Looking back upon all of the mix tapes I’ve received over the years from friends, lovers or faceless record labels, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are at least three basic elements that make up the ideal compilation. The “best” compilations should: expose you to at least a handful of bands you’ve never heard of, contain a few songs that trigger shared moments of joy between compiler and recipient, and, perhaps most importantly, all of the songs should function as a cohesive whole—like scenes from a short story—and, thus, create a general mood compelling enough for you to return to the music from time to time.
Although the second requirement—music documenting shared experience—must be waived for all purchased compilations, most of my friends, nevertheless, have more modest expectations for the world of compiled music, uttering statements like “If you can find three songs you like, it’s a good compilation.” While cynical remarks like these probably indicate that my friends need to investigate the compilation genre a little more deeply, or perhaps make a few more friends, their collective evaluation confirms that a majority of the comps they’ve heard rarely satisfy either of the two remaining requirements mentioned above—exposing listeners to new artists and the ability to generate a specific mood.
The latest Shanti Project collection, however, is a surprising exception. Comprised of seven female artists and 15 songs, Shanti Project Collection 2 boasts that its selections flow “as if from one sweet, somber artist”. This claim is true for the most part: each song seems like a representation of the fluctuating moods of one individual, with the exception of the irritating, passionless “songs” by Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole/Smashing Pumpkins), which disrupt the flow of the compilation, but are fortunately placed at the end of the CD and can be easily skipped. The plaintive voice of Mimi Parker (Low) is tinged with a twangy melancholy on “When You Walked Out on Me” that sounds suspiciously like she could be the twin-sister of Paula Frazer (Tarnation) or Edith Frost, who each appear later on the compilation. The shy, sweet voice of Rebecca Gates (Spinanes) on “Move” reminds me of Julie Doiron, while Doiron displays her most sultry Chan Marshall mumble on the song “And Their Is Still Enough”.
Despite these vocal similarities, these compelling songwriters are not imitators, but kindred spirits, each making their own meaningful contributions to a album of simple, honest, radiant songs. And there are a few surprises as well. Kristin Hersh plays acoustic versions of early Throwing Muses’ staples “Hate My Way” and “Garoux Des Larmes”, Paula Frazer teams up with Mark Eitzel on the Scott Walker cover “Rhymes of Goodbye”, and Julie Doiron’s beautifully bewitching break-up song “The One You Love” will entice you to track down her 1997 Sub Pop solo record Loneliest in the Morning.
In addition to all of its merits, Shanti Project Collection 2 also supports a vital social cause—a portion of CD sales will be directed to San Francisco-based HIV/AIDS assistance provider Shanti Project. Assist an under-funded AIDS organization and expose yourself to some of the best female songwriters available: it’s a win-win situation.