Little Darla Has a Treat for You, Vol. 20: Summer 2003 by Various Artists (Review)

Featuring Freescha, Aarktica, Lowlights, Momus, The California Oranges, Crispy Ambulance, and more.

One doesn’t have to spend much time looking through Darla’s catalog to realize that they offer an extremely diverse blend of musical artists and styles, including dreamy drone music, experimental electronica, fuzzed out psychedelic pop, twangy country music, and more. To give listeners a taste of their various artists, they put out the seasonal Little Darla Has a Treat for You comp. Volume 20 continues in the tradition, featuring a wide array of artists to sample.

The disc opens with Freescha’s ​“Feel Back.” Gentle keyboard clouds drift in from nowhere and fade away, only to return in the form of warm chords paired with a stuttering drumbeat. It’s one of the nicer songs on the disc, and while it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, I keep finding myself listening to it.

Aarktica’s ​“Out To Sea” comes next, featuring the vocal harmonies of Jon DeRosa and Lorraine Lelis over a loop of reversed guitar. While not the best song from his new album, Pure Tone Audiometry — that crown belongs to the song ​“Ocean” — it’s still a wonderful song, and probably the best on the entire compilation.

The dynamic opening pair is followed by Lowlights’ ​“Dim Stars.” A mysterious and pretty country-rock song carried by a twangy keyboard, swinging guitar rhythm, and Dameon Lee’s weathered voice, it’s another one of the better songs on the disc. Ultramarine’s ​“Saratoga” is the same kind of tropical electronica that you usually find associated with images of hip lounges and expensive cars rolling down nighttime streets. It’s quite good, but something I feel like I’ve heard a million times before in some other variation.

The next couple of tracks aren’t quite as memorable. ​“Happy Robots” by Saloon is straightforward lo-fi pop rock that’s pretty enough, but doesn’t really do much. ​“Drunk and Lighting Fires (A Waltz)” is a slow, hung over desert rock dirge that carries on for nearly six minutes, and I usually find myself getting a bit bored with it after awhile. And Jon DeRosa makes another appearance, only this time under the Pale Horse and Rider moniker. On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum than Aarktica, Pale Horse and Rider is quiet and lonesome acoustic guitar music. DeRosa’s soothing baritone is still as nice as ever, but the embarrassingly cutesy lyrics drag the song down.

The Photon Band injects some needed energy into the mix with ​“Outer Space,” a geeky song about aliens and space that I probably enjoy more than I should. Sweet Trip’s ​“Deep (No. 2)” is a lovely little nostalgic space rock song with acoustic guitar and organs, while Flowchart and The Swirlies offer a much more lively interpretation of that genre, with fuzzy guitars and squelching bass.

The disc goes quiet again for Women and Children’s ​“Headless.” Dark and haunting, it’s a welcome departure from the decidedly more upbeat songs that precede it. With June Serwa’s vocals floating above a meandering acoustic guitar, it’s the most moving song on the disc.

Momus leaves his mark with ​“Lovely Tree,” a sleepy and wintry little song, The California Oranges serve a slice of sunny guitar pop on the tasty ​“Weather,” and (The Real) Tuesday Weld offers something completely different on their song ​“One More Chance,” which features the vocals of Pinkie Maclure. The song begins with applause, which grows quieter but never goes away, crackling at the bottom of the mix throughout the song. It’s a jazzy rainy day song, with a drifting trumpet and the patter of cymbals and piano. But it’s Pinkie Maclure’s alluring and smoky vocals that make the track special.

The last two tracks on the disc don’t really do much for me. The Wake’s ​“The Town of 85 Lights” is a retro song driven by piano and synths that I unfortunately find a bit annoying. And Crispy Ambulance calls for action on the long ​“Step Up,” but the rough vocals of Alan Hempsall are too big and ugly for me to really want to listen. The version here is a remix by Graham Massey, and the fact that the song begins with a sample of someone saying, ​“Let’s get ready to rumble!” says everything about that, I suppose.

But other than a few weak spots, it’s a fairly good compilation. At it’s best, it’s beautiful, as on the songs by Aarktica and Women and Children, and at it’s worst it’s ineffective, but generally still listenable. And at $5.99, it’s definitely a treat.

Written by Richie DeMaria.