Various Artists – Commercial Food Processor 12

Various Artists
Commercial Food Processor 12

Unread is a small label based in Omaha, Neb, and this is the label’s first compilation. Take a look at the bands on here, and I can almost guarantee that with one exception, you’ll find few if any familiar. But that’s the beauty here. Unread has pulled together 17 songs that showcase the beautiful and emotional lo-fi goodness of the label as well as a host of other genuine bedroom, 4-track artists that deserve recognition. No, these songs aren’t all clean and crisp and well produced. No, you don’t get a full band on most cases. But you won’t miss glitzy production, fancy overdubs, and a full band sound. Because this is all about the artist, all about the feeling and the sentiment and the sheer brilliance that comes about when one talented person picks up a guitar and decides to put their deepest sentiments to tape.

Side A is “Egg Salad,” and Will Simmons starts off with “I Can’t Say It Enough Times to Make it Rhyme,” and this acoustic lo-fi number is soft and yet so sincere I’m amazed. Simmons has that effect with his music. He’s followed by Bright Eyes, the only band I was familiar with on this album, and this track is basically just Conor Oberst playing guitar and singing and getting help on violin. “Pioneer’s Park (August 17th, 1997)” is sparse and mellow, with Conor’s vocals lacking in his trademark warble. Instead, this song is more bare-bones than I’ve ever heard him play, just plain and laid out in heartbreaking quiet subtlety and emotion. Want a sense of what this record’s about? Listen to the coughing that starts November of 1959’s “Strawberry Sweater.” It’s lo-fi and simple, and that lends this album so much. The song is singer/songwriter fare, acoustic guitar and heartfelt singing and a story of love and coping.

Ok, things get much more experimental and weird with Discombobulated Ventriloquist. “The Bedside of His Child Lover” is all high-pitched, almost squealed vocals over Casio beeps and sound effects. It’s actually kind of fun. But it’s short, so don’t fret if it sounds unbearable, and Jim Manigrassi follows it up with “Devoted,” a very lo-fi folk-inspired song that has a guitar lick in there that reminds me of Creedence Clearwater Revival. George Willard’s vocals on “He’s Not a Billionaire (Anymore)” leave something to be desired, but his guitar work is stellar, as is Caleb Fraid. His contribution, “Song #33 (My Sweetheard Keeps Me Going),” is my favorite track here, using acoustic guitar and a xylophone or some such instrument for a great rock track. Mike Musser picks up the rock feel, playing something of a Yardbirds style rock song that does have a full band sound. And Swingset’s ” ” finishes up the side with, well, a lot of noise.

Side B is “Tuna Salad,” and it starts with a kind of spooky guy saying a nursery rhyme and explaining time…anyway, it’s interesting. Kids of the Atomic Age contribute “Summerday Castaway,” a neat little lo-fi pop number with guy and girl vocals and just enough tambourine and bass drum. Erik Sahd’s “Frank Positriano” is pure banjo rock goodness and silliness. And then, out of nowhere, comes The Dark Townhouse Band and their track “Moonshine.” This is the best produced song here, and consisting of horns, drums, guitar, bass, and perfectly sung vocals, it has a Squirrel Nut Zippers blend of 50’s soulful ragtime rock. Wow, this is a cool song.

By contrast, Chris Clunk’s “Hairloss Song” sounds even more lo-fi, but you’re supposed to hear the skips and pops, dammit, all behind his moody acoustic guitar and Tom Waits-esque vocals. Charlie McAllister plays a folk-style pop song that’s right in your face, loud and emphatic. It’s followed by Kyle Jacobson, playing a Casio seriously, with the perfect singer/songwriter heartfelt vocals on “(1999) We’re All Going to Die.” Some lyrics: “I’d like to see you in the morning when you look like shit and you feel like dying.” And Ed Rooney finishes things off with “My Brains,” a demented hodgepodge of noise and mumbles.

Holy cow this album is awesome. Every one of these artists is pouring out their hearts. Some play sparse singer/songwriter fare, some play with a full band, and some get crazy and have fun with their experimentation. But all are paying beautiful music, and it needs to be heard. Thanks to Unread for letting us hear it. It’s got beautiful, hand-made fragile packaging, and I believe this album is limited to only 300! Get it quick!