By: Eric G.
This overwhelming four-disc-set from Darla mirrors many more ups than downs in the indie scene over the past six years. Rising above and beyond its DIY roots, Darla has transformed into the definitive purveyor of self-effacing, bookish indie rock and sleek, experimental electronic music. Darla made its name releasing collectible seven inches by the likes of The Grifters and Guided By Voices but soon moved into the realm of distributing and releasing full length albums by obscure and often underappreciated bands the world over.
Being faced with four discs of music is pretty daunting no matter what’s on them, but this collection balances the good with the not so good and comes up well in the black. Rare versions of Grifters tracks are always a bonus (even if some of them are under the ‘Those Bastard Souls’ moniker), but trudging through gooey, sentimental dross like Shoestrings can make it a bumpy ride. Thankfully, Ciao Bella and Transient Waves are here to steady the boat.
Despite its varied roster of bands, Darla still seems pigeonholed as a label that only serves niche interests. This is a double-edged sword, of course. Being known for releasing quality music of similar styles (even if it’s a false impression) is better than being regarded as a slophouse like Sub Pop, where inconsistency runs rampant. When you hear some catchy indie rock with nerdy vocals or sophisticated retro pop with faux strings on your local college station chances are its got some sort of affiliation with Darla, which is hardly a bad stigma for a label that began in James Agren’s living room.
Darla’s slow but steady infiltration into the world of experimental electronic music has added some impressive names to its list of releases, many of which are represented on this compilation of singles and rarities from Junior Varsity KM to Flowchart to Sweet Trip. Then come bands like Mirza and Lenola, which defy immediate classification and certainly go against Darla’s grain of sound but add to its progressive image nonetheless.
With this collection Darla reaches its 100th release, celebrating its past while ensuring its future. The fact that this compilation plays like a quality non-commercial radio show is a testament to the label’s consistency and diversity.