VA: Advanced Public Listening
Laboratory Instinct

What's a single word for a compilation, a label debut in fact, that features superior contributions from Sutekh, Luke Vibert, Thomas Fehlmann, Daedelus, Phoenecia, and Thomas Brinkman? How about superb, top-notch, or first-rate? All legitimately apply here, as this is a pretty remarkable coming-out for the new label Laboratory Instinct. The idea of discussing tracks one-by-one is typically too obvious and unimaginative an approach to take, but in this case the distinguishing characteristics of the individual pieces deserve to be highlighted.

Label heads Miho and Ryo cannily start the set with roster artist Erast who takes what sound like samples of children's voices and uses them to construct a remarkable excursion into breakbeat science in “Q4.” There's not a wasted note in this three-minute overture and the programming's so tight it's unbelievable. Just as he demonstrates on the full-length Goodair + Minimissing (actually two EPs collected onto a single CD), Erast's tracks are distinguished not only for their incredible beat constructions but also compositional ingenuity and imagination. Based on the available evidence, he's the real deal. Daedelus puts his customary sampledelic spin on drum & bass in “Let's Be Brave,” with slow ruminative piano playing paired with breakneck, spastic breaks, followed by Eight Miles High's hip-hop-inflected, drum-stuttering head-nodder “Latein.” The snuffling percussion patterns and whirring machinations of “Conummity Coolge” suggest that Phoenecia is still in Brownout territory, while “Zauberzwerg” finds Fehlmann visiting a dense, glistening dub-house full of keyboard burble and panning flicker. “Rhymes With Slap” is an unusual, anarchic funk workout of vocal cut-ups and strangulated synth effects from Seth Horvitz, whereas Mr. Vibert indulges in vocodered computer-geek madness in “Mechanical Man.” Tribal qualities arise again in the last two tracks from Freeform and Soul Center. In “Monolenco,” Simon Pyke's mighty stomper marries electronic effects with traditional ethnic elements to marvelous effect, and, unintentionally or not, slyly nods to Kraftwerk's Tour de France by borrowing its vocal exhalations. And, finally, Thomas Brinkman continues Freeform's African-flavoured sound with the primal tribalisms of Soul Center 's “Snoopy.”

Needless to say, with so many labels (and new ones emerging daily) there's a constant glut of compilations that shows no sign of abating. One therefore might be excused for reacting to the arrival of the latest one with some degree of weariness. The quality of this collection, however, banishes any ennui the jaded listener might be experiencing. What makes Advanced Public Listening a near-perfect compilation is the superior caliber of its artists' contributions as well as their stylistic variety.

June 2004