Monday, 1 December 2014

Album Review:All Saints Records - Greater Lengths (compilation)

(All Saints Records)

All Saints Records spent the nineties curating and gathering together lost and new ambient releases. Picking up out of print records that weren't getting the treatment the deserved out of obscurity and shedding light onto music that roughly falls under the ambient genre. The label had some trouble later on when it found itself owned by a major label unwilling to invest in it but All Saints has emerged once more, teaming up with one of the defining electronic labels Warp records.

This new compilation Greater Lengths seems to be a victory lap for the label following a series of reissues of long out of print records from the likes of Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Laraaji. The label has been a place for interesting experimental and ambient music with a well defined but wide-reaching aesthetic. This collection of tracks from the labels' back catalogue sets out to cover a variety of sounds in an attempt to sum up that aesthetic.

It's not all a continuation of Music for Airports though, Jon Hassel creates strange, almost mechanical jazz funk with his track Streetfaxx. Harold Budd's understated creations show how to create a lot with very little. Piano and acoustic guitar wash up against each other falling in and out of place on Afar. Else were Armenian folk artist Djivan Gasparyan creates a slow-burning and mournful atmosphere on Tonight whilst Roger Eno's contribution that opens the album, Amukidi, sound like a slowed down African vocal chant.

The label also seem to serve as a home for musicians wanting to attempt something a little different from their best know output with music from Led Zepplin bassist John Paul Jones, Velvet Underground member John Cale and Cluster and Harmonia's Hans-Joachim Roedelius' classical compositions. Brian Eno ambient work seems like a big touchstone for a lot of the artists on the label but his output here seems more concerned with more contemporary sounds, tapping into electronic trends with the digitised voices and drum machines on What Actually Happened?.

The second part of Greater Lengths is a remix album, as up and coming left-field musicians are given the chance to update and re-imagine decades old music of All Saints back catalogue. It's a more interesting prospect than most remix albums, as the old guard give up their creations to those that they may well have inspired as the contemporary artists assert a place for this music today. Gathering a variety of interesting underground artists Sun Araw, Ela Orleans and Odd Nosdam. All working in different genres they seem to have one thread in common, a focus on texture rather than melody.

Ambient synthesizer artist Motion Sickness of Time Travel breaks up and weaves Laraaji's Space Choir into something other the acoustic instruments of the original are hard to spot but the spectral, meditative remains. Bandshell transforms Jon Hassel's music into a distorted alien rhythm pulsating like tribal dance from some strange future while Ela Orleans keeps the positivity of Laraaji's Kalimba adds her own driven beat and layered vocals.

Personable transforms Harold Budd's imposing synthscape work-out Dark Star into a dreamy, wide-eyed and sprawling ambient techno cut whilst rising producer patten twists another Harold Budd track Mandan into something that bares almost no resemblance to the original as loops sound like their folding in on each other over a barely together beat with an effect that is wild and heady.

For those interested in exploring ambient music past Brian Eno's Ambient series then Greater Lengths could serve as a good introduction to dig further into a back catalogues of a host of important acts. The remixes are what I've found to be the most interesting part of the compilation. It does a great job of bringing together some of the best artists working on the fringes of electronica and in doing so not only highlights the past for contemporary experimental music but it's future as well.

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