VARIOUS ARTISTS – Wisconsin Pop Explosion Compilation
No one would ever accuse Charlemagne of being over-produced, but with “Nematode” (from last year’s Detour Allure) they sound like absolute studio rats in comparison to the rest of the artists on this Wisconsin Pop Explosion compilation. This collection brings together recordings “of shows, house parties, basement recording sessions, and craft nights between 2004 and 2006” so it isn’t surprising that the sound quality is so eratic. In fact, Charlemagne’s second contribution, “Palm Springs,” is just as gritty as everything else here. Of course that’s most of the charm of this release from Madison’s answer to Athens’ Elephant 6 collective.
The already sadly missed Super Eights kick off the collection appropriately enough with “Wisconsinners,” with its “dance, dance , dance to the radio,” chorus indicative of what’s to follow. Eights’ member Bob Koch comes close to bookending the collection perfectly with his “American Top Forty” which details what’s wrong with radio today (as if we don’t already know). Nelly and Tim McGraw are invited to kiss his ass, and that should have been the last sound we hear. Instead, the final track is the second of two songs from the Secret Wedding Party. “Sweet Potato,” a simplistic beats-and-keys melody with inane lyrics, is made more infuriating by its tendency to worm its way into your head. In regards to their “Hey Mr. Milley,” with apologies to Billy Madison, everyone in the room is stupider for having heard their song. By comparison, Gal & Lad’s shrill “Shine on Grampa” isn’t so bad, and their “Groovy” is positively brilliant.
The Mountain Goat-ish “No One Knows,” the better of Vid Libert’s two smart offerings, ponders the mysteries of the universe: “Every human being is the most immense piece of art ever made / But no one really knows whose hands were used the most.” Nice. Aunt Goodness’s meandering “James Brown With Two Heads” is oddly affecting; must be her sweet voice. The second Super Eights track, “Hey Virginia,” is also a winner, with its humorous assetion that “you’re not for lovers anymore.”
But perhaps the best part of the CD is that it finally gives us recorded product from Sleeping in the Aviary. The Aviary boys seem to have multiple personalities, and I’m not even talking about their occasional outings under alter-egos Cold Cut Combo or Johnny and the Church Camp Rebels. They’ll play one show as snotty punks, the next as acoustic poppers, while the ideal band probably lies somewhere in between. The two tracks they contribute here, the endearingly naïve “Glow Worm” and the jangly “Days,” definitely lean toward their acoustic incarnation. Hopefully the full-length release from them, due soon, will be as appealing.
The Wisconsin Pop Explosion can obviously be somewhat hit or miss, but really, no one actually liked all of those Elephant 6 bands either.