One of my guilty pleasures has always been the compilation album. Every since I became fanatical about collecting music in the early ’80’s, the compilation has been a serious resource for me in my quest to find new artists/bands. Back in the day when quality record labels sold them for the price of a single, it only took 2-3 songs you liked to feel like you’ve hit the jackpot, and if I was buying a compilation from a label I already new, I felt I had just scored free music. With the advent of Creative Commons and online netlabel releases, that music really is now free and my guilty pleasure has only gotten worse (or cheaper, depending on how you look at it.) I now download at least of 3 or 4 compilations a month, sometimes getting 2 or 3 a week. Because of that, the number of artists/bands that I have discovered in the last 10-12 years is something I couldn’t have imagined 30 years ago. Everyday there’s a new project I’m just hearing of, and at times these artists have been releasing material just beyond my hearing for years.
The inspiration for discovering a new label/compilations can come from anywhere. I’ve recently joined a Facebook group, Intelligent Ambient Music, hosted by Jack Hertz. Jack is a perfect example of an artist who has been releasing material for years without my having had the pleasure of listening to it. An overview of his work would be a blog post unto itself and that’s not really the aim of this blog. I only hope to inspire you to begin your own search and am merely pointing out some of the signposts I’ve seen along the journey. But Jack has become a thread that has exposed me to more music in the last year or so than I ever would have imagined when I first discovered his netlabel, Aural Films. Home to many of Jack’s releases, in particular, his recent Wetlands, a series of compositions crafted with the distinct aim of submersing the listener into an electronically manipulated environment and whose intention is to create an alternative reality within the listener’s own perspective (in Jack’s words, “part documentary and part hallucination”), it is a perfect spot to begin to understand the dynamics Jack is trying to capture. Very good, and very heady, work.
Aural Films is also hosting a couple of new releases from another of my new favorite artists, Cousin Silas. Both his collaboration with Jack, Jaguars & Shamen (another collection of transcendent compositions meant to invoke the spirit and imagery of Amazonian shamen and the hallucinatory practices they embrace), as well as his own release, Ballard Landscapes 3, are among the heavy plays in my headphones right now. The third in his series of J. G. Ballard inspired releases, Landscapes 3 is a collection of glistening pads and celestial swoops gliding alongside deep, thrumming drones nestling among found sounds, lilting piano chords and ominous, cascading washes. I think Ballard would be impressed. In fact, this so rekindled my love of Ballard, I revisited another favorite resource of mine, UbuWeb, to peruse their collection of Ballard videos. If you’re unfamiliar with UbuWeb, please do yourself a favor, visit them now. Their collection of experimental and avant-garde material from the 20th century is a remarkable resource. Their mission statement, alone, is worthy of praise. But I digress, an alternative, and topically appropriate, entry point for Aural Films, may be their recent compilation, Prehistoric Tar Pit Music. Comprising 19 tracks spanning over 2 and a half hours of music and inspired by the Facebook group mentioned in the opening of this paragraph, this release captures Jack’s vision of creating internal landscapes through manufactured realities, this time arousing the primal instincts and emotions of our prehistoric ancestors. More than a compilation, this is an effort to provide form to an individual’s artistic vision that can, and is, shared by many.
And that’s just the beginning of Jack’s thread this post. His newest release, a haunting we will ghost, on we are all ghosts, celebrating the first anniversary of waag’s launching, reaffirms the singular vision and voice that Thomas Mathie has cultivated at waag. An air of haunting, melancholic reminiscing permeates waag’s releases, giving them a heft and gravity usually not associated with ambient soundscapes. I look forward to every new release they offer. Jack has also released material on Earth Mantra Netlabel. Now, in all honesty, this is not a name that would have normally jumped out at me, but Jack has a couple of releases through them, so I thought I’d check it out. And that’s when I discovered Stefan Paulus.
In my small world, Stefan is brilliant. Constructing intricate, intoxicating compositions through the use of psychogeography, I’d be disingenuous, at best, if I implied I could explain his theory any better, or more accurately, than he does. To paraphrase a single paragraph in his statement, “Psychogeography is drifting, is action, is the collection of things that can be found on the street – getting into a subway, the nearest bus and get somewhere out. It is about paying attention to the terrain, the animals, the garbage in the streets.” Exactly! Both his release on Earth Mantra Netlabel, Becoming – Dissolve, an hour long meditation spanning 3 compositions which hum along to the subconscious heartbeat of a subterranean society hovering on the edge of remembrance (from which the video below is taken from), and his latest release, on Treetrunk Records, Sea Salt Island, a continuing effort to define and construct impressionistic internal vistas using a soundtrack both unfamiliar and familial at the same time, encapsulate his aesthetic and singular vision. I have already become a massive fan of his music and his artistic vision.
