Article by James Grimshaw
Reviewing a charity compilation is no easy task. The nobility of the cause often outweighs whatever subjective things you might have to say about the music on offer, and makes for some difficult decisions when it comes to deciding on just how to approach the review. The task is made blissfully easier when the selection on offer is an instant hit with that critical bit of your brain, but with music that takes a little more effort to get into, there's a lot of thinking that happens before words hit paper.
German label Blackjack Illuminist's continent-spanning 16-track compilation (in co-operation with Pretty In Noise Records) 'Condolence: Paris' is one of these difficult albums. The collection is a direct response to the infamous Paris attacks of last November, in particular the storming of the Bataclan Theatre while Eagles of Death Metal were on stage, with proceeds going to The Sweet Stuff Foundation (Josh Homme's charity for impoverished musicians, now taking donations to aid victims of the Bataclan attack). The repercussions of those attacks have been felt worldwide, particularly in cultural pockets, and begat an incredible thunderclap of artists and musicians singing back; where the attackers wanted music silenced, people have begun to sing and play all the louder – which is where this compilation comes in.
Each song regards the events of November 13th in its own way, with the collective message of overcoming, remembering and moving on. The compilation is a well-thought collection of underground sounds from a European scene that isn't the easiest to penetrate. The album is conceptually tight – no song is out of place by the rest, making the compilation a handy tour guide, and there are some real stand-out tunes that reward those who pay attention throughout – a sadly difficult task sometimes, when it comes to genres predicated on murk.
Leonard Las Vegas' 'Nous Allons À Paris' is a powerful opener, rife with energy and reminding of Mark Lanegan's more dark-disco moments (fitting, considering the subject matter of the compilation). RM74's 'Lendemain' is a perfectly pitched instrumental intermission between the shoegaze-indie first act and the drone-heavy second, with crushed noise and feedback butting in beautifully on an ambient guitar loop. 'Ŗăıŋ' by ßęđŧīmĕ Šŧōŗĩėş is the penultimate track, and a breath of fresh air as lo-fi hiss becomes a light breeze, unadulterated piano opens up the ear to treble, and a lamentation in tuneful, wordless wailing takes you on a much-needed melodic odyssey. It is here where review becomes difficult.
It is this writer's personal opinion that the compilation's tone doesn't quite befit the cause; sounds so commonly attributed to sadness, solitude and helplessness are deployed in an act of anti-fascist activism, affirmative action in the music world and donation to an incredible charity right at the heart of the attacks. Songs have half-shock titles like 'Blood Under The Spotlight' and lyrics like "No candles to burn/No lessons to learn" while angry dirge-synths suffocate the spectrum; while listening you can't help but feel a little disheartened, by one factor or the other. The compilation sounds more of a lament than anything else, more of an album to lie down and listen to on a rainy day than treat as an act of cultural optimism.
All that said, the true difficulty is in whether or not I, as reviewer, am really in a position to make these suggestions. After all, the album is a feat within its scene, a finished product that represents work by two record labels and 16 bands across 7 countries to benefit an important charity after a tragic event. It stands to help, to add to that great musical thunderclap that says no to silence and no to silencers, regardless how it's perceived by some. Is that OK? That's another question.
Stream or buy: 'Condolence: Paris'.
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