Various Artists: Exquisite Corpse (Polyvinyl) | Under the Radar

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Various Artists: Exquisite Corpse (Polyvinyl) | Under the Radar

Various Artists

Exquisite Corpse

Polyvinyl

Dec 23, 2020

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If in a fever dream you ever imagined a collaboration between new comer Squirrel Flower, Xiu Xiu, The Get Up Kids, and Saturday Looks Good To Me’s Fred Thomas, Polyvinyl Records is here to serve that up for you.  And that’s just one song (“Do U Remember”) out of the 11 on the Exquisite Corpse compilation (digitally released in September and now being released in physical form). You’re probably aware of the “exquisite corpse” game even if you don’t recognize the name.  Artist Salvador Dali and his wacky surrealist friends, when bored, would fold a piece of paper and each participant would draw a part of a body or figure—say head, torso, or legs—without seeing the other sections. They would end up with fantastical creatures such as a being with a rabbit’s head, a flying saucer midsection, and legs from grandma’s end table. You get the idea.

One of the more established artists here, Rainer Maria’s Kala Fischer, came up with the thought to match up several artists per track to cobble a newly composed song together.  If success is measured in the quality of the output, the Polyvinyl crew has done a fine job here, with more than thirty artists’ works on display. Only the dreary “SLOW DRIVE” (Diane Coffee, Aloha, Yumi Zouma, Will Knauer) is skippable. The other tracks include the slinky to raggedly shouted “To The Beach” (Volcano, I’m Still Excited!!, Jeff Rosenstock, Palehound, Rainer Maria), which also contains the album’s best line, “shower me with Budweiser, put me in your dreams,” while the compilation’s best overall may be the vocally driven and subtly integrated harmonies of “Perfect Vision” (Matt Pond PA, Katy Goodman, Keil Corcoran, Owen).

Whether it was the way the album was assembled or somehow by design, the collaborations work best for evidencing a palpable joy of discovery. Though recorded in lockdown, and there are vague references to isolation—“the world wasn’t like this before” on “Some Storms” (The Get Up Kids, Aloha, Psychic Twin, Islands, Anamanaguchi), the album is much more focused on the creative fun that ensues. “Some Storms” has the early MTV-era synth pop feel of bands like Thompson Twins, where the song was as much about getting the machines to play along with the harmonies and melody. And other more darkly veined synth workouts veer closer to The Human League or Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark but are just as compelling, like the closing “Nude Looks” (Post Animal, Dusted, Rainer Maria, The Get Up Kids) or “Whole Life Holy Death” (SNST, Vice Cooler, Anamanaguchi, Wampire).  

Though you could research and spend time picking apart individual contributions, like the drawings that inspired Exquisite Corpse, it is a lot more fun just to enjoy the final product of the process. The concept seems daunting and open to messy outcomes, but how seamlessly each song comes together to something that makes perfect sense is its own reward. One of the more positive mementos that will come from this era.

Author rating: 7/10

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