Various Artists – Whitelabsounds

Compilations are risky in my life. Rarely can I put on a comp and be confident that I’ll enjoy it all and give in to it. And the ones that do work for me tend to sustain the same mood throughout the curated tracks, which is sometimes what we want, but at other times a little safe. We are ambient fans, for sure, but we are not averse to weather.

Not so here, where as a listener you don’t notice the change from track (a) to (b), but when you get to (z), and compare it to (a) – you’ve come a long way from home. That’s quite some trick to pull off with twenty artists.

This is a brilliantly curated and sequenced record, where all of the tracks are so well segued, that it gives the impression of a label with as strong an identity as 12k or Home Normal. The quality is consistent throughout its near seventy-seven minutes that displays a collective of artists listening carefully to each other and the label.

Here’s a disclaimer: I know some of the people (virtually) on this record and I’ve even worked with one of them (virtually) – but it was somewhat of a relief to discover that it was not an impediment to distance myself from the tracks.

I am reviewing the physical edition – a cardboard CD sleeve with an Escher-like graphic on the cover and a DIY jet-black ‘vinyl style’ CD inside, which is functional and modest. I listened to this three times in a row, making notes and occasionally working on sorting out cables in my studio over a four-hour session. As I listened, kids arrived home from school, I could hear a trampoline being bounced on out the window and I tidied up some drawings.

Here’s the raw report:

A nice Loscil-esque tapping releases some warm swells from The Green Kingdom’s Dorado dissolving into Ben Melroy’s Pete Rambles (!) where overtones of Alexander Balanescu’s violin may be located. It’s not him, but I’d love to know more about what kind of violin and playing it is, and whether it’s a cheeky sample or not. The subtle segue into the ever-reliable Maps and Diagrams unearths a track by the name of Mirabilis – recalling Tortoise’s Rhodes-esque Millions Now Living Will Never Die. My notes say “Lullaby Tortoise for hospitals.”

A Nocturne from Andrew Long is a lovingly warm field recording of piano playing in an actual home (I think) and channels a little Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure before Floor Overhead’s Houston Texas recalls Harold Budd entering the frame with the cascading keys nodding towards one of my favorite piano-smiths – Lubomyr Melnyk. Felix Gebhard is preparing a clockwork tea ceremony in his Zen-like Gustorfnachmittag, which would also make an excellent soundtrack to walking round Berlin open spaces, something I reckon Gebhard might do.

And again, this record is so well sequenced – the natural partner of the last track is totally made for Through a Screen Door, Darkly from The Restless Fields, because both tracks are ritual-like in some way, before the compilation takes it’s first move into something a little creepier. I’m recalling a bit of Eno’s Music for Films CD here, as Bergwind from Frank Baker is hinting night is falling and this is the point where I thought the compilation might de-rail.

But it doesn’t. And although I thought a puppy was crying at the start of Ondrej Zajac’s Ziggurats, I was just beginning to get used to being lost in the woods under the meditative balm of a Warren Ellisish soundtrack. This track cements this current maneuver in the comp as decisively filmic when We See Through and Through from Offthesky drenches us in rain – but we remain in the forest of the previous recording. And then it all gets a little Nordic Noir around Philippe Lamy’s Anicry2 as we start to get a little Kilmek-y (remember Klimek anyone?) as digital insects start to eat away at the roots.

A Gentle Sound for a Broken Horizon from David Kolhne takes us out of the forest before Wil Bolton’s Canvas sounds like the end of a sad and unreleased film from Thomas Seymour Hoffman that remained unfinished before his suicide. And that’s a compliment. The next track is from Le Petit Vague – Ambre Gris – and sounds nothing like whale excrement but my subwoofer liked it. A lot. The mixing here is excellent and very spatially interesting, like a release from the E:MT label back in the day. I think there was an artist called Woob. Or Womb. No, Woob.

We are five tracks from the end and my notes say ‘The first day in the afterlife? Harpsichords float over distant effervescent weather whilst the firmament fizzes. The footsteps of your chosen god are heard, and s/he is coming to meet you. That is Net’s Caddis Dance.

Meanwhile, on a sister cloud, it’s all close-ups of Saturn’s atmosphere as we look beyond the rings to spy the tiny earth, and we feel we can still get home, but as I said very early on in this review – we didn’t notice how far we have come – and that’s down to Spheruleus and the Rain. Space is still the place here as Darkroom reminds us to keep Holding onto The Sun – I’m drifting over a large, warm star then, navigating through some minor space junk whilst José Sobranes Don’t Believe in Mirrors feels adrift and tingling.

My subwoofer gets some more action on the strangest track of the comp – Dave Kirby’s Wrong Side of The Road, which – and bizarrely doesn’t feel out of place now – seems to contain some primal humping noises. The sound of Bigfoot grunting over Mrs Bigfoot. That would be the wrong side of the road for sure. I might have misremembered this [I play it again] – no, I’m sticking by it. It’s a track that definitely generates some kind of rumbling mischief.

Frippertronic overtones, distended chords and even a smattering of Steve Hillage sign us out of this psychogeographic journey in what has been my favorite compilation of the year by an easy margin. We have Jazzdefector to thank for that final departure in the tape echoes Sognare1.

Chris Dooks, Friday 12 May 2017 16:40pm