Various Artists

Sweet Sixteen, Vol. 1 [Parasol]

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Parasol's Sweet Sixteen was originally conceived as a promo-only CD with 16 tracks, but ballooned into an 18-track first volume in a proposed series that collects songs from recent and forthcoming Parasol label releases (including those from imprints Mud, Hidden Agenda, and Spur Records). As can be expected, such an undertaking covers quite a lot of territory, but the collection serves as proof enough that this is ground well worth treading. It is certainly easy to see why label honchos had a difficult time settling on only 16 tracks. The sampler is packed to the gills with sensational music from across the pop spectrum, by both those already on the map (White Town, Quickspace, George Usher Group) and by those off the beaten path. To make things easier on the listener, Parasol includes sonic touchstones for each artist, but this is music that can be just as easily appreciated without any study aids. The album touches on Elephant 6-type pop (Elk City, Bikeride, Busytoby) and ominous psychedelia (Quickspace), fey Belle & Sebastian pop from Sweden's Starlet, wistful Japanese folk (blueberry, very blue), driving country-rock courtesy of Steve Pride & His Blood Kin, and many points in between. The CD plays like a wonderfully arranged mix tape, and makes a case for Parasol as one of the finest purveyors of quality pop, independent or otherwise. The common denominator throughout Sweet Sixteen is excellent songwriting, but a couple of highlights shine through this already luminous cluster of songs. Very Secretary chimes in with the beautifully plaintive, violin-guided "Sister Psyche," which sounds for all intents and purposes like a lost Elliot Smith song. Even better is "I Can See You" off of June & the Exit Wounds' sole album A Little More Haven Hamilton, Please. It is an utterly brilliant composition that picks up right where Pet Sounds left off; in fact, as a template it uses Brian Wilson's solo piano version of "Surf's Up" off the lost Smile album. This is gorgeous, melodically complex, entirely haunting, and timeless music that avoids any hint of derivation through its sheer excellence. If everything from Parasol is as good as this compilation seems to imply, then the label is very good, indeed.

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