Everyone complains about compilation albums. It’s true that they are sometimes sub-par in their choice of bands. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a perfect comp. All comps have at least one song that must be skipped. This comp is the inaugural release from new label Mono vs. Stereo. The label promises to be an emo/hardcore/art rock label, as those genres are the most highly represented here.
Every comp needs some star power to get people hooked. Mono Vs. Stereo’s ‘lead’ is Matt Thiessen and The Earthquakes. As solid proof that leads work, I will confess that I got this strictly for the beautiful, emotive piano stylings of Thiessen’s side project (His day job is heading up the fantastic punk band Relient K). This is only Thiessen’s second published track, but with “Poison Ivy” he firmly solidifies the notion in my mind that he is one of the best blokes ever to plunk the keys. His trademark of culture-soaked, emotive, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and beautiful, flowing voice command respect in this song. The song itself is about a rocky breakup, but it’s portrayed so elegantly in both lyric and melody that it is the best break-up song I’ve ever heard.
Even though Thiessen is obviously the hook, he’s the last track. The rest of the album is not that quiet at all. The first three bands (The Evan Anthem, House of Heroes and Embraced) provide the best that emo has to offer. Mono Vs Stereo’s own The Evan Anthem has the first track, entitled “Goodnight, Good Fight”. It’s a highly melodic, catchy brand of rock/emo comparable to Full Collapse-era Thursday. House of Heroes contributes their brand of punk/emo, which is comparable to Brand New. The chorus is completely anthemic, and I can hear the crowds screaming it now. Embraced shows up with “Saratoga” which is a rocker that showcases their trademark screamo. There are 4 other screamo bands here (Boywunder, Colson, Showdown, and Uriah Omen), but Embraced clearly shows the most strength and consistency out of them all. With crunchy, ear-pleasingly dissonant riffs and a clear sense of direction that the others lack, it’s easy to see why. The weirdest song offered here is the poppy guitar rock of The Connotations, who are somewhat akin to Fountains of Wayne except for the fact they scream some of the vocals over their keyboard inflected “We Are Trouble By the Truckloads”. It works surprisingly well. Also worth checking out are the tunes from Marcco (a laid-back tune which echoes the work of Sixpence None the Richer, only in a minor key with a male singer) and Andy Zipf (an art-rocker who could draw comparisons to the work of Kevin Max).
On the whole, this is an average comp. Both the beginning and the end are extremely strong, but the middle is a hit-and-miss affair. It’s definitely worth the money though, as it holds the gem of “Poison Ivy”. Mono vs. Stereo is clearly a label that will grow into something phenomenal over time, as they have their talent meter set to “Stun”. It’s not set on “Kill” yet (Deep Elm and Tooth & Nail are about the only two labels that can boast that), but I feel it definitely will be soon.