc Records, and although this record isn’t as beloved by the emo revival scene as its predecessor, it should certainly be a part of the weird, incoherent conversation. Case in point: “Everyone Is My Friend” is one of the best math rock songs of all time.
Early My Morning Jacket was excellent before they became Bonnaroo: The Band. But the real star of this, as it usually was, was Songs: Ohia and Jason Molina; the ten-minute track “Translation” is one of the heaviest songs he ever wrote under the project’s moniker, drifting seamlessly between folk, jazz, alt-country, and moments of pure brilliance.
Kid Dynamite’s second record, Shorter, Faster, Louder might have the most love from hardcore and punk kids, but there’s a lot to love about the first record – for one, it has Dave Hause of the Loved Ones doing a lot of guest vocal work. Secondly, it’s one of the best debut records ever – this was Kid Dynamite’s first non-demo release, and they managed to pack 19 songs (that you probably won’t get tired of) into it.
THE RIGHTFULLY FORGOTTEN
From what I gather, Swiz was a band of moderate popularity in the hardcore scene in the late 80s and early 90s, but I’ve never been able to “get” this band, probably because I was three when this discography dropped. If you’re reading this and you were somewhat involved in the hardcore scene in the early 90s, you rightfully think I’m full of shit, and you’ll probably enjoy this if you haven’t already.
Micah P. Hinson is not a bad songwriter, but in any event, this is easily his worst record. Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is a much, much better album, and Hinson thrives with the backing orchestral instrumentation.
This is music for Arcade Fire diehards. “Come Back Alive” could fit on that band’s newest record, except these guys wrote it in 2005.
Denver Dalley is an Omaha, Nebraska musician who has collaborated sparingly with Conor Oberst and Tim Kasher, and was in Desaparecidos, but this record is pure study mid-2000s emo combined with electronic study music.
Mike Fellows made his mark with Rites of Spring, but at best, this sounds like something on those mood CDs they sell at Target, and at worst, this sounds like something on those mood CDs they sell at Target.
THE NEW CLASS
Like some of the other bands on this list, Fucked Up is by no means new, but their recorded output for the label is often overlooked due to it taking place in Jade Tree’s “down” years, and they’re still very much active. Fucked Up’s best records would come later (and are still coming), but the first full length from the band introduced a lot of people to their brand of weirdo hardcore pop, and the storylines that are still pervasive in the band’s newer material.
For most musicians, the trajectory usually starts with “anger and rage” and ends with “mellow,” but Dan Yemin is not most musicians. The Lifetime and Kid Dynamite guitarist put together this band after having a stroke following the breakup of KD, and New Lexicon is easily the best of the bunch, an experiment in hardcore, electronic music, and politics that is easily one of the best punk records of this millennium.
Strike Anywhere can make a strong case for being one of the best political punk bands of all time, and the band on this record are pissed off, confrontational, and they don’t have time for your bullshit. Listening to this record in 2014 also makes for an interesting contradiction to the kind of hashtag activism that the internet has embraced—listen to “Refusal” and try not to roll your eyes the next time a public figure is praised for saying something like, “Yeah, I guess women are equal to men”.
Side A is sonic boredom; the negative, sneering energy from this track is the antithesis of the Nirvana worship that’s huge right now, and yet somehow embodies Kurt Cobain’s spirit more than those bands do. Side B is a wall of fuzzy sound that doesn’t delve at all into shoegaze. The best part? This band is a two-piece.
Dark Blue’s first seven-inch, and the first new release for Jade Tree since the Slutever seven-inch, is excellent post punk (influenced by soccer, or football depending on which part of the world you’re from that isn’t America) in the vein of Killing Joke and later-era Blitz. The band is no stranger to the scene, either; frontman John Sharkey was in Clockcleaner, Mike Sneeringer was in Purling Hiss, and Andy Nelson is in Paint It Black, Ceremony, and Blacklisted.
Paul Blest scours eBay for rare Paint it Black demos. Follow him on Twitter - @pblest
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