The sound associated with Sarah Records has always been “indie rock.” When the label first started in 1987, this had a very specific meaning: a dreamy, jangley warmth and repetition that was first articulated in NME’s cassette compilation C86, released a year prior. While British youth music from a decade earlier was riotous and snotty punk rock, this music had a deep earnest feeling attached to every lyric, every riff.
Sarah Records made romantic music, filtered through the lens of a 20-something with an endless present in front of them. While Sarah self-imploded in 1995, its sound still lives on. The first album they ever put out was by The Orchids, and now, the band has just put out its seventh album, Dreaming Kind.
“This Boy Is a Mess,” the album’s first single, features lead singer James Hackett bragging about “always being cool, while never being cruel.” “This Boy” feels like a mission statement for the ethereal jangle-pop of the era, evoking a feeling of freedom through feeling, a catharsis. But darkness is always close by, like on the smooth trip-hop track “I Should Have Thought,” which feels like a commentary on living with depression.
Hackett describes someone coming around again “with a big drum / telling me I’m dumb” and saying that if his heart breaks, “it never ends.” He follows up with “my love seems, my life feels hopeless, hopeless.” The intensity of the repetition is what stands out, the way Hackett seems to be saying everything for the first time, every time.
It’s been 33 years since The Orchids’ first release, Lyceum in 1989, came out on Sarah. Age has caught up with the group a little; the new sounds can feel a bit slow. But it’s not like speed is everything, if you know how to use the experience of age. The bands explore electronic elements more in Dreaming’s second half. The result isn’t exactly experimental, but more like a natural expansion. Ian Carmichael is credited with keyboards and “rhythm programming,” and the rhythms really do sound great.
“Limitless #1 (Joy),” the album’s second track, opens with a slow-but-focused guitar solo as a chorus dreamily croons “youuuu.” “You’re gonna send me straight to the stars,” Hackett sings. His voice sounds a little deeper, but no more heartfelt. He’s no longer urgently looking for love, as he was back in the days when indie had a clear meaning. Now, he’s overjoyed with what he has.
Sarah has lived on long after its self-imposed expiration date, which its founder referred to as a “pop art statement.” Sarah alumni Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey are putting out Dreaming Kind on their new label Skep Wax, which fits well for an album that finds comfort in familiar sounds filtered through a modern lens. Sarah’s self-destruction seemed to embed itself into associated music—things might not last forever, so shouldn’t they sound lovely?
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.