Compilation Champs
[SXSW 05 : let the distance keep us together]

Welcome to the fifth edition of the Compilation Champs South by Southwest CD. I must start off by thanking my lovely wife Brooke for allowing me to use the horribly embarrassing photo of her for the cover. No one else can look so good rocking out in a Chris De Burgh t-shirt!

It was great to be with you this year in Austin. Some of you are old friends by now, and some I've just met. But I hope that you enjoy at least some of these songs. You'll find a healthy dose of Canadian content (marked with a maple leaf) as well as other songs that have meant something to me this year. Feel free to get in touch with your comments (jamesATconsolationchampsDOTcom).

Britt Daniel - Let The Distance Keep Us Together (2002, from HOME: Volume IV, split EP with Bright Eyes)

"It's so easy to say you don't care, it's so easy to say you don't need it"

I love the way Britt Daniel's songs are getting warmer and warmer. Spoon's early stuff is kind of angular and distant, but as he gets older, he seems to be embracing his audience in a new way. Spoon have a new album coming in May and I can't wait. Maybe they'll actually come back to my town.

Toots and the Maytals - Funky Kingston (1973, from Funky Kingston)

"All across America people keep on asking me for Funky Kingston, but I ain't got none"

Toots and his Maytals were part of the first wave of Jamaican ska music that broke in the 1960s. The amazing thing is that they are still touring as a band all these years later. This is just music that makes you want to dance.

Modest Mouse - Bury Me With It (2004, from Good News For People Who Love Bad News)

"Life handed us a paycheck, we said 'We worked harder than this!'"

One of my favourite CDs of 2004. This band manages to ruminate on many deep things while rocking out. Singer Isaac Brock's lisp always makes the lyrics particularly moving to me, for some twisted reason.

Jilted John - Jilted John (1979, from True Love Stories

"Gordon is a moron"

This is a great silly song. John has been dumped and his girlfriend his run off with the better-looking Gordon. Lots of us have been there.

Wire - Start To Move (1977, from Pink Flag)

"No bush but trees thicken, which now, rooster or chicken"

Wire are one of the most influential bands of the punk or post-punk era, and when I say influential, I mean that hardly anyone actually listens to their music, which is too bad. Pink Flag is full of short bursts like this song. Wire seemed like a band with more ideas than actual songs, but this one seems to work.

Rheostatics - Row (1995, from Introducing Happiness)

"All the clouds get together and cry"

Tim Vesely plays bass and has a knack for writing the only Rheostatics songs that ever get airplay. He wrote their almost-hit "Claire" from this CD and also this pretty song. His voice is not as sure as Martin Tielli's, and that fragility adds something to this one. The yodelling helps, too!

The Magnetic Fields - I Don't Want To Get Over You (2000, from 69 Love Songs, Volume 1)

"I guess I should take Prozac, right, and just smile all night at somebody new"

Stephen Merritt is pretty amazing. He took on this project to write 69 love songs and most of them are actually pretty good. This is one of my favourites. I also love his gravelly voice.

Max Webster - Oh War! (1977, from High Class In Borrowed Shoes)

"Oh, war, history says you're in it, your sister's boyfriend's in it"

I loved Max Webster in the late '70s. They were a thoroughly Canadian art-rock outfit, with crazy clothes and weird lyrics. This song was the first time I'd ever heard the word "fuck" in a song, and I liked the world-weary cynicism.

Martin Tielli - My Sweet Relief (2001, from We didn't even suspect that he was the poppy salesman)

"I'm happy being here all alone, while everybody's going dancing"

Martin Tielli is the guitarist and one of the songwriters and vocalists from the Rheostatics. He has the most amazingly expressive voice and his playing always knocks me out, too. He's one of those performers who lets the music take him somewhere else and he often looks quite goofy, scrunching up his face or doing rockstar kicks. Whatever. He doesn't seem to care.

