Even in the internet age, college radio is one of the best places to discover truly exciting music. The DJs tend to have eclectic tastes and are able to select their own set lists, unbeholden to labels and payola scandals. One of the great pleasures of an interstate drive is the search for odd and original sounds on the radio dial, offset by the sadness of driving out of range. Of course, many college stations are also online, but there’s nothing like passing into the small region covered by such a station and imagining the DJ sitting alone in a darkened room, passionately choosing the next song, a song that simply must be heard, if only by a few random people awake at 3 a.m. and far from sober.
Mankato, Minnesota’s KMSU is now celebrating its 50th year, a laudable achievement. It’s also the third year of the Free Form Freakout podcast, upon which this compilation is based. The artists involved have all been featured on the podcast and have donated tracks for the station’s annual fall fundraiser. Donors can purchase the download, the download plus a print, or the download, the print and a 10″ mono lathe cut. As the station has often been held together “with bailing wire and bubblegum”, all gifts will help the station to survive. And it’s well worth supporting, as these songs demonstrate: beautifully strange, like specimens of endangered species that simply must be preserved.
Imagine driving at night, crisp stars overhead, and coming across Sean McCann’s “Slowly Drinking Shade”. The filtered voice sounds like that of an alien responding to SETI. Resonant bells toll like mourning churches. And when the strings enter, one imagines passing through weather fronts, state by lonely state, yearning for the blankets of home. The song is a comfort that gets one through the night, a companion to solo travel. Should one switch the station, perhaps search for some Katy Perry? Of course not. She’ll still be on when you get home.
Or imagine instead stumbling home from a party, a new number entered into your phone. It’s been a good night, a blur of bars, distorted noise and successful flirtation. Now you’re back in the dorm and still a bit juiced. The DJ knows how you feel; he’s playing Sparkling Wide Pressure’s “Fall Back in a Sea of Love”. You’re falling back, into bed, into dreams, as the synthesized brass carries you away.
These are just the first two tracks. With over a hundred minutes of music, there’s plenty that will entertain, intrigue and amuse. Some of the tracks are downright unusual, which is what we expect from a forward-thinking program. Jason E. Anderson’s “Utilization of a Quartz Crystal (For Dramatic Effect)” starts off like a lost track from The Orb before wandering into uncharted waters. Rambutan’s “Aftermath” creeps through a field of half-dead circuit boards, all beeping for attention. Charlatan’s “Red Portage” is a collection of unheeded alarms, and Cream Juice’s “Bounce With Me OHIO” sounds like a video game dropped on its head. This being said, one of the album’s best tracks, Black Eagle Child’s “Bicycle”, succeeds with the traditional elements of intelligent composition and memorable melody, while the effective closer, Chapels’ “Rate of Strain”, makes effective use of filtered choirs.
You may not live in Minnesota; you may not ever have passed through. But to support this compilation is to support the work of KMSU and by extension, all college stations: the tireless volunteers who serve as the evangelists for the experimental music scene. (Richard Allen)