The compact-disc sampler was once ubiquitous. A quick dig through a Kansas City-area clearance rack or bargain bin unearths compilations devoted to radio stations, record labels and various benefit causes. But today, digital players hold entire music libraries, with room left over for the extended edition of the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy. CDs are coasters. The CD comp has gone the way of the buffalo.
Now that vinyl is again the medium of choice for discerning music fans, could the compilation concept be reimagined in LP form? The founders of Replay Records are thinking maybe. On Friday, they're releasing Cheap Beer, a collection of songs from bands that largely hang out around the Replay Lounge and Jackpot Music Hall in Lawrence. It's the first compilation of local music on vinyl since Big Brown Shark's 2005 collection, KC-DIY.
The genesis of Cheap Beer was fairly simple, according to Replay Lounge proprietor Nick Carroll. Last May, during the Replay's annual Spring Into Summer showcase, Mouthbreathers drummer and Replay sound guy Zach Campbell suggested that Carroll put out a compilation featuring local bands. "I remember thinking, 'No, I hate those things,'" Carroll says. "But he said, 'No, like a vinyl comp,' and all of a sudden, it's like, 'That's a good idea.' "
"I just think that a lot of people collect records, and it seems that there's not a lot of value in putting out a CD," Carroll continues. "Everyone just rips it, throws it away, and that's it."
Cheap Beer's primary organizer (and Mouthbreathers guitarist) Brad Shanks says getting bands on the compilation was easy. "When we told 'em we were gonna put out a comp on LP — like, you know, an actual record — people would get excited and want to be a part of it."
The compilation features a selection of 15 local and regional bands. The sonic footprint for Cheap Beer is definitely one of a garage- and punk-rock bent, which stands to reason because that's the bread and butter for both bars these days. There's the post-hardcore angular attack of Der Todesking as well as the Hips' indie-country tones, and the two-man metal attack of JabberJosh's Gunnerson brothers. Lawrence garage-rock quartet Dry Bonnet ended up with its song "I Smell Bacon" on Cheap Beer because the band's bassist, Seth Wiese, plays drums for Rooftop Vigilantes, which also has a track included. Several of Dry Bonnet's members work at Jackpot or the Replay (Wiese is both a sound guy and a bartender at the Replay), and they were asked to contribute a track after one of the band's early shows.
"Even though we are one of the newest bands in town, people like us well enough to let us participate," Wiese says. "That's pretty rad."
Some tracks on Cheap Beer — like Kansas City punks Dark Ages' "Why?" — aren't new songs. ("Why?" appears on the band's latest LP, Can America Survive?) "We didn't want it to be an exclusive thing because the idea is to expose people to other bands' music," Shanks says. "And if people go, 'Oh, I really like this song, and they've got a record with this song on it,' then they can go get that record, you know? It's kind of like a sampler, I guess you could say."
Artist Leslie Kuluva, who is hand-screening T-shirts for the compilation's release and doing the LP's inserts, says those who listen to it get a chance to "maybe get a taste, if they haven't already, of the blood, sweat and tears of our little Midwest scene."
The cover art by Kenneth Kupfer is a slightly psychedelic and wild-eyed portrait of the Replay, like a mosaic viewed through beer goggles. Some of the characters populating the cover bear a slight resemblance to certain regulars at the bar. "The people in the picture are intended to look like several people. ... It was intentionally mysterious," Kupfer says. "Who do you think they are? makes it more fun." (Kupfer is, however, willing to confirm that the "R" on the "BEER" of the cover art's title is, in fact, vomiting.)
"This record is more than just another collection of random songs," Kuluva says, summing up the feelings of ownership expressed by all the participants. "It literally makes me feel proud when I listen to it, even though it's not me on there, and I'm nobody's mom or anything. It feels a bit like a culmination of all the things and folks we've been trying to support and who have been supporting us."
Shanks has a positive outlook for the future of Replay Records, thinking that if the label sells all of its initial 500 LPs, there will be future releases. "I'm not trying to look too far into the future," Shanks says. "I don't want to start counting my chickens before they hatch. But that's what we're all hoping for and what we all get excited about when we talk about it. Like, 'Oh, what if we can start putting out, like, actual 7-inches and records and just keep moving from there?' Hopefully, we can do something good for the town, and KC as well, and see what happens."