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Never Too Much

Love and Circuits Captures The Elusive Everything and Nothingness of America's Current Musical Underground

Jon MacNair

By Michael Byrne | Posted 4/9/2008

It might be unfair to ascribe any sort of order to a compilation with 57 tracks, but there's something peculiar and startlingly perfect about Cardboard Records' Love and Circuits compilation. It's not that the comp itself is perfect--it is very, very good--but it describes a congealing music movement to the 10th of a point. It's a movement of gradual averaging--noise isn't harsh, punk isn't angry, pop isn't clean. The movement's argument is that nothing is supposed to be too much of anything. Whether that eventually equates to nothing is yet to be seen.

Like contemporary indie rock, the whole of Love and Circuits isn't coherent enough to stick together naturally but also isn't extreme enough or faithful to any one thing--noise, metal, electro, punk, "indie rock"--to put it out of place with anything else. (A few years back, defunct Kill Rock Stars imprint 5RC could've stood in for this comp in spirit if not expanse.)

Everything these 57 artists--that's right, no repeats--represent has become terribly cool over the past two or three years, particularly as indie rock has gotten terribly uncool and not at all indie or underground. Screaming, circuit bending, awkward dancing, lo-fi fuzz, and all of the finer points of feedback have all entered the vocabulary of this underground.

Cardboard Records founders Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw, also of the noise-punk band Parts and Labor, explain the comp in no humble terms on the label's web site: a representation of "the current underground scene as a whole." And it's a fair approximation, at least within the bounds of white twentysomethings' fickle tastes. The comp is a rough sketch of whatever comes after indie rock. And it's not bad.

If you need an example of cohesion, however contrived, it comes just over two hours into the compilation as Trey Told 'Em, Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis under an alias, remixes all 57 of these songs into four minutes of tellingly reasonable coherence. Assumedly, it includes the few extremities of the discs, Lovid's 40 seconds of what sounds like an amplified tape rewinding, Justice Yeldham's not-quite-harsh-but-enough-to-piss-off-the-dog circuit meltdown, and Jerk's no-fi free-jazz punk hysteria. Damned if they can be found in there.

Ditto for the comp as a whole; the harsh moments are buried over by songs that are at least inflected with pop. Or, in the case of Matt and Kim's contribution--the viral "Silver Tiles," with its absolutely over-the-top feel good "all our hopes/ all our friends" chorus and hummable synth lines--it's full on reprogram-your-brain pop. "Silver Tiles," though, is still damaged enough--Matt Johnson's voice is charmingly and almost embarrassingly awkward--to melt in with the rest.

And, more importantly, Matt and Kim appear to be on the vanguard of what, if anything, this scene winds up getting tagged as. It was a sight to see the pair crammed in between beyond-bloggy Simian Mobile Disco and Diplo at this year's South by Southwest and, more than just holding it down, riling the packed rooftop crowd.

Also representing on the compilation, and with a relatively longstanding rile factor, is Brooklyn's cultish Ramones-copping Japanther, whose mega-caffeinated, hopelessly catchy lo-fi sample-punk could serve as the template for much of what's on Love and Circuits. Maybe it's the company it keeps, but "Charlie Hustle" is a slog. Japanther is a fine to great band live, but on record, not so much. "Charlie Hustle" sounds like a drowsy version of Japanther's staple anthem "Cable Babies."

And we're dealing with many Japanther successors here (though the Death Set is notably absent). Even Matt and Kim--at least as far as quick 'n' easy hooks and sing-alongs go--hold some stock in the band. Contributors Dynamite Arrows, the Good Good, Ho-Ag, and Monster Dudes, while more raggedy for the most part, all kind of fall in line--as in, put in a lineup together, the result would be Warped Tour boring.

Thankfully, enough of the others fuck with the formula enough--adding anger, skronk, deconstruction--to leave some hope for the future of hipster punk. Father's Day howl-screeching over and over again "I have so much respect for women" through a tantrum of pure drum-kit abuse, and capping it with "especially the blond ones/ especially the sexy ones," is lovably anarchic.

The comp also includes a fair amount of what you'd consider "old guard"--read: you heard of them before last year--beyond Japanther. Dance floor-positive no-wavers Numbers contribute an odd couple of minutes of storm-cloud drone, laced with enough melody to keep things properly entertaining. And Ecstatic Sunshine, whose upcoming disc is being released by Cardboard, gives a glimpse back to the band's riff-duo days.

Unsurprisingly, Parts and Labor deliver the compilation's crown jewel, "No Night," proving Friel and Warshaw are aesthetic ringleaders of the Love and Circuits movement/comp as much as they are the compilers of the thing. Grind-paced drums, squiggle-screeching guitars and electronics, and Warshaw's entirely unique voice--which sounds like it's echoing out of a cave carved into the roof of his mouth--add up to astoundingly poppy business-as-usual for the band, but this is also a band we'll take as much business-as-usual as it's willing to give. The track is almost matched by Warshaw's solo side project, Shooting Spires, covering Bad Brains' "Sailin' On"--which, if it were any less unassuming, would run away with this entire collection.

But, then again, we're talking about 57 songs here. It's overwhelming and occasionally inconsistent--Best Fwends sped-up and dumbed-down take on Matt and Kim-brand pop could've been left in the cutting room. But it's made for documentary value: Something is afoot in indieland, and this is as close as anyone has come to describing it.

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