What is Ohio Music? Lately the media associates musicians of the state with no shortage of controversies. A Pretender reflects on her own harrowing experiences from decades past and is roundly criticized for her frankness. A Black Key complains to the Internet about a White Stripe, and music news websites rush in to cover the non-story. Even the Ohio State marching band has been embroiled in scandal, including investigations of sexual harassment, the firing of a domineering band director, and the emergence of a songbook with lyrics mocking historical atrocities. This is all bad news.
The good news is that Aquabear Legion has released Aquabear Legion Volume 5, the latest installment of its ongoing compilation series. This double LP is the eleventh music release and first vinyl release for the organization, which is based in Athens, Ohio and has been actively supporting and advancing Ohio artists for more than a decade. The efforts of Aquabear Legion bring attention to regional music scenes that might otherwise get lost in a landscape of music and arts coverage that favors controversy and (paradoxically) uses an immense amount of digital space to cover the happenings of only a few metropolitan hotspots at a time.
Aquabear Legion Volume 5 includes artists from Athens, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Yellow Springs and could be thought of as a travelogue about Ohio in the here and now. The sequencing of the album is of exceptionally high quality for a compilation. Thematic and sonic connections between songs seem to have been carefully considered on all sides.
The featured groups share stylistic similarities with one another and also exhibit a kind of continuity with a more established series of documents of Ohio music, which is Gear Fab Records’ Psychedelic States anthology. Aquabear Legion Volume 5 plays like a contemporary edition of Psychedelic States: Ohio in the ‘60s, which spanned three volumes of Ohio rock that was underexposed or had slipped out of memory. In his AllMusic review for volume one of that series, Stanton Swihart wrote, “fuzz guitar rather than psychedelia (per the title) is the element that tends to connect these singles together.” The same could be said of the present compilation, with most acts offering strands of unfussy guitar rock/pop music, many selections of which are “unreleased and exclusive to the compilation.”
Herzog and Sport Fishing USA contribute memorable melodies in songs that exhibit the anticipatory power of restrained verses. Sport Fishing USA’s “Feeling So Strange” is indebted to the style of Why?, a California band whose mastermind is originally from Cincinnati. There are many other numbers here that take some influence from, and/or happen to sound much like, peak eras of other well-known groups. WV White’s “Multiple Bathrooms” is a slacker version of Primal Scream’s “Shoot Speed/Kill Light”. On “Sword”, Unmonumental sound like veterans of the Desert Sessions. Murderedman tap into Ween’s 1990s sound for “Love Under Ground”.
Other songs in the collection benefit from being exclusive representatives of certain subgenres. The D-Rays “High Tide” is top-notch surf rock. Two songs that follow “High Tide”—The Guitars’ “She’s Got Your Heart” and Nick Tolford & Company’s “Cancel Your Plans”—are both plainly romantic tunes. However, The Guitars’ method is Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich-style power pop and Tolford’s is slow burning soul. Where straightforward punk rock is concerned, Dead Hand of Man’s “Dark Invader” is more convincing than Motel Beds’ “Stay Out of Riverdale”, a song that wears its disaffectedness a bit too conspicuously.
Another effective aspect of the sequencing is the inclusion of instrumental act breaks at the ends of Side A and Side C. The first is Weedghost’s “Excerpt from I”, a droning but tense kettle whistle of a song. The second is Dead Winds of Summer’s “He’s Gone Man”, likewise an instrumental track too ominous to tune out.
The last side of the album is notable for both compositional features and production values. The pop detailing of Speaking Suns’ “Sleeper”, the subtle rhythmic shifts of She Bears’ “Beach Fires”, and the processional nature of The 1984 Draft’s “Scarlet & Cream” close out the album with strength after strength. Aquabear Legion Volume 5 sets a high standard for future volumes.
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