Digging Through the Compilation Shelf.

compgridCompilations were a fucking way of life. They were the best route to find new bands. They were around long before the internet was THE INTERNET. They were around long before Spotify, BandCamp, SoundCloud, and other services made it easy to “try before you buy.” They’re things that don’t really happen anymore. One part is because of the internet. Another is the overall decline of brick and mortar record stores. They’re not financially viable to manufacture and distribute anymore, and it’s kind of bummer.

Without pulling the shitty “back in my day” card, the decline of record stores and readily available physical products has been the biggest change in music that I’ve seen. I’m old enough to remember a time before file sharing, iTunes, and web commerce as a viable option for music existed. Small record labels, if they had websites at all, still lived on mailorder. You printed out a form, mailed them a money order or some shit, and waited. Oh, how you waited. It wasn’t the most conducive way to discover music. You could read liner notes, but if bands didn’t thank any other bands it was a no-go. So you turned to local record store, and their “compilation” section.

I’ve always been broke. That definitely made it hard for me to discover new bands in my teenage years. I couldn’t afford to buy albums all the time, and it had to be worth it if I was going to drop the $16 at Tower Records. So I always dug through the compilations. At around $2 a pop, they were the best things in the world. If i was curious about some new band on Lookout! Records or something, just go grab their most recent one. Same with Asian Man, Epitaph, Fat Wreck, Go Kart, Matador, Hopeless, BYO, Vagrant, Deep Elm, and so on et cetera. You’d get to hear that new band you were wondering about, and probably some unreleased song from a band you liked already. How could you go wrong?

The first compilation cd I ever bought was probably Mailorder Is Still Fun. As I touched on in another thing, Asian Man Records was my jam. I was mail ordering a bunch of records, and decided to get this compilation. As a teenage ska fan, it was the best I could have hoped for. Slow Gherkin, Less Than Jake, The Chinkees, and MU330 were all on it. Through that compilation I got introduced to Korea Girl, who I still believe to be one of the most criminally underrated indie rock bands in the world. I heard Alkaline Trio and The Broadways for the first time. 16 year old me was stoked. And that compilation was already 2 years old by the time I bought it.

It all spiraled from there. The first time I heard Camber, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Brandtson was on Deep Elm Sampler #3 (Sound Spirit Fury Fire). The first time I heard The Mr. T Experience, Bratmobile, and Common Rider was on Lookout! Freakout Episode 2. And Hopelessly Devoted To You Vol. 3 was where I first heard Dillinger Four, The Queers, and The Weakerthans (it also sparked me into buying one of my all time favorite records, Left And Leaving). Marc’s A Dick And Gar’s A Drunk: The Johann’s Face Story is where I first heard the Traitors and No Empathy. What I’m saying is that compilations were always important to me. In that spirit, I wanted to make a quick list of my favorite compilations. I’ve linked them to their respective page on Discogs. In no particular order.

Honorable mentions go to Short Music For Short People and Fat Music Volume 5: Live Fat, Die Young (both Fat Wreck Chords). The former for absolutely fucking nailing the gimmick. The latter for having one of my favorite Propagandhi songs.

If this kind of stuff had a resurgence, I’d be right there ready to go.

YEAR END! – Top Labels Of The Year

Tiny Engines:
Seriously, Tiny Engines fucking killed it this year. Eight of my top ten records could very well have come exclusively from this label. In fact, check their history, Tiny Engines have not put out a bad record in their entire four year history. This label is that damn good. I look forward to all the things that come out in 2013

Deep Elm:
This year saw a great number of releases come out of the Deep Elm camp. I tend to be bummed on digital only labels, but I can’t be for Deep Elm. Back before they were digital only (and before I was a vinyl snob), a good portion of my CD collection was Deep Elm. They are home to some of my all time favorite records, and to some great up and coming bands that are going to make a big splash in independent music.

Count Your Lucky Stars:
Perfect Future, Dowsing, and Joie De Virve all put out full lengths this year. That alone puts CYLS right near the top of the list, never mind the rest of the amazing stuff they put out this year. They are also ready to come right out the gates in 2013 with a new Annabel 7″ and the debut full length from Brave Bird. This label is all quality.

REVIEW: Grass Widow – "Internal Logic"

There was a giant influx of throwback type bands a few years ago. It would be very easy to write Grass Widow as one of those bands, but that would be unfair. While they do share a similar aesthetic to those types of bands, they don’t rely on the gimmick as much as others do.

