Somnambule - Writing About Music

Branches and Routes

Compilations are strange beasts. There’ll always be at least one track which stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of funkiness/beauty/atmosphere, whatever the compilation seeks to convey. Other tracks are bound to irritate, break the flow of the music or effectively serve as an aural blank spot leaving the listener to scratch their heads when they inspect the track listing. The few which manage to maintain the consistency and flow necessary to repeated listening can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. And this in an age of musical anthologies.

Branches and Routes belongs to a particular sub-category of the aforementioned genre – the sampler, issued by hopeful labels mostly to generate attention and revenue. The label in this case is FatCat who nurse a wide and varied roster of artists from the spare piano ambience of Sylvain Chauveau to the singalong neo-new wave of Party Of One via so many intermediate points that the idea of a journey between A and B seems inappropriate and a carpet-bombing analogy might better be employed.

FatCat are a creative label who are to be applauded for their preparedness to experiment with formats via their 7”, Split and Splinter series, they’ve been midwives to the welcome arrival of Mum and Sigur Ros and might even have registered a top 30 hit with Funkstorung’s remix of Bjork’s ‘All Is Full Of Love’ (except that the lack of a barcode on its cover meant it couldn’t be ratified). It’s difficult to dislike a label which will release an album by an artist who - according to the liner notes in the case of Xinlisupreme - “communicates via garbled, often abusve emails”.

The specifics relating to the breadth of musical value included on these two cds are naturally a highly subjective matter, but what the heck - a neck is there to be stuck out. If the past 10 years can be viewed as a plain overlooked by sentinels in the form of Tortoise and Autechre, some of the groups on this compilation are caught in their long shadows. There are however many that choose to travel fruitfully in other directions including Crescent whose gorgeous, hushed acoustics come on like a pilgrim led astray by a weary-voiced singer, Team Doyobi’s funky broken-up beats and Grain’s urgent housey feel which adds a little zing towards the end of the first cd.

Branches And Routes includes previously unreleased tracks and hard to find vinyl issues from Matmos, Sigur Ros, Kid606 and Christian Fennesz among others. From the listener’s point of view, samplers are of course useful for discovering new groups and Branches and Routes does an admirable job of introducing previously unheard sounds which might not normally be included in a particular listener’s palette.
Colin Buttimer
August 2003
Published by the BBC