All hail the mighty compilation album. Lots of songs, no name bands, big name bands, B sides, A sides, and maybe a cover or two, all for a moderate price that might make you pass up the known terrain and try a different path. The compilation album, as anyone in the know can tell you, is able to give some bands a break into a bigger audience as well as provide the only break for most bands that fade into obscurity, and it also gives the listener a chance to say, ‘I knew them back in the day,’ or, ‘Oh man, I remember those guys!’ So all hail the mighty compilation album, a conversation starter and punk milestone that can fit in your jacket pocket, or act as a coaster on your coffee table. The compilation is one of the few marketing tools that has held strong over the years and continues to be successful in today’s changing music business. Hip hop groups, rock bands, American idols and company all use movie soundtracks to push new bands and new songs, providing the listener with a service that is free of commitment, perfect window shopping for your ears. The same method is used for indie bands and the punk scene; however, both use the straight up compilation albums to push bands and labels, promoting only the music…well, the music and the record labels that own it. Playing 4 Square 3 is the latest, and third, installment of the Playing 4 Square series of compilations on the Suburban Home Records label which pins four independent labels and a selection of songs from their respective rosters “against each other” in order to offer a diverse lineup of bands that fill the same niche in today’s punk and indie scene. It’s a very rare happening for a compilation or soundtrack to be great from every angle and still rare for one to be really good, but as long as it has a solid 15-20% of its weight in sound then it is pretty good, and, therefore, worth at least a listen or two (if you’re unsure of your percentages). If your measurements are correct chances are you’ll discover a lot of bands you dislike, a few that may peak your curiosity, and at least two or three that you will spend your money on. Playing 4 Square 3 has a solid 15% percent of great rock, 25% of mid-grade power pop, and 60% of limp fluff. I’ve just been informed that the bands have all stretched, tuned, and secured any loose Misfits/Clash/Joy Division patches, and yes, they are ready to represent today’s punk/indie scene. It’s a beautiful day in the park so let’s get this four square match underway and see who’s moving on and who’s being left behind on Playing 4 Square 3.
Better Looking Records takes to the court first boasting a lineup of The Jealous Sound, No Knife, The And/Ors, Ides of Space, and Track Star. Kentucky’s Initial Records, who I’m told have been training hard for today’s match with a lineup of Black Cross, Criteria, Helicopter Helicopter, The Jazz June, The Reputation, and Ultimate Fakebook, but they’re going to be facing some tough teams so we’ll soon see how successful that training has been. In predictable fashion the Bay Area’s Negative Progression and Lookout Records have finally arrived, and I must say, Lookout is looking confident with a strong lineup of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Oranges Band, Communique, Even in Blackouts, The Pattern, and The Washdown. But Negative Progression has some competitors in Counterfit, The Goodwill, Over It, Contender, The June Spirit, and Adventures of Jet. Each team has taken a square on the blacktop, the referee has blown his whistle, and it’s anyone’s game. Let’s get it on.
Negative Progression Records wins the traditional rock, paper, scissors, and takes the first serve with “Lying in Traffic” by Counterfit, a very ineffective serve that showed promise in the air but landed without much of a thud at the feet of Lookout Record’s Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ “Where Have all the Rude Boys Gone?” who makes an impressive return aimed directly at Initial Records’ rear left corner. Lucky for Initial Records, Black Cross came prepared with “It Gets Dark So Early” and backhands the big red ball with an intensity that easily overpowers the predictable power-pop of The Jealous Sound’s “Naïve”. It seems that Better Looking Records sent out their bench warmers early in this match of four square, which I must admit is a very surprising strategy for it just cost them the first point of the game. Looking to one up the lack luster performance of their Negative Progression label mates, The Goodwill serve with “Let it Go,” however, the ball lands no where near the playing field, losing yet another point for the Bay Area sound machine. The Oranges Band serves up a fantastic serve with “OK Apartment,” a play worthy of the Lookout name which is countered by a dramatic headfirst dive from Criteria’s “The Coincidence,” bouncing the ball off No Knife’s “The Red Bedroom” costing Better Looking another point. Over It takes the next serve with “Blackball” and effortlessly keeps the red ball away from Communique, Helicopter Helicopter, The And/Ors, and finally sends it to Contender who wins a big point for Negative Progression Records with a fast shot past Helicopter Helicopter. Good to see Negsative Progression begin to look better because they are getting quite the workout from the other labels in today’s game, in fact they may be a little out of their league for their roster reeks of inexperience and poor taste. Lookout returns to the game with a surprisingly well-played point by Even in Blackouts’ “Missing Manifesto” that easily embarrasses The Jazz June’s “These Pills Won’t Calm Your Nerves” as the ball bounces off the drummer’s head setting up a huge spike by Ides of Space’s “This Side of the Screen” that takes out the young bass player in The June Spirit whose “Ninety” rolls over and loses another point for Negative Progression Records. The Pattern step up and deliver with “Nothing of Value” chalking one more for Lookout when their serve was set across the street by The Reputation’s (ironic) “The Stars of Amateur Hour”, and I must say this game has turned into a slaughterhouse, there are bands falling left and right and there’s blood all over the place. Track Star look to defend the Better Looking family name by double faulting with “Something to Do,” followed by a second double fault courtesy of Adventures of Jet’s “Emily Mazurinsky” surrendering the ball to Lookout’s final band The Washdown who’s pop style of ballin’ "It Must Be True" looks like it will outwit Ultimate Fakebook’s “When I’m With You, I’m OK” the last and final Initial band, but the only band on the roster not to buckle under the pressure, returning the ball to The Washdown whose quick reaction sends the red ball right back in their faces slamming it off the singer’s knee and into the excited crowd of young punk fans in the park, thus ending the game and completing the compilation record Playing 4 Square 3. It appears that Lookout Records is today’s champion, but with a lot of luck and some extremely hard work, Negative Progression, Better Looking, and Initial Records might be able to compete on the same level.
This record has 23 bands from four labels all of which play some variation on power pop, and after the dust has cleared and the record finished spinning some simply played the game better than others. My congratulations to The Washdown, The Oranges Band, Over It, Even in Blackouts, Ides of Space, and The Pattern for delivering a solid 15% of this compilation’s weight in sound, these are the bands that made today’s competition worth watching, and it was the competition that brought their talent to my attention. All hail the compilation album.