The San Francisco based Shanti Project, to quote from
the sleeve of this excellent compilation, "provides
education, practical assistance, and emotional support
to people in need." This involves various
kinds of physical and mental support for people living
with serious illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.
Part of the proceeds from this compilation will
go to the Shanti Project, so there's a noble enough
reason to get a copy, but what about the music?
Cause-based compilations are often notoriously uneven
affairs, with a wide artist base ensuring
not only something for everyone,
but something to rub everyone up the wrong way.
Firstly, this collection narrows the field of
contributors down to a manageable five, each providing
two tracks. Secondly, the contributors themselves
preserve a clear distance between the music and their
egos. All the bands featured here are to some degree
perceived as left-field, with their various group
identities subservient to the music they produce. Six
of the 10 tracks here are instrumentals, further
distancing the music from conventional notions of
"pop" personality. The collection is, then, curiously
anonymous, but in a good way. And even though the
sequence of tracks is varied appearing less generic
than on the two previous Shanti compilations the
compilation works best as something to be taken as a whole.
Interestingly for a benefit album, and in keeping with
the pattern established by earlier Shanti collections,
the mood here isn't overly bright. Instead the feeling is
more mournful, elegiac. The Black Heart
Procession's "Exit Out" leads off with a dark,
stately elegance, setting the tone for a kind of
sad but triumphant twilit gloom. The second Black
Heart Procession track, "Sort It Up‚" is a shuffling,
wheezing rhythm, a dubwise carnival waltz of
clattering percussion. Califone's take on Americana is
equally skewed but less cinematic. "Michigan Girls"
sounds like Astral Weeks abstracted, its
impressionistic song-craft a blurry flow of drawled,
murmured lyrics backed by rustic post-rock.
"Cluck Old Hen" is hypnotically skitterish, a loose,
fluttering campfire ghost-dance, its rootsy fiddle and
percussive jauntiness offset by an otherworldly air.
Arab Strap's dour narratives can test the patience
when stretched over an entire album, but here
Aidan Moffat's voice provides a confessional intimacy
that fits the album's context. "We Know Where You
Live" has a swirling rhythmic pull and dense guitar
flurries over which Moffat purrs with a deadpan
malevolence. "Devil Tips" substitutes melancholy for
menace, with Moffat singing rather than narrating, in
a lethargic croak.
If Arab Strap's contributions are
the gloomiest things here, Kinski's are the
nearest to rock 'n' roll. Also a band whose
longueurs are only too apparent over an album's
length, here they provide a dynamic contrast to
the more contemplative efforts. "Semaphore" is a
cracking piece of muscular, motorik rock, growing from
oscillating electronica into crunching guitar chords.
"Schedule for Using Pillows and Bean Bags" is a longer,
textural piece of reverberating guitar and Neu!-style
Perhaps most distinctively, Icelandic phenomenon
Sigur Rós provide an epic, quasi-devotional display
with spectral choirboy vocals and deep volleys of
bowed guitar on "Bíum Bíum Bambaló" and some
impressive if atypical Prog bombast on the
organ-dominated "Dánarfregnir Og Jaroarfarir." At its
best, Sigur Rós' music evokes a kind of elegant
sadness, a desolate beauty, perfectly apposite for
The artists' contributions are split up and spread out
over the album so that they play alongside contrasting
tracks, varying the texture while maintaining a
consistently engaging tone. Including some tracks
recorded exclusively for this album, or unavailable
elsewhere, this is fine collection of varied but
thematically sympathetic songs and instrumental pieces
that stands on its own merits.