Crate-Digging: Various Artists – RQ EQ Christchurch Earthquake Relief 2011

Alphabet? What alphabet? I’m diggin’ through digital crates, sucka.

(Rose Quartz, 2011)

On February 22, 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. Although the region had been hit by a quake as recently as 2010, in which there were no fatalities, this one was different. Because of its location, 181 people lost their lives, and damage to the city was widespread.

This was lost in the news of the much more devastating Japan quake, but Christchurch residents wouldn’t see it that way. Fortunately, music blog Rose Quartz came up with a great idea to raise awareness and also solicit donations for the Red Cross by curating a digital compilation comprised mostly of New Zealand musicians, with the odd outside contributor for good measure. And while some bands could simply take the low road and submit detritus to a compilation that wouldn’t earn them a single penny (a New Zealand penny! Hey, they’re not in circulation anymore, collect ’em…), that’s not the case for RQ EQ. Not only did Rose Quartz rope in Thurston Moore, Grouper, and Sun Araw, they got quality material from almost every artist here. Some of these tracks are a little more difficult to wrap your head around, but in the end, it is truly worth your time to visit the Rose Quartz site, download this sucker, and drop off a donation or two.

What’s great about this compilation is that you come to see what the bigger names contributed and leave a fan of a ton of new bands. Right away in fact. Christchurch natives Spelunks’ “ba-DUNK” leads off the comp, its gurgly space synths and weird chanting morph into sickly bedroom disco that Stephin Merritt would have composed had he been signed to Underwater Peoples instead of Merge. It’s a fitting beginning, not so accessible as to serve as spoiler for the rest of the album, but it earworms itself into the middle of your frontal lobe – or wherever it is sound connects in your brain. (Somebody tell me, seriously.) It prepares you for what’s still to come, paving the way for standouts like Shocking Pinks’ “Black Envelope,” Canterbury Rams’ “Simple Mind,” and Wild Moths’ “We All Sleep,” all straddling squirmy rock, morose pop, and straining ambient. Wet Wings contribute “Feeeel It,” a delicate pop nugget, and Golden Axe follows with the Dan Deacon-esque “Catmaster,” a short synthesizer freakout. Perhaps that was intentional, as Deacon himself released a song called “Wet Wings.” Something to ponder…

But not for too long. Or maybe you can, who knows – there are some tracks here you can totally zone out to; lose yourself in your thoughts as they unfold. I don’t mean this as a slight, especially to artists who have given their work for free here, but the 12-minute tropical dronathon “Winds Emotive Inner Key” by Monopoly Child Star Searchers is a little much. It’s a simple island rhythm and found sounds, and doesn’t change much. Nor does Dolphins into the Future’s “Armona,” which has less structure than “Winds Emotive” but thankfully its birdcalls and poorly recorded tribal rumbles last a quarter of the time. It took me a few listens to get into Sun Araw’s lengthy psych excursion “Thrasher,” but if you stick with it through the meditative organ and guitar drone, it opens up to reveal an off-kilter psychedelic rock structure underneath. I recommend it.

My favorite discoveries though? Well, “Discovery,” of course! The happy, shouty, jumpy girl-group/garage track by Brooklyn’s Coasting is clearly the highlight of the album, followed closely by the dizzyingly beautiful pop confection “Florida” by Christchurch’s Mount Pleasant. These are two bands whose catalogs I will certainly be looking into further. Thurston Moore contributes “Circulation (1st Demo),” a feverishly strummed acoustic number that sounds, unsurprisingly, like stripped-down Sonic Youth. It’s nice to hear him in a different element.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better curated compilation for a better cause. You can download it for free right here – the point is not to spend money on this music, but to donate instead to the relief efforts. Go ahead, do it!

RIYL: The New Zealand experimental pop scene (and friends!)


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