Review: Various Artists - "Family Portrait"

Gum/Playlounge/Joanna Gruesome/KEEL HER - Family Portrait
(Art Is Hard 2012)

"Two decades of punk rock fit into ten minutes of pure energy"

 What started out as a quick look around Bandcamp this morning turned into what seemed like stumbling upon a treasure chest of grainy, fuzz-soaked indie rock. About twenty minutes of mindless clicking suddenly led me to the page of a record label called Art Is Hard. Thinking that the moniker sounded suspiciously like that of uber-reliable Seattle label Hardly Art, I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did because (especially since I've been listening to so much fIREHOSE lately) I found exactly what I've been searching for since I first got into lo-fi music. This humble little four-track 7" sampler (8 tracks if you buy digital, but digital's for losers anyway)  was able to effortlessly fit two decades of punk rock into ten minutes of pure energy.

 The second I began listening to the first track, "Cherryade" by Gum, I was absolutely hooked. Layers of sonic fuzz, slacker-rock vocals mixed deep into the background and a jittery, over-caffeinated aesthetic. Bridging the gap between the Descendents and My Bloody Valentine, I couldn't think of anything more perfect. Playlounge's "Conor, Oh Burst?", the title being a playful jab at Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, sorta reminds me of "Take Away" by Big Drill Car but is just a tad too short and is probably the weakest link if the EP.

 Flipping over to the B-side, we're treated to unpredictable bursts of blistering noise interspersed breathtakingly with quiet strumming brought to you by Joanna Gruesome. (What is it with Art is Hard and indie rock puns?) It's unpredictable and it's undeniably influenced by Bug-era Dinosaur Jr. I almost expected J. Mascis to chime in at any time. Instead I got twee boy-girl vocals reminiscent of Los Campesinos and cutesy lyrics like "What's your favorite band?/Duran Duran... And the Beatles." The three and-a-half minute length isn't enough. I wish it could go on forever. The last track, "Norman" by KEEL HER is an extremely messy blend of two paragons of 90s punk, Built to Spill and Yo La Tengo. You can imagine the song littered with crushed cans of Mello Yello and empty Zingers wrappers. This is a room that doesn't need to be cleaned, though, and it's a perfect ending to the EP. The sampler did its job quite well, and I'll be sure to check out the Art Is Hard label some more. For fans of Dinosaur Jr. and Yuck, this album was absolutely made for you! Listen below.