Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review :: V/A :: Smuggler's Way

It took conglomerate America no less than 3 years to reappropriate Record Store Day -- a noble quest that at its core celebrates small business -- into a circus of big-box bullshit aimed at the top dollar.  What a great idea turned sour so quickly, and beyond the control of actual record shop owners who become peripheral representatives of wide-eyed label heads.  It bothers me, but there are decent people on this planet, and the best of them put music out there with earnest intentionsRibbon Music and Domino put their resources together to release a genuine package of original art for those who care about the physical package, the one-off oddity, and the well-curated compilation.  So it is written, so it shall be: Smuggler's Way sits in my living room, not once, but twice, since my roommate also owns a copy.

First up is the music itself -- five rainbow-colored flexi-discs featuring one track each from Cass McCombs, John Maus, Dirty Projectors, Real Estate, and Villagers.  Cass holds true to his occult madrigal status, closing the gap by covering Leonard Cohen's "Teachers," a personal favorite from the 1967 Songs Of debut.  He locks the song in a tinder barn house, lights a match and slowly walks away.  John Maus pays tribute to his co-conspirator Molly Nilsson with a pulsating motorik cleanse that would sit well on his 2011 full-length, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves.  Real Estate tap the familiar pastel/pastoral vein with "In My Car," sounding like Felt and Foo Fighters simultaneously.  Dirty Projector's Dave Longstreth provides an acoustic demo "You Against the Larger World," a beautifully-played and sung stroll in the park, complete with his signature non-committal phrasing.  Am I right?  Villagers check in with a percolating, sample-ridden collage that sounds a bit like a sabotaged nativity scene.  But I'll be damned if it's not pressed on ectoplasmic flexi-vinyl.

It's a great compilation of music, but a big part of my allegiance comes down to the commitment to presentation.  Domino/Ribbon have simulated small-town basement comps by incorporating original drawings and prose from established artists.  Keyword is "simulated" here; you don't get the sense that anyone here was collaborating, or even aware of the final outcome -- but I believe in the sincerity of the project.  And I'm willing to spend money on it.  Really, the only thing missing is a toy or candy.  It's clear the Internet has destroyed zine culture, but as long as the music is central, the physical format will thrive.  The audience is still there... just give them something to get excited about.

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