Various Artists

Future Soundtrack for America

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Future Soundtrack for America might be the No Alternative of 2004. But this time around, instead of HIV, the bogeyman is our own political lethargy. Organized by the Seattle indie Barsuk and They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh in cooperation with the liberal-minded advocacy groups MoveOn.org and Music for America, the release promises to contribute 100 percent of its profits to "progressive organizations working to involve more Americans in our political process." Like a more literate version of Fat Mike's raucous Rock Against Bush series, Future Soundtrack features material from old hands David Byrne, Tom Waits, and R.E.M. alongside 21st century indie rockers like Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes. Like that old No Alternative comp, the stuff here is a mix of unreleased, rare, and live. Jimmy Eat World contributes a strong live version of the Guided By Voices gem "Game of Pricks," while They Might Be Giants somehow make the vintage campaign song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" sound both haunting and hokey. One thing's for sure -- the 1840 campaign between William Henry Harrison ("Old Tippecanoe") and Martin Van Buren ("Little Van") was a negative lyric scorcher! Some things never change. It's nice to hear Mike Doughty freed of Soul Coughing's stilted near-millennium beatnik act -- "Move On" instead features a rangy acoustic guitar backed by warm organ tones and subtle electronics. The title does more than name-check the online activism group; Doughty indicts the U.S. Army as just another hawker "between ads for soda and skin cream" with his unique brand of cynical social comment. Besides sporting one of the set's best titles, Ben Kweller's "Jerry Falwell Destroyed Earth" is a rowdy minute and a half of crap-tone noise pop. Waits' "Day After Tomorrow" is a gentle missive to a faraway family, but Laura Cantrell's take on the John Prine tale of ex-soldiers and morphine -- "There's a hole in daddy's arm/Where all the money goes" -- is made more emotional by the girlish lilt of her voice. She could be the daughter "Sam Stone" never knew. Future Soundtrack for America's most notable track is probably Elliott Smith's "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free," from his posthumously released From a Basement on a Hill. While not the most directly political thing here, Smith's sense of foreboding suggests not only his personal struggles, but how crucial it is to be engaged in our nation and world.

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