CD Review of Causes 1 by Various Artists
Recommended if you like
Animal Collective, Bloc Party,
The Shins
Various Artists: Causes 1

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


axploitation has spent the last decade encouraging artists (including Danger Mouse and Chris Vrenna) to go in unexpected directions and forge unusual connections, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that “unexpected” and “unusual” are pretty good descriptors for both this album and the music therein. Okay, so Causes 1 is a benefit album -- nothing unusual about that -- and 100% of its proceeds go to support on-the-ground relief organizations in Darfur, where bloody unrest is as sadly predictable as the passage of day into night. But here’s the twist: this album (first in a planned series of charity compilations, hence the “1” in the title) is only being made available for a short time, either as a limited-run CD or an iTunes download over a 90-day window. After that, poof! No more Causes 1, and the folks in Darfur are presumably on their own again.

The songs, meanwhile, are every bit as iconoclastic as the label’s marketing. If you’re old enough to remember the benefit records and Amnesty International concerts of the late ‘80s, you may not know what to make of an album that begins with a nine-minute live version of Animal Collective’s “Safer” that seems to have no anchor in tempo, melody, or Earthly reality. The rest of the songs aren’t as strange as the opener, but the message is clear from the outset: This isn’t your parents’ charity album. Fourteen songs, and not a hint of Sting or Bono in the bunch. What it lacks in predictability, however, it makes up for in what might be termed pan-hipsterism -- whatever your favorite flavor of alt-rock might happen to be, you’re likely to find a spoonful of it here.

What this means, essentially, is that even if you loathe Bloc Party (which contributes “Rhododendrons” here), you probably have some room in your eardrums for Bright Eyes. Or Death Cab for Cutie. Perhaps David Sylvian? The Cure? The Shins? You get the idea. And the recordings these artists have made available are worth seeking out, by and large; for instance, how can you help but be intrigued by the prospect of Death Cab covering Julian Cope’s “World Shut Your Mouth”? Or Travis offering a typically Brit-mope spin on John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”?

And if, when the last chord has been strummed, it’s impossible to escape the notion that the album’s execution often fails to live up to its left-field promise, hey, at least it’s for a good cause, right? You could do (and most likely have done) a lot worse for $9.99 at iTunes. Aside from the Animal Collective track, nothing here will make you reach frantically for the “next” button, and it’s an album anyone can feel good about buying. Just make sure you snap it up while supplies last.

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