At the end of 2014, a limited-run cassette from a small local label cracked this magazine’s top-5 records of the year. That tape was Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep us Together, a collection of songs from Godmode, the Brooklyn imprint run by producer, musician, and ex-critic Nick Sylvester. Where their earliest releases focused on brooding, bad-natured noise rock, this one let in house, pop, and left-field disco, suddenly announcing Godmode as the most tasteful and varied imprint in the neighborhood.
American Music is the label’s follow-up compilation tape. Again it’s filled with un-hyped bands making weird sounds that draw from many eras of pop and experimental music, without leaning too heavily on any single flavor of nostalgia.
A few artists provide repeat highlights. There are two tracks from the wildly under-appreciated locals Courtship Ritual: an old one that reasserts last year’s LP Pith as motel pillow levels of slept on, and a new one that continues to sound like Young Marble Giants as a cabaret act. Then there’s the first new song from local noise duo Yvette since their vicious 2013 record Process. “I Don’t Need Anything From Anybody” smartly resists the shoe-gaze impulse to swallow vocal clarity with guitar fuzz, allowing a song with almost zero empty space to feel weirdly wide-open. It closes on a lovely remix of “I Know It’s a Good Thing” by Shamir, which cranks up the synth squeals and surrounds his voice with faux-holy ambiance like “Like a Prayer”-era Madonna, making it an elegy for an act who blew up too quick to ever be a label mainstay. (His first album will come out on the bigger XL this spring.)
There’s killer stuff from bands you’ve never heard of, too. Breeding Program’s “No Time for 69” is an overt electroclash revival that’s appropriately dumb, fun, and trashy. (“I bet computer guys invented 69,” it claims, dubiously.) The disco cuts feel in the moment rather than in quotes, present instead of hiding at a hazy middle distance. House tracks work into their grooves so relentlessly that eventual acid-rave freakouts feel like stress hallucinations from concentrating too hard. When that starts to feel a little formulaic, we get a song like Malory’s “Dah”—so dedicated to minimalism that its increasing intensity comes not from from loosening up but contracting tighter. The dance music is typically very carefully controlled, making brief noise snippets from Excepter, Manikr, and especially Kill Alters so crucial in context. They represent rare, necessary slips into chaos.
American Music’s varied, but mostly dance-adjacent, sounds closely mirror those that DFA Records made such a huge impact with in the early 2000s, sometimes to the point of distraction. But the similarities come from overlapping taste and and eclectic philosophy, rather than conscious emulation. It doesn’t resemble the sustained, pill-regulated mood of Johnny Jewel’s After Dark compilations either, structured more like a mixtape made by some clever, moody, more-earnest-than-he-thinks college kid. It top-loads with accessible material, earning credit for the wilder selections that follow. It’s over long, but as a function of its intended format. There’s space to fill, so why not fill it? It’s all pretty great, besides.