Preserve, Volume 1 by Various Artists (Review)
One might expect a benefit compilation for a carnivore preservation society to be filled with the likes of metal and aggro bands (or at the very least, the Nuge), rather than a cross-section of indie-dom’s quieter side. After all, we are talking about the big cats here — tigers, leopards, jaguars, etc. — ferocious predators who aren’t really known for their softer, introspective qualities. One would expect a compilation as quiet and gentle as this one to be in support of animals that are, well, quieter and gentler, like rabbits or deer. You know… prey.
Alright, alright, I’m getting a bit too smart alecky now. And I really have no reason to be, because A.) North Carolina’s Carnivore Preservation Trust is a cause worth supporting (after all, predators need love too), and B.) this compilation is really just too good for such smarmy comments.
Preserve, Volume 1 boasts some fairly well-known artists, which obviously serves as a draw for completists. Not surprisingly, they don’t disappoint at all. The Decemberists kick things off with “Like A Lion.” A bit more stripped down than their brilliant Castaways And Cutouts album, “Like A Lion” is nonetheless a lovely track, with Colin Meloy’s plaintive vocals supported by orchestral stabs, light programming, and electronic accents.
Sadly, the Denison Witmer track (“Forgiven”) isn’t a new one — it also appears on Of Joy And Sorrow, albeit in a more electrified version — but it’s still a fine showcase for his gentle voice and deft songwriting. Spokane’s contribution, the sparse “Temper,” is one of the compilation’s more delicate tracks. Plucked strings just seem to creep by, as if afraid of calling too much attention to themselves, and the male/female vocals are more a haze than anything else, drifting along with the graceful shapes of guitar and cello.
“Autumn And Moon” finds Barzin adopting a slightly more upfront sound, stripping away the sleepy, dimly lit atmospherics of his earlier material, as well as the aching steel guitar that made his self-titled album so arresting. However, it’s still a subtle and moving track, with his breathy vocals floating over sparse guitar and cello, light percussion, and a framework of sonorous piano notes.
Finally, the aptly-titled “O Lazy Days” finds M. Ward out on his back porch late one summer afternoon, leaning back in his favorite chair with his baseball cap pulled down low, tossing off this bluesy acoustic number that’s as playful as it is poignant. And Mike Coykendale provides the perfect touch when he wanders on over from next door, plops himself down on the steps, and throws in some well-placed harmonica.
However, those artists are only a small slice of the total talent featured on the comp. Most of the contributors were artists that were wholly unfamiliar to me. Personally, I find that’s where the real joy lies, in discovering and getting acquainted with bands that would’ve otherwise remained unknown. Although it would take far too long to write about every track on the comp — which is tempting, because I’m hard-pressed to think of a single weak point among the comp’s 20 songs — there are several that I definitely want to spotlight.
Work Clothes’ “The Flying Bishop (Your Secret World)” is a rollicking, lo-fi number in the vein of Damien Jurado’s work with Gathered In Song, driven by crashing drums and careening guitar melodies. And while I doubt it’s a stage moniker, I find John Guilt’s name quite appropriate given the haunted, sombre nature of his music — “23 Revolutions” plays like the finest from Songs:Ohia, with Guilt’s strained vocals playing out like some pained confession. Snailhouse’s “Witches And Snowmen” is a beautifully humble track whose soft cello flourishes, cleanly plucked acoustic guitars, and yearning vocals resembles the more subdued moments on The Pernice Brothers’ Overcome By Happiness.
Peace Harbor’s aptly-titled “Night Has Come” is one of the most haunting songs on the compilation. Mercurial acoustic guitar melodies and a skeletal piano slide right alongside muted, wheezing atmospherics, while strained vocals intone somewhere behind the thick veil that seems to be drawn in front of the song. At times, reminiscent of David Eugene Edwards’ Woven Hand, or perhaps even a less morose Black Heart Procession, it’s a track that easily rises to the top of an already stellar collection of songs.
Jim Yoshii Pile-Up’s “Burning Flag” is so stark and stripped-down that it feels slightly uncomfortable listening to the solemn, inexorable piano and yearning vocals. But that only adds to the impact of the song’s scorching lyrics (“Your love won’t keep you clean… when all you’re left with is your powerlessness”). While one could use a term like “atmospheric” to describe a good number of the songs on here, Poem Rocket’s “Ileah” does truly seem otherworldly due to the droning acoustic instrumentation and the ghostly vocals that weave their way through the music (think The Iditarod or maybe even bits of Tanakh’s Appalachian psychedelia).
The comp closes with Shearwater’s aching “Remember The Tiger,” which serves as a fitting end to this understated and unassuming compilation. While I’ve described other songs on the comp as fragile, “Remember The Tiger” is doubly so; you’re almost afraid to move or breathe while the track is playing, lest you somehow unravel its soft piano and heartwrenching falsetto.
Simply put, Preserve, Volume One is a stellar comp, solid in every regard. When I picked up the disc after not having listened to it for a few weeks, I was surprised to discover just how much these tracks had ingrained themselves on me — moreso than I had expected. And every time I thought I’d found the track on the album, that absolutely essential, “worth the purchase price alone” track, the next song would come on and be just as good (if not slightly better). And some of the biggest and best surprises came from artists previously unknown to me (Peace Harbor, Shearwater), exposing me to a few more artists worth seeking out. I really can’t ask for more from a compilation.