Various Artists, Otis’s Opuses

Various Artists, Otis's Opuses

I should start by saying that I haven’t always been real impressed with past comps I’ve gotten from Kill Rock Stars. They’re good folks, and I love ’em dearly, but the sad truth is that I can’t get my head around three-quarters or so of their roster. Bands like Comet Gain, Bangs, Unwound, or (duh) Sleater-Kinney, hey, I’m right there with you — folks like xbxrx, C Average, Deerhoof, and Tight Bros From Way Back When, on the other hand, they just don’t do it for me. Throw all of ’em together on a disc, then, and…well, I’ll generally listen to five or six selected tracks and ignore the rest. That’s what iPods and mixtapes are for, after all, right?

With the label’s latest showcase, Otis’s Opuses, however, I find myself more impressed than usual. There are a lot of high points here, and relatively little in the way of junk to wade through. The Decemberists do their literate, too-smart-for-their-own-good indie-rock opera thing with “Everybody Knows,” and it’s good, as is the sweet, ’70s-sounding pop of The Makers’ “Run With Me Tonight.” Then there’s Gold Chains and Sue Cie, who turn in “Crowd Control,” a seemingly unironic take on LL Cool J/Salt’n’Pepa-style hip-hop, and Nedelle & Thorn, who collaborate on “Cute Things,” which sounds like a tune out of an indie musical, all light and breezy and ’60s-ish while talking about stuff that’s dark and creepy. Speaking of dark and creepy, the pAper chAse makes a fine appearance with “Ready Willing Cain and Able,” a frenzied, orchestral murder symphony off of their excellent, excellent God Bless Your Black Heart. Out of all of the tracks on here, the highlight for me is Comet Gain’s “One More Summer Before I Go” (from their damn-I-need-to-get-that new disc, City Fallen Leaves), a burst of frantic, pleading garage-pop worthy of the Buzzcocks or the Jam in their prime. Forget Coldplay or Oasis — David Feck & co. are the Sound of England, no question.

Those tracks aren’t a surprise, though, really, since I kinda knew what they’d sound like beforehand anyway. Out of the folks I’d never heard of before, KRS serves up The Old Haunts, with “By The Bay,” a high-pitched, murky bit of garage rock that reminds me (favorably) of Black Cat Music, Jeff Hanson, with “I Just Don’t Believe You,” a melancholy, jangly folk song that’s a dead ringer for Elliott Smith, and Numbers, with “I’ll Love You ‘Til I Don’t,” the wonderful Moog-i-ness of which makes me wish I’d put The Return of the Rentals on my iPod. Oh, and there’s also Shoplifting, whose “L.O.V.E.”, with its Hanna-esque vocals and sharp guitars makes it sound like the riotgrrl age never ended, and Delta 5, who I’d heard of but never actually heard — their “Now That You’ve Gone” is as New Wave as it gets, halfway between the Velvet Underground and the Gang of Four (…which is pretty appropriate, really, since the 5 were following directly in the Gang’s footsteps when they formed back in 1979).

With all that said, probably the biggest surprises onboard this disc come not from the unknowns or the already-likes, but from bands I generally don’t care for. To me, listening to Deerhoof is generally akin to sucking housepaint through a straw, but when those guitars come stomping and crunching in on the delicate, beautiful vocals on “Siriustar”…oh, my. Same goes for The Gossip, a band I’d written off as Bikini Kill wannabes and hadn’t paid much attention to since. With “Jealous Girls,” they’ve crafted a surprisingly sharp-edged, dangerous-sounding chunk of rawk and proven themselves to be far better than just a ripoff band (and that’s good). Then there’s the Linda Perry track, “Freeway” — and yes, she’s that Linda Perry, of “What’s going on?”../4 Non Blondes infamy. I loathed “What’s Up?” when it was all over the airwaves way back when, and so I fully expected to hate this track, as well…and yet, I don’t. The song itself isn’t great, but it does serve to showcase Perry’s strong, Johnette Napolitano-esque voice, which is impressive, and it makes me want to hear more of her solo stuff. (I should note, by the way, that the album this is on, In Flight, was first issued in ’96 by Interscope — I guess this means Kill Rock Stars has bought and re-issued it?)

Of course, even the best of compilations has a sour note or three. Otis’s Opuses confirmed for me that Stereo Total doesn’t do a thing for me, disappointed me with a lackluster track off Harvey Danger’s “comeback” EP (“Cream & Bastards Rise”? Sorry, but songs that hang themselves on the cleverness of the title alone bug me…), and further convinced me that I just don’t get the joke lurking behind Gravy Train!!!’s funky yowling. And John Wilkes Booze was just a mess, scrambled and noisy and barely listenable (hate to diss members of the Impossible Shapes, but oh, well…). All things considered, though, the “good” pile far outweighs the “not-so-good.”

Unfortunately, since all Opuses really is is a sampler of recently-released KRS stuff — only two tracks on here, one of the two each by Stereo Total and John Wilkes Booze, aren’t on another KRS disc somewhere (and neither one’s particularly entertaining) — it’s hard to recommend it on its own merits. If you’re looking for new stuff or unreleased tracks or obsessively collecting every song ever put out by The Decemberists (good luck with that), look elsewhere. If, however, you’re curious to see what the heck all those crazy Kill Rock Stars bands are up to these days but you don’t want to buy twenty-odd separate CDs (I think Opuses goes for less than $10), well, have I got a deal for you…

(Kill Rock Stars -- 120 NE State #418, Olympia, WA. 98501; http://www.killrockstars.com/; N/A)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, January 24th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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