The scene over at Kill Rock Stars must be something like an episode of The Real World. If the selection of songs on Tracks and Fields is any indication, the people who run this label must be so diverse in their tastes and personalities they just have to want to kill each other. This compilation, the follow-up to 2002’s Fields and Streams, is a double-disc collection of forty-one incredibly eclectic tracks culled not only from bands on the KRS roster, but also from bands the label likes. The two discs stand as twin haystacks, however, each possessing just a few sharp needles.
The selection on Tracks is fairly sparse. Offerings from the Legend!, dos, Jucifer, the Capricorns and about half the other acts comprise a haunting play list that might fit nicely on Vincent Price’s iPod. An overwhelming number of songs are based on either dark synth-rock templates, or far more bizarre formulas. Two singer/bassists make up dos, for example, and the end product is something like a duet between William Shatner and a Disney villain.
Still, the compilation has some fantastic moments. His Name is Alive creates an untouchable groove within a mostly rock-based formula, much like Soul Coughing in the days of Ruby Vroom. Xiu Xiu, whose presence is a strong selling point for the collection, is represented by a live solo version of “Clowne Towne.” Though the recording has about the quality of your least favorite bootleg, the song is as piercing as it is on Fabulous Muscles. KRS saves the best for last, closing the first half of the compilation with “R U Listenin’ ” by Alaska!, a breath of fresh air in its polished sound and overall non-threatening demeanor.
Tracks offers up a wider selection of formula-based tunes, but Fields boasts a far more experimental mix. With five fewer tracks than its companion, the songs on the second half stretch out in both length and genre, offering some danceable tracks (Measles Mumps Rubella, Slumber Party), some rockers (Sahara Hotnights, and boy do they rock), and some echoes of the stranger formulas from Tracks (try the epic-length Siamese Dream-outtake sound of C Average).
The second disc does, however, offer two of the collection’s most valuable assets at the moment: Devendra Banhart and the Decemberists. The offering from the former is a pretty little demo version of “Poughkeepsi,” his tribute to Elvis Presley’s canon. The Decemberists present “Everything I Try To Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right,” an unreleased gem probably axed from Her Majesty at the risk of making the album far too good.
The mix as a whole is intrinsically bizarre, with moments that are practically unlistenable and those that are intensely gorgeous. To hear the “next big thing” on these discs is unlikely, but many of the true songwriters that appear (Nedelle, Brooke) have a Cat Power-esque approachability that could launch them into moderately successful careers. As for the other acts, anything is possible. All I know is that I can’t wait to see who gets voted off of the Kill Rock Stars staff next.