Various Artists – Gnar Tapes Compilation #3: GNAR FM (Gnar Tapes)
Portland-based music and cassette collective Gnar Tapes release their third compilation of short yet addictive jams, proving yet again that yes, you can do it all by yourself.
It is a wonderfully varied gathering of talent from all over the globe, representing garage rock, swaggering glitter punk, power pop, rap, electro synth, and of course, lo-fi bedroom recording styles. It is unified by a great enthusiasm and sense of fun, and seems to flow as organically as a well-tended crop of homegrown grass.
It was hard not to go through the compilation track by track with lengthy descriptions, as each one offers something different/special and deserves some attention in it’s own right, but you can visit the Gnar website where there’s a handy list of band bios and bandcamp links for further info.
GNAR FM #3 opens with “Dumpster Dive” by Honeybucket, a catchy low budget clatter of distorted fuzz with an appealing pop sensibility, certainly one of the main M.O.s of the Gnarnia crew.
This is followed by a bright, winsome pop nugget by The Memories, who always display such uncomplicated consistency with song quality; it’s easy to see why the self-releasing/home taping dream has taken off for them.
“Water Arches” by Melted Toys entrances the listener with a reverb-filtered vocal swoon and glassy, dreaming guitar sparkle that is both meditative and dancey.
Fatal Jamz takes the ’80’s styled analog synth sound even further, while flamboyant, gender-bending singer Marion Belle brilliantly channels the overwrought, effeminate glam of T. Rex or Bowie, but with a much deeper sensitivity (you can get the Vol. 1 cassette from Gnar Tapes or Burger Records for more).
Warm is the electronic project of Gabe Fulvimar from Gap Dream, a melodic synth pulse throb with a motorik beat recalling Computer Love era Kraftwerk, Gary War, and at times, even the Euro disco of Johnny Jewel’s Italians Do It Better output.
“Cherrybomb” by Jovontaes then violently wakes you out of your reflective stupor with a jarring and spiky 2 minutes of punchy, chugging rhythm, shouty vocals and a crazy, burbling organ drone.
Vermont’s experimental and unpredictable Blanche Blanche Blanche is next with a short robotic oddity, and then the warm, soulful jangle of Mikey Hodges’ solo act Pop Zeus brings humanity back into the mix just at the right time. As his namesake Guided By Voices song says, “He who shits out magic may shine”, and I think Mikey must indeed shit out magic, because every tune he drops is pure gold, so dazzlingly shiny it’s temporarily blinding!
Multimedia collagist and sampler extraordinaire Jib kidder covers the Roy Orbison classic “I Never Knew” with a pleasantly weightless, warbly twang, then comes “It Came In” by Street Gnar, one of the highlights of the compilation for me, as catchy as the stubborn earworm bemoaned at in it’s lyrics.
The first thing I notice about “I Wish For God’s Sake” by The Boys Age from Japan is the wonderfully distinctive, heavily accented flat nasal singing, and then I’m hooked in by the explosive and swelling romanticism of the chorus.
One of our hosts Free Weed (Erik Gage) then brings us “Hamburger Hop”, showing he would be brilliant at writing advertising jingles, and some savvy food vendor should probably start negotiations for the license now… As far as an actual Hamburger Hop and competition for the best Burgers goes, Erik Gage is certainly up there as one of my favourites.
Brooklyn’s Punks On Mars offer a polished ‘glitter punk’ power pop rave-up with upfront keyboard and organ, and, finishing off side A, rapper Fat Tony cleverly verses about the absurd gentrification of urban areas with “Hood Party” (look for his upcoming album Smart Ass Black Boy due out this summer).
Sick Sad World is Jake Jones from the hard partying Christmas on K Records, and “Alone All the Time” is a head nodding sing-along showing the true power of simplicity with just a few great guitar chords and some bummed out vocals.
Dumb’s “Live Fast Die Dumb” is rough, drawling country punk that sounds like it could have been written in under a minute, but somehow it’s a jam that sticks in your mind, and this is what gives most of the songs presented here their apparent spontaneity and freshness.
Our hosts then return in their White Fang form with the sludgy and raspy “Pass Me The Gumfo”, before Nude Sunrise takes over with “Cool Tattoo”, a fast and unhinged little ditty with some great woozy guitar licks running through it.
