Various Artists: 80 Records and We’re Not Broke (Yet)

[18 August 2005]

By Kevin Jagernauth

Since their inception, record label and distributor Level Plane has quietly amassed a solid catalogue of some of underground music’s most extreme and intelligent hardcore and punk bands. While the success and attention of contemporaries like Equal Vision and Ferret have eluded Level Plane, it has quietly marched on to the beat of its own drum, documenting bands that may have otherwise been banished to an undocumented obscurity. 80 Records and We’re Not Broke (Yet) is a two-CD compilation highlighting the best of the label’s releases to date, while taking a keen look to the future.

The first disc is a 24-track walk through the label’s roster. Scanning the two-dozen bands that grace the first disc, the depth of the Level Plane roster is impressive. While the majority of its acts are culled from the North American circuit, the real highlights are some of the acts Level Plane has recruited from across the pond. France’s Amanda Woodward’s blend of politics and punk rock ranks the group up there with the likes of American counterparts like 400 Years and Tragedy. “Distress of Ignorance” by Japan’s Envy is a powerful number that combines Isis’s epic buildups with nicely constructed moody passages and cathartic vocals that resonate even though the singing is entirely in Japanese. With “Neck on B1”, Melt Banana continues to prove itself one of the most uniquely original hardcore bands with its skewed take on the genre. However, not a label to solely focus on the extreme, Level Plane expands its horizon by taking such acts as laptop-pop maestro the One AM Radio, who offers up the gentle “Buried Below”.

The second disc, which collects rare and unreleased material, not only culls from the label’s roster but also from side projects and even bands that aren’t yet signed. Unfortunately, while the press material boasts that the label’s website will provide further information on the acts on the second disc, there was none to be found. And that’s quite a shame, as there are some true gems here that deserve to be found about. Avorza impresses with “Secret Succession”, a delightfully evil slab of noise that takes cues from Wolf Eyes and the Locust. However, it’s the Golden Birds that completely steal the show. “Thermometer” is a gorgeous track that combines multi-layered, harmonic vocals with whip-smart indie pop arrangements. It’s the kind of song that’s a slow grower, revealing its power as it builds, then unfurls. But for anyone wishing to find out about the group, they will have to hit them up on Google. The rest of the second disc is merely passable. Live tracks by City of Caterpillar and Coliseum are fan-only affairs, while the Lickgoldensky remix is simply uninspired. Most curious, however, are two hidden tracks that close out the disc. I couldn’t find any information about the tracks anywhere and their inclusion is either accidental or nonsensical given the absence of information.

For hardcore and punk music fans who have yet to discover Level Plane, 80 Records and We’re Not Broke (Yet) is a great introduction to a fine roster of acts that the label has quietly culled together over the past few years. As long as Level Plane continues to bring high quality acts to its fold, it won’t have to worry about the bank running dry any time soon.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/various-80records/