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Various Artists 

Tiny Idols

Wednesday, Aug 24 2005
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Back in 1972, Lenny Kaye put together the two-LP Nuggets compilation, a collection of artists from the mid-'60s who tried to match the Beatles and the Stones, and failed brilliantly. With Tiny Idols, Brooklyn's Mark Griffey attempts something similar, excavating the indie rock bands who swam in the wake of Pavement, Sebadoh, and Stereolab in the early '90s.

There are a few differences between the discs. Several Nuggets tracks, like Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," actually climbed the national charts, whereas most of the Tiny Idols material barely made it onto college radio. Also, while a major label funded Kaye's album, Griffey's tight budget forced him to eschew artists on big indies like Merge, Matador, and K.

Still, as any nerd collector hovering around 30 knows, the early '90s produced enough transcendent obscurities to fill 10 Rhino box sets. With the advent of cheap home-recording equipment and the spread of the DIY aesthetic, musicians all over the land were putting vibrant, cacophonous, and/or whimsical tunes to tape. What's mostly apparent from Tiny Idols is how wide-ranging the indie underground was (unlike the Nuggets bands, which used the British Invasion as their sole template). Any scene that can find common territory (and quality) in the big-guitar fuzz of Sunhead and the lonely keyboard plink of Philistines Jr. is impressive. Tiny Idols features everything from the fractured Cali-psychedelia of Further to the perky indie-pop bounce of Bunnygrunt to the oddball shut-in balladry of R. Stevie Moore. A quarter of the tracks are from the Bay Area, including jangly power-poppers the Sneetches, bassoon-fueled angular art-rockers Chotchke, and lo-fi Lutheran Allen Clapp. All told, the comp is like the perfect mix CD from your older brother, the one who spent every valuable moment with his radio tuned to the left of the dial. Just like Lenny Kaye.

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Dan Strachota

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