Love him or hate him, Tim Kinsella is undeniably one of the most recognizable names to emerge from the densely populated Chicago music scene. Kinsella has remained a consistent pillar of polarization since forming freakshow indie-rockers Joan of Arc in 1995. Since then, Kinsella — the perennial mad scientist among a cast of rotating musicians — and his puerile yelp have become the most identifiable trait within Joan of Arc’s always-evolving sound, dating back to the band’s earliest incarnation as emo-leaning punk-rockers in Cap’n Jazz. However, on Don’t Mind Control, Kinsella’s overshadowing personality steps out of the spotlight and gives up the reins to the nebulous tribe of musicians lurking in the shadowy realm of the band’s liner notes. The resulting mess proves that, if nothing else, Kinsella’s lyrical vision — or lack thereof — has played a pretty integral role in unifying Joan of Arc into something more than just a boring, noisy art project.
That cohesiveness is noticeably lacking on Don’t Mind Control, a scene compilation that finds Kinsella playing curator with a slew of bands who maintain some degree of attachment to Joan of Arc’s crowded alumni roster. From glitchy electronic pastiches to swelling punk anthems to the Kinsella brothers’ acoustic noodling, Don’t Mind Control presents a combination of styles and genres that, even for Joan of Arc, takes aimlessness to new levels of perplexity. Considering Joan of Arc released a similar compilation back in 2005, Don’t Mind Control only manages to function as either a second victory lap, an updated document of the band’s sprawling range of ideas, or just an ironically titled promotional ploy.
Regardless of how you want to spin the rationale behind Don’t Mind Control, though, the songs just don’t carry enough weight to justify it. Without Kinsella coloring the space between every chord with his obtuse word play, most of the compilation’s offerings aim for somewhere beneath the average music listener’s attention span, and most hit the mark. From the Deerhunter-ripping pysch-trip of Birdshow’s “Privacy” to Joshua Abram’s meandering bass workout on “Blanes Echo Blirds, Bless Echo Blouds”, not much on the recording is particularly memorable. Even Kinsella can’t rescue these uninspired exercises in mediocrity with the two tracks on which he does appear. Granted, Euphone’s jittering standout, “Friend in Common”, features a refreshing dose of Kinsella’s off-key enthusiasm. But under his own name, Kinsella phones in an acoustic tangent that will be all too familiar to anyone who had the misfortune of paying for a copy of Joan of Arc Presents Guitar Duets in 2005. Lackluster offerings from A Tundra, White/Light, and Jeremy Boyle don’t help matters much either.
All that said, a compilation featuring other ex-Cap’n Jazz luminaries like Kinsella’s brother, Mike, and Victor Villareal can’t be all bad. And true to form, they mostly deliver here. Ghosts and Vodka lay down one hell of a hair-raising, schizophrenic jam with “Gameshow Buzzer”, and Owen offers up his self-deprecating, sad-bastard best over chimes and a pretty guitar on “No More No Where”. For what’s it’s worth, the vibraphone on Cale Park’s “Long Looks” builds into a fairly compelling Aloha-style singalong, too. But like most of the free compilations that labels dole out at shows, Don’t Mind Control lacks a discernible purpose beyond promotional exposure. And as bright as some of the compilation’s creative flares might be, they never manage to justify erecting a banner for a Chicago scene that’s best left in the shadows — at least until the next Joan of Arc record.