An Attention to Detail and Shape: “Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2” and Comfort, “Avalon” Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 17 April 2013 05:13
The first track of any various-artists compilation bears a heavy burden, required to set the tone for what follows even though the performer had no role in crafting the remainder of the songs. Chris Coleslaw’s “Sterling ILL” does this on Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2 with a verse that succinctly repeats a common complaint about the Midwest, and the Quad Cities: “So New York grows / Hollywood glows / Well here in the middle / Well they say it just snows.”

Coleslaw’s delivery over acoustic guitar is poignant without being doleful – matter of fact yet clearly felt.

The sequencing here is smart – implicitly framing the second limited-edition local compilation as a rebuttal to the argument that our community is a dull dead end and then backing it up with “Sterling ILL” and 11 other exclusive tracks. (Hello Quad Cities is available on colored vinyl only, but each copy comes with a digital-download code.) Last fall’s Volume 1 was notable for its consistency, and the follow-up comes close to rivaling it.

The introspective mood of Coleslaw’s track is quickly obliterated by Speaking of Secrets’ “Night Owls” and The Orchard Keepers’ “Optiks” – the first a power-pop number galloping toward a release it never quite reaches, and the second a slinky, swaggering, and sharp rock track notable for the clear articulation of its parts – dragging your ears all over the mix.

That opening quarter is the strongest section of Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2. Yet as on Volume 1, there’s something to recommend each track, and there are plenty of other highlights.

US.MODE’s “Proceed Without Caution” pulls off a bit of a magic act, with each of its instrumental components distinct and distinctive but seamlessly contributing to a concise whole.

White Zephyr’s “Brain on ... ” has a solid foundation in its bass, two-guitar, and percussion hook but distinguishes itself with vocal harmonies and occasionally wavering singing – at once precise and genially lo-fi and sloppy.

The Post Mortems’ “My Villainess Floats” initially seems poorly mixed – or perhaps missing some tracks. The bass and drums are clear and foregrounded, while the vocals sound buried and gauzy and the guitar is nearly absent. But as layers are slowly added, it culminates in something like Queens of the Stone Age stripped of a dominant guitar – strangely successful.

The prevalent indie-rock vibe of Volume 2 makes some tracks feel out-of-place. Idpyramid’s synth instrumental “Humanimal” is an obvious outlier, but a bigger problem is that despite being deft in its melody and effective in its intentionally disruptive flourishes on top, it sounds like the beginning of a larger piece, quietly dying just when it seems to be building its climax.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dynoride’s “Endless Cliche” is a sterling bit of Nirvana worship until it breaks free of the mimicry in the guitar solo. Like “Humanimal,” its stylistic departure isn’t crippling, but it has a central shortcoming that is – derivativeness in this case.

Busted Chandeliers’ “Anyway” closes things with slow, piano- and guitar-led Americana, with the singing largely drained of emotion – a spent texture appropriate to the song and its position on the compilation that’s reinforced by the mostly languorous playing. That track probably wouldn’t work anywhere else on Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2, but it’s a demonstration of the attention to detail and to shape that has, two volumes in, made this series more than just a sampler of the area’s music scene.

Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2 will be available starting on Record Store Day – April 20 – at Ragged Records (418 East Second Street, Davenport; RaggedRecords.org). The store will also be hosting sets that day by Idpyramid (10:15 a.m.), Speaking of Secrets (11:15 a.m.), Busted Chaneliers (12:15 p.m.), Puddle Jumper (1:15 p.m.), and The Post Mortems (2:15 p.m.).

The release of Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2 will also be marked at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island; RIBCO.com) on Friday, May 3, with sets by Dynoride, White Zephyr, Puddle Jumper, Comfort, Subatlantic, and Chris Coleslaw. The show starts at 8 p.m., and cover is $5.

For more information on Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2, visit HelloQuadCities.com.

Comfort, Avalon

I didn’t mention that Comfort has a track on Hello Quad Cities – Volume 2 (called “For Laura”), because the band – really Ian Lambach assisted by a few friends – has a full album it released online in December. Avalon is available for free at Cmfrt.BandCamp.com, and its CD release will celebrated with a show April 19 at Downtown Central Perk.

In an e-mail, Lambach called it “Smashing Pumpkins production on bedroom recordings,” and I’ll run with the comparison: Like Billy Corgan’s band, Avalon has a tendency toward excess – a concept album that’s too full of disparate ideas that aren’t reconciled despite running nearly an hour, and one that needs an editor. Five of the final six songs run more than five minutes, with three of them coming in over seven.

I’ll stress that one of Corgan’s charms is his excess, and the same is true of Comfort and Avalon. Even when the record doesn’t quite work, it has an admirable ambition, a clear vision, and strong chops.

The relatively compact first five tracks show a songwriter and performer in full command of different moods and styles. The opening “Overture” builds a warmly enveloping atmosphere with synthesizers, and out of that fog comes the gentle, sparely fey title track – which, it must be noted, runs only a minute and a half and is all the better for it. “Walking/Running” shatters the dream-like vibe with jangly power pop, and “The Words” and “Going Around” reveal other aspects – the former carefully constructed guitar pop and the latter a rousing, largely acoustic rocker.

Then we get to the long-song back end, kicking off with eight minutes of “Stay with Me,” which starts as a singer/songwriter ditty, is overrun by thick keyboards in the chorus, and finally settles on anthemic hard rock. A similar identity crisis plagues “Dream II,” whose majestic guitar explosions overwhelm rather than balance its quieter passages.

“Gone or: Forever” is the last of the epic songs, and the most successful. Instead of joining familiar styles, it’s a touch alien from the outset, with its busy rhythms and almost chiming, Eastern-flavored background guitar.

Similarly effective is “Warning,” in which the opening noise and almost pained vocal harmonies unravel the overall lull of the song and foreshadow its ultimate catharsis.

Finally, though, the opening five-track volley and the closing “The Ocean” show that Comfort is at its best when exploring its styles one at a time. I admire the scope and general skill of Avalon, but this album proves there’s such a thing as being too dynamic.

Comfort will perform on Friday, April 19, at Downtown Central Perk (226 West Third Street, Davenport) in a show also featuring Errol Hem, Shadow & Keenote, and Lewis Knudsen & the Bandits. The show starts at 8 p.m., and cover is $3.