Review of Xtra Mile High Club Volume 5: Smokin' (Signed Vs Unsigned) Album by Various Artists

It is rare that we see record labels actually bother to put any effort at all into their compilations and samplers these days. Most of the time, labels will scrape together the bare minimum number of tunes by a couple of their flagship acts backed by six to ten cuts from their less well-known artists and chuck it up on their website with little to no fanfare or care for the quality of the product being sold. This is not so for Xtra Mile, the label that brought you Reuben and continues to back the incredible rise of Frank Turner. 'Xtra Mile High Club Volume 5' delivers a whopping 42 tracks for a fiver. That's right: whatever your taste in punk, indie or folk might be, with such a high volume of work on show here, you are bound to find something new to get into for the price of a couple of pints. Winner.

Various Artists Xtra Mile High Club Volume 5: Smokin' (Signed Vs Unsigned) Album

This mammoth compilation kicks off with Against Me! at their thrilling, roaring best with 'Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues'; a song packed to the gills with bite and venom from what is probably the most important punk album of the last ten years. It is a tough act to follow, but the quality on disc one is incredibly high.

You get more rock as Cheap Girls take on a Drive-By Truckers kind of sound on their contribution and recent signing 'Billy the Kid' turns in; an absolute emo gem. Arguably, the two most high profile acts on disc one also bring the guitars with Jamie Lenman putting in a grotesquely entertaining and terrifyingly heavy turn in the form of 'Shower of Scorn' from his 'Muscle Memory' album and Frank Turner slips back into a hardcore sound he has not experimented with since the end of 'Million Dead' on Mongol Horde's nautical 'Blistering Blue Barnacles'.

Elsewhere, you get retro-futuristic keyboards courtesy of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, lo-fi folk finger picking from Ben Marwood and piano melodrama from Xtra Mile's folk musician in residence Chris T-T. Algiers do their best Pavement impression on 'Little Frictions' and Rob Lynch provides what is possibly the collection's most accessible pop moment. It's all good stuff.

Where things get interesting, though, is on disc two, which showcases 21 of the finest unsigned bands going at the moment and surely begs Charlie Caplowe et al at XMR the question just why these bands are not signed. As on disc one, the quality on show on the second disc is equally as unrelenting. Of particular note are The Failures Union with their brand of pleasant emo rock, PJ Bond's Ryan Adams style alt-country and Gasoline Heart's Kurt Vile styled leanings. One band that stands head and shoulders above the rest, however, is Strange Planes with their song 'Sharpen Your Teeth'. This is radio ready anthemic grunge rock. This is a band who already sound massive and surely it can only be a matter of time before they are gracing disc one, climbing up festival schedules and creating the kind of buzz bands like Royal Blood presently are.

When a label has a roster as diverse and as incredibly talented as Xtra Mile has, you have to give them their due and allow them every opportunity to shout about it like this. Here too is a label championing the unsigned underdogs and even if the unsigned disc was not as brilliant as it is, that ethos has to be admired. This is a label sampler done the right way and, at 42 tracks for a fiver, you shouldn't even be mulling it over. You should just be downloading it right now.


Ben Walton