Various Artists: Sub City Presents: Take Action! Volume 4
By throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, this compilation of punk, metal, hardcore, and indie rock provides something for everyone but all things to none.
You've got to hand it to the folks at Take Action! and Sub City. At 41 tracks, this compilation not only gives you a lot of bang for your buck, but there's a little something for all fans of aggressive rock 'n' roll represented here. Juggling punk, metal, hardcore, and indie rock is quite a task, but the powers that be managed to put together a cohesive product that flows a lot more coherently than most label samplers or modern rock movie soundtracks.
And there you have it, folks -- my half-full review. That's the best I can do for a comp that's half-empty.
The all-inclusive approach to assembling this 2-disc set is well-intentioned and even admirable in its good-natured, community spirit. Unfortunately, the bottom line from a critical standpoint is that a more discriminating basis for choosing the artists here would have resulted in a better record. After all, music fans (especially punk fans), have discriminating tastes. As it stands, I don't really see too many people loving this collection in its entirety.
I get it, though. The point isn't to make a great product that a few people will appreciate. The point is to make something that everyone will be able to appreciate at least to some degree. As this fourth volume in the Take Action! series seeks to help troubled and depressed adolescents considering suicide, it would be in bad form to alienate anyone.
Since teenagers are the target audience here, it's not surprising that this compilation is loaded with what's resonating with the kids these days -- faux-core screamo. I feel the practitioners of this watered down hardcore have taken the rage of their influences and boiled it down to a series of woe-is-me tantrums. The singers of these bands all cop the same whiny vocal intonations and melodies. Their guitar riffs and arrangements are interesting only until you hear a variation of the same song performed by a different band.
Believe me, I'm aware I'm showing my age here, but before you label me a crotchety old music snob, let's all lower our guns, OK? A problem for critics is that we frequently and conveniently forget where we come from. I wish I could say I always listened to music with a critical ear, but of course I would be lying. You could stock a Virgin Megastore with the number of my previously owned grunge, industrial, alternative, thrash metal, and (gulp!) cock rock records from the turn of the '80s that are now currently lining used CD store shelves all over central Texas. How I hated rock critics during those times! They were always pissing on my favorite bands, and I just couldn't understand how they could dismiss so easily the music that was so vital to my teenage survival.
It's my belief that during adolescence, musical tastes are rarely fully developed. I'm not questioning teenagers' abilities to determine what they like. It's more about being able to discern quality from crap within their chosen tastes. For them, the music is often therapeutic, and their dependence on it is extreme. Thus, they go for a quantity over quality mentality. For them, unoriginality doesn't necessarily matter; in fact, I think sometime it's welcome. There is comfort in the familiar, and there is value in providing comfort. So if the music on the first half of Disc 2 (Coheed and Cambria, Taking Back Sunday, Brandtson, Rufio, Mae, and others) is keeping some kid from blowing his brains out, then I salute each and every one of these artists for as long as they continue to serve this purpose.
Personally, if I was in the emotional shitter, I'd be cranking Disc 1, which focuses mostly on punk and metal. These genres too are rife with copycats, but I still find the music of both more palatable, possibly because their frenetic chaos speaks more to my inner anger. The disc kicks off with veteran punks NOFX doing a track called "Concerns of a GOP Neophyte". While humorous lyrics often make me cringe, in this case, the comedy is satirical and intelligent. It also helps when the music is really, really fast. The bundle of pop punk that follows from the likes of the Squad Five-O, the Break, and the Kicks, while not particularly memorable, is at least fun while it lasts.
A little over halfway through the disc, the metal begins. Again, there is nothing too remarkable about Mastodon's sluggish jam "March of the Fire Ants" or the speedy rage of Shadows Fall's "The Power of I and I", but both tracks pull at the nostalgic heartstrings of my own inner teenage headbanger.
Really, the only track on this compilation that is truly stellar in both its originality and its brutality is Dillinger Escape Plan's "Panasonic Youth". With its odd-time signatures, ferocious screaming, progressive structure, razor-sharp guitar riffs, and unconventional snare-based beats, this tune makes every other cut on this entire compilation seem weak by comparison.
I think this just goes to show that the music one listens to in times of trouble tends to match the intensity of the given problem. Teenage life sucks, but at least conceptually, the problems are fairly easy to identify and comprehend even if difficult to fix. As people age, problems grow more complex, and so will the music needed to get them through it. While the music on this comp might have been the right medicine for me 15 years ago, I can honestly say that it's just a bit too simple for me to buy these days.
Man, now I'm depressed.