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PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Various Artists: Fields and Streams

Various Artists
Fields and Streams
Kill Rock Stars

Fields and Streams, the newest compilation album from Olympia, Washington’s Kill Rock Stars label, is overwhelming: New tracks by 45 indie artists, about two and a half hours’ worth of music to listen to. Combining a few well-known indie artists, a few lesser knowns, and lots of virtually unknown bands, this double-CD collection is an excellent sample of some of the best that indie rock has to offer right now. Typically, Kill Rock Stars favors the women-fronted bands, as 37 of the 45 tracks have female singers.

Where to begin? How about with the more well known artists? One of the best songs on this huge CD is “Modern Things”, a brand new song by Hot Band of the Moment, New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Vocalist Karen O swaggers in with her super-sultry rock goddess persona, as she sings “Try me out / For what I’m all about / And we can make some noise / Not like the other boys” while the other two-thirds of this bass-less band shifts the song into overdrive. Another great NYC band, the Mooney Suzuki, contribute a killer track in the form of “All the Evils of This World”, yet another searing combination of garage and ’60s funk; it’s such a good song that it easily matches anything on their excellent recent Electric Sweat album. San Francisco’s wonderful the Aislers Set contribute “Through the Swells”, a continuation of their trademark breezy, lo-fi Wall of Sound music with soft vocal harmonies with piano and trumpet accents. Former Geraldine Fibber Carla Bozulich is her typically witty self on the singsong “Blue Boys”. Riot Grrrl pioneers Mecca Normal are back with “Blame the Glass Man”, a song that will please some and annoy many, depending on your tolerance of Jean Smith’s vocal stylings. Mary Timony’s “Tiger in the Forest” has the former Helium frontwoman continuing her foray into the more esoteric, with a more piano/mellotron and electronic influence (think Fiona Apple singing about fairies). But again, for what seems like the kazillionth time, alt-country goddess Neko Case steals yet another compilation, this time with her astounding cover of “Knock Loud” (originally by Vancouver indie musician-slash-veejay-slash-renaissance woman Sook Yin-Lee), a song previously found on Case’s own covers album Canadian Amp.

The rest of Fields and Streams is a pleasure to hear. You discover a new favorite song with each listen. One day it could be Manda & the Marbles’ early Go-Go’s sound (“Sex Object”), and the next day you’d be grabbed by whacked-out French outfit Stereo Total (“The Monster (Oh qu’il est vilain)”), which sounds like a cross between Stereolab and the Shaggs. There are loads and loads of songs to discover; Gene Defcon’s “Caeser’s Planes” sounds like a New Order tribute, the Lost Sounds’ “Total Destruction” sounds heavily influenced by bands such as the Raincoats and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Quails’ “Memo From the Desk of the Quails” is an irresistible, shuffling bit of silliness (complete with “boogedy-boogedy-boogedy” backing vocals). Chicago band the Reputation’s intoxicating “For the Win” is dreamy guitarpop that sounds great; such musicianship from an unknown band is somewhat disarming.

And that’s just the first disc . . . Disc Two is even better. Tender Trap (“That Girl”) contributes a whimsical, new wave song, while Bangs continues where the Donnas left off with the raucous “New Scars”. Fifth Column’s “Imbecile” sounds like the Cramps fronted by a woman, while the lovely acoustic song “Hiding Behind the Moon” sounds like a woman, but it’s a guy, in the form of castrati-voiced Jeff Hanson. The Long Goodbye is a real revelation, as their “Dawn of Understanding” combines hard rock with female harmonies as well as Veruca Salt did on their debut album. Erase Errata (“Leg Night”) is a bit of Beefheart-inspired weirdness, while Deerhoof’s “Song of Sorn” is just plain weird, in a good, Fugs-ish way. Dirt Bike Annie (“Ode to the Go Cart”) is wonderful, straightforward guitarpop, while both Danielle Howle and the Tantrums and Virginia North and Them Wranch contribute some great alt-country tunes. Sherry Fraser’s goth outfit Two Ton Boa closes out Fields and Streams with “Porcelain Throne”, a bombastic cross between PJ Harvey and Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom”, a one-trick-pony sound that would sound repetitive on an entire album, but here, it works well on its own, and to be fair, is very catchy.

There are so many songs to discover on Fields and Streams, that if I was to critique each one, I’d be going on for another thousand words, and I’ve subjected you to my inane ramblings long enough. Heck, I didn’t even mention Quasi’s White Stripes-like treatment of Curtis Mayfield’s “Queen Majesty”. Based on the songs I’ve highlighted alone, this CD is well worth your hard-earned cash. There are a couple tunes that are sure to annoy (for me, it was Kim Gordon’s self-indulgent project called the Supreme Indifference), but the gems far, far outweigh the dreck. Play this for a couple weeks, and find some new favorite bands. Go buy it now. Satisfaction is absolutely guaranteed.