When the Black Lives Matter movement swept the country this summer, musical artists from cities across the nation joined the march. Many posted shows of support for the movement on their social media platforms, encouraging their fans to get involved in local demonstrations and even joining protests themselves. However, as music’s major labels are still often dominated by conservative leadership, few mainstream artists released any kind of political or protest music, despite its cultural importance throughout music history.
With their release of “Sound the Alarm, Vol. 1: Louder Feelings,” Pop Can Records set out to change this. Pop Can, founded by Patrick Morrissey and Jesse Schuster, put together a lineup of Los Angeles-based artists with the intent to create visceral and emotive protest-themed songs. Together, they created Sound The Alarm’s compilation format, which boasts a talent-filled tracklist. The compilation features 13 tracks, each from a different artist or a few collaborators.
“I think that it’s been a really unique past four years,” Schuster said. “I think we both believe that music has a responsibility to express an emotional perspective. It felt like it’s a necessary thing.”
Smaller artists, often unsigned and without large fan-bases, have more flexibility to make big statements with their music. With artists who release music themselves, there is less pushback from music label leadership, and unsigned artists can have the most to say.
“Most of [the artists], their music was already sort of planted in some kind of protest to begin with. We knew that we wanted artists that were already talking about these subjects.” Morrissey explained. “We’re just trying to put out music urgently, and put out music that reflects this moment in time.”
The compilation’s early release on Oct. 15, 2020, is based in social justice as well. While it hit major streaming services on the 21st, it was available for purchase the week previous through Bandcamp, a streaming service with a model that encourages more fair payment of artists than Spotify or Apple Music. All proceeds from Bandcamp purchases or a physical cassette tape version of the album went to Street Watch L.A., an organization that fights for tenants’ rights and homelessness in Los Angeles.
“Ultimately, we came up with Street Watch L.A. because we scaled our project and said, ‘We’re a small, newer organization, and we exist in L.A. Where do we think we can make the most impact?’” Schuster said about their pick of the charity to benefit. “In L.A., you really get a sense of how huge the homelessness problem is, and there is so much need for support.”
The compilation covers a lot of ground in its 32 minutes. Since no two tracks really sound alike, “Sound The Alarm” has a kind of diversity in its sound that appropriately reflects the diverse backgrounds of its artists. “Eddington Again” by 3.1C is aggressive noise rap, and Maral’s “Agitate” is a more laid-back and psychedelic-inspired song. While some tracks are more subtle in their social justice themes, DWY’s jazzy and crooning “Black Boy” captures the heartache for victims of police brutality, crying out in the hook, “they killed another Black boy, his body on the streetside, his mama on the T.V. crying.”
Schuster claims the compilation’s genre-conquering tracklist was intentional.
“We approached [artists] saying that we’re making a compilation album and its central themes are protest and social justice,” Shuster said. “They may be asked to hear some of the songs. And I think that informed their creative process, just hearing the energy they bring and thinking ‘I want to bring that.’ But we wanted the artists to speak for themselves.”
“Sound The Alarm: Vol. 1: Louder Feelings” is a chaotic response to a chaotic world. While the tradition of protest music has been seemingly missing from the mainstream in a year that inspired such an uprising, the compilation shows that the spirit of justice can still appear in our music communities. “Sound The Alarm’s” lineup successfully captures so many of the emotions Americans felt in 2020, and its format works well for expressing those feelings.
The album is available for purchase on Bandcamp and free on any major streaming platform.