Friday, October 23, 2009

Compilation Review: BRAINLOVE RECORDS - Fear of a Wack Planet

(This article was originally written for the website Muso's Guide,

Founded in 2003, London-based Brainlove Records prides itself on its stated aim of being an “umbrella organisation and community for the creators and listeners of genre-bending, left-of-centre music”. Fear Of A Wack Planet is a follow-up of sorts to their well-received 2008 compilation Two Thousand And Ace, and fortunately their ability with a pun is no indication of the quality of music on offer. Put simply, this is one of the most eclectic and consistently surprising label compilations you can imagine: Brainlove Records doesn’t hold a loyalty to any particular genre, with the 27-song set encompassing everything from chiptune to post-rock to twee-folk.

Opening with Mat Riviere’s ‘FYH’, a tune that resembles Why? with its gothic atmosphere and stark vocal delivery, it’s an attention-grabber from the start. Stairs To Korea’s ‘Boy Bear It In Mind’ packs a wealth of joyous Belle & Sebastian-style hooks and neat, clever lyrics into its three minutes; Internet Forever’s ‘Break Bones’ is a fuzzy DIY twee-pop treat; while Penny Broadhurst & The Maffickers’ ‘Comenzo’ is a C86 shamble that hinges on the catchy refrain “Our love started with a mixtape”. But while there’s plenty to appeal to fans of all things fey and jangly, such moments rub shoulders with some genuine curveballs, such as the beguiling 8-bit beats of Pagan Wanderer Lu’s ‘Nintendo Folk’ or the child-let-loose-in-a-toy-store stylings of Kid Carpet (‘Go Get Yourself a Hammer’).

Elsewhere, Jam On Bread provides the wry, breezy nerd-blues of ‘Wikipedia Says I’m Dying’, Trademark’s ‘At Loch Shiel’ sounds like the Pet Shop Boys trapped in some nightmarish netherworld, while The Bear Driver supply a killer of a track in ‘No Time To Speak’, which tips its cap to any number of new-Americana luminaries with its melancholic - yet strangely rousing – sweep. However, the number one prize has to go to Bristol ‘punk-hop’ artist Ratface, and the delirious, infectious ‘Fruit and Veg’. It’s a track that buzzes with originality and invention, featuring a compelling rant/rap anchored by a massive, irresistible groove, and it’s easily one of the most striking things I’ve heard this year. What’s more, despite its unconventional nature, you could easily envisage it being a massive hit.

Fear Of A Wack Planet isn’t a flawless compilation, but it seems somewhat disingenuous to single out individual tracks for criticism. Even the weaker inclusions here have something to recommend them, some kind of spark that indicates potential, and there’s certainly no act or artist here that you’d dismiss out of hand. And the stronger tracks? Well, if there’s a better indicator out there of the health of the UK underground music scene, I’d like to hear it.

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