Do your friends tell you that clothes come in other colors than black? Are they unnerved by the amount of skulls you keep in your apartment? When you suggest a special showing of Häxan for date night, are you met with stares? Well it sounds like you need cooler friends, like the fine people at Sargent House Records.
Founded in 2006 by Cathy Pellow, a former film producer and music video commissioner for Atlantic Records, Sargent House is the label responsible for providing the more brooding bits of the indie world a platform. What started as an outlet for releasing RX Bandits records became a mainstay for doomy acoustics, phrenetic time signatures, and enough Verellen amps to rattle the San Andreas Fault.
Whether I'm sitting on a train or cooking butternut squash (split it down the middle, throw it in the oven), I probably have a Sargent House artist on my earbuds or speakers. For new initiates, these five records can be your guiding path toward a cult of decibels.
As a drummer who's been taking cues from Dave Turncrantz since college, I had to go favorite first. The Chicago post-rock stalwarts boast one of the best rhythm sections in not just post-rock, but metal at large, with Turncrantz beating out fill after fill and These Arms Are Snakes alum Brian Cook ripping open low-end like a parting ocean. Fun fact: The track "Mládek" was used in TV promos for the 2014 Winter Olympics, so if it can soundtrack someone jumping off a mountain, it can soundtrack your commute to work.
With a rap sheet that already includes membership in Marriages and Red Sparowes (both defunct Sargent House acts), Emma Ruth Rundle didn't have to do anything else. But a lot of fans (myself included) are glad she did. Her natural sensibilities in atmosphere and attack got a set of cowboy boots on last year's On Dark Horses, Cormac McCarthy's umbrous vision of the American West made in sound, complete with decaying melodies and diffuse snare hits. Giddyup.
If the Oracle of Delphi got a dreadnought and a fuzzy drum machine, she would be Chelsea Wolfe. One of Rundle's contemporaries, Wolfe has spent the better part of the past decade vacillating between industrial brutality and creeping folk tunes that sit with you in dusty rooms ("They'll Clap When You're Gone"). Hiss Spun is my personal favorite, a maximal, visceral, and surprisingly lush album that pairs distorted bass snarl with her voice lamenting Cronenberg-adjacent lyrics.
Every class needs a misfit, and in the Sargent House roster, that role is filled by the sleeveless onslaught of Mutoid Man. A supergroup (of sorts) featuring Stephen Brodsky of Cave In and Ben Koller of Converge, the "typical" Mutoid Man song is like Van Halen dipped in acid, flung into a fire, and shot back into your ears with more shred than your brain knows what to do with. And the entire time they're blasting through skull-rattling choruses and the hammiest lyrics on the label ("I did the walk of shame from hell"), they're grinning like middle schoolers who pulled the fire alarm.
What does it feel like to have the right and left parts of your brain pulled apart and reassembled while blindfolded? Probably something like Helms Alee. Slanted, syncopated, and heavy, the trio does enough to sound like six people holding together a snaking sonic tower. Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is one of the most exciting drummers I've seen in recent memory and less a human being and more a flailing set of limbs in an indeterminate state, like quantum particles. Side note: Ben Verellen, the guitarist/vocalist, is also the very same Verellen who creates the monstrous boutique amps coveted in the metal world.