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Though it features 18 tracks by 18 acts, The Art of Rocketry doesn’t sound like a comprehensive overview of the contemporary local scene. That’s partly because the CD sampler includes performers from Baltimore (including Plow) and partly because the set’s compilers seem to have indulged a taste for arty change-of-pace material (like Plow’s seven-minute “Whale Songs for Frogs”).
There are examples of actual bands known to play live, including Poole (“Oxen Free”), Paint (“Going Nowhere”), and Frodus (“Malcontent”), and uptempo songs from lesser-known outfits like Leka (“Amboka”), the Justines (“Brighter”), Palentine (“Voltage Vincent”), and Pedge (“Wendy”). Still, a lot of these tracks sound like the fruit of studio projects: Included are the likes of Space Lady’s bleepy minimalist “(?Bubble Blasters?)”; dirgey tracks from See Saw (“Jeff Koons’ Three-Way”) and Ex-Atari Kid (“Playtime”); Bubble Jug’s punk-jazz “Used,” Supercollider’s bell-beat-driven “Superior,” Mango Love’s fake-soundtrack instrumental (“Claudia”), and Triptic of Pastel Fern’s aggressively stereophonic audio collage (“Juices for the Masses”). Among the charmers are Big Heifer’s frisky “Flowers in Our Hair,” the neo-’50s instrumental of the Furious Fighting Car Thieves’ “Mr. Guitar Man,” Poole’s blithe tune, and, yes, that long Plow song. Rocketry is a product of Supernova, P.O. Box 149, Arlington, VA 22210.
Joining Guided by Voices, Giant Sand, and others, Slant 6 turns up on Threadwaxing Space Live: The Presidential Compilation ’93-’94, which collects examples of music, poetry, and chatter recorded live at the Manhattan performance space. The local trio contributes a version of “Eight Swimming Pools” that’s mostly for completists (and feedback freaks); the version on the band’s new Inzombia is tighter and cleaner. The album’s on Zero Hour, 1600 Broadway, Suite 701, New York, NY 10019.
Material by several Washington-rooted acts gets the so-square-it’s-hip treatment on The Nutley Brass Plays the Greatest Hits of Shimmy-Disc. This ensemble’s “Round Lounge Sound” combines cheeseball synth, surf-music guitar, and easy-listening wind instruments for arrangements of songs originally recorded for Shimmy-Disc, producer/post-punk hipster Kramer’s label. Among the selections are versions of Lida Husik’s “Highgate,” Jad Fair & Kramer’s “California,” and B.A.L.L.’s “Never Meant to Say,” all of which come out sounding rather the same. Shimmy-Disc’s at JAF Box 1187, New York, NY 10116.
There’s more diversity on Melody Fair, a tribute album of Bee Gees covers that concentrates on the Beatlesque pre-disco stuff (although Baby Lemonade roughs up “How Deep Is Your Love?”). D.C.’s Action Figures offer a lively version of the obscure “Whisper Whisper,” while former Washingtonians the Insect Surfers (now based in L.A.) transform “Massachusetts,” a 1967 hit, with surf guitar. Seems to be a lot of that going around. The collection is available from Eggbert, P.O. Box 10022, Fullerton, CA 92635.