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V/A - Branches and Routes

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Artist: V/A

Album: Branches and Routes

Label: FatCat

Review date: Sep. 17, 2003

Branches and roots twist and turn away from a common trunk. Their paths and shapes conclude with little reference to their original location. Branches and Routes collects two discs of music from FatCat Records in the UK. For all the branches, roots, and routes, however, this compilation offers little sense of the trunk. A hefty selection of singles is still a good thing, but FatCat missed an opportunity by not attempting a leaner, more cohesive collection.

The label began in 1990 as a small record shop specializing in dance and electronic music. They supported Derrick May and Underground Resistance upon their visits to the UK and also promoted new electronic sounds including Autechre, Black Dog, and Stasis. In 1996, FatCat released their first record, the “EVA” EP by Japanese producer Web, and then proceeded to issue a series of 12" singles. Early on, it was clear that they would not settle into a techno and house music niche. Their releases reflected a broad interest in electronic music of all genres.

Two whimsical groups from Iceland have put FatCat on the map recently. Sigur Rós’ success catapulted the tiny label into the world of major label competition and stadium touring. While Múm never opened for Radiohead, their label debut record also did well. The surprising reception to these groups never changed the direction of the label, however. FatCat’s catalog still reflects their eclectic taste in dance, electronic, experimental, and even rock-oriented music.

As a label sampler, Branches and Routes perfectly fulfills its mandate. Two discs display many groups from many genres, and the majority of the music is previously released, but not necessarily widely available. FatCat has created a bunch of sub-series over the years, including the Split Series of 12" singles, a 7" series, the Splinter Series, the 130701 imprint, and the e-rmx series. Every one of these different projects is represented, offering some limited releases greater exposure via the CD format.

David Grubbs opens the compilation with a track from his recent full-length, Rickets and Scurvy. Often under-appreciated, probably because he used to play with that other genre-hopping, multi-instrumentalist O’Rourke guy, Grubbs’ tense acoustic guitar line and curious accent start things off right. This first disc offers some of FatCat’s more popular releases with tracks by Mum, Mice Parade, Set Fire to Flames, Kid606 and the Funkstörung remix of Bjork’s “All is Full of Love”. Matmos serves up a hip-thruster with “Freak N You”, that appeared in the Split Series. Rarely have their slicing skills been applied to such a funky task. The final two tracks are unreleased songs by Stromba and Seen, the former a trip-hoppy instrumental and the latter a tepid mix of airy vocals, warbly guitars, and murky keyboards.

Disc two begins with an unreleased Sigur Rós instrumental that doesn’t pay off. Cavernous single notes slowly emerge in a familiar fashion, but it all ends after two and a half minutes without any of the surging energy that characterizes their best music. Drowsy offers an unreleased and irritating track of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and grating vocals. Cresent’s “Spring” coolly mixes the Microphones and Lungfish with wooden beats, acoustic guitar, organ and piano – the final unreleased track on disc two. Team Doyobi tries an interesting melodic-glitch mix with female vocals, from the e-rmx project, and Com.A combines noisy breakbeats with cut, pasted, and fried radio samples layered in the background. Fennesz and Black Dice also make appearances with previously released material.

FatCat throws the net far and wide, both as a label and on this compilation. As a label, their scope and lack of specialization are commendable. On the compilation, the variety detracts from any overall narrative or continuity. Each single stands as an example of that artist and that particular record – the function is promotional and descriptive, providing access to those who don’t know about the label. This is fine, but more interesting possibilities lie dormant on Branches and Routes. On a single disc, a combination of Team Doyobi, Com.A, Process, Matmos, and a few others could make an interesting mutant dancefloor collection. Mice Parade, The Dylan Group, Stromba, Black Dice, Set Fire to Flames, and a few others could create a pseudo-instrumental comp. And so forth... The FatCat catalog contains so many divergent scenes and genre-bends that tying a few together could have been more rewarding.

By Jeff Seelbach

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