VA: Tracks for Horses

I'm a bit mystified as to how the title Tracks for Horses connects to the fourteen pieces on this compilation from the five-year-old, Manchester-based Melodic label. But that's the only disconcerting thing, as it's otherwise a superb collection whose lack of cohesiveness is more than compensated for by its high quality. Apparently Melodic's previous comp A Room Full Of Tuneful accentuated folktronica but the new one ranges far beyond any one style to encompass hip-hop, gabba, ambient, and everything in between.

Virtually every track offers one highlight or another. Baikonour's ambient “Lick Lokoum” with its dulcimers and psychedelic organs is followed by its diametric opposite, Notes' “It's A Good Thing,” sing-song hip-hop whose snaking horn samples will stay lodged in your head for days. Gavouna provides a beautiful gamelan-inflected piece “Three” whose deep strings and percussion give it a classical feel. Drum brushes and acoustic bass ground the jazzy guitars of The Memory Band's “Catch As Catch Can,” while Pedro's “Folded Arms' offers a tasty sampling of Kyoto-funk. If No Talent Kid revisits ‘70s-soul with flutes and strings on “Mrs H,” The Earlies move back a decade further with the soaring vocal harmonies of “Bring It Back Again.” Dreamy instrumentals appear too, including Noos's lovely ambient interlude “Softer, Dream, Safe,” Topo Gigio's “‘Lezard,” an hallucinatory oasis whose instrumental arrangement evokes Pet Sounds, and Micah P. Hinson's piano coda “The Cranes.” Given the incredible stylistic range, it might sound strange to cite anomalies, but the demented gabba splattercore of Audiowhore's “It's Good But It's Not Right” sounds to these ears a bit too extreme for this context. What makes the comp even more attractive is that it weighs in at a near-perfect fifty-five minutes, with the only extended track Minotaur Shock's seven-minute “Big Light,” a gorgeous exercise in horn-drenched, propulsive soul. All things considered, Tracks For Horses offers a spectacular portrait of the Melodic label's offerings.

February 2004