The Future Dead are from Ghent in Belgium, and as the title already foretells, “Let’s Sit In the Sun” is a chilled out and folky acoustic-based strum.
As much variety as there is on here, I never expected a panpipe flute, but that’s exactly what you get with Jerry Rogers’ “Bamboo Pan Flute”!
Totally You is Skinny Jesus aka Izak Arida of The Memories and BOOM!, creating breezy West Coast flavoured pop, and his contribution, “Just The Other Day”, has a big expressive arpeggiated synth riff which gives the song an epic movie soundtrack star quality.
“Hang Out (Of Yr Underwear)” by Love Cop is a blissed-out swirl of sinister shoegazing atmospherics and fuzz sludge which has a punishing crunch that you can still dance to.
Emotional is the side project of Brian Wakefield of Melted Toys, and I guess “Emotional Man” is his signature tune! It starts with some kitschy AM radio ambience before taking off in a lush and melodious wash of synthesizers accompanied by his slightly campy, reverb-treated singing.
Snow Wite’s offering is a hard rocking blast of intergalactic pop, with synth sounds like shooting lazer beams, embodying all the outrageousness of L.A. and why everyone is moving there.
Trailblazer is Lexington, KY’s Coleman Guyon, and “Women” has a cold and cavernous, Kraut rock infused, repetitive sound reminiscent of Joy Division, Crystal Stilts, Black Marble or Weekend.
“Jake” by Gelatin Kids is a woozy MBV drone with a silky, diaphanous vocal.
Alex Bleeker is the Real Estate bassist, now touring with Woods in support of new album Leave On The Light as Alex Bleeker & The Freaks, and the bittersweet indie folk of “How Might I Live?” is typical of what he does best.
DJMRTHEBEST sounds like a seedy basement rave strung out on hallucinogens, and The NO!SE finishes us off with a fun novelty hillbilly strum along about, well, “Lookin’ For Some Pussy”.
The GNAR FM compilation features a brilliantly colourful ensemble of talent who are almost certain to be the names on all the more switched on music insider’s lips, and the songs are jam-packed with naturally inventive, memorable melodies perfect for hazy summer days hanging out with friends.
It seems everything the Gnar Tapes and Burger family focus on is destined for greatness, and it’s encouraging to know that in today’s music scene, which is otherwise rife with self-serving apathy and elitist snobbery, there is a place for passion, enthusiasm, and warmth.
Gnar Tapes – keep Portland weird!
Honeybucket – Dumpster Dive (Portland, OR)
The Memories – In Your Bed (Portland, OR)
Melted Toys – Water Arches (San Francisco, CA)
Fatal Jamz – Beauty Mark (Los Angeles, CA)
Warm – Cockroach (Fullerton, CA)
Jovontaes – Cherry Bomb (Lexington, KY)
Blanche Blanche Blanche – Stay Home (Brattleboro, VT)
Pop Zeus – The Longer I Wait (Brooklyn, NY)
Jib Kidder – I Never Knew (New York, NY)
Street Gnar – It Came In (Lexington, KY)
The Boys Age – I Wish For God’s Sake (Saitama, Japan)
Free Weed – Hamburger Hop (Portland, OR)
Punks On Mars – People Talk (Brooklyn, NY)
Fat Tony – Hood Party (ft. Kool A.D. and Despot) (Houston, TX)
Sick Sad World – Alone All The Time (Olympia, WA)
Dumb – Live Fast Die Dumb (Austin, TX)
White Fang – Pass Me The Gumfo (Portland, OR)
Nude Sunrise – Cool Tattoo (Chicago, IL)
The Future Dead – Let’s Sit In The Sun (Ghent, Belgium)
Jerry Rogers – Bamboo Pan Flute (Portland, OR)
Totally You – Just The Other Day (Portland, OR)
Love Cop – Hang Out (Of Yr Underwear) (Portland, OR)
Emotional – Emotional Man (Portland, OR)
Snow Wite – Corner Of My Eye (Los Angeles, CA)
Trailblazer – Women (Lexington, KY)
Gelatin Kids – Jake (Chicago, IL)
Alex Bleeker – How Might I Live (Brooklyn, NY)
DJMRTHEBEST – Never Grow Old (Lexington, KY)
The NO!SE – Lookin’ For Some Pussy (Fullerton, CA)
All words by Carrie Quartly, you can read more of her writing on the site here.