VA: Sampler 5.00 2000-2005
Ai Records

Listeners on this side of the Atlantic have a harder time getting their hands on Ai's superb electronic material compared to those in the UK. So while I'm lucky enough to have the recent Station comp and full-lengths by Claro Intelecto (Neurofibro), Yellotone (Tar File Junction), and FZV (Precedent) gracing my collection, only one of the archived tracks on Sampler 5.00 2000-20005 is familiar: Yellotone's “Cool Blue Albion,” from the aforesaid full-length. To my great delight, then, the remainder—six more archive tracks and six teasers for forthcoming 2005 albums—is all new. The 65-minute set celebrates the label's fifth anniversary in fine style, as the earlier pieces seduce just as powerfully as the new ones; even better, the collection's offerings encompass the full spectrum of Ai styles.

Leading the parade of previously-issued material is the slightly acidic “2000” by Claro Intelecto (Mark Stewart), where synths both writhe in all their squelchy glory and flutter incessantly like deranged butterflies. A subtle house pulse percolates under elegant splashes of piano in Simon Harding's Yellotone track, while throbbing breaks and brooding synths in FZV's (Richard Douglas Herbert) “Old Stripey Jumper” pack an ominous, cinematic punch. Also memorable is Confutatis's (Bernhard Pucher) “Obsession” which couples its spectral tech-house with a suitably creepy voiceover. While it would fit perfectly on Montag's (Antoine Bédard) recent Alone, Not Alone full-length, the gentle vocal piece “Mary Miracles” sounds anomalous here, unlike the growling electro-funk of SWF's “True” which is right at home.

Some of the new tracks earmark expansions of the Ai sound, including Yunx's reverberant disco shimmy (“Dis Go Funk Ur Ass”), Normal's woozy dub excursion (“Dubh On Dubh”), and the phantom techno throb of Jacen Solo's eerie “Shake.” Subside's elegant piano-driven electro-funk (“Scarlett's Theme”) and Sinner DC's blurry ambient tech-house (“Wintertown”) offer enticing foretastes of their respective albums. Elevated by the presence of angelic vocalizing and vibes sparkle, Mike Manning's lovely “Insect Potentiality” closes the collection delicately. Though often mentioned in the same breath as Warp, Skam, and Rephlex, Sampler 5.00 2000-20005 finds Ai distinguishing itself from its UK brethren with a label style one can savour for its strong dance dimension and its lush sounds.

May 2005