13 of the Best Slumberland Records Albums

The Best Slumberland Records Albums

Independent labels—the good ones—rep scenes, trends, sounds, ideas. They present regionalism, deliver art with art, without some money-grubbing business-savvy buffoon asking the band to do all the things that they are not.

Nope. “Indie” is a beautiful world in The Bay Area. These creatives generally do much more than music, so when you look at their cover art, whether it be some type of collage or a photographic image that somehow describes the feel of the project, record, or genre without using one word? That’s probably done by them or a fellow band member.

Tight budgets do wonders for quality control. So the home-spun crafted visuals that either make regional connections or display a certain type of joy? These are the same pool of musicians who, in emergencies, will borrow another band’s bass guitar when that sitch arrives, and it’s no bigs. That’s the code.

When it’s time to record a new album, bands will opt to do so in whomever in the group has the largest living room, or all four or five band members will rent a house for a week or a month, depending on funds and or if they can get that much time off from working that retail job. Some do so at Amoeba Music on Haight St. But for the recording process, they will live together communally, for a set amount of time, and finish the project. Or you’re a drummer in one band and your girlfriend, said partner, gifts you a cassette four-track PortaStudio—the archetype delivery system of analog warmth—so you can use a drum machine, how ironic, and track bass, guitar, and vocals so that solo project can finally take flight.

Generally, these indie labels come to the attention of future fans through personal connections. At least, that has been my experience. Maybe it’s some cool dude, he could also be a prick, or some freaking rad woman you work with at your 9-to-5, or more realistically, your 2-to-close shitty national chain organic grocery store co-worker is in a band. Feel the need to shed the “paper or plastic” regime from your senses for a couple of hours and figure out if your co-worker is any good at what they moonlight at. Once that’s established, hopefully said band is good, you follow them around town for shows. San Francisco is kinda built for that. 

Chances are your co-worker’s band is not playing at Bimbo’s in North Beach with its swanky interior. More like that public street space across from Vesuvio Cafe in Kerouac Alley, where tourists cruise by quite bemused that clanging power-pop is blaring next door to the famed City Lights bookstore. Or at the rustic punk-rock aesthetic of Knockout in the Outer Mission or that big ole barn of a room, Makeout on 22nd Street at the tastemaker party COOL AS FUCK, and spaces akin to those digs: Kilowatt, Rickshaw Stop, and if the bands are lucky maybe they graduate up to The Chapel. Get a supporting slot at Great American Music Hall. By luck or, more probably, sweat equity, open for Lemon Twigs at the intimate basement venue Cafe du Nord. 

These are the places, workman-like venues, where you will randomly run into band members who happen to record for the Bay Area’s sounding board for what’s happening in the indie scene: Slumberland Records. Slumberland is one of the main arbiters for what’s up with the SF/Oakland janglers. Since the early ’90s, Slumberland Records has represented a spectral version of indie-pop, and Mike Schulman’s label has been making that joyful “noise-loving, pop-obsessed aesthetic” with a communal, handcrafted touch.

“I always feel the most comfort and the most sense of community when working with friends and being able to have a close rapport with the bands” Schulman said via email. “While we’ve always had strong contingents of East Coast and UK bands it’s been very cool to see the Bay Area indie/indie pop scene grow and broaden over the last 10-15 years and there are now so many terrific bands that feel like Slumberland bands to me, or Slumberland-adjacent. 

“We’re a small label and can only put out a handful of records a year so it’s awesome to have so many other labels here who work together to support the bands and the community. We’re just one piece in the puzzle and it’s that mutual respect and support that keeps us going.”

Oakland Weekender, a showcase for not just the Slumberland roster but the next edition of indie-pop bands making noise in The Bay area, and other regions, returns this year on Thursday, June 6th running through Saturday, June 8th at Thee Stork Club in Oakland, California with an exciting lineup for three jam-packed nights. The last one was held in 2022. Featuring DJs, some repeat Weekender bands, and some awesome new additions guaranteed to once again turn on ears to what is revving up on the West Coast.

