Call it seredipity or whatever you want, but the 21st volume of Darla’s long-running Little Darla Has a Treat for You series just happened to arrive on the day that Lincoln received its first substantial snowfall. Somehow, it seems only proper that Darla (whose name has become synonymous with many things pretty and electronic and pop) should send me a release to cheer me up on this rather bleak and blustery day.
The comp kicks off with Printed Circuit’s “Mobira,” which starts off goofily enough with cellphone bleeps and answering machine tones before turning into an vocoderized electropop piece that’s perfect for starting up your own dance party while the snow blows around outside. Sweet Trip follows up the stunning bliss-pop of their recent full-length with the breezy “Noise Is a Social Skill.” While it contains plenty of electronic flourishes and laptop embellishments, the song is much airier and more lighthearted than the album, and is a perfect reminder of warmer days to come. And Auburn Lull turns in the lovely “Steady Lights,” which is all billowy, ethereal guitars, distant vocals, and sparse percussion — which makes it the perfect aural backdrop for all manner of winter imagery à la The Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand.
After this strong opening, the comp becomes a bit hit-or-miss. Terrestre’s “El Maquilazo” has some intriguing elements, but the track as a whole is fairly monotonous, with various programming and goofy synth patterns piled on top of a tedious, booming beat. Despite the elements added, the track can never rise above its structure, and just grows more tiresome as it trudges on. I’d also use “trudges” to describe Pale Horse and Rider’s “Stoned In the Evening.” While I love Jon DeRosa’s drone-oriented Aarktica project, his output as Pale Horse and Rider leaves me cold. Rather than sounding rustic and broken-hearted, it merely feels like someone’s idea of what “rustic” and “brokenhearted” ought to sound like, and as such, is hard to take seriously.
Entre Rios gets things back on the right track with their lullaby-esque “Litoral,” which reminds me of the fantastic Mus with its soft rhythms, keyboards, and cooing female vocals courtesy of Isol (singing in Spanish, no less). I Am Robot and Proud delivers a delightful slice of wintry bliss-out material with “Winter at Night,” whose playful synth melodies and percolating rhythms conjure up scenes of some late night snowball fight. At the same time, some deeper, darker melodic twists give the track additional resonance.
Alsace’s “Warm Tears” suggests a warmer, less analog Broadcast as the group’s breathy co-ed vocals float out from behind a veil of fluttering synths and brushed drums. Lineland’s “Planeta Engraja” would be a perfect b-side to I Am Robot and Proud, demonstrating the same love for bright, playful synth programming, coruscating keys, and pitter-patter rhythms.
After this, the comp enters another spotty stretch. Paul Haig’s surf-rock schtick sticks out like a sore thumb (perhaps sounding more appropriate on a Red Elvises disc), as does Boyracer’s lo-fi guitar racket. Fax’s “Diez” is even more monotonous than Terrestre, sounding like a Polmo Polpo track stripped down to the barest of structures or a second-rate Pole with only a fraction of the glitch. And the usually reliable Flowchart delivers the muted and largely forgettable “It’s Overdone.” Not that it’s a terrible track, but I just expect more from a band that has proven themselves capable of so much more in the past.
In the midst of this, The Music Lovers deliver what is perhaps the comp’s most unique track, if only because it features nary a synth, programming loop, or laptop arrangement. Rather, it’s a darkly baroque pop tune in the vein of The Czars, highlighted by sparse piano melodies, a haunting organ, and Matthew Edwards’ smooth, smoky croon.
The comp begins strongly, and it ends on an equally strong note. The dense, metallic rhythms of Randomnumber’s “The Instances” recalls Autechre’s mind-boggling take on IDM, but the track features a much stronger melodic sense. Dark, undulating synthlines snake below the surface, while shimmering synths and ghostly atmospherics hover somewhere up above. As it continues, the track grows more active, with the synths beginning to burst forth in greater intensity and the atmospherics emanating from seemingly everywhere.
Closing the comp is a particularly stunning offering from Manual. “Seleva” resembles some of the more ambient moments on Into Forever, Manual’s collaboration with Icebreaker International, but the song is far warmer and more intimate. Soft, ambient textures softly coalesce and intertwine, seemingly suffused with golden light, only to slowly fade away until just a few sad, wavering tones are left. And even those disappear into the sound of waves, giving it both an endless and melancholy feel. It’s a great way to the end the comp, not to mention one of the best things I’ve heard from Jonas Munk’s oeuvre.
All in all, it’s a solid comp… but what else do you expect from Darla? Combined with the tropical imagery that adorns the cover, the Winter 2004 edition of Little Darla Has a Treat for You is a fine thing to listen to while Winter wraps her cold fingers around your city, helping you forget, for 74 minutes at least, that you’re going to have to dig your car out of a drift come tomorrow morning.