Another netlabel I find myself repeatedly returning to is Nostress Netlabel. I’ve been singing their praises the last couple of weeks and just can’t seem to stop. Their recent compilation, The Astounding Fair, is another example of great music lurking just around the corner. Continuing their mission of promoting unsigned and often overlooked artists and bands, this compilation has opened my eyes to a couple of projects I was unfamiliar with. First mention has to be Cinema Noir, from Palermo, IT, a 5 piece post-rock experimental outfit that might have easily continued to fly under my radar if not for my favorite song title of the last few years, “when sigur ros don’t play music, they name Ikea’s furniture“, a 7 and a half minute foray into a dark, droning world of heartbeat kick drums and guitar chords washing over landscapes littered with discordant electronic signals and the detritus of a forgotten civilization. A very strong track and a band I will watch for in the future. Another revelation from this compilation is Neuf Meuf. The working alias of Rok Vrbancic of Slovenia, his deep, droning scoundscapes are music to my ears. Both his 2012 release on Nostress, What’s Left in Chorus, and his new release on No Source Netlabel, On Titled EP, are releases getting extensive play in my headphones right now. On Titled, in particular, adds a slight sense of hope in an otherwise oppressive world of forces sweeping out of control and the inability of the average human to harness those forces. But the single most impressive release from Nostress recently has to be from Milan native, Francesco Vecchi, under the guise of his Etterem moniker, Dark Irish, Some Tunes. An impressive endeavor of traditional Irish music samples stretched and looped and treated with layers of electronic effects and underpinned by recurring drones and cycling samples, I haven’t heard anything this original in quite awhile. Just in time for dj’ing this St. Patrick’s Day, you know several of his compositions will be popping up during my sets over the weekend. Very impressive release!
There are several other netlabels I’ve recently discovered and which have provided me with new sounds to follow and enjoy. Cold Fiction Music has been releasing quality ambient, dub-techno and minimalist projects since 2009, but have only recently entered my world. And what’s really surprising, their 2012 compilation, futur(e)cho 2‘s tracklist reads like a who’s who of my favorite netlabel artists. Coppice Halifax, Zzzzra, Orcalab, Martin Nonstatic, Textural Being and AXS are all featured on it. How I missed this for 6 months is really staggering to me. Fortunately, there was an artist I was not familiar with, DeepWarmth. With 4 releases on Cold Fiction Music over the last couple of years, I’m slowly working my way through his back catalogue. Deep, warm pads meet minimal, dubbed-out beats and glitchy atmospherics to create hypnotic and inviting compositions that are blissfully enveloping. Very pleasing and a joy to discover.
The next three netlabels I’ve recently started following are all courtesy of Stray Theories. The ambient project of Micah Templeton-Wolfe, his self-released compositions have been floating around my hard drive for a couple years now. He’s recently had tracks included on two different compilations and I’m better for having discovered both labels. The first, Future Astronauts‘, Vessels 2, is an impressive introduction to the future garage, downtempo, ambient philosophy of the label. Only knowing Stray Theories from the list of bands, this release is providing hours and hours of exploration and discovery for me. Micah’s second appearance of 2013 is on the Document 10 compilation, Page One. The decidedly more ambient of the two compilations, this one really piqued my interest knowing it also featured a unreleased track from the glorious Radere. The most impressive new find for me through this release has to be Pillowdiver. While I must admit he doesn’t usually release material through Creative Commons, I have fallen in love with his breathtaking compositions and ethereal soundscapes. Finally, Stray Theories has added a remix to the Great Grey Records release, Into the Distance: Remixes. Happily, there’s yet more research for me to do while I work through their first couple of releases.
Finally, Document 10‘s Page One compilation has also directed me toward another brand new netlabel. Opening with the haunting soundscape, In Bruges by Tone Color, it took me awhile to remember when I first came across Manchester artist Andy Lomas, but after much searching (okay, I really just went to his soundcloud page…) I found his track Ebowed an’ Clear was featured on the Futuresquence, Sequence 3 compilation (more on Futuresequence in later posts, as they are a netlabel I revere.) Searching for more of his work, I came across the brand new label, Assembly Field and their debut release, VA Compilation#1. Featuring tracks from Tone Color, Gallery Six, Pleq and Wil Bolton (among others), this is a very impressive roster for a debut release. And Tone Color‘s track 061 is a stand out effort. Already rumoring to have a second release in the works, this is a label I will be following feverishly in the months to come.
Finally, another 2012 compilation I’ve recently discovered is Nu Sounds from Poland from No Echo Records. Releasing material from the heart of Krakow since 2008, an unknown world has just opened up for me and this is the release that will afford repeated listening for me as each artist/project is a new entity to me. Focusing on experimental music from the underground Polish music scene, this release spans the musical spectrum from broken beat and nu jazz, to droning soundscapes and micro-house tonalities and almost everything in between. A very eclectic collection of songs and one that bears new insights with each listen. This is why I listen to music and why the search for new sounds is a never-ending process. Hope you find an intriguing bit somewhere in the post and pick up a thread of your own to follow. Enjoy…