[MIXED BAG] If you're one of the 4,000 or so people who are expected (based on past sales) to pick up a copy of Failing Records: A Compilation of Portland Music Volume 4, you'll be getting two very different records in one.
The double album's first disc—which, odds are, you're going to like better than any of the first three bar-rock-centric volumes in the series—kicks off rather atypically with a nearly instrumental track: "We'll Blacken Up the Sky" by Boy Eats Drum Machine. The song's scratched, dramatic choral intro and open-string guitar chords definitely grab your attention, and it's even a little risky. But not too risky: Check back at track 6 for Junkface's "Lost Cosmonauts"—a softer, catchier and uncharacteristically serious number from the garage-rock trio—and Volume 4's still got you. What about Michele Wylen's melancholic, high voice over pulsing bass on track 15? Still on course. My first reaction was, "I love this disc!" Apparently, I was supposed to: It has a "very deliberate flow," says label namesake and big cheese Hank Failing. "It's mostly indie rock, and it's way more homogenous." I guess I'm predictable, but I still recommend the coddling of disc one.
Of the 47 artists selected (out of 300 submissions), a collection of the stranger set populates disc two, which is much more challenging as a whole. The falsetto, Muppetlike backing vocals in the live recording of "Realness Keepers" by Drats!!! lighten things up, as does a skit from misogynistic rappers Womstretcha—the only material by the duo deemed acceptable for a comp that benefits the Portland Women's Crisis Line. But Ether's sparse, morphing electronic farts and tones will alienate as many as they enthrall. Vagabond Opera's accordion-driven, cabaret melodrama and James Sasser's guitar-pickin' country will most likely elicit similar reactions. Each track is basically a roll of the dice as far as listeners' individual tastes go. Mattress' "Eldorado," for instance, is somehow a combination of Ether, VO and Sasser, and my favorite song on the disc.
Thanks to its delightful primer disc, Volume 4's second disc sneaks some unusual shit into your stereo. And, in doing so, the comp accomplishes what Failing Records set out to do: definitively and comprehensively compile songs by Portland artists—as interesting and horrifying as the end result may be.