VA: When I Was Ten
Ai Records

With When I Was Ten, Ai celebrates ten years of existence with previously unheard tracks from ten of its associated artists. The hour-long collection is available in two formats: the standard CD and as a double-vinyl set (with a different running order) that's packaged in ten different hand-screen printed covers, one cover for each of the ten musical artists with each cover illustrated by one of ten different designers. Regardless of format, the material captures in one fell swoop the range of Ai's rich sound.

The CD is thoughtfully sequenced, with a pair of restrained tracks easing the listener in before harder-hitting club cuts take over. Michael Manning's soothing “My Fantasy” inaugurates the project on a beatific note when warm synth tones shimmer alongside slow-motion broken beats and synthetically-generated splendour. In the Object Object remix of Sinner DC's “Glass Alley” that follows, a buoyant rhythm minimal techno base aligns with hushed vocal melodies that are as melancholy as they are beautiful.

It's at this stage that the collection's dance floor dimension comes to the fore. With a neo-techno rush of squiggly electro patterns, stuttering vocodered interjections, string flourishes, and squelchy funk beats, Plant43's “Leaves” captures the future-funk ethos of Ai in a single, six-minute setting, while Datassette does the same in “Crawling Greens” by draping crystalline electronic textures over a bubbly and subtly acid-tinged mechano-funk groove. Though it begins as an exercise in atmospheric sound sculpting, EOC's “Departure” gradually coalesces into a plodding, dub techno-based workout where electronic effects writhe like aliens awakening and chilly winds whoosh. In merging chattering drum machine beats with swollen bass flourishes, Pathic's stripped-down “Ticktock” rides a Detroit-bound bus, while Najemsworb's propulsive house cut “Forte” slips hints of schaffel underneath the track's synth-smeared surfaces. Dez Williams and FZV follow with the steamy acid-electro banger “Process Of Elimination” and pounding electro-techno workout “The Other Day,” respectively, before The Third Man's “FGB” cools things down for a comparatively becalmed exeunt.

Never content to merely layer random melodies over programmed beats, each of When I Was Ten's tracks locates the soul within the label's unapologetically machine-made music. Admittedly, the release is less concerned with breaking new ground as it is celebrating a consolidated sound nurtured throughout the label's existence. Listeners familiar with Ai's output will already know what to expect from the compilation's solid selections (especially when the artists involved have had material appear on the label before); anyone new to the label's offerings may regret not climbing aboard earlier.

October 2009