APPETIZER SAMPLERS ALWAYS serve as a lesson for first-timers: You take note about what to order next time, and you hide the rest in your napkin. The same goes for the local music compilations that have been taking up residence in my mailbox lately. They're meant to guide you through the music muck in hopes of finding one or two tracks that will make you want to chase after the band's tour van. Gather round, music hounds, here's your taste of Minnesota.
Unless this CD's title proves to be an intentional misnomer, I'm packing my bags and moving to Nebraska. If this is "as Minnesota as it gets," then where's the hip hop? Where's the non-adult-contemporary innovation? Where, for goodness sakes, is the recording of Mark Mallman reading Ric Ocasek biographies over the screams of audience members who have just been hit in the eyes with flying shards of broken instruments that the Ass Pirates are destroying in the background?
They're all missing. Instead, this mundane pop-for-charity compilation gives us a greatest-hits-type regurgitation of everything we've heard before: the Faux Jean swanky number ("Nature"), the G.B. Leighton drunken-boogie one ("Most Important Night of My Life"), the Indigenous one about being The Indigenous One ("You Were the One"). If all these compilation CDs are meant to be a Local Music 101 class for Minnesotans, then this album is the Cliff's Notes.
At least these hyper-condensed lecture notes support a good cause: Proceeds from the album go toward the Wonderful World of Music, a nonprofit organization providing musical instruments and lessons to underprivileged children. Let's just hope that these CD-funded youngsters won't discard their DIY aesthetics in favor of the radio-friendly blandness perpetuated by their benefactors.
When you stink of stout, it's always nice to know that the burly stranger on the barstool next to you will still let you put an arm around him because, hey, you're both slurring the same words and enjoying the music, right? Such is the working-class, white-boy camaraderie that is fostered by this compilation of Mayslack's performers: bluesy tunes for boozy goons. The Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs get thirsty with the kazoo-ornamented, honky-tonk bar theme "Salty Dog." Sherwin Linton's "Mystery Train" pairs a drunken Elvis croon with upbeat, rockabilly drums. But while, in the album's liner notes, Captain Blasted claims that their phunky Phishhead anthem "Prince's Revolution" is "a strong drink mixed with one blasted twist," I found it to be rather dilute stuff.
The act of undressing rock 'n' roll can get ugly. (See also: Courtney Love performing topless, Blink 182 flashing their bare bottoms on MTV, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, um, finding new uses for their sweatsocks). Fortunately, Radio K knows how to make naked rock 'n' roll pleasing. (Before you rush out and buy their compilation in hopes of catching a glimpse of a local rock star's anatomy: Psst! I'm referring to bare-bones aesthetics.)
The third edition in Radio K's Stuck on AM series--all of which are taken from their in-studio Off the Record programs--presents another MTV Unplugged-like compilation for those of us cynics who are secretly wondering if local bands still sound as good when they can't rely on their deafening amps and we can't rely on our concert-going gin and tonics to improve their sound.
There are no surprises or thrilling tracks on the album, but there are satisfying ulterior versions of Minnesota's most popular songs. Low's "Lion/Lamb" is a crude hymn with slow, uncomplicated harmonies that almost sound primitive. Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears takes us back to the talkies with their minimalist, Twenties-cabaret piece "Good Morning, Boyfriend." And Dillinger Four do their the skeletal version of "Thanks for Nothing, Part II: The Revenge" and make their trademark pop-punk sound positively wimpy in the process. Don't worry, boys, I mean that as a compliment.
Okay, I know, you've discovered my devious plan. Nice job, Perry Mason: I'm a City Pages writer and I'm writing about a City Pages-produced album. But if I remind you that I had nothing to do with the selection of bands on this album (which was produced on a break-even basis with the aim of promoting the bands), and if I promise that you can keep writing those lovely angry letters to me about how much my local music writing makes you want to trade in your cigarettes to go huff on an exhaust pipe, then will you appreciate the bands on this compilation if for no other reason than that they're darn good? Please?
A wide array of the most under-appreciated songs in the local-music scene are included: Kitty Vermont's Magnetic-Fields-esque ballad "Dark Side of the Sea With You," Muja Messiah's orchestral hip-hop tune "For the Babies," Cropduster's tinkle-scratch jazzbop instrumental "Gare de Lyon," and Danny Commando y Los Guapos' canción de surfabilly "Here Comes the Goat."
Yet there are still a few familiar standbys stuck in for more mainstream listeners: 12Rods' "Astro Gimp," Wookiefoot's "Left for Dead," and Mark Mallman's "Better People Do It Better." This is the royal family of the local music scene. And no--thank goodness--there's not a single Prince among them.
With the exception of the Mayslack's compilation, which you can buy at, er, Mayslack's, all the CDs mentioned above can be bought at your better local, independent record stores.
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