Saturday, November 17, 2012

Midwestern Audio Vol. 1--The Opening Salvo

Last weekend, with 16 hours of solo driving ahead of me, I got a chance to play the new Midwest Music Foundation compilation, Midwestern Audio, Vol. 1, straight through. Well before I reached Tiny Horse's beautiful, "Ride," with its plea "to chase a little something," I knew I had to write about the whole of this record--43 cuts by 43 bands blending genres ranging from country to hip hop to metal, all of it better than it needs to be to set the mind reeling. When I set about chasing this something, I found I couldn't write about it all at once and do it justice, so I'm improvising my way through--movement by movement.

The album starts with a sort of blitzkrieg of dance-oriented rock. I use the term "blitz" intentionally because of the way the first four cuts call to mind the early 80s Brit-punk soul bands.  That's not to say this music sounds revivalist.  At least since Timbaland's records with Nelly Furtado, the 80s have been made fresh for this century by everyone from Lady Gaga to Fun to Gotye. These qualities particularly define Antennas Up's "Coming On," which is indeed a pretty irresistible come-on with its exuberant vocals (in back and up front), muscular rhythm section and sparkling keyboard effects.

Everyday/Everynight maintains a darker, more frenetic edge chasing the physical transcendence suggested by the song title, "Body Electric." The emphasis is on fast insistent drums, throbbing guitar and vocal distortion, but the effect is gorgeous in its own way. The soundscape created here starts in that raw center but pushes rays of jumping neon to every far horizon.

Molly Picture Club's "Fanclub" centers on a disjointed percussive groove punctuated by what sound like bleeps of Moog synthesizer and shouted backing vocals. The mix of ragged harmonies, gut-bucket and art house here call to mind what might happen if The Talking Heads and X had a three headed baby. The cut manages to find fun reveling in ambivalence.

Soft Reeds close off these opening cuts with Gang of Four-urgent rhythmic guitar and a passionate plea summed up by the song's title, "Funky Friends Breathe, OK?" Tamborine and sharp bites of guitar and keys play off one another, while the singer's sorrowful vibrato searches for the answer to the question, "What do we do with all our problems/When nobody hears a word you say?"

In a world of information overload, narcissistic social media and a collapsing base for all the old tools of survival--not least important here, that old rock and roll dream--that question seems fundamental. At least since the rock and roll explosion of the 1950s, pop music (famous or underground) has been one way our culture has tackled its most intimate and thorny problems. In a culture where thousands of musicians throw benefits every week to help others in need, The Midwest Music Foundation formed, initially, to help musicians with their own needs, starting with health care. These first volleys from the organization's new compilation celebrate the most fundamental tools that bring us together--infectious rhythms and passionate voices, all on the line.

More soon....

Meanwhile, find this release at