Hot Hot Heat - Bandages (2002, from Make Up The Breakdown)

"Bandages have advantages, too"

All the current New Wave revivalists (The Futureheads, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, et al) make me slightly nostalgic for the days of assymetrical haircuts and skinny ties. Here are some guys from the rock n' roll mecca of Victoria, British Columbia.

Belle and Sebastian - Wrapped Up In Books (2003, from Dear Catastrophe Waitress)

"Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books, Our inclinations, are hidden in looks"

Soft rock assassins of wit.

Teenage Fanclub - Neil Jung (1995, from Grand Prix)

"You were changing, didn't want to stay the same, re-arranging, dropped a letter from your name"

I bought Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque (on cassette, no less!) back in 1992 and after a few listens, dismissed them. Luckily, I grew up and rediscovered this amazing band a few years ago. Norman Blake's ability to write catchy and smart songs is even more amazing over the course of eight albums in a dozen years. Calling them "power pop revivalists" as many critics do is a disservice. Pick up their career-spanning Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub and get the full impact.

Ugly Casanova - Barnacles (2002, from Sharpen Your Teeth)

"I don't know me and you don't know you, so we fit so good together cuz I knew you like I knew myself. We clung on like barnacles on a boat, even though the ship sinks you know you can't let go"

Ugly Casanova was a side project/one-off from Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock and a few friends. Apparently, a rabid and slightly crazed Modest Mouse fan kept sending lyrics to the band, and this album is the result. The story might be a myth, but the music is good, though. But I wonder why they didn't just release this as a Modest Mouse record.

Larry Norman - Six Sixty Six (1976, from In Another Land)

"With the face of an angel and the heart of a beast…"

The grand old man of Jesus Music, Larry Norman was a born-again hippie who proceeded to turn "Christian music" on its ear. In the tradition of folk singers like Bob Dylan, Norman has stubbornly followed his own direction and at last notice, was still making music. Frank Black covered this song on his 1998 CD, Frank Black and the Catholics. The song is a chilling reference to the "last days" when "the Beast" will deceive many people into following him. It's chilling because the lyrics could describe just about any time and any place in human history. We're pretty stupid.

Rheostatics - Fish Tailin' (1995, from Introducing Happiness)

"you didn't know it wasn't loaded, but the joke died when you exploded"

Another helping of Canadian content from Etobicoke's own Rheostatics. This is another Martin Tielli contribution. What other rock band uses the word "ossified" in their lyrics?

The New Pornographers - The Laws Have Changed (2003, from Electric Version)

"It was crime at the time but the laws have changed, yeah"

I was late to the party with this band. I mean, who knew what a band called The New Pornographers were going to sound like. What they do sound like is very good indeed. Great pop hooks and Neko Case's interesting voice make a strangely compelling mixture.

The Dears - Lost In The Plot (2003, from No Cities Left)

"I promise not to cry anymore"

I was delighted to discover the Morrissey-loving Dears one day while browsing in Soundscapes, a great independent music store here in Toronto. Though the band are from Montreal, one of the members, Natalia Yanchak, was someone I knew briefly about ten years ago. At that time, she was an awkward teenager and we met through a BBS for "writers". We only met in person once, at a book launch, but afterwards she sent me copies of all her zines and some tapes of music she was working on. I'm so happy to see that she's found some success pursuing her creative gifts. She must be very successful indeed; she hasn't answered any of my emails.

The Constantines - On To You (2003, from Shine A Light)

"Come let me under your veil, they might say love is only trouble, we're both too drunk to steer it, we may never be angels, but we're lousy with the spirit."

This band has been described as "Springsteen fronting Fugazi". Bryan Webb's gravelly voice and the sincerity of his lyrics certainly draw comparisons to The Boss, but on this track, the music is poppy enough to provoke singing along.

The New Pornographers - Letter From An Occupant (2000, from Mass Romantic)

"I cried five rivers on the way here, which one will you skate away on?"

More new porn from this Vancouver based band.

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?? (2002, from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots)

"Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?…"

Hold on tight to your friends, my friends! And on that note, God bless and hope to see you next year!

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