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12 Tales: Rasputina

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12 Tales
Various Artists

Melora Creager (founder and leader of Rasputina, the rockinest cellists this side of anywhere) has joined together with faerie artist Amy Brown and music publicist Julie Griner to create a winning compilation that hearkens back to the Brothers Grimm—as well as the heyday of goth compilations before Cleopatra Records started spewing out so many ridiculous tribute CDs. Nary a kohl-lined eye can remain dry when reminiscing about 4AD's seminal (and still available) comp Lonely Is an Eyesore and dreamy collective This Mortal Coil. Ethereal, shoegazing fans could take refuge during the '90s with artists like Delirium, Sarah MacLachlan and Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerard, but they can finally come home again with 12 Tales.

Each song from the 12 different featured artists (including high-profilers like The Creatures, The Legendary Pink Dots and The Cranes, as well as lesser known bands) is accompanied by a tiny fairy tale and illustration. The songs really have naught to do with the tales—most songs were previously released on Instinct Records so it's as much a label showcase as anything. Really, the big draw here isn't the quaint theme but the mix of artists both known and unknown.

The first track from Rasputina is a gorgeous rock opera nightmare. Vocals howl above a tempestuous din, like a siren directing this storm that after reaching its chaotic crescendo, and then slowly drown in a wash of feedback and strings. Future Bible Heroes follow with a surprising and pleasing synth quietness. Stephen Merrick's (of The Magnetic Fields) always melancholy, strangely vulnerable monotone vocals fit in well here. In fact, Merrick basically does an eerie atmospheric Legendary Pink Dots song much better than the Dots do themselves on the final track of 12 Tales, which is unfortunately more boring than haunting.

The Creatures "Slipping Away" begins with 90-second interlude of a guitar stuck on rewind, instead of the heavy synth we've come to expect, and Siouxsie's vocals return to her early '80s' closet. And even though the song clocks in at more than five minutes, it fades just as you're expecting it to soar. Japan's David Sylvian's vocals on Russell Mills/Undark's "Room of Sixteen Shimmers" give the simple piece an added depth.

Other artists do exactly as expected and provide nice, if not exactly revolutionary, filler. Violet Indiana—comprised of Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie and Mono's Siobhan de Mare—sounds exactly like you think: Cocteau Twins rendered lifeless without Elizabeth Fraser's angel-on-PCP vocals. Miranda Sex Garden still wails like there's no tomorrow. The Flir does a pitch perfect impression of Mephisto Waltz, and Bitstream Dream walks down the familiar India-influenced sitar path in "Impossible Gardens."

For those unfamiliar with this ethereal brand of dreampop, 12 Tales is a good introduction of the best the genre has to offer, but without being too tightly tied down by genre boundaries. Tree-hugging dreamers with fond Lilith Fair memories may find this a new avenue to explore. And for those who recognize more than a few of the names on the cover, they'll get exactly as expected: A nicely priced compilation that provides unexpected discoveries and great music.

  Laura Tiffany

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12 Tales: Rasputina

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