[21 August 2005]
Compilations are tricky things. There isn’t the comfort of being in a band, and having that total control to dictate where an album goes and how it feels by the fruits of one’s own musical labor. Instead there’s a reliance on the intangible and unspoken rules to making a mix-tape. The rules that the likes of Nick Hornby and Thurston Moore have detailed in their work but never pinpoint because of their variation from person to person, from tape to tape. One person’s idea of the perfect road-trip tape could be another’s conception of the quintessential chillin’-on-the-porch mix. And I think one can be assured that Iggy Pop’s ideal love-tape doesn’t line up with the same track list as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.
So how then does one go about making a mix tape for the masses? According to Melodic Records, you gather a collection of your label’s best and brightest, mix an eclectic variation of styles, and slap on a dedication to a recently passed musical icon. It may not be perfect, but it didn’t turn out half bad.
Melodic Today, the third compilation released by what NME has dubbed the “coolest label in the UK” was clearly put together with some thought. The 13 tracks represent some of Melodic’s most highly touted and up and coming artists. Traditionally known for their electronica, Melodic Today displays the British label branching out. Electronic mainstays like Pedro and Topo Gigio are accompanied by Norwegian psych-rockers Dungen and folk songwriter John Stammers. Surprisingly, the diverse assortment of genres fits together nicely and shows that Melodic put some time and thought into the production.
Melodic Today, which is dedicated to legendary DJ John Peel, takes a few tracks to really get going. The title track by Working for a Nuclear Free City uses tried and tired samples over an electronic beat that harkens back to most every ‘90s compilation in memory. Baikonour’s “Coltan Anyone?” follows, delivering some tight drumming and a solid melody, both of which are lost in a myriad of over-layered, misplaced synths halfway through the track, marring what would otherwise be a good track. Department of Eagles’ “Forty Dollar Rug”, an ode to the burnt-out-twenty-somethings-who-are-gonna-go-look-for-a-job-but-need-to-beat-their-high-score-on-Tony Hawk 4-first starts off a comical hip-hop track, but quickly descends into a maniacal, jagged guitar and bass duel that really kicks off the album.
Following a flowing guitar interlude by Gnac that changes the mood of the album sharply, John Stammers takes the stage with “The Fridge”. Stammers’ vocals hum softly, in no rush to catch up his fingers as they dance across his guitar neck in this charming folk ballad. Transelement follow up by delving even further into a ‘60s style folk rock motif with “Harmonious Ascent”.
Melodic Today makes a smooth transition into familiar territory with the album’s standout track, “Lung”, provided by longtime Melodic artist Pedro. “Lung” exudes colorful changes and sharp melodies. Free-form jazz sax tangos around various stringed accompaniments, both of which are held together by crisp drumming.
With the exception of Dncn’s poorly executed electro track, “Eeram”, the rest of the album comes to a close nicely. Wren continues a beautiful descent into electronic ambience, accentuating sharp drumming with melodic guitar draped with soft synths on “Me and My Army”. The final three tracks, all instrumental, almost sound like the end of a song fading out on a larger level. The album’s final cut, Hulk’s “Photographs”, is a blissful ambient track that finishes the compilation superbly, leaving the listener with a calming sense of conclusion.
If Melodic Today had to be classified as a mix tape, it would be classified as the kind of mix tape that hipsters could feel secure getting stoned to. They could remain blissfully glassy-eyed, stroking their beards, all the time assured of the fact that the bands on Melodic Today are comfortably under the radar, and provide an atmosphere that, while remaining chill, is not over the top enough to be considered a part of the jam-band culture. Cheers Melodic, you’ve broken new ground in the mix-tape culture.