VA: But Then Again

Who would have expected raw guitar chords on a ~scape release? That's just one of many surprises on But Then Again, a collection that in some respects recalls Kompakt 100. The Cologne empire recently celebrated its first one hundred releases (full-lengths and twelve-inchers) by remixing favourite tracks from its esteemed catalogue, inspiring stunning moments like Kaito's trance-inducing version of Superpitcher's “Tomorrow.” Berlin's ~scape has similar reason to celebrate, specifically five years of existence, and marks the occasion with a fifteen-track, seventy-six minute comp of new material. Comparatively speaking, ~scape's more straightforward approach is less conceptually audacious and spectacular than Kompakt's, though the results are still strong. What's especially satisfying is that there's no guiding concept this time out (unlike the Staedtizism compilations where contributors hewed to album themes), allowing But Then Again to explore a broader spectrum. At the risk of reading too much into such diversity, one wonders whether the move isn't a harbinger of a more stylistically expansive future for the label's future releases.

As mentioned, the collection contains many surprises. Bathed in crackling washes, Thomas Fehlmann's dub-funk “Take 5” (not the Dave Brubeck classic of yore) digs deeper and burns more passionately than his contributions to the Kompakt comps. Mike Shannon strikingly opts for a slow and dreamy approach, his steely clatter a cushion for June's supple vocal turn, while “What Is Paris?” finds Bus riding a halting Dabrye groove of deep bass lines and minimal beats. Unlike the hip-hop of Space Settings, Headset and Soulo give their lilting piece a native feel with countrified harmonica and whistling recorder sounds. Most unusual of all, though, is “Destination Vertical” where a Rechenzentrum track becomes a background loop for Masha Qrella's raw guitar and hushed vocal.

Others contribute quality tracks which don't drastically deviate from established styles. On the dubby front, System's “Hu Ra !!” is a sparkling groove highlighted by lovely melodica-sax interplay; true to its title, Deadbeat's “We Like It Slow And Steady” unfurls in cloudy swirls that expand exponentially into a churning mass. Recalling Station To Station, Andrew Pekler's “Unidentified” takes a jazzier turn with Milesian ensemble playing, while the skanky, Casio hip-hop of Cappablack's “5th Dimension (Anti-Imperialism Disco)” sounds more the work of a Detroit collective than a Japanese one.

The biggest surprises of all? On the down side, the meandering click and strum of “Western Mimikry” adds up to an uncharacteristically undistinguished contribution from Jan Jelinek and, given how comprehensive the comp is otherwise, it's odd that Pole doesn't appear. The most affecting piece, “Doorstep,” on the other hand, comes courtesy of Danish jazz musician August Engkilde's group project EPO (Electronic Panorama Orchestra), though largely due to Frida Asmussen's sensual vocal (with its oh-so-distant Joni Mitchell echo) which so beautifully complements the song's relaxed, bluesy feel.

By willfully extending its sound to overlap with other labels, ~scape offers strong evidence of an ever-broadening approach. Triola and Thomas Fehlmann might be more associated with other labels (Triola's im Fünftonraum is a Kompakt release and Fehlmann's Lowflow is issued by Plug Research), yet they're here too. Ghostly's Dabrye appears also, as does John Tejada whose Fairfax Sake and Logic Memory Centre are Playhouse and Plug Research releases respectively. As the boundaries collapse between like-minded labels, ~scape's techno-dub has expanded systematically to encompass jazz, hip-hop, funk, even rock, an evolution well-documented by the Staedtizism series and now brought into collective summative focus with But Then Again.

November 2004