VA: Friendly Strangers
[Unnamed Label]

[Unnamed Label] Records, an upstart label by three producers (all of them under twenty years of age), makes its first appearance with a sixty-six-minute compilation of fourteen pristine electronica tracks with roots in atmospheric, Boards Of Canada-styled IDM (children's voices, reminiscent of those in BOC's material, surface amidst the billowing electronics in Luga's “Little Fingers”). Two of the three—Marcus Gutierrez (aka Mark.Nine) and Tomas Borosko (Five Step Path)—previously managed the net-label I/O and are joined in the new venture by Ryan Parmer (aka Phasen).

Friendly Strangers is certainly a credible entrant into the electronica domain: the album's gleaming and generally sunny IDM is naturally tailor-made for devotees of Boltfish, U-Cover, and I/O, given that most of the featured artists previously appeared on those labels; plus the panoramic collection includes no shortage of pastoral and chiming reveries by the likes of Phasen, Lackluster, Rumorse, Innerise, Fomatic, Mint, and Cheju. City Rain and Milieu set the sparkling tone with two strong tracks, a jaunty electro-house stepper (“Asked For So Much More”) in the former case and crunchy ambient-IDM glisten (“Nicepollen”) in the latter. Though the material is exquisitely produced, the general style isn't unfamiliar, and consequently the tracks that make the biggest impression are those with a little dirt and grime under the fingernails: in Koen Park's “American College Football Program,” funk seeps into earthy rhythms that clatter and rumble below the swirling synth melodies that uncoil above; robust beatsmithing in Mark.Nine's “Mobile Satellites” anchor ambient synth washes and melodic haze; and Five Step Path's “Seasonal Affective Disorder” grounds its gleaming synth melodies with hefty beat crunch and splatters of noise and grime. Most memorably, the album kicks into life the moment Mick Chillage's “Livin Large” enters with a punchy groove, its tough beats and greasy organ playing more in line with hip-hop than IDM. A little bit more of that next time ‘round will make number two in the label's proposed compilation series even better.

February 2009