Survive and Advance Vol. 1
aving not written about many compilations before, I decided to write down a list of the songs and write my initial listening comments by their names. You would be surprised at how many of the tracks have the word "boring" scrawled aggressively next to them. Yes, aggressively. You see, Merge is responsible for many of my favorite indie rock releases. In the Aeroplane over the Sea, 69 Love Songs, the two latest Spoon albums, and most all of the Superchunk catalog all hail from the Merge Records stable.
This is why this compilation is so disappointing; the label that brought us such enduring classics has shown up proclaiming "new talent!" when it, in fact, delivers none. Many of the "proven" artists' contributions are strong, while all of the newer artists give us weak indie drivel.
Imperial Teen’s inoffensive "Sugar" is all that the title promises, minus the implied catchy aspect of pop. It plods along with nice-enough backing vocals and nondescript guitar. It is a wonderful introduction for a nondescript indie compilation. If you like Sheryl Crow’s album sides, you may like Annie Hayden’s light and fluffy "Lonely & Lonely". The song is nice and all, but it reeks of mediocrity, not at all what the title of the record indicates, which in my mind is some sort of musical revolution.
As previously mentioned, there are a few excellent cuts. Spoon’s "Small Stakes" is an energetic, lively romp through leader Britt Daniel’s wonderfully warped mind. Lambchop’s "The Puppy and the Leaf" is an airy, beautiful song, performed by Kurt Wagner and what seems like solo piano, though it could very easily be the whole of Lambchop. The song stretches out beautifully, and ends up as a valuable addition to Lambchop’s wonderful ...Is a Woman. In fact, if it had been released on the album, it would have been the standout track.
The biggest disappointment on the compilation is Destroyer’s "Chosen Few." Destroyer released two excellent records, and seemed to be getting much better with each one (save an ill-advised turn down Canada-pop lane with the New Pornographers). "Chosen Few" takes all of the missteps of Dan Bejar’s work with the group and amplifies them tenfold. Bejar works very well in a straightforward pop frame, where his words can jump through to you past the medium-caliber music. Here, he decides to go strange and ambient, providing us with amateur reverb-drenched acoustic guitar, and writing more cryptic and cheesy lyrics. The song is a real shame.
So, most of Merge’s good artists are getting better, while the mediocre ones remain filler between more relevant indie-speak.
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01