VA: Station
Ai Records

Ai Records is another in a seemingly limitless number of quality electronica labels. Its latest comp, Station, boasts sixteen tracks from fourteen artists, some of which are Ai veterans (Yellotone, Michael Manning) and some new recruits (Pablo Dali, Tin-Tole-Lata). That one of the contributors here, Iceland's Traject, is newly signed to Spezial Materials shouldn't surprise, as the impressive collection here recalls the similarly accomplished SM03—A Spezialmaterial Compilation that came out last year. Both labels specialize in a kind of stylistically and instrumentally expansive melodic electronica that one also encounters on Suction Records releases; Sinner DC's “Alice,” for example, is classic Suction-styled electro synth-pop, with vocodered singing recalling The Mitgang Audio's The View From Your New Home. Other highlights include Sofalofa's mellow “Block N Oar” and gamelan-flavoured “Florence,” Yellotone's aptly titled “Dubbly More”' given its echo-laden snare hits and dub bass lines, and 214's “From the Outside,” spacious electrofunk with an irresistible hook of descending synth stutter and tympani accents. Moods range from the dreamy (Intonamori's “Fairly Tall Tails”) to the menacing (Subside's “Home to an Empty House” and its ominous voice sample “One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place”). Station constantly surprises with the freshness of its imaginative compositions and the mature sophistication of their arrangements. One hears traces of Plaid and Aphex Twin in Normal's “Welk,” and early Autechre in Traject's “Larcoeh & Dolson,”' but such an observation risks negating the music by emphasizing too greatly its derivativeness. Certainly the artists here inhabit terrain previously explored by their forebears but these Ai artists aren't focused on innovation per se. Judging by the music here, their more modest goal is to produce instrumental melodic electronica of the most distinguished kind, a goal, incidentally, that's realized in a most satisfying and vivid manner.

April 2004