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Artist: V/A

Album: CHEM087CD+DVD

Label: Chemikal Underground

Review date: Oct. 1, 2006

This 17-track audio CD and accompanying 28-video DVD package may well be value for money, but it isn’t a great advert for the Chemikal Underground label. They might have established and worked with some excellent bands, which are duly represented here, but unfortunately there aren’t enough of them to satisfactorily fill the audio side of this compilation. This deficit of truly great acts sees a good two-thirds of the audio disc really floundering. With the ghost of the recent Arab Strap split hanging heavy over this release (as the opening track), their break-up could perhaps be a slow call of closing time for the label as well.

The best songs on this compilation are from the obvious and definitive CU bands that have since split or departed. The aforementioned Arab Strap offer up the “I Work in a Saloon” narrative and Mogwai, the swooning belt strap snap of “”Year 2000 Non-Compliant Cardia.” These lift the audio disc from a parade of nearly-rans that make it seem like the A&R got fat and happy instead of keeping on their toes. The track by white label hopes Sluts of Trust proves they can bust a bluesy riff, but beyond that they’re near redundant to anyone with more than a passing knowledge of Jon Spencer and Jack White. Much of the music here is middling Scots indie or trip hopped rubbish, even lesser stars like The Delgados, Aereogramme and Radar Bros seem to tower over the bands here. I can’t say I was previously familiar with back catalogue acts like De Rosa, Model Fighter or British Meat Scene and these offerings are an indication why. Kempston, Protek & Fuller take the wooden spoon prize for worst track here though, offering a quite appalling crunchy electronic instrumental that should’ve stayed on the demo tape.

The DVD seems to give the label a better fighting chance; the songs (barely) financed for videos for are stronger than the songs they seemed to randomly pick out. The zero budget of many of these pieces seems to have forced the hand of invention, creating much more interesting visuals than a big budget probably would have. The backbone of this disc though is the eight Arab strap videos (nine if you include Malcolm Middleton’s “Crappo the Clown” short) and Aidan Moffat’s wry commentary. The band has always been synonymous with the label, and it’s good to finally see these promos outside of early morning TV. Moving from night vision stalking to wedding punch-ups, these visuals are infected with as much pathos and humor as the music.

This compilation lacks a focus, and the “eleven years, eight months” anniversary idea seems a little silly and forced. This might be useful for fans of low budget videos or Arab Strap collectors, but beyond that it falls really flat. It doesn’t fully represent the label’s golden era or its glory days, so what is it for?

By Scott McKeating

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