Various Artists

Branches and Routes: A FatCat Records Compilation

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The Fat Cat sampler Branches and Routes has probably received the most attention for featuring a previously-unreleased track by Icelandic luminaries Sigur Ros. The track, "Eg Mun Laeknast!," dates back to a time when the group was still giving their songs titles, and while it's a glacially lovely snippet of a song that clocks in at just under three minutes, fans that purchase the collection only for this track will most likely be disappointed. That would be their loss, though, because within its two discs Branches and Routes includes so many other challenging and unique artists on it that the "new" Sigur Ros track almost becomes beside the point. These range from the label's relatively well-known acts, such as David Grubbs and Mum, to the more obscure ones, such as French pianist Sylvain Chaveau and Finnish lo-fi singer/songwriter Drowsy, whose "Bright Dawn" recalls some of the best aspects Dylan, Beck and Palace in one shamblingly beautiful mess. Likewise, the track listing includes album tracks, like Black Dice's "Things Will Never Be the Same": one of the more elegiac tracks from their stunning Beaches & Canyons; tracks taken from Fat Cat's various singles series; and of course, previously unreleased tracks. While many independent labels are praised for their eclecticism, Fat Cat truly goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to diversity, finding room for angular, punky tracks like Giddy Motors' "Baddie Who?" and Party of One's "Shotgun Funeral"; the minimalist but surprisingly straightforward fusion of house and IDM that is Grain's "Untitled 3"; and the pretty, unhurried post-rock of Mice Parade's "Pursuant to the Vibe." What unites Branches & Routes' songs -- and Fat Cat's roster, for that matter -- is a vision that aims defiantly, consistently left of center. Disc 1 explores the subtler side of that vision, with delicately droning songs by Transient Waves and Duplo Remote, as well as Seen's lovely "Slow Slow Slow," one of the collection's poppier, but still decidedly bent, contributions. Even Kid 606's "Die in California" and Matmos' "Freak N You" are on the more restrained side, with the former bathed in limpid synths and the latter cutting (and pasting) a rug in a way that recalls both Akufen and Drew Daniels' side project the Soft Pink Truth. Disc 2, on the other hand, tends to showcase the edgiest of the edgy, including Xinlisupreme's formidably beautiful "Murder License," which is so awash in distorted guitars and drums that the gossamer melody hovering just above them sounds even more fragile. Team Doyobi's "E5," with its girly, high-pitched vocals and fractured beats is challenging in a completely different way, suggesting an alien culture's attempt to create their own version of teen pop. One of Branches & Routes' greatest strengths is that its highlights come from both familiar corners, such as Fennesz's frothy "Badminton Girl," and from relatively uncharted territory, such as woozy laptop-pop of Dorine Muraille's "Dopees." Indeed, the collection offers so much to absorb that Funkstörung's glitchy remix of Björk's "All is Full of Love" feels anticlimactic. Rich in depth as well as breadth, Branches & Routes is a very impressive collection that reaffirms Fat Cat's position as one of the UK's best independent imprints.

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