Various Artists, Kept in a Cave Vol. 1: The European Union of Fuzz

I don’t know how many times I’ve said so – probably at least once for each time I’ve actually brought myself to do it – but I hate reviewing compilations. For most of them, there’s no flow between the tracks, being that it’s different artists, different recordings and sometimes different genres, and even when you get a gem, a non-album track or something like that, there’s no real context for being able to enjoy it, because once it’s over, you’re swept abruptly off to the next thing. Most of the enjoyment I get out of them is in hindsight, years later, when that non-album track is legitimately rare and hard to track down, or the alternate version has never appeared anywhere, or when the comp itself has built up some mystique as a landmark moment – those are even fewer and farther between, but it happens sometimes – either for an artist or the genre. Even if they’re alright to listen to, reviewing them is terrible. You’re either promoting the release outright – “hey, these people are doing good work and you should spend your money on it” – or doing little more than listing the bands involved – “this comp is cool because it has so-and-so involved and they do this song, whereas this band does another song,” and so on. I’ve never been able to find a middle ground in comp reviews and while I do genuinely think there are people out there putting in significant effort to promote artists they believe in, the pain in my ass that reviewing a compilation becomes is enough that I generally try to avoid it as much as possible.

So this is the part where, post-disclaimer, I tell you the case is wholly different with Kept in a Cave, Vol. 1, the 13-track mining operation of Europe’s heavy underground undertaken by, right? Sort of. Kept in a Cave certainly gets a flow going, thanks in part to the similarities in fuzz and jam-minded process of the bands that make up its midsection – Sungrazer into The:Egocentrics into Been Obscene into Electric Moon works rather well and with a healthy dose of Elektrohasch and Elektrohasch-style heavy, there’s not much room for stuff to be out of place – but I still find myself in the position of wanting either to run through the tracklist or just promote it because I respect the effort on their behalf in making the release and its four-panel digipak with giant-mantis artwork happen. To counteract the first, here’s the rundown of artists and songs in its entirety, taken directly off the back of the package:

1. Grandloom, “Larry Fairy” (7:07)
2. Under Brooklyn Palms, “Restlessness” (6:20)
3. Mars Red Sky, “Sadaba” (5:07)
4. Kosmic Elephant, “Bloot Pilot” (6:38)
5. Sungrazer, “Wild Goose” (5:19)
6. The:Egocentrics, “Lost and Found” (4:54)
7. Been Obscene, “Endless Scheme” (6:55)
8. Electric Moon, “Triptriptrip” (8:45)
9. Samsara Blues Experiment, “Hangin’ on the Wire” (5:30)
10. Stonehenge, “Concrete Krieger” (7:36)
11. The Machine, “5 & 4” (6:14)
12. DxBxSx, “Problemkind” (2:16)
13. Sahara Surfers, “Gas” (6:00)

All this adds up to a 79-minute front-to-back listen, about as much as a single-CD will hold. Of the included artists, Sungrazer, Been Obscene, The Machine and DxBxSx are signed to Elektrohasch, and certainly familiar acts like Mars Red Sky, Samsara Blues Experiment and Electric Moon fit aesthetically with that fuzzy, jammy sound as well, so though it’s long, Kept in a Cave makes for a decent listen if you’re going to take it on as a whole, put it on for a party – I’m told music at parties is something human beings do – or whathaveyou, and even the likes of Grandloom, Under Brooklyn Palms (who, yes, are German), Kosmic Elephant, Stonehenge and Sahara Surfers fit on a sonic level. Nothing here is really out of place and obvious consideration has been given to how one song is met by the next – for emphasis, I’ll cite putting the punkier DxBxSx as the second-to-last cut, giving a short burst of energy after the fuzzfests preceding – so the project becomes even more admirable.

But even that’s not why I decided after all to review Kept in a Cave. Rather, it’s because, for anyone who has yet to start an exploration of the European scene, here’s your guide. Whether it’s the opening rush of Grandloom’s “Larry Fairy” (the capping riff of which is reminiscent enough to Queens of the Stone Age’s “Mexicola” that I’ve had the latter stuck in my head all week), the non-album cut “Sadaba” from Mars Red Sky – it appeared on their debut 7” single – or tracks like “Wild Goose,” “Endless Scheme,” “Triptriptrip,” “5 & 4,” “Concrete Krieger” and “Hangin’ on the Wire,” each of which was arguably among the most memorable of the albums on which they originally appeared, Kept in a Cave offers a convenient sampling of some of the scene’s best in the up and coming generation of acts. Part of me feels like Colour Haze deserve a mention in a thanks section, if only for the influence they’ve had on the bulk of the included artists, but I guess it’s implied in the sounds of these bands, the nods to Elektrohasch and so forth. No doubt anyone exploring the scene who’s previously unindicted into the current Euro crop is going to wind up listening to a lot of Elektrohasch stuff anyway. Might as well cut out the middle man and include as much of it here as possible.

Convenience isn’t the only reason to take on Kept in a Cave either, though. I’d heard Grandloom and Stonehenge before, but of the other, mostly unsigned bands, Under Brooklyn Palms, Kosmic Elephant and Sahara Surfers were completely unknown to me. Under Brooklyn Palms have a moody sensibility underscoring their “Restlessness,” desert tonality and quieter vocals that give way over the course to heavier guitars and effective semi-melodic shouting. That they’d feature so early behind Grandloom – and that Kept in a Cave would start with two unsigned acts in succession – is indicative of the energy they mount when the song picks up. Kosmic Elephant are more tense and less-directly desert-minded, but the highlight of the surprises comes with “Gas,” by Sahara Surfers, reportedly on Sound Zero Records, who cap the comp with a solid six minutes of excellently balanced riffing and atmosphere. The Austrian foursome too cull inspiration from the desert, and their manipulation of Kyuss’ “Thumb” in the chorus of “Gas” makes a fitting bookend to Grandloom’s “Larry Fairy,” furthering the idea that though these groups may have found their impetus in desert rock’s landmarks, they’ve been able to take those elements and create something new with them.

And that’s the ideal, I guess. There won’t be as much on Kept in a Cave Vol. 1 for someone well-versed in the Euro underground as for novice or inexperienced explorers, but I usually think of myself as pretty up on this stuff for someone who lives an ocean away and I was able to hear a few bands I’d never encountered before, so whatever your level of exposure, there’s a chance you could hear something you haven’t heard before. As that’s the best case scenario for compilations – and yes, because I admire the effort on the part of in putting it together and choosing these tracks – Kept in a Cave ultimately proves worth the time and attention of seeking it out.

Mars Red Sky, “Sadaba”

Kept in a Cave info page

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