CD, Record Label Records, 2006
Much as I hate catch-all genre tags, there should be a word for the kind of electronic head music that’s too thoughtful for the vacuous hippy connotations of ‘ambient’ but which is far too avant-garde for the hipster trendiness of ‘electronica’. I’m getting more and more of it these days, like this intriguingly good value showcase from Record Label Records. Their UK distributor (Norman Records) mentions “electro acoustic beats” and that’s a pretty good place to start. These bands share with the ‘proper’ electroacoustic movement a sense of the primacy of fluid sound design, a marriage of the concrète and the abstract, and a pursuit of technical innovation (software included for the geeks); but at the same time they know we’ll be listening to this at home, quite possibly after a club or during a heavy night in, and not in an IRCAM research studio with an oscilloscope and a seriously Gallic sound engineer.
While there’s certainly digital noise here – Farmer’s Manual at their most hectic and staccato, and the sporadically mental Brian English – there’s also rhythm and melody, coming unselfconsciously from all over the place. Kush Arora somehow get away with doing bhangra in the style of mid-period Coil, Sote re-synthesise sounds from the Middle East, and Kossak throw in some state-of-the-art dub. Lest we get too comfortable though, there’s some unsettling post-industrial frights in Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock’s “Meatpump666” too (ever see a track on a CD and know you’ll like it before you hear it?).
Thankfully all this benign pretention doesn’t spell chin-strokey introspection. The overall tone is jocular and up-tempo in a sort of Matmos, Mouse on Mars way, and there’s a couple of flashes of outright nerdy humour from Fluorescent Grey, with a (not entirely complimentary) self-referential track, and a heroic effort to recapture the spirit of early 80s children’s television using only physical modelling and no samples. I wish I’d been watching whatever it sounds like they were. On reflection, it’s probably a good thing that there’s no neatly-labeled pigeon-hole for music like this. If it became a scene with expectations, it’d be a lost cause.
— Andrew Clegg