Chris Parkin explores the many esoteric compilations which preserve and celebrate a period of music from a specific time and place, and picks some unmissable examples.
The pop-proselytising titan Now That’s What I Call Music! celebrated its 100th instalment back in July, reminding us that, even in the age of Spotify, there is still demand for these time-capsule-like collections of music. And compilations are very big news among niche collectors, too, though their preferred deep-dive genre comps serve a rather different purpose.
Some work along the same lines as Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music, which is still crying out for a wider vinyl issue after Mississippi Records’ limited release in 2014, and serve as musical anthropology. So many essential scene-gathering collections from Soul Jazz, Light In The Attic, Sublime Frequencies and beyond fall into this category. Others, meanwhile, celebrate the art of curation – like the compilations put together by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley.
He hit the news at the end of 2017 after putting together albums for the Sainsbury’s Own Label imprint. But better than those is his (and Pete Wiggs’) latest release for Ace Records, Paris In The Spring. The follow-up to their exposition of autumnal, 70s prog rock, English Weather, this time they focus on the moody, introspective French pop that emerged in the wake of the student uprising of 1968. There’s nothing so rare here that Gallic pop academics will be surprised, but the running order is sublime and it’s worth the price of admission for the sweetly apocalyptic, orchestral sweep of Jean-Claude Vannier’s Les Garde Volent Au Secours Du Roi alone.
Also celebrating the art of curation, but serving up tracks that it is unlikely many buyers will have ever heard before, are Triassic Tusk. The label, based in East Neuk, Fife, has been running an occasional club night called Moon Hop for a few years now, playing vinyl gems unearthed all over the world. They even open a small record shop (when they can be bothered, that is), selling some of these rarities.
Those who don’t fancy the schlep to Fife can make do with their latest compilation, Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths Vol. II. Like the first edition it will sell out fast, earn you a tidy packet on Discogs, and is a treasure trove of world disco burners, forgotten gospel, off-piste post-punk and ghostly Danish educational music.
Screamers… also includes a track from Nigerian disco-funk king Kiki Gyan, the subject of a killer overview by Soundway Records earlier this year. But it’s that label’s Onda De Amor that should be first on your shopping list – a groovily hypnotic set of electronic boogie and synth pop that emerged from the country in the 80s and 90s. Weirder still is Music From Memory’s double-vinyl LP Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil, which collects music from the outliers of Brazilian music who, between 1978 and 1992, mutated their homegrown traditional sounds on drum machines and synths.
We have to mention Analog Africa’s African Scream Contest Vol. 2 again, because it’s one of the best albums of the year. But also worth a punt is Numero Group’s Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground, an incredible double-vinyl collection of 60s girl groups you’ve never heard of.