Come is a Boston band that sounds like death warmed over in a microwave; the Shams are three New York women who harmonize like the Bangles trapped on a subway train; the Chapel Hill band Superchunk comes off as a bunch of college slackers trying to play metal in the local rathskeller. What do they have in common? Nothing — except that all record for Matador, a teeny Manhattan label that, for now, is the U.S. indie haven to watch. As the above list indicates, there’s a simple reason for that. Rather than perpetuate a ”sound,” as so many indie labels do (take, for example, Seattle’s Sub Pop), co-owners Gerard Cosloy and Chris Lombardi seem more interested in anything novel and refreshing. As a result, you never know what sort of racket will emanate from a new Matador release — which, in the land of indies, is always half the fun.
Granted, the label’s earliest releases (dating back to 1990) were mostly crudely recorded scum-rock bands with more attitude than substance. No longer. Crisp production and stick-to-the-rib-cage songs ruled on two superb recent releases — the Shams’ 1991 Quilt (like a drowsy summer sing-along on a city fire escape) and 1992’s grinding, hummable Slanted & Enchanted by the Stockton, Calif., guitar band Pavement.
Granted, too, Matador has a problem when it comes to follow-ups. Pavement’s new four-song EP, Watery, Domestic, is basically a toss-off. On the Mouth, Superchunk’s third and latest Matador album, has many admirable moments — including a love song with the line ”For tension, you can use me” — but overall it lacks the style of its roaring 1991 predecessor, No Pocky for Kitty.
Still, any growing pains are forgiven in the face of new releases like Come’s debut, Eleven: Eleven, a captivating blast of ennui and feedback that may be Matador’s finest moment yet. Thalia Zedek, the band’s singer and guitarist (and a former heroin addict), has a lethargic snarl that seems to be corroding as she’s singing. And when that voice is matched with creepy lyrics like ”I close my eyes/I sink to the bottom” or power-crunch erector sets like the beautiful ”Sad Eyes,” Eleven: Eleven is enthralling, like watching someone howl into a rainstorm. With records like that, Matador hits the bull’s-eye just enough to make the light of the American underground flicker again. Watery, Domestic: B- On the Mouth: B- Eleven: Eleven: A-