An Ear to an Atmosphere is a compilation of tracks by local electro-industrial bands, and is it ever depressing. Many of the tracks sound like low-fi versions of Mortal Kombat music (the video game, not the flick), 4AD circa 1983, or electronic body music, 1988-style. There are some notable exceptions, however, such as FleshPulseFlesh’s dark nursery rhyme, “Freedom,” Dead Letter Office’s off-kilter “Stitch,” and Big Mouse’s very polished ambient electronica, “Wistful Organum.”

The person compiling all the darkness is the effervescent Jennifer Barnes, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Writing the “Ear to an Atmosphere” column in the ‘zine the Melodia led the 23-year-old Barnes to many of the bands on the comp, all of whom, she notes with a smile, “work in their own isolated environments.” Barnes’ commitment to the genre is strong; in addition to posting requests on the Internet, she doggedly sought out live bands. “If I heard that there was any band out there that might be slightly industrial I would go to their show,” she laughs. “Sometimes you really had to track the people down.”

The CD was released on Barnes’ own Rack and Ruin Records, which is named after a phrase from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. “It was worth [reading] it for the tiny little things like that,” Barnes titters. “Well, I had to read it for a class, actually.”

Despite the bleakness of the music Barnes is so committed to collecting, she jovially claims that she never tires of it. “That’s probably what I like about it the best, ha ha ha….I’m excited about the music!” she cheerfully exclaims. “A lot of people are always saying that the stuff is really dark. But it doesn’t depress me. I’m not into being depressed.” An Ear to an Atmosphere can be obtained at Tower or Sam Goody or at its release party Sunday, April 27 at 7 p.m. at the Black Cat. The show features FleshPulseFlesh, Chapel Blaque, Black Chamber, Bacchus, Pulse, and Barnes’ own Dead Letter Office. Tickets are $8.—Christopher Porter