Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time To Go - The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86

Compilation albums are tricky things, particularly when it's a label comp. The best are often done by labels with a trademark sound, one that balances variety with an overt unifying aesthetic. The label comps put out by bigger, more diverse labels like Matador suffer from sounding like promotional mixes made for radio stations because most of the acts sound too different from each other. One of the best comps in recent times was the Welcome Home/Diggin' The Universe release from the Woodsist label. It's a touchstone for modern indie bands influenced by 60s psychedelic music, but also reveals how much these bands are stretching beyond the boundaries of similar older movements, like the Paisley Underground scene in American and the one in New Zealand centered around the Flying Nun label.

It's this latter group that's featured on last year's compilation Time To Go - The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86. And like the Woodsist comp, it focuses on the more experimental/psychedelic products of the label with a surprising variety of sounds. The one thing all of these bands have in common is that they're just as influenced by the acid fried 60s psychedelic rock as they were arty/druggy/dark bands like the Velvet Underground and 70s punk and post-punk. The noisy clangor of 'I Just Can't Stop' by the Gordons feels like a New Zealand cousin of contemporary 80s Sonic Youth. 'It's Cold Outside' by Victor Dimisich Band has a singer that croons like Bob Dylan during his country era, fronting a drunk and slowed down Felt. 'Psychic Discharge' by Max Block is a short interlude for melting instruments and stoned babbling. And then there's a song that approximates a sloppy early 90s Pavement cover of a Husker Du song ('Some Fantasy' by Doublehappys), which is better than that sounds.

The American Paisley Underground scene of the 80s got most of the attention, but Time To Go shows that we've been looking in the wrong place all this time. I've always found the Paisley Underground stuff to be overrated and forgettable. By contrast, the more I keep hearing of similar music from this period from New Zealand, the more I'm convinced 80s music wasn't as universally bad as I'd believed. Whereas I've been wearing out the Welcome Home comp because it's endlessly listenable, with a keen sense of flow and pacing, the Time To Go comp is essential for those reasons and because it's revelatory. I highly recommend getting the vinyl version: from the cover art to the liner notes to the fact it comes on two records with a MP3 download coupon, it's everything a vinyl compilation should be.

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