July 06, 2004



Can we talk about label samplers? Can we talk about sex? Can we talk barefoot baseball? Can we talk about how I don't seem to understand how my new schedule works and now I'm sitting on my hands? Have I told you about the weird events on my left side—puzzled lip, sock on half of head, irregular blimps of circulation—which may be epiphenomena produced by the installation of a threaded titanium base in my lower left jaw? (Anyone who's been through temporary nerve damage, holler.) Did I tell you about Nellie and Lou? (It was pretty much the exact inverse of that linked review.) Can I dig the new breed?

Labels nowadays—there are too many. Go away, labels. Go on. Scoot. But I have before me the Neurot sampler and the Leaf label sampler and there is an averaging out in their collations that I appreciate. I am talking about the number-crunching optimization effected by any competently cherry-picked compilation, which is related to the odds built into the Nashville assembly-line 10 songs/10 unique writers ratio. Marshalling the many and distinct to complete the single and coherent is a good idea. This is one reason there are three singing people on the Sands album. No single skill set can get us to the promised land. This is why the lone gunman theory of genius often fails, especially when the Beatles are pressed into a support role. So many many great records are driven by three or four personalities and actors—nowpop, screw, bluegrass or otherwise. The problem of aesthetics as it applies to assigning credit in pop recordings is not just located in the massive raft of hidden agendas that Troy their way into an argument on behalf of Person X or Y. The indian rope burn is that a major presupposition of treating differing recordings is starting with the idea that they're created in radically different ways. They usually aren't. No matter how smart Steve Albini is and no matter how articulately he defends the rights of bands to "say" what they want to "say" (not to mention the question of who "everyone" is), there isn't a single thing about electrical recordings that is natural or simply declarative. The process is inherently assembled. And there isn't a single record made that doesn't involve at least the dyad of singer and engineer, even if the engineer is a boombox designed by someone a thousand miles away. (See also: Bring me the head of the dude who programmed the Roland 808.) Or, this: "Each jump in the dark we claim as our own, we know it's a lie; we never acted alone," from "The Wizard of Menlo Park," Un, Chumbawamba, 2004.

That's a bit off-topic, though still on-pattern, because I'm grasping at the division of labor implicit in label comps. I don't have any deep love for either post-Slint metal or post-Tortoise twinkletoes music, but give every striver their five minutes, let them drop the one hook they've sphinctered out and gather the results. The side-by-side accretion of mild differences will often enhance the larger genre's larger charms. These are both genres that exult in their genre-ness and don't particularly want to risk stumbling anywhere near the finish line. I don't respect that as a pleasure principle but if I have to listen to the stuff, at least I can get a thumb-through. I wouldn't listen to an entire album by any of these bands, except maybe for Oxbow.

(I'll stand by the paradigm, though this case study is built on sand: I was bored silly by the time I got to the end of these samplers. They are now filed with some pencil shavings and a banana peel. This theory works better when our test cases are the Sony R&B or Sony Nashville samplers. Well, no. These are actually bad examples—the songs compiled on these samplers are aimed at the finish line, and do seek to be singles.)

Posted by Sasha at July 6, 2004 10:32 AM | TrackBack