Various Artists – Fictions

The latest release from Crammed Discs’ reinvigorated Made To Measure series is described as a compendium of ‘wordless fiction’. Curated by Crammed Discs co-founder Marc Hollander (Aksak Maboul), the album compiles eight tailor-made pieces that navigate a path between ambient, soundscapes, adventurous electronics and modern classical stylings.

While the pieces here are new, there is a sense of reverence through the inclusion of a track by Benjamin Lew and Tuxedomoon’s Steven Brown. The pair originally worked together during Made To Measure’s initial years, releasing Douzième Journée: Le Verbe, La Parure, L’Amour in 1982 and its follow-up A Propos D’Un Paysage in 1985, creating mesmerising and innovative clashes between tapes of African music and electronics. After hooking up again at a Made To Measure event in 2019, they found themselves rekindling a creative partnership, and their track – ‘A.D. Sur La Carte’ – is a haunting stew of inquisitive synths and mournful trumpet that together feel amorphous and ephemeral.

Another Made To Measure alumnus is Pascal Gabriel, here appearing in his Stubbleman alias. Gabriel released his critically-acclaimed Mountains And Plains audio travelogue for the label in 2019 and has collaborated with Crammed Discs and Aksak Maboul in the past. His piece finds him working with Norweigian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvær. ‘Ne Pas Se Pencher Au Dehors’ has definite soundtrack credentials, the melodic synth refrain and more direct trumpet playing that comes in after two minutes sounding (to me) like the perfect accompaniment to Michael J. Fox’s final scene in Bright Lights, Big City as he watches the sun rise over Manhattan’s East River and contemplates starting his life afresh.

Elsewhere, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith delivers a cascade of burbling synths on ‘Waterways’, managing to enrich analogue sounds with an aquatic sense of motion, over which floats a pretty xylophone motif. LA’s Mary Lattimore is an artist that has truly redefined approaches to playing the venerable harp, and her ‘Bird’ offers up a sweet, heart-wrenching duet with electronics that is simultaneously hopeful yet thwarted, as if gazing wistfully on the fleeting nature of existence.

Not that these are all delicate, gentle sonic experiments. French composer and sound artist Félicia Atkinson’s ‘The Sun, Perhaps Three Of Them’ bristles with wild energy, a central white noise drone and what could be a voice is nothing short of chilling, while Christina Vantzou’s tone poem ‘Museum Critic’ use of out-of-place found sound to catch you off guard and knock you out of the meditative state provided by other tracks here.

Taken as a whole, Fictions represents an absorbing, inspiring collection onto which you can write your own personal narrative.

Fictions was released October 14 2022 by Crammed Discs / Made To Measure

Thanks to Jim at Ampersand and PG.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2022 Further.

Various Artists – Isolation And Rejection Vol. 4

Various Artists - Isolation And Rejection 4

In 2019, to my immense disappointment, the Front & Follow label decided to shut up shop. It looked like either a temporary cessation of activities or a complete end of a 12-year run that had seen the Manchester-based imprint issue an incredible run of adventurous sonic material from a diverse set of artists. 

Fortunately, 2020’s lockdown presented the ideal opportunity to bring the label back, specifically for the Isolation And Rejection series of artist compilations. From the off, the premise was simple – Justin Watson, who runs the label, put out an open call for artists to send in tracks that had been rejected by other compilers. Isolation And Rejection became something of a home for the unwanted, overlooked and unloved. All proceeds from the sales of the digital albums go to The Brick in Wigan, a charity focussed, like Isolation And Rejection, on the homeless. 

In keeping with the previous three editions of the series, the tracks presented on the penultimate instalment are far from mere

offcuts or poor quality knock-offs. Volume 4 collects together twenty-four tracks from established, well-known artists like Kepier Widow, Howlround, Rupert Lally and Pulselovers – none of whom, frankly, should ever find their music on a compiler’s cutting room floor. These artists nestle evenly alongside material from less well-known individuals, creating a sense of even-handedness that is a credit to Watson and his label. That he selected an acoustic guitar strumfest – MJ Hibbett’s ‘Rocking Out But Quietly’ – as the album’s centrepiece is downright audacious amid the anxious, squalling, buzzing, droning and quietly ethereal electronics elsewhere, but then again Front & Follow were always defiantly atypical in their release schedules.

So here you get the woozy, hypnotic structures of Stellarays’ ‘Butterfly Control Tower’, all delicate melodies and an electro-shoegazery disposition; the nod in the direction of Cabaret Voltaire on Function Automat’s resolute ‘Data Data’; Earthborn Vision’s haunting, edgy electro pulses on ‘Effects Of Isolation’; Graham Reznick’s processed cello and choral vocal textures melding with stirring electronics on the beautiful ‘The Visit’; Kepier Widow’s brooding ‘Perfect Latency’. Elsewhere, Rupert Lally immerses himself in the same ambient sonic foreshore that inspired his Marine Life album with the pastoral ’It Learns From Its Mistakes’ and Lammergeiers delivers a psychedelic stew of amorphous, shapeshifting processed blues guitar riffs and grainy textures set to motorik rhythms on ‘Ephemeris’. 

My personal favourite here comes from Joe Evans’ Runningonair. His ‘Cocktail Hour’ is a breezy slice of gentle exotica, all tranquil beats, discrete acid squelches, blurry shapes, vibes and jazzy piano, just perfect for mixing a Mai-Tai or three in the comfort of the Tiki bar you fashioned up because you had nothing else to do in lockdown. Cheers. 

Isolation & Rejection Volume 4 is released September 25 2020 by Front & Follow. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further.