In a year pocked by quick-cash “tribute” albums, retro homages, and cream-cheese remakes of ’70s and ’80s Top 40 fodder, pop music has come to resemble strip mining: a plundering of limited resources with diminishing returns. Original ideas and inventive sounds are clearly to be cherished when “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Just When I Needed You Most” can rise from their EZ-radio tombs to plague the world anew. That’s why a Nashville-produced track on a new CD compilation arriving in stores this week positively leaps off the digital turntable. It opens with a bit of instrumental throat-clearing, which gives way to a spare, snappy three-piece groove overlaid with sentimental strings.
The strings cut out, the groove hushes politely, and a man’s uncomfortably intimate whisper edges into the speakers. “It’s...hard to face it when...you know you’ve been a chump,” he stammers, in a voice that sounds like an answering-machine message he probably shouldn’t have left. “It sucks,” he tries to explain, fumbling for words. “Sensitivity’s tough...I’m keeled over.” Before he can mumble further, in charges an urgent, irresistibly tuneful chorus that blurts out everything he can’t say: “I could keep you from floating away/If you could keep me from falling asleep out in the rain.”
This trackentitled “Chump,” by the Nashville band Igmoransacks pop influences as obvious as Rubber Soul and as obscure as Ian Gomm. And still it emerges with something uniqueeven without the nifty instrumental break, which seamlessly segues a single violin into a harmonica solo. “Chump” is the best track on an impressive new compilation entitled Soundtrack to the Bible Belt, a collection of Southeastern indie-pop music making its way into local stores this week. By no means, however, is it the only good one.
Soundtrack to the Bible Belt is the first production by Anhedonia Recordings, founded by former Belmont students Jason Moon Wilkins and Chris Moon. As residents of Belmont’s Pembroke Hall, the third floor of which houses some of the college’s most offbeat creative typesit’s known as the “freak floor”Wilkins and Moon hooked up with future members of several local bands, including Museum, Yeehaw Junction, Crop Circle Hoax, the Methadone Actors, and Toybean. The two friends nurtured an idea to compile these and other Southeastern bands onto a CD that would spotlight the area’s perennially overlooked rock scene.
“That’s the biggest conundrum: What is wrong with the local scene?” says Wilkins, 23, who plays in Toybean and recently worked on the staff of the now defunct music magazine Bone. “People don’t seem very excited, but there’s a lot of competition [among the bands]. Everybody wants to be signed.” He also believes Nashville won’t support its pop bands unless they’re validated by out-of-town labels or critics. “If Zoo hadn’t come along, Self might not have been recognized,” Wilkins says.
Nevertheless, two years ago, Wilkins and Moon began preparing the record, maxing out credit cards (“the Robert Townsend method,” Wilkins jokes), and gathering about $700 from benefit shows by Crop Circle Hoax and Curiosity Shop. In the back of Wilkins’ mind was a question: What is there in the area to support?
The answer can be found in the 17 tracks on Soundtrack to the Bible Belt. Cool despondency to outright despair turns out to be the unifying vision; the downbeat (but not depressing) mood holds the record together. The CD suffers from a common compilation complaint: Too many similar-sounding tracks are sequenced together, which diminishes intriguing tracks by Funland and Curiosity Shop. And by the CD’s end, you’ve pretty much had your fill of songs that start out quietly and then erupt into clanging noise somewhere in the middle.
That said, there are at least 10 tracks on the CD worth hearing each time, and a handful (including Igmo) that rank with the year’s most original, solidly crafted, and memorable local music. Swan Dive, the elegant cocktail-pop duo of Molly Felder and Bill DeMain, shows its growing mastery of pop songcraft with “The Luckiest Girl in the World,” a stunning ballad written by DeMain and Pat Buchanan. The song bears no trace of the ironic flippancy that marred some of Swan Dive’s earlier work; topped off by Felder’s glamorously jaded vocal, it’s a poisoned highball worth sipping one smooth, bitter drop at a time. Iodine’s “Bells Ring” combines dense vocals with a huge, grinding guitar sound that’s bombastic and strangely elating, while the Methadone Actors’ “You’re Gonna Make Me Late for the Show” builds from a tensely strummed little guitar figure to a swooping wail of feedback and high-decibel bleep-skronks in six alarming minutes. And Crop Circle Hoax’s “It’s Not Alright” is the group’s best song yet, with Kim Carter’s gentle, unmannered vocals contributing to a pleasant, Yo La Tengo-like sound.
Taken together, the tracks by Nashville artists address what Bill DeMain calls “the ongoing dilemma of Nashville pop bandsconvincing the rest of the country there’s a scene here.” DeMain, himself a music journalist and reviewer, says he was surprised to find out about some of the local bands on the CD. “It’s not that we’re all similar,” he notes, “but we do seem to have a combination of melody and melancholy. If [Anhedonia can] get it out, it could make a powerful statement about the range of music here.”
Wilkins says that Anhedonia’s ultimate goal is to create opportunities for like-minded artists to get together; he cites a dream project of singer-songwriters Kelly Hogan and Danielle Howle backed by members of Lambchop. For now, though, Anhedonia is concentrating on getting the CD into stores throughout the Southeast. Wilkins and Moon shrewdly convinced out-of-town artists such as Athens’ Five-Eight and Dallas’ Funland to appear on the CD, counting on their presence to introduce the record into different markets.
Anhedonia has scheduled a record-release party for 12th & Porter on Nov. 26, at which several of the acts will play. In the meantime, Swan Dive performs at 12th & Porter Oct. 25 with Bill Lloyd, Crop Circle Hoax opens for Versus Oct. 27 at Lucy’s Record Shop, and Toybean plays 12th & Porter on Oct. 29. As for the record itself, Soundtrack to the Bible Belt is available at Lucy’s, the Great Escape, and Digital Planet in Murfreesboro. It’s definitely worth a listenif primarily for a glimpse of unity and vision in Nashville’s scattershot rock scene.
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
How ironic that "Vandy radio" gets resurrected as a fictional station?! I was just glad…