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This month's Bandcamp Explorer column is an ode to the compilation album, with six great examples to be found on Bandcamp. Let Mark Rowland be your guide.
The album - as a complete artistic vision of a band or artist - is rightly elevated as a monument of musical greatness. Compilations don't get quite as much love, but a really good one will capture a moment just as well as those great albums can, if not better.
A good compilation is all about being a snapshot, whether in time or space. They put the spotlight on lost great songs, written and recorded by bands that never quite made it. Or they focus on regional scenes, genres, labels or time periods. Compilations can tell unique stories, and previously untold stories.
That's why this month's Bandcamp Explorer is all about the compilations. There isn't a 'compilations' category on Bandcamp, so you'll need to look up the 'compilations' tab or search 'various artists' to find them. Or you can follow the links I've dug out.
As always, you can find these in my collection:
First, we have an interesting curio: 'Hi My Name Is Ryan' is a compilation on Related Records, a hypothetical soundtrack to an unreleased documentary by Related Records founder Ryan Avery, filmed in 2006. Avery was in a number of anarchic bands and performance groups in Phoenix, Arizona, a ubiquitous figure in the local underground scene. The film played at festivals and won awards, but never got distribution and the filmmakers went their separate ways.
In 2015, Avery put the film onto YouTube, which spurred the filmmakers to look into reworking it. The 'soundtrack' came out three years later. Musically, there's a lot of shabby charm to it: punk rock in the 'anyone can be in a band' sense. It veers from 80s-style synth rock to 38 seconds of thrash to polka to a capella in the first four songs. People who love K Records and Moldy Peaches will love this.
Now for some snapshots of obscure music from bygone eras (OK – mostly the 70s). 'Discophilia Belgica' is full of odd little Belgian disco tracks from the 70s and 80s. It's fun and quirky – who doesn't want to hear someone pretend to be King Kong over a disco-funk beat for two and a half minutes?
Even better is 'Praise Poems Vol 2', a compilation of jazz and funk obscurities from the 70s that bring to mind sophisticated California pool parties. 'Missed Another Day' by The Gingerbread Express is particularly brilliant.
But what about the rockier side of the decade? 'Jobcentre Rejects' has you covered. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (aka NWOBHM) is best known as the scene that birthed Iron Maiden in the late 70s, but most bands in that scene never made it out of the pub scene. A lot of the bands had a lot in common with the punks and pub rock bands doing the rounds at the time, though with a greater fondness for umlauts.
Predatür's 'Seen You Here' for example, would be glam punk were it not for the extended guitar solo in the middle of it. For you Maiden fans, it also includes a historical curio: one of Bruce Dickinson's first ever recorded vocal performances, on Speed's 'Down the Road'. You don't need to be a metalhead to like this comp – if you like your music fast and raucous, give it a try.
Our final foray into 70s obscurity is 'Sad About the Times', bringing together lost psychedelic and soft rock gems from early-70s North America. The songs are great, deserving of another life. Art Lown's 'Deep Blue Sea' and Hoover's 'Absolute Zero' are particular highlights.
I could go on for thousands of words, but I'll end with a touching tribute to the talented singer-songwriter Adam Schlesinger, who died of COVID-19 last year. He was a member of bands such as Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, but made a career for himself writing songs for films and TV shows such as 'That Thing You Do', 'Music and Lyrics' and 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'.
This tribute, released by Father Daughter records to raise money for the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, features the biggest names of all of these compilations, such as Tanya Donelly, Jeff Rosenstock, Sad13, Ted Leo and Nada Surf. Schlesinger had a knack for writing supremely catchy pop songs, and this compilation is full of them.