This year, Barsuk Records is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and the celebration starts at Bumbershoot! On Sunday, the beloved label's history will be discussed by a panel featuring cofounder Josh Rosenfeld, musicians John Roderick and David Bazan, and moderator Sean Nelson. Later that evening, Death Cab for Cutie will play their Barsuk-released Transatlanticism in its entirety at KeyArena. (There will be swooning.)
And that's just the beginning of the anniversary action—in November, the label is hosting a weekend of shows that feature several of their past and current signees, including Nada Surf, Mates of State, Menomena, and Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter.
With Barsuk on the brain and dozens of amazing records being put out over the last decade and a half, we asked the staff about some of their favorite and most memorable releases. You can share yours, too, at thestranger.com/music.
Sunset Valley were already kind of a big deal in 1998. They were from Portland, which seemed exotic. Aaron Huffman of Harvey Danger played a cassette dub of "Jackass Crusher" over and over in his car, and we marveled at it—so heavy and poppy and weirdly stoned. On the way back from SXSW in 2001, their as-yet-unreleased Barsuk debut, Icepond, was in constant rotation in the van. I was so obsessed with it, I actually called them and asked if I could be in the band. They demurred. It's still my favorite record from that time.
—John Roderick, the Long Winters
I worked with a lot of memorable records during my tenure as in-house PR fella at Barsuk—David Bazan broke my heart with his lyrics, and the debut Phantogram record felt like being at the front of a spreading wildfire—yet Aqueduct's I Sold Gold will always stand out to me. I was with a prominent New York publicity firm at the time, and being hired to work with Aqueduct led to a job at Barsuk and a move from Brooklyn to Seattle. Also, the song "Growing Up with GNR" was undeniable and compelled the Late Night with Conan O'Brien folks to have them perform it on air. To me, that stands out as one of many examples proving that when you get right down to it, one of the key contributors to a record's success is fucking great songwriting.
—Ever Kipp, publicist
When did I receive Ultimatum? And who sent it to me? I have no idea. But the point is that it arrived at my house and I played it, and it's been one of my go-tos ever since. Just six songs, but good lord! They stand up and they stand up and they still stand up. The lyrics, the poignant minor chords, and that fabulous John Roderick voice. I believe this was recorded in his "I'm missing my front tooth, so go fuck yourself" phase. This record makes me want to lovingly bash out his entire jaw.
—Nancy Guppy, TV host, Art Zone with Nancy Guppy
In early 2000, Ben Gibbard gave me a copy of the ¡All-Time Quarterback! EP. I was on tour, so it made its way into the van stereo. Not sure if it left there for a week—those beautiful five songs just stayed on repeat. The recording is weird, stylized, and works perfectly with the material. It still holds up very well for me.
—John Vanderslice, musician
Thinking about the Barsuk lineup at Bumbershoot and about our upcoming 15th anniversary shows in November, I keep coming back to the first time I heard Transatlanticism. As has always been their custom, Death Cab didn't share any music from the album before playing it for me. The Barsuk office was in a business park in Georgetown, with a parking lot view and incredible green carpet, and we loved it because it had provided a place to move all the boxes that had started to fill up the Central District house where Emily and I lived. Chris Walla brought over his own speakers and amp, which we set up for listening in the front office after work one day.
I was floored. Having already released Nada Surf's Let Go and Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter's Reckless Burning, and standing on the verge of releasing the Long Winters' When I Pretend to Fall, I knew when I heard Transatlanticism for the first time that 2003 was going to be one of Barsuk's best years.
—Josh Rosenfeld, cofounder, Barsuk Records