Friday, July 23, 2010

Various Artists: Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe: A Woodsist Compilation

Various Artists
Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe: A Woodsist Compilation
Rating: 3.5/5.0
Label: Woodsist

The people behind the Woodsist label hope you still have a Walkman (if you're old) or a record player (if you're really old) stashed away somewhere, as the limited release Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe: A Woodsist Compilation is available only on cassette and vinyl. While vinyl remains almost uniformly revered - with numerous artists still releasing their albums on the big disc - the cassette's legacy is more ambiguous. In some ways cassettes were unarguably awful: the sound was frequently shitty, goddamn if the ribbon didn't always somehow get eaten by a hungry tape deck and there were no aesthetics to speak of, as album covers that looked glorious on vinyl were mercilessly shrunk down to fit the cassette's rectangular shape.

But cassettes made that most sacred of musical artifacts - the mixtape - possible, and for this reason alone, they deserve some respect and a bit of wistful nostalgia. For those of us of a certain age, it didn't get much better than spending hours compiling that perfect batch of songs, either for personal use or for someone else. Relationships could be made or broken from the content of such a cassette mixtape. It was a serious endeavor, man, and it took serious effort; we didn't have the luxury of letting Amazon or iTunes Genius make recommendations for us. And we walked to school in the snow uphill both ways.

Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe displays all the best traits of such cassette tapes, with 12 of its 13 songs exclusive to this compilation and almost every last one of them showing that the state of modern indie is still pretty damn good, for one label at least. The songs included here don't sound like oddities, one-offs or leftover scraps, not even the curious Grateful Dead and Cure cover songs from City Center and Skygreen Leopards, respectively. For the most part, the songs adhere to the lo-fi/punk-lite template with which Woodsist is most frequently associated, an approach that works especially well on Nuggets-recalling garage rock tracks like Run DMT's "Richard," White Fence's "The Love Between," the Fresh & Only's "Heel.Toe" and Nodzz's "Old Clothes." There are also some worthy anomalies: Alex Bleeker's "Gettin By" features an unadorned guitar jangle and breezy country-inflected vocals, while Ducktails closes the album with the brief acoustic instrumental "Sun Out My Window." As with any compilation, a few songs aren't quite up to par - the echoed vocals on Moon Duo's "A Little Way Different" quickly become tedious, while the vocals on Cause Co-Motion!'s "Over You" suggest the ghost of Joey Ramone was channeled for this song - but it's easy enough to forgive a few clunkers when so much good stuff surrounds them.

Welcome Home/Diggin' the Universe starts with "I'm Not Gone" by Woods, label founder Jeremy Earl's band. Certainly ownership has its privileges, but regardless, it's a fittingly auspicious start to a set of tunes that rarely disappoints. Though this release isn't on the same level as gold standards like Nuggets or even the recent Dark Was the Night - and there are some notable exclusions, most obviously Wavves and Real Estate - it serves as validation for Woodsist as a label and the solid talent roster it has built up. It also just might make some listeners long for those olden days when cassettes were like currency for many of us.

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