Do music “scenes” still exist? The advent of technology has seemingly rendered these communities obsolete, as national and even global acts can connect with fans and other musicians across great distances. Local bands used to grow up together, bouncing ideas off one another to create a scene that had a definite sound and aesthetic. Gerard Cosloy looks to answer that looming question with this compilation, put out by his Matador Records. Cosloy now lives in Austin, Texas, and this musical snapshot gathers together 19 Austin punk and garage-rock bands who all roam the Red River district on a weekly basis.
Matador is legendary in its own right, and that’s due to its top-notch musical taste and roster. Yet Casual Victim Pile (anagram of “Live Music Capitol”) is downright mediocre; oddly, the album seems to be aimed at locals instead of a national audience, the reverse of many compilations past. A good chunk of the record features punk rock that’s competent but not revelatory (The Young, Bad Sports, Wild America, The Stuffies, The No No No Hopes). Harlem is the biggest name here, but their offering (“Beautiful & Very Smart”) seems tossed-off for a recent Matador signee. The Golden Boys mug as the requisite revved-up bar band on “Older Than You,” but it’s nothing the Hold Steady haven’t already done before. Most of these bands sound stuck in the “emulate-your-idol” phase without offering anything new.
Consequently, the few standout songs really rise to the top. Follow That Bird! kicks the comp off with a heavily syncopated jolt of post-punk, while Woven Bones snarls with fuzzy, apocalyptic abandon. The heretically-named Elvis grimaces through “Mommy’s Little Soldiers,” a plodding slice of gutter blues that slowly projects itself from the breakneck surroundings. Ironically, the comp’s best song is offered up by a band that doesn’t even call Austin home: Denton’s Tre Orsi beefs up a shaggy melody with guitar pyrotechnics and a good sense of dynamics on “The Engineer.” For a city as crowded with talent as Austin, a compilation like this obviously needs more than just a handful of memorable songs.
Music-scene comps used to be a mainstay among indie labels. Before the rise of the Internet, they were a way to connect the dots and show the world that great music is happening everywhere, not just on the charts. Now, anybody with a computer can do the same on a daily basis, so what precisely is the reasoning behind this collection? Perhaps it’s a nostalgic ode to those older, more localized days, but the unevenness of this compilation, coupled with the myriad musical choices a fan can pick from at will, makes this a bit unnecessary and misleading.