By Various Artists
'Future Relics' from Geek Pie Records is loosely based around the idea of a compilation being discovered, following the collapse of society as we know it. It's an intriguing concept that's unfortunately only really expressed in the accompanying artwork, which includes texts written in a slightly unfamiliar version of the English language, and in the atmospheric instrumental 'Introductionto the lost tayps.'
'Introductionto...' encloses the listener in waves of static-soaked sound effects, effectively setting the mood. However, Geek Pie then apparently change their minds and launch into track two, the clunky, quirky and atmosphere-free zone of 'Future Analysts' by Geek Pie regulars, One Day, After School....
'Future Analysts' is underpinned by a perfectly put-together drum-line of ticking, clucking and knocking-on-wood style percussion that's alternatively accented by sharpened chords, and softened by waves of lo-fi guitar. It's a quirky track with a basic production that'll please a particular sort of listener, and that's the sort of person who goes mad for 'rough gems' and collects demos. Those who like their music glossy, should stay well clear.
If Geek Pie really wanted to capitalise on the mood they'd so painstakingly created with 'Introductionto the lost tayps,' either 'Sunshine and Snow' or 'Where New Faces Grow Old' would have been more suitable follow-ups. The former, by Chat Noir is a song of unsettling beauty; a disorientating balancing act between alt-pop dreaminess and outright eeriness. Its bass-heavy, trudging beats are rather basic, but frontwoman Chloe Beswick's distorted vocal lines and stoner-rock drawl, bring a touch of ghoulish magic to proceedings.
Salvage My Dream's contribution, 'Where New Faces Grow Old' is another song with the power to unnerve. Its introduction simmers with distant, ghostly voices, but Salvage My Dream then take an interesting direction. Instead of dropping the voiceovers and slipping into the main body of the song, they build the next phase of 'Where New Faces Grow Old' around those voices. The combination of limping guitars, dragging main vocals and eerie background voices, creates an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. It's difficult to enjoy in the way you'd enjoy a conventional song, but it's an unsettling effect, which seems to be what Salvage My Dream were aiming for. The final passage of 'Where New Faces Grow Old' replaces the voices with lacklustre jangles and dreary organs, which continue the bleak mood. However, the second half also features an harmonica solo, and the less said about that, the better.
'Sunshine and Snow' is the one most likely to tingle your spine, but both songs would have successfully capitalised on the mood created by 'Introductionto the lost tayps.' You can't help feeling Geek Pie Records have missed a trick here.
'All We Want (Is To Fall In Love)' and 'Herald (Today And Tomorrow)' are easily the strangest tracks on this compilation. Both take the 'inspirational spoken vocal' route that'll put you in mind of oddball 90's hit 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen).'
'All We Want (Is To Fall In Love)' by The Frog Next Door is the weakest of the two, with main vocals that stray uncomfortably close to Goldie Lookin' Chain territory. The Frog Next Door do have the good sense to bring in a secondary, sung vocal but, ultimately, it's impossible to see past that awful main vocal. Cliye Smith And The World Of The Very Young's contribution, 'Herald (Today And Tomorrow)' fares better. Kicking off with a theatrical jangle, it then evolves into a relentlessly driving, black-hearted funk. The po-faced 'inspirational' voiceover ("a vegan diet is enjoyable / it can help save the planet," anyone?) is undeniably cheesy, but it's not quite as cheesy as 'All We Want (Is To Fall In Love)' and the musical foundations are strong. Proof that motivational songs don't always have to leave you curling your toes in embarrassment.
The rabble-raising, Scottish-tinged folk riot of 'Take Me Up To Monto' by Three Sheets T'Wind is another eclectic inclusion. Aiming to do nothing more than get you dancing like a drunken idiot, 'Take Me Up To Monto' is pure, unabashed fun from start to finish.
