February 24, 2003

Various Artists "I'm Gonna Watch The Bluebirds Fly Over my Shoulder"

I've always had my suspicions about lo-fi music. It can be charming, cute, and fun, but in many cases, it's an excuse for mediocrity, and a trap that lots of groups can get caught in. Case in point: Smog. The man released several lo-fi tapes, but when he went into a studio, his music got better, more interesting, and he grew as an artist. Same thing with Guided By Voices. Of course, to be fair, many lo-fi-focused groups aren't attempting to have a serious career in music; they're just doing the best they can with what limited resources they have, and you can't fault a person for trying, can you?

So it came to pass that the wife of one of the masters of the lo-fi genre, Orange Cake Mix's Jim Rao, would start a record label. Sure, Twilight Furniture exists mainly to release his own work, but this little sampler proves that even in a worn-out genre, good music still is being made. Instead of amateur-sounding musicianship, these artists know how to play their instruments. Surprisingly, these groups cover a lot of stylistic ground--from The Smittens' too-cute-to-rock indie-pop to Zenith 33's bedroom electronica, these groups--most of which you've probably never heard of--really impress! The only group that doesn't really knock me out is The Knit Seperates, but even then, "Loveless Solitude" is pretty nice.

Several of the songs on I'm Gonna Watch the Bluebirds Fly Over My Shoulder really stand out. Colin Clary and the Magogos "Chiclets In a Frame" is a nice little Elf Power-esque song about candy that turns into an even more interesting electronic number that includes (I believe) a sample from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It segues into The Twin Atlas' beautiful, homespun "Dog With Feathered Wings." Also good is the Zelium Quang's "All Flesh Is Grass," The Youth Souvenir's "The Last Boardwalk," and "Scarves and Sleeves" by The Single Tear. The bestest song of the bunch, though, is The Smittens' utterly cute "Gentlefication Now! (The La La La Song)." With a clumpy drum beat and happy-go-lucky boy and girl singing and the heavenly la-la-la's, it's an instant mixtape classic!

Lo-fi still may be oversaturated, but I'm Gonna Watch the Bluebirds Fly Over My Shoulder is proof that there are still some jewels to be had. Many of these bands are destined to greater things, and will probably make some great music in the near future. Whether or not they decide to move the recording out of the bedroom or garage may or may not actually make a difference---greatness is greatness regardless of recording space.

--Joseph Kyle

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