Sub City's Take Action organization always aims to motivate kids to do something worthwhile and as a result it's a very admirable cause and practical annual institution by this point in the scene. Of course, with the always-changing tide of the music scene, its compilations are always a mixed bag, however, and this year's sprawling two-disc set is no different despite its generous wealth of previously unreleased material.
The first disc starts promising, with two bands I would never listen to in my spare time turning out very decent tracks. We the Kings do a pretty frill-free acoustic cover of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," and while I guess the song's getting old enough to be covered without much irony, either way, the band get it right. Mayday Parade follow with another acoustic number--an original, though: "The Silence," live in the Hurley studio. It's really honestly not bad--it sounds a lot like Dashboard Confessional, only with some sort of balls.
But then, Disc 1 hits some major ruts. It just gets worse and worse as you go from There for Tomorrow's boring acoustic nü-emo of "Backbone" to A Rocket to the Moon's Auto-Tuned, electro-tinged pop in "Fool Everyone" and then the Ready Set's even more cringeworthy "Drain Notes" with parody-ready vocals and beats. The co-ed We Are the In Crowd's "Never Be What You Want" is sort of like a Paramore song (that's a good thing) with really flat, congested male vocals (that's a bad thing); someone tell that dude to stick to his guitar...or at least cut some dairy out of his diet. The dance beat-inflected chorus in Every Avenue's "Picture Perfect" just sounds incredibly douchey. Supposedly these guys have some heavy '90s alternative pop influence that I could probably appreciate otherwise (Polar Bear Club? Lemuria? Failures' Union?) but it's like they took the worst aspects and mashed it with the neon emo of the last few years. This Providence's comparatively tolerable ballad, "Keeping on Without You" can calm the nerves but still serves as a reminder how much better the band used to be with a little math-pop ambition. The Dangerous Summer have a slight amount of grit to their vocals that makes their acoustic "Surfaced" bearable.
Still, the typical Orger is probably better off tuning out until Track 16--you get the Swellers, Frank Turner, and Fake Problems giving up previously unreleased songs back-to-back-to-back. The Swellers' "Feet First" acoustic doesn't sound terribly different from the original, at least until you get past the vocal intro and into the lush acoustics that fill out the sound; who knew a poppy skatepunk band would sound so graceful and compelling in this setup? They need an MTV Unplugged, stat. Turner's "Rock and Roll Romance" is starkly emotional and heartwrenching out of this album's context; compared to the overproduced schlock it's placed against, it's practically crushing here, even only being a minute or two long, with his voice echoing softly off the walls of a seemingly small, dimly lit room. Fake Problems' "Mr. Rock & Roll" is a nice, more cheery partner to Turner's cut, as it's similarly short and folky.
You'll be caught begging for mediocre acoustic emo, though, when the multitude of remixes usher in Disc 2. It's like a club run by...I don't even know. No simile suits. Casey Bates, I love your work, but you can't make "Don't Trust Me" any more listenable. Innerpartysystem chop up Cobra Starship's "Hot Mess" into a moderately interesting, more minimal mess, but they too are really only polishing a turd. LIGHTS' synthetically poppy "Saviour," as "unsung"ly remixed by Colin Munroe, is just painfully, overly precious. The Receiving End of Sirens member Brian Southall remixes VersaEmerge's "Whisperer," and his signature touch for musical programming can be heard here and there on it (silver, skittering, industrial beats; layered, operatic vocals; futuristic vibes), though the track still ain't a total winner. Bring Me the Horizon's "Sleep with One Eye Open," as remixed by Tek One, can best be summed up a YouTube comment on it: "It sounds like a headache in sound."
If you like moshy, slightly technical, fast-moving modern metalcore, I guess August Burns Red's "Indonesia (alternate version)" isn't awful. But eatmewhileimhot!'s "xXBurritoXx" is a biiiit overdone; in fact, it's supposedly parodic, but the dude's straight-faced full-time gig makes it seem like he's playing a joke on us too, so who knows. I'm ashamed to admit I'm into fleeting moments of I Set My Friends on Fire's "Things That Rhyme with Orange"--namely the first four seconds or so, where Postal Service beats are followed by charged gang shouts. The ridiculous barks and whinier singing is where the "band" show their true selves, however, and keep me distanced. I'll back Taking Back Sunday's "Swing," of course; it's one of the brighter moments off the otherwise duller New Again, and here we get a live at Dairy Studios in London version. All Time Low's "Poison" and the Downtown Fiction's "I Just Wanna Run" are perfect white bread.
The Almost's "aggressive" power-pop for "Birmingham" isn't too awful, though the last three tracks are again the more obviously punky package. If you don't mind Set Your Goals' increasingly poppy variation on (very) melodic hardcore, you should get some enjoyment out of their speedy This Will Be the Death of Us B-side, "The Lost Boys," a Japan-only bonus track. While Take Notice's fussy vocals are questionable, "Northward Winds Were Bound to Happen" isn't too far off this stylistic track--their Four Year Strong-style drops and RARRR!!ed backup vocals are even kind of a more tolerable version of such tactics...eh, maybe it's a little silly, which is a pity since you can hear this band's potential. Broadway Calls incidentally have the best song on the comp with their Good Views, Bad News B-side, "Jump at Shadows," which would have fit perfectly on that album.
Considering over half of this 34-song compilation is previously unreleased material, though, that in and of itself is impressive and merits a little more praise for the overall package. And I mean, this thing's for charity. How much of a dick can I really be? Still, cherry-picking towards this worthy cause seems like one's best bet.