Cleaning Out the Catalogs
Was ill for a few days last week and had to go in to work on my normal day off to make it up, so I’ve been working since Thursday and won’t have a day off until this Saturday. As a result, my listening habits took a dip for several days as did my writing, but I started scribbling on these two after I noticed some similarities and that I kept wanting to hear them. The Arts & Crafts comp especially has me thinking about different issues with the never-dying indie aesthetic, some of those thoughts having been written down and possibly may be posted at some point this week. Nothing terribly interesting, just pondering junk no one but me is worried about, I’m sure.
Arts & Crafts: 2003-2013 (Arts & Crafts): A two-plus hour, thirty-four song, celebratory tenth anniversary collection of semipop “hits” and deep cut obscurities from the Canadian label’s past and present roster. For a collection of its length, not bad. In fact it’s pretty good, cherry-picking good tracks from albums alternately worthy of investigation or reserved only for diehards to love: Zeus’s Who-esque garage rock “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?”; The Stills’ siren-laden “Being Here”; three Feist tracks, the last of which a non-album cover of “Islands in the Stream”; three by Broken Social Scene (the two that anchor the first CD being quite good) and a few more by members/founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, neither of whom score (though former member Jason Collett does). It’s the first CD that’s the true treasure, deftly slipping through different shades of style, tone, and aesthetic. Second CD’s largely a chill-out session—longer cuts, looser grooves, and weaker selection, though you’ll forgive its relaxed disposition if you’re patient enough. This retrospective chronicles the wide-eyed hopes of indie romantics whose utopian vision channeled the idea of the little bands that could at the dawn of the age where the internet leveled the playing field by disarming majors of the suppression huge capital inadvertently let them wield over upstarts. But most are of these bands are defunct, several artists on larger labels, others on the wane, rendering that utopian ideal—as all utopias wind up—inert. A strong urge might lead you to believe the appeal to listen is nostalgia, but I’d argue it’s a reminder of an ethos we’ll need in the future, regardless of its naiveté, especially in times as foreboding and cynical as these: the honest vision of music as ultimate equalizer, as collectivization tool, as spiritual coordinator the world over, and the belief that anyone, even a group of rag-tag Canadian bohemians, can do it. A MINUS
RILO KILEY – Rkives (Little Record Company): Jenny Lewis and her supposedly defunct company deploy a collection of B-sides, rarities, demos, remixes, odds & ends, and never-made-its. Pay mind, this isn’t a complete catalog dump—instead a carefully selected playlist—as others have quickly noted and whinged about. It’s meant to function as an album on par with their previous, regardless of the tunes’ origins, a demonstration of their abilities. Biggest wake-up call for me was while having always put my stock in Lewis’s ability to carry a song (it’s how Acid Tongue’s lesser cuts were uplifted and why I’m Having Fun Now is worth anything), I rarely gave what I largely considered her back-up band (aka Rilo Kiley) their due. Sure, Jenny’s rocky roar on her second-person story of a 30-year-old woman going through a “middle-aged crisis type thing” feeds the narrative, but it’s the thundering backdrop that evokes ominous environment from the start; same with “Emotional,” where the shiny synths bubble and echo during the chorus in glistening, streamlined pop fashion. Moving backwards in time from swan song/love ode to LA “Let Me Back In” and other Under the Blacklight cuts never before released all the way to “The Frug”—the leadoff from their 1999 EP The Initial Friend—I wouldn’t dare say this lacks the thematic umph with which other RK recordings are weaved; its narrative arc is the survey of a band from disintegration to inception, Omega to Alpha, a band so good even their outtakes are worth savoring and their originals—for the skeptical—worth reconsidering. A