Rediscovering: The Fold Compilation

Here’s a true oddity among the Rediscovering pile. Most of the albums in this pile are solid, singular pieces of sequenced sound design from one band alone. This is a sampler CD, though–a sampler CD of various indie rock bands you may very well have heard of, early in their careers! A proper, pressed CD release, celebrating the legendary Silverlake Lounge back when the Salvation sign still hung tall–this is gonna be a history lesson and a half. Spoiler alert, it’s automatically going in the keep pile.

The Fold Compilation

Enter The Fold Compilation.

My previous experience, if any

I started work on Misery Inspires back in 2016 or so, making it my first web project I’d ever seriously worked on (not counting tiny Cammy carpetbombing Freewebs with sites about nothing, of course). Back then, I was doing a lot of digging around for releases from Silversun Pickups’ early years. Naturally, The Fold Compilation came up, and curious as to what such an early “Rusted Wheel” would sound like, I dutifully bought it off Amazon, listened through the first disc once, maybe twice, found Earlimart and alaska! through it, and it languished on my CD shelf, having at least earned its place in my collection as a keepsake.

The history lesson

The Fold is the booking company of one Scott Sterling, quite the character in his own right if the articles are anything to go by. At present, good luck finding more than their Facebook page to go off of. They’re usually associated with iconic little L.A. dives like the Silverlake Lounge, the Derby, and at current, the Bootleg Theater. While they themselves don’t actually own the venues, the venues use The Fold as a means of booking bands. All of the bands on The Fold Compilation have been booked through the company, often at the Silverlake Lounge, whose former “Salvation” sign graces the back cover of the jewel case.

Well?

So, as a final note before I dig through the set proper: this is two discs, and only one track was actually recorded at the Silverlake Lounge. The rest are all demos, b-sides, and outtakes from the bands in question, with a few being mere album cuts. If you are a fan of anyone on here, it’s unlikely that your group’s cut is currently in your possession. As such, I’ve done my usual thing and uploaded the whole two discs to YouTube; there’s enough unreleased material on here to justify it.

If I had to sum up the first disc in one word, it’d be “foggy”. A lot of the bands on it are of the hazy type, and so expect your enjoyment to be relative to your enjoyment of indie rock mumblers and clouds of feedback. Some of the bands do really well at it; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s six-minute Velvet Underground tribute “Loaded Gun” is excellent, and Gliss’ “Soul Hits the Ground” is very, very pretty as its name would suggest. Others, less so. I was really pulling for Lift to Experience to be as epic as their ambitions suggest; “Falling From Cloud 9” is from The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, a concept album that turns the US south into the stage for the Second Coming, but (at least this version of) the song kills the pacing of the disc, and I got bored in the second half.

Some of the bands dial back the fog of war and come away with the more interesting cuts on the disc as a result. Midnight Movies’ “Human Mind Trap” is as good an opener as you’ll get on a wildly varying indie rock compilation, gothic and moody and…midnight. I was really impressed with the Devics track (“You in the Glass”) as well, especially with singer Sara Lov’s vocal prowess towards the end. Meanwhile, Metric’s (…what the fuck? Metric? They’re Canadian) contribution, a demo of “The List” from their first album, is the most electronic song on the entire package. Frankly, it’s kind of an early peak for the disc, all bouncy and catchy as it lampoons Hollywood clubs so exclusive, you need to be on the VIP list to get into them. Good song, good choice for an indie rock sampler, I suppose.

And of course, I can’t forget the aforementioned alaska! and Earlimart, the former having previously backed Lou Barlow on his quest to be the New Folk Implosion, and the latter of course maintaining the home base for The Ship. The Fold Compilation is what motivated me to buy the respective albums these tracks came off of, taking a total chance on two bands I’d never heard of before. Both Emotions and Everyone Down Here turned out to be winners in the end, thankfully, though “In My Time” and “Burning the Cow” are atypical of both, which makes me question picking them in particular. While Emotions is generally a good mix of folk and rock, “In My Time” basically tosses the folk outright, and “Burning the Cow” is much sunnier and poppier than is usual for Everyone Down Here. Odd choices, but good songs.

I will say that whoever sequenced this disc had a sick sense of humor. Following “In My Time”, so thundering and steeped in angst with lines like “A friend of mine once told me/Had enough of the modern age”, with the over the top choral rock nightmare that is The Polyphonic Spree’s “It’s the Sun” is a transition that needs to be heard to be believed. Frankly, and no disrespect to such a huge undertaking as getting 30 people in robes on stage to sing prog rock tunes: “It’s the Sun” is the most irritating listen of the bunch. (Fun coincidence though: “The List” is a new wave song with synths. “In My Time” starts off with a synth noise. The last line in “In My Time” is “I am the sun”. Then “It’s the Sun” plays. It’s the little things, isn’t it?)

