Various Artists – Unstoppable

Various Artists

As I’ve always been partial to watching a musician’s artistry unfold over the course of a full-length recording, I’ve never really seen the point of most compilations. I’ve yet to see a movie that featured music so good that I ran out and bought the soundtrack, and no matter how much I like certain artists, I would be hesitant to ever buy a tribute album dedicated to them. Most compilations just seem to not function very well as albums, only as a set of individual songs that have little relation to each other. No doubt, sometimes just the right number of great songs mixes together to give a set a truly unique aesthetic as a conceptual and thematic piece, but those certainly seem to be the rare exceptions. As even the best label doesn’t have 100% quality on its roster, record label samplers usually aren’t too great, either. So, you might say I had some reservations before diving into Semper Lofi’s Unstoppable collection.
Mostly comprised of label creator MJB and a cadre of his home-recording buddies, this set veers all over the stylistic spectrum – from synthy new wave to guitar rock. Apparently choosing the vague classification of “post-indie acid pop” (if the album’s cover and introductory track are to be an indication), the creators of these songs rarely achieve any semblance of “post” anything, as their musical vision seems more pre-indie rock. Solidly in the category of a home recording, the disc features all the charms of not having been professionally mixed nor recorded on anything but vintage gear. Interestingly, most of the artists featured use that fact to their advantage. The tight piano and guitar groove of MJB and KD Schmitz‘s “Ever Growing Sack” ranks among the disc’s best throwback rock tunes, just as the fun Jonathan Richman-esque rock of Junkbunny‘s “Normal Human Being” is given an extra surreal kick by the cheesy synth solo that threatens to derail the whole vibe. Similarly, the Beck-ish tape collage of Insect Dart‘s “Minneapolis” and big beats and fluorescent snyth of MJB and Ken Clinger‘s “Snow Flurries (Stairway to Acid)” use the limitations of the craft to create something interesting.
Less successful are the poorly matched growling guitars and laidback vocals of Eggomatic‘s “New Jersey” and Paul Braus‘ silly anthemic “Earthquake” (featuring classic rejoinders like “Earthquake! / It’s gonna make you scream and shake / It’s gonna be your last mistake”). No doubt, a few tracks do manage to get by on personality alone, with Sinecure‘s goofy “Really Like” featuring lines like “I like home-taping / I’m going to do some right now” over a lo-fi backdrop of drum machines and tinny guitars. Still, most of the tracks come off as somewhat clichéd and overly studied, rarely achieving the kind of idiosyncratic quirkiness that becomes a necessity for artists who aren’t likely to be considered pop geniuses any time soon. Case in point, the live drums, tinkling piano, and bleating sax of Insect Darts’ “Chicago” find a sense of spontaneity and authenticity that many of the tracks just miss. Ultimately, that makes all of the self-indulgences (and there are plenty) far less acceptable.
All in all, Unstoppable could have been far worse. Most of the tracks land on pleasant, if somewhat worn out spots on the classic rock continuum. Still, albums as uneven as this better have some of your favorite artists on them to warrant that first listen, making it unlikely that many will discover the few standout moments this collection does feature. What is unsettling is how rarely the artists here seem to be having much fun, as the final product seems more consumed with self-consciousness than simple sincerity. Ultimately, the quality here is pretty inconsistent – making it a pretty good example of most compilations.