August 22, 2003

Various Artists: "Sad Songs Remind Me: The Emo Diaries, Chapter Nine"

Sad Songs Remind Me is perhaps one of the stronger volumes of this series. Unlike past volumes of this series, no really well-known bands appear. In fact, the label is represented by only two bands--Italy's Settlefish and a stunning new signing, Sweden's Surrounded. You might think that an album of unknown bands that are teniously linked together as "emo" might not be good, right?

Wrongo, slappy.

After listening to this for the first time, my very first reaction was, "whoa!" Instead of cheesy, let's-get-soft-then-really-loud meets oh-I'm-a-sad-teenager-but-I'm-really-thirty-two-to-impress-the-underage-girls sound that we all know and hate, the twelve bands on Sad Songs Remind Me are impressively different. Sure, all of these bands seem to have an intense nature, but none of the bands sound remotely like the other, nor do they sound like any of your usual suspects--you know, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, At The Drive-In, Texas Is The Reason and other bands of said emotional inspiration. If any band seems to be influential, it's Radiohead--and even then, it's nothing that overwhelms the songs.

All of the bands on Sad Songs Remind Me are good, but some bands are better than others. The award for "most improved" would be La Pieta, whose debut album betrayed their real strengths and talent; "More of The Sky" shows that their growth over the past two years has certainly improved their sound. I'm kind of keen on "Karenaihana" by the Japanese band The Local Art. Though their sound might be the closest to the generic emo, they definitely win a prize for singing in their native language--making this song quite...interesting. It's a pretty good sign when even the lesser bands are better than average, and that's certainly the case here.

Of course, there are some real monsters on here, too. Each time I've listened to Sad Songs Remind Me, I've been blown away by three songs. Athens, Georgia has produced yet another excellent band, Michael; their song "Finish Line" is a fine little rocker that reminds me a bit of a healthy mix of Spoon meets R.E.M., yet they don't erally sound like either one. Austin, Texas is another city that's produced another wonderful band; Milton Mapes' track, "Big Cloud, Big Sky," sounds like a vintage Bruce Springsteen outtake, mixed with a dark, electronic heartbeat. It's an ominous epic number that defies classification and is a real mindblower.

The best track on here, though, is also another epic mindblower, "High Five Hiero" by Sweden's Surrounded; it's a quiet number that gets bigger and louder and colder and more intense and at the end of it all, you'll be scratching your head and wondering what happened. "High Five Hiero" sounds like an odd mixture of Britpop and Dylanesque singer-songwriter fare, and as weird as that description sounds, it really fits it well. Deep Elm have wisely jumped on this band--a good decision, too.

Once again, Deep Elm have shown that a lot of the best music being made is not being heard, and once again their Emo Diaries serves as an excellent introduction to music you might not have heard elsewhere. A record that's worth it for the three songs mentioned above; who knows, you may wind up with 12 new favorite bands afterwards.

--Joseph Kyle

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