If this eleven-track cd containing picks from forthcoming and recent Bella Union releases is anything to go by, 2006 is going to be the year that Bella Union are noticed as one of the most important labels residing in Britain.
With this cd, which costs/will cost just above the price of a 3-track single, Bella Union have produced a sampler that not only maintains a high standard of quality throughout but avoids the usual rigidity and lack of flow that plagues a record label sampler.
The sampler begins with Howling Bells' 'Setting Sun', a delightfully laid back demi-epic that mixes My Morning Jacket-style reverb-soaked guitars and Joy Zipper vocals with early Belle & Sebastian songwriting.
It soon becomes evident that this sampler isn't meant as a showcase for the next big thing/s, but more as a chalkboard for some of the finest songwriting of the present day. Cases in point are the contributions from Fionn Regan and Astronautalis, two artists unlikely to make an impact on the charts or radio playlists, though not for lack of quality. Then again I said the same thing about Arctic Monkeys last year (the chart impact comment, anyway).
Velocity-wise, the sampler never gets above walking pace; over half of the tracks are driven by acoustic guitars. This doesn't limit the quality of the tracks, however. For example, it's hard to see how the contribution from The Dears, the majestic 'There Goes My Outfit', could be improved from its raw single guitar form. Imagine Morrissey teaming up with Nada Surf and comparing tales of disillusion and depression over a bottle of red wine and you are nearly there, but it's something that really needs to be heard to appreciate.
That demo is taken from their forthcoming album; let's hope the quality of the track doesn't lead to great disappointment when hearing the album, as will be the case with most people who check out Dirty Three's latest offering after hearing 'Great Waves'. The track itself is one of the strongest the Australians have produced, violinist Warren's pirouetting lines combining with Cat Power's ever-dulcet lulling. However it's recommended that you check out more material before rushing out to buy an album of theirs.
The album's final pairing, Devics' 'A Secret Message' and The Czars 'I'm Sorry' are the weakest tracks, taking ideas similar to those expressed earlier in the sampler but running them into the ground instead of letting them fly. But for £3-4 you have an album's worth of fresh, promising music that for the first nine tracks is almost without fault. Metal (or for the majority truly alternative) this ain't but if we are still to believe that quiet is the new loud than this is more than enough to deafen even the most apprehensive rocker.
8Jordan Dowling's Score