There will be bigger, bolder works of pandemic-inspired art but few will sound as immediate and sincere as Pentagon Black Compilation No. 5.
Culturally speaking, the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are just getting started. Sure, its immediate effects — decimating the live music industry, highlighting the inequity in supporting and funding artists for their work — have been evident right from the get-go, but the majority of new music that’s been released in the last five months was all written and recorded pre-pandemic. Coming soon: an onslaught of pandemic-inspired movies, novels, and music that will forever frame our lockdown experience and document this moment in time.
One of the first out of the gate is Montreal-based label/arts collective Pentagon Black, whose mandate from the very start is to make musical ephemera in the form of a physical object to which digital music is attached. Pentagon Black is primarily the home of DIYers The Famines; their singer/guitarist, Raymond Biesinger, is the artist behind the label’s visually striking compilation releases. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 5 returns to the “phone comp” format first explored in their third compilation, recorded live with telephones, but focuses on local artists creating within the confines of the pandemic lockdown. Recorded between March and June 2020, the compilation’s sixteen tracks are a mix of experimental pop and ferocious punk spirit, divergent takes on feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, solitude, and solidarity.
Though I’m unfamiliar with the language Tamayugé sings in, the tone of their opening song “Auto-guérison” reminds me very much of what it felt like listening to news reports from across the country around the ides of March this year: disjointed from reality, fractured and frayed nerve endings firing synapses that don’t connect in the way we’ve come to expect. A sense of late Spring’s despondency decorates “Garland” by Agatha Pale, who sings “You’re not dead but your soil is gone” over unadorned acoustic guitar. It sounds sweet, but its musical sugar is contaminated with the reality that we’re all waiting for a drug that’s going to take the pain and discomfort away. On “Always Moving”, Child Actress sings about no longer loving Montréal, their town surely a stand-in for any geographic location people find themselves limited to. And while even the blooms of the most beautiful of roses fade and fall off, there’s a balancing, meditative atmosphere of reassurance to YlangYlang’s “La Main Verte”.
As varied and individual as the songs on the compilation are, they are undeniably unified by Biesinger’s art: a series of interconnected, psychological subway stops that are both literal (“Lemon” by Jules Nominal and “250520” by No. Deux) and figurative (“Date Night” by Ladies Night) representations of the songs’ titles and themes. There will be bigger, bolder works of pandemic-inspired art (I give it less than seven years before there’s a Broadway musical about it), but I hazard to guess that few will sound as immediate, authentic, and sincere as the collected works on Pentagon Black Compilation No. 5.
Pentagon Black Compilation No. 5 is a 6″x6″ art postcard printed in a limited edition of 500, available directly from Pentagon Black.