Various Artists – Continental Drift

In an industry which seems increasingly obsessed with exclusives, getting there first and stomping on everyone else, the collaborative nature of Fortuna Pop and Slumberland Records, is somehow charmingly old fashioned.

It started back around the turn of the century; The Aislers Set released their second album, The Last Match, the catalogue numbers fpop23 and slr 62, might not sound like the stuff of legend, but it was the first time the two labels combined and co-released albums on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

The labels would go on to spend sixteen years combining forces, releasing The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Allo Darlin’, Joanna Gruesome and many more. It was a relationship that took British bands to America and vice-versa, and it seemed like a match made in heaven. Sadly 2016 will be the end of relationship when Fortuna Pop closes its doors and moves out of the record releasing game, but perhaps in their collaborative way of working, they’ve created a model that shows even in a global market, working together can work for everyone.

Continental Drift is essentially a label sampler, the kind of thing people hand out at record markets, and leave lying about in record shops. Eight tracks, four bands, two labels, two continents. It shouldn’t really be a release of any great interest to anyone, except for the fact that it’s perhaps the finest snap shot of the current scene of what is loosely termed indie-pop.

As much as it showcases the four bands in question (Mercury Girls, Wildhoney, The Spook School, Tigercats) it perhaps more importantly shows how far the scene has come from the days of jangling guitars and slightly off key singing; although there’s still plenty of the former. Whether it’s Tigercats liberal borrowing of afro-beat, Wildhoney’s shoegazy side or The Spook School’s pop-punk thrills, these are bands who take pop as a blueprint and run with it.

The compilation begins with probably the most classically indie-pop of the bands, Mercury Girls. Featuring members of Literature, Little Big League and Pet Milk; Mercury Girls deal in razor-sharp guitar riffs, hazy, echo-drenched vocals and rapid, snare-led drum beats. They offer Holly, a track that seems to be about the joys of being so persistent that someone begins to hate you, and Beverly, which introduces a world of Chinese-whispers, and half understood rumours. They may not be the most original band in the world, but there’s no doubting the quality of their music, laced with guitar riffs that, were they from an era where people still went to nightclubs would have slightly awkward pop-kids dancing their socks off.

They’re followed by the much loved Glaswegians, The Spook School, showcasing the first new material since last year’s stunning, Try To Be Hopeful. Produced by MJ from Hookworms, these two tracks are arguably the best recorded material the band have put out so far. Sometimes I Hide From Everyone is classic Spooks, layers of vocals, joyously daft guitar riffs, and heartbreaking lyrical sentiment, it goes from the tear-jerking, “you know I don’t like me, and I know you struggle with yourself”, to the life-firming, “they’ll never stop us feeling the way we do when we’re together.” The more revelatory offering is Gone Home, with bassist Anna taking lead-vocals it’s a wonderful slice of jangling; emotive pop, with nods to The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart of Veronica Falls. It’s the slickest they’ve ever sounded, but it’s no less charming. The lyrics too are perhaps a little more subtle, and guarded than other offerings, hinting at a life that could have been, but not quite painting in all the details.

Baltimore’s Wildhoney are not a band we know a whole lot about, and in a way this compilation doesn’t entirely confirm exactly what they are about, because they offer two excellent, but completely different tracks. Horror Movie, is a slice of dark-indie, starting with breezy guitars, that break down to watery effected guitars and prominent, pulsing bass runs; it offers cryptic but unnerving lyrics, “you’re my horror movie, how you abuse me the world will never know.” The other track, the records closing number, TL (Reprise) shares little more than a mood with Horror Movie, it’s brooding and dark sure, but it’s also slow, and textural, rising and falling like a post rock track. It builds via dueling, hypnotic guitar lines, and a slinky bass rumble; it plays with you as a listener, building to a crescendo that never quite reveals itself, you find yourself pleading for another life, another hit of musical catharsis. As the horns enter for the outro there’s nods to the genius of Do Make Say Think, it couldn’t really sound anything less like the Slumberland Records, but blimey it sure is good.

East-London quintet, Tigercats are band who we must admit have always impressed us more live than on record. One track here, Sidney Street does somewhat continue that theme, a perfectly pleasant blast of afro-beat infused pop; it doesn’t transfer the energy of their live show, although the ending is superb, a blast of choral vocals that recall a 1980’s Christmas track in the best way possible. Rent Control though, is probably the best track they’ve ever put to tape, there’s an intro that’s a bit Roxy Music, the duel-vocal yelps bring to mind Los Campesinos, and there’s even a bit where lead-singer Duncan practically screams in anger at the property market and, “a special place in hell for landlords, this is a story about control.” Yep it’s genuinely about Rent Control, and it’s all the better for that.

A fabulous compilation, it might prove to be the final Fortuna Pop release, which would be a slightly odd, but somehow fitting way to sign the label off, even in its closing moments it’s still a label that’s looking forward, and still showcasing the best of what’s happening right now. A compilation as sparkling as the Atlantic Ocean, it’s wonderful.

Continental Drift is out now via Fortuna Pop (UK) and Slumberland Records (US) – Click HERE to order your copy.

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