On the surface, Mint Records is just like any independent record label.
It signs bands, promotes their records, places videos, backs showcases, attends the big one, SXSW in Austin, Texas. Mint has a press department, a release schedule, can be read online.
Generally plays the game.
Yet, while studying at the University of British Columbia in 1991, Randy Iwata and Bill Baker struck out on a path since makes Mint a little different.
There’s no reason Mint should have survived beyond its first release, by Tankhog. About 150 seven inch singles, numerous albums, a few cassettes, annual Christmas parties and the insidious presence of Naduwaar The Human Serviette, Mint is still a fresh breath as promised.
It’s as though Baker and Iwata have been able to stand back and laugh at themselves and the music business. “Yes, it’s preposterous and sometimes cruel, but we’re doing what we love our own way.”
So, despite doing all those things to stay in the game, the duo still follows its own instincts and is getting by. Mint has shown uncharacteristic loyalty, standing by some of its acts long after another label would have given up. Or it’s admitted its limitations as a small company and let an act go. Most famous of these is Neko Case, who started off as a drummer with Maow and, later, cub, before she released her first album as a singer-writer on Mint, garnered praise and jumped to another label. cub, too, was another Mint success before it imploded. It indicated Mint had insight. As well, cub revealed a label peopled by characters who had their own peculiar gift that demanded attention.
The implication is that Iwata and Baker have seen or heard something that makes their new signing special. Maybe it’s not readily apparent and so I’ve tried to see it Mint’s way. I’m not often successful but have always been entertained.
Recently, Mint has sent me four CDs and a single – there’s that loyalty I appreciate. Not long ago, a new record had to be reviewed in the first week of release, but streaming has changed that. People can listen to a record at their own leisure, thus some records can take months, even a year, to be a hit. So, word of mouth or discovery have become important.
I assume, though, that all these acts have a strong base that Mint knows how to reach.
The first record Mint sent this summer was Good Night Tomorrow by Needles//Pins. Thanks to the gruff vocals of Adam (no last name), the sound is punk made tedious by the sameness of approach, but Adam also plays some attractive, inventive guitar that is based in conventional rock rhythms. The songs, as typified by opener, Good Night, have sing along choruses.
Try by Faith Healer, a duo (Needles//Pins is a trio) might lead off with the most conventional song Mint has released. It’s & Waiting, an R&B track built on a light funkiness that stands out if only because it’s so different. Bonnie Raitt could do it. Good, too. Try then veers into a different corner entirely with a tension-building lead guitar on Light Of Leaving. More of that would be welcome but this is a varied collection that suggests Jessica Jalbert is a promising songwriter still looking for a niche. Until she finds it, try Try.
Woolworm’s Deserve To Die starts off in dramatic fashion with Unwise. Jesse Gander’s recording is full and dense with powerful guitar that sometimes buries the vocals. The songs are, or seem to be, uncommonly frank. They’re sincere and because of that, you wish Woolworm had better songs rather than merely a sound.
The vinyl single of Tough Age seemed like it was made almost by two different bands. The two songs on the A side, Guess Not and Not That Bad, sounds like unfocused, noisy punk but Unclean, on the flip, has propulsive bass, effective jabs of guitar and carries you away on its insistent rhythm.
A version of Unclean also shows up on Tough Age’s Shame. A first listen conjured the impression that this had the starkness and simplicity of The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys coupled with the heads down intent of the Velvet Underground. Subsequently, Shame shows more of the trio’s character. More whimsical, which translates as hit or miss.
Yet Mint will let you do that.