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Various Artists | Worlds of Possibility (Domino)
Compiled to commemorate the tenth birthday of South London's Domino Records, this bargain-priced 2CD compilation is a warts 'n' all historical document of the label's first decade. Whilst some less discerning publications have fallen for the collection's marketing ploy, that has subliminally incited reviewers to to cook up blinkered and gushing reviews, your scribe's bullshit detector allows me to listen between the tracks to pull out the realities of Domino's hit and miss operation.
CD1 is largely a greatest 'hits' selection from the early years, that basically explains how label founder Laurence Bell laid Domino's sturdy foundations by simply being in the right place at the right time. When the Nirvana-led alt. rock tidal wave hit British shores in the early-1990's, innumerable oddball talents came to need a UK label home that could deliver affordable releases in newly receptive territories. So when Subpop needed to license Sebadoh releases and when Drag City needed a more convenient outpost for Royal Trux and Will Oldham's Palace-related enterprises, Bell was ready with his cheque book (part funded by a government small business grant). All three acts are represented here, and the inclusion of Sebadoh's smouldering Soul And Fire is a more than welcome reminder of the label's pioneering licensing deals. As the first CD proceeds, more or less chronologically, Bell's knack for bringing relative critical and commercial success in European countries for Bill Callahan's Smog, David Pajo's Papa M, Jim O'Rourke, the late Elliott Smith and the sublime Silver Jews, is documented with an obvious but respectable choice of tracks. So far so good, but things seemed to have gone astray when Domino signed up Pavement for their last two (and least enjoyable) albums 'Brighten The Corners' and 'Terror Twilight.' By chasing-after and mollycoddling old staples, the label had passed-over the late-90's Chicago-led post-rock boom (more effectively harnessed by Thrill Jockey and City Slang) and missed the burgeoning alt. country scene-shifting of more recent years (a void amply filled by Secretly Canadian, Loose Records and Glitterhouse), leaving its roster to appear complacent and strangely conservative.
As we flip over to CD2 we see how Domino has struggled to cope with the separation of its two biggest US indie-rock cash cows - Sebadoh and Pavement. Releasing post-split solo releases by Pavement's Stephen Malkmus (included here with the uncharacteristically good User Friendly) and the 'Doh's Jason Loewenstein (as featured with the yappy but fun college-rock retro of Codes) is acceptable enough, but it's the label's new (primarily British) acquisitions that smack of an A&R policy that seems to be poised in panic mode as the label's quality control has fragmented. So we're 'treated' to the appalling White Stripesian imitations of The Blueskins, the grotty NME-sponsored indie-pap of Franz Ferdinand, the ponderous art-rock posing of Clearlake (do we really need a younger more contrived Strangelove?), the so-so alt. folk of James Yorkston and the one-joke electronica of Max Tundra. Whilst newer US members of the roster seem passable enough (The Kills, Quasi) there's hardly been any life-changing fresh additions to the label's release schedules over the last three or four years.
This is a compilation badly in need of a big fat question mark at the end of its title. As it's arguable that the next ten years will be a less inspiring trawl for follows of Domino as a label. What with the expansion in better global music distribution (thanks mainly to the Internet), a baffling approach to finding new bands and a stubborn closed-fortress mentality, we don't really need Domino to stock our record shelves half as much as before. A business plan offered up by your scribe would recommend that Domino build on its greatest strength - a rich back catalogue - through some choice rarities, reissues and retrospective releases (a flab-free Sebadoh singles compilation is needed just for starters), whilst giving P45's to all of its British bands (except perhaps Clinic and Four Tet) to rationalise its roster. Furthermore, a closer partnership with Chicago's Drag City (US home to Will Oldham, Smog et al.) would also be advisable, because Domino refusal to carry-over latter-day releases by Edith Frost, Neil Hagerty and David Grubbs has been borderline insane. However, for all this ranting and raving wrapped up in just one compilation review, this is still (especially considering the five quid or less price tag) a worthwhile purchase for the top-notch old classics cuts on CD1 and the small handful of must-hear moments on CD2. 'Worlds of Wasted Potential' would however have been a more accurate and descriptive name for this selection.