Various Artists – Sunset: False

Various Artists
Sunset: False

2003 has certainly been a prolific year in terms of compilation releases. And whilst there’s been plenty of quality to fill the large quantities of these various-artists collections, there hasn’t been quite enough unheard treasures from unknowns and relative unknowns to send new music addicts into fits of joyful “next-big-love-in-my-musical-world” enthusiasm. This compilation however, from fresh-faced Italian label Slow Noir, does at least offer some contenders for that level of exuberant discovery.
Whether the artists involved gave much attention to the suggestive name of the label and/or the title of this compilation is unclear, but there’s no escaping the feeling that the 15 contributors here are vaguely aware of the type of nocturnal melancholic sounds that our Continental European cousins stick with regardless of fashion-bashed commercial tides. Which probably explains why London’s slow-working bedsit balladeers Arco deliver their first new track in a couple of years, the impossibly bleak but touching “Waiting.” Lambchop backing singer and sax player Deanna Varagona offers an equally plaintive – though far easier to stomach – moment in the form of the divine “Missing a Friend.” Transmissionary Six (featuring former members of The Walkabouts and Willard Grant Conspiracy), on the other hand, sling in a strange sample-heavy mash that recalls 4AD’s darkest 1980’s moments.
There’s a few clangers in between to separate the good from the downright bad, with Repoman’s lumpen indie-chugging, the Workhouse’s cold instrumental Cocteau Twins-ish impersonations, and Anamude’s anaemic folk-pop being amongst the worst offenders. The best moments here, however, come from three British bands, whose mission to prove themselves artistically – not commercially – is truly endearing. Anna Kashfi’s smoky confessional “Ash Ballad” will certainly win the hearts of Kristin Hersh and Lisa Germano lovers. Moodswingers Last Harbour return with the subtle majesty of “Serpents.” Having filed down some of their darkest edging since we last heard from them, the true tenderness of their intricate but concise arrangements is really beginning to shine through those over-hyped Tindersticks comparisons made by us lazy music hacks. The best moment by far, however, comes from Nottingham, England’s Saint Joan, who’ve somehow taken a 12-fold leap in loveliness since their promising 7″ single debut of last year. Their contribution – “Electric Light Shines On” – is five and a half minutes of sheer untainted wonder, somewhere in a special place between Tarnation and Galaxie 500, that finds Ellen McGee’s serene tones sending shivers down the spine of this scribe every time he hears it.
As compilations go, Sunset: False, is no classic compendium by any means, but it generously throws up some bewitching treats that other more dogmatic labels may have ditched for not fitting into a certain aesthetic or a commercial market. An oddball assortment then, laced with several moments of magic.