Splendid Zine Reviews Public Service Broadcast #1

"Why, it's so anti-RIAA, it's almost beautiful."

Here's a novel idea: a bunch of unsigned bands from America and the UK send their own best home-recorded music to a label (called Smalltown America, but based in the UK - pay attention) and that label, if they like what they hear, agrees to manufacture x amount of discs for each band. The band sells the discs at concerts; the label sells the discs on their website. A portion of the profits from each disc is added to a "rolling fund" to be used for further promotions like touring, recording, and future samplers (such as this).

Ideally, the bands earn an extra modicum of exposure and the label earns enough money and street cred to release a series of grass-roots albums and compilations. Why, it's so anti-RIAA, it's almost beautiful. The purity of the idea is so naïve, in fact, that I'd imagine Smalltown America was deluged with 50-gallon drums-worth of steaming crap from every two-bit garage band in the Western Hemisphere. How could the label manage to keep its head on straight when facing such a deluge of mediocrity? Well, if the resulting 'Public Service Broadcast #1' is any indication, either the label's staff have the Midas touch (and ear) when it comes to evaluating talent, or else the future of rock is very bright indeed. Possibly both.

The songs included are dirty, grungy things that, in their raw and unpolished way, make me more excited for the future of rock than nearly any major label sampler I've heard this year. These bands are influenced by many of the usual suspects - Fugazi, Guided By Voices, Sugar, etcetera - but most of them build on the basics and add their own flavor. Distophia's "Joanne" is a fabulously warped and furious ode to an ex-girlfriend, based on one image forever burned into the singer's mind ("tight sweater!"), and Treebeard's "At the End of All Sight and Sound" is positively Pavement-esque, drawing its harmony from a chorus of mistuned elements that mesh perfectly when layered. We have echoes of the Violent Femmes in Paper Cuts' choppy "Voids", Suede inflections on The Party's "Your Beautiful Wife", and a Ned's Atomic Dustbin-goes-emo vibe on Bareface's "Restless". Cosy Cosy polish off the disc with the satisfying "Oh Yeah", making garage-glam fun again. Almost every track is catchy enough for me to check the disc jacket, mentally noting bands to look up when I've finished writing this review - The Red Letter Code, Tybalt, Lomax, Dead or American, The Warren Commission, Pure Reason Revolution, Solanoid, White Man Kamikaze, Senator...the list goes on.

Label compilations, like labels themselves, are usually drab, inconclusive collections that suffer from an identity crisis. Smalltown America seems to have none of those problems with "Public Service Broadcast #1". Although the disc's focus is narrow -- heavy on the guitars and absent of dub, hip-hop or folk artists - the label's motto is simple ("Good music needs to be heard") and their business model could easily pave the way for bedroom recording artists and small-market fan favorites looking for their chance at a wider audience. If you like your rock music fresh off the radar screen, do yourself a favor and look up these newcomers on Smalltown America.

- Justin Kownacki, Splendid