Not long ago (mid-August to be exact), I teased the release of a much anticipated double LP compilation, specifically the one I named above that was due to drop this fall. In fact, I just offered a couple sentences and a YouTube link, and didn't even have a proper link to send you at the time to glean more details about the album. In the ensuing weeks and months more information on Strum & Thrum was made public, a release date for a limited edition, colored vinyl version was set for a late-October Record Store Day "drop," and currently, it's more widely available, digitally as well as on wax. For those of you who've done your homework on Strum... (and of course, those of you who already own a copy) know what it's premise is all about. This is Captured Tracks first foray into self-curated, genre-centric compilations, much along the lines of such veteran reissue labels as Rhino and Numero. The subject couldn't be closer to my site's wheelhouse - college and indie rock circa those collective genre's halcyon, mid-80s era. S&T was of particular interest to me since it overlapped so overwhelmingly with artists I've been featuring here since 2007. The compilation features twenty-eight artists - no less than fifteen of whom I've featured on Wilfully Obscure, and have offered nothing but praise for (One Plus Two, The Windbreakers, Primitons, Bangtails, Riff Doctors, The White Sisters and Pop Art to name about half). This was an unlikely but wholly wonderful coincidence, and I saw a great opportunity to do some cross-promotion with Captured Tracks, not to mention I felt a sincere personal investment, regardless of the fact I had absolutely no role in bringing the album to market.
A few weeks after the news broke, I emailed C/T proposing Wilfully Obscure not only do a typical feature/review of Strum & Thrum, but perhaps something more encompassing like an in-depth interview/deep dive with the parties involved in assembling such a worthy project. A day later I received a response from C/T's press contact with a link to an advance download of the compilation. A fine and much appreciated gesture on their part, but no response on my proposal for doing a full-fledged feature as I had hoped for. A week or so passed and I decided to try again with the same press person, illustrating how much Strum & Thrum tied into my website, but this time, no reply whatsoever. What was I doing or saying wrong I thought to myself? Second to reaching out to the people who assembled the compilation, I entertained the idea of interviewing members of one or two of the artists featured on S&T, but quickly came to the conclusion their stories and observations would be limited to their own experiences, and not those of the entire movement writ large. So I soon abandoned my idea of going "all-out," so to speak and considered scaling down my "dream" feature to one of my standard 400-word reviews. Certainly better than nothing, right? Truth is, at the end of the day, due to C/T's apparent disinterest in working with me, my motivation to do anything surrounding the album gradually deflated, much like the sound of trumpets on a game show accompanying a dejected contestant's inadequate spin of the wheel. The best laid plans of mice and men... (sigh). Ultimately I didn't do anything at all - until this week.
I have a physical copy of Strum... within two feet of the computer desk I'm situated at. I love the track selection, adore the roster of artists involved, and think the presentation is peerless, specifically the accompanying book which is terrifically detailed with personal accounts of the bands involved and loads of rare archival photos. An absolutely phenomenal collection, and to put it in perspective, quite literally the Nuggets of my dreams. Should you have any doubts yourself, examine the tracklist and some screenshots of the package here. Whomever prepared this collection delved very deep, culling together a delightfully arcane array of indie DIY-ers who were responsible for some phenomenal tunes that never got their moment in the sun or on MTV, much less their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. Arguably, R.E.M. were the outright inspirational antecedents to many if not most of the group's spotlighted on S&T, but contrary to the compilation’s extended title, there's more than just winsome, jangly chords threading their way through this music.
So-called college/alternative/left-of(f)-the-dial rock was far more intricate than individual sonic properties, guitar tones, etc. It was about advancements and modernizations in music itself - progressions which managed to maneuver their way through an overcrowded slipstream, in spite of an exceedingly superficial era saturated with gobs of hairspray and neon visuals, not to mention deeply entrenched, corporate-driven bottom lines. True, combos like the Crippled Pilgrims, The Darrows, Absolute Grey and Salem 66 (all present on Strum) never got within a mile of breaching mainstream playlists. But every band that garnered a morsel of encouragement or inspiration from a dubbed copy of Murmur, or caought a grainy dispatch on some lower rung of the FM dial in the mid-80s played a role, regardless of how minor, in proving that genuinely organic, melodic and earnest musical notions could rub elbows with the fresh, cutting-edge advances of the day, often yielding something fresh and gratifying in the process.
If the purpose of this piece isn't to promote Strum & Thrum itself, what is? Almost as soon as I was introduced to the premise of the compilation in question, it dawned on me that I've been excavating the very type of music it entails for a sizable chunk of my life, particularly in the form of essays and digital audio files I share on a weekly basis. I couldn't help but ask, what if I had selected the S&T roster out of whole cloth? Not as a foil to the version that officially exists, or even an attempt to outsmart/out-obscure the curators at Captured Tracks, rather just as a fun exercise in what my vision for the album might have amounted to, largely based on music that I've presented on Wilfully Obscure. In essence, I'm presenting a parallel playlist to Strum... predominantly (though not exclusively) adhering to the same parameters divulged in it's title, consisting of like-minded American artists who released independent records in roughly the same time frame. Twenty-eight songs to be exact, matching the same amount of acts on the official record. This is purely a celebration of the music - all that it's given me, you and the small microcosm of hearts and ears that have partaken it for four decades, two centuries/millennia and counting. By the end of the week the goal is to provide links in the tracklist below to the original entries I've posted, although some of the download URLs will have likely expired. I'm going to try to attend to any of broken links as well, so feel free to check back Sunday or so. Additionally, there are songs/artists I haven't officially featured here before, some of whom I've just become acquainted with this year, and/or don't own official physical releases of. Enjoy.
01. Beauty Constant - Ed's Anthem (1987)
02. Dreams So Real - Maybe I'll Go Today (1986)
03. The Shakers - All Tied Up (1987)
04. Buzz of Delight - Southern (1984)
05. Neon Rock Garden (NRg) - Don't Say Baboon (1986)
06. The Big Picture - Poison Town (1986)
07. Even Greenland - Another Place to Hide (1986)
08. The Libertines - Voices From the Past (1986)
09. Cordy Lon - Covering the Ground (1988)
10. The Need - Clandestine Shield (1985)
11. The Pedaljets - Sensual Cardboard Event (1986)
12. Northern Pikes - Teenland (early vers.) (1985)
13. October's Child - I Can't Stand It (1987)
14. The Blinkies - Waiting for April (1985)
15. The Lift - Monetary Means (1985)
16. The Bandables - Cynicism (1984)
17. The Spliffs - You Know What They'll Say (1986)
18. The Wake - Lion's Heart (1985)
19. The Reivers (Zeitgeist) - Sound And The Fury (1985)
20. Not Shakespeare - Get Well Soon (1986)
21. Jagged Rocks on the Perimeter - The Soldier And The Painter (1986)
22. Beat Feet - She's on Time (1986)
23. Other Bright Colors - Time Was (1986)
24. Cannon Heath Down - Bone of Contention (1987)
25. Turning Curious - Out Into The Light (1985)
26. Spooner - Walking With an Angel (1986)
27. U Thant - Little Chlorine (1986)
28. The Square Root of Now - Bent Around Corners (1987)