Music

Various Artists: Urbs in Horto: A Chicago Indiepop Compilation

Michael Beaumont

Various Artists

Urbs in Horto: a Chicago Indiepop Compilation

Label: Johanns Face
US Release Date: 2003-04-29
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Compilations like these are always a mixed bag. Especially ones that consist of bands that are all on the same label. The label already, presumably, has money and time invested in these, often times, dodgy artists, so they must be showcased lest they rot in indie obscurity. Often times, however, many of these groups, sadly, should not have been signed to begin with. Many were no doubt benefactors of drunkenly inspired A&R hacks out on a nighttime bender, thinking that this shambling excuse for a bar band is actually the second coming of T-Rex, when in reality the "majestic solos" and "charismatic front man" merely present further evidence of the thrilling effects of double G & Ts.

Urbs in Horto (it's Chicago's Latin city motto meaning "City in the Garden") is no exception, unfortunately. Presented to us by Chicago's Johanns Face Records, the sampler is a very mixed bag, consisting of songs of stunning beauty and aptitude, and soul-drenching mediocrity at the same time. Unfortunately, the mediocrity outweighs the quality by about 3:1, but the handful of worthy songs contained herein are extraordinarily good.

Things start off promisingly enough with a spoken word piece, and a nice enough power pop song from Light FM. Unfortunately, Light FM's lyrics do not do their crunchy, hook-laden music justice. In fact, so ridiculous are the lyrics to "Stormtroopers" that the song actually contains the line, "I'm a Stormtrooper / Looking for my Death Star". Oh dear.

After a so-so offering from Tenki, the CD really hits its stride with no less than five straight excellent songs. The best of these, by Butterfly Child, Hushdrops, and M.O.T.O., are arguably worth the price of admission alone. Hushdrops gets it started with the adorable pop anthem, "Emily". Encased in slapback reverb vocals and a lushly sung chorus, it's quite the pop gem, but holds its place as the album's highpoint only for the length of its own composition as Butterfly Child quickly follows it up with the astounding "Girl on Fire". Butterfly Child is actually Belfast-born Joe Cassidy, who has since relocated to the Windy City. And what a welcome import he is. With a lilting cello, driving percussion, beautiful string section and just the right touch of strummy acoustic guitar, "Girl on Fire" is just a perfect pop song. Encompassing the subdued grandeur of the Shins and the autumnal melancholy of Billy Corgan's best ballads, it is quite a calling card, and a very promising introduction to Cassidy's work.

Longitude and M.O.T.O., next on display, offer up some excellent, lo-fi, Brian Wilson-inspired indie rock, with M.O.T.O. really delivering the goods. Unfortunately, the sound quality on M.O.T.O.'s "Now" is abysmally bad, but it gives the cut an interesting textural appeal all the same, as it contrasts nicely with the brilliant surf-pop melodies, making it sound as if you've uncovered a lost Beach Boys 7" from 1964. Longitude's "More Awake Now Than Ever" is more indie and less pop, but the lead singer's Brian Wilson falsetto is a nice touch, making a good-but-not-great tune more memorable.

Unfortunately, it's all downhill after that, apart from Archer Prewitt's (of Sea and Cake fame) jangly, horn-laden, "Here We Go". Many of the remaining tunes are simply of the decent-but-not-special variety, but a few of them, like Written in Sand's "UFO Disaster" are just that, a disaster. "UFO Disaster" is an abysmal song and one that infects the rest of the compilation to the point that it would almost make me hesitate to recommend Urbs in Horto at all, lest Written In Sand benefit from its sales. But one can only hope that they can learn from their label-mates, and in time redeem themselves properly.

For the bargain price of $10.00, Urbs in Horto is probably worth the money for the aforementioned gems alone. However, if you happen to see it gracing the bins of your local used record shop for five bucks, pick it up immediately. Butterfly Child, Hushdrops, and M.O.T.O. deserve the right to vie for your record-spending dollar. And you, I hope to presume, deserve their frighteningly good songs.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.