To call an album, even a comprehensive four-disc box set label retrospective, “A Complete History of Popular Music,” seems pretty audacious. That it’s such a ridiculous statement seems to be kind of the point; obviously, one label, 10 years old, with a catalog entirely composed of pretty, quirky and joyful Swedish indie pop, isn’t touching upon the entire history of pop music. That said, a box containing 100 tracks, one from each of Labrador’s 100 releases, is a pretty comprehensive package, an exhausting listen, and quite the lesson in one small imprint’s role on a particularly noteworthy, if lesser known, musical scene. More importantly, Labrador 100 is consistently good from one song to the next.
Sweden has a pretty diverse musical economy, ranging from black metal to electronic acts such as The Knife, as well as acoustic troubadours like José Gonzalez and the many garage rock acts that received their brief due after the Hives exploded globally. Labrador 100 doesn’t delve into those realms, save for the occasional acoustic songwriter such as Pelle Carlberg. Instead, its lengthy tracklist features mostly twee indie pop groups, the occasional electro-pop outfit, and shoegazer inspired rock. There are some familiar names, such as Radio Dept., The Legends and Acid House Kings, as well as more obscure outfits like South Ambulance, Tribeca and Sambassadeur. And each one presents a new melodic discovery, and another tiny morsel of sonic joy.
Going in chronological order, Labrador 100 begins with the label’s 1998 beginnings, the scrappy pop of First Floor Power’s “Car, Travel Far!” leading the way toward the many interesting discoveries that follow. From there, the listener is treated to the catchy pop of Starlet and Lasse Lindh, the electro-gloss of Waltz for Debbie, and numerous gems from the Acid House Kings, including “We’re the Acid House Kings,” a thoroughly infectious and endlessly enjoyable fuzz-pop theme song of sorts. There are also various inclusions from Club 8, which practically sounds like a different band in each incarnation. On “Missing You,” they’re dancefloor Eurodisco, on “We’re Simple Minds” acoustic pop, and on “Saturday Night Engine,” sophisticatedly hazy indie rock.
From there it only gets better, what with the various tracks by The Legends popping up, many of them found on the excellent Up Against the Legends album. In addition, Radio Dept., likely the biggest name on this lengthy compilation, chimes in with sublimely hazy tracks like “Why Won’t You Talk About It?” and “Deliverance.” One can’t discount the gleefully upbeat lo-fi quirk of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, who offer buoyant tracks such as “Trumpets and Violins” and “Funeral Face.” Even Tribeca’s awkward teenage sexual narrative “Her Breasts Were Still Small” ain’t half bad, if a bit uncomfortable.
With Labrador 100, I may not be getting an education in pop music as a whole, but there’s definitely a world of music here to which I had little to no awareness. Sure, I had heard that Legends album and some Acid House Kings here and there, but on the whole, this compilation provides much more aural excitement than I could have possibly imagined.
Belle & Sebastian – Push Barman to Open Old Wounds
Various Artists – There And Back Again Lane
Various Artists – Wow! Wild Summer