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Various Artists | Saddle Creek 50 (Saddle Creek)
Over hyped and over here, the swift rise to prominence in the US indie rock world for Omaha, Nebraska's Saddle Creek Records means that already we're treated to a celebration of fifty releases in the form of this two CD retrospective.

Stalwarts The Faint, Cursive and Bright Eyes are represented here, as are the more recent recruits, by two songs apiece, one from their back catalogue, one unreleased (vinyl buffs get just the unreleased), although the cross-pollination prevalent in the Saddle Creek world means that musicians and vocalists crop up on each other's work, and the similarities between the voice of Cursive's Tim Kasher and poster boy Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) further blur any boundaries.

Ex Lullaby for the Working Class vocalist Ted Stevens' crops up on both discs, sharing lead vocal on Cursive's The Martyr and fronting his new collective Mayday (as seen/heard in the last issue), a 'trick' repeated by Oberst who opens and closes Disc Two, first with the more direct, rocking Desaparecidos and closing the record with two Bright Eyes songs. Oberst has, inevitably, become synonymous with Saddle Creek, his precocious talents destined to overshadow those of his labelmates whoever they happened to be. Prodigiously gifted, Oberst is a rare find, a born songwriter and, alongside the similarly prolific and versatile multi-instrumentalist and producer Mike Mogis, the catalyst for Omaha's burgeoning reputation. Whilst his current platter 'Lifted' may be his best yet, it's the breakthrough album 'Fevers & Mirrors' from which Something Vague is, uh, lifted. It's a wise choice, as good an example of his dynamic as any, the five minute unreleased One Foot In Front of the Other another epic performance with which to close proceedings. Before them the dreamy November by Azure Ray floats free from the dense, guitar-heavy indie from the likes of The Good Life and Sorry About Dresden. It's a stunning song, the pure voices of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor equally absorbing on the unreleased Beautiful Things Can Come From The Dark.

Disc One's scant 37mins are rounded out with 45 short video clips from throughout 2002, culled from the Saddle, featuring performances and behind-the-scenes 'action' in and around the label, sometimes amusing, sometimes inane and, in the case of a lingering shot of roadkill, tasteless. As with all compilations, 'Saddle Creek 50' acts as an introduction to the uninitiated, and offers more than enough new treasures for the enlightened.

Matt Dornan
March-April 2003