Various Artists – Single Wish: A Benefit Compilation

Various Artists
Single Wish: A Benefit Compilation

Caffeinated Robots began in 1999 as a nonprofit organization, built as a mail-order website to highlight local, regional, and national artists of all types, from musicians to writers, to painters. Any proceeds from the sales of the collected work goes to benefit the Martha Millard Robinson Scholarship Foundation, a charity dedicated to assisting underprivileged children learn about and appreciate the arts. Two years later, Sprite Recordings was born out of this group as a new way to raise awareness and funds. Working with labels like Mr. Whiggs Records and LUNA Music, Sprite has put together a schedule of releases that features all sorts of sound, from the well-known to the obscure, and Single Wish is just one example.
Nick Kizirnis offers a slightly abrasive and irritating pop-rock number to open things up, as “Stood Looking Both Ways” sounds like a rough garage band doing a Sunday’s Best impersonation. The Candy Butchers make up for it though, as the acoustic-tinged melodic rock of “Who You Are” really stands out as one of the favorites here. Kingsbury Manx slows things down a bit with the lovely “Summer Teases,” which blends atmospheric electronics with multiple layers of gentle and lullabye-esque vocals, leading nicely into “Dancing in Heaven” from the Impossible Shapes, which builds around a quirky little game of cat and mouse played between guitar and piano, and is eerie yet chipper all at once. Tobin Sprout‘s “Atom Eyes (Sprite Version)” is a two-minute vocals and piano number, keeping it simple but effective, and the National Splits follow him with “I Died on the Way to the Election,” a more upbeat and swaying number that combines pop and twang in a rather playful fashion, from goofy lyrics to “whoa oh oh” sing-alongs. The Green Pajamas dish out “Addiction,” a mid-tempo number that sounds like it came from the adult contemporary station your mom has programmed into her car stereo, showing off a bit of a classic rock feel with a modern twist.
Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard contributes “In the States (That I Go Through),” which sounds as though he and his guitar recorded the song in a phone booth somewhere, while the Birds of America sound a bit more practiced with “3000 Miles,” a lulling number that sounds torn between lounging in a rocking chair on the back porch and drifting aimlessly through outer space. A certain highlight comes when Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek steps in with “78 Seconds in August,” a solo acoustic instrumental that lasts little more than a minute but evokes as much emotion as any other song here. Brando‘s “Don’t Stretch the Truth” emits a similar vibe, which is a bit dark and melancholy, but this time with a more full and lush approach, from spacey guitars to echoed vocals. “Heart Beats Black” from David Garza takes an odd little electronic beat and adds in some organs, piano, vocals, and occasional spurts of guitar to create one of the most soulful efforts here, while Ron Sexsmith closes things out with “Wastin’ Time (Sprite Version),” a live version of the truly beautiful but heartbreaking song built from nothing more than vocals and piano.
With names like these, it is tough to put together something people won’t want to hear. And even with bigger names like Robert Pollard failing to contribute anything spectacular, the rest of the gang is able to pick up the slack with ease. Many songs feel abrupt and unfinished, like studio outtakes that weren’t going to be used in any other form, so they were donated to a good cause. That sometimes hurts, leaving the listener feeling a little cheated, but at least you’ll know that your money was well spent.