Most label compilations are simply doomed by format. It’s almost inevitable that a mechanically churned out roster disc is going to contain the smudgy pork prints of marketing. Not that advertising is inherently evil, it’s just that for most labels one can never shake the taint of being sold a product by some vaguely threatening force that wants to take your money and leave you sobbing in the wet spot. Not to mention the aesthetic abrasion that comes from trying to swerve through a compilation of bands that have little in common other than the same mid-priced dinner with a clammy handed A&R hobgoblin. But like every off-the-cuff generalization, there are incandescent exceptions. The Jade Tree compilation, Location Is Everything Vol. 1, is a lo-fi sermon to the value of keeping it real.
Born of straight-edge angst in the Reagan wasteland, Jade Tree began in the previous label ventures of co-founders Darren Walters and Tim Owen. After much success and failure, working their distributor pimp magic throughout the rise and fall of straight edge and into the badly monikered post-hardcore scene, the duo began the Jade Tree venture in 1990. With their passion for indie credibility and respect for music of many shades, these brothers in punk have built a label that houses some of the most undiluted and aggressively honest music you’re likely to find. Of course this is the thumbnail version of their saga, I suggest that you check them out for the full on cockle warming rendition.
Prior to this compilation, my entire knowledge of Jade Tree came via the brooding, soft punch of Pedro the Lion. “Rapture”, taken from the 2002 release, Control spins the agony and the ecstasy of forbidden fruit over rough but reaching guitar. The previously unreleased “Backwoods Nation” could give Noam Chomsky a run for his money with it’s message that the basest forms of bigotry and power comprise the core of our country’s propaganda. It’s every truth and insult you’ve ever wanted to utter anchored in a voice both cutting and calm. With the sparse acoustic plucking and little drummer boy beats beneath, it sounds like a pied piper march into the dark woods. David Bazan is a fabulist with a tenderly unforgiving eye.
For a healthy dose of joyfully guttered rock ‘n’ roll, Girls Against Boys have all the swagger that you can stand. “Kicking the Lights” is the kind of song you’d expect a sleazy 30-year-old to play for the adolescent girl he’s buying beer for. It dirty like nuts hanging out of tightey whites. Their unreleased track at the end, “Super Slow” is down and underneath with spoken vocals that sound uttered from the floor of messy room after a nasty bender. Atmospheric masochism at its finest.
Much of the music contained on this sampler ricochets through more genres and sounds than you can get your ear around. The Owl’s “I want the quiet moments of a party girl” lays dissonant drums beneath Tim Kinsella’s vocals that sound alternately inhaled and wonderfully off range. Not to mention that the lyrics are bitter and funny, like drunken indie filmmakers. I have to say that the line “let’s play who here would have gone Nazi” ranks high in the category of all-time favorite lines. Despite its cheek, this is some seriously sexy shit. Milemarker, a band that prefers to be considered a “collective”, sounds to me like the B-52s taking a shot at making Fall records. That isn’t a bad thing. The song’s message is vaguely political in the way that crazy street people make good points about life. It all makes some sort of sense but it’s unlikely to be coming to a brochure near you. On their website, you can even read some critical theory accusing them of de-politicizing didacticism with their fire hose of irony. I said you could, not that you should.
Jets to Brazil bassist Jeremy Chatelain’s side project, Cub Country, was, for my own slants the best track on the compilation. In the same vein of Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, but with more country graze to it, “High Vinta High” got instantly lodged in my ribcage. Hearing Chatelain hum the chorus and wax homesick over handclaps brings to mind driving at night in the summer with the windows down. With lyrics like, “I miss the power lines above my head, against the shadow of a building,” he’s a drunken haiku without rules. I plan on bolting to the record store for the full length as soon as my wage masters dispense the next round of porridge.
I wish I could give props to almost every band on this disc, but with its 23-song length, you would quickly tire of me and we would no longer be friends. Suffice it is to say, you’re unlikely to find such a thick swath of great music on any one disc anyplace else. Consider this the fan dance tempting you toward your wallet. Shut off the dry humping politics of the West Wing, buy vinyl and don’t worry how you will listen to it on the commute, and run out and buy this compilation, before your heart’s amnesia is complete and you’re left with only soft rock radio’s nipple to kill the life-giving pain.