It’s hard to say exactly when one of the acceptable dreams for America’s youth was to start a record label, but it’s impossible to deny that today, that dream has reached a kind of critical mass. The legendary exploits of labels like Dischord and Sub Pop have given everyone with a passion for music and without a talent for making it themselves something in which to pour their hope and energy. And though there were surely a few bookish sorts in decades past with the goal of becoming the next Ahmet Ertegun or David Geffen, it took the college/indie rock scene to get people really excited about being behind the scenes at some ‘lil label that could.
Though it exists in a less glamorous orbit than some other D.I.Y. superstars, Wilmington, Delaware’s Jade Tree has made a nice living for itself in the fifteen or so years since its birth. The brainchild of Darren Walters and Tim Owen, Jade Tree was born out of the inspiration nearby Dischord provided the duo when they were teenagers. Given the boost they needed by the success of the Promise Ring, Walters and Owen were able to make themselves an outpost in the wilderness of a music industry that didn’t put out the stuff they liked.
But what did they like, and did it matter? Surely, these questions strike every label owner when they’re struggling to make it. Do you put out just the bands you think are great, or do you make concessions to the marketplace? What will your label’s identity be? Maybe the only ones that know for sure how much so-called selling out Jade Tree has done are Walters and Owen, but their identity, they say, is forged from a commitment to the indie ethos rather than strict musical categories. To put their assertion to the test, simply pop in their Location is Everything, Vol. 2, a sampler representing a sizeable chunk of what Jade Tree does.
As is usually the case for records like these, Location is Everything is nothing if not schizophrenic. The dominant sound is hardcore, with one vein-popping screamer tending to blend into the next one without a lot of difference. Surely, there is good hardcore and bad hardcore, and a group like Milemarker proves that there’s a lot more to it than just screaming. Their instrumental prowess is immediately impressive, and their songwriting surprisingly textured. Unfortunately, though they prove that there’s more to hardcore than just screaming, they don’t show how to make hardcore without screaming, something that, in this humble critic’s opinion, the genre would do well to learn. Without some sense of contrast, most hardcore tumbles into self-parody, like the horribly titled From Ashes Rise demonstrate on this comp within seconds.
The real shame of Jade Tree’s hardcore is how much it distracts from the terrific music it features elsewhere. Of course, since a label’s music doesn’t have to be absorbed in comp form, the winners in this lot won’t actually suffer from their association with the shredded larynxes strewn about Location is Everything. Even as it stands, this is still half of a superb disc. Cex, appearing twice, puts in haunting, well-crafted tracks. Statistics has good music with not-good lyrics. Denali provides one of the record’s bigger curveballs, and one of the more enjoyable cuts, too. Rising hotshot Pedro the Lion lends the lovely demo of “I Do”, and fellow hip-names-to-drop Joan of Arc and Jets to Brazil carry more than their share of the comp’s weight. But since those groups were expected to do well, the biggest and best surprise of the bunch comes from Onelinedrawing, the former side project (now full-time project) for Jonah Sonz Montraga of Far. Over the course of his two contributions, Montraga shows how to be hard and fierce while still leaving him the space to modulate into sensitive melodicism. It makes a perfect fit for Jade Tree, bringing together everything that it tries to do and pulling it off in strong form. Take that, From Ashes Rise!