Jon Doyle, the multi-faceted writer behind music blog Wake The Deaf, has curated a compilation for charity. The compilation is called ‘Quiet, Constant Friends’ and, put simply, it is the slightest, most delicate, most down-to-earth collection of music you will hear this year. The compilation is in aid of Worldreader, a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating a literate world through digital education. The album is literary-themed and will make you cry. Before I pour any further platitudes on the thing in of itself, its conception and its standing, let’s do my job and actually look at the music therein.
While I can’t deliver a track-by-track of this compilation with any logistical ease, I can say of the tracks I don’t mention from here on out that they share much in common with each other and the songs I do pick out: warmth, care and a DIY, from-the-bedroom-from-the-heart aesthetic that truthfully expounds that idea of a favourite book, of reading-as-vitality, even of nostalgic storytelling.
There are very few weak moments in what is by and large a long, calm, slow-paced meander through the minds and hearts of the tape-recording, book-thumbing, indie-folk-Silver-Mt-Zion artistic set – a remarkable feat which stands testament to the good taste and pure intention of Wake The Deaf. That said, there isn’t much diversity by way of genre, or even timbre much of the time, which is only a problem for the compilation when it comes to fierce opponents of that genre (of which there are certainly a few).
The compilation’s opener, ‘The Well’ by Danielle Fricke, is a reverb-soaked lament made bombastic by synth upwellings and audacious vocal ideas that carry you up and out from underneath. It’s the perfect starter for the A-side, with Wes Tirey’s plaintive, minimalist banjo-and-country-crooning 'Akhnilo Blues', Pasture Dog’s soulful, layered ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ and Henry Demos’ violin-seethed, cat-meow-stippled ode to the instrumental epic ‘Not Her’ comprising much of its direction. The A-side ends with moody post-rock instrumental dirge ‘Hair’ by Sondra Sun-Odeon, while side B begins with a refreshing, leaf-turning field recording of nature in action by Nathan Amundsen, aptly named ‘Haruki Murikami’.
From here, the compilation changes pace, bringing positive drum samples and electronic phrases from Windmill and ARMS. Free Cake For Every Creature bring surf-rock Of Montreal vibes to the equation with the jangly and frail ‘Don’t Go Away Ahumpf Acgroomf’, while Nice Legs bring the hard-compressed reverb-and-tambourined Flaming-Lips-y shimmer-fest ‘Past Lives’. The compilation ends with Nadia Reid’s impeccable southern-folk, lapsteel-swollen conduit for folk-vocal spine-shudder, and the first instinct is to go straight back to ‘The Well’.
Now that bit’s out of the way, I can say what I’ve been itching to say since the end of my very first listen: one of my favourite figurative labels to use when talking about art is "love letter". The term conveys a very particular kind of gentleness, affords the notion of great care being taken – of slightness in the reconstruction of, or conversation with, something obviously dear to the creator. If the simple, warmth-inspiring image behind "love letter" is already a pleasurable thought, then the pleasure is at least doubly so when its use is demanded by something; the thought is made tangible, the care made real, the warmth transferable from distant definition to present experience, be it eyes or ears.
In this case, I’m able to, with no small degree of comfort, describe 'Quiet,' Constant Friends as a love letter. Even better, it’s a love-letter compilation of love letters. Each track is a perfectly-executed evocation of the inspiration afforded by the written words, by the sheaves of well-thumbed books by beds and in backpacks just like the ones you and I held and hold so dear. The compilation captures a mood perfectly, arranging these precious stand-alones with the care of which Rob Gordon would be proud. Its name – 'Quiet, Constant Friends' – is just so, and the physical form it takes (a cassette, with a thank you note, a quote from a "fictional friend" and limited edition postcard artwork for certain songs) is artisan without the hipster implication. It’s a love letter to books; a love letter to independent artists, bedroom recordings and unashamedly folk-culture influences; a love letter to other compilations; a love letter to making, to learning, and to that first time you read words without your parents’ help; a love letter to charity; and a love letter to that warm, fuzzy feeling you only truly get when reading, watching, listening to love letters both figurative and literal.
It cannot be overstated that the issues at the fundament of this charity compilation are epistemically important, not only for the arts but for the fair development and education of people worldwide. Just as books inspired the art that makes up this compilation, so can they inspire more from the next lot. It’s an inspired idea for a noble cause, executed with undeniable grace and care.