Various Artists – Mute: A Hush Records Instrumental Compilation

Various Artists
Mute: A Hush Records Instrumental Compilation

The advent of powerful personal computers has really changed the face of music today. No longer is it expected that in order to have a band, you have to gather a few likeminded musicians, find a place to play without disturbing any neighbors, practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and, when you’re sufficiently good enough, go into a studio. Today, one person can write and record music in the solitude of their own bedroom, and with the right software, have the same overdubbing capabilities as Paisley Park, and skip all of those annoying and time consuming steps in between. For what it’s worth, in the struggle to find something new under this sun, Hush Records offers this low-key instrumental and largely electronic album, ideal for passive listening.

This CD contains what I like to call “Empty Bottle music,” so named after the Chicago club that caters to arty sounds such as these. As the title indicates, there are no vocals contained here. This was meant as a sampler, but I have found that it functions as a complete record. The tracks are arranged in a logical order, so the record flows in a nice way. It is rare when a compilation can be listened to without skipping tracks. And the album packaging is really cool, it comes with a playbill dividing the songs into multiple acts!

Many of the tracks are very mellow and low key, and sound like they could have come from the same hard drive, but there are a few that grabbed me. Some standouts include Tracker, a one-man show that features guitar and live drums and a beautiful section in the middle that could be a Clint Eastwood western theme, if the movie was set in outer space. The Brother Egg contributes a bubbling synth-heavy number that showcases the science of this genre. And Matt Ward closes the album with a short, soothing ditty that I’m likely to put on a future mix tape for insane traffic days.

Just to be devil’s advocate for a moment, one possibility is that all of the annoying steps in between, including the rehearsals, the personality conflicts and power struggles, the trials and tribulations of the band dynamic, are what make real bands interesting. (And to be fair, some of these selections are from real bands, so I’m not really speaking about them so much as the one-person electrical shows.) Without a vocal presence to focus in on, much of this record seems to be passive listening muzak for the 20-something office-dweller, with the personality of a computer chip. Most electronic music doesn’t say anything to me, but it isn’t supposed to, I guess. The outside jacket contains the phrase “the finest in anti-rock since 1997.” It certainly is an excellent starter kit for this sound. But keep in mind, I was one of those dumb kids that made the Rollins Band stop the set because we wouldn’t listen to requests from security to refrain from stage diving, so my musical brain still serves a different master. But if that kid ever fades away, this disk will be the first in my player. I’m just not ready to give up the rock yet.