REVIEW: V/A: Branches and Routes - a FatCat Compilation
Various Artists: Branches and Routes - a FatCat Compilation [Fatcat, 2003]
Three words? big aspirations, unremarkable
If there's one thing I hate, it's a poorly thought-out compilation album. Even worse, a poorly thought-out compilation album of mindless, electronic sludge.
But no, let's be fair. The FatCat label isn't entirely electronic sludge. Some of it is quite lovely electronic, uh, rose-water. Some of it isn't even entirely electronic. Nonetheless, Branches and Routes (a sort of ‘greatest hits' retrospective of the label's six year history) is mostly the kind of electronica that makes me cringe, and is, what's more, a poorly thought-out compilation of it. Which, as I believe I have already mentioned, I hate.
While any sampling of a label as eclectic as FatCat is bound to have trouble staying coherent, it seems to me like Branches and Routes doesn't even try. Putting the dreamy tones of Múm's "Green Grass of Tunnel," for example, next to the jarring, any-idiot-with-a-synth sound of Process's "E1" doesn't do either one a favour; likewise when it comes to butting "Things Will Never Be the Same" by Black Dice (which, I don't care what anybody says, sounds like a lawnmower with a drumbeat,) against the peacefully elegant "Minéral" by Sylvain Chauveau. These glaring discordancies are, frankly, irritating, especially since it could have been quite easily avoided; it's a two-disc set.
Beyond that, the album is crippled by too much concept, not enough content (think Ubiquity's No Categories series, but less musical). Tracks like "Radio Squelch Crush Land" by Com.A, and "N'Importe Quoi Pour N'Importe Qui" by Programme are the sort of 'interesting noise' electronica that appeals only to die-hard fans of genre-defying, cutting-edge music (and who are unlikely to be as appreciative of the quiet brilliance of artists like Sigur Rós, whose tracks are scattered throughout the rest of the album); on the flip side, fans of more melodious electronica will be disappointed by its infrequent appearances (and more than a little put-off by the rest of the album's avant-garde lack of harmony).
Elsewhere, what initially sounds like a passable tune is ruined by too much ‘innovation'— case in point is Xinlisupreme's "Murder License," which is like trying to listen to Spiritualized on a bad AM radio, or Duplo_Remote's "Cusp," which is a fairly decent (if somewhat predictable) mellow ditty, compromised by what I'd swear were Sonic the Hedgehog sound-effects throughout.
In the end, Branches and Routes isn't totally without merit. Some of it is even a genuine pleasure to listen to (Sigur Rós and Set Fire to Flames particularly so). Generally, though, the good tracks aren't good enough and are buried amongst too much junk to make it worth listening through for them. It will no doubt appeal to those who like to keep up with the offbeat Joneses, but for the rest of us it's just not worth the effort.