VA: Volume 1

What's not to love about a musical project dedicated to producing financial aid for the victims of the Asian Tsunami tragedy? This premiere volume (an upcoming second will feature indie bands associated with the renowned Chapel Hill music scene) compiles sixteen contributions from an impressive roster of experimental electronic artists, some of them Unschooled affiliates (Doofgoblin, Katastatik) but a healthy number from other labels too (Books on Tape, Quantazelle, Ampop). The album eschews a singular funereal mood for a broader emotional spectrum with material both serene and aggressive; label styles evoked over the course of the album include Unschooled, naturally, but also Merck, Rephlex, Warp, and (early) Morr.

On the warmer tip, Kettel and Robokoneko weigh in with lovely tracks, the former's “The Tree That Got Fired” as soothing as a deeply immersive dream, its ambient melodies soaked in crackle and reverb, while the latter's aptly titled “Smile and Dream” wraps percolating bubbles and heartwarming melodies in a blurry haze, like a faded childhood memory that's suddenly resurrected. Diametrically different in character, Rusuden gets his Rephlex freak on with fulminating breaks and dramatic themes in “Soft Launch,” while Decomposure obliterates the melancholy calm of “...Shrugged” with blistered, fracturing blasts. In addition, there's broiling tribalisms from Tim Koch (“Macrome”), A Bit Crusher's breathless pinball clatter (“Cookies for All”), dark Merck-styled breaks in Disjunction Reunion's “VB,” and Headphone Science's spacey electro-dub (“Ilaria).” Also noteworthy are Miles Tilmann's “Circles Everywhere,” which morphs pulsating Tangerine Dream bass patterns into throbbing slams and synth washes, and Telesma's “The New Thing” where a prepared didgeridoo (apparently), sounding like some mutant Jew's-harp, collides with head-nodding beats.

Aurally there's little that connects the music to the tragedy itself (Plat's massive “Ten More Logic Fibs” does lumber, however, like some nightmarish, ten-ton tsunami—a coincidence, no doubt) although one could trace the album's trajectory (initially calm but growing darker and more aggressive) as an analogue to the event. Still, drawing literal connections clouds the more important issue. While the album can be broached as nothing else but a high-quality electronica collection, it's also a remarkable example of altruism, given that all of the proceeds collected from the project will go to Direct Relief International. Every artist and production person involved donated his/her talents and energies, with the release coming together in under 30 days. If you haven't yet contributed, here's an ideal way to appease your guilty conscience while simultaneously adding a solid hour of electronic music to your library.

May 2005