Looking back at this past year, Ipecac and Relapse leap out as two record labels who have consistently released music of superb quality all year long, but while their success is deserved (not to mention undeniable), there's one small cadre of Western Canadian underdogs who have consistently put out some of the most fun music of the year, that being Vancouver, British Columbia's Boompa. As their fellow Vancouverites Mint Records continue to ride the success of mainstays Neko Case, the New Pornographers, The Organ, and Carolyn Mark, Boompa has overtaken Mint as the coolest indie label on Canada's West Coast, amassing a very impressive, surprisingly diverse roster of talent. And if you needed any proof of how far this label has come in the last year or so, you need not look any further than their mighty fine recent compilation Boompa Volume 1.
As far as record label samplers go, it's one of the most impressive compilations to come out in some time. Instead of coming off as a hastily patched-together collection that reads as little more than a blunt advertisement (don't get me wrong, that's partially their intention), this hour-long disc plays like a lovingly-assembled mix CD. The overall flow from track to track is smooth, as it veers from punkpop, to twee, to electronic, to eclectic, to acoustic, but as varied as the songs may seem when described that way, the tracks all share one thing in common, that being a keen pop sensibility, and therein lies Boompa's great strength. The music is sometimes straightforward, sometimes introspective, sometimes experimental, but as Boompa shows with every release, it's always, always fun.
That buoyant feeling is set immediately by Sekiden's "Alexander". The talented Australian trio, whose recent album Junior Fiction blends '80s synths with Weezer-style punkpop, and this track is both catchy and hilarious, perhaps the best rock song about Alexander Graham Bell ever written (granted, there can't have been very many), singing, "And I wonder why I'm so alone/ Am I just the guy who invented the telephone?/ Alexander Graham Bell/ Sometimes it's better just to yell." Cleveland's Kiddo follows with another slice of catchy guitar pop, before the table is turned a bit by the highly talented Victoria, British Columbia duo Run Chico Run, whose "Jacques and Madeleine" sounds like a combination of Nick Cave and old-fashioned cabaret. After two charming, pnuk-lite tunes by Vancouver faves Billy & the Lost Boys and Calgary, Alberta's The Dudes, another Calgary band, Reverie Sound Revue, comes in with the beautiful little twee tune "Rip the Universe" (sadly, the band has since split up). Later on, the CD shifts more toward the electronic realm, with "Non-Revival Alarm", by Circlesquare, and Canadian music veteran Kevin Kane's poignant cover of Alejandro Escovedo's "Follow You Down", who smoothly combines his usual acoustic music with electronic elements.
The album's highlights are euphoric. Former Dirtmitts singer Natasha Thirsk steals the show with her solo recording "Don't Think", a gorgeous acoustic tune that features an incessant, extremely catchy chorus that quickly transcends the song's demo-quality sound ("I'm tired of thinking/ Stayed up all night blinking/ Caught up on my reading/ Waiting for the ceiling/ To drop and I'm done being mad"). Thirsk makes another appearance on her former band's song "House Arrest", a fine song in its own right. The Ladies and Gentlemen, formed by former Carnations member Thom D'Arcy, is shaping up to be Canada's answer to Grandaddy, with the same gentle melodies, electronic touches, and charmingly lugubrious singing as the California band, and the sweet "Stay" instantly makes them one of the Canadian bands to watch for in early 2005. And if that weren't enough, the lovely "Midweek Midmorning", the best track from the Lucksmiths' recent album Naturaliste, that being has been included, as well as the Salteens' enjoyable "Time You Have Been Wasting", which concludes the CD.
Over the past year, Boompa has put out excellent records by those Lucksmiths, Sekiden, Run Chico Run, Matt Sharp, and Billy & the Lost Boys, and with new albums by The Ladies and Gentlemen and Natasha Thirsk on deck for 2005, there's even more reason to get excited. One listen to this very winning compilation will not only compel listeners to immediately put it into your regular rotation of CDs, but most importantly, it'll also show many people who don't know Boompa from a hole in the ground, just how rich in talent this young label is.