Advertised as their "annual meet-the-roster release", Kill Rock Stars' Mollie's Mix trots out mainly previously released tracks from 20 of the label's most ear-catching bands. The more-than-a-decade-old Olympia, Washington-based label being a supremely well-established indie, this compilation features many well-established indie bands, such as Mecca Normal, Sleater-Kinney, the Gossip, and Unwound, alongside lesser-known acts like Sport Murphy and C Average. It's an eclectic mix, but not necessarily one that bears many repeated listenings, at least not in its entirety.
Long ago, Kill Rock Stars was known mainly as "that riot grrrl label", and a number of the bands on their current roster reflect this history, though with an '00s twist. Mollie's Mix kicks off with "Titties Bounce", an attention-getting demo track by the punctuation-happy Gravy Train!!!! that features a wavy synthesizer and those should-be-trademarked, rapid-fire, half-shouting/half-singing KRS female vocals. That said, vocals are lent in the cause of a chorus ordering, "Let me see those titties bounce / Let me see those titties shake", only makes them all the more entertaining. It's an auspicious beginning that heralds good stuff to come from more polished female-dominated bands, as later we get standout (albeit previously released) tracks from the Bangs, their "I Want More" a fun punky romp, and Sleater-Kinney, vamping their way through "Oh!"
That's not to say that Mollie's Mix is all formula. Several tracks feature familiar artists in less familiar territory, such as when Geraldine Fibbers singer Carla Bozulich goes solo for the country-tinged "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", or Lois Maffeo pairs with Geoff Moore as Owl and the Pussycat for the male/female duet "Blinds". And while most of the album shows off current roster big names, Jeff Hanson's "Just Like Me" recalls a former KRS star. With his eerily high double-tracked vocals and simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, Hanson sounds more than a little like Elliott Smith. Intentional or not, it's an imitation he pulls off well.
The real standout of the compilation for me, though, is "I Don't Mind" by Portland, Oregon's the Decemberists. "I Don't Mind" is an unusually subdued track for this context, four minutes of melancholy beauty marked by sweet-sounding male vocals, sharply witty lyrics, and lovely instrumentation. The liner notes for Mollie's Mix promise a new album from the Decemberists in 2003, and I, for one, can't wait.
Unfortunately, such discoveries are few and far between. Since many of the bands contribute old album tracks that any self-respecting fan of theirs owns already (like Comet Gain's "Réalistes" from the year-old album of the same name, or my fave Slumber Party with "Everyone Else I Know" from 2001's Psychedelicate), a person well-versed in the ways of indie is unlikely to find much he/she hasn't already heard. Other songs work better as gimmicks than as pieces of music you'd want to listen to over and over, a category into which I'd file Deerhoof's two wacky contributions. (Sport Murphy's "Beatles, Stepping off the Plane" is a far more entertaining gimmick, posing as the thought process behind putting together one of those self-important documentaries about the 1960s that all seem to follow the same outline.) And once you get past track 16 (Unwound's "Demons Sing Love Songs"), just forget about it. The groan-inducing contributions of Tight Bro's from Way Back When, Men's Recovery Project, and the Lies are enough to send you running for the stop button.
As with most of these kinds of compilations, if you do decide to shell out for Mollie's Mix, you may very well want to program your CD player to create a more customized version that separates the proverbial wheat from the proverbial chaff (I've already given you my preferred track list). Hopefully that will tide you over until the next new release from your favorite Kill Rock Stars star. Uneven though it may be, this compilation demonstrates there are plenty of good ones to choose from.