Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit


F*>k Dance, Let's Art – Sounds from a New American Underground
22 October 2010, 10:00 Written by

Billed as “a quiet attempt to capture a snapshot of what’s turning out to be an exciting time for new music in the States“, this compilation rounds up 18 (predominantly East Coast) bands, from the familiar likes of Animal Collective and Crystal Castles to newer, obscurer and pun-tastically monikered offerings like Truman Peyote, Psychobuildings and the mysterious oOoOO. The makers – Cool in the Pool – claim that what brings this music together is the “diversity of their respective sounds, easy use of electronics and continued attachment to a vaguely non-mainstream aesthetic“. With such, frankly, tenuous links between them then, it remains to be seen if this release is actually anything more cohesive than a selection of assorted tracks. Indeed, does it actually matter if it’s not, as long as said tracks have earned their place?

That said, there actually does appear to be an overriding – if not anything as marked as a theme or one template for the sound – at least a similar kind of mood that many of these bands conjure up. It has something to do with Animal Collective‘s wide-eyed wonderment – all shimmering magic and glitter on the (surely a little over-familiar) ‘My Girls’; heard again in Hideous Men‘s ‘Tangled’ and the rollicking ‘Kartwheels’ from Truman Peyote.

Many tracks have an otherworldly, atmospheric feel to them, from Toro y Moi‘s disco-ballad-played-backwards ‘Fax Shadow’, to the liquid, watery sounds of both Slava‘s ‘Anything’ and the wonderful ‘Bicycle (Horrors Cosmic Dub)’ byMemory Tapes – strewn with rainfall and thunder. This mysterious vibe tips over into a sense of unease or fear on the offerings from Balam Acab (the sparse ‘See Birds’) and oOoOO, whose ‘Sedsumthing’ has something so intangibly, disturbingly “off’ about it that it sends a chill down the spine.

On the flip-side, though, there is also a sense of playfulness, a kind of youthful ebullience, to a lot of these bands. This is best exemplified by the Uffie-like slink of opening track ‘Hot Shit (Creep Remix)’ by Baghdaddy; ’15 to 20′ by The Phenomenal Handclap Band – presumably their “take” on the Belle Stars’ (and others’) ’3 6 9′; and the preppy, funky Psychobuildings track ‘Paradise’.

This is not a collection for the guitar enthusiast, or those keen on the standard verse / chorus / verse pop song. The formlessness of many of these tracks, and their reliance on predominantly electronic means of music making is striking. Vocals, too, are often heavily vocodered, echoed or otherwise manipulated away from the everyday. Given the pugnacious title, it is interesting – and welcome – to see that several of the tracks included (Peter’s House Music ‘Body Heat’,Slava ‘Anything’ and Truman Peyote ‘Kartwheels’) are, in fact, eminently danceable, despite their art.

Whilst everything here probably merits its inclusion, the weakest offerings – those by Washed Out, Raw Moans and Bear in Heaven – are those that seem most unfocussed, where all that vague wispiness goes beyond the atmospheric and somehow swamps the track. The highlights more than compensate, though. Hideous Men manage to sparkle and throb all at once; Pictureplane couple their slightly abrasive synths with a downbeat vocal to great effect; oOoOO are wonderfully sinister, while Memory Tapes punctuate their stormy atmospherics with high, anguished notes yet at the same time keep such a delicate melody running through their track that it is a thing of quite remarkable craft and beauty.

“Fuck dance”? Only in the carnal sense, perhaps. Better to do as this compilation has, and combine dance with art and a whole bunch of other good stuff (atmosphere, joy, mystery, electronics). This new American Underground is an interesting place to visit.

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