Compass Munchy the Bear

[Shark Attack; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: psychedelic, indie pop, experimental rock, laptop folk
Others: Eels, Beck, Cornelius, Gorillaz

Munchy the Bear, the debut full-length from Compass, is not only a concept album, but an ambitious one at that. The album opens with a countdown to nuclear apocalypse, replete with the sonic approximation of an atomic blast, and closes with the sound of waves lapping against the beach. Sandwiched between these delimiters are 15 impassioned tracks, instrumental and otherwise, which serve to remind us how close we are, culturally and ideologically, to the halcyon days of Cold War paranoia and the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

Compass, a.k.a. Dave Doom, like his spiritual predecessors Beck and Eels' Mark Everett (or "E," as he is known to his friends), have the uncanny ability to make music of an unspeakably grim nature somehow palatable, if not downright enjoyable. For instance, depending on how you looked at it, Eels' 1998 masterpiece Electro-Shock Blues was either a morbid, sonic thanatopsis, or the apotheosis of a finely-honed pop sensibility. Similarly, Munchy the Bear, though cynically obsessed with the ever-present threat of impending doom, is nonetheless filled with pleasantly upbeat pop tunes that could have been produced by The Automator or The Dust Brothers.

The record's nihilistic tone is set when the opening lyrics begin, "Baby you know it's not like that/ You'll never live forever it's not like that." Elsewhere on the record, samples of 1950s civil defense spots (the hilarious "Burt the Turtle") and a snippet of nonsensical dialogue, in the form an egregious non sequitur from none other than Ronald Reagan, help to heighten Munchy the Bear's atmosphere of teetering-on-the-brink menace. Using this myopic mindset as an analogy for today's irrational, paranoiac culture of fear, Compass seem to be simultaneously celebrating life and decrying the negativity embedded into our collective social consciousness. Remember when crawling under your desk at school was supposed to protect you from a full-on nuclear assault? Or, 30 years later, when "The Day After" was actually considered to be within the realm of possibility?

Though Munchy the Bear is distinctly contemporary in its structure and production style, the record seems to have taken cues from several of the monolithic greats of 1960s psychedelia (echoes of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, anyone?). But despite his neo-hippie affectations and retro leanings, Dave Doom is an information-age troubadour cut in a conspicuously postmodern mold.

Another noteworthy characteristic of Munchy the Bear is the fact that, despite having been recorded over a number of years, at a wide variety of locations, with an ever-rotating cast of supporting musicians, the record has a remarkable cohesion. It's a rich and sprawling recording filled with lush textures and instrumentation. Besides growing on the listener immeasurably, Munchy the Bear will have her wondering what a little more focus and tighter songwriting will bring to the table in the form of future Compass releases.

1. Never Live Forever
2. When You Have Had
3. Sticks, Pots and the Bloody Beats
4. I'm Already Dead
5. Burt the Turtle
6. Meteor Man
7. Mombre Medley
8. Finally
9. Cripple Creek
10. Harp
11. Beauty and Addiction
12. What Do We Start With?
13. A Cult Following
14. Paix!
15. Never Want to Leave