February 11, 2002

Various Artists "Little Darla Has a Treat For You, Volume 18"

Very rarely is a record label sampler anything more than perfunctory. You know the type--go to a show, order a record from their label, and get a CD of tracks from the record you just bought, plus other representative tracks from their back catalog. If you're a fan of the label, then you'll probably already have some of the tracks. Maybe, if the label's nice, they'll throw on a few tracks of rare or unreleased material. Generally speaking, though, these kinds of releases can be a yawnfest of hourly proportions, leaving you to wonder why they didn't just save the money on the production, and release an awesome new band or something.

Darla Records, aware of the prejudices and format limitations of label samplers, have made a fun, budget-line quarterly sampler called Little Darla Has a Treat For You. The songs on Little Darla Has A Treat For You fall into three general categories: previously released, soon-to-be released, and exclusive tracks. This sampler highlights not only their artists and releases, but also the artists and releases from the numerous labels that they distribute. Over the past few years, these samplers have ranged from "inconsitently interesting" to "mildly boring." Volume Eighteen, however, breaks this mold by being utterly gorgeous.

There are seven previously released songs on this volume. Memphis, a side project of the band Stars, presents a gorgeous jazzy number called "The Ferry Boy," which is followed by the electronic sounds of Metrovavan's "French Lessons." Current talked-about darlings Life Without Buildings present their "Envoys," which, while interesting, doesn't exactly live up to the hype. Following Life Without Buildings is the eccentric Phiiliip and his trippy "(Inside The) Sleep Pavillion." Later on, Holiday Flyer offer their poppy "Invincible," Toog offers his French pop ""L'Žcgec de PŽrec," and the series concludes with the newly-rediscovered The Wake, and their new-wave goff tune "Favour."

Four songs on Little Darla Has A Treat for You are from forthcoming releases, and, man, do they show some major promise! First is Japancakes, who are releasing volume 19 in Darla's other subscription series, Bliss Out. For those not familiar, Bliss Out is a series where artists are approached to make mellow, mind-enhancing, trippy, "blissed out" music. Japancakes offer up a tune "Always Stuck With Leaving" that is a slightly sad country number, complete with heartbreaking pedal steel guitar. Also forthcoming in the Bliss Out series is volume 18, Aarktica's Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway...." Unlike the laid back, back-to-nature feel of Japancakes' track, Aarktica's song is pure melancholy and despair. Of course, knowing the pedigree of Jon de Rosa (Flare), you should expect nothing less than a hemlock drinking song. Saloon offer up "Make it Soft," a nice, gentle Unrest-meets-Stereolab number that helps to reveal why the hype machine is slowly moving in their direction.

The unreleased numbers, however, are what draw many people to the series, and the selection isn't disappointing at all. My Morning Jacket, who have been turning in unreleased tracks for this series for quite some time, offer "Sooner," a nice, mellow, Neil Young-ish ballad, and it's obvious that they've grown in leaps and bounds since last year's At Dawn. The same can be said of Alsace Lorraine, whose "The Valley Home" is gorgeous Europop. Filling the "where the hell have you been?" selections are two artists who are similar in nature, label, and members. Both Mahogany and Auburn Lull have been quiet for way, way, way, way, way, way longer than they should, and both turn in very beautiful, dramatic, atmospheric numbers. Mus' "Dexase Apagar" and The Blood Group's "Long Blond Hair" are both nice as well.

What makes Little Darla Has a Treat For You, volume 18 nice, however, is that its mixture of new, unreleased, and upcoming songs were expertly compiled. This sampler never drags or becomes tedious; it's a lovely picture book in sound of some great pop music from around the world. Bet you haven't heard half of the artists on here, and that's another plus. This is one of those records that serves a purpose, and serves it well, and everyone is pleased from the outcome. Seek it out, you won't be disappointed.

--Joseph Kyle

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