Album Review: Various Artists – Xtra Mile High Club Vol. 5 – Smokin’ (Signed vs Unsigned)

Now in their second decade of existence having celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, Xtra Mile Recordings have managed to bring together an interesting concept for the fifth installment of its ‘Xtra Mile High Club’. Some would say that with the advent of music sharing platforms such as Spotify and Last.FM that the compilation is dead, but the London-based label have faith their dedicated following, befitting of a “cult” label such as it is, will invest their time and hard-earned listening to the acts currently occupying the roster of the label that brought us bands like Reuben, Million Dead and The Xcerts. Each act featured in the first disc have hand-picked a favourite of theirs for the second disc, hoping to bring to attention some of the best acts on the unsigned circuit to ears that may not have experience their delights to date.

The first disc contains some familiar names, from Xtra Mile stalwarts such as Jamie Lenman and Mongol Horde (who each contain members of the aforementioned Reuben and Million Dead, established names whom you may not have realised were part of the Xtra Mile extended family such as Against Me! and Sonic Boom Six, and some real blasts from the past with Mull Historical Society (über-obscure Scottish indie pop artist from the very early 2000s) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (brief Pitchfork darlings in the mid-00s when the website went briefly mad with power and thought it could break any old gubbins). Of the acts yours truly wasn’t familiar with prior to hearing before this compilation, Cheap Girls are among the most impressive encounterance, sounding like the more enjoyable parts of The Gaslight Anthem crossed with The Replacements. Also impressing are the ever brilliant Rob Lynch, a surprisingly solemn outing for Crazy Arm with ‘Black Canyon’, a band normally known for their frenzied folk-punk, and standing out amongst the bland singer-songwriters toward the end of the first disc is the Lanegan/Waits-isms of Jon Snodgrass and Drag The River, the latter pairing gravelly vocals to wistful Americana with no small amount of “rock” punch.

However, aficionados of Xtra Mile and those likely to stumble across this compilation will already be familiar with much present on Part 1; so what of the unsigned acts? Early on, there are promising contributions from the likes of Failures Union, whom I suspect were the choice of Cheap Girls as they have a similar croon/grunge-punk (crunge?) style. Quiet Quiet Band make a sound far from fitting for their moniker, playing a style of folk-punk not too dissimilar to that of Crazy Arm. The gorgeous voice of The Lion And The Wolf keeps a consistent run going, continued by Oxford’s brilliant Spring Offensive, a band you should be keeping a close ear on if acts like Tall Ships and Everything Everything tickle your fancy. International Departures also come forth as “ones to watch” contenders, featuring Henry Carden of DARTZ!, whose former comrade features in the first disc’s Algiers; of the two I far prefer Mr Carden’s effort.

The second half of the second disc takes rather a sharp downward turn; there aren’t any particular lowlights per se (although the less said about Grace Petrie and the Benefits Culture the better; like a perfectly orchestrated Daily Mash parody of a “politikul” artist), just stuffed with prime filler material; right at the very end of the record, the early Biffy-esque stylings of Samoans deliver us from the Enter Shikari meets Hadouken clusterfuck of The Karma Party (no prizes for guessing who picked that one). Overall, while predominately a solid case for the music tastes of musicians remaining enigmatic to the fan, this is a decent reminder of the strength of Xtra Mile’s current roster and highlights some deserving new acts to the XM devotees. And yes, some of the music is thankfully rather better than the lame pun on the cover art.


‘Xtra Mile High Club Vol. 5 – Smokin’ (Signed vs. Unsigned)’ by Various Artists is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.

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Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)


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