I don’t own many compilations that I’d call “essential”. They’re usually not that kind of animal; I mean, how often do you really fall in love with not one, not three, but a whole CD of different bands? When I grab a tape for the long slog to work, I don’t reach for my dub of that Hey Buddy comp (good though it is), I reach for a “real” album, something I can listen to that I know I’ll enjoy all the way to the office. The only comps I own that I really, truly love are all happy accidents, CDs I bought blind just for the hell of it and then couldn’t stop listening to, like the truly wonderful Rites of Rhythm & Blues collection. Otherwise, the way I generally think of compilations is basically as commercial-less chunks of radio airtime: in a given half-hour, you probably won’t like every single song, but there’s a good chance you’ll like a few of ’em, at any rate, and hopefully the rest won’t suck and make you turn it off.
The Amos House Collection is that kind of CD, at least for the moment — listening to the comp is like turning on a good college radio station for 45 or so minutes. It’s nice, because some of the bands on here (like Death Cab for Cutie and Purple Ivy Shadows, for two) are groups I’d always meant to listen to but somehow never really got around to, and then some (like Bridget and Delphine) are bands I’d never even heard of but who surprised me by being pretty damn good. I may not listen to this CD more than a handful of times after this, but hell, I may try to find the full-lengths by some of these folks. One other point I should probably hit here, though: my initial guess was that Amos House is a recording studio and that these tunes were all recorded there, but no, it’s actually a non-profit based in Providence, Rhode Island, that helps families in need, and this CD is the first in a series that benefits the organization. So, if you still need a reason to get the album after reading this, there you go: bonus civic duty points.
Anyway, on to the music… There’s a general British indie-pop kind of vibe going on here, kicked off in the very first track by the excellent but very Trembling Blue Stars-esque Departure Lounge (“Straight Line to the Kerb”; I swear to God, I thought it was TBS before I looked at the track listing) and followed most of the way through. The two biggest exceptions, Austin indie-rockers Spoon, who throw in the rocking, Cars-like “I could see the dude” (originally off Soft Effects), and closers Delphine, whose “I Swear That I Swear” lulled me into believing they were yet another quiet pop band but then came blasting in with full-on (and well-done) emo guitars and screaming, serve to break things up a bit, placed as they are by tracks like The Lilac Time’s “Back in the Car Park” and Wheat’s quietly depressive “Hope and Adams”.
High points? Well, that’s hard to say; there’s not much on here I didn’t enjoy. The only tracks that didn’t make much of an impression at all were The Clearing (“Water Spout”) and Aden (“The S&F-ish Song”), and they weren’t bad, just…well, I can’t remember any of either song. The Bridget track, “I, Aquarius”, was pretty impressive, along the lines of The Secret Stars or a lower-fi Elliott Smith, and Death Cab for Cutie’s “Lowell, MA (Tiny Telephone version)”, which was a lot less poppy but much cooler than I’d expected after all the hype, impressed me greatly, as well. I hadn’t heard Idaho in such a long time that I can’t even remember what of theirs I’ve heard before, but their song on here, “Stayin’ Out In Front”, was nicely Dinosaur Jr.-ish, and The Ladybug Transistor sounded like an extremely entertaining clone of Jonathan Richman playing some alternate-universe version of the “Sesame Street” theme (“The Swimmer (Live in Sweden)”). All in all, a very listenable selection of songs, a nice introduction to some bands that I need to get more familiar with, and heck, maybe one of these mornings I will throw it on while I drive to work.