One of the bands strengths is the fantastic vocal harmonies. Raven Mahon (guitar), Hannah Lew (bass), and Lillian Maring (drums) share vocal duties. Generally all at once. This gives the relatively simple pop music a nice depth that is lacking in some of their contemporaries.
Musically, there is clear influence from a lot of things. You got some indie, surf, post-punk, and garage all filtered through some fuzzy indie pop. “A Light In The Static” serves as a great intermission track right in the middle. It features only guitar, and has a somewhat Latin (if not classical) feel to it. It is followed by a straight ahead fuzz rocker called “Spock On MUNI.” And therein lies the strength of this record. The great interplay between atmospheric tracks and straight ahead pop/rock tracks.
Basically, this is a document of a band honing in on their signature sound. Nothing about it would be out of place on their previous records (2009’s self titled and 2010’s Past Time). The band has a strength for writing bouncy, mid-tempo songs. It is a pleasure to see a band get better record to record. It is even better when they play to the strengths instead of trying to reinvent themselves and fucking up a good thing.

REVIEW: P.S. Eliot – "Sadie"

Alright. Let’s make this one count. After the last poorly written review I wrote for P.S. Eliot, I think maybe I can redeem myself here.

Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds was a great record. It maintained a certain level of punk edge, but mixed in some old indie pop jangle. There were a few flaws here and there. In the end, it was a solid record. The band’s latest release, Sadie, is more of the same. While it does suffer from some of the same flaws on occasion, it feels like the band played to the strengths more often than not.

The album opens with “Talk.” It is a quick, upbeat number. It does a great job setting the tone for the record. This record seems a little faster than the last one did. As a result, there is not as much run together for songs. Each songs has little flairs that differentiate it from the one before it. The title track is the third song in, and is a great example of how great Katie Crutchfield’s voice really is. The same is true for “Diana,” which is the slowest (and longest song) on the record. While the former is very poppy, the latter is very subdued. The vocals are soft, the instrumentation is more sparse. They are two songs that show how solid this band is, but in two different ways.

The problems I had with the prior full length have disappeared, mostly. The production sounds a little cleaner. The album as a whole breaks away from being too mid-tempo and monotonous. The vocals sound a hell of a lot clearer. I had been bothered a touch by how slurred and hard to make out the words were on the previous full length. On this one, save for the opener, this is not really an issue. As far as production, my one issue is that vocals, first guitar, and drums are really high in the mix. The second guitar and bass kind of get lost a bit. Not a deal breaker, and not uncommon for the genre.

Stand out tracks would be “Cross Eyed,” “Sadie,” “Pink Sheets,” and “Shitty And Tragic.” Minor gripe being it seems a bit front loaded, but that is really more an arbitrary call anyway. Lyrically, the band remains spot on. Over all, this record will not disappoint. It is a mish-mash of punk, indie pop, and power pop. Three great things that go great together. Kind of sounds like the ’90s? Shit, just check it out.

Official Site (Blog. Not updated since January. So, maybe not?) 
Buy It @ Salinas Records
Official Download @ If You Make It

REVIEW: Snowing – "I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted"

This record is not exactly new. It was posted online for free near the end of last year, but the physical release did not even get the pre-orders going until February. Being released jointly by Count Your Lucky Stars and Square Of Opposition, this record is exactly what you would expect it to be. An absolutely solid release.

This is one of those bands that will always be name dropped in context of the who “emo revival” thing. A lot of comparisons can be made to bands like Grown Ups and Castevet (vocally and musically, respectively). As such, there seems to be influences coming from the Kinsella family bands. There are a lot of bands aping Cap’n Jazz, but Snowing also seem to take influence from the Joan Of Arc/Owls branch of that family tree as much as anything.

Musically, the band is taking a little bit from a bunch of different places. Expected of the genre, there are twinkly guitars. There are also more mathy, angular guitars. Ross Brazuk and Nate Dionne do a great job of not falling in the genre trappings. The production is a little murky to me, and as a result, the bass is sometimes hard to hear. This could be detrimental, but it fits this record fine. The vocals are hard to judge. Objectively, John Galm does not have a great voice. I can see that being a turn off to people who are not accustomed to the style. Looking at it under the greater umbrella of punk, they are great. I am stoked on how the whole package sounds, but I am not sure how this would fair outside of the scene.

Stand out songs of this record are “Why Am I Not Going Underwater,” “It’s Just A Party,” “KJ Jammin,” and “So I Shotgunned A Beer And Went Back To Bed.” All the songs maintain a level of honesty not found in a lot of things these days. Most songs, while a bit on the dark side, maintain a sense of levity. It is one of those records that can be depressing at times, but is not crushingly so.

Worth noting is this little slip of paper that came in the record sleeve. Rather than sit and retype the whole thing, here is a scan of it:

It is important that independent music works with independent companies. I am glad to see people care enough about it to actually mention it.

Overall, a great record. You can still download it for free, but I would suggest buying a physical copy if possible. Fans need to support independent music as much as we can.

Snowing (Official Site)
Free Download (CYLS Bandcamp)
Count Your Lucky Stars Records
Square Of Opposition Records