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V/A - Living Bridge

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Artist: V/A

Album: Living Bridge

Label: Rare Book Room

Review date: Feb. 29, 2008

Collecting 25 bands that recorded at Nicolas Vernhes’ Rare Book Room studio in Brooklyn, Living Bridge functions as a peephole into some strange corners of the indie world. The compilation, sprawling across two CDs, has a certain consistency to it – not surprising considering that everything was recorded in the same studio. But as a snapshot of a ‘scene’ or the current state of a particular slice of indie-dom, it brings together such a wide range of styles that inevitably some songs stick out awkwardly, as if Vernhes felt obliged to include them. The result is an endearingly bumpy ride, during which you sort of have to smile at the rough edges.

In order to smooth the experience a bit, Living Bridge is assembled a little like a mixtape, with cross-fades between the songs. This works best between the more atmospheric pieces, of course; in some cases it feels a bit forced, but overall it’s nice to have a constant flow of music across each of the CDs. It must also be said on behalf of Vernhes that every song here is admirably well-recorded.

As might be expected with 25 bands, the compilation includes both the known and the unknown. Avey Tare, Black Dice, Deerhunter, Silver Jews, and others rub shoulders with Lia Ices, La Lus, Tomorrow’s Friend, and The Jewish. Likewise, the outré and experimental lay side by side with the frankly ordinary. The contrasts are for the most part handled through smart sequencing of the songs, but there are nonetheless occasional jarring juxtapositions. Telepathe’s near-shoegaze textures and dreamy singing segues very nicely into the gothic-tribal creepiness of Palms, but when the carsick carnival ride of Black Dice flows into Tara Jane O’Neil’s gentle pop tune, it’s not quite as smooth a transition.

Along with the aforementioned songs from Telepathe and Palms, other highlights of the first disc include the ennui-drenched “Lightning Song” from Blood on the Wall, with effectively skeletal guitar over a great bass line; and a shimmering piece from The Naysayer given a slightly country tinge thanks to a pedal steel guitar. The disc is bookended by Avey Tare’s pounding piano and the oddly Tori Amos-like vamping of Lia Ices. Contrasting by their very normalcy are countrified indie rock from The Silver Jews, Charles Gansa’s straightforward “Charlene,” and the Americana-style tune by TK Webb.

The second disc starts out well, from the intriguingly droned-out a capella of Theo Angell to Enon’s great rocker, adorned with kittenish vocals and a great bass line. Deerhunter’s “After Class” starts out well, all chiming guitars floating through a mass of reverb, but instead of ending decisively the song repeats on and on for several minutes more than necessary. The transition from Enon to Fischerspooner’s electro synths is a difficult one, after which we get dropped into dramatic singer-songwriter territory for John Wolfington, then buzzing psych rock from La Lus, reminiscent of Dead Meadow’s darker moments.

Unfortunately, the Bridge pretty much collapses from there, with only old-school punk from Tomorrow’s Friend really grabbing attention. Finishing the compilation with synth-backed new wave (Kapow) and rather dire, slick pop (The Jewish) was unwise, though to be fair the songs wouldn’t have fit very well anywhere amidst the rest of the mix.

As a collection of interesting songs, mixed for a continuous listen, Living Bridge will likely offer anyone both the good and the bad – which are which is up to your own tastes. Its range and scope beg to be taken seriously, but in all fairness, to view it as a real statement or documentary snapshot along the lines of No New York is a bit much to ask.

By Mason Jones

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