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V/A - Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010

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Artist: V/A

Album: Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010

Label: Matador

Review date: Jan. 26, 2010

Let’s pour a little out for the idea of the regional compilation, because for most intents, it is dead. The Internet has done its job in bringing us all closer together, so we can hear every practice recorded by every nth-rate band everywhere, all at once. The interests of anyone participating is swayed toward other bands that sound not dissimilar from the focal point of the search; never has there been a better time in history to pay attention to only that which interests you. There’s no waiting through the local bands’ sets anymore, no respect paid to the handful of insightful club bookers to find bands that complement or challenge one another, or the audience in front of it all. When they do happen, the efforts rarely make it out of town. Sometimes, when you listen to them, you can understand why.

I spent part of an evening last week talking to a guy about the band Oxford Collapse. This guy’s name is Daniel; he’s 19, in college, and has decided to locate both the band’s members, and anyone they may have deemed of interest. I’m asking this guy where he gets his music, and his answer is the Internet. Buying music probably doesn’t make much sense to Daniel, and why should it? Everything he would want is available for free, or at least cheap. Yet he mentioned having to go outside of the Internet, to references like the old Trouser Press Record Guide, in order to make sense of what’s available. Rankled, he spoke of discovering the band Sammy while researching Pavement, and we shared in the disappointment. Regionalism bore out bands like Sammy, but there seem to be bands 12 times as boring out there right now, all doing the same thing to a nearly empty virtual room.

Compilations, in general, work when you can trust the voice or voices of the people doing the compiling. Matador Records’ Gerard Cosloy has curated a number of compilations, two of which were of the daunting regional variety. 1984’s Bands That Could Be God roamed around Boston and western Massachusetts to capture not only the most evolved elements of punk and hardcore, but the tense, dark rock of Busted Statues, and the creative, forward-thinking pop of Salem 66 and Christmas. 1991’s New York Eye and Ear Control focused only on the bands stuck to the underside of Manhattan’s downtown scene. Since Austin, Texas is where he now calls home, there is Casual Victim Pile (anagram for “Live Music Capital”), featuring 19 of the bands you probably don’t see when you attend SXSW: the locals.

Austin’s (and Denton’s, annexed) live music scene, outside of the 30-odd bands referenced through this collection, either by inclusion or by mention in the liner notes, seems confined to singer-songwriters and frat blues. It’s odd but also telling that there would be such a large number of worthwhile bands to check out down there. There have always been good bands there, and in the 1990s there were several labels which were committed to releasing music from Austin bands exclusively. However, that was then, and so on. The 19 tracks on Casual Victim Pile play remarkably well off one another, which makes this an easy-going routine. Anyone who’s done the Emo’s to Mohawk to Red 7 to Beerland crawl down Red River will appreciate the casual nature shared by all of these acts.

The selections are all good to great; there’s more than a few really memorable songs, and nothing to flat out dislike. Casual Victim Pile leans heavily towards punk and garage, with a little of the disaffection of these times. The collection excels when it moves away from stylists like Woven Bones or Love Collector into tracks that are a little more heartfelt. I could listen to Tre Orsi’s “The Engineer” all day; it’s safely in the Sonic Youth/Unwound school of triumphant, open-chorded noise rock, to the perfect, head-nodding level of abstraction. Regionalism dictates that a band like this should exist, and I’d like to hear more by them. Other jaw-droppers include The Young’s “Blister,” the band having moved to the deep end of the power pop/punk of their first few singles with a brooding, cathartic performance, strangely reminiscent of both the Replacements and Guided by Voices. New Matador signees Harlem offer up the best song from their self-released debut album Free Drugs; “Beautiful and Very Smart” belies the template for your typical two-piece band for this gorgeous, exuberant rock ‘n’ roll song that they have in them. Dikes of Holland sound as if they’re about to derail off fast, cold riffs and mild horror. Kingdom of Suicide Lovers sound as if refugees from New Jersey in “Hoboken Snow.”

There are likely as many surprises in a few regional scenes (Pittsburgh and most of Ohio come to mind, as does Vancouver), but there aren’t any places in those towns that support music the way Austin does, with parts of city blocks dedicated to live music, and the kind of generally decent, supportive folks that can allow rock bands without degrees in marketing and economics to thrive. We can no longer say the same of the GeoCities music scene. All of these bands sound like they’re having fun, which is the only thing that matters.

By Doug Mosurock

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