Jessica Beard, a 30-year resident of San Francisco, who had what is considered to be the first indie pop DJ night in San Francisco, Club Lovely, at Edinburgh Castle in the late ’90s/early 2000s, has observed the ebbs and flows of the label that continually keeps pace with its environs.

“I think SLR continues to be such a presence because as a label it has been a home to musicians who make music committed to a pretty niche genre embraced by older labels like Creation, K, Sarah, Postcard, 53rd&3rd, and Flying Nun—no matter if those sounds or references are popular or not,” said Beard, whose partner, Andy Pastalaniec, started Chime School and is the drummer in Seablite.

“It made perfect sense as this latest wave started building with The Umbrellas, Chime School, Torrey,  Tony J, The Reds, Pinks, & Purples—that these newer bands would put their records out with the label as well” continues Beard, who will be performing as DJ Jessica B at the three-day event.

In a Bandcamp interview from 2023, Schulman diagramed the imprint’s mission statement: “I work mostly with friends or friends of friends—the personal connection is key. I’m generally turned off by excessive ambition; I like people for whom making music seems like an urgent undertaking.”

Ahead of Oakland Weekender, we survey a dozen of the best Slumberland albums from their founding on up to the present.

Blurbs by John-Paul Shiver (JPS) and Jeff Terich (JT).

Note: When you buy something through our affiliate links, Treble receives a commission. All albums we cover are chosen by our editors and contributors.

best Slumberland records albums Lorelei

Lorelei – Everyone Must Touch the Stove (1995)

Lorelei’s Asleep was one of the earliest releases in the Slumberland catalog, and the Washington, D.C. group followed that short release up with a stunning debut album that crafted an abstract intricate and often rhythmically complex sound that, today, we might refer to as post-rock. It’s not quite that simple; Everyone Must Touch the Stove brings together elements of a number of different sounds, from jangle pop to noise rock and shoegaze, but on the taut instrumental dynamics of a song like “Stop What You’re Doing,” it’s easy to hear their connection to groups like Slint and Rodan, who—after all—were only 600 miles to the west in Louisville. But on the intense rush of a song like “Newsprint,” Lorelei offer a post-hardcore reminder that, despite being a Slumberland band throughout their career, they’re only a stone’s throw away from Dischord. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

best slumberland records albums - Rocketship

Rocketship – A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness (1996)

Sharing a title with an Astrud Gilberto album from the ’60s, the debut album from Sacramento’s Rocketship is something akin to an ur-text for decades of Slumberland releases to follow. Melodic and jangly but with a prominent whir of organ that brings the group’s twee-pop a little bit closer to Stereolab’s space-age bachelor pad (side note: Stereolab, too, released some music on Slumberland early on in their career), A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness is at once magnetic and melancholy, a beautiful and buoyant set of heart-on-sleeve pop songs interspersed with experimental drone-pop drift. At once immediate and unpredictable, Rocketship offer a complex and layered permutation of jangle pop that still feels fresh and visionary. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Aislers Set - Terrible Things Happen

The Aislers Set – Terrible Things Happen (1998)

Formed by singer Amy Linton after the breakup of her band Henry’s Dress, The Aislers Set trafficked in the kind of dreamy, lo-fi C86 and twee jangle that came to be synonymous with Slumberland over the years (though this list should prove, if anything, the diversity of their lineup). Terrible Things Happen is scrappy, simple, raw and charming, driven by Linton’s mesmerizing vocals and reverb-soaked guitars, leaning between punkier numbers like the jittery “Holiday Gone Well” and dreamier ballads like the spectral and gorgeous “Alicia’s Song.” An essential slice of indie pop by any measure. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Crystal Stilts - Alight of Night

Crystal Stilts – Alight of Night (2008)

Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts brought a little bit of gothic gloom to the Slumberland roster back in 2008 with their debut album, Alight of Night. Pairing a permutation of the label’s signature lo-fi indie pop sound with a deeper dive into darker post-punk textures reminiscent of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Sound, Crystal Stilts rode a thrilling middle ground that they eventually traded for a more garage-psych approach. But here, their gauzy haze takes on more seductively sinister shapes, whether through the manic drive of “The SinKing” or the surf-goth riffing of “Departure.” – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Black Tambourine

Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine (2010)

Originally released as the 10-track Complete Recordings in 1999 before being expanded and reissued on vinyl with new artwork (and a new title) in 2010, Black Tambourine chronicles the brief but consistently excellent discography of the short-lived Washington, D.C. noise pop group. Taking major cues from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy while carrying the similarly raw and jangly ebullience of Beat Happening, Black Tambourine didn’t stick around long, but what they made together was brilliantly raw and stunning. It’s everything you’d ever want from indie pop. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

s/t alvvays review

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong (2011)

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart delivered a spectacular debut in 2009, full of ’80s jangle pop hooks, shoegaze textures and clever, wordplay-filled lyricism. Their sophomore album was even better, cranking up the fuzz and giving in fully to their cherub-rock instincts in a set that reimagined grungegaze before anyone actually used that term. Belong is more a leap in sound than in songwriting; Kip Berman’s endearingly romantic outcast narratives remain at the center while a storm stirs around them, buoyed by production and mixing from alt-rock legends Flood and Alan Moulder. The one-two punch of “Belong” and “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” is about as thrilling an introduction to a guitar-driven record as it gets in the 21st century. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

nabihah iqbal dreamer review

Frankie Rose – Interstellar (2012)

Frankie Rose had a supporting role with a number of other bands before going solo, drumming for Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls (and adding backing vocals to Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life) before introducing Frankie Rose & the Outs. But her music reached a higher strata with the release of 2012’s Interstellar, a glorious blend of soaring indie pop traced around the edges with 4AD-style shimmer and shadow. From the eruption that occurs midway through the opening title track, Rose hones her pop instincts for maximum endorphin response with every texture immaculately tailored for headphone ecstasy. Once Interstellar achieves liftoff, you’ll never want to come back down. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

best slumberland records albums - Tony Molina

Tony Molina – Dissed and Dismissed (2013)

Following the sole, 44-track release from his band Ovens, Bay Area singer/songwriter Tony Molina struck out on his own, first with a self-released cassette and later a proper debut that showcased his uncanny ability to create perfect pop songs in 90 seconds or less—usually less. Dissed and Dismissed is punky, distorted power pop of the highest order, a spiritual descendent of Guided by Voices, Flip Your Wig-era Hüsker Dü and Thin Lizzy alike. What’s remarkable is how tightly written each minute-long confection is, perfect beyond reason, and as such, endlessly replayable. – JT

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

best slumberland records albums - Chime School

Chime School – Coming To Your Town (2023)

Andy Pastalaniec of Chime School has been filling venues around the Bay with his takes on treacly dream-pop melodies for a couple of years now. And I mean with an expertly coiffed hairdo and a spiffy Rickenbacker Guitar, what else would you expect from this multi-instrumentalist? Did I mention he plays drums in the indie-pop outfit Seablite? Well, he does.

Chime School began on a dare from his partner/girlfriend when he was gifted a cassette 4-track portastudio and forced to get out from behind the kit and start his project. How is that working out?