'Our Plan' and 'Dirty Day Sludge' are a curious mix of styles and influences that are brave and original in theory, but don't work in practice. The tinny guitars and exotically-shaped string arrangements of 'Our Plan' by Andy and The Big Sharks, makes this a song of intriguing potential. Unfortunately, you'll struggle to hear anything beyond Johnny Taylor's vocals, which are set far too high in the mix. His holler overpowers both the music and listener; chances are you'll be shrinking away from the speakers. Even a wash of backing vocals during the latter half of the song, can't take the edge off those vocals.
When it comes to 'Dirty Day Sludge' from Wakefield's by by, the guitars once again have a tinny slant, but there's also a sleazy-rock tinge to the drooling, distorted vocals and thumping drumbeats. As if that wasn't enough, by by throw booming piano and lurching riffs into the mix. 'Dirty Day Sludge' does eventually find its groove, streamlining to a piano-studded rush for the finish line, but everything apart from that clean, simple end gallop, is overcomplicated and will leave you scratching your head.
The highlight of 'Future Relics' is London-based Elks, who serve up a potent blend of bass-heavy slugging and thumping drumbeats in the form of sleazed-up rock 'n roll 'Commute.' The vocals do struggle to make themselves heard above the pounding bass, and Elks use short guitar solos in lieu of actual choruses. However, when the foundations are this good, a song almost doesn't require any further embellishment. Definitely worth a listen, and the same can be said for the jangly indie-rock of 'At The Time' by (:jamiesaysmile:) Stop-start, stabbing guitars put a ragged spin on this track, although (:jamiesaysmile:) does lean a little too heavily on them. The long, grating guitar lines during the bridge section are a shot of easy enjoyment that's long overdue. The predominance of awkward guitars, means that 'At The Time' is a difficult song to get to grips with, but the strong vocals and the headrush bridge section, means it's worth that initial effort.
When it comes to Orpheus' 'The Librarians' there's hints of a similarly straightforward rock 'n roll track, in the vein of 'At The Time' and 'Commute,' but the guitars are half-lost in the syrupy distortion. The lo-fi element does give 'The Librarians' a rough, raw appeal, but arguably at the expense of some of its rock appeal.
Rainbowcollector have far more success at lo-fi, with their contribution 'Heartfelt and Foolish.' Its melodic fuzz is crammed with static-soaked vocals and splintery guitar lines, before it veers unexpectedly into crisp vocals. At times, the blurry backing vocals and clean main vocal sit uneasily together, but for the most part Rainbowcollector manage to merge these two disparate elements into something unique.
Although there's a folk element to several songs on this compilation, 'Future Relics' features two fully-fledged folk songs, in the form of 'Hold Me' by Siobhan Reilly and 'The Whole World Is A Fluffy Cushion To Me' by The Passing Fancy. The former is a very simple ballad that's far from life-changing, but features an engaging vocal performance from Reilly. She has a strong, melodic voice that has enough charisma to transform a very basic acoustic song, into something a little bit special. If this was one song on a Reilly solo album, it wouldn't stand out but, in isolation, 'Hold Me' mesmerises with the beauty of Reilly's voice.
Meanwhile, 'The Whole World Is A Fluffy Cushion To Me' rounds out its one-man-and-his-guitar interludes, with the use of subtle, downbeat brass. It's a simple touch, that makes the instrumental passages far more emotionally engaging. When it isn't tugging on your heart strings, 'The Whole World Is A Fluffy Cushion To Me' is making a play for your dancing feet, with jigging, upbeat strumming. Turn a blind eye to its cheesy mid-song voiceover, and 'The Whole World Is A Fluffy Cushion To Me' has it all.
'Future Relics' is a CD firmly rooted in the lo-fi, bedroom-band scene, with occasional forays into folk and ambient musical projects. A compilation for those who like their music crackly, underproduced and on a small, intimate scale. Not for everyone - or even most people - but this rough-around-the-edges roundup of local lo-fi talent, is sure to find a niche market.