City Sounds: Berlin

This past Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Growing up, I can still remember learning my geography on a globe with a divided Germany, but my only real memory of the Wall is a vague recollection of news bulletins featuring people swinging pickaxes at a graffitied slab of concrete the day the Wall came down. Perhaps it’s significant that these images of protest and creativity – the very things that have kept Berlin at the forefront of artistic innovation for decades – are what made the most lasting impression on the six year old me.

And now, some 22 years later, we are presented with City Sounds: Berlin, a six disc, 71 track collection from Naïve in conjunction with La Gaîté Lyrique, determined to explore that very concept: Berlin’s indispensable role on the international music scene. To listen to this collection in its entirety (approaching seven hours) is an ambitious undertaking, but it’s an endeavor well worth the effort, because, if you’re anything like me, you have a lot to learn about Berliner music.

For one thing, there’s more to City Sounds: Berlin than Kraftwerk and techno. In fact, Kraftwerk are nowhere to be seen. Sure, they occasionally show up as members of other bands – Berlin, after all, is the capital of DIWO (“do it with others”) as the immensely informative 60-page companion booklet is keen to point out. But City Sounds does a good job of keeping things interesting by avoiding what may seem like obvious choices to some and throwing in a few surprises for the uninitiated (like me), including Nick Cave, who makes a couple of appearances on disc one.

But what sets City Sounds: Berlin apart from similar compilations (similar, at least, in scope, though perhaps not depth) is that, while it no doubt makes for enjoyable casual listening, this collection, when given the proper attention, is also intrinsically fascinating. It is better to think of this as a carefully curated audio gallery than a simple CD box set – a direct result of the fact that the music of Berlin, perhaps more than any other scene, is directly tied to the city’s history. From its geographic location – window to the West isolated in the Eastern Bloc – to a West German government that encouraged artists and creative types to settle there, within the confines of the Wall, Berlin was for many years the last bastion of free artistic expression. And it was from this position on the fringe of Western culture, that artists were encouraged to tear down all self-imposed limits and let creativity run away with them.

Whether it’s Krautrock or minimalist electronica that does it for you, there’s plenty to love here.  Or maybe punk and new wave is more your thing. There are some stellar contributions of that sort, too. But for me, it’s been disc six – “Berlin Next!” – that has spent the most time in my rotation. Some highlights from the contemporary Berlin scene, it also happens to be one of the slickest “getting stuff done” records I’ve heard in a long time.

City Sounds: Berlin is only the first in what is planned to be a series of similar collections featuring the great music cities of the world. And if this first installment is any indication of what’s to come, then the City Sounds series promises to be a set worth collecting.

Something to like about today.

Sometimes I don’t like anything about Wednesdays.  Today was especially rancid as far as Wednesdays go.  And yet, here is something to make Wednesdays better:

Follow An Indie Band Wednesday! (exclamation point mine)

The list of things I like about Twitter is growing.  Visit and search “#faibw” — here is what you find: all of the indie cred you ever wanted!  People post links of their favorite indie bands, often unsigned, and even tons of free downloads, and they put “#faibw” at the end of their post.  That way, when you search for it, you get all of these indie music posts!  You can even play a fun game called “How Indie Am I?” where you count all the artists you know, and then marvel at your own ignorance.  Here’s a tip–make yourself feel better by hiding it from your friends, and then name-dropping all the bands they don’t know!

Just kidding.  I obviously think you should share the wealth.  Sorry for the sass, it was a bad day!  Here are some highlights from Follow An Indie Band Wednesday!

The Secret Life of Sofia — slightly minimalistic (makes me think of Phillip Glass), great lyrics (check “Moose Collision”), dark and delicate, quiet energy…the video is cool, too.

Michou — Canadian folk-rock, lovely voice, adorable lyrics (a bit sappy at times, but not obnoxious, so that’s always a plus for me), interesting & subtle harmonies (not your same ole same ole!), also is that trumpet and violin I hear?…”Control” reminds me of an acoustic Panic! and I also particularly enjoy “St. Mary’s Park” and “In Passing,” but that’s just the kind of day it’s been, now isn’t it?

Snowsera — keep your eye on these guys, they probably won’t be “indie” for long, but they’ve got a cool sound, comparable to The Hush Sound, Maroon 5 (ish), and Bitter Things (did you see this post?).  You get the impression that they really like to rock out.  For your viewing pleasure:

The Substitutes — And finally, as my descriptions get lamer because my laptop is dying and so is my attention span, here is a band we somehow skipped during Dutch Week and also the lead singer’s voice sounds like Conor Oberst.  Check out “Summer’s Here Kids,” because geez kids, it pretty much is.  Apparently Paste Magazine likes them; it won’t kill you to give them a listen.

There are your highlights for F.A.I.B.W.  Take advantage of them.  Spread the indie love, because indie is all about the love (read: it is not about impressing your friends or making other people feel stupid (unless they are)).  Tune in next Wednesday for more!!