For once, I’m feelin’ pretty good on a Monday, because I just got my hands on a little disc full of weird and wonderful tunes, and it’s from right here in town. It goes by the simple, unadorned title of Cincinnati Compilation and comes housed in a hand-designed sleeve featuring a startled-looking, oval-shaped green globule man with long, purple hands.
According to an e-mail from assembler (and contributor) Brian McCabe that came in conjunction with the comp, “Most of these bands can’t catch a break in Cincinnati—they don’t know the right people and they don’t want to kiss a booking agent’s ass to get a show.” McCabe’s e-mail also assured that although I’d never heard of these bands, as soon as I played this thing I’d fall in love.
Being that I've always tended to identify with the underdog, I was immediately fascinated. And one spin through the disc proved McCabe right. Truth be told, I’d never heard of any of these groups, and, truth be told, they’re almost all downright awesome. Hell, even lovable. The eight songs contained within are, to mutilate an overused cliché, a fresh breath of smoggy, humidified Cincinnati air.
A few of them also happen to be poorly documented—the worst sounding like they were shittily recorded straight into a jerry-rigged internal computer mic—but since these fellows are operating in a distinct lo-fi tradition, it’s not too much of a bother.
What you get here is essentially a collection of songs that recall classic Indie Rock—you know, back when that genre tag was used to determine bands’ geeky, experimental tendencies and subsequent (low) economic and (impoverished) label status rather than how precious they sound, how many scarves and horn-rimmed glasses they collectively own and how likely they are to get on the SXSW or CMJ roster this year. So think Sebadoh, Guided by Voices and Pavement (although the Cincy Comp bands keep things solidly unpretentious and don’t get quite as artsy as the Pavemeisters) or pretty much anything on Matador’s roster circa 1989-1992. Now wipe that sound with an even hazier, lazier, dirty slacker lacquer, and you’re on the right track.
Don’t be fooled by the silly, cutesy band names—two of the strongest songs are by groups called Toboggan Race and Raccoon City (whose MySpace page lists Alice Cooper as a number-one influence—YES!). Toboggan Race’s “Sweet ‘n’ Sassy” is obnoxious, catchy and… well, pretty damn sweet and sassy, I would concur. Raccoon City’s “Crucifix,” with its hooky guitar line and shouted background vocals, sounds like a tossed-off outtake from some—go figure this when your number-one influence is Alice Cooper—‘70s-rock-obsessed ‘90s band. And it sounds great. Matt Archibald’s “Timber!” may be the best thing here, though. It’s a minimally arranged, shambolic cacophony in excelsis—and a exhilarating and anthemic piece of slacker Pop.
Elsewhere, you’ll hear sorta-gimmicky-yet-still-entertaining covers such as Chuckoo’s slightly detuned, abstracted take on Liz Phair’s “Girls, Girls, Girls,” which sounds like a more-hungover-than-usual GBV. John Mattock’s “Mother” (a main offender when it comes to poor recording quality) turns the Danzig tune into an overlong acoustic Folk number, but it still manages to be fun enough to work.
Perhaps I’m so impressed by this comp because there’s absolutely nothing hip about it. These bands are just smart people with good Pop sensibilities who don't care about impressing the Northside crowd. They'd rather shout and bang on their instruments—and have a blast doing it, just like many of the best bands in Punk and Rock ‘N’ Roll history. There’s no angling, no posing and I’ll bet no scarves. Kudos to all these groups and artists for fighting to keep stupid fun alive.
Seek these bands out, go see them play and hear this comp.
For more info on Cincinnati Compilation, go here.