Finding a Voice: A Benefit for Humans
Repetitively Futile Records
Finding a Voice is a 36-band compilation to benefit People First, a national advocacy group for persons with developmental disabilities that has several Montana chapters. The photocopied booklet (on recycled paper) accompanying the CD does a good—if rather peevish and sometimes sanctimonious—job of explaining the importance of People First and self-advocacy generally through several articles and a breakdown of where the proceeds go. It’s a pretty odd collusion of service and sputum, to say the least, reading a mission statement (the compilation is not endorsed by People First, incidentally) for disability groups that’s strong on pleas for people to think before calling names, but also littered with lots of trope clinkers like “shit” “fukn” and “asshole.” And I don’t know what to think about a plea for compassion that also urges me to punch someone in the head next time I hear them making fun of someone with a disability. I mean, on one level I agree, but isn’t feeling like you have to punch people in itself a kind of disability?
As for the music, Finding a Voice’s strongest suit is the snapshot it presents of the Missoula punk scene circa 1999, which if memory serves was when comp coordinator Jeremy Rossman (aka Blimpie el Guapo) first started soliciting submissions from local, regional, and farther-afield bands. Here’s the roster from Missoula: Humpy, the Sputniks, the Helltones, the Everyday Sinners, the Cleaners, Spanker and Sasshole. From the Flathead annex (which, if you didn’t already know, has always come through with some of the most vicious hardcore sounds the state has to offer): Disgruntled Nation and the Vagrants, whose defiant ode to down-at-the-heels Evergreen contains the following wonderful couplet: “Trapped in a world of violence and hate/A horrible place to try and get a date.” From everyplace else: Lopez, the Dread, Laceration, Oldmanhomo, Elmer and a host of other names that enjoyed currency in Maximumrocknroll for a few months or years before vanishing into the mists of punk rock obsolescence. Except Lopez, that is—they’re still kicking around Portland.
Originally intended as a double LP and long delayed by one thing or another, Finding a Voice was finally released in CD form last month. And not a moment too soon, either—if it had been even a few months longer, every single one of the bands on it would have been broken up instead of merely 95 percent of them! As of this writing, Sasshole is the only local band still active, and even they seem to have been riding out the winter and spring in a state of doubtful hibernation. This doesn’t make the comp any less valid (hopefully it will raise a little money for People First, with or without the organization’s endorsement), but it does make it a curious relic of a time when a number of long-standing (and some not-so-long-standing) fixtures of the scene were on the way out or just about to be on the way out. The one-size-fits-all mastering gives the rougher recordings a dull edge—on headphones, anyway—but then again, the originals in most cases were hardly the raw stuff of a million-dollar Howie Weinberg mastering job. A lot of the local bands were recorded in their basements, bathrooms and practice pads by John Brownell of the Oblio Joes on his portable eight-track. Rather than detract from the songs, the rough-and-ready recording job lends them the homey edge that gives Finding a Voice a good part of its DIY charm.
My old band, Humpy (for all practical purposes defunct since 2000), has a song on Finding a Voice, but don’t think I’m allowing this personal bias to cloud my otherwise impeccable critical faculties—especially when I tell you it’s a real highlight of the comp! “Resume Whittling,” sixty seconds of Poison Idea-style blitz that gets the job done in twenty, was one of the last songs guitarist Dave Parsons wrote for the band before embarking on a lengthy vision quest that ended with him joining Sasshole and, somewhat later, Disgruntled Nation. I know we sent a copy of the same song off to at least one other comp that never came out; this one might be about four years too late, but it sure feels good to go staggering down this particularly grubby stretch of Memory Lane.Tarkio
Live on KGBA 1998
Warty, smelly and (again, appropriately) amateurish beyond help it may be, but at least Finding a Voice is the end result of genuine hard work. One of the things I cherish about DIY punk is the tendency of its practitioners to do the legwork pro bono, donating a colossal amount of time and energy and often their own money toward a project in the hopes of at least breaking even on it. In the four years it took for Blimpie el Guapo to get it out, Finding a Voice became the subject of many a scene gripe and Blimpie himself the target of numerous, usually less than charitable allegations about the allocation of funds. But make no mistake: dealing with 36 bands at once is a huge undertaking, even considering just the hassle of trying to stay in touch with each enough to get them to send in the promised tracks and artwork on time. Plus it’s supposed to be a benefit compilation, and when you further take into account Blimpie’s caveat not to pay more than $7 for it, it’s obvious that none of the hundreds of man-hours that went into it (albeit sporadically) are reflected in the price. Even taking the narrowest possible view of music as commodity, forty songs (a few of the bands have two tracks) for seven bucks is a stone deal. It rounds up to 18 cents per song, or less than a quarter per band.
So what’s the deal with this Tarkio CD? I implore whoever is behind this release to come forward with a satisfactory explanation as why to anybody should have to pay thirteen frigging dollars for a CDR of a free local radio show from four years ago. An explanation, preferably, that doesn’t amount to merely perpetuating the industry-standard price-gouging scheme of the CD medium itself—in other words, charging thirteen bucks for a disc just because (almost) everyone else is doing it and getting away with it. Even that explanation had better be pretty charming, as I am willing to bet that the cost of materials doesn’t even add up to a fifth of the retail price of this suckers-only ploy to part nostalgic Tarkio fans from their money. Cost of labor? What labor? Is KBGA getting a cut of the proceeds? Where is the money going? Seriously, tell me—I’m waiting.
Taken from a KBGA Live in Missoula broadcast in spring, 1998, right before the release of the band’s first album, the songs presented here are vintage early Tarkio. It’s worth borrowing from someone who actually bought it and burning a copy—assuming you like Tarkio. I’m still hot and cold on these onetime local favorites. While I always appreciated the care they put into their songwriting—and singer Colin Meloy is a good songwriter—his affected, nasal vocal style always posed a significant obstacle to my overall enjoyment. And those plangent—that’s the byword—vocal stylings are on especially naked display here.
There’s also this: In his precious liner notes (dated September, 2002), Meloy writes, “I remember thinking that we had created something truly indelible, a seminal building block upon the great edifice that is the history of recorded pop music. If you listen closely at the end, you can hear Louis softly weeping with joy into the microphone.”
Is he kidding? Okay, it takes real chutzpah to describe your own band as “seminal,” and if I thought for a minute Meloy wasn’t serious I would be laughing as hard as anyone. But “softly weeping with joy?” Get over yourself, man.
Mostly, though, I resent the exorbitant price. I would have paid five bucks for this disc, and gladly. I would still consider paying six or seven bucks (though I’ll be tossing the liner notes out the window regardless) if justice were served and the price reduced to something a little less presumptuous. Thirteen bucks is too much to pay by about twice. Hell, someone should be paying me thirteen bucks for having to put up with that maudlin “softly weeping with joy” schmaltz. Sheesh.
No-Fi Soul Rebellion
Like Pushing Rope Up a Hill
O.K. Music Records
Dry pretentiousness never speaks to me like over-the-top enthusiasm anyway. Here’s a band without a shred of the former and absolutely heaps of the latter. If you’ve been to one of their shows, you know—Mark Heimer wants to get you in on the fun so badly, you feel like you’re letting him down for reflecting only about a tenth of the energy streaming off him like licking tongues of solar plasma. Just released again months after the initial run sold out, Like Pushing Rope Up a Hill is one of those cases where it was worth buying the CD (which I did—I only borrowed the Tarkio disc, if you hadn’t guessed) just to get my own personal copy of one song. “I’m a Real Boy” is a heart-racer; a cooler bass line has yet to show itself in Missoula, and the artistry the drummer (it might be Heimer, who plays at least a little of everything) displays on just the hi-hat is enough to make a drummer with five times the kit dumpster his roto-toms in shame. “I’m a Real Boy” also includes the blue-ribbon line, “The morning has a way of starting your day,” to single out just one clever bit on an EP packed wall-to-wall with real wit and intelligence. If only every local release packed a surplus of talent and confidence paired with a minimum of attitude like this one does. And Heimer doesn’t even call us up every three days to ask us if we’re planning on reviewing it! Sigh. What a dreamboat. That Angel sure is one lucky lady.