Various Artists

Annex Records Compilation, Vol. 2

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In the post-alternative world of the new millennium, it's extraordinarily difficult for independent labels to develop their own identities, not just because of the glut of music and the decrease of venues, but because indie music stagnated a bit in the late '90s. There wasn't much forward motion, nor was there much classic indie/college rock, and the entire scene seemed a little flat -- and it was hard for labels to create their own personas by relying on this music. Indie/underground music began to liven up early in 2000 and Annex Records Compilation, Vol. 2 is proof of this. That's not to say that the label, based in Charlottesville, VA, is a trailblazer or that it will define a generation the way that SST or Sub Pop or Matador did. They're operating on a smaller scale and they pull off a trickier move -- they've developed a varied roster of promising artists who manage to distinguish themselves while giving the label an identity. And, no matter what the finely executed, neo-goth/neo-fetish artwork suggests, Annex has an identity because it returns to the classic definition of underground rock from the first Bush era -- jangle pop, cerebral rock, and hip-hop all sit comfortably next to each other, and while there are certainly melodies, none of the bands seem overly concerned with reaching the top of the charts, unlike most post-grunge bands. In short, it's what college rock used to be. That doesn't mean it sounds dated, though. Certainly, many of the rock bands are firmly within the tradition of alt-rock, whether it's the angular riffs of Gifthorse; or the neo-space rock of Satellite Dub; or how the Interpreters play with the Jackson Five on "ABC's of U and Me"; or how Utris jangles and rocks like it's 1993; or how Charming's "Downtown" finely crosses St. Etienne, the Cardigans, and disco revival. There's enough craft and conviction in each of their selections along with those from their fellow rockers (Inches to Flood's claustrophobic "Cortex," the dream pop of Supercell, Abdullah Singh's evocative Nick Cave-meets-Bacharach "Palpitations"), with only 5:00's overly wordy acoustic "Mr. Jefferson" to make them sound fresh. Then, there are the rappers, who pick up on the skeletal, menacing vibe of RZA's productions and, to a lesser extent, the gonzo sense of Outkast. These are rap records that demonstrate much more imagination than the typical hip-hop record circa 2000 -- Universal Tactics, in particular, stand out with flamenco guitars, Latin rhythms, darkly insistent bass, and mildly dissonant keyboards, all topped by terrific lyrical skill. The other rappers -- Infectious Organisms, SMI, the turntablist-styled Page 7 -- may not be quite as striking, but they're often captivating in their sounds and rhymes. There are some moments that fall a little flat (such is the case on any various-artists compilation) and if you're looking for something earthshaking, Annex Records Compilation, Vol. 2 doesn't quite fit the bill. But it does deliver very good, classicist alternative music, and it does something that any label sampler should do -- it makes you want to hear more of the featured bands.

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