Various Artists: Little Darla Has a Treat For You, Volume 22

[1 November 2004]

By Stefan Braidwood

PopMatters *hearts* Darla

...and what an endearing little label she is, too. Subtitled “Indian Summer 2004”, this 22nd compilation of wonky, wide-eyed and wilful tunes from the Californian home for the odd and appealing retains a sunny glow as it fields another bountiful crop of the “young, fresh and cheap”. In keeping with the culturally aware agenda suggested by the map of Native California in the booklet, the musicians here assembled hail from all over the map, from New York, San Diego and Boston to Canada and Argentina, as well as a scattering of European locations.

First up is a great little track by the poetically named Auburn Lull, from their album Cast from the Platform; an ethereal cavern of glimmering delay with wistful vocals recalling Ian Brown’s collaborations with UNKLE if you subtracted neurosis and upped the bliss factor. Then we have two exclusive synthpoppy tracks in Spanish, both of which play on the seductive and soulful nature of the language, Entre Rios’ live “Lima” taking a dancey, shimmery approach that turns haunting at the end whilst Fax vs. Pepito go for a breathy, claustrophobic feel on “Una Onda Baja” that bridges the gap between Köln’s Schaffel house and the darker Detroit deep.

Canadians The Cansecos deliver a taster of their forthcoming album with “Beyond the River” that rolls softly sung vocals over a dilating, chiming groove like a more focused Beta Band collaborating with Orbital (RIP) at their most lysergic. Let’s hope these guys get as much critical appreciation as fellow purveyors of folktronica groove The Earlies from Texas (currently the targets of NME hysteria, but still fantastic and more so live) because they’re onto a great thing. There follow a quartet of more stately, plaintive offerings; Arco holding up the London end of things with a gently jangling “Out of Myself”, while New York proffers stripped down country-inflected melancholia (Pale Horse & Rider’s “Ali”, relating a gig encounter), Joanna Newsom-evoking thoughtful Americana (The Naysayers, replacing a harp with guitar, woodwind and fading horns) and a glowing backdrop to yearningly acute lyrics (“She wanted to paint all his bare walls”, relate Mascott).

Lest things become too wobegone, here’s Freezepop: “Le synthpop absolu/nous voulons partager/maintenant c’est a vous/voila! tout le monde/doit danser.” And by golly will you dance. Having previously spread gonzo joy in these webpages with their album, the Bostonians return with the “daft and dotty” remix of “Parlez-Vous Freezepop?”, slaying synthpop’s dreary ironic distancing and bouncing around with irreverent, primary coloured joy whilst flirting with you cheekily. One of my favourite musical moments of the year occurs after the first vocodered chorus, when in a brief breathing space the synths squelch funkily and percussion cascades from left to right, everything pausing for a microsecond before the pneumatically driving beat stomps in again for the singer to exclaim “Damn!” in retro mock-wonder. Damn right, ma belle. They should be rippin’ up there with Miss Kitten.

A further highlight is the Brussels/New York collaboration Anno Domino’s “Caught” from their self-titled album; building up slowly over its six minutes over jaunty little bossa nova melodies to to crest as epically cinematic soul, sweet and soft as a sunset. Denmark-based duo Manual and Syntaks, meanwhile, provide an exclusive track called “Morning Drive” thats provides a fairly good impression of their lysergic, fractured and twittering brew of sample-strewn hip-hop, psychedelia and My Bloody Valentine-style distortion rock without quite attaining the heights of their extraordinary debut album, Golden Sun. Peaceful, pounding, puzzling, pastoral and post-modern all at once, they’ve come from somewhere way out and weird, but the faux-naif innocence of that piano line will still hook you—and lift you—every time.

Ending with on a rather rawer and rockier note with Manchester’s Crispy Ambulance (great name, shame about the poetry), we’ve had 18 tracks with nary a duff one in sight, and a couple of new favourite bands to track down or look forward to—I’ve got three, and I already knew about Manual & Syntaks. Darla’s friendly blurb sheet reminds us that “There’s no substitute for good manners”, so enjoy your treat and say thank you, especially as I reckon you’ll be richly rewarded if you then ask for more.

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