Various Artists – Membranaphonics

Various Artists

Compilations are the best records to review. There’s no worrying about trying to assess the flow of the album or find any underlying theme to the material. I can just write about the artists and the songs and then go off on my merry way.

That being said, I’ll get to the task at hand. Membranaphonics is a compilation of tracks put together by drummers from various independent bands. While a few of the tracks are very ambitious, most of the compilation sounds like … well, a bunch of drummers drumming.

Mary Timony’s drummer Christina Files starts off the drum parade with “Nite Cap,” a minute-and-a-half dirge of drums, feedback, and toy piano. There’s a tiny voice in there somewhere, too, but it really just gets lost in the mix. Kyle Crabtree of Shipping News follows up with the first standout track of the disc, “To Drown is To Live.” Drum beats fly all over the place as a pair of guitars noodle along, creating a perfect little “watching clouds floating by” vibe. Seriously, this sounds like an organic DJ Shadow track, and it completely owns me in every way. Damon Che of Don Caballero plays an interesting game of hit-or-miss with “Oh, Suzanna,” which starts with a nice mix of acoustic guitar, drums, and ‘atmospheric’ noises. The track turns, though, and languishes in a few moments of drum soloing before returning to a spookier bent on the track’s opening tune. This is a great track, though I could really do without the drum solo. Then again, this is an album of songs put together by drummers, so I guess it’s to be expected to some degree.

Blonde Redhead drummer Simone Pace offers “Black Salad,” a short romp that moves from drumming and backwards drumming to electro-drumming without actually really doing anything. The beat’s decent enough, but Pace just doesn’t put enough on the track to make it worthwhile. Brendon Canty and Jerry Busher of Fugazi contribute “Semi-Detached,” which is a weird, yet enjoyable track that made me think of Sifl and Olly crossed with Soul Coughing. The keyboard parts were a bit unnerving at first, but this track grew on me with multiple listens. Modest Mouse’s Jeremiah Green dirties up the record with his downright thick and grimy untitled track. There’s not a lot here besides the drums and other percussive sounds, but the mix is sludgy enough to make it feel very powerful. This would make awesome “bedroom music.”

Will Oldham/Golden drummer Jon Theodore’s “Cruising East Lorain Street” is another highlight of the disc, sounding like a low-budget twisted mix of Cop Shoot Cop and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. “Bursts” by Oxes drummer Chris Freeland is a methodical pop piece with female vocals. “Bursts” plods a bit, but it’s still worth a listen. Pat Samson’s “Gym Bag” features Tom Paynter, though there really isn’t too much to the track to be ‘guesting’ on. The structure of “Gym Bag” involves a lot of random drums and percussion, and occasionally this bird-call whistle-sounding noise, as well as occasional keyboard effects. Nothing to see here, folks – please move along to the next track, Kevin Shea’s 11-minute untitled opus. Shea (of Storm and Stress) tosses out some really cool jazz drumming rhythms, though it’s all pretty wasted due to the fact that the entire track is nothing but drums.

Membranaphonics is certainly a disc of ups (Kyle Crabtree, Damon Che, Jon Theodore, Jeremiah Green) and downs (Kevin Seah, Pat Samson, Christina Files). This compilation is a mixed bag, but it’s certainly worth a listen if you’re willing to seek out some diamonds in the rough.