Sometimes buzz acts in New York get all the star treatment in London, and vice versa. Occasionally this is because there are somewhat different tastes on either side of the pond, and it takes the ink-stained wretches or bloggers on one side of the pond to validate the music band X is making, thus making it okay to enjoy. As a result, this compilation is trying to cut out the middleman by giving both sides a taste of what is coming in 2006 from the US and the UK. And while I love the idea, as a proud Canuck I cannot help but recognize that the Organ, Uncut and Magneta Lane are not from the UK or the US. They’re Canadian, gosh darnit! No, I’m not suggesting calling it NY2LONTO, but still….
Anyhow, this 18-track compilation begins with the Morning After Girls performing “Hi-Skies”, a gritty, ballsy rocker that mixes a bit of the garage rock with the tight, catch British pop for a great way to kick arse, er, ass! While the vocals are at times a tad screechy, the band is rock solid. An even tighter and perhaps highly contagious ditty is “No Imagination” from The Hong Kong, which sounds like Chrissie Hynde fronting Metric. Fantastic stuff with a chorus that isn’t over the top but just shows enough brawn to make it all work. Unfortunately, the Ordinary Boys’ effort on “Little Bubble” is just ordinary, with the song’s lyrics played out somewhat, with a cell phone ringing just after “cell phone” is sung. Resembling something that could be deemed “neo-Kinks,” the track pays off marginally with the chorus, but it’s average at best.
Fortunately, the clunkers are often the rare exceptions to this above-average norm, particularly when the primal but hook-filled “Chemical Burns” by Every Move a Picture sounds like Franz Ferdinand doing an homage to Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” – simultaneously primal but arty. Meanwhile Magneta Lane (did I tell you they’re from Canada?) provide a punchy bit of rock a la the Go-Gos or Blondie with “Their Party Days”. The only problem is how the chorus tends to get stale the longer the song goes on. And that is also true of The Subways’ “RockNRockQueen”, which tries to deliver the goods from the onset, but it’s the vocalist who seems to try and go over the top prior to the wall of boogie/garage/primal rock.
The best thing about this album is that most of these bands are relatively unknown and many more of them are unsigned. So what you hear is often raw and unpolished, meaning it’s pure and untainted. A great example of this is the slow rumble that oozes out of “Flat Out” from Delegate, with the drummer’s hi-hat working quadruple time. Another sleeper pick that some might overlook is the mid-tempo “Venus in Cancer” by Amusement Parks on Fire. Here the group nails it with some great guitar work that is downplayed and buried under more Kevin Shields-like guitar. But the true dark horse on the album has to be “Anna’s Sweater” by Two Gallants. The song changes gears totally, a slower acoustic roots tune that seems destined for fans of Soul Asylum or Beaver Nelson. A similar vein is mined during “California” by Eugene, but not as successfully.
The second half of this compilation contains some adequate but not quite outstanding tunes, including “Steven Smith” by the Organ (another Canadian act, I think I told you!). It’s a decent effort but is mired in a rather sullen arrangement that can’t break out. Fortunately Uncut atone for this with a great rock track entitled “Day Breaks Red Light”. While not as stellar as their leadoff track from their latest album, this tune gives you some insight into what should be a breakthrough year for this group (and yes, they are Canadian too!). The guitars work lovely here and wind around each other brilliantly, particularly in the extended bridge. It seems to drop off again though with the Cribs’ performance on “Hey Scenesters!”, which is too cute at times, falling between the slots of the Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs.
Another great tune has to be “Things Fall Apart” by Group Sounds, which packs a series of small pop wallops rather than one big one. Think of the Futureheads without the franticness and you should get the picture. Then there is “16” by Harlem Shakes: just as hook-filled, despite the chorus lacking something. While these albums are at times more misses than hits, this one doesn’t have that problem.
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