Various Artists – Smokeylung Recordings Compilation, Vol. 1

Various Artists
Smokeylung Recordings Compilation, Vol. 1

You might say that Smokeylung Recordings has had a busy year. It is, after all, their first year on a national scale, and they seem to be doing everything they can to get the word out – outside of holding up college radio stations by force. Maybe this is why every review site on the web seems to have one SL album or another on it. And I am also surprised by the number of releases this label has put out in one year. One has to wonder if it is smart to spread a new label thin by introducing so many new artisits in one year. But alas, maybe it is also a way to keep your name out there (is there is a thin line there somewhere). The real question is, does the quality of the releases suffer when you put out so many albums so quickly? Thankfully, this compilation release seems to continue the precedent that everything SL releases is somewhere between “pretty good” to “very excellent.”

The compilation begins with two songs by Finn – another one of those singer/songwriter things. If it sounds like I am being critical here, I don’t mean to be, but there sure is a whole lot of solo-singing and writing fools out there these days. Regardless, Finn doesn’t suffer from a lot of the self-indulgence that so many of his singer/songwriter brethren do. His songs here are poppy and dramatic, but he never reaches that whiny “melodramatic” point that cripple so many others. (To read more on Finn, see Jeff’s earlier review of the whole album).

“Comfort,” is the first song from Finn, and it is a scrappy sounding tune with a lot of aggression. The vocals are gliding and sweet while the guitars cut around like some sort of distorted Spanish guitar. It is quite an odd song to open the album with, because it is the least poppy one on the whole compilation. The next one, “Be Around,” verges on being too Elliot Smith but retains a very Lennon-esque quality that keeps it from being a copy of the Smith style. This is a hearty tune that has very stout pop qualities.

Derjason is featured next. There are three songs from this Derek Richey/Jason Richey collaboration that are all some odd mix of hip hop and indie rock. I reviewed this whole album earlier this year, so check that out to get more details. The mix of sampled beats and sounds and real guitars and Derek’s vocals make this a real treat. There is nothing fancy about these songs either, which is part of their charm.

By far, Brando seems to be having the biggest impact for Smokeylung – and, being my favorite band on this label, I was happily surprised to find three new songs I had never heard by them. “Theories of Division” is the first one and a big one. Unlike earlier Brando recordings, this newer cut has a lot more depth of tone and sound. Add to that the use of effects like chorus and delay (something you just don’t hear on the more straightforward Brando releases from the 1997-1999 era), and you get a very rich song with the usual off-kilter-pop sensibilities of Richey, Seib, Solero and company.

The next two songs are a step back into their more lo-fi past but with a more minimalist approach. “Breathe Softly” and “Amusement” are both songs with a piano foundation. The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson vibe gets going here with many backing vocals all swaying and melting together in the background. I found myself listening to each of these songs time and time again. And God help me if you don’t catch yourself singing them in the shower or having them stuck in your head upon waking up in the morning. It drives you nuts in a good way.

Satellite 66 is next. Again, Jeff reviewed their full release, so find that for a more detailed perspective. On this CD, S66 starts with “Gifted Glue,” a song that builds and builds, circles and circles, and ends up sounding like some magnificent orchestra booming and swirling in unison. Recorded on 4-track, it is obvious that Seib must have done at least 30 ping-pongs to jam this many instruments on the recordings. I count two drums, more than a few trumpets, four or five guitars, a big ass bass guitar and god knows what else. There are no vocals, but this powerful song doesn’t need them. The other song is “Chinese Impressionist,” a perfect little Pavement-esque, pop hit that is was meant for the college radio scene (Cheryl Waters, my favorite DJ on KCMU-Seattle plays this one all the time).

The last band on this compilation is “Spurgeon.” Both of this band’s tunes are instrumentals, and both are pretty interesting. “Central Intelligence” is very short and catchy, while “Mr. Lowery” is a more ambitious song that is heavy on the organs and drums and even sports a sample scratch or two. The best part of these songs is that they have a sense of timing and impact. The powerful drums in “Mr. Lowery” come in and out, adding thrust and “giddeyup” to an already moving tune. While these two songs are interesting, I have a hard time believing that a whole album by Spurgeon will be that appealing. But, we’ll see.

And that’s the compilation. It is pretty good introduction to everything that is Smokeylung. Every song is at least above average, and many are downright fantastic. Do be prepared for the lo-fi thing to be quite evident. Some of these songs (in particular the Satellite 66 and Finn songs) have a hearty amount of 4-track tape hiss. Personally, I do not find this a problem. It is no worse than the first Pavement release or early Sebadoh albums. I would recommend this chunk of music if you want to get to know this label a little better and find out why more and more people really dig these guys. There are many good reasons, and SL gives us 13 more reasons on this compilation.