A few years ago, I was making a mix CD for a friend, and casually asked if he wanted liner notes to accompany the music. He replied by saying that he appreciated having the notes, if for no other reason than to know that each song wasn’t just selected at random. In a way, that’s how I feel about most compilations I hear. In many cases, they’re released as label samplers, tribute albums, promotional tie-ins or other such categories, though somewhat frequently, they exist because of a cause. The Red Hot series has long contributed to AIDS charities, while a Filter/Urban Outfitters compilation released at the beginning of 2005 titled Tsunami Relief offered just that, with benefits going toward the UNICEF Tsunami Relief Fund.
The newly released compilation Peace (for mom) has a no less noble ambition behind it, but one extremely personal to those involved. Released in memory of Marilyn Whitney, the late mother of Brainwashed founder Jon Whitney, Peace (for mom) is dedicated to those who have lost a mother too soon, and is all the more heartbreaking for it. In honor of Whitney, proceeds will be donated to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., where she volunteered.
The songs assembled on the two-CD set aren’t necessarily written with the theme in mind, and many of them have been previously released, but that said, their inclusion on this set is not without significance. Quite the contrary, there is a contrasting feeling of both somberness and of beauty, of grace and of grief. Disc A begins with “Sunbeam” by A Place to Bury Strangers, and is one of the Brooklyn band’s most stunning and delicate songs. The next song, Antony and the Johnsons’ “You Are My Sister,” is perhaps the most well-known here, but actually seems more directly tied to the central theme and background. Aranos offers a gauzy ambience in “Fall’s Golden Whispers,” and Boy In Static layer on a bit of fuzz for “Stay Awake.” Caribou’s “Hummingbird” is a woozy standout with synths warbling and vibrating, Current 93’s “All The Pretty Little Horses” is somewhat tied to the themes as well, though a bit creepy. That doesn’t mean it’s not great, though.
On disc B, Matmos offers an ascendant electronic dream sequence in “Staircase,” and Monster Movie contributes the amazing “Vanishing Act.” In fact, the first 30 seconds of this song alone is enough to make me want to dig through the band’s catalog, which is one of the best things a compilation can do. Marissa Nadler’s “Stallions” is characteristically spectral and delicate, which is a wonderful thing, of course. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of The Dresden Dolls, but I can make an exception for Amanda Palmer’s cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which is achingly gorgeous to say the least.
In the liner notes to the album, whose artwork has a stark beauty of its own, Jon Whitney notes that it was his mother who bought him his first records, took him to his first rock concerts and classical performances and came to the first festival he organized. The importance of family is rarely mentioned in rock music, but Peace (for mom) brings it to light and celebrates it, if somberly and with quiet reflection. Those with mothers like Whitney’s, who express the importance of music and art, might consider this for a Mother’s Day gift (or if you choose to keep it, at least remember to give mom a call!). No matter what, this compilation features everything that makes its kind essential—great music, unheard new discoveries and a really big heart.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.