ALL VIRGOS ARE MAD (4AD, 1994) [compilation]

A 14th-anniversary (?!?) collection of at-the-time unreleased cuts by some of the better-known acts on the label’s mid-90s roster. I’m a lifelong fan of 4AD, having been turned on in my teens. With a knack for spotting and signing the coolest, most laden-with-mystery art-pop bands of the 80s (Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Xymox, Pixies, Throwing Muses, etc., etc., etc.), plus an in-house design team with an eye toward creating beautiful, must-own products, they could pretty much do no wrong for me…

Until the 1990s, that is. Correlating with their expansion from London to a second office in LA, this comp captures what, for me, was a serious ebb in the label’s quality control. Having been burned by a few of their releases around ’92 and ’93 (anyone else remember Spirea X or Swallow? No? That’s OK.), by the time I found this one at a yard sale, my starry-eyed fanboy phase was pretty much over. (Fortunately, everything they put out before that, and quite a few of their subsequent releases, too, remain deathless in my eyes.)

Listening to it 20+ years later… yeah, it’s pretty mnediocre. There are some predictably great offerings (Dead Can Dance’s hypnotic “Rakim,” Red House Painters’ awesome downer “San Geronimo,” the unpredictable multilayering in His Name Is Alive’s “Library Girl,”), good-if-not-super tunes from then-newcomers (the Breeders’ “Saints” and Air Miami’s “Pucker,” both of which appear in better versions elsewhere), and a couple of surprises I forgot about (Heidi Berry’s “The Mountain” is lovely acoustic storytelling; Michael Brook’s “Diffusing” is a solid wash of ambient guitar sounds). But the losers are kinda depressing, especially because they come from usually-reliable artists — the Wolfgang Press, Lush, Pale Saints, and a few others really don’t do themselves any favors here. Ah well, everyone has bad days.

[Shout-out to college-radio programmers/music librarians: over the years, I’ve amassed a number of promo copies from yard sales. From the shredded tag on the front cover, this is clearly one of ’em, though I’ve no idea which station (and, at this point, can’t even remember in which state I was living when I found this). Anyway, if you’re missing this, lemme know and I’ll send it along.]

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