Crate-Digging Archive: Various Artists – Art Core Volume Two

The cover for this record was conspicuously absent from the Internet. At least from surface searches.

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Tooth & Nail, 1996)

Volume Two of Tooth & Nail Records’ Art Core series was also its last. (Click here for my review of Volume One.)

1. Starflyer 59 – “Next Time Around.” Even the wrist-slittingly depressing SF59 songs are awesome. Jason Martin, brushed drums, heavily tremoloed guitar – what more could you ask for?
2. Phantasmic – “Broken.” Girl meets fuzz pedal. Girl writes pop songs. Nice fuzzy pop songs.
3. Joy Electric – “Transylvania.” With “Sorcery” on Volume One and “Transylvania” here, Joy Electric, aka Ronnie Martin (Jason’s bro), was hitting his stride. The skittering beats mark a successful dabbling in IDM for Martin, and makes me wish he’d have done more of that, and the theremin/synth are super eerie. Joy Electric’s two Art Core tracks easily find their way onto my Halloween playlist ever year. “Transylvania” actually sounds like you’re clambering up a muddy slope in a steady downpour to reach the sinister castle.
4. Sal Paradise – “Welcome.” I discovered Sal Paradise on this sampler, and dumb name aside, the Australian indie rockers got my blood pumpin’ with their shuffly, road-trip-soundtrack-fodder song “Welcome.” I was surpirised at the Pavement influence – that style of shambolic indie wasn’t a real draw with the T&N crowd at the time. The singer’s voice, while appropriately and effortlessly laid back, was clearly in a better state of training than Malkmus’s. I ended up buying their album from T&N last year for $1. Yes!
5. Roseblossom Punch – “See It in Me.” As much as I liked Roseblossom Punch’s contribution to Volume One, I vehemently disliked this song, probably because it was just so unbelievably disappointing. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-meh. You can’t get more by-the-numbers. Bland too.
6. Chevelle… er, Jesus Flying Rocketship – “Try.” That says it. Terrible name too.

(Har har!)

7. Driver Eight – “Carrousel.” Obviously named after the REM song, Driver Eight put together some decent tracks in their day. They released one album on Tooth & Nail, 1996’s Watermelon, and disappeared. Which is fine by me, they were nothing special. They spelled “carousel” wrong, too, most likely on purpose. There’s no reason for that. Plus they had stupid hair.
8. Chevelle… er, Red Timber – “Lemonade.” Um, an unfortunate pattern.

(Good one – look at me!)

9. Velour – “Parting.” I like Velour OK. Is there any more damning compliment than that in a music review? Sorry. I don’t have a lot to say about them, but they’re pleasant. They play nice, gauzy dream pop. You hear that? Nice. My mom likes Velour.
10. Slick 50 – “Aeroliner.” Unlike some of the songs featured on the Art Core samplers, Slick 50’s contribution is recorded pretty well. It rocks pretty hard, too, the drums smack a 1950s-era drag-race tempo under the distorted guitars and sneered vocals. The song doesn’t overstay its welcome at just under three minutes. But in the end, the song is woefully underwritten, with nary a change in chord progression and dumb lyrics. Whatevs.
11. The Supertones – “Found.” I hate the Supertones. Seriously. I hate them. I dug the ska fad when it was cool, but their lyrics are sub-praise band and the music is derivative beyond derivative. And insanely happy. Fuck ’em. Fuck the fucking Supertones. See? They make me stoop to profanity.
12. Pony Express – “She Thinks I’m Nothing.” Sounds like minor-key, shrug-shouldered, mopey Starflyer 59. Maybe because Jason Martin’s the drummer? I can dig it.
13. Morella’s Forest – “Green and Violet Wavecaps (Demo Version).” Taking cues from Lush and My Bloody Valentine, Morella’s Forest was already a Tooth & Nail vet by their inclusion here, and I only imagine this demo version of “Green and Violet Wavecaps” was included as a promo for their Ultraphonic Hiss album. The swirly guitar effects sound really good, and it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a female-fronted dream-pop/shoegaze band amongst the dreck. Note to Morella’s Forest, circa 1996: The production and engineering on the song needs to be tidied up a bit though.

Although the album is quickly and mercifully coming to a close, we’re not quite done yet. Even with garbage like The Supertones, Slick 50, and the Chevelle clones preceding them, Art Core Volume Two sinks to new and varied levels of crap over its final four tracks – I’m surprised there was so much variation in the suckiness, but here you go.

14. Sierra Heart – “I Am Falling.” Sounds like every college girl who ever picked up an acoustic guitar and sang at a coffee shop. Ever. No wait, scratch that. Just the worst ones. Had Tooth & Nail offered Sierra Heart a record contract, I would have had to fly out to Seattle and slap label founder Brandon Ebel in the face, and fire his entire A&R team.
15. The Waysect Bloom – “Washed.” Remember how I praised their track on Volume One? I’m not praising this track. Imagine an overtly Christian Stabbing Westward. Yeah, I don’t want to either.
16. Danielson – “Song for Every Speaker.” I have nothing against Danielson. In fact, I have a fondness for his off-kilter and ramshackle family folk. But this live version sounds like someone had a handheld tape recorder in their purse at the back of the auditorium and Danielson’s not hooked up to a sound system. Hard to imagine that Daniel Smith got a record deal based on this recording (if in fact that’s how it happened – I have to believe there was more to it), but he’s still releasing quality material fifteen years later.
17. Sage – “Den of Thieves.” Remember when Chuck Moseley was the singer in Faith No More before Mike Patton? Remember how bad he was? This kind of sounds like that. With spoken word vocals. About the commodification of Christianity. Edgy! My hatred for this song knows no bounds.

Wow, looking back on Art Core Volume Two REALLY reinforces its subpar quality. Fortunately most of the bands that suck on here disappeared into obscurity. Danielson turned into a quirk-pop superstar, garnering rave reviews from the likes of Pitchfork. Good for him, he deserved it.

RIYL: The 1990s. The whole decade.

You might also like: