VA: Melodic Today

If your label name is Melodic, how can titling your latest collection Melodic Today not be interpreted as a manifesto of sorts? If, then, the title does allude to the UK imprint's current sound, the compilation (Melodic's third following 2002's A Room Full of Tuneful and last year's Tracks For Horses) favours eclectic eccentricity over militant stridency with a 50-50 vocal-instrumental split and contributions from Pedro, L Pierre, Baikonour, Topo Gigio, Wren, and others. What's especially satisfying is that, though the label's offerings might be filed under 'electronic,' the material here suggests its artists regard electronics as just one of an ever-expanding arsenal of instrumental options, rather than being a foundational underpinning (in fact, in some songs, you'll hear no electronics at all).

But perhaps one shouldn't read too much into the album title, given that it may have no reference beyond the title of Working For a Nuclear Free City's overture; regardless, its synth-guitar episode starts the set with a fierce if brief punch. A good number of tracks roar in like manner: psychedelic swirls of organ and guitar rise to an almost overwhelming crescendo in Baikonour's “Coltan Anyone?” while “Festival” by Sweden's Dungen rocks with an exuberant swagger that's impossible to ignore. Stoking an hallucinatory broil of saxophone, organ, and rollicking beats, the funky “Lung” reveals the strong kinship existing between James Rutledge's Pedro and Kieran Hebden's Four Tet. Impressive too is Transelement which begins the romping “Harmonious Ascent” with a remarkable a cappella chorus before advancing into equally robust instrumental passages. The collection also features Topo Gigio's noisy smattering of psychedelic trip-hop “Mu Arae” and Wren's wonderfully radiant “Me and My Army.”

Lest anyone think otherwise, there are quieter moments too, including Manchester 's John Stammers acoustic folk piece “The Fridge” and Hulk's peaceful closer “Photographs.” Department of Eagles' “Forty Dollar Rug” indulges in some bemusing call-and-response throughout its loose slice of vocal hip-hop while bright microhouse percolations in DNCN's “Eeram” add welcome contrast (not to mention hilarity in the 'sex ed' lesson included as a voiceover). And if you come across anything more paradisiacal than L Pierre's “Weirs Way” and Gnac's “And Again,” please let me know. Past Melodic comps helped launch or at least establish the reputations of artists like Psapp and Minotaur Shock, and it wouldn't surprise if Melodic Today accomplished something similar for artists like Transelement and Wren too.

September 2005