Various Artists

Wouldn't It Be Beautiful?

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As spontaneous performance artist Timothy "Speed" Levitch says in the introduction that opens the album, "This may seem like a compilation; this may seem like an album," but it is ultimately much more than either of those things. On the one hand it is an outstanding sampler that displays the type of remarkable pop music put out by New York's Messenger Records, an album-length cross-section of relentlessly artistic individuals and bands. On the other hand, it is a wild ride through the current state of underground, independent rock music and an exciting listen from beginning to end with virtually no dead spots. It also happens to serve as a recorded assault on the kind of timid and formulaic commercial pop that gets played on the radio and MTV, not with its attitude but with the sheer level of its excellence. The star of the show is Johnny Society, which released two brilliant Messenger albums prior to Wouldn't It Be Beautiful?, and contributes two mind-boggling songs: the previously released "Everyday" and the exclusive, dreamy dessert ballad, "Forget It." In addition, the band teams up with fellow New York band of multi-instrumentalists Church of Betty in the side-project the Hand, which contribute two songs, the Prince-cum-Indian-music title tune and the gorgeously odd raga, "Golden Melody." Church of Betty makes its own contribution as well, extending the exotic Eastern melodicism of the Hand while retaining its pop core. There is also a stellar contribution from Messenger artist Bobby Sichran (former hip-hop engineer, anti-folk artist, and pioneer of the hip-hop/folk/funk/blues amalgam that Beck eventually took to the bank), as well as a live cut, "Automatic," that Chris Whitley recorded at the Knitting Factory with daughter Trixie. Wouldn't It Be Beautiful?, though, is not strictly nepotistic. It gives plenty of space to outside contributors, including well-known artists that have already garnered devoted followings (acclaimed country-folk singer/songwriter Richard Buckner and producer extraordinaire, Daniel Lanois, whose "Sonho Dourado" is mesmerizingly atmospheric) and more obscure but equally intriguing individuals such as pop/rocker Adam Elk and tremendous neo-folkie Gary Jules. The album pulls Elgin Park from San Diego and reaches all the way to Sweden for two skewed pop tunes from Ray Wonder, a band that numbers Beck among its fans. It is a smorgasbord of pop smarts, rich and varied, a compilation that demands to be taken as a whole.

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