For a while now there’s been an entirely welcome little bird chirping in my ear about a bevy of amazing San Francisco releases. That bird would be Arvel Hernandez of Empty Cellar Records, a label that deserves more credit for releasing some absolutely amazing stuff in the last few years. You could, if you were looking with very small eyes, fit Empty Cellar in to the broader swath of San Francisco record labels producing amazing stuff right now. The inclusion of Tim Cohen and Sonny Smith and the talented ladies behind The Sandwitches, prompts a superficial lookie-loo to lump Empty Cellar Records in to the sticky clay of San Francisco’s other, fantastic, scions of music. Look closer though and Empty Cellar Records is doing its best to paint a new layer of sound on to the sonic landscape that’s been in the slow of process of construction for so many years now.
Empty Cellar released a Sonny Smith album, but not a Sonny and The Sunsets album. Instead they chose to bring Sonny’s collaboration with The Sandwitches to the forefront, and it is a gorgeous pairing. Where The Sunsets bring a sort of 50s swagger to Sonny Smith’s songs, The Sandwitches bring the melancholy and the sheer beauty of Smith’s voice jump to the forefront. If there’s a sadder yet catchier song than “Throw My Ashes From This Pier When I Die” I haven’t heard it yet.
Empty Cellar put out The Sandwitches newest but it’s a apples to the band’s first full-length How To Make Ambient Sadcake’s oranges. Oh sure, everyone always knew that this trio of talent wasn’t just another garage-y girl group trying to wring out a few albums from the current craze, but there’s a deep sense of strangeness on Mrs. Jones’ Cookies that stands out in sharp contrast from what we’ve heard from them before. I was expecting jangly girl garage on my first listen, and the bizarre bits of sound sputtering from my bargain bin record player didn’t fit my preconceived mold. It sounded off, but after many listens the album seems the natural progression. A slight oozing in to a new range of genres with a slight hint of what came before.
And most recently Empty Cellar Records has released a Tim Cohen album. Tim Cohen of The Fresh & Onlys. Tim Cohen of three-minute pop gems. Tim Cohen of fuzzed out jams and lounge-like vocals. But Empty Cellar Records didn’t release your standard Tim Cohen record, they released Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick album The Glad Birth Of Love, a four song EP that climaxs at about 45 minutes. And this is no Tim Cohen album you’ve heard before. This is Tim Cohen at his strangest, his most free. Gone is the fuzz and the three-minute jams replaced by 13-minute epic love songs rife with space and sadness and a gentle good-nature lacking in The Fresh & Onlys and Cohen’s other solo works. It feels like Cohen was given space to breath (or perhaps he just finally needed the time to do so) and that Empty Cellar is a place where artists are given a space to take a deep one.
And perhaps that’s what’s so brilliant about Arvel Hernandez and his little label: he’s giving artists an opportunity to strike out in a new direction. In the cultural whirlpool we call 2011, removing yourself from the self-imposed type-casting of your first album can be a difficult stretch, but if record label’s like Empty Cellar Records continue to create a safe haven for inspiration and absolute creative freedom, there’s a glimmer of hope in that spinning whirlpool.
Check out the full spectrum of amazing over at Empty Cellar Records.