various artists – spunk rock is soft rock

samplers aren’t inherently problematic. i mean, louisville is for lovers is essentially based on a similar premise and worked every time. but releases constructed to cut across genres and bands require a very fine attention to detail on the mixing and sequencing. you know, which song to pick to start, how to flow the structure naturally; and from pre-set albums you want to be promoting, a limited choice that you’ve had no part in designing.

this sampler from spunk records, a previously independent australian distributor that sold out to emi, does a great job. it’s definitely much better considered than the trifekta sampler that left me cold. it actually achieves something greater than the sum of its parts. it has a suitable ebb and flow; and is very aptly named.

there are some pretty weird inclusions – by which i mean weird bands. take adam green for instance who has written a song about jessica simpson. i’m disinterested and somewhat annoyed. it hardly surprises me, therefore, that he looks like julian casablancas and has toured with the strokes. i’m just gonna say it – i reckon they’d have to be the smelliest group of blokes ever assembled, if you got anywhere near them.

this then moves into the quite unusual pernice brothers song blinded by the stars from an excellent album that will be forthcoming somewhere in the nights ahead (yours, mine and ours). there’s almost another bit of funk in this song, with a tinniness in joe’s voice that peaks in remarkable falsetto combined with 1970s guitar and bass flourishes, and their take on interstellar. it’s pure pernice content though. had i not already loved them, it would have been an interesting introduction.

the my morning jacket and m ward inclusions make clear why they are both popular, but equally why they weren’t musicians for whom i proceeded to feverishly acquire every output. honestly, i’ve tried really hard (and there will be more on this as they appear later), but there’s an homogeneity that breeds a sense of mediocrity that i never seem able to pass.

when you place these against a song like close behind by calexico, you know exactly what that feels like. no singing, vague western movie score, strings abundant and southern american spanishness. like nothing else. i keep trying with them too.

during this period of music for stephen malkmus it was also so clear that he couldn’t work out how to write songs differently. his contribution here, (do not feed the) oysters, sounds literally no different to the last pavement album from 4 years earlier. it could have been based on the concept of giving the fans what they love and miss; but it’s another that loses its soul in the process of trying to capture a scene and the hearts of the kids, rather than just being.

towards the end you get the most soulless of the lot, with supergroups doing understated music that connected to wilco – via minus 5 and loose fur. sorry guys. you’ll always sound too old to my ears – almost adult contemporary.

almost in spite of this stuffiness, there are two excellent songs by female musos – nina nastasia at the start, and barbara morgenstern at the end. the first is quiet and not unlike mazzy star, while the second is german and laid-back electronic.

the final note from national trust is a rainy-night number paying the more seedy-bar homage to beck and slow disco. like i said above, weird.

spunk always knew they had an australian monopoly on some of the greatest music of a generation (though that didn’t help in the 1990s before they existed as a label when we had to pay premiums on imported albums). in all, this sampler shows that diversity for all its glory and flaws; big and small.

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