Various Artists: Ragazza Pop

Terry Sawyer

Various Artists

Ragazza Pop

Label: S.H.A.D.O.
US Release Date: 2003-03-31

Ragazza defines their label's mission as promoting the "extraordinary female sensibility in contemporary, past and future pop music". Thankfully, they're much more selective than that, eschewing that apparent feminine intuition that can produce the likes of Ashanti, Britney Spears, and Kelly Clarkson. Ragazza Pop culls its tracks from the indie fringe, avoiding pop as we popularly know it, instead highlighting far more interesting female tastes. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm wholly suspect of any biologically-bound aesthetic because it's impossible to know and in most cases dangerous speculation to dabble in. But for a pop music compilation, I can probably forego all my philosophical reservations about whether or not there is a "female" sound in the world of music. No matter how you frame it, this compilation has so much of a good thing in so many varieties, that's its worth picking up just to have this many great tracks corralled together on one disc.

Moe Tucker covers "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", lending it an extra helping of yearning weakness as she hobbles through a rendition that is affectingly flimsy and distant, like nostalgia. Her treatment of another cover, "To Know Him Is to Love Him" similarly sounds whispered through a set of breezing gauzy curtains, but still implosively compelling. Trip-hop outfit, Valvola, contributes "Flashin' Light (Some Girls Like to Disco)", a grandly threatening dance floor track that could have just as easily been a Sneaker Pimps single, not necessarily a bad thing depending on how you feel about such underwonders. Die Moulinettes drop a French hybrid of the Cardigans and Pizzicato 5, with warm basslines and glittering guitar, the sort of ephemeral glamour song you'd expect to be playing in a young starlet's convertible. Channeling the Marvelettes, the Aisler's Set toss in "Hey Lover", more a tribute than an indication of their usual sound, but nonetheless a catchy, brief treat of handclaps and recessed harmony.

This is one of those compilations that launched several purchases and internet searches on my part. Hearing Daisy Martey on the Noonday Underground's track led me to one of my favorite CDs of the year. Their contribution to the compilation rips through the rest of the more shimmery numbers as Martey belts out an indictment of the times with a voice that sounds like a kiss between Grace Slick and Beth Orton. Not to mention that go-go boots backdrop of acoustic guitar and drums that sounds like incense, peppermint and probably a little weed. Though I am familiar with Phil Elvrum (of the Microphones), until this compilation, I hadn't had the pleasure of knowing the work of one of his collaborators, Mirah. Her track, "Don't", sounds like a lost Ronettes song, with beautifully cascading drums and Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn's snowfallen angel of voice. This song was yet another track that led to an ace record purchase in the form of Mirah's Advisory Committee.

Only a few of the album's songs fail, and usually in the most innocuous of ways. Nothing flat out sucks, but songs like Fonda's "The Sun Keeps Shining on Me", push the pop envelope in the direction of embarrassing cheese whiz string arrangements and vocals that would make a karaoke crowd wince. The Faraway Places, Nico-lite exhale on "Summertime" also fails to register in any meaningful way. Some songs like the Corner's "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." hit and run so quickly, it's difficult to call them proper songs at all. This song would be better suited for one of those movie scenes where the protagonists are shopping wildly. Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, a Japanese sugar pop band in the vein of Pizzicato 5, tosses in "White Drops", a song of skittering cutesy overkill that sounds like bad children's music. But that could have much to do that I can only travel so far down the path of this kind of pop before I'm wholly annoyed by the saccharine, shiny poofyness of it.

If there's any kind of recognizable skew in all of these artists, it might be an overrepresentation of sixties studio pop, from the girl groups, to go-go rock and roll, to Phil Spector's noise wall wash outs, it seems that a good share of these artists made contributions with this era as a touchstone. It's a wonderful reminder that pop music doesn't have to be a guilty pleasure, one that requires you to strangle your sense of discernment in order to enjoy.

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