What was once a single designed for a Buzzcocks covers cassette “Love You More”, a b-side on the ep Coming To Your Town gets the all tenderness and vulnerability lacking in the rush and grumble of the original. Slowed down just a bit so you can breathe in this evergreen psychedelia, with just a touch of that fog-pop melody bizness gusting through the Bay these days, when Pastalaniec hops on with “I’m in love again/Been like this before,” you are a believer. – JPS

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

best slumberland records albums - Lunchbox

Lunchbox – Pop and Circumstance (2024)

On their most recent album, Pop and Circumstance, Oakland mainstays Lunchbox double down on faithfulness, staying forever dazzling, channeling influences that span the breadth of 60 years of guitar pop. “I’m Yours, You’re Mine” personifies their career-spanning pursuit of mining bubblegum mod and junkshop soul. (Damn, I love that term!) They create mega-happy tunes that dip into all the pops: indie, sunshine, classic, power. Arrangements that display catchy hooks that embrace the joie de vie for earworms lined to the nines with diligent songcraft. – JPS

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon (vinyl)

best Slumberland records albums - Neutrals

Neutrals – New Town Dream (2024)

Allan McNaughton, lead guitarist and vocalist for what he calls the “Oakland-SF by way of Glasgow” power trio Neutrals, has one of the most distinctive voices in the Bay indie scene. His self-described “ham-fisted post-punk guitar playing and Scottish accent” make Neutrals, which also features drummer Phil Lantz and Lauren Matsui from Seablite (Lantz’s wife), a spectral combo. Their melodic, economical songwriting and slash-and-burn guitar charm are evident in New Town Dream standout “That’s Him On the Daft Stuff Again,” a song that showcases the band’s ability to churn out attacking chords. Ripping punk filled with blunt talk in the proper mother tongue serves up winking snapshots of droll existence and lived realities in the “New Towns” that proliferated in the UK during the ’60s and ’70s. – JPS

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon (vinyl)

Reds, Pinks and Purples Unwishing Well review

The Reds, Pinks & Purples – Unwishing Well (2024)

Glenn Donaldson’s project The Reds, Pinks & Purples keeps receipts. He’s a sly old sage; his discography goes back further than vape shops on Valencia, so his material deals with a different type of smoke. But it always tells the truth about San Francisco and how it devours its artists at the bottomless Mimosa brunch spot on Polk. But the shade, as showcased on albums like the newly released Unwishing Well, is thrown with the warmest, sometimes breathy conversational tone and cavernous guitars that wail and swoon about local bands that have gone into the dirt.

But hold your handkerchiefs, and dive in on arrangements that feel perky, rife with harmonica and 12-string guitars supporting our scribe’s observations on the creative eminent domain Cloud City keeps doling out. I’m always transfixed by the guitar symmetry that replicates a scent of cherry blossoms on 20th Street, between Valencia and Guerrero, while right down the corner another artist is evicted because they can’t afford the rent. Embrace the artwork on Donaldson’s releases, quaint snaps of houses, cars, flowers, and backyards in his cozy Richmond neighborhood. But if you follow his masterful narrative, don’t let the smooth taste of college rock fool you. It’s the blues, baby. – JPS

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

The Umbrellas Fairweather Friend review

The Umbrellas – Fairweather Friend (2024)

San Francisco band The Umbrellas weigh in somewhere on this SF jangle fog-pop spectrum, as a winsome, heart-on-sleeve bunch—even if it’s a bit difficult at times to make out what Matt Ferrera is exactly enunciating with that grave baritone. He, nor the band, is going through the motions. That’s for sure. Singer and guitarist Ferrera, bassist Nick Oka, thundering drummer Keith Frerichs, and vocalist/guitar player Morgan Stanley round out an even-keeled lot of bandmates who project great energy onstage and on vinyl. “All of us love really earnest pop songs,” bassist Nick Oka has put out there in the press.

Fairweather Friend is the bright and breezy follow-up to their self-titled debut from 2021, and these ten songs do carry that floppy hair and Peanuts-gang good energy the band is known for. “Gone,” a standout track from the album, presents this elevated (if you will) recorded version of the foursome with an unflappable balance of vocals from Morgan and Matt, and firebrand drumming by Frerichs and a twinge of Breeders orchestration surging on as the track fades out. – JPS

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

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