Various Artists: Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6
Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6 is the latest installment in an ongoing series of compilations showcasing bands from Parasol Records' stable of labels (which include Parasol, Mud, Reaction, and Hidden Agenda). Volume 6 mainly features tracks from recently released or upcoming albums, with a few non-album tracks thrown in. For the most part, this collection lives up to Parasol's reputation for doing the time warp, with some notable exceptions.
Many of the tracks on Volume 6 sound like they belong to a different era, with the mid- to late 1960s seemingly the preferred reference point. Luckily, unlike much of the mediocre indie-pop that often gets served up on these types of compilations, Parasol's artists have good taste and enough musical mojo to do solid interpretations rather than watered-down imitations. In John Cunningham's "You Shine" we get a dead-on impersonation of post-Rubber Soul Paul McCartney, complete with bouncy piano, horns and "la-la-la" vocal backup. Swedes Thirdimension do their best take on the British Invasion, Ronderlin, another Swedish group, channel Donovan, and San Francisco's Shimmer Kids UnderPop Association give you the Summer of Love on a bedroom eight-track. And, as if to verify the authenticity of its bands' recreations, Parasol even includes a similar-sounding re-release of a 35-year-old song by the Action, one of Beatles producer George Martin's less successful discoveries.
The early to mid-1980s are also mined for musical inspiration on Volume 6. Menthol provide a supremely scary recreation of the harsh side of 1980s synth-pop on "Danger: Rock Science!", a song that even sounds like it belongs in one of those '80s pseudo-sci-fi movies, while Bikeride combine '60s vocals with '80s instrumentation for "Fakin' Amnesia". The most fun of the '80s homages, though, is Club 8's "Saturday Night Engine", which pairs tinny, recorded-at-the-bottom-of-an-empty-swimming-pool-sounding vocals with a rolling keyboard accompaniment. And just so the 1990s/2000s get their licks too, the manufactured Europop of Sweden's Permer on "Summerdays Attract the Pain" is the sound of walking into the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street in London, where it always seems like some awful, hyperactive dance single is cranked at top volume.
If you find all this treacle and pop a bit monotonous, though, Volume 6 does contains some less nostalgia-heavy gems. Fonda's "Loving You Makes Me Sad" is wistful and shimmery, the sound of watching rain roll down a window pane when you've just about given up on working things out with the love of your life. Absinthe Blind provide an ambitious track, "Shields", full of overlapping instrumentation, distorted guitar, and beautiful male/female vocal harmonies. The all-female Violents contribute "Three Fifty Nine", some fun in-your-face pop-punk that sounds like it's a refugee from another record label, and veteran Dutch rockers Bettie Serveert start the whole thing off with the whistle-heavy "Smack", an attention-getting preview of their upcoming album. (For those who can't get enough of her honeyed vocals, Bettie Serveert's Carol van Djk makes a return appearance as one half of the country rock duo, Chitlin' Fooks, for "Did It Again".)
As usual, in addition to the disturbing Menthol and Permer tracks I've already mentioned, there are a few real clinkers (Mars Wieslander, I'm talking to you), but with 21 tracks, that's still a pretty good win/loss percentage. All in all, Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6 provides plenty of promising avenues for future new music exploration. And you won't even have to get into a time machine to do it.