erasing clouds

Rockin' Across America: Compulation and Cleveland/Kansas City

by dave heaton

Today's a time of a million bands, where every city, town, or village you can find is likely to have more upstart young bands than you can count. It's impossible to really get a handle on what's going on musically in any particular country (or state or city, even), but locally produced compilations are a good place to get a taste.

Compulation Volume One: Songs From North Carolina (Pox World Empire) reinforces the idea that we live in an "anything goes" era - it's a collection that can't be easily summarized - yet it also bears definite marks of the "college rock" bands associated with North Carolina (Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, etc.) here and there. The first two songs, The Rosebuds' melodic, sassy "Governor's Daughter" and Des_Ark's Radiohead-goes-hard rock "Yes Sir, Yes Way", right away tell you that the comp's going to be all over the pop-rock map, while also reassuring you that the collection's all about top-notch songwriting and fresh sounds. While I'd be lying if I said I was into every song, I could safely endorse 90% or so of the 21 songs, which is saying something for such a diverse collection. Shallow Be Thy Name's "A Call for Merry Punch," a low-key-funky pop strut, was one of the first songs to grab my ear. But there's plenty more to love, like Cold Sides' "Profiles," an oddball chant over a collage of sounds that sound like they're drawn equally from Kid A, an electronics ad and an alien radio station, and "Young Trust" by Piedmont Charisma, who sound like a haunted-house version of the Buzzcocks. Schooner's "Long Long Time" is a gorgeous melancholy tune, Malt Swagger stomp through a folk song-cum ambient trip-out called "It Sucks to Be the Kitty," and Portastatic predictably offers a beautiful expression of longing that both rocks and sways ("Skinny Glasses Girl"). All in all, a fine compilation that's more than just listenable; it'll have you searching out these bands' web sites to hear more.

With certainty I can tell you that opening a package containing the Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsered Cleveland/Kansas City CD and two related 7" singles was one of the more bewildering experiences I've had in recent months. "Illuminating the Underground: Pabst Blue Ribbon Promotes Independent Music Through CD & Vinyl Releases," the accompanying press release is headlined. Say what? I don't know if this is a sign that corporate culture is becoming hipper or what, but the circumstances behind these recordings might make you rethink your longheld belief that all big corporations are evil. Apparently someone at PBR realized their beer was being drunk en masse by struggling musicians out there and decided the company should give something back. So they paid a company called Rumblefish to find the best independent bands in Cleveland and Kansas City, and this is the result. PBR isn't selling these recordings or using them in their own promotional campaigns (though they do feature PBR cover art), instead giving copies to all of the bands from them to sell or give away or do whatever with.

The Cleveland/Kansas City CD features nine bands from the former city and six from the latter. The 7" singles, labeled "Cleveland" and "Kansas City," feature 2 bands from each city, with each band getting two songs. Pretty much every band on the comp could fall under the generic heading of "alternative rock." To me it's therefore fitting that some of the bands come off like undiscovered geniuses while most blur together as mundane (though still not horrible). I wouldn't want to rain on the parade of an endeavor with the purpose of helping out the bands that are out there working their asses off to get ahead, however, so I'll highlight the positive and ignore that which isn't blowing me away.

One of my favorite "discoveries" of the last couple years, Namelessnumberheadman, is featured on the Kansas City 7" with 2 great songs from their When We Leave We Will Know Where We've Been, a rustic/sci-fi atmospheric pop masterpiece that I've been praising to anyone who'll listen since the moment I heard it. The Cleveland/Kansas City CD also includes the first track off Kiddo's great self-titled CD, an power-packed number called "Woodward Avenue." But the best songs aren't all songs I've heard before. The CD offers a few other bands who've convinced me I should investigate them further. Viva Caramel's "Can You Take ME Home?" as the noisy buzz of a Superchunk classic and a thick wall of guitars, but under it lies a real feeling of longing that shines through the noise. This Is Exploding's "A Lust Song" is filled with as much yearning and almost as much noise but starts off minimalist and carries some tenderness with the explosiveness. Coffinberry's three songs-two on the Cleveland 7" and 1 on the CD-offer a melodic, ragged sort of punk that's riveting. And Solo Flyer's wise-ass rocker "70's Romantic Guy" has a snazzy melody and some big class-rock guitar riffs.

I've glossed over some of Cleveland/Kansas City's low points (most of which come from the KC bands, a fact I hate to admit since it's one of my favorite cities), but I do so to stress that the world is filled with people making good music that hardly anyone is hearing. Comps like these (Compulation even more so than the PBR ones) are great places to start…they just make me want to hear more like them from other places across the globe.

Issue 17, November 2003

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