Remembering an iconic ’90s track that bridged Northwest indie-pop and sample-based electronic music.
In mid-1990s America, the independent underground music world was frustratingly balkanized. Detroit was producing sturdy motorik tracks at the same clip as Ford was building cars. Chicago was in the midst of booms in post-punk, indie rock and second-wave house music, none of which seemed to acknowledge the existence of the others. The Pacific Northwest was awash in post-grunge, twee and riot grrrl bands, Boston had a wild noise scene, Louisville was an avant-folk oasis and New York was producing stellar rap tracks via Rawkus and Definitive Jux.
When it was released as a single in 1995, Land of the Loops’ “Multi-Family Garage Sale” sounded like none of this. Issued on Portland label Up! Records, the label responsible for releasing early albums by Modest Mouse, the Pastels, and Built to Spill, the electronic track was propelled by an infectious uptempo bassline, an equally booty-moving drumbeat and a melody built from samples and vocal snippets that playfully jumped from measure to measure. This kind of bedroom electronic music was ascendent in the UK, but not in the US.
The stage name of Alan Sutherland, Land of the Loops followed “Multi-Family …” with the album Bundle of Joy, which confirmed that he’d indeed created a singular loop-land. Sixteen tracks that mix electronica, techno, dub, breatkbeat, and indie rock, it’s a whimsical, inventive record that captures the endless possibility of the nascent bedroom electronic pop scene. That it features Beat Happening’s Heather Lewis on a few tracks connects it to the K Records world in Olympia, Washington. Released during the peak CD era, Up! nonetheless also issued Bundle of Joy as a double-LP. Exceedingly rare, it’s currently priced at $200 on Discogs.
The Los Angeles duo YACHT, which came up in the Pacific Northwest before moving south, covered the song a few years back during the pandemic. “This album made a huge impact on me,” wrote YACHT’s Jona Bechtolt on YouTube, “as it showed me that [a] bridge could be built between DIY Pacific Northwest indie-pop and sample-based electronic music.” He continued, “If you’re taking a lot of walks around your neighborhood right now, this is a great soundtrack for looking at the world and appreciating small things.”
Sutherland followed Bundle of Joy with a remix EP, Refried Treats, which features harsher, more experimental sounds that seemed to fray the edges of sonic ideas of the time. Most famously, “Welcome (Back)” earned international attention when it was licensed for use in the first episode of The Sopranos.
Though Bundle of Joy was their most prominent release, Land of the Loops actually started in the cassette community. Their first and second releases, Straight Out of Milner (1992) and Percival (1994) came out on Seattle label Slabco (home to unsung masters Sukpatch); “Multi-Family Garage Sale” actually first saw light on the latter tape.
Sutherland released his final album as Land of the Loops, Puttering About a Small Land, in 2000. Featuring a feast of samples drawn from spoken word records and documentary films, it’s a strangely beguiling trip hop and breakbeat album that celebrates turn-of-the-century ingenuity.
Thankfully, Land of the Loops’ music has been made available on Bandcamp, where Sutherland is selling CD and high-res downloads of his entire Up! Records discography.