The San Francisco, California-based independent label Darla Records has released a series of albums and EPs called the Bliss Out Series. While those releases focus mostly on instrumental, extremely dreamy ambient pop and rock, the “Bliss Out” tag could be used just as appropriately to describe the label’s entire catalog these days. Since its birth in 1994, the label has both expanded greatly—they now distribute numerous smaller indie labels—and gained more of a focus. They deal with musicians from various genres and from locations all over the world, yet their releases paint a general picture, that of musicians who focus on the pleasure and beauty that can be found in sounds and songs. Nearly every release with the Darla stamp on it is likely to produce a response of “wow, that’s gorgeous!”, even though their releases cover a bounty of musical styles. They’re also one of the most consistent labels in any genre of music right now, continually finding fantastic sounds from all over the world.
Little Darla Has a Treat For You, v. 17 is the 17th release in Darla’s quarterly series of CDs which compile current and unreleased tracks from the world of indie pop and rock. “New Sounds From Around the Corner and Around the Globe” is the series’ subtitle, and as it indicates, the bands included come not only from the U.S. but from all over the world. They also are not just from Darla releases, though the musicians and labels included share with Darla a love of fresh, exciting and pretty pop sounds. Volume 17 includes 19 tracks from 10 labels; five songs come from currently available releases, five are from forthcoming releases, and the rest are exclusive to this CD. That variety gives it an extra importance; it serves not only to make music fans aware of new and upcoming releases, but also has enough exclusive material to instantly become a collector’s item.
Volume 17 kicks off with “The Casio Fight Song”, a short Casio-centered instrumental by David Shouse & The Bloodthirsty Lovers. While its pretty texture will no doubt surprise fans of Shouse’s rock bands (The Grifters, Those Bastard Souls), the track fits perfectly to the set the mood of this compilation. Electronic-based bliss plays a key role on numerous tracks here, including the moody electro-ish pop of Collette Carter and Alsace Lorraine, the experimental electronic dance music of Philadelphians Transient and Flowchart, and two outstanding instrumentals from European groups, Dim Dim’s “Riri” and Toyen’s “14 Pints”. The former is a playful, sublimely melodic track with a tropical feel, cartoonish noises and sex sounds, off the Belgian group’s upcoming CD Kiwi (to be released by Audio Dregs Recordings, another superb label). The latter, by Norway’s Toyen, starts as a blippy electronic instrumental and gains a more expansive, gorgeous feeling as it proceeds.
The compilation also spotlights many bands using more traditional rock/pop instrumentation to capture similar feelings. Holiday Flyer’s “Trains” is a catchy, uptempo pop song with a beautiful dual vocals and a lovelorn, melancholy atmosphere, while Barcelona’s “Beautiful” is equally melodic, catchy and heartfelt, yet with synthesizers complementing the guitars. Gentler pop also shows up here, on Aroah’s folksy ballad “Come Home”, Able’s graceful pop ballad “Springtime”, Graham’s moody dream “The Best Spectacular” and a laidback remix of (The Real|) Tuesday Weld’s “I Love the Rain”. And there’s a few superb cover tunes, including My Morning Jacket’s soulful version of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and Photon Band’s extremely faithful rendition of The Zombies’ “Beachwood Park”. The compilation also includes great tracks from Mark Robinson, Ashley Park, The Still and Lu.
While Little Darla Has a Treat For You v. 17 might seem like just another indie comp, it’s more special than that, both because of the high level of quality and the stylistic range represented. This is an inexpensive trip around the globe, a survey of the international pop music scene as of summer 2001, featuring outstanding musicians who the average person isnt likely to stumble upon in everyday life.
// Notes from the Road
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