Future Soundtrack for America
A fundraising CD compilation released by Barsuk in collaboration with MoveOn.Org & Music For America. The project was organized by They Might Be Giants principal John Flansburgh & features REM, Blink-182, Fountains Of Wayne, & previously unreleased tracks from Bright Eyes, Death Cab For Cutie, David Byrne, OK Go, Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, TMBG, late singer/songwriter Elliot Smith, & one track, "Day After Tomorrow", taken from Tom Waits forthcoming studio album "Real Gone". One hundred percent of our & McSweeney's profits will go to non-profit progressive organizations, including Music For America, Common Assets, The Sierra Club, & others.
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Though primarily focused on "indie" acts, this album is still pretty diverse, which can be both a good and bad thing (whose idea was it to follow up a typically jazz-pop-rap track by Will.i.am from the Black-eyed Peas with They Might Be Giants' cover of William Henry Harrison's 1840's campaign song?). Highlights include the aforementioned TMBG song, OKGO's surprisingly subtle cover of The Zombies "This Will Be Our Year", former Soul Coughing vocalist Mike Doughty's "Move On", Laura Cantrell's haunting rendition of country classic "Sam Stone", and the late Elliott Smith's "A Distorted Reality...", soon to be available on his posthumous album From The Basement On The Hill. The problem lies in too many live/alternate versions of things; the "acoustic" rendition of Fountains Of Wayne's "Everything's Ruined" improves on the far too muted original from their debut album, but the Blink 182 remix is barely different from the original (which isn't a good song to begin with), the Bright Eyes live track is gratingly drawn out, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live version of "Date With The Night" is too murky to really capture their manic live shows. As a compilation, this album has a few flaws, and is a bit overstuffed with alternate versions and live material, but overall it's got enough good material to warrant purchase if you like at least a handful of the bands involved, and again, you believe in the cause.
Whether you know the bands or not, my guess is you will enjoy most of the tracks. This is something rare in this type of recording (a typical case that comes to mind about how these tend to sound is a triple-CD album that was released to help Tibet, most of which was terrible). In the "Future Soundtrack for America" there's the veterans: R.E.M., Tom Waits, The Flaming Lips, David Byrne; as well as several younger acts coming up strong. All of them give themselves into this album "like there's no tomorrow" and the result is one solid album from end to end, with 20 great tracks bound to stick around.
You could have bought it for the cause it stood for, back in 2004. The truth is today it is still great music, and it will continue to be so for a good while. And if you think I am doing this for political reasons, let me share a little bit with you: I normally listen to the music in an album first, and only after many, many times, do I sit down to pay attention to the lyrics. That hasn't yet happened with this album, and I already love it.
All songs are domestically unreleased, some just for this compilation, some only available on import CD's or obscure B-sides. They range from funny to serious to light-hearted to dead serious. Thankfully, there is no "one major highlight" - there are several. Continuing a pop-single success streak, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas delivers a bouncy, fun, and poignant jam called "Money" (wonderful use of strings), Ben Kweller has more fun with "Jerry Falwell Destroyed the Earth" than he did on his entire last album (while still making quite the political stance), R.E.M. delivers a powerful one that perfectly mixes their latter-day electro-experimentalism with their classic songwriting style circa-"Automatic for the People." Again, there is something for everyone.
There are some truly odd choices though - Clem Snide deliver the all-accapella "Ballad of David Icke," while the Yeah Yeah Yeahs give forth a live version of "Date With the Night" where Karen O's voice is screeching so much, she almost sounds like a man at the start of the song. Meanwhile, the Long Winters pulls off a truly unique Flaming Lips imitation, while Blink-182 deliver a remix of "I Miss You" that starts off even more emotional than the original mix but sounds almost exactly the same as the original around the 2nd chorus. Bright Eyes sounds as emotional as ever (though, one can argue, he does on every song) in a live take of "Going for the Gold," and Tom Waits delivers the most classic Tom Waits he knows how to give.
Then, there are highlights that define "highlights." The Flaming Lips offer a stripped-down version of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" that makes such a quirky song actually sound tragic, OK Go unleash a first-rate Zombies cover that (surprisingly) improves on the original, They Might Be Giants cover "Tippecanoe And Tyler Too" and make it sound both fun and serious at the same time (it's quite the feat), Death Cab for Cutie give one of their most haunting songs since "Styrofoam Plates," the late Elliott Smith proves that, even postmortem, he's still as vital as ever, and former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty delivers a solo highlight with "Move On," a fun, poignant, and catchy pop ditty that just might be the best guilty pleasure on the whole album.
Unlike most modern-day compilations, this set is designed for a fan of many forms of music - the more the merrier. You'll at least like SOMETHING on here, and, whatever your political stance may be, you'll probably have a good time with it too.