November 22, 2002

Various Artists "Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six"

Yesterday evening, I had to spend some time sitting in my car. I had anticipated this, and I prepared for an extended wait by bringing several CD's for my listening pleasure. But the Aislers Set was too fast for parking and the John Fahey was too slow and meandering for waiting. I was left with two options, then; to listen to Parasol Label Group's latest sampler, Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six, or to skip around on the radio dial. I wasn't quick to put in this CD, as it seemed that the other two I'd brought hadn't done anything for me. Since it was a Saturday night, I hoped that maybe one of those "mix" stations would have an 80's night, and I was right. I listened to that, but after a while, I grew bored--Falco, Wham! and Howard Jones are nice, but when you're hungry, you want meat, not candy.

When I put Sweet Sixteen, Volume 6 in the stereo, though, something inside that car changed. I felt warmer. The dark seemed brighter. And the music? Smart. Literate. True. Real. As I sat there in the dark, I closed my eyes and listened, all the while thinking that maybe I'd somehow stepped into another world, where the radio played good music, not mass-produced, soulless music made to entertain and swindle teenage girls from ages twelve to sixteen. Instead of crap, I heard music produced for one reason: a sincere love of music-making. If you've not paid attention to Parasol, or have dismissed them for whatever reason (mainly due to making "wimpy" music--or so I've heard), then you really need to get over yourself. They've really blossomed into a label of mature sounds, intelligent music made by people who aren't trying to be the next Strokes or Modest Mouse or (insert trendy indie band here). It also speaks volumes that a label can release records by bands that later become famous, or almost famous--White Town, Braid, Hum, Sarge and Menthol are but five that come to mind. That's a pretty good track record, and those are all pretty great bands.

Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six kicks off with "Smack," a stunning new track from Bettie Serveert. I'd never really realized how much Carol Van Dyk sounds like Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh! Following up quickly is "Other Side of Town," by Thirdimension, who are sure to pick up on the gauntlet thrown down by new Next Big Thingers (and former Parasol band!) The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. From there, we go back in time with a classic cut by The Action, "Brain," which still sounds like it's from the future. From here, Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six only gets better and better, with smooth sounds by Club 8, Folksongs For The Afterlife (a definite band to watch!), Fonda, Permer, Absinthe Blind, Chitlin' Fooks, Ronderlin, and...well, everything else! After one listen, you'll also wish that the radio sounded this good, this varied, and this intelligent!

Last night was cold, but Sweet Sixteen certainly warmed me up! It's good to know that in this dire era of independent music becoming polarized around trends (must every label now have a lo-fi bluegrass/folk artist?), some labels aren't buckling under pressure to cater to styles and trends. It's certainly a pleasant surprise, hearing how mature, intelligent, and utterly enjoyable Parasol's music roster has become. Geoff Merritt and company really are to be commended for eschewing what some might consider to be sensible advice and releasing beautiful, intelligent music. A word of warning, though; Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Volume Six is a five-dollar tease that will send you to their website and buying a whole bunch of awesome records!

--Joseph Kyle

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