Compilations are a dirty, dirty breed: sometimes off-kilter and rambling, illogical and forced, sometimes, on a whim, a winner. For the most part, Listen Picks —- Volume 1, a collection of the most downloaded and applauded songs from Listen.com, brims over and becomes the latter, a solid collection of tracks that seem more unified and correct together than their supposed adhering factor of the Internet. Porn, fraud, invading your privacy, and yet still: the Internet can do this? Apparently.
At first glance, Listen Picks all seems arbitrary, but such is the nature of the beast. Beginning with Pavement’s glorious “Spit on a Stranger” and concluding with DJ Spooky’s “Nihilismus Dub,” the in-between of Listen Picks is as loaded with established names (Sleater-Kinney, Public Enemy, Mercury Rev, The Smithereens) as it is with relatively unknowns (Astronaut Wife, Crooked Fingers, Anarctica, Pretty Mighty Mighty). And therein lies the beauty. While Sleater-Kinney’s “Burn, Don’t Freeze” excels because it’s their most accessible and poppy effort to date, and Mercury Rev’s “Holes” shows them at their ambient, abstract best, it’s the newbies that give Listen Picks its edge. Solex’s “Athens, Ohio,” a powerfully mystifying look at what a Liz Phair/Stereolab duet might sound like, is utterly catchy and mesmerizing. Crooked Fingers, led by ex-Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachman, shines with the simple and elegant “A Little Bleeding,” while Kelly Willis’ gorgeous cover of Nick Drake’s “Time Has Told Me” adds a welcomed mature quality to a set that otherwise revels in its brash young absurdity.
Take note Rhino: somebody over there at Listen.com knows what they’re doing. This is what a good compilation sounds like.