KEXP is one of the best radio stations. Even if you're not a Washington resident, their website features numerous live performances from quality artists for all connected to cyberspace to enjoy. Along with NPR and KCRW, KEXP is the station/site one can tune in to for hours without feeling the wont of an MP3 player, because it is not only capable of appealing to your set horizon, but intuitive enough to expand it. For this reason, a collection of some of the station's best performances from the past year is expected. When you have the acts they have coming through, why not make a product more tangible and concrete than airwaves and broadband? Seems like a simple, successful endeavor, right? Nothing is simple when human judgment is involved. Live At KEXP Volume Two transforms into a mix of some great performances buffered by baffling selections and dubious bedmates.
Lyrics Born opens the volume with the party track, "Callin' Out", a great choice for getting off the ground quickly. Gang of Four immediately puts a pin hole in the balloon though, with a reminder that there is some truth to the "over-the-hill" theory in rock music. After a musical interlude by Thievery Corporation, the next five tracks represent the best bit of consistency present in the 20-track collection, although not a single track fits what should be considered a seminal performance. Tapes 'n Tapes sounds more like Wolf Parade than normal, Sleater-Kinney leaves a respectable living will, Ted Leo does what is status quo for him, Death Cab for Cutie goes acoustic with "Crooked Teeth", which provides a taste of the expected intimacy of such a product, and The Decembrists provide some cultural diversity.
Misplaced in a sea of disappointment, one can find the best Live At KEXP pieces on the last half of the disc. Band of Horses proves with "The Funeral" that they are the best new band with the best album so far this year. Listeners get to hear exactly what they sound like before mastering, and there is very little difference, proving that they are not a result of smoke and mirrors (or effects and equalizers). The same cannot be said for Editors a few tracks later. During the chorus of "The Funeral", there is a slight variation on the guitar chord which makes the song even better than the album version. A rabblerousing performance. It often seems like Conor Oberst presses record on a boom box, and delivers perfection, so "At the Bottom of Everything" is as wondrous on KEXP as it is on I'm Wide Awak..., but as he is blessed, and cursed, with near perfection, the track becomes an expectation rather than something to write about. "World of Hurt" proves that Drive-By Truckers might be one of those you can't truly appreciate unless you hear them live. After being less than smitten with their studio work, Live At KEXP captures them in 3-dimensions. Patterson Hood has a genuine delivery of openly speaking without preaching, which makes the song spiritually moving without making such an attempt.
There is so much good about KEXP as a station, and a fair amount of positives about Live At KEXP Volume Two, but here are some questions: Is Common Market the guy from Linkin Park's new hip hop project? How the hell does M.I.A. fit into this mix? Who is Skullbot, and who in the world listens to Skullbot? As a follow-up, who had the audacity to put Skullbot (hands down the worst band on the disc) next to Bright Eyes, then added insult to injury by putting a Trashcan Sinatras' song, which sounded like a canned public service message, behind Bright Eyes? Were the tracks randomly assembled between the first and last track? No other guest in the past year had a better performance than Gang of Four, Zero 7, and Editors? Really? These are questions that, if answered properly, would have resulted in the exemplary product KEXP is capable of assembling.