By Various Artists
The Lab: One is a collection of ten tracks by ten artists all orbiting the indie and folk genres. Despite the genre correlations, each track has its own unique sound, making for a constantly surprising compilation. Although the variety means it's unlikely that every song will be to your taste, The Lab: One shuns fads and delivers ten gimmick-free tracks, so you'll at least be able to appreciate the genuine talent behind them.
Kicking things off are New York based Soft and their offering 'Higher,' which is the sound of a long summer's day committed to record. It overflows with sublimely beautiful melodies and Johnny Reineck's hazy vocals are perfectly pitched throughout. 'Higher' will be echoing in your head like the memory of last summer long after you've moved onto the next track.
'Big Bad Man' by Secret Broadcast may pick up the tempo, but its jerky drumbeats are nowhere near as interesting as Secret Broadway evidently believe them to be. They treat us to an overlong, drum-heavy, snooze fest of an ending which sees vocalist Matt Lightstone making bizarre "doo-doo-doo" noises. But, this misjudgement aside, 'Big Bad Man' boasts some addictive synths, frenzied guitar work and the occasional addictively-pitched vocal that's like a flash of brilliance in a song that, for the most part, struggles to stand out from the indie crowd.
You have to love a song with a title like 'Good Coat.' Even better, Rod Thomas' offering does exactly what it says on the tin: it extols the joys of owning a good coat. It's wilfully whimsical with some adorably off-kilter lyrics such as "I feel invincible / Or at least I feel quite good," and while musically it may be too simple for some, you have to admire the originality.
Snowden's 'Between The Rent and Me' passes by in a bit of a blur. It strikes up a few bars within the first five seconds and then sticks with them for the whole of the track. The heady vocals do give 'Between The Rent...' a shot of personality but, just when it starts to gather momentum, the repetitive backing track takes over and the song falls flat once more.
'Ghosts Have the Best Time' by The Panda Band is a mad-lab concoction of folk, congregational backing vocals and jazz instruments. As with most experimental tracks there are flashes of genius - the call and response style chorus; the unique vocals; the Olde Worlde build up at the beginning of the track - and moments that jar, most notably a questionable ragtime mid-section. However, on the whole this remains one of the best, and oddest songs on the album.
Next up is The Wooden Sky and 'North Dakota,' which sees Gavin Gardiner belting out a classic indie-anthem chorus with apparent ease. The rock-ballad, Snow Patrol-esque guitars are spot on throughout, marking The Wooden Sky as ones to watch out for.
Vandaveer's 'Crooked Mast' is folk that, despite resorting to tired old imagery such as storms, separating oceans and tears running like rivers to describe a relationship on the rocks, manages to remain remarkably cringe-free. Even Mark Charles' humming and doo-doo-dooing are surprisingly entertaining. If you have a soft spot for folk, then chances are you'll love this.
Next up are Brooklyn's Dirty on Purpose, with 'Back To Sleep.' Their meandering indie may initially seem dreary, but repeat listens give the hazy guitars a hypnotic quality. The unusual, barely-there vocals are a hit and miss affair. During the chorus they blur with the distorted guitars to wonderfully trippy effect, but without the psychedelic backing track the verses become trudging and you'll be tempted to skip through all the verses and just enjoy that brilliantly haunting chorus.
The Jealous Girlfriends have a similar vocal style to Dirty On Purpose, but their breathy vocals are delivered over the sound of someone hitting the same piano key over and over. Even when a haze of sound effects and drumbeats are drip fed into the song, that piano is all you can hear. By the end of 'Roboxulla' you'll never want to hear that key again, guaranteed. Holly Miranda does provide some eerie vocals, and the song's meatier sections are infused with atmosphere, but it's difficult to appreciate 'Roboxulla' with that one note beating away like that irritating pulse you sometimes get in your eye.
The compilation ends on a high note with New Adventures' 'How I Got My Devil Back (Part One)' Jez's voice carries so much passion that it's impossible not to get caught up in the song, and once it has your undivided attention 'How I Got...' tugs at your heart strings without making your toes curl up in embarrassment. A sprinkling of strings infuse this song with angst without delving into melodrama, making 'How I Got...' a soaring and heartfelt end to this eclectic collection.