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Various Artists

Occupy this Album

(Razor & Tie; US: 15 May 2012; UK: 15 May 2012)

A Hundred Flowers Blooming

They [Occupiers worldwide] should have proposals and ideas, and there doesn’t have to be agreement on them. There’s good reason to “let a hundred flowers bloom.”
—Noam Chomsky, addressing the crowd at Occupy Boston


Oh boy. How can I really review a compilation like Occupy This Album? The project is so massive it’d be impossible to do a track-by-track analysis, and it would be unfair to the multitude of voices heard across these four discs (the digital version adds a bonus fifth disc to bring the song count to, you guessed it, 99) to cherry-pick a few examples and do the typical music critic act of isolating the stylistic elements in each song. Yes, it is physically possible for me to do that; there’s plenty going on in these 99 songs. But in doing so I’d be doing a strong disservice to what makes Occupy This Album such an apt reflection of the movement it is raising funds for.


With it now being almost a year since the Zuccotti Park protests in New York commenced, many have complained that Occupy hasn’t “gotten their act together.” After the protests began spreading throughout the United States, many news commentators (read: Fox News) clamored for a complaint to raise against the Occupiers. (Well… that, or in the case of the UC Davis incident and the many other individual protests, probable cause for pepper spraying peaceful protestors.) The best one they’ve come up with so far is one that is commonly heard when critiquing the movement: “They aren’t really saying anything.” Sure, the naysayers concede, there are general themes of economic inequality and injustice present, but there aren’t any clear solutions offered by these tent-dwelling hippies.


Technically, this is true: there is no singular “Occupy” organization that decides what policies all of the protestors desire on a global scale. But that’s precisely the point: the whole modus operandi of the movement, if the “99 versus 1 percent” imagery hasn’t bludgeoned us over the head with its meaning yet, is that power shouldn’t be concentrated amongst a small elite. The decisions that effect the lives of millions, nay, billions of people unfortunately rests in the hands of a group of people who, unsurprisingly, are generally affluent, white males. One of the faults of concentrating power in such a way is that it leads many to think there must only be one solution for a given problem: “Deficit spending will get us out of a recession;” “Slashing budgets will restore us to a surplus,” etc, etc. It’s pretty unsurprising why American political debates are so fruitless. They are emblematic of the very thing the Occupiers are rejecting. The Occupiers believe the world doesn’t have to be governed by one-size-fits-all solutions. There are many voices that can work in tandem; we can govern ourselves.


This whole issue is seen in the very structure of Occupy This Album. The 99 artists who make up the compilation probably don’t agree on everything. Though lyrically most of the stuff here is united in rejecting the current financial order, were the record to serve as a deeper policy exploration it’s unlikely a fast consensus would be reached. (And I think we can all be grateful this isn’t a mixtape of policy debates set to music.) The folks at Razor & Tie very wisely picked such a wide array of voices because it is the very way Occupy has played out. Occupy has attracted many celebrities and intellectuals to its arguments, but the movement is far from celebrity-led. (Most of the artists on here are independent musicians.) The protests are and should be diverse, as anyone who thinks we can fix the global crisis in one swift step is, well, hilarious.


Now, for the most part, the overall genre the music here fits in is fairly predictable: plenty of indie, solo-acoustic guitar strummers, an equal amount of vaguely New Age sing-alongs, and since the genre so fits the protest mood, reggae. Diverse though the protests may be, there is definitely a recurring musical thread uniting the socially conscious, liberal folk frequenting the tent camps, and for those so inclined there’s plenty of that to love here. There’s also some hip-hop (the suave “New York Minute”), punk (the hilarious “Don’t Tase Me Bro!”), and a somewhat random contribution from Mogwai (“Earth Division”). Like with any large compilation record, you’re not likely to like everything here; statistically, it’s pretty unlikely. However, it’s equally unlikely that you wouldn’t like anything at all. Unless you’re voraciously opposed to Occupy, something is likely to resonate. If there’s one thing the protests have shown up to this point, it’s that the themes pervading the spirit of Occupy tend to unite people, especially in a world where economic injustice is undeniable.


So in the end, Occupy This Album ultimately succeeds not for its music (though what’s here is definitely solid), but for a unique structure that benefits from being in the right place at the right time. Were this to have been made in a world without the Occupy protests, it would have seemed insanely extravagant. But for a globe-spanning bit of collective action comprised of millions of voices, it’s a perfect representation of the movement. This captures nearly a hundred men and women of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, ages, and beliefs who are all willing to stand together on an issue that burdens us all, even if it burdens some more than others. This may not be the mixtape to change all mixtapes, but it’s the mixtape for our time and place. It’s the sound of a hundred flowers blooming right in your ears.

Rating:

Brice Ezell is the Assistant Editor of PopMatters, where he also reviews music, film, and books, which he has done since 2011. He also is the creator of PopMatters' Notes on Celluloid column, which covers the world of film music. His writing also appears in Sea of Tranquility and Glide Magazine (formerly Hidden Track). His short story, "Belle de Jour", was published in 67 Press' inaugural publication The Salmagundi: An Anthology. You can follow his attempts at wit on Twitter and Tumblr if you're so inclined. He lives in Chicago.


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