Sounds Eclectic Vol. 3 is the latest in a series of in-studio performance compilations that up-and-coming bands have recorded on Nic Harcourt’s syndicated radio show, Sounds Eclectic, broadcast from KCRW in Santa Monica. The show has jumpstarted the careers of many musicians, including Alexi Murdoch, whose CDs eventually find themselves spinning in old blue Volvo station wagons and being discussed in coffee shops (the discussions usually begin with the preface of “I heard it on NPR”) by women who dress like anthropologists and men who have Martin acoustic guitars in their attics.
Harcourt, a sort of avuncular John Peelgood for the public radio set who may or may not have pneumatic vacuum tubes running directly from his studio to the acquisitions departments at WB and The O.C., seems to see himself as a tastemaker through Sounds Eclectic. His liner notes are full of lines like these: “I got this demo from a friend, and I had it on the air immediately”; “this was [Damien Rice’s] first ever visit to play in the U.S.”; “it was Jem’s first ever radio performance”; “this track was taken from Interpol’s first ever radio session”; “Again, I heard an early [Franz Ferdinand] EP and invited the guys to our program on their first visit to the U.S.”
Firsty first first first.
Self-diagnosed “eclectics,” especially those with first-on-the-block hang-ups, make me very skeptical, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what the point is with these compilations. Is it just to promote the show? Does he want to turn people on to new bands? Did he catch some particularly amazing performances?
Some of the performances are interesting, such as an explosive track by the Mexican band Kinky. A cover by Iron and Wine of the Flaming Lips’ “Waiting for a Superman” is excellent. You might think that Sam Beam’s songs all sound the same, and this cover confirms that sentiment, but in a good way. Paul Weller, Damien Rice, Steve Earle, and Radiohead all prove the strength of their songs by stripping them down to acoustic guitar.
Other tracks, though, are quixotic misfires. Unfortunately, the Flaming Lips stripped down “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” to just piano and vocals. Arrangements make the Lips, but “spare” is not their forte. On “It’s the Sun,” the anything-but-spare Polyphonic Spree provide further evidence that trumpets should be banned from rock and pop music unless you are Burt Bacharach and it’s a flugelhorn.
I think I see where Harcourt is coming from here. Some chaff-separating is inevitable when groups rework their songs for performance, but the wheat makes it worth it. Still, I don’t get the “eclectic” label. By the time this CD came out, everyone had heard these bands already. In a world where the consumer can download anything he wants, technology is bringing new possibilities to hidden talents all over the world, and the bandwidth is finally wide enough to bring the two together, no one needs a public radio show to decide for them which new music is worth listening to.