Monday, October 6, 2008

Various Artists. Turn 3 (Almost There, 2007)

"Well along came the rain/ Man, it wouldn't let up/ And in my crazy get-up/ I believe I blew my own damn mind."

Having lived there for a few years, Austin's status as the "Live Music Capital of the World" is, in practice, both a blessing and a curse. There's a lot of clubs and a lot of bands, which is great if you like going to shows, but not so great if you don't like hearing a bunch of bullshit. Seriously, for every Spoon or American Analog Set or Grand Champeen, there's dozens of rehashed blooze-jam, SRV-worshiping a-holes (and I don't even hate SRV: "Texas Flood" and "Crossfire" are pretty good songs, and his guitar playing on Bowie's Let's Dance is great, but there's just way too many ponchos and statues and dumb hats down there), with their Strats and Mesa Boogie amps set squarely on suck. It's enough to make yer heart heavy, believe me. If I never hear "Hey Joe" again, that'll be just fine.

Which is why Almost There, both as a label and a loose community of like-minded Austin and elsewhere-based bands, is so handy. Almost There (full disclosure: I'm friends with guys in several Almost There bands) encompasses some of the best amped up, wide-eyed, straightforward rock n' fuggin' roll coming out of Austin or anywhere else these days. Like any good label, it smacks a seal of quality on its acts: if it's affiliated with Almost There, it's gonna be good. And nary a blooze-jam there will be. That's the Almost There promise.

Every summer since 2005, Almost There puts out a Turn compilation, providing a State of the Union overview of its friends and associates. August 2007 saw Turn 3 make its way into the world, and it's as strong a collection of bands and tunes as Almost There has ever released. Which is to say, there's some real gold on here, and an opportunity to hear some fine acts churning out some of the most heartfelt rock ruckus to be found in these Unites States.

1986 opens the door with "Habits," a squalling, feedback-soaked chunk of aggro indiepop, hard candy with a battery-acid center. Catchy, confectionary, pissed off. Semi-serious cock rockers the Rockland Eagles follow it up with one of the best songs of the comp, "S.O.B. Tattoo": it's pure sing-along swagger, with a muscular main melody and and a lumbering rhythm section bringing the noise like it's 1976. And batting third is the Tammany Hall Machine's "Anti-Gospel (It Turns Me On)," a pumping, piano-and-horn-driven onslaught that gobsmacks the listener with a killer guitar attack circa the 1:30 mark and collapses into a sweaty heap after three minutes. Effin' A. So Turn 3 gets off to a real strong start.

And the hits just keep on coming through the twenty-one songs on here. The mighty Mandible offer up some of their Sgt. Pepper/ Supertramp magic on "Prelude to Rusty Air in D# / Rusty Air," psychedelic mariachi trumpets and bad-trip organ washes making you feel all funny inside. One Mississippi's "16 Ships" is a pure scorcher, its charging, Superchunk-informed crunch doing plenty of awesome damage in just over two and a half minutes. Li'l Cap'n Travis's patented space-twang surf-rock is as welcome as ever, and "Down the Hall From the Mountain King" is a sparkling head-trip of a treat. Grand Champeen's entry rules, of course: "Destructive Ear" features one of these guys' more memorable hooks, which is saying a lot, as GC's cranked out more catchy hooks than you've had hot dinners.

The Solace Brothers lead the way into the second half of the collection with "Shame on You," an aggressively pounding work-out that's sure to leave a bruise. The Remainders heap on the turned-to-eleven guitar pop and the baa-da-baas on "Wayside," with Keith Moon drums flailing and the singer shouting out like he's got the gospel truth. Youngmond Grand's "Forever From Here" is one of Turn 3's most interesting, inspiring tracks: a fuzzy-headed, sprawling rocker, kept in place by an insistent piano loop, slowly driving drums, and searing, transmission-from-the-outer-limits guitars. It's a hypnotic, blissed-out jewel of a tune.

And those are just the highlights on a collection devoid of lowlights. Turn 3 (available here: is beyond solid, and the Almost There folks are doing the Lord's work by putting this stuff out. Someone's gotta lead the fight against dad rock in A-Town, and it might as well be these guys. Onward, gentlemen.