Perhaps it’s just the medium in which some of these songs are being presented that makes them hard pills to swallow. If Lift to Experience and The Polyphonic Spree are such grand productions as to need a full album to truly get across what they’re going for, I’m all for it. That just makes me wonder why including either here was a good idea. In any event, the rest of the tracks are kinda more on the whiff than hit side of the equation, including, unfortunately the Silversun Pickups track. It is fascinating to hear an early, mostly acoustic “Rusted Wheel”, especially one featuring cello like this, but Brian’s vocals are really bad, into head cold territory, and the entire thing exhibits some awful, distracting MP2 artifacting. Trying to notch filter it out takes the hi-hats with it. Especially since it doesn’t do much that the later Carnavas rendition doesn’t do better, I think I’ll be sticking with that instead. Disappointing.

The one last thing to mention about the first disc are the two videos you can only get to with a computer. The two first bands of the disc come back with an extra song, Midnight Movies with an in-studio rendition of “Persimmon Tree” and BRMC with a very theatrical (especially compared to the album version) live reprise of “Red Eyes and Tears”. I find these more interesting for the technical details than for the songs (though the BRMC song is certainly catchy). Though the videos aren’t terribly big, the audio for both is actually encoded in ADPCM. It’s not technically uncompressed, but no psychoacoustic weirdness, no warbling like on the Silversun Pickups track–as good as uncompressed to me.

A still from Midnight Movies' "Persimmon Tree" bonus video
[actual size]

If the first disc was foggy, the second disc is warped. Several of the artists on this disc, namely The 88 (remember Community? I don’t), Inner, and Devendra Banhart turn in cuts I can only describe as melting, either because of the way they were recorded or because of their instrumentation and vocal work. The 88 starts off “Afterlife” (and thus the disc) with this crazy, dizzy, bending guitar work that leads into, funnily enough, another song fit to be sitcom music, while Inner’s “My Philosophy” does “I Stay Away” harmonies over a very sparse instrumental to similar haunting effect.

It’s definitely Devendra’s track (“Cada Casa Que Crece”) that sounds the freakiest though. The song was clearly recorded onto this broken little 4-tracker, all fried and hissy and generated-sounding, and given the bizarrely perky acoustic guitar and two squeaky vocal takes that just don’t quite match up–it kinda needs to be heard to be believed. A few others on here try to be all weird and off-kilter, namely the Eleni Mandell and Dengue Fever cuts (and I’m not even convinced that last one is in English), but whether they work depends on how much you can stand their particular sound.

Much like how the first disc slowed down significantly around the middle-end, this one does too, but instead of forgettable walls of fuzz, it’s a lot of slow, gentle indie soft rock tedium. Trespassers William, Marjorie Fair, Acetone, Rex Aquarium–none of them come away leaving much of an impression. Really, the three wildcards of the bunch are Gwendolyn (Sanford, if you go looking for her stuff), whose bizarre voice threatens to ruin “Insect Perspective” but grows on you quick, John Gold, the one singer-songwriter of the package who actually brings a song to sing, and Mike Stinson–I fucking knew what “Last Fool at the Bar” would sound like before it even came on, and it still made me giggle. Yee. Haw.

And really, that’s the thing to take away from this package, and it’s why I can’t do a traditional Rediscovering on it. Every single one of these artists does something completely different–maybe not with widely different sounding results, but I’m sure the thought was there. This isn’t usually the kinda disc you can listen to (or review) as a cohesive whole, it’s the kind of disc you listen to to find new artists before going off in search of their actual albums. I can’t rate how well it does that without going and finding 30 new albums to listen to, I can only go with what I have here. And as far as what I’ve got here: uneven by design, but could definitely be a lot worse.

So to sum up both discs: they each have really bad spots towards the middle-end where tracks start blurring into one another. Both discs peak within their first eight tracks. Both discs also pack some really heavy hitters that genuinely do make me wanna dig more into their work. For the first, BRMC, Metric, Devics, and of course my alaska! and Earlimart. Second, The 88, Devendra, John Gold, Inner, Gwendolyn, hell, I’d even throw a bone to Patrick Park potentially if I was in the right headspace. These discs do exactly what they set out to do, for better or worse, and that’s to be a sampler of a bunch of neat, challenging indie bands.

For musical value alone, it’s merely uneven, but for the historical value, for a collection of bands that either went on to do greater things or petered out in the underground, The Fold Compilation holds a special place on my shelf. To end this off, I’d like to present you with a quote from the liner notes. There’s a wonderful little essay I’d reprint in its entirety if I could get away with it, but I think this gets the gist of why I like this compilation so much across:

[Scott’s] also got a wonderfully unjaded ear, which is why this compilation is so freaky-electic–and so excellent. And in that sense, it reflects everything that’s good and important about The Fold. The club does what freeform FM radio use to do: It takes chances and mixes shit up; it gives special attention to bands that might sound strange, even ugly, on first listen. It creates a new aesthetic not based on uniformity of sound but on a spirit of adventure.

[…]

Music and radio executives would have us believe that music must be partitioned, that a singer-songwriter like Eleni Mandell can’t be heard alongside a choral explosion like The Polyphonic Spree. Music-lovers know that’s not how it works–which is partly why the industry is failing, and why a club like The Fold, which seemed so unlikely, has become so important for L.A.’s musical underground.

I don’t share Kate Sullivan’s unending optimism for the death of the partition, but The Fold Compilation is still a fascinating document, either because of or in spite of the music, depending how you swing on it.

Are you keeping it?

I have to!

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