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Label anthologies such as Slaying Since 1996 have many purposes, but the two that hold the most water are fairly simple. Because labels are in the business of releasing slices of musical history, anthologies serve as primers to the moments and musicians they captured. And as most labels with anthologies started before the .mp3 obliterated the way we consume music, oftentimes their early releases only exist as dusty stacks of wax on a shelf; the anthology brings these to listeners on both sides of the turntable. This Suicide Squeeze Records two-disc compilation covers nearly all of the wide range of artists with whom they’ve worked, including out of print tracks from The Black Heart Procession, Melvins, Of Montreal and The Constantines, as well as unreleased tracks by Russian Circles, Crystal Skulls, Earlimart and quite a few others. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on your taste), the bigger names on the comp are the biggest letdowns: the Elliot Smith, Modest Mouse, Les Savy Fav and The Unicorns tracks are largely filler except to the biggest of fans. And if judged by the songs included here, most of the lesser known acts like The Scenic Vermont, Goon Moon and Aspera will stay low profile. With a few notable exceptions (S, Pedro the Lion [whom I rarely enjoy, so this is doubly impressive] and the Iron and Wine/Six Parts Seven collaboration), the second disc, made up almost completely of unreleased tracks, easily trumps the first in quality. The Phil Spectorish pop of The Aislers Set demo for “What Fades First” is instrumentally spare but melodically looms large. Crystal Skulls’ keyboard jangle on their demo version of “Baby Boy” makes great neighbors with the demented psych pop bounding from Of Montreal. Hella, Russian Circles, Metal Hearts and Black Mountain all sound top shelf as well, making me wonder how many of these ended up either OOP or unreleased. Slaying Since 1996 is an accurate portrait of Suicide Squeeze Records’ past and present, which is a testament to their ability to sum up the labels’ musical identity. Fans of the label will be pleased; the rest of us will pick and choose and be happy for it anyways.
Of Montreal, “Voltaic Crusher/Undrum to Muted Da”
The Aislers Set, “What Fades First” (demo)
Black Heart Procession, “After the Ladder”
Crystal Skulls, “Baby Boy” (demo)
With all the rhythm coursing through the members of Antibalas and their music, it makes sense for the group’s sound to likewise stay in motion. From its inception Antibalas has been an American take on Nigerian Afrobeat, one that’s been further and further refined with each subsequent release. Security, the band’s fourth full-length album, dances the group through Afrobeat and into new territory. Enigmatic in tone and densely constructed, “Beaten Metal” standoffishly greets listeners with off-kilter horn stabs, lock-step percussion, chirps and chatter of guitar and organ before breaking down into a metallic groove played on scrap metal. Antibalas wades deeper into uncharted waters by scaling back tempos and focusing on creating an atmosphere, one more suited for a sensual horizontal mambo than frantic footwork. Except for a few brass bursts “Sanctuary” and “Age” gently bubble along, kept in motion by calm guitar swipes and a lulling combination of keys and vibes. “Hilo” is actually dominated by keyboards and fleshed out with untroubled vocal harmonies, making it one of the first Antibalas tunes you could cuddle with. Security has its up-tempo moments as well, like the excellent vocal-driven “War Hero”; but only on the extended “Filibuster XXX” do things get truly hot. Fitting of its title, the first seven minutes serve as a warm up to business at hand: calling out the G.O.P. for its many flaws. Though it lacks the timely bite of “Indictment,” their previous political jam, “Filibuster” gets the body moving and ready to menacingly shake fists at any nearby suits. Musically Security defies its title and flouts expectations of Antibalas’ abilities. Whether they hold on to this current aesthetic is irrelevant; Security suggests whatever they do will be moving.
Antibalas, “Beaten Metal”